Sunday, December 20, 2009

Luther: To be continent and chaste is not in me

Earlier Roman Catholic approaches to Luther concentrated heavily on Luther “the person” as a means of evaluating the validity of his theology. In this approach, a strong emphasis on vilifying Luther’s character was the primary means of discrediting the Reformation. This method made it all the way to the early twentieth century with most Roman Catholic scholars, and then lived on with Roman Catholic laymen, apologists, and some parish priests till the age of the Internet. Over the years I've documented this fact often, particularly by examining obscure Luther quotes that are now circulating the Internet, normally pulled from earlier Roman Catholic evaluations.

While going through St. Jerome related material, I came across this by "Brother Francis, M.I.C.M". Brother Francis cited Luther stating, "To be continent and chaste is not in me." The idea behind citing Luther saying something outrageous like this is to show Luther didn't care about sexual morality or restraining anyone, including himself, from sin. In fact, some go as far to assert Luther himself was not chaste. Some earlier Roman Catholic works charge that Luther and his fiance were not chaste with each other previous to their marriage. Roman Catholicism, in comparison to this caricature of Luther, is then touted as placing a great emphasis on chastity, morality, and leading a holy life. Protestantism fails, Rome wins.

The late Brother Francis provided a brief overview of Jerome, describing Jerome's asceticism. Then he made the following comment about Luther's morality:

Let the reader take note of Saint Jerome’s vigilance against temptations. In this, he is in stark contrast to that sixteenth-century cleric who pretended himself to translate and comment on the Scriptures. Luther, suffering the same temptations, chose to succumb rather than to curb them as did Saint Jerome. The "Reformer" frankly admits in his diary that, "To be continent and chaste is not in me." Ironically claiming foundation for his heresy in the writings of Saint Paul, Luther acted as if he had never read those words of the Apostle to the Gentiles, "But I chastise my body and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27); and "Keep thyself chaste." (I Timothy 5:22)

Instead, Luther started a new religion, in which, "Sin will not destroy us in the reign of the Lamb, although we were to commit fornication a thousand times in one day." (Luther’s Letter to Melanchthon, August 1, 1521) Unlike Luther, Saint Jerome fulfilled in his person the wise counsel that he himself had given: "Love the science of Scripture, and you will not love the vices of the flesh."

Bibliographic Information: Luther's diary
I've covered the second quote in depth. The first quote though, "To be continent and chaste is not in me" is said to come from something called Luther's diary. In fact, if you do a web search you'll see the reference given is usually Luther's diary. This quote is often linked with "Why do I sit soaked in wine? ..." Leslie Rumble's and Carty's Radio Replies series says:

269. Do you know of any good in Luther?

Intellectually, not much. He declared that reason was of the devil, and that the Christian must regard it as his greatest enemy. Morally, less still. St. Paul says that those who are Christ's have crucified their flesh with its vices and concupiscences. Gal 5:24. That Luther indulged his vices and concupiscences is clear from his writings, where he gives disgraceful descriptions of his own indulgence in everything passionate. His diaries record shocking excesses of sensuality, which could not be printed in any decent book today. A true Apostle of Christ does not give vent to such expressions as, "To be continent and chaste is not in me," or, "Why do I sit soaked in wine." I do not say these things merely to detract from the memory of Luther. But it is not right that people should be duped by the thought that Luther was a well-balanced and saintly reformer. He was not entirely devoid of good qualities. He was endowed with a certain kindness and generosity. But this does not compensate for his vices. He should have controlled his sentimentality and emotional nature in the light of Christian principles. He did not, but gave free rein to his lower passions, calmly saying that a man has to do so, and will not be responsible for such conduct.

