Monday, January 13, 2014

Luther Throwing James in the Fire, the Canon, and Heresy

Further musing from the Catholic Answers Forum:

Today, 11:14 am
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Default Re: Protestant Canon

Originally Posted by Topper17 View Post
The throwing in the fire comment was not disrespectful? If not then what could be?
There are at least two sources I'm aware of in which Luther is said to have wanted "to throw James in the fire." The first statement is a Tabletalk reference, which means Luther didn't write it, but is something he is reported to have said. The second statement comes from a 1542 writing in which it isn't clear at all that the actual book of James is in question, but rather a statue of Saint James. Regardless, the statements reflect Luther's frustration with his catholic critics who relied on James 2. Where I would fault Luther here is not for his fire / stove comment (which is nothing more than polemics), but rather the ease in which he gave up on the consistent harmonizing of James with Paul as a response to the critics. In the same context of the second statement, Luther admits to having interpreted James 2 previously according to the sense of the rest of scripture. In fact, one can actually find Luther presenting the typical protestant harmonization of James and Paul.

Originally Posted by Topper17 View Post
There was relatively little disagreement on the canon until the Reformation, when Luther chose to question literally everything, showing very little deference to all those who had come before him.
I've seen this particular topic debated endlessly over the years. As far as I can tell in terms of the Intertestamental books. there were two traditions running concurrently through the church, one accepting them, one rejecting them (I've seen both traditions argued as the prevalent one). This is why there were a group of excellent scholars at Trent arguing to exclude them. In regard to the New Testament books, I would agree that there probably was 'relatively little disagreement." What I think provoked 16th Century theologians like Cajetan, Luther, Erasmus, etc. was the recovery of Greek and Hebrew. Cajetan for instance, came under heavy attack from the Paris theologians for relegating the Latin Vulgate as inferior to the Hebrew and Greek. Cajetan questioned the authenticity of a number of New Testament Bible passages, and in his criticism he invoked Jerome's authority as support. To sum it up, the reason for questioning the New Testament canon during the 16th Century had a lot to do with the recovery of the original Biblical languages. Certainly Luther went a step further and attached a theological criteria, but once again there were no dogmatic parameters in place to prevent this.

Originally Posted by Topper17 View Post
In addition, the Church grants those rights to the Doctors which it sanctions. Luther WAS sanctioned by the Church as a Doctor of Sacred Scripture. But then, beginning with his being released from his vows as a monk by Staupitz in 1518 (I think), and culminating with his excommunication from the Church, Luther no longer was a Catholic sanctioned Theologian. He was judged to be an unrepentant heretic and as such, from the time of his excommunication, he no longer had any rights a Catholic, not even as a lay Catholic.
First, Trent never condemned Luther by name. That is, there is no infallible dogmatic pronouncement against Luther. In other words, a Catholic has no official judgment on Luther to which he is bound. This is why there is such a thing as Catholic Luther scholarship. Second, Jimmy Akin has an interesting article called "Identifying Infallible Statements." In that article he points out that Exsurge Dominae was not infallible, nor was Luther condemned for violating infallibly defined dogmas. Third, the Edict of Worms was decreed by Charles V deeming Luther a heretic, but to my knowledge, the statements of Charles V are not considered infallible by the Catholic church.

Pope John Paul II exhorted his hearers one time to "meditate, in truth and Christian charity" on the Reformation period. This suggests to me that the same sort of allowances made for the theological errors of Erasmus and Cajetan could be extended to Luther on the extent of the canon. John Paul went on to say that the event of the Reformation can be "understood and represented better" when those of us in later centuries can look back and reflect on what happened What JonNC has been demonstrating is that if one takes the time to look at the actual historical situation of Luther's canon, he was certainly not alone. To allow Cajetan and Erasmus a free pass while condemning Luther on this issue could, in the minds of some people, demonstrate double standards or an underlying unjustified bias.

"Where polemics have clouded the view, the direction of this view must be corrected and independently by one side or the other."- John Paul II on Luther and the Reformation


Father Anonymous said...

In a conversation like this one (about Trent and so forth, not James) it is sometimes worth reminding people that recent Lutheran-Roman Catholic ecumenical agreements have specifically set aside any anathemas dating to the 16th century.

In other words, both churches have formally recognized that the state of theological discourse has moved on in the other, and that even if true at the time, the worst accusations we made about each other no longer apply.

Ken said...

The conservative Lutherans (Like the Missouri-Synod Lutheran Church) - the ones who still believe the Bible is inerrant and don't ordain women as pastors and don't ordain homosexuals - and hold to the gospel - did not sign the Joint declaration. The Missouri - Synod Lutheran church specifically objected (by the 9th meeting that they attended) to issues relating to grace and faith and the Roman Catholic Church did not invite them for further talks.

It was pretty much liberal Lutherans that signed that Joint declaration. Sad.

So Rome signed a Joint declaration with the Lutheran World Federation, and the US branch was a liberal Lutheran Church, that ordains homosexuals and women as pastors, does not believe in inerrancy, etc. - that says a lot about the Roman Catholic's involvement in that.

Ken said...

Third, the Edict of Worms was decreed by Charles V deeming Luther a heretic, but to my knowledge, the statements of Charles V are not considered infallible by the Catholic church.

But was that not John Eck and other official Roman Catholic prelates, etc. that were influencing Charles V ?? at the Worms trial