Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Christmas Present: The Facts About Luther

“The best ammunition a Catholics can use in a debate with a Protestant is Luther. His is the source/Founder of all 30,000 Protestant Denominations around the world and he was off his rocker.” [Source]
Well, if that's the best ammo, then those doing Catholic apologetics are in big trouble. Most Protestants don't even know who Luther was.

I no longer participate regularly over at Catholic Answers, but I do stop by on occasion. Once again, my least favorite Luther biography came up: Father Patrick O’Hare’s, Facts About Luther. The discussion can be found here- Book: The Facts About Luther. I’ve written about this book often because Roman Catholic laymen repeatedly present it as the definitive biographical source for the life and work of Martin Luther. Below are entries I’ve done on this book:

*The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther(Part One)*

*The Facts About Luther (Part One)*
*The Facts About Luther (Part Two)*
*O'Hare's Facts About Luther: Master Index of Outrageous Quotes *

Defending O'Hare's Facts About Luther

Defending O'Hare's Facts About Luther (Continued)

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

Father O'Hare's "Facts About Luther" Revisted


This time, A Catholic Answers participant got a copy for Christmas:

“So I asked and got it for Christmas. It was written in 1916 and DEFINITELY is not done in a tone of ecumenism. The author doesn't mince words or spare the feelings of anybody with a soft spot for him. But he does seem to do a pretty good job of citing his sources, and uses primary sources for the most part (I'm only about 15% through it so far). So far, I'm SHOCKED. I'd always assumed Luther was a well intentioned guy with genuinely sincere faith who went off the rails as an over-reaction to actual corruption and abuses he observed in the church of his day. But so far, I see a proud, two-faced, obstinate sufferer of scrupulosity who refused to take his superiors advice for dealing with his problem (scrupulosity) and instead abused and berated anyone who tried to explain things to him. He appears to have given credence to any ecclesial horror story told to him and calculatedly used the greed and power-lust of the local 'nobility' to avoid suffering consequences from the church. This is nothing like I expected to learn!Obviously, any protestant folks here are going to say this author must be a partisan catholic hack (since Luther is revered as much as a protestant can revere and dead human), but I'm curious to hear the opinions of any catholics who have read this book or have some scholarly knowledge of the period.”

Well, eventually my name came up. I guess I’m really the only one who’s taken the time to deal with this book. I even found a French discussion board discussing this book, and someone brought up my reviews. Let’s work through this paragraph.

1. “It was written in 1916 and DEFINITELY [sic] is not done in a tone of ecumenism. The author doesn't mince words or spare the feelings of anybody with a soft spot for him.”
The book had an early printing in 1916, but it is usually referenced to the updated 1917 version. O’Hare intended it to correspond with the 400th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses. There was a lot of hubbub with the anniversary going on, and O’Hare wanted to get the Catholic side out to the public. Yes, the book does not promote ecumenism. Protestants are heretics, and Luther is their heretical father, leading all Protestants to perdition. This of course, is much different to today’s modern Catholic, who simply sees a Protestant as a Christian who doesn’t have the fullness of the truth. O’Hare closes his book by stating: “May God hold in His hand the hearts of all, and who alone knows the bounds He has assigned to the rebellious sects and to the afflictions of His Church, cause all His wanderers soon to return to His unity! Separation from His Church means, logically and practically, no Church (for them). No Church means no Christianity. No Christianity, among intelligent men, means no religion at all, and no religion means ruin to the souls of men for time and eternity” [Source: The Facts About Luther, 362].

2. “But he does seem to do a pretty good job of citing his sources, and uses primary sources for the most part (I'm only about 15% through it so far).”
No, Father O’Hare actually does a poor job citing sources, and TAN publishers didn’t help the situation at all. Many of O'Hare's citations are incomplete. Many of O'Hare's citations are missing completely. Many of O'Hare's citations are references to Luther's Works in German and Latin- and these are often editions which aren't even available in many instances, or even available to the public (some date back to the 16th Century). None of O'Hare's references are to the standard 55 volume English edition of Luther Works. This set had not been compiled yet at the time he wrote. Many of O'Hare's secondary sources have the same characteristics of his Luther citaitons: incomplete, missing, or referring to works not readily available (he cites works from the 1800's, some in non-English languages as well). It can take me hours to check a single O'Hare quote. At present, I have 3 different sets of Luther's Works, and quite a few secondary sources, as well as access to 5 good college libraries. I also have a small collection of the secondary sources O'Hare used.

3. “So far, I'm SHOCKED. I'd always assumed Luther was a well intentioned guy with genuinely sincere faith who went off the rails as an over-reaction to actual corruption and abuses he observed in the church of his day. But so far, I see a proud, two-faced, obstinate sufferer of scrupulosity who refused to take his superiors advice for dealing with his problem (scrupulosity) and instead abused and berated anyone who tried to explain things to him. He appears to have given credence to any ecclesial horror story told to him and calculatedly used the greed and power-lust of the local 'nobility' to avoid suffering consequences from the church. This is nothing like I expected to learn!”

Of course you’re shocked. 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.

