Sunday, January 27, 2013

Luther’s Appalling Instabilities and Contradictions?

It amazes me how reckless some of Rome's defenders are, be they from a generation long gone, or the cut-and-pasters on the Catholic Answers forums. They can quickly weave together a number of quotes from different sources all at the expense of accurate history. What takes them five or ten sentences to weave together, can take hours to untangle. For instance, over on the Catholic Answers forums I came across the following:

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Default Re: Would Luther convert back to Catholicism?

I studied Luther in College and some in Seminary. The picture I formulated, and this is my opinion, is of a man who was deeply confused on a lot of issues. 

"Be a sinner and sin boldly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ." --Martin Luther

That statement always throws me for a loop.

In 1519 he wrote: "I fully confess the supreme power of the Roman Church; after Jesus Christ Our Lord, she should be preferred to everything on earth and heaven.” This Church “is the one chosen by God; there can be no reason for anyone to break away from her and, entering into schism, separate himself from her unity.” In 1520, in his Lutheran Epistle, he strongly praised Pope Leo X, saying that his courageous life placed him above any attack.

However, in that same year Leo X would become the Antichrist and the Roman Church “a licentious den of thieves, the most depraved brothel, the kingdom of sin, death and hell.”

In 1519, two years after he publicly started to preach his Reformation, while defending himself from adversaries, he taught the cult of the saints, the existence of purgatory, praying for the deceased, the practice of fasting etc. Some years later, he rejected all these doctrines as idolatry, superstition and fanaticism. I could go on and on but I will stop there.

While this poster may have "studied Luther in college and some in seminary," the bulk of what was posted was a simple cut-and-paste from this link: Luther’s Appalling Instabilities and Contradictions by Fr. Leonel Franca, S.J. We'll assume the poster isn't Fr. Leonel Franca, S.J., he's probably long gone. I've come across his work before (something he wrote back in 1934). The link to Franca's work is one of a number on this website:

Luther’s Lack of Credibility I
Luther’s Boundless Pride and Tyranny - II
Luther’s Appalling Instabilities and Contradictions - III
Luther's Licentiousness - IV

These links appear to all be English translations from, 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 first quotes posted on the Catholic Answer forum was "I fully confess the supreme power of the Roman Church; after Jesus Christ Our Lord, she should be preferred to everything on earth and heaven," and this Church “is the one chosen by God; there can be no reason for anyone to break away from her and, entering into schism, separate himself from her unity” (1519). Franca has used two quotes from two different books. He documents the first quote as "Martin Luther, Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken vollstaendig gesammelt von W.M.L. de Wette, Berlin, 1825-1828, vol. I p. 234;" The second, "M. Luther, Werke, Weimar: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 1883-1914, vol. II, p. 72." The third reference (in which Luther "strongly praised Pope Leo") is "De Wette, vol. I, p. 498." The fourth reference (in which Leo is called the Antichrist) is "Ibid. vol. I, pp. 522, 500; Weimar, vol. VII, p. 44."

The first reference can be found here, the second, here, the third here, the fourth here, here and here. The first reference can be found translated in LW 48:102. To my knowledge, the entirety of the treatise the second reference comes from has not been translated into English. The third reference can be found translated in LW 31:334-335 (Luther's open letter to Pope Leo from The Freedom of the Christian). In regard to the fourth references, for De Wette I,522 there is a partial English translation of the letter (Nov. 4, 1520 to Spalatin), here. The reference to De Wette I, 500 is again from Luther's open letter to Pope Leo from The Freedom of the Christian (LW 31:336). Weimar VII, 44 is a reference to the same thing.

Historical Context of the First Two Quotes
The first quote is from a letter to Pope Leo X, January 5 or 6, 1519, and it exists only as a draft: it was never sent. Information on this draft letter can be found here. The letter was an agreed upon writing between Luther and the papal chamberlain Karl von Miltitz. Miltitz met with Luther to facilitate his surrender with Rome. Miltitz was sent to convince Luther to recant on the indulgence issue. They came to a sort of temporary agreement: Luther and his opponents would refrain from debate and publication against each other, Luther would write a letter to the pope apologizing and submitting to him, and he would publish a leaflet of the same nature, admonishing everyone to follow the Roman church. What Luther did not agree to do was recant, which had been Miltitz intensions all along. Miltitz only achieved an agreement of a temporary cease fire, so to speak.  Historians point out that Luther was ready to honor the Roman church during this period, but he would only retract his alleged errors if they were actually proven by Rome to be errors. In the letter, Luther does not retract his indulgence theses. Rather, he argues they were meant to protect the church from the indulgence preachers.

