Saturday, September 25, 2004

Luther's Outrageous Assertions About Certain Biblical Books (Protestant Scholars' Opinions and "Debate" With John Warwick Montgomery)

By Dave Armstrong (9-25-04)

Martin Luther's words will be in either blue (first portion) or red (second portion)

* * * * *


Historian Preserved Smith writes (emphasis added):
But Luther was not the man to be bound by his own rule; few of his followers have ever interpreted, commented on, and criticized the Bible with the freedom habitual to him. The books he judged according as they appealed to his own subjective nature, or according to his spiritual needs. He often exercised his reason in determining the respective worth of the several books of the Bible, and in a way which has been confirmed to a surprising degree by subsequent researches. He denied the Mosaic authorship of part of the Pentateuch; he declared Job to be an allegory; Jonah was so childish that he was almost inclined to laugh at it; the books of Kings were "a thousand paces ahead of Chronicles and more to be believed." “Ecclesiastes has neither boots nor spurs, but rides in socks, as I did when I was in the cloister."
(Smith, 268)
The Lutheran scholar and Luther expert Paul Althaus, observed, similarly:
He thereby established the principle that the early church's formation and limitation of the canon is not exempt from re-examination . . . the canon is only a relative unity, just as it is only relatively closed. Therewith Luther has in principle abandoned every formal approach to the authority of the Bible. It is certainly understandable that Luther's prefaces were no longer printed in German Bibles. One may characterize his attitude in this way: The canon itself was, as far as Luther was concerned, a piece of ecclesiastical tradition and therefore subject to criticism on the basis of God's word.

(Althaus, 85, 336)
The latter paragraph is, of course, circular reasoning. "God's word" presupposes certain books in the Bible which make up its contents. The Bible doesn't list its own books. Therefore, any canon must necessarily involve "ecclesiastical tradition" (whether Luther likes that or not) and the Bible alone cannot resolve the question. Luther chooses to ditch longstanding apostolic Tradition regarding the canon, and substitutes his own judgments as to the sub-canonicity or quasi-canonicity of four New Testament books.


This was so radical that virtually no Protestants have ever accepted it, and even his own Lutheran successors (Melanchthon, Chemnitz, and the confessional Book of Concord) rejected it.
Lutheran Mark F. Bartling (WELS), in his informative paper, Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?, although unwilling to grant that Luther's view amounted to subjectivism, arbitrariness, and liberal higher criticism, nevertheless, stated:
It must be admitted that Luther did develop a personal criterion of canonicity that took its place along side of apostolicity and universality (those books unanimously accepted by the early church, homologoumena) . . . It was, of all people, Carlstadt who condemned Luther for this criterion. Carlstadt said: "One must appeal either to known apostolic authorship or to universal historical acceptance as to the test of a book’s canonicity, not to internal doctrinal considerations." [De Canonicis Scripturis libellus, Wittenberg, 1520, p. 50]. This position of Carlstadt was also the position of Martin Chemnitz and of C. F. W. Walther [Compendium Theologiae Positivae, Vol. I. p. 149].
(Bartling, 3)
Carlstadt rhetorically asked Luther about his opinion of James:
Why, if you allow the Jews to stamp books with authority by receiving them, do you refuse to grant as much power to the Churches of Christ, since the Church is not less than the Synagogue?

(in Westcott, 486)
In this instance, Carlstadt's reasoning is exactly correct, as to the general Christian and Catholic (and Church) understanding of canonicity prior to Luther. Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), the great Lutheran theologian, is cited in footnote 14 (Bartling, 5-6) at length, contra Luther:
Of the books of the New Testament which lacked sufficiently reliable, firm, and harmonious testimonies of their certainty and authority in the first and ancient church, these are listed: (Eusebius, Bk, 3, chr. 25) The writings which are not considered to be undoubted but which are spoken against, although they were known to many, are these: The Epistle of James, that of Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John; the Apocalypse of John some reject, while others number it with the certain and undoubted writings. It also must not be ignored that some in the Roman church rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, asserting that it was spoken against as not being Paul’s…The Epistle of James, it is asserted, was published by some other person under his name…The epistle which is put down as the first among the general epistles is said to be by that James who was called the Just and Oblias. But we must know that it was not judged to be genuine and legitimate but spurious and counterfeit. Therefore not many of the ancients make mention of it, as also of that of Jude.

Since some of the most ancient writers had ascribed some of these books to apostles, others, however, had contradicted, this matter, even as it was not indubitably certain, was left in doubt. For this whole matter depends on sure, firm, and harmonious testimonies of the first and ancient church, and where these are lacking, the later church, as it cannot make genuine books out of spurious ones, so also it cannot make certain writings out of doubtful ones without clear and firm proofs.

(Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I, p. 100-150 and 168-196)
Amen! This view is not merely a Catholic one, but also the mainstream Protestant opinion on the canon. Bartling also provides further relevant commentary from another Lutheran theologian:
One must distinguish well between the extent of the Canon and the inspiration of the books which are canonical with question. Here Wilhelm Walther says correctly that for Luther the extent of the Canon was an open question, but the books that were canonical were absolutely authoritative for him as the inspired Word of God. But this distinction is always being overlooked. Modern theologians always want to draw conclusions from Luther’s remarks concerning individual books as to his attitude towards the Word in general and its inspiration and thus make Luther share their liberal views regarding inspiration." Cf. also Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I, p. 276-98.
(Bartling, 4; footnote 11)


According to Bartling, Luther's very view of the inerrancy of Scripture led him to adopt a radical position regarding James' canonicity:
Luther, when thus faced with what he believed to be an error or a contradiction between James and Paul, rejected James as canonical since the canonical Scriptures can never err or contradict. We might well question this approach. Instead, we might offer ways of harmonizing Paul and James [footnote 18: "Apology Augsburg Confession" Art III, 123]. We can say Luther was wrong, but we must admit he was wrong for the right reasons.

(Bartling, 3)
One might reply that it is better to be right for the wrong reasons. But whatever the reasons, they must be regarded as secondary. In any event, Luther was wrong about the NT canon. Our concern is with what such a huge error tells us about the mindset of the man who made it, and especially the relationship of this error to the larger question of Christian authority.

Bartling also notes that it is not only Catholics who regard Luther's view of the NT canon as subjective and prone to liberal tendencies of destructive higher criticism of the Bible. He cites two "liberal Bible scholars" Heinrich Voigt: "Luther could not have regarded Holy Scripture word for word the product of the Holy Ghost, since he felt at liberty to express the most liberal views on whole books of the Bible" (Fundamentaldomatik, p. 536), and Edgar Krentz:

"Some feel that Luther here introduced a subjective element as justification for present day content criticism" (Historical-Critical Method, p. 9-10).