I think it's safe to say Radio Replies is probably the source of the documentation of Luther's diary and the source used by Brother Francis.
So, exactly where is this diary? A Wikipedia article refers to "Helmar Junghans, 'Luther's Diary,' in The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther, ed. Donald K. McKim (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 26." If you go to that page though via the "look inside" feature, you won't find anything about a diary, which is yet another reason not to be bowing to the fount of Wiki-wisdom. In fact, I don't recall ever hearing about Luther's diary. It is possible indeed that Luther kept a diary, but if he did, it's alluded my readings, or I simply don't remember it.

Before I simply accuse Roman Catholics of making up a reference, a particular section of Luther's Table Talk is sometimes referred to as a diary (pieces 3683 to 4719). They were those entries compiled from the notes of Anthony Lauterbach. I don't think though Rumble and Carty, perhaps the originator of the phrase Luther's diary, had this specific fact in mind. I can't though think of any other writing from Luther besides the Table Talk would fit the description: "record[s] shocking excesses of sensuality." I have my doubts that this is a Table Talk statement though. I have my suspicion it comes from another source. Rumble and Carty didn't mean to provide a bogus reference, but they did.

Possible Source
The trick is trying to locate the source Radio Replies used. Nine out of ten times with a source like Radio Replies we can rule out the obscure quote comes from a direct reading of Luther, but was rather taken from a secondary source. Perhaps they used Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau By Jacques Maritain:
Now [Luther] has hardly strength to stand against the malignant fevers of nature. " I am," he will admit three years later, " I am but a man prone to let himself be swept off his feet by society, drunkenness, the movements of the flesh . . ." And again in a sermon of the same period on the state of marriage, " What is needed to live in continence is not in me."

I would be more sure of the source used if I found the "soaked in wine" comment in Maritain, but it isn't there. Maritain doesn't provide a source for the quote in question, but the "three years later" is 1519. This is verified by a similar Luther comment found in Denifle's Luther and Lutherdom Vol. 1. He cites Luther stating "I have not so much of myself, that I can keep continent" from a 1519 sermon:

In January of the same year, the state of his soul in these respects was disclosed in even more glaring colors. Preaching on the married state, he said: "It is a shameful attack (on chastity and virginity). I have known it well. I imagine you ought also to know it. Oh I know it well, when the devil comes and excites the flesh and sets it on fire. Therefore let one bethink himself well beforehand and prove himself, whether he can live in chastity, for when the fire is burning, I know well how it is, and the attack comes, the eye is already blind," and so on. "I have not so much of myself, that I can keep continent."

The sermon Denifle mentions is A Sermon on the Estate of Marriage (1519) located in LW 44. No such statements though as those produced by Denifle appear in LW 44. It is most probable Denifle used the earlier unauthorized version that was published without Luther's knowledge, and printed in WA 9. Grisar quotes some of the same material and says it comes from "the first non-expurgated form of the sermon." He also explains that Luther revised the sermon because of embarrassment at the early unauthorized version. Luther though explains the revision himself:

A sermon on the estate of marriage has already been published in my name, but I would much rather it had not. I know perfectly well that I have preached on the subject, but it has never been put into writing yet, as I am about to do at this moment. For this reason I determined to revise this same sermon, and improve it as much as possible. I ask every good soul to disregard the first sermon published and discard it. Further, if anybody wants to start writing my sermons for me, let him restrain himself, and let me have a say in the publication of my words as well. There is a vast difference between using the spoken word to make something clear and having to use the written word. [LW 44:5].

Which version of the facts one believes is determined by presuppositions. I assume many Roman Catholics would follow Grisar and think Luther was embarrassed by what he actually said, and therefore revised the sermon. Therefore, quoting a bootleg unauthorized version is perfectly acceptable in determining the actual position of Martin Luther on marriage, chastity, or basic morality. Those sympathetic to Luther, viewing him as a fundamentally honest person with good intentions that didn't approve of the bootleg sermon will accept his reasons for such a revision. As to the actual citations produced by Denifle and Grisar, I don't find them all that embarrassing. That Luther got married is a sign he followed his own advice.

