Monday, February 15, 2010

Luther: The Gospel Made Things Worse Than Before

Here's an obscure Luther quote used by a defender of Roman Catholicism. It is used as an example of "The Agony of Luther" over "the State of Early Protestantism":
Everyone now complains that the gospel causes much unrest, . . . and since it has come up, everything is worse than ever before. (In Denifle, ibid., 25. Luther quote from Werke, Erlangen edition, 43, 63)(link).
The quote is documented to Roman Catholic historian Heinrich Denifle. Denifle uses this quote to show Luther considered his followers had become worse due to his preaching and teaching. Denifle cites Luther stating: "Therefore it is that everyone now complains that the gospel causes much unrest, bickering and disordered conduct, and, since it has come up, everything is worse than ever before," etc. [link]. Why Denifle's Luther quote was cited with the removal of "bickering and disordered conduct" is anyone's guess. Note this other difference as well: For the defender of Rome the quote serves as proof Luther agonized over the state of Protestantism. For Denifle, the quote proves Luther thought those who accepted his teaching were morally worse (two Roman Catholics, two different interpretations of a historical source).

Another old Roman Catholic writer also cites this quote, Johannes Janssen, in History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages, Volume 5. It appears among a variety of quotes strung together from two different sources (and different pages!) to present yet another picture of Luther:
The attachment of the people to Luther's doctrine was no greater than to his person. 'They say nowadays,' wrote Luther in the year before the Augsburg Diet,'"Ah, yes, the monks used to sing, and pray, and fast a great deal; and they did all this for the honour and glory of God. That sort of thing pleases the common people hugely. They cannot restrain themselves from applauding it."' But the people went much further than this. ' They accuse us of being rebels,' exclaimed Luther, 'of having destroyed the unity of the Church, and of being the authors of all the evils of the day.' 'Formerly, under the papacy,' so went the popular cry, 'things were not so bad. But now, since these teachers have come, there is nothing but disaster —famine, war, and the Turk.' 'Many are saying, Peace is at an end; the world is topsy-turvy; men are confused and bewildered in spirit; religion is going to the dogs; there is no reverence for God; obedience to law is a thing of the past. What good has come out of the Gospel? Everything was formerly in far better state.' Shortly after the close of the Diet of Augsburg Luther made the avowal: 'Everybody is now complaining and crying out that the Gospel has brought much discontent, wrangling, and disorderly living into the world, and that everything is in worse condition since its introduction than before, when things ran smoothly and there was no persecution, and people lived peacefully together, like good friends and neighbours.' The people would willingly drive him, 'together with the Gospel'— to wit, his peculiar tenets— 'sheer out of the country, or else starve him to death.' On the other hand the people clung so tenaciously to the ways of the old Church that Luther declared : 'Were I so disposed I am confident that with two or three sermons I could easily preach my people back into popery and re-establish pilgrimages and Masses.' ' I know for certain that here in Wittenberg you shall scarcely find ten men whom I could not seduce if I returned to practise the sanctity "which I practised in popery when I was a monk.' [link]
For Janssen, the quote serves to show the people were angry with Luther, and this provoked Luther to sarcastically say, "Were I so disposed I am confident that with two or three sermons I could easily preach my people back into popery and re-establish pilgrimages and Masses." Thus, three different Roman Catholics, three different pictures of Luther!

The documentation provied is "Werke, Erlangen edition, 43, 63." This reference is to the Erlangen edition of Luther's works. It is usually referred to as EA. 1826-1857. Sometimes this set is referred to as "Dr. M. Luthers Samtliche Werke" or "E". The set includes German and Latin writings from Luther. Volume 43 can be found here.  Here is page 63, and the paragraph the quote comes from:

This text is from Luther's comments on the Sermon on the Mount (found also in WA 32: 299-544). The clue given by Janssen is that Luther made the statement in question "Shortly after the close of the Diet of Augsburg." This would place the statement around 1530. Luther was continually writing and preaching. Around this time he was preaching from the book of Matthew, and it's from a sermon this quote was taken from. Technically speaking, Luther did not write the paragraph cited above. It is the result of those who heard Luther preach and took notes, then transcribing the material into a written form. LW 21 states that there is uncertainty as to exactly who took down the notes to these sermons from Luther.  Note the caution expressed by the English edition of Luther's works:
Because the evolution of the work from the pulpit to the appearance of the finished commentary is so completely obscure, a certain amount of caution is necessary in referring to it as a source for our understanding of Luther’s thought. We cannot be sure whether the editor or editors, whoever they may have been, took certain liberties with the text of Luther’s sermons as delivered. We know that this happened with other works (cf. Introduction to Vol. 1 of Luther’s Works). At the same time, there seems to be no warrant for the extreme skepticism of certain scholars regarding the reliability of this commentary. There are many parallels throughout Luther’s works for most of the ideas and many of the terms that appear here. (LW 21: xx-xxi)
Luther's sermons on Matthew 5 can be found translated into English in LW 21.The quote comes from Luther's comments on 5:11-12 (particularly verse 12), "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." See for yourself if the context justifies the conclusions of the Roman apologist, Denifle, and Janssen.

