Martin Luther on Holydays
It is well known that most Lutherans have always retained as part of their service to God both the Lord's day instituted by Christ as well as most of the major "holy days" instituted by the Papists. The practice is inconsistent with the principles laid down in the Formula of Concord which asserts,
We believe, teach, and confess that in time of persecution, when a plain [and steadfast] confession is required of us, we should not yield to the enemies in regard to such adiaphora, as the apostle has written Gal. 5,1: Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage. Also 2 Cor. 6,14: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, etc. For what concord hath light with darkness? Also Gal. 2,5: To whom we gave place, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might remain with you. For in such a case it is no longer a question concerning adiaphora, but concerning the truth of the Gospel, concerning [preserving] Christian liberty, and concerning sanctioning open idolatry, as also concerning the prevention of offense to the weak in the faith [how care should be taken lest idolatry be openly sanctioned and the weak in faith be offended]; in which we have nothing to concede, but should plainly confess and suffer on that account what God sends, and what He allows the enemies of His Word to inflict upon us.
Here, in the Epitome's fourth affirmation in chapter 10, we have a clear affirmation that when the enemy of the Gospel has commanded an observation as moral duty, sinful to neglect, the Christian should STAND FAST in the liberty wherewith Christ has made him free, by defending his Christian Liberty through an open dissent from that practice or profession imposed by the enemies of the Gospel. Certain it is that the entire liturgical year, with Christ-Mass, Ishtar, Good-friday, &c. is all one big idolatrous chain of bondage imposed by no authority but that of Antichrist. It cannot be said that Lutherans keep these days without evidencing a definite respect for the impositions of Antichrist. Were the celebration of Christ's advent kept in accordance with Christian Liberty, even setting aside Presbyterian principles of worship, that day of celebration would at least be appointed on a day far different from that ordained by Rome. Likewise, what reason can there possibly be for celebrating Christ's Resurrection on a particular day in the year, let alone the same day as the Pope, when it is certain, as well as taught by all Lutherans, that the Lord's Day was appointed for the weekly celebration of Christ's Resurrection. From these observations we may conclude, that even without respect for Presbyterian / Reformed Principles of Worship which deny that such ecclesiastical holydays may be classified as adiaphora, Lutheran principles at least condemn the Pope's holydays and thus condemn also the celebration of all holydays on those days appointed by the Pope, lest the observance of those days fail to distinctly declare our liberty from the laws of Antichrist and thus become a sinful and shameful failure on our part to stand fast as Christ's freemen. Sadly however, Lutherans cannot say that they "would not give place, no, not for an hour," but have for nearly 500 years given place to Rome, and sanctioned her idolatry.
Dr. Luther however, was one strongly opposed to the idolatry of Rome, whereby, through so many invented rites, consciences were ensnared and imposed upon by the laws of men. The following quotes taken from his "Treatise on Good Works" and his Letter "to The Christian Nobility of the German Nation," both written in 1520, evidence his holy hostility to Rome's holidays.
This first comment is taken from his "Treatise of Good Works" and refers to the duties of the third commandment, or the second commandment as Lutherans and Papists would have it. Here Luther identifies the heinous breach of that commandment, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," involved in all holydays put to use for that purpose for which they are almost always used, namely: idleness, amusement, and the sins which Luther himself lists. Is it not ungodly how all of the world makes use of a day supposedly appointed to serve God, that they may serve their bellies and their own amusements, all under the pretense of "keeping holy day" and "remembering Jesus"? Certainly, Christians at least should seek the abolishing of such holydays whereby God's name is taken to call for a day of amusement.
The first works of this Commandment are plain and outward, which we commonly call worship, such as going to mass, praying, and hearing a sermon on holy days. So understood there are very few works in this Commandment; and these, if they are not done in assurance of and with faith in God's favor, are nothing, as was said above. Hence it would also be a good thing if there were fewer saint's days, since in our times the works done on them are for the greater part worse than those of the work days, what with loafing, gluttony, and drunkenness, gambling and other evil deeds; and then, the mass and the sermon are listened to without edification, the prayer is spoken without faith.
Secondly, the following comment, taken from the same source. Here Luther, in discussing the fourth commandment (or third) again complains thatALL HOLYDAYS EXCEPT THE LORD'S DAY must be abolished. Because the institution of holydays merely gives all excuse to neglect their work for a day, thus leaving all to idle their time away, which they abuse through many vices, therefore all should be put to work, to keep them from their sins, to leave them less occasion to sin, and to promote the welfare of society spiritual and temporally.
