Thursday, April 27, 2006
Defending O'Hare's Facts About Luther
Most of you reading this blog are familiar with my utter disregard for the book The Facts About Luther by Father Patrick O’Hare. I’ve written about this book often because Roman Catholic laymen repeatedly present it as the definitive biographical source for the life and work of Martin Luther. The following is typical of Roman Catholic sentiment:
“For anyone who would like to read a sobering, eye-opening, record-straightening analysis of the life, the thought, and the work of Luther... I suggest a careful read of The Facts about Luther by Patrick O'Hare (published by TAN). This 370 page book enables a clear distinction between the two Luthers - the Luther of panegyric, of romance, and fiction, and the Luther of history and fact. The former appears in the pulpit, in the Sunday school, and in partisan biographies; the latter may be discovered from a careful study of his writings and those of his contemporaries, but above all from his private letters. It's a must read. I realize it's mentioned in this article, however, after having read the entire book and the objections brought against it... I would thoroughly recommend that people read the entire book to gain the full weight of it's primary source arguments.”
This paragraph comes from a Roman Catholic as a response to the reading of my paper *Luther’s View of the Canon of Scripture* . After being made aware of my review of O’Hare’s book found in my article *The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther (Part One)* this person went on to say,
“There are always going to be non-Catholic articles that criticize Catholic material. Taking isolated quotes from a book that is almost 400 pages long rarely provides the full picture. One of the reasons I liked The Facts About Luther was precicely [sic] due to it's semi-continuous use of primary source documents -- a boat load of which come from Luther and his contemporaries. It was extremely interesting to see Luther accurately explaining Catholic doctrine as a Augustinian monk and then to see him completely misrepresent the same doctrines after his break from the Church. Anyway, I'd encourage people here to look a little deeper at O'Hare's work than a Protestant journal article is willing to go. Only when one has read this piece cover to cover can a proper decision regarding his credibility [sic] be established.”
So, I’ve “taken isolated quotes” from the book and distorted Father O’Hare’s magnum opus! I believe my assessment of the book to be quite accurate: Father O’Hare presents a Luther who is not only mad, but morally depraved and corrupt. He asserts that Luther in the Wartburg was in close touch with Satan. Luther lived indecently, decried celibacy and virginity, sanctioned adultery, dishonored marriage, authorized prostitution and polygamy, and was a drunkard and frequenter of taverns who preached his theology in the fumes of alcohol in the midst of his fellow revolutionaries. He attributes to Luther a fickle and cunning character, an inordinate impudence, an unbridled presumption, a titanic pride, a despotic nature, and a spirit of blasphemy; Luther was a blasphemer, a libertine, a revolutionary, a hater of religious vows, a disgrace to the religious calling, an enemy of domestic felicity, the father of divorce, the advocate of polygamy, and the propagator of immorality and open licentiousness. (James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 4).
All of these thoughts from Father O’Hare are easy enough to track down from the book. The irony of the charges against my assessment of The Facts About Luther, that I’ve taken “isolated quotes” and distorted O’Hare’s understanding of Luther, is the same charge I would make against Father O’Hare. O’Hare has taken isolated quotes from Luther, often out of context, poorly documented, and presented a gross distortion of Luther’s life. This Catholic then went on to say-
“Actually I think Swan is quite even-handed in much of what he says. However, the article is quite short. There is a veritable mountain of info on this subject and thus a lot more can be flushed out. I would also say the same regarding O'Hare's work which was lampooned in no uncertain terms.”
Well, I appreciate the compliment that my review was “even-handed”- but, as usual, what is given in one had is taken away by the other. Though I was “even-handed” I also “lampooned” Father O’Hare. This puzzles me. How could I be even handed if I’m lampooning a work? Surely, if I was making fun of O’Hare’s book I wasn’t being even-handed. I do admit, now I often lampoon O’Hare’s book- I consider it a slanderous, poorly documented, hit piece against Luther with no redeemable value. When I had originally reviewed O’Hare’s book, I wasn’t as emotionally fed up with it. But, as the years go by and Roman Catholics still refer to it as an actual work of historical value, I can’t help but be sadly annoyed.
