To the left: One of Luther’s first Roman Catholic biographers was also a great adversary with lasting impact: Johannes Cochlaeus. Cochlaeus best expressed his campaign against Luther by portraying him as a seven-headed dragon. Cochlaeus divided up the life of Luther into seven distinct periods, each represented by one of the heads on the monster. Each head held a contradictory opinion to the other. He explains what each head represents:
“Thus all brothers emerge from the womb of one and the same cowl by a birth so monstrous, that none is like the other in either behavior, shape, face or character. The elder brothers, Doctor and Martinus, come closest to the opinion of the Church, and they are to be believed above all the others, if anything anywhere in Luther's books can be believed with any certainty at all. Lutherus, however, according to his surname, plays a wicked game just like Ismael. Ecclesiastes tells the people who are always keen on novelties, pleasant things. Svermerns rages furiously and errs in the manner of Phaeton throughout the skies. Barrabas is looking for violence and sedition everywhere. And at the last, Visitator, adorned with a new mitre and ambitious for a new papacy, prescribes new laws of ceremonies, and many old ones which he had previously abolished—revokes, removes, reduces.”[Johannes Cochlaeus, S[epticeps] L[utherus] (Dresden, 1529), fol. lib. Cited in: Peter Newman Brooks (ed.), Seven-Headed Luther, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983) 196.]With any study of Luther and the Reformation comes a crash course in Roman Catholicism. Many Roman Catholics on-line are livid against the Reformation, particularly Luther. I’ve read all sorts of unbelievable facts about Luther from the keyboards of Rome's defenders: that he was adulterer, a drunkard, a polygamist, took books out of the Bible, uttered massive amounts of profanity, hated Jews, had people killed, and basically was in league with Satan.
Was Luther really all these things? If these things are true, how in the world could people like R.C. Sproul speak of him with such grandeur? Why would the great bastion of Reformed theology, Westminster Seminary, actually teach classes on Luther? How could an entire group of churches call themselves “Luther-an”? Well, it didn’t make sense to me. Someone wasn’t telling the truth, or either the truth was being told in such a way that the facts were being manipulated as tools of propaganda.
Five years ago, I was participating daily on the CARM discussion boards. Roman Catholics would frequently bring up Martin Luther, mentioning the unflattering attributes described above. Often I was directed to the entry about Luther in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Sometimes, they would link to articles to prove their historical “facts” about Luther. For instance:
1) Martin Luther: Beyond Mythology to Historical Fact ; 2) The Orthodox vs. the Heterodox Luther
3) Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible ; 4)Martin Luther, Indulgences, and the Origins of the Protestant Revolt ; 5) Martin Luther's Devotion to Mary
The information from these old links was frequently brought into conversations. The good news is, some of these links are no longer available, and some of them have been positively updated. I share them in this form only to show what I originally came across, way back when.
The links above quote from historical authors that were at one time unfamiliar to me: Hartmann Grisar, Patrick O’Hare, Johannes Janssen, and some that were familiar to me, like Will Durant and, Roland Bainton. Also, I was amazed to find the writer of these links seemed so familiar with Luther’s writings in German and Latin (and some of those dating back to the 16th Century!): Works (Werke), Weimar ed., 1883, Werke, Erlangen ed., 1868, De Servo Arbitrio, in Op. Lat, (Latin Works: Erlangen ed., 1829), Werke, (German) Wittenberg ed., 1559, Tischreden (Table-Talk), L.C.12.s., Werke, Halle ed., Luther's Letters, De Wette - Seidemann, Berlin, 1828.
Now, these editions of Luther’s writings are not readily available. They are quite difficult to track down. Obviously, the amazing citations from the above German and Latin editions were taken from secondary sources (the author's I mentioned above). So I tracked down some of these secondary sources. There is an entire corpus of Roman Catholic writings that were not only against Luther and the Reformation, but were passionately and viciously against Luther and the Reformation. The result of my research can be found here: The Roman Catholic Understanding of Luther (Part 1)
When I started researching Roman Catholic approaches to Luther, I was quite perplexed to find out that many of the Roman Catholic “anti-Luther” writers had been answered, in some cases, over fifty years ago, usually by very capable Lutheran writers. But unfortunately, these writings were not readily available. There were a good handful of articles from theological journals, but these are not so easy to locate (I spent many hours in the basement of Westminster’s library scouring the periodicals and journals).
Any good biography on Luther will deal with some of the issues brought up by Roman Catholics. But often, these treatments are sparse. To my knowledge (as of the writing of this entry), only two full-length books (in English) exist that directly respond to the hostile Roman Catholic treatments of Luther:
W.H.T. Dau, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917)
Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics (Virginia: John Knox Press, 1967)
I have both of these books. You may be able to locate Stauffer’s book via a used bookstore, but Dau’s book is extremely hard to find (edited to add, it is now available online). Both are worthy investments. It’s unfortunate, but more web pages vilifying Luther may actually exist than those dedicated to presenting his work fairly.
So, one of my hobbies has been trying to fill a need, so to speak, in cyber-space. I’ve tried to pick out those aspects of Luther brought up by the defenders of Rome, and present the other side of the story: the side that great Lutheran writers had presented decades ago.
I say it's a hobby because I don't think its as important as other things worthy of discussion, like sola fide or sola scriptura. Unfortunately, when one engages Roman Catholics on these subjects, a digression is sometimes put in play that seeks to link Luther's life with these subjects. It is sometimes argued: "Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura cannot be what the Bible teaches, because Luther's personal life was so sinful." If by some chance, any of my research can put a discussion of these important subjects back on track, I will feel as if I've done some good in cyberspace.