There were reasons why the letter was worded the way it was, and it had to do with the conventional, curialistic style of the times and the accepted means of dialog with Rome, as well as the politics of the Reformation. At this time Luther was still in negotiations with the Roman church. He had not yet been excommunicated. LW states the letter was never sent because the papal chamberlain Karl con Miltitz "offered to write the pope himself" (LW 48:100). True, during this period, Luther still held out hope to reconcile with the Roman church. Like any sort of complex negotiations, one would expect courteous and cautious interactions. This was not simply a minor theological squabble, it was for Luther, a life or death issue when dealing with Roman power. Bainton explains Luther learned afterward that Miltitz "came armed with seventy apostolic briefs, that he might take me to the Jerusalem which kills the prophets, the purple of Babylon" (Here I Stand, p. 105). Commenting on the contents of the letter, D'Aubigne makes the following observations:
These words might appear strange and even reprehensible in Luther's mouth, did we not remember that he reached the light not suddenly, but by a slow and progressive course. They are a very important evidence, that the Reformation was not simply an opposition to the papacy; it was not a war waged against certain forms; nor was it the result of a merely negative tendency. Opposition to the pope was in the second line of the battle: a new life, a positive doctrine was the generating principle. "Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, and who must be preferred above all," even above Rome itself, as Luther writes at the end of his letter, was the essential cause of the Revolution of the sixteenth century.
The second quote is of a similar nature. It's from the leaflet Luther agreed to publish. It was entitled, Luthers Unterricht auf etliche Artikel, die ihm von seinen Abgönnern aufgelegt vnd zugemessen werden (Doctor Martin Luther's Instruction on Several Articles which are Ascribed and Assigned to him by his Detractors)."  Martin Brecht gives a concise background on this in his Martin Luther, His Road to Reformation 1428-1521, pp. 280-288, as does D'Aubigne's History of the Church. Luther himself actually provides an overview of its contents in LW 48:96-98.

The death of the emperor though caused the proceedings against Luther to slow down. By the time they picked up again, Miltitz was pursuing another meeting with Luther, this time in the presence of Cajetan. Luther rejected this. Rome had not specifically produced a "well-grounded statement of the points which he was to retract" (Brecht, 288). Luther's opponents had not followed the cease and desist agreement either. The temporary cease fire ended, and Luther was soon to be challenged by one of Rome's leading theologians, John Eck.

