Sunday, January 13, 2013

Should Roman Defenders be Sent Back in a Time Machine to Deal With Luther?

There are always a variety of Reformation related discussions over on the Catholic Answers forums. Here's a particular discussion I've never come across before. It asks,

"If a Catholic scholar, a skilled Catholic apologist and a Religious historian got into a time machine with a lap top computer and traveled back to the 1500's to talk to Martin Luther, could they have prevented the Protestant splint from Catholicism?"

OK, so perhaps the word "splint" wasn't exactly the word which was meant in this question. The fun thing about a discussion like this is you really don't need to have any sort of historical acumen or accurate knowledge about the 16th Century in order to participate in the discussion. In fact, the answers meandered all over the place. Very few answers mention anyone specific, but Roman Catholics over at Catholic Answers love the opportunity to comment on Luther (probably more than Lutherans). My favorite responses so far are the following words in red:

#9 "Are you saying that these people didn't exist in the 1500's and didn't speak with Luther?"

Yes, I would say that. While there were some good Roman scholars and apologists, overall, none of them succeeded against Luther. Sure there were a few triumphs now and then, but they all ultimately failed, especially the early ones:

"Surveys of the Catholic literary effort against the early Reformation underscore the self-sacrificing spirit of the Catholic defenders, but relate no significant successes in countering the powerful influence of Luther's polemics. The defensive theology of these apologists suffered from the negative task thrust upon them, from having to fight on terrain chosen by the opponents, and from the writers' inexperience in using Scripture in the new critical manner so different from the methods of scholastic theology" Source: Jared Wicks tr., Cajetan Responds: A Reader in Reformation Controversy (Washington: The Catholic University Press of America, 1978), p. 255, footnote #2].

 #10 "One of his issues was, he wanted to be Married, and a Priest. Marriage and Holy Orders are two different sacraments, and make a choice, be one and fail at the other is the fact of human nature. Human nature makes it impossible to be successfull at both at the same time, but Martin in his failed mind decided he was smarter than the Apoligists, Scholar, and Historians of that time that recognize that mere issue."

Actually, there are married priests now, and well, even this guy may have been married. In regard to Luther, if you study the early Reformation period, Luther's primary concern was not to get himself married.  As Roland Bainton puts it:

"The most unpremeditated and dramatic witness to his principles was his own marriage. If he could not reform all Christendom, at any rate he could and he did establish the Protestant parsonage. He had no thought of doing anything of the sort; and when the monks began to marry during his stay at the Wartburg, he had exclaimed, 'Good heavens! They won't give me a wife.' "

#12 "I think he had what we call "Aspergers" today (autism), but in his case, it was combined with a strong, stubborn, and slightly cruel personality. He might have even had some OCD--remember those long long confessions? Like many people who have Asperger's, he could not reach outside of himself and have any empathy with others... 

...And like many people with Asperger's, he was highly intelligent--I would say brilliant--and this made it even harder for people to deal with him! I agree with the poster who said that the scholars, apologists, and historians did exist back then, and were helpless and frustrated around someone with Martin Luther's strong personality and various disabilities. Think about it--the Magisterium couldn't deal with him! He ran circles around them. For him, it was like some tremendous video game before video games were invented! He stymied them. He won the game."

I have to admit, this is the first time I've come across Luther being charged with autism. I found only one wacky comment via a quick Google search that stated, "Martin Luther himself was an Aspie!"

#18 "I often wonder what the first reformers would have done if they could have seen into the future at the very churches they created. (the weakened values on marriage and divorce, abortion, the sacraments, the increase in numbers of denominations, etc.) Would thay have done things differently?"

And um... how many Roman Catholics voted for Obama, get divorced, and have abortions, don't take the sacraments, and have no idea what the Roman Church actually teaches? The last surveys I saw don't show a healthy picture of Romanism.

#19 "In Portugal in 1917, 400 years after Luther's theses were posted publicly, and forwarded to the Pope in 1517, Our Lady of the Rosary appeared and said, 'God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.' "

Too bad Mary didn't make an appearance of note 400 years earlier in Germany.

#21 "I can't comment on Asperger's, but at the very least I suspect that Luther was tortured by a bad case of scrupulosity and pride."

