Sunday, December 31, 2006

Pope Damasus and the Canon of Scripture (Part Two)

Previously, I pointed out the inconsistency Roman Catholics face when positing Pope Damasus decreed the final canon of Scripture in the year 382. Recall, Tiber Jumper on his blog Crossed the Tiber stated:

“It was at the Council of Rome in 382 that St. Pope Damasus decreed the final canon of Scripture. Often, it is said that the Council of Trent codified the canon of Scripture after the reformation, but the evidence points to this early council as the when the canon was finalized. The Council of Trent reiterated the canon in a response to the reformer's revision of the historic canon.”

There are a few key words in this statement, particularly “codified” and “reiterated”. “Codified” is a term pertaining to arrangement in a systematic form. “Reiterated,” means, “to do over again”. What the statement above is saying is that Pope Damasus at the Council of Rome “codified” or “finalized” the final arrangement of the Canon, while Trent “reiterated” the Canon, or just declared the same thing over. In other words, the Roman Catholic Church, according to Tiber Jumper, needed to say the same infallible thing twice. Perhaps the news of the Canon wasn't disseminated well enough. Or, perhaps there was not an infallible pronouncement on the canon for the Roman church, even as late as the 16th Century.

Contrary to the red words above, the New Catholic Encyclopedia states:

"According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books, i.e., about their belonging to the canon. The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament Canon. That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent” (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, The Canon).

Here we find two Roman Catholic sources, one reputable, one the work of a layman who swam across the Tiber, saying the exact opposite thing. True indeed, Trent was a reaction to issues raised by the Reformers. However, the New Encyclopedia doesn’t make that connection, and leaves a bald statement inferring it was within the Church proper that there was “doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books.” In fact, this link by William Webster gives a good sampling of those rejecting the apocryphal books previous to the Reformation.

Now, I did point some of this out to Tiber Jumper. He responded:

“I certainly wouldn't take my word over the Church's position in any issue! But perhaps, the issue you find here is the language which Trent used regarding the canon vs the language I used in my post. Perhaps Trent was the first Council to use the language "infallible decision" to finally and with its apostolic authority put an end to the debate reignited when the reformers rejected the canon that had been accepted since the early Church Councils. The Catholic Church has always had dissenters within its ranks but at the end of the day, when Rome speaks, that settles it.(St Augustine )”

TJ's comments are like trying to paste two types of jello together with a thumbtack. Recall in the alleged decree from Damasus, he is reported as saying:“…the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This type of sentiment put forth sounds strikingly like what the Roman Church says "goes".

According to Tiber Jumper, the Canon was finalized in 382, but needed to be given in “infallible decision” language at Trent. It should be immediately asked: Are there any qualified Church Historians that state this? Probably not, since most reputable Catholic historians steer clear of the Council of Rome- simply because no formal information on what took place at this Council exists in the historical record. Tiber Jumper went on to quote from the Old Catholic Encyclopedia:

“During the deliberations of the Council there never was any real question as to the reception of all the traditional Scripture. Neither--and this is remarkable--in the proceedings is there manifest any serious doubt of the canonicity of the disputed writings. In the mind of the Tridentine Fathers they had been virtually canonized, by the same decree of Florence, and the same Fathers felt especially bound by the action of the preceding ecumenical synod. The Council of Trent did not enter into an examination of the fluctuations in the history of the Canon. Neither did it trouble itself about questions of authorship or character of contents. True to the practical genius of the Latin Church, it based its decision on immemorial tradition as manifested in the decrees of previous councils and popes, and liturgical reading, relying on traditional teaching and usage to determine a question of tradition. The Tridentine catalogue has been given above."

Contrary to this statement from the Old Catholic Encyclopedia, there were indeed questions about the Old Testament canon at Trent. There was a group of scholars at the Council that were considered fairly knowledgeable on this issue. One particular was Cardinal Seripando. The Roman Catholic historian (and expert on Trent) Hubert Jedin explained “…[H]e was aligned with the leaders of a minority that was outstanding for its theological scholarship” at the Council of Trent. These men lobbied for the non-inclusion of the apocryphal books. For more information on this, see my blog entry: Who Were Some of the Best Scholars At Trent, and What Did They Think of the Apocrypha? .

Even more significant as proof that it wasn’t only Protestants questioning the apocrypha, the very prominent papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan, the very man sent by the Pope to question Luther at Augsburg, likewise denied their canonicity. In 1532, Cajetan wrote his Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament. In this work, Cajetan leaves out the entirety of the Apocrypha since he did not consider it to be Canonical. Cajetan said,

“Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the Bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorised in the canon of the Bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.”

But really, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t first determine the Canon anyway. Eric Svendsen points out:

“The [Roman] Catholic Church did not first determine the canon. It was the Eastern Orthodox church that came up with the list of twenty-seven books [of the New Testament canon] first. The consensus by the Eastern church was decided in 367, and the twenty-seven books were included in Athanasius’ Easter letter from Alexandria. This decision was made twenty-six years before [the council of] Hippo. The Western (Roman) church accepted a canon that did not include the book of Hebrews, but eventually followed the East in including all twenty-seven books. In other words, the Roman church relied upon the Eastern Orthodox church for her canon. Far from making an infallible decision, the Roman church, at Hippo and Carthage, simply adopted the decision of the Eastern church. Therefore, the canon that we currently have is the work of the Eastern Orthodox church, which does not claim magisterial infallibility. Catholics must rely on the decision of the Eastern church and cannot claim to have determined the canon themselves.” [Source: Eric Svendsen, Evangelical Answers: A Critique of Current Roman Catholic Apologists (New York: Reformation Press, 1999), 66]

Next Entry: Why Does It Matter?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New E-Mail Address



To all my friends and foes: I have changed Internet providers. My e-mail address of the last 7 years will no longer work (Tertiumquid@msn.com).

But, hard to believe as it is, I was able to get a new e-mail address very similar to the old one:

Tertiumquid@optonline.net


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pope Damasus and the Canon of Scripture (Part One)

I’ve been curiously stopping by the blog, Crossed the Tiber (run by a person named “Tiber Jumper”). I guess in terms of “blog-marketing,” this blog title catches my interest, as I am a regular “blog-consumer” so to speak. I was interested by the entry, St. Damasus and the Canon of Scripture. This entry asserts:

“It was at the Council of Rome in 382 that St. Pope Damasus decreed the final canon of Scripture. Often, it is said that the Council of Trent codified the canon of Scripture after the reformation, but the evidence points to this early council as the when the canon was finalized. The Council of Trent reiterated the canon in a response to the reformer's revision of the historic canon.”

The canon as allegedly defined by Damasus includes the apocryphal books, so it's important for Catholics that the statement from this early Pope be used as historical proof for the Bible they claim their Church has infallibly defined. As usual, my questions and critique focuses on the consistency of Roman Catholic paradigms, and the certainty Roman Catholics claim to have. And as usual, upon closer scrutiny, it will be shown the distinct position held by the Catholic writer above on the canon is not consistent, nor does the historical record provide any certainty for the beliefs espoused above. The historical record is important in Catholicism, because the claim made by the current batch of Catholic apologists is that Rome provides “certainty”.

