In our last “installment” we covered a small fraction of the material available on Luther’s extraordinary superstitions. We learned from Preserved Smith that Luther’s childhood was filled with spiritual terrors”, demons”The next topic is immensely “hotter”, Luther’s “addiction to demonic thought” – demonology. Documentation on this matter will come from quite a few different Scholars, only a couple of which are Catholic. The “Old School Defenders of Luther” – like James Swan wouldn’t be caught dead discussing the subject. In all of his volumes of writings about Luther on his Pop Apologetics Blog, he doesn’t deal with the topic at all as far as I can tell. Luther’s “demonology” you see - is WAY “too revealing” and it wouldn’t be easy at all to spin it to make Luther “look good”. If I am wrong on this, then James can correct me and point me to his article. That way we can compare it to the facts of the matter, which should prove to be “entertaining.”Luther's Demonology?
Luther's addiction to demonic thought? What? That was my initial response. The first thing I wondered about was what exactly this guy meant by "demonic thought." If you read through his ramblings and ravings, it isn't quite clear. He refers to "Luther’s addiction to 'demonic thought'” – demonology" and states "Luther was a 'lifelong addict of demonic thought', which certainly could not have had a positive impact on his “theology.” Old horror films from the 1970's come to mind. That's the image I think of when someone is described as addicted to demonic thought.
He appears to not be arguing Luther was say, practicing black magic, or conjuring up Satan or demons, or attempting to rely on the power of the Devil, at least intentionally. But, I don't claim to be able exegete this guy's ramblings and ravings. One cannot apply logic to something illogical and expect that illogical argument to make sense. What I think he's getting at, is that Luther spent a lot of time writing about Satan (or demons, or whatever), and there was something theologically, spiritually, and psychologically wrong with this.
Older Romanists have indeed made some surprising claims about Luther and the Devil. Consider this comment by Father Patrick O'Hare:
Read Luther's work against "The Mass and the Ordination of Priests," (Erl. 31, 311 ff.) where he tells of his famous disputation with the "father of lies" who accosted him "at midnight" and spoke to him with "a deep, powerful voice," causing "the sweat to break forth" from his brow and his "heart to tremble and beat." In that celebrated conference, of which he was an unexceptional witness and about which he never entertained the slightest doubt, he says plainly and unmistakingly that "the devil spoke against the Mass, and Mary and the Saints" and that, moreover, "Satan gave him the most unqualified approval of his doctrine of justification by faith alone." Who now, we ask in all sincerity, can be found, except those appallingly blind to truth, to accept such a man, approved by the enemy of souls, as a spiritual teacher and entrust to his guidance their eternal welfare?The context though of "The Mass and the Ordination of Priests" includes a story being told by Luther as a literary device, not a personal experience. Father O'Hare missed this. (I wrote a blog article on this some time back).
I would echo the approach of Heiko Oberman, that Luther is best understood as a religious man with a deep belief in God, and in a daily battle with the Devil. As I've read quite a large amount of Luther, it is true this cosmic battle is never completely set aside in his writings.
