The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Primary source for Martin Luther's postmortem quote?

I looked for Petersen’s writing, but they seem not be digitalized.

Johann Albrecht Bengel was also a well known universalist, as were many Pietists.

Hi Sven -

I can’t find any of his writings on the web - which is a real shame :frowning: I’m sure Petersen is the key to this one.

Yes and I’m just becoming aware of the overlap between Universalism and Pietism - very interesting :slight_smile: Hope all goes well for you.


Hi Dick,

I found an E-Book, it is in German and not entirely for free, so it might be of little benefit for you. … &q&f=false

I will maybe examine it a bit in due time.

When you search for “Petersen ewiges Evangelium” you find at least secondary literature, in German though.

I have read that he (and his wife) was influenced by a Jane Leade, btw it appears as that his wife, Johanna Eleonora Petersen is responsible for the writings.

Hey well done Sven :smiley: - I cannot read German but just through doing a keyword search (Luther, apocatastasis,Hans von Rechenberg) I can see that its discussed on pages 285-6 in the main text and at footnote 475. Any German scholars ready to chance a look? this is the ultimate source of Rob Bell’s of difficulties - I’m certain.

I know this isn’t a live thread anymore - but just for the record I can now say without a doubt that the source for the ‘optimistic’ translation of the Luther passage is Fredric Farrar in his ‘Mercy and Judgement’ Chapter II. Translation is always an act of interpretation and Farrar seems to have imported too much of his own view into Luther’s words. But in fairness to Farrar - usually a very careful scholar - he does add a footnote saying that *’(1) On p. 24, I have given rather the sense than the words of Luther. He says: “Das ware wohl ein ander Frag, ob Gott etlichen im Sterben oder nach dem Sterben, den Glauben konnt geben, und also durch den Glauben konnt selig machen? Wer wollt darin zweifeln, dass er das thun kunne?”’

“Another person would probably ask [presumably in answer to a claim from a previous hypothetical person] whether God can give faith to many while dying or after death, and so could make them saved through faith? Do you really want to doubt that He can do that?!”

(Google translate plus two years of German a long time ago. :slight_smile: )

“Das ware wohl ein ander Frag, ob Gott etlichen im Sterben oder nach dem Sterben, den Glauben konnt geben, und also durch den Glauben konnt selig machen? Wer wollt darin zweifeln, dass er das thun kunne? Aber das ers thue, kan man nicht beweyßen.”’

This would be a very literal rendering:

“This would be another question, whether God could give faith to several whilst dying or after dying, and also could save them through faith? Who would doubt, that he could do so? But that He does so, cannot be proven.”

I can’t read German :blush: But it does seem then that Farrar in translating it thus -

God forbid that I should limit the time of acquiring faith to the present life. In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future

  • was giving a translation which was actually an interpretation then? :slight_smile: Well perhaps he was having an off day - he may well have not seen the whole letter but rather an extract from the letter given in Petersen’s book :confused: He’s normally a model of careful analysis.

He rendered it very freely, but he did not entirely miss the mark. Fact is, according to this quote, Luther did not deny the possibility of post mortem salvation.

But honestly, what authority is Luther? He was after all heavily influenced by Catholic dogma and supported the persecution of other Christians, I do not believe that Luther was truly from God, I consider him a one-eyed among blind ones.

Well Farrar’s point is that throughout the centuries all different kinds of Christians – with some surprising examples – have in some way mitigated the extreme ECT teachings that were seen as normatively Christian in the nineteenth century (his argument is modest and realistic). Luther was important for Petersen because Petersen was trying to argue that universalism was not at odds with his being a Lutheran minister. :slight_smile:

for information - I’ve found a translation of the whole letter - … rs-letter/

A Letter to Hans von Rechenberg of Freistadt from Martin Luther, 1522 On the question of whether or not God may or will save those who die without faith

Grace and peace in Christ, Amen.

