Friday, December 14, 2012

Luther: Whoever obeys me not, despises not me, but Christ

I was sent a link to a website "exposing" Calvinism because it contained a bunch of Luther quotes. Many of the quotes I've gone over already, but there were a few that I've never examined. Here's one in particular found in a pdf e-book from this site:
“Whoever obeys me not, despises not me, but Christ.”[4] 
 [4] The Failure of Individualism: A Documented Essay - Page 29 by Richard S. Devane

 The Failure of Individualism refers to an out-of-print book from 1948. It's fairly likely that Devane took the quote from Martin Luther, Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor, published a few years earlier. The link above to is in fact this earlier book. The problem with this earlier book (by Peter Wiener) is the documentation is atrocious. On page 28, it states:
Luther knew that he was superior to any man or saint. “St. Augustine or St. Ambrosius cannot be compared with me.” “They shall respect our teaching which is the word of God, spoken by the Holy Ghost, through our lips”. “Not for a thousand years has God bestowed such great gifts on any bishop as He as on me” (E61, 422). “God has appointed me for the whole German land, and I boldly vouch and declare that when you obey me you are without a doubt obeying not me but Christ” (W15, 27). “Whoever obeys me not, despises not me but Christ.” “I believe that we are the last trump that sounds before Christ is coming”. “What I teach and write remains true even though the whole world should fall to pieces over it.” (W18, 401). “Whoever rejects my doctrine cannot be saved.” “Nobody should rise up against me”.
It's highly probable Wiener never read this quote in context and simply snatched it from Hartmann Grisar, Luther IV, p. 333 (based on the similarities of the quotes between the two books, and Wiener's explicit citations from Grisar). There Grisar quotes Luther stating:
"God has appointed me for the whole of the German land," Luther continues, " and I boldly vouch and declare that when you obey me in this [the founding of Evangelical schools] you are without a doubt obeying not me but Christ, and that, whoever obeys me not, despises, not me, but Christ [Luke xx. 16]. For I know well and am certain of what and whereto I speak and teach."1
1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 15, p. 27 f. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 171. " An die Radherrn," etc., 1524.
Weim. ed, 15: 27 can be found here. This is the first page in Luther's writing, An die Ratherren aller Städte deutsches Lands, daß sie christliche Schulen aufrichten und halten sollen (To the councilmen of all cities in Germany that they establish and maintain Christian schools), 1524. This writing has been translated into in English and can be found in LW 45: 339 - 378). The quote in question is found on page 347, in the very beginning of the treatise in question.

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Honorable, wise, and dear sirs: Had I feared the command of men more than God I should have remained silent on this subject, for it is now some three years since I was put under the ban and declared an outlaw, and there are in Germany many of both high and low degree who on that account attack whatever I say and write, and shed much blood over it. But God has opened my mouth and bidden me speak, and he supports me mightily. The more they rage against me, the more he strengthens and extends my cause—without any help or advice from me—as if he were laughing and holding their rage in derision, as it says in Psalm 2[:4]. By this fact alone anyone whose mind is not hardened can see that this cause must be God’s own, for it plainly bears the mark of a divine word and work; they always thrive best when men are most determined to persecute and suppress them.
Therefore, I will speak and (as Isaiah says) not keep silent as long as I live, until Christ’s righteousness goes forth as brightness, and his saving grace is lighted as a lamp [Isa. 62:1]. I beg of you now, all my dear sirs and friends, to receive this letter kindly and take to heart my admonition. For no matter what I may be personally, still I can boast before God with a good conscience that in this matter I am not seeking my own advantage—which I could more read fly attain by keeping silent—but am dealing sincerely and faithfully with you, and with the whole German nation into which God has placed me, whether men believe it or not. And I wish to assure you and declare to you frankly and openly that he who heeds me in this matter is most certainly heeding not me, but Christ; and he who gives me no heed is despising not me, but Christ [Luke 10:16]. For I know very well and am quite certain of the content and thrust of what I say and teach; and anyone who will rightly consider my teaching will also discover it for himself. [LW 45: 347-348]
Luther, M. (1999, c1962). Vol. 45: Luther's works, vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (45:347). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
This quote is one of a number (used particularly by Roman polemicists) attempting to paint Luther as claiming to be an infallible despot interpreting of Scripture. The shock value in posting such quotes without any sort of context paints Luther similar to a wacky cult leader claiming either direct extra-biblical messages from God, or an infallible authority from God.

