Saturday, April 29, 2006
My last blog entry looked at a person willing to defend Patrick O’Hare’s book, The Facts About Luther. Now, readers here have to realize, I’ve been in many discussions with people attempting this- mostly when dialoging with the folks at Catholic Answers. Needless to say, the conversations break down quickly- I’m viewed as a Luther-loving blind disciple who can’t see Luther’s faults rather than a person who has read The Facts About Luther carefully, and pointed out the book’s flawed nature. Generally, I get the feeling Catholics disregard my work on this book rather than critiquing (or even reading) my work on this book. The reason: I think our convictions are probably more the result of our emotional attachments rather than the result of looking carefully at another’s perspective. We’re probably all guilty of this to some extent.
I was pleasantly surprised by the person I recently dialoged with on this issue. Not surprised in a condescending “Ha! I Win!” Rather, I felt a peacefulness and resolution to the discussion- and I gained an incredible amount of respect for this guy. He responded to me (in part) as follows:
“I just wanted to let you know that I have re-read Fr O’Hare’s book and gone through your work slowly and carefully. After a lot of contemplation, I must admit that I was wrong and you were right. It seems that many of O'Hare’s primary source quotations are obscure, hard to find, and poorly translated. In conjunction with O'Hare's own speculations regarding the state of Luther's heart, I agree with you that this book cannot be relied upon for an accurate description of the man."
“Can we be expected to research the primary source quotes in every book we read? Well, unless you are a professor’s research assistant it's unlikely that this will be accomplished. Especially when you are married with children and time is precious. O'Hare's book flew under my radar due to it's mis-citation of primary sources. I could deal with his aggression toward Luther but I cannot deal with inaccurate quoting.
After the zeal is quelled and more reading has been completed... I must say "thank you" for alerting me to this issue. O'Hare's book it officially dropped from my children's future reading lists.”
This type of response is really all I’m looking for with my work on The Facts About Luther. I’m not asking Roman Catholics to embrace the Reformation and renounce the Papacy when I write on O’Hare’s book. I’m simply appealing to people who have a zeal for accuracy and truth, whatever their theological persuasion, to apply the standard of accuracy and truth to O’Hare’s book.
I greatly appreciated this man re-reading Father O'Hare's book and re-evaluation. I myself have had to do this with books as well. Recently I found a glaring Luther misquote in the famous Protestant book, The Kingdom of the Cults by the late Walter Martin (and re-edited under the supervision of Hank Hanegraff). It was Martin’s error- but yet in the re-editing of the book, Hanegraff missed it as well (For those interested, the misquote is on page 556 in the 1997 edition).
There are a number of excellent Catholic authors who have written about Luther and even some of those who have non-ecumenical concerns have some outstanding documentation- I'm thinking primarily of Hartmann Grisar- an author who's bias I don't like, but whose documentation and "facts" are amazing. His biography of Luther is 6 long volumes- and when I research Luther on particular points I usually consult his work. His analysis of the facts I find flawed- but at least the facts are presented with some accuracy.
It is simply impossible to check every fact in every book we read. The one thing I’ve found with Luther though, is he is prone to be misquoted. It was discussion boards like CARM and interactions with various Catholics that prompted me to do further study on Luther.
Many books when republished are re-edited to reflect proper documentation. TAN Publishers should have done this with O'Hare's book- it would have given the book a little more credibility. The reason they didn't- is probably because it is a difficult undertaking, and would require much time and money. But this should be no excuse- I don’t know what they’re motivations were in re-publishing the book, but I speculate that either they were simply ignorant to the wealth of research on Luther and the inadequacies of O’Hare’s book, or either they knew that O’Hare’s book fed zealous Catholics with emotional propaganda.
Imagine if you will that you had the ability to write as much as Luther did (he wrote probably over 60,000 pages)- and to top it off- whatever you said on the cuff was written down by one of your fans. Imagine also there were drastic paradigm shifts going on your life, as well as a world that faced countless wars and plagues. I would be in big trouble if it were me: those wishing to understand my life would be very confused in some instances. I’m sure what I said on this or that issue on particular points in my life would seem outrageous.
Luther's written corpus is a maze. It's easy to think one has "arrived" at understanding him- only to find that one is stuck in the maze in a dead end. I'm very fond of this quote by the Roman Catholic historian Joseph Lortz:
"The problems of an adequate treatment of Luther are obvious from several points of view. First, Luther is an intellectual giant, or, to use a word from Paul Althaus, an "ocean." The danger of drowning in him, of not being able to come to grips with him satisfactorily, arises from his tremendous output, but no less from his own original style... It sounds banal, but cannot be left unsaid: Luther belongs in the first rank of men with extraordinary intellectual creativity. He is in the full sense a genius, a man of massive power in things religious and a giant as well in theological interpretation.”
On the other hand, I’m not so zealous to think that Luther was perfect. He was a sinner, just like me. He had faults. He made mistakes. He held views I do not agree with. He sinned. This is probably one of the reasons I enjoy his writings though- I’ve always been fascinated by the "artist"- the artist is usually a paradox of greatness and weakness. The artist fly’s to heights of creativity, while at the same time struggling with various issues and weakness.
O'Hare's book misses the mark- and presents a Luther it wants to see, and molds the "facts" around that image. But, Protestant writers do this as well. I don't claim to be a definitive source of Reformation information- but I do desire to be as "Berean" as possible, and check facts as best I can. Not being Lutheran, I think I’m able to claim somewhat of an unbiased perspective. It’s not important for me to defend all of Luther’s particular beliefs. I simply want to understand what they were, not what I want them to be.
There is only one perfect man- Jesus Christ- and there is only one perfect book- the Bible. Everything else is just the writings of a bunch of beggars. We are beggars all- that is true.