Respected Lord! My gracious Lord Count Albrecht of Mansfeld has put it in my mind to write to you a written instruction regarding the question of whether or not God may or will save those who die without faith. With this, respected sir, after you have physically battled against the unbelievers, may you have the proper spiritual armor and a strong and proper footing with which to engage those who raise this question.

There are those among us, since the times of Origen and his followers, who have considered it too hard, too severe, and contrary to God’s goodness that he should cast people away and create them for eternal torment. They look to texts such as Psalm 77:9,10 which says, “Shall God cast away forever and never again be gracious? Or should he cut off his mercy completely and forget his mercy, and withhold his compassion in anger?” There is also Psalm 85:6. And St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:4, “God wants all people to be saved and come to acknowledgment of the truth.” On the basis of these verses, they have gone even further and maintained that even the devil will finally be redeemed and not be eternally damned, and similar things that they simply make up.

But in order to give an answer to this, we need to distinguish clearly between our ponderings and God’s truth. We must not accuse God of being a liar, but must allow all people, angels, and devils to be lost forever, rather than saying that God should not be truthful in his word. Such questions come from innate speculation of human nature, which is greatly disturbed that it cannot know the cause and reason for such a strict and solemn judgment of God. Yet it is totally willing to disregard it, as though it were not God’s judgment, and as though it were absolutely frivolous, violent, and unjust.

And truly this is not the smallest offense that the devil uses to afflict us and makes our faith to look askance at God. Also, he knows that the most noble and precious virtue of faith is, in this circumstance, to close its eyes and simply refrain from such investigation and gladly lay it all before the Lord. It does not need to know why God does these things, but nevertheless considers God to be the highest good and righteousness, even when everything here, contrary to and above all reason, sense, and experience, seems to be simple anger and unrighteousness. For here faith is called “the sign of that which is not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Therefore it is the highest act of honor and love for God, yes the highest level of divine love and honor, when man in the midst of all this can stop and praise Him as good and righteous. For the natural eyes must be plucked out so that only faith can see. Otherwise terrible and dangerous offenses will follow. It is common for people to want to begin with the highest thoughts, and for those who are young and inexperienced in faith and want to look upon these things with the natural eye, they run the risk of taking a great fall and secretly developing a resentment and hatred toward God. After this happens it is very difficult to counsel them.

Therefore, in order that they remain unconfused about God’s judgment, they should be counseled to think upon the sufferings and humanity of Christ, and his lovely life and conduct, until they are better established in their faith. St. Peter says in his first epistle (1 Peter 2:2) that we should crave milk and wait for such strong wine. Otherwise it will happen to them as it says in the Proverbs of Solomon: “Whoever strives to uncover the majesty will be crushed by the glory.”

So it is not difficult to answer this question, but we should be very cautious about where we find those who can suffer and bear such an answer, that we do not lead children to this strong wine or give it to them to drink. Nature and reason cannot bear it, but they are terrified by it. Weak faith also cannot bear it. It is too offended by it. This is as Christ says in Matthew 9:17, “If anyone puts wine in old wine skins, the wineskins will burst and be ruined.” In the same way, this answer destroys these weak and rational people and it is beat down and despised. How should this then be? “New wine skins” – he says – “should hold the wine.” That is, when dealing with the judgment of God, we should renounce ourselves, until we are completely strong and secure. Otherwise any thoughts that we can write and say about it are futile and harmful.

Therefore it is my counsel, respected Lord, that you carefully consider with whom you discuss this matter, and who speaks about it. Decide if they should speak or be silent. If they are lofty, intelligent people of natural reason, they will avoid this question. But if they are simple, deeply spiritual and tested

people of faith, then there can be nothing more beneficial than to deal with these matters. For just as strong wine can be deadly to children, it can be a quickening of life for adults. Therefore one cannot discuss every doctrine with just anyone.

In order to now answer this question, we have very powerful passages stating that no one will or can be saved without faith. In Mark 16:16 Jesus says, “Whoever does not believe will be condemned,” and in Hebrews 11:6 it says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” John 3:6 states, “Whoever is not born anew of the Spirit and water cannot see the kingdom of God,” and in John 5:18, “Whoever does not believe is already judged.”