One delicate question -- one that might even be unfitting for any respectable home -- may lead back to Luther’s upbringing. The problem cannot be ignored: if a man is so obviously preoccupied with ideas about and visions of the Devil, does he not require a psychiatrist, or might he not be at least subject to psychological inquiry? In this case it would not be a question of father or mother fixations but of his surprising response to the Devil, which enlightened people find incomprehensible as well as extremely dangerous. Belief in the reality of Satan certainly promoted the frenzy of the witch hunts that seized all denominations and delayed the Enlightenment.Oberman answers in part:
Centuries separate Luther from a modern world which has renounced and long since exorcised the Devil, thus finding it hard to see the difference between this kind of religion and medieval witchcraft. But Luther distinguished sharply between faith and superstition. He understood the hellish fears of his time, then discovered in the Scriptures the true thrust and threat of Satan and experienced himself the Devil’s trials and temptations. Consequently he, unlike any theologian before or after him, was able to disperse the fog of witches’ sabbath and sorcery and show the adversary for what he really was: violent toward God, man and the world. To make light of the Devil is to distort faith. "The only way to drive away the Devil is through faith in Christ, by saying: ‘I have been baptized, I am a Christian."’Tedium #1: Richard Marius and Heiko Oberman on Luther's Demonology
There was a lot of tedium included by this Romanist to prove his case about Luther's demonology. He states,
Heiko Oberman (Protestant) wrote that Luther’s thought was guided by his demonology, which does not speak well of his “ability” to discern Christian Truths in Scripture, or anywhere else for that matter. These things don’t seem to be very good “attributes” for a “Christian” theologian.-snip-
By use of the term “demonology” I am not making up some new term. This is a term that is in Robert Herndon Fife’s book, in the Erikson’s book and in the Marius book as a reference to the Oberman book (I need to find my copy of Oberman)... The Marius/Oberman quote, (in part for now) is: “Heiko Oberman sees Luther’s demonology as the rudder that guided his thought.” Marius, pg 78. These references to “demonology” DO NOT refer to the standard orthodox Christian belief that demons, (or devils if you like, or evil spirits or whatever) exist. The difference between “demonology” and the Scriptural and orthodox Christian belief are NOT even in the same universe.Marius gives no reference on page 78 to his comment about Heiko Oberman. That's probably because Marius assumes those reading his book are familiar with Oberman's basic thesis. Heiko Oberman evaluated Luther as a religious man with a deep belief in God, and in a daily battle with the Devil. Richard Marius though argues Luther was not the heroic God believer in a cosmic spiritual battle. Luther was a man who questioned whether or not God even exists, and was terrified of death. That is indeed, two different presuppositional starting points for each biography. Historians interpret facts differently.
Marius says, "Luther was to make more of Satan as the years went along." The Romanist quotes the next sentence, "Heiko Oberman sees Luther’s demonology as the rudder that guided his thought." The very next sentence after that says, "For the later Luther, this view may be correct." Here Marius is challenging Oberman. begin reading Luther: Man Between God and the Devil By Heiko Oberman on page 102. Read till page 106. Or, use this link. You'll notice Oberman begins with Luther's upbringing, which is why Marius probably made his comment about "the later Luther":
Oberman states in part:
But the legacy of Luther’s parental home entailed more than a proper respect for hard work and deep erudition; it included also the at once wondrous and scary world of spirits, Devil and witchcraft, which the modern mind has come to call superstition.
Luther’s mother cannot be held solely responsible for Luther’s realistic perception of the Devil’s machinations. Father Hans thought exactly the same way, and so did the miners in Mansfeld, who, far away from the light of day, were even more exposed to the artifices of the infernal powers -- spirits, demons and hobgoblins -- in the darkness of their mineshafts. Nor would Martin have learned anything different from the Brethren of the Common Life in Magdeburg or from the most erudite humanists of his time.And so on. Read the chapter for yourself. Notice as well the differences in interpretation between Marius and Oberman on the notion of "God's Satan" (Marius, p. 78) and "the omnipotence of God and thus determined only narrow limits for the Devil’s activities" (Oberman p.104-105).
Related, though are these general comments from Oberman, stressing his thesis:
Luther’s world of thought is wholly distorted and apologetically misconstrued if his conception of the Devil is dismissed as a medieval phenomenon and only his faith in Christ retained as relevant or as the only decisive factor. Christ and the Devil were equally real to him: one was the perpetual intercessor for Christianity, the other a menace to mankind till the end. To argue that Luther never overcame the medieval belief in the Devil says far too little; he even intensified it and lent to it additional urgency: Christ and Satan wage a cosmic war for mastery over church and world. No one can evade involvement in this struggle. Even for the believer there is no refuge -- neither monastery nor the seclusion of the wilderness offer him a chance for escape. The Devil is the omnipresent threat, and exactly for this reason the faithful need the proper weapons for survival.