And on the same web page that includes Bartling's article, a 1963 paper from Lutheran scholar Elmer J. Moeller, "The Authority of a N.T. canonical book," delves into the relationship between apostolicity, inspiration, and canonicity. Note how Luther diverges from these, and the implications for those books (Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation) that he regarded as "lesser":
10. The distinction between homologoumena and antilegomena which the early church made, and which has been followed in our own Church, indicates three
criteria which on investigation are found to be echoes of Scriptural requirements for imposition of authority in doctrine:
a. Authenticity. Cf. 2 Th 2,2.3-15;3,14.17; 1 Co 14,37.
b. Authorship by an apostle. Cf. John 14, 26;15, 19.20, 26;16, 12-14; 17,20 and Ro 1,1.2.5. et al.
c. Authorship by someone whose person and message were commended to the Church by apostles. For the apostles were normative to 1) N.T. prophets. Eph 3,5; 2 Th 2,2; 1 Co 14, 37.38. 2) Co-workers of apostles.
Col 4,7. 10-11. 17; 1 Ti 3, 14-15; 4,11-12;6,2; 2 Ti 1,12; 1 Co 16,10; 2 Ti 4,11; Eph 6,21; Co 8,6.23; Tit 2,15.
11. The homologoumena meet criteria a and b. In the instance of Mark and Luke a and c apply. The Church indicates that Mark and Luke held unique positions to Peter and Paul, and that living apostles, particularly John, approved the writings of Mark and Luke.
12. To deny that such criteria applied to and were fulfilled in the homologoumena is to deny any Scriptural reason for accepting them as authoritative. Doubt as to the fulfillment of any of these criteria in the early church caused a book to be antilegomenon, therefore not absolute authority (cf. 9 above.)
13. N.T. books themselves, therefore God the Holy Spirit, indicated these criteria and through them imposed themselves on the early church as indicated by the evidence. To deny these criteria is to assume instead a process of canonization which predicates an inspired choice of authoritative books, something which Scripture knows nothing about. Cf. 2 Th 2,2,2,15; 3,14. To uphold inspired canonization is to uphold a false doctrine of inspiration. . . .
. . . 15. Canonics and inspiration are inseparable related. God inspired known apostles to write known books which were accepted as inspired; or (Mark, Luke) God inspired known men, whom the church knew from apostles to be inspired, to write known books which were accepted as inspired under apostolic authority.
Catholic Luther biographer Hartmann Grisar wrote:
. . . his criticism of the Bible proceeds along entirely subjective and arbitrary lines. The value of the sacred writings is measured by the rule of his own doctrine. He treats the venerable canon of Scripture with a liberty which annihilates all certitude. For, while this list has the highest guarantee of sacred tradition and the backing of the Church, Luther makes religious sentiment the criterion by which to decide which books belong to the Bible, which are doubtful, and which are to be excluded. At the same time he practically abandons the concept of inspiration, for he says nothing of a special illuminative activity of God in connection with the writers' composition of the Sacred Book, notwithstanding that he holds the Bible to be the Word of God because its authors were sent by God. As is well known, during the age of orthodox Lutheranism its devotees fell into the other extreme by teaching so-called verbal inspiration, according to which every single word of the Bible has been dictated by God. Catholic theology has always observed a golden mean between these extremes.
 . . . It is a fact that must not be overlooked that parts of the Bible which Luther retained were taken over from the tradition of the past. By way of exception and as a matter of necessity, he thus conceded the claims of tradition. Though otherwise opposed to it, he took it as his guide and safeguard in this respect without admitting the fact. Thus his attitude towards the Bible is really burdened with 'flagrant contradictions,' to use an expression of Harnack, especially since he 'had broken through the external authority of the written word,' by his critical method. And of this, Luther is guilty, the very man who elsewhere represents the Bible as the sole principle of faith!
If, in addition to this, his arbitrary method of interpretation is taken into consideration, the work of destruction wrought by him appears even greater. The only weapon he possessed he wrested from his own hand, as it were, both theoretically and in practice.

His procedure regarding the sacred writings is apt to make thoughtful minds realize how great is the necessity of an infallible Church as divinely appointed guardian and authentic interpreter of the Bible.
(Grisar, 263-265)

How does a Protestant have certainty on any book apart from authoritative Church tradition (something most Church Fathers never attained to)? What gives Luther any authority to decide apart from that tradition? Lutheran scholar John Warwick Montgomery makes a very similar point. Though he was not applying it to Luther, I would surely do so:
A most dangerous method of resolving arguments is the appeal to human authority. A disagrees With B; A Cites great man C in his behalf; B Claims that great man D supports his view; and the discussion degenerates into an attempt on the part of A to show that his authority is superior to B's, While B endeavors to demonstrate the superiority of his authority. In the course of such discussions the protagonists generally forget the real point at issue, namely, the relative value of the evidence marshalled by the authorities appealed to. In the final analysis, it is not the judgment of the alleged authority that determines the question, but the value of his evidence. Why? because, God excepted, authorities are like the rest of us: they can make mistakes.
(Montgomery, first paragraph)
I would only disagree insofar as there is such a thing as Church authority which can be protected by God from error. It is precisely because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit that errors can be avoided. In other words, more is at play than simply fallible man. The supernatural protection of God is the crucial factor. Catholics believe this in faith. Luther and Protestants deny it, with regard to any human institution, and apply it only to the Bible. That being the case, Luther's own opinions can be questioned, rather than accepted as from some oracle on high, as he often demanded, if not in so many words, then by the practical effect of his demeanor when disagreed with. Many Protestant scholars fully accept Christian tradition in this matter. I've cited several above and below.

Luther says ridiculous things about various biblical books, as if he is some sort of prophet or oracle from heaven. It it weren't such a serious issue, it would be utterly laughable as a farce of the first order: the hubris of man writ large, even onto Holy Writ.


Luther's view of the canon was dealt with in Luther's Works (the 55-volume standard set of Luther writings in English, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan):
In terms of order, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation come last in Luther’s New Testament because of his negative estimate of their apostolicity. In a catalogue of “The Books of the New Testament” which followed immediately upon his Preface to the New Testament… Luther regularly listed these four—without numbers—at the bottom of a list in which he named the other twenty-three books, in the order in which they still appear in English Bibles, and numbered them consecutively from 1–23 . . . a procedure identical to that with which he also listed the books of the Apocrypha.

(LW, 35, 393, footnote 43)
[emphasis added]
As books of secondary rank come Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation.
(LW, 35: 231-232)
Note that Luther denied the apostolicity of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. Now, how can a book be included in the NT if it were not written by an apostle?

Paul Althaus wrote:
Luther did not intend to require anyone to accept his judgment, he only wanted to express his own feeling about these particular books.

(Althaus, 84)
But this is part of the point. It is obvious that Luther carried no authority of his own in this regard, because he is not the Judge of the Bible (nor of Christian received Tradition, as far as I am concerned, though he, in effect, assumes that he can judge and modify that, too). It's not up to him to decide. Our concern is with the absurdity of his opinions, period, and what they tell us about his own state of mind, his rash presumption, and his illegitimate Christian epistemology.

The Church determined that James' book was canonical. If Luther wants to start re-questioning the ancient Church's judgment on such matters as biblical books, why not also in matters of the Holy Trinity, and Christology, which were hammered out for many centuries, too? I understand that James was late to be included in the canon, but the fact remains that eventually it was considered canonical. Luther, then, has to explain why he rejects this ancient determination by the Church. On what grounds? It is ultimately decided on the basis of his own subjective opinion, as so often . . .

What Luther has to also account for is the fact that the canonicity of 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John (books he accepted as fully canonical) were also questioned very late: as late as the Council of Nicea in 325. If he wants to make an historical argument, he will lose every time, due to such inconsistencies with his own opinion. Bible scholar F.F. Bruce made the same point in his book on the canon (I discovered these words after I wrote the above):
Luther knew that those books had been disputed in earlier days: that, however, is not his main reason for relegating them to a secondary status. He appears to have had no difficulty with 2 Peter or 2 or 3 John, which had also been disputed. His main reason is that in the four relegated books he could not find that clear promotion of Christ which was the principle note of holy scripture.

(Bruce, 244)


Here is Luther's famous (or infamous) comment from his original Preface to the New Testament, 1522 version (my emphasis):

In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw,  compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. But more of this in the other prefaces.

(LW 35:362)

Luther dropped the "epistle of straw" insult passage from his 1545 revision of this preface. But even renowned Protestant Bible scholar F.F. Bruce not only did not mention that Luther later dropped the phrase "epistle of straw"; he also incorrectly stated which preface it was from:
It is in his preface to James in his 1522 New Testament that he calls it 'an epistle of straw'.
(Bruce, 243)


But seriously, Luther may have changed his mind about this description, but that doesn't mean his overall opinion of James changed all that much. This was only one negative description among many. I see no indication that Luther's opinion of the book's apostolicity or its theological content (supposedly contrary to his false faith alone soteriology) was ever modified. Hartmann Grisar, S.J. author of a six-volume biography of Luther, stated in his additional one-volume biography, after citing the "epistle of straw" comment (which he noted was from 1522):
Luther always adhered essentially to his opinion of the Epistle of St. James as quoted above.
(Grisar, 264)
Paul Althaus writes:
In the Preface to James in 1522 and still in 1543 Luther speaks of the "really main books." He cannot include the Letter of James among them because James preaches the law instead of the gospel . . .

After 1530, he even omitted the sharpest phrases in the Preface to James (for example, "Therefore I do not want to have him in my Bible"). Luther therefore did not intend that the congregations should continue to read these judgments. For himself and in speaking before his theological students he maintained his judgment of James even later. In this, however, he was for the most part concerned with preventing his Roman opponents from continually using James as an argument against the Reformation gospel than he was about the letter as such.

