TO GEORGE SPALATIN February 15, 1518.
About the motives which should accompany good works. Salvation! What you write, or rather prescribe to me to do, that I am doing, most excellent Spalatin. And I thank the most Serene Prince, through you, for the princely piece of venison that he sent our new magister, and I have told them what an honor it is. But I am the one who is most delighted, for human nature loves a cheerful giver. You ask me two questions. The one, “If one wishes to sacrifice something, or do a good work, what ought to be his motive?” I answer briefly, a man must be animated in all he does by a feeling of despair as well as confidence. The despair appertains to thyself and thy work, but the joyous confidence is founded on God and His mercy. For the Spirit says, “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, and in those that hope in his mercy.” The other question concerned the power of the Indulgence, and what it can accomplish. This matter is still doubtful, but I shall say privately to you and our friends that I consider present-day Indulgences as a deceiving of souls, and of no use except as an encouragement to lazy Christians. And this is beyond dispute, my enemies and the whole Church being obliged to admit it is, viz. that alms and kindness towards one’s neighbour are far higher than the Indulgences. Therefore, I admonish you to buy no Indulgences, as long as you have poor neighbours to whom you can give the Indulgence money. If you act otherwise, I am blameless; the responsibility is yours. I firmly believe that those who neglect the poor and purchase Indulgences merit condemnation. I shall tell you a great cause of annoyance to me, viz. the busybodies have invented a new mode of attack, by circulating everywhere that our Serene Prince is at the bottom of all I do, as if he caused me to make the Archbishop of Magdeburg hated! Dear one, advise me how to act, for I am deeply grieved that the Prince should come into ill-repute through me, and I fear being the cause of dispeace between such great princes. But I shall gladly permit the Prince to lead me into a disputation, or place me on my trial, if he would openly give me a safe-conduct, but I dislike the innocent Prince being blamed on my account. They are truly perverse people who love the darkness and hate the light.
They have traversed three lands to lay hold of John Reuchlin, and have dragged him hither against his will, while I am at the door, and pleading to be taken, and they leave me alone and whisper in corners that which they cannot defend. Farewell, and forgive me for making so many words about this, for I am talking to a friend. From our cloister.
MARTIN LUTHER, Augustinian. (Both free and bound in the Lord.)