Friday, March 31, 2006

Perspectives of Luther: Luther a Polygamist?


This will be the fifth installment of a response to a man who calls himself “St. Thomas More” over on the CARM board. His comments came in the thread, Perspectives of Luther which I began responding to here and also on the CARM Catholic board.

Previously I looked at these topics:

Perspectives of Luther:The Influence of Occam on Luther and Sola Scriptura:

Perspectives on Luther: Did he join the Monastery Selfishly?

Perspectives on Luther: Was Luther a Womanizer and a Lush?

Perspectives on Luther: Did Luther Veer Toward Rebellion and the Destruction of the Church?

Let’s take a look at More’s fifth charge:

He was so bound and determined to take down the Church of Rome that he guaranteed the right of investiture (gave the crown the right to appoint bishops, etc) to the princes of the many small city-states in Germany at the time if they made his religion the official religion of the principality and sanctioned abuses, such as polygamy, to further his political cause.”

This is a compound argument, which will require a few responses. The most outrageous aspect of the argument is Luther’s alleged sanctioning of polygamy for political purposes. The ironic thing about this charge, is that it could be applied to many medieval political situations in the Roman Catholic Church over the years.

W.H.T. Dau in his book, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917, 103) gives a helpful picture of Luther on this topic:

"In a letter addressed to Joseph Levin Metzsch of December 9, 1526, Luther says: "Your first question: Whether person may have more than one wife? I answer thus: Let unbelievers do what they please; Christian liberty, however, is regulated by love (charity), so that all that a Christian does is done to serve his fellow-man, provided only that he can render such service without jeopardy and damage to his faith and conscience. Nowadays, however, everybody is striving for a liberty that profits and pleases him, without regard for the profit and improvement which his neighbor might derive from his action. This is contrary to the teaching of St. Paul, who says: 'All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient' (1 Cor. 6, 12). Only see that your liberty does not become an occasion to the flesh. . . . Moreover, although the patriarchs had many wives, Christians may not follow their example, because there is no necessity for doing this, no improvement is obtained thereby, and, especially, there is no word of God to justify this practise, while great offense and trouble may come from it. Accordingly, I do not believe that Christians any longer have this liberty. God would have to publish a command that would declare such a liberty." (21a, 901 f.) To Clemens Ursinus, pastor at Bruck, Luther writes under date of March 21, 1527: "Polygamy, which in former times was permitted to the Jews and Gentiles, cannot be honestly approved of among Christians, and cannot be engaged in with a good conscience, unless in an extreme case of necessity, as, for instance, when one of the spouses is separated from the other by leprosy or for a similar cause. Accordingly, you may say to the carnal people (with whom you have to do), if they want to be Christians, they must keep married fidelity and bridle their flesh, not give it license. If they want to be heathen, let them do what they please, at their own risk." (21a, 928.)
 In his comment on the question of the Pharisees regarding divorce (Matt. 19, 3-6), Luther says: "Many divorces occur still among the Turks. If a wife does not yield to the husband, nor act according to his whim and fancy, he forthwith drives her out of the house, and takes one, two, three, or four additional wives, and defends his action by appealing to Moses. They have taken out of Moses such things as please them and pander to their lust. In Turkey they are very cruel to women; any woman that will not submit is cast aside. They toy with their women like a dog with a rag. When they are weary of one woman, they quickly put her beneath the turf and take another. Moses has said nothing to justify this practise. My opinion is that there is no real married life among the Turks; theirs is a whorish life. It is a terrible tyranny, all the more to be regretted because God does not withhold the common blessing from their intercourse: children are procreated thereby, and yet the mother is sent away by the husband. For this reason there is no true matrimony among the Turks. In my opinion, all the Turks at the present time are bastards." (7, 965.)
All this is plain enough and should suffice to secure Luther against the charge of favoring polygamy. The seeming admission that polygamy might be permissible relates to cases for which the laws of all civilized nations make provisions. How a Christian must conduct himself in such a case must be decided on the evidence in each case. Likewise, the reference to the Christian's liberty from the law does not mean that the Christian has the potential right to polygamy, but it means that he must maintain his monogamous relation from a free and willing choice to obey God's commandments in the power of God's grace. Polygamy, this is the firm conviction of Luther, could only be sanctioned if there were a plain command of God to that effect. Luther's remarks about matrimony among the Turks should be remembered when Catholics cite Luther's remarks about King Ahasuerus dismissing Vashti and summoning Esther, and the right of the husband to take to himself his maid-servant when his wife refuses him. By all divine and human laws the matter to which Luther refers is a just ground for divorce, and that is all that Luther declares."

It is true Luther allowed for polygamy, but only in a very narrow sense. Luther scholar Heinrich Boehmer points out that it was only to be in cases of “severe necessity, for instance, if the wife develops leprosy or becomes otherwise unfit to live with her husband… But this permission is always to be restricted to such cases as severe necessity. The idea of legalizing general polygamy was far from the reformers mind. Monogamy was always to him the regular form of matrimony…” (Luther And The Reformation in Light of Modern Research, 213-214).

Most often, Luther detractors point out Luther’s involvement in the bigamy of Phillip of Hesse. Of course, Luther got himself into a mess here, and there were political factors at play- however, not to the extent that St. Thomas More suggests . Luther scholar Roland Bainton gave a concise overview of the situation:

There are several incidents over which one would rather draw the veil, but precisely because they are so often exploited to his discredit they are not to be left unrecorded. The most notorious was his attitude toward the bigamy of the landgrave, Philip of Hesse. This prince had been given in marriage with no regard to his own affections—that is, for purely political reasons—at the age of nineteen to the daughter of Duke George. Philip, unable to combine romance with marriage, found his satisfaction promiscuously on the outside. After his conversion his conscience so troubled him that he dared not present himself at the Lord s Table. He believed that if he could have one partner to whom he was genuinely attached he would be able to keep himself within the bounds of matrimony. There were several ways in which his difficulty could have been solved. If he had remained a Catholic, he might have been able to secure an annulment on the grounds of some defect in the marriage; but since he had become a Lutheran, he could expect no consideration from the pope. Nor would Luther permit recourse to the Catholic device. A second solution would have been divorce and re-marriage. A great many Protestant bodies in the present day would countenance this method, particularly since Philip had been subjected in his youth to a loveless match. But Luther at this point interpreted the Gospels rigidly and held to the word of Christ as reported by Matthew that divorce is permissible only for adultery. But Luther did feel that there should be some remedy, and he discovered it by a reversion to the mores of the Old Testament patriarchs, who had practiced bigamy and even polygamy without any manifestation of divine displeasure. Philip was given the assurance that he might in good conscience take a second wife. Since, however, to do so would be against the law of the land, he should keep the union a secret. This the new bride's mother declined to do; and then Luther counseled a lie on the ground that his advice had been given as in the confessional, and to guard the secrete of the confessional a lie is justified. But the secret was out, and the disavowal was ineffective. Luther's final comment was that if anyone thereafter should practice bigamy, let the Devil give him a bath in the abyss of hell."(Here I Stand, 292-293).

Note Luther’s final comment, “that if anyone thereafter should practice bigamy, let the Devil give him a bath in the abyss of hell.” A profound aspect of the Bible is its commitment to telling us about the sins of the human condition; even in those characters considered the greatest of God’s people. David was described as “a man after God’s own heart,” yet within his life one finds adultery and murder. Jesus called Peter “blessed,” yet not long after, Peter denied that he even knew him. Examples could be multiplied, and could go beyond the pages of Scripture into the halls of church history. God’s people struggle with sin, and sometimes take great falls. Such is the case of Martin Luther and his involvement with Hesses' bigamy. Luther's life shows many high peaks and some deep valleys: profound success for God’s kingdom, along with human failure. With Luther’s attitude on Bigamy, and his involvement with Phillip of Hesse, we see one of the warts of Luther. Luther had to learn the hard way with his attitude on Bigamy.