There is no way to grasp Luther’s milieu of experience and faith unless one has an acute sense of his view of Christian existence between God and the Devil: without a recognition of Satan’s power, belief in Christ is reduced to an idea about Christ -- and Luther’s faith becomes a confused delusion in keeping with the tenor of his time.
Attempts are made to offer excuses for Luther by pointing out that he never doubted the omnipotence of God and thus determined only narrow limits for the Devil’s activities. Luther himself would have been outraged at this view: the omnipotent God is indeed real, but as such hidden from us. Faith reaches not for God hidden but for God revealed, who, incarnate in Christ, laid himself open to the Devil’s fury. At Christmas God divested himself of his omnipotence -- the sign given the shepherds was a child "wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12) . To Luther Christmas was the central feast: "God for us." But that directly implies "the Devil against us." This new belief in the Devil is such an integral part of the Reformation discovery that if the reality of the powers inimical to God is not grasped, the incarnation of Christ, as well as the justification and temptation of the sinner, are reduced to ideas of the mind rather than experiences of faith. That is what Luther’s battle against the Devil meant to convey. Centuries separate Luther from a modern world which has renounced and long since exorcised the Devil, thus finding it hard to see the difference between this kind of religion and medieval witchcraft. But Luther distinguished sharply between faith and superstition. He understood the hellish fears of his time, then discovered in the Scriptures the true thrust and threat of Satan and experienced himself the Devil’s trials and temptations. Consequently he, unlike any theologian before or after him, was able to disperse the fog of witches’ sabbath and sorcery and show the adversary for what he really was: violent toward God, man and the world. To make light of the Devil is to distort faith. "The only way to drive away the Devil is through faith in Christ, by saying: ‘I have been baptized, I am a Christian."’The reference to "demonology" in the Marius book on page 78 has a specific meaning. Marius says, "Luther was to make more of Satan as the years went along." The Romanist quotes the next sentence, "Heiko Oberman sees Luther’s demonology as the rudder that guided his thought."
In context, Marius seems to be equating Satan=demonology, and he appears to be referring to Oberman's use of "demonology" as meaning "Satan" as well. I'm not aware of any use of the term "demonology" in Oberman's Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. Of course, Oberman wrote a number of books, so it is possible Marius has some other writing of Oberman in mind. However, that Marius continues on page 78 to speak of Satan strongly suggests "Satan" is meant by the term "demonology."
That Luther believed in demons, witches, etc. is not disputed. However, I think this Romanist needs to stick with one source at a time, and exegete each source correctly. Words have meanings in context.
Tedium #2: Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther, A Study in Psychoanalysis
The Romanist states the following:
Realistic thought had little influence on Luther, the dogmatist; but it dominated the Zeitgeist which often emerged in Luther’s more informal utterances, especially in its alliance with demonism. We know Luther to have been a lifelong addict of demonic thought, which he managed to keep quite separate from his theological thought and his scientific judgment.” Erik Erikson, “Young Man Luther, A Study in Psychoanalysis ” pg 187Erikson makes sense to this Romanist? He's an enemy of the Christian faith. Of course Erikson thought Luther's beliefs in demons, devils, and Satan was blatant psychosis. Erikson used a modified Freudian approach to Luther. He approached religious phenomena with prejudice: recall, Freud argued that religious phenomena are to be understood on the model of the neurotic symptoms of the individual: hence, a materialistic outlook on religion. Freud saw religious concerns within an individual as reflecting something “wrong” in a human. Erickson does the same with his treatment of Luther. Roman Catholics beware: Erikson is no friend of your beliefs, or of anyone with religious beliefs. That said, Erikson says something a little different than what was actually cited:
Normally Erikson’s comments make sense to me, but in this case I can’t fathom a manner in which anyone can be “addicted to demonic thought” AND keep that aspect of their “belief system” and world view – “quite separate from his theological thought”. Luther constantly refers to the sum of his beliefs as “My Gospel” so clearly his addiction to demonic thought HAD to influence his theology.
