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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
THE FOURTEEN OF CONSOLATION
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FOR SUCH AS LABOR AND ARE HEAVY LADEN (TESSARADECAS CONSOLATORIA)
1. When Luther’s Elector, Frederick the Wise (1485-1525), returned to his residence at Torgau, after participating in the election of Emperor Charles V, at Frankfort-on-the-Main, in the summer of 1519, he was stricken with a serious illness, from which there seemed little hope of his recovery.
Concerned for his noble patron, and urged by Dr. George Spalatin, his friend at court, to prepare a “spiritual consolation” for the Elector, Luther wrote “The Fourteen of Consolation,” one of his finest and tenderest devotional writings, and, his conception and execution, one of the most original of all his works.
Its composition falls within the months of August and September of the year 1519. On August 29th, the Day of the Beheading of St. John Baptist, we find him writing in Part I, chapter vi: “Does not the example of St. John Baptist, whom we commemorate on this day as beheaded by Herod, shame and amaze us all?” On September 22d, he sends the completed manuscript (in Latin) to Spalatin, requesting him to make a free translation of it into German and present it to the Elector. By the end of November Spalatin had completed his task (one marvels at the leisureliness of this, in view of the serious condition of the Elector; or was the manuscript translated and administered piecemeal to the noble patient?), and early in December he returned the original, doubtless together with his own translation, to Luther, who had requested its return, “in order to comfort himself therewith.”
The work was, therefore, in the strictest sense, a private writing, and not in the least intended for publication. F184 But the importunities of those who had seen it, particularly of Spalatin, prevailed, and on December 18th Luther writes to the latter that “the Tessaradecas, in both Latin and German, is in the hands of the printer.” On February 8th, 1520, he sends Spalatin a printed copy of the Latin, and six days later, one of the German edition. The latter contained a dedicatory letter to the Elector, which, however, by an oversight of the printer, and owing to Luther’s absence at the time, was omitted in the Latin edition.
In 1535, fifteen years after its first appearance in print, Luther issued his Tessaradecas in a new and final edition, adding a brief prefatory note. He no longer holds many of his former views, and there is much in his little book that he has outgrown and might now correct. But with characteristic unconcern, he lets it all stand, and even restores many passages that had been corrupted or omitted to their original form. It is a revised edition, with the errors, as it were, underscored. It is to be chiefly an historical record, to show the world how far he has progressed since its first writing ( 1 Timothy 4:15), a mile-post on the road of his inner development, f185 And more than this — and here one fancies one can see the sardonic smile on the battle-scarred face--it is to furnish his enemies with weapons against himself; he desires to show a favor to the hunters of contradictions in his works, “that they may have whereon to exercise their malice.”
2. The plan of the work is in the highest degree original and artificial. The title, Tessaradecas consolatoria, which we have rendered “The Fourteen of Consolation,” is explained by Luther in the dedicatory epistle to the Elector, pp. 110 ff. The “Fourteen” were the fourteen patron saints of mediaeval devotion, called the “Defenders from all evils” (defensores, auxi1iatores). Whence the cult arose is not altogether certain. It is said to have become popular in Germany since the vision of a Franconian shepherd, in 1446, to whom there appeared, in the fields, the Christ-child surrounded by the fourteen saints. The Vierzehnheiligenkirche at Staffelstein, a famous shrine for pilgrims, marks the spot. The names of the “Fourteen,” each of whom was a defender against some particular disease or danger, are as follows: Achatius (Acacius), Aegidius, Barbara (cf. St. Barbara’s cress), Blasius (the “defender” of those afflicted with throat diseases), Catharine (cf. St. Catharine’s flower), Christopher (cf. St. Christopher’s herb), Cyriacus, Dionysius, Erasmus (Italian: San Elmo; cf.
