Luther's Repression

Did Luther tell the truth about his reformatory break-through?

December 2010.


  1. A New Solution to an Old Problem. (01#1).

  2. Luther's Personal History Used as a Paradigm. (01#9)

  3. Luther's Reluctant Liberation from the Papal Laws. (01#29).

  4. The Falsehood of the Preface. (01#41).

  5. The Preface on Luther's Conversion. (01#72).

  6. The Pope as Antichrist. (01#94).

  7. Conclusion. (01#109).

Back to oversigten!

1   A New Solution to an Old Problem.

This essay will try to solve an old problem, namely the problem of Luther's 'conversion'. What was its content? When did it take place? How are we to judge the different pieces in this great and hitherto unanswerable puzzle?

2   The suggestion here will be: place a new piece on the table when trying to solve the puzzle! It seems to be the case, that all the old pieces do not fit, they do not join together in order to make the puzzle finished. Therefor: seach the table, make sure that no single piece of the puzzle has fallen to the floor, remove the furniture to see if some hitherto undetected piece should hide behind it! Then, maybe, you will find a new piece of the puzzle, and, maybe, this will be the piece that fits neatly into the puzzle.

3 This new piece of the puzzle is called 'Luther's repression'. Maybe it would in fact be more appropriate to call it 'Luther's lie', or 'Luther's white lie'. But since it will be argued that Luther himself was unaware that he told a lie, the word 'repression' will be more fit. But on the other hand: the word 'lie' would tell us right away, that what Luther tells us and what we have hitherto believed to be true, is in fact not true.

4  Anyhow, there is something wrong in the story that Luther tells us. It does not fit. Or it does fit, but only when one has interpreted it in a way that seems a little odd.

5 This means that in this essay it will at first be shown that Luther might have good reason to avoid the truth about his 'conversion'. If he did, he would no longer be able to uphold the normal dicotomy he has normally used: either the papal ungodly endeavour for good works through monastic life, or the lutheran happy belief in salvation by faith. Or one might say that if he told us the truth about the fact that he had his conversion-experience in 1515 and was not against the pope until 1520, he would have to account for the five years from 1515 to 1520, where he really and totally believed in justification by faith but also really and totally believed in the pope being the head of the church.

Note 5: In this essay the word 'conversion' will be used to tell about 'The Experience in the Tower', or 'Luther's Reformatory Break-Through', or right away 'Luther's revelation'.

6  We, i.e. the Lutheran scolars, have listened to Karl Holl, who through his studies of the early Luther told us, that Luther's conversion took place around 1515, plus/minus two years, and we have afterwards had a very intense discussion of whether it was plus or minus, and whether it was plus or minus how much.

Note 6: In this essay the year 1515 will be assumed to be the time of the 'conversion'. I am quite well aware that there are at least a dozen theories and that each theory has its own year of 'conversion'.

7  And we have through all these years held it for granted that Luther's words were trustworthy; it did not occur to any of us, that Luther could lie to us, or that he did not tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He is in our minds a person of great coherence, and it did not occur to us in our wildest dreams, that he might betray us.

8  And yet, this essay has as its presupposition that Luther lies to us, or – mildly speaking – that he suffers from some form of repression. It will now be shown in some more details.

Luther's personal history used as a paradigm.

It is of great importance to be aware of the fact that Luther does not tell the story of his life and conversion with the same intention as we do. We have an interest in the pure historical fact. We endeavour to find out what really happened. This is our first interest. Then, as our second interest, comes the question: what does this tell us, what kind of being is this man or this woman? But to Luther the historical facts are secondary to the use he makes of it in his sermons.

10 We see this phenomenon in a number of cases. In the text beside we see no watershed described in the year 1515. The event that matters is fixed to the fifteenth year after Luthers entrance in the monastery, and as Luther entered the monastery in 1505, that means the year 1520. During all the years in the monastery until 1520 Luther has crucified Christ. This expression is probably meant to signify his participation in the celebration of the catholic socalled private masses, which took place on a daily basis and in which the priest made a sacrifice.

What have I done and how have I lived until now in my monastic life, where I every day through fifteen years crucified Christ, and made every kind of idolatry? And in spite of all that, with which I so greatly have infuriated Him, He has loved me so deeply that He has forgiven all my wrongdoings and revealed His son and Himself to me with all grace; that must in fact be called an incomprehensible richness of pure love”. (Erl 12,330, sermon from the postilla, text John 3,16-21, KLOLUT#10).

11  In his book from 1520 'On the Babylonian captivity' Luther opposed the catholic rite and in 1521 he recommended his Wittenberg-congregation that it stopped celebrating these private masses, a question, about which he was very serious, because he considered a continued celebration an idolatry, as it is seen in this text.

12 A great deal of effort has been made by Lutheran scolars to find out when and how the changes in Luther's view on the eucharist took place. But few of them would say as Luther himself says here, that he continued crucifying Christ until 1520.

13 Now, one could ask: What does this text mean? It tells us that Luther tought of himself as an idolater until 1520. But why should Luther make any notion of his conversion in 1515? He did continue being an idolater until 1520!

14  Yes, but it is interesting that he in this text also speaks about Christ and God being revealed to him, and, one must understand, this revelation took place in 1520, not in 1515. It is understandable that he makes no remark on his conversion when talking about his idolatry, for his celebration of the catholic mass continued until 1520, but should he not at least mention his conversion when speaking about his revelation? One should think so, but nevertheless, he doesn't.

15 The same pattern can be seen in his writings until his death. I shall give a few examples.

Above all other horrible things I kept to the mass, which was preached as a sacrifice and sold as a good work, on which hitherto all monastries and foundations were founded, but will – God willing – soon be torn down.

16  In this text from 1528 he walks on the same path. What he counts as his sins are not just the 'normal' sins, but first and foremost the fact that he has participated in making the eucharist a good work that might be sold for money to uphold the monastries and 'holy' institutions.

For although I was a big, serious, harmful sinner and has used and lost my youth in a shameful way, my biggest sin is that I have been a holy monk and with so many masses through fifteen years infuriated, tortured and tormented my dear master so cruelly”. (From ”On the Eucharist of Christ, Confession.” 1528; Erl 30.371f; KLOLUT-0#7).

17 And also in 1544 Luther sings the same song: He has been guilty of idolatry during all of his fifteen years in the monastery. But in this case he adds something odd. He says that he during these years lived in faith in dead saints, and that he invoked these saints. Did he really do that after his conversion in 1515?

