Monday, May 25, 2009

Reply to Catholic Semi-Critical Comments on My Luther Research

David Sch├╝tz, an Australian Catholic, former Lutheran pastor, and Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, has written a piece on his website, Sentire Cum Ecclesia, about a post of mine concerning new Luther works coming out, and my book on Martin Luther (New Luther’s Works and a New Work on Luther?). I have replied at his site (reproduced below). His words (presented in their entirety) will be indented.

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Hi David,

Nice to meet your acquaintance.

Marco Vervoost (now blogging at Adventures in Jesus) alerted me to this post on Dave Armstrong’s blog: Untranslated German Works of Martin Luther (Including Two-Thirds of the Weimar Werke: “WA”) : 20 New Volumes in English Forthcoming. Good news for Lutherophiles. But I also notice on Dave’s website an advertisement for his new book “Martin Luther: Catholic Critical Analysis and Praise”. Has anyone read it and does anyone know anything about it?
Not many, but those who have read it know a little bit. Fr. Peter Stravinskas gave it a positive review.
I am usually a bit coy about Catholic books about Luther. There have been many good scholarly works done (as a youngster I bought and still prize this one by Peter Manns), but polemical works by people who have never known Luther “from the inside” (as it were) usually tend to get the poor old fellow wrong one way or another.
That's correct. I get all kinds of opinions about my Luther research. I've been accused of being "anti-Luther" by a few people, and accused of being too soft on Luther, by Catholic "traditionalists" (recently, a person stated on a forum that I have claimed that what Luther did was "heroic"; I informed him that I have not done so since my conversion in 1990, and he retracted it). When one is getting it from both sides, usually they are doing something right.

But even Pastor Paul McCain: no fan of Catholic apologists, or of Catholicism, and a very prominent Lutheran pastor, active online, commended the following paper of mine: The Supreme Importance of Interpreting Martin Luther in Context (E.g., His Views on Marriage and Sexuality). He wrote (2-23-07 on my blog): "I appreciate the words of caution being expressed about how best to read Luther."
For instance, I get thoroughly sick of Fr Mitch Pacwa on EWTN constantly citing the “dung heap covered by snow” analogy. I never heard such a thing when I was a Lutheran. How can Fr Mitch make it such a centre of his critique of Luther? A far more balanced approach is in this short article on the Catholic Culture website.
I studied that issue and concluded that the actual quote could not be found; though other statements by Luther approximate it: Has Martin Luther's "Snow-Covered Dunghill" Mystery-Legend Been Solved?!

A version of that is in the book.
As far as I can tell, Dave Armstrong is a convert from US-style Evangelicalism, not Lutheranism.
I went to an evangelically-oriented Lutheran church for three years, but I was not doctrinally Lutheran. I have never been a Calvinist. I was Arminian, which is not far from Lutheran soteriology. Martin Luther was a big hero of mine (as I have stated in my published conversion story in Surprised by Truth). I remember reading his biography by Roland Bainton, way back in 1984, when we were driving back from our honeymoon.
In general, Evangelicals get Luther as wrong as Catholics do, because they read him through Calvinist glasses.
I try to be as accurate and fair as I can, as shown in a full one-third of the book being "praise" of Luther and demonstrating how he often agrees with Catholics. But I am critical, too, and see nothing wrong with that. Lest anyone think being critical of some of Luther's beliefs is simply a "polemical" thing that only lay apologists do, and not Catholic scholars, I would direct them to my recent paper on Luther's early Christology, which includes lengthy comments from Pope Benedict XVI and Hans Urs von Balthasar, including praise of Theobald Beer, a Luther scholar who was very critical of Luther, and who accused him of decided Manichaean tendencies.

I don't mind being constructively criticized. Feel free. And I'll reply, as presently. But I do get tired of folks trying to imply that there is a huge chasm between, say, my apologetic work, and the scholarly work of those such as the Holy Father and von Balthasar (as if my conclusions are vastly different from theirs).
So, my question is, is there any reason to suppose that this book on Luther by Armstrong is any more balanced than his previous work on the same subject (for eg. see this critique)?
It's all in the eye of the beholder, isn't it? You wouldn't have a balanced view of my Luther research, if all you have read is a scathingly polemical critique of it, by a person who doesn't even think Catholicism is Christian. You might also (in fairness to me) want to read my reply, as to my use of Roland Bainton (which was atrociously misrepresented in the article you cite).

So yes, I am critical of Luther where I think he was wrong. What's wrong with that? Do Catholics not have a right and even a duty to defend Catholic truth claims when they are severely attacked? I don't "hate" the man or think he was a "bad" man. I admire him in some ways. This was all made clear in the introduction to my book, available online.

You can see what I was trying to accomplish with the book by reading that. But if folks insist on blasting my Luther research, largely based on hearsay and reading only critiques without reading my replies to such critiques, I would simply point out that I ought to at least be commended when I defend Luther (and Lutherans), or cite him in agreement, as I have done many times. For example, in these papers:

Martin Luther on Sanctification and the Absolute Necessity of Good Works as the Proof of Authentic Faith (part of the book)

Martin Luther Refutes Zwingli and Other Deniers of the Real Presence

Martin Luther's Mariology (Particularly the Immaculate Conception)

Contraception and the "Fewer Children is Better" Mentality: the Opposition of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Other Protestants

Did Martin Luther Believe That Jesus Had Carnal Relations With Mary Magdalene and Others?

Zwingli, Bucer, & Oecolampadius Said Martin Luther & Lutherans Weren't Christians
I think it is a problem today, especially on the Internet, that lots of people like to talk about others and make comments about their work, without actually reading or interacting with it. I'm all about friendly dialogue. If someone doesn't care for something I write, they are more than welcome to critique it (I positively encourage it), and I'd be delighted to have a dialogue and present all of my critics' views on my own blog. You or anyone else are welcome to do so.

For now, I hope I have shown that the views of my severest critics concerning my treatment of Luther, are more than a little unbalanced and inaccurate. My concern, as a Catholic apologist, is with theological truth and historical truth, not tearing down human beings simply because I disagree with them, or having to always be "right" about everything, no matter what.

Hence I am happy to defend Luther or agree with him, when I am able to do so as a Catholic, in good conscience. I'm as ecumenical as I am apologetic. In some ways, I am less critical of Luther than even his fellow Protestants were. Calvin said he was an idolater. I haven't said that. Other Protestants during his time implied that he was mad or otherwise profoundly unbalanced. I haven't claimed that, either. I have simply noted that he was prone to depression, as all of his biographers freely acknowledge. And I say that this may have had an effect on his soteriology, which I think is quite plausible, and which has been asserted by many historians also.

My positions on Luther are often quite "moderate" compared to what is seen in some Catholic circles. If many thousands of certain sorts of Protestants can make out that you and I are not even Christians, because we are Catholics (an extreme insult indeed), then certainly I can criticize a man for having what I believe is incorrect theology, or incorrect moral positions, no?

Lastly, if you like, I'll send you a Word or PDF version of my Luther book for free. All I ask is that you actually read it, and put up some kind of a review when you finish (whether positive or negative or mixed, is up to you).

Thanks for letting me have my "say" on your blog. And this will also be posted on mine (just so you know).

God bless,


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