1. The Council of Rome was not an Ecumenical Council
First of all, Roman Catholics are supposed to believe that Concilliar statements which bind all Christians are those put forth by Ecumenical Councils. The Catholic Encyclopedia points out: “Ecumenical Councils are those to which the bishops, and others entitled to vote, are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) under the presidency of the pope or his legates, and the decrees of which, having received papal confirmation, bind all Christians.” Was the Council of Rome an Ecumenical Council? No it was not. It was a local council. Were the decrees issues by this council then infallible binding pronouncements for the universal church? No. The Catholic Encyclopedia states, “….only the decisions of ecumenical councils and the ex cathedra teaching of the pope have been treated as strictly definitive in the canonical sense, and the function of the magisterium ordinarium has been concerned with the effective promulgation and maintenance of what has been formally defined by the magisterium solemne or may be legitimately deduced from its definitions.” So, in terms of the council of Rome being a binding council for all Christians, it was not. Here we find that whatever was said at the Council of Rome cannot bind all Christians. Whatever was said at the Council of Rome can provide no certainty for a Roman Catholic. Hence, it cannot be true, in a consistent Roman Catholic paradigm, that the Council of Rome infallibly decreed the final Canon.

2. Did Pope Damasus Speak Infallibly at the Council of Rome?
But the Pope was at the Council of Rome, was he not? Doesn’t this mean what he said at this local council binds the universal church? In the decree on the Canon, Damasus is reported as saying:

“…the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Here we can infer that the statement on the Canon issued by Damasus is infallible because the Roman Church and Pope speak infallibly. But here is a rarely cited fact by the defenders of Rome. The statement above, and indeed, the entire statement from Damasus listing the Canonical books, probably didn’t come from Damasus. F.F. Bruce notes,

What is commonly called the Gelasian decree on books which are to be received and not received takes its name from Pope Gelasius (492-496). It gives a list of biblical books as they appeared in the Vulgate, with the Apocrypha interspersed among the others. In some manuscripts, indeed, it is attributed to Pope Damasus, as though it had been promulgated by him at the Council of Rome in 382. But actually it appears to have been a private compilation drawn up somewhere in Italy in the early sixth century. (Source: F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988], p. 97)

So this statement from Damasus didn’t actually come from Damasus. In fact, as far as I know, there isn’t a written formal record of the proceedings at the Council of Rome to have certainty exactly what was said or decreed. Much historical speculation then surrounds the decree of the Canon by Damasus. The bottom line though, is that Roman Catholics cannot have any certainty on the accuracy of this statement. Of course, they are free to believe it, but they do so on faith, not on historical verification. Thus to be deep in history, is not to be certain that the Roman Catholic Church infallibly defined the Canon in 382.

-continued-

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Guest Blog: Captivation of the Will and Mariology

by Frank Marron (Lutheran)

Martin Luther gradually came out of medieval Roman Catholicism, which included an incorrect view of Mary in the role of salvation. Eventually, Luther’s writings reflect a man whose entire thinking became conformed to the Word of God, rather than held hostage to human traditions, empty philosophies, myths, legends, and human reason/logic. Luther matured to the point that whenever there was any apparent conflict between his human reason and the plain Word of God, the Scriptures always trumped the other.

Luther believed his greatest writing was The Bondage of the Will, and most theologians of all ages have had difficulty with this truth because their natural wills are bound and they cannot yield to the Holy Spirit. The bible is rather plain and easy to understand- the problem is that sinners do not want to receive the truths contained therein, including most theologians! Luther’s adversary during this confrontation was the genius Erasmus, who simply could and would not believe that all men are born with Satan as the rider of their wills. The Reformation was not intended to reform the Church, but rather reform preaching, The reason for this is that if one falsely believes men can choose correctly in spiritual matters, then sermons will always be oriented to encourage correct choices, as in many modern day lectures from Joel Osteen and Rick Warren, for example. On the other hand, if one believes all men are born DEAD in sin and in bondage to Satan(Ephesians 2:5; Col 1:13), then the sermons will preach Christ crucified for sinners and the emphasis will be on the accomplishment of Christ for sinners and the Means of Grace by which men are credited with His work. The emphasis in good preaching will be to allow the Holy Spirit to create and sustain faith by the Word of God so that the Holy Spirit becomes the rider of the human will rather than Satan. With the Lord in command of an individual’s will and a new heart, good works pleasing to God, referred to as fruits of the Holy Spirit, will automatically come forth.

What does this have to do with Mariology? Everything! If a person wishes to allow his human reason to be master over Holy Scripture, then it makes total sense that since Jesus was born without sin, his biological mother must also be sinless. Of course this ignores the domino-like reasoning which would say that the mother of Mary, Ann, would have of necessity also been sinless, as her mother before her, and so on and so forth. Human reason can readily accept such logic, even though Scripture clearly states that all are born dead in sin and slaves to Satan(Romans 3:23). The difficulty is that sinful men cannot accept the plain Word of God that Jesus was born sinless and that his biological mother was born in sin like all humans. Mary even confessed her need for the Savior (Luke 1:47).Humans continue to attempt to impose their fallible human reasoning in order to understand everything about God, whether revealed in Scripture or not. Most truth about God remains hidden from humans. Only that which God has deemed sufficient for salvation has been revealed in Scripture(2Tim 3:16; John 20:30ff). How the Son of God can become incarnate in the womb of the virgin and be unstained by sin is not something we humans can totally grasp with our brains, but instead we confess, or say back, to God what He has revealed to us. We are the pots and He is the master potter. When the Holy Spirit has created faith in our hearts, then it is easy to acknowledge what Scripture says about sin, death, Satan, Jesus, and Mary. Until saving faith is received it is difficult to deal with spiritual issues. In fact, unbelievers cannot understand anything spiritual(1Cor 2:14).

The entire issue of Mary and her sin is of the devil, who always attempts to tear our eyes off of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith(Hebrews 12:2). Sometimes Satan even works miracles to do so, referred to as signs and false wonders(2Thess 2:9). As Luther discovered, believers must cleave to Christ at all times and not be persuaded by emotion or reason but rather the plain Word of God. The entire issue of Mary is one inherited from the confusion of the medieval period. The reason Mary was a virgin was not that being a virgin is anything special spiritually speaking, but rather it demonstrates the miraculous from God. Being a virgin doesn’t necessarily denote purity because God has always been interested in a person’s heart condition and motives(e.g. Psalm 51:10; Psalm 73:1), not their physical stature. Sure, being a virgin prior to marriage is the will of God, but so are pure thoughts. Virgins are sinners with impure thoughts as much as those who abuse their gifts of sexuality. The hang-ups with virginity and Mary ignore the critical importance of a pure heart, which only God the Holy Spirit can generate in a person through the Means of Grace.

