Sunday, June 01, 2008
Luther & the Devil Both Held to Justification by Faith Alone?
I've been keeping Henry O'Connor's book Luther's Own Statements Concerning His Teaching and its Results on my desk, thumbing through it when I get the chance. The book is an old small anthology of Luther quotes, peppered with vilifying commentary from O’Connor, an old Roman Catholic writer (my brief overview can be found here). It's a book presenting the typical old Catholic argument that Luther could not have been sent by God to reform the Church because he was such an awful person.
The book was the impetus that prompted this blog post about Luther's Letter to Pope Leo in which Luther states, " I acknowledge your voice, as the voice of Christ." O'Connor began his diatribe against Luther with this letter arguing Luther engaged in "downright hypocrisy" against the Pope, and suggests one of Luther's writings against the Papacy "...is so satanical in its title, so satanical in its beginning, so satanical in its almost every page, so super-satanical in its conclusion, that it could have only been written by a man with a thoroughly satanical spirit"(p.11). O'Connor's point: Luther rejected the authority of the Pope ("We find him rejecting the authority of the Pope with an amount of diplomacy and coarseness, utterly inconsistent with the sublime Dignity of Him, whose messenger he purposes to be" p.7), and only a person driven by the spirit of Satan could've produced the writings Luther put forth. Thus concludes part one, chapter one.
O'Connor will now argue, "Luther assures us that Satan argued in favour of some of the principle doctrines of his new Creed. Now, it is beneath the dignity of God to allow His chosen legate to appeal to the testimony of Satan in support of his teaching" (p.7). Chapter two therefore is entitled, "Luther Admits the Authority of the Devil." O'Connor presents a summary of a long passage from Luther's "The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests" (1533). The passage quoted by O'Connor is a long selection in which Luther presents a dialog between himself and the Devil. "I once awoke at midnight, when the Devil began to dispute with me in my heart." The Devil caused Luther to "brake forth in sweat" and to make his heart "tremble and beat." The Devil can so frighten a soul that he causes it to depart, which at times almost happened to Luther.
O'Connor evaluates the dialog and determines that while "the Devil did not appear to Luther in a visible form," "it was nonetheless a real description of an event in Luther's life: For Luther writes: 'I once awoke at midnight, when the Devil began...' " "Luther's conference with the Devil was also not a piece of mere imagination." "But was it really the Devil? There cannot be the slightest doubt" (pp. 17-18).
This understanding of the passage is at odds with the editors of Luther's Works. They note "there was an internal development in [Luther's] theological thinking which is worthy of note. Three different outlines which Luther made successively in preparation for his book on private masses and priestly consecration, have been preserved"[LW 38:143]. They then point out,
"The idea of a disputation with the devil occurred to Luther while he was working on this third draft. This verbal exchange with the devil does not reflect his personal experience but is employed as an effective literary device in the first part of the book. The fact that Luther’s plan for the book changed as he developed these three outlines in succession is reflected in the rather abrupt way in which he concluded his writing as well as the remark that the book had become longer than he had originally intended it to be" (LW 38:144).
In this particular instance, O'Connor has mis-read the context, seeing a fictional encounter as an actual encounter. Anyone reading the treatise and the depth of detail of dialog between Luther and Satan should have realized what was going on, that this was a fictional account. This is not to suggest that Luther didn't take Satan very seriously, only considering him a fictional literary device. The Devil was quite real to Luther. Heiko Oberman's Luther: Man Between God and the Devil does a masterful job documenting Luther's statements of his encounters with the Devil (see for instance, pp. 103-106). In one telling passage, Oberman documents Luther stating, "But when I realized that is was Satan, I rolled over and went back to sleep again" (p. 105).
O'Connor also misunderstands Luther's dialog with the Devil. O'Connor cites the dialog for multiple pages, in order to prove the discussion included justification by faith alone (p.17), and "It was the Devil who spoke in favour of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and against Mass, Mary, and the Saints" (p.18). "The Devil had spoken in favour of the principle articles of his new creed" (p.19). As proof, O'Connor cites Luther stating (emphasis his):
" 'For the first,' he (the Devil) said: 'You know that you did not believe properly in Christ, and that concerning faith you have been as good as a Turk. For the Turk, yes, even I, with all the Devils, also believe all that is written about Christ (James II), that is, how He was born, died, ascended into heaven. Yet none of us rejoice or trust in Him as in a Savior. But we fear Him as a severe Judge. Such a faith you also had, and no other, when you were ordained and said Mass; and all the others, both the ordaining Bishop, and those whom he ordained, also believed the same. Therefore, you also went over from Christ to Mary and to the Saints; they had to be your consolation and your helpers against Christ. This neither you, not any other Papist, can deny. Therefore, you were ordained and have said Mass as heathens, and not as Christians. How, then, have you been able to consecrate (to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ)? For you have not been the person who should consecrate" (O'Connor, p.15).
O'Connor then summarizes the quote as follows: "Then the Devil begins to speak: ''For the first,' he (the Devil) said: 'You know that you did not believe properly in Christ...For....even I, with all the Devils, also believe all that is written about Christ...Yet none of us... trust in Him as in a Savior. But we fear Him as a severe Judge. Such a faith you also had, and no other when you were ordained (priest) and said Mass; and all the others...also believed the same. Therefore, you also went over from Christ to Mary...This neither you, not any other Papist, can deny' " (p.18).
I went back and read Luther's dialog, and found no such argument that Satan gave approval to Luther's understanding of justification by faith alone. Even a cursory reading of O'Connor's citations will bear this out as well. While Luther did not delve into a deep explanation of the relationship between faith and works here, his writings are filled with such discussions, as I've documented. The faith that Luther clung to was not the same type of faith the Devil has. Faith,” wrote Luther, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.” Luther scholar Paul Althaus notes: “[Luther] also agrees with James that if no works follow it is certain that true faith in Christ does not live in the heart but a dead, imagined, and self-fabricated faith." The book of James describes a real true faith in Christ: a real saving faith is a living faith. If no works are found in a person, that faith is a dead faith (c.f. James 2:17). James then describes a dead faith: the faith of a demon. A demon has faith that God exists, that Christ rose from the dead- I would dare say a demon knows theology better than you or I. But is the faith of this demon a saving faith? Absolutely not. Luther says, “Accordingly, if good works do not follow, it is certain that this faith in Christ does not dwell in our heart, but dead faith…”
This is typical Catholic argumentation, to caricature Luther's understanding of justification by faith alone. I've come in contact with this same type of argument repeatedly over the years. Probably the worst discussion I can recall was dialoging with a Catholic on whether or not mass-murderer BTK was a killer Lutheran (see this follow up link also), for if BTK had faith in Christ, all sins of murder were forgiven.