Hitler's spiritual Ancestor
Peter F. Wiener
GERMAN FOR THE SCIENTIST
GERMAN WITH TEARS
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The Right Honourable
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“I do insist on the certainty that sooner or later—once we hold power—Christianity will be overcome and the German church, without a Pope and without the Bible, and Luther, if he could be with us, would give us his blessing.” - ADOLF HITLER
(“Hitler's Speeches”, edited by Professor N. H. Baynes (Oxford, 1942), page 369).
“If we wish to find a scapegoat on whose shoulders we may lay the miseries which Germany has brought upon the world—not, perhaps a very scientific way of writing history—I am more and more convinced that the worst evil genius of that country is not Hitler or Bismarck or Frederick the Great, but Martin Luther.”
* * * * *
“There is very little to be said for this coarse and foul-mouthed leader of a revolution. It is a real misfortune for humanity that he appeared just at the crisis in the Christian world. Even our burly Defender of the Faith was not a worse man, and did far less mischief. We must hope that the next swing of the pendulum will put an end to Luther's influence in Germany.” - Very Rev. W. R. Inge, (in the Church of England Newspaper”, August 4, 1944).
“It is easy to see how Luther prepared the way for Hitler.” - The late DR. WILLIAM TEMPLE Archbishop of Canterbury
(“The Archbishop's Conference, Malvern, London, 1941, page 13).
C O N T E N T S
I. INTRODUCTORY THOUGHTS
II. LUTHER—THE MAN
III. LUTHER'S POLITICAL DOCTRINES
IV. FROM LUTHER TO HITLER
M A R T I N L U T H E R
SMALL as the present volume is, I feel the reader needs some kind of explanation. I am neither a scholar nor a politician, neither a theologian nor a professional author. I am an ordinary schoolmaster, a teacher of French and German. This fact explains the shortcomings of which I myself am only too fully aware.
I consider it my duty as a teacher not merely to cram my pupils with the rules of the subjunctive and similar stuff, but also to tell them something about the history, mentality, ideals, and ideas of the countries whose languages I am supposed to teach. This, however, is easier said than done. Three major obstacles are permanently in the way of those teachers who agree with me in my aims.
First of all, we have to prepare our pupils for examinations. There is hardly sufficient time to cover the whole syllabus, much less to discuss any outside matter. For many years I have fought a lonely and thoroughly unsuccessful battle against the examination authorities—especially the Oxford and Cambridge Board—in endeavouring to persuade them to introduce into their syllabus some modern matter. Those boys who take their Higher School Certificate—the highest school examination in the country—will almost immediately after they have passed it enter one of the Services—to give their lives, if needs be, in a fight against a mortal and traditional enemy. Until then they are merely allowed to read some admittedly beautiful literature by Goethe, Schiller, and other classics; but of current affairs of modern Germany, of the roots of National Socialism, they are not allowed to hear.
As great, perhaps, is the second difficulty. Even if we succeed in spite of the examination syllabus in referring to some topic which is related to the present-day world, how can we avoid being “biased”? I firmly believe, and am honest enough to admit, that to ma an “objective” interpretation of history seems impossible. All of us have our own views. And as soon as we proceed to give anything more than dull dates, facts, and names we run the risk of being accused of “biasing” the you and immature mind.
The third and last obstacle is our very limited knowledge. Somehow the layman imagines that a schoolmaster's life is an easy one. That it certainly is not. I can truthfully say that during term time I myself, like all my colleagues am fully occupied with school duties from 8 a.m. until often long after midnight. The mythical long holidays are hardly existent in summertime: camps, farming, looking for next term's books, and many similar activities bring the holidays to an end before most of the necessary things are done. The schoolmaster of to-day has no time for reading, studying, research. And yet, if we want to teach “current affairs”, i.e., permanently new matter, we cannot afford to grow stale.
But difficulties exist in order to be overcome. This is how I attempted to meet those mentioned above. When I was at Rugby, I took one lesson a week with my senior boys in order to discuss with them “non-syllabus' modern German and French. I made it perfectly clear to them that I was giving them my own views, without any exaggerated claim to authority. I drew their attention to books and authors known to me who contradicted my interpretation. I told the, over and over again, that I was trying to stimulate them, to get them to think, but that I was not their intellectual “master” who could not be contradicted, but rather a somewhat partial chairman of a debating society. I stressed my own limited knowledge. Thus we discussed the development of modern France, Rousseau and the modern State, Germany between two wars, and similar subjects.
More than once during these talks I referred to Luther and what always occurred to me as his destructive influence. I pointed out that even in such an admirable book as Rohan Butler's “The Roots of National Socialism” the spiritual origins of Nazism and Luther's influence had not been given the necessary importance. Then I was asked if I would be prepared to elaborate to them—about a dozen of the very senior boys, that is—my own views on Luther and Lutheranism. I agreed—with the proviso that they would be my own views and nothing else. Admittedly, I had read more on Luther and about Luther than on most other subjects. But I wanted to make it quite clear that I would not speak to them with the voice of a great authority, but would merely give them my own interpretation. I told them, moreover, that I should try to prove how dangerous it is to accept legends; and that the picture I had of Luther and his influence was thoroughly contradictory of the customary Luther of the legend.
This was some time ago, just before the summer holidays. I spent the greater part of the summer vacation going through my notes on Luther and typing out a manuscript on which I was going to base my talks. But things happened differently. I was suddenly called upon to do some work for the War Office, and naturally left Rugby from one day to another. While serving with the Royal Fusiliers I contracted an illness, and after months in hospital I was invalided out—poorer in health but richer in experience. In my very fragile state of health there was nothing else to be done than to return to cap and gown.
I had four extremely happy and interesting years at Rugby, but all the same I was anxious to get to know life and work at another public school. When I came out of the army I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the staff of Stowe—England's most modern great public school. The opportunity of being able to compare one of the oldest schools—Rugby—with one of the most modern appealed to me greatly, and with the approval of both the Chairman of the Governing Body of Rugby School (Dr. William Temple) and its Headmaster (Mr. P H. B. Lyon) I moved to Stowe.
There I looked again at my Luther manuscript. I felt somewhat reluctant to talk to boys on so controversial a matter. I might be accused of having come under Roman Catholic influence and trying to convert my pupils. I thus sent the notes I had prepared to three of my most valued fatherly friends, none of whom can be accused of having much sympathy with Jesuitism and Roman Catholicism, while all three strongly disagree in their interpretation of Germany: Lord Vansittart, Dean Inge, and Professor Oscar Levy, the English editor of Nietzsche. All three were unanimous in their advice, i.e., that I ought to publish my notes.
After much thought I decided to do as they advised, and to let the notes stand as they are. If they were going to be published, they had to be published soon. And since apart from my very full teaching time-table, I am engaged in some “reconstruction” and “re-education” work, it was clear that for a long time to come I should not have found the time to re-write my thesis, to elaborate it, to make out of it a deep scholarly work of several volumes. I even decided to let my English stand as it is. I hope the reader will forgive me.
It was, however, only with very great reluctance that I was persuaded to omit my references and footnotes. My publisher and advisers were anxious that the book should be published in such a form and at a price that the greatest possible circulation could be guaranteed. This would have been impossible, especially under wartime conditions, if I had left the hundreds of references in the text. I have given in brackets merely the references of some of the more important quotations. But any reader who is anxious to check up any of the many extracts given in my book has merely to write to me direct and I will without delay supply him with chapter and verse. I can, however, guarantee that before going to press I have carefully checked all quotations. This, incidentally, would never have been possible without the admirable help and valuable assistance which I have received from the librarians and staff of the library of the British Museum and of the Bodleian library in Oxford.
As for all the other scholars, friends, politicians, and colleagues who for well over ten years have helped me in my attempt to get to know and to understand Luther, it is impossible to mention them by name. I fully realise that in the present short outline I cannot possibly to justice to their scholarship and patience. But all I am trying to do in the following pages is to elaborate in some detail a line of thought which, in my humble opinion, cannot be overlooked once we start on the difficult problem of understanding and re-educating our enemy. I am fully aware of the fact that the publication has all the unavoidable drawbacks of wartime writing, but if I succeed in suggesting to a few of my generous readers, especially those of the younger generation, that the whole problem of Germany is deeper, more profound, more spiritual, than some of our popular “philosophers” and journalists seem to think, I shall have fully achieved my purpose.
CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTORY THOUGHTS
SOME years ago I published under the title “German With Tears” a survey of German education, past and present. Strangely enough, a chance remark occurring in the book—a remark which had very little to do with its main theme—produced more comment, more correspondence, more approval, and more violent attacks than any other statement. I wrote: “I personally believe that the real roots of National Socialism go down to the reformer Martin Luther, who seems to me more of a political demagogue than a religious reformer, and whose teachings and sayings are the foundations on which later Germans built.”
I shall try to prove that this was not a flippant thought but my utmost conviction. I know that it will sound shocking to some. I know that many people will disagree with my views. I shall not try to give a full and scholarly analysis of German Protestantism, of Luther and Lutheranism. I shall merely give my own reading of Luther; I shall show only that side of Luther and his influence which is usually ignored in England and which is entirely the reverse of the traditional view.
My remark, the one I have quoted, is really nothing new or revolutionary. There is a multitude of books which express the same thought, but they all do what I have done hitherto, i.e., they do not explain and prove their theory.
The Nazis themselves claim Luther as their spiritual father. “It was Luther, we must understand, who began to Germanise Christianity; National Socialism must complete the process.” This from Alfred Rosenberg is one of their typical sayings. But then, we must be careful in our acceptance of Nazi sayings.
However, long before Hitler there were German Protestant scholars of great standing who analysed aright the part Luther played in the history of Germany. “Lutheranism played an important part in the political and military development of German Prussia,” wrote Prof. Ernst Troeltsch of Heidelberg, early in the present century. “German nationalism plus the Prussian State have made our Reich, and both have their origins in Luther,” said Karl Sell, another pre-Hitler professor.
Since Hitler there have been very many authors who have connected Luther and National Socialism. Edgar Mowrer wrote as early as 1933: “Protestantism means in Germany Lutheranism. All the pet doctrines of Prussianism are found in the writings of the founder, Martin Luther.” And it is only a short time since a book was published by a great French scholar, Professor E. Vermeil, in which it is stated that “Hitler has taken up Luther's ideas.”
There seems therefore, very little that is original in my own saying. All the same, I shall attempt to show how I came to this monstrous-seeming conclusion.
When I was an undergraduate in my first term, my tutor returned an essay of mine on Political Philosophy with the sentence written under it: “All monistic theories are false”. I did not quite know what he meant. The essay—I have forgotten the exact subject—had to do with unemployment, and in my youthful, very “left,” very pink, views I had throughout the essay blamed capitalism for the present state of the world, especially for unemployment. My tutor was a wise man, a very detached thinker, from whom I learnt few facts but something of the art of clear thinking. I had tea with him a few days later, and he explained to me in detail what he meant by “All monistic theories are false”. His saying has since then become my guiding maxim.
He meant that it is not possible to explain a very complex and intricate political or sociological situation by one cause alone. There are always a great many factors, some of greater, some of smaller, importance, which cause a particular phenomenon to come into being. Only if we study them all can we come to a true and valuable analysis.
For my part, I have slowly and gradually come to the conclusion that spiritual values and conflicts play the most important part in all problems which govern our lives as individuals and as citizens. “Religious forces, and religious forces alone, have had sufficient influence to ensure practical realisation for political ideas,” says Professor Figgis. Max Weber, a famous German scholar, expresses exactly the same idea when he says: “The modern man is in general, even with the best will, unable to give religious ideas the significance for culture and national character which they deserve.”
This fundamental personal belief of mine has to be accepted as a necessary premise. I know that it is debatable. But I have to keep to the main point and do not want to lose myself in side-issues which have no direct bearing on the subject. I fully realise that it is fashionable nowadays to give especially to Economics a place that is higher and superior to that accorded to religious and spiritual ideas. This, I think is partly due to political propaganda, and partly to an inability to appreciate Nicolas Berdyaev's valuable truth that “Economics is a creation of the human spirit, its quality is determined by the spirit, its basis spiritual.”
Once I had given the spiritual and religious ideas the place which I have just indicated, it was pretty obvious that sooner or later I had to meet the philosophy and personality of Martin Luther. I was brought up partly in Germany, partly in France. Ever since my early childhood I felt instinctively that there was a different atmosphere between France and Germany which I was unable to describe. Later I learnt, and understood, that his was the difference between what is commonly known as “Kultur” and “civilisation”. It would be easy to describe me as a “francophile”, but such generalisations are a little too simple. Suffice it to say I loved the spirit of France, the traditional freedom, the beauty—in a word, the civilisation. And I began to see, as did almost everybody in France, that the danger to this civilisation did not come from Hitler but from the German “kultur”, from a belief and a religion which are typical of Germany, and of which Hitler is merely the latest and most complete example. I began to read and study the history of this “kultur”, and more than ever did I begin to see that it has its roots in Martin Luther.
I read Luther's writings: by no means all of them, even not the greatest part. Luther's writings are something unbelievable. Over sixty enormous volumes have so far appeared in the latest edition, which is by no means complete as yet. He wrote partly in German, partly in Latin; and to read his works is anything but an easy task. I think it would take a lifetime of concentrated work on the part of an outstanding scholar to read everything that Luther has written. His letters alone number well over three thousand. But at least I can say that I struggled through quite a number of his most important works—and read them with an ever-growing surprise, since the Luther I met there seemed to be a person completely and utterly different from the Luther I had been taught in school.
I began to read biographies and commentaries on Luther. This is perhaps an even more difficult task than the reading of Luther's own works, inasmuch as for over four centuries scholars, politicians, biographers, religious leaders, and students have found something to say about the reformer. A whole big catalogue in the Library of the British Museum is filled with nothing but the titles of writings on Luther. Thus it was not easy to choose. But one fact emerged. The Luther of the legend has not existed any longer in the world of scholarship since the beginning of this century.
I myself went to a Lutheran school in Berlin. We had Lutheran teachers, and 99 per cent of the boys were Lutheran. We celebrated every year “Luther Day”. Throughout my school life in Germany Luther was shown to us as a great man fighting for freedom, tolerance, independence—the man who exclaimed, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, May God help me, Amen!” Luther, the honest, cheerful, decent German who fought a corrupted, immoral Rome. Luther, who proclaimed the advent of the modern world; Luther, honoured by Protestants everywhere—the hero of Germany and the Protestant world.
This view was maintained by all scholars, as I said, until the end of last century. Every Protestant saw in Martin Luther almost a demigod, and any views to the contrary were put forward by Catholics who were guided more by emotion and dislike than by any substantial facts.
But towards the end of the last century things changed. The first man who not only saw Luther in a new light but who also told a deaf world the dangers coming from Germany—Friedrich Nietzsche—was the son of a Lutheran pastor. In his own days Nietzsche was not read even in his own country. Nowadays he is quoted all over the world—but I doubt very much whether he is read. He is accused of having said and taught things which never occurred to him. I cannot enter into Nietzsche's teachings here, but I must utter a warning against quoting, or misquoting, one of the most profound thinkers humanity has ever known without having read him, without having tried to understand his ideas.
Nietzsche's remarks on Luther merely indicated the direction from which the wind was blowing. His voice remained unheard. It was not until 1904 that the Luther-revolution started.
A few years previously an important document had been discovered which shed some light on an unknown period in Luther's life, and in 1904 Henri Suso Denifle published the first volume of his “Luther and Lutheranism”. Denifle, sub-archivist of the Holy See, was a very well-known scholar. Through his work at the Vatican he had access to documents and writings such as few other scholars possessed, and he had devoted his whole life to the study of the writings and influence of Martin Luther. As a result, he published his thunderbolt. Within a month the book was out of print. It was perhaps the greatest attack ever delivered on any reformer. Denifle gave full and ample quotations for everything he said. A terrifying, dirty, dishonest Luther appeared, a Luther much blacker and more hideous by far than all his former opponents taken together had depicted him. And the worst of it was that Denifle had quoted hardly anything but Luther's own words.
The reaction must have been enormous. Here is how one of Luther's biographers describes it: “Lutheran Germany shook with wrath. . . . The reviews, the newspapers, all the periodicals of a country rich in printed matter, spoke of only one subject. And in “public assemblies, governments were interpellated on the subject of a frightful and positively blasphemous book” (L. Febure: “Luther—A Destiny”).
The sensation abroad was equally great. The book was translated, contradicted. Literally hundreds of books and pamphlets appeared. But the really important point is that the whole place of Luther and Lutheranism in the history of mankind underwent a change.
As a reply to Denifle, a Professor Boehmer—a great apologist of Luther—published a work which he called “Luther in the light of Modern Research”, which brought out the fundamental changes that had taken place within a few years in Lutheran research. The most valuable book of this period, one still unsurpassed today, was by a Protestant theologian, Ernst Troeltsch, Professor at Heidelberg. The amazing thing was that Troeltsch in his great work, “The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches,” expressed—to quote Professor L. Febure—corroborated certain of Denifle's views.”
Thus for the last four decades the Luther-legend has not existed any longer. Serious research has taken place, and Luther and his teachings are seen in a completely different light by scholars, historians, Germanists, theologians all over the world, than they were at the beginning of the century.
Except in England. Yes, it is true. The researches and advances made in Luther studies, the German Reformation, and history during the last four decades have been utterly and completely ignored in Britain. It is not surprising that such a quite and anything but excitable philosopher as Jacques Maritain could, in a recent article on Luther, refer to “Anglo-modern stupidity”.
The reasons for this neglect are manifold. First of all England is traditionally insular. In as many respects as the Channel has proved Britain's greatest asset, in as many respects—especially in the intellectual sphere—it has proved a drawback. What Maritain calls the atmosphere historique on the Continent, very often does not reach England (which incidentally is not always a drawback).
Secondly, no nation indulges so much as England in wishful thinking. No nation finds it so utterly impossible to get rid of prejudices. Even ten years of war within three decades, ten years of German aggression, brutality, atrocities under different leaders, different generals, by different people has not made the English abandon their legend of “the lovely Germany, the home of Beethoven and Goethe”. The Luther-legend had found a firmer holding in England than in any other country; and since the Reformer has been glorified by people such as Matthew Arnold and Carlyle, it seems that nothing will ever destroy the accepted belief.
Thirdly, this incapability of changing views and facing unpleasant but necessary facts is due to an education which still considers games as more important than thought.
Lastly and above all, this retarded attitude of mind is due to an intellectual desert island within the island. I am referring to the Universities. No one will doubt that English scientists and technicians, doctors and scholars of ancient subjects are second to none. But some modern subjects, those in which no technical ability counts and permanent progress of thought is necessary, are in a pitiful state in England.
Let us take merely my own subject: German, and the way it is taught at the place with the highest reputation for learning and scholarship—Oxford. The way German is taught in Oxford, and consequently all over the country, is laid down by the Professor of German at Oxford. From 1907 until 1937 Professor Fiedler held the Chair; he was succeeded by Professor Boyd. Under them the syllabus underwent no noticeable change; two World Wars left Oxford completely unaffected in this respect. That this is so may be seen from the publications which came from the pen of those two scholars during the last few years, when more than ever it was necessary that students of German should know something about National Socialism and its ancestors. Professor Boyd has published since he took over the professorship an edition of Goethe's “Iphigenia in Tauris”, and a collection in chronological order of Goethe's poems. Professor Fiedler has published a new edition of Goethe's Faust, Part II, and a collection of selected passages from German authors. The Oxford of 1945 is still, so far as the teaching of German is concerned, the Oxford of 1832. Hitler's Germany might as well not exist, since only the Germany of Goethe is taught.
It is significant that in his first sermon after his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Dr. Temple appealed to the teachers of German not merely to teach the classics, but to have regard to some degree for grim and unpleasant realities.