In regard to the second quote, various English snippets have made their way into secondary sources.  D'Aubigne provides this partial translation:
Yet he still felt esteem for the ancient Church of Rome, and had no thought of separating from it. “That the Roman Church,” said he in the explanation which he had promised Miltitz to publish, “is honored by God above all others, is what we cannot doubt. Saint Peter, Saint Paul, forty-six popes, many hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have shed their blood in its bosom, and have overcome hell and the world, so that God’s eye regards it with especial favor. Although everything is now in a very wretched state there, this is not a sufficient reason for separating from it. On the contrary, the worse things are going on within it, the more should we cling to it; for it is not by separation that we shall make it better. We must not desert God on account of the devil; or abandon the children of God who are still in the Roman communion, because of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, there is no evil that should destroy charity or break the bond of union. For charity can do all things, and to unity nothing is difficult.” It was not Luther who separated from Rome: it was Rome that separated from Luther, and thus rejected; the ancient faith of the Catholic Church, of which he was then the representative. It was not Luther who deprived Rome of her power, and made her bishop descend from a throne which he had usurped: the doctrines he proclaimed, the word of the apostles which God manifested anew in the Universal Church with great power and admirable purity, could alone prevail against that dominion which had for centuries enslaved the Church.
Other overiews of this writing exist as well, including the conclusion of the writing:
"That the Roman Church was honoured of God above all others, and though the state of things at Rome was then a bad' one, yet that was no cause for separation from this Church; yea, the worse matters stood there, the closer we ought to cling to her, for by tearing loose from and despising her, things were not in the least improved. But as to how far the power and authority of the Roman See should extend, that the learned should be left to decide; the salvation of the soul being not at all bound to it. Let the power be as it may, great or small, as God distributes it, we ought to be content; but union ought to be preserved, and papal commands should, by no means, be resisted. "Behold," says he, in conclusion, "now I hope it is manifest, that I do not wish to deprive the Roman Church of anything, as my dear friends have accused me. But that I do not approve the course of several hypocrites, in this, it seems to me I do right, and I am not to let bubbles frighten me to death; the holy Roman See is to be followed in all things, yet no hypocrite is ever to be believed."
Context for the Remaining Quotes
Franca then moves ahead to Luther's writings from 1520. He first cites similar sentiment from Luther's Open Letter to Pope Leo which accompanied The Freedom of the Christian. He cites Luther saying about the pope, "His courageous life placed him above any attack." The context reads:
Living among the monsters of this age with whom I am now for the third year waging war, I am compelled occasionally to look up to you, Leo, most blessed father, and to think of you. Indeed, since you are occasionally regarded as the sole cause of my warfare, I cannot help thinking of you. To be sure, the undeserved raging of your godless flatterers against me has compelled me to appeal from your see to a future council, despite the decrees of your predecessors Pins and Julius, who with a foolish tyranny forbade such an appeal. Nevertheless, I have never alienated myself from Your Blessedness to such an extent that I should not with all my heart wish you and your see every blessing, for which I have besought God with earnest prayers to the best of my ability. It is true that I have been so bold as to despise and look down upon those who have tried to frighten me with the majesty of your name and authority. There is one thing, however, which I cannot ignore and which is the cause of my writing once more to Your Blessedness. It has come to my attention that I am accused of great indiscretion, said to be my great fault, in which, it is said, I have not spared even your person. I freely vow that I have, to my knowledge, spoken only good and honorable words concerning you whenever I have thought of you. If I had ever done otherwise, I myself could by no means condone it, but should agree entirely with the judgment which others have formed of me; and I should do nothing more gladly than recant such indiscretion and impiety. I have called you a Daniel in Babylon; and everyone who reads what I have written knows how zealously I defended your innocence against your defamer Sylvester. Indeed, your reputation and the fame of your blameless life, celebrated as they are throughout the world by the writings of many great men, are too well known and too honorable to be assailed by anyone, no matter how great he is. I am not so foolish as to attack one whom all people praise. As a matter of fact, I have always tried, and will always continue, not to attack even those whom the public dishonors for I take no pleasure in the faults of any man, since I am conscious of the beam in my own eye. I could not, indeed, be the first one to cast a stone at the adulteress [John 8:1–11]. Luther, M. (1999, c1957). Vol. 31: Luther's works, vol. 31 : Career of the Reformer I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (31:334). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Franca then moves to the thrust of his attack: Luther in the same year refers to the pope as the Antichrist and to Rome as "a licentious den of thieves, the most depraved brothel, the kingdom of sin, death and hell." He cites Luther's letter to Spalatin from November 4, 1520 which contains some reaction to Luther on the Papal bull Exsurge Domine which condemned Luther. Previous to this date, negotiations between Luther and the Papacy had broken down considerably (See Brecht vol 1, 413-416). In the letter, Luther reacts to the contents of the bull by refering to Rome as the kingdom of the Antichrist. Franca then quotes the same Open Letter to the Pope (which he cited earlier as proof of Luther's positive sentiment about Leo) that Rome herself was "a licentious den of thieves, the most depraved brothel, the kingdom of sin, death and hell."
