Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pope Leo: The 95 Theses was Written by a Drunken German


Here's a first. I'm going to defend statements said to have been made by Pope Leo in 1518 about Luther. "After some investigation Pope Leo X dismissed Luther as 'a drunken German' who 'when sober will change his mind'"[source]. You can find probably a hundred or more different web pages saying the same. I can recall hearing sermons and lectures mentioning this. Is there credible proof Pope Leo actually said this? No, there isn't.

Philip Schaff provides our first clue as to its non-authenticity as saying the utterance was "reported to have been said":

Pope Leo X was disposed to ignore the Wittenberg movement as a contemptible monkish quarrel; but when it threatened to become dangerous, he tried to make the German monk harmless by the exercise of his power. He is reported to have said first, “Brother Martin is a man of fine genius, and this outbreak is a mere squabble of envious monks;” but afterwards, “It is a drunken German who wrote the Theses; when sober he will change his mind.” Schaff, P. History of the Christian Church (7).

Who "reported" it? Schaff doesn't say. The next clue comes from John Warwick Montgomery. Montgomery says the statement "is of doubtful authenticity" and also locates the primary source:

"When Luther's Ninety-Five Theses were forwarded to Rome and were read by Pope Leo X, a tradition credits the Pope with saying: 'These have been written by a drunken German. He will feel differently when he is sober.'* This statement is of doubtful authenticity, but it reveals an initial reaction on the part of Luther's theological opponents: Luther need not be taken seriously from an intellectual standpoint." *Tischereden, 2635 a and b, in the standard critical Weimarer Ausgabe (WA) of Luther's Works. Luther commented: 'Ita alii omnes me a principo alto supercilio contemnebant.' Source: John Warwick Montgomery, In Defense of Martin Luther (Milwaukee:Northwestern Publishing House, 1970), p.116

Montgomery locates the source as being from The Table Talk, entry 2635. The entries 1950 to 3416 are in WA, TR 2 and 3. They are Luther sayings from the years 1532 and 1533. They were collected by Conrad Cordatus, but this doesn't mean he actually wrote them down. This entry, nor many of those from the Cordatus collection are in the current edition of Luther's Works. The editors explain:

"In addition to taking notes of his own at Luther’s table, Cordatus assembled notes made by others and incorporated them into his own collection. Later he revised all the notes in his possession for the purpose of making stylistic improvements. Unfortunately this removed them a step further from what was actually said at table, and on this account a relatively small sampling was selected from the Cordatus collection for this edition." [LW 54:169].

So, the originator of this saying turns out to be none other than Luther himself. But, the actual text wasn't written by Luther, who mentioned it many years after the fact, nor does the text in question come from a collection of pure pedigree. One wonders how Luther could even know of such a statement from the Pope.

There are a few helpful references available to help track down the Table Talk entry. These references from older sources still use the archaic word "Dutchman" instead of "German":

Luther himself says, "When my first positions concerning indulgences were brought before the pope, he said, ' A drunken Dutchman wrote them; when he hath slept out his fumes and is sober again, he will then be of another mind."(Tabletalk) [Source]

Luther elsewhere gives a different account of the matter:—" When my first positions (he says in his Table Talk) concerning indulgences were brought before the pope, he said, ' A drunken Dutchman wrote them ; when he hath slept out his sleep, and is sober again, he will then be of another mind.' In such sort he contemneth every man." [
Source]


The actual Table Talk entry is found in the old book The Familiar Discourses of Dr. Martin Luther. What I find interesting is that I thought this old English edition of the Table Talk was the typical one that circulated in the 1800's and 1900's. However, the other versions I have don't include this saying, nor is this volume set up like the other early English versions. Here is the entry:

"THE Pope, in one day, made thirty Cardinals, which were met beyond the Tyber, and received in great state by many thousands of horsemen; all the cannon roared for joy in a glorious manner. Then came our Lord God also thereunto with thunder and lightning, which so affrighted them that (as Pasquillus writeth), in the Church, the little child fell out of the arms of God's mother, and ascended up into Heaven, fearing it should, with the rest, be made also a Cardinal. On the same day, a priest, saying mass at the alter, lost the consecrated oblate, and for fear spilt the cup, at which accident the Pope cried out aloud, and said, one of these Cardinals will prove a poison and pestilence of the Romish stool, which accordingly fell out shortly before the Gospel was brought again to light.

When my first positions concerning indulgences were brought before the Pope, he said, a drunken Dutchman wrote them; when he hath slept out his sleep, and is sober again, he will then be of another mind. In such sort he contemneth every man" [
source].

It's no wonder the entirety of the entry is never quoted. The first paragraph is quite obscure. Perhaps a better English translation could be rendered. Then comes the actual quote, like a disjointed fragment stuck onto the preceding paragraph.

Did the Pope actually say this? The evidence suggests the quote is probably spurious. Did Luther actually say this? That is a bit more probable, but the source documents are not completely trustworthy. Should this quote be used in Luther materials? Probably not.

5 comments:

Edward Reiss said...

James,

This is interesting and enlightening. I appreciate that you seek truth in these things and are not a mindless partisan.

beowulf2k8 said...

Well, they were written by a drunken German. Who else would have written #50 "Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep"?

Luther was declaring that Christians be taught a lie! He knew good and well the pope was the antichrist, but because he was drunk he said we should be taught that the pope was a godly man. How shameful! What a drunken loser!

Louis said...

Luther didn't conclude that the pope was the antichrist until the pope resisted every attempt to be called back to the gospel. I believe it was a rude awakening for all of the reformers.

ProfessorChaffee said...

I'm doing a graduate research paper on Martin Luther and his relationship with Thomas More. I ran across this quote several times, and wanted to find the primary source in order to use it. Thanks so much for clarifying :)

James Swan said...

I'm doing a graduate research paper on Martin Luther and his relationship with Thomas More. I ran across this quote several times, and wanted to find the primary source in order to use it. Thanks so much for clarifying

Glad I could help. Best wishes for your studies.