Dau points out some interesting facts on the bigamy of Phillip of Hesse:

"Catholics fail to mention that Luther repelled bigamous thoughts in Philip of Hesse fourteen years before the Landgrave took Margaret von der Saal. The evidence was found in the state archives at Kassel, now at Marburg, in a fragment of a letter which Niedner published in the Zeitschrift fuer historische Theologie, 1852, No. 2, p. 265. The letter is dated November 28, 1526; Philip's bigamous marriage took place March 9, 1540. In this letter Luther says to Philip: "As regards the other matter, my faithful warning and advice is that no man, Christians in particular, should have more than one wife, not only for the reason that offense would be given, and Christians must not needlessly give, but most diligently avoid giving, offense, but also for the reason that we have no word of God regarding this matter on which we might base a belief that such action would be well-pleasing to God and to Christians. Let heathen and Turks do what they please. Some of the ancient fathers had many wives, but they were urged to this by necessity, as Abraham and Jacob, and later many kings, who according to the law of Moses obtained the wives of their friends, on the death of the latter, as an inheritance. The example of the fathers is not a sufficient argument to convince a Christian: he must have, in addition, a divine word that makes him sure, just as they had a word of that kind from God. For where there was no need or cause, the ancient fathers did not have more than one wife, as Isaac, Joseph, Moses, and many others. For this reason I cannot advise for, but must advise against, your intention, particularly since you are a Christian, unless there were an extreme necessity, as, for instance, if the wife were leprous or the husband were deprived of her for some other reason. On what grounds to forbid other people such marriages I know not" (21a, 900 f.) This letter effected that the Landgrave did not carry out his intention, but failing, nevertheless, to lead a chaste life, he did not commune, except once in extreme illness, because of his accusing conscience." ( Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917, 103-104)

Dau also points out that Catholics should use caution in this charge against Luther:

"Ought not this remark of the Landgrave caution Luther's Catholic critics to be very careful in what they say about the heinousness of Luther's offense in granting a dispensation from a moral precept? Have they really no such thing as a "dispensation" at Rome? Has not the married relationship come up for "dispensation" in the chancelleries of the Vatican innumerable times? Has not one of the canonized saints of Rome, St. Augustine, declared that bigamy might be permitted if a wife was sterile? Was not concubinage still recognized by law in the sixteenth century in Ireland? Did not King Diarmid have two legitimate wives and two concubines? Andhe was a Catholic. What have Catholics to say in rejoinder to Sir Henry Maine's assertion that the Canon Law of their Church brought about numerous sexual inequalities? Or to Joseph MacCabe's statement that not until 1060 was there any authoritative mandate of the Church against polygamy, and that even after this prohibition there were numerous instances of concubinage and polygamic marriages in Christian communities? Or to Hallam in his Middle Ages, where he reports concubinage in Europe? Or to Lea, who proves that this evil wasnot confined to the laity? (See Gallighan, Women under Polygamy, pp. 43. 292. 295. 303. 330. 339.) ( Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917, 106)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Perspectives on Luther: Did Luther Veer Toward Rebellion and the Destruction of the Church?


This will be the fourth installment of a response to a man who calls himself “St. Thomas More” over on the CARM Catholic board. His comments came in the thread, Perspectives of Luther which I began responding to here and also on the CARM Catholic board.




Previously I looked at these topics:

Perspectives of Luther:The Influence of Occam on Luther and Sola Scriptura:

Perspectives on Luther: Did he join the Monastery Selfishly?

Perspectives on Luther: Was Luther a Womanizer and a Lush?


Let’s take a look at More’s fourth charge:

However, you need to keep in mind also that the religious revolt in Germany was as much political as religious. Regarding his motives, in my opinion, Luther proved his stripes because he veered so quickly toward rebellion and destruction of the Church rather than internal reform.”

Actually, Rome "proved their stripes." A simple look at the facts shows that Rome was unwilling to be corrected from the Bible, and thus plunged Western culture into a situation in which the paradigm of church/state would (fortunately) need to be reevaluated.

The Pope received the report of Luther’s 95 theses from Archbishop Albert of Mainz (who was quite fond of the revenue collected from the indulgence, and quite upset by diminishing revenue from them due to Luther’s Theses). The Pope thought Luther’s theses to be trivial, and told Albert to keep him quiet.

The Dominicans immediately thought of Luther as a heretic, and they realized quickly that the only way to prove the truth of the indulgence was to prove that Luther was a heretic because he questioned and assailed Papal power.

Luther did appear before (Dominican) Cardinal Cajetan October 12-14, 1518. Let it not be forgotten that Cajetan was given the case of Luther by the Pope. Cajetan was unwilling to discuss the Indulgence with Luther. He simply wanted Luther to admit the Pope’s authority and his own rebellion against him. Luther was ordered to retract or suffer the consequences.

The Cardinal was well versed in Roman Catholic doctrine, and realized quickly the dilemma the Pope had: there was no adequate foundation to condemn Luther as a heretic. Why? there was not an official teaching on indulgences when Luther posted the 95 Theses. There was no official doctrine as to the effect of the indulgence upon Purgatory. So Cajetan knew that in order to put Luther down as a heretic, he must first be declared one according to some sort of doctrinal standard. Cajetan quickly drafted a declaration of dogma on the subject of indulgences. Pope Leo X found this to be a good idea. Thus came the decretal Cum postquam. The dogma of indulgences was defined as Cajetan outlined them. The Pope also threatened any of his representatives that may have held a divergent view on the subject.

On October 28, 1518 Luther asked for a General Council of the Christian Church to resolve the matter. None came, though Luther penned the letter to the Pope, submissive in tone to the Pope, but retracting nothing about the indulgence controversy. He was forced into the corner by Rome to either admit the Pope was wrong, or vow allegiance to his divine right.

Had Luther not been protected by Frederick the Wise of Saxony, he would have been burnt or hanged by Rome. Because the Papacy would not even discuss indulgences, but rather sought to prove him a heretic denying Papal power, he was declared an outlaw. At Worms, the argument was:

Rome: Are these your books?
Luther: Yes.
Rome: Will you recant?
Luther: No.
Rome: Then get out!

(The above dialog courtesy of Owen Chadwick)

It was the Roman Catholic Church who went out of their way to destroy the church, not Luther. They went as far as they could to not address the initial situation. Hey, if my source of income was going to be challenged, I’d probably fight it too. It's sinful human nature.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Perspectives on Luther: Was Luther a Womanizer and a Lush?


This will be the third installment of a response to a man who calls himself “St. Thomas More” over on the CARM board. His comments came in the thread, Perspectives of Luther which I began responding to here and also on CARM. Previously I looked at these topics:

Perspectives of Luther:The Influence of Occam on Luther and Sola Scriptura:

Perspectives on Luther: Did he join the Monastery Selfishly?

Let’s take a look at More’s third charge: “[Luther] was a womanizer and a lush.”

After reading this charge, I replied, “Mr. More, I'm going to give you an opportunity to retract these words- particularly the nonsense about "womanizer" and "lush". I suggest checking accurate historical sources before putting forth fiction as truth.” He replied, “OK, I'll back off the "womanizer and a lush" comment, though my sources I believe to be accurate (while protestants want to put him on a pedestal, I'll recognize his actions for what they were).” Now, how one “backs off” while at the same time still affirming falsehoods is a unique form of sophistry.

These charges against Luther have a long history. They date back to one of Luther’s earliest Catholic biographers, Johannes Cochlaeus. The Catholic Encyclopedia gives this description of the man: “Naturally of a quiet and studious disposition he was drawn into the arena of polemics by the religious schism. There he developed a productivity and zeal unparalleled by any other Catholic theologian of his time.” This is a kind way to describe Cochlaeus. Actually, he was consumed in a desire to destroy Luther. He wrote incessantly against Luther. Even after Luther died, Cochlaeus kept writing against him. The Catholic Encyclopedia goes on to state “Almost all of these publications [against Luther] however, were written in haste and bad temper, without the necessary revision and theological thoroughness, consequently they produced no effect on the masses.” This is yet another kind way to describe Cochlaeus. In actuality, the charges put forth by Cochlaeus had a profound impact on Catholic approaches to Luther for hundreds of years to follow. The comments by this Sir Thomas on the CARM board about Luther being a “womanizer and a lush” find their origin in the work of Cochlaeus.

Here are a few summary statements from a modern Catholic and protestant scholar of the content of Cochlaeus’s image of Luther:

“Luther is a child of the devil, possessed by the devil, full of falsehood and vainglory. His revolt was caused by monkish envy of the Dominican, Tetzel; he lusts after wine and women, is without conscience, and approves any means to gain his end. He thinks only of himself. He perpetrated the act of nailing up the theses for forty two gulden- the sum he required to buy a new cowl. He is a liar and a hypocrite, cowardly and quarrelsome. There is no drop of German blood in him…” (Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany, trans. Ronald Walls (London: Darton, Longman & Todd 1968), 1:296.)

He refers to Luther as a child of the devil, the fruit of a union of Satan with Luther's mother who later regretted not having murdered him in the cradle. His fellow monks knew him as a demon-possessed quarreler who lusted after drink and sex, without conscience, ready to use any means to further his own plans. Demonic monstrosities boiled out of his powerful but perverted mind. At Luther's death, this "father" appears to drag him off to hell.” (Fred W. Meuser and Stanley D. Schneider (eds.) Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969), 41)

In actuality, Cochlaeus’s work on Luther was some of the worst ever put forth. He took up a number of false rumors of Luther circulating and incorporated them into his work. Two such rumors were Luther being a “womanizer and a lush.”

