TO ERASMUS OF ROTTERDAM
Luther turns lovingly to Erasmus, and forgives him for his want of courage in espousing his cause. April 1524.
Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ! I have remained silent long enough, dear Herr Erasmus, waiting till you, as the greater and elder, should break the silence, but having waited so long in vain, charity impels me to take up my pen. I do not reproach you for having kept aloof from us, knowing you did not wish to complicate the cause you were maintaining against my enemies the Papists. And I even have not taken it greatly amiss, that in order to conciliate the favour of some, or instigate the fury of others, you have issued pamphlets in which you attack us with a bitterness we did not expect from you. For we perceive that you have not been endued by God with such steadfastness and
courage that you can confidently go forward with us to combat this monstrosity — hence we do not expect what is beyond your ability to render. But we have borne your weakness patiently, and highly appreciated your gifts. For the whole world must confess that it is through you there has been such a revival in letters, through which people have got access to the Bible in its purity, and that you possess
great and glorious talents, for which we must ever be grateful. Hence I have never wished you to mingle in our affairs, to the detriment of your gifts; for although your common sense and eloquence might accomplish much, still, if you do not heartily enter into it, it is better that you should only serve God with the talent committed to you. But I fear our enemies might persuade you to condemn our doctrine, and then we would have to contradict you to the face. We have hitherto prevented some entering into conflict with you through their writings, therefore I wished that Hutten’s challenge had not appeared, and still less your Schwamm, FA5 which, without doubt, you have learned for yourself. How easy it is to talk of modesty, and blame Luther for want of it; and, on the other hand, how difficult, nay, impossible it is to act accordingly, except through a special gift of the Spirit. If I, who
am easily moved to wrath, have often in the heat of the moment written too bitingly (beizend ), I have only done it to stubborn people. And I can testify that my tenderness towards the godless, no matter how unjust and stupid they may be, has not only the testimony of my own conscience, but has been experienced by many. Up till now I have held my pen in check, in spite of your conduct towards me, and have also written to friends, that I would restrain myself till you attacked me openly.
For although you were not of us, and rejected some of the principal points pertaining to everlasting blessedness, or hypocritically refused to give your opinion on the matter, still I shall not accuse you of obstinacy. What am I to do? The business is a bad one on both sides. If I be mediator, I would ask these people to give up assailing you, and permit you, at your advanced age, to fall asleep in peace in the Lord. They would do this if they considered your weakness and the magnitude of the question at stake, which is far above your head. But you, too, dear Erasmus, must remember their weakness, and not practice your powers of sarcasm on them, and where you cannot or dare not espouse our
opinions, then leave them alone, patiently awaiting the success of your cause. I say all this, excellent Herr Erasmus, to prove my earnest wish that the Lord may give you a mind worthy of your great name, and if He delay doing this, I beg of you only to be a spectator of our tragedy, and not unite
with our opponents, nor write against me, seeing I shall not publish anything against you. As to those who complain of suffering because of Luther, remember they are men, even as you and I, upon whom we should have compassion, bearing one another’s burdens. There has been more than enough backbiting, so we must see that we are not devoured one of another. This would be a most pitiable spectacle, as on neither side is any one really at heart an enemy of the gospel of Christ. Take my
child-like simplicity in good part, and may you prosper in the Lord. Amen. MARTIN LUTHER .