Friday, January 07, 2011

Luther: Man is like a horse. Does God or Satan leap into the saddle?

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "Free Will":

"Man is like a horse. Does God leap into the saddle? The horse is obedient and accommodates itself to every movement of the rider and goes whither he wills it. Does God throw down the reins? Then Satan leaps upon the back of the animal, which bends, goes and submits to the spurs and caprices of its new rider... Therefore, necessity, not free will, is the controlling principle of our conduct. God is the author of what is evil as well as of what is good, and, as He bestows happiness on those who merit it not, so also does He damn others who deserve not their fate" ['De Servo Arbitrio', 7, 113 seq., quoted by O'Hare, in 'The Facts About Luther, TAN Books, 1987, pp. 266-267].

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With this quote, they attempt to show Luther denies free will and says God is the author of "what is evil."

Documentation
Luther, Exposing the Myth cites " 'De Servo Arbitrio', 7, 113 seq., quoted by O'Hare, in 'The Facts About Luther, TAN Books, 1987, pp. 266-267." Working backwards in this documentation, Luther, Exposing the Myth cites " O'Hare, in 'The Facts About Luther, TAN Books, 1987, pp. 266-267." This refers to the 1987 TAN reprint this old book from Father Patrick O'Hare. On page 266-267 (or p. 271-272) Father O'Hare states,
"Man," he says, "is like a horse. Does God leap into the saddle? The horse is obedient and accommodates itself to every movement of the rider and goes whither he wills it. Does God throw down the reins? Then Satan leaps upon the back of the animal, which bends, goes and submits to the spurs and caprices of its new rider. The will cannot choose its rider and cannot kick against the spur that pricks it. It must go on and its very docility is a disobedience or a sin. The only struggle possible is between the two riders, who dispute the momentary possession of the steed, and, then, is fulfilled the saying of the Psalmist: I am become like a beast of burden.' Let the Christian, then, know that God foresees nothing contingently, but that he foresees, proposes and acts from His internal and immutable will. This is the thunderbolt that shatters and destroys free-will. Hence it comes to pass that whatever happens, happens according to the irreversible decrees of God. Therefore, necessity, not free-will, is the controlling principle of our conduct. God is the author of what is evil in us as well as of what is good, and, as He bestows happiness on those who merit it not, so also, does He damn others who deserve not their fate." (De Servo Arbitrio, in op. lat. 7, 113 seq.
Father O'Hare cites "De Servo Arbitrio, in op. lat. 7, 113 seq" as does Luther, Exposing the Myth. This is not a coincidence, but rather the result of cut-and-paste because the reference Father O'Hare provided is somewhat spurious, and those utilizing O'Hare never bothered to check it for accuracy.  The reference is not to a specific section of text from Luther. It is actually a reference to where De Servo Arbitrio (The Bondage of the Will) begins in D. Martini Lutheri Opera Latina Volume VII. That is, the treatise, De Servo Arbitrio begins on page 113 in volume 7.

Another major problem with O'Hare's quote is that it appears to have been taken from different pages of De Servo Arbitrio . It doesn't appear to me to be one Luther quote, it's multiple quotes placed together in a paragraph taken from different places in the text. Someone took a few different sentences from the entirety of the book and placed them together into one paragraph. There's a good chance Father O'Hare took the quote from History of the Church, Volume 3 By Johannes Baptist Alzog. Father O'Hare quotes from this Roman Catholic source a few times in his book, and it contains the same Luther quote in almost the exact same form with the exception of two additional words ("he continues").

Without actually having an exact reference for multiple sentences it's very difficult to locate the pages in D. Martini Lutheri Opera Latina Volume VII where the quote occurs. It requires working backward from English to Latin. My speculation is that there are three or four different sentences being cited.

The first part of the quote used by Luther, Exposing the Myth is "Man is like a horse. Does God leap into the saddle? The horse is obedient and accommodates itself to every movement of the rider and goes whither he wills it. Does God throw down the reins? Then Satan leaps upon the back of the animal, which bends, goes and submits to the spurs and caprices of its new rider." The quote can be found in WA 18:635 and on page 157 of D. Martini Lutheri Opera Latina Volume VII:


The second part of the quote is "Therefore, necessity, not free-will, is the controlling principle of our conduct." This solo sentence may possibly be found in WA 18:636 and also on page 158 of D. Martini Lutheri Opera Latina Volume VII:


The third quote used by Luther, Exposing the Myth is "God is the author of what is evil in us as well as of what is good, and, as He bestows happiness on those who merit it not, so also, does He damn others who deserve not their fate" might actually be two separate quotes (connected by "and"). The first part might possibly be found in WA 18:667 and on page 196 of D. Martini Lutheri Opera Latina Volume VII:


The second part of the third quote may possibly be found in WA 18:784 and on page 363 of D. Martini Lutheri Opera Latina Volume VII:



Context

Quote #1: The Horse and Rider Analogy
In short, if we are under the god of this world, away from the work and Spirit of the true God, we are held captive to his will, as Paul says to Timothy [II Tim. 2:26], so that we cannot will anything but what he wills. For he is that strong man armed, who guards his own palace in such a way that those whom he possesses are in peace [Luke 11:21], so as to prevent them from stirring up any thought or feeling against him; otherwise, the kingdom of Satan being divided against itself would not stand [Luke 11:18], whereas Christ affirms that it does stand. And this we do readily and willingly, according to the nature of the will, which would not be a will if it were compelled; for compulsion is rather (so to say) “unwill.” But if a Stronger One comes who overcomes him and takes us as His spoil, then through his Spirit we are again slaves and captives—though this is royal freedom—so that we readily will and do what he wills. Thus the human will is placed between the two like a beast of burden. If God rides it, it wills and goes where God wills, as the psalm says: “I am become as a beast [before thee] and I am always with thee” [Ps. 73:22 f.]. If Satan rides it, it wills and goes where Satan wills; nor can it choose to run to either of the two riders or to seek him out, but the riders themselves contend for the possession and control of it [LW 33:65].
Quote #2: Whatever Happens is by Necessity, not Free Will
It is settled, then, even on your own testimony, that we do everything by necessity, and nothing by free choice, since the power of free choice is nothing and neither does nor can do good in the absence of grace—unless you wish to give “efficacy” a new meaning and understand it as “perfection,” as if free choice might very well make a start and will something, thought it could not carry it through. But that I do not believe, and will say more about it later. It follows now that free choice is plainly a divine term, and can be properly applied to none but the Divine Majesty alone; for he alone can do and does (as the psalmist says [Ps. 115:3]) whatever he pleases in heaven and on earth. If this is attributed to men, it is no more rightly attributed than if divinity itself also were attributed to them, which would be the greatest possible sacrilege. Theologians therefore ought to have avoided this term when they wished to speak of human ability, leaving it to be applied to God alone. They should, moreover, have removed it from the lips and language of men, treating it as a kind of sacred and venerable name for their God. And if they attributed any power at all to men, they should teach that it must be called by another name than free choice, especially as we know and clearly perceive that the common people are miserably deceived and led astray by that term, since they hear and understand it in a very different sense from that which the theologians mean and discuss. [LW 33:67].

Quote #3a: God is the author of what is evil
Out of one opinion on free choice you make three. You regard as hard, though probable enough, the opinion of those who deny that man can will the good without special grace. They deny that he can begin, progress, or reach his goal, etc.; and this you approve because it leaves man to desire and endeavor, but does not leave him with anything to ascribe to his own powers. Harder, you think, is the opinion of those who contend that free choice is of no avail save to sin, that grace alone accomplishes good in us, etc. But hardest is the view of those who say that free choice is a mere empty name, that it is God who works both good and evil in us, and that all things which happen come about by sheer necessity. It is against these last two positions that you profess to be writing. Do you really know what you are saying, my dear Erasmus? You express here three opinions as if they belonged to three different schools, not realizing that they are the same thing variously stated, in different words at different times, by us who remain the same persons and exponents of one school only; but let us draw your attention to this and point out the carelessness or stupidity of your judgment [LW 33:111].
Quote 3b God damns others who deserve not their fate
Now, if you are disturbed by the thought that it is difficult to defend the mercy and justice of God when he damns the undeserving, that is to say, ungodly men who are what they are because they were born in ungodliness and can in no way help being and remaining ungodly and damnable, but are compelled by a necessity of nature to sin and to perish (as Paul says: “We were all children of wrath like the rest,” since they are created so by God himself from seed corrupted by the sin of the one man Adam)—rather must God be honored and revered as supremely merciful toward those whom he justifies and saves, supremely unworthy as they are, and there must be at least some acknowledgement of his divine wisdom so that he may be believed to be righteous where he seems to us to be unjust. For if his righteousness were such that it could be judged to be righteous by human standards, it would clearly not be divine and would in no way differ from human righteousness. But since he is the one true God, and is wholly incomprehensible and inaccessible to human reason, it is proper and indeed necessary that his righteousness also should be incomprehensible, as Paul also says where he exclaims: “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” But they would not be incomprehensible if we were able in every instance to grasp how they are righteous. What is man, compared with God? How much is there within our power compared with his power? What is our strength in comparison with his resources? What is our knowledge compared with his wisdom? What is our substance over against his substance? In a word, what is our all compared with his?[LW 33:289].
Conclusion
With quote #1, the illustration of the horse and rider isn't Luther's invention, but rather had been used in a variety of ways by others preceding Luther: see Roman Catholic scholar Harry McSorley, Luther Right or Wrong? pp. 337-340. McSorley notes that Trent rejected using the analogy "possibly as a reaction against Luther's use of the image." McSorley rightly points out that several times in De Servo Arbitrio Luther mentions he is not discussing what the will can do with grace, and that "Luther correctly emphasizes the biblical doctrine that the sinner is Satan's captive and is not free to escape" (p. 339). McSorley though sees God's riding the horse as an example of the will being in bondage to God, thus a denial of Roman Catholic views on free will.