This Catholic then went on to say:
“I'm really an advocate of reading any book (Protestant or Catholic) before allowing ones opinion to be formed by the articals [sic] produced by detractors or advocates. It's only fair and that's the point I was trying to make. I always tend to gravitate to historical works that base their assumptions on primary source documentation (which O'Hare does in abundance). That's why I gave it a favourable [sic] thumbs up. However, I would like to add something else. O'Hare is writing way before the PC culture which has tamed our contemporary authors use of the English language. His language is VERY direct and he does use a lot of barbed comments regarding Luther. His opinion of the man is definitely not hidden behind a veil of ecumenical sensitivity. Despite this, however, he does not go blundering off on tangents and, in fact, has a lazer[sic]-like precision with regard to his line of argumentation. This, plus his avalanche[sic] of primary source documentation make it an interesting read. Not at all the wretched waste of time its been colored as.”
Frankly, for those interested in doing accurate, serious Reformation history, I suggest no one reads Patrick O’Hare’s Facts About Luther- unless of course one is researching Catholic misinterpretation and vilification of Luther- then, by all means, read O’Hare’s book. I know of no serious scholar on Reformation history that takes O”Hare’s book seriously as “history.” I am familiar though with numerous historians that refer to O’Hare’s book as a good example of slanted vilification.
I doubt many Protestants have read O’Hare’s book- but on the other hand, I’m probably not wrong in speculating that this Roman Catholic hasn’t actually read Luther (ad fontes). If he actually has read Luther, I’d be interested in a list of what specific works he’s read. By and large, Catholic laymen do not read Luther’s actual writings-, which is a shame. Catholics should at least read Luther before bashing Luther. Reading a biography of out-of-context quotes is not the same thing as reading Luther. One doesn’t even have to spend money- many of Luther’s writings are available on line for free. I always suggest Catholics begin with Luther’s sermons.
I currently have 3 copies of The Facts About Luther, including a copy from 1916. I’ve unfortunately read the book more than once, and I’ve documented numerous errors by Father O’Hare. A few years ago I challenged a Catholic apologist on these very issue on his reliance on O’Hare’s Facts About Luther for Luther quotes. he did the right thing and deleted O’Hare’s material from his web site. The reason? O’Hare I think O’Hare is prone to mis-citation, and I challenged him on O’Hare’s lack of citation. In other words, one cannot check the context of O’Hare’s Luther quotes in many (or most) instances. When I have checked O’Hare’s Luther quotes, he blunders often. His hatred for Luther clouded his ability to read Luther accurately.
I then offered this challenge to this Roman Catholic supporter of O’Hare’s Facts About Luther:
If you’d like to respond to my treatment of O’Hare in the link offered (Luther’s View of the Canon of Scripture)- I would be more than happy to interact with you. Please, by all means, show me where I mishandled O’Hare’s book in this link. You will be the first to attempt to do so. Research Luther's actual writings and compare them to O'Hare's citation of them. I look forward to your work on this.
You can also find some of my work on O’Hare in these links:
*The Facts About Luther (Part One)* .
*The Facts About Luther (Part Two)* A brief response to a Catholic apologist who felt I did not understand one of Father O'Hare's arguments against Luther, nor did I treat Father O'Hare fairly.
*Luther And The Law: Did Martin Luther Abhor God's Law? (Part One)* A look at four Luther quotes from O'Hare used by Roman Catholics to prove Luther hatred God's Law. The quotes are given contexts and explanations to prove misuse by Roman Catholics.
*Luther And The Law: Did Martin Luther Abhor God's Law? (Part Two)* A look at Luther's understand of the Law and its place in the Christian life as compared to O'Hare's understanding of the same.
