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Luther in Orlamuende

Page history last edited by nathan rein 13 years, 8 months ago

Luther confronts Karlstadt and the community of Orlamünde, 24 August 1524

From an eyewitness description of a visit by Luther to the town of Orlamünde, a congregation pastored by Luther's old rival Karlstadt. Karlstadt does not actually show up0 in this account.


The mayor thanked Luther on behalf of the council and entire community for showing such resolution and coming to them in response to their letter, and they begged him for God's sake that he would preach to them. But Dr Martin replied that he had not come to preach to them, but that he had their letter and wanted to discuss it with the council and commune... He took the letter from the town of Orlamünde in his hand and asked if the council recognized the seal as their own. The council and commune replied that they did. Dr Martin said: "I regard you as simple folk, and I do not think it credible that you could have written this letter... I fear that Karlstadt wrote the letter and sent it under the city seal." Whereupon the council and commune replied that Karlstadt had written no single syllabus of the letter, nor had he used the city seal. Then Dr Martin read the letter out from beginning to end... Afterwards Dr Martin spoke about certain articles, and especially where he had read, "Our parish priest and pastor Andreas Karlstadt said ..." Luther said: "You call him your pastor, but my lord the Elector Frederick and the University of Wittenberg know nothing of this, and he will not be accepted." Whereupon a city treasurer replied: "If Karlstadt is not our pastor, then Paul had taught falsely and your books must also be false, for we have elected him, as our letter to the University shows and contains."

The city secretary said to Martin Luther: "You have written, as can be proved from your own writings, that you have included us Orlamünders among the fanatics and giddy spirits, and regarded us as if we act and behave like those in Allstedt [Thomas Müntzer's parish] because we have abolished images and freely confess this" ... Then Luther said: "How will you prove from Scripture that images should be abolished?" A member of the town council spoke up: "My lord doctor, amiable brother, you must admit that Moses is an expounder of the Ten Commandments?" Martin said: "Yes." The councilor went on: "It is written in the Ten Commandments 'Thou shalt have no strange gods,' and directly afterwards Moses goes on to explain 'Thou shalt remove all images and have none'." Martin said, "Yes, that is said of idolatrous images. Idolatrous images are those to which one prays. How does a crucifix on the wall harm me if I do not pray to it?" A cobbler said: "I have often taken my hat off to an image on the wall or on the street. This is idolatry, dishonor to God and harmful to poor folk, and therefore one should have no images." Martin said, "If you [do this] because of misuse, you would have to slay all women and pour away all wine." Another member of the commune replied, "No, they are God's creatures, created for our help, sustenance and need, and which he has not commanded us to be rid of. But the images made by the hand of man we are commanded to abolish." Dr Martin however insisted on the words "idolatrous images". The cobbler went on: "Yes, I would concede if all images were not forbidden by Moses." Martin Luther said: "That is not holy Scripture." The cobbler said: "Say what you will, it is there," and he clapped his hands together and made a bet... Someone brought in the books of Moses and the text was read out to Martin [note: see Deuteronomy 5.8-10, King James Version, for an approximation of the translation this community was probably using]. "From this it plainly follows that not only the idolatrous, but all images are forbidden, indeed that Christians may make and have no images." To which Martin said, "It is there written that you should pray to no images, and God therefore meant the idolatrous." Then someone from the commune said, "The word 'idolatrous' is not in the text, but only 'thou shalt make and have none'"... Then Martin said: "He is again speaking of 'idolatrous images'."

Then the mayor spoke: "Listen, good lord, listen." There was a great silence and he went on: "Dear lord, we keep strictly to the Word of God, for it is written that you should add nothing to it or take nothing away." Then the prince's preacher spoke out, "Be quiet, my dear old man." Martin went on: "You have condemned me." The cobbler replied: "If you want to be condemned, I hold you as condemned, along with whoever speaks or reads against God and God's truth." Martin said: "The children on the streets have said that to me!" and he stood up and began to hurry towards his wagon. As the city treasurer saw that, he said, "Hey, dear doctor, tell us about the articles on the Sacrament and Baptism." To which Martin turned around and said, "I have written enough about this, read my books." His challenger replied, "I have read parts of them, but I do not find that my conscience is thereby satisfied." To which Martin replied, "If you stumble over it, then write against me."

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