Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yawn: The Origin Of The False Doctrine Of Sola Scriptura...Driving The Last Nail In The Coffin of Sola Scriptura?

Over on the CARM boards a Roman Catholic quoted an article found on the Catholic Treasure Chest website as an authoritative polemic against Luther and sola scriptura.  What was ironic was that this particular person earlier argued, "Jesus through Paul told us that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. He didn't tell us that we can believe whatever we want. Listen to the Church." He then went on to cite a more-or-less anonymous layman's webpage as... an authority! This is hardly a source of infallible truth as to what the Roman church declares about Martin Luther. For that matter, who is Bob Stanley (the author of The Origin Of The False Doctrine Of Sola Scriptura...Driving The Last Nail In The Coffin of Sola Scriptura)? If you search around Mr. Stanley's webpage, such information isn't forthcoming.

I took a few minutes to work through the material posted on the CARM boards from the Catholic Treasure Chest article. Only the first section was posted. It appears the material is simply a rehashing of information taken from two Roman Catholic sources:
Martin Luther, His Life, and His Work', by Hartmann Grisar, a German Jesuit, 6 volumes, 1930 Vol 4: pgs 388-389. 'Church History', by Fr. John Laux, M.A., 1930, Pgs 420-434
Grisar has been cited extensively on this blog, so I'm well aware of the approach taken. The pages from Grisar in question can be found here. The book by Fr. Laux, as far I can tell, is not available online. What follows is a response to to Mr. Stanley's first section (as cited on the CARM boards). His words are in red...
Martin Luther (1483-1546) is to be given the credit for inventing the false doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Bible Only or Bible Sufficiency).
This isn't accurate. Even Roman Catholic scholars admit it. For instance, Franz Posset states in his recent book, The Real Luther, "As an aside, on the eve of the 'Reformation' there was a canonistic tradition supporting the assertion of the supreme authority of Scripture over councils or ecclesiastical authorities"(p. 63). He then argues that the reformed friary Luther joined had Constitutions, and in Chapter 17 of these it states "the following directive is given which suggests the meaning of the maxim Scripture Alone, '(A friar) is to read the Sacred Scripture avidly, listen to it devoutly, and learn it fervently. Sacram scripturam avide legat, devote audiat et ardenter addiscat.' "

Consider also such people previous to Luther like Wessel Gansfort (1419-1489):

"As long as it seems to me that the pope or theologians or any school assert a position contradicting the truth of Scripture, my concern for scriptural truth obliges me to give it first place, and after that I am bound to examine the evidence on both sides of the question, since it is unlikely the majority would err. But in every case I owe more respect to canonical Scripture than to human assertions, regardless of who holds them."- Wessel Gansfort (1419-1489) [Heiko Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966),99-100].

No Christian ought "to subscribe to any statement of an assembly against his conscience, so long as it seems to him to assert anything contrary to Scripture." Wessel Gansfort (1419-1489) [Heiko Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966), 64].

He had separated himself from the authority of the Papacy and the Magisterium, and thereby so doing lost all authority regarding Church matters.

Luther was deemed a heretic and excommunicated from the Roman church without a fair hearing. Luther swore an oath to uphold the Scriptures, it was an oath he was required to make by the Church of his day. In essence, one could argue that the Church, via this oath, required Luther to work toward reformation, and it was they that inadvertently called him to do so. However, since the Papacy balked at Luther's every move toward that end, it's obvious the Papacy would have never called forth any to reform the Church. The corrupt Papacy should have commissioned Luther to reform the corrupt Papacy and Church? there is a likely scenario!

"Luther's claim to authority as a teacher of God's Word is the common claim of every Christian who proves his belief from the Scriptures. The infallibility of the Scriptures becomes the infallibility of the teachers of Scripture. They can challenge the world as Isaiah did: "To the Law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them"; or Christ: "The Scripture cannot be broken"; or Paul: "Though an angel from heaven preached other gospel to you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed!" (source).

Here's another thing to consider, (compliments of a footnote in the recent edition of Luther's Works), the Wittenberg Reformers were willing to go quite far in making concessions to Rome:

"In the interest of peace in the empire, moreover, Luther and his Wittenberg colleagues were prepared to make major concessions to the jurisdictional authority of the Catholic bishops. Accordingly, at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, Melanchthon, acting with the full knowledge and support of Luther and the Saxon government, offered restitution of the jurisdiction of the Catholic bishops over the Evangelical congregations on the condition that the bishops ordain Evangelical priests and recognize the legitimacy of Communion in both kinds, clerical marriage, and the Mass in German. This offer remained on the table through all the failed attempts of the 1530's and 1540's to find a peaceful solution to the religious divisions in the empire" (LW 59:276).