Now if God were to save someone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and make himself out to be a liar. Yes, he would be denying himself, and that is impossible. For, St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:13, “God cannot deny himself.” As impossible as it is for divine truth to lie, it is just as impossible for him to save someone without faith. This is clear, easy, and simple to understand, even if the old wine skins are reluctant to contain this wine – yes, they simply cannot hold it.

It would be a completely different question to ask whether God could grant faith to a few at the moment of their death or after death and thereby save them through faith. Who would doubt that he could do this? But no one can prove that he does do this. For we only read that he has already raised the dead and given them faith. No matter what he does, whether he grants faith or not, it is impossible for anyone to be saved without faith. Otherwise all preaching and the Gospel and faith itself would be futile, false, and deceptive, since the entire Gospel makes faith necessary.

It does not make sense when they conclude from the Psalm cited above that God will not stay angry forever, because the entire Psalm speaks of the various sufferings of the saints on earth as the words before it and after it, hence the entire context, prove. For those who are suffering always think that God has forgotten them and will be angry at them forever. And the saying of St. Paul in 2 Timothy 2:11, “God wants all men to be saved,” is not compelling, for in the preceding verses it says that God wants us to pray for people in all estates, to teach everyone and preach the truth, and to be helpful to everyone physically and spiritually. Because he commands this of us and wants us to do these things, St. Paul speaks the truth: it is God’s will that everyone be made well – for without his will it does not happen. But it does not follow from this that all people are saved. And if more verses are brought up on this point, they must be considered accordingly. Otherwise the providence and election from eternity, which St. Paul stresses so emphatically, would be brought to nothing.

These are the things that I wanted to write to you, respected Lord, out of love, and I ask you to not permit the high minded and flighty spirits to deal with these matters. Instead, as I said, let them consider Christ’s humanity, in order to teach them and strengthen them, until they have sufficiently matured. For how could the man Christ lead us to the Father if we ignore him and pass him by and with our own reason fly into heaven to examine God’s judgments? There is no better place than in Christ’s humanity to learn what is necessary for us to know, that he is our mediator, and that no one can come to the Father except through him. “I am the Gate; I am the Way” he said to Philip in John 14:6, when Philip asked about the Father apart from Christ. For “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him” Colossians 2:3. I hereby entrust you, respected sir, to God’s grace and offer my Christian service to you always.

Issued from Wittenberg on the Monday after the Assumption of Mary [August 18], 1522. Dr. Martin Luther.

Translated by Rev. William Wangelin of Hudsonville, MI

Well, that settles that: the universalists are too rational and so must be wrong and simply making things up. :wink:

Yep, Luther has spoken :wink:

And I can only think that Farrar was translating the quotation (perhaps from reading Petersen) without ever seeing the whole letter. He was just too decent and too honest to falsify - but I’m sure human enough to be sloppy. Oh well there are worse things a guy can do - but I’m sorry Rob Bell left with egg on his face :frowning:

I think if anything can be concluded from his statement, Luther could be considered at least agnostic/ hopeful wrt universalism. He doesnt discount the granting of post/ peri-mortem faith allowing salvation.

Hi Melchi –

When I’m searching for other information this letter keeps cropping up :confused: – which is why I’ve been posting about it :unamused: . I’ll tell you what I think is going on (because I have been puzzled by it – and it seems right to sift the sorts of evidence we are giving about the Universalist past).

It’s is only a translation that I’ve posted above – but if the translation of the whole letter is correct(ish) – the central issue of Luther’s argument is about election.

He’s clear that people with universalist leaning tender hearts are in error - because they rely on arguments from reason about what God could do – presumably given that God is both all good and all powerful – rather than what God actually does according to what is revealed in scripture (as Luther interprets it). For Luther faith challenges all of our limited rational understanding.

He’s clear that those passages in the Bible where God states his intention to save ‘all’ cannot mean ‘all people’ but people from all classes etc. because this is the only interpretation that fits the Pauline teachings on election (in his opinion).

This all seems to assume a doctrine of double predestination.

