Episode 26 – In the Wartburg

Even though Martin Luther complained about suffering from laziness and sloth, Luther’s time in the Wartburg was one of the most productive 10 months of his life, resulting in 12 books, several sermons and devotionals. The most impressive of his accomplishments during this time wasn’t started until December 1521, when Luther kicked off a translation of the New Testament. Records indicate that he arrived in Wittenberg in March of 1522 with a completed first draft, a mere 11 weeks after he started.

Luther’s translation of the Bible has reverberated throughout history, commonizing the many dialects of medieval Germany, while also capturing the majesty of God’s Word. His translation work resulting in a frustrated compliment from Luther’s Roman Catholic adversaries “that even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel.”

Background

After the Diet of Worms, Luther was kidnapped by friends and hidden in the Wartburg Castle, just outside the city of Eisenach. (Coincidentally, this was where Luther spent his teenage years). Although he left the castle a few times, he pretty much stayed in his room for the next 10 months.

From his personal letters, you would think this was a period of being incredibly unproductive. In July, after about 4 months in the Wartburg, Luther wrote to Melanchthon, “I should be ardent in the spirit but I am ardent in the flesh, in lust, laziness, leisure and sleepiness.”

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth – this was one of Luther’s most productive periods.

Jacob Latomus wrote an attack on Luther’s theology using biblical references. He was a professor at the University of Louvain in Belgium who was an intellectual opponent of the humanists, especially attacking Erasmus.

Luther felt he had to respond immediately, but he didn’t have a library in the Wartburg, so he had to rely on his memory of the writings of the fathers of the church.

Even without a library, Luther presented a forceful refutation in his small book, “Against Latomus”.

It really is a good summary on the central ideas of Lutheran theology.

There were also theological attacks on Luther.

Monasticism

Luther also dedicated a huge part of his time in the Wartburg to the question of monastic life. He had previously discussed that it wasn’t right for children to take monastic vows. Now the question was, should all the monks revoke their vows. Eventually, Luther came to the conclusion that, “Marriage is good, virginity is better, but liberty is best.” Basically stating that the monastic vow rests on the false assumption that there is a special calling for superior Christians. Luther stated that there were no “superior Christians”. Each person is called to their own tasks. The monastic vow is taken in a fit of piety which restricts our liberty to discover the tasks that God has given us.

Sin Boldly

This was also the time when Luther wrote, “sin boldly” in a private letter to Melanchthon. Even though this was a private letter, it has become one of Luther’s most famous writings since some Lutherans have taken this as a call to ignore God’s law. Significant enough that the 20th century theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, addressed its misuse in his famous chapter on “cheap grace” in his book “The Cost of Discipleship”.

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death and the world. As long as we are in this world we have to sin. This life is not a dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day.”

After reading that, some people only hear, “Sin boldly and commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day!” Becomes much more clear if we look at the context of the letter. Written to Melenchthon, who was Luther’s “right hand man”, about how to rework the Roman Catholic mass. Specifically, Luther was addressing a declaration from Karlstadt that said that it was a sin to withhold the wine from the laity. This declaration created a lot of controversy in Wittenberg. Some people agreed with Karlstadt, but some people disagreed.

Luther was telling Melanchthon, “Listen, if you change the mass, you will be sinning because you will be creating discord within the church. If you don’t change the mass, you will be sinning, because the Bible is clear that the bread and the wine should be shared with the laity. So you should go ahead and sin boldly by making the changes to align the mass with Biblical teachings. It’s the right thing to do.” Melanchthon understood and performed the first Evangelical sharing of the bread and the wine with a few students.

Beer break

Edward’s Portly Brown, American Brown Ale – IBU: 31 – ABV: 5.4 %

A malty, chocolatey and robust brown ale named after the beloved Springer Spaniel of Witch’s Hat Brewing Company.