Grisar uses the quote (along with many other quotes) to prove Luther had an inflated image of himself ("...his egotism destroys any good impulse and drives him in the opposite direction" [Grisar, 327]. "No mortal ever spoke of himself as Luther did" [Grisar, 340]. Grisar then rightly explains Luther's use of rhetoric in many of his grandiose statements about himself, and then chastises him over it (Grisar, 344-345]!  But poor Luther, according to Grisar, his "overestimation of himself was partly due to the seductive effect of the exaggerated praise and admiration of his friends" [Grisar, 348] and his incompetent Roman Catholic literary opponents didn't do much to help the situation [Grisar, 349].

Certainly I would agree with Grisar that Luther used rhetoric in describing himself and his beliefs at times. Certainly Luther believed though that when he spoke truth based on the Scriptures, he spoke the word of God. Even I believe that about my minister, and also myself. It's also the case that Luther's writings and opinions were very influential, and Luther sought to use his influence as a minster of the Gospel to implement societal change. This treatise though is what it says it is: To the councilmen of all cities in Germany that they establish and maintain Christian schools. The entire concept of education was in flux during the Reformation period. Education was largely connected to the Roman church, and as Luther spoke out against this connection, some concluded that education wasn't needed (see the introduction to the treatise, LW 45:341-343]. Luther's treatise is a response and offers advise to the authorities on education.
"He maintains that education is necessary for the spiritual growth of both boys and girls, and equally essential if they are to become useful citizens. To the argument that parents cannot spare their children from domestic duties, he suggests that they attend school an hour a day. On the matter of languages he becomes positively eloquent in his argument that they are essential for the study and exposition of Scripture, and also for the training of good citizens." [LW 45:343-344].
One thing I've yet to find: any of Luther's detractors that have read An die Ratherren aller Städte deutsches Lands, daß sie christliche Schulen aufrichten und halten sollen and shown that Luther's recommendations contained therein are contrary to Christ. That is, if Luther's treatise is grounded in the Christian faith and based on Christian principles,  well, it's not that far of a stretch to say that despising his recommendations is despising Christ. Here are a few excerpts from this treatise:
"Therefore, I beg all of you, my dear sirs and friends, for the sake of God and our poor young people, not to treat this matter as lightly as many do, who fail to realize what the ruler of this world [John 14:30] is up to. For it is a grave and important matter, and one which is of vital concern both to Christ and the world at large, that we take steps to help the youth. By so doing we will be taking steps to help also ourselves and everybody else. Bear in mind that such insidious, subtle, and crafty attacks of the devil must be met with great Christian determination. My dear sirs, if we have to spend such large sums every year on guns, roads, bridges, dams, and countless similar items to insure the temporal peace and prosperity of a city, why should not much more be devoted to the poor neglected youth—at least enough to engage one or two competent men to teach school?" [LW 45:350]
"It is a sin and a shame that matters have come to such a pass that we have to urge and be urged to educate our children and young people and to seek their best interests, when nature itself should drive us to do this and even the heathen afford us abundant examples of it. There is not a dumb animal which fails to care for its young and teach them what they need to know; the only exception is the ostrich, of which God says in Job 31 [39:16, 14] that she deals cruelly with her young as if they were not hers, and leaves her eggs upon the ground. What would it profit us to possess and perform everything else and be like pure saints, if we meanwhile neglected our chief purpose in life, namely, the care of the young? I also think that in the sight of God none among the outward sins so heavily burdens the world and merits such severe punishment as this very sin which we commit against the children by not educating them." [LW 45:353]
"It therefore behooves the council and the authorities to devote the greatest care and attention to the young. Since the property, honor, and life of the whole city have been committed to their faithful keeping, they would be remiss in their duty before God and man if they did not seek its welfare and improvement day and night with all the means at their command. Now the welfare of a city does not consist solely in accumulating vast treasures, building mighty walls and magnificent buildings, and producing a goodly supply of guns and armor. Indeed, where such things are plentiful, and reckless fools get control of them, it is so much the worse and the city suffers even greater loss. A city’s best and greatest welfare, safety, and strength consist rather in its having many able, learned, wise, honorable, and well-educated citizens. They can then readily gather, protect, and properly use treasure and all manner of property." [LW 45:355-356]


Martin Yee said...

Hi James,

Thanks for busting another baseless Romanist myth.


The Space Bishop said...

Hi James.

Totally unrelated but i had a conversation recently with some who told me that not all or Luther's writings have been translated into english. Is this true?

James Swan said...

Yes, that's true. Concordia has recently begun releasing new translations of unavailable writings.

Sometimes tracking down obscure Luther quotes can be tricky when an English translation is available.