To return to Luther. None of the books which gave a completely new interpretation of Luther was published in England for a long time. Twenty-six years after its publication, Boehmer's apology for Luther and his reply to Denifle was published. Professor Troeltsch's book had to wait until 1931 to find an English publisher. Bishop Gore wrote then in the introduction: “It stands beyond question without a rival as an exposition of Christian life and thought and their relations to contemporary social facts.” If that is so, one may well ask why it took some decades for it to be translated into English.
What I am going to state is, then, nothing new and original on the Continent, although to English ears it may sound blasphemous and heretic. I have indicated my limitations. Perhaps I may as well mention that, in spite of my shortcomings, I think I have some qualifications for speaking on Luther. It has been rightly observed that “Luther was so typical a German, one may even say so exclusively German, that a complete understanding can be expected only from a German”. For once my nationality seems to be an advantage.
There are so many conceptions which have undergone a complete and radical change since the works of Troeltsch, Weber, and Denifle appeared, that it would fill many volumes if I attempted to describe them all. However, I have at least to indicate briefly two important and fundamental new views.
For almost four centuries people spoke and thought of “The Reformation” as if it was a unity. Protestants in all countries believed that they adhered to the same principles, that they had some fundamental doctrine in common. This idea has been abandoned since the works of Weber and Troeltsch. “Protestantism” is a misnomer, a thing which does not exist. Troeltsch began to analyse the meaning of “Protestantism” and denied that such a conception was possible. Denifle makes it perfectly clear that he speaks of Lutheranism, which has little to do with Protestantism. “The first condition for a true understanding of Lutheranism is to understand its great difference from all other forms of Protestantism,” he writes; and Troeltsch points out again the great political difference between Calvinism and Lutheranism. “Lutheranism has found its strongest form of expression in the politics and world-outlook of the Prussian and German conservatives, through whom to-day Lutheranism still helps to determine the destinies of the German people.” “The restoration of Prussian-German Lutheranism was one of the most important events in social history. . . . Lutheranism hallowed the realistic sense of power and the ethical virtues of obedience, reverence, and respect for authority which are indispensable for Prussian militarism.” “In spite of the fact that originally Calvinism was very closely connected with Lutheranism, it has gradually become the very opposite of Lutheranism.” “Calvinism, on the other hand, in more recent times under the influence of Pietism and Methodism, to which it is closely akin, has upon the whole maintained its unphilosophical theology, or at least after the disturbances of the enlightenment it rediscovered it. In its close connection with English and American racial peculiarities and institutions, however, it has merged with and to some extent produced that political and social way of life which may be described as `Americanism'”.
These are, in a few quotations, Troeltsch's conclusions. He proved that from the social and political point of view, German Lutheranism and Swiss, French, Anglo-American Calvinism are not merely not connected, but directly opposed. I cannot at present explain in detail how he arrived at his conclusion. I can merely mention it, refer to his work (and perhaps to Tawney's and Christopher Dawson's writings on the subject), and state that I fully accept his views. Thus if during the following pages I should refer to “Protestants”, it is important to bear in mind that I am referring to German Protestants, i.e., Lutherans. However briefly I have touched on this point, I had to do it in order to avoid any possible misunderstanding. Since Troeltsch wrote, these views have been widely accepted and elaborated. “Calvinism”, the theologian Rauschenbusch has written, “had a far wider sphere of influence and a deeper effect on the life of the nations than Lutheranism because it continued to fuse religious faith and the demand for political liberty and social justice.” Canon Barry was even more outspoken ten years later: “Lutheranism is a very terrible anti-Christian system, peculiar to Germany, not to be confounded with Anglicanism or Calvinism, but sui generis, which in Luther became incarnate, in Prussia forged its sword, and in the distracted anaemic Eruope of the 20th century seemed to have discovered its prey. Luther was not the champion of liberty and freedom, either Catholic or Protestant. He was the voice of Germanism, which dreams that as religion, culture, government, and race it should be master of mankind. This Germanism must be conquered, or the end of genuine freedom is at the door.”
Another ten years later, these views were fully accepted in America. “It is well known that the leaders in the Reform or Protestant movement differed radically amongst themselves regarding theological matters. It is of importance to note that they also differed regarding political matters, and that these differences finally led to the rise of separate and opposed political philosophies.” I could give many more quotations to prove that nowadays people make a great difference between “Calvinism”, “Anglicanism”, and “Lutheranism”. While the two former have given rise to liberal thought and democracy in the course of history, the last-named is the foundation of Prussian militarism and the Herrenvolk.
It is perhaps interesting to note that a French scholar, Professor J. Paquier, has even gone so far as not merely to prove the existence of the same difference between French and German Protestants, but goes on to state that “We have no right to confuse German Lutheranism with Lutheranism as found in Alsace.” The whole conception of Protestantism has undergone a change which I have thought it necessary to mention, in order to provide a better understanding.
The other preliminary point which I can state only in the same summary way before I enter upon my subject proper, is the new place the whole of the Reformation movement has found, as the result of modern historical research, within the framework of history, and especially the connection between the Renaissance and the Reformation. This is indeed a stimulating subject, but all I can do here—in order that Luther the man, and his works, can be properly understood—is to try and describe very briefly what is the traditional view of these two movements, and how they are seen in the light of most recent research. I shall again merely state the conclusions, and must leave to a future and more elaborate study the tracing of the stimulating and enlightening way by which modern scholars have found the way to a true interpretation of the Renaissance and the Reformation and the relationship of the one and the other.
I think it is safe to say that it was the traditional view—and still is in many quarters—that the Renaissance was merely a revival of classical art and literature, pagan and spiritually hollow, while the Reformation went further and gave new and healthier life to religion and all other spiritual forces. “It is customary”, says the Cambridge Modern History, “to distinguish the Renaissance as the revival of letters from the Reformation as the revival of religion.” But the Renaissance was something much more. “The Renaissance stood for a complete Weltanschauung and culture, and not only a collection of remarkable fine creations”, remarks Berdyaev so rightly.
This complete Weltanschauung found during the Renaissance its way even into Germany, which was so far behind in its civilisation compared to the Latin countries. “The Renaissance is marked in the history of Germany by a notable enlargement of culture, learning, and education”, Professor H.A.L. Fisher tells us in his “History of Europe”.
It is difficult to describe the greatness of the Renaissance, the completeness of the movement and the period, in a few sentences. If I had the space I would quote whole chapters from the works of Jacob Burckhardt, to whom the world owes so much for a true understanding of the Renaissance.
However, I found that the description given in the Encyclopaedia Britannica sums up the whole movement in a fairly clear way. It states that it was not merely a revival of learning, but that the rediscovery of the classic past restored the confidence in their own faculties to men striving after spiritual freedom; revealed the continuity of history and the identity of human nature in spite of divers creeds and different customs; held up for emulation master-works of literature, philosophy, and art; provoked inquiries, encouraged criticism, shattered the narrow mental barriers imposed by medieval orthodoxy. It indicates the endeavour of man to reconstitute himself as a free being . . . and the peculiar assistance he derived in this effort from Greek and Roman literature, the literae humaniores, letters leaning to the side of man rather than of divinity.” This article appeared first in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and was written by J. A. Symonds. But now something very interesting happened. It was reproduced in the most recent, the fourteenth edition—but with a postscript by Professor P. Smith, a famous American scholar. Here is what Professor Smith adds: “Like most historians of the 19th century, Symonds regarded them both (the Renaissance and the Reformation) as libera movements . . Just as he was writing, however, Friedrich Nietzsche . . . proclaimed that `the Reformation was a reaction of backward minds against the Italian Renaissance'; and this view gained ground until it was adopted by Catholic historians like Lord Acton, Protestant historians like Ernst Troeltsch, and generally by the majority of scholars.”
Throughout Nietzsche's writings we find references to these two movements, and their relationship. “The Renaissance is the last great period of history”. “We have in the Reformation a disorderly and plebeian contradiction of the renaissance of Italy”. “The Germans have cheated Europe of the last great event of culture which Europe might have collected—the Renaissance”. “Luther's reformation was in its complete flatness the reaction of the simple mind against something cosmopolitan. . . . The debasing of European spirit, especially in the north, has made a marked advance with Luther's reformation.” “That Luther's reformation succeeded in the north is a proof how retarded the north of Europe is compared to the south.”
But perhaps the most remarkable of Nietzsche's sayings on the subject we find in his “Human, All Too Human”. “The Renaissance”, he writes, “had positive forces which have, as yet, never become so mighty again in our modern culture. It was the golden age of the best thousand years, in spite of all its blemishes and vices. On the other hand, the German reformation stands out as an energetic protest of antiquated spirits. . . With their northern strength and stiff-neckedness they threw mankind back again. . . . The great task of the Renaissance could not be brought to a termination; this was prevented by the protest of a contemporary backward spirit. It was the chance of an extraordinary constellation of politics that Luther was preserved, and that his protest gained strength, for the Emperor protected him in order to employ him as a weapon against the Pope, and in the same way he was secretly favoured by the Pope in order to use the Protestant princes as a counterweight against the Emperor. Without this curious counter-play of intentions, Luther would have been burnt like Huss—and the morning sun of enlightenment would probably have risen somewhat earlier, and with a splendour more beauteous than we can no imagine.”
It ought to be remembered that Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor, that he had a Lutheran upbringing himself, and that he knew Luther's teaching, Luther's influence, from within. There was some justification when Nietzsche could state in one of his very last writings: “People are no longer afraid of the ideal of the Renaissance.”
Scholars began to see and discover that the Renaissance and the humanists “were not pagan. A great deal of nonsense is talked about the `pagan' Renaissance.” People began to understand in what a great time Luther had been born, and what a unique chance he had, and how he utterly and completely not merely ignored this chance, but fought it with such disastrous consequences. The Reformation, that is to say the German Reformation, was no longer seen as a liberal and progressive movement, but as a fatal reactionary period against the greatness of the Renaissance. “It is an elementary error, but one which is still shared by many people who have read history superficially, that the Reformation established religious liberty and the right of private judgment”, says Prof. J. B. Bury in his “History of Freedom of Thought”. Or, as Prof. Oscar Levy, the English editor of Nietzsche's works, wrote in 1940, “Luther's reformation was a malediction upon art, poetry, beauty, knowledge, as well as upon greatness of heart, mind, will, and deed.” “The Reformation,” writes Dyer in his “History of Europe”, “was a reaction of the Teutonic mind against the Roman.”
The results were as to be expected. “The direct influence of the Reformation was at first unfavourable to scientific progress, for nothing could be more at variance with any scientific theory of development of the universe than the ideas of the Protestant leaders” (A. D. White: “History of the Warfare of Science and Theology within Christendom”). Germany especially was doomed. She had shown so much promise and so much hope at the beginning of the Renaissance, hopes which the advent of Luther and the German Reformation had annihilated once and forever. Typical and true are the words with which the Cambridge Modern History concludes its chapter on the German Reformation. “With the decay of civic life went also the ruin of municipal arts and civilisation. . . . Intellectually, morally and politically, Germany was a desert, and it was called religious peace."
I thought it necessary in order to provide better understanding of what I shall have to say in my subsequent chapters, to point to these two changes which have taken place in the historical interpretation of the Reformation. First of all, the great and fundamental difference between the Lutheran movement and the various other lines of reformation; and secondly, the relation which the Reformation has to its historical predecessor, the Renaissance. I hope that even if I could not indicate the actual line of research taken by the various scholars in arriving at their conclusions, I have at least made it reasonably clear what those conclusions were, and how far they are different from what we might perhaps call the antiquated or traditional views.
Since I have to limit myself, however, I shall deal merely with two aspects of the German Reformation. First I shall discuss, at some length what seems to me the real and true personality of Martin Luther. I shall do this for two reasons. First of all, the German Reformation is unthinkable without the personality and character of Luther himself. “The original point of reference in an effort to understand German Protestantism is the person and the writings of Martin Luther.” “Luther is the German Reformation, the German Reformation Luther.” “The evangelical Reformation of the sixteenth century is unthinkable without Luther. It owed its origin directly to him and it bears the stamp of his personality.” “No German has ever influenced so powerfully as Luther the religious life, and through it, the whole history of his people; none has ever reflected so faithfully, in his whole personal character and conduct, the peculiar features of that life and history.” “Lutheranism is not a system worked out by Luther; it is the overflow of Luther's individuality. . . . It is that which explains the `reformer's' immense influence.” These are typical comments.
I could give many more quotations of the same kind from Lutherans and Catholics alike which would justify me in devoting some time to the personal character of the Reformer. For I am as much convinced as all other biographers that an understanding of Lutheranism, and its effect, is completely impossible without a full understanding of Luther's personality.
The second reason why I shall discuss Luther the man at some length is because I hope to be able to destroy the “Luther-legend” to some extent. Nothing, to my mind, is so harmful to a true understanding of historical facts as the existence of some old legends which have no reasonable explanation. One of Luther's biographers wrote about the “hopelessness to fight the Luther-legend”. I am not quite so much of a pessimist. I think it is my duty as a teacher to try and acquaint my pupils with the facts, or at least the facts as I see them, and to produce in them a state of mind in which they may investigate for themselves, see and read on their own—before they accept traditional legends, irrespective of whether there is a shadow of truth about them or not.
After I shall have dealt with the character and personality of Luther, I shall try and explain some of the Reformer's social and political doctrines. I do not propose to enter into any discussion of Luther's doctrine, of his explanations of and views about the Scriptures. “The doctrine is what is least interesting in the history of Luther and Lutheranism,” says Funck-Brentano in his famous biography of Luther.
It is not always fully realised that Luther had not merely a great influence on political and social life (apart from the purely religious aspect), but that he was a political and social figure in his own times. “Luther was more of a politician than a theologian,” says Houston Stewart Chamberlain, one of his greatest admirers. He was “above all a political hero”. “It was Luther's first thought to look in the Scripture for a political reformation”. Religious and social questions mingle together in the Reformation; it was in fact quite as much a social and political revolution as a religious movement”. “Thus it was no accident that Luther was called on to take a leading part in the controversies.” Thus it happened that “Lutheranism was political”, and it is certainly with justification that a Protestant church historian calls Luther “one of the greatest politicians of Germany” (H. Hermelink in “Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte”, vol. 29, 1908, p. 478).
After I have shown the personality and character of Martin Luther, his political and social teachings, I shall attempt to trace the influence exercised by the Reformer and his theories on the political life of Germany, and thus of Europe. It will then be the reader's task to decide whether I have proved my case when I stated that, in my opinion, the line from Luther to Hitler runs straight; and that one of the main causes, if not the main cause, which turned Germany into a country of barbarians, which produced a Germany attempting repeatedly to destroy all the values of western civilisation, was Martin Luther and his German Reformation.
CHAPTER II: LUTHER—THE MAN
I HOPE that I have already made it clear that I do not intend to give anything like a biography of Luther. The biographer ought to record all the known facts of a man's life, important the unimportant, pleasant and unpleasant—and then it should be the task of the reader to form his own judgment on the character of the man who has been described to him. True, especially in the case of Luther, this has often not been observed; and so-called biographers have been at pains to portray a reformer who was almost a saint, ignoring all his weaker and weakest points. There are, however, some quite excellent biographies of Luther, and to those who are concerned with getting a complete and unbiased picture, I would wholeheartedly recommend Funck-Brentano's work, “Martin Luther”, from which incidentally I shall quote quite often.
The task of the commentator is quite different from that of the biographer. The commentator does not even attempt, or pretend, to give a full picture. He takes some particular points and analyses and discusses them in detail in order to prove, or disprove—whatever the case may be—a particular theory. This is what I am trying to do. And since it is my object to trace Luther's influence on German political and social development, I shall discuss merely the factors which seem to me to be relevant.
I know of hardly any other man in history on whom it would be more difficult to talk than on Luther, for I fully realise that every statement of mine may be contradicted. First of all, this is because people find it very difficult to look at Luther in an unbiased way. Some glorify everything he has done, others vilify everything.
Take for example—quite apart from our subject—Luther's influence on the German language. Heinrich von Treitschke, the famous German historian, stated: “Luther invented the New High German in one day, at one stroke, he created it.” But the historian Janssen (who wrote sixteen volumes on German history in the Middle Ages) states quite definitely that “Luther created no new German language”, that Luther had no influence whatsoever on the development of German.
Now both these historians are scholars. But Treitschke is an ultra-national Lutheran, who sees in Luther a kind of god. Whatever Luther thinks and says is a miracle. Like God Himself he created a new language with one stroke. Janssen, on the other hand, is a Roman Catholic who sees no good whatsoever in Luther, and even the thought that the man who split the Catholic Church might have had some beneficial influence on his native tongue is abhorrent to him.
The truth lies probably, in this case, somewhere in the middle; but it will be seen how careful we have to be in accepting statements about Luther, however comment may be and will be contradicted.
Luther, admittedly, helped his commentators tremendously by his own writings. For these were a mass of contradictions. He was quite likely to affirm and to deny the same fact or phenomenon within a very short while; and thus he made it possible for “authorities” to quote whatever side they preferred. But it is just this wealth of contradictions which gives us the first clue to Luther's character. “For, like his doctrines and his writings, Luther's life was a mass of contradictions arising from the neurotic temperament” (Funck-Brentano).
From early youth, Luther was a very neurotic character. He had an extremely strict upbringing and tells us himself that “My mother flogged me until I bled on account of a single nut”. At school and university it was not much better. He was whipped by his teachers as often as fifteen times a day, all for ridiculous offences. “The undue severity of which he was the victim as a little boy left its mark on his character; he always remained somewhat timid, wild and mistrustful.” His friends already remarked then that young Luther “suffered from an uneasiness of spirit” and psychical abnormality”. He began very early in life to suffer from melancholia, and there can be no doubt that “his whole nervous system was strained”.
It is interesting to remember how he decided at this period to enter the Church. “On July 2, 1505, as the young man was returning from a visit to his parents at Magdeburg, a violent storm overtook him not far from Erfurt. As he was travelling alone near Stotterheim, a bold of lightning struck in his immediate vicinity and laid him prostrate on the ground. `Help me, help me! If thou helpest me, St. Anne, I will become a monk!'” So it was that he entered the monastery.
Nothing could have been worse for that frightened, nervous, emotional, unstable young man than the rather hard and monotonous life of a monk. Thus it is not surprising that his monastic life was full of strange incidents. “One day when Luther was present at High Mass in the monks' choir, he had a fit during the Gospel, which, as it happened, told the story of the man possessed. He fell to the ground and in his paroxysms behaved like one mad, shouting `I am not possessed, I am not possessed'.” We often hear in his later life that “hysterical weeping and sobbing overwhelmed him”. While he was still in the monastery, “the other monks often thought that he was possessed by the devil.”
Complete mental instability remained the keyword to his life. He tried to overcome his depressions by overwork or too much prayer, always overdoing things, with the result that his mental state deteriorated. There are many passages in his own writings which give us a good insight into Luther's psychological processes. Here is where he is overworking himself. “I need two secretaries. I do practically nothing all day long but write letters. . . . I am Preacher of the Convent and the Refectory; and vicar in the district, and therefore elevenfold Prior; I am responsible for the fish-ponds at Leitzkau; I am agent at Torgau in the suit for Herzberg parish church; I give lectures on St. Paul, I am collecting notes on the Psalter. I rarely have time to recite my Office and say Mass.” “Physically I am fairly well, but I suffer in spirit,” he would confess. “For more than the whole of last week I was tossed about in death and hell, so that I still tremble all over my body and am exhausted. Billows and tempests of despair and blasphemy assailed me and I had lost Christ almost entirely” (Luther's Letters, Enders Edition, vol. 1, pp. 66, 67, and vol. 6, page 71).
At other times he does nothing at all. “I am here in idleness,” he writes in 1521, “alas neglecting prayer and not sighing once for the Church of God. I burn with all the desires of my unconquered flesh. It is the ardour of the spirit that I ought to feel. But it is the flesh, desire, laziness, idleness and sleepiness that possess me” (ibid. vol. 3, page 189).
