What I find interesting is that “Demetrius” is in fact a pagan-derived name, meaning “devoted to Demeter.” It’s parallel to “Isidore,” meaning “gift of Isis,” or “Diodorus,” meaning “gift of Zeus.” All three of these names are borne by Christian saints! Apparently, like the names of the days of the week or the months of the year, early Christians were prepared to tolerate this vestige of paganism. I suppose by the late Roman empire names were simply “names,” as they are for us, and fewer people were in the habit of inventing literal names expressing qualities they hoped to see in their children.
On this day in 1943 was sunk the SS Dorchester by the German submarine U-223, an example of a fairly regular occurrence in the Atlantic during the Second World War. The Dorchester was a passenger steamship requisitioned for the American war effort and was transporting U.S. troops from New York to Greenland; the whole thing was over very quickly, with the unfortunate result that 674 of the 904 men on board perished.
This episode is famous for the actions of the Four Chaplains, who voluntarily gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. They joined arms and said prayers as they went down with the ship. Since that time they have become a symbolic of heroism and self-sacrifice; that two were Protestant, one Catholic, and one Jewish, has become an edifying example of “interfaith in action,” as the postage stamp says. (One could say that this story comes across as propaganda, an attempt at salvaging some inspiration from the usual wartime disaster, but it really happened, and it really is inspiring.)
A Wikipedia discovery (hat tip: Robert Black):
The Public Universal Friend (born Jemima Wilkinson; November 29, 1752 – July 1, 1819) was an American preacher born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, to Quaker parents. After suffering a severe illness in 1776, the Friend claimed to have died and been reanimated as a genderless evangelist named the Public Universal Friend, and afterward shunned both birth name and gendered pronouns. In androgynous clothes, the Friend preached throughout the northeastern United States, attracting many followers who became the Society of Universal Friends.
The Public Universal Friend’s theology was broadly similar to that of most Quakers. The Friend stressed free will, opposed slavery, and supported sexual abstinence. The most committed members of the Society of Universal Friends were a group of unmarried women who took leading roles in their households and community. In the 1790s, the Society acquired land in Western New York where they formed the township of Jerusalem near Penn Yan, New York. The Society of Universal Friends ceased to exist by the 1860s. Many writers have portrayed the Friend as a woman, and either a manipulative fraudster or a pioneer for women’s rights, while others have viewed the preacher as transgender or non-binary and a figure in trans history.
Read the rest of the article for more on this fascinating character.
• I just finished reading Joseph B. Mahan’s History of Old Cassville, 1833-1864, kindly leant to me by my neighbor Mark Leary. I was pleased to learn that Mahan was a graduate of Reinhardt College. The book tells how the Western & Atlantic railroad passed Cassville by, so the city decided to become an education center by sponsoring two colleges: Cherokee Baptist College and Cassville Female College. These closed during the Civil War and were transformed into hospitals, and then destroyed in retaliation for the murders of ten US soldiers whose bodies were dumped on the grounds of the Female College.
I was pleased to encounter this map, which is probably the most accurate reconstruction of the Cassville Affair that I’ve seen. Note the road that leads to “Wofford’s Crossing,” which is what White was called at the time.
• On Brooke Road stands one of those chimneys that was once part of a house. You see them here and there around these parts; they make for interesting follies.
This one, apparently, was once part of a school, according to an Etowah Valley Historical Society sign on the road:
The Boston-Brooke Schoolhouse is not yet included in the catalogue of Bartow County schools on the EVHS website.
• The iron furnaces mentioned earlier on this blog are not the only industrial remnants on Stamp Creek. If you walk down Old Mill Road and continue on the trail after it ends, eventually you come to the remains of a bridge that once spanned the creek. Presumably this was how the Pool Creek furnace was supplied.
South of this bridge (but north of Pool Furnace, and on the opposite side of Stamp Creek) are the remains of a building. I took these photos in April, hence the vegetation.
I am told this was a carriage works!
• The nearest railway depot to Cassville was Cass Station, two miles to the south of Cassville, not far from where Burnt Hickory Road crosses the Western & Atlantic. The depot burned down in 1969, but the nearby ruins of the old cotton warehouse and Quillian’s store may be explored. I took these photos in July.
