WITTENBERG, GERMANY 22 September 2004
Reuters News Service, 11:05 AM EST
by Philip Grelankdon, mild-mannered reporter
The ghost of Martin Luther, the great Reformer of Christendom, founder of Lutheranism (and some say, of Protestantism) appeared suddenly today in the streets of Wittenberg, where he nailed his famous 95 Theses on the door of the local church, igniting the Protestant Reformation, restoring the gospel from the darkness of Pelagian Roman Catholicism, and the Bible from the ash-heaps (and chains) that the papists had consigned it to, in the dead language of Latin, in addition to (most importantly) spearheading the movement to allow clergy to marry and for Protestants to simply "appropriate" (biased papists ridiculously refer to this as "stealing") hundreds of Roman Catholic churches and monasteries for themselves (etc., etc.).
The occasion was the visit of Reformed Protestant apologist and Unvanquishable Debater Bishop James White, who was in town to do a bit of research in order to counter (someone has to do this "dirty work") the wascally Roman Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong, who is known far and wide on the Internet and in larger Christian apologetic circles as the most loud-mouthed, prolific, relentless Luther-basher (and even Luther-hater, according to several critics who pipe up now and then on Internet discussion boards).
Luther (never one to mince words) felt compelled to set the record straight on a few things, and to probe the mind of one who thinks of little else than to defend the great Reformer from all the aspersions, slanders, lies, half-truths, suppressed facts, distortions, twisted presentations, out-of-context quoting, inaccuracies, selective materials, false innuendoes, immoral insinuations, undocumented potshots, guilt-by-association, revisionist history, and various other unsavory and unethical tactics, methods, strategies, and modus operandi of folks of the ilk of (and typified by) Dave Armstrong.
On earth, Luther was not one who often listened to opposing viewpoints, but he has learned a few things in the afterlife, and now (it can't fail to strike one) listens much more carefully and examines views contrary to his own with considerably greater care, precision, and charity than he formerly did. He desired to conduct an interview with Bishop James White, to hear what the latter had to say. He was not, however, found to be lacking in his own many suggestions and arguments, by any means. Luther remains a feisty, passionate, charming, and likable character to this day.
Here is the interview in its entirety. It will be distributed throughout Germany in 16th-century retro tracts accompanied by vulgar cartoons of Dave Armstrong being worshiped by his followers as he rides into town atop a hideous dragon-like beast, carrying his 1912 propagandistic tracts, papers, and books, amidst all the pomp and pathetic pageantry worthy of a medieval pope at the height of his debauchery (further description of the cartoons might offend more sensitive readers with their delicate 21st-century sensibilities).
Martin Luther = ML ( [fictional] words in blue)
Bishop James White = JW ( [fictional] words in black)
[Dave Armstrong's -- actual -- words will be in red]
ML Good morning, James.
JW Dr. Luther! Merciful heavens! Is it really you?
ML Yes, I'm afraid so.
JW I can't tell you how thrilled I am to meet you! This is unbelievable. So you are here? It's not just a dream or one of those false Marian-like apparitions that I am experiencing?
ML Here I stand. I can do no other, because those of us in the afterlife are compelled to do some things that we cannot not do.
JW So you were saved, after all! Ha ha!! I can't wait to taunt my Roman Catholic enemies about this! [smiles broadly]
ML Yes, I was saved, but it is nothing, really, to be proud of. It's all grace; sola gratia.
JW So what's it like in heaven? I'm curious.
ML I don't know; I haven't gotten there yet.
JW What?!? I don't get it??!! [puzzled expression]
ML I'm in purgatory, still being purged of my many sins while on earth.
JW [speechless, and taken aback, looking extremely shocked; eventually recovering his composure]. Now why should I believe that? We are told that even if an angel of heaven appears to preach a gospel contrary to . . .
ML James! [eyes flash with indignation] Do you think my words are an "epistle of straw"? Get a grip!
JW Alright . . . [discombobulated]
ML I really am Martin Luther! There is a purgatory. Do you want me to use some extraordinarily crude gutter language to prove that I am me? I might have to get permission to do that, but I think they would let me, because it is for a good cause . . .
JW No. I suppose you are you. I don't wanna fight with you! There is a lot I wanna talk about. We'll have to let this purgatory thing slide for now, for the sake of peace. But please don't use gutter language. I never criticize you for that (I only criticize Armstrong and lie about his use of it), but my innocent ears can't bear to hear such things.
JW Why do you want to talk to me, of all people? What an honor!
ML I want to find out more about your efforts to defend me and some of my beliefs and actions while on earth, and to discuss this Dave Armstrong guy.
