To the Assembly of the Common Peasantry

On November 18, 2012 by admin

Thomas Müntzer (spring 1525)

On False And Unlimited Power, Which One Is Not Obliged To Obey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the popes, emperors, kings, etc. who puff themselves up in their own estimation

above other pious poor Christians, claiming to be a better kind of human – as if their lord-ship

and  authority  to  rule others were innate – do  not want to  recognize that they  are God’s

stewards and officials. And they do not govern according to his commandment to maintain

the common good and brotherly unity among us. God has established and ordained authority

for this reason alone and no other. But rulers who want to be lords for their own sake are all

false rulers and not worthy of the lowest office among Christians. For God alone wants to be

lord and he says in Deuteronomy 12 [:11], “You shall keep my commandment in your hand

like a measuring rod according to which you shall judge – straight ahead, not deviating either

to the left or to the right.” The same point is made in Job 5 [:8].

 

Therefore whichever prince or lord invents and sets up his own self-serving burdens

and commands, rules falsely, and he dares impudently to deceive God, his own lord. Where

are you, you werewolves, you band of Behemoths, with your financial tricks which impose

one burden after another on the poor people? This year a labour service is voluntary; next year

it becomes compulsory. In most cases this is how your old customary law has grown.

In what”dementia” or “camouflage” did God, your lord, give you such power that we poor people

have to cultivate your lands with labour services? But only in good weather, for on rainy days

we poor people see the fruits of our sweat rot in  the fields. May God, in his justice, not

tolerate the terrible Babylonian  captivity  in  which  we poor people are driven  to mow the

lords’ meadows, to make hay, to cultivate the fields, to sow flax in them, to cut it, comb it,

heat it, wash it, pound it, and spin it – yes, even to sew their underpants on their arses. We

also have to pick peas and harvest carrots and asparagus.

 

Help us, God! Where has such misery ever been heard of! They tax and tear out the

marrow of the poor people’s bones, and we have to pay interest on that! Where are they, with

their hired murderers and horsemen, the gamblers and whoremasters, who are stuffed fuller

than  puking  dogs? In addition, we poor people have to  give them taxes, payments, and

interest. And at home [they assume that] the poor should have neither bread, salt, nor lard for

their wives and small children. Where are they, with their entry fines and heriot dues? Yes,

damn their disgraceful fines and robber’s dues! Where are the tyrants and raging ones, who

appropriate taxes, customs, and user fees and waste them so shamefully and wantonly and

lose what should go into the common chest or purse to serve the needs of the territory.

And nevertheless no one can turn up his nose at them, or he is immediately treated

like a treacherous rogue – put in the stocks, beheaded, quartered! He is shown less pity than a

mad dog.

 

Did  God  give them such  power? On the peak  of what monk’s cowl is it written?

Indeed, their authority is from God. But so remotely  that they  have become the devil’s

soldiers and Satan is their captain. Yes, they have been truly rejected, being enemies in their

own territory. And what about their serfdom? Damn their unchristian, heathen nature. How

they torture us poor people! We are the spiritual serfs of the clergy and the bodily serfs of the

secular powers. Help  us, eternal God! What great unchristian misery  and murder is being

done to your property, which your only-begotten son, lord of heaven and earth – and lord of

this band  of Behemoths – purchased  at such  a high  price with  his bitter death! Put these

Moabites and this band of Behemoths as far behind you and as far away [as you can]. This is

God’s greatest pleasure. And  how little there will be prayed  for! If one of their village

officials wanted to impose anything on the poor in his own self-interest, they would depose

him with  a harsh  punishment. The princes and  lords themselves deserve nothing  less for

making self-serving commandments, which are outside the common good and unserviceable

for brotherly unity.

 

Do not let yourselves be led astray and blinded to any degree because every day the

authorities endlessly repeat what the apostle Peter says in I Peter 2 [:18]: “You should  be

submissive to your lords, even if they are rogues,” etc. In truth, the sword [of Scripture] cuts

sharply on both sides, and until now they have fought masterfully with it. But we want to see

how Tileman [a foolish man], confuses divine Scripture again, and the wolf so cleverly puts

on  sheep’s clothing. Truly, truly, St. Peter’s view means something  very  different; for

according to their interpretation, we would have to deliver our pious wives and children to

them, so that they could satisfy their lust with them.

 

The basic cause and  source of the whole confederation  of the Swiss was the

unlimited, tyrannical power of the nobility  and  of other authorities. For daily, with their

unchristian, tyrannical rape, they did not spare the common man, but forced and compelled

him contrary  to  all equity. And  this grew out of their pride, blasphemous power, and

enterprise. Their rule had to be abolished and rooted out through great war, bloodshed, and

use of the sword, as is indicated in the Swiss chronicles and in many other reliable histories

and  writings. The conclusion  of this pamphlet talks a bit about this. The lords were also

allowed to murder pious and upright people for hunting a hare, and they did similar things

because of their perverted minds. Indeed, such a Babylonian captivity has tightly confined us.

But the primary responsibility for it rests with the authority which saw itself as, and

boasted  of being, “spiritual.” Indeed, it was lustful! The bishops were sheep-biters. The

sheepdogs of the parish  themselves tore apart the good  lambs, which  they  were supposed

faithfully  to  tend  and  protect. In  this way  the werewolves [tyrannical secular authorities]

joined them in falling violently on the good sheep. For a long time now they have tended the

sheep according to their pleasure and to their heart’s content, and – I should surely say it –

have made monkeys of the sheep.

 

God can and will no longer tolerate this great misery and wantonness, which is now

found everywhere. May God enlighten his poor lambs through divine grace and, with true

Christian faith, and protect them against these ravaging wolves. And he will not enlighten the

lambs in the form in which the pernicious and cursed vermin copulate with each other – “If

you help me, I will help you.” Look, is it not a lamentable plague that they market divine

Scripture in  such  a miserable and  shameful way, [insisting] so  strictly  and  without any

foundation on obedience to their roguish commands? In truth, there is a great remedy [for

what they  do], namely  none other than  divine Scripture – according to  which  they should

judge and administer, strictly adhering to justice and without deviation.

 

In sum, the Latin word discolus in this passage of St. Peter’s letter [i.e. I Pet. 2:18]

can in no way be translated as “rogues,” as they jabber; rather it means “a coarse, uncouth or

angry person, who may also be very pious at the same time.” For David says in Psalm 4 [:5],

“Be angry, but sin not.” And St. Peter mentions here only servants. They should faithfully serve

their  lords. Even  if their lord  is upset and  angry  with them, they should serve him no less

faithfully despite this. If they  do  not, they  cannot excuse themselves for taking  their wage without

earning it. They should leave his service instead. That would be the Christian way to live.

And even if this text of Peter had the meaning which they blabber about, that “rogues” should

be obeyed, it is still in the sense of divine commandments.

 

In sum, the basis of St. Peter’s whole epistle is directed only to God’s honor, brotherly

fidelity, and unity. The selfish rogues boast that they follow these commandments. Indeed,

they follow them as werewolves do good lambs!

——————————————

Thomas Müntzer was an early Reformation era German theologian who became a rebel leader during the German Peasant’s War of the 1520s. He turned against Martin Luther with several anti-Lutheran writings, and supported the Anabaptists. In the Battle of  Frankenhausen Müntzer and his followers were defeated. He was captured, tortured and decapitated.

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