The first charge is pure folly. Luther lived the first part of his life as a celibate monk. He then lived the remainder of his life as a devoted husband. There is no historical record that exists that substantiates Luther being a womanizer. On the other hand, there are countless sermons and writings of Luther exhorting his congregation and readers to moral purity. Cochlaeus had simply lied, or either printed hearsay as fact.

The second charge about Luther being a “lush” has a similar response. To my knowledge, no historical source document from Luther’s lifetime exists that says he was ever drunk. On the other hand, there are countless sermons and writings of Luther exhorting his congregation and readers to be not drunk with alcohol. Cochlaeus had simply lied, or either printed hearsay as fact.

W.H.T. Dau in his book, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917, 7) gives a helpful picture of Luther on this topic:

Luther is said to have been a glutton and a drunkard. "Let us examine the facts... I do not deny that Luther drank freely both beer and wine. So did everybody else. People drank beer as we do coffee. . . . Moreover, in the sixteenth century alcoholic beverages were prescribed for the maladies from which Luther suffered much--kidneys and nervous trouble. We now know that in such cases alcohol proves a very poison; but this Luther could not know. But intemperate . . . in his use of strong drink Luther was not. Neither was he a glutton. Before he married, he ate very irregularly, and often completely forgot his meals. When he could not get meat and wine, he contented himself with bread and water. . . . Melanchthon tells us that Luther loved the coarse food as he did the coarse speech of the peasantry, and even of that food ate little, so little that Melanchthon marveled how Luther could maintain strength upon such a diet.--It is further a noteworthy fact that, when we read the sermons of the day, we find nobody who so frequently and so earnestly attacks the prevailing vice of drunkenness as does Luther. Now, whatever Luther may or may not have been, hypocrite he was not. Had he himself been intemperate, he would not have preached against it in such a manner. Furthermore, Luther was under constant espionage. His every move was noted. People knew how many patches there were on his undergarments. Think you, think you for a moment, that the Wittenbergians would have listened meekly to Luther's repeated assaults upon the wide-spread sin of intemperance, had they known him for a confirmed tippler? It is too absurd.--But the best evidence for the defense comes from a mute witness--Luther's industry. He wrote more than four hundred books, brochures, sermons, and so forth, filling more than one hundred volumes of the Erlangen edition. There are extant more than three thousand of his letters, which represent only a small proportion of all that he wrote. Thus we know, for example, that one evening in 1544 Luther wrote ten letters, of which only two have been preserved. He was, furthermore, in frequent conference with leaders in both Church and State. He preached on Sundays and lectured on week-days. Now, a man may, it is true, perform a considerable amount of manual labor even after overeating and overdrinking, but every physician will admit the correctness of my assertion, it is a physiological impossibility that a man could habitually overindulge in food or liquor, or both, and still get over the enormous amount of intellectual work that Luther performed day to day" (Boehmer, The Man Luther, p. 16 f.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Perspectives of Luther:The Influence of Occam on Luther and Sola Scriptura:


This will be the second installment of a response to a man who calls himself “St. Thomas More” over on the CARM board. His comments came in the thread, Perspectives of Luther which I began responding to here and also on CARM.


Let’s take a look at More’s second charge: The influence of Occam on Luther and sola scriptura:

This is also very evident in Luther’s philosophy. He was an Ockhamist. That is to say, he was an adherent to the philosophy of William of Ockham. William of Ockham advanced the philosophy of the self, that there are no universals, that Man does not exist, only individuals. This could be said to have lead Luther to his conclusions regarding his heretical doctrine of Sola Scriptura, there being no need for a religious authority if it is the individual that reigns supreme. And because he was a pervert, he needed some sense of security regarding his own salvation. Hence, Sola Fida.”

Let’s begin with the ridiculous and work backwards: Luther was not a pervert- not sure exactly where Sir Thomas pulled this tidbit of silliness from, though many earlier Catholic critiques of Luther used to wrongly put forth this negative rhetoric. Good Catholic historians do not put forth this type of fiction anymore.

It is true that it is possible Luther first came to acknowledge the sole authority of the canonical books as the basis of the Christian faith from the Occamist perspective- But as Lutheran scholar Willem Kooiman points out, “…for Occam’s followers the church still stands above the Scriptures, since she alone decided their interpretation” [Kooiman, Luther and the Bible (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), 14]. Therefore, the Occamists that influenced Luther were very devoted to the authority of the Papacy, as was Luther until the indulgence controversy, and also during the beginning of the indulgence controversy. Luther gradually came to see the folly of Sola Ecclesia as he studied the Bible and compared it to the teachings of the RCC. It was the response, or rather non-response of the Roman Catholic Church to Luther that was a factor which provoked sola scriptura.

But Occamism did play a crucial role in Luther’s understanding of the Gospel. The following is from my notes based on Luther lectures given by Robert Kolb.

There were two distinct groups of medieval theologians, Realists and Nominalists. The Realists held that reality lies in the universals (ideas, abstract concepts) in the mind of God (a Platonic idea). The Nominalists held that reality exists in particulars. Hence for the nominalists, an idea has no reality of its own. The Realists thus tended to glorify “reason”- reason would be an abstract universal (Aquinas was a Realist that emphasized the primacy of reason). But the Nominalists did not- Scotus and Occam emphasized rather the primacy of the human will. It was the particular will that “reasoned.”

These two distinct groups also differed also on the relationship between God and the law. The Realist view encompassed the Greek (Aristotelian) view of an eternal existing law coexistent with God. For the Realists, the will of God and the law of God correspond necessarily, because the law is good and God is good. On the other hand, the Nominalist view held that that God created the law and human creatures. God determines what is acceptable to him. It is not a universal abstract outside of Him. Hence, there is no eternal prescription outside of God which human performance can carry out to make themselves acceptable to God.

These differences were important to the Reformation in that a number of theological systems developed from the Nominalist perspective. Luther was trained in a Nominalist type of system Luther received his scholastic orientation through the Occamist Gabriel Biel.

Biel’s doctrine was a mixture of grace and works, and this mixture confused Luther. Biel is said to have believed that salvation was by grace alone because God was under no compulsion to save anyone. By grace alone, Biel meant that God had set up a system by which we might be saved from our sinfulness. It was god’s “gracious” decision to make salvation available. In this system for salvation, works provide the key to access to God. Biel held that God would grant his grace to those who did their best. Those who did their best were given God’s grace to help them continue to do their best in a God pleasing way, and if they continued in this, they would be saved.

Biel had four stages in this salvation schema. First, the sinner does ‘good” out of “purely natural powers.” When he has done this, the sinner has done what is “in him,” he has responded to the conscience that God has planted in the human creature. This is summarized in Biel’s statement, “To do what is in one” (to do our best). One can never be sure that one has done their best. We know what God demands, and we know what we have done, but we can never know for sure if our best has been done to make one eligible for God’s grace. The works in this first stage are of congruent merit; they are unworthy works that do not merit Heaven. Secondly, stage two is God’s gift of his grace (or the power to be able to perform those same works in a worthy manner). Grace comes through our doing of the sacraments, and thus our works are enough to merit heaven. Stage three focuses on human works are that are combined with God’s grace that earn condign merit. In stage four God gives salvation.

This theology of Biel’s impacted Luther because he was never sure if he had done his best, or if the sacraments were working in his life.

Luther wrestled with this type of Occamist theology, particularly Biel’s concept that “God would give His grace to those who do their best,” and also Biel’s “what is in them by natural powers.” Luther knew the best of his works were filthy rags. He was sure he did not have initial grace necessary to do the good works needed for the assurance of God’s favor. In 1515 – 1516, Luther finally rejected Biel’s theological concept of “doing the best that one can.” Luther had placed his whole weight on the scholastic Occamist concept of salvation. That weight forced the system to collapse under him. In other words, it was by abandoning Occamist theology that was a factor in Luther’s evangelical breakthrough.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Perspectives on Luther: Did he join the Monastery Selfishly?


"If the life of monks and nuns is really what they claim that it is: the highest and most perfect form of Christianity, they should consistently give any person credit for making the effort to lead that life. In fact, they ought all to turn monks and nuns to honor their own principles."-W.H.T. Dau

This will be the beginning of a response to a man who calls himself “St. Thomas More” over on the CARM board. His comments came in the thread, Perspectives of Luther which I began responding to here and also on CARM.

