Monday, July 04, 2011

Anniversary of Luther vs. Eck at Leipzig, and the Importance of Scripture

Yesterday I read an article on Luther by Robert Godfrey. It reminded me that 492 years ago on July 4, one of the most important debates in Reformation history began. Martin Luther faced off against Johann Eck, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ingoldstadt, "by common consent acknowledged as one of the foremost theological scholars of his day, endowed with rare dialectical skill and phenomenal memory…” [source]. The debate lasted until July 13, 1519. You can use Google to gather the basic facts of this debate. I'd like to point out a few things Dr. Godfrey mentioned, and  add a few of my own thoughts.

It was at this debate that many theologians say Luther's doctrine of the authority of Scripture took a bold turn. Previous to the debate, Luther prepared 13 theses.  The first 12 focus on such things as indulgences, the will, and purgatory. Theses 13 though appears to come out of left field:

13. The very callous decrees of the Roman pontiffs which have appeared in the last four hundred years prove that the Roman church is superior to all others. Against them stand the history of eleven hundred years, the test of divine Scripture, and the decree of the Council of Nicaea, the most sacred of all councils.
This theses takes direct aim at the supremacy of the Papacy. Luther is arguing Scripture and Nicaea do not support the infallible supremacy of Rome. Godfrey points out, "As Luther's Thesis 13 indicated, Luther initially based his argument about the papacy on tradition and on the Scripture. He argued that the Greek church had known nothing of papal primacy and that the Council of Nicaea had considered the Roman see as equal to some other sees. He also argued from 1 Corinthians 3:22f., 15:24f., and Ephesians 4 that Christ was the only head of the church" [source]. Eck countered with the oft-repeated historic claims for papal supremacy, and then cleverly argued Luther was using arguments put forth by the Hussites (Hus was a condemned by an ecumenical council as a heretic).  "If Luther agreed with Hus, then he too must be a heretic" (Ibid., p. 50).  Godfrey then explains,

Luther amazed the audience by boldly defending aspects of Hus's thought. He insisted again that Christ is the head of the church. He argued this point again from Scripture. It seems that at this point he really began to see the doctrine of sola scriptura. He realized that the appeals to history and tradition were uncertain. Popes and councils had made mistakes. He was beginning to see that the church needed an authority from God that is absolutely true, clear, and sufficient. As a professor of the Scriptures Luther had for some time operated with confidence in the Word of God, but he had never faced the idea that Scripture and tradition might be fundamentally at odds with one another. At Leipzig he did see the contradiction and realized that only Scripture could be the ultimate authority in the church (Ibid.).

If Godfrey is correct, it would be at Leipzig in which the formal principle of the Reformation (the doctrine of Scripture as the sufficient and ultimate authority for the church) sprang forth in Luther's theological development.  

Godfrey mentions that each debater summed up the position of the other (Ibid., pp. 50-51):

Luther's view of Eck:
"I grieve that the Holy Doctor penetrates the Scriptures as profoundly as a water spider the water; in fact, he flees from them as the devil from the Cross. Therefore, with all reverance for the Fathers, I prefer the authority of the Scriptures, which I commend to the future judges."

Eck's view of Luther:
"The impatient monk is more scurrilous than becomes the gravity of a theologian. He prefers the authority of Scripture to the Fathers and sets himself up as a second Delphic oracle who alone has an understanding of the Scriptures superior to that of any Father."

Unfortunately (to my knowledge) this full debate has never been translated into English in order to check the contexts of such quotes. The good news though is Concordia plans on releasing Luther's defense of Thesis 13 against Eck at some point in the future.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Leipzig debate is how a winner was to be determined. Erfurt and the University of Paris were to look over the record of the debate and make judgment. Erfurt didn't respond, and Paris delayed their findings until 1521. Godfrey records the fascinating decision of the Paris theologians (Ibid., pp. 51-52):

1. The Scriptures are obscure.


2. The Scriptures cannot be used by themselves.


3. The Scriptures must be interpreted by Masters, especially by the Masters of Paris.


4. The Fathers are obscure.


5. The Fathers cannot be interpreted by themselves.


6. The Fathers must be interpreted by Masters, especially by the Masters of Paris.


7. The Sentences [of Peter Lombard—the foundational medieval textbook in systematic theology] are obscure.


8. The Sentences cannot be used by themselves.


9. The Sentences must only be interpreted by Masters, especially by the Masters of Paris.


10. Therefore, the University of Paris is the chief guide in matters of Scriptural interpretation, for its decrees against Luther and Melanchthon are clear and can be understood by everyone.