This is what we hitherto have done under the papacy, and for that I may use myself as an example, for I have for more than fifteen years lived in mere idolatry and blasphemy, in unbelief against God, in false faith in the dead saints, whom I invoked;

18 And, concerning the next phrases: Did he really, having understood what is meant by justification by faith, put faith in his masses and his monastic life? Shouldn't he say that he changed his faith during the last five years in monastery? That from that time on he did live in the monastery, but lived there without having any faith in his monastic works? We now know, and we can see it from his works, that he no longer had any faith in his works, but nevertheless he here tells us that this was what he had during all the fifteen years. How come?

and I lived in faith in my masses and my monastic life, and I would also for that reason (what they now do in their obduracy) have helped condemning, persecuting and killing pious, innocent christians, who would not have praised this kind of idolatry, and I would mean by that to do a great favour to God, I, who kept my daily services and feasts in the church with great devotion”. (From a sermon at the consecration of the church in Torgau, 1544, Erl. 17,252, KLOLUT#27).

19  First: It may be for brevity. He does not want to go into detail about his long and troublesome way to clarity. He knows quite well what struggles he had had to fight, what scruples he had had to endure, what opposition he had had to overcome, but he chooses to overlook all that in order to tell his congregation briefly what kind of life he lived, he too, under the papacy.

20 Second: It may be for strategic purposes. He puts forward two contradictory opinions, and he does not want to blure this picture by putting forward any medium in between. If he told the whole story, he would risk that some people would think: 'Well, he, Luther, was able to live under the papacy for almost five years with his 'new' thoughts of justification by faith intact, although he had to celebrate papal masses, to invoke the saints and so on, why should not this same attitude towards the papacy be an option for us? Why should we be forced to do what he later did: to break away from the pope?'

21  That is: these five years from 1515 to 1520 must be forgotten, must be put away, must never be mentioned, at least not by himself, because if he did mention it, if he told the whole story, it would be a temptation for weak souls, they would take a halfhearted step against the papacy, but be left on a medium position, which as Luther sees it now is untenable.

22 As for the claim that he would have helped persecute people who did not praise his monastic life, we are able to control him to a certain degree. For one of the articles which were condemned in the papal bull against Luther tells us that Luther once said, that it is against the will of the Ghost to burn heretics.

To burn heretics is againt the will of the holy Ghost” (Article 33 in the papal bull against Luther, exurge#49).

23 This thesis is probably a reflection on what Luther writes in his 'resolutiones' on the 95 theses. In this respect it does not matter whether this was written before or after he became aware that he himself might become a victim for the burning pope, probably it is written before he knew that, at least he did not receive his citation to Rome until august 1518. But anyhow, he seems to have left the faith in the weapon of the pope: the authority to excommunicate a person with the effect that this person was burned as a heretic by the worldly authority, the emperor.

There is a shortcut from this difficulty, which pleases us, namely that we do not destroy the heresies or the errors, but completely burn the heretics and the erronious people, then we shall be led by the counsel of Cato, about destroying Carthago, rather than by that of Scipio. The only thing is that that is against the will of the Ghost, who writes (in Judge 3,1ss) that for that reason there were left in the beloved country Jebusites and Cana'anites, that the sons of Israel might learn to go to war and get trained in warfare”. (Resolution on the 95 theses, WA 1,624f, res10#80).

24 And that means, that at least from say july 1518 and onwards he would not have helped condemning, persecuting and killing innocent Christians, as he says in his sermon in 1544. Nevertheless, this period of nonpersecution is not taken into consideration later on by himself, neither in this sermon from 1544.

25  Beside, one sees a quotation from one of Luther's sermons from 1538. There are 11 texts where Luther mentions the figure 15 years for his monastic life. But oddly enough there may be found three texts that counts up to twenty, when it comes to Luther's years in the monastery. One of them is placed here, so that whoever will might claim that for Luther it did not mean much whether he counted to fifteen or to twenty.

Therefor, a person, who will do the right thing and be in no error regarding his faith, must begin with what God has recommended, where he will let himself be found, or he will certainly be in error, and what he beliefs and does is all in vain, and he achieves nothing but that he betrays himself, as those people do who undertake great and difficult works in order to arrive at the grace of God.

26 On the other hand: there are no texts where he counts to, say 17 og 19. He clearly considers the years 1520 and 1525 as thresholds, remarcable years, where his situation altered in a special way. And we can easily explain the year 1525. In that year he married and although he still lived in the buildings of the monastery, he no longer lived there as a monk. But what about the year 1520? What is special about that year?

Just as I myself for twenty years was a monk and tortured myself with prayer, fasting, vigiliance and freezing, so that I by the freezing alone might have become dead, and made for myself so much harm, that I shall never more do such things, even if I could: What have I sought through these things other than God? He was the one, who should see how I fulfilled my rule and lived such a rigorous life; but still I lived in dream and idolatry. For I did not believe in Christ”. (Sermon from 1538, Erl. 49,26; KLOLUT#42).

27 In this year he reached the conclusion that the pope was Antichrist and in July that year, almost exactly fifteen years after he entered the monastery in Erfurt (July 10th in 1505) he wrote his great call to the German nobility, later on his 'De captivitate' and 'On the Freedom of a Christian'. In that year also he received the citation from the Pope, the bull that demanded from him that he recanted within 60 days, if he would escape the fire. So one may really say that this year 1520 is something special.

28  But here in this context the question is not why the year 1520 should be preferred to the year 1525, but why the year 1515 is not mentioned at all. Why has Luther totally 'forgotten' the years of preparation from 1515 to 1520? And the answer is, as has been seen, not only that he did not want to go into detail, but first and foremost that he did not want to let anybody know that it was possible to have a fulblown belief in justification by faith and at the same time to be obediant to the pope.

29 Luther's Reluctant Liberation from the Papal Laws.

There is another reason why Luther was very cautious about his personal history from 1515 to 1520. He knows from his own experience that it is very difficult to be liberated from the laws and traditions that have become part of one's daily life. And he is willing to give his audiences an impression of his psychological difficulties on his path from the bondage of papacy to the freedom of the gospel. But he seems unwilling to tell about his theological difficulties in the same transition.

30 This might have a psychological explanation: When a person leaves some ideology that has occupied him in total, he is prone to forget the thoughts that really obsessed him. He may remember the psychological experiences, he may remember some thoughts that he had during his 'stay' in this ideology, but why this whole ideology could obsess him will remain some sort of a puzzle to him.

31 In the case of Luther: Luther is able to speak about all the wrong thoughts he had before 1515, he often tells about his slow getting rid of the papal ideology, but he never speaks about his teological thoughts in this medium period: how he could on the one hand fully understand the concept of justification by faith and yet on the other hand be a totally obedient son of the papal church; how he could know for sure that man's works do not justify him in the eyes of God, and yet stay in all the works of a monk, knowing that his brethren performed these works with the intention of being justified.

