Where are the Miracles of Luther?
Over on the Catholic Answers forums someone asked this about Luther, "Where are his miracles? Where are the miracles of any person who set up a Church against the True Church?”
This is an argument that has been used by the defenders of Rome for quite a long time (I've tackled it before: Hey Reformers: Got Miracles? If Not, You Were Not Called By God). The argument is old. For example, Francis de Sales made the argument in The Catholic Controversy. A 1622 pamphlet Lutheri Manes, das ist D. Martin Luthers abgeleibter Geist Amno raised the issue to confront the 1617 celebration of Luther. Here's an interesting excerpt from the late 1800's:
At the time of Martin Luther, a certain man, named William, was drowned. Luther was requested to raise him again to life as a proof of the truth of his doctrine. He commanded him repeatedly to rise from the dead. It was all in vain. (Bredenbach, L. vii., c. 1.) Calvin wished to prove the truth of his doctrine by a miracle. So he begged a man to feign death and have himself carried as a corpse to the church, and then rise at his bidding, so that the people might believe he had been raised again to life by the prayer of Calvin, as a proof of the truth of his doctrine. That man complied with Calvin's request. He was carried to the church, apparently dead. Calvin approached the coffin and said in a loud voice: I command you to rise in the name of Christ, whose Gospel I preach. But alas! the man never arose again. He was dead. God had punished him, and by the sudden death of this deceiver God manifested his detestation of Calvin's heresies, and the truth of the Catholic religion. (Franc-Torrianus, L. i. De Dogmatibus.) Thus Almighty God has never permitted, and will never permit, a real miracle in confirmation of an heretical doctrine; should he bestow the gift of miracles even on an impious man, yet he will never permit him to use this gift in confirmation of a false doctrine. Were god to perform a real miracle in support of an heretical doctrine he would thereby lead the people into error, and become guilty of the sin of wilful lying and deception.
In more recent times, one can find things like this traditionalist website that goes into great detail with this argument (using deSales): ProtestantErrors.com. And finally, here's a modern example from pop-Roman defender Taylor Marshall:
You can start with Martin Luther. Did Luther perform any miracles? Did he make prophecies that came to pass. No, not at all. Yet at the same time period, the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe (a public miracle) did occur to St Juan Diego and millions of Aztecs. Also during this time period, the Catholic missionary Saint Francis Xavier was miraculously preaching to the people of India, Indonesia, etc. in their native tongues without study.
The Miracles of Luther?
Interestingly, there is actually a tradition of alleged miracles and prophecies attributed to Luther. For an intriguing study of this, see: R.W. Scribner, Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany (London: The Hambledon Press, 1987). Chapter 15 is entitled, "Incombustible Luther: the Image of the Reformer in Early Modern Germany" (Much of this chapter is available via a free preview, but reading the chapter in its entirety is well worth it).
Scribner points out that the quality of incombustibility is rooted in the Roman cult of the saints myths (Scribner, 328). The notion of the incombustible Luther comes from 18th century stories of multiple fires in the 17th Century in which paintings of Luther were found in the ashes intact and unharmed. The actual genesis of Luther and fire appears to go back to a pamphlet from 1521 (Scribner, 324), and it picked up various other Luther miracles as the years progressed. Scribner mentions that in 1583 Antonius Probus made the very argument our friend from Catholic Answers is making, that "God did not send great prophets and doctors of the church unless miracles accompanied them" (Scribner, 336), and then Scribner documents a number of 17th Century miraculous Luther stories (Scribner, 336-338). Scribner also mentions that seven years before Probus, Johann Lapaeus produced a list of Luther's prophecies and miracles (Scribner, 349).
No, I don't believe the miracles attributed to Luther are true, but it is a fascinating, if not funny study. There are guidelines set up as to how to become a saint in Romanism, so perhaps if someone wanted to play with Rome's rules, you could make a case for Luther. Rome's defenders have a seemingly countless number of official and unofficial miracles, so someone with creativity could argue for the beatification of Saint Luther. The flaw though in going in this direction is that it assumes Rome's worldview is true.
I'm always a bit surprised when this argument is raised because based on the criteria of miracle = "sent by God", there are a fair amount of Pentecostal folks that are more than willing to claim they have the credentials required. Then also there's the problem that those who substantiate their message with an alleged miracle include non-Christian religions. Let us never forget the sobering words of Matthew 7:21-23:
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.But if someone really wanted to turn the tables on Rome's argument, place the argument in a Protestant, Biblical, and sola scriptura worldview. Yes, miracles certainly proved the divine message of the Biblical authors. Keep in mind though, the magisterial reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.), did not believe they were receiving new revelation from God. Rather, they believed they were testifying to what was in the Bible. If you were to ask them "where are your miracles to prove your message?" A good way for them to respond would be to say: "Between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21."
What's interesting to me about all this is Luther and the early magisterial Reformers faced a very similar problem with a dissident group of people they called the Schwärmer. These were the radicals that were made up of the peasants, Anabaptists, spiritualists, and all the others that couldn't be classified as papists or Lutherans. Early in the 1520's, Luther and the Wittenbergers came into conflict with some men claiming to be modern-day prophets, known as the Zwickau Prophets. What characterized these men was that the authority of Scripture was second to their private revelations from the Holy Spirit. Their subjective experience trumped the testimony of the scriptures, and it was no wonder to Luther that their ideas led to societal and political unrest and rebellion.
