Letter to Jerome Weller

From Sins of the Author

Letter to Jerome Weller, from Martin Luther

Grace and peace in Christ.

My dearest Jerome, you must firmly believe that your affliction is of the devil, and that you are plagued in this manner because you believe in Christ. For you see that the most wrathful enemies of the Gospel, as, for instance, Eck, Zwingli, and others, are suffered to be at ease and happy. All of us who are Christians must have the devil for our adversary and enemy, as Peter says: ‘Your adversary, the devil, goeth about,’ etc., 1 Pet. 5, 8.

Dearest Jerome, you must rejoice over these onslaughts of the devil, because they are a sure sign that you have a gracious and merciful God. You will say: This affliction is more grievous than I can bear; you fear that you will be overcome and vanquished, so that you are driven to blasphemy and despair. I know these tricks of Satan: if he cannot overcome the person whom he afflicts at the first onset, he seeks to exhaust and weaken him by incessantly attacking him, in order that the person may succumb and acknowledge himself beaten.

Accordingly, whenever this affliction befalls you, beware lest you enter into an argument with the devil, or muse upon these death-dealing thoughts. For this means nothing else than to yield to the devil and succumb to him. You must rather take pains to treat these thoughts which the devil instills in you with the severest contempt. In afflictions and conflicts of this kind contempt is the best and easiest way for overcoming the devil. Make up your mind to laugh at your adversary, and find some one whom you can engage in a conversation. You must by all means avoid being alone, for then the devil will make his strongest effort to catch you; he lies in wait for you when you are alone. In a case like this the devil is overcome by scorning and despising him, not by opposing him and arguing with him.

My dear Jerome, you must engage in merry talk and games with my wife and the rest, so as to defeat these devilish thoughts, and you must be intent on being cheerful. This affliction is more necessary to you than food and drink. I shall relate to you what happened to me when I was about your age. When I entered the cloister, it happened that at first I always walked about sad and melancholy, and could not shake off my sadness. Accordingly, I sought counsel and confessed to Dr. Staupitz, –I am glad to mention this man’s name. I opened my heart to him, telling him with what horrid and terrible thoughts I was being visited. He said in reply: Martin, you do not know how useful and necessary this affliction is to you; for God does not exercise you thus without a purpose. You will see that He will employ you as His servant to accomplish great things by you. This came true. For I became a great doctor–I may justly say this of myself–; but at the time when I was suffering these afflictions I would never have believed that this could come to pass. No doubt, that is what is going to happen to you: you will become a great man.

In the mean time be careful to keep a brave and stout heart, and impress on your mind this thought that such remarks which fall from the lips chiefly of learned and great men contain a prediction and prophecy. I remember well how a certain party whom I was comforting for the loss of his son said to me: Martin, you will see, you will become a great man. I often remembered this remark, for, as I said, such remarks contain a prediction and a prophecy. Therefore, be cheerful and brave, and cast these exceedingly terrifying thoughts entirely from you.

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