Preface of Trinity Sunday
PRAYER (traditional language)
O God, our refuge and our strength, who didst raise up thy
servant Martin Luther to reform and renew thy Church in the light of thy
word: Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through
faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of thy grace, which thou hast
made known in Jesus Christ our Savior, who, with thee and the Holy Spirit,
liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
O God, our refuge and our strength, who raised up your servant
Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your word:
Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith,
we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace, which you have made known
in Jesus Christ our Savior, who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and
reigns, one God, now and for ever.
Lessons revised at GC 2009.
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Last updated: 3 Jan. 2010
EDUCATOR, TRANSLATOR (18 FEB 1546)
I once heard a priest say: "Sometimes in a sermon, I have occasion
to quote some comment by Martin Luther which bears on the point I want
to make. But there are those in my congregation who would wonder what
I was doing quoting a notorious Protestant. So I simply refer to him
as Brother Martin of Erfurt, and they smile and nod. He said a lot of
remarkably good things."
Martin of Erfurt, born in 1483 of German peasant stock, was a monk (more
exactly, a regular canon) of the Order of Saint Augustine, and a Doctor
of Theology. In his day, the Church was at a spiritual low. Church
offices were openly sold to the highest bidder, and not nearly enough
was being done to combat the notion that forgiveness of sins was likewise
for sale. Indeed, many Christians, both clergy and laity, were most inadequately
instructed in Christian doctrine. Startling as it seems to us today,
there were then no seminaries for the education of the clergy. There were
monastic schools, but they concentrated on the education of their own
monks. Parish priests, ordinarily having no monastic background, were
in need of instruction themselves, and in no way prepared to instruct
their congregations. Brother Martin set out to remedy this. He wrote a
simple catechism for the instruction of the laity which is still in use
today, as is his translation of the Scriptures into the common tongue.
His energy as a writer was prodigious. From 1517, when he first began
to write for the public, until his death, he wrote on the average one
book a fortnight.
Today, his criticisms of the laxness and frequent abuses
of his day are generally recognized on all sides as a response to very
real problems. It was perhaps inevitable, however, that they should arouse
resentment in his own day (Brother Martin, and for that matter many of
his opponents, had controversial manners that my high school speech teacher
and debate coach would never have tolerated!), and he spent much of his
life in conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities. The disputes were
complicated by extraneous political considerations on both sides, and,
as one of his admirers has observed, each side was at its best when proclaiming
what the other side, well considered and in a cool hour, did not really
deny. Brother Martin, for example, was most ardent in maintaining that
salvation was a free gift of God, and that all attempts to earn or deserve
it are worse than useless. But he was not alone in holding this. When
his followers met in 1540 with Cardinal Contarini, the Papal delegate,
in an effort to arrive at an understanding, there was complete agreement
on this point. The Cardinal, by a study of the Epistle to the Romans,
had arrived in 1511 at the same position as Brother Martin in 1517. So
had Cardinal Pole, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who had, ironically,
been appointed to combat Brother Martin's influence). So had the
Archbishop of Cologne, and so had many other highly placed Church officials.
In Brother Martin's own judgement, his greatest achievement
was his catechism, by the use of which all Christians without exception
might be instructed in at least the rudiments of the Faith. Some of his
admirers, however, would insist that his greatest achievement was the
Council of Trent, which he did not live to see, but which he was arguably
the greatest single factor in bringing about. While the Council's doctrinal
pronouncements were not all that Brother Martin would have wished, it
did take very much to heart his strictures on financial abuses, and undertook
considerable reforms in those areas It banned the sale of indulgences
and of church offices, and took steps to provide for the systematic education
of the clergy. Putting it another way, if I were arguing with an adherent
of the Pope, and I wanted to point out to him that many Popes have been,
even by ordinary grading-on-a-curve standards, wicked men, cynically exploiting
their office for personal gain, I would have no difficulty in finding
examples from the three centuries immediately preceding Brother Martin
and the Council of Trent. If I were restricted to the centuries
afterward, I should have more of a problem. And this is, under God, due
in some measure to Brother Martin's making himself a nuisance. Thanks
be to God for an occasional nuisance at the right time and place.
An empty vessel that needs
to be filled.
My Lord, fill it
I am weak in the faith;
I am cold in love;
Warm me and make me fervent,
That my love may go out
to my neighbor...
O Lord, help me.
Strengthen my faith and
trust in you...
With me, there is an
abundance of sin;
In You is the fullness of
Therefore I will remain
Whom I can receive,
But to Whom I may not give.
by James Kiefer
More information about Martin Luther, and many of his works, are online
from the Wittenberg