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Johann Kessler's Sabbata

Page history last edited by nathan rein 13 years, 10 months ago

From John Kessler's 'Sabbata' (1540)

The Sabbata of John Kessler (1503-74) are among the most fascinating of historical chronicles. He wrote them during holidays for his small sons, and they abound in vivid little stories. He had a journalist's flair for a scoop, and the most memorable of all his stories is of his encounter with Luther, still bearded and disguised ('Junker Georg') on his way back to Wittenberg. Naively and delightfully he entitles the episode:

How Martin Luther Met Me on the Road to Wittenberg

And here I cannot omit, though it may sound trivial and even childish to tell how Martin, on his way from his confinement back to Wittenberg, met me and my companion. As we made our way to Wittenberg, for the sake of studying holy scripture we came to Jena in the land of Thuringia (and God knows, in awful weather!) and after much enquiry in the town, for an inn where we might pass the night, we could find none and were turned away again and again, for it was Shrove Tuesday and nobody had time for strangers or pilgrims.

 So we thought we would go out of town, and try the villages, and see if one of those would put us up for the night. At the town gate we met a respectable man who addressed us and asked us whither we were going at such a late hour, for there was neither house nor hearth in the whole neighbourhood, and as we stood a good chance of getting lost, he advised us to stay where we were. We answered, 'Good sir, we have tried all the inns, but everywhere we have been refused lodging.' Then he said, 'Did you try the Black Bear?' We said, 'No, where is it?' so he showed us this inn just outside the town. The landlord came to the door and whereas all the others had refused us, he took us in. He led us into the parlour. Here we found one man, all by himself at a table with a book propped in front of him. He greeted us kindly and beckoned us to sit at his table. But our shoes were so muddy, so full of dust and filth that we could not be at our ease in the parlour and sat down modestly on a bench by the door. Then he drank our health, which we could not refuse, and so reassured by his friendliness and neighbourliness we sat down at the table to which he had bidden us and ordered some wine, that we might return his toast.

We took him for a knight, as he sat there, dressed after the fashion of that country, with a red hood, plain doublet and hose, a sword at his side, his right hand on its hilt, the other on his book. Then he asked where we came from, and gave the answer himself: 'You are Swiss. From whereabouts in Switzerland?' We answered, 'From St. Gallen.' Whereupon he said, 'If, as I imagine, you are going to Wittenberg, you will find two good compatriots there, Dr Jerome Schürpf and his brother, Dr Augustine.' We said, 'We have letters of introduction to them,' and then we asked, 'Sir, can you tell us whether Dr Martin Luther is in Wittenberg just now, or where else he may be?' He replied, 'I know for certain that he is not in Wittenberg at this moment. But Philip Melanchthon is there and he teaches Greek and others teach Hebrew.' And he advised us strongly to study these two languages which were above all needful for the study of holy scripture. We cried, 'God be praised, for we will not give up until we see and hear this man, if God spares us. For we have made this journey on his account, for we have heard that he would overthrow priestcraft and the Mass, which he says is an unscriptural form of worship, while we have been destined by our parents from youth, to be priests.' After this exchange he asked, And where have you been studying until now?' l answered, 'At Basle.' He asked, 'And how are things in Basle? Is Erasmus there? What is he doing?' 'As far as we know, he is all right. What he is doing nobody knows for he keeps quiet and stays at home.' And so we marvelled at this knight who knew all about the two Schürpfs and about Philip and Erasmus, and about how useful it was to know Greek and Hebrew: he also let slip an occasional Latin word so that we thought this must be a very uncommon knight.

'My boys,' he asked, 'what do they think about this Luther in Switzerland?' 'Sir, there are many different opinions. Some cannot extol him too highly and thank God for revealing truth and confounding error through him, but others revile him as an unconscionable heretic, especially the clergy.' He said, 'That I understand -- those parsons!' This conversation having broken the ice, my companion took the book from his hand and opened it and found it was a Hebrew Psalter. He put it down on the table again and the knight picked it up. At this we wondered still more, who he might be. My comrade cried, 'I'd have my little finger cut off if I might only learn this language.' To which the stranger answered, 'You can soon master it, if you stick to it, as I am doing. I do a bit each day.'