Let’s take a look at More’s first charge: Luther’s joining of a monastery was inappropriate. More says,

The problem with Luther starts with his motivation for joining a religious order in the first place. He was training to be a lawyer and following a couple of incidents that awakened his sense of his own mortality (friend’s death in a duel and close call in a violent storm), he made a commitment to God to become a religious. First off, to become a religious to save your own hide is a little selfish.”

This charge is very similar to that put forth by the dreadful Facts About Luther by Patrick O'Hare (see chapter 2). As with O'Hare, I’m convinced More's understanding of Luther’s early life is muddled, and similarly I wonder how familiar he is with the aspects of medieval monkery and the implications it had during Luther’s early life.

W.H.T. Dau in his book, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917, 20-21) gives a helpful picture of the young Luther. More would have you believe that one day Luther simply had a notion to join the monestary selfishly out of the blue. Such was not the case. Dau explains:

The holy life of the saints had been held up to him as far back as he could remember as the marvel of Christian perfection. Home and Church had cooperated in deepening the impressions of the sanctity of the monkish life in him. When he saw the emaciated Duke of Anhalt in monk's garb with his beggar's wallet on his back tottering through the streets of Magdeburg, and everybody held his breath at this magnificent spectacle of advanced Christianity, and then broke forth in profuse eulogies of the princely pilgrim to the glories of monkish sainthood, that left an indelible impression on the fifteen-year-old boy. When he observed the Carthusians at Eisenach, weary and wan with many a vigil, somber and taciturn, toiling up the rugged steps to a heaven beyond the common heaven; when he talked with the young priests at the towns where he studied, and all praised the life of a monk to this young seeker after perfect righteousness; when in cloister-ridden Erfurt he observed that the monks were outwardly, at least, treated with peculiar reverence, can any one wonder that in a mind longing for peace with God the resolve silently ripened into the act: I will be a monk?

We, too, would call this an act of despair. We would say with Luther: Despair makes monks. But the despair which we mean, and which Luther meant, is genuine spiritual despair. What Catholics call Luther's despair is really desperation, a reckless, dare-devil plunging of a criminal into a splendid Catholic sanctuary. That Luther's act decidedly was not. By Rome's own teaching Luther belonged in the cloister. That mode of life was originally designed to meet the needs of just such minds as his. His entering the monastery was the logical sequence of his previous Catholic tutelage. Rome has this monk on its conscience, and a good many more besides. As piety went in those days, Luther had been raised a pious young man. He was morally clean. He was a consistent, yea, a scrupulous member of his Church, regular in his daily devotions, reverencing every ordinance of the Church.”

His was an introspective nature. He had wrestled daily with the sin that ever besets us. He knew that with all his conventional religiousness he could not pass muster before God. Over his wash-basin he was overheard moaning: "The more we wash, the more unclean we become." He felt like Paul when he groaned: "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7, 24.) He was sorrowing for his poor soul. He was hungering and thirsting for righteousness. "When will I ever attain to that state of mind that I am sure God is pleased with me?" he mused distractedly. What he could not find while engaged in his secular pursuits, that, he was told, the cloister could give him. To obtain that he entered the monastery. If ever Rome had an honest applicant for monkery, Luther is that man. Nor did he act precipitately. As shown, the thought of this act had been quietly forming in him for years. When he made his rash vow to St. Anna, he still allowed two weeks to pass before he put his resolution into action. Try and picture to yourself his state of mind during those fourteen days! Moving about in his customary surroundings, he was daily probing the correctness of his contemplated change of life. He fought a soul-battle in those days, and the remembrance of his father made that battle none the easier. From the Catholic standpoint Luther deserves an aureole for that struggle. After entering the cloister, he was still at liberty for a year and a half to retrace his fatal step. But his first impressions were favorable; monkery really seemed to bring him heart's ease and peace, and there was no one to disabuse his mind of the delusion. After nearly two years in the monastery, while sitting with his father at the cloister board on the event of his ordination to the priesthood, he declares to his father that he enjoys the quiet, contemplative life that he has chosen. Surely, he made a mistake by becoming monk, but Catholics cannot fault him for that mistake. If the life of monks and nuns is really what they claim that it is: the highest and most perfect form of Christianity, they should consistently give any person credit for making the effort to lead that life. In fact, they ought all to turn monks and nuns to honor their own principles."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Theological Forcast: Luther brawl on the CARM Catholic Board Brewing


I'm somewhat of a one (or two) trick pony. Actually, let me qualify, I’m a self-imposed one (or two) trick pony. On Internet discussion boards, I used to join into a lot of discussions. Due to time constraints, I try to limit myself to one or two discussions at most. These, I try to pursue with vigor, rather than engaging in multiple discussions half-heartedly. As far as I can tell, the discussion with Fr. Joseph on Calvin’s alleged Pagan Philosophy is at a standstill; however he’s more than welcome to continue when he wishes to. I’m still monitoring the CARM thread.

On the CARM Catholic board the latest topic I’m going to devote some energy to is called, Perspectives on Luther. One of the CARM Roman Catholics asks,

Most posts I've seen that refer to Luther seem to regard him as either completely right or completely wrong. Is it not possible that he could have been partly right? Could he not have been a Saul-like character who began by doing the will of God, which was greatly beneficial to the whole church, but then ended up pursuing his own goals, which resulted in the division of the Church? There were others who were dissatisfied with conditions in the Church who remained a part of it and helped to end many of the abuses that were taking place. It's a pity Luther didn't too. The Catholics (I'm one of them) need to appreciate that Luther did in fact do a lot of good, and the Protestants need to realize that he was not perfect, and he inadvertently did a lot of damage to the Christian community. Any thoughts?”

I appreciate the tenor of these remarks, even if I disagree with some of them. I have a special interest in Catholic interpretations of Luther. I find it somewhat of an irony that Roman Catholics are all over board on this one. Some say he’s a minion of Satan, others say he’s a Christian. This is nothing new. Catholic scholarship has no unified take on Luther. Here again, we find disunity among those perpetually claiming unity.

Now below I’ve listed many of the key Roman Catholic scholars who have opinions on Luther. What makes these opinions of Luther more important than the usual zealous Roman Catholic boldly pounding forth anti-Luther sentiment from his or her computer keyboard, is that most of the people mentioned below have actually read Luther’s writings. By and large, this is not the case of the current internet defenders of Rome.

Lets start with the pre-1900 Catholic approaches to Luther:

I. Johannes Cochlaeus:
The first Catholic apologist to critique Luther: Luther was a child of the devil, the fruit of a union between Satan and Luther's mother (who later regretted not having murdered him in the cradle). Luther lusts after wine and women, is without conscience, and approves any means to gain his end. Luther is a liar and a hypocrite, cowardly and quarrelsome. Demonic monstrosities boiled out of Luther’s powerful perverted mind. At Luther's death, Satan came to drag him off to hell.

II. Heinrich Denifle:
The Nineteenth Century 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 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.

III. Hartmann Grisar:
The 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.

IV. Catholic Encyclopedia:
Catholic historian George Ganss presents a a wild tempered Luther, depressed and mentally ill. Luther was the victim of lust seeking unbrideled sexual liscence through his teaching. Luther ended up abandoned by most of his friends and colleagues, dejected and despairing, tortured in body and spirit.

V. Patrick O'Hare:
The Facts About Luther: 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.

And now, the post 1900 Catholic approaches to Luther:

I. Franz Xaver Kiefl: German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther never denied good works or holy living. Rather good works are the way in which faith expresses itself.

II. Sebastian Merkle: German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther’s motives were religious, not revolutionary or psychological.

III. Anton Fischer: German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther was a man of prayer.

IV. Hubert Jedin: German Roman Catholic Historian. Catholicism never condemned Luther by name at Trent. No official judgment on Luther exists by which a loyal Catholic is bound.

V. Joseph Lortz: German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther was a theologian of the highest rank. Luther was a profoundly religious man, a true Christian, who lived by a deep faith in Jesus Christ.

VI. Adolf Herte: German Roman Catholic Historian. Proved that all Catholic biographies of Luther simply echoed the vilification of the Sixteenth Century Catholic author Cochlaeus.

VII. Johannes Hessen : German Roman Catholic Theologian. Luther’s theology is not based on subjectivism.

VIII. Karl Adam: German Roman Catholic Theologian. Credits Luther with an original understanding of the essence of Christianity and a passionate desire to reject whatever is not holy or of God.