(Althaus, 84-85)
Luther wrote in 1520:
I will say nothing of the fact that many assert with much probability that this epistle is not by James the apostle, and that it is not worthy of an apostolic spirit; although, whoever was its author, it has come to be regarded as authoritative.
(LW 36:118)
In 1542 Luther stated (as recorded in one of the versions of Table-Talk):
We should throw the Epistle of James out of this school [Wittenberg], for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning [Jas. 1:1; 2:1]. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did. He wrote not a word about the suffering and resurrection of Christ, although this is what all the apostles preached about. Besides, there’s no order or method in the epistle. Now he discusses clothing and then he writes about wrath and is constantly shifting from one to the other. He presents a comparison: ‘As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead’ [Jas. 2:26]. O Mary, mother of God! What a terrible comparison that is! James compares faith with the body when he should rather have compared faith with the soul! The ancients recognized this, too, and therefore they didn’t acknowledge this letter as one of the catholic epistles.
(LW 54:424)
Preserved Smith includes the prior paragraph:
Many sweat to reconcile St. Paul and St. James, as does Melanchthon in his Apology, but in vain. "faith justifies" and "faith does not justify" contradict each other flatly. If any one can harmonize them I will give him my doctor's hood and let him call me a fool.
(Smith, 269)
Mark Bartling cites the same passage, but states that it is from 1532, not 1542:
Luther, in a Table Talk in 1532, however still believed Paul and James could not be harmonized. He says, "Many have tried hard to make James agree with Paul, as also Melanchthon did in his Apology, but not seriously (successfully). These do not harmonize: Faith justifies, and faith does not justify. To him who can make these two agree I will give my doctor’s cap and I am willing to be called a fool." Weimar, "Tischreden" (3), p. 3292.

(Bartling, 6; footnote 18)
Smith also documents some of Luther's "marginal notes in one of his own Bibles":
To James i, 6 (But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering), he remarks, "That is the only good place in the whole epistle"; to i, 21 (Receive with meekness the engrafted word), "Others engrafted it, not this James"; to ii, 12 ff., "What a chaos!" and to ii, 24 (Ye see then that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only), "That is false."

(Smith, 269-270)

By what authority does Luther deign to make such judgments at all, and how does he prove that his own opinion carries more weight than (or even equal weight with, as an opinion) the determination of the ancient Church to proclaim definitively on the canon (including the book of James)? Luther acts much like the "higher critics" and liberal Bible scholars today. Preserved Smith made a similar observation:
Luther's attitude to the Bible contains one striking contradiction. He insisted that it should be taken as a whole and literally as God's inerrant Word; and at the same time he was himself the freest of "higher critics."

(Smith, 267)
It's interesting to note in passing that Smith seems to have also labored under the same misconception concerning the 1545 version of the Preface of the New Testament, viz., that it contained the "epistle of straw" remark, since on page 268 he introduces the larger passage which contains it, with "In the preface of 1545 he says . . ." But Smith was writing in 1911 and perhaps had less information than we do now.


Another rather silly Luther utterance is also from 1542:
That epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest. Up to this point I have been accustomed just to deal with and interpret it according to the sense of the rest of Scriptures. For you will judge that none of it must be set forth contrary to manifest Holy Scripture. Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kalenberg did.
(LW 34:317)
Mark Bartling cites something similar to this:

Only the papists accept James on account of the righteousness of works, but my opinion is that it is not the writings of an apostle. Some day I will use James to fire my stove.

(Bartling, 2; Weimar, Tischreden [5], p. 5854)
Without further context, we cannot be sure of the exact meaning, but Bartling seems to have assumed that Luther was referring to the book of James.


Whatever he meant, we have his clear opinions about James in his Preface to James and Jude. The following citation is the complete preface. Luther revised the second to last paragraph, which I will present in both versions (emphasis is added):
Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. However, to state my own opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone, I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle, and my reasons follow.
In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works (2:24). It says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac (2:20); Though in Romans 4:22-22 St. Paul teaches to the contrary that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15:6. Although it would be possible to "save" the epistle by a gloss giving a correct explanation of justification here ascribed to works, it is impossible to deny that it does refer to Moses' words in Genesis 15 (which speaks not of Abraham's works but of his faith, just as Paul makes plain in Romans 4) to Abraham's works. This fault proves that this epistle is not the work of any apostle.

In the second place its purpose is to teach Christians, but in all this long teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ. He names Christ several times; however he teaches nothing about him, but only speaks of general faith in God. Now it is the office of a true apostle to preach of the Passion and resurrection and office of Christ, and to lay the foundation for faith in him, as Christ himself says in John 15[:27], "You shall bear witness to me.? All the genuine sacred books agree in this, that all of them preach and inculcate [treiben] Christ. And that is the true test by which to judge all books, when we see whether or not they inculcate Christ. For all the Scriptures show us Christ, Romans 3[:21]; and St. Paul will know nothing but Christ, I Corinthians 2[:2].
Whatever does not teach Christ is not yet apostolic, even though St. Peter or St. Paul does the teaching. Again, whatever preaches Christ would be apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod were doing it." (ibid).

But this James does nothing more than drive to the law and its works. Besides, he throws things together so chaotically that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few sayings from the disciples of the apostles and thus tossed them off on paper. Or it may perhaps have been written by someone on the basis of his preaching. He calls the law a "law of liberty" [1:25], though Paul calls it a law of slavery, of wrath, of death, and of sin.

Moreover he cites the sayings of St. Peter [in 5:20]; Love covers a multitude of sins" [1 Pet. 4:8], and again [in 4:10], "Humble yourselves under he had of God" [1 Pet. 5:6] also the saying of St. Paul in Galatians 5[:17], "The Spirit lusteth against envy." And yet, in point of time, St. James was put to death by Herod [Acts 12:2] in Jerusalem, before St. Peter. So it seems that [this author] came long after St. Peter and St. Paul.

1522 version: In a word, he wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task in spirit, thought, and words. He mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture. [PE version: "rends the Scriptures and thereby resists Paul and all Scripture] He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him. One man is no man in worldly things; how then, should this single man alone avail against Paul and all Scripture.

1545 version: In a word, he wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task. He tries to accomplish by harping on the law [PE version: "insisting on the Law"] what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore I cannot include him among the chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him.

Concerning the epistle of St. Jude, no one can deny that it is an extract or copy of St. Peter's second epistle, so very like it are all the words. He also speaks of the apostles like a disciple who comes long after them [Jude 17] and cites sayings and incidents that are found nowhere else in the Scriptures [Jude 9, 14]. This moved the ancient Fathers to exclude this epistle from the main body of the Scriptures. Moreover the Apostle Jude did not go to Greek-speaking lands, but to Persia, as it is said, so that he did not write Greek. Therefore, although I value this book, it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books which are supposed to lay the foundations of faith.

(LW, 35:395-398; cf. PE, 6:477-479)

Another translation of the preface by Bertram Lee Woolf, from The Reformation Writings of Martin Luther, vol. II, The Spirit of the Protestant Reformation (London: Lutterworth Press, 1956, 306-308), can be read in the paper, Did Luther consider James Scripture?: A look at the preface to James and Jude, by Catholic apologist "Matt1618." Here are a couple of Woolf's more notable renderings of Luther's pungent language: "in direct opposition to St. Paul and all the rest of the Bible, it ascribes justification to works" (1545), and "He does violence to Scripture, and so contradicts Paul and all Scripture" (1522). This was also reprinted in Dillenberger, pages 35-37 (see sources).

Readers can make up their own minds what all this means, and whether it is acceptable. I trust that my own opinion of such utterances has been made very clear by now.


We have seen Luther's opinion of the book of Jude in the last paragraph of the preface above. Luther denies its apostolicity, too. Some argue that because Luther cited Jude in sermons, therefore he thought it was okay and fine and dandy. But the latter is not in question; rather, we are concerned with its canonicity and inspiration as a fully biblical book (not a secondary book, less than "chief"). Luther denies this on arbitrary grounds, against the witness of the ancient Church. I want to know how and why he thought he could do this. Luther wrote, in introducing his sermons on Jude:
But this letter does not seem to have been written by the real apostle, for in it Jude refers to himself as a much later disciple of the apostles. Nor does it contain anything special beyond pointing to the Second Epistle of Saint Peter, from which it has borrowed nearly all the words.

(LW 30:201)

Turning to Luther's opinion of the book of Revelation, here is an excerpt of his original 1522 preface:
About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own ideas, and would bind no man to my opinion or judgment; I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and this makes me hold it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic . . .

And so I think of it almost as I do of the Fourth Book of Esdras, and can nohow detect that the Holy Spirit produced it . . .