32 In his great work ”On the monastic vows”, de vota monastica, from 1521, Luther to a certain degree discloses this phenomenon to us. He still wore his cloak as a monk, but, he says, I do not belong to the cloak (as I did before), but the cloak belongs to me (because I wear it out of my free choice). He has been drawn out of the monastery by God himself, because what he does now is done with a liberated conscience. He lives according to the rule that he reads in Paul's admonitions: you are free to eat flesh, but in order not to offend your brother, please do not eat flesh (1kor#10.25ff). We may imagine that the brother, Luther did not want to offend to some extend was himself. At least he in this work seems to agitate for his own freedom to stay in the monastery although he came up with one accusation against monastic life after the other.

But I return to you, dear father, and say again: Will you still like to draw me out of monastic life? But in order that you shall not boast of that, God anticipated you and drew me out Himself. For what does it matter, what clothes I wear, what I eat or drink, whether I have tonsure or not? Is it the cloak or the tonsure, that makes a monk? ”Everything belongs to you”, Paul says (1 Kor 3:22f), ”but you belong to Christ”, accordingly should I belong to the cloak and not rather the cloak to me? My conscience is liberated, and this should first and foremost be liberated. Therefor I now am a monk, and yet not a monk. I am a new creation, I do not belong to the pope, but to Christ”. (From the preface to ”On the monastic vows”, WA 8, 575, Vot-01#26).

33 He has used the comparison with the Babylonian oven as a means to keep his respect for some of the monks from the middle-age, first and foremost Bernard of Clairvaux. But having created such a free haven amidst the dangerous monastic life, why not use this as a place where to place himself? Anyhow, he stayed in the monastery until he was married, he probably also wore his cloak until then, but he may have given up fasting.

They [the monks] teach and say from ancient times as a foundation for their viciousness that man by his natural works may uptain grace and forgiveness of sins. That's how they all think, that's why they make their vows, that they may by this kind of life achieve the grace of God -- and what else do they do than deny Christ and fall away from faith? And if there are amongst them somebody who do not think in this way when they hear or see nothing else, then such people, when they live among ungodly doctrines and people living in an infidel way, must be considered as the men in the fire of the Babylonian oven (Dan 3:27), and it is thanks to God's power alone that they can be saved in a miraculous way, because this power when it works in them makes them teach rightly and serve mightily”. (”On the monastic vows”, WA 8,596, VOT-02#56)

34 There is a little remark in one of his sermons from the postilla (1522), where he mention the difficulties he had eating meat on fridays. It still seemed odd to him. Although he had convinced himself theologically that it was the right thing to do, he still had some feeling of wrongdoing over against it.

I have also been such a person and I have sticked more firmly into this barn than many others. I could not accept that I so quickly had abandoned the rules of the pope. It seemed to me sour and hard that on fridays I ate meat, and that the rules and ordinances of the pope should no more be valid”. (From the Postilla, 1522, Erl 14.294, KLOLUT#59).

35 On the other hand, the quotation beside shows us to be very careful. It tells us something about Luther, oh yes. It shows us once more that he himself had difficulties liberating not only his conscience but all his habits from the tradition that he had lived in for so long time, yes, that's right. But be careful! Does he maybe exagerate his difficulties a little bit. One must remember that in this context he is trying to persuade 'the strong' to take the feelings of 'the weak' into consideration. And maybe he therefor has made himself a little weaker than he really was.

I myself have during almost three years worked with myself, until I have liberated my conscience from the laws of the pope, worked through daily exercises in the gospel, through preaching, through reading, through labour, through disputating, through writing, through hearing: How then should anybody be able to draw the normal man out of this so quickly?” (From ”On taking both states of the sacrament and other new things”, 1522, Erl 28,300, KLOLUT#51).

36 That is, I think, the difficulties with the texts of Luther in a nutshell: Luther never tells us his story to satisfy our curiousity. What has happened to him is of no importance in itself. The 'nude' story of Luther is in no way the story that Luther intends to tell us. But must we not admit that this 'nude' story is what we are looking for?

37 It is not intended here to say that our efforts are impossible. We just must be aware of the fact that Luther gladly reveals anything from the story of his life for us, but that he always do so as a preacher, as someone who is up to something, as a man who wants to say something to us through this story. We never get the story straight away.

38 Two more things must be said before we can leave this chapter. This whole effort: trying to figure out what Luther meant about himself in 1522, when he was still living in the monastery, is firstly for that reason a vain effort, that it is not the years from 1520 to 1525 that are interesting her, it is the years from 1515 to 1520; and maybe these texts tell us nothing about these years. And it is secondly a vain effort, because what interests us here is much more the question of the later Luther: how did he look at his life in the year 1545? Maybe he in 1522 still remembered how he felt about monastic life after his 'conversion' in 1515, but had he forgotten that in 1545?

39 Or, more to the point: Had he told the story of his life so often, that he himself in the end believed it to be the whole truth? I mean: In Luther's storytelling history and theology are mixed up with one another. He tells the story of his former life under the pope, but he always does so for pedagogical reasons. And the story always goes like this: under the pope I was a monk striving to achieve justification through my works. This is in the course of his sermons and lessons in Wittenberg during the years of consolidation from 1530-1546 used to underpin his theological maintheme: that the church had been in a captivity until God revealed the truth in the Bible to him, and that everyone who could read the Bible, was able to see for himself who was on the right course: the pope and his followers or Luther and his followers.

40 In his theology there is no room for any medium-theory, for any in-between. His theology speaks of an 'either-or'. Either justification by works through the pope or justification by faith through Luther. And accordingly, his own story must show the same 'either-or': either he as a monk was searching for justification by works or he lived in his vocation as a husband and a professor.

41 But when he arrived at the year 1545 and some people felt it necessary to collect all his latin writings in a great edition, and he agreed to that, he suddenly was forced to rethink his own history. What did really happen in my life? How did things succeed other things? How did opinions succeed other opinions? What did I mean in this year, and what did I mean the following year? And: How shall I preserve my 'normal' story, the normal either-or?

42 What has been said in this chapter is in a way nothing more than what Volker Leppin says in his Luther-biography, see the quotation beside! But where he used this insight to downplay Luther's claim of a sudden and unexpected experience – the whole thing was much more of a continuous development, says Leppin – the same insight shall in this essay be used to focus on Luther's remarcable alteration of his biography in the preface to his Latin works in 1545. This alteration has its background in the same wish to make his biography correspond to his theology, that Leppin mentions, but in this essay it shall directly be seen as what it really is: an alteration.

For the year 1518 is to say, that Luther found that his discovery of a new understanding of penance was simply the foundation for his present existence. Accordingly he reconstructed his past in a way so that the theological weight he now put on penance was counterbalanced with a biographic-psychological weight, the importance of which was underlined by telling about the unexpecteness of his experience, by its likeness to a revelation and by its thorough usefullness. But in 1545 he saw his doctrin of justification as constituting his theological existence, and so he reconstructed his autobiography accordingly”. (From Volker Leppin: Martin Luther, page 116, my translation).

