Saturday, November 24, 2007

Luther: Sola Scriptura Had a "Devastating Effect"?


"There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; . . . There is not an individual, however clownish he may be who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams" - Martin Luther

I wrote about this Luther quote in early 2006, that entry can be found here. This is one of those quotes put forth by Roman Catholics attempting to substantiate Luther’s opinion of the failure of sola scriptura, as well as the need for the infallible interpretive authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The strategy goes like this: use the above quote and then put forth something like- “…see, even Luther realized how much of a failure sola scriptura was.”

It seems Catholic apologist Steve Ray is fond of this quote (as noted in my previous entry). Now Google books has made one of Ray's book available, Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church. Ray again uses this quote on page 45, footnote 62:

"In his commentary on the Psalms, Martin Luther wrote, 'Scriptura sui ipsius interpres' or, in English, 'The Bible is its own interpreter.' It is not difficult to see where that idea led. Even Luther saw the devastating effect. He wrote, 'There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; There is not an individual, however clownish he may be who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams' (cited in Leslie Rumble, Bible quizzes to a Street Preacher [Rockford Ill.: Tan Books, 1976], 22). See also O'Hare, Facts About Luther, 208.

In my previous entry, I was able to investigate the quote enough to at least find out it is from Luther's Letter to the Christians of Antwerp (1525). Now though, thanks to Google Books, I've found a large portion of this letter, if not the entire letter, reprinted below.

Note, Ray claims Luther saw the devastating effect of sola scriptura, and then uttered the words quoted. However, read this letter for yourself. Luther does not blame sola scriptura at all, but rather Satan. Luther never mentions sola scriptura in the letter.

Rome's claim for unity in interpreting Scripture is simply laughable anyway. Very few verses, if any, have an infallible interpretation, and Catholics are free to interpret and speculate on verses and doctrines not yet dogmatically defined. Thus, for Ray to even raise this as an issue while being part of a body that doesn't have infallible interpretations on the majority of biblical passages is indeed a double standard.

Over on Steve Ray's site, he lists a bunch of quotes that had an impact on his decision to convert to Roman Catholicism. Guess which quote makes the list? The very quote this blog entry is on.


Luther's Letter to the Christians of Antwerp (1525)


We believed, during the reign of the pope, that the spirits which make a noise and disturbance in the night, were those of the souls of men, who after death, return and wander about in expiation of their sins. This error, thank God, has been discovered by the Gospel, and it is known at present, that they are not the souls of men, but nothing else than those malicious devils who used to deceive men by false answers. It is they that have brought so much idolatry into the world.

The devil seeing that this sort of disturbance could not last, has devised a new one ; and begins to rage in his members, I mean in the ungodly, through whom he makes his way in all sorts of chimerical follies and extravagant doctrines. This won't have baptism, that denies the efficacy of the Lord's supper; a third, puts a world between this and the last judgment ; others teach that Jesus Christ is not God ; some say this, others that ; and there are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads.

I must cite one instance, by way of exemplification, for I have plenty to do with these sort of spirits. There is not one of them that does think himself more learned than Luther ; they all try to win their spurs against me ; and would to heaven that they were all such as they think themselves, and that I were nothing ! The one of whom I speak assured me, amongst other things, that lie was sent to me by the God of heaven and earth, and talked most magnificently, but the clown peeped through all. At last, he ordered me to read the books of Moses. I asked for a sign in confirmation of this order, ' It is,' said he, ' written in the gospel of St. John.' By this time I had heard enough, and I told him, to come again, for that we should not have time, just now, to read the books of Moses. . . .

I have plenty to do in the course of the year with these poor people: the devil could not have found a better pretext for tormenting me. As yet the world had been full of those clamorous spirits without bodies, who oppressed the souls of men; now they have bodies, and give themselves out for living angels . . .

When the pope reigned we heard nothing of these troubles. The strong one (the devil) was in peace in his fortress; but now that a stronger one than he is come, and prevails against him and drives him out, as the Gospel says, he storms and comes forth with noise and fury.

Dear friends, one of these spirits of disorder has come amongst you in flesh and blood ; he would lead you astray with the inventions of his pride: beware of him.

First, he tells you that all men have the Holy Ghost. Secondly, that the Holy Ghost is nothing more than our reason and our understanding. Thirdly, that all men have faith. Fourthly, that there is no hell, that at least the flesh only will be damned. Fifthly, that all souls will enjoy eternal life. Sixthly, that nature itself teaches us to do to our neighbour what we would he should do to us ; this he calls faith. Seventhly, that the law is not violated by concupiscence, so long as we are not consenting to the pleasure. Eighthly, that he that has not the Holy Ghost, is also without sin, for he is destitute of reason.

All these are audacious propositions, vain imaginations; if we except the seventh, the others are not worthy of reply. . . .

It is sufficient for us to know that God wills no sin. As to his sufferance of sin, we ought not to approach the question. The servant is not to know his master's secrets, simply his master's orders: how much less should a poor creature attempt to scrutinize or sound the mysteries and the majesty of the Creator ? . . .

To learn the law of God, and to know his son Jesus Christ, is sufficient to absorb the whole of life.

. . . A.D. 1525. (Luth. Werke,tom. ii. p. 61,sqq.)

10 comments:

Carrie said...

Over on Steve Ray's site, he lists a bunch of quotes that had an impact on his decision to convert to Roman Catholicism. Guess which quote makes the list? The very quote this blog entry is on.

Oops.

Machaira said...

Rome's claim for unity in interpreting Scripture is simply laughable anyway. Very few verses, if any, have an infallible interpretation, and Catholics are free to interpret and speculate on verses and doctrines not yet dogmatically defined.