. . . It is just the same as if we had it not, and there are many far better books for us to keep.

. . . Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit gives him to think. My spirit cannot fit itself into this book. There is one sufficient reason for me not to think highly of it, -- Christ is not taught or known in it; but to teach Christ is the thing which an apostle is bound, above all else, to do, as He says in Acts i, 'Ye shall be my witnesses.' Therefore I stick to the books which give me Christ, clearly and purely.

(PE, 6:488-489)
The later 1530 revision was infinitely more positive (and we Catholics are delighted that Luther seems to have had a change of heart), but I want to know why that is, and why Luther wrote the ridiculous nonsense of the first preface. As I noted in my earlier paper, this was a year after he expected the Church to accept his novel teachings (Diet of Worms, 1521: "Here I stand," etc.). He could write this sort of radical, subjective material, and yet everyone was simply to bow down and accept everything he taught? So I think it is a valid question to pursue, as part of an overall analysis of the mind of Luther and implications for the Protestant rule of faith and rejection of the apostolic authority of the Catholic Church. Paul Althaus and John Warwick Montgomery describe Luther's opinion of Revelation (along with Jude, James, and Hebrews):
But for the rest of his life, he continued to put a different value on the books which he had put together at the end of his Bible than on the "main books."

(Althaus, 85)
True enough, all the editions of Luther's German Bible - right to the last one he himself supervised (1545) - retain the classification by which the four antilegomena are grouped together, in a kind of bibliographical ghetto, after the other books. Comments remain in the Prefaces (e.g., Romans) indicating that Luther always held to a hierarchy of biblical books, with the Gospel of John and Romans constituting the empyrean. A careful study of Luther's remarks on and treatment of James throughout his career has shown that, wholly apart from the Prefaces, the Reformer consistently held a low view of the book's utility.
(Montgomery, comments preceding footnotes 54 and 55)


Luther wrote in his 1522 Preface to this book:
The fact that Hebrews is not an epistle of St. Paul, or of any other apostle, is proved by what it says in chapter 2[:3], that through those who had themselves heard it from the Lord this doctrine has come to us and remained among us. It is thereby made clear that he is speaking about the apostles, as a disciple to whom this doctrine has come from the apostles, perhaps long after them. For St. Paul, in Galatians 1[:1], testifies powerfully that he has his gospel from no man, neither through men, but from God himself.

(LW 35:394)
Luther concludes: ". . . to be sure, we cannot put it on the same level with the apostolic epistles" (LW, 35, 394).


John Warwick Montgomery makes some curious remarks (prior to his footnote 56) that will serve as a springboard for a general critique of Luther's attitude towards the canon:
We must admit that in one sense Luther does reevaluate the Canon, though haltingly, tentatively, sensitively - not at all like a modern radical critic and certainly not as a spokesman for the church (we have already noted his hesitancy to influence others at this point). As for his reasons for reopening the canonical question, they were not at all as subjective, arbitrary, and cavalier as they are often made to seem.
This is easy to say, but much harder to demonstrate and to defend under scrutiny. It smacks too much of a "distinction without a difference."
Luther appeals not to subjective considerations but objectively to the judgments of the early church, specifically to what Jerome says in his De viris illustribus, chap. 2. and to what Eusebius reports in his Ecclesiastical History, Bk. II, chap. 23 and Bk. III, chap. 25. The negative evaluations of antilegomena by certain church fathers were certainly unjustified, as history proved, but Luther had every right to raise the question in terms of the fathers.
One wonders where to begin in replying to this: so full is it of muddled thinking and illogical assertions! The bottom line is the inconsistent notion that Luther "had every right" to question the canon by appealing to certain fathers, yet (by implication) Catholics have no right to accept the traditional canon by appealing to the ancient Church in council. History shows -- nay, even "prove[s]" -- that these negative judgments of certain NT books were "certainly unjustified" yet it was okay for Luther to again bring them into question.

One must ask, then: how does "history" prove anything? By what criteria was the canon established? How is it that Luther can appeal to fallible Church fathers who happened to agree with him in particulars, but Catholics may not appeal to the authoritative Church; you know: the same body that did things like clarify the doctrine of the Holy Trinity at the Council of Nicea in 325, and the Two Natures of Christ at the Council of Chalcedon in 451?

That same Church authoritatively proclaimed (as opposed to "creating") the books of the canon. But we mustn't listen to the ancient Church -- the Church of the Fathers -- when it does that. Instead, we must dredge up some dissenting voices of individual Fathers or even historians like Eusebius. St. Jerome, it should be noted, yielded to Church authority when his views conflicted with it. He did so with regard to the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament. Luther lacked this quality of submitting to the Church, as we all know.
Unless one is going to make the fatal error of accepting the content of Scripture because the institutional church has declared it such (which necessarily subordinates Scripture to Church and brings the Protestant back to his Romanist vomit),
How is it "fatal"? It seems to me that it is the only plausible, non-subjective choice. One either accepts the ancient canon, or they fall back on the subjective judgments of individuals like Luther, based on the subjective judgments of other men like Jerome and Eusebius. The Fathers disagreed amongst themselves about the canon. It was only when the Church declared the matter as settled, in the late 4th century, that the differences ceased. But for some reason, Luther wanted to reopen the canon. Thus, even the question of "what books are in the Bible?" must be an open question, as with so much else in Protestantism.

Moreover, accepting the traditional canon (I speak primarily of the NT, in the context of dealing with Luther's opinions of it) does not at all entail "subordinating" Scripture to the Church. It is simply a practical reality that, since men differed in their opinions, the corporate Church had to settle the matter. Does it subordinate God to men, for men to merely describe the nature of God as One God in Three Persons? Do men now define and create God because they declared His Nature (i.e., engaged in what is called "theology proper") and bound Christians to hold to this definition? Of course not. God is Who He is, no matter what we say about Him.

Likewise, Scripture is infallible, inspired, and the sum total of a certain set of books, no matter what we say. It is what it is, and men do not make it what it is; God does. This is the position of the Catholic Church, as stated in Vatican I and Vatican II (see my paper, "The Canon of Scripture: Did the Catholic Church Create It Or Merely Authoritatively Acknowledge It?") . This doesn't "necessarily" put Scripture "under" the Church, but it does put men under the authority of the Church, whose function is to protect them from believing errors and falsehoods. This is true regarding the canon.

History bears this out, by illustrating how the fathers disagreed in the early centuries about which books were in the canon (often thinking books were in it which are not in fact, such as The Shepherd of Hermas or the Epistles of Ignatius and Clement). This shows us that we cannot rely on the fathers and must rely on the dogmatic pronouncements of the Church. But Montgomery absurdly defends the reliance on individual fathers while characterizing reliance on the traditional canon as (in a most delightful phrase) returning to "Romanist vomit". This is sheer Protestant polemics, which, as usual, is found wanting as soon as it is closely examined.
there is no choice but to refer canonicity questions to the earliest judgments available historically concerning the apostolic authority of New Testament books.
If we do that then we are doomed to "canonical relativism," as the "earliest judgments" could not resolve the question of the canon. It is the "later" judgment of the Church (late 4th century) which resolved the question.
Christ promised to the apostolic company a unique and entirely reliable knowledge of His teachings through the special guidance of His Holy Spirit (John 14;26), so the issue of the apostolicity of New Testament writings has always been vital for the church. As a theologian, Luther had the right, even the responsibility, to raise this issue, and did not become a subjectivist by doing so.
An individual doing this, over against the judgment of the ancient Church is not only subjective indeed, but outrageously arrogant and absurd. The guarantee of doctrinal truthfulness was given to the Church, not atomistic individuals who were not subject to the Church. The reliance on individualism and private judgment is precisely what has created the mess of doctrinal relativism and ecclesiological chaos that is Protestantism today.

Montgomery continues:
One of his favorite sayings was that he did his best theological work when angry!) Is it not indicative that the Revelation of St. John gains in stature for him as he sees its apologetic possibilities vis-à-vis the papacy ("the whore that sitteth on the seven hills," etc.)?
This makes perfect sense to me: that Luther would mull over whether a traditionally-accepted biblical book was fully canonical based on anger and its polemical utility in his never-ending slanderous opposition to the Catholic Church. It's entirely subjective (and quite ridiculous and offensive). Montgomery agrees to a large extent, though for somewhat different reasons. Though continuing to distance himself from the charge that Luther was a subjectivist, he bolsters one of my main points and even goes very far towards admitting it, offering some valuable and cogent insights into this question:
Here, if anywhere, those arguing against Luther's biblical orthodoxy have a point. Though it is unfair to call him a subjectivist on the canonical question, there is no doubt that he developed a personal criterion of canonicity that took its place alongside of apostolicity and perhaps even swallowed it up . . .

