16

Did Martin Luther ever say these quotes? If he did, then since he didn't speak English, what were his original words. Is this translation correct (close enough)?

Martin Luther quote from AZ Quotes

The prosperity of a country depends, not on the abundance of its revenues, nor on the strength of its fortifications, nor on the beauty of its public buildings; but it consists in the number of its cultivated citizens, in its men of education, enlightenment and character.

Attributed to Martin Luther on AZ QUOTES

BTW, in Chinese there is a even more incorrect version that Martin Luther King said those words (these Chinese words in the picture below are literally translated from the English words above).

I think you can easily guess the reason why we Chinese made this mistake.

Martin Luther King

I am pretty sure Martin Luther King didn't say that or anything related to that. But can someone also confirm that?

11
  • 2
    It sounds like something much later than the early sixteenth century to me, and indeed more belonging to the era and idiom of Martin Luther King than to him, whose name he bore. The so-called "European enlightenment" comes after the Reformation.
    – WS2
    Dec 27, 2022 at 6:58
  • 1
    @WS2 Since this quote was used in the book Character, by Samuel Smiles (citing Martin Luther directly) first published in 1871, it is unlikely to have come from someone born 58 years later. Dec 27, 2022 at 10:35
  • 1
    @MarkJohnson I will argue that this error may not be caused by search engines but the fact that once some of us see Martin Luther they just assume it is about Doctor King. Dec 27, 2022 at 11:00
  • 1
    @MCW yes I did. But I don't know German so I have to ask it. I know Doctor King better than Martin Luther and that was why I said I am pretty sure Doctor King didn't say that. But I am Chinese so I could be wrong. Dec 27, 2022 at 12:23
  • 1
    Another source of the confusion may be that King's most famous and frequently quoted speech follows a similar construction and sentiment, only applied to individual people rather than nations: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." It's possible he was deliberately referencing his namesake there by using similar wording. Dec 27, 2022 at 14:21

2 Answers 2

38

Yes, he did write that. Easily verifiable when going ad fontes, as real historians should always do.

That is: the language presented in the quote is thoroughly modernised, and thus mangled into simplicity and adapted to the less well-educated. Indeed, so much so, that the ductus used is so modernised that it resembles more Dr King's language than the original Luther's. That is of course perfect for the internet, where people are content with little and dumb down so easily as to accept the most ludicrous arguments and reasons as the truth. Which is of course quite the irony, once you know the source for this and its intent.

Further, the essence is perfectly captured and the translation follows Luther's own philosophy when translating the bible: not a perfectly philological translation, but a communicative one — using words the audience understands, like also employed in the paraphrasic Living Translation

The original reads in Luther's own sixteenth-century German:

Scan from the letter as published back then

Darumb wills hie dem Rad und der oberkeyt gepüren / die aller groessesten sorge und fleys auffs iunge volck zu haben. Denn weyl der gantzen stad / gutt / ehr / leyb und leben / yhn zu trewer hand befohlen ist / so thetten sie nicht redlich fuer Gott und der welt / wo sie der stad gedeyen und besserung nicht suchten mit allem vermuegen / tag und nacht.

Nu ligt eyner stad gedeyen nicht alleyne darynn / das man grosse schetze samle / feste mauren / schoene heusser / viel buechsen und harnisch zeuge /
Ja wo des viel ist / und tolle narren drueber komen / ist so viel deste erger / und deste groesser schade der selben stad.

Sondern das ist einer stad bestes und aller reichest gedeyen / heyl und krafft / das sie viel feyner gelerter / vernuenfftiger / erbar / wolgezogener burger hatt / die kuenden darnach wol schetze / und alles gut samlen / hallten und recht brauchen.

Slightly modernised German:

Darum will's hie dem Rat und der Oberkeit gebühren, die allergrößesten Sorge und Fleiß aufs junge Volk zu haben. Denn weil der ganzen Stadt Gut, Ehr, Leib und Leben ihn' zu treuer Hand befohlen ist, so täten sie nicht redlich vor Gott und der Welt, wo sie der Stadt Gedeihen und Besserung nicht suchten mit allem Vermögen Tag und Nacht.

Nun liegt einer Stadt Gedeihen nicht alleine darin, daß man große Schätze sammle, feste Mauern, schöne Häuser, viel Büchsen und Harnisch zeuge. Ja, wo des viel ist und tolle Narren drüber kommen, ist soviel deste ärger und deste größer Schaden derselben Stadt. Sondern das ist einer Stadt bestes und allerreichest Gedeihen, Heil und Kraft, daß sie viel feiner, gelehrter, vernünftiger, ehrbar, wohlgezogener Burger hat. Die könnten darnach wohl Schätze und alles Gut sammeln, halten und recht brauchen.

