Friday, December 26, 2008

References That Miss The Mark

Here's some of those obscure Luther passages that led me on a good 'ol wild goose chase:

"Imputed righteousness led Luther to say such absurd, ridiculous things as the following: "One and the same act may be accepted before God and not accepted, be good and not good." "The gospel is a teaching having no connection whatever with reason, whereas the teaching of the law can be understood by reason . . . reason cannot grasp an extraneous righteousness." [in Hartmann Grisar, Luther, vol. 1 of 6 (tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Capadelta, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 2nd ed., 1914, pp. 216-217; from Commentary on Romans]" [source]

It's fairly ironic how I wound up with the above. I was actually reseaching some pro "word of faith" (WOF) citations of Luther. One of the WOF pages citing Luther linked over to this, which is more-a-less the same as the source above. So, I wanted to see the context of these "absurd, ridiculous things." First, I went and pulled out Grisar's Luther Volume 1, and yes, these quotes are there. Then, I went and got my two copies of Luther's Commentary on Romans (both have similar content, but also some unique content not found in the other). And, then, well, a lot of hours went by. I basically read through my entire Kregel edition of Luther's Commentary on Romans- then I began trudging through the Concordia edition.Then, I gave up looking for the contexts of these "absurd, ridiculous things." I found some similarities, but nothing exact enough to warrant a context.

Hartmann Grisar is typically precise with his references, so I went back and took a closer look at what he stated. After going through many citations from Luther's commentary on Romans, Grisar states:

Thus the outlines of the strongest assertions which [Luther] makes later as to the imputing of the righteousness of Christ are already apparent in his interpretation of the Epistle to the Romans. Christ alone has assumed the place of what the Catholic calls saving grace. He already teaches what he was to sum up later in the short formula : "Christ Himself is my quality and my formal righteousness," or, again, what he was to say to Melanchthon in 1536: "Born of God and at the same time a sinner; this is a contradiction ; but in the things of God we must not hearken to reason." His Commentary on Romans prepares us for his later assertions : "The gospel is a teaching having no connection whatever with reason, whereas the teaching of the law can be understood by reason . . . reason cannot grasp an extraneous righteousness and, even in the saints, this belief is not sufficiently strong."1 "The enduring sin is admitted by God as non-existent ; one and the same act may be accepted before God and not accepted, be good and not good." "Whoever terms this mere cavilling ("cavillatio") is desirous of measuring the Divine by purblind human reason and understands nothing of Holy Scripture."2

1 " Opp. Lat. exeg.," 23, p. 160. By "saints," Luther means the
pious folk who follow his teaching.

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 420 (in the year 1519).

The reason I couldn't find the contexts of these "absurd, ridiculous things" is because I don't think they are found in Luther's Commentary on Romans, nor does Grisar say they are. Grisar cites Luther's Commentary on Romans typically as "Schol. Rom." Note, the references above are from "Opp. Lat. exeg" and "Werke". If I recall correctly, neither of these sources contained Luther's Commentary on Romans at the time Grisar's Luther 1 was published. My Kregel edition notes the Romans Commentary was published in 1908, and this was the edition Grisar used (The Ficker edition). In footnote 2, the date "1519" should've tipped me off, as Luther's work on Romans dates from a few years earlier.

I'm not exactly sure what particular Luther documents these quotes are from, as I haven't had a chance to do further investigation. This is again what happens when one doesn't do good research, but rather does a cut-and-paste of someone else's work- and then to make matters worse, actually goes and publishes the material. After citing these same Luther quotes and Grisar, the same author states in his book, Martin Luther:Catholic Critical Analysis and Praise , "In the same Commentary on Romans, completed five years before he was excommunicated (1516), he goes onto what might be regarded as morbid and bizarre heights, when discussing damnation and predestination." One wonders if the author of these words read or owns Luther's Commentary on Romans, and more importantly, one must ask if the contexts of these alleged "absurd, ridiculous things" really bear out the statements are indeed as claimed. Perhaps it is more true that the person making this charge is guilty of an absurd and ridiculous unverified conclusion.

Here are my copies (Yes, some people actually still have the books in question!)


Matt Oskvarek said...

Hello, my name is Matt. I am a Christian man, fairly reformed, and live in Laurel, Maryland (go to Bethany Community Church).

While I am a big believe in being justified by faith apart from works (Romans 3, etc.), I wonder what you say when folks quote the big "not by faith alone" passage from James? Do you have a standard response to that?

Thank you for anything,

James Swan said...

I actually was planning on doing a post on this during the week.

Grace, faith, and the work of Christ are essential ingredients that justify, and that justification is a gift as well as the very faith involved. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.” But isn’t the Roman Catholic charge against Protestants valid? If God judges a man by Christ’s perfect works, why should any Christian ever care about leading a righteous life? If grace, faith, and justification are God’s gifts, what is left for us to do? Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Paul answers in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” Faith performs good works, not to keep one justified, but out of heartfelt gratitude to God graciousness. Salvation is unto good works. Note what this means: good works are not unto eventual salvation. We are saved in order to perform good works, not by performing them.

“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…”

Matt Oskvarek said...

Thank you for the response. That is more or less my understanding.

