Martin Luther’s Galloping Pen

“I am in such haste that my pen has had to gallop, and I have no time for more. God willing, I shall soon be there.” That’s what the outlawed professor Martin Luther wrote to his noble protector, Duke Frederick of Saxony, near the end of February in 1522.

The Wartburg in winter

Since early December, Luther had been working on a German translation of the New Testament in his hiding-place in the Wartburg Castle. His plan was to return to his friends in Wittenberg with the completed manuscript. During the short days and long nights of winter Luther worked furiously as news of various disturbances in Wittenberg reached him.  When he had first begun the task, he hoped to finish the translation by Easter.

Like any writer with a massive project underway, Luther must have paused at times to calculate wearily how much he had written and how much he had yet to write.

At what point, I wonder, did Luther realize that at his current pace he would finish the translation well before Easter? At what point did he set himself a new deadline for completing the manuscript?

For Luther desperately wanted to get back to Wittenberg to address his wayward flock — and the ideal time for the words he had in mind was the penitential season of Lent.

On March 5, shortly after leaving the Wartburg, Luther sent another message to Duke Frederick: “I have written this letter in haste so that Your Grace may not be disturbed at hearing of my arrival . . .”  The letter is dated “Ash Wednesday, 1522.”

Within days the writer and his completed translation did indeed arrive in Wittenberg, where Luther’s pen began galloping across the pages of the sermon he intended to preach in the Town Church on the first Sunday of Lent.

Wittenberg in spring