UPDATE: A couple more discoveries:
• The Goodson Cemetery is found on Goodson Cemetery Road near Lake Allatoona. The road itself is blocked off and the cemetery is in a rather unkempt state, which is a shame (a YouTube video illustrates what the cemetery looked like in 2015; whatever cleanup they did at the time has since been erased by the forces of nature).
I was interested to discover the grave marker of Jacob Stroup (1771-1846), one of the major figures in the local antebellum iron industry, in the form of a miniature iron furnace.
Sacred to the
Memeory [sic] of
Born 19 Mar 1771
Died 8 Nov 1846
GGG Grandfather of
John R. Jackson
Phone 770 445 3591
Judging from the font (and the publication of a phone number, including area code!), it would appear that this marker was erected by Mr. Jackson some time in the late twentieth century. It’s a shame that it wasn’t better constructed in the first place, though.
It seems that the current grave marker of Stroup’s third wife Sarah Feuell Stroup dates from the same point in time.
This one dates from much earlier – 1817, which is really quite early for white settlement in this area.
Of course, there are also many poignant reminders of just how common childhood mortality once was.
• This photo is not historical as such but these two street corner preachers, spotted on January 2 in Cartersville, are certainly in a long tradition:
I’ve got to commend their creativity, although I have no idea what “Hooters Hookers” or “Twerker Berzerkers” are…
A well-known symbol of Lutheranism is the so-called Luther Rose, which features a black cross on a red heart at the center. It was devised for Luther in 1530 and features multivalent symbolism. Luther claimed that:
my seal is a symbol of my theology. The first should be a black cross in a heart, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end.
“I wonder what symbol Calvin used?” I mused to my wife at dinner last night. “Probably a tulip,” she replied with eminent good sense. TULIP, of course, is an acronym for the five points of Calvinist theology, viz:
Perseverance of the saints
Instead, as it turns out, Calvin did not use a flower, but a heart, held in a hand, illustrating the motto “Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere,” that is, “My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.”
I’m not sure who drew this but I found it at The Josh Link.
This seventeenth-century medal was struck in memory of Calvin, and the image can be found at the Calvin University (Grand Rapids) website.
Calvin University itself uses a version of the emblem and motto.
The more you know! Personal emblems, especially if properly heraldic, ought to make a comeback.
Tom Madden in First Things (hat tip: Matt Phillips):
Hagia Sophia’s transformation into a museum in the 1930s was in large part due to an American socialite and fundraiser, Thomas Whittemore. With support from Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., Whittemore obtained permission from the Turkish government to uncover and restore the medieval mosaics of Hagia Sophia. Beautiful depictions of Christ, the Virgin, saints, and emperors arose gloriously from their centuries-old plaster prisons. Armed with cameras and a good head for publicity, Whittemore brought the sublime images of forgotten Constantinople to an astonished world.
President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, took a keen interest in these discoveries. Atatürk was determined to modernize Turkey, bringing it out of its medieval past. That meant, among other things, distancing the new Republic of Turkey from the old Ottoman Empire. He had already moved the capital from imperial Constantinople, and even changed the name of the city to Istanbul. He had also opened Topkapi Palace to tourists. Transforming the sultans’ old mosque into a museum fit perfectly into that program. In 1934 the Turkish Council of Ministers declared Hagia Sophia to be no longer a mosque, but “a unique architectural monument of art.” And so it remained, until last week.
Some have suggested that the decision to make Hagia Sophia a mosque fits with the statue toppling and cancel culture in the U.S. and Europe. But it is really just a political move. As his popularity among moderates and progressives has faltered, President Erdoğan has become increasingly reliant on rural Islamic conservatives to keep him in power. They have always cherished hopes of reverting Hagia Sophia to a mosque, as they believe Atatürk’s reforms betrayed Islam in a bid for Western acceptance. In the most recent elections, Erdoğan lost the majority in Istanbul. So this decision, loved in the countryside but hated by progressives in the big city, both rewards the president’s supporters and punishes his enemies.
Like all buildings of such age, the history of Hagia Sophia is complicated. For nine centuries it was a church, for nearly five centuries a mosque, and for almost one century a museum. It has been the site of unparalleled beauty and unspeakable horrors. The history of the West is bound up in that remarkable building. It should not be reduced to a pawn in a political campaign. Hagia Sophia should no more be a mosque than the Parthenon should be restored to the worship of Athena. These are shared historical monuments, where people of diverse backgrounds can see our common human experience. The world has plenty of churches and mosques. Let Hagia Sophia be Hagia Sophia.
