Friday, January 18, 2008

A Curious Luther Citation (On Councils) Examined in Extreme Depth (Part Two)

By Dave Armstrong (1-18-08)

VIII. Various Possibilities of Interpretation
Now that we have a fuller understanding of Luther's doctrine concerning Scripture, Tradition, and the Church, we can better interpret this somewhat mysterious statement of Luther's regarding councils.

That doesn't mean that all the present challenges of interpretation disappear. We have seen the perplexing differences between the Latin and German translations. Catholics for centuries have been quoting the Latin version, which reads quite differently. I've speculated above as to some possible origins of this difference. Translations of the German also vary in frustrating ways. For example, note the difference between the LW version and Grisar's, seen above:
. . . men will, as the ancients did, once more turn to human schemes on account of this dissension, . . .

. . . we shall on account of such dissensions again be obliged, like the ancients, to seek for human contrivances . . .
This is a big difference indeed. It's the distinction between the following two statements:
Bill will go to the Lutheran church and become a Lutheran.

Bill should (and is obliged to) go to the Lutheran church and become a Lutheran.
The first is simply a descriptive statement, with no value judgment or necessary opinion.

The second is "editorial" and takes a stand, by the use of "should" (i.e., a variation of "shall") and "obliged." This is one conundrum in the present interpretation. Why did these two translations vary in this way? Is Grisar's English translator the culprit? Was there Lutheran theological bias in LW? Is Luther speaking in the first or second sense?

But there is a also a third, more complex sense of begrudging necessity. In this hypothesis, Luther would in effect be saying, "it shouldn't ideally be necessary, but given human nature and this absurd, damnable, rampant sectarianism, it is, sadly, necessary to turn to councils [or merely human schemes and contrivances] to preserve the unity of the faith that ought to be preserved by Scripture alone."

A fourth, more "psychological explanation and possibility is set forth by the Catholic Luther biographer Hartmann Grisar (appealing to our passage under review):
In his controversy with Zwingli, Luther even came to plead the cause of the Catholic principle of authority. . . . [quotes Luther] ". . . In fine, the devil is too clever and powerful for us. He hinders us and stops the way everywhere. If we wish to study Scripture he raises up so much strife and dissension that we tire of it. ... He is, and is called, Satan, i.e. an adversary." He here attributes to the devil the defects of his own Scriptural system, and puts away as something wrong even the very thought that it contained faults, another trait to his psychological picture . . . There is no doubt, that, in 1527, Luther did have to go through some severe struggles of conscience.

(Luther, Vol. IV, p. 410)
In other words, Grisar subtly reasons as follows, in analyzing Luther:
1. Luther accepts sola Scriptura as his rule of faith.

2. (Assumed by Luther) Sola Scriptura (which in turn presupposes perspicuity, or overall, general clearness of Scripture and ability to be fairly easily interpreted and understood by Joe Q. Protestant) ought to bring about doctrinal unity and theological (Protestant) consensus.

3. This unity, however, has clearly not happened (much to the consternation of all the major "reformers," especially Luther's best friend Philip Melanchthon, who was always weeping about it), and sectarianism abounds (Zwinglians, Anabaptists et al).

4. Indeed, these sectarians all appeal to sola Scriptura just as Luther had done.

5. But sola Scriptura is an unquestionable principle, and therefore is not, according to Luther, the cause of this.

6. Therefore, Luther (like a medieval Flip Wilson) blames the devil for bringing about dissensions, rather than examining his historically novel first principles to see if they may be faulty.

7. This simultaneously explains:
a) why sola Scriptura is not working in practice,


b) why its unquestionable status need not be critiqued and re-examined.
8. In light of these sad realities brought on by the devil (and by implication, also human sin), it is sadly necessary to have recourse to councils and merely human contingencies, in order to preserve unity. [i.e., begrudging recourse to the Catholic principles of authority when sola Scriptura fails in practice; just as Luther quickly flew to the German princes as surrogates for the bishops and their jurisdiction]
Catholics who cite Luther's words about recourse to councils (our "notorious" citation), would therefore (if this analysis holds) be doing so properly, since it is in the sense above: Luther conceded something he himself would not like to ideally see. In other words, it is a roundabout way of admitting the failure of that which he cannot bring himself to outwardly acknowledge: that sola Scriptura is itself the root cause of division, as a false first premise. Rather than admit that, Luther will blame the devil and others who disagree with him for the divisions and rampant sectarianism that he rightly despised so much. And sometimes he will appeal outright to unbroken, "unanimous" Church tradition, as we saw above.
I don't claim to know the definitive answer to this. My main concern has been to vindicate Catholics from the accusation that we have been quoting Luther out of context in this regard for centuries. The charge is not so easily established, nor is it always a cut-and-dried case in understanding Luther at any given point, because of the complexity of the man and his frequently self-contradictory, vacillating, changing opinions, and his incessant use of exaggeration, sarcasm, humor, various rhetorical and polemical techniques, etc.

For further progression in this discussion, we need to consult the original Latin translations of our text, that Catholics have quoted (or translated again into vernacular languages) for hundreds of years.

Luther Utterly Despairs of Sectarianism Ever Being Reined In

This striking utterance (another Paul Hoffer discovery, like the Leibniz and Westcott citations; thanks Paul!) is another evidence of Luther's extreme aversion to proliferating Protestant sectarianism, and is certainly perfectly consistent with a notion of councils being necessary to stop the endless multiplication. In other words, Luther is so despairing of sectarianism that he thinks only the end of the world will bring a stop to it (he was dead right about that!). Therefore, if he can speak like this, it is perfectly plausible for him to take recourse in theoretical councils, since the latter is far less of an extreme sentiment than the former wish for the world to end, as a "solution" to rampant Protestant denominationalism and theological anarchy and relativism:
Then somebody said, "If the world should stand another fifty years, won't many a thing still happen?"

The doctor replied, "God forbid [that it should last that long]! It would become worse than it's ever been, for all sorts of sects would arise that are now still hidden in men's minds. One wouldn't know what to make of them. Come, therefore, dear Lord! Come and strike about thee with thy day of judgment, for no improvement is any longer to be expected!"