*Did Luther Say: Be A Sinner And Sin Boldly?* This paper gives a close look at Luther’s charge to “sin boldly.” The words “sin boldly” are taken out of context by Roman Catholics in order to show that Luther hated good works. Contrarily, it is shown that Luther believed a living faith produces good works. In this link, I take a look at O'Hare's treatment of the "sin boldly" quote.
After being sent on numerous wild goose chases in dialogs with Roman Catholics (you know, those discussion in which an outrageous context-less Luther quote is given by a zealous Roman Catholic), I’ve actually begun keeping an index of O’Hare Luther quotes:
*O'Hare's Facts About Luther: Master Index of Outrageous Quotes * This link is a list of quotes I've either found in cyber-space or my own study of The Facts About Luther. It's one thing to read Luther and critique him- this is perfectly acceptable- and I challenge all to do this. It is quite another thing to read a book that slanders Luther, and then use out of context quotes to prove how awful he was- without ever actually reading a page from Luther's actual writings.
You want to discuss O'Hare's book? Here I am. I hope you enjoy looking up quotes in primary sources- because this is the type of discussion you're getting yourself into. Be prepared to do ad fontes research. Be prepared to spend a lot of time looking up quotes when you don't have a reference. Sometimes tracking down one of O'Hare's quotes can take hours.
The response offered me was a cut and paste section from a Catholic apologetics website. I had actually forgotten this review of my use of Patrick O’Hare’s citations on Luther and the canon:
“I’m also quite familiar with you and your discussions with [a Roman Catholic apologist]. He himself provides his reason for deleting certain O’Hare quotes from his site:
But back to James Swan. In his Appendix A he is highly critical of Patrick O'Hare and his book, The Facts About Martin Luther, which, he thinks, "may be the single worst treatment of Luther in print today" (I would love to hear Mr. Swan's opinion as to the worst book about the Catholic Church in print today). This work (like many Catholic treatments of a hundred years or so ago) is very intemperate and lacking in charity towards Luther, and I agree that (for this reason) it is not a very good or objective source (I used to cite it when O'Hare documented his claims from Luther's own words, but no longer do at all -- Mr. Swan commends me for this in the section under consideration, and I thank him for that).
Swan cites him describing Luther as "a victim of fleshly lust and one in constant contact with Satan." I join him in wholeheartedly condemning this sort of slanderous garbage (even though Mr. Swan falsely charges me in his footnote 49: "[The Roman Catholic apologist] creates a picture of a very morally bankrupt Luther") . It never formed any part of my own papers about Luther, even when I did occasionally cite Patrick O'Hare.
On the other hand, several of the main points made in the book (however poorly or polemically expressed) are essentially true. For example, I agree with him when he states about Luther:
He feels abundantly competent, by his own interior and spiritual instinct, to pronounce dogmatically which books in the canon of Scripture are inspired and which are not . . . He . . . believes he has the faculty of judging the Bible . . . (pp. 202-204)
This is clearly true, for instance, in Luther's remarks against Revelation in 1522, that he could "nohow detect that the Holy Spirit produced it." This is referring to inspiration. If the Holy Spirit had no part in "producing" a book, it could not be inspired. Period. And if it were not inspired, it could neither be canonical nor biblical at all (let alone inerrant and infallible). So that particular statement of O'Hare's is accurate and its contents provide a valuable and needed criticism. Luther was judging (parts of) the Bible, and that is ludicrous and offensive enough to anyone who loves the Bible."
I’ve read the book and believe that others who feel they should post here no-holds-bared criticisms of O’Hare SHOULD ALSO HAVE READ THE BOOK! Doing so without being willing to admit an actual reading of the material is a demonstration of the worst sort of partisan apologetics. When people get caught doing this it’s warranted to shine a light on this type of behavior (especially with regard to people who post their anti-catholic stuff all over these forums). That was my point. Do I think O’Hare’s book has something to offer… as [a Roman Catholic apologist] still believes… YES. I’ve already alluded to the non-PC tone of O’Hare and I grant the same response as [the Roman Catholic apologist] in regard to this type of thing… it tends to create more heat than light. Was I providing dissertations on O’Hare? Nowhere. Have I at least read Luther and O’Hare? Yes. And given that you have discussed much of this extensive subject with [a Roman Catholic apologist] (who is more qualified than I)… well… rather than pointing out what he has already said to you, I’ll provide our listening audience with the appropriate link where [a Roman Catholic apologist] provides replies to your work:
Luther's Outrageous Assertions About Certain Biblical Books (Reply to James Swan's Paper on Luther & the Canon).
