True Friendship

“Now I think the word amicus [friend] comes from the word amor [love], and amicitia [friendship] from amicus.  For love is a certain “affection” of the rational soul whereby it seeks and eagerly strives after some object to possess it and enjoy it.  Having attained its object through love, it enjoys it with a certain interior sweetness, embraces it, and preserves it.” Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship I. 19. trans. Mary Eugenia Laker (Kalamazoo, MI: 1977), pp. 54-55. [Italics in original]

Aelred wrote this dialogue on spiritual friendship as a Cistercian abbot in the twelfth century.  While he used Cicero’s Friendship as a primary source for his dialogue, he combined it with copious biblical citations.  In this work Aelred presents the nature of true friendship and its foundation: love.  Aelred explained:


“Furthermore, a friend is called a guardian of love or, as some would have it, a guardian of the spirit itself.  Since it is fitting that my friend be a guardian of our mutual love or the guardian of my own spirit so as to preserve all its secrets in faithful silence, let him, as far as he can, cure and endure such defects as he may observe in it; let him rejoice with his friend in his joys, and weep with him in his sorrows, and feel as his own all that his friend experiences.

Friendship, therefore, is that virtue by which spirits are bound by ties of love and sweetness, and out of many are made one.  Even the philosophers of this world have ranked friendship not with things casual or transitory but with the virtues which are eternal.  Solomon in the Book of Proverbs appears to agree with them when he says: ‘He that is a friend loves at all times,’ manifestly declaring that friendship is eternal if it is true friendship; but, if it should ever cease to be, then it was not true friendship, even though it seemed to be so.” Aelred, Spiritual Friendship I. 20-21. Ibid., p. 55. [Emphasis added]

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History Kindles the Desire for Honor

“I have often heard that Quintus Maximus, Publius Scipio, and other illustrious citizens of our state, used to say that the sight of their ancestors’ portrait-masks fired their hearts with an ardent desire to merit honour.  Obviously they did not mean that the actual mould of wax had such power over them, but that the memory of what others have accomplished kindles in the breasts of noble men a flame that is not quenched until their own prowess has won similar glory and renown.  In these degenerate days, however, one cannot find a man who does not seek to rival his ancestors in wealth and extravagance, instead of in uprightness and industry.  Even newcomers to politics, who formerly relied on merit to outstrip the nobility, now use underhand intrigue and open violence, instead of honourable means, in the struggle for military and civil power, as though a praetorship, a consulship, or any similar position, were something glorious and magnificent in itself–whereas, in reality, the respect in which such offices are held depends on the worth of those who uphold their dignity.”  Sallust, Chap. 1 in The Jugurthine War trans. S. A. Handford (London: Penguin, 1963), p. 37.  [Emphasis added]

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Principles over Passions

“To criticize a particular subject…a man must have been trained in that subject: to be a good critic generally, he must have had an all-round education.  Hence the young are not fit to be students of Political Science.  For they have no experience of life and conduct, and it is these that supply the premises and subject matter of this branch of philosophy.  And moreover they are led by their feelings; so that they will study the subject to no purpose or advantage, since the end of this science is not knowledge but action.  And it makes no difference whether they are young in years or immature in character; the defect is not a question of time, it is because their life and its various aims are guided by feeling; for to such persons their knowledge is of no use, any more than it is to persons of defective self-restraint.  But Moral Science may be of great value to those who guide their desires and actions by principle.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics I. iii. 5-7.  [Emphasis added]


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The Princess of the Whole Human Race

“Filius ita factus est homo, ut a spiritu sancto sine virili opera conciperetur et ex Maria pura, sancta, semper virgine nasceretur…”

Dass der Sohn sei also Mensch worden, das er vom heiligen Geist ohn männlich Zutun empfangen und von der reinen, heiligen Jungfrau Maria geporn sei…”

That the Son became man in this manner, that He was conceived, without the cooperation of man, by the Holy Ghost, and was born of the pureholy [and always] Virgin Mary.

Above are the Latin and German statements from Marin Luther’s Schmalkaldic Articles, Part I, article 4.  I have also provided the English translation (that combines the Latin with the German) above.  If one wants to engender a discussion among Lutherans quickly, then he or she should assert that this article concerning Mary’s perpetual virginity is a statement of a confession. For an excellent online discussion of this topic see

My goal here is not to debate the Semper Virgine statement, but to point toward some of Martin Luther’s fascinating proclamations regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Lucas Cranach-Virgin & child

“He [Jesus], indeed, was a genuinely true, natural human being, but not conceived or born in sin as all other descendants of Adam.  That is why his mother had to be a virgin whom no man had touched, so that he would not be born under the curse, but rather conceived and born without sin, so that the devil had no right or power over him. Only the Holy Spirit was present to bring about the conception in her virgin body.  Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we.  However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are.” Martin Luther, “First Sermon on The Day of Annunciation to Mary,” in The House Postils, vol. 3. ed. Eugene F.A. Klug (Grand Rapids 1996), p. 291.

