"Who would have wanted to begin preaching, had we known beforehand that so much disaster, riotousness, scandal, sacrilege, ingratitude [i.e., towards himself], and wickedness were to follow. But now . . . we have to pay for it." (Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumes, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [orig. 1891], XVI, 13; from EA, vol. 50, 74; in 1538. "EA" = Erlangen Ausgabe edition of Luther's Works [Werke] in German, 1868, 67 volumes), Denifle, ibid., 26. (link)
The defender of Rome in question uses this quote three different ways. First, he uses it 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." Third, he uses it to prove "Luther, in later years, lamented often about the actual course of his 'Reformation' in Germany, thus perhaps revealing a sense of failure and guilt."
There are a number of sources provided as documentation. Some of Rome's current cyber-defenders do not appear to even bother to make sure the quote being used proves the points being made when it's placed back in its original context. It's like magic: without a context, the quote can be made to prove three different disparaging things! All the documentation given comes off as a smokescreen for the fact that the author has no idea what the actual context says. But it looks impressive, doesn't it? He mentions what "EA" means, and gives the number of volumes is the German set.
Let's work through some of the sources cited. The documentation given is "Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumes, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [orig. 1891], XVI, 13; from EA, vol. 50, 74; in 1538." This refers to nineteenth century Roman Catholic historian Johannes Janssen's History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages Volume 16. Janssen's work belongs to the period of destructive criticism of Luther and the Reformation. Janssen viewed Luther and the Reformation as destroying German culture and piety (see, Gregory Sobolewski, Martin Luther: Roman Catholic Prophet, p. 22-23). Janssen states, Here is Janssen 16:13. Janssen states,
While Luther speaks here of the anarchy and demoralisation as transitory and accidental, he is forced in other places to confess that: 'Had I foreseen all this abomination, I should never have begun to teach the evangel.' "Who indeed would have set about to preach,' he said in 1538, 'had he known beforehand that so much disaster, riotousness, offence, sacrilege, ingratitude, wickedness, would be the result? But now we are in the midst of it, we must go through with it, and recognise that it is not man's strength and doing but the Holy Spirit Himself that can help us through ; or else we shall not be fit people for the work.' (Dollinger 1, 304-305).An interesting observation about Janssen is that he does not cite a primary writing from Luther. He cites another Roman Catholic historian, Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger (Die Reformation : ihre innere Entwicklung und ihre Wirkungen im Umfange des lutherischen Bekenntnisses Volume 1, p. 304-305... see though top of p. 306). So, the documentation originally provided is embellished by citing Luther's writings ("from EA, vol. 50, 74; in 1538. "EA" = Erlangen Ausgabe edition of Luther's Works [Werke] in German, 1868, 67 volumes"). Another point of interest is that the quote as cited by Rome's cyber-defender does not quite match up to Janssen's citation.
The documentation also includes Heinrich Denifle's Luther and Lutherdom. Denifle states:
The condition was indeed such that, as early as 1527, Luther expressed a doubt whether he would have begun, had he foreseen all the great scandals and disorders." "Yes, who would have wanted to begin preaching, "said he eleven years later, "had we known beforehand that so much misfortune, factiousness, scandal, calumny, ingratitude and wickedness were to follow. But now that we are in it, we have to pay for it" (Erl. 50, 74) [link]The Roman Catholic apologist's quote cited at the beginning of this entry doesn't quite match up to Denifle. When comparing it to Denifle, note that Rome's defender inserted the two words "towards himself." That is, without actually consulting the original context, he knew that the "ingratitude" mentioned was directed toward Luther. That's indeed possible, but without a context... who knows? Luther could've meant ingratitude toward the Gospel, or ingratitude toward each other, or ingratitude toward God. Rome's defender also left out the words, "that we are in it." Why? I have no idea.
One interesting difference between Denifle's rendering and Janssen's is "we have to pay for it" versus "we must go through with it." The former could suggest regret and punishment, while the later suggests weathering a necessary storm. Which is correct?
As noted, a primary source is cited: "EA, vol. 50, 74." 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 50 can be found here. Here is page 74, and the paragraph the quote comes from:
This paragraph contains some of Luther's comments on John 16:13. Rome's defeneder says the quote is from 1538, LW says Luther lectured on John 14-16 in 1537 and the material on John 16 was published in 1539 (LW 24:preface). Technically, Luther did not write this text. These printed words are from the notes of Caspar Cruciger "who acted as the amanuensis for Luther's sermons" (LW 24, preface). Because of Cruciger's editing, getting a specific date as to the exact date of Luther's sermons for this material is not possible. Cruciger turned the sermons into a commentary. Luther was fine with this. He spoke of it as the best book he had written, adding, "of course I did not write it" (LW 24:preface).
This text has been translated into English in LW 24. The quote in question can be found on pages 357-358.
13. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.