4. “Obviously, any protestant folks here are going to say this author must be a partisan catholic hack (since Luther is revered as much as a protestant can revere and dead human)…”

Actually, Father O’Hare represents a trend in Catholic Luther scholarship that lasted until the early 20th Century. The trend focused on Luther the person, putting a strong emphasis on vilifying Luther’s character as a means of discrediting the Reformation. The emphasis shifted in the Twentieth Century: Catholics began to study Luther as a sincere religious man and an honest theologian. In regard to Luther being revered by Protestants, I would speculate most don’t know who he is, and confuse him with Martin Luther King. Protestants who respect him realize he was a sinner. No bona fide Protestant argues that Luther was an infallible interpreter, divine authority, or immaculately conceived. We realize Luther was a man of many faults. Yet when he proclaims the gospel, he is absolutely correct because the Bible clearly teaches it. When he speaks out against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church he is right because history shows this was the case.

One of the responses in the thread sent the Catholic Answers folks over here to some of my O’Hare blog posts. The guy who got the O’Hare book didn’t like that I pointed out typos. Actually, I can’t spell, and rely heavily on spell-check. I think it was a Roman apologist who prompted me to point out typos, way back when.

But what really gave me a chuckle was someone directed folks to read the discussion I had with Catholic apologist Art Sippo on Luther biographies. And, the guy who got the O’Hare book presented this amusing summary:

“Pshew! I got as far as page 4 of the Swan/Sippo thread before it degenerated into a furball. Gross Summarization:

Sippo: O'Hare is OK, but flawed. Better to read work by two other catholic contemporaries (I forget the names already).

Swan: Those guys' analysis of Luther is Freudian psyhcobabble dreck! Read these protestant biographers instead! Or this one by a catholic exNazi. Or this one by a catholic who doesn't seem to notice anything wrong with Luther's life or work.

Sippo: My authors present impeccable sources for their troubling revelations about Luther.

Swan: Yeah, but their analysis of his psyche is questionable. Let's stick with my authors who don't discuss all those embarassing issues yours raises...

Swan seems a smooth debater, but Sippo never seemed to take him to task for his authors' apparent failure to deal with the 'less than virtuous' aspects of Luther's life and writings. What I got out of all that was that I better go back and get those two author's names because Swan either wasn't able or failed to actually attack their actual findings on Luther, just their analysis of his psyche.”

To see what Sippo said about O’Hare, see my blog entry, Catholic Apologist Art Sippo on Father O’Hare’s “Facts About Luther”. Sippo says, “The book needs to be taken with a grain of salt” and “Some of the things it says about Luther are not accurate.” And, “Fr. O'Hare also imputed to Luther certain base motives that I don't think he had.” True, Sippo does say, “Generally, Fr. O'Hare's book is okay”. I would conclude that Dr. Sippo is simply inconsistent. A book “taken with a grain of salt” is not “generally okay.”

The analysis that I simply want Catholics to read Protestant biographies only is inaccurate. So is the charge that I only recommend works by ex-Nazi’s or by Catholics who don’t find anything wrong with Luther. The Catholic authors I recommended do indeed point out negative aspects of Luther, and I mentioned this to Sippo as well. For instance, Lortz holds Luther was a heretic, and also his theology was the result of subjectivism.

The bottom line seems to be that this guy over at Catholic Answers really isn't interested in the "facts about Luther." He's interested in being fueled in maintaining an outdated Catholic polemic.

6 comments:

pilgrim said...

You tempt me to read the book to see how bad it is...

Of course Luther comes up a lot in discussions witgh RC's--but as you point out often--yes he was flawed--and we don't take everything Luther said or wrote as truth in the same way we take the Bible--we compare Luther with the Bible...

James Swan said...

I would save your money- all O'Hare's points and quotes are on the Internet anyway. But if you must, i've seen that used copies seem to be going up in price:

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&an=O%27Hare&y=5&tn=Facts+About+Luther&x=58

I wouldn't pay more tan 2 or 3 dollars for it.

James Swan said...

I just wanted to add one final comment to this blog entry. By my sidebar links, it should be fairly obvious I enjoy the work of Dr James White.

James mentioned this blog entry on his webcast, The Dividing Line. It really surprised me as I was listening back to the archive, and I went “hey... did Doc just call me a ‘channel rat’?”

The show can be found here, and the comment on this entry is around 16 minutes in.

Thanks for the plug Doc, I do appreciate it. It was a great surprise- made my day.

Also, I did send a private message to the guy at Catholic Answers who posted on O’Hare’s book. I wanted him to know that his entry caught my attention. I really don’t go looking for and searching for these type of entries, but somehow I do find them. We had a cordial correspondence, and I hope that he does some more research with some better books.

Peter said...

Luther bios by Roman Catholics are at least valuable auto-biographies. What psychological disorders are diagnosable from the hatefilled, desperate libel of RCs?

James Swan said...

Ah, now Peter-

You must keep in mind that the biographies that seek to apply Psychology as interpretation were spurned on by the times. Not all Roman Catholic biographies take this approach to Luther.

JS

Anonymous said...

I'm 'manualman' from Catholic Answers. I hadn't realized my post had become a blog entry. Your thoughts are appreciated, but your mind-reading skills are wanting...

"He's interested in being fueled in maintaining an outdated Catholic polemic."

If that were true, I wouldn't have started the thread in the first place! Instead of ascribing base motives to me, try a bit more imagination. You expect me to trust a guy who apparently spends most of his life defending protestantism to recommend an even handed treatment of its originator? Simply because you named a few catholic authors is scant reassurance. I can find a few nominally protestant authors' work which you might not like much too you know!

On the contrary, I intend to read Rix and Hillaire Belloc before finishing O'Hare. THEN I will give a few protestant apologetic authors a shot.

I suspect you proceed no differently. Pick authors you trust first and THEN examine the arguments of those you don't.

Peace.