The dangers in such an approach to canonicity are legion, and they were fully recognized by Luther's own contemporaries - not only by his theological opponents but also by his colleagues and supporters . . . As is well known, the church that carries Luther's name has never adopted his canonical judgments.

Though it is understandable that, passionate reforming spirit that he was, Luther would reintroduce the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith everywhere, it is unfortunate that he misused it as a canonical criterion. One must first establish the Canon and then set forth all that the canonical books teach: canonicity before doctrine. If one reverses the procedure, personal doctrinal emphasis, however commendatory, may turn into weapons by which genuine Scripture is rejected or down-played unnecessarily. Had Luther begun with a purely historical view of the Canon, he would have been forced to discover the entire compatibility between James and Paul; his misleading criterion of canonicity opened the floodgates to subjectivity - in spite of his best intentions - and short-circuited the kind of exegesis of James that would have revealed its harmony with Pauline teaching and its vital complementary place in the corpus of New Testament doctrine.

. . . Let us learn from Luther both positively and negatively. His experiential criterion of canonicity shows how even a great theologian committed to the objective, theocentric authority of God's Word can slip into subjective, anthropocentric thinking. If this was possible for Luther, is it any wonder that the lesser theological lights of our own day easily fall victim to the parallel temptations of using their spiritual experience to create a "canon within the canon" and a Bible that is not indefeasible in its own right? We should remember how readily the experiential pietism of the late 17th century became the rationalism of the 18th century, and see the dangers in our own revivalistic heritage . . .
(Montgomery; sections preceding footnotes 56-59 and 75)

Luther opined on the book of Esther:

I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities.

(Table-Talk, #XXIV, p. 13)

Esther…which despite their [the Jews] inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical.

(LW 33:110)
The great evangelical biblical scholar F.F. Bruce, commented on the first statement:
It is noteworthy that he shows his exercise of private judgment here by including Esther under the same condemnation as 2 Maccabees: Esther is one of the books which Jerome acknowledged as acceptable for the establishing of doctrine . . .

(Bruce, 101)

I would like to close by citing three Protestant critics of Luther's approach to the NT canon:
F.F. Bruce (citing another scholar) observes:
If those who adhere to the principle of an inner canon concentrate on that inner canon to a point where they neglect the contents of the 'outer canon' (as they might call it), they deny themselves the benefits which they might derive from those other books. N.B. Stonehouse gave as his 'basic criticism' of Luther's viewpoint 'that it was narrowly Christocentric rather than God-centred, and thus involved an attenuation and impoverishment of the message of the New Testament . . . formulating his criterion in narrow terms, and insisting upon the same manifestation of it in each writing of the New Testament', Luther 'missed much of the richness of the revelation of the New Testament organism of Scripture' . . .

In short, it must be acknowledged that the churchmen of the age after Marcion were right when they insisted on a catholic collection of Christian scriptures in opposition to his sectarian selection.

(Bruce, 273-275; citing from N.B. Stonehouse, 'Luther and the New Testament Canon', in Paul Before the Areopagus and Other New Testament Studies [Grand Rapids, 1957], pp. 196 ff.; earlier, Bruce had noted, contra Luther's mentality: "the catholic church, and the catholic scriptures, made room for both Paul and James and for other varieties as well" -- p. 152)
Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901), the great biblical scholar, was equally direct in his disagreement with Luther:
The freshness and power of Luther's judgments on the Bible, the living sense of fellowship with the spirit which animates them, the bold independence and self-assertion which separate them from all simply critical conclusions, combined to limit their practical acceptance to individuals. Such judgments rest on no definite external evidence. They cannot be justified by the ordinary rule and measure of criticism or dogma. No Church could rest on a theory which makes private feeling the supreme authority as to doctrine and the source of doctrine. As a natural consequence the later Lutherans abandoned the teaching of their great master on the written Word.
(Westcott, 483-484)

Althaus, Paul, The Theology of Martin Luther, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.
Bartling, Mark F., Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?

Bruce. F.F., The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Dillenberger, John, editor, Martin Luther : Selections From His Writings, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1961.

Grisar, Hartmann, Martin Luther: His Life and Work, translated by Frank J. Eble, edited by Arthur Preuss, Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1930.

Luther, Martin, Luther's Works (LW), American edition, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (volumes 1-30) and Helmut T. Lehmann (volumes 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (volumes 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (volumes 31-55), 1955.

Luther, Martin, Works of Martin Luther (PE), Philadelphia edition (6 volumes), edited and translated by C.M. Jacobs and A.T.W. Steinhaeuser et al, A.J. Holman Co., The Castle Press, and Muhlenberg Press, 1932.

Luther, Martin, Table-Talk, translated By William Hazlitt, Esq. Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society, no date.

Montgomery, John Warwick, Lessons From Luther On The Inerrancy Of Holy Writ, Westminster Theological Journal, Volume 36.

Smith, Preserved, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911

Westcott, Brooke Foss, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, 6th edition (1889); reprinted by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI) 1980.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

On "Controversial" Issues Concerning Martin Luther (My Motivations and Opinions)

By Dave Armstrong (9-19-04)

Protestant historian Roland H. Bainton (Here I Stand) is obviously very fond of Martin Luther (biographers generally are fond of their subjects). But he (like all fair and thorough historians) is not averse to reporting facts that reflect negatively on Luther. The fact that an admirer does so (and a reputable scholar to boot) gives the report more credibility and believability, since the possibility of bias is far less. A generally "positive" or favorable witness saying something negative, and a generally hostile witness expressing something positive, are both examples of more persuasive argumentation. I use these sorts of witnesses all the time in my apologetics, because they provide for forceful, less questionable presentation of one's case.

Everyone understands that Bainton will have a more favorable view of Luther overall, but that doesn't negate a scenario where he may agree with me on particulars.

People (mostly Protestants) may be out there thinking, "yeah, that Catholic Armstrong guy has such an ax to grind against Luther that we can't trust what he asserts in his papers. He is untrustworthy." I've been accused of "hating" Luther, of holding that he is a fundamentally immoral character or "bad man", etc. -- all sorts of nonsense. Again, these potshots are easy to say; much harder to prove from direct analysis and concrete example.

[T]he conflicts and the labors of the dramatic years had impaired his health and made him prematurely an irascible old man, petulant, peevish, unrestrained, and at times positively coarse. This is no doubt another reason why biographers prefer to be brief in dealing with this period. There are several incidents over which one would rather draw the veil . . .

(Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: New American Library, 1950, 292)
I am concerned with facts; namely: whether the older Luther had these negative characteristics or not. No more, no less. Bainton (the "positive" or "partisan" biographer) clearly agrees with me. In my research I was not dealing with this proposition:
x. Whether Luther partook of the characteristic of "greatness" and had a huge "impact" (or whether the same should be "dismissed").
But rather:
y. Whether the older Luther was (as Bainton put it) "an irascible old man, petulant, peevish, unrestrained, and at times positively coarse."
Note that proposition y does not intrinsically nullify x. In fact, it has nothing directly to do with it. The two considerations are entirely distinct. I could state, for example:
a. George Washington was a great man who had considerable impact on American culture and history and government.
At the same time, I could assert the following, which does not necessarily contradict the first statement:
b. George Washington had a huge problem with his temper, was often a nominal churchgoer, and held slaves.
Now, when I assert b (all of which is abundantly documented by historians, and quite unarguable), does this mean that I am somehow overlooking or denying a? Of course not. Not at all. I wholeheartedly believe that George Washington was a very great man, to be highly honored and revered as an American Founding father. We may say that there was some contradiction in the person Washington, just as there is in all of us, due to original sin and actual sin in our lives. But it doesn't follow that we must deny their greatness. The analogy to Luther is exactly apt. Obviously, as a Catholic, I don't have the favorable opinion of Luther that any Protestant would have (and that I used to have myself), but my opinion is not nearly as negative as many critics of mine in this regard seem to think (if only they could figure that out).