Realistic thought had little influence on Luther, the dogmatist; but it dominated the Zeitgeist which often emerged in Luther’s more informal utterances, especially in its alliance with demonism. We know Luther to have been a lifelong addict of demonic thought, which he managed to keep quite separate from his theological thought and his scientific judgment. The Devil's behind maintained a reality for him which- because his intellect and his religious intuition seemed to function on different planes- could be said to verge on the paranoid were it not at the same time representative of a pervading medieval tendency.Erikson's point is that according to Luther, the bad things that happen were the result of the reality of Satan. That is, what "happened" was also a reality in the "world of ideas" (realism). If you continue reading to page 188, you'll note the point from 187 "Realistic thought had little influence on Luther" and how that was related to the indulgence controversy.
The reality of Satan though was indeed a part of Luther's theological thought. Erikson here is simply unfamiliar with the entire corpus of Luther's writings. This would make sense, since a lot of his book is about "Luther’s more informal utterances" (i.e. the Table Talk).
Tedium #3: Henry Vedder on Luther's Demonology
The Romanist states the following:
One of our most honest Protestant Scholars (Vedder) said that Luther knew more about the devil than he did about God and also said that Luther “certainly manifests more of a Satanic rather than a Christian spirit.” Heiko Oberman (Protestant) wrote that Luther’s thought was guided by his demonology, which does not speak well of his “ability” to discern Christian Truths in Scripture, or anywhere else for that matter. These things don’t seem to be very good “attributes” for a “Christian” theologian.Vedder was a Baptist historian. The context of this snippet is found here:
Zwingli, on the other hand, understood "This is my body" to mean, This signifies my body: and he adduced many passages of Scripture that must obviously be explained in this sense, such as "I am the vine" and "That rock was Christ." In his view the bread and wine are memorials of Christ's body and blood, not the true substantial body. He did not deny, but rather affirmed, that the true Christ is reserved by the believer in the sacrament, but a spiritual Christ who is spiritually received through the believer's faith, not through his mouth. And he did not hesitate to show, with unsparing pen, the inconsistencies and absurdities and intellectual impossibilities contained in Luther's doctrine the moment its grounds are examined. It comforts one not a little to find that Zwingli's intellect was also feeble in this particular, and that he was unable to follow the mental processes that Luther fondly persuaded himself were reasoning.The writing in question is Luther's polemical That These Words Of Christ, “This Is My Body,” etc., Still Stand Firm Against The Fanatics (1527) [LW 37]. This was Luther's first main work against the Swiss. When Luther wrote a "polemical writing" he did so, not on trivial points being debated by his friends or fellow theologians. He typically wrote against those he thought were motivated by Satan, in an effort to expose Satan. When Vedder states, "he certainly manifests more of a Satanic than of a Christian spirit"- Vedder ignores the fact that Luther thought he was writing against Satan himself in this tract. The editors of LW point out, "Luther’s treatise opens with the assertion that the Lord’s Supper controversy has been caused by the devil, who has taken possession of the fanatics (pp. 13–23)" (LW 37:5). Vedder criticizes the writing as "ill-tempered and abusive." Well, that's how Luther argued against the Devil, in an abusive manner. This abusiveness permeates all of Luther's polemical writings. Big deal? Not really.
Though Zwingli substantially agreed with Carlstadt concerning the eucharist, he probably derived his view from another source and certainly advocated it on different grounds. But that he agreed with Carlstadt at all was enough to make Luther his enemy. In his first writings on the subject, as even the strong partisans of the Wittenberg leader are constrained to admit, Zwingli treated his opponent with great respect. We cannot say the same of Luther. In his tract, "That the Words of Christ: 'This is my Body' stand fast," 1 he accuses Zwingli of having derived his doctrine from the devil. "How true it is that the devil is a tausendkiinstler, a myriad-minded trickster. He proves this powerfully in the external rule of this world by bodily lusts, tricks, sins, murder, ruin, etc., but especially, and above all measure, in spiritual and external things that affect God's honor and our conscience. How he can turn and twist and throw all sorts of obstacles in the way, to prevent men from being saved and abiding in the Christian truth." The rest of the tract keeps the promise made by this beginning; it is ill-tempered and abusive, and displays on every page an intimate acquaintance with the devil and his works. Indeed, if one may trust the evidence of his polemic writings, Luther knew a good deal more about the devil than he did about God; and he certainly manifests more of a Satanic than of a Christian spirit. Much space is devoted in this tract to an idea that thenceforth became characteristic of Lutheran doctrine: the ubiquity of Christ's body. Luther was as little successful in proving the omnipresence of Christ's glorified body as Zwingli on his part was in proving a spatial inclusion of the same body in heaven—both resting their arguments on metaphysical notions regarding a glorified spiritual body of which we know absolutely nothing, and about which therefore all reasoning is a mere beating of the air.