I think it's fairly safe to conclude "To be continent and chaste is not in me" as quoted by Brother Francis and Radio Replies originally came from the unauthorized version of A Sermon on the Estate of Marriage (1519). How they came upon the quote was not the result of a direct reading of Luther, but rather from a secondary source. The idea of "Luther's Diary" is yet another myth, perpetuated by Roman Catholics.

Final Thoughts
I've covered similar charges against Luther here. These type of Roman Catholic charges against Luther ultimately fail because, as the cliche goes, they can't see the forest for the trees. By focusing on a minor detail from a bootleged sermon, they neglect the overt historical fact that Luther lived the first part of his life as a celibate monk. He then lived the remainder of his life as a devoted husband. There is no historical record that exists that substantiates Luther being a womanizer or unchaste. On the other hand, there are countless sermons and writings of Luther exhorting his congregation and readers to moral purity. Did Luther struggle with the urge to have sex? If he did, he isn't different than most people, nor is he to be maligned for such a desire. The bigger debate is obviously whether or not celibacy is somehow more holy. This was one of the debates Luther concerned himself with, and one of the main discussions in the early years of the Reformation. Luther's reform imperatives on the holiness of marriage emptied more than a few monasteries, and freed more than a few from an unbiblical vow.


L P said...


Excuse my shameless plug of a post I did a long time ago regarding the claim that Reformation was a product of Luther's libido here:


James Swan said...

Hi L.P.

Thanks for the link.

I took a look at the Ark article you linked to as well:Luther’s Libido
Summary: The founder of German Protestantism, Martin Luther, rejected his vows of celibacy and married a former nun in 1525.

Overall, it isn't a bad link, which surprised me. Here was a snippet I found interesting:

Rachael Kohn: But of course that was a time when the Devil was everywhere, making mischief in people’s lives. Martin Luther himself was a monk who had rejected that life, and married an ex-nun, and of course his critics spoke about him as someone in the thrall of the Devil, that he was a lustful heretic. So lust and libido was sometimes attributed to the Devilish machinations of the Dark Angel.

Merry Wiesner-Hanks: Indeed it was. And in fact his critics, including Thomas More, who writes very scathingly about Luther, he describes, in facts attributes the entire Protestant Reformation to Luther’s own libido, here’s a guy who couldn’t control his sex drive, so he gives up his life as a monk and runs off and marries a nun, which More talks about in fact as incest, because the nun, Katharina von Bora had been married to Christ before, and Luther was in some way a brother of Christ, so they were a brother and sister, spiritually. Therefore their marriage was not only terrible in terms of people who had broken their vows, but was incest.

And other Catholic writers at the time, really attribute the whole thing, the whole Protestant Reformation as simply to be attributed to Luther’s own sex drive. And there are cartoons, scathing cartoons, depicting Luther’s sex drive in very graphic ways.

Rachael Kohn: Yes, I think Martin Luther and his wife Kate, were supposed to have in their union, produced the anti-Christ.

Merry Wiesner-Hanks: Indeed. That’s part of Catholic propaganda we would call it now, Catholic pamphlets at the time.

Those are matched by Protestant pamphlets in fact depicting sexuality in the monasteries, Luther describes homosexuality in fact as something that originated at the court in Rome at the Papal court in Rome, and the Germans he says didn’t know very much about it until they learned about this from the dreadful Italians.

And in fact for Luther himself when he’s talking about sexual desire of the libido, lust, he clearly says over and over again, that lust is something that comes from the Fall. In other words there was no lust originally in the Garden of Eden, he says there was sex. Adam and Eve had sexual relations with one another, and there would have been children had there been enough time before the Fall, but that those sexual relations were motivated by kind of affection, by love to some degree, but not desire.

So that desire or libido, (and I keep trying to use the word libido, because that’s the word he uses) libido was something that came into human nature through the Fall. So it was something that originated with the Devil, indeed. Procreation is created by God.