Thursday, October 07, 2010

Once Upon a Time, A Catholic Apologist Misquoted Luther

Originally published 10/7/2010

It only takes a spark to get a fire going...
It's funny how a tiny question can lead to someone I've never met driving a 400 mile round trip to look at a rare book, another person writing enough posts to fill a book, a popular Roman Catholic tour guide / apologist e-mailing me repeatedly, and a friendship with a mysterious nameless person that writes amazing blog posts. I might not remember all this exactly, but I'll tell this tale to the best of my ability.

Chapter 1: The Tale of the Anonymous Comment

Once upon a time, way back in November 2007, now M.I.A. co-blogger Carrie got an anonymous comment on her blog post, Catholic Quotes on the Bible. The comment stated,
Luther himself, once he realized the disaster that sola scriptura was said: "Fly to the Church councils for in them you will find safety." Why don't you write a post about what he meant by that one? Was the 'Church' he referred to in that quote in possession of the gospel?
I don't know who the person was, nor does it matter . Carrie asked Anonymous for a reference. She was given the following:
"If the world lasts for a long time, it will again be necessary, on account of the many interpretations which are now given to the Scriptures, to receive the decrees of councils, and take refuge in them, in order to preserve the unity of faith."Epis. ad. Zwingli (ap. Balmes, p. 423)
I recall it was early in the morning, she wrote me, asking me about this quote. I sent her a link to this blog entry of mine. There I provided a very brief response to it, and also chimed in on Carrie's blog. Our friend Anonymous was none to happy: "Yes I am sure there is no bias in finding his source for this quote and it can be trusted implicitly."

Quotes like this always interest me. I then did a quick search on the quote. I got hits from Roman Catholic apologist Steve Ray's writings. It appeared to me, Anonymous may have taken the quote from Steve Ray. I didn't mind so much that an anonymous comment on a blog could so misquote Luther, but a guy selling books trying to get people to convert to Romanism misquoting Luther did bother me. I decided to write a post on it: When Footnotes Attack (a spoof on the then popular reality show, When Animals Attack).

Chapter 2: Whipped by Jerusalem Jones
Steve Ray wasn't pleased at all, and responded with an 11 page PDF: "Swan struck me as a real lightweight, and the above seems to verify my suspicion. He is a 'wanna-be' and it seems like he tries to puff out his chest to look bigger than he actually is." "It seems he is a James White wanna-be, though he’s no where near as clever." Ouch. Well, I then responded to Mr. Ray.

It was around that time that a few other Romanists decided to help Mr. Ray out. I mean, he's busy traveling the world.

The first thing these guys did was question whether or not I actually had the right source. This seemed to go on forever, in fact it went on for weeks. Here it was, late December, and these guys had to scrutinize every work by Luther about Zwingli. Of course, I did my part to help them out. I posted a large portion of the context. I noted other Romanists who used the quote. I located all of the relevant material written by Luther about Zwingli, and posted much of it. I also started locating different translations of the quote in question to prove to these guys it was the same quote from the same source.

During this time also Steve Ray had a sudden change of heart: "After the dust settles, I intend to revise my response to James Swan about the Luther quote he is researching... I am actually grateful for his research... In my revised response I intend to thank him for his research since we all want to be accurate and thorough." He had actually e-mailed me a number of times as well.

I guess they figured if they could prove I had the wrong context and source, Steve Ray was vindicated. Of course, that would leave another big problem: where and what is the source? If it was a different source, it would still mean Steve Ray never bothered to check it. The wild goose chase was on.

Mr. Ray stated this quote was from Luther's letter to Zwingli. Other Roman Catholic apologists thought so as well:
Even Martin Luther saw the inescapable principle of fragmentation and disunity that lies at the heart of sola scriptura. In a letter to Urlich Zwingli, he complained bitterly about the doctrinal anarchy that was even then rampant among Protestants: "If the world lasts, it will be necessary, on account of the differing interpretations of Scripture which now exist, that to preserve the unity of faith, we should receive the [Catholic] councils and decrees and fly to them for refuge."Source: Patrick Madrid, “Sola scriptura: A Blueprint for Anarchy
Notice Madrid added the word "Catholic"! As far as I was able to determine at the time, there weren't any letters from Luther to Zwingli. Then there was Luther's preface to the Syngramma. Well, I tracked that down and posted it as well. There were accounts of Luther and Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy. I posted that also. No letters, no other treatises, everything pointed to the very source I offered.

Chapter 3: Who Shot JR
Then one of Ray's defenders announced they had "information that is quite damning." They had a bunch of Latin citations of the quote, and were trying to determine which source they came from:

"These are primary texts, because they come from one of the early Latin set of volumes of Luther's works. The difficulty is in finding exactly where they came from, because the secondary sources are (unfortunately and frustratingly) a bit unclear and inadequate on that score. This isn't good enough for Swan: now he wants a large amount of context as well. He doesn't trust all of these sources to accurately convey the information (particularly because the three found so far are all from Catholics)."

