Elector Frederick the Wise [1] writes to his cousin Duke George of Saxony [2] concerning the arrival of the papal emissary Karl von Miltitz [3]:

… I have with me a papal ambassador, Karl von Miltitz, who is not satisfied with Dr. Luther and has great power to proceed against him. And it well might happen that he would refuse to give me the golden rose [4] unless I banished the monk and said that he was a heretic. But I fancy I can do as Clauss Narr [5] says, go on drinking my wine and being a heretic all my days. …

Meanwhile, the “monk,” Martin Luther, continues his second series of lectures on the Psalms at the University of Wittenberg.


Commentary on Psalm 8:1. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. [excerpt continued from post “December 18, 1518]

… Here perhaps the simple soul will raise a scruple, who has so often heard, that our love to God does not precede his love to us; as it is written, 1 John 4:10, “Not that we loved God, but that he loved us”. And Rom. 11:35, “Who has first given to him and it shall be recompensed unto him again”? Again, John 15:16, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”. Also, John 6:44, “No man can come unto me except the Father who has sent me draw him”.

How then, it will be asked, can we first magnify him that he may magnify us? The answer is, The Holy Scripture describes both of these, both the grace of God, and the fruits of that grace. Therefore, a great deal of care must be taken that we do not understand that of the tree itself which is said of the fruits; for if this chaos be introduced, that error of the Pelagians [6] concerning free-will will follow; which ascribes to man the beginning of a good work. Whereas God alone makes the tree good before us, and without us — the good tree which must of necessity precede the fruits; but it must equally of necessity follow that the fruits must precede the reward.

For that reason, this part of the Psalm, and all other passages like it, do not refer to initial grace, but to the final grace, that is, the reward itself, which is given to the first grace and its fruits; therefore we are not to understand by these passages any kind of exhortation to a perseverance in good works from this promise of the mutually rewarding goodness of God. Thus him who, being converted, praises God, that is, lives from received grace to the glory of God on earth, God praises in return, at the same time, and for ever in heaven: at the same time, I say, and for ever; that is, at the present time and for ever. For he that glorifies God in his life cannot but feel a joyful and quiet trust in the mercy of God, by which he knows that he in return pleases God and is praised in heaven. Therefore, our praise of the name of the Lord in the earth is almost heavenly, though before men we are continually vexed with ignominy. Then, if the praising ones persevere, their praise in God will endure forever. Thus we must understand Zechariah 1:3, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you”, and similar passages. … (Second Lectures on Psalms, published as Operationes in Psalmos, “Works on Psalms”, 1519-21)


[1] Ruler of Electoral Saxony, Luther’s sovereign.

[2] Duke George the Bearded (1471-1539), ruler of Ducal Saxony. Although opposed to abuses of indulgences and initially receptive to the Ninety-five Theses, George would soon become a vehement opponent of the Reformation.

[3] Karl von Miltitz (ca. 1490-1529), nuncio sent to mediate the “Luther controversy” after Cajetan failed to induce Luther to recant at their meeting in Augsburg in October 1518.

[4] The “Golden Rose of Virtue”, a gilded floral arrangement, annually consecrated by the pope and conferred to honor a deserving prince. In addition to the honor, the Golden Rose came with certain indulgences.

[5] Claus Narr (before 1486 – after 1530) the court fool in the Electoral Saxon court at Torgau from 1495 to 1530, enjoyed a reputation for pranks and practical jokes.. “Drinking wine” was proverbial for not letting anything trouble one. For example, Luther, in one of the Eight Sermons in Lent, 1522: “The Word, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Melanchthon and Amsdorf, has weakened the Papacy more than any king or emperor ever did.”

[6] Followers (knowing or not) of Pelagius (c. 360–418 AD), an Irish or British ascetic moralist, active in Rome after about 380, who opposed the idea of predestination and asserted a strong version of the doctrine of free will. He was accused by Augustine of Hippo and others of denying the need for divine aid in performing good works. They understood him to have said that the only grace necessary was the declaration of the law; humans were not wounded by Adam’s sin and were perfectly able to fulfill the law without divine aid. Pelagius denied Augustine’s theory of original sin. His adherents cited Deut. 24:16 in support of their position. Pelagius was declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage in 418. His interpretation of a doctrine of free will became known as Pelagianism.

Claus Narr. Copperplate engraving by Hans Lautensack, ca. 1530

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