Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Quotable Luther #2

Looking over his life’s work, Luther, the alleged infallible-interpreter-super-pope, said:

“I would have been quite content to see my books, one and all, remain in obscurity and go by the board. Among other reasons, I shudder to think of the example I am giving, for I am well aware how little the church has been profited since they have begun to collect many books and large libraries, in addition to and besides the Holy Scriptures, and especially since they have stored up, without discrimination, all sorts of writings by the church fathers, the councils, and teachers. Through this practice not only is precious time lost, which could be used for studying the Scriptures, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench (as happened to the book of Deuteronomy, in the time of the kings of Judah)…I cannot, however, prevent them from wanting to collect and publish my works through the press (small honor to me), although it is not my will. I have no choice but to let them risk the labor and the expense of this project. My consolation is that, in time, my books will lie forgotten in the dust anyhow, especially if I (by God’s grace) have written anything good. Non ere melior Patribus meis.  He who comes second should indeed be the first one forgotten. Inasmuch as they have been capable of leaving the Bible itself lying under the bench, and have also forgotten the fathers and the councils—the better ones all the faster—accordingly there is a good hope, once the overzealousness of this time has abeted, that my books also will not last long. There is especially good hope of this, since it has begun to rain and snow books and teachers, many of which already lie there forgotten and moldering. Even their names are not remembered any more, despite their confident hope that they would eternally be on sale in the market and rule churches.” (LW 34:283-284).


"For a long time I strenuously resisted those who wanted my books, or more correctly my confused lucubrations, published. I did not want the labors of the ancients to be buried by my new works and the reader kept from reading them. Then, too, by God’s grace a great many systematic books now exist, among which the Loci communes of Philip excel, with which a theologian and a bishop can be beautifully and abundantly prepared to be mighty in preaching the doctrine of piety, especially since the Holy Bible itself can now be had in nearly every language. But my books, as it happened, yes, as the lack of order in which the events transpired made it necessary, are accordingly crude and disordered chaos, which is now not easy to arrange even for me.

Persuaded by these reasons, I wished that all my books were buried in perpetual oblivion, so that there might be room for better ones. But the boldness and bothersome perseverance of others daily filled my ears with complaints that it would come to pass, that if I did not permit their publication in my lifetime, men wholly ignorant of the causes and the time of the events would nevertheless most certainly publish them, and so out of one confusion many would arise. Their boldness, I say, prevailed and so I permitted them to be published. At the same time the wish and command of our most illustrious Prince, Elector, etc., John Frederick was added. He commanded, yes, compelled the printers not only to print, but to speed up the publication.

But above all else, I beg the sincere reader, and I beg for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, to read those things judiciously, yes, with great commiseration. May he be mindful of the fact that I was once a monk and a most enthusiastic papist when I began that cause. I was so drunk, yes, submerged in the pope’s dogmas, that I would have been ready to murder all, if I could have, or to co-operate willingly with the murderers of all who would take but a syllable from obedience to the pope. So great a Saul was I, as are many to this day. I was not such a lump of frigid ice in defending the papacy as Eck and his like were, who appeared to me actually to defend the pope more for their own belly’s sake than to pursue the matter seriously. To me, indeed, they seem to laugh at the pope to this day, like Epicureans! I pursued the matter with all seriousness, as one, who in dread of the last day, nevertheless from the depth of my heart wanted to be saved.

So you will find how much and what important matters I humbly conceded to the pope in my earlier writings, which I later and now hold and execrate as the worst blasphemies and abomination. You will, therefore, sincere reader, ascribe this error, or, as they slander, contradiction to the time and my inexperience. At first I was all alone and certainly very inept and unskilled in conducting such great affairs. For I got into these turmoils by accident and not by will or intention. I call upon God himself as witness." [LW 34: 327-328].

8 comments:

L P Cruz said...

James,

It has been alleged that towards the latter end of Luther's life, he regretted that he did not break more with the Pope/Papistry more vigorously. Would this be one of them?

LPC

James Swan said...

Hmm...off the top of my head, I don't recall any quotes in which Luther lamented not being more vigorous against Romanism in his later years. I wouldn't be surprised though if such sentiment from him was expressed, since for Luther, he was convinced it was the end of the world, and Satan was at work in the papacy and to be rallied against at all costs. His later writing against Romanism are quite unrestrained at certain points. If he were to be more vigorous against Romanism, it would be like the old Spinal Tap analogy in which the guitar amplifier volume goes past 10 and up to "11."

L P Cruz said...

JS,

His later writing against Romanism are quite unrestrained at certain points

Could you give an example of this?
Thanks,

LPC

James Swan said...

For an overview of the later part of Luther's career, I would suggest, Mark U. Edwards: Luther's Last Battles: Politics and Polemics 1531-1546 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983). Edwards presents an interesting look at the argumentation put forth by Luther against his enemies.

In terms of specific later writings from Luther against Romanism, one can read "Against Hanswurst" in which Luther compared the Roman Church to a young virgin that takes to whoring, and says at one point:

"Then you forgot your Christian faith, baptism, and Sacrament [and] became the zealous pupils and young little whores of the procuresses and archwhores until your old whores once again make young little whores, and thus the pope's, indeed, the devil's church increased and continually made many of the true virgins of Christ, who were born in baptism, into archwhores."

Also notable for unrestrained polemic is Luther's "Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil" in which he states,

"Next one should take the pope, cardinals, and whatever servants there are of his idolatry and papal holiness, and rip out their tongues at the roots (as blasphemers of God) and nail them on the gallows in the order in which their seals hang in a row on the bulls, although all this is insignificant [punishment] in relation to their blasphemy and idolatry. Next, let them hold a council or whatever they want on the gallows in hell among all the devils. For they did not begin the accursed papacy out of ignorance or infirmity."

These statements from Luther have been polemical volleyballs for centuries. For me to even cite them without explanation or context is really unfair to Luther. I cite them only as an example to show how vigorous Luther was later in his career against his enemies. Elsewhere on this blog I'm sure I've written about Luther's abusive language and his apocalyptic expectation.

While many think I give Luther a free pass and defend everything he wrote and said, I hardly agree with such statements like those above. On the other hand, Luther detractors are keen on making certain Luther statements mean more than often they actually intended, or ignore Luther's purpose, writing style, and 16th Century polemics in general.

phatcatholic said...

James,

I recently came across this 62-pg booklet about the extent to which one can rightly call Luther a reformer commissioned by Almighty God. I was just wondering if you had read it, and if you have or would like to make any comments regarding it.

Here's the link to the booklet, in three parts:

http://www.scribd.com/people/view/775297-raumzeitmc2

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

James Swan said...

I recently came across this 62-pg booklet

What an irony...the book is on my desk, I was writing about it this morning. My copy is the 3rd edition, 1884. It's one of the worst in print.

phatcatholic said...

Shall we expect a post detailing why in fact it is "the worst in print"?

James Swan said...

Shall we expect a post detailing why in fact it is "the worst in print"?

Actually, i wrote about O'Connor a few years ago-

http://www.ntrmin.org/Be%20a%20sinner%20and%20sin%20boldly%20web.htm

Search the document.