I’ve been in a Luther mood lately- thus the last few blog entries on Luther (apologies to Ray for not getting to our discussion on Calvinism yet).
I found this blog article linked over on the Catholic Answers discussion boards: Luther and the Bible by someone named “Veritas”. I didn’t really plan on launching into a full-length examination, but I did post a comment in his blog back section and invite him to come visit over here. Hey- Veritas’s blog is new, so I was just being a friendly neighbor. Interestingly, this blog post is almost exactly the same as this old Catholic Answers post by a suspended user named R. Siscoe. Are Veritas and Siscoe the same guy? Not sure. Either way, this post was probably not written by either of them. It seems to me to be a cut and paste masterpiece.
In regard to his article, his first section was on how much Luther disdained the Church Fathers. He posted these quotes:
"Behold what great darkness is in the books of the Fathers concerning faith" declared Luther. "St Jerome, indeed, wrote upon Matthew, upon the Epistles to Galatians and Titus; but, alas! very coldly. Ambrose wrote six books upon the first book of Moses, but they are very poor. Augustine wrote nothing to the purpose concerning faith;… I can find no exposition upon the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, wherein anything is taught pure and right. … [The Pope] took hold on St Augustine's sentence, where he says, Evangelio non crederem, etc. [For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church - St. Augustine, Contra Epistolam Manichaei Quam Vacant Fundamenti.] The asses could not see what occasioned Augustine to utter that sentence…". 1
We must read the Fathers cautiously, and lay them in the gold balance, for they often stumbled and went astray, and mingled in their books many monkish things". 2 The more I read the books of the Fathers, the more I find myself offended; for they were but men, and, to speak the truth, with all their repute and authority, undervalued the books and writings of the sacred apostles of Christ". 3 Jerome should not be numbered among the teachers of the church, for he was a heretic". 4
1 Table Talk DXXXVI
2 ibid. DXXIX.
3 ibid. DXXX4
He then commented:
“We can see from these quotes what "great respect" Luther had for the Fathers of the Church. For according to Luther, the writing of the fathers contained "great darkness"; Augustine wrote nothing about Luther's version of "faith". He could find no commentary on the Epistles to the Romans and Galations "wherein anything was taught pure and right"; that is, he could find no Church Father that agreed with his interpretation of these Epistles. Luther, along with the "asses", could not fathom why Augustine would say: "For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church". According to "The Great Reformer, "we must read the Father's with caution". He even went so far as to say: "the more I read the books of the Fathers, the more I find myself offended". And according to the theology taught by Luther, "Jerome… was a heretic"! In this we can see what "great respect" Luther had "for Christian theologians of the past".
Now, Veritas is quoting Luther from an old version of the Tabletalk, and anyone studying Luther will tell you not to base an opinion on Luther from this source. The Table talk is a collection of comments from Luther written down by Luther's students and friends. Thus, it is not in actuality an official writing of Luther and should not serve as the basis for interpreting his theology. Preserved Smith has pointed out:
"Luther's enemies have always found in the Table Talk a trenchant weapon for attacking his character and doctrines. Even in his writings Luther is neither consistent nor temperate, much more in his private conversation is he careless and unguarded. By taking every thoughtless remark to a friend literally and with no attention to the context, the occasion on which it was uttered, and the cause which evoked it, it is easy enough to entangle Luther in a hopeless mass of contradictions and to asperse his character. This was done by Catholics and humanists as soon as the Tischreden were published, and subsequently has been undertaken more thoroughly by more scientific though equally hostile historians."
Had Veritas actually read Luther's writings, he would find numerous examples of references to the church fathers, either agreeing with them, expounding on what they said, or disagreeing with them. This is the common work of biblical theologians. Recall, Luther had a doctorate in theology. The Church Fathers were men- they were not infallible sources of truth.
Veritas responded to me:
“I found those Church Father quotes by reading Luther myself. In fact, I have not seen them quoted anywhere else. The fact that Luther may have said good things about them in other places does not change the fact that he said what I wrote. To me, that is another example of the way you defended him on your website. You don't deny that he said the things he did, but merely claim that "in other places" he has good things to say about them. That just proves how unstable Luther really was.”
The point is, Luther may have said these things Veritas quoted- it’s not certain because they are Tabletalk entries. Secondly, Veritas provides no context for the remarks- he can’t because the version of the Tabletalk he’s using doesn’t even attempt to give a context. How can someone be doing a theological-historical article and be unaware of a context and not think a context matters? It is an example of poor research. For instance, I happen to know Luther elsewhere gave an explanation of Augustine’s “Evangelio non crederem”. Does Veritas care? No, probably not. Such could be said of the other Luther quotes as well- what was Luther’s argumentation for his opinions? Veritas can’t tell you, because he is quoting from a source without a context, and I doubt he’s going to take the time to look up Luther’s opinions on specific church fathers.
Veritas offered this explanation of Luther’s Tabletalk”
“Regarding my quotes from table talk: For one, not all of my quotes were taken from that work. Most were taken from other sources. And Catholics do not agree that the older version of table talk is the wrong one to use. We believe that the defenders of Luther have purposely "re-translated" his words so they are less laughable.”
If one looks through his references used, the quotes he used for Luther’s opinion on the Church Fathers, all come from the Tabletalk. I’m going to say its not that much of a stretch to say that the other references to Luther’s writings he cited were probably taken from Patrick O’Hare’s Facts About Luther. If Veritas has any of the works of these sources he cited, I would be amazed: DeWette, Walch, Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, Werke, XXXII. They do though sound like O'Hare citations. I'm almost certain that Veritas has only Patrick O'Hare's book, The Facts About Luther. Over on the Catholic Answers boards he freely cites O'Hare, as demonstrated here and here and here.
In regard to which version of the Tabletalk Catholics use, I doubt Veritas even knows which version he’s using. Secondly, there's plenty of material for Veritas to take out of context in the current edition of the Tabletalk- but this would mean he’d actually have to go get it and do some research. Thirdly, can Veritas produce one example from the Tabletalk found in LW 54 that has been "purposely re-translated" to spin Luther a different way? I highly doubt it.