Which might be translated with this time more formal linguistic equivalence as:

Therefore, it is the duty of the council and the authorities to have the greatest care and diligence for the young people. For since the whole city's goods, honour, life and limb are entrusted to their faithful care, they would not be doing honestly for God and the world if they did not seek the city's prosperity and improvement with all their might day and night.

Yet the prosperity of a city does not lie solely in the collection of great treasures, solid walls, beautiful houses, and much muskets and armour. Indeed, where there is much of this, and mad fools come upon it, so much the worse and the greater is the damage to the same city. Rather it is the best and most abundant prosperity, salvation and strength of a city that it has many fine, learned, sensible, honourable, well-raised citizens. They would then be able to collect, hold and properly use treasures and all goods.

This is from the so called Ratsherrenbrief of 1524, in German: "An die Radherrn aller stedte deutsches lands: das sie Christliche schulen auffrichten vnd hallten sollen" in which Luther wrote to all councils in Germany urging them to found and fund Christian schools for all its young inhabitants.

This can be found in the 'Works of Luther', a critical edition collection numbering 120 volumes, not just a very poor collection of net quotes…

The full source should be cited in correct modern format as:

— Martin Luther: "An die Radherrn aller stedte deutsches lands: das sie Christliche schulen auffrichten vnd hallten sollen", Cranach und Döring: Wittemberg, 1524.

Source for scan: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek BSB (page 16 of the PDF file). Source for modernized German version: glaubensstimme.de or checkluther.com (slightly edited, original source unknown). An alternative modernized German version can be found in the Calwer Luther-Ausgabe, Band 4, page 160. An alternative modern English translation can be found at checkluther.com.

11
  • 4
    +1. The original original reads yet slightly different, or at least the orthography is different: dilibri.de/stbwodfg/content/titleinfo/1513482 , p. 15 of the downloadable pdf
    – Jan
    Dec 27, 2022 at 12:16
  • 2
    Hi thanks for the answer, I have accepted it. But is the meaning " going ad fontes" (your first sentence)though ? Dec 27, 2022 at 12:26
  • 2
    @Qiulang邱朗 to means 'to the source'
    – justCal
    Dec 27, 2022 at 13:07
  • 3
    Your "dumb-asses on the Internet" argument is a bit overstated. If all you're offered is gruel, that's all you'll consume. Dec 27, 2022 at 19:01
  • 2
    I was bold and suggested an edit to your answer to fix a misspelling and tweak the translation very slightly to (IMO) get the original sense more clearly across in English. That said, my German (and especially my 16th century German) isn't nearly as fluent as my English, so please feel free to revert any changes you disagree with. (Also, I left the translation of wohlgezogen alone for now, despite the suggestion made by @Hobbamok above, since my German isn't good enough to verify its appropriateness.) Dec 28, 2022 at 20:00
2

In this collection of 453 quotes (21 pages in German) from Martin Luther | zitate.eu, none of them reflected your quote.

A second source collection, pages 5-33, also does not contain this quote. Evangeliums.net - Christliche Zitate & Sprüche Datenbank


A realistic translation from Google Translate:

The prosperity of a country depends, not on the abundance of its revenues, nor on the strength of its fortifications, nor on the beauty of its public buildings; but it consists in the number of its cultivated citizens, in its men of education, enlightenment and character.

Der Wohlstand eines Landes hängt weder von der Fülle seiner Einnahmen noch von der Stärke seiner Befestigungen noch von der Schönheit seiner öffentlichen Gebäude ab; aber sie besteht in der Zahl ihrer gebildeten Bürger, in ihren gebildeten, aufgeklärten und charaktervollen Männern.


I am pretty sure Martin Luther King didn't say that or anything related to that. But can someone also confirms that?

The book Character, by Samuel Smiles - Project Gutenberg, first published in 1871, does use this quote (Chapter 1) giving Martin Luther as their source.

4
  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But it certainly is not a popular quote in German and unless there is a proper source given (where exactly is he supposed to have said this?) it is very very suspicious.
    – Jan
    Dec 27, 2022 at 8:43
  • @Jan The second source does cite a source for a small amount of their quotes, but most are not. Dec 27, 2022 at 8:49
  • @Jan yes I know I was not rigorous enough when I said that. But I did know Martin Luther King better than Martin Luther. And also all I can google Martin Luther quotes much easier. Dec 27, 2022 at 9:36
  • At least you answer confirmed Martin Luther King didn't say that! Thanks! Dec 27, 2022 at 9:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.