"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.
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.)