So it goes on and on; and the more we read Luther, the more we find how justified are those biographers of his who say: “It seems difficult to dismiss here the hypothesis of neuropathic disorder “(Maritain). Others describe his sufferings as “delirious hallucinations” (Funck-Grentano), “religious fanaticism” (Professor B. Schoen), or describe him simply as “mentally deranged” (ibid).
Even his greatest admirers and apologists have to admit that he suffered from “religious melancholia”, “mania for persecution”, or “a mania for greatness”(Professors A. Hausrath, J. Husslein, A. Harnack).
The older he grew, the worse he got. He suffers from “temptations” and especially from “devil-mania”. Everything he disliked, everybody who disagreed with him, was inspired by the Devil. “He was subject to numerous strange hallucinations and vibrations which he attributed invariably to the direct action of Satan. Satan become, in consequence, the dominating conception of his life.” “It is one of the chief characteristics of Luther that in his intellectual life, in his social intercourse, in speech, in writing, and in preaching he always brought in the Devil—attributed far more influence and importance to him that is warranted by Scripture, and by his writings gained for him in Germany a popularity which he had never before enjoyed. . . .All the slumbering germs of superstition both among the rude masses and the higher circles were by this means awakened and set in motion.”
Luther's sayings on the subject are too numerous to be quoted. But it certainly is true that he forced back upon Germany a belief in miracles, superstitions, mysticism, a fanatical belief in evil powers which under the influence of the Renaissance were rapidly losing ground.
Here it must be mentioned that there is something which makes it difficult to quote his sayings, not merely on the Devil, but on many other subjects. This is his language. “Satan sleeps with me much more than my wife does”, is a relatively harmless remark. Other quotations can be given only with dashes indicating unprintable indecencies.
Luther's language was indeed something quite abominable and indescribable. “He is obsessed with filth and obscenity”, writes Maritain. To call it “revolutionary journalism” is an understatement. “He would be furiously angry, and when he was angry he fairly vomited filth. He wrote things one cannot quote in decent English,” is much nearer to the mark. This again, was only the natural outcome of his neurotic character. There was nothing godlike or holy about him, there was little patience or human understanding; he loved to scream, shout and blaspheme in the manner of the most vulgar German politician, such as our generation has seen more than enough. With pride he himself exclaimed; “Rage acts as a stimulant to my whole being. It sharpens my wits, puts a stop to the assaults of the Devil and drives out care. Never do I write or speak better than when I am in a rage. If I wish to compose, write, pray and preach well, I have to be in a rage” (“Table Talk,” 1210).
It is particularly interesting to note what he understood by “praying well”. “If I can no longer pray, I can at least curse. I will no longer say `Hallowed by Thy Name', but “Curse and blast and damn the name of Papist'. I will no longer say “Thy Kingdom come', but will repeat “Curse and damn the Papacy and send it to perdition'. Yes, that is how I pray, and I do so every day of my life and from the bottom of my heart” (E25, 108).
It may be argued that the language of the Middle Ages knew different standards from that of our own time. But, “in this respect Luther went far beyond the custom among educated men of his time, shocking his friends and leaving his opponents speechless with rage and amazement at his audacity.”
It may be urged that a man who said and wrote so many lovely things, might well be entitled to overstep the limit occasionally in the other direction. But Luther's writings were rarely beautiful, and most of them display “an undignified vulgarity, spiced with sexual allusions.” I fully agree with one of his commentators (H. Hallam) who says of his language that “Its intemperance, its coarseness, its negligence, its inelegance, its scurrility, its wild paradoxes menaced the foundations of religious morality and were not compensated by much strength and acuteness and still less by any impressive eloquence” (“Introduction to the Literature of Europe”).
This mythical, mentally unbalanced, diseased character was the hero of the Reformation. His intemperance, his persecution mania, his varying moods, were the origin of his permanent contradictions. There was nothing reasonable in him. Indeed, he admitted himself that he hated reason, and that he was guided merely by his passions, by his violent temper. More than once he condemned in his violent language, reason and a reasonable approach to matters. “Reason is the Devil's greatest whore; by nature and an manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil's appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom. . . . Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism. . . . She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets” (E16, 142-148). There are many more sayings in the same sense, though not always so dirtily phrased. “Usury, drunkenness, adultery—these crimes are self-evident and the world knows that they are sinful; but that bride of the Devil, `Reason', stalks abroad, the fair courtesan, and wishes to be considered wise, and thinks that whatever she says comes from the Holy Ghost. She is the most dangerous harlot the Devil has.” “Reason is contrary to faith”, he writes elsewhere. “Reason is the whore of the Devil. It can only blaspheme and dishonour everything God has said or done” (E29, 241) So it goes on and on.
It is here, in Luther's teachings, in his personality, in his hatred of reason, that we find the seeds of the German belief in a romantic world, of the distrust of anything logical and reasonable. Luther's violent language and temper, his inability to speak and think like a rational being, made him distrust and dislike reason; and his nation—who accepted this new Christianity only too willingly—believed in it and welcomed it as a modern religion.
It is interesting to compare how two great scholars, utterly different in outlook and views, interpret this anti-rational hysteria of Martin Luther—Nietzsche, the free thinker, and Jacquest Maritain, who so nobly attempts to make an unchristian world more Christian.
Nietzsche quotes Luther's “If we could conceive by reason that God who shows so much wrath and malignity could be merciful and just, what use should we have in faith?"” and the philosopher continues: "“from the earliest times, nothing has ever made a deeper impression upon the German soul, nothing has ever tempted it more, than that deduction, the most dangerous of all, which for every true Latin is a sin against the intellect: credo quia absurdum est."
Maritain for his part gives quotations in which Luther expresses his dislike of reason; and the Catholic philosopher continues: “I have quoted these passages because it is instructive to discern in the beginning, in its authentic tone and quality, the false anti-intellectualist mysticism which was to poison so many minds in more subtle and less candid guises in the nineteenth century. . . . Luther delivered man from the intelligence, from that wearisome and besetting compulsion to think always and think logically.”
How few people do realise the deep and permanent connection between religion and politics, faith and world-affairs! So many English people indulge in wishful thinking. They argue according to their own logic. They assume that the Germans adopt the same logic. They try to show a light to the Germans which the Germans do not only not want, but which they despise. Their Christ, their God, their Messiah—Martin Luther—taught them to hate reason and intelligence, and they followed willingly and ever since.
Some people might be surprised, or indeed shocked, if I called Luther “Germany's Christ”—but that is just what he tried to be himself, an attempt which was only too successful.
“It was not long before Luther's pseudo-mysticism translated itself into deeds. He persuades himself that he is guided in all his actions and resolutions by a sort of Divine inspiration.” He first began to explain, in a new fashion, “God's Word”. But it soon became apparent that “by `God's Word' Luther of course always meant his own interpretation of Scripture, his own doctrine, which he prided himself has been revealed to him by God.”
“When I am angry, I am not expressing my own wrath, but the wrath of God”. Luther knew that he was superior to any man or saint. “St. Augustine or St. Ambrosius cannot be compared with me.” “They shall respect our teaching which is the word of God, spoken by the Holy Ghost, through our lips”. “Not for a thousand years has God bestowed such great gifts on any bishop as He as on me” (E61, 422). “God has appointed me for the whole German land, and I boldly vouch and declare that when you obey me you are without a doubt obeying not me but Christ” (W15, 27). “Whoever obeys me not, despises not me but Christ.” “I believe that we are the last trump that sounds before Christ is coming”. “What I teach and write remains true even though the whole world should fall to pieces over it.” (W18, 401). “Whoever rejects my doctrine cannot be saved.” “Nobody should rise up against me”.
“No mortal ever spoke of himself as Luther did”. His persecution mania turned with advancing years into a mania of self-glorification, of grandeur. He really and truly believed that he was God's representative upon earth. He did not refrain from saying and teaching, “I am Christ”; and he exclaimed, almost in the same breath, “I am the prophet of the Germans, for such is the haughty title I must henceforth assume.”
Thus I cannot thing that I said too much when I called Luther “the German Christ”—for such is what he wanted to be, what he believed himself to be, and what, unfortunately, his fellow-countrymen accepted him to be.
Luther's God and Luther's Christ had to be blamed—and this is a natural
consequence of the Reformer's character, views and manias—for every wrong Luther himself committed. “If God is concerned for the interests of His son He will watch over me; my cause is the cause of Jesus Christ. If God careth not for the glory of Christ, He will endanger His own and will have to bear the shame.”
Thus, quite naturally, Luther does not always see eye to eye with God or Christ. “I have greater confidence in my wife and my pupils than I have in Christ,” he said on one occasion quite shamelessly (“Table Talk”, 2397b). “When I beheld Christ I seemed to see the Devil”. I had a great aversion for Christ”. “Often I was horrified at the name of Christ, and when I regarded Him on the Cross, it was as if I had been struck by lightning; and when I heard His name mentioned, I would rather have heard the name of the Devil” (see Janssen **, 72; also Maritain, “Three Reformers”, p. 169). “I did not believe in Christ,” wrote Luther in 1537. The example of Jesus Christ Himself very often meant nothing to Luther (see E29, 196).
God, on the other hand, seemed to him “a master armed with a stick”. “God did mischievously blind me”; “God often acts like a madman”; “God paralyses the old and blinds the young and thus remains master”; I look upon God no better than a scoundrel”; “God is stupid” (“Table Talk”, No. 963, W1, 48)
Strange sayings from the mouth of the reformer! But stranger still are his references to God and Christ when it comes to Luther's own shortcomings. We shall see later his own attitude to sex and morality. But he excused his own adultery—to quote merely one more example—by the teachings of Christ. “Christ”, says Luther, “committed adultery first of all with the woman at the well about whom Saint John tells us. Was not everybody about Him saying: `Whatever has he been doing with her?” Secondly, with Mary Magdalene, and thirdly with the woman taken in adultery whom He dismissed so lightly. Thus even Christ, who was so righteous, must have been guilty of fornication before He died” (“Table Talk”, 1472) (W2, 107).
I have quoted chiefly Luther's own words, and have shown his character as I believe it was. To my mind this is the infinite tragedy of Luther and Germany, that he himself believed in his manias, in his mission from God, in his replacing Christ—and that his countrymen believed it, too. Who will ever decide whether a country produces her outstanding men, or whether these outstanding men have a revolutionary influence on their country? In Luther's case probably both are true. Nowhere else but in Germany, which was not yet as civilised as the Latin countries, could a man like Luther have been born and bred. And nowhere else could a man like Luther—hysterical, irrational, irreligious—have been followed by the whole nation for centuries. A nation which found it easy to accept a character like Luther as Christ, could not find it difficult to accept a man like Hitler as Messiah.
LUTHER IN ACTION
I have tried to give a glimpse—and in the space at my disposal I cannot do more—of the unbalanced mind of the “reformer”. It now remains to see according to what principles Luther conducted his own life.
True Christians have pointed out more than once that Christianity in its best and only possible sense is not a dogma, not something detached from life, but a moral code which we ought to apply to all our actions and thoughts. Only if we lead a truly Christian life, only if we try to commit no sins and translate His principles into action, imitate His example—only then can we achieve the aim of real Christianity.
It is here that I have found Luther's teaching so very surprising. According to Luther, what we do and how we act does not matter in the least. All that matters is our belief. He came to this staggering, and in my view thoroughly unchristian, doctrine by the addition of one single word—the word “alone”—in His German translation of the Bible. In Rom. Iii, 28, Luther makes the Apostle say: “Thus we hold that a man is justified by faith alone without the works of the law.” (This, incidentally, is one of his many falsifications of the Bible).
“It does not matter what people do; it only matters what they believe.” “God does not need our actions. All He wants is that we pray to Him and thank Him.” Even the example of Christ Himself means nothing to him. “It does not matter how Christ behaved—what He taught is all that matters” (E29, 196), is Luther's subtle distinction.
Since Luther had this curious idea that our actions have no connections whatsoever with our thoughts, and that as long as we think in a Christian way, we need not behave accordingly, it is not surprising that he did not hesitate to authorise the commitment of sins. “What does it matter whether we commit a fresh sin?” he asks sarcastically. “Faith cancels all sin” is his simple counsel. “No other sin exists in the world save unbelief,” is his doctrine. Indeed, his old enemy, Satan, is once more coming to light in order to give an excuse to sinners. “Sometimes it is necessary to commit some sin out of hatred and contempt for the Devil.” “What matters if we commit a sin?” (E16, 254).
But then again, he sometimes consoles himself with the thought that it was God who ordained sins. “You must say my sins are not mine; they are not in me at all; they are the sins of another' they are Christ's and are none of my business” (W25, 330). “What a consolation for pious souls to put Him on like this and wrap Him in my sins, your sins, the sins of the whole universe, and consider Him thus bearing all our sins.” “Christianity is nothing but a continual exercise in feeling that you have no sin although you sin, but that your sins are thrown on Christ.” “From the moment when you acknowledge that Christ bears your sins, He becomes the sinner in your stead.”
A strange doctrine! Indeed, he frequently demands that one ought to commit a sin. “Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but believe more boldly still.” Not only men, but the Saints and Apostles must be sinners. “The Saints must be good, downright sinners.” “The Apostles themselves were sinners, yea, regular scoundrels…I believe that the prophets also frequently sinned grievously” (E62, 165).
This, then, is Luther's somewhat curious interpretation of Christianity—an interpretation which he translated into full practice in his own life, as I shall attempt to show.
Christianity, to my mind, is a totality, a total state of mind, a total way of living. It is not open to us to accept just what pleases us, and to reject what we dislike. There are only two possibilities: either we accept (or at least we try to accept)) the complete code of Christian ethics, or we quite frankly admit that we are no Christians. Anything between the two is utter and shameful hypocrisy. I have no hesitation in saying, as a schoolmaster, that I infinitely prefer a good pagan to a bad Christian.
It is for this reason that I am fully convinced that our permanent pretences to live in a Christian world lack the necessary foundation of honesty. Christianity demands so much; and most people are merely prepared to pay lip-service to some of its demands, blindly ignoring the rest.
A certain attitude to sex, an attitude to temperance, an attitude to truth, are fundamental pillars (often ignored) on which Christianity rests. To ignore them is to act willfully in an unchristian way. Even if we may make allowances for ordinary human beings who commit some sins of that kind, hoping that they will improve, the case is certainly different with a man who has the reputation of being a reformer of Christianity, a man who is reputed to have saved the Christian Church from the evils and anti-Christian ways into which both the “pagan” Renaissance and the misguided Roman Church had led it.
It is therefore necessary not merely to look at Luther's more theoretical sayings on sin, but to see how the Reformer lived himself, for it is his example which the Germans were taught to follow—and followed. I shall thus try to show, in turn, Luther's attitude towards temperance, sex, and truth—three subjects on which true Christian ethics can know no compromise, and without which no Christianity, in any sense, seems possible to me.
One of the outstanding reasons why Luther has been able to obtain such an unparalleled popularity in Germany is that the average German feels completely at ease with Luther, much more than with any other great figure of history or the Bible. The explanation is simple: Luther encourages them in their vices. True, at times he lectures and gives them moral “pep talks”, but his own life was so typically German, without any restraint, that it is more than convenient and agreeable to the average German to look up to the Reformer as a shining example with whose habits he is only too willing to comply.
Nobody will deny that lack of temperance—in the widest sense of the word—is a German characteristic. Here I shall merely refer to intemperance in drink.
I doubt whether “drink” has really a beneficial effect in any country, but I do not think that such wines as the Latin peoples consume regularly but in moderation (I am generalizing now) have had any ill effect. In Germany, however, drink has never been considered as a stimulant and something enjoyable, but rather as a means of getting into a state of drunkenness. The Germans betray—as in so many other spheres—a complete lack of self-control when it comes to drink. I can compare my own student days in England, France, Spain, and Switzerland, with those spent in Germany. We students drank everywhere—and I must confess that in all the countries mentioned I have seen intoxicated students. But the regularity and utter senselessness with which the German students drink is something which cannot be explained to anybody who has not witnessed it.
Their “students'-unions” (Corps and Burschenschaften) have as their main aim the getting hopelessly drunk every night. It is a habit amongst German students to consume up to twenty pints per night. It has been rightly observed that drunkenness is a typical German characteristic.
It would be interesting to investigate the influence which drink has had on German history. Already in 843, in the Treaty of Verdun, Louis the German insisted on keeping the towns of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz “on account of their richness in wine”. Montaigne tells us that only heavy drinkers could be appointed ambassadors to German courts, since otherwise they could achieve nothing. A very popular song in Germany is Kopisch's “Blucher on the Rhine”. Its scene is laid in the year 1813. “Should we advance?” is the question of the day. The opinions are divided. Then old Blucher looks at a map. He sees the champagne country. He does not hesitate any longer. “It is better to drink the wine where it grows,” he says, and decides to cross the Rhine. As a well-known French scholar—Paquier—comments on this bit of poetry: “It is the only instance in world's history of drink being considered a `war aim'”. During the last war and the present the alcoholic excesses of the German soldiers have been proverbial.
Nobody knew better of this German vice than Luther himself. In strong language he protested against it. “Our poor German land is chastised and plagued with this devil of drink and altogether drowned in this vice, so that life and limb, possessions and honour, are shamefully lost while people lead the life of swine, so that, had we to depict Germany, we had to show it under the image of a sow. . . . Unless God strikes at this vice by a national calamity everything will go down to the abyss, all sodden through and through with drink.”
Stern words for a reformer of morality. But then, as Luther admitted himself, “I know that I don't practise what I teach” (Enders, 2, 312). The Germans preferred to imitate Luther's practical example and to ignore his teachings. And Luther himself drank a good deal. Far be it from me to make out that Luther was a habitual drunkard, such as some of his opponents tried to make out; I shall merely try to prove that Luther himself drank, occasionally in excess, and showed no moderation whatsoever, set no example which the Germans could possibly follow.
More than once Luther says that he drinks in excess. “I am here,” he writes from the Warburg, “idle and drunk” (Enders III, 154). At other times he states, “I am not drunk” (Enders III, 317; E30, 363). In 1532 he writes: “We eat and drink to kill ourselves, we eat and drink up to our last farthing.” In 1540 he states: “God must count drunkenness as a minor sin, a small daily sin. We can really not stop it.” At another time he feels more guilty. “According to the saying, we have to comply with the habit. The days are bad, people are worse, our acts more than bad. Up to now drunkenness has prevented me from writing, or reading anything readable; living with men, I had to live as they do.” It is abundantly clear that Luther liked drinking—and often not within reason. “I have brought on headache by drinking old wine in the Coburg, and this our Wittenberg beer has not yet cured. I work little, and I am forced to be idle against my will because my head must have a rest.” “If I have a can of beer, I want the beer-barrel as well”. “I am but a man prone to let himself be swept off his feet by society, drunkenness, the movements of the flesh” (W9, 215, 13). And again, “What is needed to live in continence is not in me”.
Once more it is out of hatred of the Devil that Luther takes to drink. When he has a thundering headache, he wonders whether this is due to over-drinking or to the Devil. “We behave like scandalous disgusting brutes, thinking all day and night of nothing but how we can fill ourselves with drink and get rid of all our reason and wisdom.” “Why, do you think, do I drink too much wine . . .? It is when the Devil prepares to torment me and mock me and that I wish to take the lead.”
His bad state of health in his later years, he ascribed himself to drink. “For almost a month past I have been plagued not only with noises but with actual thundering of my head, due, perhaps to the wine, perhaps to the malice of Satan.” “I am troubled with a sore throat such as I never had before; possibly the strong wine has increased the inflammation, or perhaps it is a buffet of Satan.” The opinion of his contemporaries on the subject is unmistakable. They all agree that Luther “was addicted to over-drinking” (Th. Brieger: “Aleander and Luther”, pp. 170, 307).
