Little Journeys with Martin Luther

My church history professor at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, Eric W. Gritsch, first told me about the book, Little Journeys about Martin Luther. Written by William Nicholas Harley in 1916, and subtitled, “A Real Book wherein are printed divers Sayings and Doings of Dr Luther in these latter days when he applied for Synodical membership in the United States carefully set down In Writing at that time By Brother John of the Order of Poor Brethren, commonly known as Lutheran Pastors.”

It is a fanciful satire, in which the statue of Luther at Luther Memorial Church in DC comes alive, and Luther wanders the US looking for a synod that will accept him.

Here are a couple of samples. First, when he goes to the General Council in Pennsylvania:

“Brother Martin,” broke in another, “what do you think of those men who wear little aprons and pour oil and wine on corner-stones?”

“They are odd fellows,” replied Luther.

“No, I didn’t mean the Odd Fellows but it’s all the same. Where do you stand on the lodge question?”

Luther looked mystified, and the committee looked horrified.

“This question does not belong here,” said the lank examiner rising to his feet.

“We are more concerned for the thing itself than we are about the proper place for it,” the pastor with the close cropped mustache replied; “and, besides, it may have more to do with glorification than you are ready to concede. Brother Martin,” said he in a kind tone, turning to Luther, “a lodge is a secret society. This land teems with them As a rule they are oath-bound, are made up–”

“He who makes an unnecessary oath,” cut in Luther, “commits sin.”

“Are made up of believers and unbelievers, and have a form of worship. What say–”

“Have a care,” exclaimed Luther, “have a care that you do not give this tomfoolery and pretense the glorious name of divine service!”

“What say you to this?” the large man concluded.

“They worship a god of their own invention.”

“That is a hard saying,” snapped the tiny examiner. “Some noble men belong to these organizations, and they have done some fine things.”

“Everything that is outside of Christ, be it as fine and great as it may,” replied Luther, “is nothing but idolatry.”

“Now,” queried the pastor who had raised the question, “what would you say if a preacher were a member of–”

“Irrelevant now, entirely irrelevant,” piped my little Zacchaeus.

“Out of place here,” said the lank examiner.

“Not germane,” declared the chairman.

“What kind of theology is this?” Luther asked in a tone of indignation. “What kind of theology is this that will make no difference between the Word and no Word, between light and darkness?”

“Irrelevant here, entirely irrelevant here,” the little man piped again.

“Let’s close with prayer,” said the chairman with unseemly haste.

And when he goes to Missouri …

Luther, who had arrived the day before, had received the most assiduous attention on account of his learning, which, be it said to Missouri’s credit, the St. Louis men were not slow to perceive and appreciate. He was taken to the theological seminary, accompanied to several recitations, and, in short, all the treasures of Missouri were presented to his gaze, including those ever-to-be-revered relics, the desk of Dr. Walther and the long German tobacco- pipes with which he made the atmosphere blue and redolent when he wrote sermons or composed those matchless specimens of polite literature, the essays on predestination.* I am told Luther looked at the relics with disapproving mien; but when he learned the real status of the case, namely, that Walther, though sainted, is not canonized, he smiled, and assuming the air of one who had seen much of the world and held the present exhibition to be mere child’s play and hardly worthy of notice, said:

“When I was in Rome, they showed me, for a precious and holy relic, the halter with which Judas hanged himself!”

This was irritating and did much, I dare say, to prejudice his examiners when they heard of it.

And the footnote:

*It is said that when one of the younger Missourians has the dogma of predestination to defend, he stealthily steals to the Walther Museum and takes a few whiffs from one of the old pipes. But this is doubtless an invention worthy to be classed with the “pious frauds” of yore. It is more likely that the orthodox practice in this respect is limited to using the same brand of smoking-tobacco.

And an observation on an LCMS pastor:

The pastor was a large, austere-looking German, who carried a gold- headed cane, wore a silk hat, and strode along with an air that said, “der Herr Pastor!” at every other step, and at every intervening footfall, “Ich bin, Ich bin!” He was so overanxious to walk erect that he leaned backward–an attitude which all the Missouri clergymen assume in the realm of doctrine, for these good people make such a gigantic effort to be strictly orthodox that most of them lean the wrong way.

When Luther comes to Columbus, OH, the writer’s own synod, the members of the committee pick fault and complain about all the things they’ve heard about Luther and his interview disasters in other synods. When Luther comes in, their first question is whether he belongs to a secret society. The writer gives up then in disgust.

So, it is fun reading if you know Lutheran history and peculiarities–and unintelligible if you do not.🙂