"Scrupulosity" is a favorite term some Roman Catholics like to selectively throw around. Perhaps it's time Protestant apologists simply dismiss the writings of Ignatius Loyola, Alphonsus Liguori, and Thérèse of Lisieux for the same thing.

#25 "Just take one of those vile baptist "preachers" you find on YouTube castigating the Church and a translator, and that would convince Luther not to split!"

Actually, the radicals in Luther's day were awful as well.

#27 "The time was right for a split from the Catholic Church. The Church and the Pope were wielding too much worldly power at that time, and people were tired of it, particularily in the Northern part of Europe. I say the split would have eventually happened with or without Luther."

The person who wrote this claims to be Roman Catholic!

#48 "I voted NO because I read the book about him and his own writings indicating that he feared and obeyed the devil over Christ Jesus. It didn't matter what anyone with apologetic knowledge or historical knowledge of his own time said to him so I don't see how anyone from the future could have convinced him to not obey the devil, who appeared to him many times, out of fear. He was a willing pawn in the hands of the devil."

Yes, I've come across stuff like this before. 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).

#65 "Luther was a 'nut case.' You need to be happy he was never a Pope or otherwise you'd never hear the end of it in the media on 'history' reports, about all his psychological problems and other shortcomings. Only in our world could a anti-Semitic crazy man become a Western hero of 'reason.'"

And of course, no Catholic Answers thread is not complete without someone playing psychiatrist or charging Luther with antisemitism. This goes along with an earlier comment:

#16 "What if...What if Fr. Martin Luther had stayed in the Church with his heresies sanitized and still had his crude teachings published, like urging sex with one's neighbor's wife if one's wife was less than willing; or the NAZI blueprint for the Holocaust, 'On the Jews & Their Lies'?"

The "urging sex with on'es neighbor's wife" has been discussed here.

Today, 9:34 pm
Regular Member
Join Date: May 19, 2004
Location: New Jersey
Posts: 620
Religion: Reformed
Default Re: A time machine back to the 1500's to talk to Martin Luther...,

I've read through this discussion, and here is what I learned about Martin Luther (based on the comments left):

Luther wanted to be a married priest, and it's impossible to be successful at both at the same time. Luther didn't realize this because he thought he was smarter "than the apologists, Scholar, and Historians of that time." He also "had what we call "Aspergers" today (autism), but in his case, it was combined with a strong, stubborn, and slightly cruel personality. He might have even had some OCD." This handicap made him "highly intelligent--...brilliant--and this made it even harder for people to deal with him." Even though smart, Luther was responsible for "the weakened values on marriage and divorce, abortion, the sacraments, the increase in numbers of denominations." He was also "tortured by a bad case of scrupulosity and pride." The devil "appeared to him many times, out of fear. He was a willing pawn in the hands of the devil." "Luther was a 'nut case. ...Only in our world could a anti-Semitic crazy man become a Western hero of 'reason.'" He also had "crude teachings published, like urging sex with one's neighbor's wife if one's wife was less than willing; or the NAZI blueprint for the Holocaust, 'On the Jews & Their Lies'."

Thanks for all the info, Catholic Answers participants.

"Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like 'a clanging cymbal' (I Cor 13: 1)." -- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Homily (found on the Catholic Answers rules post).

JS



Addendum 1/16/13
The Catholic Answers discussion continues. One of the participants responded to a comment I left by stating: "Not every Catholic on this thread was disecting Luther's mental or spiritual state. There are many Catholics on this forum, myself included, who refuted that arguement" [source].

That's true. Not every participant on the Catholic Answers forums goes after Luther. There are some folks who, though they disagree with Protestant principles, are sober-minded in their critiques of that which they oppose. This is one of the problems inherent in discussion boards: the nuts outweigh the fruit, so to speak, even in the discussion in question. Everyone loves to post their opinions, but very few of those opinions actually are informed. This isn't simply a problem on the Catholic Answers forums, you can find the same sort of thing on Protestant forums (like the CARM boards).

12 comments:

Martin Yee said...

Hi James,

Haha...this post is by far the most amusing that I ever saw on Luther.

Thanks,
Martin

Rooney said...

