Monday, November 07, 2016

Luther: If Christ had not entrusted all power to one man, the Church would not have been perfect

Here's one from a Roman Catholic discussion board:

Where did Martin Luther say this? I heard this was a sermon, or is it a writing of his? can I find this in a book?
 “If Christ had not entrusted all power to one man, the Church would not have been perfect because there would have been no order and each one would have been able to say he was led by the Holy Spirit. This is what the heretics did, each one setting up his own principle. In this way as many Churches arose as there were heads. Christ therefore wills, in order that all may be assembled in one unity, that His power be exercised by one man to whom He Himself commits it. He has, however, made this power so strong that He looses all the powers of Hell (without injury) against it. He says: “The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” as though He said: “They will fight against it but never overcome it,” so it is in this way it is made manifest that this power is in reality from God and not from man. Wherefore, whoever breaks away from this unity and order of the power, let him not boast of great enlightenment and wonderful works, as our Picards and other heretics do, ‘for much better is obedience than to be the victims of fools who know not what evil they do”
This quote is a Roman Catholic favorite. It was posted at Catholic Answers as a "favorite because it's profound and I'll bet many do not know he said it...albeit before he split." This Defender of Rome says, "Luther himself in happier days gave witness to the immemorial Tradition of the Church regarding the place of the Pope in the Church." Father John Hardon says of this quote, "Among the extant writings of Martin Luther is a sermon he preached on the feast of St. Peter in Chains, just a year before his formal breach with Rome in 1517. It is unsurpassed as an argument for the primacy and coming on the eve of the Reformation is proof in hand that opposition to the papacy was a Protestant after-thought to rationalize insubordination on other grounds".. and so on.

Documentation
The English translation of this pre-Reformation Luther quote appears to come from Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar's Luther 1:
"If Christ had not entrusted all power to one man, the Church would not have been perfect because there would have been no order and each one would have been able to say he was led by the Holy Spirit. This is what the heretics did, each one setting up his own principle. In this way as many Churches arose as there were heads. Christ therefore wills, in order that all may be assembled in one unity, that His Power be exercised by one man to whom also He commits it. He has, however, made this Power so strong that He looses all the powers of Hell (without injury) against it. He says: The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it, as though He said: They will fight against it but never overcome it, so that in this way it is made manifest that this power is in reality from God and not from man. Wherefore whoever breaks away from this unity and order of the Power, let him not boast of great enlightenment and wonderful works, as our Picards and other heretics do, for much better is obedience than the victims of fools who know not what evil they do (Eccles. iv. 17)." (Sermo in Vincula S. Petri, hence on August 1. " Werke " Weim. ed., 1 (1883), p. 69).
WA 1:69 can be found here. The Latin text for this quote can be found here:

Note the brevity of the Latin text. The above English from Grisar is the complete translation of this Latin text.

Conclusion
The sermon snippet dates from 1516 (the year before the penning of the 95 Theses). One can imagine how Luther must have felt when he pointed out blatant abuses and was simply ordered by the papacy to cease and desist. When Luther said later in his life that he was committed to the papacy in his early career, this quote proves he meant it. Recall what he said later in his life:
I was once a monk and a most enthusiastic papist when I began that cause. I was so drunk, yes, submerged in the pope’s dogmas, that I would have been ready to murder all, if I could have, or to co-operate willingly with the murderers of all who would take but a syllable from obedience to the pope. So great a Saul was I, as are many to this day. I was not such a lump of frigid ice in defending the papacy as Eck and his like were, who appeared to me actually to defend the pope more for their own belly’s sake than to pursue the matter seriously. To me, indeed, they seem to laugh at the pope to this day, like Epicureans! I pursued the matter with all seriousness, as one, who in dread of the last day, nevertheless from the depth of my heart wanted to be saved. (LW 34:328).

Addendum #1: Comparing and Contrasting Rome's Interpreters
Hartmann Grisar uses the quote to prove that when Luther visited Rome in 1510, the corruption or the city did not cause Luther to lose faith in the Papacy. On the other hand, in Rome's defender Ken Hensley's lecture, Luther: The Rest of the Story, he says Luther's experience caused him to doubt the power and authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Take a listen to this short mp3 clip from Hensley.

It's also interesting to contrast Hensley and Grisar on the moral state of Rome during this time period. Hensley comes right out and says Rome was more or less morally depraved from head to toe and that Luther questioned his faith in Rome should be no surprise. In fact, Hensley says if Papal leadership doesn't act morally, this is what one should expect of her faithful followers. Grisar likewise says Rome was "deeply debased" but goes a completely different direction: Luther still should have encountered a "great deal of the Church which no shadow can ever darken" and Luther's "critically disposed mind" "proved all too receptive to the contrary impressions" of Rome and "allowed himself to be unduly influenced by the dark side of things, i.e. the corruption of morals" (Grisar, p.32). Two Roman Catholics, two different historical conclusions!

Addendum #2
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.

2 comments:

zipper778 said...

Hhhhmmmm...You mean that two people who subscribe to the same infallible system can come up with two different versions of historical events? Are they interpreting their own church now and coming up with their own conclusions? Oh well though right? At least they still say that they agree with everything that their church teaches. What Rome wants is lip and physical service, then if you can try to get your theological ducks in a row (good luck with that one).

Matt said...

Mr. Swan,

I'm not sure if it will speak *directly* to the issues at stake here, but it is important to realize that Protestant and Catholic historians decades ago were largely agreed upon the state of Rome in the early sixteenth century. To put it extremely over-simplistically, some Protestants thought it was corrupt because it was Rome, the heart of antichristian papal rule, etc. Catholic historians agreed because it was the period of the papacy corrupted by semi-pagan Renaissance humanism, before the cleaning house of the Catholic/Counter Reformation.

But the state of Rome in this period has undergone a great deal of revision as the Christian character of many Renaissance humanist perspectives has been better grasped, etc.

This is a decent place to go for bibliography and for the narrative itself. Again, it doesn't topple the old perspectives entirely, but it certainly shows that there is greater complexity in the story of Rome during this period of time:

http://books.google.it/books?id=gyuqCdm4SRsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Charles+Stinger+Rome+Renaissance&source=bl&ots=vytdpqF3C8&sig=6dBnfVS8qX9yRr6IjXHXEsfXnTs&hl=en&ei=-Jq5S9SkFd6kOIvI5KAL&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBQQ6AEwAg