If you choose to read through this text, pay attention to Luther's description of the way councils arose within Christianity, and their value. I think any fair-minded reader will come to the same conclusion I did on what value Luther places on a council. One will not come to the conclusion that Luther "conceded" the need for a council, as Mr. Ray claims. It is my contention Luther does no such thing, but is rather describing exactly what men do when faced with dissension within the church.
Keep in mind also, this particular tract was Luther's major work against Zwingli and the Swiss.
THAT THESE WORDS OF CHRIST, “THIS IS MY BODY,” ETC., STILL STAND FIRM AGAINST THE FANATICS
How very true is the proverb that the devil is master of a thousand arts! This he proves beyond question in all the stratagems by which he rules his world, as in outward, palpable deeds of guile, intrigues, wickedness, sins, murder, destruction, etc. But especially and supremely does he demonstrate his craftiness in spiritual, inward matters which concern the glory of God and conscience. How he can slither and squirm, twist and turn in all directions, and hinder and thwart us on all sides, that no one may be saved and persevere in the Christian truth. As an example of the devil’s work let us take the history of Christianity (I shall not mention the ancient fathers and the Jews). In the beginning of the gospel, when God’s Word was preached by the apostles purely and clearly, and no human commandments but simply the holy Scriptures were set forth, it seemed as if there would never be any trouble, since holy Scripture was the empress among the Christians.
But what could the devil not do? He finally permitted the Scriptures to be the sole authority, and allowed no pharisaical, Jewish commandments or laws concerning works to prevail any longer. But he also had some of his followers in the Christians’ schools, and through them he stealthily sneaked and crept into the holy Scriptures. Once he had wormed his way in and had things under control, he burst out on all sides, creating a real brawl over Scripture and producing many sects, heresies, and factions among Christians. Since every faction claimed Scripture for itself and interpreted it according to its own understanding, the result was that Scripture began to lose its worth, and eventually even acquired the reputation of being a heretics’ book and the source of all heresy, since all heretics seek the aid of Scripture. Thus the devil was able to wrest from the Christians their weapons, armor, and fortress (i.e. Scripture), so that it not only became feeble and ineffective against him, but even had to fight against the Christians themselves. He got Christians to become suspicious of it, as if it were plain poison against which they had to defend themselves. Tell me, wasn’t that a clever scheme of the devil?
Once Scripture had become like a broken net and no one would be restrained by it, but everyone made a hole in it wherever it pleased him to poke his snout, and followed his own opinions, interpreting and twisting Scripture any way he pleased, the Christians knew no other way to cope with these problems than to call many councils. In these they issued many outward laws and ordinances alongside Scripture, in order to keep the people together in the face of these divisions. As a result of this undertaking (though they meant well), arose the sayings that the Scriptures were not sufficient, that we also needed the laws and the interpretations of the councils and the fathers, and that the Holy Spirit did not reveal everything to the apostles but reserved certain things for the fathers. Out of this finally developed the papacy, in which there is no authority but man-made laws and interpretations according to the “chamber of the holy father’s heart.”
When the devil saw this he jeered and thought: now I have won! Scripture lies prostrate, the fortress is destroyed, the weapons are beaten down. In their place they now weave walls of straw and make weapons of hay, i.e. they intend now to array themselves against me with man-made laws. Ah, this is serious! What shall I do? I shall not fight against this, but pitch in and help them build so that they remain nicely united, and help them gather enough straw and hay. It serves my purpose well that they should neglect the Word and not dispute over the Scriptures, but that at this very point they should be at peace and believe what the councils and the fathers say. But within this peace and unity I shall stir up many another controversy and quarrel, so that the pope will contend against emperor and kings, bishops against princes and lords, scholars against scholars, clerics against clerics, and everyone against the other, for the sake of temporal honor, possessions, and pleasure, yet leaving untouched their unity of belief in the holy fathers. The fools! What can they expect to accomplish with quarrels over the Scriptures and the things of God they do not understand? It is better for them to quarrel over honor, kingdoms, principalities, property, pleasure, and bodily needs, which they do understand, and meanwhile remain faithful Christians united in the glossed faith of the fathers, i.e. a flimsy faith.