"What we do see for sure is a slowly changing perspective in [Swan's] posts. First he made a big deal out of Steve's use and source of the quotation. Then he stated that he was more interested in the context and various translations of the quote. Now I think he is (very subtly in public) preparing himself for the possibility of being decisively refuted and embarrassed by our findings, which will be published within a few days, if all goes well in obtaining what we are looking for. We've already found some information that is quite damning to what Swan has been chirping about for five weeks now, and that is only part of it. Stay tuned."

Here it is now, December 31, 2007. I've already provided these guys with the context, but the wheel needed to be reinvented. Based on their secret studies, I was all set to take a trip into an alternate universe in which another primary source for this quote actually existed. Then on January 4, 2008, the big announcement came:

"Swan is also correct that the citation in question is indeed from Luther's 1527 treatise: That These Word of Christ, "This Is My Body," etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics (found in LW, vol. 37)"

"In a source helpfully provided by our esteemed friend James Swan, it is noted that the Latin version was entitled contra Fanaticos Sacramentariorum spiritus. This would account for the widely differing source names, according to whether one was citing a Latin or German version. Of course, the main "fanatical Sacramentarians" Luther is responding to were Zwingli and Oecolampadius; thus in common usage we can see how it could become known as simply Contra Zwingli and Oecolampadius or variation thereof. Bellarmine above combines both things in his title."

Chapter 4: The Show Must Go On
Well, as far as I was concerned, the show was over. But it wasn't. They were (or had been) taking road trips hundreds of miles away to locate books with the quote in it. They were becoming experts in Leibniz. For what purpose? At this point, I began to stop caring. We had the source. It wasn't a difficult document to read. Steve Ray never read it, he knows it, time to move on.

Here's where I started to lose interest in all this. It went on, and on. Sometime in mid-January, I had had about enough. Then, a mysterious person who called himself "TurretinFan" had been reading my entries, and began commenting on the findings as they came in:

A Quick Footnote to the Luther Citation Dialogue

Speculative Luther Citation Tree

Luther Citation Discussion - Status Report

My Romanist friends began doing Latin translations of various people who used the quote through the centuries. The collective understanding was that the quote had originally been pulled from Luther's writings by Cochlaeus, and a Latin version from Cochlaeus made it to the table. By reinterpreting the Latin, Luther was made to say what he needed to say in order to get Steve Ray off the hook. If I recall, these guys weren't at all united. One guy said I had the right source, the others still though the gunman was hiding a Luther book on the grassy knoll. I think Steve Ray was undecided. I don't know if they ever agreed on this.

Chapter 5: TurretinFan Shuts Down the Fairy Tale, Once and For All
Recently, TurretinFan has revisited this tale. TFan's recent entries focus on the early Roman Catholic apologist who set the stage for men like Steve Ray to dance on. Johannes Cochlaeus (1479 - 1552) was one of Luther's earliest opponents. Cochlaeus spent a great deal of his life writing against Luther, and went so far as maintaining printing presses at his own cost to make sure his work was published. Tfan's recent entries can be found here:

Final Piece in Cochlaeus' Misquotation of Luther Puzzle

Cochlaeus Misparaphrase Debacle Summary

My guess is if you're unfamiliar with this discussion, these posts won't make a lot of sense to you. You can always scroll through Tfan's older posts on this subject.

Tfan summarizes these posts as follows:
...Cochlaeus provided a paraphrase that did not accurately represent what Luther said, and this was then picked up and used as an alleged quote from Luther. The scope of this error is significant. In general, it appears that the quotation was generated by Cochlaeus, and then picked up by influential Romanist scholars Melchior Cano (died 1560)(who acknowledged that he got it from Cochlaeus) and Robert Bellarmine (died 1621)(who did not identify his secondary source, although he was familiar with works by Cochlaeus). From there, numerous other - mostly Roman Catholic - folks picked up the quotation, some citing back to Cochlaeus (suggesting they got it from Cano) and others simply alleging it is from Luther (suggesting they got it from Bellarmine).
Catholic scholar Adolf Herte argued Catholic Luther interpretation for the previous 400 years had more or less repeated what Johannes Cochlaeus had put forth about Luther [Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and His Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, 26, Autumn 1988), 253 ]. In his books, Cochlaeus does what later Catholic critiques of Luther promise: to present the real “facts” about Luther, undistorted from Luther’s own writings. When not vilifying Luther’s character using hearsay and slander, he will at times over-analyze Luther sentence by sentence, to the effect of missing the central points of Luther’s reformation teaching. Sound familiar? For more on Cochlaeus, see this article.