JW Armstrong??!!! Come on, Dr. Luther, do we have to talk about him? He writes so much false stuff about you, and endless meaningless nonsense about all kinds of things.
ML I do appreciate the fact that your intention is to look out for me. I should have acted that way with many more of my Protestant brothers on earth, but unfortunately, I made so many of them enemies and "damned" so many to hell, that many opportunities for charity and further understanding were lost [looks very regretful, with head down].
JW It's my pleasure, Dr. Luther. Don't feel bad. You are a great hero to many of us.
ML [embarrassed by the compliment] Please, call me Martin.
JW Okay, Martin. Well, you see, I am concerned about truth, just as you were (this is what I and many love about you the most). Roman Catholics (especially their apologists) often try to tear down this truth, and they go after you to try and make some "points" about Protestantism not being true.
ML Do they? Tell me more.
JW Martin, they are trying to paint you as this immoral, bad man. I try to explain to them that whatever your character was, that has no bearing on the lost truths you reintroduced to the Christian Church in the 16th century. Why can't they understand that? They're so hung up on saints, relics, and all that gibberish, that they miss the forest for the trees.
ML I thought that, too, while on earth; yes, but . . .
JW And Armstrong bothers me the most. He lies and has hatred, and writes tons and tons about you and people are starting to believe it! This is what must be opposed. We can't have a Catholic running around, educating people about you, because this is our heritage! And he distorts your opinions. I have taken it upon myself to correct him publicly, and expose these objectionable tactics.
ML You don't think he hates me?
JW I think so. He creates a picture of you as a very morally bankrupt person.
ML Well, I must say that I haven't seen this, in perusing his many papers about me. He gives me a hard time and offers many criticisms, but for the most part they are warranted, and not unreasonable at all, especially coming from a Catholic perspective. I don't see that he paints me as a "bad man." For example, he has written:
He was an undeniably courageous man and a passionately-committed Christian, but he was also a greatly-flawed man, and such persons often cause much harm in society, to the extent that they are culturally influential (as Luther obviously was) . . . My purpose is not (at ALL) to demonize Luther or make him out to be bad, evil, or the devil incarnate, but only to present a fuller historical picture (whatever the truth is: "positive" or "negative") and to make some criticisms where I think they are warranted (with the background support of historians on all sides). This doesn't amount to equating Luther with Attila the Hun, Vlad the Impaler, or Joseph Stalin; it is simply viewing him as a fallen, flawed man, as all of us are.And:
And -- believe it or not-- I (like many Catholics) do admire him in certain ways. I like his passion and boldness and apparent sincerity and good intentions (though thoroughly deluded and wrongheaded). He had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary and to the Eucharist.And:
I have never maintained that Luther was "evil" or essentially a "bad" man, nor have I ever denied his good intentions (I think I am being remarkably ecumenical in those respects). No one can find those sentiments on my website (if they do -- i.e., if I remember incorrectly --, I will promptly remove them).And:
I find Luther to be a fascinating (and oftentimes admirable, even quite charming) person.And (referring to some of Sir Arnold Lunn's opinions of me):
I have no desire whatsoever to misrepresent him or run him down as an evil man, but simply to contrast his teaching with that of the Catholic Church (and to rejoice where agreement is present).
His appraisal of Luther, is, I think, quite charitable and fair, and not similar in tone and tenor to those authors who might reasonably be described as anti-Protestant and/or anti-Luther; -- those who are determined to defame and slander Luther at all costs, including any dispassionate concern for historical truth.He agreed with Lunn's statement:
Those who have maintained that Luther himself was guilty of immorality have failed to prove their case.And:
Another bogus charge is that I "hate" Martin Luther. I do not, of course (quite the contrary: I admire him in many ways) and I have made that clear in several papers. I don't think he was an evil man and I don't question his sincerity or religious motivations. Beyond that, I have essentially defended him in several papers against false charges, . . .And:
In fact, in my recent exchange . . . about Luther's view of good works, I (in effect) defended Luther from the all-too-common charge that he denies the necessity of good works. I had already been doing that for years, . . . including in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. On my blog recently, I did so again, in response to a Catholic who didn't understand some fine points of Luther's view. Furthermore, I often cite Luther favorably when he agrees with the Catholic position, as in several papers about his Mariology, and his views on the Eucharist and baptismal regeneration.
In my upcoming book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants, I cite him at length in opposition to contraception and deliberately childless marriages (where he makes some marvelous and dead-on observations, with his characteristic passion and zeal and eloquence). When Luther is right about
something he is brilliantly right, and I happily regard him as my ally at those
Some people realize that I am doing this, and then I get accused of being hypocritical, since I disagree with Luther in one place and agree with himin another, as if this is somehow inexplicably improper. LOL You can't win for losing. Why can't these critics see that I am simply after the truth, wherever it lies? I think Luther got some things wrong and some things right. This is some incredible, incomprehensible phenomenon?