Courtesy Paul Halsall, I learned an interesting new word today: “myroblyte,” which is Greek and derives from myron (“sweet oil”) and bluzo (“to gush forth”). So something “myroblytic” exudes oil, and it is a miraculous property sometimes observed in icons or relics. Unbeknownst to me, in Dalton, Georgia these past few years a ministry calling itself His Name is Flowing Oil has claimed to be in the possession of a miraculously myroblitic Bible. In the week after Trump’s inauguration, a Bible belonging to one Jerry Pearce started to produce oil, starting with a small smudge in Psalm 39 and eventually saturating the entire book. Pearce put it in a plastic bag, and then in a glass container, in order to prevent the ever-flowing oil from soaking everything around it. Word spread quickly, and people flocked to Dalton in order to join a worship service, held in Dalton’s Wink Theater, during which the Bible would be brought out and laid on people’s heads. People claimed that they received cures or felt God’s presence in a special way; they could also leave with samples of the oil, and eventually the ministry gave away some 350,000 vials of it, totaling 400 gallons. Church leaders took the Bible on tour throughout the United States and even to Canada, although it only produced oil when it was in Dalton.
Does that last fact make you suspicious? It should! The day after the Chattanooga Times Free Press published an article about the miraculous Bible last November, the paper received a telephone call to say that Pearce was a regular customer at the Tractor Supply store in Dalton, where he was seen buying large amounts of mineral oil. Tests carried out at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga confirmed that the allegedly miraculous oil was indeed indistinguishable from the Ideal brand of mineral oil sold at Tractor Supply. The Times Free Press published their findings last month; in the wake of the article, the ministry announced that the Bible had stopped producing oil and that they were ceasing operations, although they continued to defend their work. Ministry leader Johnny Taylor claimed that the Bible was “just a sign and a wonder… but it’s your faith and it’s how you apply it and use it where the miracles come in. We tell people the Bible is not the move, it’s just the sign and the wonder, but if you go find out where the Bible is, there’s a move going on there.” So (they claimed) they were only using it to advertise the “move,” although that doesn’t quite explain the cures attributed to the oil, or the vials of oil that the ministry gave away to its worshipers. (Note though that they weren’t selling them.)
What I find interesting about this episode is how it is an example of how tradition abides. You can say that oil is biblical, but the miraculous secretion of it strikes me as very Catholic indeed, and not something that Protestants would go in for – like receiving the stigmata or using holy water for exorcisms. But tactile ritual, especially involving the miraculous, is psychologically very satisfying, and no matter how often we disparage it as “superstitious,” it always seems to find a way back. Reinhardt’s Wayne Glowka told me about the Catholic custom of burying a statue of St. Joseph in your yard if you want to sell your house, something that two of his Baptist neighbors in Milledgeville did. Note too the evangelical support for Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, which was essentially an over-the-top RC meditation on the Stations of the Cross, i.e not something that Protestants usually do.
Although I suppose that the specifically Protestant ingredient here is the Bible – there are no myroblytic relics or icons in this story.
UPDATE: See also “The Bible that Oozed Oil” by Ruth Graham at Slate.
Another stroll down memory lane courtesy Atlas Obscura (although the article appeared some time ago now):
On April 27, 1982, members of the California Assembly’s Consumer Protection and Toxics Committee gathered in Sacramento to hear Robert Plant endorse Satan. This was not a straightforward testimonial. For one thing, the Led Zeppelin frontman wasn’t actually in attendance. Also, his pro-devil paeans could only be heard when you played “Stairway to Heaven” backwards.
After circulating pamphlets with the “backward masked” declarations spelled out, that’s precisely what Assemblyman Phillip Wyman and panel witness William H. Yarroll II did. The relevant portion of the eight-minute classic was first played forward for committee members and then reversed. Here’s what Wyman claimed could be heard: “I sing because I live with Satan. The Lord turns me off. There’s no escaping it. Here’s to my sweet Satan.” Yarroll, who identified himself as a “neuroscientist,” noted that a teenager need only listen to “Stairway to Heaven” three times before these backward messages were “stored as truth.”
