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The Pen

Dreamed 1517/10/30 by Elector Frederick of Saxony

The feast of All Saints drew near. The chronicles of that day here relate a circumstance, which, though not important to the history of the period, may, however, serve to characterise it. It is a dream of the Elector, which, in substance, is unquestionably authentic, though several circumstances may have been added by those who have related it. It is mentioned by Seckendorf, who observes that the fear of giving their adversaries ground to say that the doctrine of Luther was founded upon dreams, has, perhaps, prevented several historians from speaking of it.

The Elector Frederick of Saxony (say the chronicles of the times) was at his Castle of Schweinitz, six leagues from Wittenburg. On the morning of the 3lst October, being in company with his brother Duke John (who was then Co-Regent, and became sole Elector after his death) and with his Chancellor, the Elector said to the Duke--

"Brother, I must tell you a dream which I had last night, and the meaning of which I should much like to know. It is so deeply impressed on my mind that I shall never forget it were I to live a thousand years; for I dreamed it thrice, and each time with new circumstances."

Duke John. " Is it a good or a bad dream?"

The Elector. " I know not; God knows."

Duke John. "Don't be uneasy at it; but be so good as tell it to me."

The Elector. "Having gone to bed last night, fatigued and out of spirits, I fell asleep shortly after my prayer, and slept quietly for about two hours and a half. I then awoke, and continued awake till midnight, all sorts of thoughts passing through my mind. Among other things, I thought how I was to observe the feast of All Saints; I prayed for the poor souls in purgatory, and supplicated God to guide me, my counsels, and my people according to truth. I again fell asleep, and dreamed that Almighty God sent me a monk, who was a true son of the Apostle Paul. All the saints accompanied him by the order of God, in order to bear testimony before me, and to declare that he did not come to contrive any plot, but that all he did was according to the will of God. They asked me to have the goodness graciously to permit him to write something on the door of the church of the Castle of Wittenburg. This I granted through my Chancellor. Thereupon the monk went to the church, and began to write in such large characters that I could read the writing at Schweinitz. The pen which he used was so large that its end reached as far as Rome, where it pierced the ears of a lion that was couching there, and caused the triple crown upon the head of the Pope to shake. All the cardinals and princes, running hastily up, tried to prevent it from falling. You and I, brother, wished also to assist, and I stretched out my arm--; but at this moment I awoke, with my arm in the air, quite amazed, and very much enraged at the monk for not managing his pen better. I recollected myself a little: it was only a dream.

A monk with a quill pen reaching from Germany to Rome.
"I was still half asleep, and once more closed my eyes. The dream returned. The lion, still annoyed by the pen, began to roar with all his might, so that the whole city of Rome and all the states of the Roman empire ran to see what the matter was. The Pope requested them to oppose this monk, and applied particularly to me, on account of his being in my country. I again woke, repeated the Lord's Prayer, entreated God to preserve his Holiness, and once more fell asleep.

"Then I dreamed that all the princes of the empire, and we among them, hastened to Rome, and strove one after another to break the pen; but the more we tried the stiffer it became, sounding as if it had been made of iron. We at length desisted. I then asked the monk (for I was sometimes at Rome and sometimes at Wittenburg) where he got this pen, and why it was so strong? 'The pen,' replied he, 'belonged to an old goose of Bohemia, a hundred years old. I got it from my old schoolmasters. As to its strength, it is owing to the impossibility of depriving it of its pith or marrow, and I am quite astonished at it myself.' Suddenly I heard a loud noise: a large number of other pens had sprung out of the long pen of the monk... I awoke a third time; it was daylight."

Duke John. "Chancellor, what is your opinion? Would we had a Joseph or a Daniel enlightened by God."

Chancellor. "Your highness knows the common proverb, that the dreams of young girls, learned men, and great lords usually some hidden meaning. The meaning of this dream, however, we shall not be able to know for some time--not till the things to which it relates have taken place. Wherefore, leave the accomplishment to God, and place it wholly in His hand."

Duke John. "I am of your opinion, Chancellor. 'Tis not fit for us to annoy ourselves, attempting to discover the meaning; God will overrule all for His glory."

Elector. " May our faithful God do so. Yet I shall never forget this dream. I have indeed thought of an interpretation; but I keep it to myself. Time, perhaps, will show if I have been a good diviner."

Thus the morning of the 31st October, 1517, was spent at Schweinitz. At Wittenburg, six leagues distant, Luther, in the course of the day, posted up his celebrated propositions about indulgences. This step, it is be observed, was taken by him without having informed either the Elector, or Staupitz, Spalatin, or any, even the most intimate of his friends, of his intention.

From History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century by J. H. Merle D'Aubigné, quoted in Frank Seafield's The Literature and Curiosities of Dreams (1865)



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