And now that they are delivered from the unprofitable and burdensome babbling of the Seven Canonical Hours, oh, that, instead thereof, they would only, morning, noon, and evening, read a page or two in the Catechism, the Prayer-book, the New Testament, or elsewhere in the Bible, and pray the Lord's Prayer for themselves and their parishioners, so that they might render, in return, honor and thanks to the Gospel, by which they have been delivered from burdens and troubles so manifold, and might feel a little shame because like pigs and dogs they retain no more of the Gospel than such a lazy, pernicious, shameful, carnal liberty!

This excerpt is from a translated version of The Large Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther. I have no idea why there are so many commas and can't make sense of what "oh," "that" is supposed to do in this long sentences filled with commas. I think "instead thereof" means "instead of doing what was mentionned above that I found despicable". The rest of the sentence makes perfect sense albeit there's just way to many comma, but the first two words are a real head-scratcher.

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    As a native speaker, I have no idea what Luther is trying to say there. It's very dense and confusing.
    – Kevin
    Jan 25, 2019 at 20:35

2 Answers 2


The main thing that makes that sentence so hard to follow is that it contains so many clauses, lists, and parenthetical asides. Each one of those features requires at least one comma. So, yes, there are a lot of commas. If Martin Luther were writing today (in English), his editor (or writing instructor) might tell him to break up that sentence for clarity. But I think the comma distribution in the sentence is actually OK.

The specific section you are asking about, "oh, that, instead thereof, they would only, ..." contains two parenthetical asides:

1) "oh" and 2) "instead thereof" [which, as you say, is an old-fashioned way to say "instead of the preceding item" (namely the despicable "Seven Canonical Hours")]

Both "oh" and "instead thereof" need to be set off by commas on either side.

In between is the word "that". In this case the pronoun "that" refers to the entire string of words that comes next,

"they would only ... read ... and pray the Lord's Prayer ..."

The use of "that" is another old fashioned construction to express a wish.

In modern English we might say, "If only ..." Examples: "If only I were more patient!" or "If only they would just pray more quickly!"

But in older forms of English, people used to use the expression, "Oh, that ..." Or even, "Would that ..." Examples: "Oh, that I were a bird that I could fly away from here!" or "Would that he loved her as much as he loves his money!"

So basically, the phrase you are asking about means, "Oh, I wish that instead of the 7 Canonical Hours, they would just do the following ..."


You're seeing artifacts from older/foreign writing styles translated into modern English

I think the commas you're seeing are artifacts of a much older style of writing (originally German and Latin translated into English) that predates many modern English standards. If the paragraph were to be first written today, several of the clauses and associated commas would be edited out because, as you point out, they create confusion.

I believe "oh, that" is stylistic fluff and may be safely ignored without losing any meaning.

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