It wasn’t just Plant reverse-singing Satan’s praises, either. According to Yarroll, bands ranging from Styx to the Beatles also had secret backmasked messages hidden in their music—messages that, in the words of legislative proposal A.B. 3741, had the power to “manipulate our behavior without our knowledge or consent and turn us into disciples of the Antichrist.”
As the bill’s sponsor, Wyman wanted mandatory warning labels on all rock albums containing these morally dubious backward messages. “Suppose young people have heard ‘Stairway to Heaven’ two or three hundred times and there has been implanted in their subconscious mind pro satanic messages or incantations?” he told Terry Drinkwater the following day on a CBS Evening News segment. Indeed, this was the truly insidious part of backmasking. Even though you had to play records in reverse to decipher the occultic messages, they could still subliminally imprint themselves upon young teen minds when played in the standard direction.
During the same news segment, Yarroll described how the brain unscrambles a backward masked message: “We have it stored in the unconscious as a truth image,” he said, “and as the creative unconscious side of the brain does, it goes through scanning the unconscious brain to go about and bring those truth images to the surface and make them reality for us.”
After calling the issue “exciting and interesting,” committee chairman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte) delayed an official vote until the music industry and band members could weigh in on the matter. That day never came. But the national panic surrounding subliminal satanic messages in rock music was about to reach fever pitch.
In the early ’70s, backmasking—or the practice of recording vocals and instruments backwards and then reinserting them into the forward mix of a song—was something a music savvy (and possibly stoned) Beatles fan might bring up. A decade later, it had become a cause célèbre for conservative religious leaders, school teachers, parents, and even politicians. Whether it was the reversed voice of Freddie Mercury declaring “it’s fun to smoke marijuana” on “Another One Bites the Dust” or Styx imploring Satan to “move through our voices” on “Snowblind,” there seemed to be mounting evidence that rock music was literally becoming a mouthpiece for the devil.
Believers held record-smashing parties, appeared on popular TV talk shows, wrote books, formed watchdog groups, and, perhaps most importantly, called their government representatives to warn them.
By 1982, state and federal legislation was being introduced at a steady clip to combat rock and roll’s hidden satanic agenda. Two weeks after the California Assembly hearing in Sacramento, California congressman Robert Dornan introduced H.R. 6363 to the House. Also known as the “Phonograph Record Backward Masking Labeling Act,” the bill aimed to do the same thing as Wyman’s A.B. 3741, only on a national level.
While it would ultimately be shuffled off to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Transportation and Tourism to die, other bills—including one in Arkansas a year later—were passed unanimously by both house and senate members (then-Governor Bill Clinton ultimately vetoed that one).
For its own part, the music industry responded with a bemused skepticism. Styx’s James Young called the whole idea of satanic backmasking a hoax perpetrated by religious zealots, and refused to attend any meeting or hearing where the topic was discussed. Then there was Bob Garcia of A&M Records, who declared, “it must be the devil putting these messages on the records because no one here knows how to do it.” A spokesman for Led Zeppelin’s record label, Swan Song Records, issued just one statement in response to the “Stairway to Heaven” satanic allegations: “Our turntables only rotate in one direction.”
Taken as a whole, these reactions only stoked the righteous (and possibly entrepreneurial) fires of religious leaders like pastor Gary Greenwald, who started holding backmasking seminars all over the country. Soon, books like Backward Masking Unmasked, Dancing With Demons, and The Devil’s Disciples: The Truth About Rock, were exposing “the sinister nature of rock and roll music,” while watchdog organizations like Parents Against Subliminal Seduction (P.A.S.S.) tried to block rock concerts at various venues.
The problem, as you may have already guessed, was that the whole thing was a bunch of diabolical tihsllub.
Canada and the United States have different traditions regarding the separation of church and state. The divide between French and English Canada was, historically, religious as well as linguistic, with French Canadians clinging tenaciously to their Catholicism, and most English Canadians fervently Protestant (for instance, at one point one needed to be a member of the Orange Order to get anywhere in Toronto politics). Canada West (the future province of Ontario) did disestablish the Anglican Church in the 1840s, but still recognized religion in a way that is forbidden in the United States. Thus, in the negotiations leading up to Confederation in 1867, Canada West agreed to fund Roman Catholic education, as a concession to Quebec. So to this day Ontario actually runs two parallel school systems, the public school system and the “separate” (RC) school system. I suppose the idea was that the public schools would in fact be “Protestant” schools in contrast to the separate schools, and I recall a certain amount of religious content from my days as a public school student in Port Hope, Ontario, including:
• the Lord’s Prayer (and occasionally Bible readings and hymns) as part of the day’s opening exercises
• Christmas and Easter pageants, with religious content (carols, prayers, nativity scenes, etc.)
