Martin Luther on Beer: A Historical Perspective
by Ted Tschopp
The Theological Brew: Reflections and Quotes on Beer and Moderation
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned the following letter of Martin Luther to a friend of mine after drinking some beer that disagreed with us. Last night we went out for some more beer, and he brought the letter up again. I told him to check my blog and I would post the text of the letter. I figured I might as well, cross post this to several of my blogs.
I have also added a couple other quotes about beer that I thought were also good.
During the summer of 1534 Luther and some of his friends twice visited the court at Dessau in order to give spiritual counsel to the sovereign Joachim of Anhalt, who at that time was seriously ill and was experiencing great spiritual struggles. During his second visit to Dessau Luther wrote this personal note to his wife. He tells first of the pending return of Melanchthon, and of the necessity for his own continued stay in Dessau. Then he informs his wife that “yesterday” he drank something which did not agree with him, and asks his wife to send him his whole wine-cellar and some of her homebrewed beer, because otherwise the beer at Dessau, to which he is not accustomed, would make him totally unable to return home. He concludes by commending his household to God.
To my kind, dear lord, Lady Catherine von Bora, Mrs. Doctor Luther, at Wittenberg
Grace and peace in Christ! Dear Sir Katie! I know of nothing to write to you since Master Philip, together with the others, is coming home. I have to remain here longer for the devout Sovereign’s sake. You might wonder how long I shall remain here, or how you might set me free. I think that Master Francis will set me free, just as I freed him—but not so soon.
Yesterday I drank something which did not agree with me, so that I had to sing: If I don’t drink well I have to suffer, and [yet] I do like to do it. I said to myself what good wine and beer I have at home, and also [what] a pretty lady or (should I say) lord. You would do well to ship the whole cellar full of my wine and a bottle of your beer to me here, as soon as you are able; otherwise I will not be able to return home because of the new beer.
With this I commend you to God, together with our young ones and all the members of our household. Amen.
July 29, 1534
The Man whom you Love
Martin Luther, Doctor
Katie must have been quite a woman. Not only did she ship him the beer, but Martin also mentions her beauty and calls her his lord.
Table Talk No. 394: Prenatal Baptisms Are Ridiculed December, 1532
“… Besides, the Word is the principal part of baptism. If in an emergency there’s no water at hand, it doesn’t matter whether water or beer is used.”
Baptised by beer, that must be what makes us Lutherans so different. I think we finally put our finger on it.
Table Talk No. 3483: Why Does the First Drink Taste Best? Between October 27 and December 4, 1536
“How is it that the first drink from a tankard tastes best? Perhaps it’s on account of sin, because our flesh and our lips are sinful.”
I thought this was an interesting quip. In the fact that our flesh and lips are sinful they lie to us before the first bottle is drunk by telling us how great beer tastes. Then on the second and third bottle they lie to us and tell us how bad it tastes. Ahhh, to drink beer without sinful lips and flesh. I look forward to the day.
Sermon on Soberness and Moderation against Gluttony and Drunkenness, 1 Peter 4:7-11, May 18, 1539
God does not forbid you to drink, as do the Turks; he permits you to drink wine and beer: he does not make a law of it. But do not make a pig of yourself; remain a human being. If you are a human being, then keep your human self-control. Even though we do not have a command of God, we should nevertheless be ashamed that we are thus spit upon by other peoples. If you want to be a Christian, do not argue in this way: Nobody reproaches me, therefore God does not reproach me. So it has been from the time of Noah. And so it was with the Sodomites, who wanted to rape the angels; they were all so drunk they could not find the door. Sodom and Gomorrah perished because of a flood of drunkenness; this vice was punished. God does not tolerate such confusion and inordinate use of his creatures [i.e., food and drink].
I thought this was important to include. Here Luther uses the term Turk to refer to the Islamic laws. It should be noted that in Christianity there are very few Thou Shalt Not’s. Almost everything is permitted. Even when something is forbidden, such as the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God always provides a way out. The message of Christianity is not a set of rules on how to appear holy. Christianity is the message that a Holy God has made sinful people Holy. Christianity is not about what one does or doesn’t do. It is about what was done because I could not do what was asked of me.