Monday, November 29, 2010

Luther: the Commandments are the cloak of all evil, heresies and blasphemies

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

"If we allow them - the Commandments - any influence in our conscience, they become the cloak of all evil, heresies and blasphemies” (Comm. ad Galat, p.310).

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 that while Christ said keep the commandments, Luther says they become the cloak of all evil, heresies and blasphemies.

Documentation
Luther, Exposing the Myth cites "Comm. ad Galat, p.310." I'm not exactly sure which edition of Luther's Galatians commentary is being referred to. There is a three volume Latin version of Luther's commentary on Galatians from the Erlangen edition of Luther's writings in which the quote is in volume 2 on p. 145:


Luther, Exposing the Myth probably took this quote from the reprint of Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 311 (page 315 from the original). O'Hare states,
In studying Luther, we must remember, that his cardinal dogma when he abandoned Catholic teaching, was that man has no free-will, that he can do no good and that to subdue animal passion is neither necessary nor possible. He insisted that the moral law of the Decalogue is not binding, that the Ten Commandments are abrogated and that they are no longer in force among Christians. "We must," he says, "remove the Decalogue out of sight and heart." (De Wette, 4, 188.) "If we allow them—the Commandments—any influence in our conscience, they become the cloak of all evil, heresies and blasphemies." (Comm. ad Galat. p. 310.) "If Moses should attempt to intimidate you with his stupid Ten Commandments, tell him right out: chase yourself to the Jews." (Wittenb. ad. 5, 1573.) Having thus unceremoniously brushed aside the binding force of the moral law, we do not wonder that he makes the following startling and shameless pronouncements. "As little as one is able," he says, "to remove mountains, to fly with the birds (Mist und Ham halten), to create new stars, or to bite off one's nose, so little can one escape unchastity." Alts Abendmahlslehre, 2, 118.) Out of the depths of his depraved mind, he further declares: "They are fools who attempt to overcome temptations (temptations to lewdness) by fasting, prayer and chastisement. For such temptations and immoral attacks are easily overcome when there are plenty of maidens and women." (Jen. ed. 2, p. 216.)
O'Hare actually uses the quote two other times in his book. On page 114 he documents it as "Wittenb. V 272. b," and on page 119 as "Epistle to the Galatians." Exactly which book "Comm. ad Galat. p. 310" is uncertain. Perhaps it's an earlier Latin translation. In English the quote is easy enough to find. It can be found in Luther's Works vol. 26 (Luther’s Galatians Commentary) on page 365, commenting on Galatians 4:3. An older English translation can be found here.

Context
I am not saying this with the intention that the Law should be held in contempt. Paul does not intend this either, but that it should be held in esteem. But because Paul is dealing here with the issue of justification—a discussion of justification is something vastly different from a discussion of the Law—necessity demanded that he speak of the Law as something very contemptible. When we are dealing with this argument, we cannot speak of it in sufficiently vile and odious terms either. For here the conscience should consider and know nothing except Christ alone. Therefore we should make every effort that in the question of justification we reject the Law from view as far as possible and embrace nothing except the promise of Christ. This is easy enough to say; but in the midst of trial, when the conscience is contending with God, it is extremely difficult to be able to accomplish this. It is especially difficult when the Law is terrifying and accusing you, showing you your sin, and threatening you with the wrath of God and with death, to act as though there had never been any Law or sin but only Christ and sheer grace and redemption. It is difficult also, when you feel the terror of the Law, to say nevertheless: “Law, I shall not listen to you, because you have an evil voice. Besides, the time has now fully come. Therefore I am free. I shall no longer endure your domination.” Then one can see that the most difficult thing of all is to distinguish the Law from grace; that it is simply a divine and heavenly gift to be able in this situation to believe in hope against hope (Rom. 4:18); and that this proposition of Paul’s is eminently true, that we are justified by faith alone.
From this you should learn, therefore, to speak most contemptuously about the Law in the matter of justification, following the example of the apostle, who calls the Law “the elements of the world,” “traditions that kill,” “the power of sin,” and the like. If you permit the Law to dominate in your conscience instead of grace, then when the time comes for you to conquer sin and death in the sight of God, the Law is nothing but the dregs of all evils, heresies, and blasphemies; for all it does is to increase sin, accuse, frighten, threaten with death, and disclose God as a wrathful Judge who damns sinners. If you are wise, therefore, you will put Moses, that lisper and stammerer, far away with his Law; and you will not let his terrors and threats affect you in any way at all. Here he should be as suspect to you as an excommunicated and condemned heretic, worse than the pope and the devil, and therefore not to be listened to at all [LW 26:364-365].
Conclusion
Luther, Exposing the Myth and Father O’Hare are engaging in a fallacious selective citation process. Luther is here speaking with a law /gospel distinction in regards to justification. Just a paragraph later Luther says, “Apart from the matter of justification, on the other hand, we, like Paul, should think reverently of the Law. We should endow it with the highest praises and call it holy, righteous, good, spiritual, divine, etc.”[Source: LW 26:365].

