Thursday, September 22, 2016

Luther: Those who ought to be good Christians because they have heard the gospel, are harder and more merciless than before

Here's another obscure Luther quote typically used by Rome's defenders:
Those who ought to be good Christians because they have heard the gospel, are harder and more merciless than before . . . Tell me, where is there a town . . . pious enough to . . . maintain one schoolmaster or pastor? . . . Thanks also to the dear Evangel, the people have become . . . abominally wicked . . . diabolically cruel . . . growing fat . . . through plunder and robbery of Church goods . . . Ought we not to be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves? (Janssen, ibid., XV, 466-467) 
From various web-pages, I've come across Rome's defenders using this quote three different ways. First, it was used as an example of "The Agony of Luther" over "the State of Early Protestantism." Second, that during the Reformation "Catholics were no more ignorant or impious or wicked than, for example, Lutherans, according to the descriptions of Luther himself."

The quote is said to come from Johannes Janssen's History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages Volume 15. On pages 466-467, Janssen states:
'Those who ought to be good Christians because they have heard the gospel, are harder and more merciless than before; as is too plainly patent to all beholders. Of old, when under the guidance of the papacy and of a false worship,people were obliged to do good works, everybody was ready and willing. Now, on the contrary, the world has learnt nothing else than to flay, fleece, and openly rob and plunder by lying and cheating, by usury, forestalling and overcharging. And everyone acts against his neighbour, as though he did not regard him as a friend, still less as a brother in Christ, but as a murderous enemy, and only wanted to get everything for himself alone. This goes on daily and gains head without intermission, and is the most common practice and custom in all classes, among princes, nobles, burghers, peasants, in all courts, towns and villages, yea verily in all houses. Tell me, where is there a town however large that is pious enough to collect together as much as would maintain one schoolmaster or pastor? Yes indeed, if it had not been for the charitable alms and endowments of our forefathers, the burghers in our cities, the nobles and peasants in the country, would long ago have been deprived of the Evangel, and not a single poor preacher would have been fed and clothed. For we will not do it ourselves, but we take and seize by force what others have given and founded." 'Thanks also to the dear Evangel, the people have become so abominably wicked, so inhuman, so diabolically cruel and merciless, that they are not content with profiting by the Evangel themselves, growing fat thereon through plunder and robbery of Church goods, but as far as others are concerned they starve the gospel completely out. You may count upon your fingers, here and elsewhere, all that they give and do for it, they who profit by it themselves, for ourselves, who are living now, there has long been no preacher, no scholar able to teach our children and descendants what we have taught or believed.' ' Ought we not to be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves when we think of our parents and forefathers, kings and nobles, princes and others, who gave so liberally and so benevolently, even to superfluity, to churches, parsonages, schools, foundations, hospitals, &c., and by all which they and their descendants were not impoverished?' (Collected Works, xiv 389-391).
I used black lettering to highlight how Rome's defender edited down this paragraph from Janssen. Why would a person take a few words, half a sentence, skip a few words, take a few more, skip a few sentences, and then construct a quote? It's a questionable method to say the least. We'll see below that while this quote comes from one extended paragraph from Johannes Janssen, it ultimately comes from multiple paragraphs from Luther (at least seven paragraphs!), spanning multiple pages. The method of citation often employed by Rome's defenders does point to one blaring conclusion: the quote was never read in its original context in Luther's writings. Had it been, one would realize Janssen didn't cite one paragraph from Luther, but rather sentences from multiple pages.

Janssen says the quote comes from "Collected works xiv, 389-391."This would be the fourteenth volume of the Erlangen edition of Luther's Works, which contains Luther's Church Postil. Here are pages 389, 390, 391. These pages are from a sermon, "Predigt am sechs und zwanzigsten Sonntage nach Trinitatis. Evang. Matth. 25, 31-42" ("Twenty Sixth Sunday After Trinity Sermon, Matthew 25:31-46"). These Postil sermons have a tedious and complicated legacy (see the introduction to LW 75). This sermon has been translated into English. It is found in The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther 3:1 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000) pp. 379-395. It can also be found in  The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. xiv. 379- 395. There are also various websites offering this sermon (link).

The sermon is about Christ's reward to the sheep and condemnation of the goats. Luther notes that until the day of judgment "The good and the bad must remain together in this world... as Christ himself had to tolerate Judas among his Apostles... Christians are even now grieved that they must remain here in the midst of a crooked, perverse, ungodly people, which is the kingdom of Satan..." (The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. xiv, p.382).

