Little Hans Receives Letter from Father, Martin Luther

WITTENBERG, GERMANY — Last Thursday, Hans Luther, four-year-old son of Dr. Martin Luther, received a special letter from his father. Hans’ tutor, Jerome Weller, had written to Dr. Luther to inform him of his son’s good progress in his lessons. In response, Dr. Luther wrote the following to Hans:

GRACE and peace in Christ, my dear little son.

I hear with great pleasure that you are learning your lessons so well and praying so diligently. Continue to do so, my son, and cease not. When I come home I will bring you a nice present from the fair.

I know a beautiful garden, where there are a great many children in fine little coats, and they go under the trees and gather beautiful apples and pears, cherries and plums; they sing and run about and are as happy as they can be. Sometimes they ride on nice little ponies, with golden bridles and silver saddles. I asked the man whose garden it is, ‘What little children are these?’ And he told me, ‘They are little children who love to pray and learn and are good.’ When I said, ‘My dear sir, I have a little boy at home; his name is little Hans Luther: would you let him come into the garden, too, to eat some of these nice apples and pears, and ride on these fine little ponies, and play with these children?’ The man said, ‘If he loves to say his prayers and learn his lessons, and is a good boy, he may come; Lippus and Jost also; and when they are all together, they can play upon the fife and drum and lute and all kinds of instruments, and skip about and play with little crossbows.’ He then showed me a beautiful mossy place in the middle of the garden for them to skip about in, with a great many golden fifes and drums and silver crossbows. The children had not yet had their dinner, and I could not wait to see them play, but I said to the man: ‘My dear sir, I will go away and write all about it to my little son Hans, and tell him to be fond of saying his prayers, and learn well and be good, so that he may come into this garden; but he has a grand-aunt named Lehne, whom he must bring along with him.’ The man said, ‘Very well: go write to him.’

Now, my dear little son, love your lessons and your prayers, and tell Lippus and Jost to do so too, that you may all come to the garden.

May God bless you. Give Aunt Lehne my love, and kiss her for me.

Your dear father, Martinus Luther
In the year 1530
[Coburg, June 19th.]

We marvel at the ease with which Luther speaks to his four-year-old son, Hans. We’re delighted with the vivid image of the garden. But what’s most striking about this letter is that Luther doesn’t say whether the garden is the world that opens up to the diligent student, or whether the garden is the paradise of Christ. Which one is he talking about? Does a good education usher one into a realm of earthly wonder? Or does a good education usher one into eternal life?

Luther apparently doesn’t see any need to split hairs in this matter. A good education will do both things: it will bring delight to earthly life and bring the student into the delight of eternal life.

The question is, why have the earthly benefits of education and the eternal benefits of education become separated in our day? Many parents suppose that preparing their children for eternal life and giving their children an education can (or should!) be considered separately. School and Church have become divorced, time and eternity have become divorced, concern for the body and concern for the soul have become divorced.

And yet the student has a body and a soul, together, right now. Why would we treat him as two separate things when God has made him a unified whole? We would do well to treat our children as God has created them, and that means giving our children an education that simultaneously opens up worlds of wonder on earth and prepares them for eternal life. 

For more on this topic, you may read a pair of articles concerning “The Goal of Education,” beginning with The Goal of Education Part I: Educating for Mammon?

Lippus (short for Philip) was the son of Philip Melanchthon, and Jost (short for Justus) was the son of Justus Jonas. Lippus and Jost were about the same age as Hans; Melanchthon and Jonas were colleagues of Martin Luther. In the painting, Luther sits in the center; his eldest son, Hans, stands at the far right; Melanchthon sits behind and to the left of Luther.


  • How would you explain to a child the benefits of a good education?
  • Rather than ushering children into a beautiful garden, into what do secular government schools usher them?
  • Why is it harmful to the Christian student when parents and teachers treat education for earthly life and education for eternal life separately?

Painting: Luther Making Music in the Circle of His Family by Gustav Spangenberg, 1828-1891

Quote: C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917. [names lightly edited for consistency]

Egyptian Man Parades Coffin at Dinner Party

MEMPHIS, EGYPT — Our field correspondent Herodotus, always looking to save us some money by inviting himself to parties instead of racking up receipts at the agora, recently attended a gathering at the home of a certain Egyptian man named Garai. The meal being concluded and the guests fully sated, the time came for the after dinner entertainment. Yet rather than an oration by a rhetorician or a song accompanied by the sweet music of the lyre, a man brought around what appeared to be a corpse, and began speaking solemnly to the guests.