(Table-Talk, LW, Vol. 54, No. 5504, p. 437; recorded by Heydenreich; dated Winter of 1542-1543, just three years before Luther's death)
The same utterance is made reference to in Jules Michelet's 1846 work (translated by William Hazlitt), The Life of Luther (p. 342):
One of his guests observed, that if the world were to subsist another fifty years, a great many things would happen which they could not then foresee. "Pray God it may not exist so long," cried Luther; "matters would even be worse than they have been. There would rise up infinite sects and schisms, which are at present hidden within men's hearts, not yet mature. No; may the Lord come at once! let him cut the whole matter short with the Day of Judgment, for there is no amendment to be expected."
X. Pursuing the Original Latin Luther Source

The Wittenberg edition of Luther's Works contained 12 volumes of German and seven volumes of Latin, and appeared in 1559. The Jena edition contained eight volumes of German and four volumes of Latin writings and was published in 1558 and re-edited later. Jena did not publish translations and eventually became the more widely-used collection. Georg Rorer edited both works. Jena was chronological, whereas Wittenberg was topically arranged.

Both the Wittenberg and Jena collections (German + Latin) are housed in Pitts Theology Library at Emory University in Atlanta (Kessler Reformation Collection).

The primary Luther work we are researching was translated into Latin in 1556, according to the Cathedral Library of Salisbury. This Latin translation was published in Nuremburg, and is available in the Yale University Library and the Oxford library. According to a German Encyclopedia, the translator was Matthaeus Judex (aka Richter) and his Latin version was published in the Wittenberg collection, volume VII, starting on page 379. The same source information is found in a cross-reference in the 1841 Erlangen edition (observed firsthand by Steve Ray and myself at Concordia University Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan), which contained the work in German (vol. 30, 14 ff.).

Another library information page gives the German title: Dass diese Wort Christi "Das ist mein Leib" noch feststehen. It names the translator as Mattheus Judex and lists the book as 228 pages in length and 15 cm in size. This treatise was originally written in German in 1527. A work about fellow "reformer" Martin Bucer states in a footnote that our volume was written in response to Zwingli and Oecolampadius (hence its frequently used title, making reference to them).

Translator Matthaeus Judex (1528-1564) was a scholar and Gnesio-Lutheran (sources: one / two / three). He was a major Lutheran theologian and student of Luther himself.

The Latin citations from The Rheims NT preface (1582), St. Robert Bellarmine (1586-1593), and St. Francis de Sales (1596) had to be either from the Wittenberg collection, the individual work published separately, or a secondary source which was circulating at this early date. The Latin in question may have been from a quotation from Catholics, hence possibly distorted and changed from the original for polemical purposes. This is entirely possible (just as Protestant translation bias is equally possible). We can only wait and see what we find.

The trick now is to obtain one of these early works. Thus far, a few libraries have refused to loan them or even photocopy their pages, due to age and the brittle nature of the pages after five centuries. So our search continues . . .

XI. Translation of Leibniz's Context (by Tim Enloe)

(continuing on from Part I: sections II and III)
(all words in this section are Tim's own; I have only added section titles)

(see online)

Esse adhuc quaedam quae in Vulgata fortasse corrigi possint, non negant, qui eam authenticam statuunt. Authenticum enim est cui tuto fidi posse publice statutum est, nullum inesse mendum unde periculum creari legentibus possit. Itaque sufficit nihil inesse, unde periculum creari legentibus possit.

De versionibus vulgaribus hoc tantum statutum est ut non promiscue concedantur aut legantur. Neque enim negari potest aliquando periculosum esse, ut sint in plebis manibus, fatendum est tamen aliquando id sine ullo periculo fieri ut nunc in Gallia et Germania itaque temporum et hominum ratio habenda est. Et ubi plebi negatur scripturae lectio debet saltem Nucleus ejus fieri….

Lutherus praef. in psalmos. Scio esse imprudentissimae temeritatis eum qui (audeat) profiteri aliquem scripturae librum (a se in omnibus partibus) intellectum.

Luther lib. 1. contra Zwinglium et Oecolampadium ait: si diutius steterit mundus iterum fore necessarium propter diversas sacrae scripturae interpretations quae nunc sunt, ut ad conservandum fidei unitatem Conciliorum decreta recipiamus et ad ea confugiamus.

Brentius in prolegomenis contra Petrum a Soto fatetur traditionem saltem hanc de scriptura sacra esse admittendam.

Statuunt catholici animam Christi inde a conceptione omnes dotes habuisse quas postea habuit.

Utrum omnia in quibus sine periculo salutis errari non potest, in Scriptura Sacra habeantur definite, quaestio magna est: Mihi primum illud indubium videtur ipsam librorum Sacrorum autoritatem haberi traditione Ecclesiae, deinde vereor ut Sacrosanctam Trinitatem possimus satis evincere ex scriptures, traditione non adhibita, quae tamen Scripturam cum traditione conjungenti longe manifestior redditur. Illud nihilominus certum est Scripturam S. multo magis Trinitati favere et ab Anti-Trinitariis aliquando violenter torqueri.


To this point they who have established the Vulgate to be authentic have not denied [that] certain things in it are perhaps able to be corrected. It is indeed authentic to those who without danger to [their] faith can publicly establish it, [and] no error belongs to a place from which danger [to faith?] can be created from reading [the text]. Therefore, [they say] it suffices [that] no error belongs to a place from which danger can be created from reading [the text].

Concerning the popular versions, it has been established only that they [who read them aloud] might not indiscriminately overlook [the faults] or read them [the faults] aloud. It cannot be denied that sometimes it is dangerous, that they [the popular versions] are in the hands of the people. Nevertheless, it ought to be acknowledged that sometimes it [reading?] can be done without any danger, just as it is thus now in France and Germany. And where the people are denied the reading of Scripture, at least its Central Part ought to be done…[1]

[From] Luther's Preface to the Psalms. "I know him to be a most imprudent and rash person who (let him dare!) professes [to have] some other understanding of all the parts of the book of Scripture by himself."[2]

Luther, [in his] Book 1 against Zwingli and Oecolampadius says: “If the world stands for a long time, it will again be necessary because of the diverse interpretations of sacred scripture which now exist to receive and have recourse to the decrees of Councils for the preservation of the unity of the faith.”

Brentius, [3] anyhow, in [his] Prolegomena Against Peter of Soto [4] confesses that this tradition concerning sacred scripture should be received.