Tasting Notes: Chocolate, sweet malt, toasted bread, light brown sugar

Food Pairings:  Sharp cheddars, dark chocolate desserts, prime rib

The name of the brewery itself comes from a South Lyon landmark: a one-hundred-year-old train depot called the Witch’s Hat after its conical design. It stands in nearby McHattie Park, where Ryan and Erin exchanged wedding vows in 2007.

“That area is kind of the downtown of South Lyon, and it obviously has a spot in our hearts,” says Ryan. “We figured what better way to showcase the town than with this name?”

Witch’s Hat has created 25 jobs and put South Lyon on the map for craft beer lovers. After 3 years, the company outgrew its original location, moving to a larger 10,000-square-foot-building that alllowed for increased seating and production.

Witch’s Hat is also committed to being a part of the community with more than $60,000 donated to local charities, including The Humane Society of Huron Valley (currently sponsors 4 cages with proceeds from Edward’s Portly Brown Ale), Gleaners Food Bank, American Cancer Society, Wigs for Kids, Blessings in a Backpack and more.

Translating the Bible

Luther is best known for his translation of the Bible while he was in the Wartburg.

 

What kicked off the project?

Martin Luther’s study at the Wartburg Castle

Translating the Bible was something Luther had been doing for a long time before 1522. In March of 1517, six months before the posting of the 95 theses, Luther published a translation of the seven penitential psalms. Between 1517 and 1522, he also published translations of sections of the Old and New Testament, The Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Magnificat.

We also know that Luther’s friends in Wittenberg, especially Melanchthon, were asking him to translate the entire Bible.

He first mentioned the project in a personal note to John Lang in December of 1521, only three months before he permanently left the Wartburg.

Probably came up in a discussion with Melanchthon during a stealth visit to Wittenberg in early December, 1521.

Luther didn’t complete the entire Bible in the Wartburg, only the New Testament (which is still remarkable, given that he completed the first draft in 11 weeks).

The full Bible wasn’t completed until 1534. Although Luther completed the first version in the Wartburg, it was a pretty rough draft. After he returned to Wittenberg, he worked very closely with Melanchthon and other scholars who could provide greater expertise. For example, Melanchthon was a much better Greek scholar and Bugenhagen was an expert in the Latin found in the Vulgate. The entire group was called the Bible Club (Collegium Biblieum).

Other notable members of the Bible Club were: Justus Jonas, Bugenhagen (Pommer), Cruciger, Aurogallus and Georg Rorer (who was the 1st clergyman ordained by Luther).

This core group would then go outside for special experts and others for help. For example, Spalatin provided the names of the precious stones in New Jerusalem.

It took a few months for the Bible club to get out the final version of the New Testament. It was released in September 1522.

As English speakers, it’s difficult to understand the importance of the Luther Bible. Even though several dukes tried to outlaw the Bible, they were unsuccessful in stopping the spread of the gospel. A Roman Catholic scholar of the time complained:

“Luther’s New Testament was so much multiplied and spread by printers that even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel, and could read a little German, studied it with the greatest avidity as the fountain of all truth. Some committed it to memory, and carried it about in their bosom. In a few months such people deemed themselves so learned that they were not ashamed to dispute about faith and the gospel not only with Catholic laymen, but even with priests and monks and doctors of divinity.”

Even though it’s difficult for us English speakers to appreciate the Luther Bible, there are some things that are extremely helpful to us. Luther wrote an introduction to each book of the New Testament. Even today, these are extremely helpful for us as we read through the Bible.

While Luther was working diligently in the Wartburg, the scholars in Wittenberg were making major changes, eventually resulting in riots. To calm things down, Luther left the safety of the Wartburg.

We’ll be covering the events in Wittenberg, along with Luther’s return, in our next episode.

Recognition

  • Thanks to Josh Yagley
  • Thanks to St. Paul Lutheran in Hamburg MI

Source materials

  • James Kittelson – Luther the Reformer
  • Scott Hendrix – Martin Luther – Visionary Reformer
  • Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church Volume 7
  • Luther’s Works – volumes 35 (For the prefaces to the books of the NT)
  • Wikipedia

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