Tedium #4: Robert Herndon Fife, “The Revolt and Martin Luther
The Romanist posts the following:
“In Martin's boyhood the primitive demonology of the Germans broke into hysterical expression in the pulpit and in literature. As soon as he was able to comprehend, he heard from parish priest and begging friar stories like those he tells afterward to his congregations and table companions. These religious sanctions extended to the picturesque figure of the medieval devil. This half-terrifying, half-humorous figure may well have caught his eye as it passed in the carnival procession of the city guilds or played hide-and-seek with other dramatis personae of a Shrovetide mask on the market place of Mansfeld or Eisleben. The imagination of the boy seized pictures of this sort and gave them reality. From these sources as from the folklore passed on by family and neighbors the character of the devil was built up for Martin: now full of malignant hatred, now touched with grim humor, always a resourceful and relentless enemy. Robert Herndon Fife, “The Revolt and Martin Luther”, pg 12Fife actually says,
The primitive demonology of Luther’s Germany was unfortunately reflected in the preaching by the relatively uneducated priesthood of his day. Fife points to Luther’s demonology as having two sources, the preaching of the uneducated priesthood, and the folklore passed along from family and neighbors (some of which were witches according to Luther). Martin’s childhood exposure to this kind of environment was not unique, however, it was his “imagination” and also his “sensitivity” that was, and that were abnormal. It was these two additional factors that caused him to expand on these images of the devil and “give them a reality”, even for the time.
I put this quote at the end of this section so as to make it easier for people to snip out everything else, address this last quote, point to the Church ONLY for Luther’s demonology which was very uncommon even for the time. That way they can pretend to have address my post and avoid the main thrust. You know, dust off their hands and proclaim "I guess I told that Tim MD a thing or two". What I would rather see is someone actually address Luther's "demonology" rather than just PRETEND to be responding to this post.
The cultural atmosphere that surrounded the growing child was not different from that in other small cities of north-central Germany in the later Middle Ages. Crude superstition and naive religious beliefs were intertwined to make up the texture of the mind. Through his parents he absorbed relics of pagan mythology that the German peasantry had brought down from primitive days without essential modification by Christian patterns. The awakening imagination of the child sucked in with eagerness these animistic beliefs and wove them into fixations that reappear throughout later life in the sermons and in the Table Talk. He learned that witches lurk on every side and cast their spell on man, beast, and food. In early sermons he shows a certain grim pleasure in passing in review the manifestations of witches and evil spirits and he throws a vivid light on the atmosphere of his home when, many years later, in looking back on the way mothers were obliged to care for children under the attacks of these creatures, he adds, "that kind of witchery was especially general when I was a boy." so His poor mother, as he told his table companions, "was so tormented by one of her neighbors who was a witch that she was obliged to treat her with the highest respect and conciliate her, for she caused such agony to her children that they would scream like unto death." When one of his brothers died, witchcraft was held to be responsible; and many victims of these malignant women were pointed out to the terrified boy, When the crops failed, he learned that it was because evil spirits had poisoned the air; and as a child he doubtless took part in the Corpus Christi processions, when the clergy led the way to the fields and read the gospel to purify the air of such harmful beings. It was the latter, as he was told by his parents and neighbors, that caused the destructive storms, blasted the fruit, and brought the cattle plague. "We may not doubt," he declares in a well-accredited remark in the Table Talk, "that pestilences, fevers, and other grave diseases are the work of demons."