IX. Yves M.-J. Congar: Catholic French Scholar. The Reformation was a religious movement, an attempt to renew religion at its source. He considers Luther a profoundly religious man who had a deeply sensitive conscience and was obsessed by the longing to find peace of heart and a warm, living, consoling contact with God.

X. Father Thomas Sartory: German Benedictine Monk. Love inspired Luther. In spite of his mistakes and weaknesses, Luther was a genuine religious personality.

XI. George Tavard: American Catholic Scholar. There is no real contradiction between Roman Catholic theology and Luther's gospel; the gospel had been eclipsed in Luther's day.

XII. Father Thomas M. McDonough : Catholic American Scholar. Luther had a true experience with the living God. His experience was the effect and Fruit of God's objective, external Word.

XIII. Leonard Swidler : Catholic American Scholar. The Reformation was needed.

XIV. John M. Todd: Catholic American Lay Historian. Luther was an honest theologian with important insights.

XV. Harry J. McSorley:Catholic American Scholar. Luther’s protest was not attempt to divide Christianity.

XVI. Jared Wicks: Catholic American Scholar. Luther is a forceful teacher of lived religion. He is a resource for the enrichment of personal spirituality for members of all Christian confessions.

But as I mentioned, the storm is brewing in this thread. Someone calling himself "St. Thomas. More" has a post that is truly silly, Found here. I will be responding to this one, time allowing.

Friday, March 24, 2006

What are you currently reading and why?

What are you currently reading and why?

I’m reading one the few biographies of Philip Melanchthon- Clyde Leonard Manschreck, "Melanchthon The Quiet Reformer."

I’m reading this book because I realized that I don’t really know a lot about Melanchthon. Very few biographies exist, and very little of his written corpus is available in English. I had been searching for a context to Melanchthon’s alleged letter to John Calvin in which he said, “All the waters of the Elbe would not yield me tears sufficient to weep for the miseries caused by the Reformation.” I haven’t found the context yet, and I’m tempted to say this quote might not even be from Melanchthon’s letter to Calvin. I recently purchased a book of Catholic apologetics from the early 1800’s that uses this quote, but Calvin isn’t mentioned at all.

Melanchthon is a fairly controversial historical figure. He lived his life in constant battle- against his fellow Lutherans, with Roman Catholics, with the Reformed, and a host of others. The Lutherans accused him of being too much like a Calvinist, while the Reformed accused him of not being Calvinist enough.

What about you? What are you reading? Why are you reading it?

Calvin in Dialog With Catholic Apologists


Ever wonder if John Calvin had a face to face debate with Catholic apologists? Did Calvin simply sit locked up in his study engaging in written debate?

This is an excerpt from the introduction of David King's book Holy Scripture, Vol. 1 An Historical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura. Everyone should get this book. David King's work on the Reformed understanding of sola scriptura is the clearest, most articulate exposistion of this crucial subject .

On one occasion, Peter Viret, Farel and Calvin participated in a formal disputation 'between Roman and Reformed churchmen, for the purpose of facilitating the entrance of the canton of Vaud into the evangelical alliance at Lausanne in October of 1536, the same year that saw the publication of Calvin's first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. It was organized by the Bernese, a Protestant constituency.

Farel and Viret were invited to present the case for the cause of reform. Viret was already in Lausanne, and Farel brought with him from Geneva a young rector, John Calvin. Farel offered ten articles (now referred to as the Lausanne Articles) in a sermon which laid out the substance and structure of the discussion. Exchange and debate ensued, and for some three days,
both Farel and Viret found the proceedings very difficult. In his biographicalsketch of Calvin, Emanuel Stickelberger writes of the event:

"For three days Calvin was silent. As often as Farel nodded to him he shook his head. And in the evening he answered the reproaches by saying, 'You and Viret know well how to answer all questions. Why should I interfere? Farel wrung his hands, 'It is a shame that you have so much insight andknowledge and at the same time so much shyness.'"

However, on day four (October 5th), the opposition made a carefully prepared speech in which they charged the Reformers of holding Augustine and other ancient Church fathers in contempt, particularly with respect to the real presence in the Lord's Supper. Farel glanced at Viret, and Viret back at Farel. Farel was about to reply, but before he could speak, the young rector was on his feet, his gaze fixed on the face of the accuser and said:

"Honor to the Holy Church Fathers: he among us who does not know them better than you, let him beware lest he mention their names. Too bad that you are not more thoroughly read in them, otherwise certain references could be of benefit to you."

Taking command of the debate, Calvin continued:

"But the reproach which you have made concerning the holy doctors of antiquity constrains me to say one word to remonstrate briefly how wrongly and groundlessly you accuse us in this connection! You charge us with condemning and wholly rejecting them, adding the reason that it is because we feel them contrary and hostile to our cause. As for condemning, we should not at
all refuse to be judged by the whole world as not only audacious but beyond measure arrogant, if we held such servants of God in so great contempt, as you allege, as to deem them fools. If it be so, we should not at all take the trouble to read them and to use the help of their teaching when it serves and as occasion offers. So that those who make parade of according them great
reverence often do not hold them in such great honour as we; nor do they eign to occupy their time reading their writings as we willingly do. This could be proved, not to you, but to anyone willing to take a little more trouble.

But we have always held them to belong to the number of those to whom such obedience is not due, and whose authority we will not exalt, as in any way to debase the dignity of the Word of our Lord, to which alone is due complete obedience in the Church of Jesus Christ."

Alister McGrath notes that it was at this point that Calvin 'turned the tide of the debate.'Without the aid of notes or manuscripts, Calvin quoted from memory the Scripture and the early Church fathers, complete with references. On this momentous occasion, he succeeded in devastating the
opposition. He quoted Cyprian, that Christ should be obeyed before all. He expounded the views of Tertullian, and added the testimony of Chrysostom (or the anonymous author) from the unfinished treatment of Matthew, the 11th homily 'about the middle,' referencing as well Augustine's 23rd epistle 'near the end.' He advanced the testimony of Augustine from his book against Adimantus the Manichean 'about the middle,' from his comments on the 98th Psalm, and from one of his homilies on the Gospel of John, around the 8th or 9th section, I cannot recall exactly which,' etc. Thus he argued, and all by heart! He challenged with:

"The whole world is easily able to understand with what audacity you reproach us with being contrary to the ancient doctors. Certainly if you had seen some of their pages, you would not have been so foolhardy as to pass judgment as you have done, not having seen the evidence, as the above witnesses present it. And one could cite others besides. But I content myself with
those that can be reached readily without using great subtlety in citing them
..."

He concluded by saying:

"If I have satisfied you about the falseness of your objections, and in my view you ought to be manifestly content, I advise and beseech you to charge us no longer with contradicting the ancient doctors in this matter with whom we are in fact in such accord; nor with corrupting Scripture at our pleasure, when constrained by such vital reasons we interpret it on the true analogy of faith; nor with glossing it on our own testimony, when we suggest no gloss
which is not itself expressed in it
."

Having completed his extemporaneous discourse, Calvin sat down, and a hushed silence fell on all present. Even those who understood very little of what had been said sensed that the direction of the debate had shifted.

There was not a single word of rebuttal. 'No one wanted to expose himself, not even Mimard [who made the charge] or Blancherose, the spokesman.' History records that in the moments following, a Franciscan friar, Jean Tandy—noted as a capable preacher who had denounced the Reformers from his pulpit—spoke, his words filled with emotion:

"It seems to me that the sin against the Spirit which the Scriptures speak of is the stubbornness which rebels against manifest truth. In accordance with that which I have heard, I confess to be guilty, because of ignorance I have lived in error and I have spread the wrong teaching. I ask God's pardon for everything I have said and done against His honor; and ask the pardon of all
of you people for the offense which I gave with my preaching up until now. I defrock myself henceforth to follow Christ and His pure doctrine alone...''

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"Be Nice To Catholic Apologists" Thursday #3


Obviously, you are trying to make me look like some kind of clown and buffoon on your blog, with your ridiculous "be nice to Catholic apologists" posts and so forth.”

I can’t believe its already “Be Nice To Catholic Apologists” Thursday. Tempus Fugit, indeed. Well this past week a Roman Catholic poster over on CARM told me my latest material on John Calvin and pagan philosophy don’t deserve more than “two sentence” responses, but I guess I asked for it. Then I got a CARM private message from a Roman Catholic telling me I’ve been “mean and nasty” and that I, along with Frank Turk, have a “short fuse”. I prefer the term “polemical” over “mean and nasty” and “short fuse.”

Over the years I probably have gotten a little more intolerant of silly thoughtless responses to particular points I make. I don’t have the same level of tolerance for jokers who critique what I’ve written that I used to have. It probably comes from reading the Reformers, or maybe even from reading Frank Turk’s blog-…any chance to blame Turk, you know.

