Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Luther: I am unable to pray without at the same time cursing

Here's the second installment of "Helping Matthew Bellisario Do Research."

Mr. Bellisario has done just enough reading of the Catholic Encyclopedia to prove Luther was "extremely demonic" based on Luther's prayer life. Did Matthew survey Luther's writings and examine his writings on prayer? No, it was enough to pull one quote out of the Catholic Encyclopedia. He posted the following:

If we look at Luther's prayer life we will see that it was extremely demonic, at least at certain times of his life. He is recorded as saying that he could not pray without cursing. Where did Jesus tell us to curse our enemies in prayer? I must have missed that in the Gospels. The Catholic Encyclopedia records Luther's words as, "For I am unable to pray without at the same time cursing. If I am prompted to say: 'hallowed be Thy name', I must add: 'cursed, damned, outraged be the name of the papists'. If I am prompted to say: 'Thy Kingdom come', I must perforce add: 'cursed, damned, destroyed must be the papacy.' Indeed I pray thus orally every day and in my heart without intermission" (Sammtl. W., XXV, 108) [source]

The Polemical Arena
Bellisario isn't alone, Erik Erikson uses the quote in Young Man Luther. Erikson though doesn't use it to prove Luther was "demonic" in prayer. Rather, he uses Freudian psychology and determines statements like these "are an attempt to find a safety-valve when unrelenting inner pressure threatened to make devotion unbearable and sublimity hateful- that is, when he was again about to repudiate God in supreme rebellion, and himself in malignant melancholy."

One wonders if Erikson even read the original context. Erikson's citation appears to be taken from Will Durant's volume on the Reformation. Durant uses the quote as an example of Luther's use of unrestrained language, often to a fault. He also adds immediately after citing the quote, "Such rhetorical passion was in the temper of the times. 'Some of the preachers and pamphlet writers on the orthodox side,' confessed the learned Cardinal Gasquet, 'were Luther's match in this respect.' Vituperation was expected of intellectual gladiators, and relished by their audiences; politeness was suspected cowardice" (p.418-419).

Bellisario has followed the lead of the Catholic Encyclopedia. The CE infers statements from Luther like these were part of his "sinister moods". They refer to one of Luther's "old admirers" stating,"with his shameless, ungovernable tongue, [Luther] must have lapsed into insanity or been inspired by the Evil Spirit." George Ganss, author of the Luther entry in the CE, was heavily influenced by Heinrich Denifle. Ganss presents a wild tempered Luther, depressed and mentally ill- abandoned by most of his friends and colleagues, dejected and despairing, tortured in body and spirit. For an overview of the CE entry on Luther, see this link.

Background Information
This quote is from the 1531 treatise, "Against the [Character] Assassin at Dresden" or sometimes referred to as "Against the Traitor at Dresden." The CE notes this treatise can be found in Walch, op. cit., XVI 2062-2086. The treatise, to my knowledge, has not been translated into English.

Most sources (including the CE) say the person at Dresden was Duke George of Saxony, although some older sources refer to "Franz Arnold" as the person Luther wrote against. The sparse information about the later identifies him as "a Roman Catholic priest at Cologne, [who] was one of the most violent, though not one of the most distinguished opponents of Luther." Franz is said to have penned "Der unpartheyische Laye" which was "a violent attack on Luther." Luther is said to have responded with "Wider den Meuchler zu Dresden" ("Against the Assassin at Dresden). More often though, Duke George is said to be that person Luther's treatise was directed against.

Duke George was a sworn enemy of Luther's. He stands out as a ruler vigorous in maintaining a campaign of propaganda against Luther. He kept a team of writers busy against Luther. The writings, were quite hostile. Duke George actually sought to have Luther's works censured and reviewed, while his work and those under him who wrote just as intensely were allowed to print whatever they wanted. He also used his ruling power to obstruct Reformation printing, as well as promoting wholesale burnings and confiscation of Luther's books. If one was caught printing pro-Reformation materials, it was quite possible George would have you arrested, which actually did happen. Duke George was part of a secret Catholic alliance seeking to restore Catholicism within Electoral Saxony by having Luther and other Protestants handed over to the authorities. After Luther published "Against the [Character] Assassin at Dresden", "Duke George expelled a number of evangelically minded persons from Leipzig and Oschatz" [LW 38:142]. Interestingly, Duke George was one of the leaders responsible for actually slaughtering the peasants.