Catholics establish the mind of Christ therefrom by conceiving [themselves] to possess all the benefits which afterwards they have. [5]

Whether everything in which it is not possible to err without danger of salvation may be clearly had in Sacred Scripture is a great question: To me, in the first place, it seems certain that the same authority of the Sacred books is to be had in the tradition of the Church. In the next place, I dread that not consulting tradition we might overcome the [doctrine of] the Sacred Trinity from the Scriptures, which [doctrine has] nevertheless been clearly delivered for a long time [by] Scripture joined with tradition. [I hold] that nothing is more certain than that many Sacred Scriptures support the Trinity, and [these Scriptures] are now and again violently tortured by Anti-Trinitarians.[6]


[1] I have omitted the phrase “Breviarum quoddam vulgo haberi in <---> (animarum)<-->” because I don’t know what’s going on there. It looks like part of the text is missing and an editor has made some sort of inexact interpolation, but I can’t be sure.

[2] I am unsure of my rendering of this sentence without more context from Luther. In the context of Leibniz’ essay, it would make sense that he’s quoting a Luther passage that he thinks shows Luther denying the right of just any person to interpret the Scriptures “in some other sense” than the one Luther himself prefers. This seems fairly consistent with Luther’s views as we know them from other sources. If Luther is referring to the dispute with Zwingli, then it is probably Zwingli who he is calling the “most imprudent and rash man” who has a different understanding of the Scriptures “by himself.”

[3] Perhaps referring to Johann Brentius (1499-1570), a follower of Luther.

[4] Perhaps referring to the Spanish Dominican Peter of Soto (d. 1563).

[5] This sounds very odd, but the sentence is so short that it is difficult to do much more with it than render it “woodenly.” At the moment I’m not sure whether “catholici” (which may be either nominative plural or genitive singular) refers to “Catholics” (as I’ve translated it) or to the abstract “universal truths” of orthodox theology. Perhaps upon further thought I will be able to see a more colloquial-sounding meaning.

[6] From what I gather from my studies, Leibniz had a severe dispute with Isaac Newton regarding the orthodoxy of the doctrine of the Trinity. Newton, using a form of grammatical-historical exegesis on the Bible, argued that the doctrine of the Trinity was not biblical, but was a 4th century heresy that had been accreted into Christian faith. Leibniz vigorously argued against him that the doctrine of the Trinity was orthodox, and in so doing he brought in the interpretive authority of tradition.

Lest this point be trumpeted by Catholic apologists as just one more proof that “sola Scriptura doesn’t work”—i.e., via some such argument as “Leibniz was really smart Protestant who knew that sola Scriptura couldn’t solve doctrinal disputes”--it should be understood that sola Scriptura properly understood does not say that the Bible is the only authority in matters of religion. In fact, as Keith Mathison has argued in his book The Shape of Sola Scriptura, the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura is what Heiko Oberman has called the “Tradition 1” position, wherein Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith but Scripture is only properly interpreted via the Church’s regula fidei.

There is immense confusion about these matters in the apologetics communities of both Catholics and Protestants, and I write this footnote to my translation of Leibniz to make it clear that I absolutely would not be in support of a reading of Leibniz’s words here as a “sola Scriptura does not work” argument, some kind of tacit admission by Leibniz that appeals must be made to the Roman Catholic Magisterium’s infallible authority if any truth is to be had from Sacred Scripture. Such an argument, though very popular in Catholic apologetics circles, is a cheap-shot argument made on the basis of the principles of skepticism and is unworthy of any Christian apologist. From all that I know of Leibniz, this would be a misuse of his words, and Catholic apologists should make every effort to avoid so using his words.

XII. The Cochlaeus Theory of Derivation

Some believe that the Latin citation under consideration was derived solely from Johann Cochlaeus, the 16th century Luther biographer and polemicist. Cochlaeus was indeed markedly "anti-Luther," I freely grant, but in a religious milieu in which fellow Protestants Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Bucer denied that Martin Luther was even a Christian, and where Calvin and Bullinger severely attacked his character and judgment, Cochlaeus was pretty much just one in a crowd in that regard.

Based on textual comparisons done after discovering a Latin citation from one Philipp Neri Chrismann, from 1792, that cross-referenced a Cochlaeus work, one would reasonably conclude that Cochlaeus is not the source for the Latin citation, as used by the many writers we have documented, excepting Chrismann himself. The comparative textual evidence can be seen in my revised section III (in Part I) of my "long paper" on this whole controversy. None of the other citations besides Chrismann can plausibly be traced to Cochlaeus (again, assuming for the sake of argument that Chrismann is accurate in his citation), because of several differences; namely:
1) The phrase, mundus steterit reverses the word order compared to all the others.

2) The phrase ut ob divinas Scripturae is unique. The words, ob divinas appear in none of the other citations at all.

3) All the others have propter diversas before Scripturae. Cochlaeus / Chrismann "delete" these two words altogether.

4) concilii appears rather than conciliorum -- as all the others save Hallinan use.

5) It cuts off after recipiamus -- unlike all the others.
This would mean that our original Latin source is probably (?) from Matthaeus Judex (aka Richter) and his Latin version that was published in 1556, in the Wittenberg collection, volume VII, starting on page 379 (as I argued in section X above). Some Protestants think that St. Robert Bellarmine was the Latin source for the quote in isolation, that was picked up by later Catholic writers.

Where, then, did Bellarmine's Latin translation come from? A Latin translation was already available at least 20 years before Bellarmine compiled and wrote his great work against Protestantism: Disputations About the Controversies of the Christian Faith Against the Heretics of This Time. If Bellarmine was setting out to refute Protestantism, including reference to a work of Luther's in Latin already long translated and included in the "official" Wittenberg Lutheran-translated collection, why would he bother to translate his own version (he may not have even been able to read German in the first place)? It's possible, of course (lots of things are that), but not particularly plausible, in my opinion. So it is sensible to conclude that he got it from somewhere else.

He could have conceivably cited Cochlaeus' version of this text, which appeared in 1543. Chrismann's text (if accurate) suggests that he did not. Or he may have cited an additional heretofore unidentified translation, floating about at the time. We are trying to get our hands on the Judex Wittenberg translation (Yale and Oxford have copies), but it is proving very difficult and a lengthy process, if it is possible at all, without physically visiting the libraries. The Cochlaeus is easier to access in person, so that we can at least verify one primary document and compare the Latin to what we know of thus far, as part of an ongoing "process of elimination". Paul Hoffer has stated that he also has access to some Cochlaeus material in Ohio.

