Monday, April 26, 2010

Luther's Hard Work Proves Mental Instability?

I'm appreciative when someone does the work for me, even if that work was done sixty-five years ago. The following is a snippet from Peter F. Wiener's Martin Luther: Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor , followed up by a counter response from Gordon Rupp's book, Martin Luther: Hitler's Cause or Cure? In Reply to Peter F. Wiener (London: Lutterworth Press, 1945) p. 18.

Charge: Peter F. Wiener
Complete mental instability remained the keyword to his life. He tried to overcome his depressions by overwork or too much prayer, always overdoing things, with the result that his mental state deteriorated. There are many passages in his own writings which give us a good insight into Luther's psychological processes. Here is where he is overworking himself. “I need two secretaries. I do practically nothing all day long but write letters. . . . I am Preacher of the Convent and the Refectory; and vicar in the district, and therefore elevenfold Prior; I am responsible for the fish-ponds at Leitzkau; I am agent at Torgau in the suit for Herzberg parish church; I give lectures on St. Paul, I am collecting notes on the Psalter. I rarely have time to recite my Office and say Mass.” “Physically I am fairly well, but I suffer in spirit,” he would confess. “For more than the whole of last week I was tossed about in death and hell, so that I still tremble all over my body and am exhausted. Billows and tempests of despair and blasphemy assailed me and I had lost Christ almost entirely” (Luther's Letters, Enders Edition, vol. 1, pp. 66, 67, and vol. 6, page 71).

At other times he does nothing at all. “I am here in idleness,” he writes in 1521, “alas neglecting prayer and not sighing once for the Church of God. I burn with all the desires of my unconquered flesh. It is the ardour of the spirit that I ought to feel. But it is the flesh, desire, laziness, idleness and sleepiness that possess me” (ibid. vol. 3, page 189).

Response: Gordon Rupp
To the assertion made by many writers of varied and vested mental interests, that Luther was mentally unbalanced, Mr. Wiener adds not a jot of evidence, but a novel device. Hitherto, Luther's prodigious labours and enormous and sustained literary output have told against the charge of madness, but now these things become the neurotic symptom of " overwork " (p. 24). To his dubious anecdotes Mr. Wiener adds ingenious proof. He gives a quotation showing the Reformer working at tremendous pressure, and follows that with two quotations in which Luther sits in idleness. There the man goes, we think, overworking one minute and brooding the next. What an unstable fellow! And now, let us look at Mr. Wiener's conjuring trick more closely.

The first quotation is Luther's description of his many monastic duties, written in 1516 (p. 24).[1] Mr. Wiener knows how to drop a quotation in mid-sentence, and like a hot brick, when it begins to turn on him, and so he does not finish the sentence with "to say nothing of my own temptations from the world, the flesh and the devil. See what a lazy man I am." Then follow the quotations about Luther's idleness. The first is from a letter written in August 1527 when the Reformer was recovering from a dangerous illness which had left him exhausted.[2] The second is from the period (1521) of Luther's enforced hiding in the Wartburg, written during a sharp and painful illness.[3] In fact, in this very letter he confesses that unless some relief comes he must seek a physician (at grave risk of public discovery). We shall consider later the wonderful uses to which Mr. Wiener puts this quotation. Luther was busy in 1516, and in 1527 and 1521 he was idle—because he was ill! What a proof! Is there any moderately busy man alive of whom such assertions could not be made?

1. Luther, W.E. Letters, 1, p. 72. (W.E.=Weimar Edition.)

2 Grisar, Vol. V, 333; VI, 103.

3.Luther to Melancthon, July 13, 1521, W.E. Letters, 2, pp. 356-59.