Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Luther's Early Arguments For and Against the Papacy (Part 1)

"I worship and follow the Roman church in all things. I resist only those who in the name of the Roman Church strive to erect a Babylon among us; they desire that whatever they think up, so long as they can move their tongues to pronounce the words "Roman Church," be immediately and unreservedly received as the opinion of the Roman Church, as if Holy Scripture were not supreme" - Martin Luther Acta Augustana (WA 2:22.23-27).

These words were written after Luther's interview with Roman Catholic apologist (and Romanist official) Cardinal Cajetan in 1518. The indulgence controversy was in full swing, but the discussion and argumentation began to heavily shift into the area of authority. At this point, Luther still had a kind of respect for the institution of the papacy, but yet detested the abuses perpetrated by the papacy, and obfusaction perpetuated in the indulgence controversy.

Those Romanists who were responding to Luther eventually sought to use arguments from authority to justify indulgences.

Luther actually at this point argued for a way in which the authority of the papacy could be salvaged from the hands of the Romanists. He wrote a treatise entitled Explanation of His Thirteenth Proposition Concerning the Power of the Pope (WA 2:183-240). The treatise was a response to point 13 made by Eck in his Contra novam doctrinam scheda disputoria.

In this document Luther claims to be concerned with the office of the Pope. He argued there was indeed a way to defend papal primacy.

Argument For the Papacy

1. The belief that God established the papacy must be abandoned.

2. Since all temporal powers are ordained by God, the Roman pontiff could still be the de facto head of the church.

3. The papacy is to be tolerated by God's permissive will (de voluntate Dei). It is improper to establish the papacy by divine law (de iure divino).

Argument Against the Papacy

1. The rock of Matthew 16:18 refers to Peter's confession of faith.

2. The keys to the kingdom were promised to all the disciples, not Peter alone (Matt. 18:18; John 20:23).

3. "Tend my sheep" would have been demanded of all the disciples, not Peter alone. History shows the other disciples likewise shared Peter's ministry.

4. "Tend" suggest Peter's primacy was to be of love and self-sacrifice, not power.

5. The decretals from history establishing the divine right of the papacy were blasphemous, unscriptural, counterfeit, and contradictory.

6. The Greek, Russian, African, and Asian churches have never accepted the superiority or infallibility of Rome.


I think it's safe to say that Luther's arguments against the papacy established by divine right have had a long history of usage.

On the other hand, Luther's argument in favor of the authority for Rome was met quickly with opposition from Romanist apologists. In a future post, I'll be outlining the ways Luther's opponents responded to his arguments. I'll be using David Bagchi's book, Luther's Earliest Opponents, which also served as the basis for this post.


Tim MD said...

Hi James,

It’s been a while. You said that Luther’s position was that: “The decretals from history establishing the divine right of the papacy were blasphemous, unscriptural, counterfeit, and contradictory.” To add to that, and to make it more accurate, Luther’s claim, was “that only in the decretals of the previous four hundred years could the claims of papal primacy be established….” Bainton, pg 94

In a letter to Spalatin (2/24/1519), Luther acknowledges Spalatin’s disagreement on the matter of the 400 years and also predicts that Eck (at Leipzig) “will burst forth passionately gesticulating and shouting that I cannot prove my assertion, but have made a mistake reckoning time (as you also think), and that is much more than four hundred years…”

At the Leipzig Debate, Luther did make this claim and was corrected by Eck. As we know from several Protestant Historians and Biographers, Luther was wrong about the issue of the 400 years and in fact, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome was MUCH earlier than that.

Protestant Rivington admits that “Eck quoted authorities of an earlier date, and these Luther was unable to obviate….., pg 225. Schwiebert, another Protestant admits that Luther’s claim “had to be modified somewhat when Eck cited the writings of St. Bernard has already holding this same interpretation.” Pg 406. Schwiebert’s “modified somewhat” is about as close as most Protestant writers can come to “Luther was wrong”.

As we have discussed previously and as you know, Luther was defeated by Eck at Leipzig and not because the audience sided with Eck. Luther lost the debate, as admitted by many Protestant writers because he was wrong on the facts and it was on those “facts” that he based his radical opinions.

Tim MD said...

“The debate from Luther's point of view was not a success. He had hoped much from it, and returned home greatly disappointed. Despite his own and his supporters' claims, the victory was really Eck's, not his, and it was fairly won. No other outcome was possible, and the result might have been foreseen. Luther made a much better showing against the powerful and resourceful debater than Carlstadt, but even his skill was unequal to the task of defending an essentially indefensible position. He committed the mistake of supposing that the radical views reached under the influence of his own religious experience were in harmony with the faith of the church. It is a common mistake.” (Protestant) McGiffert, pg 143

Luther had plenty of time before Leipzig to research his belief about the primacy of the Bishop of Rome being based on only false decretals of the previous 400 years. One must assume that he did spend the time doing that research. However, he did not “discover” that his claim was false and he paid the price for his error at Leipzig.

“According to his knowledge of early Christian literature, there was a sizable gap in time between the writers of the New Testament and the earliest church fathers. Luther regarded Tertullian, who died in 230, as the earliest writer in the church after the apostles…he apparently did not know the writers who later aquired the title ‘apostolic fathers.’ He was therefore, able to invoke the historical and chronological argument in a form no longer available to theologians of the twentieth century.” [Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther The Expositor (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 84].
Pelikan, then a Lutheran, explains at least part of the reason why Luther had not been able to learn the facts about the history of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. His knowledge of the Early Church Fathers was extremely limited. He had no knowledge of the 17 Fathers who preceeded Turtullian.
In fact, Luther bungled his way through the Leipzig Debate, which in many respects was a more important event than the (supposed) posting of the 95 Theses or his statement at the Diet of Worms. By the way, it has not escaped notice that you STILL haven’t written anything about Leipzig, which most Protestant experts consider to be at least one of the two or three most important “events” in the “career” of the Reformer.

James Swan said...

Hi Tim,

The responses to Luther's arguments were answered in a few different writings from a few different Romanist apologists. They will be the focus of a follow-up entry.

Tim MD said...

Hi James,

I look forward to it. Hopefully I can help with context issues, from a Catholic perspective of course. Also I would suggest that in your attempt to accurately portray the orthodox position towards Luther, you should probably look into the writings of John Dominic Crossan and Karen Armstrong. They have very well defined attitudes towards heresy.

Anonymous said...

Tim, while Luther may have lost the debate based on a failure in his research, ultimately the date the practice was begun is irrelevant to his assertion that papal authority is not divinely decreed. Based on the rules of debate, claiming an erroneous date is a seriously blow to the credibility of your argument, no matter what else you say.

Whether this practice was begun the literal day after this statement was made to Peter or hundreds, thousands, millions of years later, this lends no authority to a non-scriptural practice. Common Catholic idea - that some how the older a belief is, the more scriptural(read "authoritative") it is...