Fighting the Devil with Ink

 In Living in Germany, Personal Stories

Wartburg Castle

Built almost a thousand years ago, Wartburg Castle stands perched on a mountaintop in Germany’s Thuringian Forest. Today the castle welcomes daily tours through its Romanesque chambers, but five hundred years ago this citadel housed dukes and counts and Martin Luther who lived undercover in a small wooden room as enemies outside this refuge tried to destroy his reputation and his life.

The main palace of Wartburg was built in the 1100s—a mixture of sandstone, timber, and plaster to withstand battle and the brutal winds and storms. The view from the top is majestic—miles of rolling hills ablaze with autumn orange, yellow, and red.

No war ever touched this castle—at least not a war between countries or medieval states.

A very real battle ensued there in 1521 after the pope excommunicated Luther for speaking against indulgences the Catholic Church sold to cover sin. Luther was declared “Vogelfrei” which meant he’d been stripped of all human rights.

On the run for his life, a friend kidnapped Luther and secretly took him to the castle for protection. For the next ten months, he considered Wartburg his “island of Patmos.” His prison. His wasteland.

Luther was plagued by physical ailments, depression, and temptation during these ten months. His famous quote from 1521 was: “I fought the devil with ink,” and artists captured this phrase by painting Luther throwing his well at the devil, splattering ink across the castle wall.

But those of us who love writing know the devil was probably not after his inkwell. He was trying to suffocate Luther’s creativity. Question his abilities. Drain his energy. Stifle his words.

In spite of his suffering, Luther learned Hebrew and Greek during his castle stay. He wrote thirteen essays on Catholicism and Christianity. And he translated the complete New Testament into German—the translation still used in Germany today.

Five hundred years ago, Wartburg witnessed a battle stronger than a hundred armies charging its stone wall. Martin Luther fought against the vicious spirits of darkness who determined they didn’t want Germans to read God’s Word.

Even as the world forgets the German victories and defeats during other medieval wars, the Wartburg victory has lasted through the centuries. In his tiny castle room, Martin Luther fought the devil with his inkwell. And the ink won.

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  • Vennessa

    Wow. What a beautiful castle and fascinating history!

    Thanks for sharing, Melanie.

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