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Martin Luther's letter to Jerome Weller on his guilt consciousness

Whenever the devil worries you with these thoughts, seek the company of men at once, or drink somewhat more liberally, jest and play some jolly prank, or do anything exhilarating. Occasionally a person must drink somewhat more liberally, engage in plays, and jests, or even commit some little sin from hatred and contempt of the devil, so as to leave him no room for raising scruples in our conscience about the most trifling matters. For when we are overanxious and careful for fear that we may be doing wrong in any matter, we shall be conquered.

Accordingly, if the devil should say to you: By all means, do not drink! you must tell him: Just because you forbid it, I shall drink, and that, liberally. In this manner you must always do the contrary of what Satan forbids. When I drink my wine unmixed, prattle with the greatest unconcern, eat more frequently, do you think that I have any other reason for doing these things than to scorn and spite the devil who has attempted to spite and scorn me? Would God I could commit some real brave sin to ridicule the devil, that he might see that I acknowledge no sin and am not conscious of having committed any.

We must put the whole law entirely out of our eyes and hearts,–we, I say, whom the devil thus assails and torments. Whenever the devil charges us with our sins and pronounces us guilty of death and hell, we ought to say to him: I admit that I deserve death and hell; what, then, will happen to me? Why, you will be eternally damned! By no means; for I know One who has suffered and made satisfaction for me. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where He abides, there will I also abide.

This translation comes from a 1917 book on Catholic criticism of Luther by W.H.T. Dau

Also,

If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner. (Letter to Melanchthon, August 1, 1521, American Edition, Luther’s Works, vol. 48, pp. 281-82)

Regardless of the degree of sin mentioned (drinking, jesting, prattling/idle talk etc), did Luther believe that conviction of sin and guilt consciousness comes from Satan, not God? If yes, what could be the source of such teachings, such as Augustin? Does according to Luther, Satan commands against drinking? Did he write more such supposed commands by Satan? You may include some Biblical and Catholic Church perspective for context, it will be helpful.

Guilt consciousness: the state of being aware of one's guilt.

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  • This doesn't make sense in grammatical English, "Would God I could commit some real brave sin to ridicule the devil, that he might see that I acknowledge no sin and am not conscious of having committed any." Might be better to supply the German. It is key to the argument (its in bold).
    – M__
    Jul 22, 2023 at 15:19
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    @M__ I hope the same, let's wait for someone to quote the German text and clarify. It could actually be "Would God make me commit a brave sin to ridicule the devil... so that I prove that I acknowledge no guilt etc"; in other words, it seems he hopes God would make him commit sin to resist the devil, and that the devil commands against drunkedness. It is quite fascinating reversal of roles which should generate various questions. God is the source of sin, and Satan is the source of guilt consciousness and regret from sins.
    – Michael16
    Jul 22, 2023 at 15:36

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Many words are attributed to Martin Luther and not all were, actually, his. As to these words, under review, I cannot say particularly as I have not the resource to fully investigate them.

I would say that the force of the tenor of the quotation is in line with Paul's epistles to the saints in Rome and to the churches in Galatia. But the words are somewhat extravagant in regard to contemplating the commission of certain sins many times a day.

We are warned to flee certain types of sin and that those types of sin are 'not to be mentioned among the saints'. Mentioned, yes, as to warning about them, by those who are called (personally, by Christ) to do so ; but not otherwise.

So I suggest the wording is unwise and extravagant (whether they are Luther's words or whether they have been put into his mouth by someone else).

Martin Luther certainly preached, generally, in accordance with Romans and Galatians in regard to the fact that the true believer, the faithful follower of Christ, is freed from the law, by the death of Christ.

The believer is not under law, said Paul, and agreed Luther. The condemnations of law against the 'motions' of sins (that is to say the motions and desires within the flesh - but not bursting forth into flagrant activity) are to be accepted as condemnation against sin itself, which sin was eradicated in the death of Christ (who was 'made' or better still, was 'effected' sin, at Golgotha).