There was a difference between the Reformers and those like the Zwickau Prophets- the Reformers found their doctrines in the Scriptures, relying on exegesis and devout study. The modern-day prophets came with a message not from the Scriptures, but from the inner revelation of the Holy Spirit. In fact, when Luther discussed these prophets via correspondence with Melanchthon, he asked the same question about their miracles... did they have them to establish their new revelation? He also wanted to know that if they really were prophets in the Biblical sense, did they demonstrate the fear and suffering similar to what the Biblical prophets experienced?:
Now let me deal with the “prophets.” Before I say anything else, I do not approve of your timidity, since you are stronger in spirit and learning than I. First of all, since they bear witness to themselves, one need not immediately accept them; according to John’s counsel, the spirits are to be tested. If you cannot test them, then you have the advice of Gamaliel that you postpone judgment. Thus far I hear of nothing said or done by them that Satan could not also do or imitate. Yet find out for me whether they can prove [that they are called by God], for God has never sent anyone, not even the Son himself, unless he was called through men or attested by signs. In the old days the prophets had their authority from the Law and the prophetic order, as we now receive authority through men. I definitely do not want the “prophets” to be accepted if they state that they were called by mere revelation, since God did not even wish to speak to Samuel except through the authority and knowledge of Eli. This is the first thing that belongs to teaching in public.
In order to explore their individual spirit, too, you should inquire whether they have experienced spiritual distress and the divine birth, death, and hell. If you should hear that all [their experiences] are pleasant, quiet, devout (as they say), and spiritual, then don’t approve of them, even if they should say that they were caught up to the third heaven. The sign of the Son of Man is then missing, which is the only touchstone of Christians and a certain differentiator between the spirits. Do you want to know the place, time, and manner of [true] conversations with God? Listen: “Like a lion has he broken all my bones”; “I am cast out from before your eyes”: “My soul is filled with grief, and my life has approached hell.” The [Divine] Majesty (as they call it) does not speak in such a direct way to man that man could [actually] see it; but rather, “Man shall not see me and live.” [Our] nature cannot bear even a small glimmer of God’s [direct] speaking. As a result God speaks through men [indirectly], because not all can endure his speaking. The angel frightened even the Virgin, and also Daniel. And Jeremiah pleads, “Correct me [O Lord] but in just measure,” and, “Be not a terror to me.” Why should I say more? As if the [Divine] Majesty could speak familiarly with the Old Adam without first killing him and drying him out so that his horrible stench would not be so foul, since God is a consuming fire! The dreams and visions of the saints are horrifying, too, at least after they are understood. Therefore examine [them] and do not even listen if they speak of the glorified Jesus, unless you have first heard of the crucified Jesus. (LW 48:365-367)A few years later writing to Duke John of Saxony Luther stated,
Now it is an especial joy that our followers did not begin this heresy, as the sectaries themselves boast that they did not learn it from us, but directly from Heaven, and that they hear God speak to them immediately as to the angels. It is a simple fact that at Wittenberg only faith, love, and the Cross of Christ are taught. God's voice, they say, you must hear yourself, and suffer and feel God's work in you to know your own weight; aye, they make nothing of the Scripture, which they call "Bible-bubble-Babel." To judge by what they say their cross and passion is greater than Christ's and more to be prized. . . .
Secondly, their boasting about the spirit counts for nothing, for we have the saying of St. John, bidding us "prove the spirits, whether they be of God." Now this spirit has not yet been proved, and goes about with turbulence and makes a disturbance according to his own sweet will. If he were a good spirit he would first humbly submit to be proved and Judged, as does the Spirit of Christ. It would be a fine fruit of the spirit, by which he could be proved, if he did not creep into the corners and flee the light, but would stand out publicly before his enemies and opponents and make his confession and give his answers. But the spirit of Allstedt shuns that sort of thing as the devil shuns the Cross, and yet in his own nest he speaks the most unterrified language, as though he were full of three Holy Ghosts, and this unseemly boasting is a fine proof of who this spirit is. For in his book he offers to make answer in the presence of a harmless assembly, and to stake life and soul upon it, but not in a corner, but in the presence of two or three persons. Tell me, who is this bold and confident Holy Spirit who sets himself such narrow limits and will not appear except before a "harmless assembly," and will not make answer in a corner before two or three persons? What kind of a spirit is that who is afraid of two or three people and cannot endure an assembly that may do him harm? I shall tell you. He smells the roast; he has been with me once or twice in my cloister at Wittenberg and has had his nose punched; so he does not like the soup and will not appear except where his own followers are present who will say Yes to his swelling words. If I, who have no spirit and hear no heavenly voices, had used such words against my papists, how they would have shouted Victory, and stopped my mouth!In the same letter Luther states that these prophets should submit in a proper manner, even if it's to "the papists":
I have said these things to your Graces, so that your Graces may not be afraid of this spirit or delay action, but enjoin them strictly to refrain from violence and stop their destroying of monasteries and churches and their burning of saints, commanding them, if they wish to prove their spirit, to do so in a proper manner, and first submit to investigation, either by us or by the papists, for, thank God! they consider us worse enemies than the papists.I'm not going to speculate too much on this comment, other than saying that I think Luther realized these prophets wouldn't submit to anybody's scrutiny, and even if they did get scrutinized by "the papists" they would fail their test as well.