Luther on Pride of Students

“We have many students here who are so full of knowledge after they have been in Wittenberg half a year that they suppose they are more learned than I am. When they go out into the country to other people, their knowledge breaks out like a cloudburst. It seems to weigh a hundred pounds, but if you put it on a scale, it would only weigh an eighth of an ounce. That is what pride does. They have learned only a word or two, or they have heard a single word. Then this becomes pure Adam, all flesh, so that they all apply their knowledge to achieving some pre-eminence [sic].” Martin Luther, “Commentary on Psalm 26,” in Luther’s Works vol. 12, p. 189.

Humility lays the foundation for true learning in the Christian and classical tradition. Many students learn a small amount and become puffed up in their knowledge. Luther points toward this example of how pride and ambition leads down a path toward destruction. Pride based on knowledge, especially knowledge of some basic theology, is a dangerous vice. It can lead to heresy. As Luther explained: “Other bodily vices are so coarse that we feel them, but this one can always adorn itself with the honor of God and give the impression it has God’s Word on its side.” Ibid., p. 188.

About Dr. Matthew Phillips

My name is C. Matthew Phillips and I am an Associate Professor of History at Concordia University, Nebraska. I completed my Ph.D. in medieval European history at Saint Louis University in 2006. My research has focused on medieval monasticism, preaching, devotion to the True Cross, and the Crusades. Additionally, I have interests in medieval and early modern European education and the writings and life of Martin Luther.

At Concordia I teach World Civilization I, World Civilization II, Europe Since 1914, Early and Medieval Christianity, Renaissance and Reformation, The Medieval Crusades, The History of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, and The Modern Middle East.


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