Herodotus was not at first within earshot, and began asking those around him what this meant. While Apollodorus (our skiagraphos) painted a picture of the scene, Herodotus compiled the following account about the dinner customs of the Egyptians:

And at the gatherings among their wealthy, whenever they have finished supper a man brings around in a coffin a corpse made of wood, represented in greatest detail both by painting and carving, about a cubit or two in length. And as he shows it to each of the guests he says, “Look at this, and drink and enjoy yourself, for you will be such when you die.” These things they do at their parties.

When the man bearing the coffin came around to Herodotus and had spoken the usual words, our stalwart reporter looked death in the face and said, “Funny, I always thought it would be larger”; after which he drained his chalice and, grabbing Apollodorus by the cloak, quickly headed out to find a late showing of one of Aristophanes’ plays.

Herodotus writes about this Egyptian dinner custom in Book 2, §78 of his Histories (the entire second book is about Egypt). While the practice may seem a good way to cast a pall on an otherwise enjoyable evening, contemplation of death has its place. For the pagans, reflecting on death was supposed to heighten present enjoyment, not diminish it.

Contemplation of death has its place for Christians as well, though not in the same way as the pagans. The resurrection of Jesus has changed death for us. Thus Paul writes, “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32). If the dead don’t rise, then sure, let’s get in our kicks now.

But the dead do rise, either to eternal life or eternal death. And we consider this — indeed, we think on hell itself — but this contemplation spurs us to a more temperate life, not a more dissolute one. John Chrysostom puts this well:

For if merely looking at a corpse wraps up our mind in this way, how much more will hell and the unquenchable fire? How much more the undying worm?  If we always consider hell, we will not quickly fall into it. For this reason God has threatened punishment. If thinking about it did not have some great advantage, God would not have now threatened it. But since remembrance of it is able to effect great things, therefore, like a saving medicine, he designed the threat of it for our souls.

Let us certainly not overlook such an advantage that is produced from this; rather let us turn to it continually, at our dinners, at our suppers. For conversation about pleasant things does not benefit the soul at all, but makes it more relaxed; whereas conversation about distressing and gloomy things cuts away everything runny and loose that the soul has, and turns it back, and tightens it up when it becomes slack.

He who converses about theaters and actors has not profited the soul at all, but has the more inflamed it and made it more reckless. He who is anxious about things belonging to others, and who meddles, many times has even inflicted dangers on his soul from this futility. However, he who converses about hell will not have any danger, and makes his soul more temperate.
(Homilies on 2 Thessalonians, Homily II)

Apollodorus was a Greek painter in the 5th century BC, and a contemporary of Herodotus (though I have no idea whether they ever met). Apollodorus was dubbed a “skiagraphos” (Greek for “shadow-painter”) because of a style of hatching/shading which he introduced.


  • Why do you suppose our culture avoids serious or frequent talk of death?
  • What profit does a Christian enjoy from contemplating death and hell?
  • How does a proper understanding of death, resurrection, hell, and paradise influence what students need to learn?

Painting: An Egyptian Feast (detail) by Edwin Long, 1829-1891
Scripture quotation is from the King James Version.
Other translations are my own.

A Recent Symposium on “Love”

ATHENS, HELLAS – Greeks (I forget myself – “Hellenes”), all y’all need to get your head out of the collective wine-bowl. On second thought, don’t – that would actually make the problem worse. The problem is, Hellas, you’ve forgotten how to drink.

What happened? It wasn’t so long ago that your faithful correspondent was able to spend a pleasant afternoon (and night… and two more… of each… for research!) out on the hills with the Bacchantes and wake up, pleasantly assured by every other blushing face in the ditch that he had a fan-tastic time. The good ol’ boys of Iconium will tell you that a good ol’ time debauch of wine, song, wine, raw meat, wine, and wine is a noble tradition, worthy of all honour and veneration! (The ditch-crawl afterwards, I am told, is a more recent innovation.)

But what has happened to the drinking-party in our days? Instead of harpies shrieking in your ear while you perform the Spartan ice-bucket challenge (another venerable tradition, I am told), now we have the Symposium – and what a pale imitation of the real thing!

Your longsuffering correspondent recently attended one of these interminable bores at Agathon’s place in Athens. (For research!) Unfortunately, there was a doctor there – one Eryximachus by name. As my faithful readers know by now, never invite a doctor to drink, because he’ll always tell you that you’ll wake up in the ditch (little knowing this recent fashion is doomed to go the way of the cargo-chiton). After being served his one, singular, tiny, Eryximachus-approved cup (a pox on thy sanitarium!), your correspondent feared not even Apollo could bring the evening back from the brink. (One is tempted to believe that the good doctor simply prefers to keep his name pronounceable over the course of an evening.)