• a representative of the Gideons coming in and handing out bibles to us, with the principal giving a short speech beforehand, not about how “you don’t need to believe this if you don’t want to,” but about how it was a special occasion, since we were now old enough to be entrusted with holy scripture
In middle school, we had a half-hour of religious instruction per week from one of the ministers of one of the churches in town. You could be excused from this if your parents felt strongly enough about it, and the ministers weren’t allowed to proselytize as such – instead, their remit was to teach about the “Judeo-Christian tradition.” But the Pentecostal minister that our class got put the fear of God in us in other ways. It was from him that I learned about the supercomputer in Brussels nicknamed The Beast, with everyone’s name in it, that will track all buying and selling, with the aid of invisible tattoos on the right hand or forehead – just like the prophesied Beast of Revelation 13! (This urban legend, I have discovered, actually has a discernible origin in a novel by author Joe Musser.) The year was 1983, so of course he also solemnly warned us about backmasking, that is, backwards messages in the music that we listened to, but which your brain had the ability to pick up and understand beneath conscious notice. These messages instructed you to kill yourself, take drugs, etc., and the scary thing is that the bands weren’t putting these messages on themselves, but “some force” was doing it! That force had to be Satan, because before his fall Satan was a master of music in heaven, and that “inversion” (hanging crosses upside-down, saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards) was a feature of current satanic ritual. Pastor’s message, though, did not have much of an effect on my musical listening habits, if only because a lot of what he played for us didn’t seem to say much at all. Was it really “worship Satan,” or just “zhoop zhip stanna”?
I was pleased to read this section of the article, about the origins of the notion of “subliminal persuasion.” I remember this one too:
A drive-in movie theater in Fort Lee, New Jersey just happened to provide a perfect junk science laboratory. Over the course of six weeks in 1957, unsuspecting filmgoers were the subjects of a grand marketing experiment. Using a special high-speed projector, researcher and social psychologist James Vicary inserted the words “drink Coke” and “eat popcorn” into movies that summer. Invisible to the human eye, each message lasted for 1/3,000th of a second and was repeated in five-second intervals during films on alternating nights.
By the end of the six weeks, Vicary claimed 45,699 people had been subjected to his subliminal inducements. He also claimed that popcorn and Coke sales went up 57.5 and 18.1 percent, respectively. At a press conference held later that same year, Vicary described the results of this now infamous study to help boost interest in his new “Subliminal Projection Company,” an attempt to commercialize what he called a major breakthrough in subliminal advertising. The public and press went bonkers, and not in a good way.
The first sentence of an influential op-ed responding to the press conference by journalist Norman Cousins read: “Welcome to 1984.” He, like many others, wondered what such a technology could mean not just for advertisers who wanted to sell us stuff, but also for governments seeking to steer public sentiment.
For its own part, the FCC almost immediately threatened to suspend the broadcast license of any company that dared use Vicary’s machine. In the years following the experiment, the CIA started looking into the “operational potential of subliminal perception” (they found it “exceedingly limited”), and authors like Wilson Bryan Key began cranking out books such as Subliminal Seduction, which claimed that sexual images (and the actual word “sex”) were being hidden in hundreds of ads.
But when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation tried to replicate Vicary’s claims by subliminally flashing the message “Call now” during a popular Sunday night program, there was no increase in phone calls. The station later told viewers they had inserted a message and asked them to guess what it might have been. Almost half of the roughly 500 viewers claimed to have been made hungry or thirsty during the show, which aired during dinner time.
Vicary’s study was clearly on the public’s mind, which was problematic because it was completely made up. From the beginning, Vicary refused to release key details about his study. Not only was there never any independent evidence to support his claims about the effectiveness of subliminal advertising, years later, Vicary admitted he had done only enough research to file a patent for his machine, and actually had collected barely any data. Even worse, his machine didn’t seem to work half the time once people did try to test it.