St. Elmo’s fire), Eustachius, George the Martyr (cf. St. George’s herb), Margaret, Pantaleon, and Vitus (cf. St. Vitus’s dance). Luther’s Sermons on the First Commandment (1516) may be compared for references to some of these saints and to many others.
As over against these saints, Luther also invents fourteen defenders or comforters, and arranges them in this writing in the form of an altar tablet; but his is not a tablet such as those found in the churches, representing the fourteen defenders, but it is a spiritual tablet or painting, to uplift and strengthen the pious heart of the Elector, and of all others who are weary and heavy laden. The first division, or panel, of this figurative altar-piece contains the images or paintings of seven evils (mala); the second, those of seven blessings (bona). The contemplation of the evils will comfort the weary and heavy laden by showing them how small their evil is in comparison with the evil that they have within themselves, namely, their sin; with the evils they have suffered in the past, and will have to suffer in the future; with the evils which others, their friends and foes, suffer; and, above all, with those which Christ suffered on the cross. Similarly, the contemplation of the blessings will help them to forget their present sufferings; for they are as nothing compared with the blessing within them, namely, their faith; the blessings they enjoyed in the past, and those that await them in the future, as well as those which are enjoyed by their friends and foes, and, finally, the highest blessing of all, which is Jesus Christ, risen and glorified.
We can only conjecture as to the origin of this unique conception of Luther’s. Of course, the evils and blessings came to him from the passage in Ecclesiasticus 11:26.
The order and arrangement may follow some contemporary altar-picture of the “Fourteen Saints.” There was a famous altar-painting of the “Fourteen,” by Lucas Cranach, in St. Mary’s at Torgau, the residence of the Elector. The fact is suggestive. F188
3. The Tessaradecas was favorably received by the Elector, was highly praised by Spalatin, who urged its publication, and must have been dear to Luther’s own heart, since he desired the return of his manuscript for his own comfort. The little work soon became very popular, and passed through numerous editions, both in Latin and in German. During the first two years five Latin editions were printed, and up to 1525 seven German editions. A translation was published in the Netherlands in 1521, and one in England in 1578. Erasmus commended it to Bishop Christopher of Basle, in 1523; “I am sending your Highness Luther’s book of the fourteen pictures, which has won great approbation even from those who oppose his doctrine at every point.” Mathesius, Luther’s pupil and biographer, judged that there had never before been such words of comfort written in the German language. The Franciscan Lemmens speaks of “the beautiful and Catholic thoughts” in it.
4. Our translation is made from the Latin text, as found in the Weimar edition of Luther’s works, volume vi, with continual reference to the German text, as given in the Berlin edition. We regret our inability to obtain a copy of the old English translation (A right comfortable Treatise conteining sundrye pointes of consolation for them that labor and are laden .... Englished by W. Gace. T. Vautroullier, London, 1578, sec. ed. 1580), although the form of the title would seem to indicate that it was made from Spalatin’s translation, and not from the original. F189 The many Scripture quotations, all naturally from the Latin Vulgate, and most of them freely quoted from memory, and sometimes “targumed” and woven into the texture of the treatise, are rendered by us, unless the sense should thereby be affected, in the words of the Authorised Version.
Important or interesting variations are indicated in the foot-notes.
