Saturday, November 12, 2011

Luther Thought he was Divine?

Recently, I was sent this obscure Luther quote:
"Does this Luther not appear to you to be eccentric? As far as I am concerned, I think he is God. Otherwise, how could his writings or his name have the power to transform beggars into lords, asses into doctors (of learning), falsifiers into saints, slime into pearls!” Werke, Ed. Wittenberg, 1551, IV, pp. 378; Franca, p. 190
If you search out this quote you'll come across a few pages of similar content. For instance this web page is entitled: Luther Thought He Was Divine! After providing a handful of out-of-context quotes painting Luther as a gross antinomian, this web page states,
All these insanities explain how Luther reached the frenzy of satanic pride, saying of himself: “Does this Luther seem to you an extravagant man? As for me, I think that he is God. Otherwise, how could his writings or his name have the power to transform beggars into lords, asses into doctors, swindlers into saints, and slime into pearls?” (Ed. Wittenberg, 1551, vol. 4, p. 378, in ibid., p. 190).

Polemical Source
The quote was admittedly taken from a Roman Catholic secondary source: Fr. Leonel Franca, S.J., A Igreja, a Reforma, e a Civilização [The Church, the Reformation, and Civilization] (Rio de Janeiro, 1934). "Fr. Leonel Edgar da Silveira Franca, S.J., one of the founders of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and its first Rector (1941 -1948)." The quote can be found on page 180 of his book:
Este LUTERO não vos parece uma homem extravagante? Quanto a mim, penso que ele é Deus. Senão, como teriam os seus escritos eo seu nome a potência de transformar mendigos em senhores, asnos em doutores, falsários em santos, lodo em perolas!" Orgia do orgulho satânico ou caso de patologia mental? (Ed Wittemb.1551, t. IV, p. 378)
Primary Source
A quote like this presents a few difficulties. First whoever pulled it from Franca's The Church, the Reformation, and Civilization had to translate it into English, so it's twice removed from the original German or Latin. Second, the reference given is to the earliest collected edition of Luther's Works: The Wittenberg Edition. Third, if you search out some of the key phrases from the quote, you'll quickly discover that it is truly an obscure quote. It took me quite a while to figure out where it came from.

The first helpful clue came from Audin's History of the Life, Writings, and Doctrines of Luther, Volume 2. On page 331, Audin mentions (Roman Catholic) John Faber's work against Luther, and Luther's reaction:
Faber's work had caused amusement. But Luther was angry. "I shall not reply," he said, "either to Cochlaeus or Faber: there is not an ass that does not obtain the degree of doctor as soon as he attacks Luther. Luther is a god who makes beggars lords, asses doctors, scoundrels saints, and changes dirt into precious stones: it was I who raised Adrian to the tiara, and you shall see that I will make Faber a cardinal." 
Audin provides the following documentation: "Adversus iteratum Edictum Episcopi Misnensis pro Communione sub una Specie: a pamphlet which Sockendorf calls 'vehemens et aculeatum.' " This roughly translates to Against the bishop of Meissen repeated edict for Communion under one species.

The second clue came from W.H.T. Dau's Luther Examined and Reexamined. On page 239 - 240 Dau states:
Luther was aware that he was probably the worst-hated man of his times. He declares his belief that in the last hundred years there has not lived a man to whom the world was more hostile than to himself. (22,1660.) Persons praising him, he says, are regarded as having committed a more grievous sin than any idolater, blasphemer, perjurer, fornicator, adulterer, murderer, or thief. (9, 553.) Anything that Luther has said, he observes, is denounced as corning from the devil; what Duke George (one of his fiercest enemies), Faber, or Bucer say or do is highly approved. (4, 1606.) Like Elijah, he was charged with having disturbed Israel: before he began preaching there was peace and quiet, now all is confusion. (9, 587.) He is held responsible for the Peasants' Revolt and the rise of the Sacramentarian sects. (22, 1602.) A laborer whom his wife had hired became drunk and committed murder; at once the rumor was spread that Luther kept a murderer as his servant. (21 b, 2225.) What he writes is represented as having been inspired by envy, pride, bitterness, yea, by Satan himself; those, however, who write against him are regarded as being inspired by the Holy Ghost. (18, 2005.) He observes that beggars become rich, obtain favors from princes and kings, remunerative positions, honors, and bishoprics by turning against him. (18, 2005.) Some attribute the election of Adrian VI as Pope to Luther (this Pope was believed to favor reforms: he did not last long); and Luther expects that he is helping Dr. Schmid to become a cardinal because he is opposing him. (19, 1347.) Dunces become doctors, knaves become saints, and the most besotted characters are glorified when they try their vile mouths and pens against Luther. (19, 1347.) The easiest way for any man to become a canonized saint even during his lifetime, though he were a person of the stripe of a Nero or Caligula, is by hating Luther. (18, 2005.)
The references are to the old St. Louis edition of Luther's works. The relevant citation is 19,1347, which can be found here. This page is part of the treatise Bericht an einen guten Freund , von beider Gestalt des Sacraments, auf Bischofs zu Meissen Mandat. 1528. This appears to be the German version of the same Latin treatise Audin quoted. It roughly translates to Advice to a Dear Friend on Both Forms of the Sacrament in reply to the Mandate of the Bishop of Meissen, 1528 (found in WA 36:560, Erl. 30:373, but not found in LW).

In this treatise Luther argued against an edict from the bishop of Meissen  that reaffirmed the Roman church's distribution of the sacrament in only the form of bread to the laity. The obscure quote in question comes early in the treatise.

As Dau and Audin infer above, the quote isn't a claim to divinity, but is rather a sarcastic comment. Luther saw that those who opposed him sometimes gained from such an endeavour: "The easiest way for any man to become a canonized saint even during his lifetime, though he were a person of the stripe of a Nero or Caligula, is by hating Luther."

This wasn't an isolated statement from Luther either. A few years later he made a similar comment:
Before my time, it required a great to-do, and an enormous expense, to canonize a dead monk. But now, there is no easier way for canonizing even living Neroes and Caligulas, than the declaration of hatred against Luther. Only let a man hate and bravely curse Luther, and that, immediately, makes him a saint, equal almost to our holy Lord, the servant of the servants of God. But who could ever believe that hatred against Luther would be attended with so much power and advantage? It fills the coffers of very beggars; nay, it introduces obscure moles and bats to the favour of princes and of kings; it procures prebendaries and dignities; it procures bishoprics; it procures the reputation of wisdom and of learning to the most consummate asses; it procures to petty teachers of grammar, the authority of writing books; nay, it procures the crown of victory and of glory, eternal in the heavens! Nay, happy are all who hate Luther, for they obtain, by that one vile and easy service, those great and mighty things, which none of the most excellent of men could ever obtain with all their wisdom and their virtues; no, not even Christ himself, with all his own miracles, and the miracles of his apostles and all his saints!
The source of this other quote can be found here. It's from a letter found at the end of an old English translation of The Bondage of the Will (To Amsdorf March 11, 1534 WA Br 7:27-40, no. 2093). I mention this because it appears this is the only English translation of this lengthy letter that Luther wrote about Erasmus. It's very interesting Reformation reading.

1 comment:

Brigitte said...

It seems that Fr. Leonel Franca was also miraculously transformed into a Luther scholar.