On August 5, 1528, Luther wrote to Nicholas Hausmann, thanking him for a rattle that Hausmann had sent to little Hans. In that letter he said, “I had determined to write something about the Turkish war, but I hope it will be needless.” In October of the same year he went to work at it; the Letter of Dedication bears the date, October 9th. The publication was long delayed, however, as the printer lost the whole first part of the work and it had to be rewritten. It finally came from the press, April 23, 1529.
Its publication was timely. The Second Diet of Spires was then in session and one of the most important questions that it had to discuss was that of ways and means for resisting the Turkish invasion that was then threatening and that ultimately carried a Turkish army up to the walls of Vienna in September, 1529. One of the most serious anxieties of Charles V and his brother, Ferdinand of Austria, was caused by the possibility that the Lutheran powers in Germany might demand toleration for Lutheranism as the price for their military support against the Turks.
From the beginning of his public career, Luther had spoken of the Turks as the rod of God’s anger. He looked upon their invasions of Central Europe as a divine visitation upon the sins of rulers and people. In the Resolutiones of the Ninety-five Theses he had declared that the leaders of the Church wanted to go to war, not against iniquity and sin, but against the rod of punishment that God was sending. In so doing they were fighting against God. This statement was one of those condemned, in 1520, in the bull Exsurge domine. Luther explained and defended it, in 1521, and uses it here as the point of departure for his discussion.
In this tract Luther comes out clearly in favor of national defense against Turkish aggression. A few months later, after the raising of the siege of Vienna, he expressed himself even more strongly in the Heerpredigt wider den Turken. f89 The fact is that Luther had never really objected to a war of defense against the Turks. But he had objected to such a war in alliance with and under the direction of the papacy. It must not be a crusade. Warfare was not in any sense the business or the duty of the Church, but of the State. Defense against the Turks devolves upon the emperor, and upon no one else, not because he is a Christian or “defender of the faith,” but purely and simply because he is emperor. On the other hand such a war can be undertaken with good prospects of success, only in case it is undertaken humbly and in the fear of God. The whole tract should be read in connection with that on Soldiers, and that On Temporal Government, and the Explanation of the Eighty-second Psalm.
The text is found in Weimar Ed., 30 2 :107 ff.; Erlangen Ed. 31:31 ff.; St.
Louis Ed. 20:2108 ff.; Berlin Ed., 7:438 ff. The translation is from the Weimar text. Charles M. Jacobs Mount Airy Philadelphia, Pa.