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The “ Letter to the Mayors and Aldermen of All the Cities of Germany,” which follows almost in its entirety, is translated from the Leipzig edition of Luther's works. It was written in the early years of the Protestant movement, and exhibits in more than one passage the fierce energy of a strong nature engaged in a struggle of life or death. But in spite of its outbursts of rude polemic energy, we cannot fail to recognize the breadth of view, solidity of judgment, and excellence of recommendation, that make it an educational document of great importance. It is the first great contribution of Protestantism to the science and art of education — the beginning of the movement that has given Europe and America its public schools.
SELECTION FROM MARTIN LUTHER.
LETTER TO THE MAYORS AND ALDERMEN OF ALL THE CITIES
OF GERMANY IN BEHALF OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS.
First of all, we see how the schools are deteriorating throughout Germany. The universities are becoming weak, the monasteries are declining, and, as Isaiah says, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it,” through the Gospel. For through the word of God the unchristian and sensual character of these institutions is becoming known. And because selfish parents see that they can no longer place their children upon the bounty of monasteries and cathedrals, they refuse to educate them. “Why should we educate our children,” they say, “if they are not to become priests, monks, and nuns, and thus earn a support?
1 For a complete presentation of Luther's pedagogy, the author' may be permitted to refer to his “ Luther on Education" (Lutheran Publication Society, Philadelphia), which contains a translation and systematic review of nearly all that the reformer wrote on the subject.
The hollow piety and selfish aims of such persons are sufficiently evident from their own confession. For if they sought anything more than the temporal welfare of their children in monasteries and the priesthood, if they were deeply in earnest to secure the salvation and blessedness of their children, they would not lose interest in education and say, "if the priestly office is abolished, we will not send our children to school.” But they would speak after this manner: “If it is true, as the Gospel teaches, that such a calling is dangerous to our children, teach us another way in which they may be pleasing to God and become truly blessed; for we wish to provide not alone for the bodies of our children, but also for their souls.” Such would be the language of faithful Christian parents.
It is no wonder that the devil meddles in the matter, and influences groveling hearts to neglect the children and the youth of the country. Who can blame him for it? He is the prince and god of this world, and with extreme displeasure sees the Gospel destroy his nurseries of vice, the monasteries and priesthood, in which he corrupts the young beyond measure, a work upon which his mind is especially bent. How could he consent to a proper training of the young ? Truly he would be a fool if he permitted such a thing in his kingdom, and thus consented to its overthrow; which indeed would happen, if the young should escape him, and be brought up to the service of God.
Hence he acted wisely at the time when Christians were educating and bringing up their children in a Christian way. Inasmuch as the youth of the land would have escaped him thus, and inflicted an irreparable injury upon his kingdom, he went to work and spread his nets, established such: monasteries, schools, and orders, that it was not possible for a boy to escape him without the miraculous intervention of God. But now that he sees his snares exposed through
the word of God, he takes an opposite course, and dissuades men from all education whatever. He thus pursues a wise course to maintain his kingdom and win the youth of Germany. And if he secures them, if they grow up under his influence and remain his adherents, who can gain any advantage over him? He retains an easy and peaceful mastery over the world. For any fatal wound to his cause must come through the young who, brought up in the knowledge of God, spread abroad the truth and instruct others.
Yet no one thinks of this dreadful purpose of the devil, which is being worked out so quietly that it escapes observation; and soon the evil will be so far advanced that we can do nothing to prevent it. People fear the Turks, wars, and floods, for in such matters they can see what is injurious or beneficial; but what the devil has in mind no one sees or fears. Yet where we would give a florin to defend ourselves against the Turks, we should give a hundred florins to protect us against ignorance, even if only one boy could be taught to be a truly Christian man; for the good such a man can accomplish is beyond all computation.
Therefore I beg you all, in the name of God and of our neglected youth, not to think of this subject lightly, as many do who do not see what the prince of this world intends. For the right instruction of youth is a matter in which Christ and all the world are concerned. Thereby are we all aided. And consider that great Christian zeal is needed to overcome the silent, secret, and artful machinations of the devil. (If we must annually expend large sums on muskets, roads, bridges, dams, and the like, in order that the city may have temporal peace and comfort, why should we not apply as much to our poor, neglected youth, in order that we may have a skilful schoolmaster or two?
It is indeed a sin and shame that we must be aroused and incited to the duty of educating our children and of considering their highest interests, whereas nature itself should move us thereto, and the example of the heathen affords us varied instruction. There is no irrational animal that does not care for and instruct its young in what they should know, except the ostrich, of which God says, "She leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in the dust; and is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers.” And what would it avail if we possessed and performed all else, and became perfect saints, if we neglect that for which we chiefly live, namely, to care for the young? In my judgment there is no other outward offense that in the sight of God so heavily burdens the world, and deserves such heavy chastisement, as the neglect to educate children.
Parents neglect this duty from various causes. In the first place, there are some who are so lacking in piety and uprightness that they would not do it if they could, but, like the ostrich, harden themselves against their own offspring, and do nothing for them. In the second place, the great majority of parents are unqualified for it, and do not understand how children should be brought up and taught. In the third place, even if parents were qualified and willing to do it themselves, yet on account of other employments and household duties, they have no time for it, so that necessity requires us to have teachers for public schools, unless each parent employ a private instructor.
Therefore it will be the duty of the mayors and councils to exercise the greatest care over the young. For since the happiness, honor, and life of the city are committed to their hands, they would be held recreant before God and the world, if they did not day and night, with all their power, seek its welfare and improvement. Now the welfare of a
city does not consist alone in great 'treasures, firm walls, beautiful houses, and munitions of war; indeed, where all these are found, and reckless fools come into power, the city sustains the greater injury. But the highest welfare, safety, and power of a city consist in able, learned, wise, upright, cultivated citizens, who can secure, preserve, and utilize every treasure and advantage.
Since, then, a city must have well-trained people, and since the greatest need, lack, and lament is that such are not to be found, we must not wait till they grow up of themselves; neither can they be hewed out of stones nor cut out of wood; nor will God work miracles, so long as men can attain their object through means within their reach. Therefore we must see to it, and spare no troubl pense to educate and form them ourselves. For whose fault is it that in all the cities there are at present so few skilful people except the rulers, who have allowed the young
to grow up like trees in the forest, and have not cared how 1 they were reared and taught? The growth, consequently,
has been so irregular that the forest furnishes no timber for building purposes, but like a useless hedge is good only for fuel.
Yet there must be civil government. For us, then, to permit ignoramuses and blockheads to rule when we can prevent it, is irrational and barbarous. Let us rather make rulers out of swine and wolves, and set them over peoples who are indifferent to the manner in which they are governed. It is barbarous for men to think thus: “ We will now rule; and what does it concern us how those fare who shall come after us?” Not over human beings, but over swine and dogs should such people rule, who think only of their own interests and honor in governing. Even if we exercise the greatest care to educate able, learned, and skilled rulers, yet much care and effort are necessary in