One may say that it is a small point whether Luther drank or not. Admittedly—and not one worth while to discuss in too much detail or to write whole books about. But it seems clear to me that Luther was anything but temperate, that by his example he made things worse in Germany than they were before as far as drunkenness is concerned. What I have tried to illustrate by this episode most of all is that Luther was a very ordinary German, acting contrary to his words, lacking temperance—certainly not himself leading the life a true Christian should attempt to lead, and having no right to claim to be a reformer of morals, much less of Christianity.
After this relatively harmless excursion into the Reformer's alcoholic excesses, we come to his views and behaviour in the matter of sex and married life—a subject infinitely more important to Christian ethics than the problem of drink.
LUTHER AND MARRIAGE
As a general rule Luther is considered as the man who rescued western civilisation from the immorality which during the sixteenth century prevailed in the Roman Catholic Church. He is painted as the man who not only gave a shining example by his delightful family life of the rightful place of the family in Christian society, but (much more) as the man who put married life in its proper place, and by his teachings made it possible for the emancipation of woman to become an accomplished fact.
It is quite true that Luther said some very lovely and laudable things about women and married life. He himself was quite convinced that he was not merely a reformer of the Church but also of morals and ethics. “Not one of the Fathers,” he wrote with his usual lack of modesty, “wrote anything notable or particularly good concerning the married state.” He himself believed—as so many still do today—that he was the first to have restored married life “to its rightful state as He had at first instituted and ordained it.” “Before my day nothing was known, not even what parents or children were, or what wife and maid.”
But if we look in detail at Luther's writings and his own life, we find once more a most contradictory picture; and on the whole we are forced to say that just the very opposite of what Luther was supposed to say, think and do on the subject is much more prevalent than what I should like to call the legendary interpretation.
Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Luther himself lacked any self-control, and suffered from neurotic sex-troubles. When he was calm and normal, he wrote the very things we know and love. But at other times, we can merely shudder.
“I am but a man prone to let himself be swept off his feet by society, drunkenness, the torments of the flesh”(W9, 215, 13), I have quoted already. There are many similar passages. “Instead of glowing in spirit, I glow in the flesh.” “I burn with all the desires of my unconquered flesh”(Enders 3, 189). “I rarely pray. . . . My unruly flesh doth burn me with devouring flame. In short, I who should be a prey to the spirit alone am eating my heart out through the flesh, through lust, laziness, idleness, and somnolence.”
Of course, our old friend the Devil was to blame for it. “I know it well how it is when the Devil comes and invites the flesh.” “It is a horrible struggle; I have known it well and you must know it too; oh, I know it well when the Devil excites and inflames the flesh” (W9, 215, 46). What a painful confession when he exclaims, “Pray for me for I am falling into the abyss of sin” (Enders, 3, 193).
But, as we have seen before, he has always a very easy way out. It just does not matter whether we commit a sin or not. “You owe nothing to God except faith and confession. In all other things He lets you do whatever you like. You may do as you please, without any danger of conscience whatsoever.” Thus a remedy for his “burning flesh” is easily found. “The sting of flesh may easily be helped so long as girls and women are to be found.” “The body asks for a woman and must have it”; “to marry is a remedy for fornication” (see Grisar, “Luther”, vol. iv, p. 145).
I am reluctant, more than reluctant, to quote some of his sayings; and yet I have to do it if I want to be complete. For the degradation of womanhood and the taking away of all the sacred character of marriage is one of the main reasons why Germany with Luther began its unchristian way down the hi.. “Since wedlock and marriage are a worldly business, we clergy and ministers of the Church have nothing to order or decree about it, but must leave each town and country to follow its own usage and custom.” In other words, Luther is not interested in it. Marriage is to him just like any other manual labour, something to be ruled by local traditions, without any kind of Christian standard. “Marriage,” he says, “is an external bodily thing, like any other manipulation.” “Know that marriage is an outward material thing like any other secular business.” “The body has nothing to do with God. In this respect one can never sin against God, but only against one's neighbour”(W12, 131).
But here we come to one of his most contradictory attitudes. For what is usually called “the matrimonial duty”, or “the matrimonial act”, he considers—contrary to the Scripture and Christian ethics—as a great and everlasting sin. The true Christian attitude is best formulated by St. Augustine, who said: “The matrimonial act in order to produce children or to comply with matrimonial duties contains neither guilt nor sin.” This is only logical. For marriage, according to Christian teaching, has been instituted by God in order to propagate humanity, and the commandment of creating children has been given by God—a commandment which cannot be obeyed without a matrimonial act. From this it is quite clear that to obey the will of God can never be a sin in the Christian sense.
Luther is quite opposed to this. “In spite of all the good I say of married life, I will not grant so much to nature as to admit that there is no sin in it . . no conjugal due is ever rendered without sin.” “The matrimonial duty is never performed without sin.” The matrimonial act is, according to Luther, “a sin differing in nothing from adultery and fornication” (W8, 654).
An unbelievable attitude! And since it is sinful, what then is its point? No love or the creation of a family, but merely the physical necessity of satisfying one's sexual cravings. “Marriage ought to be contracted by a boy not later than the age of twenty, and a girl when she is from fifteen to eighteen years of age. Then they are still healthy and sound and they can leave it to God to see that their children are provided for.” “A young fellow should be simply given a wife, otherwise he has no peace.” “It is true that he who does not marry must lead an immoral life, for how could it be otherwise?” “Though womenfolk are ashamed to confess it, yet it is proved by Scripture and experience that there is not one among many thousands to whom God gives the grace of chastity.”
Nothing sacred about marriage Luther knows of. But what he has to say about women is still worse. “The word and work of God is quite clear, viz. That women were made either to be wives or prostitutes” (W12, 94).
I know of no more loathsome saying. Throughout Luther's writings I have found the same spirit. “God does not take from man and woman their special fashioning, sexual organs, seed and its fruit; a Christian body must generate, multiply, and behave like those of birds and all animals; he was created by God for that, thus where God performs no miracle, man must unite with woman and woman with man.”
What happens to the woman is of no consequence to Luther. “Even though they grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for”(E20, 84).
But the Reformer surpasses himself when he says: “If you do not want, someone else does. If the wife does not want, take your servant” (E20, 72).
From this is only a step to Luther's permitting his followers “to satisfy their desires outside marriage, when they were not married, in order to give relief to natural feelings which they could not resist.” He says quite plainly: “It is not forbidden that a man should have more than one wife” (E33, 327.).
These teachings Luther did not fail to translate into practice in his own life. In accordance with his teachings against monasteries and convents, he and his disciples began systematically to undermine the mentality of the nuns. We have authentic proof that those who pretended to free the nuns from the bondage of the Catholic Church were inspired by anything but humanitarian or Christian motives. “After a rape of nuns which took place on the night of Holy Saturday, 1523, Luther calls the citizen Koppe, who organised the exploit, a `holy and blessed robber'”.
Luther himself has several of these escaped nuns living with him. But he does not intend to marry. In November, 1524, he writes: “Not as though I do not feel my flesh and my sex, for I am neither of wood nor of stone, but I have no inclination to marry.” One of these nuns, Catherine von Bora, tried to marry one of Luther's friends. But it is clear that his own relations to her were anything but blameless. In April, 1525, he refers to himself as “a famous lover” who has “three wives” but “no intention whatsoever to marry”.
Less than two months later, without any warning, he most suddenly decided to marry Catherine von Bora. Why, can only be left to the imagination. “The Lord plunged me suddenly while I still clung to quite other views into matrimony,” he confesses. “God willed that I should take pity on her,” is another of his explanations. He is even frank enough to say that he had “no love nor passion for her”. Lastly, his usual excuse for his strangest actions is not lacking. “I married in order to spite the Devil”.
It is quite obvious that there was a good deal of scandal about Luther's relations with Catherine before they married. “Your example is permanently quoted by those who visit brothers,” is one of the typical comments. Even his best friend, Melanchthon, has to admit with a sigh that “Luther was more than a reckless man”.
Some time later Luther explains: “I have shut the mouth of those who slandered me and Catherine von Bora.” Though, at other times, the Devil is once more the main explanation of this unholy marriage. “I too am married, and to a nun. I could have refrained had I not special reasons to decide me. But I did it to defy the Devil and his host, the objectors, the princes and bishops, since they were all foolish enough to forbid the clergy to marry. And I would with willing heart create an even greater scandal, if I knew of anything else better calculated to please God and to put them in a rage.”
I give few comments. I let the Reformer speak for himself. I shall not give any details of the way he behaved after he was married. But surely Luther's attitude in his writings and his personal behaviour towards women and marriage are rarely found even in the most depraved men, never in any human being who pretended to lead anything like a Christian life—not to speak of a “reformer”.
The results of this teaching in Luther's own times were obvious. As Heinrich Heine said, German history at that time was, thanks to Luther's example, almost entirely composed of sensual disturbances. Looking at the devastated state of Germany, one of Luther's contemporaries spoke the truth when he shouted at the Reformer: “This is due to your carnal teaching and stinking example.” To enumerate or give a clear picture of the abhorrent state of affairs of the morals in Germany, would take pages and volumes. The important factor is that "“Luther not merely robbed marriage of its sacramental character, but also declared it to be a purely outward carnal union, which has nothing whatsoever to do with religion and church” (Janssen: “History of the German People”, vol.16, page 137).
This view has prevailed in Germany ever since. As I have already said, to my mind Christianity has to be taken in its entirety. By denying and negativing one of the most important aspects of Christian ethics, Luther paved the way for a new religion, which to the everlasting confusion of the development of mankind still called itself “Christianity”, but not only had it nothing to do with Christianity but it was indeed contrary to its teaching and practice in respect of one of its most fundamental principles. This is why I am investigating these points, which may appear petty, unimportant, and slanderous. I cannot repeat it often enough. Christianity, if ever it should work, cannot be applied in convenient bits and pieces—such as going to Church and Holy Communion. It is a total code of life and morals, thought, and action. Nothing is “important” or “less important”. Either we lead, or try to lead a thoroughly Christian life—or we quite frankly admit that we are not interested in Christianity. Luther's views on sin, temperance, sex, are not small and minor points; with his attitude to these, he cannot claim to be a Christian, much less a Christian reformer. However contradictory, however lovely some of the things he wrote and thought, said and sung—he cannot get away from the quotations (which are by no means isolated) I have given. He abandoned Christianity, and gave something new. A new religion, which was taken up by his fellow-countrymen. But before we come to a definite conclusion on the question whether Luther, in his own life and actions, could claim to be a Christian, let us end our investigation of Luther's character by trying to see which attitude the Reformer took towards one of the most fundamental commands of Christian ethics, that to be truthful and honest.
LUTHER AND THE TRUTH
One of the most fundamental, if not the most fundamental, principle of Christian ethics is to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Absolute and complete truthfulness is demanded. Without it there can be no Christianity.
The familiar picture which we have of Luther shows us the Reformer as the upholder of truth and truthfulness. “Luther the truthful”, he has been called more than once. And many of his sayings on the subject are indeed lovely and beautiful. “To my mind,” he said once, “there is no more shameful vice on earth than lying.”
But once more a close study of his teaching and behaviour will show us that he contradicts himself, to what an extent the very opposite is true. And to my mind, this opposite attitude of Luther's towards truth was not merely the usual one, but one which appealed most to the Germans.
Already in his early years when he was at war with the Catholic Church he frankly admitted that it was not necessary to stick to the truth. “I consider everything allowable against the deception and the depravity of the Papal antichrist,” was his excuse. “Vows have only to be kept as long as it is psychologically possible. If it is no longer possible, one is allowed to break them."” Moreover, in order to prove his interpretation of the Scripture, he is quite prepared to falsify it. “His worst offence is that he does not resist the temptation arbitrarily and intentionally to falsify a large number of passages in support of his new doctrine,” says the historian Janssen. And he continues to speak of Luther's “intentional perversion of the apostolic language.” It would take us too far to prove in detail that in many Bible passages he purposely inserted or omitted words, in order to suit his purpose. Besides, it has already been done in great detail by famous scholars, whose research seems to me beyond doubt, so that it would merely be the repetition of other people's work (see, e.g., Janssen, op. Cit. Vol. 14, pages 418ff).
It may be said that one cannot expect Luther to act correctly and truthfully in such a deadly fight as that in which he was involved with the Catholic Church. Very well then, let us look in detail merely at one example of his teaching and his acting which has nothing whatever to do with his quarrel with Rome. I am referring to the marriage of the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, surnamed the Magnanimous. He was a great supporter and important patron of Luther.
Philip was married and had a number of sons and daughters. He was anything but faithful to his wife, and in the year 1539—when he was 35 years of age—he wanted to marry a lady called Margaret von der Saal. He asked Luther's advice, and tried to obtain his permit for a bigamous marriage. He wrote to the Reformer, telling him that he (Philip) was “unable to refrain from fornication unchastity and adultery”; his own wife, he said, “he had never loved, she was rude to him, ugly, and stank.” “I am forced to commit fornication or worse with women,” he complained; and his own sister Elisabeth had “already advised him to take a concubine in place of so many prostitutes. However, he did not want yet another concubine, but desired Luther's authorisation to take a second wife.
The Reformer was in a dilemma, for Philip wanted his permission in writing. But Dr. Martin easily found a way out. He said that there was nothing whatever against a bigamous marriage, since in this case it would help the Landgrave to get over his physical and psychological troubles. The only condition Luther imposed in his written document w s that the marriage ought to remain an absolute secret, for otherwise he himself and the Landgrave might get into trouble. This famous document was signed by Luther in December, 1539, and armed with the Reformer's written authority, the Landgrave married bigamously and officially in March of the following year. In gratitude for the helpful testimonial, Philip sent Luther a large barrel of wine.
But too many people were in the secret, and all the parties to it got scared. According to the “Carolina”—which was a code of law—capital punishment was still prescribed for bigamists, and neither Philip nor his adviser knew at first what to do.
A contemporary chronicler reported “that Philip is much upset, and Dr. Martin full of thought.” At first it seemed that Brother Martin did not know how to extricate himself. But then he had an idea. He would point out that the advice he gave was given under confession (here he most conveniently returned to Catholic doctrine), and therefore ought to remain absolutely secret. Moreover, he argued in truly German fashion that this secret permission never implied a public permission. “A secret affirmative cannot become a public affirmative—a secret `yes' remains a public `no', and vice versa” (de Wette, 6, 263), is his very odd argument. “All that had passed between him and Philip on the subject of the bigamy was sacred under the rule of the confessional. He became for the occasion a Roman Catholic monk again,” remarks the Lutheran scholar Lipsky.
So far for his position. His advice to the Landgrave was something quite different. “If hard-pressed the Landgrave should deny the whole affair and declare to the Emperor that he had merely taken a concubine.” “Keep the prostitute but deny it, counselled the reformer of morals.
And here we come to Luther's typical attitude. I am quoting the relative passages literally, as is my usual method:
“What harm could it do if aman told a good lusty lie in a worthy cause and for the sake of the Christian Churches?” (Lenz: Briefwechsel, vol. 1, page 373).
“To lie in a case of necessity or for convenience or in excuse—such lying would not be against God; He was ready to take such lies on Himself” (ibid, page 375).
This was too much even for the not too moral Philip. “I will not lie,” he wrote back to Luther, “for lying has an evil sound and no apostle or Christian has ever taught it, nay, Christ has forbidden it and said we should keep to yea and nay. I refuse to declare that the lady is a whore. I should surely have had no need of your advice to take a whore, neither does it do you credit.” Luther replied with his typical dignity: “When it comes to writing, I shall be quite competent to wriggle out of it and to leave your Grace in the lurch.”
This is all in the case which concerns us. It is dreadful. “By degrees Luther reduces the lie of convenience or necessity to a virtue,” writs Professor Grisar.
Luther's attitude in Philip's case is by no means unique. There are many, too many cases in his own life and his own writings where he advises a lie. “Lying is a virtue if it is indulged in for the purpose of preventing the fury of the Devil, or made to serve the honour, the life, and the welfare of one's fellow-men.” “The lie of service is wrongly termed a lie . . . it may be called Christian and brotherly charity,” is one of many similar sayings by the Reformer. “The world will be deceived,” he used to exclaim, and he acted accordingly. I have, reluctantly, come to the conclusion that Luther's biographer was utterly right when he said: “The general conclusion must be that Luther was a man to whom the idea of truth for truth's sake meant nothing at all.” Luther's theory of truth always reminds one of what Cicero said about Homer, Humana ad deos transtulit; divina mallem ad nos. (He gave human shortcomings to the gods; why did he not rather give divine qualities to human beings?)
Those who do not fully understand the history of German thought have often wondered what a strange coincidence it is that in Frederick, miscalled the Great, Bismarck (the Ems Dispatch!), William II, Hitler, and many others there has always been that love of lying, that double-dealing, that lack of truth and honesty. They have rarely thought that it might be part of a German religion, preached by the lying monk of Wittenberg for the first time over four centuries ago, supplanting Christian ethics, and putting German religious ideas in its place. “We consider everything allowable against the deception and depravity of the Papal antichrist.” I have quoted earlier. Replace the phrase “Papal antichrist” with whomever Germany happens to consider at a given moment her mortal enemy—and there is left nothing mysterious about German ethics. It all becomes clear, clear if we do not look at the isolated facts but at the underlying spiritual forces which are found first of all in Martin Luther.
I may have shocked people's feelings a little in the picture I have given so far about the Reformer. It is a picture which in no way coincides with the one painted in legends and by wishful thinking.
The strange thing is that if one looks at actually painted pictures and reproductions of his face, one will find a still greater surprise.
Neither Holbein nor Durer ever painted Luther—which is odd since they were his contemporaries. On the other hand, we have many pictures of Luther by Lucas Cranach, who was an ardent admirer of Dr. Martin. These pictures, showing a gentle, smiling, benevolent, slender, and scholarly saint are familiar to most of us. Hundreds of thousands of reproductions exist all over the world. On German stamps and buildings we see the portrait. But the drawback is that “Cranach suppressed what he considered to be defects in his sitter.”
Let us take a glance at Luther's death-mask, a representation that cannot be faked, obtained by a method of portraiture which has left us many a lovely picture of great men. In Luther's case we get a shock. Funck-Brentano speaks with much restraint of Luther's “aggressive vulgarity”. And Maritain, who certainly is not given to polemical language, says he looks “surprisingly bestial. Anger, calumny, hatred and lying, love of beer and wine, obsession with filth and obscenity—it all pours out in a flood.”
If we can judge people by their appearance—a dangerous process—Luther was anything but a saint. I would not draw attention to this fact, if his physical as well as his moral portrait had not been so greatly falsified for four centuries.
CHAPTER III: LUTHER'S POLITICAL DOCTRINES
MARTIN LUTHER AND THE STATE
WE have seen how contradictory was Luther's character, how differently he often acted from what he taught. But nowhere is contradiction stronger, or at least does it appear more marked than in Luther's political teachings. The reason for this seems to me obvious. For all we usually look at is the young Luther, the Luther who fought so bravely the Church of Rome, the Luther who acted (even if the words are merely a legend) according to the principle, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.”
The later Luther is so often ignored. The change which took place once he had achieved his aim, once he was a national hero, a dictator of morals, politics, and religion, is rarely taken into account. And yet it is the later Luther who had (anyhow in my interpretation) so much greater an influence on Germany than the young rebellious monk.
In no sphere is this so clear as in Luther's attitude towards the State, as in his commands governing relations between the ruling class and the working classes. The line of demarcation is clearly the year 1525. And before we attempt a more theoretical interpretation of Luther's political teachings, let us look for a short while at the historical facts.
We are always inclined to interpret present-day history as something new. We are always tempted to see the sufferings of our own times as something unheard of, as something more modern and more important than any other period in history. To me it seems that the problems are, at least to a certain degree, always the same. One of these great problems which we are facing at the moment is the relationship between the “capitalists” or “upper class”, and the “working classes”, or proletariat. But this struggle, this conflict of interests is nothing very new. Indeed, as long as there has been human history, there has been class-struggle. The only difference is that the various classes appear at different periods under different names. Thus, in the Germany of Luther, the upper classes were “the princes”, the working classes were “the peasants”. This ought to be remembered, for I shall refer quite often to “the princes” and “the peasants”—a traditional but not quite correct terminology.