This is the way the plot worked out for the fathers: Since they contrived to have the Scriptures without quarreling and dissension, they thereby became the cause of men’s turning wholly and completely away from the Scriptures to mere human drivel. Then, of course, dissension and contention over the Scriptures necessarily ceased, which is a divine quarrel wherein God contends with the devil, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 6[:12], “We have to contend not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in the air.” But in place of this, there has broken out human dissension over temporal honor and goods on earth, yet there remain a united blindness and ignorance of the Scriptures and a loss of the true Christian faith, i.e. a united obedience to the glosses of the fathers and to the holy see at Rome. Isn’t this also a piece of devilish craftiness? No matter what play we make, he is a master and an expert at the game.
Now in our day, having seen that Scripture was utterly neglected and the devil was making captives and fools of us by the mere straw and hay of man-made laws, we have tried by God’s grace to offer some help in the matter. With immense and bitter effort indeed we have brought the Scriptures to the fore again and released the people from man-made laws, freed ourselves and escaped the devil, although he stubbornly resisted and still continues to do so. However, even though he has had to let us go, he does not forget his tricks. He has secretly sown his seed among us so that they may take hold of our teachings and words, not to aid and assist us in fostering the Scriptures, but, while we were leading in the fight against human drivel, to fall upon our host from the rear, incite rebellion and raise an uproar against us, in order that caught between two enemies, we may be more easily destroyed. This is what I call throwing quicksilver into the pond!
However, he does not leave the matter there, but quick as a flash goes to work on the sacraments, although in this respect he has already tom at least ten rips and loopholes in the Scriptures. I have never read of a more shameful heresy, which from the outset has gathered to itself so many heads, so many factions and dissensions, although on the main point, the persecution of Christ, they are united. But he will keep on and attack still other articles of faith, as he already declares with flashing eyes that baptism, original sin, and Christ are nothing. Once more there will arise a brawl over the Scriptures, and such dissension and so many factions that we may well say with St. Paul, “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work” [II Thess. 2:7], just as he also saw that many more factions would arise after him.
If the world lasts much longer, men will, as the ancients did, once more turn to human schemes on account of this dissension, and again issue laws and regulations to keep the people in the unity of the faith. Their success will be the same as it was in the past.
In short, the devil is too clever and too mighty for us. He resists and hinders us at every point. When we wish to deal with Scripture, he stirs up so much dissension and quarreling over it that we lose our interest in it and become reluctant to trust it. We must forever be scuffling and wrestling with him. If we wish to stand upon the councils and counsels of men, we lose the Scriptures altogether and remain in the devil’s possession body and soul. He is Satan, and Satan is his name, i.e. an adversary. He must obstruct and cause misfortune; he cannot do otherwise. Moreover, he is the prince and god of this world, so that he has sufficient power to do so. Since he is able and determined to do all this, we must not imagine that we shall have peace from him. He takes no vacation and he does not sleep. Choose, then, whether you prefer to wrestle with the devil or whether you prefer to belong to him. If you consent to be his, you will receive his guarantee to leave you in peace with the Scriptures. If you refuse to be his, defend yourself, go at him! He will not pass you by; he will create such dissension and sectarianism over the Scriptures that you will not know where Scriptures, faith, Christ, and you yourself stand.
Woe betide all our teachers and authors, who go their merry way and spew forth whatever is uppermost in their minds, and do not first turn a thought over ten times to be sure it is right in the sight of God! These think the devil is away for a while in Babylon, or asleep at their side like a dog on a cushion. They do not consider that he is round about them with all his venomous flaming darts which he puts into them, such superlatively beautiful thoughts adorned with Scripture that they are unaware of what is happening. Here no admonition, no warnings, no threats are of any avail. The devil is master of a thousand arts. If God does not defend and help us, all our actions and counsels are nothing. No matter which way you look at it, the devil is the prince of this world. He who does not know this, let him try and see. I have had some experience in this matter. But no one will believe me until he experiences it also.