If 'it is no more I that do it but sin that dwelleth in me' then I, myself, am not condemned if Christ has been effected sin (itself) and has died under its curse.

Thus we who believe are 'crucified with Christ' we are 'dead indeed unto sin'. We are dead in regard to the flesh which, temporarily, still lives. We are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of Christ dwells within us, by regeneration, by the begetting of the Father.

And we are not condemned, though sin still lurks in the flesh, and still its working may be felt.

The Devil (properly 'Daiabolos' and the 'Tempter') misinformed from the beginning and led astray at the inception of humanity placing the knowledge of good and evil before mankind, when God had forcefully stipulated that such was not the way for humanity to live. Thus was death, not life.

And the Devil continues to condemn, to tempt, to cajole, to connive, to deceive, to threaten and to hate.

But that is a different matter from the movings of the Spirit in the gift of repentance. These are matters of spiritual experience and take time to discern within one's own soul. These are not matters for the novice but for the mature in the faith to discern from their own mature experience and to express in the wisdom of eldership.

The Holy Spirit of God convicts, leads, guides, induces deep feelings of genuine contrition, expresses fundamental truth to the soul, teaches real wisdom to the mind and wholly overcomes the heart with leadings and yearnings.

Blessed is he who is led out of the movements of the Devil and into the precious movings of the Holy Spirit.


I believe Martin Luther would agree with everything I have said (from my own knowledge of his writings).

But I cannot agree with the extravagance of some of the wording and I cannot say, for sure, whether that should be attributed to Luther or not.

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  • If you as a Lutheran are too embarrassed of the quotes that you cannot accept them as authentic, you shouldn't have written a vague answer. This answer claims Holy spirit convicts and produce contrition, but Luther says the devil does. We cannot use merely opinions but only reasons. Reason, which Luther believed to be the devil's bride and the greatest whore.
    – Michael16
    Jul 22, 2023 at 17:33
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    @Michael16 Martin Luther preached repentance (of the Holy Spirit) as well as warning about legalistic influences (from the unholy spirit). This is well documented. 2. It is also well known and well-documented just how much has been mis-attributed to Martin Luther. 3. (I am not a 'Lutheran'.)
    – Nigel J
    Jul 22, 2023 at 19:49
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Martin Luther did write quite a lot about the Devil. We also know that he was prone to severe depressions, with a particularly fearful anfechtung in 1527. He even wrote:

"If I live longer, I would like to write a book about Anfechtungen, for without them no man can understand Scripture, faith, the fear or the love of God. He does not know the meaning of hope who was never subject to temptations. David must have been plagued by a very fearful devil. He could not have had such profound insights if he had not experienced great assaults."

Now, that quote is in a book I have, which is not a critical source of quotes of Luther, as is the Catholic Criticism of Luther you quoted from. The book I have is written by a scholar, the source details given below. With regard to dealing with depressing feelings and ideas,

"Luther had two methods: the one was a head-on attack, the other an approach by way of indirection. Sometimes he would engage in direct encounter with the Devil. This particular mise en scene may amuse the modern reader and incline him not to take Luther seriously; but it is noteworthy that what the Devil says to Luther is only what one says to oneself in moments of introspection, and, what is still more significant, only the minor difficulties were referred to the Devil. In all the major encounters, God himself was the assailant. The Devil was something of a relief. Luther relished, by comparison, the personification of his enemy in the form of a being whom he could bait without danger of blasphemy. He describes with gusto some of these bouts:

When I go to bed, the Devil is always waiting for me. When he begins to plague me, I give him this answer: 'Devil, I must sleep. That's God's command, Work by day. Sleep by night. So go away.' If that doesn't work and he brings out a catalogue of sins, I say, 'Yes, old fellow, I know all about it. And I know some more you have overlooked. Here are a few extras. Put them down.' If he still won't quit and presses me hard and accuses me as a sinner, I scorn him and say, 'St. Satan, pray for me. Of course you have never done anything wrong in your life. You alone are holy. Go to God and get grace for yourself. If you want to get me all straightened out, I say, Physician, heal thyself'." Here I Stand, pp 362-3, Roland Bainton, Lion, 1987 edition

