The Quotable Luther

Some more Reformation Day fun… A few of my favorite — and not-so-favorite, but significant or revealing — quotations from Martin Luther:

Luther as an Augustinian monk
Martin Luther as an Augustinian monk – Wikimedia

On Faith

Faith is God’s work in us, which transforms us and by which we are reborn from God. By faith the old Adam is crucified. Faith makes us entirely different in heart, in temper, in disposition and in all of our powers, and brings with it the Holy Spirit. This faith is a living, busy, active, powerful thing! It cannot do anything except good. It does not even ask which good works ought to be done; even before the question can be asked it has done them and is constantly at work doing good. (“Preface to Romans,” 1522)

On the Kingdom of God

God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life on earth now and in heaven forever. (“Small Catechism,” 1531 edition)

On Sin

Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. (letter to Philipp Melanchthon, August 1521)

On Repentance

1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent,” He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.

2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy. (“The 95 Theses,” 1517)

On the “Bound Conscience”

Statue of Martin Luther in Dresden
Statue of Luther at Dresden’s Frauenkirche – Creative Commons (Norbert Aepli)

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. [Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.] God help me. Amen. (at the Diet of Worms, 1521)

Roland Bainton acknowledges that the bracketed phrase that gave him the title of his popular Luther biography was added later, but insisted that “The words, though not recorded on the spot, may nevertheless be genuine, because the listeners at the moment may have been too moved to write” (Here I Stand, p. 144).

On Politics

…It is indeed true that Christians, so far as they themselves are concerned, are subject to neither law nor sword and need neither; but first take heed and fill the world with real Christians before ruling it in a Christian and evangelical manner. This you will never accomplish; for the world and the masses are and always will be unchristian, although they are all baptized and are nominally Christian. Christians, however, are few and far between, as the saying is. Therefore it is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, nay even over one land or company of people, since the wicked always outnumber the good. (“Secular Authority,” 1523)

On Freedom and Duty (and Paradox)

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. (“The Freedom of a Christian,” 1520)

On Talking Smack to/about Fellow Reformers

Luther: You express yourself poorly [about the interpretation of John 6] and make about as much progress as a cane standing in a corner. You’re going nowhere.

Zwingli: No, no, no! This is the passage that will break your neck!

Luther: Don’t be so sure of yourself. Necks don’t break this way. You’re in Hesse, not Switzerland… (“The Marburg Colloquy,” 1529)

Erasmus of Rotterdam is the vilest miscreant that ever disgraced the earth. (“Table Talk,” no. 671)

On Women

Though womenfolk are ashamed to admit to this, nevertheless Scripture and experience show that among many thousands there is not a one to whom God has given to remain in pure chastity. A woman has no control over herself. God has made her body to be with man, to bear children and to raise them as the words of Genesis 1:1 clearly state, as is evident by the members of the body ordered by God Himself. (“A Letter to Several Nuns,” 1524)

Katy Luther
Cranach the Elder’s portrait of Katy Luther (née von Bora) – Wikimedia

Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than the women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children. (“Table Talk,” no. 725)

On Marriage

He who has an old, spiteful, quarrelsome, sickly wife, may fairly reckon himself in purgatory. (“Table Talk,” no. 740)

I would not give my Katie for France and Venice together. (table talk, 1531)

On Health Care

Your manure cure didn’t help me either. (letter to his wife, 1537)

Parting Thoughts

It’s true. We’re beggars. (Luther’s last words, 1546)


3 thoughts on “The Quotable Luther

  1. On our Jewish friends:

    What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews?…

    First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them…

    Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues…

    Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them…

    Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb…

    Fifth, I advise that safe­conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…

    Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping…

    Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow…

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