Sunday, August 29, 2010

Luther:Philosophy Should Be Learned To Be Refuted

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "On Reason":

“One should learn Philosophy only as one learns witchcraft, that is to destroy it; as one finds out about errors, in order to refute them” [Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Fol. (1516). Ficker, II, 198. Cf. Three Reformers, By Jacques Maritan, Pg. 31].

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." This is a quote highlighting Luther's alleged denigration of human "reason". They attempt to show Christ exhorted his hearers to use reason and be wise, while Luther says philosophy (where "reason" plays a crucial role) is basically evil and should only be learned as a subject to be refuted.

Documentation
Luther Exposing the Myth cites "Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Fol. (1516). Ficker, II, 198. Cf. Three Reformers, By Jacques Maritan, Pg. 31."  "Three Reformers" is the work of Roman Catholic scholar Jacques Maritain. Page 31 states:
Has [Luther] a grudge against particular system? No. He is attacking philosophy itself. "Barking against philosophy is a homage he thinks to give to God... One should learn philosophy only as one learns witchcraft, that is to destroy it; as one finds out about errors, in order to refute them" [Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, fol. (1516). Ficker, II, 198].
The quote was most likely taken from Maritain's book rather than any study of  Johannes Ficker's two-volume publication of Luther's Romans material (Die Glosse; Die Scholien) published in 1908.  Ficker was part of recovering this long lost writing of Luther's. The section Maritan appears to be citing is actually on page 199 of Ficker II,


The text can also be found in WA 56:371. There are a few different English translations of this quote: "one should learn philosophy only as one learns bad arts, that is to destroy them" [source], and also, "Do not seek to establish and defend philosophy, but rather study her as we do evil arts and errors, to destroy and to refute" [Plass, What Luther Says, II:1053 (entry 3350)]. The most complete English context has been provided in LW 25:361-362.

This quote comes from Luther expounding on Romans 8:19. "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God." The exposition on this verse from Luther is pre-Reformation writings (1515-1516).

Context

19. For the creation waits. The apostle philosophizes and thinks about things in a different way than the philosophers and metaphysicians do. For the philosophers so direct their gaze at the present state of things that they speculate only about what things are and what quality they have, but the apostle calls our attention away from a consideration of the present and from the essence and accidents of things and directs us to their future state. For he does not use the term “essence” or “activity” of the creature, or its “action,” “inaction,” and “motion,” but in an entirely new and marvelous theological word he speaks of the “expectation of the creation,” so that because his soul can hear the creation waiting, he no longer directs his attention to or inquires about the creation itself, but rather to what it is awaiting. But alas, how deeply and painfully we are ensnared in categories and questions of what a thing is; in how many foolish metaphysical questions we involve ourselves! When will we become wise and see how much precious time we waste on vain questions, while we neglect the greater ones? We are always acting this way, so that what Seneca has said is very true of us: “We do not know what we should do because we have learned unimportant things. Indeed we do not know what is salutary because we have learned only the things that destroy us.”
Indeed I for my part believe that I owe to the Lord this duty of speaking out against philosophy and of persuading men to heed Holy Scripture. For perhaps if another man who has not seen these things, did this, he might be afraid or he might not be believed. But I have been worn out by these studies for many years now, and having experienced and heard many things over and over again, I have come to see that it is the study of vanity and perdition.
Therefore I warn you all as earnestly as I can that you finish these studies quickly and let it be your only concern not to establish and defend them but treat them as we do when we learn worthless skills to destroy them and study errors to refute them. Thus we study also these things to get rid of them, or at least, just to learn the method of speaking of those people with whom we must carry on some discourse. For it is high time that we undertake new studies and learn Jesus Christ, “and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
Therefore you will be the best philosophers and the best explorers of the nature of things if you will learn from the apostle to consider the creation as it waits, groans, and travails, that is, as it turns away in disgust from what now is and desires that which is still in the future. For then the study of the nature of things, their accidents and their differences, will quickly grow worthless. As a result the foolishness of the philosophers is like a man who, joining himself to a builder and marveling at the cutting and hewing and measuring of the wood and the beams, is foolishly content and quiet among these things, without concern as to what the builder finally intends to make by all of these exertions. This man is empty-headed, and the work of such an assistant is meaningless. So also the creation of God, which is skillfully prepared for the future glory, is gazed upon by stupid people who look only at its mechanics but never see its final goal. Thus are we not completely off the track when we turn our thoughts to the praises and glories of philosophy? Look how we esteem the study of the essences and actions and inactions of things, and the things themselves reject and groan over their own essences and actions and inactions! We praise and glorify the knowledge of that very thing which is sad about itself and is displeased with itself! And, I ask you, is he not a mad man who laughs at someone who is crying and lamenting and then boasts that he sees him as happy and laughing? Certainly such a person is rightly called a madman and a maniac. Indeed, if only the rude common people foolishly thought philosophy was of some importance and did not know how to interpret the sighing of the natural order, it would be tolerable. But now it is wise men and theologians, infected by this same “prudence of the flesh,” who derive a happy science out of a sad creation, and from the sighings they laughingly gather their knowledge with marvelous display of power.
Thus the apostle is right in Col. 2:8 when he speaks against philosophy, saying: “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.” Clearly if the apostle had wanted any philosophy to be understood as useful and good, he would not have condemned it so absolutely. Therefore we conclude that whoever searches into the essences and actions of creation rather than its groanings and expectations is without doubt a fool and a blind man, for he does not know that creatures are also a creation of God. This is clear from the text [LW 25:361-362].