Was Mary saved? I believe she was saved in exactly the same fashion as any human. She heard the Word of God from the angel, the fetus Jesus and faith were spontaneously generated in her body heart, and her mind started to be renewed to this faith as she pondered everything. Her faith was able to generate love, trust, and obedience to God as the Holy Spirit filled her heart and controlled her will. As time passed she, like the apostles, grew in her human understanding of the revealed will of God as manifested in Jesus the Messiah/Christ. Mary’s righteousness was foreign to her human nature, one that was reckoned to her by Christ through faith. The righteousness of Christ became Mary’s ticket to heaven, not her own unrighteousness and sinfulness. Although she played a special role in salvation history, Mary was saved exactly the way anyone else is: by the grace of God through faith in Jesus alone(Ephesians 2:8-9).

********
Other blog entries by Frank Marron:

Guest Blogger: Frank Marron (Lutheran)

Guest Blog: Law & Gospel

Guest Blog: The Word Of The Lord Endures forever, Not The words Of Martin Luther!

Guest Blog:Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations?

Guest Blog: Bondage Of The Will

Guest Blog: Thoughts on “The Examination of the Council of Trent”

Guest Blog: Properly Dividing Law and Gospel

Guest Blog: The Purpose Driven Life- A Review

Monday, December 18, 2006

Martin Luther and Mary's Assumption

Here’s another one of those “Martin Luther was devoted to Mary” quotes. This time, Luther is said to believe in Mary’s assumption. Here’s the setup:

The Protestant Reformers on Mary
“When Fundamentalists study the writings of the "Reformers" (or founders of their particular sect) on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, they will find that the "Reformers" accepted almost every major Marian doctrine and considered these doctrines to be both scriptural and fundamental to the historic Christian Faith.

After going through perpetual Virginity, and the Immaculate conception, etc, we come to:

Assumption
Although he did not make it an article of faith, Luther said of the doctrine of the Assumption: "There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know."[Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther's Works (Translation by William J. Cole) 10, p. 268].


Source: The Protestant Reformers on Mary (see also the widespread Internet use of this quote).

First, begin with the documentation: William J. Cole did not have anything to do with the Weimar edition of Luther's Works. He was a Roman Catholic scholar who wrote an article on Luther's Mariology many years ago. So, whoever put this webpage together never actually read this quote in an authentic context. The quote is originally from WA 10(3), 268,13 to 269. The translation utilized is from Cole's old article from 1970, "Was Luther a Devotee of Mary?" [Marian Studies XXI].

The quote is from Luther's sermon of August 15, 1522. Cole mentions it was the last time Luther preached on the Feast of the Assumption, which should tip us all off on where Luther was heading with his "Mariology" (recall, Luther lived till 1546, thus this comment comes very early in his "Reformation."). Cole quotes Luther as saying,

"There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know. And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith."

Now, one could say here that Luther leaves the door open for Mary's assumption. Perhaps he did in 1522. Cole doesn't give us enough of a context to know what Luther was talking about. Interesting though is the sentence, “And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith”. Here we find Luther living up to “Sola Scriptura.” One is not believe in the Assumption. It is not to be an article of faith.

In Luther's later writings on Genesis towards the end of his career though, he discusses how the Scriptures do not record the death of many Biblical women, including Mary. Luther is discussing how the Bible details the death and burial of Sarah:

Then one should much rather consider how Abraham delivered a beautiful funeral address about Sarah. For in the Holy Scriptures no other matron is so distinguished. Her years, lives, conduct, and burial place are described. In the eyes of God, therefore, Sarah was an extraordinary jewel on whom extraordinary love was bestowed, and she is mentioned deservedly by Peter as an exemplar for all saintly wives. He says (1 Peter 3:6) that she called Abraham lord and that “you are her daughters.” To all Christian matrons Peter holds her up as a mother.

Scripture has no comments even on the death of other matriarchs, just as it makes no mention of how many years Eve lived and of where she died. Of Rachel it is recorded that she died in childbirth (Gen. 35:16–19). All the other women it passes over and covers with silence, with the result that we have no knowledge of the death of Mary, the mother of Christ. Sarah alone has this glory, that the definite number of her years, the time of her death, and the place of her burial are described. Therefore this is great praise and very sure proof that she was precious in the eyes of God."

Interestingly, Cole goes on to point out that Luther "used strong language....for the elimination of the Assumption as an aspect of the 'hypocritical church',” particularly in celebrating a feast for it. Cole cites Luther as saying in 1544:

The feast of the Assumption is totally papist, full of idolatry and without foundation in the Scriptures. But we, even though Mary has gone to heaven, should not bother how she went there. We will not invoke her as our special advocate as the Pope teaches. The pope takes away the honor due to the Ascension of our Lord, Christ, with the result that he has made the mother like her Son in all things.”

In fairness to the work of William Cole, Cole doesn’t take a stance one way or the other if Luther ever held to the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption. He simply says that for Luther the Assumption was of “little importance…” and Luther never explicitly “denied” it either. I disagree with Cole based on the quote from Luther’s later commentary on Genesis. It is simply the case that people in the Bible died. Scripture doesn't tell us how many of them died. On Roman Catholic logic, one might as well suggest all the biblical characters that did not have their deaths mentioned were assumed into Heaven...or, one can simply cease and desist from sophistry.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Research I Would Toss Into The Elbe: Luther Believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary

The other day I stopped in a big chain bookstore and browsed the religious books section. I came across a Protestant/Catholic ‘debate’ book about Mary- two writers from differing perspectives fighting it out on Mary (sorry, but I don’t recall the title). I flipped to the back index to see if Martin Luther was mentioned. Sure enough, he was there. It was of course, the Roman Catholic side that repeatedly brought him up- as if, Luther is somehow relevant to what the Bible says about Mary!

The Roman Catholic writer brought up the alleged “fact” that Luther believed in Mary’s Immaculate Conception. His proof? Catholic historian Hartman Grisar’s book, Luther Vol. IV.[St Louis: B. Herder, 1913]. Did he actually read this old out-of-print book? Probably not, since he pointed out that he got the Grisar / Luther information from another book by a Catholic apologist who simply cited the quote. I’m simply amazed with this. Now, writers are going to print with what I believe is a Luther internet-generated myth. Alleged facts floating around cyber space are treated as truths to be printed and sold.

The Luther quote used was the following:

"It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God's gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin" (Sermon: "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God," 1527")

This quote is frequently cited on Roman Catholic web pages attempting to prove Luther’s lifelong belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Unfortunately, the quote is almost impossible to track down. The sermon is not included in the English edition of Luther’s Works, and to my knowledge, the complete sermon has not been translated into English.

But even more interesting is Hartmann Grisar’s information about the quote. Had the Catholic author in the Mary debate actually checked Grisar's book, I doubt he would’ve used the quote. Grisar cites the source as “Werke,” Erl. Ed., 15 Page 58. Of the quote he says,

The sermon was taken down in notes and published with Luther’s approval. The same statements concerning the Immaculate Conception still remain in a printed edition published in 1529, but in later editions which appeared during Luther’s lifetime they disappear.”