In 1531, things got very heated between Duke George and Luther. The Duke had been campaigning that Luther was attempting to incite rebellion against the empire. Duke George wrote an anonymous work responding to Luther's "Warning to His Dear Germans" entitled, "Against Luther's Warning to the Germans That They Should Not Be Obedient To the Emperor, Another Warning That They Should Not Allow Themselves To Be Misled By It Nor To Be Moved To Disobedience. It appears Francis Arnoldi [Franz Arnold] wrote a short afterword to the second edition of this treatise. Luther entitled his response "Against the [Character] Assassin at Dresden" because George published it anonymously.

Kostlin explains:

Luther gave open vent to his indignation at the Recess of the Diet and the violent attacks of the Catholics in two publications, early in 1531, one entitled 'Gloss on the supposed Edict of the Emperor,'and the other, 'Warning to his beloved Germans.' In the former here viewed the contents of the Edict and the calumnies it heaped upon the Evangelical doctrines, not intending, as he said, to attack his Imperial Majesty, but only the traitors and villains, be they princes or bishops, who sought to work their own wicked will, and chief of all the arch-rogue, the so-called Vicegerent of God, and his legates. The other treatise contemplates the 'very worst evil' of all that then threatened them, namely, a war resulting from the coercive measures of the Emperor and the resistance of the Protestants. As a spiritual pastor and preacher he wished to counsel not war, but peace, as all the world must testify he had always been the most diligent in doing. But he now openly declared that if, which God forbid, it came to war, he would not have those who defended themselves against the bloodthirsty Papists censured as rebellious, but would have it called an act of necessary defence,and justify it by referring to the law and the lawyers.These publications occasioned fresh dealings with Duke George, who again complained to the Elector about them, and also about certain letters falsely ascribed to Luther, and then published a reply,under an assumed name, to his first pamphlet. Luther answered this 'libel' with a tract entitled 'Against the Assassin at Dresden,' not intended, as many have supposed, to impute murderous designs to the Duke, but referring to the calumnies and anonymous attacks in his book. The tone employed by Luther in this tract reminds us of his saying that 'a rough wedge is wanted for a rough log.' It brought down upon him a fresh admonition from his prince, in reply to which he simply begged that George might for the future leave him in peace. [source]

The Quote
Luther countered that it was the Catholics who were really against the empire, not the Lutherans. He listed twelve pieces of evidence proving that Catholic authorities were seeking the destruction of Protestants. The quote in question comes from the end of the treatise. It's a response to George's assertion that Luther's writings were filled with evil words and Devil references. Luther responds,

"It should be my fame and honor, [and] so I also wish to have it, that one should say of me from now on how full I am of evil words, abuse, and cursing for the papists. For more than ten years I have often humbled myself and have used the very fairest words with the result that the longer [I have done so] the worse I have made them. . . . Now, however, since they are impenitent [and] have decided to do simply no good but rather nothing but evil so that there is no hope [for them], I also wish from now on to occupy myself with cursing and rebuking those rogues to my grave [wil jch auch hinfurt mich mil den bosewichten zu fluchen und zu schelten bis jnn meine gruben], and no good word more should be heard from me. I wish to ring them into the grave with my thunder and lightning. For I cannot pray without thereby having to curse. If I say: "Holy be Thy name," I must in addition say: "Cursed, damned, and disgraced must be the papists' name and all who slander Thy name." If I say: "Thy kingdom come," then I have to add: "Cursed, damned, destroyed must be the papacy with all kingdoms on earth that are opposed to Thy kingdom." If I say: "Thy will be done," then I must add: "Cursed, damned, disgraced, and to nothing must be all thoughts and plots of the papists and all who strive against Thy will and advice." In truth, I pray thusly daily without fail [both] orally and in my heart, and with me [pray in the same manner] all who believe on Christ, and I also feel indeed that it will be heard. . . . Still I hold a good, friendly, peaceful, and Christian heart towards everyone. Even my greatest enemies know that [Mark U. Edwards, Luther's Last Battles, pp. 50-51].

Alternate translation:

This shall be my glory and honor, and I will have it so, that henceforth they will say of me that I am full of bad words, of scolding and cursing against the papists. I have often humbled myself for more than ten years, and used the very best language, but have only increased their wrath, and the peasants have been the more puffed up by my supplications. Now, however, because they are obdurate and have determined to do nothing good, but only evil, so that there is no longer any hope, I will hereafter heap curses and maledictions upon the villains until I go to my grave, and no good word shall they hear from me again. I will toll them to their tombs with my thunder and lightning. For I cannot pray without at the same time cursing. If I say, "Hallowed be Thy name," I have to add, "Cursed, damned, reviled be the name of the papists and of all who blaspheme Thy name." If I say, "Thy kingdom come," I have to add, "Cursed, damned, destroyed be the papacy, together with all the kingdoms of the earth, which oppose Thy kingdom." If I say, "Thy will be done," I have to add, "Cursed, damned, reviled, and destroyed be all the thoughts and plans of the papists and of every one who strives against Thy will and counsel." Thus I pray aloud every day and inwardly without ceasing, and with me all that believe in Christ. And I feel sure that my prayer will be heard. Nevertheless I have a kind, friendly, peaceable, and Christian heart toward every one, as even my worst enemies know. [source]