But at other times, Luther advised against any attempt to wrestle one's way through:

"Don't argue with the Devil. He has had five thousand years of experience. He has tried out all his tricks on Adam, Abraham, and David, and he knows exactly the weak spots... Eve got into trouble when she walked in the garden alone. I have my worst temptations when I am by myself. Seek convivial company, dine, dance, joke, and sing. Make yourself eat and drink even though the food may be very distasteful." (Ibid. p 363)

Then Bainton gives three rules Luther had for dispelling despondency where the Devil was appearing to attack one's faith. The second one was to get downright angry. Another idea was to seek relief through manual labor, "to harness the horse and spread manure on the fields." Bainton adds, "Luther attached great importance to his baptism. When the Devil assailed him, he would answer, 'I am baptized.'"

Whatever one may say about Luther's strategies for dealing with the way the Devil would try to destroy a person's faith in God and Christ, they were myriad! His imagination knew no bounds in how to thwart Satan's attempts to inflict a guilty conscience on that which had been cleansed by God. But please note that Luther was not dealing with a theological conundrum about where feelings of guilt come from. He was tackling head on the reality of the Devil's deceptions designed to turn a Christian from belief in Christ. He spoke from personal experience, not from dry, academic theological tomes.

The only strange thing is that it's usually people who do not even believe the Devil exists who are inclined to criticize the likes of Luther, who believed the truth of what the Bible says about the wiles of the Devil. After all the apostle James said (4:7), "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you." Luther certainly believed in resisting the Devil, and was not short of ideas as how to do that!

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  • Very intriguing quote. I hope to read all about his writings about the devil, who seems to be his best friend, and with whom he was obsessed with all the time. God was his assailant. He still managed to become a leader of a great reformation.
    – Michael16
    Jul 22, 2023 at 17:25
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    @Michael16 Anyone who thinks Luther was "obsessed with the devil all the time" clearly has not studied the writings of Luther. His experience of God's severity with him reflects the experiences of all the saints, both O.T., N.T. and to this very day. Luther knew "the fear of the Lord", which is the beginning of wisdom.
    – Anne
    Jul 22, 2023 at 17:43
  • You didnt answer the question: Did he believe guilt and or conscience comes from the devil? Is it to be understood as satanic deception? His solution seems to be that one needs to kill and suppress or rid of the guilt conscience altogether, bec it's satans temptation; in other words, the concept of sin has been finished. He didnt deny that you are not committing sins so that your guilt is illusory, but he argued that guilt comes from satan.
    – Michael16
    Jul 23, 2023 at 8:54
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    @Michael16 My answer dealt with the Q via 2 points: "what the Devil says to Luther is only what one says to oneself in moments of introspection, and, what is still more significant, only the minor difficulties were referred to the Devil. In all the major encounters, God himself was the assailant." And, "His imagination knew no bounds in how to thwart Satan's attempts to inflict a guilty conscience on that which had been cleansed by God."I thought that made the answer self-evident. God had cleansed his conscience via forgiveness but God would rebuke him when chastisement was due.
    – Anne
    Jul 23, 2023 at 12:50
  • You should be more direct & clear in writing. This means you assume that Luther's guilt was misconceived or false when, not real, in other words the cause of his guilt was not sin. In the same way, he teaches Jerome to ignore and snub it as satan's deception, however, in the letter we only see the mention of drinking and some other things jesting, etc. We are to assume that he teaches that these too are not sins. In other quotes he also encouraged to sin more; so we assume that he taught that believers are not guilty of sin; I dont think his view implies God would ever convict n condemn him.
    – Michael16
    Jul 23, 2023 at 15:07

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