The reason for their disappearance is that as Luther’s Christo-centric theology developed, aspects of Luther’s Mariology were abandoned. Grisar also recognizes the development in Luther's theology. In regards to the Luther quote in question, Grisar says (from a Catholic perspective),

As Luther’s intellectual and ethical development progressed we cannot naturally expect the sublime picture of the pure Mother of God, the type of virginity, of the spirit of sacrifice and of sanctity to furnish any great attraction for him, and as a matter of fact such statements as the above are no longer met with in his later works.”

I doubt any of the modern-day Catholic apologists have ever read this entire sermon from Luther. I doubt they've ever even held the German version in their hand (by the way, I do have a German copy of this sermon). The origin of this quote in cyber-space stems from probably one Catholic apologist with a copy of Grisar's book, and that book wasn't read very carefully.

Irony upon irony, the other day I was tooling around Catholic apologetic sites, and I came across this recent posting by a Catholic apologist:

“The second thing to tell a Protestant wary about Mariology is the little-known fact that Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, believed in the Immaculate Conception (almost exactly the Catholic dogma before it was even required of Catholics). He had a very "high" Mariology. Some claim that he changed his mind later in life, but in my exhaustive research on the topic (in debate with a Reformed seminarian), I found at least 16 Lutheran scholars who contended that he never ceased believing the doctrine.

In 1544 (just two years before his death), he wrote: "God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins." And in 1545 he stated that the Virgin Mary "has not sinned and cannot sin for ever more." If even Martin Luther can accept the actual sinlessness of Mary and freedom from original sin, then any Protestant can do so, because nothing in this doctrine is contrary to Scripture at all, and indeed, "full of grace" (kecharitomene) in Luke 1:28 (rightly understood and deeply examined) is an explicit biblical proof of Mary's freedom from actual sin.”


Let’s work through this batch of mis-information slowly, point by point.

Point #1
The second thing to tell a Protestant wary about Mariology is the little-known fact that Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, believed in the Immaculate Conception (almost exactly the Catholic dogma before it was even required of Catholics).”

Why is Luther’s opinion on Mary’s Immaculate Conception relevant to the truth or falsity of this Roman Catholic dogma? It shouldn’t factor into the discussion at all. The battle should be fought in the Bible- the place where the very words of almighty God reside. If ever a Roman Catholic apologist tries to tell you this “second thing”, stop him immediately and state, “Who cares what Luther believed about the Immaculate Conception!”

But, if the Catholic apologist insists on discussing Luther’s opinion on Mary, you can point out that Luther’s opinion was not “almost exactly the Catholic dogma before it was even required of Catholics”. A careful reading of Luther will not support the 1854 Roman Catholic version of the Immaculate Conception. Perhaps Luther believed something similar to the 1854 view early in his life, but the later position Luther held was that Mary was purified at Christ’s birth, not at her birth. Believing that Mary was purified at Christ's birth is not close to believing Mary lived a sinless life.

Point #2
“[Luther] had a very "high" Mariology. Some claim that he changed his mind later in life, but in my exhaustive research on the topic (in debate with a Reformed seminarian), I found at least 16 Lutheran scholars who contended that he never ceased believing the doctrine.”

First, Luther indeed had a Mariology (and it was not a "high Mariology"). It reflected his commitment to Christ, and stood in antithesis to popular Catholic belief in the sixteenth century. As Luther’s theology grew, elements of his Mariology were rejected, minimized, or reinterpreted as he clung to and developed his commitment to solus Christus. It would be incorrect to think that Luther spent a tremendous amount of time on writing about Mary. True, he wrote about her, but when this topic is compared to his vast literary output, one gets a good idea of how minimally he actually discussed Mary. For example, when one actually reads Luther’s Marian sermons, one finds that Mary is usually not the main subject, Christ is. Hence, Luther generally emphasized Mary far less than Roman Catholics do (both then and now). So, don't fall for this line about Luther having a "high Mariology". It simply isn't an accurate way to describe Luther on this subject.

Second, I know a little bit about reformed seminarians. These are the type that spend months researching this topic in multiple libraries for a very long time before writing on this subject. Some Catholic apologists seem to take about a week or so to throw up a webpage on Luther’s Mariology, but not the reformed seminarians I know (they actually try to locate contexts in which Luther said x or y before they write about it). I, being a reformed seminarian, actually wrote a paper one time on Luther's Mariology for a graduate level class, and had it graded by a Reformation expert: a published author with many books written about the Reformation. In other words, my paper was scrutinized by an expert. It appears to me, those Catholic apologists that have written on this subject just write whatever they want. Perhaps they should bring their materials to an expert before posting them on the world wide web.

Third, one can ask a Catholic apologist how truth is determined in historical studies. Is the study of history simply doing a head count of who says what? In my world, historical points are made by providing evidence, and making a point based on that evidence. While head-counts are interesting, they are not conclusive.

Point #3
In 1544 (just two years before his death), he wrote: "God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins." And in 1545 he stated that the Virgin Mary "has not sinned and cannot sin for ever more."”

Of course, the first thing one should ask about these quotes is a simple one word question, “where?” Toward the end of his life in 1544 Luther denied any notion that Mary was purified at her conception. Rather she was purified at the conception of Christ:

“…Christ was truly born from true and natural flesh and human blood which was corrupted by original sin in Adam, but in such a way that it could be healed. Thus we, who are encompassed by sinful flesh, believe and hope that on the day of our redemption the flesh will be purged of and separated from all infirmities, from death, and from disgrace; for sin and death are separable evils. Accordingly, when it came to the Virgin and that drop of virginal blood, what the angel said was fulfilled: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you”. To be sure, the Messiah was not born by the power of flesh and blood, as is stated in John 1:13: “Not of blood nor of the will of a man, etc.”  Nevertheless, He wanted to be born from the mass of the flesh and from that corrupted blood. But in the moment of the Virgin’s conception the Holy Spirit purged and sanctified the sinful mass and wiped out the poison of the devil and death, which is sin. Although death remained in that flesh on our account, the leaven of sin was nevertheless purged out, and it became the purest flesh, purified by the Holy Spirit and united with the divine nature in one Person. Therefore it is truly human nature no different from what it is in us. And Christ is the Son of Adam and of his seed and flesh, but, as has been stated, with the Holy Spirit overshadowing it, active in it, and purging it, in order that it might be fit for this most innocent conception and the pure and holy birth by which we were to be purged and freed from sin. Therefore these things are written for Christ’s sake. The Holy Spirit wanted Him to sink into sin as deeply as possible. Consequently, He had to be besmirched with incest and born from incestuous blood.”

Further, one should ask the Catholic apologist saying things like Luther said “that the Virgin Mary "has not sinned and cannot sin for ever more"” if they know how to read materials in context. It is obvious from the context that Luther’s statement on Mary is highly rhetorical and sarcastic. In context, Luther is actually calling the Pope “the pure Virgin Mary who has not sinned and cannot sin for ever more.” Using this reference to substantiate Luther’s lifelong commitment to the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception is quite a stretch. Not only is Luther insulting the pope, he isn’t even in the mode of presenting an explanation of doctrine. He’s using the phrase, “the pure Virgin Mary who has not sinned” as an insult.

