Thursday, July 19, 2007

Martin Chemnitz is "The Man" for Lutherans; It's Time to Address His Arguments Directly

I've come in contact with so much ecstatic, almost hagiographical praise of early Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586) from Lutherans online (and urgings that I should interact with his work) that I have decided to fork out a few bucks to purchase his Examination of the Council of Trent, Vol. I. ($29; and that is about as low as these books get). I rarely spend that much for any book (apologetics not being a lucrative profession, and with four children to feed), but if he is "the man" in Lutheran circles, and this is what it takes to get into a substantive discussion of comparative theology with Lutherans, then I'm willing to do it, because I quite enjoy dialoguing with the more informed and congenial members of that denomination.

I'm also not nuts about taking hours of my increasingly limited time (having recently added on a second full-time job to my full-time apologetics work) typing up excerpts from a 16th-century tome in order to provide Catholic replies to it (seeing that many of Luther's works and almost all of Calvin's, including his Institutes are freely available online, along with most of the important Church Fathers' writings), but I'll make do citing as little as I can to make my point without being accused of warring with straw-men. Hopefully, some of these same Lutherans who keep telling me I gotta deal with Chemnitz, will be willing to counter-reply to my critiques. I'm following their advice; perhaps they will accept my friendly challenge in return.

Here is a sampling of the praise of Chemnitz from one admiring (almost fawning) Lutheran who is prominent in the Lutheran blogosphere: Josh Strodtbeck:
The way he just went for the whole theological pie was just...beautiful. It makes me weep.


The beauty of Chemnitz's theological disputation style is that he leaves no stone unturned; he seems to have known everything relevant to theology that it was possible for a man of the 16th century to know. Reading Chemnitz will make anyone feel just plain lazy. I know he makes me feel like a complete idiot.


Well, I finally finished Volume I. This work is absolutely incredible. Not only did I learn a lot about Chemnitz's theology (and the Bible, and Lutheranism), but I also learned a whole lot about Trent. One of the great things about Chemnitz is that he doesn't build up straw men. He's extremely careful to present his opponents' positions accurately, and goes a step further by avoiding logomachy in favor of discussing the actual substance of the doctrine at hand.

. . . Because he takes seriously the doctrine that the Church is all believers in Christ, he himself as in the same Church as all believers before him, and the jurists at Trent as simply pretenders to the faith. Chemnitz did not write as a Lutheran as we understand the term today, a member of one Christian denomination among many, seeking to defend its particular theological viewpoints against viewpoints that are equally Christian, but happen to be incorrect to varying degrees. He mentions Luther exactly twice in 663 pages. Compare that to Pieper! He wrote as man of the Church, that one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the only Church that ever was and ever will be. There is no Christian doctrine other than the apostolic doctrine, and Chemnitz, like the other early Lutherans, sought to defend no other.


I am gradually coming under the opinion that 90% of anything theological you will ever think has already been thought by Martin Chemnitz.

It's interesting to note how Josh treats a Catholic scholar and defender of the Catholic Church of great renown (somewhat analogous to Chemnitz's position within Lutheranism: the "great defender" status): Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman (my own great intellectual hero, just as Chemnitz seems to be Josh's):

Decree From On High

Newman is a clown. Don't seriously recommend his books on this site. If you wish to point someone to something or other to prove that scapulars and purgatory and whatnot are in fact the purest incarnation of the Church that Christ established, recommend something that I wouldn't classify with the Uncanny X-Men comic series. Seriously. Newman? Give me a real Catholic theologian, not someone who's constantly trying to preach down his inner Protestant and lacks the integrity to call a spade a spade.

Edit: I should add that there are three kinds of people who find Newman convincing. There are people who already agree with his conclusions, there are people who want to be Roman Catholics and are looking for any kind of intellectual validation to grasp at, and there are Protestants with a hopelessly naïve view of Christian history who get absolutely steamrolled intellectually when someone presents them with a grand metanarrative. What you always read is an anecdote by some Baptist or another who was absolutely awed by how Newman's metanarrative is just so much aesthetically nicer than what's proffered by other Baptists. You don't read about guys who know Chemnitz backward and forward being beaten down by Newman, the supremely unanswerable intellectual giant of the Christian faith. The 19th century was all about grand, fanciful tales of evolution and synthesis continually reaching onward and upward. The 19th century is over.