If Pope JP2 went into a time machine and came to see this CAF thread, will he defend Luther?
If so, will someone rebuke him to the face?

If Roberto Bellarmino the great apologist went into a time machine and saw the state of the post-Vatican II RCC, will he think that the post-Vatican popes have feared and obeyed the devil (by praising false religions, voodoo Satanism etc) rather than Jesus?

Scott Alt said...

Well, yeah, but don't you think in his heart of hearts James White would love an opportunity to debate Robert Bellarmine or--a few centuries earlier--Thomas Aquinas?

Turretinfan said...

Scott:

Dr. White and I will be responding to your recent (?) blog post that mentions us, this Thursday on the Dividing Line (Lord Willing).

If you have time, I'll hope you'll listen and even call in:

1-877-753-3341

The show starts at 4 p.m. Mountain Standard time, which 3 p.m. Pacific, 6 p.m. Eastern.

-TurretinFan

Scott Alt said...

Turretin Fan:
Doubt I'll be able to call in due to work obligations, but definitely will listen once is posted on AOMin and respond back if need be. God bless.

James Swan said...

Scott:

Dr. White and I will be responding to your recent (?) blog post that mentions us, this Thursday on the Dividing Line (Lord Willing).


Would you provide a link to the post in question?

Thx.

Ken said...

James - here is the blog article that Scott Alt wrote that Dr. White and Turretinfan will be responding to on Thursday.

http://www.logosandmuse.com/questions-for-a-reformed-apologist/

James Swan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Swan said...

Addendum 1/16/13
The Catholic Answers discussion continues. One of the participants responded to a comment I left by stating: "Not every Catholic on this thread was disecting Luther's mental or spiritual state. There are many Catholics on this forum, myself included, who refuted that arguement."

That's true. Not every participant on the Catholic Answers forums goes after Luther. There are some folks who, though they disagree with Protestant principles, are sober-minded in their critiques of that which they oppose. This is one of the problems inherent in discussion boards: the nuts outweigh the fruit, so to speak, even in the discussion in question. Everyone loves to post their opinions, but very few of those opinions actually are informed. This isn't simply a problem on the Catholic Answers forums, you can find the same sort of thing on Protestant forums (like the CARM boards).

Jugulum said...

Huh. I'm reading Scott's article, and just hit the paragraph where he discusses the St. Basil quote, "The hear­ers taught in the Scrip­tures ought to test what is said by teach­ers and accept that which agrees with the Scrip­tures but reject that which is for­eign."

In addition to questioning who "the hearers taught in Scripture", Scott provides this analysis:
All of these things aside, how­ever, all that Basil appears to be say­ing here is that a legit­i­mate teacher ought not to con­tra­dict the Scrip­tures. Which has noth­ing to do with the doc­trine of sola scrip­tura in the first place. No Catholic defends tra­di­tion con­trary to the Bible. St. Basil says noth­ing about tra­di­tions that are nei­ther specif­i­cally in Scrip­ture nor con­tra­dicted by it. He says noth­ing that any Catholic would reject.

Even at first glance, I see something fairly obvious that Scott didn't address: Basil didn't just say that real tradition won't contradict Scripture--he also affirms the responsibility & right of "the hearers taught in Scripture" to engage in what Catholic apologists pervasively condemn as "private interpretation". Namely, the "hearers" are instructed to test (for themselves) against Scripture the validity of what their teachers say, and reject anything they find to be in conflict with Scripture. I can't see how that could be compatible with there being a magisterial authority whose interpretations must be bowed to.

Assuming that "the hearers taught in Scripture" mean "people taught from Scripture", then that's a key part of sola scriptura which sure seems to be incompatible with Catholic dogma, and which certainly contradicts common Catholic apologetics & rhetoric on "private interpretation". (It's not the entirety of sola scriptura, because it doesn't quite imply that there are no other infallible authorities of any kind. As Scott said, it still allows for there to be additional infallible revelation contained in extra-biblical tradition.)

Scott said...

Where does one get a ticket to ride this time machine? 😆

James Swan said...

Scott, I would gladly help pay for your ticket if something like this ever came to be.

I would brush up on your German though before leaving.