It is interesting to see such a great interest in Luther. I have actually read three biographies on him, being that he is such an intereresting individual. I have been through Bainton's classic work, as well as Oberman's, and more recenly one by Derek Wilson (Out of the Storm). I am currently reading T.H.L. Parker's bio, John Calvin. I have also been getting into Calvin's Institutes the last 8months or so (had them for years, only to recently start appreciating them).

What is it about these individuals that keeps us going back to examine their every word and to look at their lives?

Anyway, your interest in Luther is very impressive. Maybe you will write another biography on him someday. How did you become so deeply interested in him. What seems to be the drive for you?
(Please feel free to answer another time if more convenient.)


Tim Enloe said...

James, thanks again for your outstanding research into Luther. Quite apart from demonstrating the real shallowness of the Catholic apologetics cultural movement's understanding of the Reformer, your work on these quotes and other issues is a real benefit to the Protestant community. Have you thought about collecting your more important studies and publishing them? As much as I dislike our marketing-driven culture, it seems necessary if this sort of stuff is to get out to a much wider audience - where it is truly needed.

James Swan said...

How did you become so deeply interested in him. What seems to be the drive for you?

Below is a cut-and-paste of something I wrote a while back-

Years ago, I was participating daily on Internet discussion forums. Roman Catholics would frequently bring up Martin Luther- mentioning his unflattering attributes, so to speak. Often I was directed to the entry about Luther in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Sometimes, they would link to articles to prove their historical “facts” about Luther- usually written by Catholic apologists. I really hadn't given Luther all that much time or thought, but the quotes and information Catholics were posting provoked me enough to go search out some of the information.

The articles quoted historical authors that were at one time unfamiliar to me: Hartmann Grisar, Patrick O’Hare, Johannes Janssen, - and some that were familiar to me- like Will Durant and, Roland Bainton. Also, I was amazed to find these Catholic links seemed so familiar with Luther’s writings in German and Latin (and some of those dating back to the 16th Century!): Works (Werke), Weimar ed., 1883, Werke, Erlangen ed., 1868, De Servo Arbitrio, in Op. Lat, (Latin Works: Erlangen ed., 1829), Werke, (German) Wittenberg ed., 1559, Tischreden (Table-Talk), L.C.12.s., Werke, Halle ed., Luther's Letters, De Wette - Seidemann, Berlin, 1828.

Now, these editions of Luther’s writings were not readily available, and are still sometimes difficult to track down. The amazing citations from the above German and Latin editions were taken from secondary sources (many of the authors I mentioned above).
Internet Catholic apologists seemed fluent in German and Latin!

...So I tracked down some of these secondary sources. There is an entire corpus of Roman Catholic writings that were not only against Luther and the Reformation, but were passionately and viciously against Luther and the Reformation.

When I started researching Roman Catholic approaches to Luther, I was quite perplexed to find out that many of the Roman Catholic “anti-Luther” writers had been answered, in some cases, over fifty years ago, by very capable Lutheran writers. But unfortunately, these writings were not readily available. There were a good handful of articles from theological journals, but these are not so easy to locate (I spent many hours in the basement of Westminster’s library scouring the periodicals and journals).

Any good biography on Luther will deal with some of the issues brought up by Roman Catholics. But often, these treatments are sparse. To my knowledge, only two full-length books (in English) exist that directly respond to Roman Catholic treatments of Luther:

W.H.T. Dau, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917)

Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics (Virginia: John Knox Press, 1967)

I have both of these books. You may be able to locate Stauffer’s book via a used bookstore, Dau’s book is may no be online. Both are worthy investments. It’s unfortunate, but more web pages vilifying Luther may actually exist than those dedicated to presenting his work fairly.

So, one of my “hobbies” has been trying to fill a need, so to speak, in cyber-space. I’ve tried to pick out those aspects of Luther brought up by Catholics, and present the other side of the story: the side that great Lutheran writers had presented decades ago.

I say its a "hobby" because I don't think it's as important as other things worthy of discussion- like "faith alone" or sola scriptura. Unfortunately, when one engages Roman Catholics on these subjects, a digression is sometimes put in play that seeks to link Luther's life with these subjects. It is sometimes argued: "Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura cannot be what the Bible teaches, because Luther's personal life was so sinful."

If by some chance, any of my research can put a discussion of these important subjects back on track, I will feel as if i've done some good.

James Swan said...

Have you thought about collecting your more important studies and publishing them? As much as I dislike our marketing-driven culture, it seems necessary if this sort of stuff is to get out to a much wider audience - where it is truly needed.

I've had people ask when my book is coming out, and in one case, I had someone willing to put me in contact with a pubisher.

I guess much of it has to do with my own sin of laziness, and on the other hand, with so many books now available on the Internet, anyone should be able to do now what I've done for years: look up the Luther quotes.

Many of the books I had to purchase in order to find out where Catholic apologists were getting their info are now online. for instance, I spent big $$ getting Hartmann Grisar's books, now they're online and free. Even Luther's Works are available on a reasonably priced CD ROM.

My hope is that with so many sources readily available, people will think twice before writing things like "Imputed righteousness led Luther to say such absurd, ridiculous things as the following..."

I can't document it, but it appears Catholics on the Internet are moving away from such sources like Patrick O'Hare- it used to be, Catholics, even those writing for such magazines like This Rock, would freely quote O'Hare as a credible source. Now, I don't see that as much. I'd like to pat myself on the back, but perhaps there are other reasons at play.