Monday, May 29, 2006
Ok, so I’m almost president of the Father O’Hare fan club at this point. I probably have written about The Facts About Luther more than anyone. No award waits for me I’m sure (Guinness Book of World Records has not yet contacted me).
Catholic apologist Art Sippo recently commented on The Facts About Luther over on the Planet Envoy boards. I found his comments interesting- and I plan on using them next time a zealous Catholic suggests this book as the definitive in Luther studies. Sippo says some accurate things,-mixed in with nonsense.
“Sadly the book "The Facts About Luther" was written in the mid-19th Century and while it is worth reading, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Some of the things it says about Luther are not accurate.”
"Luther gave a lecture on marriage. His notes did not survive but those of one of his students did. Based on that student's notes Luther was accused of some digusting[sic] teachings. It is considered by later historians that this was an inaccurate repesentation[sic] of what Luther taught. Consequently, later biographers did not mention it.
Fr. O'Hare also imputed to Luther certain base motives that I don't think he had. Luther was a bipolar manic-depressive who was virtually psychotic during his periods of mania. His madness was confused for many things during his lifetime including religious zeal, duplicity, fanatacism [sic], inconsistentcy[sic], and possession by the devil. Read Rix for a good discussion of this.
Luther did say some egregious things about marriage and sexuality such as his support for the bigamy of Philip of Hesse and his advice to a woman married to an infertile husband that she seek some willing relative or friend to impregnate her.
Generally, Fr. O'Hare's book is okay, but Rix is infinetly[sic] superior. Marius likewise gives a more accurate rendering of what Luther really acted like than Fr. O'Hare and of how he was perceived by his contemporaries.
I should also mention Fr. Hartmann Grisar's work Luther which is avaialble[sic] in both a five volume detailed study and a one volume condensed version.There is also the magisterial work of Fr. Heinrich Denifle whose 5 volume work Luther and Lutherdom set the standard for Catholic Lutehran[sic] scholarship. He wrote this in German and only one volume was ever translated into English.The works of Frs. Grisar and Denifle are hard to find but well worth reading."
First, I’d like to actually thank Mr. Sippo for not recommending Father O’Hare’s Facts About Luther. He is correct- “The book needs to be taken with a grain of salt” and “Some of the things it says about Luther are not accurate.” And yes, Sippo is correct, “Fr. O'Hare also imputed to Luther certain base motives that I don't think he had.”
Sippo makes a claim I’m not familiar with. He refers to a lecture on marriage given by Luther which was taken down by a student. Most of O’Hare citations on Luther’s view of marriage come from chapter 9. O’Hare draws from multiple sources, so I’m not sure which source he has in mind.
But Mr. Sippo also has made some errors here as well:
Father O’Hare’s book was not written in the “mid-nineteenth century.” The book came out in 1917. To my knowledge, O’Hare didn’t write it decades earlier in the 1800’s and then wait till 1917 to release it.
Perhaps the most outrageous claim from Sippo is “Luther was a bipolar manic-depressive who was virtually psychotic during his periods of mania. His madness was confused for many things during his lifetime including religious zeal, duplicity, fanatacism [sic], inconsistentcy[sic], and possession by the devil.” If there was ever an un-provable assertion, this is it- very reminiscent of Erik Erickson’s psychoanalysis of Luther in his book Young Man Luther (1958). Erickson’s work has been criticized for its poor use of the evidence- of making the “facts” prove 20th Century psychoanalysis rather than doing 16th Century history. Sippo’s claim is also reminiscent of the work done by Hartmann Grisar and Heinrich Denifle (two authors he recommends). I’ve tackled both of these writers here:*The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther(Part One)*
Grisar was a Jesuit historian who used Freudian psychology to arrive at the assessment that Luther was a monk obsessed with the lust of the flesh and a pathological manic-depressive personality. Luther’s view of justification by faith alone came from his own immorality—that in order to justify his loose life and to excuse his renunciation of the monastic ideal, Luther denied salvation with works. Luther was a neurasthenic and a psychopath. He sees him as the victim of bad heredity, a maladjusted misfit entering the monastic life because of some traumatic experience during a thunderstorm. Grisar argues that Luther was simply a neurotic man who spent his entire life unhappy and guilt-ridden.
Heinrich Denifle compiled some of the worst treatment of Luther ever written. He was a 19th Catholic scholar who held Luther was a fallen-away monk with unbridled lust, a theological ignoramus, an evil man, and used immorality to begin the Reformation. Denifle accuses Luther of buffoonery, hypocrisy, pride, ignorance, forgery, slander, pornography, vice, debauchery, drunkenness, seduction, corruption, and more: he is a lecher, knave, liar, blackguard, sot, and worse: he was infected with the venereal disease syphilis.
Luckily, the books are hard to track down. Grisar’s works can be found via used bookstores for a fairly reasonable price. Denifle though is nearly impossible to track down in English. Sippo says “Denifle whose 5 volume work Luther and Lutherdom set the standard for Catholic Lutehran[sic] scholarship.” This is simply not true. Denifle comes near the end of the destructive Luther scholarship started by Cochlaeus in the 16th Century. Generally, good Roman Catholic historians do not cite Denifle anymore. Even Grisar corrected Denifle on points.
But thanks Art for your comments on O'Hare's book. They will come in handy next time a zealous Catholic says "The best book on Luther is The Facts About Luther..."