Note for instance, this post, in which one of Rome's defenders used Martin Brecht's biography of Luther against Luther and argues for the validity of the indulgences to rebuild St. Peter's Cathedral:
Aug 13, '14, 12:34 pm
Re: Who is Martin Luther and why was he excommunicated?
What baffles me is how people can possibly think that Luther deserved anything but excommunication, or that in reality, he didn't really excommunicate himself by being SO far outside of accepted Catholic teaching.
Ref your thoughts on Luther vs. Indulgences:
It seems that there is a great deal at stake in Luther’s rejection of Indulgences and also in his criticism of Tetzel. In the same manner, whether Tetzel was correctly preaching Indulgences is also important. After all, if Tetzel was right and Luther was wrong, then it would appear that the Reformation was begun over a misunderstanding by Martin Luther.
German Lutheran Professor of Reformation and Modern Church History Martin Brecht’s massive three volume biography of Martin Luther is correctly known for it’s attention to detail. It is also known for generally accepting Luther’s side of many situations. As such, when Brecht makes comments that show Luther in a negative light, they must be viewed as being credible. Brecht deals with the indulgence controversy in Volume 1, pages 175-221. I will be posting Brecht’s comments in the order that they appear.
The generally accepted story about the Indulgence and Tetzel’s administration of them was that they were solely for the purpose of profit by the Church. Not so. While many people paid on the basis of their status: “The indigent were to fast and pray.” (Vol. I, pg. 182) This means that the Church granted the indulgence to the poor even if they could not pay to help build St. Peter’s. Clearly, the Church wanted to have everyone receive the Indulgence regardless of the ability to pay.
The standard Protestant version of John Tetzel is not exactly flattering. He has been pilloried for centuries and was supposedly rude, crude, lewd, and greedy.
“Probably unjustly, he (Tetzel) was usually caricatured as a crude, ignorant, and morally disreputable indulgence preacher. The charges of an immoral life-style, which Luther later repeated about him, appear to have rested on unsubstantiated rumors. Tetzel was not uneducated. He had studied theology and was for a time not only a preacher in Leipzig, but also the second theological teacher of the order’s school there. In 1518, probably through his superiors in the order, he was granted the doctor of theology degree.” Ibid, pg. 182
Much has been made here of Luther’s understanding of indulgences. Again, if Luther had a poor understanding of the issue, then it would appear that he should not have presumed to have the background necessary to challenge the teachings of the Church in their regard.
“Around Easter 1517, as the Wittenbergers were running like mad to Zerst and to Juterbog (22 miles from Wittenberg), in the territory of the archbishopric of Magdeburg in order to obtain indulgence letters and then amending their lives, he first attempted to set things right through sermons. He himself was not completely clear about indulgences, but he was convinced that he could do better, that there was something more certain than obtaining indulgence letters.” Ibid, pg. 184
Here we should remember that with Luther, the key issue was the ‘certainty’ of his Salvation. So, whereas indulgences were not ‘certain’ according to Luther, the doctrine that he ‘found’ in Scripture, Salvation by Faith Alone, provided that certainty. This doctrine had never before been ‘discovered’ in Scripture was really the result of his extreme form of scrupulosity.
“Again and again he testifies that the demand for complete and perfect confessions caused severe tribulations for him.” Ibid, pg. 184
Here in this section on Indulgences, Brecht ties in Luther’s extreme scrupulosity, which was obviously the foundation for his ‘problem’ with indulgences, since they were in opposition to where Luther ‘was headed’, Salvation by Faith Alone, even if he didn’t understand it at this point.
“Around 1514……Luther was already complaining that people were trying to make the way to heaven easy with indulgences, and with minimal demands – a sigh was sufficient – they were making grace cheap.” Ibid, pg. 185
How ironic is it that Luther complained that indulgences made grace cheap and then went on to invent Salvation by Faith Alone.
