Martin Luther's Seal
(or the Luther Rose)
Luther’s seal, or as it is sometimes called,
Luther’s Rose, is the most widely known symbol of
Lutheranism. Its origins are interesting. Luther
was invited to create a personal symbol to summarize his faith
in the 1520. As his writings became increasingly popular,
there was a desire on the part of the Wittenberg printers to
somehow indicate what was an authorized publication of Luther’s
works. So, they asked Luther to tell them what he would
like to have as his personal mark on his published works.
Here is a copy of the first known printed version of the seal.
It was very common in Luther’s Day for public
servants, theologians, political rulers, and others of some
public note, to have a personal seal. In 1530, Prince John
Frederick wanted to give Luther a gift of a signet ring, as an
expression of his appreciation, love and respect for Dr. Luther.
The gift was personally presented to Luther, by Prince John, at
the Coburg Castle on September 14, Holy Cross Day, when the
Prince stopped at Coburg while travelling back from the meeting
in Augsburg. The Coburg Fortress was the southernmost
fortified property in what was then Electoral Saxony. Luther
could not attend the Diet of Augsburg, but had to remain behind
in Coburg, since he was still considered by the Emperor, Charles
V, to be a public criminal - not to mention the fact that he was
also considered a heretic and excommunicated by the Roman
Church. Lazarus Spengler, of Nürnberg, apparently helped to
have the ring prepared. He asked Luther for an explanation
of the seal. Luther offered both an explanation and also
an indication of the colors it should contain. This was
somewhat unusual, for full color seals were very rare in these
early years of printing. Any four-color image in a book
would have to be provided by hand. The ring was a thank
you from John Frederick to Luther, in return for Luther having
dedicated his translation of the Book of Daniel, to the Prince.
This image is a colorized version of the
original seal. Note that the blue is a lighter shade than
you usually see in most versions of Luther's Seal.
Generally, in color versions of the seal, the blue is too dark.
Luther’s concept was that the blue stands for a blue sky.
Here is how Luther explained his seal, when he
was asked about it by the man who was preparing the ring for
him, at Prince John’s request:
"Grace and peace from the Lord. As you
desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me,
has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my
original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my
theology. The first should be a black cross in a heart,
which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be
reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. ‘For one
who believes from the heart will be justified’ (Rom.
10:10). Although it is indeed a black cross, which
mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart
in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is,
it does not kill but keeps alive. ‘The just shall live by
1:17) but by faith in the crucified. Such a heart
should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith
gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places
the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not
give peace and joy like the world gives (John
14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not
red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (cf.
John 20:12). 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. Such blessedness is
exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most
valuable, most precious and best metal. This is my
compendium theoligae [summary of theology]. I have
wanted to show it to you in good friendship, hoping for your
appreciation. May Christ, our beloved Lord, be with your
spirit until the life hereafter. Amen."
(letter from Luther's Works, American
Edition; Volume 49, pp. 356 – 359)
|First, there should be a black cross set in a heart,
which should keep its natural color. This will remind me
that faith in the Crucified saves us. Because: "If
you believe in your heart, you will be justified."
Even though it is a black cross, which kills us and
causes pain, yet it allows the heart to remain its
natural color; it does not destroy the heart's nature,
that is, it does not kill the heart, but keeps it alive.
Because "The just will live by faith" - but faith in the
|Now, although the cross is black, mortified, and
intended to cause pain, yet it does not tend to change
the color of the heart, does not destroy nature, i.e.,
does not kill, but keeps alive. "For the just shall
live by faith'' - by faith in the savior.
|But this heart is fixed upon the center of a white
rose, to show that faith causes joy, consolation and
peace. The rose is white, not red, because white is the
ideal color of all angels and blessed spirits.
|The rose, moreover, is fixed on a sky-blue field, to
denote that such joy of faith in the spirit is but an
earnest yearning and beginning of heavenly joy to come,
as anticipated and held by hope, though not yet
|And around this sky-blue field
is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven
is endless, and more precious than all joys and
treasures, since gold is the best and most treasured
metal. Christ, our dear Lord, He will give us grace unto
|Put them all together, to get the complete seal.
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