Following through from the Chrismann citation of a Cochlaeus volume ("l. de canon script. auctoritate"), I discovered the exact work, in the book Luther's Lives: Two Contemporary Accounts (translated by Elizabeth Vandiver, Ralph Keen, Thomas D. Frazel; Manchester Univ. Press: 2002), p. 375, footnote 31. This book is a translation of both Melanchthon's and Cochlaeus' 16th century biographies of Luther.

This footnote informs us that the book, De Canonicae scripturae & Catholicae Ecclesiae autoritate, ad Henricum Bullingerum Iohannis Cochlaei libellus, was published in 1543 (Ingolstadt, Alexander Weissenhorn), 16 years after Luther's original German work, on "This is My Body". It predates the Latin translation of Matthaeus Judex by 13 years.

It is relevant to our discussion of sources and bias to mention that the present-day translators of Cochlaeus had a very high opinion of his accuracy in citing Luther texts:
It is perhaps worth noting, moreover, that Cochlaeus is scrupulously accurate in these early compilations and in his copying from them in the Commentary. Only rarely did he conflate separate quotations from his earlier patchwork books and present them as coherent passages.

(p. 374, footnote 21)

No Catholic scholars between the sixteenth century and the great mid-twentieth-century theologians Joseph Lortz and Erwin Iserloh knew Luther's work as intimately as Cochlaeus did; and only in recent decades has there been a desire to return to the disputes of the Reformation era and scrutinize the sources. For historical information and theological insight from a neglected viewpoint, as well as the occasional rhetorical barb, few texts of the sixteenth century call for historical recovery more than the Commentary.

. . . But anyone who chooses to attack Cochlaeus on purely technical grounds, and argue that he is careless with the evidence available to him, will have a difficult task. Cochlaeus exploits his opponent's texts and historical tradition with scrupulous accuracy in his quoting both bodies of materials. He knew, as the hagiographer knows, that the account loses validity if it is factually inaccurate.

(pp. 37-38; not included in the online Google Book search text)
This Cochlaeus book is available in four libraries in the United States (Harvard, Yale, one in Chicago, and Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan), and in microform. Bullinger wrote a reply to Cochlaeus.

The bottom line, then, if my speculations above turn out to be correct, is that the origin of the Latin translation that has circulated around, as cited by Catholics, is Lutheran, not Catholic. If that is so, then no one can reasonably charge that there is a pronounced partisan bias in the translation, slanting towards Catholicism. The task would be to determine whether Judex used words like conciliorum in the text, whereas even Grisar's translator didn't translate the German as "council". Catholics (in this still hypothetical scenario) could hardly be blamed for citing a Lutheran translation of Martin Luther's statement, if that is what actually happened.

If this overall theory of derivation is proven to be wrong, on the other hand, then we will have to compare Cochlaeus' translation with Judex' translation and determine which is closer to the original German, and which (by the judgment of textual comparison or other clues of direct derivation) was used by later writers who cited the text under consideration.

If Cochlaeus turns out to be the source, but his translation hardly differs from Judex, and/or is determined to be a good translation, relatively free of theological bias, then it would be irrelevant whether he was the source or not (in terms of the charge of unethical polemical bias), provided that his translation can hold up to scrutiny. But if it is overly biased, then we must concede that it is legitimate to criticize that. I've always held that everyone (in theological matters and most if not all other ones) has a bias towards his own view, so that is no great or novel admission on my part.

snippet from Cochlaeus suggests Chrismann may not have been citing the former accurately (thus I have revised this section somewhat, in light of this latest intriguing "evidence"). If I am transcribing weird abbreviation techniques correctly, it reads:
Si diutius steterit mundus, iterum erit necessarium, ut propter diversas Scripturae interpretationes, quae nunc sunt, ad conservandam fidei unitatem, Conciliorum . . .
This is closest to the Bellarmine (p. 76 version) and Balmes translations, with only a few words' difference. We can't determine which book it is from (this work is a compilation) or even the page number, from this information. Or else this particular snippet is not the one actually cited by Chrismann, etc. Cochlaeus may have more than one version, just as Bellarmine presented (though his differences were not great, and were basically two minor variants of the same thing). All the more reason to get to the original primary source material . . .

Bellarmine cited Cochlaeus as a secondary source in at least two places on one page, in the same work where we found his use of the Luther citation, on page 32. Bellarmine cites him also on pages 77, 102, 236, 272, 457, 498, and 507. This is not, however, an extraordinary number of citations in a copiously-documented work of 575 large, double-columned pages with small print. It doesn't suggest sole or even primary derivation of Latin Luther texts from Cochlaeus. Since Cochlaeus had compiled a lot of Luther's utterances, we would expect him to show up in some fashion in such a work in the 16th century.

One hypothetical construction of the evolution of use of this citation is as follows:
Luther German original
Latin translation (authors uncertain)
Bellarmine and Chrismann (independently?)
This doesn't quite (plausibly) fit with what we know thus far, since the "official" translation appeared in the Wittenberg Collection of Luther's Works, published in 1556, done by one Matthaeus Judex (aka Richter), a Gnesio-Lutheran. Cochlaeus, however, died in 1552. We also know (if Chrismann is to be believed) that Cochlaeus translated the particular text we are debating in 1543. Perhaps he got it from another source (??). He may have conceivably translated it more than once, too, since he was active in polemics from the early 1520s. But the tree above discounts the Judex translation, which is clearly the most important one of the period (thus, presumably, the most circulated). My own "tree" at this point (subject to revision almost daily!: I wrote this on 1-15-08) is as follows:
Luther: German Original [1527]


Latin Translation (Lutheran Judex [1556] or Catholic Cochlaeus [1543, etc. {?} ] or other unknown party)


Bellarmine (1570s-1580s) and the writers of the Rheims NT Preface (1582)

[note that the latter clearly indicates that Luther disagreed with his own begrudging admission of the necessary "reality" of the solution to sectarianism, since it stated: "we must receive again (which he thought absurd) the Decrees of the Councils, for preserving the unity of faith". Thus, the theory of Profound Catholic Bias and Citing Luther Out of Context Contra His Own Opinion is undercut almost from the starting-gate]
XIII. William Whitaker's Bogus and Ridiculous Charge of Cochlaeus Fabrication

