LUTHER, Martin (1483-1546). Autograph letter signed (‘Martinus Luther’) to the theologian Jacob Montanus (‘Jacobo Spirensi’), Wittenberg, ‘Dominica post Jacobi’ [26 July] 1523, in Latin.
One page, oblong 8vo (155 x 210mm), autograph address panel, remnants of seal, additions in a later hand (small holes at cross-folds, the verso reinforced with archival tape, laid down at left margin onto 16th-century paper).
Provenance: Identification note in the hand of 'HR', dated 1596.
‘Gratia & pax. Verum est, optime Jacobi, esse me unum satis occupatem. Christo gratia. Hoc est, quod te & amicos omnes oportet esse paratos, si vel nihil vel rarius & brevius scripsero. Id autem quod tu novissimis literis de confessione scripsisti, certissimum habeo, nempe licere in totum omittere indicem singulorum peccatorum, satisque esse, generali confessione peccatorum petere solatium evangelii & remissionis peccatorum. De reliquis praesentium lator omnibus te certiorem reddet, quae apud nos geruntur. Ex Flandria bona accepimus nuntia, esse duos ex nostris fratribus pro verbo dei exustos Brussellae in foro publico spectaculo. deo gratia per Christum. Vale & ora pro me peccante peccatore...’
[Grace and peace. It is true, my best Jacob, that one theme keeps me preoccupied constantly, namely, the grace of Christ. This is the reason which you and all my friends must bear in mind if I do not write at all, or write seldom or briefly. Concerning your latest communication on the subject of confession, I believe most assuredly that it is permissible to omit completely a recital of each and every sin. A general confession of sins is sufficient to receive the solace of the Gospel and the remission of sins. For the rest, the bearer of this will tell you more certainly of all that is going on here. From Flanders we have heard good news, that two of our brothers have been burnt for the word of God as a public spectacle in the marketplace at Brussels. Thanks be to God through Christ! Farewell and pray for me, a sinful sinner...]
ON THE FIRST LUTHERAN MARTYRS. ON THE 1 JULY 1523, the two Augustinian monks Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes were burnt at the stake in Brussels marketplace for refusing to recant their Lutheran belief: the first two men to be executed at the orders of the Council of Brabant for their public profession of the Reformation doctrine. On hearing of their death, Luther is said to have composed the first of his hymns, ‘Ein neues Lied wir heben an’ (A new song we raise), which was printed the following year. Not only does the present letter see Luther announce the news of the first martyrs to the cause, it shows him in correspondence with a fellow theologian on the thorny matter of confession: foreshadowing article XI of the Augsburg confession of 1530, Luther insists that a full enumeration of one's sins is not possible or necessary for God's forgiveness [for absolution may be obtained for all sin, not only those of which the sinner is aware]. The recipient, the humanist scholar Jacob Montanus, or Jacob of Speier, was sent by the church reformer Rudolphe von Langen to assist the Herford Brethren of the Common Life (adherents of the Devotio Moderna) from its Munster chapter in 1512. Although he must have come under Luther's influence before 1523, the present letter is the earliest surviving example from the correspondence between Wittenberg and the Herford Brethren: the community famously embraced the Lutheran reformation early, with both the Brethren and the Sisters of the Common life adopting the new faith by 1525. Published in Weimarer Ausgabe, Briefwechsel 3, no 509.