Following Biblical authority he thought that insane persons were possessed of a devil, who took this way of tormenting them, and that the doctors attributed things of that kind to natural causes only because of their ignorance of the ways of demons. Hidden in the house were little sprites who, like the fox-spirit in China, bring good luck; and his mother must often have whispered to him to avoid giving offense to these "little wights' for people feared to vex them "more than God and the whole world." Satan, Martin learned, dwells in the woods and groves and is especially dangerous in the water. On the Pubelsberg, a mountain near Mansfeld, there was a lake which was thought to be a dwelling place of captive demons in his boyhood.
"If a stone is thrown in, a great storm arises throughout the whole region." The cases of drowning which occurred yearly at Wittenberg among bathers in the Elbe, a stream of shifting sandbanks and holes, Martin ascribed in a sermon of middle life to Satan, "who formerly worked through nixies"; and he warned his hearers to wash at home rather than go to the river alone. As he grew older, the simple animism that the boy had learned from his village-bred parents and neighbors was modified by theological influences.
The literalism with which he came to interpret the Scriptures made him reject forms of magic commonly practiced in his day, such as communion with the spirits of the dead, foretelling the future by crystal-gazing, or finding treasure with a divining rod. These and other hocus-pocus he found inconsistent with God's commands. He even mocked at astrology, which was accepted without hesitation by contemporary humanists of distinction: God has locked the future from us, Martin is convinced, and will reveal it at His own time. Nevertheless he joined his contemporaries in believing that comets and other exceptional celestial phenomena boded disaster, though not to the righteous man. Likewise, the old Germanic superstition of the incubus and succubus, who beget children under the guise o dreams, and the demonic changeling that is substituted for the infant in the cradle appear repeatedly in Luther's Table Talk in richly decorated form. From his father Martin learned also of resentful earth-spirits who appear to the workmen in the lonely corridors of the mine. The tricks which the devil plays on the miner stirred the imagination of the boy and like other mythology of Mansfeld days reappeared in colorful pictures in old age. In Luther's years of restless self-examination many demons focus in the scriptural Satan, but this enemy, who figures repeatedly in Martin's physical and emotional crises, has his source above all in the animistic fixations of childhood that crowd each other in picturesque succession in a sermon on the Ten Commandments in 1518, one of the earliest publications of young Luther, and persist in the discourses of middle life and later.
In Martin's boyhood the primitive demonology of the Germans broke into hysterical expression in the pulpit and in literature. As soon as he was able to comprehend, he heard from parish priest and begging friar stories like those he tells afterward to his congregations and table companions. These religious sanctions extended to the picturesque figure of the medieval devil. This half-terrifying, half-humorous figure may well have caught his eye as it passed in the carnival procession of the city guilds or played hide-and-seek with other dramatis personae of a Shrovetide mask on the market place of Mansfeld or Eisleben. The imagination of the boy seized pictures of this sort and gave them reality. From these sources as from the folklore passed on by family and neighbors the character of the devil was built up for Martin: now full of malignant hatred, now touched with grim humor, always a resourceful and relentless enemy.
This Romanist says "Martin’s childhood exposure to this kind of environment was not unique, however, it was his 'imagination' and also his 'sensitivity'” that was, and that were abnormal." Where exactly does Fife say Luther's “imagination” and also his “sensitivity” were abnormal? The Romanist put these two words in quotes. Perhaps he's citing a different section of Fife's text?
Further, Based on the extended quote above from Fife, on what grounds can he assert, "Luther’s demonology which was very uncommon even for the time"?
I don't typically post such long entries, and I realize that most of those who read this blog probably haven't even made it this far down. True indeed, Satan was real in Luther's life. But then again, Satan was very much real to Jesus and the Apostles. Perhaps we need to likewise consider his activites in 2011.