I’m trying to remember exactly where I left off last week “being nice” to Roman Catholic apologists. I recall posting all his written responses directed toward me, so that way people can judge for themselves whether or not I distort his writings. That was the whole point of “Be Nice to Catholic Apologist” Thursday, nothing more, nothing less. If I’ve distorted Catholic apologetic writings, the interested reader can go through responses to me.

One guy has been busy in the “Beggars all” blogbacks. He provided a response to last week’s edition of Be Nice To Catholic Apologists” Thursday. Seems as if my generous posting of his links isn’t “nice” enough- and he made sure to mockingly let me know exactly how he felt:

And now you actually (GASP!) linked to my papers????!!!!!! - something no anti-Catholic would do? How astonishing! How praiseworthy!!!! After sitting by and watching Eric Svendsen mock me in virtually every introduction to a paper of yours hosted on his site, now you have reached the sublimely generous heights of linking to my papers so people can read both sides! LOL

Well, again my intention in posting his links here would be to give anyone an opportunity to read the responses to me. Had I wished to knowingly “distort” his writings, I would be a fool to want people to read his responses to me. But, I encourage people to read the links, and then get back to me. To date, no one has ever brought up any of points to me from these papers. Sometimes a Roman Catholic will post the links to try and discredit me while I’m dialoging with someone- but when I try to find out which points in these papers they think discredit me, the conversation goes silent.

One Catholic seemed to sense a conspiracy on my part to get him to break his resolution to not engage anti-Catholics anymore. He had an “open forum” on his blog a little while back and I posted a question (according to him, “out of the blue”).

Hi-"Can the Reformation primarily be thought of a part of the Medieval period, the Enlightenment, something transitory, something-unto-its-own, none of the above, or all of the above? There are no hidden motives here- I have my own opinions- much better minds than mine have written entire books on this question. I think though, looking deeply at this question will enhance your writings on the Reformation. In your analysis, please include counter-responses to your position that you have evaluated.

He took this as a malicious attempt on my part to get him to break his resolution, and also seems to think asking him a question indicates I’m obsessed with him:

Note how I gave a concise, fairly "meaty" answer so as to not be rude, yet I refused to go into it in the depth you wanted, because of my resolution. But the point is: why ask such an elaborate question, knowing that to answer it as you liked, I would have to violate my resolution? The obvious answer would seem to be that you want me to violate it and to get into more debates with me. Hence, my reference to your behavior as "obsessive."

The question was posted to one of his "open forum" blog posts (or whatever he call it)- so this hardly qualifies as "out of the blue"- it was a question of historical nature. I thought he was able to answer questions like this, even with his "resolution". I didn’t even plan on responding to the answer he gave which was:

The fourth, with strong remnants of the medieval period, since, after all, Protestants had to retain much of Catholic Tradition in order to remain Christian. Of course such a broad question (like all historical questions, esp. concerning history of doctrine or ideas) is very complex once closely examined. But that's my short answer. Historically, the so-called "Reformation" was transitory in a sense, also, because its main components have not lasted. The vast majority of Protestants reject Calvinism; most of the world's Lutherans have long since become liberalized; there are very few "radical Reformation" Anabaptists, etc. Protestantism is still here, of course, but it is a radically mixed bag and hardly even a single movement anymore. "I won't go into this beyond that with you because that would go against my resolution to not dialogue with anti-Catholics anymore. You'll likely just take whatever I write here and distort it somehow, in an effort to present me in an unfavorable light. I've come to expect this, and it is sad, for so sharp of a person (and nice) as you are. No one need wonder how I view the "Reformation". I've written tons about it, Whoever wants to know my opinions can go read my papers and books."

It wasn't a question to provoke him to break his self-imposed resolution. I had been listening to a lecture on a particular aspect of the Reformation. Since he seems to have an interest in Reformation things, I thought this would be a good question for him to either write about, or factor into his Reformation synopsis- or maybe he could've even directed me to a Catholic source from which his opinion on the question was formed. His answer sufficed- in that I never planned on writing about the issue with him in mind anyway, and secondly it appeared from his answer he wasn't that familiar with the question. If he would rather only be asked questions by his supporters, I won't ask anything again. Even in the question I asked, I even mentioned I had no hidden agenda: “There are no hidden motives here- I have my own opinions- much better minds than mine have written entire books on this question."

He went on to say,

In any event, since you give three cheers for my decision to stop "debating" anti-Catholics and place yourself in that category, then why (again) do you keep hoping that I will debate you? You're happy that I stopped, yet you want to do the opposite of that which makes you happy? That makes a lot of sense, James.”

Let me go on record, I don’t have any wish to “debate” this guy. Why then would I embark on such an endeavor? There is no conspiracy here, as I’ve pointed out already, even with the blog entries I’ve written here, they for the most part come as the result of either his making reference to me, or either a comment he made here. Probably the amount of times I've responded to his blog over the years is a number between 20 and 30. This blog entry is the result of his making comments. It is not a hidden agenda to get him to either break his resolution, nor is this an obsession on my part. I thought he was actually going to give it a rest since at one point, he commented,

So, go do your work and I'll do mine. If you ever cease being an anti-Catholic, come look me up and perhaps we can dialogue again.”

But, after a short response from me, he went on to bulldoze me with written material in the same blogback (his comments were soaked with mockery and sarcasm, which is ok). I’ve gone a record more than once stating my awe at his ability to generate material quickly. Some of the above quibbling was worked out. His “open forums” are not a specific area in which he will engage questions (my mistake right there, though he does appear to answer questions in his “open forum”, go figure).

Somehow or another, he interpreted my statement, “If you would rather only be asked questions by your supporters, I won't ask anything again.” To mean, “Secondly, your usual polemical, asinine charge, this time, that I am scared of questions from non-followers, is immediately ridiculous, in light of my 365 posted dialogues with folks of all different stripes.” Does anybody besides me see two totally different statements here? Can anyone show me where I said he was “scared of questions”? Here we find a glaring example of his methodology- the way he reinterprets statements to heighten emotional and polemical value.

He maintains my question was an invitation to a debate:“…as I showed, you were asking for a long, elaborate answer. That suggests a debate or an in-depth discussion. Therefore, I was not wrong to suspect that you were trying to goad me into debate…” I guess this part gave him that idea: “I think though, looking deeply at this question will enhance your writings on the Reformation. In your analysis, please include counter-responses to your position that you have evaluated.” OK, I’m sorry I asked you for a long answer. Given your ability to write, and given the amount of writing you’ve done on the Reformation, I simply expected that you had already tackled this question somewhere on your vast website and blog. The part I didn’t think you knew anything about was counter-responses to your position.

He then noted:

I accept your report of your intention, and thank you for it. However, if you hadn't been repeatedly writing on this droning theme of yours that I am an incompetent researcher who needs to be lectured by you, who can't be trusted when I cite anyone, and who deserves to be joked about and belittled (as evidenced by the unfair, cynical treatments I have objected to in the past on this blog) then I wouldn't be nearly so suspicious in the first place, would I? One develops suspicions of those sorts because of past experience. You are an anti-Catholic, after all. Why should I expect you to act any differently than any others I have encountered. It is the false belief which is the largest cause for the condescending behavior towards Catholics exhibited by virtually all anti-Catholics I have ever encountered. You are among the nicest (like Jason Engwer) and cautious in terminology, yet the insinuations you put out are still just as offensive and obnoxious.”

We all react differently to different things, I guess. I will not cease provoking Romanists to ad fontes research. These guys can say whatever they want about me “droning” or “lecturing”, or that I make “droning, obnoxious, condescending charges” (again, these words are glaring examples of Romanist methodology). They can keep thinking that I’m personally attacking them by this appeal. I don’t care. Fact is- I’m trying to hold myself to the same standard as I hold him. It isn’t always easy, and I’ve not met the standard myself at times (note my recent blog entry on Erasmus and 1 John 5:7). In his case, you can’t take a sentence from Calvin and then a sentence from Melanchthon and think you’ve made a historical point about their conversation. You can’t ignore the context of the Luther document you’re quoting from that says the opposite of the point you’re making- and so on.

Of course, my blogs directed toward him have a hint of sarcasm and attempted humor. Well, that’s me. It’s my curse. He should hardly be bothered by it- in an early satirical piece he referred to me as “TertiumSquid”. He also has a satirical fictional dialog that he wrote of a conversation between myself and Martin Luther. Are my feelings hurt? No, not really. Do I like his satirical writing? No not really. Will I make a make a big deal about it, as if I’m some ethical master and he’s a vicious Roman Catholic? No. His very first writing against me was filled with sarcasm and mockery. At the time, it bothered me because it was so uncalled for. Now I really don’t care. Even his latest blogback comments here are filled with sarcasm and mockery. Well, big deal then. Don’t be pointing the finger at me. It should be no mystery that I don’t take Catholic apologetics all that seriously. My writing will reflect that.