He then turned to the Bible, a book, as the sole source of authority. Can a book ever be a sole source of authority? Can the Constitution of the United States stand alone without an authoritative body to interpret it? What authoritative body is there to resolve disputes between opposing interpretations of the laws written within it? How long would this country have lasted if the founding fathers had not had the foresight to establish a Supreme Court, which has the final word in the interpretation of the Law of the Land? This country would have been split into factions right from the very beginning.

Luther is simply one of a number of people throughout history that have held Scripture as the sole infallible rule for the church. This does not deny that there are other authorities over the life of a Christian, but it does deny that there are other infallible authorities over the life of a Christian. All authorities less-than-God are subject to the sole infallible rule of the Scriptures. See William Webster and David King's, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Volume III- The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura (WA: Christian Resources, 2001). There are numerous people throughout history that look to Scripture as the sole infallible rule, and likewise recognize lesser authorities governing the life of the church. See some examples, here.

The very earliest mention of the false doctrine of Sola Scriptura was by Martin Luther as he was questioned in the Synod of Augsburg (Germany) in October 1518.

This claim that sola scriptura originated with Luther was shown to be blatantly false above.

Reformation historians don't typically refer to Luther's meeting with Cajetan as "the Synod of Augsburg." In fact if you Google "Synod of Augsburg" you'll get hits to  many different meetings. Further, I'd be interested in seeing any statement from Luther using the phrase "sola scriptura" during his meetings with Cajetan. On the other hand, Luther certainly argued against Cajetan using the authority of the Scriptures.

Interestingly, Cajetan argued during this meeting that the Pope was above councils and Scriptures. Now you tell me if Cajetan actually had the correct view of Rome's authority during this meeting? If you think Luther was guilty of false doctrine, you should throw Cajetan in with Luther as well.

In his appeal to the Council, Luther placed the Bible and his interpretation of it, above the Pope.

Certainly Luther and Cajetan discussed authority, and, as I stated above, Cajetan placed the Pope over both the Scripture and Council. The reason for this sort of confusion is the Roman Church didn't have this stuff completely worked out. That is, Luther and Cajetan weren't discussing something new, they were discussing an authoirty issue that had been around for a long time. As to Luther's "interpretation", you seem to assume Rome has actually infallibly interpreted the Bible. Demonstrate then what Bible passages Luther interpreted while in dialog with Cajetan were against an infallibly defined Biblical text.

Even so he admitted the authority of the Synod and of the Bible were equivalent, only in the hope that the Synod would give him a favorable decision.

I'd be very interested in seeing anything from the October 1518 negotiations with Cajetan in which Luther did this. I simply don't recall this from Augsburg, October 1518. This point appears to be directly taken from Grisar on page 338, a point that Grisar doesn't footnote. He may be referring to Luther's account of his meeting with Cajetan at Augsburg (WA 2; LW 31) since that's the context he's working in. There Luther argues for the authority of the scriptures over a pope or council.

In the Leipzig Disputation in July 1519, Luther went a step further and declared that Scripture ranked above a Church Council, and that Ecumenical Councils had already erred in matters of faith. As a result he was branded a heretic.

Certainly many of the papists thought Luther to be a heretic before 1519, but it's my understanding he was officially deemed a heretic at the Diet of Worms in 1521.  As to Luther going "a step further" this ignores the sort of people Luther was up against. They were arguing things like, "He who does not hold the teaching of the Roman Church and the Pope as an infallible rule of faith, from which even Holy Scripture draws its power and authority, he is a heretic."

There seems to be a contradiction here, as Luther was a Catholic Augustinian Monk, and therefore was well aware that it was Catholic Church Councils which finalized the canons of both the Old and the New Testaments. Now at Leipzig, he declared that the product of the Councils ranked above the Councils themselves.

Luther learned about the Scriptures, Baptism, and the Pulpit, etc. from the church of his day, in the same way the Prophets were born into a society in which the religious structure of their day was functioning, and gave the Old Testament people a religious context to live in. The visible church indeed promulgated the Scriptures and Christian doctrine. Who can deny this? But simply because they did so, does not mean a council of the visible church in Rome infallibly declared the canon of Scripture. Luther held that the Church was God's hand maid and servant. It does not create God's Word, God's Word creates the Church. As the servant of the Word, it gives the Word to the body of Christ, His people.