5. The Tessaradecas deserves to be more widely known and used. Its value is more than merely that of an historical document, representing a transition stage in Luther’s reformatory views. It gives us, besides this, a deep insight into the living piety of the man, his great heart so full of the peace of God that passeth all understanding. When we remember that this little work was composed ill the midst of a very “tempest” of other writings, chiefly polemical (e.g.:, the savage onslaughts on Emser), it will appear akin to the little book of Ruth, lying so peacefully between the warlike books of Judges and First Samuel. At the Leipzig Disputation, earlier in the same year, Luther was seen to hold a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and to smell of it when the battle waxed hot. The Tessaradecas is such a bunch of flowers. Its chief glory, however, that of a devotional classic, has been somewhat dimmed by Luther himself, who with the carelessness of genius refused to revise his outworn views in it; and yet, despite its relics of mediaevalism, particularly by reason of its firm evangelical foundation, its scriptural warp and woof, its fervent piety, and its fresh and original treatment, it is not less entitled to a high place in the devotional and ascetic literature of the Church than the much better known Imitatio Christi. In this sense it is herewith offered anew to the English reader, with the hope that “the diligent reading and contemplation of these ‘images’ may minister some slight comfort.” 6. Literature. — (1) The literary and historical introductions to the Tessaradecas in the Weimar, Erlangen, and Berlin editions. (2) Köstlin-Kawerau, Martin Luther,sein Lebenund seine Schriften. 5 th ed.,1903, vol. I, pp.280, 281. (3) H. Beck, Die Erbauungslit. der evang. Kirche Deutschlands, 1883. (4) On the fourteen Defenders see articles in Wetzer und Welte and the Catholic Encyclopaedia, and especially the article Nothelfer, by Zöckler, in PRE* where also see further literature. A. T. W. STEINHAEUSER Allentown, PA.
THE FOURTEEN OF CONSOLATION (TESSARADECAS CONSOLATORIA)
PREFATORY NOTE f190
THIS book was written, early in my career, for that most excellent prince, Frederick, Duke of Saxony, when he was stricken with a dangerous illness; but many desired that it be printed. After passing through various editions it has now become so sadly corrupted and mutilated that many passages are missing, whose original form I myself have clean forgot. However, I have restored the sense of them, as well as I was able, taking care to set down only such views as I held when the work was first written. I did not care to revise them now, as I might well do. For it is my purpose in this book to put forth a public record of my progress, and also to show a kindness to the “Contradictionists,” that they may have whereon to exercise their malice. For me it is enough if I please my Lord Christ and His saints; that I am hated of the devil and his scales, I rejoice with all my heart, and give thanks to God.
DEDICATORY EPISTLE f194
To The Most Illustrious Prince And Lord, Frederick, Duke Of Saxony, Arch-Marshal And Elector Of The Holy Roman Empire, Landgrave Of Thuringia, Margrave Of Meissen, His Most Gracious Lord. OUR Lord and Savior Jesus hath left us a commandment, which concerns all Christians alike,— that we should render the, duties of humanity, or (as the Scriptures call them) the works of mercy, to such as are afflicted and under calamity; that we should visit, the sick, endeavor to set free the prisoners, and perform other like acts of kindness to our neighbor, whereby the evils of this present time may in some measure be lightened. ( Luke 6:36; Matthew 25:34 ff.) And of this command our Lord Jesus Christ hath Himself given us the brightest example, in that, out of infinite love to the race of men, He descended out of the bosom of the Father into our misery and prison-cell, that is, our flesh and life so full of ills, and took upon Him the penalty of our sins, in order that we might be saved; as He saith in Isaiah 43:24, “Thou hast made Me to serve with thy sins, and wearied Me with thine iniquities.”
