Thursday, December 15, 2005

Review: Luther's own Statements concerning his Teaching and its Results. BY HENRY O'CONNOR

Luther's own Statements concerning his Teaching and its Results. BY HENRY O'CONNOR, S.J. New York : Benziger Brothers. 1884. [source]

WE have here a brochure already honoured by the approval of many bishops, which undertakes to set forth the teaching of Martin Luther and its results in the authentic words of Luther himself. There can be no difference of opinion as to the great practical value of such a work. The result of the late centennial commemoration of the so-called reformer's birth has had a result which to its promoters must have been a distinct surprise. Among the many Protestant ministers and others who undertook to panegyrize Luther, the more respectable took the opportunity to examine with some little care his real teaching and work. They found in his teaching much more lawlessness and in his work much more evil than they were prepared for. Very few of them had the clear-sightedness, or perhaps the courage, to set him down as he really is. But a good many were so far influenced as to confine themselves to very vague praises indeed. They admitted he was not all that a decorous Anglican or a respectable chapel member of our own day would have wished him to be; but he was manly, pure, and eloquent; he broke the chains of Rome, and showed men how to come near to Christ. Now,it can be shown that Luther was as despotic as any Pope that ever lived (even in Protestant imagination); that he was intolerant on principle ; that he absolutely hated and cursed Protestantism as now
understood — that is, private judgment and the absence of sacraments; that he allowed heathenism as to marriage ; and that his great doctrine of justification by faith was so dangerous in his own eyes that he absolutely points the danger out himself, and that it cannot be preached in any pulpit in the world without glosses and safeguards innumerable. It is very important, therefore, to have Luther's own words. Father O'Connor has given us them under circumstances of care and research which seem absolutely to preclude any possibility of an unfair citation, or of
an unauthentic utterance. He gives a very particular account of the sources and editions which he has used. He then shows how Luther rejected the authority of the Pope, how he admitted the authority of the devil, and how he proclaimed his own infallibility and acted upon it. He enters into an examination of his famous translation of Rom. iii. 28 ("By Faith alone"), and shows how vain are the endeavours of some of his apologists to get rid of its antinomian character.
And he concludes with describing, still in Luther's own words, the political and moral results of his teaching. There are only two additional matters we should have liked to see included in Father O'Connor's pamphlet. First, it might have been as well to have indicated as far as possible the chronological relationship of the passages cited; for some of his admirers, such as Kb'stlin, ascribe to him a gradual awakening to true doctrine and an implied retractation of early crudities. And secondly, an examination of the celebrated passage in which the "pecca fortiter" occurs should perhaps have been introduced, as a great deal of controversy turns upon its wording and context. But Father O'Connor, in what he has given us, has done a great service. The work should be in every priest's library, as to be at hand for immediate reference.