Of course, none of that mattered by the late ’70s and early ’80s. Subliminal messaging was being used in self-help tapes, in department store Muzak to ward off shoplifters, and, if you believed Key, to sell the American public lots and lots of booze and cigarettes.
It’s amazing what social science research gets out into the public consciousness and causes concern, although I suppose that “you’re being manipulated and you don’t even know it!” might be especially alarming to people. But I’m not surprised, after all these years, to read that the experiment wasn’t replicable – this is the fate of a lot of psychological research, unfortunately. And as far as “hidden persuasion” goes, why not focus on what actually is out there in plain sight? Advertisers use all sorts of non-subliminal techniques to get you to behave in certain ways. Learning about those, so as to realize what’s going on, is always useful – much more than trying to discern any secret hidden messages. Backmasking seems even less plausible – does the mind really have the ability to turn words around subconsciously, and then to obey what you’ve “heard”? Again, why not focus on the actual lyrics and image that rock bands project? Some 1980s heavy metal bands flirted openly with Satanic imagery, and I didn’t like that, but even at the time it seemed to be mostly an act, calculated to offend the squares.
From First Things, confirmation of one of my opinions (hat tip: Paul Halsall):
When we encounter “pagan-seeming” images or practices in medieval Christianity, we should consider the probability that they were simply expressions of popular Christianity before positing the existence of secret pagan cults in medieval Western Europe. Once we accept that most culturally alien practices in popular Christianity were products of imperfectly catechized Christian cultures rather than pockets of pagan resistance, we can begin to ask the interesting questions about why popular Christianity developed in the ways it did. Rejecting the myth of the pagan Middle Ages opens up the vista of medieval popular Christianity in all its inventiveness and eccentricity. After the first couple of centuries of evangelization, there were no superficially Christianized pagans—but there remained some very strange expressions of Christianity.
That’s the conclusion, but I enjoin you to read the whole thing.
My friend Matt Phillips explores an important point in Lutheran theology: when is a Christian allowed to resist unjust authority? This is a serious issue, as Luther’s rebellion against Papal authority helped to inspire a major peasants’ revolt in the 1520s. Luther eventually turned against it with a remarkable pamphlet entitled Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525), in which he called on everyone to:
smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.
The revolt was eventually put down, at the cost of some 100,000 lives. Some people never forgave Luther for this, and indeed I find it strange that his movement survived it, but Luther was unapologetic: his Reformation was to be a purely spiritual affair, not a political one. “God hath not granted the sword in vain” is one of the great Lutheran lines, the “sword” here being secular legal authority.
But to what extent this principle led to the German penchant for obedience is a topic that deserves further study. Some people just don’t deserve to be obeyed, do they? We can all think of a particular figure in German history to whom resistance would have been amply justified. Luther’s Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed (1523) indicates that Luther’s ideas were a little more subtle than commonly understood:
While he advised obedience to temporal authorities, Luther mocked evil rulers in the first paragraph of Temporal Authority when he wrote, “For God Almighty has made our rulers mad; they actually think they can do—and order their subjects to do—whatever they please.” He explained that subjects are not obligated to obey their rulers in all matters, especially regarding the command to turn over Luther’s books to temporal authorities. Referring to Acts 5:29, Luther explained that Christians owed obedience to temporal authorities in earthly matters, but they should not willingly turn over books. However, if the authorities searched their homes and confiscated their property, they must suffer as Christians and not resist forcibly.
Furthermore, in 1530:
at a meeting in Torgau, Luther and Philip Melanchthon agreed to support resistance against a potential Imperial invasion of Protestant lands. Luther, Melanchthon, and other theologians agreed to the legal argument that Emperor Charles V was elected under certain conditions of Imperial law. That is, the emperor had voluntarily limited his own authority in formulating and adjudicating laws, that is, man-made positive law as distinct from natural law. Therefore, if he acted outside of his jurisdiction, the Protestant princes (though not individual Christians as Christians) may actively resist as a matter of self-defense against the unjust laws of men. Thus, the theologians, particularly Luther, accepted the Saxon jurists’ argument as a matter of positive law, but still rejected active resistance based merely on theology or natural law.
Read the whole thing. I don’t know if this would have stopped Hitler, but it does indicate that for Luther, the “sword” was by no means absolute.