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An open letter to the Christian nobility of the German nation, concerning the reform of the Christian estate 1520

by Martin Luther




To the

Esteemed and Reverend Master

Licentiate of Holy Scripture and Canon at Wittenberg,
my special and kind friend;

Doctor Martin Luther.

The grace and peace of God be with thee, esteemed and reverend dear sir and friend.

The time to keep silence has passed and the time to Eccl. 3 speak is come, as saith Ecclesiastes. I have followed out our intention1 and brought together some matters touching the reform of the Christian Estate, to be laid before the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, in the hope that God may deign to help His Church through the efforts of

Unserm furnehmen nach. See Introduction, p. 57.

the laity, since the clergy, to whom this task more properly belongs, have grown quite indifferent. I am sending the whole thing to your Reverence, that you may pass judgment on it and, if necessary, improve it.

I know full well that I shall not escape the charge of presumption in that I, a despised monk, venture to address such high and great Estates on matters of such moment, and to give advice to people of such high intelligence. I shall offer no apologies, no matter who may chide me. Perchance I owe my God and the world another piece of folly, and I have now made up my mind honestly to pay that debt, if I can do so, and for once to become courtjester; if I fail, I still have one advantage,—no one need buy me a cap or cut me my comb.1 It is a question which one will put the bells on the other.2 I must fulfil the proverb, "Whatever the world does, a monk must be in it, even if he has to be painted in."3 More than once a fool has spoken wisely, and wise men often have been arrant i Cor. fools, as Paul says, "If any one will be wise, let him become 3:18 a fool." Moreover since I am not only a fool, but also a sworn doctor of Holy Scripture, I am glad for the chance to fulfil my doctor's oath in this fool's way.

I pray you, make my excuses to the moderately intelligent, for I know not how to earn the grace and favor of the immoderately intelligent, though I have often sought to do so with great pains. Henceforth I neither desire nor regard their favor. God help us to seek not our own glory, but His alone! Amen.

Wittenberg, in the house of the Augustinians, on the Eve of St. John the Baptist (June 23d), in the year fifteen hundred and twenty.

'An ironical comparison of the monks' cowl and tonsure with the headgear of the jester.

2 i. e., Which one turns out to be the real fool.

* The proverb ran, Monachus semper praesens, "a monk is always there." See Wander, Deutsches Sprichworterlexicon, under MOnch, No. 130.


His Most Illustrious and Mighty Imperial Majesty,
and to

the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,

Doctor Martin Luther.

Grace and power from God, Most Illustrious Majesty, and most gracious and dear Lords.

It is not out of sheer frowardness or rashness that I, a single, poor man, have undertaken to address your worships. The distress and oppression which weigh down all the Estates of Christendom, especially of Germany, and which move not me alone, but everyone to cry out time and again, and to pray for help,1 have forced me even now to cry aloud that God may inspire some one with His Spirit to lend this suffering nation a helping hand. Ofttimes the councils2 have made some pretence at reformation, but their attempts have been cleverly hindered by the guile of certain men and things have gone from bad to worse. I now intend, by the help of God, to throw some light upon the wiles and wickedness of these men, to the end that when they are known, they may not henceforth be so hurtful and so great a hindrance. God has given us a noble youth to be our head and thereby has awakened great hopes of good in many hearts;3 wherefore it is meet that we should do our part and profitably use this time of grace.

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