At least you’ve done your readings… and for that I commend you. It’s a much needed example for people on both sides of the Catholic-Protestant dialogue.”
If I wanted to discuss this question with a roman Catholic apologist , then I would be doing so with him on his blog or my blog. With the words cited above, the book is “very intemperate and lacking in charity towards Luther, and I agree that (for this reason) it is not a very good or objective source.” I don’t know how this helps the case at all in establishing Father O’Hare’s credibility, when it's admitted the book is not a “very good or objective source.” If this catholic (and apologist) really believe O’Hare’s book is credible though lacking in charity, they’re both mistaken- and the links I’ve posted prove this. Pick a page and some quotes. Let’s look at the “facts”. That would mean one would have to be willing to do research on the book.
It is too vague to say, “several of the main points made in the book (however poorly or polemically expressed) are essentially true.” As I’ve studied O’Hare’s book, I am repeatedly shocked with how poorly the “facts” are presented. The example given on Luther’s early attitude toward Revelation is a good example. If O’Hare was so familiar with the “facts” why did he leave the following out?
Luther completely rewrote the preface to Revelation, with a tone that takes the book as Scripture. Even in the earlier 1522 version, Luther explains that his opinion is not to be binding: “About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment,” and also, “let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him.” Similar to the other antilegomena Luther says, “Many of the fathers also rejected this book [Revelation] a long time ago…” The editors of Luther’s Works add: “The canonicity of Revelation was disputed by Marcion, Caius of Rome, Dionysius of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and the Synod of Laodicea in A.D. 360, though it was accepted by others as Eusebius reports…. Erasmus had noted in connection with chapter 4 that the Greeks regarded the book as apocryphal.”
My paradigm suggests understanding Luther’s view of the canon demands approaching him from two perspectives:
1. Luther’s perspective on the canon as a sixteenth century Biblical theologian
2. Luther’s personal criterion of canonicity expressed in his theology
O’Hare misses both, but rather paints a picture of Luther that is grossly distorted- leaving out all of the essential facts- including the main fact of his own Roman Catholic dogma: The issue of the canon was not settled (for Roman Catholics) until Trent. The New Catholic Encyclopedia has honestly pointed out,
“According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books, i.e., about their belonging to the canon.”
If the New Catholic Encyclopedia is correct, Luther had every right within the Roman Catholic system to engage in Biblical criticism and debate over the extent of the Canon. His was not a radical higher criticism. The books he questioned were books that had been questioned by previous generations. He was not so extreme as to engage in Marcion-like canon-destruction. Luther translated the entirety of Bible, and published it.
Of course, this catholic didn’t actually engage me in a line-by-line discussion of The Facts About Luther. I offered this challenge to him: Go ahead and quote a Roman Catholic apologist to me if you wish. If you think O’Hare’s book is credible, why is it that when I go and look up the “facts” (i.e. the Luther quotes), I find them to be cited out of context or distorted?
In regard to whether or not someone should read O’Hare before discussing him, I would point out that I’m familiar enough with Jack Chick’s reputation so as to not waste my time with his writing against the Roman Catholic Church. I admit, reading a text before commenting on it is good etiquette. On the other hand, one shouldn’t have to waste their time with notorious books of nonsense. This is the classification of Father O’Hare’s book. Given the “fact” that even a Roman Catholic apologist says its not an objective source- why in the world would you want people to read it? This logic escapes me. If I wanted people to learn about competition in sports, I would not direct them to pro-wrestling.