Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Quotable Luther #8 "The Fathers, the Fathers"

(Dedicated to my dear friend, Skyman- thanks for all your work!)

WITH such blindness and madness has our Lord Jesus Christ stricken the whole kingdom of the papist abomination, that for three years now the Cyclops of their infinite host, warring on Luther alone, are still at a loss to understand for what reason I am at war with them. In vain do all the books that I have edited and published testify that I seek this one thing only, which is that the divine Scriptures be given the pre-eminence, as is right and just, and that all human inventions and traditions be taken out of the way as most hurtful stumbling blocks. Or, having cut out their poison and plucked out their sting, that is, their power of forcing and commanding and snaring consciences being taken away, let them be freely and indifferently tolerated as in this world we have to tolerate any other pest or unhappiness.

For afflicted with chronic insanity they bring nothing against me but the statutes of men, the glosses of the Father and the acts, or ritual, of past centuries, those very things which I deny and impugn and which they themselves confess to be untrustworthy and often erroneous. I dispute de iure, and they answer me de facto. I seek a cause; they show a work. I ask, By what authority do ye do this? They reply, Because we do it and have done it. So for reason they give their will, for authority their ritual. For right they allege their custom, and that in the things of God.

There is in their schools a most vicious method of arguing, which they call begging the question. This they learn and teach till grey-headed,--in fact, till burial,--with infinite sweat, with infinite trouble, poor unhappy men. But when they come to apply their teaching, they do nothing except viciously beg the question. And so when I exclaim: The Gospel, the Gospel, Christ, Christ; they reply, The Fathers, the Fathers, use, use, statute, statute!

When I say, the Fathers, use, statute have often erred; we must have a stronger and surer authority--Christ cannot err; then they are like the mute fishes, and become as the Scripture saith, like deaf adders that shut their ears lest they hear the voice of the charmer. Or they reply thus to me, in words which they always have on the tip of their tongue: Ambrose saith so; art thou wiser than Ambrose? Do you alone know? And this is all they have to say. As though the question was between Ambrose's teaching and mine; or as though I could not answer: You misunderstand and misinterpret Ambrose. What is gained, I ask, by disputing with those who are blind and bad-tempered and utterly senseless? [source]

Alternate translation:

Our Lord Jesus Christ has smitten the whole realm of papal abomination with blindness and maddness. For three years now, the mad giants have been struggling against Luther and they still do not grasp what my fight with them is all about. It seems, in vain have I published so many writings which testify openly that I seek to demonstrate that Scripture should count as the exclusive authority, as is right and fair; that human contrivances and doctrines should be given up as evil scandals or, at least, that once their poison is extracted (that is, the power to enforce them and to make them obligatory for the conscience), they should be regarded as a matter for free investigation just as any other calamity or plague in the world. Because they fail to understand this, they quote against me exclusively man-made laws, glosses on the writings of the fathers and from the history of old customs, in short: precisely what I reject and what I am contesting. They themselves know very well that all those things are unreliable and that frequently they contain errors. My struggle concerns principles, they answer stressing usage and custom. I ask: "By what authority do you do this?" They answer; "Because we are doing it, and have always done so." Instead of discussing the basic cause, they discuss intentions instead of Scripture, usages instead of my principal concern,custom—and all this in things pertaining to God!

'They have in their schools a questionable method in disputations, called the repetition of the question (i.e. reverting to the point under dispute). Thus, they study and teach until they turn grey—right to their grave—with endless labour and at great cost, the miserable men. They themselves cannot do anything else with their teaching, it is the only way they can dispute. And that is the reason why it happens that, if I always cry: "Gospel! Gospell Gospel!", they can only answer; "Fathers! Fathers! Custom! Custom! Decretals!Decretals!" If then I answer that customs, fathers and decretals have often erred, that reform must be based upon sounder foundation because Christ cannot err, then they are silent like the fishes, or as the Scripture says: "Like deaf adders they stop their ears, lest they should hear the voice of the charmer."'

[Henry VIII and Luther by Erwin Doernberg (California: Stanford University Press, 1961), pp. 27-28].

1 comment:

Eric said...

There's nothing new under the sun...
It's always interesting to see examples of how things often don't change even after hundreds of years.
That's a good quote, thanks providing good info like this.