XVII. Spiritually understood, this Commandment has a yet far higher work, which embraces the whole nature of man. Here it must be known that in Hebrew "Sabbath" means "rest," because on the seventh day God rested and ceased from all His works, which He had made. Genesis ii. Therefore He commanded also that the seventh day should be kept holy and that we cease from our works which we do the other six days. This Sabbath has now for us been changed into the Lord's day1, and the other days are called work-days; the Lord's day is called rest-day or holiday or holy day. And would to God that in Christendom there were no holiday except the Lord's day; that the festivals of Our Lady and of the Saints were all transferred to the Lord's day; then would many evil vices be done away with through the labor of the work-days, and lands would not be so drained and impoverished. But now we are plagued with many holidays, to the destruction of souls, bodies and goods; of which matter, much might be said.
In this third comment, Dr. Luther complaining of the degraded government of the Church, asserts that of ecclesiastical order, all that is left is a few fast-days and feast-days, which, according to Luther, "had better be done away with." So likewise at this day, "Christianity" has for most people become nothing but a toy made up of a few "holydays" used as an opportunity to prostitute the Truth of God to the pleasures of men in order to make them feel religious and spiritual as if they were Christians because they observed a few days of which God has said nothing, by performing rites that God has condemned. In our day as well as in Luther's, both the spiritual and temporal authority would serve God best by abolishing these so-called holydays and commanding men to concern themselves with the Truth of the Gospel and not the outward show of human ceremonies.
Now with regard to this work, things are almost worse than with regard to the first. The spiritual authority should punish sin with the ban and with laws, and constrain its spiritual children to be good, in order that they might have reason to do this work and to exercise themselves in obeying and honoring it. Such zeal one does not see now; they act toward their subjects like the mothers who forsake their children and run after their lovers, as Hosea ii. says; they do not preach, they do not teach, they do not hinder, they do not punish, and there is no spiritual government at all left in Christendom.
What can I say of this work? A few fast-days and feast-days are left, and these had better be done away with. But no one gives this a thought, and there is nothing left except the ban for debt, and this should not be. But spiritual authority should look to it, that adultery, unchastity, usury, gluttony, worldly show, excessive adornment, and such like open sin and shame might be most severely punished and corrected; and they should properly manage the endowments, monastic houses, parishes and schools, and earnestly maintain worship in them, provide for the young people, boys and girls, in schools and cloisters, with learned, pious men as teachers, that they might all be well trained, and so the older people give a good example and Christendom be filled and adorned with fine young people. So Paul teaches his disciple Titus, that he should rightly instruct and govern all classes, young and old, men and women. But now he goes to school who wishes; he is taught who governs and teaches himself; nay, it has, alas! come to such a pass that the places where good should be taught have become schools of knavery, and no one at all takes thought for the wild youth.
This fourth comment, the last which I take from his "Treatise of Good Works," Luther condemns both the hypocrisy and vanity of the religious practices of his day. Much "spiritual finery" is to be found in empty holidays commanded by men, but there is no spiritual value or use in them because they are "not commanded" by God. Likewise, these are mere such things as can be and are performed by some of the most profane men that ever lived. The same place where holidays prevail, so do all of the vices listed by Luther below, yea, with respect to holidays, often they will be found in the same place on the same day by the same people.
II. Behold how this precious, excellent work has been lost among Christians, so that nothing now everywhere prevails except strife, war, quarreling, anger, hatred, envy, back-biting, cursing, slandering, injuring, vengeance, and all manner of angry works and words; and yet, with all this, we have our many holidays, hear masses, say our prayers, establish churches, and more such spiritual finery, which God has not commanded.
Fifthly and lastly, this quote, cited in other reformed works against holydays, I cite in full, lest any accuse me of being dishonest. It is taken from Luther's letter "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation," and again emphasizes the wicked abuses of holydays, which, having no moral obligation behind them, should rather be abolished than allowed to continue as occasions of sin and blind devotion or will-worship, which is condemned by the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Colossians.
18. All festivals should be abolished, and the Lord's day alone retained. If it were desired, however, to retain the festivals of our Lady and of the major saints, they should be transferred to the Lord's day, or observed only by a morning mass, after which all the rest of the day should be a working day. Here is the reason: since the feast days are abused by drinking, gambling, loafing, and all manner of sin, we anger God more on holy days than we do on other days. Things are so topsy-turvy that holy days are not holy, but working days are. Nor is any service rendered to God and his saints by so many saints' days. On the contrary, they are dishonoured; although some foolish prelates think that they have done a good work if each, following the promptings of his own blind devotion, celebrates a festival in honour of St. Otilie or St. Barbara. But they would be doing something far better if they honoured the saint by turning the saint's day into a working day.