Point #4
If even Martin Luther can accept the actual sinlessness of Mary and freedom from original sin, then any Protestant can do so, because nothing in this doctrine is contrary to Scripture at all, and indeed, "full of grace" (kecharitomene) in Luke 1:28 (rightly understood and deeply examined) is an explicit biblical proof of Mary's freedom from actual sin.”

But it doesn’t matter what Martin Luther held about Mary. Luther is not the standard by which truth is determined for Protestants. He is not the litmus test for Biblical truth. For instance, Luther believed his generation would see the end of the world. His later writings have an intensity about the impending judgment day. Was Luther right? No.

Secondly, a particular theological point or perspective does not qualify as truth simply because it does not contradict Scripture. This is a mantra-like Catholic argument: “We believe it, it may not be in the Bible, but it doesn’t contradict the Bible, therefore it is true.” One must argue against these sophists that the Bible teaches us assertions. It gives us content. It is human sinfulness that seeks to add to that content, and will use whatever logic necessary to justify what one wants to believe.

Now, I don't mean to be unkind, but the more I study Roman Catholic issues, and the more I interact with their work, the more I'm convinced their materials are the "cunning and craftiness of men..." These are strong words, but those who attempt to supplement the Bible with materials that are tue because they aren't "contrary to Scripture" need to be avoided. Does that mean I hate Roman Catholics, or even those who write Catholic Apologetics? not at all. I have nothing personal against them. I do though think their materials need to scrutinized and shown to be in error.

I read a very apt quote from Albert Barnes recently:

"The truth is "to be spoken" - the simple, unvarnished truth. This is the way to avoid error, and this is the way to preserve others from error. In opposition to all trick, and art, and cunning, and fraud, and deception, Christians are to speak the simple truth, and nothing but the truth. Every statement which they make should be unvarnished truth; every promise which they make should be true; every representation which they make of the sentiments of others should he simple truth. "Truth is the representation of things as they are;" and there is no virtue that is more valuable in a Christian than the love of simple truth."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

On John Calvin's "Mariology"

Tiber Jumper asks:
“Did Calvin also later on eschew his Marian devotion ? I heard the same argument that he was a Marian devote but perhaps that isn't true as well?”
I haven’t come across a lot of material on Calvin’s “Mariology”. The only detailed article that I have is by the Catholic historian Thomas O’Meara. His book, Mary in Protestant and Catholic Thought [New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963] has the only chapter I’ve ever read with a detailed look at Calvin’s understanding of Mary. O’Meara states:

Martin Luther can hardly be said to have written a Marian theology, and yet he did compose works which center on Mary, a commentary on the Magnificat, sermons for her feast days. This is not the case with Calvin. Except for his commentaries on the early chapters of Luke and his sermons on this same area of the New Testament, Calvin treats Mary only in passing.” [Source: O’Meara, 125]

But this lack of information doesn’t stop people from making claims about John Calvin’s Mariology. A few years back, the following was posted on a discussion board by a Roman Catholic:

Protestant Father’s view of Mary
John Calvin: "Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages of the brothers of Christ."(Calvin translated "brothers" in this context to mean cousins or relatives.) [Bernard Leeming, "Protestants and Our Lady", Marian Library Studies, January 1967, p.9].


"It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor." [John Calvin, Calvini Opera , Volume 45, 348.]

"To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son." [John Calvin, A Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke (St. Andrew's Press, Edinburgh, 1972), p.32.].

My Response:

In regards to the first Calvin quote:

"Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages of the brothers of Christ." (Calvin translated "brothers" in this context to mean cousins or relatives.) [Bernard Leeming, "Protestants and Our Lady", Marian Library Studies, January 1967, p.9].

The quote is from Calvin’s commentary on Mathew 13:55:

55. Is not this the carpenter’s son? It was, we are aware, by the wonderful purpose of God, that Christ remained in private life till he was thirty years of age. Most improperly and unjustly, therefore, were the inhabitants of Nazareth offended on this account; for they ought rather to have received him with reverence, as one who had suddenly come down from heaven. They see God working in Christ, and intentionally turn away their eyes from this sight, to behold Joseph, and Mary, and all his relatives; thus interposing a veil to shut out the clearest light. The word brothers, we have formerly mentioned, is employed, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, to denote any relatives whatever; and, accordingly, Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s brothers are sometimes mentioned.

On this same topic, Calvin says in commentary on Matthew 1:25

25. And knew her not. This passage afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary’s perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.

Calvin’s point is to say that a necessary inference that Mary had other children cannot be made from the Biblical texts of Matthew 13:55 and 1:25. Calvin’s main point is that the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards to Mary. Calvin calls it “folly” at one point, when describing those who wish to make a text say more than it does. Those who would make a necessary inference where the Gospel writer has only made a possible inference engage in folly (according to Calvin). So it can’t really be concluded that Calvin is teaching here Mary’s perpetual virginity, it sounds to me as if Calvin is simply being careful. While I myself would make the inference from these passages that Mary had other children, It cannot be concluded that Calvin believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity, or her “sinlessness”, only that Calvin held the gospel writer does not explicitly say, one way or the other. Interestingly, this conclusion was reached similarly by William Bouwsma in his book, John Calvin: A 16th Century Portrait. He says in a footnote on p.275, "Among matters on which (Calvin) discouraged speculation were the order of angels and the perpetual virginity of Mary."

In regards to the second Calvin quote you provided:

"It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor." [John Calvin, Calvini Opera , Volume 45, 348].

Well, thanks for translating this from the Latin. Imagine, 45 volumes of Calvin in Latin! But it probably would have been much easier to simply look up the quote in Calvin’s commentaries, which have been in English for many years. That’s me, I’m lazy. I’d rather just have the English.

This quote comes from Calvin’s commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels (vol. 2). The exact reference is Luke 11:27(page 64 in my version). The context is as follows:

Luke 11:27. Blessed is the womb. By this eulogium the woman intended to magnify the excellence of Christ; for she had no reference to Mary, whom, perhaps, she had never seen. And yet it tends in a high degree to illustrate the glory of Christ, that she pronounces the womb that bore him to be noble and blessed. Nor was the blessing inappropriate, but in strict accordance with the manner of Scripture; for we know thatoffspring, and particularly when endued with distinguished virtues, is declared to be a remarkable gift of God, preferable to all others. It cannot even be denied that God conferred the highest honor on Mary, by choosing and appointing her to be the mother of his Son. And yet Christ’s reply is so far from assenting to this female voice, that it contains an indirect reproof.