43 So now, at the end of this long introduction, it may be disclosed once again: what is at play, is a claim that Luther did not tell the truth about his conversion. One may say that he lied, one may say that he told the truth to a much lesser degree than wanted, one may say that he suffered from some form of Freudian repression, or one may say with the words of Volker Leppin, that he reconstructed his past, anyhow, what he tells us in the preface to his Latin works is wrong.

44 The Falsehood of the Preface.

Luther's deceit begins almost at once in the preface to the Latin works. As mentioned earlier the editing of these works forced Luther to reread his first Latin works and thereby to recall what he really thought and meant at that time. But since this recollection must at any price be in accordance with his theology, we must avoid taking every information from his side as the pure truth.

45 At first he tells us how unwilling he was to allow his works to be reedited. Much persuation was needed to make him give in. The reasons for his hesitation are interesting: he did not want his works to bury the works of the fathers; there are already a lot of good books available; and, maybe the most important reason for him, the Bible is translated and everybody may read it instead of his works. And his works are, that's what he has found out by rereading them, disorganized, and even he himself is not able to find out what is up and what is down.

Third, and most importantly, the Bible itself is now available in almost every language. The disordered train of events, however, has seen to it that my works resemble a wild, disorganized chaos, which now even I cannot easily put into order.” FORT45EN#4.

46 And that's why he ask the reader to be careful when reading his works. Already at the beginning he tells us that these works do not represent the pure gospel as he understands it in 1545.

Above all I beg the reader, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to read these works with discernment, or perhaps I should say with anxiety. FORT45EN#8.

47 But is he telling the truth here? One has to remember that at the time when he took up this whole affair, that is in 1517, he had experienced a conversion that taught him the doctrin of justification by faith. It is true, he hadn't at that time had any clash with the pope, it was not until 1520 that he came to the conclusion that the pope was Antichrist. But does that mean that he in 1517 was 'submerged in the pope's doctrines'? There seems to be som exaggeration here. And this exaggeration is a preparation for what is to come.

The reader should know that I was once a monk, the most insane of papists, when I took up this whole affair. I was so drunk, so submerged in the pope's doctrines, that I was ready, if I could, to kill or help kill those who would have advocated by so much as a single syllable withdrawing obedience to the pope. FORT45EN#9.

48 At least one must acknowledge that at this time he was rather naive about the pope and the doctrines of the pope. He was entirely convinced that the pope would be on his side in the question of indulgencies. And it is also to be said that he seems to have had a special kindness to Leo the Tenth, and for a long time was unable to think of any wrongdoing from his side. So maybe is really is true that he was more burning in his defence for the pope.

49 But is it true that he in 1517 still had at horrible fear of the Last Day, and is it true that – as the wording sounds – he did have the wish but did not know the way to be saved? If he had his experience of 'conversion' in 1515 this is simply not true. Either he has forgotten the true state of his mind in 1517 or he had for so long told a story of a direct transition from the doctrine of the pope (justification by works) to the doctrine of the gospel (justification by faith) that he felt forced to retell this story here.

I took the matter seriously because I had a horrible fear of the Last Day, yet still wished from the depths of my heart to be saved. FORT45EN#11.

50 It is true that he in his early writings accepted a great many of the traditions of the church, he had for instance nothing to say against the eucharist in the papal rite, i.e. with the concept of sacrifice in it, and it is right that he in 1521 wrote 'de missa abroganda privata', 'On the Abolition of the Privat Mass', and it is correct that he in this treatise described the privat mass as the greatest blasphemy. But what he does not say and maybe is not able to say at this time (1545), is that his conversion and consequently his doctrin on justification by faith did not prevent him from conceding all these important things to the pope.

Continued: Consequently you will find that, in my earlier writings, I most humbly conceded many important things to the pope, things which I later detested and now detest as being the greatest blasphemy and abomination. FORT45EN#12.

51 Maybe one could and should distinguish between a theological-existential opinion and a clerico-political opinion and claim that Luther's theological-existential conviction had not yet prevailed over his clerico-political conviction, and that this later Luther did not make any distinction between those convictions at all, or, more precisely perhaps, claim, that he for clerico-political reasons had no interest in putting any attention to such a distinction.

52 At that time (1545) he was convinced that as soon as a man had understood 'his' doctrin of justification he also would have understood that the papal power had to be abolished. And if this conviction is to be told autobiographically he has to avoid any mention of a medium state, where he had grasped the truth of justification by faith but not yet understood how the whole papal power stood against this truth.

53 But is making such a reconstruction identical with telling a lie? I don't think that one may say so. At least, in this essay I don't want to put it that way. But one may say that Luther during the whole preface of 1545 is fully aware of the fact that he is not just telling how it really happened, he is at the same time preaching the gospel: justification by faith. And he has no intention of giving up his habit: using his own experiences as a means of telling what justification by faith is all about. And, this is what he thinks in 1545, these experiences are experiences of justification by faith and experiences of the pope as Antichrist.

54 For this reason it is impossible to know what exactly Luther means by the word 'inexperience' (imperitia) when telling about the beginning of the affair. Of course it means that he had not yet experienced how the pope would react to his 95 theses, but when he – and that is the main claim that I put forward in this essay – places his conversion in the year 1520, this inexperience could at the same time be hinting at the 'fact' that he in 1517 had not yet experienced what justification really meant.

Continued: Therefore, dear reader, kindly ascribe this error or, as my calumniators call it, this contradiction to the time and to my inexperience. FORT45EN#13.

55 This inexperience regarding the political matters made him think that he had the pope on his side. And there is no reason whatever to put in doubt that this inexperience was real. It surprised him greatly – well, that his theses became so popular – but also, that he and not Tetzel was accused by the pope. The only thing he did was to tell people that they had better things to do.

I began to dissuade the people from lending an ear to the shouts of the indulgence-sellers. I told them that they had better things to do and that I was sure that in these matters I had the pope on my side. I was relying greatly on his trustworthiness, since in his decrees he had very clearly condemned the excesses of the quaestors, as he called the indulgence preachers. FORT45EN#16f.

56 But did he react so strongly to the shouts of the indulgence-sellers because he was a normal professor or did he react because he through his conversion had found out what Christian theology was really about? Of course we today will say that he reacted because he had been captured by the theology of justification by faith, but it is noteworthy that he himself would not say so.

57 He had from 1522 to 1545 used his own story as a paradigm for the struggle against the papacy and this story presupposes that it was not until 1520 that he in one and the same event experienced the truth of justification by faith and the truth of the pope as Antichrist. Again and again he had told about the 15 years he spent in his monastery as an idolator againt God. And the fact that he once again read his writings from before that time could not make him alter this conviction.

