The Seven-headed Dragon

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The Catholic theologian Johannes Cochlaeus (1479 – 1552) regarded Martin Luther as, among other things, a Seven headed Dragon, a child of the devil, possessed by the devil, and full of falsehood and vainglory.

From: The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther (Part One) By James Swan:

“Theologian, professor, pastor, and church reformer. Luther began the Protestant Reformation with the publication of his Ninety-Five Theses on October 31, 1517 (

He was certainly a controversial figure. While we know of his aversion for the church of Rome, I read somewhere that Martin Luther – the original Protestant – was no lover of the Anabaptists and Jews either. I hadn’t realized quite how unchristian he was toward them; it is disquieting to learn that the father of the Reformation – the Reformation from which issued the whole family of reform churches – was hardly the sort of chap these very churches would want in their pews, never mind their pulpits. One writer said –  in response to a blogger’s disquiet on learning of Luther’s excesses – that we shouldn’t be surprised at the paradoxes we find in Luther. Shock at his shortcomings betrays a naïve hero-worship soured by the reality of the fallen human condition. Any number of significant religious leaders have had their shortcomings (King David is a good example of the mixed bag we humans inevitably turn out to be); transgression isn’t a negation of the truth although it does spoil the show somewhat.

And unfortunately persecution has never been the preserve of only one denomination or creed: “Catholics have persecuted Protestants: Protestants have pursued Catholics: Lutherans have hunted Anabaptists; Episcopalians have burned Puritans; Puritans have hanged Quakers; Calvinists have tortured Unitarians, and all have united in persecuting the heroic Infidels who have refused to believe in any of the multifarious and conflicting creeds.”(Bennett RM.  The champions of the church: their crimes and persecutions. D.M. Bennett, 1878, p. 832)

Any historian worth his salt will tell you of course that you can’t sit in the (apparently) enlightened present passing judgment on a less than enlightened past. You have to inhabit the context, burrow deep into the narrative if you are to be more than a casual and self-righteous critic.

So let me not judge, but rather explore, set down a few established facts for the record as it were – in a blog few are likely to read anyway (and perhaps that’s for the best). why even write these obscure meditations, why set down these odd snippets of troubled and troubling religious history? Well partly it is just absolutely fascinating. In addition, I am interested in Christianity’s follies and pathologies (in the sense that Nathaniel Hawthorne examined the human soul under the Puritan yoke). But also, “to silence the voices” as my friend “MB” says. Perhaps, finally, to shore these fragments against my ruin (TS Eliot).

Martin Luther’s writings are rarely placid: “Pure devilry is urging on the peasants…Therefore let all who are able, mow them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous, noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel. You must kill him as you would a mad dog…” he wrote – see the references and citations that follow.

“The authorities must resolve to chastise and slay as long as they can raise a finger…It may be that those who are killed on the side of the authorities is really a martyr in God’s cause. A happier death no man could die. The present time is so strange that a prince can gain Heaven easier by spilling blood than by praying (Luther M. Against the Murderous and Rapacious Hordes of the Peasants, May 4, 1525-Erl, 24, 287, ff. As cited in O’Hare PF. The Facts About Luther, p. 232).

“I, Martin Luther, slew all the peasants in the rebellion, for I said that they should be slain; all their blood is upon my head. But I cast it on the Lord God, who commanded me to speak this way (Werke, Erl. Edition, lix, p. 284 ‘Table Talk’ as quoted in Stoddard JL. Rebuilding a Lost Faith, 1922, p.96).

“It is reported that 100,000 perished at that time. The persecution of the Anabaptists by the “Reformed ” Church is another dark stain upon the character of the Reformation…but no mere belief ever deserved torture. They had one redeeming trait, however—the rejection of Lutheranism and the authority of Luther. This was their chief crime, although their rejection of infant baptism, and their protest against any other form of baptism but by immersion, was an argument which weighed heavily against them with the Lutherans, and one to be suitably answered only by extermination. Lutherans hated the Anabaptists and condemned them for believing that Jesus would return and reign on the earth for 1,000 years (Revelation 20) and for holding other biblical doctrines.”(

There is a valuable insight into Catholic views on Luther both past and present at

and his views on the Jews at

“Be on your guard against the Jews, knowing that wherever they have their synagogues, nothing is found but a den of devils in which sheer self-glory, conceit, lies, blasphemy, and defaming of God and men are practiced most maliciously and veheming his eyes on them.”

Source: Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (1543)

They are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury. Thus they live from day to day, together with wife and child, by theft and robbery, as arch-thieves and robbers, in the most impenitent security.”

Source: Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (1543)

” … Eject them forever from this country.For, as we have heard, God’s anger with them is so intense that gentle mercy will only tend to make them worse and worse, while sharp mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, in any case, away with them!”

Source: Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (1543)

“What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice: First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly – and I myself was unaware of it – will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know. Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God. Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor Jews captive with the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 17 [:10 ff.]) in which he commands them to obey their teachers on penalty of death, although Moses clearly adds: “what they teach you in accord with the law of the Lord.” Those villains ignore that. They wantonly employ the poor people’s obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy. Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let they stay at home. Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess. Such money should now be used in no other way than the following: Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God’s blessing in a good and worthy cause. Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3:19). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.”

Source: Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (1543)

Other sources:

Was Luther Anti-Semitic?

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