What Calvin says, I know no Protestant would deny. I, as Calvinist know that in God’s providence Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus Christ. Indeed, that is a great honor. Calvin goes on though to the real point of this text. He says,

Nay, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God. We see that Christ treats almost as a matter of indifference that point on which the woman had set a high value. And undoubtedly what she supposed to be Mary’s highest honor was far inferior to the other favors which she had received; for it was of vastly greater importance to be regenerated by the Spirit of God than to conceive Christ, according to the flesh, in her womb; to have Christ living spiritually within her than to suckle him with her breasts. In a word, the highest happiness and glory of the holy Virgin consisted in her being a member of his Son, so that the heavenly Father reckoned her in the number of new creatures. In my opinion, however, it was for another reason, and with a view to another object, that Christ now corrected the saying of the woman. It was because men are commonly chargeable with neglecting even those gifts of God, on which they gaze with astonishment, and bestow the highest praise. This woman, in applauding Christ, had left out what was of the very highest consequence, that in him salvation is exhibited to all; and, therefore, it was a feeble commendation, that made no mention of his grace and power, which is extended to all. Christ justly claims for himself another kind of praise, not that his mother alone is reckoned blessed, but that he brings to us all perfect and eternal happiness. We never form a just estimate of the excellence of Christ, till we consider for what purpose he was given to us by the Father, and perceive the benefits which he has brought to us, so that we who are wretched in ourselves may becomehappy in him. But why does he say nothing about himself, and mention only the word of God? It is because in this way he opens to us all his treasures; for without the word he has no intercourse with us, nor we with him. Communicating himself to us by the word, he rightly and properly calls us to hear and keep it, that by faith he may become ours.

So, in Calvin’s estimate, though it was an “honor” for Mary to bear Christ Jesus, much more important was that she was given spiritual life by our Lord. In fact all of us are blessed if we are given spiritual life by Jesus.

In my estimation, to yank one sentence out of Calvin’s commentary about Mary and think it represents Calvin as a firm supporter of Roman Catholic Mariology is just not an accurate way to handle texts.

Calvin on the Hail Mary, and what it means to call Mary "blessed"

"Next comes the third clause, that she (Mary) is blessed among women. Blessing is here putdown as the result and proof of the Divine kindness. The word Blessed does not, in my opinion, mean, Worthy of praise; but rather means,Happy. Thus, Paul often supplicates for believers, first “grace” and then “peace,” (Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:2,) that is, every kind of blessings; implying that we shall then be truly happy and rich, when we are beloved by God, from whom all blessings proceed. But if Mary’s happiness, righteousness, and life, flow from the undeserved love of God, if her virtues and all her excellence are nothing more than the Divine kindness, it is the height of absurdity to tell us that we should seek from her what she derives from another quarter in the same manner as ourselves.

With extraordinary ignorance have the Papists, by an enchanter’s trick, changed this salutation into a prayer, and have carried their folly so far, that their preachers are not permitted, in the pulpit, to implore the grace of the Spirit, except through their Hail, Mary. But not only are these words a simple congratulation. They unwarrantably assume an office which does not belong to them, and which God committed to none but an angel. Their silly ambition leads them into a second blunder, for they salute a person who is absent.

So much for Calvin, the great supporter of Roman Catholic Mariology!

In regards to the third Calvin quote you provided:

"To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son."[John Calvin, A Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke (St. Andrew's Press, Edinburgh, 1972), p.32].

As opposed to the previous Calvin quote in Latin you opted for the English translation. Excellent. Let’s see the quote in context:

42. Blessed art thou. She seems to put Mary and Christ on an equal footing, which would have been highly improper. But I cheerfully agree with those who think that the second clause assigns the reason; for and often signifies because. Accordingly, Elisabeth affirms, that her cousin was blessed on account of the blessedness of her child. To carry Christ in her womb was not Mary’s first blessedness, but was greatly inferior to the distinction of being born again by the Spirit of God to a new life. Yet she is justly called blessed, on whom God bestowed the remarkable honor of bringing into the world his own Son, through whom she had been spiritually renewed. And at this day, the blessedness brought to us by Christ cannot be the subject of our praise, without reminding us, at the same time, of the distinguished honor which God was pleased to bestow on Mary, in making her the mother of his Only Begotten Son.

This quote is very similar to the second quote you used from Calvin. Calvin again notes degrees of ‘blessedness’. There really isn’t anything shocking or non-Protestant at what Calvin says here about Mary. Indeed, it was a great honor for Mary to be the Mother of Jesus. But is Calvin saying to honor Mary? Hardly. Is he saying to Venerate Mary? No. Is he saying to pray to Mary? No. He’s simply reminding his readers to remember what an honor it was for Mary to be the mother of Jesus.

Here's an interesting closing comment to our study thus far from Calvin:

"We all know the epithets which (the Papacy) applied to Mary — styling her the gate of heaven, hope, life, and salvation; and to such a degree of infatuation and madness had they proceeded, that they even gave her a right to order Christ! For still in many churches is heard the execrable and impious stanza, “Ask the Father; command the Son.” In terms in no respect more modest do they celebrate certain of the saints, and these, too, saints oftheir own making, i.e., individuals whom they, on their own judgment,have admitted into the catalogue of saints. For, among the multitude of praises which they sing to Claud, they call him “the light of the blind,” “the guide of the erring,” “the life and resurrection of the dead.” The forms of prayer in daily use are stuffed with similar blasphemies. The Lord denounces the severest threatenings against those who, either in oaths or in prayers, confounded his name with Baalim. What vengeance, then, impends over our heads when we not only confound him with saints as minor gods, but with signal insult rob Christ of the proper and peculiar titles with which he is distinguished, in order that we may bestow them on creatures? Were we to be silent here, also, and by perfidious silence call down on ourselves his heavy judgments?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Crossing the Tiber and Bringing Luther With You

I followed the link James White gave to a blogger who calls himself, "Tiber Jumper". I found one of those "Luther wants you to pray the Hail Mary" quotes. The brief discussion in which I engaged TJ can be found here:

Magnificat: A Canticle of Mary, A Lesson for Us

The Luther quote used:

"Our prayer should include the Mother of God . . . What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!" You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor . . . We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her . . . He who has no faith is advised to refrain from saying the Hail Mary."

Roman Catholic criticism of Martin Luther is rampant in cyber-space. Fairly common topics include: Luther’s alleged antinomianism, his rejection of certain canonical books, his alleged desire to be a Protestant pope, and some even argue Luther’s partial responsibility for Nazi Germany. Interestingly though, when it comes to the topic of Mary, Roman Catholic sentiment towards Luther shifts considerably. Luther becomes the staunch supporter of Mary; a leader that all contemporary Protestants should learn a great lesson in Mariology from. This drastic shift is puzzling; particularly since Luther’s abandoning of the intercession of the saints and his doctrine of justification significantly changes his Marian approach.

Luther abandoned the most significant aspect of Roman Catholic Mariology: the intercession of Mary. Truly, this is the doctrine that defines Roman Catholic Mariology.Without a doctrine of the intercession of Mary, this woman and her attributes become less important in Luther’s theology.

The man who only a few years earlier called upon her, concluded that “those who bless her with many rosaries and constantly mouth the Hail Mary… speak evil against Christ’s word and faith in the worst way.” Their prayers to her are an evil deed against both her and her son. With the popular "Hail Mary" prayer, Luther reinterpreted it for his readers, again shifting the emphasis of praise to Mary to veneration of God alone.