Then he went into full swing in his polemical comments. Both guns were blasting away at me, Eric Svendsen, Free Grace, James White, David King, Frank Turk, Hays, Engwer, BJ Bear, etc. He even blamed Will Durant once again for the time he used a citation of Luther. (ad fontes!). He finally commented,

If you had ceased these silly attacks against my basic competence as an apologist and researcher, who knows, I may have decided to make an exception in your case, to my resolution about not debating anti-Catholics any longer, as we have had some good exchanges (in between all your gratuitous insults). But your recent behavior rules that out. Go ahead and dispute everything I've written, if you like, and blame it all on me. It's par for the course. There is some small chance you will actually receive what I am saying as a genuine, justified complaint. If not, at least I tried. One at least makes an attempt to make things right. But I know well that people are often reluctant or unwilling to see the "other side."

I’m not looking to be an “exception” to your world. You came over here- remember? I’m not looking for the alleged ‘good ‘ol days”. You’re welcome to stop by here and continue to defend yourself and your writings. Fine by me. You can even rant and rave all you want- I will continue to respond. But remember, you’re bringing this on yourself.

I do receive what you say as “genuine”. I know you mean what you say, and believe what you say. But remember, I don’t believe Rome teaches the gospel. Those who defend her will not gain an ecumenical friend here. I’m sure you’re a nice guy- a good husband, a caring patriot, a devoted parent. But I do not believe in Catholic apologetics. Further, if you say things about me, I have the time currently to respond to you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

God's Sovereignty: Joseph and His Brothers

The issue of Joseph and his brothers raises a crucial point in distinguishing theological perspectives. It is my belief that all non-Reformed systems ultimately reduce God’s sovereignty to a brand of the Arminian foreknowledge view of God looking down the “corridors of time” -God is passively sovereign to the wills of creaturely decisions. These systems ultimately eliminate Unconditional Election and God’s positive decree of his sovereign will.

Genesis 45:4-8, and 50:20 do not support this, and any non-Reformed system of thought has to factor this Biblical information into their theology.

Genesis 45:4-8
4And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5“But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6“For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7“And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8“So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

Genesis 50:20
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

God did not force Joseph’s brothers to sin. God did not have a gun in the backs of poor- innocent Joseph’s brothers forcing them to do what they did. They did exactly what depraved people intend to. However, God did actively decree that this situation was going to occur. In fact, since God created time, and all that is within our world, he in fact chose to create a world in which this situation had to happen, and he ordered the events that had to occur. It could not have been otherwise. Joseph says that God was responsible for the situation:

-God sent me before you to preserve life

-God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth

-God sent me before you….to save your lives by a great deliverance

-So now it was not you who sent me here, but God

-He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

- God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

The Reformed insist that one must not apply philosophical categories of human logic to the Scriptures. Non-Reformed views do this. They insist “If God has decreed everything, then man can’t be responsible, and everything is fatalism.” But the Scriptures say otherwise. They say that Joseph’s brothers are responsible, and that God was the working force behind all the events in Joseph’s life, causing them to happen. Or perhaps Joseph was wrong when he said “God sent me before you to preserve life…so it was not you who sent me here but God.” I simply am forced by sola scriptura to believe Joseph. The non-Calvinist position does not solve the dilemma by saying “God simply saw what Joseph's brothers were going to freely do and came up with plan B.”

But how is then is freedom possible? I admit, I can't square the infinite with the finite. But one must realize, those systems that attempt to downplay God's sovereignty are stuck with the same exact problem that Calvinism has on this issue: As I wrote one time to some Arminian friends:

God exists eternally- God creates "something" out of nothing - that "something" is this universe. -This universe is chosen by God rather than some other universe. And when God chooses between the possibilities of universes, he sees them all from start to finish. He sees that he could create a universe very similar to this one if he wanted to. -How is it that God is not ultimately responsible for everything? If at one time there was nothing, and now there is something, and the choice of this something was chosen instead of another “something,” we are the complete result of the divine “chooser.”

The Scriptures also say that God has decreed the free acts of men, and yet that men are still responsible, and consequently are still free in their acts (Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:27,28). We never can fully understand how the infinite God acts upon the finite man. It is still our duty to believe. The Scriptures say that God is completely sovereign over History. The same decree by God which, makes an event in history certain, also determines the mode by which it shall be brought about. God ordains the means as well as the ends, the situations as well as the results.

Reformed theology is not fatalism. Examine the word in its literal sense. Fatalism literally means that the affairs of men are controlled either by whimsical sub-deities (the Fates) or by the impersonal forces of chance. This is not a Christian (or Reformed) concept, so I strongly object to the term being applied to Calvinism.

These verses present a real dilemma for non-reformed systems:

Joshua 11:20
For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

2 Samuel 12:11-12
11“Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12‘For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’ ”

2 Samuel 12:15-17
And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill. 16David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. 17So the elders of his house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 18Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead.

Isa, 10:5-7
“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hand is My indignation. 6 I will send him against an ungodly nation, And against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, To seize the spoil, to take the prey, And to tread them down like the mire of the streets.7 Yet he does not mean so, Nor does his heart think so; But it is in his heart to destroy, And cut off not a few nations.

2 Thes. 2:11
11And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Rev. 17:11
17“For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Continuation of the Dialog with Fr. Joseph on Calvin's Pagan Philosophy


The CARM dialog with Fr. Joseph on “Calvin’s Pagan philosophy” and it’s alleged “blending” with Christianity continues with a response from Fr. Joseph found here. My previous work on this subject can be found here:

On John Calvin and Humanism: Did Calvin Blend Pagan Philosophy With Christianity?

Fr. Joseph Revisted: Calvin's Beloved Pagan Philosophy

For the most part, nothing to substantiate Fr. Joseph’s claim that “Calvin believed his beloved pagan philosophy could be successfully blended into Christianity” was brought forth. Fr. Joseph reasserted his position, and noted what really, no one denies- that Calvin was a skilled humanist. His position lacks the clarity of definitions and examples from Calvin’s writings in this current response.

Fr. Joseph’s words will be in Red. I have numbered the sections as well.

1. Fr. Joseph’s Opening comments
I want to thank Mr. Swan for his patience and for his well thought out commentary thus far. He has explained well his point of view and has shown a desire to learn as well as to enlighten others in this pursuit of the theology of John Calvin and whether he was indeed influenced profoundly by Humanism as I have stated or was not influenced but instead had only a scholarly curiosity as is Mr. Swan’s position, supported by his supporting quotations from Calvin’s biography by the esteemed liberal Renaissance Humanist historian from UC Berkeley.”


Correction of Fr. Joseph’s opening synopsis: I have consistently maintained John Calvin was “influenced profoundly by Humanism.” Back in post #1 of the CARM thread- I said, “Calvin indeed was highly influenced by this movement.” One could quibble over the differences between “influenced profoundly” and “highly influenced”- but I take both the phrases to be saying the same thing. That is, throughout his work, Humanism influenced Calvin. I see this a definite positive, not a negative.

Fr. Joseph presents an ambiguity regarding his understanding of my defined position. The phrase “scholarly curiosity” is ambiguous. I really don’t know what Fr. Joseph means. Does it mean Calvin simply “dabbled” in Humanism by using its philological and historical tools? This would be incorrect. My definition and position on Calvin’s humanism was put forth in post #1 at length. The interested reader can consult this, and then attempt to make sense of what Fr. Joseph mean by “scholarly curiosity”. That my own position on this subject may be being misunderstood by Fr. Joseph at this early stage greatly decreases our ability to successfully discuss this subject.

Fr. Joseph is incorrect that my support stems from one source (“Calvin’s biography by the esteemed liberal Renaissance Humanist historian from UC Berkeley”). I have used the following, either here or on the extended versions of my responses on my blog:

William J Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Bernard Cottret, John Calvin: A Biography (Michigan: WB Eerdmans, 1995).

Anthony Lane, John Calvin: Student of the Church Fathers (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999) (Citations from this book forthcoming).

Bernard Reardon, Religious Thought In The Reformation, (New York:Longman Group, 1981).
Works of BB Warfield Volume 5, Calvin and Calvinism, (Ages Software, Electronic Edition)

John Armstrong, Reformation and Revival, Volume 10 (vnp.10.4.10)

My overview of humanism given in post #1 was taken from my notes of Reformation lectures given by Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary. I have other sources yet to be used from my personal library.