Again, he’s clear that those who are young in faith shouldn’t ponder the question of election to damnation deeply for they may be lead into resentment and thinking God unjust.

However, those who are stronger in faith according to Luther in this letter seem to be like those who show the ‘highest degree of faith’ in Luther’s answer to Erasmus in his ‘On the Bondage of the will’ (written in 1525 only three years after the letter in question)

“Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though he saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death.”

Back to the 1552 letter -but he does also say that it may be the God does grant faith to some after death – but we’ve no way of knowing this.

Inasmuch as he gives some intimation of a wider mercy – but heavily qualified - it is only as wide as a speculation that God may possibly save some after death by granting them faith if they are numbered among his elect – perhaps he is thinking of those numbered among the elect who have not heard the Gospel in this life. Other reformers were prepared to at least
consider this issue (Wycliffe and Zwingli for example)

So I think you are correct that he is holding out a very dim possibility of a wider mercy – but not something to be pondered as a source of hope; and if there is a wider mercy, it’s only for the elect - not to everyone.

Two other minor observations – Luther does have a pastoral concern. He appears to believe in double predestination like Calvin after him, although without the logical rigour. And unlike Calvin he is concerned that the full implications of double predestination do not break the faith of those who are not yet mature. (It’s ironic that Origen counseled reserve about the doctrine of restitution of all things, for fear that this might cause those who are not mature to stumble - Luther reverses the concerns)

Also – if UR and EU people want to look to a figure from the Reformation who may not have been a Universalist but sure did plenty to get the ball rolling, I reckon we should look to Luther’s sparring partner Erasmus.

That’s as un-puzzled as I can get on this one :confused: - any comments from anyone welcome!

All good wishes

Dick :slight_smile:

I think it’s amusing that the same tactic can be run the other way around as well: someone could just as well say that the highest faith is to believe in the mercy and love of God (just like Luthor recommends), and thus in God’s universal salvation of sinners from sin, despite Luthor’s appeal to what he believes is overwhelming scriptural evidence otherwise!–after all, he’s only using his human reasoning to judge what scripture is actually teaching. :stuck_out_tongue:

That isn’t a tactic I would ever recommend, but I wonder if anyone had the guts to point it out to Luthor.

Erasmus certainly made this point in his arguments with Luther – by arguing that what the Bible says is percolated through our human awareness which is always limited. So our doctrines are never fixed and final representations of objective truth. Therefore, for example, Erasmus’ take on the predestination and freewill conundrum was that the whole matter is beyond human understanding anyway, so to use predestination as the cornerstone of theology is foolish and vainglorious – and leads to conflict and schism and violence. By the same token, when he was arguing with Luther about freewill – as the case for the defense quoting lots of Origen – I think he was only concerned to open a space in which freewill theology could be seen as an acceptable option, but not the test of anyone’s Christian faith. Luther was having none of this of course.

However I don’t think anyone at this time would have argued with Luther in this way concerning universal salvation – well certainly not people he would have actually engaged in debate with. If anyone was shouting up for universalism at the time in the public square it was only some fairly marginal figures in the Anabaptist movement. Indeed I’ve recently read a book which theorizes that the accusation of universalism leveled at Anabaptists wholesale often had more to do with wanting to implicate them in believing in the salvation of Satan – and therefore with diabolism – than with their actual beliefs.

Funny old world

All the best

Dick :slight_smile:

Final thought about the letter - it was written two years after Origin became widely available in Merlin’s printed Latin translation. Luther’s argument against universalism is dismissive but his tone is not hysterical. It was written two years before the Peasants War and eight years before a sect of Anabaptist took over Munster - these two events lead to the demonization of universalism (although there is no evidence at all that universalism played any role in either).

Regarding the faulty translation - it appears in John Wesley Hanson’s ‘A Cloud of Witness’ which was published the year before Farrar’s ‘Mercy and Judgement’…so it appears that it originates with Hanson and that Farrar read Hanson’s ‘free translation’ . Och well :laughing: I’m getting very nerdy.