As creatures we are dependent on God's purposes in giving us His inspired Scriptures. God "providentially preserves the Scriptures and leads His people to a functional sufficient knowledge of the canon so as to fulfill His purposes in inspiring them" (James White, Scripture Alone, p. 103). For God to do this, His Church need not be infallible. God's people though have recognized God's Word long before any alleged infallible magisterium came along.

Herman Bavinck points out:

"As the various writings of the OT originated and became known, they were also recognized as authoritative. The laws of YHWH were deposited in the sanctuary (Exod. 25:22; 38:21; 40:20; Deut. 31:9, 26; Josh. 24:25f.; 1 Sam. 10:25). The poetic products were preserved (Deut. 31:19; Josh. 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18); at an early stage the Psalms were collected for use in the cult (Ps. 72:20); the men of Hezekiah made a second collection of the Proverbs (Prov. 25:1). The prophecies were widely read: Ezekiel knows Isaiah and Jeremiah; later prophets based themselves on earlier ones. Daniel (9:2) is already familiar with a collection of prophetic writings including Jeremiah. In the postexilic community the authority of the law and the prophets is certain and fixed, as is clear from Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah. Jesus Sirach has a very high view of the law and the prophets (15:1-8; 24:23; 39:1f.; 44-49). In the preface his grandson mentions the three parts in which Scripture is divided. The LXX contains several apocryphal writings, but these themselves witness to the authority of the canonical books (1 Macc. 2:50; 2 Macc. 6:23; Wisdom 11:1; 18:4; Baruch 2:28; Tob. 1:6; 14:7; Sir. 1:5 [marg.]; 17:12; 24:23; 39:1; 46:15; etc.). Philo cites only the canonical books. The fourth book of Ezra ([= 2 Esdras] 14:18-47) knows of the division into 24 books. Josephus counts 22 books divided into three parts. In the opinion of all concerned, the OT canon of Philo and Josephus was identical with ours." [Reformed Dogmatics I, 393-394].

Luther was warned by the Church in June 1520, in the Papal Bull "Exsurge Domine". The Church did everything it could to reconcile with him but he refused, thus setting the stage for his self ex-communication.

This is simply wishful thinking. Cajetan actually shouted down Luther loudly yelling "Recant!" at him. This is simply one example of the nonsense Luther was subjected to from Rome's defenders.

Exsurge Domine wasn't even accurate. Despite being a papal document, I would argue Exsurge Domine isn't really any sort of infallible help, as Roman Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin explained. I would also point out that Rome's sharpest minds didn't quite know what was going on either when they put Exsurge Domine together. Note this comment pertinent to the failure of Exsurge Domine:

"As a legal document Exsurge Domine presumed the theological refutations provided by Prierias, Cajetan, and, most demonstrably, Eck. The brief denunciations and an incomplete statement of Luther's teachings provide little opportunity for determining the finer points of magisterial objections to the reformer (Hillerbrand 1969, 108-112). The document contains no hierarchy of condemnation, never distinguishing which of the forty-one errors are heretical doctrinally and which are merely "offensive to pious ears" [Gregory Sobolewski, Martin Luther Roman Catholic Prophet (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2001), pp. 67-68].

Now digest the weight of this statement. It claims Exsurge Domine "contains no hierarchy of condemnation," and "never distinguishing which of the forty-one errors are heretical doctrinally and which are merely "offensive to pious ears."

He was formally ex-communicated on January 3, 1521 through the Papal Bull 'Decet Romanum Pontificem'.

Exsurge Domine said that the Pope could, "without any further citation or delay, proceed against him to his condemnation and damnation..." Decet Romanum Pontificem spoke of Luther's "depraved and damnable purpose." It called for any of the faithful who were sympathetic to the Lutherans to shun them, so that they "may escape divine vengeance and any degree of participation in their damnation." It further declared concerning Luther and his followers: "...these and the other sentences, censures and punishments... we decree to have fallen on all these men to their damnation." However, the great German Catholic historian from the Universities of Breslau and Bonn, Hubert Jedin held that Catholicism never condemned Luther by name at Trent, and that no official judgment on Luther exists by which a loyal Catholic is bound. Isn't that an irony? The very man the Catholic Treasure Chest thinks is so awful has no actual infallible ruling against him from Rome.

A secular Council called the "Diet of Worms" was convened by the Catholic Emperor Charles V in April 1521, and Luther was again asked if he was going to retract, or maintain, the ideology of his many books. Luther stood firm. An Edict issued by this Council in May 1521, branded Luther as a heretic and an outlaw.