Chapter 6: Defending Steve Ray, Continued...
Paul Hoffer (one of those defending Steve Ray) offered the following commented on Tfan's recent entries:
We do not know for sure what version of the text Cochlaeus was looking at when he got the quote. Maybe, as polemicists often did in that day (Luther too), he did cherry pick (shame on him) or perhaps he was relying on an adulterated translation himself since Luther's fans and Protestant detractors liked to reprint Luther's works (usually without his permission) and rework to fit their own flavor of Reform, or perhaps Cochlaeus actually got it right. He names the text that he got the quote from which would have been easy to check to see if he got it wrong. Have you attempted to track down every version of the text that was extant at the time Cochlaeus wrote his treatise to Bullinger? Since Luther was alive then, why didn't he correct Cochlaeus?
Actually, Cochlaeus leaves clues as to which version of Luther's 1527 text he had. He calls Luther's treatise "a very eloquent German book" and that "Luther himself published it" (see Luther's Lives, p. 214). LW 37 also confirms Luther role in its publication:
Luther concentrated on the writing of his treatise from early January, 1527, to mid-March. The virtually complete manuscript, still extant, shows the care with which Luther wrote, retouched, and more than once revised the work. He succeeded in having it published in time for the Frankfurt spring fair, at which two of Zwingli’s treatises also appeared. [LW 37:5].
Cochlaeus definitely obtained many of Luther's writings. Those that he had were probably the most popular and most available. I have found from my studies of Romanist citations of Luther, the oldest sources typically take quotes from the most popular treatises of Luther.

In 1527, Cochlaeus was well under way in writing against Luther, and actively sought Luther's writings. Often his method was to cite Luther with a myriad of quotes to prove Luther contradicted himself. Of Cochlaeus's writings from this period, the introduction to Luther's Lives points out he was fairly accurate in citing Luther (p.43), but also on footnote 21 on page 374 they point out he sometimes (rarely) conflated statements from Luther. They also note that in his compilations of Luther quotes Cochlaeus was "unconcerned about context, development of thought, or later revisions of earlier statements made by any Protestant thinker" (p. 43). These writings from 1527 served as a basis for many of his later writings ( see Luther's Lives, p. 43), like those he published in the 1540's.

Catholic scholar Adolf Herte also argues Cochlaeus had in fact actually read very little of Luther’s books from cover to cover because most of his citations used were from the prefaces and conclusions of Luther’s treatises [see: Gotthelf Wiedermann, “Cochlaeus as Polemicist,” p. 200 found in, Peter Newman Brooks (ed.), Seven-Headed Luther (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983]. In fact, if one takes a look at the very quote in dispute, it comes from very early in the treatise That These Words Of Christ, “This Is My Body,” etc., Still Stand Firm Against The Fanatics (1527), proving Herte's point.

Chapter 7: Why didn't Luther Correct Cochlaeus?
The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “Luther, to the vexation of Cochlaeus wrote in answer only a single work, "Adversus Armatum Virum Cocleum".” This is indeed true, yet Cochlaeus’s name appears various times throughout Luther’s Works. Late in his career, Luther was to say:
“Thus the papists, too, studiously distort our statements in order to enhance their own cause. When we declare that a man is not justified by works, they assert that we are forbidding and condemning good works. Such vipers are Cochlaeus, Witzel, and others.  These are satanic lies of venomous and very evil men who do not listen to our statements and do not want to listen. Yet they force them into having a different meaning—a meaning which they themselves want them to have.”[LW 3:193]
“For thus the enemies of the truth are accustomed to obscure, traduce, and corrupt the fruits and gains of the Gospel and of salvation among simple and godly hearers. Eck, Cochlaeus, Pighius, and many others are the best contrivers of such calumnies.  They adorn themselves with false and counterfeit praises; but they defame us, in order to make us more obnoxious to those who are strangers to our doctrine. Accordingly, they secretly take away what is most beautiful and best for winning over the hearts of simple men, namely, the favor and goodwill of men, by which we could gain and educate many through the Word. We have to be befouled in order that they may be beautiful.” [LW 7:92]
Had Luther the foreknowledge of Cochlaeus’s lasting impact on Catholic scholars studying his life and writings, perhaps Luther would have spent more time refuting his material. Luther did not take him all that seriously. Rather than engage him, Luther lampoons, insults or simply dismisses his writings as nonsense. Luther refers to Cochlaeus as a “windbag,” a “viper,” “impudent young rascal,” and he sarcastically calls him the “profound thinker that he is.” Luther would say this in regard to Cochlaeus:
“I fear no fanatic, for I know none who can oppose me with arguments that would put me to confusion. All their arguments I’ve already heard from the devil-in fact, more weighty ones—but I have overcome them through the Word of God. I don’t think Cochlaeus could stand my devil even as long as it takes me to say a single word. He and those like him know nothing about this.” [LW 54:93]
Chapter 8: The End?