Luther knew that prayers to, and faith in the saints violated the First Commandment. In his understanding, the role of faith or trust in the First Commandment determines whether one worships the true God, or an idol. To have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe in Him with the whole heart. This trust and the faith of the heart alone make either God or an idol. If faith and trust are “right,” then your god is the true God. If it is wrong, then you do not have the true God. That to which the heart clings is really your God. If your heart clings and entrusts itself to something God has made, then your faith is wrong, and you are caught in your sin, and you stand under the crushing condemnation of God’s law.

Even early in his Reformation career, Luther began changing the emphasis on Mary, and de-emphasizing the importance of her attributes:

Take note of this: no one should put his trust or confidence in the Mother of God or in her merits, for such trust is worthy of God alone and is the lofty service due only to him. Rather praise and thank God through Mary and the grace given her. Laud and love her simply as the one who, without merit, obtained such blessings from God, sheerly out of his mercy, as she herself testifies in the Magnificat."

But what does Luther mean by “through Mary”? Luther does not mean, “by praying to her,” but rather by thanking God for creating such a noble, blessed, person. The words of the Hail Mary are, according to Luther, “neither a prayer nor an invocation” and “are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor” to God. Note the following quotes from Luther:

"Therefore we should make the Hail Mary neither a prayer nor an invocation because it is improper to interpret the words beyond what they mean in themselves and beyond the meaning given them by the Holy Spirit."

“…her giving birth is blessed in that it was spared the curse upon all children of Eve who are conceived in sin and born to deserve death and damnation. Only the fruit of her body is blessed, and through this birth we are all blessed.”

“…in the present no one speaks evil of this Mother and her Fruit as much as those who bless her with many rosaries and constantly mouth the Hail Mary. These, more than any others, speak evil against Christ’s word and faith in the worst way."

"Therefore, notice that this Mother and her Fruit are blessed in a twofold way—bodily and spiritually. Bodily with lips and the words of the Hail Mary; such persons blaspheme and speak evil of her most dangerously. And spiritually [one blesses her] in one’s heart by praise and benediction for her child, Christ—for all his words, deeds, and sufferings. And no one does this except he who has the true Christian faith because without such faith no heart is good but is by nature stuffed full of evil speech and blasphemy against God and all his saints.”

All this to say, if TJ wants to practice Roman Catholic Mariology, I suggest he leaves Luther on the side of the Tiber in which he belongs. Luther will not champion the Roman Catholic cause. There is a particular effort among Catholic laymen apologists to use Luther as a "devotee of Mary". It's actually a farce if one does the research.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Theological Ear Candy

I don’t normally do blog entries dedicated to intentionally advertising other websites, but this one just happens to show what someone with a computer, some great books, and a microphone can do.

This link, Radio Apologia, is a goldmine of audio recordings of great Reformed and apologetic books, done by someone who’s not a “reading professional”, but yet does an adequate job making the material available for listening. Here is a selection that I’ve downloaded and listened to:

Holy Scripture Ground and Pillar of Truth by David King [play now] [download]

This is a reading of chapter 6, “Scripture: The Only Infallible Norm” from the King/Webster set, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of our Faith. Topics in this chapter include:

-Scripture Precedes the Church

-The Roman Catholic Appeal to Apostolic Succession

-Scripture, Not The Church, is the Only Infallible Norm


I know nothing about the person who runs this site. By some of his links, he appears to be a theonomist, and post-millennial. I am neither. I can though, still appreciate the immense amount of work he’s put into his website. I spend a lot of time driving. Being able to listen to material that I would probably spend time reading really saves me time at home, and also makes the drive more pleasant.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Luther: "The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe..."

Synopsis: Another anti-Luther quote used by Roman Catholics bites the dust

I received a recent comment on an older blog entry entitled, A Roman Catholic Luther Quiz. This entry included a brief mention of Luther’s opinion on the canonicity of the book of Esther. Before I address the comment, it’s best to provide a little background.

This oft-quoted saying from Luther finds its way onto numerous anti-Reformation web pages:

“The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness.”

The quote is probably derived from John Aurifaber’s version of the Table Talk. Luther is recorded as saying, “I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities.”

I received the following comment on this topic:

“Dear James, Perhaps this was already noted, but it may not have been Esther Luther wanted to toss into the Elbe, but Esdras, and even then not the whole. See WA TR 1.208.3: 'Das dritte Buch Esdrae werfe ich in die Elbe'. One instance of Luther's comments on Esther follow on the same page.”

The nearest copy of the Weimar edition of Luther’s Works that I use is about two and half hours away, so I won't be able to check the quote for a while to see if it’s the same as the popular one used in all the anti-Luther web pages. I do though find this very intriguing, and its on my ad fontes “to do list”.Interestingly, Roger Beckwith (author the outstanding book The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church) has said, “It is sometimes said that Luther, following certain of the Fathers, denied the canonicity of Esther, but Hans Bardtke has questioned this, as not taking into account of all the evidence (Luther und das Buch Esther, Tubingen Mohr, 1964).” That’s another one on my list to check out.

It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to find out that this type of translating mistake has happened. That Luther would speak negatively about Esdras in the same breath as Maccabees make a bit more sense. The reference to WA TR 1.208.3 is probably the same material from Aurifaber's Tabletalk. Note how the entry reads:

"The third book of Esdras I throw into the Elbe; there are, in the fourth, pretty knacks enough; as, “The wine is strong, the king is stronger, women strongest of all; but the truth is stronger than all these...."

and then further down in the same entry:

"I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities. The Jews much more esteemed the book of Esther than any of the prophets; though they were forbidden to read it before they had attained the age of thirty, by reason of the mystic matters it contains. They utterly condemn Daniel and Isaiah, those two holy and glorious prophets, of whom the former, in the clearest manner, preaches Christ, while the other describes and portrays the kingdom of Christ, and the monarchies and empires of the world preceeding it. Jeremiah comes but after them."

The quote as it used in cyber-space appears to have originated from Patrick O'Hare's book, The Facts About Luther, page 202. I've yet to find any other secondary source using the quote in its popular internet-polemical form. I'm strongly tempted to say Father O'Hare miscited Luther's Tabletalk when he quotes Luther saying, "“The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness.” He either worked from an earlier version of the Table talk, or in scaling down the quote in the Table talk, he wrote down Esther instead or Esdras. Unless someone can find me a citation or source, my position is that Father O'Hare botched the citation. Roman Catholics seem to have extreme difficulty doing ad fontes research on Luther, they usually never check a quote like this before they use it, nor do they really care. Father O'Hare said it, Tan published it, so it must be true.