Christ calls the Holy Spirit a Spirit of truth in contrast with the spirit of lies. He also spoke about this in the fourteenth chapter (v. 17). The Holy Spirit will teach the disciples and show them that everything Christ told them is the truth; for He is a Spirit who confirms the truth in one’s heart and makes one sure of it. In 1 John 2:27 we read: “As His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie.” Therefore the purport of what He says here is: “Even though you have already heard much about this, you will never understand or believe by your own strength that it will and must be as I have just told you and that what is to be proclaimed about Me through you is true and right. And you would never have the courage to begin such preaching and to persist in it if the Holy Spirit Himself did not come to guide and preserve you in this truth. For at present this is far beyond your power to bear. And when you see this suffering beginning with Me, you will all be offended because of it and will fall away from Me.”
Who would ever have thought or believed that the precious message of the Gospel would fare as the apostles experienced and saw, and as our own experience shows us today? Yes, who of us would have begun to preach if we had known in advance that so much misery, sectarianism, offense, blasphemy, ingratitude, and malice would ensue? But now that we are preaching, we must take the consequences and remember that this is not a human venture and that it does not depend on human power, but that the Holy Spirit Himself must do and preserve it. Otherwise we could not bear this and carry it out.
In 1 Cor. 4:9–13 St. Paul himself points out that after preaching a great deal and for a long time he, too, has had to learn and experience that the apostles must not only be a mockery and a spectacle to the whole world but must be a curse and an offscouring, and be regarded as the most pernicious pestilence and plague on earth. An additional suffering he must bear is the dispersion and, at the same time, the extermination and destruction of the little flock of Christians it has taken him a long time to plant and care for. If one were to consult reason about this and to speak of it on the basis of human wisdom, who would call such happenings truth or the work of the Christian Church and the Holy Spirit? But this is what Christ says to Paul: “Dear Paul, in this way you have to become acquainted with My power” (2 Cor. 12:9). And to Ananias—whom He sends to Paul—Christ says of Paul: “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name” (Acts 9:16).
Thus all Christendom is a small group that must submit to, suffer, and bear more than all other people whatever grief the devil and the world can inflict on it. Now who, in view of what they appear to be and are subjected to, will recognize and learn that they are genuine Christians? Reason will surely not show this. The Holy Spirit must do so. He is called “the Spirit of truth” because in spite of what they appear to be and are subjected to—according to which this message seems to amount to nothing and to be a pack of lies—He strengthens and preserves hearts in the faith. Otherwise no one would have believed for any length of time, or would still believe, that this Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father forever, He who was so shamefully crucified as a malefactor by His own people, is true God? Or how could we conclude with certainty of our own accord that we, who believe in this crucified Christ and are condemned, cursed, and executed by the whole world as God’s enemies and the devil’s own, are actually God’s dear children and saints? After all, we ourselves do not feel this. In fact, our heart tells us something far different, because we are still sinners full of weakness. But this is the work of the Holy Spirit; it is His power; He confirms this in our heart. Therefore we can accept it as true in accord with His Word. He enables us to live and to die by this truth.
Or who could believe that we unfortunate people, who are executed and die like the most miserable human beings on earth, who are buried in the ground, consumed by maggots and worms or are burned alive and reduced to ashes and dust, will all emerge from this stench, from ashes and dust, in the twinkling of an eye, with whole, clean, and shining bodies more radiant than all heaven, than the sun and the moon, more beautiful and precious than all gold and jewels, purer and more fragrant than all balsam, gardens, and Paradise? Of course, no one would ever get to the bottom of this on the basis of reason; for it is altogether too farfetched and entirely too unreasonable to suppose that a being as poor and miserable as is now evident should be destined for the greatness concerning which Scripture says that we shall be eternal heirs of God in heaven and shall live and be saved solely through faith and Baptism, even though we now still have sin and death in us (LW 24:357-359).
The context clearly shows that this quote is not an example of "The Agony of Luther" over "the State of Early Protestantism," or that during the Reformation "Catholics were no more ignorant or impious or wicked than, for example, Lutherans, according to the descriptions of Luther himself," or that "Luther, in later years, lamented often about the actual course of his 'Reformation' in Germany, thus perhaps revealing a sense of failure and guilt." No, the quote is about the offense of the Gospel. Luther expected the Gospel to incite the activity of the Devil, particularly among those who did not embrace it. He expected the Gospel to cause division and trouble, and to infuriate the world against the true church. What should one do when facing such trouble? Regret preaching the Gospel? Countless statements from Luther could be provided proving Luther never regretted the Gospel or proclaiming the Gospel.
The context explains the proper course of action a preacher of the Gospel takes when he finds himself in midst of trouble: "we must take the consequences and remember that this is not a human venture and that it does not depend on human power, but that the Holy Spirit Himself must do and preserve it. Otherwise we could not bear this and carry it out." Who would want to preach the Gospel if they knew beforehand of all the trouble it was bring into one's life? No one, for that is the conclusion of human reason. But as the context states, The Holy Spirit is able to see one through, as he did with the early apostles, who likewise faced dire circumstances brought on by the Gospel. The Holy Spirit makes one fit for such work.
This blog entry is a significant 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. Back in 2010, I was not able to locate the exact context for this quote, so there have been significant changes to this entry from that presented in the former.