Dr. Luther expressed the common understanding here that the Holy Spirit acted miraculously in Mary to keep original sin from affecting her Son, Jesus. The purpose of a purifying the Virgin was so that she could give birth to a pure God-man. Even if Luther did not explicitly affirm the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, he did assert that the Holy Spirit purified Mary in a special, miraculous manner. (On this issue see:

In a sermon on Mary’s visitation of Elizabeth, Luther emphasized St. Mary as an example of humility and chastity for all Christians, but especially for believing women.  Luther described Mary’s humility when he proclaimed:

She is the mother of God and the greatest of women in heaven and on earth.  She forgets all else, every good thing, and with truly humble heart sets out on her way, not ashamed to wash diapers, gently care for and bathe the infant John, and so on.  Such humility is truly something to behold.  It would have been fitting had someone provided her with a gold carriage to ride in, drawn by four thousand horses, with trumpets heralding the carriage’s coming proclaiming that the greatest of all women was approaching, the princess of the whole human race! But there was nothing like this, only silence…That is the first virtue, great humility.” Martin Luther, “First Sermon for the Day of Mary’s Visitation,” in The House Postils, vol. 3. ed. Eugene F.A. Klug (Grand Rapids 1996), p. 344. [Emphasis added]

Luther then explained the example of Mary’s chastity and proper, public decorum.  For example, she did not gossip or flirt, but instead performed humble tasks at the home of Elizabeth.  It’s clear Luther wanted to address certain public vices.  Finally, Luther explained:

“Mary’s example, therefore, should set a beautiful pattern for us to follow, though indeed we may be equally beautiful, learned, capable, wealthy, young, and strong.  We must certainly not exalt ourselves but be humble, willingly and diligently serving others.” Ibid., 346.







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The Show Must Go On

“Finally, make sure that your entire campaign is full of pomp, glamorous, eye-catching, and popular, that it has the maximum visibility and prestige.  Also, be sure if at all possible that your competitors acquire a bad reputation for vice, or lust, or bribery, depending on their character. Most of all, let it be clear in this election that the Republic respects you and has high hopes for your political future.  Still, do not try to deal with political issues in the midst of the campaign, neither in the Senate nor at a rally.” Quintus Cicero, Running for Office: A Handbook in Ancient Rome: An Anthology of Sources, trans. Christopher Francese and R. Scott Smith (Indianapolis 2014), p. 90. [Emphasis added]

Traditionally, this work is attributed to Quintus Cicero, the brother of the famous Marcus Tullius Cicero.  If the traditional attribution is correct, Quintus wrote this work as a letter to his brother Marcus in 64 BC as advice on how to win one of the significant political offices in the late Republic: quaestor, aedile, praetor, consul.   In fact, Marcus Cicero was elected to the consulship in 63 BC.  This present text gives practical (and sometimes cynical) advice on how to win in an election.


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Truth Makes Enemies

“Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:38   Regarding these words Dr. Luther stated the following:

“I do not know whether Pilate is being serious or whether he is mocking.  But in my understanding, I take what he says to be sheer mockery and a sarcastic way of speaking, for Pilate was a wise, shrewd Gentile.  Therefore, he looks down on Christ and say: ‘Hah! If You will concern Yourself with truth, then You are lost.  Complaisance makes friends; truth makes enemies.  If You are the kind of man who deals in truth, it is no wonder Duccio-Christ-before-Pilatethat You have been taken captive and led here bound.  If you want to live on earth, You must give up the truth.’ Thus I understand what he says to be a heathen jest, spoken with a shameless conscience.” Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 17-20, Luther’s Works, vol. 69, p. 216.   [Emphasis added]

The editors identified Luther’s quote of Terence’s Andria in the bold section from the quote above.  Truth simply isn’t popular among human beings therefore, those who tell the truth make their own enemies.


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He Scatters the Peoples Who Delight in War

“It is not right to start a war just because some silly lord has gotten the idea into his head. At the very outset I want to say that whoever starts a war in in the wrong.  And it is only right and proper that he who first draws his sword is defeated, or even punished, in the end.  This is what has usually happened in history.  Those who have started wars have lost them, and those who fought in self-defense have only seldom been defeated.  Worldly government has not been instituted by God to break the peace and start war, but to maintain peace and to avoid war….God tolerates no injustice and he has so ordered things that warmongers must be defeated in war.  As the proverb says, ‘No one has ever been so evil that he does not meet someone more evil than he is.’  And in Psalm 68: [30] God has the psalmist sing of him, ‘Dissipat gentes, quae in bella volunt,’ that is, ‘He scatters the peoples who delight in war.’ ” Martin Luther, Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, in Luther’s Works, vol. 46, p. 118.      [Emphasis added]Martin Luther-Cranach


