During the Middle Ages there was a superstitious regard for fourteen saints as the “defenders from all evils.” They were called the fourteen of consolation, and silver tablets with their images were placed above the altars in the churches. Spiritual comfort became a matter of gaining (through prayers and penitential works) the protection of these saints for they were revealed—in a vision to a Franconian shepherd—to have power over diseases and evils of various kinds.
When Frederick the Wise was stricken in 1519 with a serious illness from which there seemed little hope of recovery, an Augustinian at Wittenberg, brother Martin Luther, served as his intercessor by preparing a little treatise of spiritual comfort which he called The Fourteen of Consolation. As over against the medieval saints Luther substituted fourteen other defenders and arranged them artificially as an altar tablet, only, instead of this being of silver, it is constructed of the Word of God. Here in this area of pastoral care Luther just as radically departed from medieval superstition and works-righteousness as he did in every other area of church life. Instead of offering pastoral comfort by appealing to the saints, Luther brings to his patient the Word of God in all its truth and purity. And a living Word it is, sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting in order to cure, hurting in order to heal, and slaying in order to make alive!
Modern Magic Rites
It is a curious little treatise, curious to an age in which the passwords to life are motivational research, interpersonal relationships, and togetherness. One must realize, of course, that one may lose entré into the select coterie by not reading the latest issues of the sociological and psychiatric journals. ...1
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