The suppression which the “princes” imposed upon the “peasants” early in the sixteenth century is something almost unbelievable. Taxes, rents, rates, work, and so forth were unbearable. The working classes were treated in a loathsome way and there was much, very much justifiable grumbling and discontent. But these poor oppressed creatures, whose life was less than worth living, could not see a way out of their tragedy; they lacked leadership, they lacked ideas; nobody seemed to be able or willing to help them, nobody seemed to possess the necessary courage and conviction to oppose the cruel treatment which they received from the princes.
Then there came Martin Luther. He acted like a great and courageous man. He showed no signs of fright. He said what he thought. He brought the true idea of Christianity back to the oppressed masses. His preachings of “Christian Freedom” were eagerly read and learnt by those thousands of “peasants” who had merely been waiting for a man of Luther's greatness, honesty, fearlessness, true Christianity.
Luther encouraged these exploited creatures as much as he could. “Among Christians”, he told them, “no authority can or ought to exist, but everyone should be subject to all.” Moreover, Luther was fearless enough to tell the oppressing princes what he thought of them, what would happen to them. “God Almighty,” he wrote, “has struck our princes with madness so that they imagine they may treat and command their subjects just as they please; and the subjects too are crazy enough to think that it is their duty to obey all that is commanded them.” “God has delivered the princes up to a perverted mind, and means to make an end to them. . . . All the princes could do was to rob and oppress the people, heaving tax upon tax, and rate upon rate."” He warned the princes that they would soon be destroyed. “The princes"” he continued, “are the greatest fools and the worst scoundrels on earth. The people cannot, will not any longer, endure your tyranny and your presumption.
It is thus not surprising that the peasants in Germany looked to Luther, to Christian teaching, to the Bible, as their one and only hope. “All the peasants of Germany were soon united in the immense hope to reconstruct society on Christian ideas.” Revolt was in the air; it was unavoidable. And Luther was not merely the born leader of this great movement of liberation, but he had purposely put the common hatred of the princes into words and had threatened action. The revolution which was about to break out in 1525 is known in history as “the Peasants' War”, and on its eve Luther was the avowed champion of the most oppressed class in Germany. “Luther was the creator and leader of the whole movement”—no historian has ever doubted this fact.
The term “Peasants' War” is, as I have indicated already, somewhat misleading. “It is difficult to generalise a movement so widespread as this. We might call it a social revolution based on the `divine justice' as revealed in the Bible,” says Professor MacKinnon, Luther's most recent, most complete biographer and apologist. And he continues: “The phrase `rising of the peasants' is strictly speaking insufficient as a designation of the insurrection of 1525, in view of the wider discontent which coalesced with the movement.”
The discontented peasants published their grievances in a memorandum consisting of twelve articles. It is a very calm and moderate document. They state their claims and express their discontent. Michelet, the great French historian, calls it “a model of courageous moderation”. Professor MacKinnon says: “The moderate persuasive tone of these articles is surprising. The peasants will not use force except in the last resort and against glaring abuses, which were really indefensible from the Christian standpoint. . . . Brotherly love and the Gospel are to decide in all contentious matters.” “The Christian liberty which proclaimed was applied directly to temporal questions.”
What now was Luther's attitude in these crucial hours? The peasants looked at him as their leader. They felt confident that he, the great lover of Christian freedom and brotherhood, could be relied upon. But Luther's reply to the twelve articles was somewhat ambiguous. He gave to this reply the title “Exhortation to Peace regarding the Twelve Articles”. “Brother Martin here showed the greatest circumspection. His reply to the overlords as well as to the peasants, in its fundamentals at all events is neither fish nor fowl. The peasants were certainly wrong, but the overlords were not right” (Funck-Brentano).
Luther calls the peasants “dear brothers” and the princes “dear masters”. And while he urges the peasants not to revolt, explaining that “never did rebellion end in good” (Friend Martin was forgetting his own rebellion”), he continues to state the injustice of the princes. “Since it is certain that you govern tyrannically and savagely, fleecing and oppressing the common people, there is no comfort or hope for you but to perish as those like you have perished.”
Obviously, the peasants took these hints much more seriously than Luther's demand to them “to suffer in a Christian manner, and to be ready to endure persecution and even oppression willingly.” In any case, matters had gone too far, and Luther's exhortation meant nothing either to princes or peasants. “He states the case for the peasants and then runs away from it,” as MacKinnon expresses it. But the revolution was in full swing. The more extreme elements were no longer prepared to submit quietly to the princes. It is at this very moment that Luther decides to support the princes. “When it came to civil war, Luther did not prove to be a Cato. He went over to the victorious side after he had tried as long as possible to please both parties.”
“Peasants”, Luther declared, “are no better than straw. They will not hear the Word and they are without sense; therefore they must be compelled to hear the crack of the whip and the whizz of bullets, and it is only what they deserve. We must pray for them that they may become obedient; but if they do not, pity is of no avail here; we must let the cannon-balls whistle among them, or they will only make things a thousand times worse."
A strange way to talk about his most faithful followers! But once Luther had made up his mind which side he was going to back, which side it was more profitable to back, his violence knew no limits. On May 6 of this fatal year Luther published his pamphlet, “Against the Peasant Bands of Robbers and Murderers”, which Funck-Brentano has described as a “horrible document which it is impossible to read, not only without disapproval but without disgust. The Reformer, who always had the Gospel on his lips, now talked of nothing but killing, torturing, burning and murdering the very people whom his work had driven to rebel.” Let us listen to the Reformer, the so-called champion of Christian freedom.
To kill a peasant is not murder; it is helping to extinguish the conflagration. Let there be no half measures! Crush them! Cut their throats! Transfix them! Leave no stone unturned! To kill a peasant is to destroy a mad dog!. . . Our princes must in the circumstances regard themselves as the officers of the divine wrath which bids them chastise such scoundrels. A prince who failed to do so would be sinning against God very badly. He would be failing in his mission. A prince who in such circumstances avoided bloodshed would become responsible for the murders and all the further crimes which these low swine might commit. It is no longer a question of tolerance, patience, pity. It is the hour of wrath and for the sword; the hour for mercy is past.”
Luther is full of similar advice. “It is a trifle for God to massacre a lot of peasants, when He drowned the whole world with a flood and wiped out Sodom with fire. He is an almighty and frightful God.” “If there are innocent men amongst the peasants, God will certainly prepare and keep them, as He did with Lot and Jeremiah."” "“ will not forbid such rulers as are able, to chastise and slay the peasants without previously them offering terms, even though the Gospel does not permit it."” Once more, the Devil is brought into it. "“he peasants serve the Devil. . . . I believe that there are no devils left in hell, but all of them have entered into peasants."” And Luther surpasses himself when he exclaims: "“hat strange times are these when a prince can enter heaven by the shedding of blood more certainly than others by means of prayer!"” And he ends with the peroration: "Come, dearly-beloved lords and nobles, strike them, transfix them, and cut their throats with might and main. Should you find death in so doing, you could not wish for one more divine, for you would fall in obedience to God and in defending your like against the hordes of Satan."” I know of no example in history (with the exception of Hitler'' famous, or rather infamous, June 30, 1934) where a man turned in such an inhuman, brutal, low way against his own followers—merely in order to establish his own position, without any reason. Treason of any kind is, in my opinion, honourable compared to Luther's change of colours.
The effect of Luther's pamphlet was terrible. It was exactly what the princes had hoped for. “It was due to Luther's pamphlet against the peasants, so said the Strasburg preacher Capito, that the country had passed from the turmoil of insurrection to the horrors of retaliation and revenge.” The princes translated the Reformer's inhuman orders into practice with a terrifying speed.
Even Luther's own followers got frightened. They reproached him, they tried to explain that the irrational, quick-tempered Luther had acted on the spur of the moment, that he did not mean what he said. In cold blood Luther replied: “An insurgent is not worthy of being answered with reason, for he cannot understand it; such mouths must be stopped with fisticuffs till their noses bleed. The peasants would not hear, would not listen to reason, therefore it was necessary to startle their ears with bullets, and send their heads flying in the air. . . . If they say I am very hard and merciless, mercy be damned. Let whoever can stab, strangle, and kill them like made dogs” (E24, 294). “The intention of the Devil was to lay Germany waste, because he was unable in any other way to prevent the spread of the Evangel.”
He would have no criticism—Luther, who is reported to be the great champion of tolerance. “Those who thus blame my little book (against the peasants) must be warned to hold their tongues and to take care what they say; for most certainly they are insurgents at heart, therefore the authorities must keep an eye on such people and let them see that they are in earnest.” Indeed, Luther “attributed his pamphlet against the peasants to Divine inspiration.”
No, Luther would not retract a single word of his pamphlet or apologise for it as the offspring of momentary passion. Instead, he began to elaborate his new political theory, a theory which was so readily accepted in Germany. “Scripture speaking figuratively”, wrote Luther in 1526, “calls rulers drovers, taskmasters, and scourgers. Like the drivers of donkeys, who have to belabour the donkeys incessantly with rods and whips, or they will not obey, so must the ruler do with the people; they must drive, beat, throttle, hang, burn, behead and torture, so as to make themselves feared and to keep the people in check" (E15, 276).
The princes obeyed. A “brutal revenge” took place. Typical is the assertion of one of the princes: “I hope we are now going to play with heads as the boys play with marbles.”
The lot of the poor peasants was worse than horrible. “Captains and overlords vied with each other in the ferocity of the punishments inflicted on the inhabitants of the conquered districts. The mildest way for the victims was to have their heads chopped off with an axe. Many, both men and women, had their tongues torn out; others had their fingers chopped off. The executions took place in public squares, the wives and children of the condemned being forced to witness the horrible spectacle at sight.” Some of the princes made all their subjects who had taken part in the revolt kneel in groups, and then mowed them down with artillery. Others crowded them into the cellars under their castles, where they died of suffocation in the most terrible stench. “Historians have estimated the number of poor wretches put to death in this way at about 100,000. The victorious landowners used to amuse themselves by playing bowls with their heads” (Funck-Brentano).
The whole of Germany seemed to collapse. But Luther did not care. “What I teach and write remains true though the whole world should fall to pieces over it” (W18, 401).
Nor did the Reformer feel any sympathy of any kind for the victims of the atrocities committed by his orders. “'Why treat the peasants so cruelly?' I am asked,”, wrote Luther in May, 1525; “let them all be killed. In such circumstances is it not God Himself who by our hands, hangs, breaks on the wheel, blows to bits and decapitates.”
The immediate results were obvious. “The peasants sank back into their servile conditions.” “The practical outcome of the great popular movement was deplorable. The condition of the common people became even worse than before.” “A general and rapid decay of intellectual life was the natural result.”
Perhaps the one and greatest chance in Germany's history to have a revolution of the people, to force the Junkers to give in, to have a democracy based on Christian principles—was squashed, by Martin Luther. The common people sank back into a pitiful state—at least those poor wretches who survived. Germany was a battlefield, disunited, more oppressed than ever by the ruling classes. At this moment the Reformer thought it appropriate to exclaim with pride: “It was I, Martin Luther, who slew all the peasants in the insurrection, for I commanded them to be slaughtered. All their blood is upon my shoulders. But I cast it on our Lord God who commanded me to speak in this way” (E59, 284).
So much for the facts, and for Luther's change of attitude. What interests us here is not his personal psychology in this dark affair, but the change in his political theories. For the Reformer had become from the defender of liberty, freedom, and tolerance the preacher of “the new doctrine of the unlimited authority of secular rulers over their subjects”—a theory to which he consistently adhered, which was to become for over four centuries the new Gospel of the Reich, to the everlasting tragedy of mankind.
If we look at Luther until just before the Peasants' War, i.e.1525, then it might be true to say, as so many of his biographers have done, that “The roots of religious freedom are to be found in Lutheranism.” “Luther repelled the use of violence in religion; he protested against propagating reforms by persecution, and with a wise moderation he maintained the sublime doctrine of freedom of conscience.”
Luther himself had said: “The secular authorities are not to hinder anyone from teaching and believing what he pleases.” “I cannot admit that false teachers are to be put to death. It is enough to banish them.” We might be justified in concluding, if we look only at the first part of his life, that “Luther's service to mankind was nothing less than the successful declaration of individual freedom of conscience from the dictates of any human authority.” “Luther is a beacon light of history, for he is the founder of modern liberty.” Over and over again the Reformer pleaded: “Everyone ought to be allowed what he will.”
But then came his sudden change. This terrible attitude towards the peasants, this desire to seek their blood and life, this unparalleled intolerance. Many, too many, historians do not look at it, ignore it. And yet it is here that the true Luther reveals himself. Ever since the Peasants' War the Reformer maintained the same brutal attitude. Take, to quote merely another case (but there are many more), the way in which he treated the Anabaptists.
Against this was a sect which had come into being through Luther himself. “Whatever may have been their historical origin, Anabaptist ideas were undoubtedly stirred to vigorous life by Luther's revolutionary writings.” The Anabaptists were “left-wing Lutherans”; they preached “Socialism in the 16th century”. It was a “very moderate movement”. They aimed at the “establishment of a democratic socialist republic,” and demanded “abolition of all class distinctions, freedom and equality.” It was a purely religious movement—as compared with that of the peasants—and they had no political aim. The Cambridge Modern History says (vol. II, p. 223) that some of the Anabaptists “were anticipating the Quakers,” and that they denounced the dependence of the Lutheran Church upon the State, and denied the right of the secular magistrate to interfere in religious matters.
Surely here was a movement which the Luther of 1520, the traditional Luther, should have welcomed and hailed. But in 1535 Luther was at the peak of his power and tolerated no other belief, no other religion, no other leadership, but his own. So he recommended the same treatment for the Anabaptists as he had previously urged should be applied to the peasants. “The principal thing”, he said, “required to protect the people against the devils who were teaching through the mouths of the Anabaptist prophets was in the case of the common people compulsion by the sword and by the law . . . the law with its penalties rules over them in the same way that wild beasts are held in check by chains and bars, in order that outward peace may prevail amongst the people; for this purpose the temporal authorities are ordained and it is God's will that they be honoured and feared.”
Once more Luther encouraged the secular authorities to commit the worst atrocities. “Many Anabaptists were beheaded with the express approbation of Luther, who regarded their heroism in the face of death as proof of diabolic possession.”
Is there any possibility of explaining this change in attitude in Luther? The man who denounced the State and the princes, who fought them gallantly and with heroism, turning suddenly into a supreme upholder of complete dictatorship, being more intolerant, more brutal, more bloodthirsty than any of his own opponents had ever thought of being?
Many historians have abandoned the hope of explaining the strange phenomenon. “A curious changeableness and want of logic are apparent, not merely in Luther's way of expressing himself, but also in his views,” says Professor Grisar. “This was due in part to the fact that his mental abilities lent themselves less to the statement and defence of general theories than to controversy on individual points; but still more to the influence on his doctrine exercised by the changes proceeding in the outer world.”
Another typical comment is that “Luther's lack of system is nowhere more apparent than in his views concerning the authorities and their duty towards religion. The attempt to sum up in a logical system the ideas which he expressed on this subject under varying circumstances and at different times, and to bring these ideas into harmony with his practice will ever prove a failure. It will never be possible to set aside the contradictions of his theory, and between his theory and his practice.”
Nevertheless I do believe that a psychological explanation is possible. Luther, as I have tried to show, was an extremely self-centred man, obsessed by the idea of being inspired by Heaven. While he was fighting for his own ideas, he preached that it was unchristian to restrain him; he demanded absolute and complete liberty of thought and word, action, and deed. But once he had been successful, he believed himself to be the one and only authority on all matters of faith and religion—and woe to those who dared to argue with him! It is then that he called the secular power to his assistance, that he gave rights and tasks, absolute authority and dictatorial powers to the princes such as they had never known before.
Of course, Luther was too clever not to see that he contradicted himself—that he called his former enemies to his assistance against those whom he had most influenced, who had believed in him, but who refused to see in him, and in him alone, a new Jesus Christ. It is then that he elaborates his fateful theory of two moralities, two lives, two authorities.
I have already drawn attention to the fact that Luther separated action and behaviour from thought and belief. Ever since the Peasants' War, he expanded this strange and somewhat muddle-headed theory, as an apology for his contradictions. “The kingdom of Christ,” he wrote, “wholly belongs to the order of Grace, but the kingdom of the world and worldly life belong to the order of the law. The two kingdoms are of a different species and belong to different worlds. To the one you belong as a Christian to the other as a man or a ruler. Christ has nothing to do with the regulations of worldly life but leaves them to the world; earthly life stands in no need of being outwardly hallowed by the Church.”
“A great distinction,” Luther said, “must be made between a worldling and a Christian, i.e. between a Christian and a worldly man. For a Christian is neither man nor woman . . . he must know nothing and possess nothing in the world. . . A prince may indeed by a Christian, but he must not rule as a Christian, and when he rules, he does so not as a Christian but as a prince. As an individual he is indeed a Christian, but his office or princedom is no business of his Christianity.”
An ideal solution to save his own skin. Whenever he acted, protested, fought—he was doing so as a true Christian, and the authorities had no right whatsoever to interfere with him. But whenever any of his opponents dared to say something or to act—they were not Christians, and it was the duty of the prince to stop them, kill them, hang them. “Hitherto,” Luther explained, “I have foolishly hoped for something superhuman from men, that they might be led by the Gospel. But experience has taught me that in contempt of the Gospel they need to be contained by laws and the sword.”
And he comes to the logical conclusion: “Every Christian leads a double life: One faithful and spiritual, the other as a citizen or a worldly one.” The two have nothing to do with each other. “Civilian life does not regard God.” “God does not need our works, if we praise him and thank Him, that is all He wants.” This idea that our life as a citizen does in no way whatsoever concern God and that we need not be guided in it by Christian standards, is to be found throughout Luther's writings. “We must make a great distinction”, Luther teaches us, “between justice on earth and the justice of God.” “As far as earthly justice is concerned, we need not be guided by the Scripture.”
Over and over again he returns to this favoured subject, that there are two moralities; the one in which we are faithful Christians and which regards merely our spiritual life, and the other which we adopt as citizens and where we owe obedience to the secular power.
The secular power has to be blindly obeyed by the citizens. It is God's will that there are rulers and princes in order to see that these secular laws are obeyed. The princes are the gods upon earth. “Wherever the princes take their power from, it does not regard us. It is the will of God, irrespective whether they have stolen their power or assumed it by robbery” (W30,1). “If anybody has the might, he obtained it from God. Therefore he has also the right.” It is strange to notice that more than once Luther—not Bismarck!—uses the term “Might is Right”.
Nobody has a right ever to oppose this secular power. “Even if the authorities are wicked and unjust, nobody is entitled to oppose them, or to riot against them.” The people, the mass of the people have no rights whatsoever. “The ass must have blows and the people must be ruled by force. God knew this well, for it was not a fox's brush He gave to rulers, but a sword.” “Even though the authorities act unjustly, God wills that they should be obeyed without deceit . . . for to suffer unjustly harms no man's soul; indeed it is profitable to it.”
We have seen, and it is only the logical conclusion of these theories, how Luther ordered the peasants and Anabaptists to be treated. It was also Luther, that so-called champion of freedom, who re-introduced censorship and concentration camps. “The princes and estates will not henceforth allow nor tolerate the printing of any book which has not been diligently examined to see whether, not in the substance only, butalso in the style and form of the language, it coincides with the Augsburg Confession.”