58 So in the next passages of the preface from 1545 he told the story of his disagreements with the pope. He told about his talks with Cajetan. He told about Eck bringing a bull against him from Rome. And afterwards he told about something that happened a year before: the disputation with Eck in Leipzig. So he did change the order of the events, although one doesn't know whether this happens by accident or because he so many years later has forgotten how it happened.

59 But in all this storytelling – which is very interesting for one who wants to know what happened during these important years – it is presupposed that the theology that drove him was more or less the normal theology of the time.


60 Because of this presupposition he without hesitation makes a heartfelt excuse for his opinion in the disputation with Eck, that the pope was the head of the church by human right. This was one of the great themes in the disputation with Eck (see ECK-01#26).

Even Duke George said to Eck and me at breakfast, "Whether it's by divine right or by human right, still he's the pope." If he hadn't been influenced by the arguments, he would never have said such a thing but would have approved of Eck alone. FORT45EN#43.

61 This excuse takes the form of a reference to the customs of a normal human being. How hard to abandon customs! He himself had to be liberated from the normal customs of that time.

Continued: From my case you can see how hard it is to struggle free from errors which become fixed by universal standard and changed by time-honored custom into nature. How true the proverb is: "It's hard to abandon customs" and "Custom is a second nature." How right Augustine was when he said, "Custom, if it is not resisted, becomes necessity." FORT45EN#44.

62 And next he gives the right theological explanation: what is not from God must be from the devil. But, alas, he hadn't at the time of the disputation found out how to solve such a simple equation. (#46)

Continued: I had been reading and teaching the Sacred Scriptures diligently in private and in public now for seven years, so that I knew almost all of them by heart. Then too, I had imbibed the beginnings of the knowledge of Christ and of faith in him, i.e., that it is faith in Christ and not works that justifies and saves us. FORT45EN#45.

63 But before that he tells us that he had through his reading the Sacred Scripture had imbibed the beginnings of the knowledge of Christ, that is he had understood the beginnings of the doctrine of justification by faith. He tells us no more at this stage of the story. (#45). And he probably only tells us that much because he wants to give an explanation to the fact that he did not consider the pope to be the head of the church by divine right.

Continued: Finally, I was now defending publicly that proposition of which I'm speaking, namely, that the pope was not the head of the church by divine right. But I still didn't see the necessary conclusion, i.e., that the pope must be from the devil, for what is not from God must be from the devil. FORT45EN#46.

64 But please notice that Luther at this point uses the word 'beginning' (primitia)! This has to be contrasted to the words of the conversion, about which he tells us later on. (FORT45EN#67). There he uses the words 'born again' and 'entered into Paradise', that is: much stronger words. That means, that he in the later description does not tell us about something that happened before the stage he had reached in 1519.

65 He tries to elaborate his excuse a little further. And the argument seems to be as follow: It is impossible to argue that the pope is head of the church according to divine right. From Scripture and from logic only a human right can be argued for. But since the pope nevertheless keeps telling us that his right is of divine origin he thereby shows that he is seduced by the devil.

Continued: I was so absorbed, as I have said, by the example and title of the Holy Church as well as by my own customary way of thinking, that I conceded that the pope was head of the church by human right. However, if that right is not supported by divine authority, then it is a lie and comes from the devil. FORT45EN#47.

66 In the next section, the one beside, Luther comes up with a certain concession: he does in a way understand those who cling tenaciously to the papacy, because he has in his own past done just so. And he adds that he has done so in spite of having read the sacred Scriptures diligently for so many years. But he does not add that he has done so in spite of having experienced the blessing of justification by faith to a degree where he felt that he was brought into Paradise itself. This experience, which we today know took place before the Leipzig-disputation, he feels obliged to place at the same time as he found out that the pope was Antichrist, that is, in 1520.

Continued: After all, we obey our parents and the civil authorities, not because they themselves command it, but because God wants us to (cf. 1 Peter). That is why I can, with a little less hatred, put up with those who cling so tenaciously to the papacy, especially those who haven't read the sacred Scriptures or even the secular writings, since I myself had read the sacred Scriptures diligently for so many years and still clung tenaciously to the papacy. FORT45EN#48.

67 This is the only concession Luther dares make. If he goes any further he is afraid that he will give his future supporters too good reason to still cling to the papacy: they may have read the Scriptures as diligently as he has done, they may have visited Paradise when discovering the blessings of faith, but they may nevertheless still be able, just by imitating Luther precisely, to consider the pope their master.


68 By this it is not meant to argue that Luther was aware of reconstructing his own biography. For him the two aspects, mentioned in #51, are always just one. Maybe for us it is natural to make a distinction between a theological-existential conviction and a clerico-political one, but for Luther these two always merged into one. And since the theological-existential conviction always had the upper hand, his biography had to be shaped to satisfy its demands.

69 Having told about the Miltitz-intermezzo Luther gives us a little overview: who is to blame for the whole affair? And gives his answer to that question: It is the archbishop of Mainz, whose fault it is.

It's all the fault of the man at Mainz, who was tricked by his own cleverness with which he wanted to suppress my doctrine and to save his money which he'd sought through indulgences. FORT45EN#57.

70 And now he uses a language that he wouldn't use before 1520. It is 'they', 'they' and 'they' again, that is, at this time, in 1545, he sees the great division between the adherents of the pope and the adherents of the gospel. Because, in the meantime, from 1520 to 1545, he over and over again had scrutinized the Scripture to find out what was going on. And he found out that the pope was Antichrist, that Daniel had prophesied about him, and that God in Scripture had promised the victory to his faithful.

Continued: Now they seek counsel in vain; now they make efforts in vain. The Lord has awakened and stands to judge the peoples [cf. Psalm 76:9 and Daniel 9:14]. Even if they were able to kill us, they still wouldn't have what they want; in fact, they'd have even less than they have now while we are alive and well. Some among them, whose nose is not completely inactive, can smell this well enough. FORT45EN#58.

71 That means: It is not my cause I am fighting for, it is the cause of God, even if 'they' were so lucky as to kill 'us', it would not be to 'their' advantage, for 'their' adversary is the Word of God, and his word is given further might by the death of his servants.

72 The Preface on Luther's Conversion.

And now, immediately after this quotation, comes the text, that most scolars have clinged to when they were to tell about Luther's conversion. Rightly so, no doubt. But this essay is not just a new attempt to interprete this text to find out what time Luther is talking about. It is an attempt to say: Well, Luther is talking about the year 1520, there can be no doubt about that. But he is wrong in dating his conversion to that year. It did take place in 1515. And this approach is a new one, I think. Let us take a look of the text!

73 'That same year, 1519', this is something added by the translator. But it is correct, we are talking about the year 1519. In that year Luther took up the Psalms again, having edited his commentary on Galatians. And the year 1519 is in correspondance with what he mentions here: he has at that time dealt with Romans, Galatians, and the Letter to the Hebrews in university courses.