The facts of the matter of the nature of the later Luther's temperament, psychological shortcomings, etc., are well documented, and I could easily produce much more along those lines from my own library alone. That was my subject. Bainton paints a rosier "big picture," and sets the negatives in a larger context of Luther's overall life and accomplishment. One would expect a partisan biographer to do this. All the more significance, then, should be given to the fact that Bainton basically agreed with me in my criticisms. They came from a man who thinks very highly of Luther.

I could just as easily maintain that Bainton's accompanying qualifications are just as biased as my pointing out the "negatives," because they might be construed as a sort of "damage control" or "Luther PR." I don't see how one thing is any worse than the other. The partisan of Luther offers one interpretation of the same set of facts under consideration, and the critic offers another, and a different emphasis. All this shows is that all parties have bias. But it does not show that I have an undue bias.

I am simply criticizing an important historical figure, because Protestants have been lionizing him lo these many years. It is "setting the record straight." All I am doing is showing all the facts about Luther, not just solely or primarily certain, highly-selective ones that are routinely emphasized by Protestants. I fail to see what is wrong with that. Protestants may not like it (most people feel very uncomfortable about any criticism of their great heroes) but that doesn't make it wrong.

I don't see how it is somehow wrong for me, as a critic of Luther, to point out some uncomfortable facts that every Protestant biographer of any repute also points out. To go after me for this simply because I don't take a positive view overall of Luther's impact (as a Catholic) is no more fair than it would be to go after Protestant biographers who back me up in every particular I bring to the table. If I am wrong, so are they, if we understand that the topic at hand is whether the old Luther had certain faults, as opposed to: "everyone should have an equal estimate of how great and wonderful Luther was." People will differ on the latter, just as they do concerning any great historical figure.

You shouldn't expect a Republican to write glowing praise of Bill Clinton or LBJ or FDR, or a Democrat to go on endlessly about the greatness and historical impact of Ronald Reagan or the two Bush's. Likewise, an orthodox Catholic can only go so far in praise of Luther. It's almost as if to simply take a conventional Catholic view of Luther is to immediately be unfair and unduly biased, by that fact alone. This is unreasonable and unacceptable.

But back to the actual factual matter (supposedly) at hand: Luther's "irascible nature" in his old age. Is this some controversial thing? Is it (if granted) insignificant? I say "no" to both questions. All of this is well documented and not even controversial. I have done nothing wrong in this regard; I haven't misrepresented Luther, and I have done nothing that scores of Protestant historians have not also done. Here are "supporting" opinions of two more Protestant historians on the "later Luther":

1) Luther's Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531-1546, by Mark U. Edwards, Jr. (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1983, pp. 150-155).

2) Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, translated by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart, New York: Doubleday Image, 1992, 290-292).

If anything, Edwards and Oberman take an even more negative view of Luther in this regard than I do myself.

In fact, even fellow Protestant "Reformers" held an opinion of Luther far lower than my own. For example, Heinrich Bullinger:
Everyone must be astonished at the harsh and presumptuous spirit of the man . . . The opinion of posterity will be that Luther was . . . a man ruled by criminal passions.
Luther’s rude hostility might be allowed to pass would he but leave intact respect for Holy Scripture . . . What has already taken place leads us to apprehend that this man will eventually bring great misfortune upon the Church.
(Letter to Martin Bucer, December 8, 1543; in Hartmann Grisar, Luther, translated by E.M. Lamond, edited by Luigi Cappadelta, 6 volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1917; V, 409 and III, 417)
Or how about Huldreich Zwingli?:
May I be lost if he does not surpass Faber in foolishness, Eck in impurity, Cochlaeus in impudence, and to sum it up shortly, all the vicious in vice.

(Letter to Conrad Sam of Ulm, August 30, 1528; in Grisar, III, 277)
If that weren't enough, what about John Calvin himself? Writing to Luther's right hand man Philip Melanchthon, Calvin stated:
Your Pericles [Luther] allows himself to be carried beyond all due bounds with his love of thunder . . .

But, you will say, his disposition is vehement, and his impetuosity is ungovernable; -- as if that very vehemence did not break forth with all the greater violence when all shew themselves alike indulgent to him, and allow him to have his way, unquestioned. If this specimen of overbearing tyranny has sprung forth already as the early blossom in the springtide of a reviving Church, what must we expect in a short time, when affairs have fallen into a far worse condition?

(28 June 1545; Letter CXXXVI in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, Volume 4: Letters, Part 1: 1528-1545, translated by David Constable, Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858; reprinted by Baker Book House [Grand Rapids, MI], 1983, 466-467)
He was even more critical in a letter to Bullinger (the "Reformers" had a knack of griping about each other in such letters):
I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us [referring to Luther's Short Confession Concerning the Supper] . . .

But while he is endued with rare and excellent virtues, he labours at the same time under serious faults. Would that he had rather studied to curb this restless, uneasy temperament which is so apt to boil over in every direction. I wish, moreover, that he had always bestowed the fruits of that vehemence of natural temperament upon the enemies of the truth, and that he had not flashed his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord. Would that he had been more observant and careful in the acknowledgment of his own vices. Flatterers have done him much mischief, since he is naturally too prone to be over-indulgent to himself. It is our part, however, so to reprove whatsoever evil qualities may beset him, as that we may make some allowance for him at the same time on the score of these remarkable endowments with which he has been gifted.

(25 November 1544; Letter CXXII, ibid., 432-433)
So if even John Calvin can severely criticize Luther in this fashion, while not denying that he also has good qualities, why can't a Catholic apologist like myself do so, and why can't I cite Bainton along the same lines without denying that Bainton likes Luther and says "good stuff" about him too? Is it simply because I am a Catholic? If I am wrong, are not Calvin, Bullinger, and Zwingli also, since they "attacked" Luther's character (and even more severely than I did, in some instances)? And if they aren't wrong, why am I considered to be? Just a few of the many questions my anti-Catholic critics ought to answer when they offer up these erroneous and thoroughly wrongheaded critiques . . . . .

As to Luther's commissioning of vulgar art to mock Catholics, Roland Bainton describes the "art" as "outrageously vulgar . . . in all of this he was utterly unrestrained." Bainton's personal opinion regarding why Luther commissioned this "art", and its precipitating causes has nothing to do (logically) with either the question of whether the art was in fact vulgar and objectionable, nor even anything directly to do with his own opinion of the art itself (regardless of how it originated).

What caused the outburst is secondary to the question of whether it was indeed vulgar or not. To offer "mitigating circumstances" might help us to better understand why Luther did this, but it has no bearing on the objective morality of the action. To give an analogy: say that a man had a bad day at work, got a ticket on the way home, had a flat tire, and fell into a mud puddle with his nicest suit on. He then proceeded to storm into the house and strangle his cat. Now, is the strangling of the cat justified by what came before? Of course not. The ethics and morality of that action exist apart from the factors of a "bad day" which preceded it. This is Christian ethics. We are not relativists or advocates of situation ethics.

Likewise, the art by Cranach which Luther commissioned and was directly involved in is either vulgar or it is not. Most people who have written about it that I have ever come across (Protestant or Catholic) have readily agreed that it was objectionable and in very poor taste. Bainton minces no words. He describes it as "outrageously vulgar" and "utterly unrestrained" and Luther's general attitude as "more vituperative" and "more bitter" and an example of "hurling vitriol."

Note that Bainton qualifies his opinion: "His railing against the pope became perhaps the more vituperative . . ." He doesn't know for sure; he is merely speculating. Bainton thinks that Luther "compensated" for his frustration over the lack of a public hearing by "hurling vitriol." Well, this is an interesting theory, and possibly true (it's plausible) , but it is doubtful that it could be proven, short of a direct confirmation from Luther himself.

In any event, I don't see how any of this relative minutiae demonstrates that Bainton approved of the art, and that was, again, my subject matter (whether this art was objectionable). He uses very definite language of disapproval. "Outrageously vulgar" and "utterly unrestrained"? That sure sounds to me like Roland Bainton was opposed to this "art" and didn't think much of it. So he gives some possible mitigating factors? So what? It doesn't follow that he therefore approves of the art itself. Every indication is that he did not. And insofar as he took a negative opinion of it, he agreed with my assessment, which is why I cited him (particularly and precisely because he is such a well-known Luther biographer).

The whole charge of one critic of mine, was that Bainton was "sympathetic" and did not "come down hard" on Luther, whereas I supposedly was not, and did, and cited Bainton incorrectly because I left out this aspect. But our tasks were different in the first place. Bainton's task was to produce a biography from a Protestant perspective. His work might be called "Protestant semi-hagiography." My project, on the other hand (as explained very carefully in several places) was to highlight some of the unsavory aspects of Luther's life that are less well-known.