Conclusion
Contexts are helpful! Luther's contrast between philosophy and theology is an exhortation to study the Scriptures as divine revelation. He passionately appeals to his students that no one makes a prey of them by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition. Luther says elsewhere, Philosophy does not understand sacred things, and argues against mixing it with theology. Rather than pursuing philosophical speculation, Luther exhorts his pupils to "undertake new studies and learn Jesus Christ, 'and Him crucified' (1 Cor. 2:2)." Rather than "abandoning the faith and leading many into apostasy" as Luther Exposing the Myth states, the context of this quote shows quite the opposite.

Addendum (2016)
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.

11 comments:

webulite.com said...

I think that Luther, just as Calvin, have lost pretty much any popularity. They had a nice run for a few hundred years, but they are pretty much dead now. Only a very small radical group care anything about them any longer.

Cheers! webulite.com

Dozie said...

While you continue to play "romance" with Luther, Paul McCain (http://cyberbrethren.com/) has some fine words for you:

"I resent how Calvinists continue to try to coop Martin Luther for their cause. We all know how vigorously Luther rejected the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper, among many other views. I understand why the Calvinists must play Lutheran hymns, since their own tradition produced no music of any value in Germany during the Reformation era, but simply using “A Mighty Fortress” as a soundtrack for a video does not in any way give them any right to imply that they are somehow the legitimate heirs of Luther’s Reformation".

Paul McCain then warns everyone: “Calvinism is not a faithful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is not an authentic, genuine and true presentation of the Reformation, but an unfortunate deformation of it”.

webulite.com said...

Dozie, do you guys just argue supernaturalistic beliefs all day, or does anyone that stops by here ever study the history of christianity. I have been studying it for about 15 years, and am just starting to gear myself up to write a "for the beginner summary" to the subject. Would be fun to have others to talk to as I do it. So I set up a Chat facility on webulite.com with some community type features. Not sure if you, or any others are interested in that kind of thing, or if this is strictly a supernaturalism oriented group.

Cheers! webulite.com

Dozie said...

Just to clarify, my first comment was directed at James Swan specifically and his cohort s in general.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Are you referring to Jacques Maritain? If so you should at least spell his name correctly.

beowulf2k8 said...

Clearly when one reads Isaiah 7 for what it actually says and then reads Matthew's twisting of it, one has to either let their jaw gape in amazement or let out a chuckle. Luther must have noticed an issue like this and realized that all would be lost unless he could convince everyone that God wants us to be irrational. And sadly so many follow him in thinking irrationally that God gave us a mind and reason to damn us, and that if we use these and rationally analyze Scripture he will burn us in hell eternally for it. Quite frankly, such people are in hell already, for a society that rejects reason (as most churches do) is hell. This is why so many are miserable as an exact result of their churchgoing -- their church is a form of hell due to its rejection of reason and the clerical tyranny that results from that rejection.

