Thursday, July 29, 2010

Luther: I sit here idle and drunk all day long

I haven't spent much time on the new CARM discussion boards. Recently a friend invited me back to check in on a few things. Here's one I found from one of my fans:

After Luther’s “capture”, he wrote Spalatin on May 14th: I sit here idle and drunk all day long: I am reading the Greek and Hebrew Bible.” Marius pg 297 Now, THAT could explain quite a few things. One has no choice but to imagine a drunken Luther working on his “translation” of the Bible into German, the 17th or 18th version available in that native language. Here we have the possibility, if not the probability, of the Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, translating the first Protestant Bible while drunk. But then as I mentioned earlier, it sure would explain a number of things in one fell swoop. Now I understand that this admission by Luther himself to being “drunk all day long” goes directly against the “Legend” that Protestantism has built around Him. It also goes against James Swan, who almost certainly knows of this particular quote. “The historical record nowhere documents Luther ever being drunk.” James Swan, “Ten Martin Luther Myths”, 6/30/2007 I’m sure that James, as usual, has an “alternative interpretation” of Luther’s own words, such as that he was “drunk on love of God” or some such other extremely compelling explanation. I am not charging Luther with drunkenness; I am only accepting him at his word, and am placing that admission of drunkenness in the same period of time and at the same location where he did such a “marvelous” job of producing the First Protestant New Testament. Seriously, one has to wonder how James would explain (away) this Luther quote. I think I can guess a few of the possibilities but honestly, I think I am capable of writing his “stuff” better than he can. Quite honestly, it is these kinds of facts about Luther which make the Luther’s “defenders” look to be so blatantly dishonest.

One wonders about why someone would say "I am not charging Luther with drunkenness" but also argue Luther was drunk while translating the Bible. The logic escapes me.

To my knowledge, the historical record nowhere documents Luther ever being drunk. It does provide evidence that he did regularly drink alcohol, and that he enjoyed drinking. Luther preached and wrote against drunkenness throughout his entire life with vigor and force.

On page 297 of Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death, Richard Marius states the following, "Yet amid [Luher's] afflictions, he went to work. By May 14 he was writing to Spalatin, 'I sit here idle and drunk all day long; I am reading the Greek and Hebrew Bible. I am writing a sermon in the vernacular on our liberty from auricular confession."

Is this evidence Luther's admits his drunkenness? If it is, it's somewhat odd evidence. Marius is in the midst of documenting Luther's exile in the caste of the Wartburg (1521). He documents some of Luther's physical afflictions. He then describes Luther's letter to Spalatin (May 14, 1521). Along with "I sit here idle and drunk all day long; I am reading the Greek and Hebrew Bible. I am writing a sermon in the vernacular on our liberty from auricular confession," he notes Luther was working on the Psalms and a collection of German sermons.

This quote is found in LW 48 and in WA, Br 2, 337-338 . It comes from a Latin letter Luther wrote while in hiding at the Wartburg. The quote in question occurs here:

Ego otiosus hic et crapulosus sedeo tota die; Bibliam Graecam et Hebraeam lego. Scribam sermonem vernaculum de confessionis auricularis libertate; Psalterium etiam prosequari, et Postillas, ubi e Wittemberga accepero, quibus opus habeo, inter quae et Magnificat inchoatum expecto.

This is a perfect example of a comment that if taken literally in a context doesn't make much sense. If you actually read the entire letter, it's precise and cogent. Luther comments on the Edict of Worms, on the student riots against some clergy of Erfurt, and other events. He also says he's reading the Bible in Greek and Hebrew.

Marius himself translates the comment as "I sit here all day idle and drunk" (p.517), but then explains it's an example of Luther's hyperbole when describing his ability to drink alcohol. He then adds, "[Luther] may have drunk excessively in these early days in the Wartburg, but he could not have imbibed continually and created the enormous output he produced during his 'captivity.' "

Luther's Works Volume 48 takes a different approach. Like Marius, they see that the comment doesn't make sense literally. They renders this text as follows:

I am sitting here all day, drunk with leisure. I am reading the Bible in Greek and Hebrew. I shall write a German tract on the freedom of auricular confession. I shall also continue working on the Psalms and the Postil as soon as I have received the necessary things from Wittenberg—among which I also expect the unfinished Magnificat. [LW 48:223]

One of the most thorough treatments I've ever read on Luther's drinking comes from Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar. Grisar doesn't even take Luther serious in this context:

The task remains of considering certain further traits in Luther's life with regard to his indulgence in drinking. During the first part of his public career Luther himself speaks of the temptation to excessive eating and drinking and other bad habits to which he was exposed. This he did in 1519 in his remarkably frank confession to his superior Staupitz. Here the expression " crapula " must be taken more seriously than on another occasion when, in a letter to a friend written from the Wartburg in the midst of his arduous labours, he describes himself as "sitting idle, and ' crapulosus.' " [source]

Hartmann Grisar was no fan of Luther. His work is typically classified with the earlier Roman Catholic destructive criticism of Luther, but even he doesn't take Luther literally.

The debate centers around the transaltion of the word "crapulosus." Preserved Smith explains:

Crapulosus properly has this' meaning [drunk], and is so used by Luther himself, Weimar, iii, 559, 596. On the other hand, he also uses it of gluttony: "Sicut ebreitas m1nium bibendo, ita crapula nimium comedendo gravat corda," Weimar, ii, 591. Perhaps "surfeited" comes nearer Luther's meaning in this letter [source].

This source translates the word differently as well:

Prof. A. F. Hoppe, in the St. Louis edition of Dr. Luther's Works, translates them: "I sit here the whole day idle and with a heavy head (schweren Kopfes)." Prof. Dan translates them: "I am sitting idle all day and oppressed with thoughts" [source].

One thing is indeed certain on this topic. For those who wish to vilify Luther, the word must literally mean "drunk." I don't deny Luther drank and enjoyed doing so, but this quote isn't evidence that he translated the Bible drunk.

For more on this topic see, Luther's Drinking (Part One).


Anonymous said...

You'd have to be drunk to believe in the inheritance of original sin.

David said...

The truth is I would have to be drunk to believe your view of it all versus accepting by faith, God's Holy Word. Original sin, the virgin birth, the resurrection and many other miraculous events are all part of God's mysterious plan. Thank God you had nothing to do with it except
proclaim your self righteous unbelief.