The Elector Frederick the Wise'
famous dream the night before Oct 31. 1517.
We step a moment out of the domain of
history, to narrate a dream which the Elector Frederick of Saxony had on the night
preceding the memorable day on which Luther affixed his "Theses" to the door of
The elector told it the next morning to his
brother, Duke John, who was then residing with him at his palace of Schweinitz, six
leagues from Wittenberg. The dream is recorded by all the chroniclers of the time. Of its
truth there is no doubt, however we may interpret it. We cite it here as a compendious and
dramatic epitome of the affair of the "Theses," and the movement which grew out
On the morning of the 31st October, 1517,
the elector said to Duke John,
"Brother, I must tell you a dream
which I had last night, and the meaning of which I should like much to know. It is so
deeply impressed on my mind, that I will never forget it, were I to live a thousand years.
For I dreamed it thrice, and each time with new circumstances."
Duke John: "Is it a good or a bad
The Elector: "I know not; God
Duke John: "Dont be uneasy at
it; but be so good as tell it to me."
The Elector: "Having gone to bed last
night, fatigued and out of spirits, I fell asleep shortly after my prayer, and slept
calmly for about two hours and a half; I then awoke, and continued awake to midnight, all
sorts of thoughts passing through my mind. Among other things, I thought how I was to
observe the Feast of All Saints. I prayed for the poor souls in purgatory; and supplicated
God to guide me, my counsels, and my people according to truth. I again fell asleep, and
then dreamed that Almighty God sent me a monk, who was a true son of the Apostle Paul. All
the saints accompanied him by order of God, in order to bear testimony before me, and to
declare that he did not come to contrive any plot, but that all that he did was according
to the will of God. They asked me to have the goodness graciously to permit him to write
something on the door of the church of the Castle of Wittenberg. This I granted through my
chancellor. Thereupon the monk went to the church, and began to write in such large
characters that I could read the writing at Schweinitz. The pen which he used was so large
that its end reached as far as Rome, where it pierced the ears of a lion that was
crouching there, and caused the triple crown upon the head of the Pope to shake. All the
cardinals and princes, running hastily up, tried to prevent it from falling. You and I,
brother, wished also to assist, and I stretched out my arm; but at this moment I
awoke, with my arm in the air, quite amazed, and very much enraged at the monk for not
managing his pen better. I recollected myself a little; it was only a dream.
"I was still half asleep, and once
more closed my eyes. The dream returned. The lion, still annoyed by the pen, began to roar
with all his might, so much so that the whole city of Rome, and all the States of the Holy
Empire, ran to see what the matter was. The Pope requested them to oppose this monk, and
applied particularly to me, on account of his being in my country. I again awoke, repeated
the Lords prayer, entreated God to preserve his Holiness, and once more fell
"Then I dreamed that all the princes
of the Empire, and we among them, hastened to Rome, and strove, one after another, to
break the pen; but the more we tried the stiffer it became, sounding as if it had been
made of iron. We at length desisted. I then asked the monk (for I was sometimes at Rome,
and sometimes at Wittenberg) where he got this pen, and why it was so strong. The
pen, replied he, belonged to an old goose of Bohemia, a hundred years old. I
got it from one of my old schoolmasters. As to its strength, it is owing to the
impossibility of depriving it of its pith or marrow; and I am quite astonished at it
myself. Suddenly I heard a loud noise a large number of other pens had sprung
out of the long pen of the monk. I awoke a third time: it was daylight."
Duke John: "Chancellor, what is your
opinion? Would we had a Joseph, or a Daniel, enlightened by God!"
Chancellor: "Your highness knows the
common proverb, that the dreams of young girls, learned men, and great lords have usually
some hidden meaning. The meaning of this dream, however, we shall not be able to know for
some time not till the things to which it relates have taken place. Wherefore,
leave the accomplishment to God, and place it fully in his hand."
Duke John: "I am of your opinion,
Chancellor; tis not fit for us to annoy ourselves in attempting to discover the
meaning. God will overrule all for his glory."
Elector: "May our faithful God do so;
yet I shall never forget, this dream. I have, indeed, thought of an interpretation, but I
keep it to myself. Time, perhaps, will show if I have been a good diviner."5
So passed the morning of the 31st October,
1517, in the royal castle of Schweinitz. The events of the evening at Wittenberg we have
already detailed. The elector has hardly made an end of telling his dream when the monk
comes with his hammer to interpret it
St. Peter warns us about that roaring lion
Satan who walketh about seeking whom he may devour. Luther's pen was about to give him a
mighty blow. (I St. Peter 5:8).
Huss, the Bohemian Reformer was the goose. Huss was burned at the stake, but he
predicted that within a hundred years a swan would arise that they would not be able to
burn. Luther loved to portray himself as that swan.
Excerpted from History of Protestantism,
Vol. I. by Dr. J.A. Wylie.
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