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
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.