In an extended passage beginning on page 384, Luther describes the goats: those "Christians" that are mingled in with the sheep:
11. It seems as though he meant hereby to show that many Christians, after receiving the preaching of the Gospel, of the forgiveness of sins and grace through Christ, become even worse than the heathen. For he also says in Mat. 19, 30, "Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." Thus it will also be at the end of the world; those who should be honest Christians, because they heard the Gospel, are much worse and more unmerciful than they were before, as we see too many examples of this even now.
Aforetime when we were to do good works under the seduction and false worship of the Papacy, every one was ready and willing; a prince, for example, or a city, could give more alms and a greater endowment than now all the kings and emperors are able to give. But now all the world seems to be learning nothing else than how to estimate values, to rake and scrape, to rob and steal by lying, deceiving, usury, overcharging, overrating, and the like; and every man treats his neighbor, not as though he were his friend, much less as his brother in Christ, but as his mortal enemy, and as though he intended to snatch all things to himself and begrudge everything to others.
12. This goes on daily, is constantly increasing, is a very common practice and custom, among all classes of people, among princes, the nobility, burghers, peasants, in all courts, cities, villages, yes in almost every home. Tell me, what city is now so strong and pious as to be able to raise an amount sufficient to support a schoolmaster or a preacher? Yes, if we did not already have the liberal alms and endowments of our forefathers, the Gospel would long ago have disappeared in the cities on account of the burghers, and in the country because of the nobility and peasants, and poor preachers would have nothing to eat nor to drink. For we do not love to give, but would rather take even by force what others have given and endowed. Therefore it is no credit to us that a single pulpit or school is still maintained. Yea, how many there are among the great, the powerful, and the rich, especially in the Papacy, who would like to see nothing better than all preachers, schools, and arts exterminated.
13. Such are the thanks to the blessed Gospel, by which men have been freed from the bondage and plagues of the Pope, that they must become so shamefully wicked in these last times. They are now no more unmerciful, no more in a human, but in a satanic way; they are not satisfied with being allowed to enjoy the Gospel, and grow fat by robbing and stealing the revenues of the church, but they must also be scheming with all their power how they may completely starve out the Gospel. One can easily count upon his fingers, what they who enjoy the Gospel are doing and giving here and elsewhere; and were it only for us now living, there would long since have been, no preacher or student from whom our children and descendants might know what we had taught and believed.
14. In short, what do you think Christ will say on that day, seated on his judgment throne, to such unmerciful Christianity? "Dear sir, listen, you have also pretended to be a Christian and boasted of the Gospel; did you not also hear this sermon, that I myself preached, in which I told you what my verdict and decision would be: `Depart from me, ye cursed?' I was hungry and thirsty, naked and sick, poor and in prison, and ye gave me no meat, no drink, clothed me not, took me not in, and visited me not. Why have ye neglected this, and have been more shameless and unmerciful toward your own brethren than the Turk or heathen?"
Will you excuse yourself by pleading: "Lord, when saw we thee hungry or thirsty?" etc. Then he will answer you again through your own conscience: Dear sir, were there no people who preached to you; or perhaps poor students who should have at the time been studying and learning God's Word, or were there no poor, persecuted Christians whom you ought to have fed, clothed and visited?
15, We ought really to be ashamed of ourselves, having had the example of parents, ancestors, lords and kings, princes and others, who gave so liberally and charitably, even in profusion, to churches, ministers, schools, endowments, hospitals and the like; and by such liberal giving neither they nor their descendants were made poorer. What would they have done, had they had the light of the Gospel, that is given unto us? How did the Apostles and their followers in the beginning bring all they had -for their poor widows, or for those who had nothing, or who were banished and persecuted, in order that no one among them might suffer for the necessities of life! In this way poor Christians should at all times support one another. Otherwise, as I have said, the Gospel, the pulpit, churches and schools would already be completely exterminated, no matter how much the rest of the world did.
Were it not for the grace of God, by which he gives us here and there a pious prince, or godly government, which preserves the fragments still left, that all may not be destroyed by the graspers and vultures, thieves and robbers; were it not for this grace, I say, the poor pastors and preachers would not only be starved, but also murdered. Nor are there now any other poor people than those who serve, or are being trained to serve the church; and these can obtain no support elsewhere, and must leave their poor wives and children die of hunger because of an indifferent world; on the other hand the world is full of useless, unfaithful, wicked fellows among day-laborers, lazy mechanics, servants, maids, and idle, greedy beggars, who everywhere by lying, deceiving, robbing and stealing, take away the hard-earned bread and butter from those who are really poor, and yet go unpunished in the midst of their wantonness and insolence.
16. This I say, that we may see how Christ will upbraid the false liars and hypocrites among Christians, on the day of judgment, and having convicted them before all creatures will condemn them, because they have done none of the works which even the heathen do to their fellows; who did much more in their false and erroneous religion, and would have done it even more willingly had they known better.
17. Since now this terrible condemnation is justly pronounced over those who neglected these works, what will happen to those who have not only neglected the same, have given nothing to the poor Christians, nor served them; but robbed them of what they had, drove them to hunger, thirst and nakedness, furthermore persecuted, scattered, imprisoned, and murdered them? These are so unutterably wicked, so utterly condemned to the bottomless pit with the devil and his angels, that Christ will not think or speak of them. But he will assuredly not forget these robbers, tyrants, and bloodhounds any more than he will forget or pass over unrewarded those who have suffered hunger thirst, nakedness, persecution and the like, especially for his and his Word's sake. He will not forget those to whom mercy has been shown, even though he speaks only to those who have shown mercy and have lent their aid; for he highly and nobly commends them, when he says. "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me" (p.387).

Rome's defenders, be it Janssen or modern cyber-apologists, put together a quote from seven paragraphs. This isn't scholarship or apologetics, it's the way of propaganda. The context isn't about Luther's agony over the state of early Protestantism, nor is it about Protestants being as wicked or impious as Roman Catholics. The context is about false Christians, the goats, mingled in with true Christians, the sheep. Notice Luther says of the false Christians "This I say, that we may see how Christ will upbraid the false liars and hypocrites among Christians, on the day of judgment."

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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