Whoever is not moved by so bright an example, and driven by the authority of the divine command, to show forth such works of mercy, he will deservedly hear, in the last judgement, the voice of the angry Judge saying: “Depart from me, thou cursed, into everlasting fire! For I was sick, and thou didst not visit Me; but, basely ungrateful for the many blessings I bestowed on thee and on all the world, thou wouldest not so much as lift a finger to succor thy brethren, nay Me, Christ, thy God and Savior, in thy brethren.” ( Matthew 25:41) Since, then, most noble Prince, I perceive that your Lordship has been smitten with a dangerous malady, and that Christ has thus fallen sick in you, I have counted it my duty to visit your Lordship with a little writing of mine. For I cannot pretend to be deaf to the voice of Christ crying to me out of your Lordship’s flesh and blood, “Behold, here am I sick.” For such ills as sickness and the like are endured, not by us Christians, but by Christ Himself, our Lord and Savior, in Whom we live. Even as He plainly testifies in the Gospel, “Whatsoever ye have done unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”( Matthew 25:40) And while we should visit and console all who are afflicted with sickness, yet we owe this duty specially to those who are of the household of faith. For Paul clearly distinguishes between strangers and those of the household, or those who are bound to us by intimate ties, ( Galatians 6:10) But I have yet other reasons for performing this my duty. For I consider that, as one of your Lordship’s subjects, I must needs share in your Lordship’s illness, together with the remainder of your many subjects, and suffer with you as a member with the Head, on which all our fortunes, our safety, and our happiness depend. For we recognize in your Lordship another Naaman, by whom God is now giving deliverance to Germany, as in times past He gave deliverance to Syria. ( 2 Kings 5:1) Wherefore the whole Roman Empire turns its eyes to your Lordship alone, and venerates and receives you as the Father of the Fatherland, and the bright ornament and protector of the whole Empire, but of the German nation in particular.
F195 Nor are we bound only to console your Lordship as much as in us lies, and to make your present sorrow our own, but much more to pray God for your health and safety; which I trust your Lordship’s subjects are doing with all diligence and devotion. But as for me, whom your Lordship’s many and signal benefactions have made your debtor above all others, I count it my duty to express my gratitude by rendering you some special service. But now, by reason of my poverty both of mind and fortune, it is not possible for me to offer anything of value; therefore I gladly welcomed the suggestion of Doctor George Spalatin, one of your Lordship’s court chaplains, that I should prepare a kind of spiritual consolation and present it to your Lordship, to whom, he said, it would be most acceptable. Being unwilling to reject this friendly counsel, I have put together the following fourteen chapters, after the fashion of an altar tablet, and have called them, “The Fourteen.” F196 They are to take the place of the fourteen saints whom our superstition has invented and called, “The Defenders against all evil” But this is a tablet not of silver, but of a spiritual sort; nor is it intended to adorn the walls of a church, but to uplift and strengthen a pious heart. I trust it will stand your Lordship in good stead in your present condition. It consists of two divisions; the former containing the images of seven evils, in the contemplation of which your present troubles will grow light; the latter presenting the images of seven blessings, brought together for the same purpose.
May it please your Lordship graciously to accept this little work of mine, and to make such use of it that the diligent reading and contemplation of these “images” may minister some small comfort.
Your Lordship’s humble servant, MARTIN LUTHER , Doctor.
PREFACE THE Apostle Paul, treating in Romans 15:4 of the consolations of Christians, writes, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” In these words he plainly teaches that our consolations are to be drawn from the Holy Scriptures. Now the Holy Scriptures administer comfort after a twofold fashion, by presenting to our view blessings and evils, most wholesomely intermingled; as the wise Preacher saith, “In the day of evil be mindful of the good, and in the day of good be mindful of the evil.” (Ecclus. 11:26) For the Holy Spirit knows that a thing has only such meaning and value for a man as he assigns to it in his thoughts; for what he holds common and of no value will move him but little, either to pleasure when he obtains it, or to grief when he loses it.
Therefore He endeavors with all His might to draw us away from thinking about things and from being moved by them; and when He has effected this, then all things whatsoever are alike to us. Now this drawing away is best accomplished by means of the Word, whereby our thoughts are turned from the thing that moves us at the present moment to that which either is absent or does not at the moment move us. Therefore it is true that we shall attain to this state of mind only through the comfort of the Scriptures, which call us, in the day of evil, to the contemplation of good things, either present or to come, and, in the day of good, to the contemplation of evil things.
But let us, for our better understanding of these two series of pictures or images, divide each of them into seven parts. The first series will treat of the evils, and we shall consider (1) the evil within us, (2) the evil before us, (3) the evil behind us, (4) the evil on our left hand, (5) the evil on our right hand, (6) the evil beneath us, and (7) the evil above us. f198
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