English Puritan William Whitaker (1548-1595), in his work, A Disputation on Holy Scripture (1586; translated from the Latin by William Fitzgerald; digitized on 7 December 2006), made reference to our quote, via St. Robert Bellarmine's use of it (p. 140):
[summarizing Bellarmine's arguments at first] . . . Luther, in his book against Zwingle, was moved to say, that, if the world lasted long, it would again be necessary to receive the decrees of councils, on account of these diverse interpretations of scripture. I answer, in the first place, what sort of an argument is this? . . . as to Luther, I do not know whether he said this or not. The slanderous Cochlaeus hath affirmed it of him. It is a matter of no moment. Such then are Bellarmine's arguments.
Well, yes; Luther did indeed say something like this (see my textual analysis in Section V of Part One). It is no invention. The only real question is proper translation (particularly the word or concept of "council"). That Luther was talking about "diverse interpretations of Scripture" is very clear in immediate context. For example, the immediately preceding section in English (LW, vol. 37) reads:
Once more there will arise a brawl over the Scriptures, and such dissension and so many factions that we may well say with St. Paul, “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work” [II Thess. 2:7], just as he also saw that many more factions would arise after him.
And the section immediately after our quote reads:
Their success will be the same as it was in the past.

In short, the devil is too clever and too mighty for us. He resists and hinders us at every point. When we wish to deal with Scripture, he stirs up so much dissension and quarreling over it that we lose our interest in it and become reluctant to trust it.
My theory as to why the Latin has diversas Scripturae interpretationes, whereas the German doesn't have "Scripture", is precisely one of context: since before and after these "dissensions" were referred directly to arguments concerning what Scripture teaches. Therefore, he felt that it was justified to indicate what the dissension was about. It wasn't just dissension as an abstract concept, but specifically dissension concerning Scripture.

I don't find that to be an impermissible method of translation, because it is more of a translation of overall thought, rather than a literal word-for-word method (just as Bible translations differ in that regard today). In fact, Luther did the same thing when he added "alone" to "faith" in one famous passage in his German Bible (Romans 3:28 if I recall correctly). He was translating thoughts, not just words.

But the irony of Whitaker's speculation that this was a pure fabrication of Cochlaeus lies in the fact that there was a Latin translation of the work in question from Luther in 1556 by Matthaeus Judex, a Lutheran, that was included in the Wittenberg Collection of Luther's Works (1556). That was thirty years before Whitaker wrote this tome, yet he is unaware that such a citation from Luther even exists and is quite prepared to charge fabrication. Obviously, if he is that ignorant of a matter, he has no business charging others with unethical invention.

A further humorous aspect of this is that Catholics have been charged with taking the citation radically out of context and butchering its meaning for polemical purposes. Yet the Catholics who wrote the preface to the Rheims New Testament in 1582, four years before Whitaker writes here, clearly indicated that Luther himself thought this recourse was "absurd". Therefore, they are not citing out of context at all, but indicating context with a parenthetical remark.

But Whitaker is so ignorant of the text that he would rather accuse Catholics of fabricating it, when it clearly existed in Latin (from a Protestant translator) and could be (probably fairly easily, as Luther writings were widespread) looked up and verified. We're being accused of taking a text out of context, while good ole Puritan hero Whitaker (less than a generation away from the origin of the "official" Latin text) is claiming it doesn't exist at all and making someone out to be a liar, without cause! Who could come up with more humorous fiction, I ask?

The Catholics knew about this Lutheran text but fellow Protestant Whitaker did not. At least it is arguable that we Catholics have not used the statement out of context or improperly. We have respectable arguments to give in our own defense. But it is not arguable at all to claim that it doesn't exist in the first place. Maybe it's just my own weird, dry sense of humor, but I find that extremely funny: almost the stuff of self-parody.

XIV. John Calvin and Thomas Cranmer Also Discuss the Dire Need for Councils for the Sake of Doctrinal Unity

[thanks to the illustrious Ben M. for the tip on these; all bolding in text my own]

Cranmer to Calvin: 20 March 1552 [complete]

As nothing tends more injuriously to the separation of the Churches than heresies and disputes respecting the doctrines of religion, so nothing tends more effectually to unite the Churches of God, and more powerfully to defend the fold of Christ, than the pure teaching of the Gospel and harmony of doctrine. Wherefore I have often wished, and still continue to do so, that learned and godly men, who are eminent for erudition and judgment, might meet together, and, comparing their respective opinions, might handle all the heads of ecclesiastical doctrine, and hand down to posterity, under the weight of their authority, some work not only upon the subjects themselves, but upon the forms of expressing them. Our adversaries are now holding their councils at Trent, for the establishment of their errors ; and shall we neglect to call together a godly synod, for the refutation of error, and for restoring and propagating the truth? They are, as I am informed, making decrees respecting the worship of the host; wherefore we ought to leave no stone unturned, not only that we may guard others against this idolatry, but also that we may ourselves come to an agreement upon the doctrine of this sacrament. It cannot escape your prudence how exceedingly the Church of God has been injured by dissensions and varieties of opinion respecting the sacrament of unity; and though they are now in some measure removed, yet I could wish for an agreement in this doctrine, not only as regards the subject itself, but also with respect to the words and forms of expression. You have now my wish, about which I have also written to Masters Philip [Melanchthon] and Bullinger; and I pray you to deliberate among yourselves as to the means by which this synod can be assembled with the greatest convenience. Farewell. Your very dear brother in Christ,

Thomas Cantuar

(Letters of John Calvin, Vol. II, edited by Jules Bonnet and translated from Latin and French by David Constable, Edinburgh: Thomas Constable & Co., 1857, pp. 330-331)

Calvin to Cranmer: April 1552 [complete]

