For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

An open letter to the Christian nobility

by Luther, Martin (1943)


THE OPEN LETTER TO THE CHRISTIAN NOBILITY OF THE GERMAN NATION is closely related to the tract ON THE PAPACY AT ROME: A REPLY TO THE CELEBRATED ROMANIST AT LEIPZIG. 1 In a letter to Spalatin2 dated before June 8, 1520, Luther says: “I shall assail that ass of an Alveld in such wise as not to forget the Roman pontiff, and neither of them will be pleased.” In the same letter he writes, “I am minded to issue a broadside to Charles and the nobility of Germany against the tyranny and baseness of the Roman curia.” The attack upon Alveld is the tract on THE PAPACY AT ROME; the scheda publica grew into the OPEN LETTER. At the time when the letter to Spalatin was written, the work on THE PAPACY AT ROME must have been already in press, for it appeared in print on the 26th of the month,3 and the composition of the OPEN LETTER had evidently not yet begun. On the 23rd Luther sent the manuscript of the Open Letter to Amsdorf,4 with the request that he read it and suggest changes. The two weeks immediately preceding the publication of the work ON THE PAPACY must, therefore, have been the time when the Open Letter was composed. In the conclusion to the earlier work Luther had said: “Moreover, I should be truly glad if kings, princes, and all the nobles would take hold, and turn the knaves from Rome out of the country, and keep the appointments to bishoprics and benefices out of their hands. How has Roman avarice come to usurp all the foundations, bishoprics and benefices of our fathers? Who has ever read or heard of such monstrous robbery? Do we not also have the people who need them, while out of our poverty we must enrich the ass-drivers and stable-boys, no, the harlots and knaves at Rome, who look upon us as nothing else but arrant fools, and make us the objects of their vile mockery? Oh, the pity, that kings and princes have so little reverence for Christ, and His honor concerns them so little that they allow such abominations to gain the upper hand, and look on, while at Rome they think of nothing but to continue in their madness and to increase the abounding misery, until no hope is left on earth except in the temporal authorities. Of this I will say more anon, if this Romanist comes again; let this suffice for a beginning. May God help us at length to open our eyes. Amen.”

Key Passage

Now what are we to do? My advice is to restore liberty, and to leave every man free to marry or not to marry. But if we did this we should have to introduce a very different rule and order for property; the whole canon law would be overthrown, and but few benefices would fall to Rome. I am afraid greed was a cause of this wretched, unchaste chastity, for the result of it was that every man wished to become a priest or to have his son brought up to the priesthood, not with the intention of living in chastity – for this could be done without the priestly state – but to obtain his worldly support without labour or trouble, contrary to God’s command, “In the sweat of your face shall you eat your bread” (Gen. 3.19); and they have given a colour to this commandment as though their work was praying and reading the mass. (p.38)


Protestant, Luther, Reformation, Theology, History, History Of Ideas, Religious Views On Work


Luther, Protestantism, Religious Views on Work

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