Therefore, most excellent Leo, I beg you to give me a hearing after I have vindicated myself by this letter, and believe me when I say that I have never thought ill of you personally, that I am the kind of a person who would wish you all good things eternally, and that I have no quarrel with any man concerning his morals but only concerning the word of truth. In all other matters I will yield to any man whatsoever; but I have neither the power nor the will to deny the Word of God. If any man has a different opinion concerning me, he does not think straight or understand what I have actually said. I have truly despised your see, the Roman Curia, which, however, neither you nor anyone else can deny is more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom ever was, and which, as far as I can see, is characterized by a completely depraved, hopeless, and notorious godlessness. I have been thoroughly incensed over the fact that good Christians are mocked in your name and under the cloak of the Roman church I have resisted and will continue to resist your see as long as the spirit of faith lives in me. Not that I shall strive for the impossible or hope that by my efforts alone anything will be accomplished in that most disordered Babylon, where the fury of so many flatterers is turned against me; but I acknowledge my indebtedness to my Christian brethren, whom I am duty-bound to warn so that fewer of them may be destroyed by the plagues of Rome, at least so that their destruction may be less cruel. As you well know, there has been flowing from Rome these many years—like a flood covering the world—nothing but a devastation of men’s bodies and souls and possessions, the worst examples of the worst of all things. All this is clearer than day to all, and the Roman church, once the holiest of all, has become the most licentious den of thieves [Matt. 21:13], the most shameless of all brothels, the kingdom of sin, death, and hell. It is so bad that even Antichrist himself, if he should come, could think of nothing to add to its wickedness. Meanwhile you, Leo, sit as a lamb in the midst of wolves [Matt. 10:16] and like Daniel in the midst of lions [Dan. 6:16]. With Ezekiel you live among scorpions [Ezek. 2:6]. How can you alone oppose these monsters? Even if you would call to your aid three or four well learned and thoroughly reliable cardinals, what are these among so many? You would all be poisoned before you could begin to issue a decree for the purpose of remedying the situation. The Roman Curia is already lost, for God’s wrath has relentlessly fallen upon it. It detests church councils, it fears a reformation, it cannot allay its own corruption; and what was said of its mother Babylon also applies to it: “We would have cured Babylon, but she was not healed. Let us forsake her” [Jer. 51:9]. Luther, M. (1999, c1957). Vol. 31: Luther's works, vol. 31 : Career of the Reformer I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (31:335). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
The major facts Franca leaves out is the breakdown in negotiations between Luther and the Papacy, and Luther's expected negative reaction to Exsurge Domine. Rather, he portrays Luther as being unstable and contradictory during the years 1519-1520. If one follows the train of events, Luther's comments make a lot of sense for a man whose life was being threatened by a corrupt power. The reference to the Pope being the Antichrist from November 4, 1520 is very similar to his statement from his open Letter, that Rome may likely be the kingdom of the Antichrist. Certainly Luther would go on to refer to the Pope as the Antichrist, but what Franca cites doesn't prove any sort of contradiction in Luther's thought.  If one were to follow Franca's paradigm, Pope Leo himself was unstable and contradictory. Brecht notes that on March 19, 1520 Pope Leo wrote to Luther addressing him as "my beloved son" and no longer "the son of perdition" (Brecht 1, 287). Then in 1520 the papal bull refers to Luther using many unflattering terms.


Thomas DiMattia said...

I think all Lutherans will appretiate the following. . .I am an inactive catholic priest who decided to get married. . .in the seminary we had a brilliant theologian who most likely would agree with most if not all of what was written here. He would state that the Lutheran position and the Cathlic position were so similar that only a scholar could adequately tell the difference. He used to tell the joke that there were these two religious agruing on a train, one was a Catholic, the other a Lutheran. One was arguing the Catholic position, the other the Lutheran position. The problem was, the Catholic was arging the Lutheran position while the Lutheran was arguing the Catholic position. . .And to prove I guess his point, when it came for the finals in getting a masters in divinity at the University of Dallas, the 12 of us were grilled verbally and inidividually by all the professors, one on one. Only one of the 12 got the Lutheran position correct! Why? You guessed it. He was a Lutheran almost all of his life!

James Swan said...

Hmm... Interesting story. What's happened since the 16th Century, in my opinion, is that there are always theologians that try to find language that will cover opposing positions, with the goal of: If you say it a certain way, both positions appear to be in agreement.

So, in the 16th Century, it was so obvious Luther was saying something quite different than the Roman position. Depending now on who you talk to, the theological language has evolved (or devolved?) so much so, that it's not as easy to separate what was at one time, so obviously different.