Your opinion, most distinguished Sir, is indeed just and wise, that in the present disordered condition of the Church, no remedy can be devised more suitable than if a general meeting were held of the devout and the prudent, of those properly exercised in the school of God, and of those who are confessedly at one on the doctrine of holiness. For we see how Satan is attempting, by various devices, to extinguish the light of the Gospel, which, by the wonderful goodness of God, having risen upon us, is shining in many a quarter. The hireling dogs of the Pope cease not to bark, in order to prevent the pure Gospel of Christ from being heard: so great is the licentiousness that is here and there breaking forth, and the ungodliness that is spreading abroad, that religion is become a mere mockery; and those who are not professed enemies of the truth, nevertheless conduct themselves with an impropriety which will create in a short time, unless it be obviated, terrible disorder among us. And not only among the common herd of men here does the distemper of a stupid inquisitiveness alternate with that of fearless extravagance, but, what is more lamentable, in the ranks of the pastors also the malady is now gaining ground. It is too well known with what mad actions Osiander is deceiving himself and deluding certain others. Yet the Lord, as he has done even from the beginning of the world; will preserve in a miraculous manner, and in a way unknown to us, the unity of a pure faith from being destroyed by the dissensions of men. And those whom He has placed on His watchtower He wishes least of all to be inactive, seeing that He has appointed them to be His ministers, through whose labours He may preserve from all corruptions sound doctrine in the Church, and transmit it safe to posterity. Especially, most illustrious Archbishop, is it necessary for you, in proportion to the distinguished position you occupy, to turn your attention as you are doing towards this object. I do not say this as if to spur you on to greater exertions, who are not only, of your own accord, in advance of others, but are also, as a voluntary encourager, urging them on; I say it in order that, by my congratulations, you may be strengthened in a pursuit so auspicious and noble. I hear that the success of the Gospel in England is indeed cheering; but you will experience there also, I doubt not, what Paul experienced in his time, that by means of the door that has been opened for the reception of pure doctrine, many enemies will suddenly rise up against it. Although I am really ignorant of how many suitable defenders you may have at hand to repel the lies of Satan, still the ungodliness of those who are wholly taken up in creating disturbances, causes the assiduity of the well-disposed to be at no time either too much or superfluous. And then I am aware that English matters are not so all-important in your eyes, but that you, at the same time, regard the interests of the whole world. Moreover, the rare piety of the English King, as well as his noble disposition, is worthy of the highest commendation, in that, of his own inclination, he entertains the pious design of holding a convention of the nature referred to, and offers a place for it also in his own kingdom. And would that it were attainable to bring together into some place, from various Churches, men eminent for their learning, and that after having carefully discussed the main points of belief one by one, they should, from their united judgments, hand down to posterity the true doctrine of Scripture. This other thing also is to be ranked among the chief evils of our time, viz., that the Churches are so divided, that human fellowship is scarcely now in any repute amongst us, far less that Christian intercourse which all make a profession of, but few sincerely practise. If men of learning conduct themselves with more reserve than is seemly, the very heaviest blame attaches to the leaders themselves, who, either engrossed in their own sinful pursuits, are indifferent to the safety and entire piety of the Church, or who, individually satisfied with their own private peace, have no regard for others. Thus it is that the members of the Church being severed, the body lies bleeding. So much does this concern me, that, could I be of any service, I would not grudge to cross even ten seas, if need were, on account of it. If it were but a question regarding the rendering of assistance to the kingdom of England, such a motive would at present be to me a sufficiently just one. Now, seeing that a serious and properly adjusted agreement between men of learning upon the rule of Scripture is still a desideratum, by means of which Churches, though divided on other questions, might be made to unite, I think it right for me, at whatever cost of toil and trouble, to seek to obtain this object. But I hope my own insignificance will cause me to be passed by. If I earnestly pray that it may be undertaken by others, I hope I shall have discharged my duty. Mr. Philip [Melanchthon] is at too great a distance to admit of a speedy interchange of letters. Mr. Bullinger has likely written you before this time. Would that I were as able as I am willing to exert myself! Moreover, the very difficulty of the thing which you feel, compels me to do what, at the outset, I affirmed I would not do, viz., not only to encourage, but also to implore you to increase your exertions, until something at least shall have been accomplished, if not all that we could desire. Adieu, very distinguished Archbishop, deserving of my hearty reverence. May the Lord continue to guide you by His Spirit, and to bless your holy labours!

John Calvin

(Ibid., pp. 330-333)

Calvin to Cranmer: July 1552

Seeing that, at the present time, that which is most of all to be desired is least likely to be attained, viz., that an assembly of the most eminent men of learning, from all the various Churches which have embraced the pure doctrine of the Gospel, after having discussed separately the controverted topics of the day, might transmit to posterity, out of the pure Word of God, a true and distinct confession; . . .

(Ibid., p. 341)

XV. The Prevailing Translation Method in the 16th Century

[From: W. Schwarz, "The Theory of Translation in Sixteenth-Century Germany," The Modern Language Review, Vol. 40, No. 4. (Oct., 1945), pp. 289-299; all bolded emphases my own; many thanks to Paul Hoffer for finding this information]

Medieval translators had attempted to render each Greek word by a Latin one, and thus to preserve Greek idioms and syntax in Latin. Against this theory of word-for-word translation, Italian humanists such as L. Bruni Aretino had proclaimed the principle that translations should satisfy the highest exigencies of style. German forerunners of humanism in the third quarter of the fifteenth century were greatly influenced by this thought of the Italian humanists. . . .

In his first translation (three Declamations of Libanius) Erasmus is very cautious in the application of a theory which he thinks right. He has followed, he writes on 17 November 1503, Cicero's rule that a translator should think of the weight and force of the sentences, not of the number of the words.' This clearly indicates Erasmus' intention to translate sense for sense. . . .

Some writers seem to paraphrase rather than to translate, e.g. Luther in his translation of Aesop's fables. Traces of such a way of rendering can be found in many translations of the fifteenth century. . . .

At this point it is useful to compare these tendencies of translation with those prevailing in the fifteenth century. Then, a translator had to decide if he intended to render word for word or sense for sense. Sense-for-sense translators, it is true, sometimes enlarged the original text and used paraphrase. Nevertheless there was a clear-cut distinction between these two different theories of translation. In the sixteenth century this old contrast still plays its part, but it is modified by the introduction of new thought : the literary value of the original work should not be lost in the translation. This tendency, which finds its finest expression in Erasmus' work, was bound to soften the rigidity of the word-for-word method. The aim to be absolutely clear led to paraphrasing as in Luther's case. . . .

