Saturday, March 31, 2007

Some further dialog with Gary Michuta: Luther and Maccabees

I’ve had some sparse interaction with Catholic apologist Gary Michuta over on the Catholic Answers forums. Gary offered a friendly response to my previous comments:

First and foremost, thank you for your post, James. If I’m reading your post correctly, you may be the first prominent Protestant apologist to tacitly admit that Luther did once use these books in a canonical fashion. I’ve read dozens of written debates on this subject you may be the first, albeit in a roundabout way, to concede this. You’ve earned an autographed copy, buddy! My book is already producing good fruit. ; )

In regards to any supposed malicious intent, I can’t judge Luther’s heart or motives. I can only draw conclusions from the evidence, the same as you. I did my best to be fair and accurate to Luther as I do with all the people treated in my book trying give the reader a good sense of the historical context of each statement. My main focus of this section was to understand the rationale of Luther’s rejection at the Second Disputation since it is an important juncture in the history of the Deuterocanon. Luther’s a posteriori justification of his change may be important for Lutheran theology, but it is of limited value in understanding what his thoughts were at that important moment. I do, BTW, talk about his “Christ preached” canon within a canon approach both in that section and I critique it along with other views in Appendix 1 – Sola Scriptura And The Problem Of The Canon.

My book does focus on those who may have influenced Luther’s decision (so I do treat him as a historic figure). We take a look at Reuchlin and Staupitz, Erasmus, Wycliff, Hugh of St. Victor, William of Occam, Nicholas of Lyra, Cajetan, as well as the Complution Polyglott and the Gloss. It is my opinion that you really don’t understand another’s position unless you come to a point where you have sympathy for his view. I think, given the space constraints, it is a fair treatment. The book also examines the prefaces of the German, Swiss and English Bibles as well as the views of Oecolampadius, Calvin, Zwingli and various Protestant Confessions. Had I been allowed to publish Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger in its even bigger form (over 900 pages long and in two volumes), I would have gone into more detail. Hopefully, 336 pages will suffice. : )

In regards to Luther’s “weight with the faithful” remark, I think that it was a needed qualification. I understand your position, and I think my own understanding is close to yours. I suggest that Luther’s words are really an echo the thoughts of Alphonsus Tostatus. If I’m correct, Luther’s response to Eck is absolutely brilliant. Tostatus posited “For though these books are received by Christians, and proof derived from them do in some degree have weight, because the Church retains those books, yet they are not effectual to prove those things that are in doubt against heretics and Jews, as Jerome says…” In other words, Luther is reminding Eck that those outside the Church dispute whether the Deuterocanon is admissible in debate. Eck’s response is equally brilliant and, I believe, affirms this understanding, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you. Moreover, I don’t think it is wholly accurate to say Luther outright rejected the Deuteros. He did see them as having some weight since he included in his German Translation, calls “good and holy,” and does, in some sense, see them as part of the Old Testament. They just can't be used to confirm doctrine.

I am glad that the quotation on my website didn’t raise any ire, but it certain did seem to have provoked some ridicule on your part. Indeed, you accused me of suppressing evidence if I remember correctly. No harm done. I’m glad you weren’t angry. Here is the reference for you and the rest (my apologies for not putting this in the proper format):

H. H. Howorth, “The Bible Canon of the Reformation,” The International Journal of the Apocrypha, No. 20, Series VI, Jan. 1910. p.14. Howorth quotes Luther’s words in Latin as: “…hoc volo, quod in universa Scriptura non habeatur memoria purgatorii, que posset stare in contentione et convincere: nam et liber Machabeorum, cum non sit in Canone, pro fidelibus potens est, contra pertinaces nihil facit.”

God Bless,Gary

Hi Gary,

Thank you for your response. I don’t recall admitting Luther used the apocryphal books in a “canonical fashion” previous to his encounter with Eck. Frankly, I haven’t done a lot of work in this area. You probably know, Luther quoted from the apocryphal books throughout his career, even preaching from them on occasion (but rarely). I may have a few of these sermons around somewhere in my library.

I certainly wouldn’t have a problem with it even if he did hold them to be canonical early in his career. Luther is a fascinating person to study- particularly to watch his views change on different subjects. He himself admits his early writings were not fully protestant, and should be read with caution. This is why I mentioned a few times his Prefaces to the apocryphal books should factor heavily as to his rationale in deeming them non-canonical. Your study of the various influences on Luther will be interesting. I look forward to it, but a total picture of Luther's view should be factored in as well.

I appreciated your interpretation of the Luther quote in question, and it is an interesting take. Luther though was not yet ‘officially’ outside the Church and clearly rejected 2 Maccabees. I do have some of the detailed discussion put forth by Howarth, but I haven’t had time to work through the Latin yet. Perhaps then, your interpretation is correct once Eck’s view is presented. Of course, I have never held that Luther found no value in the apocryphal books. As I mentioned before, he does indeed live up to his position and cites them where applicable. My writings on Luther and the canon reflect this.

In regard to the quote on your website, I first found it on August 4, 2006- on my way out the door for a vacation to the Carolina beaches. Words can translate poorly, as they are simply one-dimensional. You can’t hear the tone in my voice, or the intent in my questions. I found the quote very odd for the reasons I mentioned. I’ve read countless Catholic articles, books, blogs, etc., all mentioning Luther was cornered by Eck and had to give up Maccabees or affirm Purgatory. I go over to your site, and there is a quote with no explanation implying Luther affirmed Maccabees in this same debate. Think how confusing this is for your average Catholic layman. They rarely read Luther in context. Here's a debate where Luther denies Maccabees, there's your quote from the same debate with him affirming Maccabees. I have spent a lot of time doing the work Catholic laymen should do- citing Luther in context.

Thus, I questioned why such a quote would be put forth. I would still insist it is a misuse of a Luther quote- the man clearly denied the apocrypha, and died denying the apocrypha. Why put an ambiguous Luther quote on your webpage affirming the apocrypha? If my comments came off as ridicule, my apologies. If there is any particular wording you would like removed from my blog entry from on August 4, 2006, please PM me via these boards, or follow the e-mail link on my own blog.

Finally, thank you for the reference to Howarth. This article I don’t have, but the others I mentioned on my blog I do.


James Swan

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