7

I've seen this quote in various internet discussions, and until recently, was only able to trace it back as far as the 1990s. However, the earliest English version of the story that I can find is from the 1851 book The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer, Volume 2, by Paul Henry, pages 97-98. In the following, Henry appears to be quoting (not merely paraphrasing) the story from another source:

Calvin's book [A Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper], thus far translated into Latin by Galasius, appeared again in 1545 and was brought to Wittenberg. On the Monday after Quasimodogeniti, when Dr. Luther had finished his lecture on Genesis, upon which he was still engaged, he proceeded to the shop of the bookseller Maurice Goltschen, who had just returned from the great Easter fair. Luther welcomed him home, and continued in these words: 'Well, Maurice, what good news is there at Frankfort? Do they wish to burn the arch-heretic Luther?'

Thereupon Maurice replied, 'I have heard nothing thereof, honoured sir; but I have brought with me a little book, which John Calvin wrote some time ago in French, on the Lord's Supper, and which has been lately republished in Latin. It is said of Calvin, that he is a young but a pious and learned man. In this little book he seems to have shown in what respect your reverence, and both Zwinglius and Oecolampadius have gone too far in your controversy on this subject.'

As Maurice Goltschen did not express himself very well, Luther answered quickly, 'Give me the book, friend!' The bookseller immediately gave him an octavo copy, stitched up. Having taken it in his hands, Dr. Luther sat down and read the first three leaves after the title, and then the last four and a half to the end. These he read with particular attention, and at last said, 'Maurice, this is certainly a learned and pious man, and I might well have entrusted the whole affair of this controversy to him from the beginning. I confess my part. If my opponents had done the like, we should soon have been reconciled, since it only needed that Oecolampadius and Zwinglius should have thus explained themselves, to prevent the controversy from proceeding to such lengths.'

This was heard by Matthias Stoius, who was one of the numerous students by whom Dr. Luther was then surrounded. He was at that time a boarder in his house, but subsequently became a doctor of medicine, and was appointed private physician to the old duke of Prussia. The story was repeated in the presence of many of the nobility of the archduke Albrecht.

What is the ultimate source of the story? Did Luther actually express this sentiment about Calvin at any time?

5

Original source

Henry's quote is verbatim from Christoph Pezel's 1590 book Außführliche, warhaffte und bestendige Erzehlung, and he mentions Pezel in a footnote to the paragraph prior to the story. Many sources indicate that the story originates with Pezel.

Credibility

I found a few historians who weighed in on whether the story was credible or not.

Paul Henry says in The Life and Times of John Calvin that the story bears "all the internal signs of truth" and "is wanting in none of the outer."

Julius Kostlin says in Theology of Luther in Its Historical Development and Inner Harmony Part 2 (pg. 191):

Under these circumstances [the cooling of Luther's attitude toward Bucer], there is no internal improbability in the report, that he greeted with rejoicing the tract upon the Lord's Supper which Calvin had meanwhile published, although it is open to question in how far Pezel's account of this incident is trustworthy.

Johann Karl Ludwig Gieseler concludes that the story is credible while discussing a different but related matter in A Text-book of Church History: A.D. 1517-1648 (The Reformation and its Results to the Peace of Westphalia) (pg. 414 n. 43):

As Luther at this time [1539] must have known the Institutions of Calvin, it follows, from the declarations of this letter, that he was then satisfied with his [Calvin's] doctrine upon the Lord's Supper; and, besides, it also fully agreed with that to which the Swiss had declared assent to Luther in 1536. Thus the avowals of Luther about Calvin are trustworthy, given by Christoph. Pezel.

Brian Gerrish hedges on whether the story is reliable, in The Old Protestantism and the New (pg. 286 n. 53):

Mülhaupt ("Luther und Calvin," p. 103) suspects this story of being a mere embellishment of the incident Calvin reported to Farel in his letter of 20 November 1539, where, as we have seen, the writing in question is not identified. But this is mere guess-work, and the story may well be authentic; Pezel relates it with attention to details and also names the witness (one of Luther's table companions) from whom the incident is derived. On the other hand, it is quite plain from two passages in the Table Talk that Luther's attitude toward Calvin in the closing years of his life was a mixture of respect and suspicion: W.A.Tr. 5.51.19 (no. 5303) and 461.18 (no. 6050).

Calvin's letter to Farel and the two Table Talk passages will be discussed briefly below, in the "Luther on Calvin" section.

Rudolph Hospinian also told the story (more briefly) in his History of the Sacraments (1598), though I was only able to find a Latin version and I couldn't locate the story in that edition. Gerrish (on the page quoted above) and Erwin Doumergue say he was an independent reporter, but Gieseler thinks he borrowed it from Pezel. Says Doumergue (Jean Calvin, pg. 573 n. 1):

Hospinian has not borrowed from Pezel because according to his method, he would have cited the main passages verbatim. They probably had two different sources.

It's worth noting also that Pezel was a Lutheran who was under suspicion for much of his life of being a crypto-Calvinist on the sacraments, and Hospinian was Swiss Reformed, so he was either Calvinist or Zwinglian on the sacraments.

Luther on Calvin

Gerrish has elsewhere written an overview of Luther's statements on Calvin, titled "Luther and the Reformed Eucharist: What Luther Said, or Might Have Said About Calvin." James Swan has written a helpful summary of Gerrish's article at his blog post "Luther and Calvin... Friends or Enemies?"