Every Roman Catholic that has ever confronted me about sola scriptura believes it includes the notion that everyone has a right to individual speculation and interpretation of scripture. It doesn't of course, but then they turn around and rail against sola scriptura for that very reason. The funny thing here is that Roman Catholics are not only permitted to speculate and interpret scripture, they actually do it - in most cases without any infallible interpretation or backing. Just look at any blog or message board.

oops indeed! :)

EgoMakarios said...

Luther was just cry-babying because some people were opposing his favorite false doctrines infant baptism and Marian evervirginity. He started wishing he had never broke with Rome, seeing that there were people willing to take Sola Scriptura to its logical conclusion, unlike his Jesuit self.

Richard Froggatt said...

Luther does not blame sola scriptura at all,

That would be too much like pointing the finger at himself.

Also, you seem to twist Mr. Ray's words. Or maybe it's just that it's as obvious to you as it is to everyone else that ; Luther may not have said the words Sola Scriptura in the quote but he sure as Hell implied it.

You're best defense is to try a good offense. Take the focus off of Luther and try to attack the Catholic understanding of authority.

Thus, for Ray to even raise this as an issue while being part of a body that doesn't have infallible interpretations on the majority of biblical passages is indeed a double standard.

The issue has never been the quantity of infallibly interpreted passages but in the way they are interpreted for the edification for the Church.

This is why, depending upon which denomination you go to, you only find bits and pieces of scriptural truth in each one. Not so with the Catholic Church; where all of scripture makes sense.

James Swan said...

Also, you seem to twist Mr. Ray's words. Or maybe it's just that it's as obvious to you as it is to everyone else that ; Luther may not have said the words Sola Scriptura in the quote but he sure as Hell implied it.

Richard,If I "seem" to be doing something, it would be best for you to prove it. I've provided the actual text from Luther, something no Catholic apologist has done with this quote. I can't do much more for you on this.

This is why, depending upon which denomination you go to, you only find bits and pieces of scriptural truth in each one. Not so with the Catholic Church; where all of scripture makes sense.

I find Catholic interpreters of Scriptures saying different things on different biblical texts. You can choose to ignore this, and say it isn't so, or you can be honest, and point out that arguments for Rome's interpretive unity are smoke and mirrors.

Machaira said...

Luther may not have said the words Sola Scriptura in the quote but he sure as Hell implied it.


1. Where exactly do you see this "implication?" It's simply not there. The topic under consideration is false teaching, but Luther in no way connects any of it to sola scriptura.

2. Again, the concept of sola scriptura, as defined by the reformed confessions, has nothing to do with "private interpretation" or the abuse of Biblical doctrine.

David Waltz said...

James,

I sincerely doubt that you did the English translation work yourself (but please correct me if I am wrong)...so, what is the actual source of the English quote you posted?

Is it a reliable source? Is the translator a respected one?

Grace and peace,

David

Micah said...

David,

In the blog you James wrote the following words:

In my previous entry, I was able to investigate the quote enough to at least find out it is from Luther's Letter to the Christians of Antwerp (1525). Now though, thanks to Google Books, I've found a large portion of this letter, if not the entire letter, reprinted below.

Now, James has provided the source, did not claim to have "done the translation himself", as if this is needed for proof.

David Waltz said...

Hello Micah,

Thanks for responding. You wrote:

>>Now, James has provided the source, did not claim to have "done the translation himself", as if this is needed for proof.>>

Me: Sigh…I did not say that he made such a claim. Further, the lengthy English translation quote provided by James gave us no direct source, no name of the translator, and perhaps most importantly, did not provide text in the original language from which the English was translated so that the translation could be checked for accuracy. His brief reference to “Google Books” certainly is not a good example of the ad fontes investigation he has requested of others.

Grace and peace,

David

James Swan said...

I did not say that he made such a claim. Further, the lengthy English translation quote provided by James gave us no direct source, no name of the translator, and perhaps most importantly, did not provide text in the original language from which the English was translated so that the translation could be checked for accuracy. His brief reference to “Google Books” certainly is not a good example of the ad fontes investigation he has requested of others.

David,

I assume your computer has the same ability to "search" the internet. I put the first sentence in the google search page: "We believed, during the reign of the pope, that the spirits". I got back exactly two hits. One was a link to my blog (go figure), and the other was a link to GOOGLE BOOKS, and the source from which I found this letter. Of the source cited, I actually linked to it about a year ago on this very blog, and even provided links to reviews of the book in question.

You do make at least one goood point though. There can be error in translation, which is why I would gladly welcome someone scrutinizing the text. In fact, I wouldn't mind having some good translation work on this, even if it meant I was wrong on the conclusions I drew from the text.

I fully admit my limitations in doing research in original languages, (although, I have done some research in the original languages). I am layman. I do not pretend to be a professional apologist, like some do by publishing books, etc... On the other hand, I am in engaged in higher education. I am seeking to go deeper than most people in studying. It's costing me money I barely have, and taxing me physically as I try to work and take care of my family.

I can actually provide the German text for this quote, now that I actually have a reference (recall not one Catholic apologist I've ever come across has given any sort of helpful documentation for the quote...but they use the quote gleefully). It would take a little travel on my part, but I do have access to German editions of Luther's Works.

If I were to provide the German text, would you be able to translate it? Would you be able to check it for accuracy? Can you provide any examples of your past translation work from German sources? If so, you can e-mail them to me.

However, my gut feeling is that your words are not meant with the "grace and peace" you always exhort this blog with, but then again, I may be a bit paranoid due to all those in the RC's in the past I'm used to dealing with.

My apologies for now turning off the comments in this post. I have some nut who keeps spamming this blog with bogus posts full of links- I plan on turning the comments off after a few days on each entry, so I don't have to babysit the comments box.