Meanwhile in that same year, 1519, I had begun interpreting the Psalms once again. I felt confident that I was now more experienced, since I had dealt in university courses with St. Paul's Letters to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the Letter to the Hebrews.  FORT45EN#59.

74 But the next thing he mentions is incorrect. It was not in the year 1519 that he was captured by a burning desire to understand the justice of God. There has been a great and almost unfinishing dispute among scolars about the time of Luther's conversion. There are those who date his conversion as an early event (from 1512 to 1515) and there are ”Spätdatierer”, scolars who think it took place from 1517 to 1519.

I had conceived a burning desire to understand what Paul meant in his Letter to the Romans, but thus far there had stood in my way, not the cold blood around my heart, but that one word which is in chapter one: "The justice of God is revealed in it." FORT45EN#60.

75 And there is a certain grammatical problem that occupies the scolars: the problem of the double pluperfect. The first one: 'I had begun' (redieram) telling us what happened in 1519. The second one: 'I had conceived' (captus fueram) telling us about – well, about what year? 'About something that happened before 1519' say the ”Frühdatierer”. 'No', say the ”Spätdatierer”, 'about what happened in that same year, in correspondance with the first pluperfect'.

76 The author of this essay hasn't got the knowledge of the Latin language to decide for sure whether the ”Frühdatierer” could possibly be right. Their claim seems a bit artificial, and one could get the suspicion that it is not maintained because of grammatical reasons but because of historical ones: they have to make room for Luther's conversion to have taken place in 1515 or earlier.

77 But as it may be seen: the pivotal claim in this essay sets free from this necessity. If we dare make the assumption that Luther suffered from some kind of repression we are able to stick to both claims: 1) Luther did tell us in this preface that his conversion took place in 1519 or even 1520, but 2) this claim isn't true. That is: we need not make any artificial assumption about those double pluperfects. (That is: if such assumption is artificial, which is uncertain).

78 The main argument for that lies outside the preface. It lies in all the things that have been mentioned in the first chapters here about Luther reconstructing his biography, so that it becomes in accordance with his theology. Nevertheless there is an argument from the preface, too, a very strong argument, indeed. It was touched on earlier (see #62) and hinges on the word 'primitia', 'the beginnings' i.e. of the doctrine of justification by faith.

79 It goes like this: If Luther for the time of the disputation with Eck in Leipzig tells us that he at that time through his studies of the holy Scripture had reached 'the beginnings of the knowledge of Christ and of faith in him', how could he then later on in the preface tell us that he long time before had had his break-through, and that to a degree so that he felt as being in Paradise? Necessarily one must assume that the beginning is earlier than the full experience, and that means that Luther's full experience, his total break-through, or his real conversion, did not, according to Luther in the preface, take place before the disputation with Eck, that is before July 1519.

Then too, I had imbibed the beginnings of the knowledge of Christ and of faith in him, i.e., that it is faith in Christ and not works that justifies and saves us. FORT45EN#45.

80 That means that Luther here intend to let his conversion happen some time after, say October 1519, where he had edited his commentary on the first psalms. And since it is, all of it, a phantasy by Luther we don't need to search for letters or expressions in his works that might disclose to us that here, just here he felt close to Paradise. What we might seach for in the year 1519 or 1520 is a kind of experience of the clerico-political kind, since what Luther does in the preface (as well as in his writings from 1522 to 1545) is uniting the theological-existential and the clerico-political experience of a break-through.

81 Three Problems Solved.

This daring theory may solve several problems. Here only three will be mentioned.

82 1) The text beside from the 'resolutiones' does tell about Luther's conversion.

Some have argued, that there is something odd about Luther's conversion, if one compares this text with the following from the preface.

And lo, the most hilarious play, the words themselves everywhere played, too, and laughed at and attacked this meaning, to such a degree, that, although before in almost the whole Scripture there was no word more bitter to me than this word 'penance', then now, afterwards, no word sounded to me more sweet and merciful than the word 'penance'.” (WA 1,525, res01#4).

83 Either one could argue (as does Volker Leppin) that these two texts which are very like each other show us that Luther was bound by some story-telling scheme: what has been a slow development must be told as a sudden experience, or one could argue that this shows that Luther in the preface's second pluperfect does tell about something that happened long ago.

I exalted this sweetest word of mine, "the justice of God," with as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of Paul was for me the very gate of paradise. (FORT45EN#68)

84 And please notice: If someone would argue against the thesis in this essay, that you can't have both: Either you must say that these words refer to the same event, and then the conversion-story of the preface is about a conversion in 1515, or they refer to two different events, and then you will have to come up with a very good explanation of the likeness of their wording, if someone would say so, the answer will be: Yes, you can have both! But only, if you are ready to admit that Luther did not tell us what really happened in the preface, but changed his biography so that it fitted his theology.

85 2) This kind of argument also goes for the next problem.

This text is taken from the resolutions over the 95 theses, that is, it is written in June-July 1518. And it may be taken as granted that what he tells about here is this terrible experience he had, which is here called his conversion, but maybe should be called his experiences before the decisive break-through.

But also I have known a person, who asserts that he has often suffered from these punishments, during a very short time, but it was so great and develish punishments, that language cannot tell or the pen describe it, or one who hasn't experienced it cannot believe it, so that if they had continued or lasted for but half an hour, or even ten minuts more, he would have been totally destroyed and all his bones have turned into ashes.

86 Martin Schwarz Lausten uses this text in his book ”Martin Luther – munk, oprører, reformator” (Alfa, København, 2005, written in Danish), page 27, as a description of Luther's scruples before his conversion, and one must say that this use is justified. I have myself used it to show why Luther in his disputation with Eck is able to say: ”I know that there is a purgatory” (ECK-08#10). It sometimes seems justified to say that Luther meant that he himself had been in Purgatory.

Here God showed himself terribly angry, and together with him the whole creation. At that time there was no escape, no consolation, neither internly nor externly, there was only accusation for everything. Then he cryed this vers: ”I am driven away from your eyes” (Ps. 31:23), and he did not at all dare say: ”O, Lord, don't punish me in your wrath” (Ps. 6:2). In such a moment – odd to say – the soul cannot believe that it ever gets redeemed, it only feels that the punishment is not yet fulfilled.

87 What is decisive in this context is, that all such speculations is about something that happened long time before 1519. And it may therefor be used against us ”Spätdatierer”. And of course, if we are such ”Spätdatierer” and if we acknowledge that this text is about his conversion, then it becomes impossible to maintain our position as ”Spätdatierer”, we will have to admid that Luther's conversion took place before June 1518.

But it is eternal, and he cannot judge it to be temporal. All that is left is the pure and nude wish for help and a terrible lamentation, but he does not know from where he shall ask for help. Here the soul becomes suspended with Christ, all its bones may be counted, and every corner of the soul is filled with the greatest bitterness, horror, fear, sorrow, but all of it lasts for ever”. (WA 1,557f; res04#25).