( 1 August 2006 )

And in comments for this post:

I've read enough Newman. I can see why people took him seriously in 1895, sorta, but in 2006, the huge holes in his reasoning and revisionist approach to history are just artifacts of historical curiosity, not serious theology. I mean what do you have? Stacks of straw-men, repeatedly frontloading his assumptions with that which he wishes to prove, and accusations that anyone who offers a substantial argument against him suffers from pride and impiety. There's a reason nobody outside of the Catholic world cares about Newman. He's really just not that good. It's not that we don't know about him, it's that we're not impressed.

. . . It's Newman's constant appeals to circular logic that make him a real joker. . . . Liberal Jesuits wouldn't have been possible without Newman.

In nearly every argument, you will find that Newman simply assumes what he intends to prove and manipulates sources to fit his assumptions. And when his argument gets beaten, he appeals to the piety of submitting reason to the judgement of the Church and accuses his opponents of rationalism. So reason and historical argument are great until someone uses them against him, and then they're impious tools of the devil used to subvert the authority of the Church. It's a win-win situation.
Shades of the constant Newman-bashing of Kevin Johnson, and the good ol' boys at the Reformed Catholic blog . . . You'll never see me treating Martin Chemnitz in this ridiculous fashion, calling him a "clown" or contending that he lacks "integrity" and so forth. I will accept him as an important and influential (Lutheran) theologian and thinker, within a framework of honest (even if very passionate and vigorous) disagreement. Josh apparently can't bring himself to accord any such respect towards those with whom he disagrees (no matter how eminent). How sad. This is the fruit of mere prejudice and sophomoric pomposity ("a little knowledge is a bad thing"), as far as I am concerned.

On the other hand, such irrational vehemence in response does highly indicate (in my opinion) that someone is being made extremely uncomfortable by Newman's arguments (they're squirming): so much so that mockery and caricature are resorted to rather than objective, calm refutations. Again, you won't see that from me as I interact with Chemnitz's arguments, because my starting assumption is that a renowned thinker and theologian of the stature of Martin Chemnitz is neither a "clown" nor dishonest and lacking in integrity.

I start with the presumption of sincerity and desire for intellectual consistency and cogency on the part of the person I critique. In a word, I seek to approach theological opponents with charity, not a sneering cynicism, of the sort that we observe above, short of overwhelming and absolutely compelling evidence that a person is a dishonest liar and incompetent "clown." May God help me to always live by that goal.


David Manthei said...

Many thanks for putting forward the time and effort to read and address Chemnitz. I was told I should read his work by a Lutheran, and your apologetic on the author and his subject will come in handy for me, I believe.

In Christ,
Dave Manthei

Dave Armstrong said...

You're welcome. Thanks for readin'!

David Manthei said...

Well, I read through all 5 parts of your "examination" of Chrmnitz's Examination.

He's logically inconsistent. As you pointed out, it doesn't make sense to claim "such-n-such ECF's" taught only from the Scriptures, rely on them to show how "Lutheran" they were, and then completely ignore their very-Catholic beliefs that directly conflict with Lutheran theology.

But here's another thing I gleaned from another site. Some of those very same ECF's that are "proof" for Chemnitz, as they teach from the Scriptures, ALSO taught from and mentioned the Dueterocanon. It's not logically consistent to say, "see, they used Scripture, so they taught Scripture alone" and simultaneously reject the Canon of Scripture that they used. (The Didache, Clement I, Letter of Barnabas, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Augustine, Jerome, Innocent I...and I have not even mentioned the Councils yet...all teach from or reference books from the Deut.)

I HAVE heard an argument in teh past that "tradition" in ECF language meant "the Scriptures". But this, as you well know, is not true. For those who may encounter this claim, Papias, [letter] to Diognetus, Irenaeus (heavily so, and then some), Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, Basil, Epiphanius, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Vincent, Agatho...all taught Apostolic Tradition. And "tradition" in their understanding was NOT Scripture, as this breif example from Epiphanius shows:
"It is needful also to make use of Tradition, for not everything can be gotten from Sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the Scriptures, other things in Tradition" [Epiphanius, "Panacea Against All Heresies", 61:6] (Augustine is jsut as clear, as is Basil, etc...)

Dave Armstrong said...

Excellent comment. Thanks again!