But I was pleasantly surprised when some enterprising fellow put “Love” into the conversational punch-bowl. Once this libation began to flow, and Aristophanes had woven a tale of eight-limbed men with two faces and two sets of privates (horrors!) whom Zeus cut down the middle like worms (for research!), Socrates told this truthy story from the mouth of a wise old woman (which, as my readers know, means “drunk”):

On the day of Aphrodite’s birth the gods were making merry, and among them was Resource, the son of Craft. And when they had supped, Need came begging at the door because there was good cheer inside. Now it happened that Resource, having drunk deeply of the heavenly nectar – for this was before the days of wine [horrors!] – wandered out into the garden of Zeus and sank into a heavy sleep, and Need, thinking that to get a child by Resource would mitigate her penury, lay down beside him and in time was brought to bed of Love. So Love became the follower and servant of Aphrodite because he was begotten on the same day that she was born, and further, he was born to love the beautiful since Aphrodite is beautiful herself.

Then again, as the son of Resource and Need, it has been his fate to be always needy[.]

As your longsuffering correspondent can tell from his research in the habits of the Bacchante, “this is most certainly true.” (Dear Allecto, if you read this, may I have my chariot back soon? Walking everywhere is thirsty work!)

So while we may have forgotten how to drink in the old ways, having tasted of both, I think that the new wine has promise. A Hellene (or are we Greeks now?) could do worse! (He might, for example, become a doctor.)

In Servitute Vino Perpetua,

Dionysus Bibulus

Bibulus has what one might call a jaundiced view of what love is. Plato’s Symposium stands as one of the most enduring treatments of love from the ancient world. Yet the bizarre pictures and high-flying discourses on Love do not begin to approach the Scriptural view. The reader is encouraged to take up Plato’s Symposium for himself, to refresh his memory or for the very first time, and read it over with the following questions:

  • How does St. Paul’s description of love in I Cor. 13, or St. John’s statement that God is love (I Jn. 4:8) compare to the various views of Plato’s speakers?
  • In what ways can Scripture be a corrective to the wrong views that are presented over the course of the dialogue?
  • How can the legitimate lessons of Plato’s Symposium be taught to young minds while still keeping a bulwark against the false views?

Image: “Das Gastmahl des Platon” by Anselm Feuerbach (1874)

Symposium translation by Michael Joyce (1935)

Libyan Tribe Declares War on Wind

ISCINA, LIBYA — Our field correspondent Herodotus has sent word of a most intriguing story. Last Wednesday he was supping with some Nasamonians, and inbetween bites of mutton and couscous one of them related the following tale:

And adjacent to the Nasamonians are the Psylli. They utterly perished in the following manner: The south wind had blown against them and dried up their water tanks; and all their country, being within the Syrtis, was waterless. So after they had taken counsel, by common agreement they marched their army against the south wind (now I’m only saying what the Libyans say), and when they came into the sandy desert, the south wind blew and buried them. Since they utterly perished, the Nasamonians have their land.

When Herodotus asked if the Nasamonians had searched the desert for the remains of this unfortunate tribe, a certain chieftan named Siwa spluttered tea all over the guests in his laughter and replied, “Of course not.  Don’t be Psylli!”

This account comes from Herodotus’ Histories, IV.173 as he tells of the various tribes that inhabited Libya. We might be inclined to view the tale of the Psylli with some skepticism; even Herodotus felt compelled to note, “I’m only saying what the Libyans say.” Yet Herodotus included the story because of its moral value.

The simple fact is, there are certain things that we as human beings can’t trifle with, things we must simply accept as they are. If the wind dries up our water stores, we can’t get retribution, we can’t change the wind, we can’t even make the wind care that it “wronged” us. If we ignore these facts and try to take on the wind, we shouldn’t be surprised when our war against nature ends with our own destruction.

Some things are beyond us. Making nature bend to our will is one of those things. The Greek adage, “Know thyself” comes to mind: know what is within your grasp, and know what is beyond you.


  • What should the Psylli have done instead of going to war against the south wind?
  • Are public schools teaching that man must accept nature as it is, or that man can change nature as he sees fit? Think in particular of the current debates over sexual orientation, gender identity, and restroom policies.
  • The ancients considered that presumptuous acts against nature, such as the Psylli committed, were a form of impiety, that is, offense against the gods. Why would defying nature be offensive to God?

Painting: Egypt 1903, Storm-driven by Robert Talbot Kelly (1861-1934).

Herodotus’ Histories, IV.173 translated by Andrew Richard, 2017.

