Luther Really Did Want to Start a New Religion: Documentation

A while ago I listened to Colin Donavan on Catholic radio, and I understood him to say that Luther’s Letter to the German Princes of 1521 was where he definitively called for a new religion separate from the Catholic Church. Here are some elements from the letter that illustrate this.

Letter to the German Princes by Martin Luther

“[F]asts must be made optional, and every kind of food made free.”

“[We] should abolish all saints' days, keeping only Sunday. [All other feasts] should be held on Sundays, or only in the morning with the mass; the rest of the day being a working day.”

“It [is] also right to abolish annual festivals, processions, and masses for the dead, or at least to diminish their number. ... [And] we should abolish church wakes.”

“[T]he devil [has] lead us astray, to [set] up pilgrimages, to found churches and chapels, to glorify the saints, and to commit other like follies.”

“The country chapels and churches must be destroyed, such as those to which the new pilgrimages have been set on foot: Wilsnack, Sternberg, Treves, the Grimmenthal, and now Ratisbon, and many others.”

“[All] pilgrimages should be done away with. For there is no good in them, no commandment, but countless causes of sin and of contempt of God's commandments.”

“The degrees of relationship in which marriage is forbidden must be altered, such as so-called spiritual relations.”

“Let no more mendicant monasteries be built... Would to God they were all abolished, or at least made [fewer]... [My] advice is that ten [or so] be put together and made into one, which one, sufficiently provided for, need not beg. ... Moreover, the Pope should be forbidden to institute or to confirm the institution of such new orders; nay, he should be commanded to abolish several and to lessen their number. … No one should go about begging among Christians...whatever they may call themselves, pilgrims or mendicant monks.”

“[I advise] that no boy or girl be allowed to take the vow of chastity or to enter a religious life before the age of thirty years. ... [T]he faith of Christ…[this] alone is the important matter, and [it] can stand without any particular [religious] order.”

“One should also abolish certain punishments inflicted by the canon law, especially the interdict…[but also] suspension, irregularity, aggravation, reaggravation, [and] deposition...”

“[It] would be right to abolish the canon law entirely, from beginning to end, more especially the decretals. We are taught quite sufficiently in the Bible how we ought to act.”

“[We] should verily be forced to act according to our title, and to teach the Holy Scriptures and nothing else.”

“[It] is not an article of faith that in the [Eucharist] there is no bread and wine… [That] is a delusion of St. Thomas and the Pope; but it is an article of faith [that there is] natural bread and wine [at Mass]...”

“As for the fraternities, together with indulgences, letters of indulgence, dispensations for Lent, and masses, and all the rest of such things, let them all be drowned and abolished; there is no good in them at all.”

“[P]erhaps all this is a new and unheard-of doctrine, especially in the eyes of those that fear to lose their livelihood, if these masses were abolished. I must therefore reserve what I have to say on this subject until men have arrived at a truer understanding of the mass, its nature and use.”

“First of all we should expel from all German lands the Pope's legates, with their faculties. … [And the] oaths must be abolished which bishops are forced, without any right, to swear to the Pope.”

“It should be decreed by an imperial law that no episcopal cloak and no confirmation of any appointment shall for the future be obtained from Rome. … [T]he Pope should...allow the Bohemians to choose for themselves an archbishop... [And] if he forbids it, he acts as a wolf and a tyrant, and no one should obey him, but answer his excommunication by excommunicating him.”

“[E]very town should elect a [bishop] from [their own] congregation and charge him with the office of minister; the congregation should support him, and he should be left at liberty to marry or not. He should have as assistants several priests and deacons...who should help him to govern the people and the congregation.”

“[For] to put the matter even more plainly, if a little company of pious Christian laymen...had not among them a priest consecrated by a bishop, and were there to agree to elect one of them...and were to order him to baptise, to celebrate the mass, to absolve, and to preach, this man would as truly be a priest, as if all the bishops and all the Popes had consecrated him.”

“Let it be decreed that no temporal matter shall be submitted to Rome, but all shall be left to the jurisdiction of the temporal authorities... [W]hen it is necessary to decide quarrels and strifes let the Primate of Germany hold a general consistory, with assessors and chancellors, who would have the control over the [proceedings] and to whom matters arising in Germany might be submitted by appeal.”

“[If] the Pope wishe[s] to use his power to prevent the [princes from] calling…a [Church] council...we must not respect him or his power; and if he should begin to excommunicate and fulminate, we must despise this as the doings of a madman, and, trusting in God, excommunicate and repel him as best we may.”

“Long ago the emperors and princes of Germany allowed the Pope to claim [taxes] from all German benefices… [By] an imperial or a national law [we] should either retain the [taxes] in the country, or abolish them altogether… [It] is now high time to abolish the Pope's [taxes] and to take back again all that has thereby fallen into the hands of Rome… Princes, nobles, and cities should promptly forbid their subjects to pay the [taxes] to Rome and should even abolish them altogether.”

“[We] Germans...have the name, title, and arms of the empire, but the Pope has the treasure, authority, law, and freedom... Now may God help act according to our name, title, and arms, and to secure our freedom, and thus let the Romans see at last what we have received of God...”

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