It is precisely the same devil who now assails us through the fanatics by blaspheming the holy and venerable sacrament of our Lord Jesus Christ, out of which they would like to make mere bread and wine as a symbol or memorial sign of Christians, in whatever way their dream or fancy dictates. They will not grant that the Lord’s body and blood are present, even though the plain, clear words stand right there: “Eat, this is my body.” Yet those words still stand firm and invulnerable against them. Now, I dealt with this subject carefully in my attack against Karlstadt, in such a way that anyone who did not take pleasure in erring could find guidance against this specter of the devil. But my dear fanatics despise me so haughtily that they do not consider me worthy of a careful answer. It is enough for them to look at my book and turn up their noses at it and say, “It lacks Spirit.” What good is it now for me to write a great deal? They scorn my book, and if they just babble a few words about it, without touching a single argument correctly, they consider it refuted. They rest their case simply upon the production of many books and the soiling of much paper.
One of the reasons I have hesitated until now to write further against them is that I have sensed such arrogance and contempt beneath their celebrated humility. Secondly, their fanaticism is such sheer, empty prattle that it amazes me how these fine, erudite people ever got entangled with it. They proceed, moreover, with such a timorous, tremulous conscience, that it appears to me they wish the beer were back again in the keg. Had they not started the affair, I believe, they would have let well enough alone.
I see in this affair nothing else than the wrath of God, who gives the devil free rein to produce crude, clumsy errors and thick darkness to punish our shameful ingratitude for having treated the holy gospel as so wretchedly despicable and worthless—to make us, as St. Paul says, “believe what is false, since we have not received the love of truth” [II Thess. 2:10 f.]. This fanaticism, moreover, lacks nothing but being new. For we Germans are the kind of fellows who pounce upon anything new and cling to it like fools, and if anyone restrains us, he only makes us more crazy for it; but if no one restrains us, we will soon on our own become fed up and bored with it, and soon chase after something else that is new. Thus the devil has the advantage that no teaching or fancy so clumsy can arise but he can find disciples for it, and the clumsier the more quickly.
But “God’s word alone endures forever” [Isa. 40:8]; errors always spring up by its side and pass away again. For this reason I am not worried that this fanaticism will last long. It is much too crude and impudent, and it does not attack obscure and uncertain Scripture but clear, plain Scripture, as we shall hear. So I shall once more set myself against the devil and his fanatics, not for their sake, but for the sake of the weak and simple. For I have no hope that the teachers of a heresy or fanaticism will be converted. Indeed, if that were possible, so much has already been written that they would have been converted. It has never been reported that an author of false doctrine was converted. For this sin is too great, because it blasphemes God’s Word and sins against the Holy Spirit. Therefore God lets it become hardened, with the result, according to the word of Isaiah 6[9 f.], “With seeing eyes you shall not see and with hearing ears you shall not hear, for this people’s heart is hardened.”
Christ converted no high priest, but their disciples were converted, such as Nicodemus, Joseph, Paul, and the like. The ancient prophets converted no false prophets. Paul, too, was not able to convert false apostles, but laid down the teaching: “When one has been admonished twice or three times, avoid him and dismiss him as a perverted man” [Titus 3:10]. So too the holy doctors have never converted an arch-heretic; not because they had not sufficiently opposed and confuted all the heretics’ errors with the truth, but their hearts were obsessed with their own fancies, and they fared the same way as the person who looks through a colored glass: place before him whatever color you will, he sees no other color than that of his glass. The fault is not that you have placed the wrong color before him but that his glass has a different color, as the same passage in Isaiah [6:9] also puts it, “You shall see,” he says, “and yet not see.” What is this but to say: It will appear before your eyes quite clearly enough for you to see, and others will see it, but you will not. This is the reason, says John 12[:40], that one cannot convert such people. The proffered truth does not do it. God must take away the colored glass; this we cannot do.