88 But, following the thesis in this essay, that does not mean, that the text in the preface from 1545 is about a conversion from 1515. It just means, that Luther did not tell us the truth about the time of his conversion. You can have both: You can maintain that the true conversion took place in 1515, and you can maintain, that Luther in the preface intends to tell us that his conversion took place in 1520. In that case you just have to admit that Luther could, as all other people, be victim of a repression.

89 3) The third problem that is solved by the thesis of this work arises from a reference Luther makes in the preface to Augustin.

Having told how he discovered how the justice of God was to be interpreted Luther refers to Augustin and clearly says 'Afterward' (Postea), meaning of course that he hadn't discovered this interpretation of Augustin before.

Afterward I read Augustine's "On the Spirit and the Letter," in which I found what I had not dared hope for. I discovered that he too interpreted "the justice of God" in a similar way, namely, as that with which God clothes us when he justifies us. Although Augustine had said it imperfectly and did not explain in detail how God imputes justice to us, still it pleased me that he taught the justice of God by which we are justified. (FORT45EN#69)

90 But now, if one looks a little closer to Luther's commentary on Romans from 1515 (and of course one must remember that this text was not available to people at the time of Luther, the collected works that were edited in 1545 probably began with the 95 theses) one will find that he seems to understand the justice of God in exactly the way in which he describes it in the preface.

In human doctrines human justice is revealed and taught, that is, who is just toward himself and humans, and how one becomes just toward himself and humans. It is nowhere but in the Gospel that God's justice is revealed (that is, who is just over against God and how one becomes just over against Gud). And it is revealed solely through the faith by which one believes the word of God.

91 And more to the point: he refers to Augustin and to just the work of Augustin that he mentions in the preface: ”On the Spirit and the Letter”.

As it is written in Marc 16:16: ”Who believes and is baptized shall be saved. But who does not believe shall be damned”. For the justice of God is the cause of salvation. And once again: Here 'the justice of God' is not to be understood as the justice by which he in himself is just, but as the justice by which we are justified by him, what happens through faith in the Gospel.

92 This means: here you have a genuin proof that the conversion about which Luther talks in the preface must be a conversion that took place before 1515. So the preface offers us two opposit proofs, one, mentioned in #79, that proves to us without doubt that Luther does place his conversion in 1519 or 1520, another one about a quotation from Augustin that proves to us (note: to us who know his commentary on Romans from 1515) that the conversion he describes in the preface must have taken place before 1515.

That's why s. Augustin in chapter 11 in ”On Spirit and Letter” writes: ”For this reason it is called the justice of God, that he makes just when he gives it. Likewise the phrase ”God is salvation” means ”God gives salvation”. (WA 56,171; romfor).

93 If both of these proofs are to be taken seriously the only solution is to accept it as a fact that Luther unconsciously tried to convince us, against the facts, that his conversion took place in 1520. He does so, as mentioned, because he is very eager to get his biography in accordance with his theology. And his theology tells him that to get the right understanding of the doctrine of justication by faith is the same as understanding that the pope is Antichrist. So if his biography is going to be in accordance with his theology he simply has to make himself have a conversion no earlier than 1520, because in that year he found out that the pope was Antichrist, and this discovery became the spark that ignited the reformation.

94 The pope as Antichrist

Now the main theme of this treatise is finished. It has been shown, maybe even proven, that Luther for theological reasons felt it necessary to change the year of his conversion. The only thing left is to make some considerations over the claim that Luther choose to alter the year to 1519 or later. Why just this year?

95 The answer to this question is that it was not until 1520 that Luther realised that the pope was Antichrist. In February 1520 Luther wrote two letters, both of them to his friend George Spalatin, from which it can be seen that he considered it as almost a fact that the pope was Antichrist. And from that time he began in his public writings to suggest that the coming of Antichrist was near or that he had already come, until he in his book ”To the Christian Nobility” more openly confessed that he thought that the pope was Antichrist, and later in his answers to the papal bull right away called the pope just that.

96 At the disputation in Leipzig there were some bohemians present. They donated a book to Luther, when the disputation was over, John Hus' book ”De ecclesia”, in which the thought that a pope might be Antichrist is mentioned over and over again. We do not know when Luther read this book, but from a letter to Spalatin of the 14th of February 1520 one may suggest that at last he had read it. And by saying ”We are all of us hussites” he maybe agreed with Hus, but of course not necessarily in the thought of the pope being Antichrist.

I am an idiot. I have hitherto both taught and kept all of John Hus' [doctrines]. And John Staupitz, who is also an idiot, has done the same. In short: We are all of us hussites.” (Letter to George Spalatin of 14th of February 1520, see br140220#9).

97 In the fifteenth century the Italian humanist, Laurentius Valla, edited a book in which he proved that what in papal circles had been considered a real thing, the donation of Constantine, in fact was a fake. This book was in Luther's time reedited by Ulrichus von Hutten, and it was not until February 1520 that Luther learnt about Valla's disclosure. And the fact that the popes during so many centuries could cling to a lie made a great impact on Luther, so that from then on he interpreted his own experiences with the pope and the events that he witnessed in Germany and elsewhere as something that disclosed more and more clearly to him that the pope really was Antichrist.

Today I have from the official Dominicus Schleupner received 'The Donation of Constantine', confutated by Laurentius Valla, edited by Hutten. -- -- I am very anxious. I almost have no doubts that the pope is the Antichrist himself, the one that the world is expecting according to the general opinion”. (Letter to George Spalatin of 24th of February 1520, see br240220#9, 11).

98 In his answer to the theologians from Cologne and Louvain from March 1520 he for the first time publicly hinted at the soon coming of the Antichrist, without mentioning that he saw the pope as Antichrist.

I am very occupied by the thought that either Antichrist already reigns or he shall reign some day soon, because this kind of people begin to place themselves above the word of God”. (Against the Articles from Louvain, see lutloev2#8)

99 Later on, in June 1520, he published ”On the Papacy of Rome”. There, too, he mentions the Antichrist, and in this context he demands something from the German princes and the German nobility. What is meant by the expression ”make a short process” (in der Kurz darzu thun), is not quite clear. Does he mean that they will have to use their weapons?

It is said that Antichrist will find the treasure of the world. I think, that the Romanists have found it, to a degree, that it hurts us on our bodies and our lives. If the German princes and the German nobility do not with brave seriousness make a short process, Germany will be devastated, or it will have to eat itself”. (”On the Papacy of Rome”, Erl. 27,91, pave#29).