“Carlstadt has set up printing works at Jena”, Luther wrote in 1534, “but the Elector of Saxony and our Academy have promised, in conformity with the Imperial edict, to tolerate no publication that has not been submitted to the `commissions,' that is to say, the censorship.” Funck-Brentano very justifiably comments here: “Thus we find Luther invoking the edicts of the Roman Catholic Emperor and the censorship of a commission of control, against votaries of the reformed religion who did not feel called upon to adhere strictly to its doctrines. What cries, what protestations would he not have raised against anybody who had dared to treat him in a similar fashion!” Funck-Brentano continues: “Luther persuaded the Elector of Saxony to have a prison built and reserved for pastors and preachers whose conduct or utterances he regarded as reprehensible. He himself mentions a certain John Sturm `who insisted on believing that Christ died only to set an example'. And he was taken to Schweinitz, where he was shut up in a tower to the day of his death.”
Christian ethics and Christian principles—it cannot be too often repeated—according to Luther did not regard the prince and his conduct. “If you are a prince, judge, man, woman, etc., and if you have people under your authority, and if you want to know how to act, then you must not ask Christianity, but ask the Emperor, local laws or customs about it. This will tell you how to behave towards your inferiors.”
These teachings of Luther had two very natural results. In the first place, the people were taught that they had no right to rebel or protest against even the most unjust ruler. I have never believed that the herd-instinct of the Germans, this blind obedience to Kaiser or Fuehrer, Chancellor or General, is an inborn, inhuman instinct. On the contrary, I have always believed that it is part of the German Lutheran tradition. Those who write about a “German revolution”, those who hope that the Germans will one day protest against the Nazis or militarism know nothing of either German history (for since the peasants' War and Martin Luther there has never been in Germany even the attempt of a real revolution), but they know less still about the basic German belief and spiritual background—the teachings of Luther about strict and absolute obedience.
The other result, closely connected with the former, is that Luther strengthened to the highest degree the power of the princes, or whoever their successors were. “Since the times of the Apostles, no doctor or scribe, no theologian or jurist, has confirmed, instructed, and comforted the consciences of the secular estates so well and lucidly as I have done.” “Even had I, Dr. Martin, taught or done no other good, save to enlighten and instruct the secular government and authorities, yet for this cause alone they ought to be thankful and well-disposed towards me,” the Reformer exclaims with pride.
“Luther”, says Janssen, “began to proclaim the political doctrine—altogether unknown in the history of German law—of the unlimited power of rulers over their subjects; insisted on unconditional obedience to the commands of those in authority, preached and taught slavery and despotism. From the Peasants' War, so he said, the ruling powers should learn in future to govern with firmness and severity. The common people must be kept down with `heavy weights' or they would become insolent.”
A slavishly obedient people, without any desire or spiritual power to fight for their freedom, and omnipotent secular rulers, without any regard for the teachings of Christianity—these were the fundamental views of Martin Luther on the State and the citizen. They provided a foundation without which no Frederick or Bismarck, William II or Hitler, could have built.
“The spirit of tolerance which had been increasing with the Renaissance had left Germany for centuries as a result of Luther's reformation” (Paulsen). “Luther was instrumental in destroying not merely the fact, but even the principle of liberty throughout Germany” (Figgis). And let me again quote the great Protestant scholar Troeltsch: “Lutheranism provided a most favourable setting for the development of the territorial state. It smoothed the way for territorial absolutism. . . . Its only service to the actual modern state has been to encourage the spirit of modern absolutism.”
Naturally I fully realise that this absolute power of the ruler and this complete, slavish obedience of the masses is only one of many ingredients which make up that strange and perverted political outlook of modern Germany. There are at least three other major factos which have to betaken into account: the modern Germans' love and veneration for war, their inhuman Jew-baiting, and their exaggerated nationalism, their doctrine of Deutschland, Deutschland u*ber alles. It is therefore appropriate if we look in turn at these three factors and investigate Luther's attitude towards them.
MARTIN LUTHER AND WAR
Once again, the traditional picture of Luther makes him out to be a man opposed to warfare of any kind. Did he not prohibit any armed resistance even to unjust tyrants? Are there not many truly Christian passages in his writings such as “Armed resistance can in no way be reconciled with Scripture”?
But he did that only, once more, as long as it suited his purpose. In his later years he took a completely different attitude, and again his chief argument, in order to explain his contradictions, was the double-life theory. “A Christian is neither prince nor commoner nor anything whatever in the personal world. Hence whether resistance is permissible to a ruler as a ruler, let them settle according to their own judgment and conscience.” And again” “As a Christian, man has to suffer everything and not resist anybody. As a member of the State, the same man has to rob, murder, and fight with joy, as long as he lives.” Not frightfully logical—but then logic was never a strong point with Dr. Martin.
There is a very marked development in his attitude towards war. First of all he recommends what is nowadays called “armaments.” “It is necessary to be ready to encounter a power which might suddenly arise.”
Then he declares himself in favour of a defensive war. Next he explains that in a defensive war “the prince has not to wait until the other side attacks him”. Indeed, “it is the duty (of the prince) to strike before the opponent does.” He goes even further. “Defensive wars are not merely just as self-defence, but they are also a revenge.” “A war declared out of revenge, is a just and orderly work” (“Table Talk”, 3478). As one of his most recent commentators explains: “Indeed by this elaboration and enlargement of the conception of `defensive war' Luther allows in the end any war, which has to be started as a necessity of state. The Christian narrowing down which Luther attempted at first, he himself declared as no longer valid.”
For instance, he advocates a war against the Turks. “We shall not prevail against the Turks unless we slay them in time, together with the priests, and even hurl them to death.” Professor Grisar comments on this passage, “Neither in this nor in similar passages is there any question of defence against force, but rather advocacy of bloody aggression.”
As usual, the prince acts by the will of God. “God the Almighty can order the prince at any time to begin a war.” “The sword and the power are in the service of God.” “The prince, who knows that God wants him to start a war, must do so without any external appearance of justification. He then acts rightly and obeys the will of God.”
Luther is at great pains to prove that “Christ himself and John the Baptist praised war,” and he comes to the conclusion that “wars are right and divine”. “According to Scripture, it has been ordained by God to make war and to strangle.”
Here we might find a spiritual explanation of the German atrocities. “It is Christian and a work of love not to go slowly in a war. One must cut the throats of one's enemies, pillage them, burn them, do everything that may do them harm until one has beaten them” (W11, 277). “Only a simpleton argues that it is not Christian to strangle and to rob and that it is no work of love. But in truth it is a work of love” (W19, 625). Why, I ask myself so often, are these passages in Luther—which are so much more frequent than his earlier peaceful declarations—never mentioned, never quoted? Is one afraid of speaking the truth, of quoting the Reformer's own words? Can one explain them away?
“A war,” Luther says repeatedly, “is only a very small misfortune”. “For what else is war than to punish wrongdoers and to keep peace? If one punishes a thief, murderer, or bigamist one punishes one single criminal. But if one goes to war one punishes a whole bunch of wrongdoers.” “What else is a war but to punish injustice and wrong? Why does one go to war unless it is to produce peace and obedience?”
So much for the justification of war. As soon as the prince decides to go to war, his slaves—i.e., the people—have to follow him. “If the authorities order war, then the people have to fight and obey, not as Christians but as members and obedient people of the secular power” (W19, 629). “It is the duty of the people to follow their leaders in war; to sacrifice body and belongings.” “The general duty of obedience towards the State includes the special duty to do military service.” “The authorities can force the people—as long as they are physically fit—to give their military service.”
Luther knows no longer any horrors of war. “One should not look at war how it strangles, burns and fights. This way to look at it is narrow and childish. Children behave like that. They only see how a doctor amputates a hand or a leg; they do not see that the doctor does so in order to save the whole body. One has to take the same view about war; one has to look at it with manly eyes . . ; then it will be proved that it is a holy and necessary task, as necessary as eating, drinking, or anything of that kind” (W19, 626).
Brother Martin admonishes “the Christians as faithful and obedient servants and with great joy to go to wars, to beat, murder, rob, and to commit any kind of damage as long as they can. Then they are certain to be true Christians.” “No one must think that the world is governed without blood. The worldly sword must be red and blood rusty.” “I myself, Martin Luther, do my best by prayer and if needs be, with the fist.”
“As soon as Luther talks of war,” comments Deutelmoeser, “one notices everywhere how he enjoys fighting.” “These warrior-virtues, which every Christian ought to possess, have nothing whatsoever to do with the peaceful morality of the Sermon on the Mount.” “The old warrior spirit is alive in Luther which since the days of the Cherusci and the Migration has been the characteristic of the people of the Reich.”
Towards his end, Luther was even prepared to glorify an unjust war. “What is undertaken in real confidence in God, ends well, even though it should be mistaken and sinful.” Gott mit uns was the war-cry of the Germans ever since Luther, too well remembered in this generation when peaceful countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium have been invaded. “Luther allowed himself again and again to clamour for war,” says Grisar. “With the glorification of war, soldiers, and weapons, Luther countenances all consequent victories of the Reich—from Gustavus Adolphus until the World War”—this is a recent statement with which everybody who has read Luther, and not merely believed in some unreal legend, has unfortunately to agree. Interpretations are difficult and might be contradicted. The Reformer's own words cannot be denied or turned about. The Germans are not born with a love for war, but ever since Luther's day the beauty of war has been preached to them from all the pulpits of Protestant Germany.
Let us see next what Luther has to say about the Jews.
MARTIN LUTHER AND THE JEWS
Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939 I was asked by the “Political Society of another very big English Public School to talk to them on “France,” which I did indeed with very great pleasure. This was on a Sunday night; and with the proverbial kindness of headmasters, I had been asked to come on Saturday and spend the night in a most congenial atmosphere. As it happened, the visiting preacher to the school on Sunday morning was a fairly well-known German refugee Lutheran pastor (it is kinder not to mention his name). To be quite honest, I have to admit that I felt little inclined to attend the service, but I went all the same.
The Herr Pastor spoke on antisemitism. I was wholeheartedly with him, of course, when he denounced it as not merely unchristian but antichristian. I was equally pleased when he explained to the boys that the violent antisemitism of the Nazis is not an isolated factor, to be considered as something quite apart from Nazism, but is an integral and most important part of the whole doctrine of Fascism.
I was, however, more than surprised when he suddenly called upon Luther. He roundly declared that “Luther, the founder of modern freedom, was the first to turn against antisemitism. He wanted the Jews to be treated in a Christian and charitable way.” And he quoted some of Luther's fine sayings which I knew very well. “The Jews are our blood-friends, cousins and brothers of our Lord. No people has been so distinguished by God." "We must exercise toward the Jews," he quoted the Reformer again, "The law of Christian love and show them a friendly spirit; allow them liberty to work and to earn, and to leave them scope to live with and among us, and hear and see our Christian teaching and life." “What good can we do the Jews when we constrain them, malign them, and treat them as dogs? When we deny them work and force them to usury, how can that help? We should use toward them Christ's law of love. If some are stiffnecked, what does it matter? We are not all good Christians.” Noble and true words indeed. The preacher went on to explain that one of the reasons why Luther fought the Catholic Church was that “the Catholics” (in Luther's own words), “have treated the Jews as if they were dogs and not men, and have done nothing except vilify them and rob them of their property.”
The pastor went on to explain in his sermon that this was just one example of how Luther stood for the decent Germany; the Nazis are opposed to Lutheran doctrines, he declared, and he ended his sermon with the words: “As I have tried to show you with regard to the treatment of the Jews—the great and urgent task before us is to bring the German people away from Hitler, back to Luther.”
I felt almost sick, and I had first of all to think of a remark Dean Inge once made to me. “When I examined priests for their ordination, I did not expect much from them. But I insisted that they should have read the Bible—which quite a few of them had not.” In the case just mentioned, I thought that a Lutheran priest should at least have read Luther.
It is quite true that when Luther fought the pope, he wanted allies and friends. Thus the Jews were welcome, and he made the truly wonderful remarks just quoted. But as so often before, once he had achieved his purpose he showed his true face. For the greater part of his life Luther was an antisemite of the worst calibre. He knew no compromise; and in this particular instance he did not even attempt to explain or excuse his complete change of colour.
“There can be no doubt that the radical change in Luther's attitude on the Jewish question was an outcome of his increasing depression,” is rather a meaningless explanation attempted by A. Hausrath, one of Luther's most famous apologists. I shall try to show what the true Luther thought of the Jews and how he proposed to deal with them.
Like all his enemies, the Jews in Luther's eyes were devils. “Whenever you encounter a real Jew, you may in good faith make the sign of the cross and openly and fearlessly pronounce the words `This is a veritable devil'”. “Therefore,” the Reformer told his followers, “do not doubt and never forget, beloved Christians, that apart from Satan himself, you possess no more deadly poisonous, and dreadful enemy than a real Jew. I know that. They poison wells, kidnap and maltreat children.”
“Even with no further evidence than the Old Testament, I would maintain, and no person on earth could alter my opinion, that the Jews as they are today are veritably a mixture of all the depraved and malevolent knaves of the whole world over, who have been dispersed in all countries, similarly to the Tartars and gypsies and such folk, to afflict the different nations with their usury, to spy upon others and to betray, to poison wells, to deceive and kidnap children, in short to practice all kinds of dishonesty and injury.”
There was, according to Luther, no good or human quality about the Jews. “What is good in us Christians, they ignore; what is wrong in us Christians the Jews take advantage of.” “The breath of the Jews reeks.” “Their rabbis teach them that theft and robbery is no sin” (W53, 489).
“The Jews professing to be surgeons or doctors deprive the Christians who make use of their medicaments of health and prosperity for such Jewish doctors believe they find especial favour with their God if they torment and furtively kill Christians. And we, fools that we are, even turn for succour to our enemies and their evil ways in the times when our lives are in danger, which is indeed sorely trying God's patience.”
I do not believe that even the notorious “Der Sturmer” of Dr. Streicher surpassed the sayings of Brother Martin. “It is impossible to teach or re-educate the Jews”. “A more bloodthirsty and vindictive race has never seen the light of day.” So the Reformer goes on and on.
As so often before, Luther's worst utterances are not fit for quotation or reproduction. “Many of the obscenities occurring in his sermons and writings on the Jews are suggested by proverbs which themselves reek too much of the stable, but which he sometimes still further embellishes” (Grisar). “In his books (on Jews) Luther's peculiar talent for indelicate language reached its climax. He wrote with unchecked ferocity, and indulged freely in his quaint practice of befouling the objects of his hate with imaginary animal excreta” (Lipsky).
“Were God to promise me no other Messiah than him for whom the Jews hope, I would much rather be a pig than a man,” is one of his mildest sayings. “Were a rabbi to ease himself into a vessel under your nose, both thick and thin, and say `Here you have a delicious conserve', you would have to say you had never tasted a better dish in your life. Risk your neck and say differently! For if a man has the power to say like the rabbis that right is left and left is right, regardless of God and all His creatures, he can just as well say that his anus is his mouth, that his belly is a pudding-dish, and that a pudding-dish is his belly"”(E32, 285).
“Whenever you see or think of a Jew, say to yourself `Look, that mouth that I see before me has every Saturday cursed, execrated, and spat upon my dear Lord Jesus Christ Who redeemed me with His precious blood, and has also invoked maledictions on my wife and child and all Christians that they might be murdered and perish miserably. He himself would gladly do it if he could, if only in order to get hold of our goods; maybe he has already today many times spat on the ground, as it is their custom to do when the name of Jesus is mentioned, so that his venomous spittle still hangs about his mouth and beard and leaves scarcely room to spit again. Were I to eat, drink, or speak with such a devilish mouth, I might as well eat and drink out of a can or vessel brimful with devils, and thus become partaker with the devils who dwell in the Jews and spit at the Precious Blood of Christ. From which God may preserve us” (E32, 141).
So the Reformer continues throughout his writings. “The Jews are malignant snakes and imps”. “Whoever would like to cherish such adders and puny devils—who are the worst enemies of Christ and us all—to befriend them and to do them honour simply in order to be cheated, plundered, robbed, disgraced, and forced to howl and curse and suffer every kind of evil, to him I would commend the Jews. And if this be not enough, let him tell the Jews to use his mouth as a privy, or else crawl into the Jew's hind parts, and there worship the holy thing, so as afterwards to be able to boast of having been merciful, and of having helped the Devil and his progeny to blaspheme our dear Lord.”
These few samples taken at random must be sufficient to give you a true idea of what the Reformer saw in the Jews. I could continue for many pages to cite much worse passages. I think, however, that I have already spent too much space on the subject, but I thought it necessary to let the Reformer speak again for himself, and to prove that I have not chosen some isolated cases, but that, as far as the Jews are concerned, he stuck to his views for the greater part of his life. To comment on such exclamations and sayings is really not necessary. It seems to me a much more impressive method if I leave the reader to draw his own conclusions.
Of course, Luther proposed in detail how his followers should treat the “damned Jews.” “Never ought a Christian to eat or drink with a Jew”. “On being asked whether it would be right to box the ears of a Jew, Luther replied `Certainly. I for one would smack him on the jaw. Were I able, I would knock him down and stab him in my anger. It is lawful, according to both the human and the divine law, to kill a robber; then it is even more permissible to slay a blasphemer.'” Not a very Christian attitude; but worse is still to come. If I had to baptise a Jew, I would take him to the bridge of the Elbe, hang a stone round his neck and push him over with the words `I baptise thee in the name of Abraham'” (Detailed references given in Grisar, “Luther”, vol. v, p. 413)
“We ought to take revenge on the Jews and kill them” is his charitable advice. At other times he is in favour of “forcing them to work and treating them with every severity as Moses did in the desert when he slew 3,000 of them."
Occasionally, he feels that he oversteps the limit, and then he reaches the climax of his hypocrisy. “Oh my Lord,” he whines, “my beloved Creator and Father. Do Thou graciously take into account my unwillingness to have to speak so shamefully of Thine accursed enemies. Thou knowest I do so out of the ardour of my faith and to the glory of Thy Divine Majesty.”
After such solemn prayers, he returns to his foul and abusive language. “It is our own fault that we have not avenged the sacred blood of our Saviour and the innocent blood of countless Christians and children, spoiled since the demolition of Jerusalem until now; it is our own fault that we have not annihilated the Jews but placidly let them stay where they are in spite of all their murders, their curses, blasphemies, lies, violations, and that we even protect their schools, their dwellings, their persons and property.” Nowhere in the history of civilised mankind have the masses been so incited to persecution and murder as by this “Christian Reformer.”
Indeed, four centuries before the world ever heard of the inhuman “Nuremberg Laws” Brother Martin compiled an anti-Jewish cod of his own. Luther's antisemitic laws consist of seven paragraphs only. Here they are:
Set fire to their synagogues and schools; and what will not burn, heap earth over it so that no man may see a stone or relic of them forever.
Pull down and destroy their houses since they perpetrate the same nefarious things in them as in their schools. Pack them all under one roof or stable, like the gypsies, that they may know that they are not lords and masters in our land as they boast.
Deprive them of all their prayer-books.
Forbid their rabbis henceforth to teach.
Deprive them of the right to move about the country.
Forbid them the business of usury, and take from them all their belongings.
Hand the strong young Jews of both sexes flail, axe, mattock, spade, distaff, and spindle; and make them work for their bread in the sweat of their brow, like all the children of Adam. Confiscate their property and drive them out of the country. (W53, 525 abridged).
It will be found, at close inspection, that Luther's laws are much more strict, or at least as severe, as those of Hitler. Very often he repeated his order, “The Jews have to be expelled from our country.” Or he gave the Christian advice. “The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves” (W53, 502).
When some of his friends reproached him for the anti-Christian attitude which his followers had to adopt toward the Jews, he replied smilingly: “Maybe mild-hearted and gentle Christians will believe I am too rigorous and drastic against the poor afflicted Jews, believing that I ridicule them and treat them with much sarcasm. By my word, I am far too weak.”