Ken Abbott said...

Mr. McCain is entitled to his erroneous opinions. I regret the long and decidedly un-Christian rancor that has plagued the relationship between Lutherans and the Reformed over the years. But to insist that the Reformed tradition is a "deformation" and ignore the warm, friendly relationship that many Lutherans and Calvinists enjoyed (including Melanchthon's and Calvin's friendship) is simply to do further violence to the peace of the body of Christ.

James Swan said...

Webulite-

I could care less who is popular.

Dozie:

I could care less what Rev. Mc Cain thinks about Calvinism.


To all, in general:
I write about what I want to. I find it quite fascinating to take Romanist used facts and quotes, and put those facts and quotes back in context. It never ceases to amaze me how unscrupulous some Romanist “research” is. That very few Romanists actually post anything meaningful in response to these quotes once I put them back in context in very telling.

Dozie said...

"I find it quite fascinating to take Romanist used facts and quotes, and put those facts and quotes back in context."

Whatever the above is supposed to mean, but is it any wonder why Protestantism is doomed? James Swan is the authority to put Mr. Luther's quotes in context.

"It never ceases to amaze me how unscrupulous some Romanist “research” is. That very few Romanists actually post anything meaningful in response to these quotes once I put them back in context in very telling."

You would first have to get Catholics to agree that you've put Luther's quotes in context. Further, Catholics have the right to demand that your brand of Protestantism deal with the identity crisis implicit in Paul McCain's comment before any meaningful engagement with you. This is ultimately the big issue - is Reformed religion or any other Protestant denomination a "Christian Church"? Do they have the language to engage with Catholics? Do they have the orientation to understand the language of "sacred theology"?

James Swan said...

Whatever the above is supposed to mean, but is it any wonder why Protestantism is doomed? James Swan is the authority to put Mr. Luther's quotes in context.

Romanists have provided me with enough material from Luther to keep this blog going for years. If I were you, I would exhort your fellow Romanists to actually read a context carefully before citing Luther.

I am by no means an authority on Luther. You'll notice though I usually provide links or actual helpful references to anyone who wishes to check my work.

You would first have to get Catholics to agree that you've put Luther's quotes in context.

Scroll through my entries and you'll notice your fellow Romanists rarely ever challenge my findings. Either they don't care (those who spew propaganda rarely come out from under their rock), or they simply don't have a counter response.

Further, Catholics have the right to demand that your brand of Protestantism deal with the identity crisis implicit in Paul McCain's comment before any meaningful engagement with you.

What a joke. You seem to be implying that only a Lutheran can interpret Luther, which is sheer nonsense.

This is ultimately the big issue - is Reformed religion or any other Protestant denomination a "Christian Church"? Do they have the language to engage with Catholics? Do they have the orientation to understand the language of "sacred theology"?

Well, obviously you don't have a response to the context of the Luther quote in question. Your evasion is noted.

Tim Enloe said...

As another note on the context of this Luther remark, one has to remember that Luther was himself highly trained in philosophy. He used to describe himself, in fact, as a student of William of Ockham, and he was well-read in the 15th century nominalist theologians Pierre D'Ailly and Jean Gerson. The nominalists had reacted against the truly excessive philosophizing that had come to characterize Scholastic theology, and had sought to return the Church to the Scriptures as the sole source of infallible revelation. They were not against philosophy per se - nominalism itself was a philosophy, and so Luther's "anti-philosophy" remarks are themselves philosophical in nature - but against philosophical excesses.

From the Catholic side, Erasmus chronicles some of these Scholastic excesses marvelously in his Praise of Folly. My favorite one is the gaggle of priests sitting around in their School outfits actually spending time wondering whether Christ could have been incarnated as a donkey or a pumpkin instead of a man. Clearly, philosophy can go way too far, and can actually come to obscure the Scriptures and Christ. That is what Luther's concern was, but like the other oft-misquoted remark about "reason" as "the devil's whore," context is everything. Not just the context of the words, but the context of the times he lived in.