In analyzing Luther’s “Treatise on Indulgences” Brecht makes the following comments:
“Luther himself is uncertain about liberation from purgatory. He is also not certain whether God remits through indulgences an imperfect repentance or imperfect love of God.Fundamentally indulgences are of value only to those who are contrite. But it is precisely for them that an indulgence is really of no significance. Perfect contrition in itself already removes all punishment. Thus indulgences also are unnecessary. Therefore Luther does not know what use indulgences have.” Ibid, pg. 189
Here we see Luther’s ‘uncertainty’ with regards to indulgences, and how the fact of his craving for the certainty of his salvation impacted his ‘problem’ with indulgences. I would suggest that maybe Luther shouldn’t have taken it upon himself to stand Christianity on its ear over a matter on which he lacked understanding. It is also interesting to note that Luther believed that perfect contrition removes all punishment. We know that Luther was terrified by the idea of God’s punishment and here we see how much it drove his probably unconscious agenda to refute indulgences. In seems we need to spend more time studying Luther’s mental health issues.
What was it that was so unique about him that he was able to 'find' things in Scripture (like SBFA) that nobody else had noticed prior.
God Bless You Spina, Topper
More from Brecht to follow
One good thing about the CA forums is that they have word counts. My original response was much longer, but I edited it down to fit CA's parameters.
Aug 17, '14, 8:46 am
Re: Who is Martin Luther and why was he excommunicated?
“How much the indulgence could become or had become a scandalous financial business, mixed up with political and commercial interests, is shown precisely by Pope Leo X's plenary indulgence of 31 March 1515 which was intended to finance the building of the new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome… it was this that touched off Luther’s protest that led to the Reformation…” (178)
“Pope Leo X’s bull of indulgence on 31 March 1515… openly displayed the connection between pastoral and financial interests from the outset.” (179)
In context, Brecht explains that Luther’s concern over the indulgence literature at this time was to safeguard the sacrament of penance. Brecht notes Luther came to maintain the following: “Repentance is sorrow over the sins one has committed because of the love one has for God” (185) and that this was something “which could only be reconciled with the practice of indulgences only with difficulty” (185).
The entire section from Brecht is well worth reading, because it demonstrates the great piety of Luther and his great concern for a real and personal relationship with God. What I think is fascinating is how Luther and the indulgence controversy demonstrates a reoccurring problem within Christianity- that some people preach and think paying money is a way to God without actually having a real relationship with God.
Amazing stuff. Once again, context is key.
The same person arguing for the validity of Tetzel and his preaching of indulgences also made the following assertion:
In fact, there actually were executions in Wittenberg in the 1530’s during Luther’s reign there.
Over the years on this blog I've documented Luther's vacillation on capital punishment. It's fairly easy to document that the magisterial Reformers advocated a state / church relationship in which heresy and those causing societal unrest would face extreme punishment, including the death penalty. It's also easy to document the persecution of these people in Protestant lands, including Lutheran lands. I've yet to find though any documentation for Luther's role in public executions in Wittenberg in the 1530's, or any actual public executions in Wittenberg in the 1530's.
I responded to this assertion as follows:
I'd like to have some clarification on this point, if possible. I don't recall Luther being elected to political office or having a political reign in Wittenberg. As far as I know, he was an influential preacher and a theologian in Wittenberg in an age in which the church and state had a close relationship. Nor do I recall Luther specifically having individuals executed in Wittenberg in the 1530's. I am aware of some people being executed for witchcraft in Wittenberg in the early 1540's, and I'm familiar with the severe interrogations of some Anabaptists in Wittenberg in the 1530's.It's quite possible there were executions in Wittenberg during the 1530's. It seems to me though this overzealous Roman defender is trying to make Luther worse than he was, or perhaps was thinking of other areas of strong Lutheran influence in which capital punishment was carried out. If there was some sort of situation in which Luther was directly involved with a public execution as carried out by the authorities in Wittenberg in the 1530's, I think I would have come across it. Consider Calvin's involvement in the Servetus affair- if there was some similar situation involving Luther in Wittenberg in the 1530's, I think Rome's defenders would make it a front and center attribute of Luther's career.
As someone always willing to learn (or to be reminded of what I've forgotten), I'd like to know (or be reminded) exactly who Luther had executed in Wittenberg in the 1530's. While it certainly is within the realm of possibility that the secular authorities of Wittenberg during the 1530's carried out capital punishment, I don't recall this actually happening in the 1530's, or more specifically, that Luther was involved with the carrying out of executions during the 1530's, especially against Anabaptists.
I have a few books specific to the relationship of the magisterial Reformers to the radicals that may have the documentation for this person's assertion. My suspicion though is that when it was asserted "there actually were executions in Wittenberg in the 1530’s during Luther’s reign" the comment was written without any actual research, or perhaps it was just a mis-statement by an over-zealous defender of Rome.