“It is easy to start a fight, but we cannot stop the fighting whenever we want to.  What have all these innocent women, children, and old people, whom you fools are drawing with you into such danger, ever done to you?  Why do you insist on filling the land with blood and robbery, widows and orphans? Oh, the devil has wicked plans! And God is angry; he threatens to let the devil loose upon us and cool his rage in our blood and souls. Beware, dear sirs, and be wise! Both of you are equally involved! What good will it do you intentionally to damn yourselves for all eternity and, in addition, to bequeath a desolate, devastated, and bloody land to your descendants, when you still have time to find a better solution by repenting before God, by concluding a friendly agreement, or even by voluntarily suffering for the sake of humanity?  You will accomplish nothing through strife and violence.” Martin Luther, Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants in Swabia, in Luther’s Works, vol. 46, p. 42.

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Ruling the World Through Reading Books

“The world is indeed a sick thing; it is the kind of fur on which neither hide no hair is any good.  The healthy heroes are rare, and God provides them at a dear price.  Still the world must be ruled, if men are not to become wild beasts.  So things in the world in general remain mere patchwork and beggary; it is a veritable hospital, in which princes, lords, and all rulers lack wisdom and courage–that is, success and direction from God–even as the sick person lacks strength and power.  So here one must patch and darn and help oneself with the laws, sayings, and examples of the heroes as they are recorded in books.  Thus we must continue to be disciples of those speechless masters which we call books.” Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 101 [:1], in Luther’s Works, vol. 13, p. 164.  Cicero_opera1555

In this commentary Dr. Luther sought to advise the new ruler of Electoral Saxony on being a Christian prince.  John Frederick followed his father, John the Steadfast, as Elector of Saxony.  His support of the Reformation led to his military defeat to Emperor Charles V, subsequent imprisonment,  and loss of much of his territory.

Written in 1534, Dr. Luther advised the new prince on how to rule properly.  He drew upon biblical texts but also from ancient Greek and Roman writings.  Luther advises rulers to turn to the heroes of the past and to their wisdom.  After the statement recorded above, Luther continued:

“Yet we never do it as well as it is written there; we crawl after it and cling to it as to a bench or to a cane.  In addition, we also follow the advice of the best people who live in our midst, until the time comes in which God again provides a healthy hero or a wondrous man, in whose hand all things improve or at least fare better than is written in any book.” Ibid.

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Sallust on the Danger of Using Force

“Of these various paths to fame, it seems to me that the holding of civil and military posts, and indeed all political activities, are in these days the least desirable.  For the deserving do not obtain the honours of office; and the ill-deservers who do obtain them gain nothing thereby either in security or in true honour.  The use of force to rule one’s country or subjects – even if a man is in a position of power, and employs that power to right wrongs – is a perilous course: for it invites counter-measures, and any attempt at revolution is a certain forerunner of massacre, banishment, and other acts of warlike violence.  On the other hand, to struggle in vain against odds, and after exhausting efforts to gain nothing but hatred, is the height of folly – a folly that no one is likely to be guilty of, unless he is possessed by a dishonourable and fatal desire to sacrifice his own honour and freedom in order to increase the power of a set of oligarchs.” Sallust, Chap. 1 in The Jugurthine War trans. S. A. Handford (London: Penguin, 1963), p. 36. [Emphasis added]

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Dr Luther on the Soldier’s Obedience and Just War

“A second question: ‘Suppose my lord were wrong in going to war.’  I reply: If you know for sure that he is wrong, then you should fear God rather than men, Acts 4 [5:29], and you should neither fight nor serve, for you cannot have a good conscience before God.” Martin Luther, Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, in Luther’s Works, vol. 46, p. 130.

Knight,_Death_and_the_Devil Dr. Luther addressed the topic of just war and the soldier’s responsibility in this work in 1526.  War, similar to most periods in human history, played a central role in sixteenth century society.  The Peasants’ War had recently taken place, European monarchs continued to fight one another, and the Ottoman Turks moved northward into central Europe in the 1520s.  In this work Dr. Luther stated that being a soldier could be a legitimate vocation for a Christian under certain circumstances.  In the quote above, he specifically asserted that soldiers should not fight or serve for an unjust cause.  While Luther rejected the idea of a crusade or holy war, he did believe that temporal powers could wage just wars when necessary in this sinful world. (See:

In 1523 Dr. Luther had written similarly concerning this issue: “What if a prince is in the wrong? Are his people bound to follow him then too? Answer: No, for it is no one’s duty to do wrong; we must obey God (who desires the right) rather than men [Acts 5:29].” Martin Luther, Temporal Authority, in Luther’s Works, vol. 45, p. 125.

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