This is the end, well for me it is. Simply read LW 37.

If one simply reads the Luther quote as it stands, it appears to be saying that Luther believed Church councils and creeds are necessary in order to "preserve the unity of faith" because sola scriptura is some sort of blueprint for anarchy. Well, creeds are indeed useful. Even during Luther's lifetime, statements of faith were produced from Luther and his immediate circle. So what is going on here? How can Luther hold to sola scriptura, but yet say the Church needs to have the Christian faith "decreed by a council"? Didn't Luther say "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other- my conscience is captive to the Word of God"?

What's going on here is what typically happens when Catholic apologists cite Luther without actually reading Luther. After speaking about the controversies and divisions surrounding the Lord's Supper, Luther says,
"If the world lasts much longer, men will, as the ancients did, once more turn to human schemes on account of this dissension, and again issue laws and regulations to keep the people in the unity of the faith. Their success will be the same as it was in the past " [LW 37:16].
Granted, this citation does not at first appear identical to the one popularly used by Catholics. However, "on account of this dissension" in the preceding paragraph is explained to be differing interpretations given to the Scriptures. "Human schemes " issuing "laws and regulations" keeping people "in the unity of the faith" does sound a lot like receiving "the decrees of councils, and take refuge in them, in order to preserve the unity of faith" as stated above.

Note the last sentence: "Their success will be the same as it was in the past." Their success will be, according to Luther, failure, because "human schemes " "laws and regulations " are not the work of the Holy Spirit, but of men. The text goes on to say, "In short, the devil is too clever and too mighty for us" because "If we wish to stand upon the councils and counsels of men, we lose the Scriptures altogether and remain in the devil’s possession body and soul." So rather than proving Luther wanted to "take refuge in the Church councils in order to preserve the unity of faith " as Steve Ray claims, Luther said the exact opposite in this text.


Carrie said...

now M.I.A. co-blogger Carrie

now feeling guilty co-blogger Carrie :(

James Swan said...

Yes, guilt... the tool of all great manipulators!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Wow. What a story. A story that's carried on for several years.

Of what level of import? I'm not sure.

Anyways, thanks for the recap of what's transpired.

James Swan said...

Of what level of import? I'm not sure.

The story demonstrates a bigger problem. Steve Hays reminded me this morning about how these Luther quote adventures demonstrate the the unreliability of tradition with both spurious and reliable information (or rather the misinterpretation of information, passed on through the centuries).

This tale, along with the recent Luther / immaculate conception ordeal, demonstrates the Roman Catholic mindset. Steve was right on the money when he noted Tradition is not self-correcting, and how falsehood can arise to the level of unquestionable truth. We see this across the board with Romanism and her current beliefs (Papacy, Mary, etc), so why should her supporters treat other aspects of history different?

James R. Polk said...

This tale, along with the recent Luther / immaculate conception ordeal, demonstrates the Roman Catholic mindset.

It certainly does. What's even more disturbing to me than the RC propensity to nest on misquotes and out-of-context passages of Luther is their idea that to make Luther look bad in some way, shape or form completely invalidates the entire Reformation. It's the ultimate example of grasping at straws.

James Swan said...

What's even more disturbing to me than the RC propensity to nest on misquotes and out-of-context passages of Luther is their idea that to make Luther look bad in some way, shape or form completely invalidates the entire Reformation. It's the ultimate example of grasping at straws.

I consider this Luther-quote endeavor one of my hobbies- but I'm glad it sometimes fills a need in cyber-space. I say it's a hobby because I don't think it's as important as other things worthy of discussion- like sola fide or sola scriptura.

I've noticed that the general Romanist Luther propaganda mill has slowed down. For instance, I don't find nearly as many Luther-intense discussions over on Catholic Answers or the CARM boards. Perhaps with so many sources now available, Romanists realize how easy it is to be burned by a context.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Another Bogus Luther quote; my radio show re: this topic.

John Lofton, Editor,
Communications Director, Institute On The Constitution
Recovering Republican

INTERVIEW: Dr. Gene Edward Veith Debunks The Completely Bogus “Wise-Turk-Foolish-Christian” Quote Often Attributed, Falsely, To Martin Luther

James Swan said...

Thanks John, I'll take a listen.
Some years back I had a link to an article Dr. Veith had written on that subject- He then took it down, so I'm glad he's put forth more information on this quote.

Carl Vehse said...

Gene Veith based some of his AmericanView discussion on my article he posted in his February 21, 2007, Cranach blog column, "The Wise Turk quote," which can be read on the Wayback Machine site.

More recently, Gene posted an August 26, 2012, updated version on his Cranach blog, "Luther’s “wise Turk” quote that he didn’t say."

In a subsequent comment on that blog column, I listed several Lutheran and other publications, going back to 1964, which had referred to the "Luther quote" he didn't really say. There are probably even earlier references.