A question though remains about the Table talk quote. Assuming that the translation is correct, why would Luther be such a "great enemy" of the Book of Esther? The quote mentions of Esther: "The Jews much more esteemed the book of Esther than any of the prophets; though they were forbidden to read it before they had attained the age of thirty, by reason of the mystic matters it contains." It seems to me, Luther was more the enemy of the Jews and the way he thought they interpreted and used the book, rather than the book itself. Compare this with a particularly negative anti-Jewish sentiment Luther put forth in the book, The Jews and Their Lies: "They are real liars and bloodhounds who have not only continually perverted and falsified all of Scripture with their mendacious glosses from the beginning until the present day. Their heart’s most ardent sighing and yearning and hoping is set on the day on which they can deal with us Gentiles as they did with the Gentiles in Persia at the time of Esther.  Oh, how fond they are of the book of Esther, which is so beautifully attuned to their bloodthirsty, vengeful, murderous yearning and hope."[LW 47:156]. Of course, this has nothing to do with canonicity. It is only further documentation of how Luther's later writings wrongfully attacked the Jews. Other than this, a search of the English edition of Luther's Works will provide only documentation that Luther quoted from the Book of Esther, and never referred to it as apocryphal. He seems to assume it's canonical, and freely quotes from it to prove particular theological points in his treatises.

There is at least one instance in which Luther seems to speak negatively about the canonicity Esther recorded in the English edition of Luther’s Works. Luther comments on a proof-text from Ecclesiasticus (15:14-17) Erasmus uses to prove free will is biblical:

“...[T]hough I could rightly reject this book[Ecclesiasticus], for the time being I accept it so as not to waste time by getting involved in a dispute about the books received in the Hebrew canon. For you poke more than a little sarcastic fun at this when you compare Proverbs and The Song of Solomon (which with a sneering innuendo you call the “Love Song”) with the two books of Esdras, Judith, the story of Susanna and the Dragon, and Esther (which despite their inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical)."
[LW 33:110].

Note also the more recent translation of this section the J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston translation of The Bondage of the Will) :

"Though I might with justice repudiate this book [Ecclesiasticus], yet for the present I receive it, so as not to lose time by entangling myself in a dispute about books received into the Jewish canon. You are somewhat biting and derisive yourself about that canon, when you compare the Proverbs of Solomon and the Love-song (as with a sneering innuendo you term it) to the two books of Esdras and Judith, and the History of Susanna and of the Dragon, and the book of Esther (though they have this last in their canon; in my opinion, however, it is less worthy to be held canonical than any of these)." [Source: The Bondage of the Will [Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957, Reprint October 1999, 143].

Now this tricky paragraph, and one should read it over a few times. Is Luther criticizing Erasmus for comparing the canonical books of Proverbs and Song of Solomon to the apocryphal books of Esdras and Judith, and also criticizing Erasmus for comparing the history of Susanna and the Dragon with the book of Esther? Or is Luther criticizing Erasmus for comparing Proverbs and the Song of Solomon to the apocryphal books of Esdras, Judith, and and the History of Susanna and of the Dragon, as well as Esther? The answer is found in the words of Erasmus when commenting on Ecclesiasticus:

"I do not think anyone will object against the authority of this work that it was not, as Jerome points out, regarded as canonical by the Hebrews, since the Church of Christ has received it by common consent into its canon; nor do I see any reason why the Hebrews felt they must exclude the book from theirs, seeing they accepted the Proverbs of Solomon and the Love Song. As to the fact that they did not receive into their canon the last two books of Esdras, the story in Daniel about Susanna and Bel the dragon, Judith, Esther, and several others, but reckoned them among the hagiographa, anyone who reads those books carefully can easily see what their reasons were. But in this work there is nothing of that kind to disturb the Reader.” [Source:Erasmus, The Diatribe, as cited in Luther's Works 33:110]

It seems to me the answer is the later: the apocryphal books (including Esther) are being compared to Proverbs and the Song of Solomon.

Another problem with Luther's words is the statement, “though they have this last in their canon; in my opinion, however, it is less worthy to be held canonical than any of these.” To what is Luther referring? To what does the word “this” refer to? The “this” could refer to the apocryphal books, or the singular book of Esther, or possibly the book of Ecclesiasticus. Perhaps the clearest way to come to a conclusion is to read the old Henry Beveridge translation of the this Table talk utterance:

"Although I might justly refuse this book, yet, nevertheless, I receive it; lest I should, with loss of time, involve myself in a dispute concerning the books that are received into the canon of the Hebrews: which canon you do not a little reproach and deride, when you compare the Proverbs of Solomon, and the Love-song, (as, with a double-meaning sneer, you call it,) with the two books Esdras and Judith, the History of Susannah, of the Dragon, and the Book of Esther, though they have this last in their canon, and according to my judgment, it is much more worthy of being there, than any one of those that are considered not to be in the canon."

From this translation, Luther appears to be saying that of all the apocryphal books, Ecclesiasticus is the best, and it is the only one that comes close to being canonical. Does Luther then assume that Esther is noncanonical? One must recall, here is not the place to quibble over the canon for Luther, as he himself says. Luther doesn't comment one way or the other on the canonicity of Esther in this quote. He simply points out that it is one of the books last in the Jewish canon.

Luther translated Esther and allowed it in his Bible, and I don’t recall him offering any negative criticism as to its non-canonicity in his Bible prefaces. He translated it, not with the apocryphal books, but rather with the canonical books. If he considered it apocryphal, why didn't he translate it with apocrypha? Why didn't he place it with the apocrypha when he placed the Biblical books in order? In fact, in one place in his Bible prefaces, Luther distinguishes the particular noncanonical parts of Esther, and place them with the other apocryphal writings:

"Preface to Parts of Esther and Daniel.Here follow several pieces which we did not wish to translate [and include] in the prophet Daniel and in the book of Esther. We have uprooted such cornflowers (because they do not appear in the Hebrew versions of Daniel and Esther)" [LW 35:353].

Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar cites O. Scheel commenting on Luther and canonicity. The citation reads in part: “The Book of Esther deserved no place in the Canon any more than the second Book of Machabees, though the first was worthy of canonization" [Hartmann Grisar, Luther IV, 401]. Unfortunately, Grisar provides no documentation from either Luther or Scheel. Its common for Catholics to think Luther held Esther to be non-canonical, even well-researched historians like Hartmann Grisar. Unfortunately, in my studies, the evidence to prove their case has been sparse and inconclusive. Look for instance at this citation from a Catholic apologist:

"Luther was not content even to let the matter rest there, and proceeded to cast doubt on many other books of the Bible which are accepted as canonical by all Protestants. He considered Job and Jonah mere fables, and Ecclesiastes incoherent and incomplete. He wished that Esther (along with 2 Maccabees) "did not exist," and wanted to "toss it into the Elbe" river. " [Source:The Apocrypha: Why It's Part of the Bible]

This paragraph is nothing more than an O'Hare summary, and it's filled with inaccurate information. Luther did not consider Job to be a “fable.” In all the instances I checked in which Luther spoke of Job, he referred to him as a historical figure and treated the events that transpired in his life as actually occurring. To my knowledge, Luther did not consider Jonah a fable. Luther clearly valued Ecclesiastes- One can read Luther’s extensive exposition of it in LW 15. And finally, it was a Table talk in which Luther may have said he wished Esther "did not exist", but for reasons he gave (as demonstrated above), and he never denied its canonicity. And of course, finally, this Catholic apologist informs us Luther wanted to toss Esther into the Elbe river. Did he really? I am not convinced Luther ever said it. It is up to Roman Catholic apologists to present proof for their facts when challenged.