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

One should abolish all saints’ days, keeping only Sunday. But if it were desired to keep the festivals of Our Lady and the greater saints, they should all be held on Sundays, or only in the morning with the mass; the rest of the day being a working day. My reason is this: with our present abuses of drinking, gambling, idling, and all manner of sin, we vex God more on holy days than on others. And the matter is just reversed; we have made holy days unholy, and working days holy, and do no service; but great dishonour, to God and His saints will all our holy days. There are some foolish prelates that think they have done a good deed, if they establish a festival to St. Otilia or St. Barbara, and the like, each in his own blind fashion, whilst he would be doing a much better work to turn a saint’s day into a working day in honour of a saint. Besides these spiritual evils, these saints’ days inflict bodily injury on the common man in two ways: he loses a day’s work, and he spends more than usual, besides weakening his body and making himself unfit for labour, as we see every day, and yet no one tries to improve it.  (p.41)


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


Luther, Protestantism, Religious Views on Work

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