. . . The reason I write about Luther is obvious. If you don't get it, many others do. But that doesn't mean my interest is to bash Luther and lie about him. I'm simply trying to provide a bit of a Catholic viewpoint. All we hear is the Protestant side. It's called "balance" and "fairness" and "hearing both sides of the story." The truth is far more interesting than either the Protestant hagiographical or Catholic demonizing tendencies in dealing with Martin Luther. And that is what I am always after.
I would hope that I have grown in my twelve years of writing on these issues as a Catholic. I freely admit that my materials from the early 90s, right after my conversion, were far more polemical than I would write them today. Much of my writing about Luther on my site a few years back was from that period. I have since revised those several times, and even removed some of them (such as a general paper about Luther). And I have sought to utilize more primary sources, in part because of legitimate criticisms that I needed to do so, and in part because I was more interested and motivated to do extra research.ML I can find no fault in any of this. I think he is dead-on. However you characterize these words, Armstrong is not saying I am "very morally bankrupt." Where do you get that impression? You ought to do much more careful research. Some of your papers and You Tube commentaries would have received a C- for these shortcomings if you had been in my class!
And yes, it is true that some folks may generalize and claim things about my work and opinions that are not true, or unduly exaggerated. One lady, for example, said that I "hated" Martin Luther. You can see that this is not true, judging from your opinion of this one paper. I think she could have seen it too, but a lot of people just see what they want to see.
JW Well, Martin; I don't think I'm that far off the mark . . .
ML We must be very careful in dealing with other people's opinions (believe me, I have learned this lesson the hard way), and give them the benefit of the doubt that they are sincere in their self-reports. Armstrong has written so much about me (so that he holds no "secrets"), and he has reiterated recently the fact that he has written some twenty papers in which he actually defends me against some common falsehoods or does not oppose my opinion. How could you miss statements like this?
JW I don't know. Maybe my opinion as to what Romanist bias would cause in a student of Luther (um, you!) caused me to overlook it?
ML Now that is an excellent observation!
JW [seeking to quickly change the subject] You had all that material in your memory?
ML Yes! You wouldn't believe how the afterlife concentrates and refines the mind. It's incredible. And it helps to prevent a lot of misunderstanding, because all of this knowledge is right there when you need it. On earth, you have to go read things to remember. Fortunately, Armstrong's writings are there, and he plainly gives his opinion. He's a lot like me in that way! [wry smile]
JW We do get carried away sometimes on earth, I suppose, in our zeal to prove some point.
ML I was the all-time leading expert and practitioner of that! But I learned that the first responsibility of any criticism is to accurately represent one's opponent's viewpoint, and also not to speculate uncharitably on their state of mind or sincerity.
JW Even though Armstrong is not my brother in Christ. He still [haltingly and begrudgingly] deserves to have his works and words accurately portrayed.
ML What do you mean, he isn't your brother in Christ!? [troubled look]
JW He's a Romanist!
ML So am I!
JW You're a Lutheran, aren't you?
ML I used to be, but now I am a Catholic (what you wrongly call "Romanist"). What a silly name of a church, anyway: "Lutheran." I didn't want people to follow me, but to follow Christ!
JW Why are you a Rom . . . er, Catholic now?!!!! This doesn't make any sense . . .
ML It makes all the sense in the world. Catholicism is true. Protestants possess a great deal of truth, but the Catholic Church possesses apostolic doctrine and Christian truth in its fullness. I only learned that when I got here. Some of us are late learners.
JW Wow! You mean you've renounced a lot of the stuff you preached on earth? The 95 Theses, Babylonian Captivity, Bondage of the Will, and all that?
ML Yes, of course. No errors and falsehoods are permitted in either purgatory or heaven. The game's over when you get here.
JW I don't know what to say. As with purgatory, we will have to avoid those subjects for now. I can't handle a Romanist Martin Luther . . . that's too bizarre to even process . . .
JW You have a great laugh! I heard that about you.
ML Thanks! LOLOL I had a great big mouth while on earth too! LOLOL It is extremely difficult to unlearn things in purgatory that one was so convinced were true, let me tell you . . .
JW Martin! Let's get back to Armstrong, and get away from this Roman Catholic stuff. I've had enough of that.
ML Okay. Why do you and so many anti-Catholics accuse Armstrong of misrepresenting my mistaken views of capital punishment for heresy?
JW He is always emphasizing that you want to kill everybody . . .
ML I didn't want to do that . . .
