Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Luther: I look upon God no better than a scoundrel

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

Christ taught: “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment”[Matt 22:37]. Luther teaches: “I look upon God no better than a scoundrel” [Weimar, Vol. 1, Pg. 487. Cf. Table Talk, No. 963].

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." With this quote, they attempt to show Luther thought God was a scoundrel, therefore denying the great commandment.

Documentation (Short Synopsis)
Luther, Exposing the Myth probably lifted this quote from Peter Wiener, Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor. Wiener lifted the quote from Frantz Funck-Brentano's biography of Luther. Neither Wiener nor Funck-Bretano documented Luther correctly. Therefore, Luther, Exposing the Myth mis-cited Luther.

Luther, Exposing the Myth cites "Weimar, Vol. 1, Pg. 487. Cf. Table Talk, No. 963." Weimar 1 refers to Tischreden aus der ersten Hälfte der dreißiger Jahre, Sammlungen Veit Dietrichs und Medlers. Here is WA 1:487. Table Talk number 963 is located at the bottom of page 487, continuing to page 488. The Table Talk is a collection of second hand comments written down by Luther's friends, published after his death. This particular entry comes from the section of entries by Veit Dietrich and Nicholas Medler recorded in the early 1530's, though the manuscripts weren't available until 1912. This half-Latin half-German snippet reads as follows:

The quote roughly translates to:
God is very foolish [or stupidest], for the most powerful enemy Satan opposes is a sick man that is like a shaken reed. It must irk the devil terribly that he, such a great, powerful and intelligent spirit should not be able to overcome or hurt man, such a lowly and weak creature, without God's permission. Therefore, angry Satan throws fiery darts at us, to which the remedy is the shield of faith. This certainly often has been undertaken with me.
There isn't anything here saying "I look upon God no better than a scoundrel." Luther, Exposing the Myth probably again took the quote from Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor by Peter Wiener. Wiener states,
God, on the other hand, seemed to him “a master armed with a stick”. “God did mischievously blind me”; “God often acts like a madman”; “God paralyses the old and blinds the young and thus remains master”; I look upon God no better than a scoundrel”; “God is stupid” (“Table Talk”, No. 963, W1, 48)
The Internet version of Wiener's book errs when it cites page 48 of W1. On page 28 of my 1945 copy of Wiener's book, it isn't 48, but rather 487. Wiener used a variety of secondary sources. He heavily used Frantz Funck-Brentano's biography of Luther [Great Britain: Academy Books, 1939]. On page 238, Funck-Bretano states:

True God was great and powerful, argued Luther, and good and merciful, and all that sort of thing; but He was stupid[1]. He was a tyrant. [1] Deus est stultissimus (Table Talk number 963. Weimar edition I, 487).

One will notice that Wiener quotes both "I look upon God no better than a scoundrel” and “God is stupid” attributing them both to Table Talk 963. I think it's fairly safe to say that the reference used by Luther, Exposing the Myth was taken from Wiener's sloppy documentation. Wiener probably got "I look upon God no better than a scoundrel" from Funk-Bretano as well. On page 54, while describing Luther's early pre-Reformation career, Funck-Bretano states:
And that terrible predestination! 'When I think on it,' writes Luther, 'I forget the boundless charity of Christ and the goodness of God. And I look upon God as no better than a scoundrel. The idea of predestination completely silences the Laudate within me; it is a blasphemate that enters my mind.'
At least Funck-Bretano mentions the quote is in regard to a view of predestination. This quote though isn't from Luther's pre-Reformation career. It's a Table Talk comment recorded by Cordatus, September 10-28, 1532. It's found in WA T-2, 582 number 2654a-2654b.

Neither 2654a or 2654b are in the English edition of Luther's Works.

A translation and editorial comment of this Table Talk comment was provided by Ewald Plass in What Luther Says, Volume 1, page 456.

The Doctrine of election by the sovereign God was not central in the theology of Luther as it was in the body of Calvin's teaching. In fact, the Reformer cautioned against concerning ourselves too much with it lest we lose ourselves in its incomprehensible aspects. So, according to the report of Cordatus, he once remarked at table (September 10-28, 1532).
1348 Do Not Brood About the Mysteries Connected with Election. A dispute about predestination should be avoided entirely. Staupitz said: if you want to dispute about predestination, begin with the wounds of Christ, and it will cease. But if you continue to debate about it, you will lose Christ, the Word, the sacraments, and everything. I forget everything about Christ and God when I come upon these thoughts and actually get to the point to imagining that God is a rogue. We must stay in the word, in which God is revealed to us and salvation is offered, if we believe him. But in thinking about predestination, we forget God. Then the laudate (praise) stops, and the blasphemate (blaspheme) begins. However, in Christ are hid all the treasures (Col. 2:3); outside Him all are locked up. Therefore, we should simply refuse to argue about election. (W-T 2, No. 2654a - SL 22, 832, No. 75).

Interestingly, the quote can be read as if not being Luther's words at all, for he attributes the statement to Staupitz. Nevertheless, one would think even a Roman Catholic wouldn't find fault with these words, once placed in their context. Luther, Exposing the Myth said the statement is in opposition to Matthew 22:37. such is hardly the case.

1 comment:

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

Well researched and appreciated.