Note that last line above, "Nevertheless I have a kind, friendly, peaceable, and Christian heart toward every one, as even my worst enemies know." This is a tip off that Luther was using highly rhetorical and inflammatory language, but it is probably true he prayed his enemies would be silenced by God. Mark U. Edwards notes Luther's treatise was framed in vehement abusive language. I've never denied Luther wrote at times in such fashion. Such was the discourse in the sixteenth century. Edwards also points out that both sides saw their opponents in league with the devil. Edwards states:

At issue in the disputes between Luther and Duke Georg was the obedience due to secular authority. On the basis of his doctrine of the two kingdoms Luther distinguished between secular and spiritual affairs and counseled disobedience to coercion exercised by Catholic secular authorities in spiritual matters. His Catholic opponents either missed this distinction or thought it hypocritical. The practical effect, they claimed, of Luther's advice, and the violent language in which the advice was couched, was to promote rebellion. Luther was enraged by such a claim, and saw the apparent unwillingness or inability of the Catholics to recognize and honor this distinction between the two kingdoms as a sure sign of Catholic allegiance to the devil. Each side, then, viewed the other as the true rebel. Each side charged the other with a desire to foment disorder, sedition, and war. Given such opposed convictions, it is not surprising that the language and form of argumentation employed by the publicists-Luther, Duke Georg, Cochlaeus—suggest that each was speaking more to his own party than to one another. Expressions of righteous indignation, liberal use of insult and name-calling, lengthy recitals of old grievances, rehashing of past disputes, repetition of familiar arguments—such material may appeal to the converted and may reinforce convictions already held. But it is unlikely to move the unconverted. And it will only enrage the opponent [Mark U. Edwards, Luther's Last Battles, pp. 38-39].

Delving into history like this typically never satisfies Catholics who simply interpret history by stating, "If we look at Luther's prayer life we will see that it was extremely demonic." Obviously, the facts of history don't bear this out, particularly if one were to survey Luther's writings on prayer, or if we were to survey the Psalms- we could conclude the psalmist was demonic.

Ironically, Roman Catholic historian Anton Fischer argued Luther was a man of prayer, a man to be appreciated by Catholics: "However rich a Church may be in truly great Christian men of prayer, it would still have room for the distinctives of the praying Luther; it should not pass carelessly over this great man of prayer and his precious utterances on prayer and his excellent instruction on prayer.”

“Fischer makes a distinction in Luther between the fighter and the man of prayer. The former, to his mind, is the concern of only a part of Christianity; all Christian denominations can, how ever, lay a claim to the second. In so far as he was a man of prayer, Luther was truly ecumenical. Even a Church rich in believers who are devoted to prayer (he means the Roman Church, of course) has much to learn from him.

And what can Luther teach all Christians about prayer? Two essential truths. The first is that prayer has only one valid criterion—the Word and the Holy Spirit who reveals Himself through Scripture. Luther drew all his strength from the Bible and took all his instruction about prayer from the Bible. In the same way, all believers are exhorted to nourish themselves on the Old and New Testaments, if they wish to pray effectively; there they too will meet with God. The second truth is that the Pater noster constitutes the very heart of the Christian life, and for this reason should be pronounced with the reverence and fervour due to Christ's own words. If it is said in the spirit of the great masters of prayer like St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assist and Martin Luther (so Fischer ends his article), the Lord's Prayer can bridge the gap which really separates Roman Catholics and Protestants.” [Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 38-39].

Rather than delve into a complete overview of Luther's views on prayer, I'll focus on just one aspect. For Luther, prayer was also a weapon we have to call down the power of God against the power of Satan. In our prayers we fight Satan for ourselves as we call upon God to strengthen our reliance on Him. We call down God’s power against every evil Satan seeks to bring upon our lives. Prayer is also a weapon in our fight against Satan on the battlefield of the lives of those around us. We call down the power of God against Satan for those we love. In Luther's mind, Satan was the mastermind behind the Papacy. Hence, his prayer above reflected this.