JW I know, but he says that you did, so I (and some of my cronies in my fan club) let him have it.
ML That's simply not true! Haven't you seen his paper on my views regarding the Peasants' Revolt?
JW No. I don't read Armstrong's papers because they have no substance or content. They're just meaningless verbiage.
JW Dr. Luther, Dave Armstrong is causing great harm, because he is leading people astray, and into the falsehood of Roman Catholicism . . .
ML That's another topic. Armstrong quotes me scores of times, and my early views against violence and insurrection were made very clear in his paper on the Peasants' Revolt. I was contradictory, of course, as usual, but he documented everything.
JW But he is always bashing you, saying negative things and making out that you were some sort of nutty, foul-mouthed scoundrel!
ML I was not perfect. I was always the first to admit that. I had a problem with my tongue. What I'm curious about, is that if I readily admitted this myself, why do you become so upset when a Catholic merely points out historical facts?
JW Okay. Maybe you're right. But it's just maddening to see Dave ranting and raving about you.
ML But this is inaccurate! He hasn't done that!
JW Yes he has!
ML Give me an example, then.
JW Well how about when he talked about you supposedly being an "irascible old man"?
ML I was! LOLOL There is nothing in what Dave has written that hasn't been written long since by scores of Protestant historians. I wrote some terrible things in my last years: against the Jews, against Catholics and the Catholic Church, even against fellow Protestants. I will always regret that. Part of the reason was that I was a frustrated old man, with a lot of health problems (especially digestion: oh boy! I sure wish we had had Maalox when I was on earth!), But that doesn't excuse a lot of the garbage I wrote. Dave also noted these health problems in his earliest papers about me, but whatever excuses I had, doesn't negate Dave's point about the bad things I did do.
JW But Martin, come on! You know that you were frustrated because you weren't allowed to talk at Worms or anywhere else. They tried to shut you up.
ML Yes, but perhaps there is a time to shut up and to accept existing teaching? Who was I to question it and think I was almost some sort of prophet with all this truth, coming to earth to teach the Catholic Church what it should believe and not believe? For what reason should they have listened to me, if I contradicted what they had believed for 2000 years? Name me one.
JW You backed yourself up from the Bible! They can't do that.
ML I thought I did, but I was wrong. The things I emphasized that I am most proud of were doctrines that really were already traditionally Catholic, but simply less-practiced during that time, for many reasons: things like sola gratia and devotion to the Bible. Catholics loved the Bible in the Middle Ages. There is this stupid, &%^$-filled, lie (oops; there's my old bad habit of filthy talk again! sorry!) that I was the first to translate the Bible in German. This is a swinish, heathenish, turd from the devil! There were nineteen German translations of the Bible, between 1466 and my time. That movie about me lied like a drunken bartender about this. Those %$^#$%^$^'s; they ought to be damned! Sorry, again! Some things take a lot of time to correct. My mouth and lack of charity are two of them! [sheepish grin]
JW [smiling affectionately at Luther] Well, Martin, I don't approve of your language. I once tried to smear Dave Armstrong by violating the confidence of private letters and spreading falsehoods about his vulgar, profane tongue and sending letters to a bunch of people. But despite that fault, can I consult you the next time I write a paper about Dave Armstrong?
ML No. I don't approve of your methods. I came for a purpose, and hopefully, I have fulfilled it, and accomplished it. The final result, however, lies with you.
JW I do want to be more accurate in the future and to be fair to Dave and the Romanist Church (even though it preaches a false gospel and leads people to hell). If there is anything I have learned from this talk, it is that.
ML Great, James! But you don't need me to do that. You just have to do a little more reading and grant the benefit of the doubt. I'm preaching to myself! [smiling in a self-deprecating manner] I failed miserably to do this during my stay on earth. Obviously, God is still working on me.
JW But please; this has been so helpful. Can't we talk again?
ML Not in this way. But don't despair. You can always ask me to pray for you (and I will, whether you ask or not), and you can ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Queen of Heaven to intercede for you, since "the prayer of a righteous man availeth much," and she was sinless even before she went to heaven.
JW Martin! Here we go with that Romanist nonsense again . . .
ML But I taught most of that even when I was on the earth, silly! [vanishes, with a huge, hearty laugh, heard for a long time fading away in the distance]
JW [shakes his head, smiles, ponders for a long time in amazement what just took place; then he wanders off to the local Wittenberg pub and then the library, to do more research on Dave Armstrong; now determined to read all his papers on Luther before starting his next critique, so that, next time, he doesn't get caught in several completely avoidable errors, logical shortcomings, and factual mistakes . . .]
Posted: 9-22-04. Revised slightly: 9-28-04. Major revision: 6 April 2008.