TO BARTIME VON STERNBERG A peculiarly beautiful letter. September 1, 1523.
Grace and peace in Christ! Most gracious sir. Vincent Wernsdorfer has persuaded me, a stranger, to write expressing my Christian sympathy with you in your trial. Therefore I trust your Excellency will graciously appreciate the motives which prompt me. He tells me how, since the departure of your dear consort to God, you have constantly occupied yourself with good works, particularly masses, vigils, etc., for the repose of her soul, thereby showing your love and loyalty to one who, through her life, certainly merited it; and he begged me to write you — a request I could not refuse, as it was meant for your Excellency’s good. You must recall Job’s words, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” Thus must you sing to your loving God, who first bestowed such a faithful wife upon you, and has now removed her. She was His before He gave her,
and she is still His, even as we all are — now that He has taken her. Therefore, although this is a great grief, that He has recalled His own, still the heart can find sweeter consolation in His most perfect will than in all His gifts — so to fulfill His will is something higher than to possess the best and noblest wife. Although one cannot feel this to be so, still faith does perceive it. Therefore may God give you grace to be joyful, and acquiesce in the rich exchange you have made, having now, instead
of a tender loving wife, the will of a tender loving God — and God Himself in addition. Oh how blessed would we be if we could go on, making such exchanges with God! And we could do this if we understood how. For God meets us daily, but we are not ready to welcome Him. And I would beg of you, gracious sir, to cease from masses, vigils, and daily prayers for her soul. It is sufficient if your Excellency pray once or twice for her, for we are told that if we believe we shall receive what we pray for. Otherwise, if we always ask for one thing, it is a sign we do not believe God, and thus anger Him more through unbelieving prayer. But I particularly beg you would leave off the vigils and masses for the soul, for it is most displeasing to God, there being neither reality nor faith in them, but a mere mummery. Oh, people must pray otherwise if they wish anything from God. God ridicules such vigils
— primarily, because God did not institute the mass for the dead, but as a sacrament for the living, and it is a dreadful thing for man to presume, without God’s permission, to turn a sacrament for the living into a sacrifice for the dead. Beware of becoming a partner in this terrible error, which the priests and monks have instituted for the sake of their bellies. For a Christian must do nothing that God has not commanded, and there is no command as to such masses and vigils, but it is solely their own invention, which brings in money, without helping either living or dead. Your Excellency can inform yourself as to all these things by applying to the before — mentioned Wernsdorfer, who has a
deep interest in you, impelling me to write you… May Christ illuminate and strengthen you in Christian faith and love towards your neighbours. Your Excellency’s obedient MARTIN LUTHER .