Recently I've been having a little dialog on the CARM boards. Here's a Luther snippet being used in which Luther is said to display a lack of humility by comparing himself to Ambrose and Augustine :
Luther was no shrinking violet. It seems to me that he also had as high an opinion of himself as anybody in history and in fact, He could easily be the poster boy for arrogance. Needless to say, humility was not his strong suit.
"Such honour and glory have I by the grace of God whether it be to the taste or not of the devil and his brood that, since the days of the Apostles, no doctor, scribe, theologian or lawyer has confirmed, instructed and comforted the consciences of the secular Estates so well and lucidly as I have done by the peculiar grace of God. Of this I am confident. For neither St. Augustine nor St. Ambrose, who are the greatest authorities in this field, are here equal to me. . . . Such fame as this must be and remain known to God and to men even should they go raving mad over it." [Verantwortung der auffgelegten Auffrur, 1533] (in Grisar, ibid., vol. 5, 59-60)
This website likewise uses the same quote:
In conclusion, let's marvel at Luther's numerous self-exalting, comically surreal utterances placing himself far above the fathers:-snip-
Such honour and glory have I by the grace of God whether it be to the taste or not of the devil and his brood that, since the days of the Apostles, no doctor, scribe, theologian or lawyer has confirmed, instructed and comforted the consciences of the secular Estates so well and lucidly as I have done by the peculiar grace of God. Of this I am confident. For neither St. Augustine nor St. Ambrose, who are the greatest authorities in this field, are here equal to me. . . . Such fame as this must be and remain known to God and to men even should they go raving mad over it."[Verantwortung der auffgelegten Auffrur, 1533] (in Grisar, ibid., vol. 5, 59-60)The quotes and source look very similar, so I don't think it's a stretch to say one probably comes from the other. In both quotes, the emphasis is placed on Luther's claim about himself. In the former, the quote proves Luther's view of himself indicates arrogance and a lack of humility. The later presents a psychological Luther so out of touch with reality he represents himself with absurd statements. In each instance, the furthest thing considered from either of these statements is any sort of context.
Locating a Source
These days "Grisar vol. 5" is easy enough to locate, and for those of you not used to this game, it isn't a primary source of Luther material. "Verantwortung der auffgelegten Auffrur, 1533" though is a different story. The title is elsewhere referred to as, Verantwortung der auffgelegten Auffrur von Hertzog Georgen, and it's located in WA 38, the German edition of Luther's Works. To my knowledge, this document it not available in English. The full English title would be, Vindication Against Duke Georg's (Charge of) Rebellion, Including a Letter of Consolation to the Innocent Christians Driven By Him from Leipzig.
The Historical Context
One of the best overviews of the background of this work was put together by Mark U. Edwards in Luther's Last Battles. The background is quite fascinating. Duke George had set up a situation in which Protestants were to be watched how they took communion during Easter (they were to receive in one kind). Those not conforming to the method as directed by the Duke were to sell their possessions and be banished from Ducal Saxony. Luther was alerted to this situation, and he advised (via a letter) those convinced to receive both elements do so. The letter made it back to Duke George. Luther's letter was described as "Unchristian and rebellious" and an attempt to provoke the people to be rebellious against authority.
This sparked a written battle, Luther penning the Vindication Against Duke Georg's (Charge of) Rebellion. While we don't have an English translation, Edwards reviewed the argumentation used by Luther, beginning on page 56. The actual spot where our obscure quote comes in is WA 38:101-103. Edwards explains Luther's point:
While [Luther] bore no grudge against anyone, he wrote, he had to innocently bear the title of rebel, a title that Christ himself had to bear. 'For he himself was also crucified as a rebel and hanged between two murderers, and his rebellious title was King of the Jews, that is that he wished to oppose the emperor, his authority, to make his subjects disobedient and disloyal, and to make himself king, etc.' In fact, since the time of the apostles, no one had more magnificently upheld secular authority than had he. The real rebels were the Catholics who condemned the lay estate and tried to turn rulers into monks.Interestingly, a Roman Catholic response to Luther was put forth by Johannes Cochlaeus, and Edwards explores this as well. Cochlaeus also later outlined his response in his book The Deeds and Writings of Martin Luther, which is now in print. On page 287, he quotes Luther saying:
"If any grace can be deserved from a cursed and sinful world, and if I Dr. Martin had taught or done no other good thing than thus to have brought to light and decked out the secular government and power, for that one deed at least they should both thank me and favor me. For I have such glory and honor, through the Grace of God, concerning this matter (whether it pleases or pains the Devil with all his fish-scales) that from the time of the Apostles no Doctor or writer, no theologian or legal scholar, has so notably and clearly strengthened, instructed, and consoled the consciences of the secular estates as I have done - through the extraordinary Grace of God, this I know for certain. For neither Augustine nor Ambrose (who nevertheless were excellent in this business) were my equals in this, etc."Conclusion
What I find so ironic in the criticisms above is that Luther was often accused of being a lackey of the princes and rulers. In fact Rome's defenders themselves often blame Luther's involvement with the rulers during the peasants war. In this instance, Luther admits his deep involvement with secular rulers, but he's still chastised by Roman Catholics. I will say though Grisar is definitely onto something when he refers to this quote and says, "His actual words reveal their hyperbolical character, or rather untruth, by their very extravagance." True indeed, Luther was prone to strong hyperbole, and Rome's defenders continually miss this. If one reads through any of Luther's strong polemical treatises, this type of language abounds: anger, sarcasm, hyperbole, all weaved together.
What I do find interesting is that those Roman Catholics who take such sentiment from Luther with the utmost seriousness haven't seriously countered his claim. Cochlaeus parrots the same sentiment above by saying Luther wasn't humble. Others may think it proves Luther instability or insanity. But in terms of evaluating Luther interaction with secular rulers up to 1533, forget about hyperbole, and answer his claim. As Edwards states, "Luther, on the basis of his theology of the two kingdoms, could with complete consistency argue that no one had advocated obedience to secular authority more forcefully than had he" (p.66). On the other hand, Edwards notes some problems with consistency in practical application with Luther's view. These are much different considerations that aren't even touched by the Roman Catholic citations I began this post with. No, they're concerned about psychology rather than history and facts. It appears, for Rome's defenders to be deep into reformation history is to go deep into psychoanalysis, not history.