Sunday, June 04, 2006

Art Sippo on Catholic Historians Grisar and Denifle and Luther’s Demon Possession (part 2)

"The sad and uneducated Mr. Swann has given up on proving that Fr.Lortz was nt a Nazi. Now he is whining about Cochleus whom I never mentioned." -Catholic apologist, Art Sippo

"Frs. Denifle and Grisar revealed what prots had been deing for centuries. Luther was mentally unstable and those stupid enough to follow him were dsiciples of a lunatic and a dishonest immoralist."
-Catholic apologist, Art Sippo

This is a continuation of look at Catholic apologist Art Sippo’s take on Luther scholarship. Previous entries can be found here:

On Dialoging With Catholic apologist Art Sippo on Luther Scholarship

Catholic Apologist Art Sippo on Father O’Hare’s “Facts About Luther”

Catholic Apologist Art Sippo on Luther Scholarship and Research (Part 1)

My discussion with Art Sippo is geared toward exposing his outdated approach to understanding Luther. Sippo serves as an example of the stereotypical Catholic laymen approach to Luther. Sippo vilifies Luther rather than understand Luther. Because he is given a particular weight of authority, he perpetuates hostile polemic that feeds those who are already emotionally geared against the Reformation. I’ve been “topically” looking at the authors Art Sippo has commented on.

I've also been going slowly through Sippo's comments, much to his disaproval. The careful reader will note that Sippo doesn't respond to the errors I point out. For instance, below Sippo claims Catholic Historians Hartmann Grisar and Heinrich Denifle both attributed Demon Possession to Luther.

Sippo says,

Frs. Denifle and Grisar definitely show Luther's dark side and may go a bit far on that. Both of them were concerned that Luther might be possessed.”

I can appreciate Sippo’s comment that Denifle and Grisar “may go a bit far.” Recall, I have argued that both of these writers belong to an outdated style of Luther scholarship that indeed presented excessive vilification, rather than scholarly history. In other words, Sippo is basically granting my point. “Going to far” is exactly the criticism I have made.

I am not familiar with either Denifle or Grisar thinking Luther “possessed.” I’d be prone to believe Denifle may have made such an assertion. I would also be interested in any ad fontes documentation on this claim- since documentation of this nature would only strengthen my case. I have read much from Grisar, and I don’t recall this being put forth, though it is within the realm of possibility for reason I will explain.

If indeed Sippo is correct, this only proves my point that both of these writers echoed the sentiment of Johannes Cochlaeus. Cochlaeus, an early contemporary and biographer of Luther has been charged by many scholars of “poisoning the well” and setting the tone of Catholic Luther studies for a few hundred years. It was he who originated the claim that Luther was “demon possessed” in his book, Commentaria de Actis et Scriptis Martini Lutheri (1549). Cochlaeus said:

“…[W]hen [Luther] was in the country, either because he was terrified and prostrated by a bolt of lightning, as is commonly said, or because he was overwhelmed with grief at the death of a companion, through contempt of this world he suddenly - to the astonishment of many - entered the Monastery of the brothers of St Augustine, who are commonly called the Hermits. After a year's probation, his profession of that order was made legitimate, and there in his studies and spiritual exercises he fought strenuously for God for four years. However, he appeared to the brothers to have a certain amount of peculiarity, either from some secret commerce with a Demon, or (according to certain other indications) from the disease of epilepsy. They thought this especially, because several times in the Choir, when during the Mass the passage from the Evangelist about the ejection of the deaf and mute Demon was read, he suddenly fell down, crying 'It is not I, it is not I.' And thus it is the opinion of many, that he enjoyed an occult familiarit with some demon, since he himself sometimes wrote such things about himself as were able to engender a suspicion in the reader of this kind of commerce and nefarious association. For he says in a certain sermon addressed to the people, that he knows the Devil well, and is in turn well known by him, and that he has eaten more than one grain of salt with him. And furthermore he published his own book in German, About the 'Comer' Mass (as he calls it), where he remembers a disputation against the Mass that the Devil held with him at night. There are other pieces of evidence about this matter as well, and not trivial ones, since he was even seen by certain people to keep company bodily with the Devil.”

Sippo then said:

The strong point of their work [Grisar and Denifle] is that they faced up to all the horrible things Luther actually said and did which prots had been keeping hidden or ignoring. They treated Luther as he actually was: a seriously disturbed man who led many people into perdition based on his uncontrolled emotional outbursts and his glib demagoguery.”