As the day was spent and darkness fell, the landlord came to set the table. Because he knew of our wish to see Martin Luther he said, 'Fellows, you would have had your wish if you had been here two days ago. He sat at this very table -- he pointed with his finger -- in that very place.' This was a big disappointment to us and we vented our rage on the bad state of the road which had led us to miss him. 'Still,' we said, 'at least we are in the house and at the table where he sat'. At this the landlord hid a smile and went out of the door and after a little beckoned me to him and said, 'Because you have such a sincere desire to see Martin Luther -- there he is sitting next to you.' I thought he was having me on, and said, 'You're joking because you know how much I long to see him.' He said, 'It's the truth, but don't let on that you know who he is.' So I went back into the parlour and would fain share my news with my companion. I leaned over to him and whispered, 'The landlord just told me -- don't look now, but that man is Martin Luther.' But he too was loath to believe it and said, 'No, you must have misheard. It must be Ulrich von Hutten' (for certainly the knight's dress and bearing were more like Hutten than Luther, the monk). I thought he must be right, for the beginning of each name ('Hut' -- and 'Lut') sound similar, so I now behaved as though I were in the presence of Ulrich von Hutten.

Then two commercial travellers came in who also wanted lodging for the night. After they had taken off their cloaks and dried them, one of them put an unbound book at his side. Then Martin asked what book that was. He answered, 'It is Dr Luther's exposition of certain Gospels and Epistles, just printed and newly published. Haven't you seen it?' Martin answered, 'I shall get a copy soon.' Then the landlord said, 'Come to the table. Dinner is served!' We asked him to be patient with us and give us something separately. He said, 'My dear boys, sit up to table, I won't overcharge you.' But when Martin heard this he said. 'Come up here. I'll look after the bill.'

During that dinner Martin kept up edifying and friendly conversation, so that both the commercial travellers and we ourselves thought more about his words than about the food. Among other things he complained with sighing how at this time the German princes and nobles were assembled in Diet in Nuremberg, on account of God's Word, and the ups and downs and grievances of the affairs of the German nation, but were only concerned to have a good time, with costly tournaments, sleigh rides, vanities and whoring, instead of coming before God with fear and earnest prayer. 'But there's your Christian princes for you!' He further said that he hoped that the Gospel truth might have more fruit among our children and the next generation, than among the parents, since these were not poisoned with Popish error, but taught in plain truth based on the Word of God. With the parents, error was so deep rooted that it could not easily be plucked out.

Then the two merchants spoke their mind and the older one said, 'I am a plain, simple layman, and I don't understand much about this business. But this I do say. Either this Luther is an angel from heaven, or he is a devil from hell. I wouldn't mind giving ten guilders if I might make my confession to him, for I think he knows about quietening consciences.' Meanwhile the landlord came up and said, 'Don't worry about the bill. Martin paid for you.' And this really thrilled us, not the money or the food, but to have been the guest of such a man. After dinner, the travellers went to the stable to see about their horses. Martin remained alone with us in the parlour. Then we thanked him for his hospitality, saying that we took him to be Ulrich von Hutten. He said, 'No, I am not.' At this the landlord came in and Martin said, 'I've become a nobleman this evening. These Swiss think I am Ulrich von Hutten.' The landlord said, 'Not you. You're Martin Luther'. Then he laughed and said in jest -- 'They take me for Hutten. You say I am Luther. Soon I shall be Marcolf.' Then he took a tall glass of beer and said in the manner of that country, 'Now you two Swiss, let us drink together a friendly drink, for our evening Grace.' But as I went to take the glass from him, he changed his mind and said, 'You aren't used to our outlandish beer; come, drink wine instead.' Then he stood up and threw his soldier's cloak over his shoulder. He gave us his hand and said, 'When you get to Wittenberg, give my greeting to Dr Schürpf.' We said, 'Willingly, but what is your name, that we may tell him who greets him?' Then he said, 'Just say, "He that should come sends his greeting." He'll understand.' Then he took his leave and went to bed.

Afterwards the commercial travellers came back into the parlour and ordered more wine and talked for a long time about the identity of the guest. Then the landlord dropped the hint that he was Martin Luther, and when they took it in they were grieved and worried that they had spoken so casually in front of him, and made up their minds to get up early before he left and beg his pardon and not to take their words amiss, as they had not realized who he was.

So it was, for next morning they met him in the stable. But Martin answered them, 'You said at supper last night you would give ten guilders if you could only make confession to Luther. If you have really confessed, you must see and know whether I am Martin Luther.' He did not stay for further acquaintance but swung into his saddle and made off for Wittenberg.

On Saturday, then, (Luther had gone off on Friday) before the first Sunday in Lent we waited on Dr Jerome Schürpf in order to present our letters to him. When we were called into the parlour, behold Martin Luther in the same get-up, as in Jena, and with him, Philip Melanchthon, Justus Jodocus Jonas, Nicholas Amsdorf, in addition to Dr Augustine Schürpf. Martin was telling them about what had happened to him during his absence from Wittenberg. Then he greeted us and laughed and pointing with his finger said, 'This is Philip Melanchthon I was telling you about.' Then Philip turned to us and asked us all kinds of questions about what had happened amid we answered him as best we could. So we spent a whole day with these men, with great joy and a burning desire to know them better.

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