I urged readers to read Protestant biographies too, to get a fuller picture (to read both sides), but my purpose was not conventional biography. Nor was it "digging up dirt" or a "hit piece," as many of my critics falsely assume in their incorrect understanding of my motivations and goals in my writings about Luther. It was simply to bring out lesser-known, more controversial aspects of Luther's life and teachings.

I cited above the book, Luther's Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531-1546, by Protestant scholar Mark U. Edwards, Jr. He described Luther's work, Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil (March 1545) , as "Without question . . . the most intentionally violent and vulgar writing to come from Luther's pen" (p. 163).

Here are the texts of the eight commissioned "cartoons": their titles, and Luther's silly accompanying verses (from Edwards, pp. 190-198; originally appearing in vol. 54 of Luther's Works, Weimar edition, pp. 346-373; along with my descriptions -- having seen the pictures):

1. The Kingdom of Satan and the Pope. 2 Thessalonians 2

In the name of all devils the pope sits here, now revealed as the true antichrist as proclaimed in Scripture.

[the pope is seated in the "jaws of hell," surrounded by demons]

2. Just Reward for the Most Satanic Pope and His Cardinals
If the pope and cardinals were to receive temporal punishment on earth, their blasphemous tongues would deserve what is rightly depicted here.
3. The Pope, God of the World, is Worshiped

The pope has treated the kingdom of Christ just as his crown is here being treated. If you have doubts about it, the [holy] spirit says [Rev 18] pour it in with good cheer, God Himself commands it.
4. Birth and Origin of the Pope

Here is born the antichrist. Megaera is his wetnurse, Allecto his nursemaid, [and] Tisiphone who walks him.
5. The Monster of Rome, Found Dead in the Tiber, 1496

What God Himself thinks of the papacy is shown here by this horrible picture, which should horrify all who would take it to heart.

[A hybrid naked, demon-like female creature (standing), half lizard and half donkey, with two demon-heads comprising a "tail"]

6. The Pope Offers a Council in Germany / Pope, Doctor of Theology, and Master of Faith (double illustration)

Sow, you must allow yourself to be ridden, and well spurred on both sides. You wish to have a council: for that here is my turd.

[The pope rides on a pig, holding excrement in his hand]

Only the pope can interpret the scripture and sweep away error, just as a donkey can pipe and sound the right notes.

[just as the verse describes]

7. The Pope Thanks the Emperor for His Immense Benefits

The emperor has done much good for the pope and checked evil. For that the pope thanked him, as this picture truly shows you.

[The pope is an executioner, about to behead the kneeling and praying emperor with a huge sword]

8. Kissing the Pope's Feet
Don't frighten us, Pope, with your ban, and don't be such a furious man. Otherwise we shall turn away and show you our rears.

[The pope is seated on a throne, with tiara, holding a decree, with two attending cardinals. Two disrespectful men -- Lutherans no doubt -- are turning away from him, looking back, sticking out their tongues. Further description would be too vulgar; knowing Luther's "young teenagers in the locker room" mentality by now, the reader can easily imagine the rest, extrapolating from the text]

The Introduction for this hideous tract, in Luther's Works, the 55-volume American edition, describes it as "the most bitter of Luther's polemic writings" (LW, 41, 259-290). As is to be expected, some justification is also given for this tirade:
Luther seemed to know that he had not much time left-death would come soon, but not before the fiercest enemy of his cause, the papacy, received his scorn and violent condemnation. This polemical tract, like Against Hanswurst, reveals the faith and wrath of the old Luther. Yet one should not forget that his tracts usually originated as replies against equally abusive and violent attacks. "Dogmatic, superstitious, intolerant, overbearing, and violent as he was, he yet had that inscrutable prerogative of genius of transforming what he touched into new values."

[footnote: Quoted in Schwiebert, Luther and His Times, p. 747, from Preserved Smith, The Age of the Reformation.]
I happen to have one of two paperback volumes of Preserved Smith's book, mentioned above. Smith is quite sympathetic and complimentary to Luther (I have no problem with that at all), but is also very frank about the man's faults, on the same page where his words above appear:
During his later years Luther's polemic never flagged. His last book, Against the Papacy of Rome, founded by the Devil, surpassed Cicero and the humanists and all that had ever been known in the virulence of its invective . . . Of course such lack of restraint largely defeated its own ends. The Swiss Reformer Bullinger called it "amazingly violent," and a book than which he "had never read anything more savage or imprudent." Our judgment of it must be tempered by the consideration that Luther suffered in his last years from a nervous malady and from other painful diseases, due partly to overwork and lack of exercise, partly to the quantities of alcohol he imbibed, though he never became intoxicated.

(Reformation in Europe, Book I of a two-volume edition of The Age of Reformation, New York: Collier Books, 1962; originally 1920, 102)
Again, Smith as a fair, careful biographer, tells the truth about the nature of the work and also includes factors in Luther's life which might account for its severity and extremity. This is reality: human beings are radical mixtures of good and evil. Would that most movies could present characters in the multiform complexity typical of good biographies and novels. That's all fine and good. But the fact remains that this art and the work it accompanies are vulgar and outrageous, as well as ridiculously, grotesquely slanderous of the Catholic Church.

I don't see that Catholic descriptions of these pathetic cartoons or the similar tract with which they were associated surpass by far, if at all, Protestant descriptions already observed above in Bainton, Edwards, and Smith. Catholic Luther biographer Hartmann Grisar, for example describes them as "crude defilement," "vulgar beyond all description," and "repulsive." He continues:
The entire collection has become extremely rare, owing probably to the outraged sensibilities of those who were offended by them. In recent times, these cartoons have been re-submitted to the public in the interests of history, but not by partisans of Luther.

Luther's active participation in the "Illustrations of the Papacy" has been placed beyond question by recent research . . . [he] contribut[ed] the ideas and the crude verses that accompanied the cartoons. His name is attached to the illustrations of the series, as well as to the cartoon of the pope-devil. The drawings themselves were without exception the product of his confidant, Lucas Cranach, . . .

Hence, it is historically untenable if Protestant authors hold Cranach solely responsible for the disgraceful cartoons of the papacy and ascribe only the text to Luther. These illustrations are his spiritual property in the fullest sense of the word, and Luther himself described them as his last will and testament to the German nation.

(Martin Luther: His Life and Work, translated from the second German edition by Frank J. Eble, edited by Arthur Preuss, Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1960; originally 1930, 547-548)
Bainton described the "art" as "outrageously vulgar" and "utterly restrained." I don't see much difference.

In 1530 Luther advanced the view that two offences should be penalized even with death, namely sedition and blasphemy . . . Luther construed mere abstention from public office and military service as sedition and a rejection of an article of the Apostles' Creed as blasphemy. In a memorandum of 1531, composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, a rejection of the ministerial office was described as insufferable blasphemy, and the disintegration of the Church as sedition against the ecclesiastical order. In a memorandum of 1536, again composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, the distinction between the peaceful and the revolutionary Anabaptists was obliterated.

(Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Mentor, 1950, 295)
I repeatedly have written about how Luther had a tolerant position early on, adopted a more persecuting position around 1530, then returned to his earlier position later on. My paper on the Peasants' Revolt is filled with several dozen "peaceful" remarks of Luther from 1521-1525. In my first paper about Martin Luther, written in 1991 (since removed from my site), I cited historian Will Durant, stating exactly all these things. I knew this about Luther in 1984, when I first read Bainton's book.

Bainton talks about both whether Luther advocated the death penalty and why he did. I was always writing about the "whether" aspect, because I am concerned about Protestants who are unaware of this, or who flat-out deny it. Why he did so, or how tolerant he was compared to others, are interesting and important questions, but different ones from my subject-matter. Therefore, to not cite Bainton in that regard is not incorrect or objectionable, because it is a distinct, separate question, beyond my purpose and purview. If I am seeking to establish that Luther held these views, I can cite Bainton in support of my view. I don't have to go to the next step of analysis.

My papers have demonstrated that Luther held a position of capital punishment for what he called "sedition," not the rationale for why he did so. He thought belief in adult baptism was so subversive of society that it was seditious as well. I would contend that the criteria for death were at bottom theological and doctrinal.