This is indeed the same approach as Cochlaeus. Cochlaeus does what later villifying Catholic critiques of Luther promise: to present the real “facts” about Luther, undistorted from Luther’s own writings. Cochlaeus, in essence, became one of Luther’s most influential opponents. His biography “deeply influenced the image of Luther held by Catholics for more than two centuries” [Gotthelf Wiedermann, “Cochlaeus as Polemicist,” found in, Peter Newman Brooks (ed.), Seven-Headed Luther (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983) 200]. His overall “image of the devilishly destructive Luther dominated Catholic popular understanding of Luther for centuries.” [Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, (Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983) 15].

There can be no doubt of the sincerity and conviction of Cochlaeus, but neither can there be any doubt that it was he who poisoned the well of historical studies. Roman Catholic historians have drawn their prejudice against Luther from this polemical source, which in its animosity has an almost total disregard for objective truth and historical facts. Denifle, Grisar, Cristiani, Paquier, and Maritain (to cite the most famous and influential) have all drunk deep of this poisoned well-too deeply- and lesser historians have adopted their position.” [Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy,16].

An answer to this question of why the more scientific and accurate Catholic depiction of Luther is so recent was well stated at the time of World War II by Catholic scholar Adolf Herte in a three-volume work, Das katholische Lutherbild im Bann der Lutherkommentare des Cochlaeus. His clear and, for many Catholics, embarrassing answer was this: Catholic Luther interpretation for the previous 400 years had more or less repeated what Johannes Cochlaeus, a contemporary of Luther, set forth in his extremely negative Commentaria de actis et scriptis M. Lutheri.. Cochlaeus' writings were basically nothing but fiction, calumny, and lies. In the rude style of that time, Cochlaeus depicted Luther as a monster, a demagogue, a revolutionary, a drunkard, and a violator of nuns.” [James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic (Grand Rapids: WB Eerdman’s Publishing co., 1983), 8].

Mr. Sippo’s understanding of Luther follows in the same vein of destructive criticism. Sippo’s claim that the authors he utilizes “faced up to all the horrible things Luther actually said and did” and that “prots had been keeping hidden or ignoring” and these authors treat “Luther as he actually was: a seriously disturbed man who led many people into perdition based on his uncontrolled emotional outbursts and his glib demagoguery” is nothing but the sentiment of Johannes Cochlaeus. Cochlaeus’ polemical work served as a distorted systematic guideline of what Catholics were to think about Luther. This method was perpetuated by Grisar and Denifle.

These are some of the authors Art Sippo recommends- despite the fact that both Catholic and Protestant historians link their work to a tradition that that has long been shown to be nothing more than “poisoning the well.” Did Denifle and Grisar think Luther was possessed? If they did, my case against these authors is even more solid. If they didn't, they still put forth enough material to prove they "went too far":

Denifle has said:

"Luther, there is nothing godly in you!" Luther was an ordinary, or if you will, an extraordinary destroyer, a revolutionary, who went through his age like a demon ruthlessly trampling to earth what had been reverenced a thousand years before him. He was a seducer who carried away hundreds of thousands with him in his fateful errors, a false prophet who in his contradiction-burdened teaching as in his sin-laden life manifested the exact opposite of what one should expect and demand from one sent from God. He was a liar and deceiver who through the very overthrowing of all moral limitations under the banner of Christian freedom attracted to himself so many deluded souls."

Leonard Swidler states,

For the Jesuit Hartmann Grisar, Luther was not so much a morally evil man as a mentally sick man. We should turn not our hate but our pity toward Luther the psychopath, who was subject to illusory visits by the devil and terrible fits of depression. It is granted by Protestants that Grisar went about his work with a great deal of scholarly zeal and that his work “contains a powerful denial of the old Catholic Luther-fables and calumniations as well as the deep-rooted view, most lately upheld by Denifle, according to which Luther was driven down the path of the Reformer by lust of the flesh.” However, this improvement over Denifle was hardly satisfying to Protestants. Grisar’s polished style merely poured salt in the wound, and his apparent objectivity convinced no one. Without a doubt all the terrible words of Luther, full of hate, anger, “Wildheit und Rohheit” are actually found in Luther’s writings. But the complaint was raised that this was far from all that was in Luther’s writings. This was only a one-sided picture, and therefore a distortion, though one with a certain refinement. In the end, “Grisar, just as Denifle, wishes to annihilate Luther.”[85]


Oddball Pastor said...

Isn't Sippo a medical doctor? If that is so, where does he get off calling you uneducated?

James Swan said...

I don't know- in fairness to Art, I am amazed at how much he actually is familiar with Luther research, however poorly he's able to interpret it and learn from it.