Luther On the Importance of Educating Children

In volume 46, page 251 of Luther's Works, we find Luther giving a sermon on the duty we owe our fellow human society in providing our capable sons with a classical liberal education so that at least some may become pastors, leaders, and good citizens. I couldn't help also applying his basic argument in this regard to the sin of preventing of these servants of God from even being conceived in the first place. Here is Luther:

You ought also to know the harm that you are doing if you take the opposite course. If God has given you a child who has the ability and the talent for this office, and you do not train him for it but look only to the belly and to temporal livelihood, then take the list of things mentioned above and run over the good works and miracles noted there, and see what a pious hypocrite and unproductive weed25 you are. For so far as it is up to you, you are depriving God of an angel, a servant, a king and prince in his kingdom; a savior and comforter of men in matters that pertain to body and soul, property and honor; a captain and a knight to fight against the devil. Thus you are making a place for the devil and advancing his kingdom so that he brings more souls into sin, death, and hell every day and keeps them there, and wins victories everywhere; the world remains in heresy, error, contention, war, and strife, and gets worse every day; the kingdom of God goes down to destruction, along with Christian faith, the fruits of the suffering and blood of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the gospel, and all worship of God; and all devil worship and unbelief get the upper hand. All of this need not have happened and could have been prevented, things could even have been improved, if your son had been trained for this work and entered it.

Suppose God were to address you on your deathbed, or at the Last Judgment, and say, “I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, and you rendered me no service. For in that you have not done it to people on earth and to my kingdom or gospel, but have helped put them down and allowed men’s souls to perish, you have done this to me. For you could have helped. I gave you children and material means for this purpose, but you wantonly allowed me and my kingdom and the souls of men to suffer want and pine away—and you thereby served the devil and his kingdom instead of me and my kingdom. Well, let him be your reward. Go with him now into the abyss of hell. You have not helped to build but to weaken and destroy my kingdom in heaven and on earth; but you have helped the devil to build and increase his hell. Live, therefore, in the house that you have built!”26

How do you think you will stand then? You will not be tainted by little drops of sin, but inundated by whole cloudbursts of it—you who now give no heed but just go nonchalantly along as if you were doing well in keeping your child from an education. But then you will have to say that you are justly condemned to the abyss of hell as one of the most odious and vile men who ever lived. Indeed, if you were to consider these things even now, while you are living, you would be truly horrified at yourself. For no conscience can bear to be found guilty of even one of the things that have been mentioned; how much less can it bear it if suddenly all these things, more than can be numbered, fall on it all at once? Your heart will then have to cry out that your sins are more than the leaves and the grass, indeed, greater than heaven and earth; and you will say with Manasseh, king of Judah, “The sins I have committed are more in number than the sands of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied” [Pr. of Man. 9]. Even the law of nature tells you that he who is able to prevent injury but does not do so is guilty of the injury because he certainly desired and willed it and would have inflicted it himself if he had had occasion or opportunity. These people, therefore, are certainly no better than the devil himself because they are so angry with both God and the world that they help to ruin both heaven and earth, and serve the devil faithfully. In a word, if we cannot adequately denounce the devil, neither can we adequately denounce these people who hinder the work and office of God, for they are the devil’s servants.

In saying this I do not mean to insist that every man must train his child for this office, for it is not necessary that all boys become pastors, preachers, and schoolmasters. It is well to know that the children of lords and other important people are not to be used for this work, for the world also needs heirs, people without whom the temporal authority would go to pieces.27 I am speaking of the common people, who used to have their children educated for the sake of the livings and benefices but now keep them away from learning to earn a livelihood. Even though they need no heirs they keep their children out of school, regardless of whether the children have the ability and talent for these offices and could serve God in them without privation or hindrance. Boys of such ability ought to be kept at their studies, especially sons of the poor, for all the endowments and revenues of the foundations and monasteries are earmarked for this purpose. In addition, though, other boys as well ought to study, even those of lesser ability. They ought at least to read, write, and understand Latin, for we need not only highly learned doctors and masters of Holy Scripture but also ordinary pastors who will teach the gospel and the catechism28 to the young and ignorant, and baptize and administer the sacrament. That they may be incapable of doing battle with heretics is unimportant. For a good building we need not only hewn facings but also backing stone. In like manner we must also have sacristans and other persons who serve and help in relation to the office of preaching and the word of God.

Even though a boy who has studied Latin should afterward learn a trade and become a craftsman, he still stands as a ready reserve in case he should be needed as a pastor or in some other service of the word. Neither will such knowledge hurt his capacity to earn a living. On the contrary, he can rule his house all the better because of it, and besides, he is prepared for the office of preacher or pastor if he should be needed there. It is especially easy in our day to train persons for teaching the gospel and the catechism because not only Holy Scripture but also knowledge of all kinds is so abundant,29 what with so many books, so much reading, and, thank God, so much preaching that one can learn more now in three years than was formerly possible in twenty. Even women30 and children can now learn from German books and sermons more about God and Christ—I am telling the truth!—than all the universities, foundations, monasteries, the whole papacy, and all the world used to know. Ordinary pastors, however, must be able to use Latin. They cannot do without it any more than scholars can do without Greek and Hebrew,31 as St. Augustine says32 and canon law even prescribes.33

But you say, “Suppose things turn out badly and my son becomes a heretic or a knave? As they say, ‘The learned are daft.’ ”34 Well, you have to take that chance. Your diligence and labor will not be lost. God will have regard for your faithful service and count it as though it had turned out well. You simply have to take the chance as you would in any other occupation for which you might train your son. How was it with the good Abraham? His son Ishmael did not turn out well; neither did Isaac’s son Esau, or Adam’s son Gain. Should Abraham therefore have given up training his son Isaac, or Isaac his son Jacob, or Adam his son Abel for the service of God? How many bad kings and people there were among the holy and chosen nation of Israeli With their heresies and idolatries they brought on all kinds of trouble and killed all the prophets. Ought Levi the priest to have let the whole nation go on that account, and no longer trained anyone for the service of God?

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