The wife of a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) whom I encountered on the Internet flat-out denied that Luther ever advocated the death penalty for heresy (or sedition, but applied to these groups with a different theology). She went and wrote to a Lutheran scholar, and he asserted the same thing. I simply referred them to Bainton, and wondered aloud how it was that two highly-placed Lutherans did not know something that I learned in 1984 when I read Bainton's book??!! But of course the reason is because of the success of the Protestant mythology of origins, which causes many people to believe these silly falsehoods and a bunch of lies about the Catholic Church of that period and today.

Now, the point is, if someone is denying the very facts of the matter, then that is how one must respond. One doesn't necessarily have to get into the "why's" because the fundamental dispute has to be dealt with first. Some atheists deny that Jesus existed. So with them, you have to deal with that before going onto analyses of the Sermon on the Mount, etc. All that is irrelevant if the person thinks you are dealing with a fictional character and not a real historical person. Likewise, if someone denies that Luther advocated the death penalty, it is pointless to talk about why he did so, and how "lenient" he was compared to others, because the very fact which is the subject of the speculation of "why" and "how?" is in dispute. First things first . . .

In 1536, the distinction between peaceful and revolutionary Anabaptists was obliterated, as noted by Bainton. In other words, this was an increase in violence against them, not a decrease, because the peaceful Anabaptists were regarded in the same way as the revolutionary ones: as seditious and thus worthy of death. Bainton stated that the change back to the earlier position (regarding a distinction of types of Anabaptists) came in 1540, and then Durant informed us that right before he died, Luther returned to his pre-1525 position of relative tolerance and freedom of religion.

I noted all this in my earliest papers about Luther. The whole insinuation that I somehow have done otherwise is a total bum rap, without a shred of truth. Sure, I have emphases in accord with my clearly-stated purpose, but I've never hidden any of this stuff that some of my critics have emphasized.

Nor is there any rule written down which states that "Dave Armstrong has to always cite Roland Bainton's 'positive' remarks about Luther if he cites any 'negative' opinions." It's ludicrous. I include these considerations where relevant. It matters not if they come from Bainton or someone else because Bainton is not my sole source, and my subject is Martin Luther.

Martin Luther's stand on the bigamy of the Landgrave Philip of Hesses is also brought up by historians of all stripes, not just Catholic ones, and Catholic apologists like myself, because it was truly a scandal. Thus I cited one Lutheran scholar: "This double marriage was not only the greatest scandal, but the greatest blot in the history of the Reformation and in the life of Luther" (J. Kostlin, Life of Luther, Stuttgart: 1901, 2, 481, 486).

Remember, it was Luther and the early Protestants who were supposedly on a much higher moral plane than the corrupt Catholics and their church that was being opposed (Protestants describe their motivation as purely "reform," but Catholics tend to view it as a revolt, insofar as it separated institutionally and adopted new doctrines not held before within institutional, historical Christianity).

There are several incidents over which one would rather draw the veil . . . The most notorious was his attitude toward the bigamy of the Landgrave, Philip of Hesse . . Luther counseled a lie . . . Luther's solution of the problem can be called only a pitiable subterfuge.

(Bainton, 292-293)
My critics on this score have confused the "whether" and the "why" once again. Since I was writing about the former, it was not necessary to include the latter. I certainly could have if I wanted to expand my paper and my own presentations of these incidents and beliefs, but it was not necessary, and failing to do so does not "prove" that I was misrepresenting Bainton, or using citations incorrectly and wrongly, because we are dealing with two different propositions, and a does not equal b.

If I were writing a paper entitled something like, "Roland Bainton's Treatment of the Scandal of the Bigamy of Philip of Hesse" (which sounds more like an article in a theological journal rather than lay apologetics on a popular level), then I agree, I should have included all the additional clarifying and nuancing material. But I wasn't doing that. This particular paper was an eleven-part treatment of some of the scandals and unfortunate consequences of the Protestant Revolt, not a treatise on Bainton's in-depth opinions of Luther with regard to one particular incident.

The relevant question is: "what does a Catholic writing about Luther have to do in order to 'exploit' Luther"? Obviously, if I cite Bainton's own opinion of the incident, then I am not exploiting Luther simply by doing that, lest Bainton would be guilty of the same thing, since he is the one I cited! This is obvious. So my critics can only nitpick and complain that I didn't include massive context. But does this establish unethical, citation and misrepresentation? I don't think so. I cited Bainton describing the scandal as one "over which one would rather draw the veil," and a "most notorious" incident. He admits that "Luther counseled a lie" and was guilty of what "can be called only a pitiable subterfuge." That's the bottom line.

This is Bainton's appraisal of the incident. He doesn't agree with it or condone it. But as in the other cases we have treated, he does proceed (as a good biographer who wants to present the fullest, most nuanced picture of his subject) to try to explain why Luther did what he did, and offer some sort of semi-sympathetic rationale. One might call this "damage control" or "softening the blow" of the scandal. I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with the charge that, simply because I didn't include all of this material in what was simply an introductory treatment, that I was either misrepresenting Bainton's opinion or "exploiting" Luther. The historical facts are unimpeachable, and no one denies them. This shouldn't be controversial: this thing was a scandal anyway you look at it. I was simply pointing it out for those unfamiliar with it. I was under no obligation to examine the in-depth questions of "why" and the motivations, etc.

I cited a shorter part of Bainton's opinion (we shall call it x) ; I shall call the longer, more detailed version y. Now does y somehow make x untrue when x is by itself? No, of course not, because x is part of y, so that if y is true, x is also. It is a fact along with an explanation of the fact (an action -- counsel or advice -- in this case). It would be like arguing about the following two propositions:
1. The night sky is black.
2. The night sky is black because the sun is on the other side of the earth; hence the sky is not illuminated by it on the dark side of the earth.
According to illogical and unreasonably demanding complaints, to cite the portion of #2 which is contained in #1 is to cite incompletely and misleadingly. But I vehemently deny this. #1 remains true whether it is explained or not, and it is not wrong to cite it, in and of itself. Thus, with regard to the discussion at hand:
1. Luther sanctioned bigamy and later lied about it. He was guilty of "pitiable subterfuge" in so doing.
2. Luther sanctioned bigamy and later lied about it, because of a, b, c, d, and e. He was guilty of "pitiable subterfuge" in so doing.
According to fallacious criticism, it is wrong to state #1, and this is an "exploitation" of Luther because it fails to contain the additional explanatory material contained in #2. This doesn't follow, if the subject is whether Luther did in fact do what is described in #1. And all historians agree on this (whether Catholic, Protestant, or green-eyed, three-toed, redheaded, left-handed atheist historians). Most Christians are agreed that this was wrong for Luther to do. Therefore, it is not absolutely necessary to include a brief treatment of "what" he did, explanations, or rationales. None of these are particularly acceptable.

Part of the reason why I didn't include such material was precisely because I assumed that my readers would not accept the reasons given, and that we all agreed that it was wrong. It needed no further explanation because none was adequate, anyway. I see nothing wrong with any of this.

I am not claiming to be a Luther biographer, nor to present an in-depth discussion of this one incident. I leave that to the biographers like Bainton. That's their job, as questions of "why" are much more complex and difficult to ascertain than factual matters are.

What I specifically was referring to in my earlier papers, was the particular lie of misrepresenting and caricaturing opponents. It is unarguable that Luther did this, and it has been pointed out innumerable times, by historians of all stripes. For example, Desiderius Erasmus, considered the greatest scholar in Europe at that time, very much held this opinion:
I shall show everybody what a master you are in the art of misrepresentation, defamation, calumny and exaggeration . . . In your sly way you contrive to twist even what is absolutely true, whenever it is to your interest to do so. You know how to turn black into white and to make light out of darkness.
(Hyperaspistes, [1526], I, 9, col. 1043)
I cited fellow Protestant "reformer" Martin Bucer writing to Heinrich Bullinger (Zwingli's successor):
We have treated all the Schoolmen in such a way as to shock many good and worthy men, who see that we have not read their works but are merely anxious to slander them out of prudence.
(Letter of 1535, Corp. ref., 10, 138)
They said this, not me. I'm just the messenger. If two Protestant "reformers" agree that such lying typified their "reform," then who am I to disagree with their self-report? I believe them, especially knowing what I do about what went on in those days.

Crucial distinctions and simple logic have often been ignored, in the rush to "prove" that I "misuse" or "exploit" Luther (and Roland Bainton) for my own ends. I have not, as I think I have amply shown, above.

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