I await Fr. Joseph likewise making his sources known.

2. Fr. Joseph’s non-definition of terms and misunderstanding on my position
I am also predisposed to learning but extremely doubtful that the overwhelming evidence of Calvin’s syncretic efforts towards Christian theology and Humanist philosophy can be overcome with reason to the contrary which I believe is Mr. Swans only appeal.”

I’m hopeful that concrete examples of “Calvin’s syncretic efforts towards Christian theology and Humanist philosophy” in Calvin’s actual writings, particularly his biblical commentaries, will be put forth. So far Fr. Joseph hasn’t touched Calvin’s actual Biblical expositions. This should indeed be the area of discussion: concrete examples of Calvin’s Biblical exegesis that smells more of “pagan philosophy” than Biblical exegesis.

What does Fr. Joseph mean by “Humanist philosophy” (or “Christian theology” for that matter)? We’re using terms as if they are mutually understood. Frankly, I have no idea what is meant by “Humanist philosophy” for Fr. Joseph. His definitions of “Humanism” have been vague as well- as has been repeatedly pointed out by others.

3. Fr. Joseph’s non-use of biographical material
To understand John Calvin’s theology one must first make an attempt to understand the man.”
Indeed. Why not share with us which biographies of Calvin you use for reference?


4. Comments on Calvin’s De Clementia: Is it the “best way” to understand Calvin? What does a study of De Clementia establish?
The best way of coming to some understanding is to study his work before he embarked on his theological efforts in his first version of the continuously evolving great work of his called the ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion”. Prior to his theological endeavors he wrote a commentary on Seneca’s “De Clementia” which established him to have a fondness for pagan writing and philosophy as well as at least a scholarly curiosity for pagan thought.”

Certain things can be established from this work- one can notice Calvin’s gift of scholarship. One can recognize his ability to grasp ancient literature. One can stand amazed at how the young Calvin took on Erasmus in this work- much to his detriment (some speculate his negativity towards Erasmus in this work is the reason it did not gain popularity). One can see that the young Calvin gained a grasp of ancient literature- Calvin was doing nothing out of the ordinary- many of the early humanists learned and conquered ancient literature to show their expertise to be scholars. I like how Matthew McMahon sums up De Clementia:

Calvin’s commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia was his first complete published work. Its form and content underlie the style and formative mind that Calvin would later demonstrate in his Institutes, though by a converted heart. Thus, this former work under-girds in many respects the later Institutes as “typical Calvin,” though primitive.”

Source: Interpreting John Calvin, A Summary of Ford Lewis Battles' work on Calvin

Now its true Calvin does refer to Seneca in the Institutes- but not exclusively. If anyone has the Battles edition, see index II- note the amount of people Calvin cites. The list for his citations of Augustine is about 7 pages long, two columns per page. The citations to Seneca are on 1 page, a column and a half. His citations to church fathers greatly outnumber his citations of “pagan” philosophers.

But it is true Calvin did cite pagan philosophers. But a crucial question must be asked at this point: Simply because a philosopher is a “pagan” does that necessarily mean every thing they write is incorrect? I think not- even a pagan philosopher can get some things right. In a paper I wrote for a Reformation class I cited Bertrand Russell- the point he made was accurate, despite the fact that he was an atheist. It would be interesting to look at all Calvin’s citations of Seneca in the Institutes. Is Calvin using Seneca to establish a theological point rather than the Scriptures?

5. Tangent: Calvin’s Citations of Augustine
"In writing his commentary on “De Clementia” he has relied on Humanist philosophy, in particular Erasmus and Budaeus in support of his views and opinions. In particular his use of Budaeus is a precursor for a writing style he would use later in his theological writings where he takes great liberty in paraphrasing Budaeus as he does later in his writing referencing St. Augustine."

Again, we’re dealing with the undefined “bogeyman” of Humanism. We’re again at a loss for what Fr. Joseph means by “humanist philosophy”. In regards to Calvin’s “great liberty of citation”- this is tangential to this discussion. However- I direct you to Lane’s book John Calvin: student of the Church Fathers. It’s no big secret that Calvin’s citations weren’t always accurate. Calvin had little time, and a limited availability of texts. His “great liberty” was not done with devious intentions- some times he cited from memory- inaccurately. Sometimes he cited from a secondary source- which may have cited a primary source inaccurately. This can be seen clearly in Calvin’s citations of Augustine in his book, Bondage and Liberation of the Will- Calvin relied on Augustine citations given by the opponent he was responding to.

6. Tangent: Calvin’s citations of Augustine, and Calvin’s Geneva
With St. Augustine one can almost find his agreement with the great doctor of the Church, so subtle are the differences, albeit profound in their application to theological thought. In both cases it seems to be an effort at using another’s work and scholarship to give credit to his own work. Perhaps this is an insight into one who is insecure with his own thoughts and may explain his later brutal theocracy that he created in Geneva, putting to death and banishing his detractors.”

If you would like to discuss Calvin’s citations of Augustine- then, as you’ve suggested to others- start another thread. I have plenty of material on this at my disposal. I don’t see how it is at all relevant to this discussion. (As an aside- how about chastising Augustine for his neo-platonic influence throughout his theology?). Another tangent is Calvin’s alleged “brutal theocracy.” What does this have to do with this discussion? That the Reformation retained elements of the medieval period is well known.

7. Tangent: Did Calvin brutally enforce his views?
Calvin throughout his life showed very little confidence in his own ability to persuade with his brilliance but instead depended on brutality to enforce his will on others. History has proven the extravagance of his approach, as his work has captured the interest and indeed, the devotion of many followers, adopting his views as their own.”

Again- this is tangential, and debatable.

8. Fr. Joseph’s reassertion of his position- without a definition of humanism
In reading “De Clementia” we can see that in this particular time in his life that he was a student of the pagan philosophy and see an influence in particular to Cicero and an understanding of the historical approach of Suetonius. This work, “De Clementia”, establishes John Calvin to be influenced by these ancient works far more than one who studied the Latin and Greek writings for mere enjoyment or scholarly curiosity.

“We can see an incorporation of this Humanist worldview and one must conclude that Humanism was already an influence on the intellectual approach of Calvin in all scholarly pursuits and later particularly in his approach to theology. I submit that this Humanist philosophy was already such an integral part of Calvin’s thought that only one well versed in the humanities and theology could ascertain where Calvin’s theological thought began or ended. This realization behooves one to ponder and indeed acknowledge that John Calvin’s syncretism and approach to theology and philosophy has its genesis long before his interest in theology. This first love of the humanities and his later love for theology is the wellspring from which his syncretism of pagan philosophy and Christian theology comes
.”

Forgive my impatience, but you’ve said as much previously.

Again, we’re dealing with the undefined “bogeyman” of Humanism. This is not my view of Calvin’s work on De Clemntia- that is that I deny Calvin’s depth of knowledge of those you mention. Which particular aspects of “pagan philosophy” does Calvin grasp to in this work? Which does he incorporate into his theological paradigms? I have De Clementia. Simply give me a page number.

9. Tangent: The Impact of Humanism
"These beliefs may have remained thought only had it not been for the Reformation already underway and increasing in momentum in Europe. Calvin’s opportunity to present his new theological views would not have come to fruition, for without the reformation there would not have been an audience for such unorthodox syncretism, especially from a lay person untrained in theology coming from a foundation in the humanities rather than theology. Prior to the Reformation and the wave of Humanist thought permeating Europe, John Calvin would have been just another heretic in a long list of heretics attacking the theological foundations of the Church. But because of the Reformation John Calvin had an audience sympathetic to change and receptive to syncretism of the humanities and Christian theology. "

The discussion of the impact of humanism is tangential to this discussion. One could argue for the positive impact of humanism as well. What I want to get at is which philosophical pagan paradigms did Calvin use to interpret the Bible? This is the crucial key to this discussion.

10. The Issue at hand
"Now, to establish that Calvin was influenced by Humanism one must examine the greatest of his works “Institutes of the Christian Religion”. We must identify specific themes or positions that depart from orthodox theological thought to show their relationship with pagan philosophy. In part two of my exposition I will attempt to show such a relationship and presupposition in Calvin’s approach to theology."

I can appreciate that Fr. Joseph wrote a basic introduction to his position. However, i've noted a fair amount of tangents, lack of definitions, and possible lack of understanding of my own position. This last point from Fr. Joseph is the heart of the discussion- but a sufficient ground to enter into this study is lacking for him.