Local Thief Bites Mother

MESAMBRIA, THRACE — The place of execution offered more than the usual excitement this past Friday as a young man, dripping red at the mouth, loudly berated his mother before going to his death.  She stood nearby, and eyewitnesses noted that she appeared to be bleeding from the side of the head. The bewildered crowd did not know what to make of the scene. After talking with the mother and one of the boy’s fellow students from grammar school, we were finally able to piece together a full report:

“A boy from school filched his classmate’s writing-tablet and brought it to his mother. And not only did she not punish him, instead she praised him! The second time he stole a garment and brought it to her, and she praised him all the more. The boy advanced in years and became a young man. By now he was attempting to steal even greater things. But eventually he was caught in the act, and with his hands tied behind him he was led away to the executioner. Now as his mother followed after him and beat her breast, he said that he wanted to whisper something into her ear.  And as soon as she came to him, he laid hold of her ear and bit it off.  Then she accused him of impiety: As if he were not satisfied with the offenses he had already committed, he also mutilated his mother! To which he said, ‘But before, when I had first stolen the writing-tablet and brought it to you, if you had punished me I would not have come to this, being led away to death.’ The saying is clear: That which is not corrected at the beginning will increase all the more.”

When the judge heard what had happened, he had a mind to punish the mother. But wisely recognizing that parental neglect is its own punishment, the judge decided not to waste his time with a trial and instead took his wife to lunch.

“The Boy Thief and His Mother” is one of Aesop’s fables, and the moral of the story varies slightly depending on the version. Laura Gibbs has, “if you are wise, you will tear out vice by the roots, in other words, at the very beginning of sinfulness and other wickedness, so that the severing of the root will cause the branches to wither away.” A 1484 version by Caxton says, “And therfore chastyse wel youre children / to thende / that ye falle not in to suche a caas” (And therefore chastise well your children to the end that ye fall not into such a case). Joseph Jacobs concludes with Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart therefrom.” But the point remains basically the same: a bad beginning left unchecked leads to a bad end, whereas correcting the bad leads to good.


  • Are children by nature inclined toward good or evil? (see Genesis 6:5, Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-18)
  • What happens to a child when vice goes uncorrected?
  • Secular schools do not agree with Christian definitions of virtue and vice, in some areas (especially the realm of sexual morality) completely reversing the two. Modern educational theories also regard children as basically good by nature. What effect should Christian parents expect such erroneous views to have on their children?

Woodcut by Heinrich Steinhowel, from the book Vite et Fabulae, 1479.

“The Boy Thief and His Mother.” Greek version: Ésope Fables by Émile Chambry, #296. Translated by Andrew Richard, 2017.

Chrysostom Exposes Parental Absurdity

ANTIOCH, SYRIA — After expounding 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Pastor John Chrysostom concluded today’s sermon with an exhortation to parents. During these words the Golden Church echoed with the sound of fathers tearing their clothes, mothers wailing loudly, and dull thuds as people smacked themselves in the forehead.

“We have a great trust given to us in children. Let us take care of them accordingly, and let us do all things that the evil one may not bereave us of them. But now everything is backwards with us! For we manage all things so that our estate will be good, and so that we may entrust it to a faithful man. And we seek after a donkey-driver, and a mule-tender, and an administrator, and a smart accountant. But when it comes to that which is more precious to us than everything else — that we should entrust our son to some person who is able to keep watch on his temperance — we take no consideration. And yet this of all things is the more precious possession, and those other things are for this one. So we take care of our possessions for the sake of our children, but we no longer take care of them. Do you see the absurdity?

“Train the soul of your child, and those possessions will be present besides. For when the soul is not good, he will have no advantage from your riches; but when the soul is set straight, he will have no harm from poverty. Do you want to leave him riches? Teach him to be good. For in this way he will also be able to gather riches; though even if he does not acquire them, he will be no worse off than those who have acquired. But if he should be evil, then even though you leave him myriads of things, you have not left him the guard; rather, you have made him worse than those who go into abject poverty. For when it comes to those among the children who have not been trained well, poverty is better for them than wealth. For poverty constrains them in virtue even though they are unwilling. But wealth does not permit those who are willing to exercise self-control; rather, it leads them away, and causes them catastrophe, and throws them into myriad dangers.”

Chrysostom preached this sermon toward the end of the fourth century AD, yet his words are as applicable now as ever. Consider:

  • What are the true riches that Christian parents should entrust to their children?
  • Why are earthly riches harmful when not accompanied by virtue?
  • Chrysostom speaks of a teacher or educator as one who should “keep watch over [the child’s] temperance,” likely referring to the cardinal virtue called Temperance. Why should parents seek teachers of virtue for their children, and not merely teachers of information or teachers of skills?

Quote from John Chrysostom, Homily IX on 1 Timothy.  Translated by Andrew Richard, 2017.