Thursday, December 03, 2009
Luther on Ghosts & Purgatory
I probably should have posted this in October. Below is an excerpt from Luther's Easter Tuesday sermon "delivered at home, in the Lutherhalle, 1533." The complete text is located in The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Volume 6 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), pp.32-40.
Luther preached on Luke 24:36-47. In this text, Jesus appeared suddenly to his disciples, even though the doors were locked.
Luther makes a few comments about ghosts:
First there is this, that the disciples, when the Lord suddenly comes to them through locked doors, are frightened by him, and think it is a spirit. From these words we learn that it is not a new thing that people may see spirits. For the Lord himself does not deny that spirits make themselves visible, but rather confirms it by making a distinction between the spirits and himself. He says to the disciples, Why are you frightened and thinking such things? "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see me have."
So if we stop there, it appears Luther is granting the validity of ghosts. But he continues by saying ghosts are satanic manifestations:
It is useful and necessary to know that we are not so alone, as if the devil were a hundred miles or more removed from us; he is everywhere around us and sometimes puts on a mask. I have seen him myself appearing as if he were a pig, a burning wisp of straw, or something like that.
Yes, I did chuckle at the notion of a satanic pig. Luther then points out how ghostly manifestations were understood during his time period. It appears that ghosts were understood to be people in purgatory, coming back to have masses said for them:
You have to know this, and it prevents us from making a superstition out of it and considering such spirits to be souls of men, as has happened up to now, and by it the popish mass has been much promoted and exalted. For when the devil lets himself be seen or heard in this way, everybody mistakes it for human souls desiring Mass to be held for them, so that they may be rescued out of purgatory. The books are full of such stories. But what kind of grievous errors and idolatry ensue, alas, we know only too well.
For this is how we got purgatory, for in purgatory one later receives the merit of his own and others' good works, as if these were of benefit to the departed. It is easy to appreciate how through such false doctrine, the death and resurrection of Christ are diminished and works are elevated. In the third place, from this has resulted the horrible abomination of the Mass, by which the sacrifice of Christ has become completely obscured and the Lord's Supper twisted and horribly abused, as if it were instituted for the benefit of the dead and not the living. Such a shameful thing has arisen entirely from such superstition. The devil disguised himself and appeared here and there in various ways, and everyone believed it to be not the devil but a human soul. Otherwise, if they had known it to be the devil, they would have been slow to believe him, for everyone knows that he is a murderer and a liar. It is for that reason that even Christ himself during his earthly ministry did not want the devil's testimony, even when he was telling the truth, as we see in the first chapter of Mark and in other places, where Christ forbade him to speak, not wanting his testimony, even though he told the truth.