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

Some may think that in this way the poor would not be well cared for, and that such great stone houses and convents would not be built, and not so plentifully, and I think so too. Nor is it necessary. If a man will be poor he should not be rich; if he will be rich, let him put his hand to the plough, and get wealth himself out of the earth. It is enough to provide decently for the poor, that they may not die of cold and hunger. It is not right that one should work that another may be idle, and live ill that another may live well, as is now the perverse abuse, for St. Paul says, “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2Thess. 3.10). God has not ordained that any one should live of the goods of others, except priests and ministers alone, as St. Paul says (1Cor. 9.14), for their spiritual work’s sake, as also Christ says to the Apostles, “The labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10.7). (p.44)


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


Luther, Protestantism, Religious Views on Work

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