Up to the last day of his life, the Reformer remained obsessed by his antisemitism. Shortly before he died he wrote to his wife that he was ill. He blamed the Jews for his bad state of health! In his very last sermon, he urged his listeners: “You ought not to tolerate the Jews.” He ordered the princes to commit atrocities. “I pray to all rulers in whose territories there are also Jewish subjects, to practise severe justice in regard to this despicable race.” And if the rulers should refuse then it was the duty of the preachers to preach hatred. “If the authorities refuse to follow this drastic advice, the pastors and preachers are at all events to proclaim it to the people.” “Let us admonish you gentlemen and colleagues,” Luther told the preachers, “you clergymen and priests, in the name of the office you hold, that it is also your duty to admonish your congregation to beware of the Jews and to shun them.” He planned an even more powerful and violent attack against the Jews than any yet delivered; but before he had time to finish it, Luther had died.
What are the facts and the results? “Luther claims that his antisemitic writings were the first real work of instruction of Judaism which might teach us Germans from history what a Jew is and warn our Christians against them as against veriest devils” (For a fuller analysis see Dr. R. Lewin's “Luther's Stellung zu den Juden”, especially p. 77; also Grisar's “Luther”, vol. v, p. 416). Nobody can deny the truth of this statement, although decency makes it impossible to mention his worst utterances, although “it is impossible even in a most detailed analysis to reproduce the excitement which trembles through every page, the mad fanaticism” which we find in the German original.
In the Reformer's own times, the results of his teaching were tragic. “All his counsels were, of course, of such a nature that they provoked the people to an unchristian persecution of their Jewish citizens.” It is typical that in towns like Strasbourg, Lutheran in religion but French and Latin in culture and tradition, “the magistrates decided to prohibit Luther's antisemitic pamphlets being printed in the city.”
But there were, in Luther's time, some courageous Protestant leaders who complained bitterly. One of them, Bullinger of Zurich, protests against the “lewd and houndish eloquence” of the Reformer. “Everyone must be astonished at the hard and presumptuous spirit of the man (Luther). The opinion of posterity will be that Luther was not only a man, but a man ruled by criminal passion.” “Were it written not by a famous pastor of souls, but by a swineherd, it would still be hard to excuse.”
“Official reports go to prove that the cruel persecution of the Jews was no mere paper measure.” In the same way as Luther had treated the peasants and the Anabaptists, the Jews got their due now. But much worse still were the historical consequences. “The seed of the hatred against the Jews which Luther sows, does not get lost, however, but continues to have its reaction through the centuries. Whoever wants to write against the Jews out of any motive, always believes to have the right to refer triumphantly to the writings of Luther.” (All future “antisimitic decrees had their origin in Luther” (Lewin, op. cit).)
It is curious to notice how Luther's biographers, or rather his apologists, treat this dark episode. Few are so hypocritical as the Lutheran pastor referred to above to make out Luther as a Jew-loving Christian. Most of them ignore his antisemitism completely. Only a very few are honest enough to admit that Luther's behaviour is unparalleled among people who call themselves Christian. Professor MacKinnon in his great work—usually so full of admiration for Luther—frankly admits that in his antisemitic writings “vitriolic fury boils over in this wild polemic.” But then comes a sentence so typical of the way Luther is portrayed by English scholars: “It is difficult to believe that he (Luther) soberly contemplated the literal application of such monstrous proposals.”
Why? One would like to ask Professor MacKinnon. He does not say so. Why make allowances and mental reservations for a man who said repeatedly “I am not cruel enough,” who could in cold blood watch and command that hundreds of thousands of his opponents—papists, peasants, Anabaptists, and Jews should be and were slaughtered tortured, and otherwise persecuted. Why on earth is this difficult to believe? Merely in order to maintain a myth, a legend?
I again find it much more dignified to say with Professor Grisar, “After all that has been said, it would be very rash to apply to Luther's attitude towards the Jews the words which St. Paul wrote of himself when considering humanity as a whole—i.e., of the power of God by which he had striven with endless patience and charity to bring home the Gospel to both Jew and Greek. `To the Greeks and to the Barbarians, to the wise and to the foolish, I am a debtor.' `I have become all things to all men in order to save all.'”
A contemporary American scholar already quoted—Lipsky—sums up Luther's teaching on the Jews in the following appropriate manner: “It is only necessary for an antisemitic agitator to quote Luther in order to arouse a destructive rage against alien inhabitants of the Fatherland. Luther's unbridled tongue tossed off phrases that still are a godsend to antisemitic ranters, and as long as the prophet's words are cherished so long, no doubt, will the stream of invective and abuse flow from the hallowed spring.”
And another, more recent, commentator states boldly that “As far as the treatment and solution of the Jewish question is concerned, Adolf Hitler has continued and achieved the work of Luther.”
This seems to me a more correct interpretation of Luther than that of the German Lutheran pastor at the Public School, or of most of his English biographers.
Sir Thomas More said once with regard to Luther: “The gentle reader must forgive me if much that occurs offends his feelings. Nothing has been more painful to me than to be compelled to pour such things into decent ears. The only other alternative would, however, have been to leave the unclean book untouched.” That is exactly what I feel. I do not like saying what I have to say; but shyness, fear, tradition, prejudice, ignorance, hypocrisy, and various interests have too long prevented us from showing a side of a man who is usually in English-speaking countries hailed as representative of “the other, the better, the decent German.” On the contrary, in Luther I see one of the darkest figures history has yet produced.
MARTIN LUTHER AND GERMANY
Many attempts have been made to explain the exaggerated, destructive nationalism of the Germans and the Nazis. Again, I think that to a great extent Martin Luther is at the bottom of it. Not only was he the first true nationalist of this kind of modern times, but through him German nationalism was preached to the people, a new religion was founded, a German god created. Here is one of the main distinctions—already mentioned above—between the evil results of Luther's teachings and the democratic consequences of reformers such as Calvin.
“In Luther,” says Funck-Brentano, “the dominating factors were his German soul and his German outlook. He was German through and through. It has very justly been observed that while a Calvin and a Zwingli aimed at spreading their reforms throughout the whole world, Luther's one thought was for his beloved Germans. His message was not for Christendom, but only for the German people.” Luther was not a Christian in its broadest and best sense; “he was first and foremost a German.”
“I seek the welfare and salvation of you Germans,” the Reformer cried. “As I am the Prophet of the Germans, I will act as a faithful teacher and warn my staunch Germans of the days in which they stand.” “I have been born for my beloved Germans, for them will I die!”
Those who disagreed with him, he refused the right of calling themselves Germans. “By thus coming forward as the divinely-commissioned spokesman of the Germans, as the representative and prophet of the nation, he implicitly denied to those who did not follow his banner the right of being styled German.”
He rarely, if ever, addresses himself to Christians as a whole, he always refers merely to “his dear Germans”. In everything he does, he only wants to serve “his beloved Germans.”
“Luther's power as a popular orator was based on an accurate knowledge and appreciation of the foibles of the German character.” “He stirred up national feelings by means of delusive watchwords such as `Germany against Italian tyranny'.” “We Germans must remain Germans,” he used to tell his congregation., “Remember that you are Germans,” he was constantly reminding his beloved countrymen;' and this, as FunckBrentano comments so justly, is “a cry that Hitler would heartily endorse!”
The Germans were, of course, the best nation in the world. They were the Herrenvolk. “The Germans are conspicuous for their nobility of character, their constancy, and fidelity.” “Germany has always been the best country, the best nation.”
Luther would instill hatred for all other nations. No Nation could be compared to Germany. “The Romans have always abused our simplicity by their wantonness and tyranny; they call us mad Germans.” He is the sworn enemy of everything French and Italian. “As a good German he resented and revolted against the Italian contempt for Germany and German civilsation” (MacKinnon). “Luther considers himself the representative of Germany against Italy and France.” “We know well,” he would say, “that the French do not consider us as human beings.”
The great Reformer did not compare the Christian virtues of the nations; no, his standard of ethics was a very German one—militarism. “While the Germans are brave and daring in a battle, the French are impertinent after victory.” Again and again he draws a picture of German virtues as compared with the vices of all foreigners. He tells the Germans how they are exploited by foreigners, how all aliens laugh about them, and how superior the Germans really are. Indeed, German culture and German virtues are not only higher than those of the French and Italians, but even the Greeks cannot compare themselves to the Germans.
Particularly interesting it becomes when he turns his patriotic ferocity against England—whom naturally he does not forget in his abuse of every foreign nation. Originally, so he explains the English were Germans. Particularly are the Scottish people hateful to him. They are “the most evil, most proud, and most impertinent of all nations”. The English king is “a liar. People who are loyal to the king, have no conscience. Gold and money make him so impertinent, that he thinks even God could not live without him.” It might just be denoted, en passant, that Luther's anti-British utterances have come as a godsend to anglophobe propagandists ever since, especially during the World Wars.
It is very strange to notice how often he praises German militarism, German ways of warfare, German soldiers, as compared with those of other nations.
In order to rid Germany of foreigners and to be independent of foreign countries, he advocates the Germany should be self-contained. “Germans, buy German goods!” and similar battle cries were first shouted by Luther.
Naturally, the German language is the most perfect in the world, much superior to French, Spanish, English, and Italian. “I thank God,” he would say, “that I can hear God now in my German tongue. Neither in Latin, nor Greek, nor Hebrew language would He be the same. ”For Luther `true' and `German' were synonymous” (Funck-Brentano). He ardently prayed that “scholasticism would soon disappear, and all Germans become the children of God”. He was the first to demand a “national writing of history.” He was the man who first clamoured for a united Germany; the words “the whole Germany”, “the whole of the German land” are permanently on his lips. He tells the Germans of the “unity of all German-speaking people.”
The only thing Germany needed to be really perfect was—a Fuehrer! “Germany is like a beautiful horse that has everything it needs. But it needs a horseman. In the same way as a good horse runs occasionally astray without a good horseman who governs it, so Germany has enough strength and people, but it lacks a good leader.” “If Germany had only a real leader, then no enemy could ever be victorious.”
“And now, dear Germans”, Luther would say, “I have told you enough; you have heard your prophet; God grant we may obey his words.” It took four centuries for his words to be fully obeyed. “The heart of Luther,” said Canon Barry in London in the fourth centenary of Luther during the last war, “German to its last fibre, is beating still in those armies which are attempting to ruin our Western civilization, are attacking our faith.”
CHAPTER IV: FROM LUTHER TO HITLER
SO FAR I have attempted to show that Luther certainly did not represent that mythical, better Germany—that Germany which loves peace and tolerance, which really tries to fit into a truly Christian brotherhood of nations. I have tried to prove by many quotations from the mouth of the Reformer that he is more than contradictory, to say the least. I have never denied that he did say many very Christian things about love and peace, against war and persecution; for Christian virtues, and against human vices. All this, indeed, is true.
But he also said, taught, and lived the very opposite. He denied by his own life Christian virtues, he lied, drank, and lived in sin; he disliked and abhorred reason; he praised and advocated war; he encouraged absolutism, and gave the rulers a power they had never enjoyed before; he insisted on a brutal oppression of the common man, and after the liberation of the Renaissance, he produced a slave-mentality among his followers which even the Roman Catholic Church had never forced upon its members; he preached and practised a violent antisemitism and extermination of the Jews which remain unsurpassed even by Hitler; he was the founder not merely of modern nationalism in its most evil form, but of the very nationalism inside Germany which has proved so utterly destructive every since.
These last aspects of Luther seem to me much more important than his more glorified aspect. Moreover, they seem to me to have found many more adherents in the centuries which were to follow Luther than any of his more Christian sayings and doctrines. I know that I must be expected to prove this. It is a task, however, which cannot possibly be undertaken in a small volume. Indeed, many hundreds of pages would be necessary to cover the ground sufficiently. For there are three branches of human thought—closely interconnected as they are—in which we would have to trace the influence from Luther until Hitler. They are the realms of religion, philosophy, and politics.
In the religious sphere I can at least indicate that Lutheran doctrines have been spread from thousands of pulpits inside Germany ever since the day of the Reformer. Not Christianity in our sense has been preached, but that pseudo-political German religion which, as I have tried to show, had its origin in Luther.
Look merely at the last hundred years or so, on the type of clergy Lutheran Germany has produced. There was that notorious preacher Stoecker whose sermons were as eagerly listened to as the speeches by Goebbels or Hitler. He was probably the most popular priest Germany produced during the last century. His nationalism, his vile antisemitism, all his other destructive doctrines, were based, as he said in his many unchristian sermons, on the gospel as explained by Dr. Martin. “Germanisation of Christianity” this period was called, with much justification.
There were many other similar preachers, such as Friedrich Naumann, “an exponent of Prussian militant Protestantism”, who was second in popularity after Stoecker. To discuss in detail the teachings of these evil priests—as so many others—I cannot do now. It all, however, became evident in the last World War. “In the world war, Luther was to be the hero of unadulterated and triumphant German tradition and inspiration,” a German university professor has to admit.
Shortly after the war was declared in 1914, the leaders of the German (Lutheran) clergy wrote a bloodthirsty pamphlet which they entitled: “To the evangelical Christians abroad”. It was full of lies, distortions, mischief—all done in the name of Martin Luther. They explained why they fought, why they had no hesitation in slaying and oppressing their “Christian brothers”.
That was too much even for Oxford professors. They gave the Lutherans the reply they deserved. It was published during the last war as an Oxford Pamphlet, and it is one of the most remarkable and truest documents ever published by English scholars. It was signed by all the Oxford Professors in Theology, people like Bishop Gore, Dr. Spooner, and so forth. In this document the Oxford theologians give a reply to the Lutherans for their condonation of “savage reprisals against the civil population of Belgian towns and villages,” and similar typical German atrocities.
Throughout the World War the German clergy proved to be the Kaiser's best apologists. “If one fights for one's life, who cares whether one breaks into the neighbour's house?” was the typical explanation of a German Lutheran pastor for the invasion of Belgium.
After the war the Lutheran clergy inside Germany opposed every true peace movement, though outside the Reich they pretended to think quite differently in order to mislead foreign Christians. Typical is the answer given by the official organ of the Lutherans when it was suggested that a Sunday should be consecrated to peace and international reconciliation. “A Sunday of peace? In the eyes of simple men that is simply uncleanliness. It is as repulsive as if you were to play cards by a corpse or sing cheap songs to a dying person.”
After the Nazis came to power, the Lutherans supported Hitler. To them the State—as ordained by Luther—was infinitely more important than the Church or Christianity. An English Churchman who went to Germany in order to investigate had to admit that “in no single case could I find any evidence, even when members of the militant Bekenninis-Kirche (Niemoeller movement) were questioned, of any interference on the part of thecivil authorities.” (This, in 1938!)
Of course not! For every Lutheran was a strong supporter of Hitler. What could be more typical than Pastor Niemoeller's confession when he first opposed Hitler: “We are not driven by care for our Church, but by care for the Third Reich!”
These, I would emphasize are merely a few very superficial glimpses at the history of the Lutheran Church from Luther to Hitler. Many volumes would be needed to write the complete shameful history of the last four centuries.
More difficult is it even merely to indicate the Lutheran spirit in German philosophy. Here, Luther's doctrines were absorbed in a less apparent way. But it always struck me that all of the great German philosophers, Lutherans, such as Kant, Hegel, Fichte, and so forth (with the exception of Nietzsche, of course) produced somewhere or other typical Lutheran doctrines.
When people asked why the German people have never shown any sign of revolt against Hitler and his gang, I have usually referred my questions to Luther, who was the first to say that “even against the most unjust ruler the people have never a right to revolt”—as I explained before. A doctrine of the Reformer which had most disastrous consequences. Since from it springs the evil and dangerous slave-mentality of the Germans. Kant, to give merely one example, takes up the very idea—not to be found in any other philosopher in any other country—when he says:
“Resistance on the part of the people to the supreme legislative power of the State is in no case legitimate. . . There is no right of sedition and still less of rebellion belonging to the people. Least of all, when the supreme power is embodied in an individual monarch is there any justification, under the pretext of his abuse of power, for seizing his person or taking away his life. . . . It is the duty of the people to bear any abuse of the supreme power, even though it should be considered unbearable” (Kant: “Philosophy of Law”, pp. 176-77)
According to Kant—following Luther—“The supreme Power in the State has only rights and no duties towards the subject” (ibid, p. 175).
Fichte, as is well known, in his philosophy foreshadows the States created by Mussolini and Hitler.
Hegel, equally a great Lutheran, pronounced the words, “The State is the march of God in the world” (“Philosophy of Right”, page 247). “The State is the divine will as a present spirit, which unfolds itself in the actual shape of an organised world” (ibid, page 260). The State is the divine idea as it exists on earth” (“Philosophy of History”, page 41). Fatal ideas with fatal consequences—ideas which were first pronounced by Luther.
But to trace the influence of Luther on four centuries of German philosophy would take another ten volumes.
In the political history of Germany, Luther and his influence is perhaps the easiest to trace. The immediate consequences, the Thirty Years War—all this is too well-known to be even indicated. It is in the more modern times, when liberalism began to rise in the civilised world, that we are interested. Here I can do no better than to quote what the great scholar Troeltsch has to say on the influence of Lutheranism: “In the aggressive position which, after the eighteenth century had culminated in the French Revolution, the older spiritual forces again adopted towards the modern world, and in which they, with the union of ideological and practical politico-social powers, advanced victoriously against the new world, the restoration of Prussian-German Lutheranism was one of the most important events in social history. It united with the reactionary movement the monarchical ideas of agrarian patriarchalism, of the militaristic love of power; it gave an ideal to the political restoration and its ethical support. For this reason, then, it was supported, in its turn, by the social and political forces of reaction, by all the means of power at their disposal. Finally, Lutheranism of this type hallowed the realistic sense of power, and the ethical virtues of obedience, reverence, and respect for authority, which are indispensable to Prussian militarism. Thus Christianity and a conservative political attitude became identified with each other, as well as piety and love of power, purity of doctrine and the glorification of war and the aristocratic standpoint. Thus all attempts at Church reform were suppressed along with the world of liberal thought ….Lutheranism played an important part in the political and military development of German Prussia.”
That Bismarck modelled himself upon Luther is well known. “Bismarck's oppression of the Social-Democrats,” writes Prof. R. Pascal, “was the logical continuation of Luther's oppression of the peasants.”
During the First World War both Kaiser and people always appealed to Luther's God, the German God. “God is our ally”, exclaimed Wilhelm II. And the Lutheran clergy found it easy enough to support him in this view. “The old German ally”, “God—whom Zieten called formerly the greatest ally of Frederick the Great”—this is the way in which the Lutheran clergy referred to Him.
It was left to Houston Stewart Chamberlain first to couple the names of Luther and Hitler. Since then whole libraries of books have been published which show how Hitler translated Luther's ideas into action. “Hitler”, said General Lietzmann in 1933, “is the greatest German, who can only be compared to Luther.”
I know that it is unconvincing to quote, out of context, a number of murderous sayings. But I am not attempting to provide a fool-proof thesis; I am merely trying to suggest a possibility, a line of thought which hitherto has been ignored.
As far as I am concerned, and limited as my own knowledge is, in whatever I have read of Germany's history of religion, philosophy, and politics, everywhere I have found and encountered, open or in disguise, that evil spirit which we are fighting at the moment: the spirit of immorality, Herrenvolk, irrationalism, antisemitism, mysticism, nationalism, elatism, and so forth—the spirit of Martin Luther.
Let me demonstrate this—since space only allows me to select one single incident—at a topical and relatively unknown point. Let us investigate the true attitude towards political problems of the German Confessional Lutheran Church to-day—that section of German Protestants who, so we are told, are the one only people—Christian people—inside Germany with whom we can and must collaborate after the war—our only hope.
Some time ago the late Dr. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote to me on a completely different matter, but in his letter was a sentence which I should like to quote. “I suppose it is always true”, the Primate wrote, “that what war does is to make people more than ever what they were before: the fine characters are refined, and the coarse characters are coarsened.”