Well, Bob Stanley said above he was branded a heretic in 1519. Which is it? This is the problem with doing cut-and-paste on a discussion board: The material cut-and-pasted can bite you if one doesn't check it carefully.


Joe said...

Hi James.

You said: Grisar has been cited extensively on this blog, so I'm well aware of the approach taken. The pages from Grisar in question can be found here.

Me: Somewhat indirectly related to your post, I am reading the Real Luther by Posset and on pg 29 he says:

"With the Catholic Luther scholar Hartmann Grisar, who is often denigrated for other reasons, one needs to remain aware that the "historical Luther has been obliterated"".

Do you interpret this to mean Posset thinks Grisar himself obliterated the historical Luther? In its context, it seems that way, but then again, the quote "historical Luther has been obliterated" is actually taken from Grisar's work (pg 584), which confuses me a bit without having Grisar's work.

in Him,


James Swan said...

Hi Joe,

By "historic Luther" Grisar is referring to the way in which the Germans in 1917 put forth Luther as an important key element in German national history, at the expense Luther's theology and teaching. These were downplayed, or rendered insignificant.

In other words, the historic Luther gets obliterated when he's put forth as a national hero not taking his whole theology and whole teaching into account.

One thing I've always maintained about Grisar: his actual accounting of information (including references) is usually good. Grisar gets slammed because of the way he interprets the facts. That's probably why Posset says Grisar is denigrated for other reasons.

Just out of curiosity, what made you get Posset's book?

Martin Yee said...


Thanks for this stupendous and decisive refutation of romanist falsehood. Never seen anything quite like this.


James Swan said...

Thanks so much Martin!

The answers were compiled from past blog entries.

Joe said...

Hi James.

Thanks for your feedback. Makes sense.

I wanted to get Real Luther for a few reasons really. First, at your recommendation several months back in our prior brief conversation when we commented on Lortz. I trust and recognize you as very knowledgeable on Luther and real research.

Second, it is published by Concordia. As one who has been more recently convinced more fully of Lutheran theology...I have purchased such materials for 2013.

Third, Posset is Roman Catholic and this work appears to have received several positive remarks from other RC's.

Fourth, I have some RC friends that am on and off in theological discussions with (that are always trying to convert me) figure it would be a good resource for these conversations.

So far very interesting. Though, I am not nearly as knowledgeable about the names/times/places of the Reformation/Luther as you, so some of the material is beyond me...but certainly the main points are graspable.

I actually did not know Luther was a friar as opposed to a monk, or the difference between them really. And find it very interesting that some of the popular legends (thunderstorm vow, tower experience, nailing of the 95 "theses", "here I stand") are most likely historically false, at least, according to Posset's methodology.

I am right at 2.4.2, where Posset starts talking about the study of scripture and scripture alone in his order.

in Him,


James Swan said...

Thanks for the info Joe.

I'm not sure I mentioned it, but Concordia actually sent me a complimentary copy of Posset's book shortly after they released it. I probably would have purchased it anyway. I've yet to actually come across a Roman Catholic that has read the book. Reformation scholarship doesn't seem to interest pop-Roman apologists. They're still stuck on things like Grisar.

The folks over at Concordia do a great job. The recent volumes of LW are thoroughly researched, with even better documentation than (I think) than the earlier volumes of LW published decades ago.

Joe said...

James: Further, I'd be interested in seeing any statement from Luther using the phrase "sola scriptura" during his meetings with Cajetan.

Me: I would be interested as well, since Posset claims that:

"The expression "Scripture Alone" is not found verbatim anywhere in the historical Luther's vocabulary. They young friar simply faithfully obeyed the directive that was given him through the Constitutions. The priority of the Scriptures has a long pre-Lutheran tradition inside and outside of his order.(pg 67)"

Joe said...

Hmm, how did you get them to send you a complimentary copy? Do you get other free materials from Concordia?

James Swan said...

"The expression "Scripture Alone" is not found verbatim anywhere in the historical Luther's vocabulary. They young friar simply faithfully obeyed the directive that was given him through the Constitutions. The priority of the Scriptures has a long pre-Lutheran tradition inside and outside of his order.(pg 67)"

Thanks for the addition.

Hmm, how did you get them to send you a complimentary copy? Do you get other free materials from Concordia?

No, I don't typically get free materials from Concordia, they were kind enough though to send this book over to me shortly after its release.