Luther's correspondence and other contemporary letters/588
It was alleged at the Diet of Nuremberg that Luther denied the virgin birth of Christ (Cf. supra, no. 564.) As an answer to "this new lie." be published a little tract, under the title, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew (Weimar, xi, 314ff). The date of the first (Wittenberg) edition we do not know, but a second edition was in press at Strassburg (or Hagenau) early in June, so that the first edition must have been issued in May or earlier. Luther sent a copy of it as a present to Bernard, a converted Jew, who married Carlstadt's maid in the summer of 1522. Along with it he sent this letter.
Grace and peace from the Lord. The conversion of the Jews is in bad odor almost everywhere, not only among Christians but also among the Jews. The latter say that no one goes over from Judaism to Christianity in good faith, but that anyone who attempts it is guilty of some crime and cannot stay among the Jews. The Christians say that experience shows that they either return to their vomit, or only pretend to have deserted Judaism. Everybody knows the story of what is said to have occurred at the court of the Emperor Sigismund. When a Jew at the Emperor's court desired, with many prayers, to become a Christian, he was at last admitted to baptism, and afterwards was tested, but prematurely and beyond his strength. For immediately after his baptism the Emperor had two fires built, calling the one the fire of the Christians, the other the fire of the Jews, and bade the baptized Jew choose in which of them he preferred to be burned. "For," said he, "you are now baptized and holy, and it is hardly likely that you will ever become a better man than you now are." The miserable man showed that his faith was either pretended or weak by choosing the fire of the Jews; as a Jew he leaped into it, and as a Jew he burned. The story of the will of the baptized Jew of Cologne is also well known, and there are many others.
But I think the cause of this ill-repute is not so much the Jews' obstinancy and wickedness, as rather their absurd and asinine ignorance and the wicked and shameless life of popes, priests, monks and universities. They give the Jews not a single spark of light or warmth, either in doctrine or in Christian life, but, on the contrary, they alienate the Jews' hearts and consciences by the darkness and the errors of their own traditions and by examples of the worst possible morals, and only impart to them the name of Christian, so that you may justly suppose that Christ's word was spoken to them, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, who compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves." They find fault with the Jews because they only pretend to be converted, but they do not find fault with themselves because they only pretend to convert them; nay, they seduce them from one error into another that is worse. What glory is it, pray, nay, what madness for a teacher if he gives a bright and promising boy only the most pestilential teaching, then shows him in his own life only the most corrupt morals, and afterwards washes his hands and says he learned nothing good from him? Thus a bawd may teach a girl to be a harlot and afterwards charge her with not living in virginity. That this is the way the Jews are converted and instructed by our sophists and Pharisees, your own experience is witness.
But when the golden light of the Gospel is rising and shining, there is hope that many of the Jews will be converted in earnest and be drawn completely to Christ, as you have been drawn and certain others, who are the remnant of the seed of Abraham that is to be saved by faith; for He Who has begun the work will perfect it, and will not permit His Word to return unto Him void. I thought it well, therefore, to send you this little book to strengthen and assure your faith in Christ, Whom you have lately learned to know in the Gospel; and now that you are baptized in the Spirit you are born of God. I hope that by your labor and example Christ may be made known to other Jews, so that they who are predestinated may be called and may come to their King David, Who feeds and protects them, but Who is condemned among us with incredible madness by the popes and Pharisees, predestined to come into this condemnation. Farewell in the Lord, and pray for me.
- II Peter ii, 22.
- Luther refers to this story In the Table Talk (Erlangen, lxii, 371, no. 2915).
- Matthew xxiis, 15.
- Philippians i, 6.
- Isaiah iv, ii.