1546 | Eisleben

In the Same Boat

Martin Luther sees both sides.

Anno 1546, a case in law was related to Luther: That a miller had an ass, which ran out of his yard and came to a riverside, where he went into a fisherman’s boat that stood in the river to drink.

But inasmuch as the boat was not tied fast by the fisherman, it floated away with the ass, so that the miller lost his ass, and the fisherman his boat. The miller thereupon complained that the fisher, neglecting to tie his boat fast, had lost him his ass. The fisherman complained of the miller for not keeping his ass at home and desired satisfaction for his boat. Nunc sequitar quid sit juris? Now it is a query: What is the law? Took the ass the boat away, or the boat the ass? Whereupon Luther said, “These are called casus in jure: ambo peccaverunt, i.e., they were both were in error, the fisherman in that he tied his boat not fast, the miller in not keeping his ass at home. There is a fault on both sides. Such cases and examples wave the rigor of the lawyers, for the extreme rigor is not to be exercised, but only equity. All things are to be governed by equity. And so divines ought to preach, that they neither bind nor loose men.”

Color portrait of German theologian and reformer Martin Luther.

Martin Luther

From Table Talk. No proof exists that the theology professor nailed ninety-five theses to a church door in Saxony in 1517, though his decision to mail his argument against indulgences to an archbishop did lead to the Protestant Reformation, and after his death in 1546, his body was interred in the church where he had allegedly done so. In another anecdote from this posthumously published collection, a depressed Luther tells his tablemates, “I am like a ripe shit, and the world is a gigantic asshole. We will both probably let go of each other soon.”