Though I do not belong to those who always agreed with the Archbishop, I can think of no truer words. But if his words are really true, and if the German Lutheran Confessional Church really contains the decent element on which we can build our whole future, then they should have come out of this war and of the last with flying colours. Let us see whether this is so.
I have already mentioned the shameful pamphlet which the whole of the Lutheran clergy published early in the last war, and to which the Oxford theologians gave such an admirable reply. One of the first signatures to the German appeal of blood and hatred was that of a certain Professor Adolf Deissmann. His name will be unknown to-day to most people in this country, but it is certainly true to say that he was Germany's leading theologian. He was Professor of Theology in Heidelberg, and later for very many years Professor of Theology in the University of Berlin—the most important theological Chair in the Reich. Most pastors of some repute had been his pupils; his influence upon Lutheran church life inside Germany was tremendous for many decades.
As soon as the war broke out in 1914 he, together with many others, signed the above-mentioned pamphlet. But a man in his position, the leading light of the Lutheran Church of Germany, had to be more explicit on his views about the war. He was so more than once; and all the writings from which I am going to quote can be found in the library of the British Museum.
On September 12, 1914, he laid down the lines which the German Protestants had to follow during the war. It is published under the title, “The War and Religion”.
Deissmann divides his battle-cry into two parts. First he investigates the problem, “What are the effects of war upon religion”; and then he discusses the opposite, “What are the effects of religion upon war?” He comes to the amazing, very Lutheran result that both are made for each other. “The positive effects of war upon religion are infinitely stronger than its negative ones”.
“The war has steeled our religion”, he tells the Germans. The explanation of this curious statement is simple: “We Germans can't believe in anything but a German God”. He continues to elaborate the thesis that war is so very beneficial for Lutherans, because especially during the present war (i.e., of 1914-1918) Luther's ideal has become true. “Our present religion is national and German, and we preach a German God! A German, a national God!” “Christianity is the religion of war,” says the leader of the German Church, repeating what Luther had said four centuries before him. He opposes in the strongest conceivable terms this Lutheran German Christianity to “the sweet-sentimental, and sentimental-weak Christianity” of Germany's opponents.
“You are the salt upon earth,” he tells his congregation; and he concludes the appeal to the German Lutherans with the truly typical words: “I am proud to preach the religion of might and what our enemies call barbarism.” Throughout the war he, and the whole Lutheran clergy, preached with pride the religion of barbarism. “Only in a German cloak can the real Christ breathe.” All atrocities, all aggression, unrestricted U-boat warfare upon women and children—upon all these Deissmann and his Lutherans bestow their Christian blessing.
But then the war is over. Somehow God, the Lutheran German God, has not proved such a good patriot after all. Then the German Christians began to “organise sympathy”. They turned again into international Christians, whining about the brotherhood of all Christians upon earth—denying their own foul language during the war, putting on the most shameful, anti-Christian hypocrisy.
At that time the Lutheran Stresemann was the most influential man in Germany. “It is the tragedy of our policy”, Stresemann said, “that the Prussian and German army no longer exists. The policy of might (Machtpolitik) will in the end always be the decisive factor. But while we have no might, we have to fight with the idea. We have a right for a powerful Germany.” This, like all the other similar sayings of Hitler's predecessor, is, strangely enough, only to be found in the original German edition of Stresemann's speeches. In the English translation—which pretends to be foolproof—it cannot be found. The English public had to be duped—an undertaking in which the Germans succeeded more than they ever dreamt of.
“We have to fight with the idea”: this was the order. The idea was to give in, for the time being, to the “weak-sentimental” attitude of Germany's former opponents. In politics as in other fields one had to pretend collaboration, friendliness, internationalism. Behind the scenes one had to prepare the very armies which were going to destroy within a decade or two European and Christian values and civilisation.
The Church followed the lead. The German God was put in store; the international God was produced. Professor Deismann in person attended international Christian congresses from 1925 onwards as head of the German section. Here he talked partly about religion, partly tried to impress upon British theologians above all that the peace treaty was unjust and cruel. He played upon the sentiments of true Christianity. The older British theologians remembered his past during the war and were somewhat reticent. But Professor Deissmann shoon made a great and influential friend: the Dean of Canterbury. He has kind words for the Dean, “young G. K. A. Bell,” and soon a British-German theological week is arranged between Dr. Bell and Professor Deissmann—to take place in Canterbury. This was in 1927; in 1930 Professor Deissmann and Dr. Bell, now Bishop of Chichester, published a book together (“Mysterium Christi”) prompted by “a strong and growing feeling of friendship”.
Less than three years later, Hitler came to power. His atrocities against the Jews, his denying of all Christian values, shook the Churches of the civilised world. Above all, people like Deissmann were wholehearted supporters of Hitler. Germany was strong enough; they did not have to play their double-game any longer. The German Lutheran God could again be preached from the theological Chair of the University of Berlin.
It must have been a great and severe shock to people like the Bishop of Chichester. He, I am convinced, is thoroughly faithful to his Christian principles. But, if I may be allowed to criticise a learned and humanitarian dignitary of the Church of England, in his idealism, in his desire to see a truly Christian fellowship of man, he and his followers were too much inclined to ignore the blatant facts, to live in a world of dreams—with fatal consequences for the very cause they are living and working for.
The stock of Deissmann was exhausted. His collapse was too obvious even for the most idealistic dreamers. But in their desire to find some Christians in Germany with whom they could collaborate, they were helped by the sudden appearance of a legend. Hitler put Pastor Niemoeller into a concentration camp, and at once people like the Bishop of Chichester had found just what they wanted. A German Lutheran whose belief in a Christian kGod was greater than his loyalty to Hitler. Niemoeller and his followers must therefore be the very class of Germans whom we can trust. The Bishop of Chichester was greatly helped in his attempt to work for a not too harsh peace by German refugee-pastors. The Niemoeller-legend spread. The Niemoeller agents worked hard, and—in my opinion—their aim was exactly the same as that of Deissmann.
This, once more, must strike people as an extreme view—a view which is biased and which I cannot possibly prove. I beg them for once to forget again all the propaganda they have heard, all the stories of the great Lutheran Niemoeller they have so far believed. And to look at the Niemoeller such as he really exists. I shall, again, quote. I could show a Niemoeller in a black and horrible light, if I got hold of some of his sermons which are unknown in England. I need not do this. I shall merely quote from books which have been published in England by Niemoeller's friends.
Niemoeller was brought up in the typical Prussian tradition. “The national idea was always foremost in his upbringing, and by nature he had leanings towards the right. Love of his profession as an officer was a matter of course to him and he was in his element in the war.” During the war of 1914-18 he was a U-boat captain, one of those who did not hesitate to murder women and children. His apologists describe, with a certain perversion it seems to me, how he laid mines in the numerous narrow fairways frequented by enemy shipping. “This is”, says Niemoeller, “how our Christian cruise began.” He shouted himself hoarse by singing the “hate hymn against England”. Touching is the description how Herr Unterseebootkapitan Niemoeller gives orders from his U-boat to fire on shipwrecked sailors. “All we can do”, he complains on another similar occasion, “is to put up our periscope her and there, to prevent the destroyer from picking up too many survivors.”
He has no scruples whatsoever about the atrocities committed by him. War, according to the Lutheran Niemoeller, is “a moratorium of Christianity.” With sincere regret he describes that “the British battleship Britannia is the last ship to be sunk in the war.” He hates the idea of an armistice.
“I have sailed in submarines for three years fighting against England, sir,” he tells his superiors. “I have neither sought nor concluded the armistice.”
He hated the new German democracy. “I could not reconcile myself to the new state.” Then the future priest begins job-hunting. The English edition of his biography—“From U-Boat to Pulpit”—is most illuminating. On page 168 he decides to enter a publishing firm. On the same page he considers emigrating to South America. On page 169 he decides to become a sheep-farmer. Then come some vile attacks on Democrats and Socialists. On page 181 he suddenly states: “I am going into the Church”, but on the next page already he wonders whether it would not be better to take up philosophy.
Thus his calling for the Church does not seem to have been very deep. His studies are equally strange. He joins at once the most reactionary students' union. Instead of studying he prefers to shoot and attack pacifist and democratic students. “On Thursday of Holy Week the first shots cracked,” we are told. He marries, has a son. He “hoped and prayed that his boy would grow up to be as straight and fine a German as Hans Jochen Emsmann was, the last submarine commander of the last war.”
The Nazi party grew stronger, and Niemoeller became a priest. “He belonged with all his heart to the enemies of the Weimar Republic, and it was only by chance that he, unlike his brother, did not become a member of that Party. Their programme for a national revival was fundamentally his own, with its vehement denial ofall that was meant by individualism, parliamentarism, pacifism, Marxism, and Judaism!” (“Niemoeller and his Creed”, page 32).
Another quotation from the same book tells usthat “Niemoeller believed in the old Prussian ideal of honour, an ideal which, of course, also included the belief in might, in a State essentially military, the ideal, in short, of Bismarck and Treitschke. He voted National Socialist in 1924, and in 1933 he still felt great sympathy with the surging up of the forces of hope, confidence, and a renewed self-respect." “Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich. "“and so Niemoeller welcomed January 30, 1933, from the bottom of his heart as the fulfilment of cherished hopes,” we are told (“Niemoeller and his Creed”, page 33).
In his famous Christian Church in Dahlem, Pastor Niemoeller was preaching. Some, but only the mildest of his sermons under Hitler are available in an English translation. Thousands of Jews and non-Aryans, Socialists and Communists were murdered or committed suicide, more were tortured to death in concentration-camps. The whole of the Christian world outside Germany prayed for the pitiable victims. Not so Pastor Niemoeller. Not one word of protest from him. On the contrary, he thanked the Fuehrer! “We again feel ourselves created beings. Profession and social standing, race and nationality are to-day again being regarded by us as important facts!” He, the true Lutheran, tells his congregation of the “divine call in the (Hitler's) spiritual revolution which is beginning to take place throughout the whole of our nation” (“First Commandment”, pages 58-59).
Indeed, he does not hesitate to pronounce the words that “the German Luther is more important to Germany than the Jewish Rabbi of Nazareth”.
He, the good Lutheran, did quarrel with Hitler in the end. But it was on no question of religion and fundamental issues. It was a Church conflict—a quarrel about the administration of the Church. In any other country in the world that would have been possible, but Hitler took a somewhat narrow view of Niemoeller's stubbornness on this question of Church administration and put him into a concentration-camp. This fact has been made the basis of an attempt to make a hero of Niemoeller, a legend. Not one single instance is known of Niemoeller ever objecting to Hitler's policy, “In opposition”, even his biographers and apologists have to admit, “Niemoeller knew himself to be a better National Socialist than the German Christians” (“Niemoeller and his Creed”, page 30).
“We are not driven by care for our Church,” is his significant saying, quoted already, “but much more by care for the Third Reich.” In this fashion Niemoeller explained his stand to the Fuehrer (op.cit.p.36).
“The name of Martin Niemoeller is a great name in Christendom”, writes the Bishop of Chichester. He sees in Niemoeller a “lovable man”. During the last war his Lordship tried to persuade himself that “to many Christians in Germany the war was a shock, a convulsion, a catastrophe.”
Is that not rather wishful thinking? Is it not further proof of the correctness of my interpretation that Niemoeller wrote from the concentration-camp to Hitler at the outbreak of the present war, asking to be allowed to sail against the enemy of Germany as he did twenty-five years ago? (Emil Ludwig: “The Germans”, page 378).
I am indeed, more than sympathetic towards anybody who is in Hitler's prisons. But my sympathy goes rather to the Jews and Socialists, Communists and pacifists who suffer for the convictions—and not to people like Niemoeller, who encouraged all these atrocities from the pulpit for many years. Moreover—and this is really the cardinal point—whatever our human sympathy for people like Niemoeller might be, have they really proved by their past that we can trust them, that we can safely collaborate with them and accept their words, their Christian faith in our sense?
Throughout the last war and throughout the present one, the Germans have committed atrocities which are impossible to imagine by those who have merely read or heard about them. This is not teaching hatred, but an undeniable though most unpleasant fact. Not once in either war has any section of the Lutheran clergy protested—such as have the churches of Norway and other occupied countries where the Gestapo is at least as strong as inside Germany. With the exception of a few refugee pastors in Britain, I do not know of any section of the German Protestant Confessional Church whose pastors have refused to preach, to serve, to ordain and bless the atrocities and horrors committed by the German armies and their leaders.
These facts are unpleasant and horrible. I maintain that we can understand them and explain them only if we look at the dark figure from whom the German Lutheran clergy has for four centuries taken their orders: Martin Luther. Do not defy the authorities even if they are unjust, worship war, murder and slay the enemy, pray for a German God, exterminate the Jews, praise the authorities—all this, as I tried to show, was first preached by Luther, and has been propagated ever since from Lutheran pulpits and universities; it is the Gospel of every German Christian. It is, to my mind, the only possible explanation of many tragic happenings which seem otherwise unexplainable. An explanation which, it seems tome, corresponds more to the horrid facts than the noble and Christian hypotheses of the Bishop of Chichester and his followers.
These are my views. Those who disagree with me get more publicity, they are more believed because they are less extreme (and the Englishman hates nothing more than extreme views, even if they are true), because it is more pleasant, because it is easier. There is danger in the views of those who will notface the fact that the Lutheran tradition in Germany has produced barbarians and not Christians in our sense—their wishful thinking produces a world war every twenty-five years and destroys the very values they are fighting to preserve.
CHAPTER V: CONCLUSION
LET me sum up. First of all, I have to repeat my thesis: I do not believe myself, nor have I wanted to give the impression, that Luther and Lutheranism are the sole source of our present-day troubles. Economic, political, geographical, and many other causes have to be taken into account if we want to explain the destructive present-day mentality of the Germans, which is above all other causes to blame for the misery in which the modern world finds itself twice within a third of a century.
I did not mean for one minute either to deny that there are things that are good and laudable in Luther—that he pronounced and taught some very fine things which, if they had become the ethical standard of modern Europe, might have brought us peace and prosperity instead of war and misery. All I maintain is that Luther and his doctrines are one of the causes why Europe could follow such a fatal road—that Luther, the man and his teaching, had many disastrous sides, as well as good ones. This negative aspect of Lutheranism is not only generally ignored, but is just the very aspect which as influenced German ethics and standards.
Luther, who is generally shown as a demigod, was nothing of the kind, and his influence was anything but godly. An evil and dangerous legend has been spun round the man and his work. “It is most mysterious how complete the victory of the Luther-legend has been.”
Luther himself led a most immoral life, and destroyed the moral standards of his time. The result of Luther's teachings and his life during his own time was “general moral and religious chaos”. With his denial of reason he produced a complete “decay of intellectual life”. Neitzsche, as so often, describes Luther best when he calls him “a barbarian of the intellect”.
“In the times immediately succeeding the Reformation, matters I do consider spiritual and religious forces as more important in the history of mankind than all other factors taken together.
Here are, to my mind, two possibilities only. Either the Western civilised countries attempt to have a Christian belief as their religious background or they have not. So far, Europe has never been Christian in the sense in which I understand it. There are two explanations of the problem: either, as a great contemporary thinker—and friend of mine—Oscar Levy, says: “Christianity has been tried (for two thousand years) and found wanting, that is just our trouble.” In this case we have to look for some new standards of value, a new ethical code. Or we say with G. K. Chesterton: “Christianity has never been tried yet”—in which case we have to try really and truly to live up to Christian standards and give Christianity a chance.
On the whole, the second proposition is the one which finds, perhaps, most followers in Western countries. Is there any chance that we can ever give Christianity a fair run? I think there is. The answer is given by the late Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Gore: “Let there be fewer Christians but better Christians”.
Translated into practice that means two things: first, let us all try to lead a Christian life—not in convenient slices and with hypocrisy. Either we take the whole, or we frankly admit that we are no Christians. This total Christianity implies that in every action, every thought, every word, we try to live a truly Christian life. Christianity will, in this case, be the one and only guiding force of our lives. There is no compromise and no arguing.
The second, equally important, condition is that we do not accept the sham-Christianity of other individuals or other nations. We are prepared to have fewer Christians, but we want better ones. The mere paying of lip-service by others that they are Christians, or call themselves Christians, will no longer be sufficient for this first stage to produce a Christian Europe. We do not believe others, we investigate for ourselves. We do not want words, but deeds. We do not want promises, but proof.
These, I venture to say, are truly Christian conditions. If we follow them it will have two results: First, that in our own community we will find out how very few real Christians there are. But the small nucleus will and must be sufficient to grow slowly and steadily. If it does not, Christianity will never come. But more, if we truly investigate, we will find out—as I have done myself—that there is no truly Christian element inside Germany, that the spirit of Luther's perversions has overshadowed even the fundamentals of a religion which never—before Luther—was liked by the Germans or came natural to them. Then, indeed, we shall be faced by the great and perhaps impossible task not of producing a German re-education, but a German—the first of its kind—reformation. Reformations are not made by order. They do not merely depend on good-will and many other outward conditions, but on time and spirit. We cannot but try. To face the problem is the first step to its solution, however.
In the meantime, let us by all means carry on with all the laudable plans and enterprises to change ourselves, and to re-educate Germany—to produce new history books, a new League of Nations, new schools, new teachers. All these worldly problems will be difficult enough—and it is well worth while attempting them.
But let us not forget—and this is the main argument I am trying to put forward—that the spiritual forces are deep-rooted, that the spirit of Luther and a German God will dominate the German mind for many generations to come, that spiritual forces are stronger than political and economical.
People nowadays like to be “constructive”. I have often been accused of not being constructive and of being a pessimist. But I do think that it is better to face facts, however grim, and to admit that a solution may be difficult if not impossible, than to ignore the unpleasant data and to build on sand—with the result that the whole house collapses again in another twenty-five years.
I think if we see the truth, if we really visualise the existing dangers, if we face the present facts, if we understand their historical origins, connections and influences, if we begin to appreciate the gigantic power spiritual forces have, the evil effect Luther and Lutheranism had on Germany and on Europe—then we have already advanced a great step, then we have—perhaps—already done more than the appeasers and dreamers, idealists and sentimentalists will ever achieve. My purpose in the preceding pages was not to construct but to explain, not to teach but to make people think, not to solve problems but to fact them.
We schoolmasters are really quite humble folk. Unlike the members of other professions—such as journalists and politicians, statesmen and (perhaps) the clergy—we do not attempt to produce a new world by means of a plan, by a simple theoretical solution, whether it is Peace Pledge Union or League of Nations and that admittedly not always—to develop our pupils' own faculties of thought. We merely try to prepare them, and not to hand out a ready-made ideal world.
Politicians and members of other professions, such as I mentioned just now, will find my thesis thoroughly unsatisfactory because I have failed to produce the much-demanded “solution”—which in the case of books means good sale, in the case of elections plenty of votes. But if I have succeeded in explaining things without producing a bias, in making people think and face a few facts—then I shall be more than satisfied, for then I shall feel that I have wasted neither the reader's time nor mine. Then, moreover, I shall know that I have done my small and unimportant share in what is the duty of every schoolmaster, nay, of every responsible citizen: I have, within the limits of my ability (and time!) uttered a warning of very real dangers, in order that those who are at present my pupils—and their children—may be able to live in a more honest, more peaceful, more Christian, better world.
Many readers might have liked to see here a list of “books for further reading”, but as Professor Lucien Febure said in his “Luther—a Destiny”, published in London in 1930, “the bibliography of Luther is an ocean”. Even in 1905 Boehmer had stated that it comprised some 2,000 volumes, not counting articles, brochures, etc., and “since then the flood has risen tremendously. How can one escape drowning?” Professor Febure gives an admirable short bibliography in his book just mentioned, and to this the reader is confidently referred.
In the references given, E refers to the Erlangen edition of Luther's works, W to the Weimar edition. The first figure indicates the volume, the second the page.