Thus it could be recognized that every language had its own idioms which differ from those of all other tongues. If this was so, it wits natural to conclude that German too had its own way of expression which cannot be rendered word for word into any other language, and that consequently other languages could not be translated word for word into German. . . .

The existence of such a current of thought can be assumed from the grammars published at that time in Germany. Latin grammars, the aim of which is to teach an elegant Latin style, often contain statements how to translate idiomatic expressions from or into German. Jacob Wimpheling, who published his grammar Isidoneus Germanicus c. 1496, writes: 'boys should be admonished that Latin does not always conform with German'. Examples are given to point out such differences. Wimpheling concludes : 'The Latin idiom cannot follow our vernacular in all things, nor vice versa.' If a translator follows this precept, he can no longer strictly apply the method of rendering word for word. . . .

Sebastian Brant's Cato, mentioned above, belongs to this category of translations which were widely read and learnt, since they were used as school books. All these translations were into Latin. But these sense-for-sense renderings made the difference between the peculiarities of the Latin and German languages very obvious, and it is therefore natural to find the same method used for the translation into German. . . . idioms cannot be translated word for word, but must be rendered according to the idiomatic usage of the language : sense for sense, or idiom for idiom, or, as the last development proves, proverb for proverb.

It must again be emphasized that the consideration of the German language was not the main consideration of the grammarians. For their aim was to teach Latin, not German. It was for this purpose that they stressed the difference between the languages, and in this way they furthered the development of the theory of translation for a short period at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

It is essential to realize this development to understand the background for the review and criticism of contemporary translation by Johannes dventinus (Turmair), who in 1533 finished the translation of his own Latin history, Bayerische Chronilz. Some translators, he writes in the preface, twist and distort the German language, some insert individual Latin words into German sentences, some translate unintelligibly through talking in a roundabout way, and some imitate the Latin way of writing 'which should not be done since every language has its own usage and characteristic properties'. As Latin should not be written according to German rules, neither should German be interspersed with Latin words nor be used in imitation of another language, for in this case it would be unintelligible. In his own writing he attempted to use the language which was known to everybody. This language is generally used, it is found in verses, dicta, and proverbs. His own principle of translation, he states, has been to deviate from Latin only if the particular usage of German makes such a departure necessary. Anyone reading his work in both languages will understand the one language through the other.

If these trends in translation were combined, a new theory of translation would indeed originate. The main principle of such a theory would be the consideration of the peculiarities of the language into which the translation is made. This consideration tends to attach little or no weight to the style and to the words of the original work and thus the translation may turn into a paraphrase. . . . This danger can be avoided only if the translator respects the words of the work he renders. He should feel that even though he does not imitate foreign idioms, the authority of the work does not allow of wide deviation. It was only God's words which could evoke this feeling of humility in the translator's mind and this
reverence for the word. It is therefore easy to understand that this new theory was first used in the two great sixteenth-century translations of the Bible: Erasmus's New Testament of 1516 and Luther's Bible of 1522.

XVI. Luther's German Bible as a Paramount Example of Paraphrase and Idiom in Translation

[From: Roland H. Bainton: Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Mentor Books, 1950]

Early Luther sensed the need for a new translation of the Scriptures from the original tongues into idiomatic German. . . .

The variety of German chosen as a basis was the court tongue of electoral Saxony, enriched from a number of dialects with which Luther had gained some familiarity in his travels. . . .

Luther on occasion achieved the most felicitous rendering at the first throw. At other times he had to labor. In that case he would first make a literal translation in the word order of the original. Then he would take each word separately and gush forth a freshet of synonyms. From these he would select those which not only best suited the sense but also contributed to balance and rhythm. All of this would then be set aside in favor of a free rendering to catch the spirit. Finally the meticulous and the free would be brought together. . . .

Another problem was the translation of idioms. Here Luther insisted that the idiom of one language must be translated into the equivalent idiom of the other. He was scornful of the Vulgate translation, "Hail, Mary, full of grace." "What German would understand that if translated literally? He knows the meaning of a purse full of gold or a keg full of beer, but what is he to make of a girl full of grace? I would prefer to say simply, 'Liebe Maria? What word is more rich than that word, 'liebe?"

There is no doubt that it is a rich word, but its connotations are not precisely the same as "endowed with grace," and Luther did not use the word in his official version. Here is the problem of the translator. Should he use always an indigenous word which may have a particular local connotation? If the French call a centurion a gendarme, and the Germans make a procurator into a burgomaster, Palestine has moved west. And this is what did happen to a degree in Luther's rendering. Judea was transplanted to Saxony, and the road from Jericho to Jerusalem ran through the Thuringian forest. By nuances and turns of expression Luther enhanced the graphic in terms of the local. When he read, "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God," he envisaged a medieval town begirt with walls and towers, surrounded by a moat through which coursed a living stream laving with laughter the massive piers. . . .

Yet occasionally an overly Pauline turn is discernible. There is the famous example where Luther rendered "justification by faith" as "justification by faith alone." When taken to task for this liberty, he replied that he was not translating words but ideas, and that the extra word was necessary in German in order to bring out the force of the original. Throughout all the revisions of his lifetime he would never relinquish that word "alone." In another instance he was more flexible. In 1522 he had translated the Greek words meaning "by the works of the law" with German words meaning "by the merit of works." In 1527 he substituted a literal rendering. That must have hurt. He was an honest workman, and successive revisions of the New Testament were marked by a closer approximation to the original. And yet there were places where Luther's peculiar views, without any inaccuracy, lent a nuance to the rendering. In the benediction, "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding," Luther translated, "The peace which transcends all reason." One cannot exactly quarrel with that. He might better have said, "which surpasses all comprehension," but he was so convinced of the inadequacy of human reason to scale the heavenly heights that he could not but see here a confirmation of his supreme aversion.

(pp. 254-257, 261; pp. 325-344 in online version)

[From: An Open Letter on Translating, Martin Luther, 8 September, 1530; translated from Weimar Werke (WA) by Gary Mann, 1995]

I also know that in Rom. 3, the word "solum" is not present in either Greek or Latin text - the papists did not have to teach me that - it is fact! The letters s-o-l-a are not there. And these knotheads stare at them like cows at a new gate, while at the same time they do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text - if the translation is to be clear and accurate, it belongs there. I wanted to speak German since it was German I had spoken in translation - not Latin or Greek. But it is the nature of our language that in speaking about two things, one which is affirmed, the other denied, we use the word "solum" only along with the word "not" (nicht) or "no" (kein). For example, we say "the farmer brings only (allein) grain and no money"; or "No, I really have no money, but only (allein) grain"; I have only eaten and not yet drunk"; "Did you write it only and not read it over?" There are a vast number of such everyday cases.