If I've got the right context for quote #2, Luther had been arguing that man as slave to sin has no free will (LW 33:64-65). Luther notes Erasmus argued in effect that free choice exists and has some power, but that it is an ineffective power. Luther takes this apart concluding "It is settled, then, even on your own testimony, that we do everything by necessity, and nothing by free choice."

For quote 3 (A), Luther's taking apart Erasmus' views on free will and grace, pointing out the contradictions in his earlier definitions. He notes that Erasmus was troubled by the view which held "free choice is an empty name and all that we do comes about by sheer necessity" (LW 33:113). Luther responds that if Erasmus grants in any sense that man can't will freely without special grace, he is in effect granting necessity.

For quote 3 (B), Luther is arguing that God's righteousness in damning the wicked and choosing a people to save is an incomprehensible righteousness.

Interestingly Harry McSorley argues the views on views on grace and free will put forth by Erasmus are not normative for Roman Catholics, and that Luther "presents the most powerful biblical argument for fallen man's bondage to sin that the Church had heard since St. Augustine"[source].

This was one of the harder quotes to determine the context for, and I'm still not completely satisfied I've nailed the references entirely. The only way to be certain would be to track down the Jenna and Wittenberg editions of Luther's Works. The reason why Father O'Hare cited the first page of De Servo Arbitrio as his reference is he probably couldn't find all the quotes in the text! Whoever originally compiled this quote probably was only intending to put forth a summary statement of Luther's treatise. The quotes were put together to "shock" but rather serve as a caricature of Luther's argumentation.

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2011. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

3 comments:

Reformed Veritas said...

No comments yet?
JI Packer ties free will into the sola gratia that undergirds sola fide in his intro to Johnstone's and his translation of Bondage of the Will. It is extremely helpful in setting the context for Luther's remarks.
At the time of the Reformation, to believe in free will was the mark of a papist. Calvin, Knox and the English reformers all repudiated it along with Luther. Nowadays it is is commonly accepted in modern "evangelicalism".
Which is just the problem. Packer suggests - to put it mildly - that somebody has some reconsidering to do. Hint, it's not Luther or those who deny the power of man's sinful free will to decide for or choose Christ.
I found Packer's intro to be helpful in further clarifying the Biblical case against Arminianism. And that was a good thing!

cordially,

Bob S.

James Swan said...

Hi Bob,

There are typically no comments on my Luther stuff because I purposefully make them as dull as possible (:

Yes, I'm fond of the Packer / Johnston intro material as well, and I find their translation to be the smoothest read in English, even better than the LW translation. I do recall though some years back a Lutheran telling me the Packer / Johnston translation took Calvinistic liberties with Luther's text, but he offered no examples to prove his point.

You may find my posts covering Roman Catholic scholar Harry McSorley's take on the Luther vs. Erasmus debate. He says Erasmus put forth a Roman Catholicism that was more Pelagian. In other words, Luther was right to blast away at him.

Reformed Veritas said...

Thanks for yours, James.
Nice to hear from somebody who has seen the LW version. It was out of print when I picked up P&J's version, much more I can imagine contemporary lutheranism really isn't too happy about Luther's view of FW!