100 At about the same time he means just that in a postscript he made when he reedited Sylvester Prierias' ”Epitome”. There is an 'if' here, so one may say that he did not in reality admonish the nobility to attack the papists. And fortunately he just at that time changed his mind, if he has had any violence in mind with these words. For in June 1520 he prepared the edition of his great book ”To the Christian Nobility”, (it was published in August) and in this book he has given up every thought of using violence against the pope and his adherents. Instead of that he admonishes people to insubordination, just pretend that the pope has no power at all, because he hasn't, there is no need to obey his claims for money.

It seems to me that if the fury of the Romanists continues in this way there is no other means left than that the emperor, the kings and princes, who are supplied with power and weapons, attack these pestiferous people and decide the matter, not with words but with iron”. (Postscript to Sylvester's ”Epitome”, epitom2#19).

101 That's what he tells us in a lot of places in this book. But he does not keep to the defensive acts. He directly attack the papists. If the pope wants to make any hindrances to a free council he must be seen as the Antichrist, for ”it is only the power of the devil and of Antichrist which resists the things that serve for the edification of Christendom”. But the attack is not a violent one. It is nothing more than an attack on the pope's authority. And it is still only disclosed to us as something that might be the case, that the pope is Antichrist, it is still not taken for granted.

”There is no authority in the Church save edification. Therefore, if the pope were to use his authority to prevent the calling of a free council, and thus became a hindrance to the edification of the Church, we should have regard neither for him nor for his authority; and if he were to hurl his bans and thunderbolts, we should despise his conduct as that of a madman, and relying on God, hurl back the ban on him, and coerce him as best we could. For this presumptuous authority of his is nothing; he has no such authority, and he is quickly overthrown by a text of Scripture; for Paul says to the Corinthians, II Corinthians 10:8 "God has given us authority not for the destruction, but for the edification of Christendom." Who is ready to overleap this text? It is only the power of the devil and of Antichrist which resists the things that serve for the edification of Christendom; it is, therefore, in no wise to be obeyed, but is to be opposed with life and goods and all our strength.” (Erl. 21,290d; adel01#75f)

102 But when the bull of the pope has arrived in Wittenberg, when the 60 days have begun, which were given to Luther by the pope as a respite to recant, Luther alters his tone: now he directly tells us that the pope must be Antichrist, now he makes fun of this person, who has no authority but the one we give him, now he makes it clear to everybody that this 'authority' is from Satan, whose wish it is that everyone shall perish.

These theses I have, as mentioned, recanted earlier, and I have asked and also now ask every bookshop and every reader to burn what I have disputed and written about indulgencies. For when I wrote that, I did not know that the pope was Antichrist, who under the reign of Satan through these acts and other acts like them want the whole Christendom to be damned”. (Assertio, 22. article, WA 7,126; ass03#27).

103 As he does here: the pope has mentioned 43 articles, which he refer to Luther, and which Luther is supposed to either deny (this thesis is not mine, I have never said so) or recant. Luther has in his resolutiones on the 95 theses held the view that there were six kinds of persons who do not need any indulgencies. (res03#65). The pope wants him to recant that. And Luther tells him that he already has recanted, but – of course – not in a way that satisfies the pope. He refers to the preface to ”On the Babylonian Captivity”, where he has 'recanted' everything he had said on indulgencies by saying that indulgencies are nothing but a smart trick of the pope.

I wish I could have all my books on indulgencies back from the bookshops and instead of all I have written on indulgencies teach this sentence: Indulgencies are a harmful invention of the Roman flatterers.” (”The Babylonian Captivity”, WA 6,497, capt#4).

104 At the same time he also says that the papacy is the mighty prey of the Roman bishop. (capt#8). These are not very flattering words, indeed, but he seems to be more certain in his mind in his 'assertio'.

105 And yet the most convincing book he has written about the pope as the Antichrist is his book against Catharinus (ultimo March 1521). He certainly felt that he had no great chances of getting away from the Diet of Worms alive, and he probably wanted to teach the world (he wrote this book in Latin) as clearly as he could the proofs he had for the pope being Antichrist.

106 He began the book by opposing Ambrosius Catharinus, who had written against him, but he soon broke off, and continued by interpreting Dan. 8:23-25. This text, he maintains, is about Antichrist. And his intention by interpreting this text is without doubt to not just claim, that the pope is Antichrist, but to prove it, and to do it before he died on the fire in Worms, for that was what he expected to do.

107 He uses the word 'facies', 'appearance', to describe what the papacy has done: it has created its own world of appearances: big buildings, splendid clothes, fabulous riches, semblances of piety in monasteries and churches, surplusses of good works (a fake, because no one will ever be able to do enough works for himself, let alone for others), buying and selling these good works through indulgencies, (but the treasure of the church, from which these good works is supposed to be taken, is empty).

For among all appearances or semblances the superstition and the hypocrisy, that is the shape of piety and religion, is the most mighty and glorious and therefor the most dangerous. For the profane kinds of appearance do not draw to such a degree, do not capture in that way, do not hold with such strength, whether it be young women or young men, richness, friends, festivities or whatever it may be. But the holy appearance, being able to imitate the divine and pretending to be about eternal things, may capture and deceive even the wisest, the holiest, the mightiest, yea even the chosen ones.” (”Against Catharinus”, WA 8,729, lutcat02#71).

108 All these appearances demand works by their believers, works invented by humans, works thought to justify the one who fulfills them; but in reality they are works that lead to Hell. This is his 'will', this is what he wanted to be said unmistakably to the world: It really is Satan himself who sits on the throne of the pope. And you can see it because he has used the holy appearance to deceive the whole world, with splendid good works, with holy pilgrimages, with abstinence, with celibacy and so on, all of which are selfinvented works that can make no one just, in opposition to justification by faith which takes its justice from God without works and therefor is free to be useful to the neighbour.

109 Conclusion.

And with these remarks we are back to the beginning, back to the connection between justification by faith and condemnation of the papacy. This connection is the main reason why Luther feels it necessary to reconstruct his biography: theologically these two phenomenons are connected, they therefor have to be biographically connected, too.

110 In his ”Assertions” he draws the attention to his revocation in ”On the Babylonian Captivity”, saying that he before that time did not know that the pope was Antichrist, and in the ”Captivity” he wanted all his former books about indulgencies burned. And as he some twenty five years later finds out that they were not burned at all, but on the contrary are being reedited, he uses another trick to make them unsignificant: he retells the story of his conversion, so that all these book are written before he learned how the word 'justice of God' changes everything.

111 But of course, as it is seen by this treatise on the whole: it is by no means my opinion that the word 'trick' is appropriate, nor the word 'reconstruction', because this odd transformation of his past takes place behind his conscience. He is not himself aware that he is telling something that is not true. He does think he tells the pure truth.

112 Nevertheless: he does not. And in my opinion: he must in no way be blamed of the fact that it took him so long time to recognize how dangerous was the papacy and all its traditions. On the contrary: it makes him more trustworthy.



114 c


115 c


116 c


117 c


118 c


119 c