Godfrey states of these points,

Luther must have smiled as he read this judgment of the Paris theologians. The Scriptures, the Fathers, and Peter Lombard are all obscure, but the contemporary theologians are clear, especially those of Paris. The pride of such a statement was stunning. But Luther must also have been amused that the Paris statement made no mention of the pope as interpreter of the truth. The theologians of Paris and various bishops of the French church had long argued a measure of independence for their church from Rome. Some of the theologians had also argued that the pope was the administrative and judicial head of the church but that he had to learn the truth that he was to enforce from the theologians. For Luther, this judgment reinforced his conviction that the church needed—and had in the Scriptures—a single, clear authority from which it knew the gospel. It confirmed the legacy of Leipzig: the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura (Ibid.).

31 comments:

Rhology said...

He prefers the authority of Scripture to the Fathers

Scandal! What a horrible condemnation.

Lvka said...

I wholeheartedly agree: the Scriptures are VERY clear!

James Swan said...

Lvka,

Your comment on my other post was removed immediately because of its graphic nature.

I suggest you actually read the Bible and put into to practice what is says.

don't talk to me about James 2:24. Start with James 1, and meditate on this verse (1:21):

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Then James 3:5-7

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:11
11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Rhology said...

I also recommend a good close look at James 2: 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.


Of course, you're on the record in the past as having told us you "do your best".

Thing is, you don't do your best. What hope do you have?

James Swan said...

Great point.

Lvka said...

And how can the word *planted* in me save me? If it remains in seed-form, OR if it blossoms and brings forth fruit (good deeds) ? James seems to point to the latter.

If we stumble, we humbly ask for God's forgiveness, like the meek Publican in Christ's Parable.

Lvka said...

It wasn't "me" who told you to "do your best", it was Christ, in the Parable of the Talents.

steelikat said...

Lvka,

Good point, Christ himself told you to do your best, and yet you do less than your best.

Lvka said...

I am doing my best... that my best is nowhere near what I should be doing is covered -as I've said- by God's grace and forgiveness (which we never invoke on account of our good deeds, but only on account of His love and kindness towards us).

When we DON'T do our best (that which lies within our power), and either carelessly or stubbornly persist in this state, our hearts and souls become darkened and disfigured by our mockery of God.

When we upset God's justice, we find solace in His grace, love and forgiveness; but when we come to mock even those, there's no place left for us to which we might run and escape.

There's a huge difference between falling in battle (on one hand), and either actively fighting for the enemy, or never even picking up the sword (on the other hand).

The healing and life-saving difference consists in the attitude of our soul and heart towards God:

Only repentant sinners are saved and forgiven, not the hardened or despondent ones.

steelikat said...

Lvka,

I guess I misunderstood you. Don't beat yourself up; your best is precisely what you should be doing. Anything other than your best would be something less, and If you are doing your best you have nothing to be forgiven for.

Rhology said...

If you are doing your best you have nothing to be forgiven for.

Pelagius has spoken through steelikat!

Lvka said...

If you are doing your best you have nothing to be forgiven for.


Not according to the Bible.

Rhology said...

And nobody's doing even close to their best.
Read Romans 3. For real.

steelikat said...

Rhology,

You're welcome! ;-)

Lvka,

Aren't you being too hard on yourself? I'm sure that if I always did my best I wouldn't feel I had anything to be forgiven for. Anything other than your best must logically be worse than your best, right? Are you sorry for not doing worse than your best?

steelikat said...

Rhology,

Good idea--but are you reading it in context? Start with 2:12 and then carefully read all the way through chapter 3.

Rhology said...

Hmm, the only question is whether I've done so closer to 200 times than 300 times.

Lvka said...

As I said: to the extent to which we mock God by our despondency and harden our souls in evil by not resisting its temptation when we have the power to, to that extent we plunge into darkness. I've been in that darkness: It wasn't nice. To sin from oneself, without even being tempted, is demonic and psychotic. To sin out of boredom, or to not oppose its lure when we have the ability to is almost as evil and ugly. God's grace can only work in a repentant heart that does not mock or oppose God, and which tries to follow the Gospel. When we mock even His love and forgiveness, then there's no place left to go. We get used to trampling His kindness and grace underfoot, and our hearts become dark, ugly, cold, and despicable beyond any measure, and our soul experiences the torments of the damned even from this life-time. The only thing that gets us out of this state is stopping our evil in its tracks, crying out to God in repentance and asking for His help and forgiveness, and then putting that grace we receive every day to work: by resisting evil and doing good till we reach the limits of our current power: and, in time, those limits get wider and wider, as we slowly but steadily progress away from sinfulness with the aid of God's grace. We are in constant need of His grace and forgiveness, which He as a loving Father kindly and patiently provides for us. We must daily resist evil and do good to the extent to which we're able to, least we mock His love, grace, and forgiveness, and plunge into the depths of Hell while still in this life: may God deliver us all from such a sad and dark fate.

steelikat said...