In all these phrases, this is a German usage, even though it is not the Latin or Greek usage. It is the nature of the German tongue to add "allein" in order that "nicht" or "kein" may be clearer and more complete. To be sure, I can also say "The farmer brings grain and no (kein) money, but the words "kein money" do not sound as full and clear as if I were to say, "the farmer brings allein grain and kein money." Here the word "allein" helps the word "kein" so much that it becomes a clear and complete German expression.

We do not have to ask about the literal Latin or how we are to speak German - as these asses do. Rather we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common person in the market about this. We must be guided by their tongue, the manner of their speech, and do our translating accordingly. Then they will understand it and recognize that we are speaking German to them.

For instance, Christ says: Ex abundatia cordis os loquitur. If I am to follow these asses, they will lay the original before me literally and translate it as: "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." Is that speaking with a German tongue? What German could understand something like that? What is this "abundance of the heart?" No German can say that; unless, of course, he was trying to say that someone was altogether too magnanimous, or too courageous, though even that would not yet be correct, as "abundance of the heart" is not German, not any more than "abundance of the house, "abundance of the stove" or "abundance of the bench" is German. But the mother in the home and the common man say this: "What fills the heart overflows the mouth." That is speaking with the proper German tongue of the kind I have tried for, although unfortunately not always successfully. The literal Latin is a great barrier to speaking proper German.

So, as the traitor Judas says in Matthew 26: "Ut quid perditio haec?" and in Mark 14: "Ut quid perditio iste unguenti facta est?" Subsequently, for these literalist asses I would have to translate it: "Why has this loss of salve occurred?" But what kind of German is this? What German says "loss of salve occurred"? And if he does understand it at all, he would think that the salve is lost and must be looked for and found again; even though that is still obscure and uncertain. Now if that is good German why do they not come out and make us a fine, new German testament and let Luther's testament be? I think that would really bring out their talents. But a German would say "Ut quid, etc.." as "Why this waste?" or "Why this extravagance?" Even "it is a shame about the ointment" - these are good German, in which one can understand that Magdalene had wasted the salve she poured out and had done wrong. That was what Judas meant as he thought he could have used it better.

Now when the angel greets Mary, he says: "Greetings to you, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you." Well up to this point, this has simply been translated from the simple Latin, but tell me is that good German? Since when does a German speak like that - being "full of grace"? One would have to think about a keg "full of" beer or a purse "full of" money. So I translated it: "You gracious one". This way a German can at last think about what the angel meant by his greeting. Yet the papists rant about me corrupting the angelic greeting - and I still have not used the most satisfactory German translation. What if I had used the most satisfactory German and translated the salutation: "God says hello, Mary dear" (for that is what the angel was intending to say and what he would have said had he even been German!). If I had, I believe that they would have hanged themselves out of their great devotion to dear Mary and because I have destroyed the greeting.

Yet why should I be concerned about their ranting and raving? I will not stop them from translating as they want. But I too shall translate as I want and not to please them, and whoever does not like it can just ignore it and keep his criticism to himself, for I will neither look at nor listen to it. They do not have to answer for or bear responsibility for my translation. Listen up, I shall say "gracious Mary" and "dear Mary", and they can say "Mary full of grace". Anyone who knows German also knows what an expressive word "dear"(liebe) is: dear Mary, dear God, the dear emperor, the dear prince, the dear man, the dear child. I do not know if one can say this word "liebe" in Latin or in other languages with so much depth of emotion that it pierces the heart and echoes throughout as it does in our tongue.

I think that St. Luke, as a master of the Hebrew and Greek tongues, wanted to clarify and articulate the Greek word "kecharitomene" that the angel used. And I think that the angel Gabriel spoke with Mary just as he spoke with Daniel, when he called him "Chamudoth" and "Ish chamudoth, vir desiriorum", that is "Dear Daniel." That is the way Gabriel speaks, as we can see in Daniel. Now if I were to literally translate the words of the angel, and use the skills of these asses, I would have to translate it as "Daniel, you man of desires" or "Daniel, you man of lust". Oh, that would be beautiful German! A German would, of course, recognize "Man", "Lueste" and "begirunge" as being German words, although not altogether pure as "lust" and "begir" would be better. But when those words are put together you get "you man of desires" and no German is going to understand that. He might even think that Daniel is full of lustful desires. Now wouldn't that be a fine translation! So I have to let the literal words go and try to discover how the German says what the Hebrew "ish chamudoth" expresses. I discover that the German says this, "You dear Daniel", "you dear Mary", or "you gracious maiden", "you lovely maiden", "you gentle girl" and so on. A translator must have a large vocabulary so he can have more words for when a particular one just does not fit in the context. . . .

XVII. Brief Recap

I have been puzzled over the differences between the German and the Latin, and freely acknowledged that this was a difficult issue to resolve. But I believe the solution is found in an analysis of translation method (as I already predicted was a possible solution, more than once, in this long paper): see sections XVI and XVII. 

I have maintained for quite a while now (but without denying at all the importance of the textual issue) that this argument -- after all the primary German and Latin texts are collected -- will ultimately come down to the interpretation of the larger passage itself (i.e., context), in conjunction with an understanding of Luther's overall views (particularly on the important role of Tradition) and similar ones expressed by his fellow "reformers" (e.g., Calvin and Cranmer in Section XV above, and best friend and successor Philip Melanchthon's strong conciliarism, expressed at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 and elsewhere).

Most historians believe that a thinker's thoughts have to be interpreted in light of his overall development: before and after the words in question. Anyone involved at a serious academic level in biographical studies or history of ideas understands this. Thus we have provided a great deal of that background information.

Serious researchers, who try to achieve the greatest objectivity and fair analysis possible, given universal bias and theological preferences in all Christians, follow the historical truth wherever it leads, not only when it suits their prior polemical purposes. We are engaged, after all, in an extensive research effort to determine what Luther believed, not what anyone wishes that Luther believed, based on their preconceived notions of what he would believe.

No comments: