Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Evils of Private Interpretation: "There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads"

"There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; . . . There is not an individual, however clownish he may be who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams" - Martin Luther
This is one of those quotes put forth by Roman Catholics attempting to substantiate Luther’s opinion of the failure of Protestant Biblical interpretation, as well as the need for the infallible authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The strategy goes like this: use the above quote and then put forth something like- “…see, even Luther realized how much of a failure sola scriptura was.” I came across this Luther quote while I was doing the entry on the Roman Catholic Martin Luther Quiz. I’d like to demonstrate again the failure of Roman Catholic apologetics. This Luther quote again serves as a good example of Roman Catholic inability to do ad fontes research.

The Search
I did a fair amount of searching for a context on this quote- I didn’t really come up with anything. I did find a Roman Catholic blog entry featuring it: here. So I figured why not ask this guy where he got it? Well, he didn’t know either- as demonstrated in his post over at Catholic Answers. He mentioned he got it from Roman Catholic apologist Steve Ray, and even took the time to write Steve and ask him where he got it:

“Steve emailed me back and told me that it is in: "Bible Quizzes to a Street Preacher" by Leslie Rumble. "There We Stood; Here We Stand" by Timothy Drake. It might be in a book entitled 'The Facts about Luther.'”

I don’t think the quote is found in "There We Stood Here We Stand," But it is found in the polemical book, The Facts About Luther:

"This one," he says, "will not hear of Baptism, and that one denies the sacrament, another puts a world between this and the last day: some teach that Christ is not God, some say this, some say that: there are as many sects and creeds as there are heads. No yokel is so rude but when he has dreams and fancies, he thinks himself inspired by the Holy Ghost and must be a prophet." (De Wette III, 61).Source: Patrick O'Hare, The Facts About Luther, 208

Steve Ray definitely uses this quote, and appears to be the main source for its entrance into cyber-space. In his article Faith of our Fathers” over at Envoy, Ray states:

“The phrase “unanimous consent of the Fathers” had a specific application as used at the Council of Trent (Fourth Session), and reiterated at the First Vatican Council (Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, chap. 2). The Council Fathers specifically applied the phrase to the interpretation of Scripture. Biblical and theological confusion was rampant in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther stated, “There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams.”

Ray provides no documentation for the quote. The same paragraph from Steve Ray occurs in an article entitled, “Unanimous Consent of the Fathers” -which states this article will soon be published in the Catholic Dictionary of Apologetics and Evangelism. No documentation for the quote is given. Apparently, this dictionary of Catholic apologetics doesn’t require sources for citations. I haven't picked up the book to check, but i'm willing to bet no documentation to an actual primary source is given for this Luther quote.

Ray uses the quote also in an article entitled, Ankerberg Aweigh hosted by Catholic Answers:

“Since the Bible is not as perspicuous as Protestants sometimes think (as is proven by the thousands of different interpretations by well-meaning, sincere folks), [Luther said in his Commentary on the Psalms, "The Bible is its own interpreter." It doesn't take a genius to see where that idea has gotten us. Even Luther quickly saw its devastating effect: "There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams" (Martin Luther, cited in Leslie Rumble, Bible Quizzes to a Street Preacher (Rockford: TAN Books, 1976, 22). Luther also wrote, "If the world lasts for a long time, it will again be necessary, on account of the many interpretations which are now given to the Scriptures, to receive the decrees of the councils, and take refuge in them, in order to preserve the unity of the faith" (Epis. ad Zwingli). ] people approach it with their own biases, as Ankerberg does in his book. The dilemma of Protestantism is that "the Protestants are also split-by the incoherence of their own teaching that proclaims individual reading of Scripture as the highest authority, and at the same time imposing their views as correct." [Protestants can't come close to agreement on basic doctrines, such as baptismal regeneration, which Luther and Calvin believed in, especially for infants. Many claim the Reformers as their own, yet are selective as to which Reformation doctrines they embrace.]

So, it seems fairly certain that Steve Ray has no idea where this quote actually comes from in Luther’s writings- he did not do ad fontes research. He does though know the quote was from Leslie Rumble’s Bible Quizzes to a Street Preacher. This link appears to be that source: Bible Quizzes to a Street Preacher.

The link says:

“Did Luther ever acknowledge the danger of private judgment?
He says this, as quoted in "An Meine Kritiker" (by Johannes Jorgensen, p. 181), "There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit Baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams." We have over 60 millions of Americans quite indifferent to the doctrines of their Protestant ancestors precisely because – "In Religion, What damned error, but some sober-brow Will bless it, and approve it with a text?”

Again we have another example of a Catholic apologist unable to do ad fontes research- Leslie Rumble. Well- I don’t know who Johannes Jorgensen is, but I do know who Johannes Janssen is, and he did write An Meine Kritiker in the1880’s, which is probably the secondary source this quote comes from. Janssen was a historian who later became a Catholic priest. His main work on Luther was Geschichte des Mittelalters. His work glorifies the Middle Ages, while looking poorly on the Reformation. Janssen followed in the tendency of Luther’s earliest venom-spewing-critic, Cochlaeus, who viewed Luther as a sick soul with inferior character.

So why highlight the obvious that Steve Ray and Leslie Rumble probably never read the context from which this quotes comes from? Because, they are misusing Luther to prove the alleged superiority of their church. Why did they not actually present Luther’s understanding of private interpretation? Well probably because it would require doing actual research, and secondly it would require a little more thinking and interacting with an opposing view. Perhaps it might even put another crack in the crumbling wall of catholic apologetics.

The closest thing to a correct citation for this quote comes from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"Luther had strangely assumed that those who followed him into revolt would use their right of private judgment only to affirm their entire agreement with his own opinions, for which he claimed the sanction of an inspiration received from God that equaled him with the Prophets of old. But he was soon to learn that his followers attached as high a value to their own interpretations of the Bible as he did to his, and were quite prepared to act upon their own conclusions instead of upon his. The result was that as early as the beginning of 1525 -- only eight years after he first propounded his heresies -- we find him acknowledging, in his "Letter to the Christians of Antwerp" (de Wette, III, 61), that "there are as many sects and creeds in Germany as heads. One will have no baptism; another denies the sacrament, another asserts that there is another world between this and the last day, some teach that Christ is not God, some say this, some say that. No lout is so boorish but, if a fancy enters his head, he must think that the Holy Ghost has entered into him, and that he is to be a prophet". Source:http://cc.msnscache.com/cache.aspx?q=2873628696719&lang=en-US&mkt=en-US&FORM=CVRE4

Remember: simply because a Roman Catholic apologist says Luther said "something" doesn't necessarily mean they have any idea of what Luther said.

Update 11/07:
I found some of the text of Luther's "Letter to the Christians of Antwerp" translated into English. Steve Ray claims Luther saw the devastating effect of sola scriptura, and then uttered the words quoted. However, Luther does not blame sola scriptura at all, but rather Satan. The primary source for this letter can be found here.

"We believed, during the reign of the pope, that the spirits which make a noise and disturbance in the night, were those of the souls of men, who after death, return and wander about in expiation of their sins. This error, thank God, has been discovered by the Gospel, and it is known at present, that they are not the souls of men, but nothing else than those malicious devils who used to deceive men by false answers. It is they that have brought so much idolatry into the world."
"The devil seeing that this sort of disturbance could not last, has devised a new one ; and begins to rage in his members, I mean in the ungodly, through whom he makes his way in all sorts of chimerical follies and extravagant doctrines. This won't have baptism, that denies the efficacy of the Lord's supper; a third, puts a world between this and the last judgment ; others teach that Jesus Christ is not God ; some say this, others that ; and there are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads.
"I must cite one instance, by way of exemplification, for I have plenty to do with these sort of spirits. There is not one of them that does think himself more learned than Luther ; they all try to win their spurs against me ; and would to heaven that they were all such as they think themselves, and that I were nothing ! The one of whom I speak assured me, amongst other things, that lie was sent to me by the God of heaven and earth, and talked most magnificently, but the clown peeped through all. At last, he ordered me to read the books of Moses. I asked for a sign in confirmation of this order, ' It is,' said he, ' written in the gospel of St. John.' By this time I had heard enough, and I told him, to come again, for that we should not have time, just now, to read the books of Moses. . . .
"I have plenty to do in the course of the year with these poor people: the devil could not have found a better pretext for tormenting me. As yet the world had been full of those clamorous spirits without bodies, who oppressed the souls of men; now they have bodies, and give themselves out for living angels . . .
"When the pope reigned we heard nothing of these troubles. The strong one (the devil) was in peace in his fortress; but now that a stronger one than he is come, and prevails against him and drives him out, as the Gospel says, he storms and comes forth with noise and fury.
"Dear friends, one of these spirits of disorder has come amongst you in flesh and blood ; he would lead you astray with the inventions of his pride: beware of him.
"First, he tells you that all men have the Holy Ghost. Secondly, that the Holy Ghost is nothing more than our reason and our understanding. Thirdly, that all men have faith. Fourthly, that there is no hell, that at least the flesh only will be damned. Fifthly, that all souls will enjoy eternal life. Sixthly, that nature itself teaches us to do to our neighbour what we would he should do to us ; this he calls faith. Seventhly, that the law is not violated by concupiscence, so long as we are not consenting to the pleasure. Eighthly, that he that has not the Holy Ghost, is also without sin, for he is destitute of reason.
"All these are audacious propositions, vain imaginations; if we except the seventh, the others are not worthy of reply. . . .
"It is sufficient for us to know that God wills no sin. As to his sufferance of sin, we ought not to approach the question. The servant is not to know his master's secrets, simply his master's orders: how much less should a poor creature attempt to scrutinize or sound the mysteries and the majesty of the Creator ? . . .
"To learn the law of God, and to know his son Jesus Christ, is sufficient to absorb the whole of life.
. . . A.D. 1525." (Luth. Werke,tom. ii. p. 61,sqq.)

See Also: Luther: Sola Scriptura Had a "Devastating Effect"?

2 comments:

Pio Francis said...

+JMJ

I apologise for never getting around to responding to your comment on my blog, but I see that you found my short search for the context you were looking for. I'm glad you were able to do the footwork.

Anyway, whether Luther even said that or not, I only posted it as a curiosity. He still left the historical Church.

God bless!

James Swan said...

Hi Pio Frances-

Thanks for stopping by- Took me a while, but I tracked it down.

Take Care-
James