Luther: “Opinion Concerning the Baptism done by Women in the Pain of Childbirth”, 1542.
I finally found the original quote that got me going on this while I was still in seminary. Charles Porterfield Krauth
refers to this on pages 431-432 of his “The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology”. In the Erlangen edition, what Krauth says is a joint statement by Luther and Bugenhagen appears to be only by Luther. Krauth says that this was appended to Bugenhagen’s exposition of the 27th Psalm. In the American Edition of Luther’s Works, the editor says that the “Comfort for Women who have Had a Miscarriage” was published with Bugenhagen’s exposition. The Erlangen edition of Luther’s Works (published in the mid 1800s) claims that what follows below was joined with 3 or 4 other “Bedenken” of Luther connected with emergency baptism in previous editions of Luther’s works. I haven’t been able to find this in the Weimarer Ausgabe (the most recent scholarly compilation of Luther’s writings) yet.
At any rate, besides dealing with infant faith and baptism, I think the way Luther deals with this here has a lot of implications–particularly for the role of prayer in his theology, but also in terms of theological method and for pastoral care. Note the concern: that the Word not be ignored or twisted, and also that we be assured that Christ knows how to grant His grace to little children when He has promised, without speculating about how He will do it.
Finally note the way that this upholds the necessity of Baptism. “A man must be born of water and the Spirit.” I always struggled with this passage; “unless a man is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Yet the NT tells us elsewhere that we receive the Holy Spirit through hearing the Word with faith (Galatians 3). Instead of adding caveats to Jesus’ statement in John 3, Luther affirms it, and then says, “Jesus who promised that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to little children knows well enough how to give grace to little children who have not been born again by water and the Spirit (since they have not been born once).”
Thus, Luther’s way of addressing the faith of unborn and unbaptized babies actually upholds the necessity of Baptism, where the attempt to find comfort in the baby’s having heard the word in church tends to de-emphasize baptism. Of course one comes to faith by hearing the Word before baptism–like the thief on the cross. Yet to be a Christian is to be baptized, to live in one’s baptism. Baptism is the means of rebirth. Our lives as Christians are a continual living out of the one baptism we received, Luther says elsewhere.
But that’s for another time.
I included the German at the end, so that if someone wants to correct my translation I would be happy to have them do it.
Luther, Saemmtliche Werke (Erlangen Edition), Band 64, pp. 316-322
25. (p. 318)
Thoughts concerning (Bedenken) the Baptism which is done by women in the distress of childbirth
When it happens to a woman who is in the pain of childbirth that the fruit of her womb may not wholly come forth from her, but instead only an arm, or some other member comes out, one should not baptize that part of the body, with the idea that through this the whole child were baptized.
Much less should one baptize a baby that is still stuck in his mother’s body and is not able to come out, so that one would pour water over the mother’s body, etc. Because that is wrong and not consistent with divine Scripture, which clearly reveals in the words of Christ in John 3 (verse 3), where he says this concerning Baptism: that it is there that a man is born a second time, etc.
Therefore if a little child is to be baptized and so become born another time, thus is it of necessity that it be first born once and come into the world, which has not happened when only a single member has come forth from its mother.
So now all of us (which are there) should at all times hold the rule of Christ: “A man must be born again,” etc., and kneel down, say our prayer in faith, and our Lord God petition, that He would let this little child participate in His suffering and death, and so not doubt, that He will well know how to do to the child according to His divine grace and mercy.
Therefore, because the child has been brought to Christ through our earnest prayer, and such prayer has been spoken in faith, so what we pray is heard by God and certain before Him, and He gladly has received the little child, as He Himself said in Mark 10 (verse 14): Let the little children come to me, and do not prevent them, because such is the kingdom of heaven. So we should hold, therefore, that the little child, even though it has indeed not received the true baptism, nevertheless is not therefore lost.
Bedenken von der Taufe, so von Weibern in der Noth geschieht. 1542.
Wenn sichs (?) zutraegt mit einer Frauen, die in Kindsnoethen gehet, das die Frucht nich mag gaenzlich von ihr kommen, sonder allein ein Arm, oder ander Glied erfur kompt, so soll man dasselbige Glied nich tauefen, in Meinung, also ob dadurch das ganze Kindlin getauft sei.
Viel weniger soll man nein Kind, so noch in Mutterleib stecket und von ihr nich kommen mag, taugen; alos, dass man wollte ueber der Mutter Leib Wasser Giessen, und wo eiter. Denn dass solchs unrech and goettlicher Schrift ungemaess ist, erscheinet klaerlich aus den Worten Christi Johann 3 (v. 3), da er von der Taufe also spricht,: Es sei den, dass der Mensch anderwelt geboren werde, und so weiter.
Darumb soll nu ein Kindlin getauft, und also anderweit geborn werden, so ist vonnoethen, dass es vor einmal geborn und auf die Welt kommen sei, welchs nicht geschicht, so nur ein einiges Glied aus der Mutter erfur kompt.
So sollen nu wir (die dabei sind) alleweg die Regel Christi halten: Es sei denn, dass der Mensch anderweit geborn werde usw., and niederknien, unser Gebet im Glauben sprechen, und unsern Herrn Gott bitten, dass er wolle solch Kindlin sieines Leidens und Sterbens theilhaftig lassen werden, und also nicht zweifeln, er werde es nach seiner goettlichen Gnade und Barherzigkeit wohl wissen zu machen.
Darumb, dieweil das Kindlin durch unser ernstlich Gebet zu Crhisto gebracht, und solch Gebet im Glauben gesprochen ist, so ist es bei Gott gewiss und erhoeret, was wir bitten, une er es gern annimpt, wie er selbs Marc 10 (v. 14) spricht: Lasset die Kindlin zu mir kommen, und wehret ihnen nicht, denn solcher ist das Himmelreich. So sollen wir es dafur halten, dass das Kindlein, ob es wohl die rechte Taufe nicht erlanget, darumb nicht verloren ist.
- Verbum Dei in Utero, Part 3 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Verbum Dei in Utero part 2 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Verbum Dei in utero part 1 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Luther: The Faith of Unbaptized Infants (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- How Babies In the Womb Are Saved According to Wittenberg Theology (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Hymn: Ich bin getauft in Christi Blut (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Luther: The Faith of Unbaptized Infants (nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com)