These are really sweet and comforting words. They should gladden and encourage our hearts against all kinds of persecution. Should not the dear Lord’s Word and comfort be dearer and more important to us than that which comes from a helpless bag of worms, or the rage, threats, excommunication, curses, and lightning of the miserable pope, even though he deluged us with the very dregs and the whole hell of his wrath and cursing? For I hear my Lord Christ telling me that He is truly delighted, and commanding me to be happy about it. In addition, He promises me such a wonderful reward: the kingdom of heaven shall be mine and everything that Christ has, together with all the saints and all Christendom—in short, such a treasure and comfort that I should not trade it for all the possessions, joy, and music in the whole world, even though all the leaves and all the blades of grass were tongues singing my praises. This is not a Christian calling me “blessed,” nor even an angel, but the Lord of all the angels, before whom they and all the creatures must kneel and adore. With all the other creatures, therefore, with the leaves and the grass, they must cheerfully sing and dance in my honor and praise.
And those who slander and curse me, what are they by comparison but nits and lousy paunches—if you will pardon the expression—so shameful that there is no name for them. If every creature, the leaves and the blades of grass in the forest and the sand on the shore, were all tongues to accuse and destroy them, what would all that be in comparison with a single word of this Man? His voice sounds clear enough to fill heaven and earth and to echo through them, silencing the slobbering coughs and the hoarse scratching of His enemies.
You see, that is how we should learn something about using these words for our benefit. They are not put here for nothing, but were spoken and written for our strengthening and comfort. By them our dear Master and faithful Shepherd, or Bishop, arms us. Then we shall be unafraid and ready to suffer if for His sake they lay all kinds of torment and trouble upon us in both words and deeds, and we shall despise whatever is offensive to us, even though contrary to our own reason and heart.
For if we cling to our own thoughts and feelings, we are dismayed and hurt to learn that for our service, help, counsel, and kindness to the world and to everyone we should get no thanks except the deepest and bitterest hatred and cursed, poisonous tongues. If flesh and blood were in charge here, it would soon say: “If I am to get nothing else out of this, then let anyone who wants to, stick with the Gospel and be a Christian! The world can go to the devil for help if that is what it wants!” This is the reason for the general complaint and cry that the Gospel is causing so much conflict, strife, and disturbance in the world and that everything is worse since it came than it was before, when things moved along smoothly, when there was no persecution, and when the people lived together like good friends and neighbors.
But here is what it says: “If you do not want to have the Gospel or be a Christian, then go out and take the world’s side. Then you will be its friend, and no one will persecute you. But if you want to have the Gospel and Christ, then you must count on having trouble, conflict, and persecution wherever you go.” Reason: because the devil cannot bear it otherwise, nor will he stop egging people on against the Gospel, so that all the world is incensed against it. Thus at the present time peasants, city people, nobles, princes, and lords oppose the Gospel from sheer cussedness, and they themselves do not know why.
So this is what I say in reply to these idle talkers and grumblers: “Things neither can nor should run peacefully and smoothly. How could things run smoothly, when the devil is in charge and is a mortal enemy of the Gospel? There is good reason for this, too, since it hurts him in his kingdom, where he can feel it. If he were to let it go ahead unhindered, it would soon be all over and his kingdom would be utterly destroyed. But if he is to resist it and hinder it, he must rally all his art and power and arouse everything in his might against it. So do not hope for any peace and quiet so long as Christ and His Gospel are in the midst of the devil’s kingdom. And woe upon the peaceful and smooth situation that used to be, and upon those who would like to have it back! This is a sure sign that the devil is ruling with all his might and that no Christ is there. I am worried that it may be this way again and that the Gospel may be taken away from us Germans all too soon, which is just what these rioters are struggling for now.”
But we have the assurance that it is not our fault when there is trouble. It would give us heartfelt joy if everything went right. We have done our share. We have been teaching, warning, pleading, beseeching, and giving in, even to our enemies, offering them peace, and doing everything we should do. We have given help and counsel with all our might, at our own risk and disadvantage, tolerating what we should. Yet all we accomplish is shameful and poisonous persecution, slander, and abuse from men who will not stop till they have cooled their rage in our blood. Since the situation will never be different, we let them go ahead with their threatenings, fury, and blasphemy, and hold on to the comfort we have heard. We are sure that they cannot accomplish what they desire until they first topple Christ from heaven and make a liar out of Him, with all that He has said. [LW 21:50-52].

Once again, the context doesn't validate anything any of these three Roman Catholic writers claim: The Agony of Luther" over "the State of Early Protestantism," that Luther thought those who accepted his teaching were morally worse,  that the quote serves to show the people were angry with Luther. Rather, Luther's comments are in regard to persecution. Luther understood that the Gospel would cause societal and personal hardship and strife. Contrary to Rome's interpreters, what we find is something quite different when the quote is put back into its context. Remember, truth never fears a context, only propaganda does.

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

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