4 comments:

Ikonophile said...

I hate to ask a stupid question so late in this series of posts, though admittedly I've not read them all, I do know that this has been a recurring topic/book reviewed on this blog:

You really mean that Catholics used these arguments against Luther and the Reformation? I'm not calling you a liar or anything. Luther is no friend of mine, theologically speaking, but I could come up with better arguments than these awful proof-texts (I'd better, too if I'm going to not be Protestant).

That's a good way to argue. First, accuse your opposition of proof-texting the Scriptures. Then proof-text Luther in order to discredit him. Ick.

John

Matthew D. Schultz said...

It's as bad as you think, Ikonophile.

As far as I can tell, the popular-level Roman Catholic apologetics machine engages in this kind of behavior on a regular basis; the mere appearance of research seems all that is necessary to convince someone that these quotations are both in context and relevant to refutations of Reformed doctrine and practice. Catholics will often copy and paste from these sources without critically analyzing the texts themselves, and this, in turn, will lead other Catholics to believe that these materials are credible and meaningful in an evaluation of Protestantism.

I can't tell if this behavior is an artifact of the anti-intellectualism rampant in American culture or simply the natural outworking of the emotion-driven, cult-of-celebrity conversion narrative that defines much of lay-Catholic apologetics. Either way, it is irresponsible and I appreciate the time and energy James Swan takes to research the context of these quotes, even if it is often like shooting fish in a barrel. Propaganda succeeds via blind repetition; the light of context will serve to enervate the entire Luther proof-text project.

James Swan said...

You really mean that Catholics used these arguments against Luther and the Reformation? I'm not calling you a liar or anything. Luther is no friend of mine, theologically speaking, but I could come up with better arguments than these awful proof-texts (I'd better, too if I'm going to not be Protestant).

Just yesterday this book arrived in my mailbox: Antonin Eymieu, Two Arguments For Catholicism (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1928). The book has the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur. The argumentation put forth is very similar to that expressed by Luther, Exposing the Myth. In fact, I think I can prove Luther, Exposing the Myth used this book as a source without documenting it.

Roman argumentation against Luther has a long and complicated history. You may find skimming these two links of helpful:

The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther(Part One)

The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther(Part Two)

I've found that Internet based Roman Catholic apologetics against Luther tend to gravitate toward that approach described in the first link.

As to this series, I planned on finishing it by October 31, 2010. I failed, obviously. All together, there are around 60 Luther quotes. A master list can be found here: Luther, Exposing the Myth: a Response.

Some of the quotes I worked through years ago (like the one in this very blog entry). I've been revisiting them to take a fresh look, now that so many of the primary German and Latin sources are available.

If you put each of the quotes in a search engine, you can see how far they've traveled in cyber-space. Maybe seven or eight years ago someone could get away with using these quotes- not so now with so much information available on the Internet.

James Swan said...

I can't tell if this behavior is an artifact of the anti-intellectualism rampant in American culture or simply the natural outworking of the emotion-driven, cult-of-celebrity conversion narrative that defines much of lay-Catholic apologetics.

In my last two minutes before I shut off the computer, my simple answer is "yes" to both statements. What drives both is typically zeal for belief.

This same type of zeal can also be found in Protestantism. Recently, I was briefly involved in a discussion in which a Protestant was zealously recommending Dave Hunt's A Woman Rides the Beast as a helpful apologetic book against Roman Catholicism. I shared my opinion that I disagreed. No matter which way one would argue against Hunt's book- be it factual errors, or flawed argumentation, this person insisted on recommending Hunt's book. Perhaps at some point I'll post the discussion.