Rhology,

I'm not surprised. So I assume you know what I meant when I was talking about re-reading Romans 3 carefully and analytically, in the context of the preceding two chapters.

steelikat said...

Lvka,

Oh I know what you mean about being in constant need of God's grace and forgiveness. I am convinced that anybody who daily fails to resist evil and daily fails to do good to the fullest extent he's able thereby mocks God's love, grace, and forgiveness--as you say, and I've felt the despondency you are talking about. For me, working hard to resist evil and do good every day didn't relieve my despondency. Even when I felt particularly proud of the progress I was making when in the middle of the night I laid in bed and reflected on my good deeds I knew that they were motivated by selfishness and accompanied by evil and self-righteous thoughts. I couldn't do my best and still cant, which is why I need something other than my own grace-helped progress away from sinfulness to trust in.

Thanks for those reflections and that link. That drawing speaks a thousand words.

Lvka said...

which is why I need something other than my own grace-helped progress away from sinfulness to trust in


As I said: God's love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Rhology said...

steelikat,
No, I have no idea where you're going. My educated guess is that it's going somewhere that has very little relation to the actual content of Romans 1-3.

Lvka said...

Spiritual struggle redux.

steelikat said...

Lvka,

I'm mocking His love, mercy, and forgiveness every day, as you correctly pointed out, especially those days that I think I've done my best. Why should He forgive me? On what basis should He save me? My progress in virtue?

If you guessed that I cannot type "my progress in virtue" without laughing aloud you guessed right.

So whence my cheerful joy?

steelikat said...

Rhology,

You can read me like a book.

Lvka said...

For starters:

the Scriptures are clear:

Saint James is clear, and so are Christ's parables.

(That was what we were innitially discussing).

But -for some reason- you seem to think that "the Scriptures being clear" is the same as "people must of necessity be saved": the two are NOT the same.

We may all go to hell for our sins, that does NOT make the Scriptures any less clear, nor imply that they do not say what they actually say.

___________________________________
I'm mocking His love, mercy, and forgiveness every day

You don't. You sin every day, but to fail is not the same as to mock.

And I didn't mean the word "best" to be understood in an abstract or perfectionist fashion.

We do mock Him, however, if (when) we take His forgiveness lightly, thinking that we might just as well not oppose sin or not do good (be good) to the best of our God-given abilities. You have to fight sin until it defeats you. You can't just not-fight, or sin from yourself. WHEN one does that, one will arrive in the SAME place I arrived in. Similar or identical roads lead to similar or identical destinations.

___________________________________
Why should He forgive me? On what basis should He save me? My progress in virtue?

As I already said, repeatedly, God's forgiveness is the fruit of His own good-will and loving-kindness towards us. We can't earn it, but we can't mock it either.

It has to be received in a certain manner to have healthy, saving and beneficial effects on the soul: otherwise, it's just like the talent that was buried, or like the seed that fell on rocky or thorny ground, or was stolen by crows and ravens before it could yield any fruit.

Lvka said...

If you guessed that I cannot type "my progress in virtue" without laughing aloud you guessed right.


Well, in THAT case, you will find this hillarious ! :-)

steelikat said...

Lvka,

"You don't. You sin every day, but to fail is not the same as to mock."

To obstinately, willfully, and persistently sin is to mock God's mercy and forgiveness and to take His forgiveness for granted. I cannot earn His forgiveness but even though I may not mock His forgiveness I can mock it.

In my dialect of English, "better" is a comparative and "best" is a logical superlative. I know that is not usually the case in other languages. By "best" I what you would mean by "the very best," or something like that. In any event, I don't even know for sure that I'm doing better, but it does not matter because that is not where my hope lies.

Lvka said...

It's OK; I was simply trying to better explain what I innitially meant, least I might be misunderstood.


I don't see why you feel that hoping in God's help and power as well might be at odds with hoping in His forgiveness. God's grace has many aspects to it.

Lvka said...

The fact that we're limited and weak creatures did not stop Christ from admonishing us to do whatever lies within our weak and limited power to fulfill the precepts of the Gospel as much as we are able to: that's all I'm saying.

Ron Henzel said...

What is the title of the Godfrey article?

James Swan said...

Hi Ron,

The article I cited in this old entry was:

W. Robert Godfrey, "Martin Luther: An Evangelical Original."

This article can be found in the book:

John H. Armstrong (General Ediotr), The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996).