Since Mülhaupt (mentioned above) believed that the incident in question was an embellishment of a claim Calvin makes in a letter to Farel, it makes sense to quote part of Gerrish's treatment of the letter here:

In a letter to Guillaume Farel, dated 20 November 1539, Calvin reports that Luther has asked Bucer to greet his young French associate for him: "Will you pay my respects (salutabis reverenter) to John Sturm and John Calvin. I have read their little books with singular enjoyment." We can forget about John Sturm for the moment. Calvin exclaims with evident delight: "Just think what I say there about the Eucharist! Consider Luther's generosity (ingenuitatem)! It will be easy to decide what reason they have who so obstinately disagree with him." Calvin goes on to say that Philipp Melanchthon has confirmed the good news of Luther's high regard for him, and has instructed the letter-carrier to deliver an oral message, which Calvin reports in these words:

Certain persons, to irritate Martin, pointed out to him the aversion with which he and his followers were alluded to by me. So he examined the passage in question and felt that he was there, beyond doubt, under attack. After a while, he said: "I certainly hope that he will one day think better of us. Still, it is right for us to be a little tolerant toward such a gifted man." We are surely made of stone [Calvin comments] if we are not overcome by such moderation! I, certainly, am overcome, and I have written an apology (satisfactionem) for insertion into my preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

...

The intriguing question is, of course: What book of Calvin's had Luther read "with singular enjoyment"? ... The case for ... the Reply to Sadoleto, it seems to me, is clinched by the fact that the Luther's request to Bucer—"pay my respects to John Sturm and John Calvin," etc.—is followed immediately by the caustic remark, "As for Sadoleto, I wish he would believe that God is the creator of men even outside of Italy."

Swan's and Gerrish's links also contain a brief discussion of the Table Talk entries on Calvin, among other things.

Note on sources

I am indebted to Nathaniel's answer for its alternate translation, which (via Google) was my gateway to Gerrish, who in turn was my gateway to all the rest of my sources.

  • If anyone is able to find an English version of Hospinian's telling of this story, or to locate the Latin version, I'd be most grateful. – Mr. Bultitude Mar 16 '16 at 15:58
4

The earliest source of this story that I have been able to find is a 1621 work entitled Ausführliche Behauptung der verbesserten augsburgischen Konfession, or, roughly translated, a Detailed Statement of the Improved Augsburg Confession.1 The work is apparently anonymous, and the details of its provenance are murky. A second edition of it was published in 1625.2 The story itself begins on page 111.

The story was picked up by D. H. Hering and included in his Historische Nachricht (1778), page 127. From there, it was translated into English for The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, Volume 11 (1839), with slightly different wording for the phrase in question than what you have:

Moritz, this is surely a learned and pious man, to whom I might well have committed the whole matter of this dispute from the beginning.

As for the historicity of the anecdote, that's perhaps questionable. The last paragraph of your quotation is in the 1621 version of the text, and it appears to be the author's basis for the story. It seems likely that he heard the story at least second-hand, since Matthias Stoius, the 19-year-old who ostensibly heard Luther say this, seems to have died in 1583, and the Archduke Albrecht in 1568. The author probably hoped that appealing to prominent, though dead, authorities would bolster his credibility. But ultimately believing that this event actually happened is likely to depend on how trustworthy you find 17th century anonymous authors to be.


1. This discovery would not have been possible without the patient help of several German.SE folks. They could use your upvotes!

2. Page 80 of this book says "1625 in zweiter Auflage die anonyme Schrift" in reference to this work, indicating anonymity and a 1625 second edition.

  • @Mr.Bultitude If you didn't notice, I've updated this based on translation help from the German.SE folks, which gets us back to 1621. I think they'd get a little upset with me if I asked for translation of that one too =). – Nathaniel Oct 15 '15 at 17:27
  • Awesome. I really appreciate the work you've done on this answer. From here, I'd like to know a few more things: 1) the overall purpose/subject of the 1621 work (the title helps somewhat but not entirely) and what purpose the anecdote served in its original context; 2) how trustworthy/scholarly Hering and his Historische Nachricht are, and what commentary he gives on the anecdote; 3) whether Maurice Goltschen's (also spelled Moritz Goltsch) existence is a matter of historical record. – Mr. Bultitude Oct 15 '15 at 18:35
  • I'm not completely sure how to find answers to these things, but given your effort so far, I'm willing to do some legwork to find the answers. Any thoughts on the validity of these follow-ups, and where you/I/we could go to find answers? – Mr. Bultitude Oct 15 '15 at 18:35
  • @Mr.Bultitude I looked around for an English translation of that 1621 work, but didn't have any luck. The Lutherans used made adjustments to the Augsburg confession throughout the 16th century, but not as late as 1621, so it's not clear if "Improved" in the title means the last "official" version. Google Books finds mention of another "improved" version from 1614, but I haven't been able to tell if they are related. – Nathaniel Oct 15 '15 at 18:45
  • @Mr.Bultitude As for Hering, he wrote several other books, so that's a point in his favor, as is Hodge et al. speaking highly of him. Getting comments out of his text will be tough, given the difficult script, but if someone deciphers it, Google translate might shed some light. Goltschen's existence may be tougher; the fact that the author appeals to Stoius and nobility suggests that Goltschen by himself wasn't significant. But who knows, Luther wrote a lot and maybe he's mentioned in there somewhere. – Nathaniel Oct 15 '15 at 18:51

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