1. Luther's unleashing of the Peasants Revolt
2. Luther's hatred of the Jews
3. Luther's responsibility for Nazism
These sort of blog entries that claim to be setting the record straight with blatant "honest assessments" are typically one-sided and ahistorical. If put forth by one of Rome's defenders they almost always neglect to apply their own standard to their own church, neglecting the logical conclusion that if one's own argument indicts one's own position, it isn't a valid argument. Typical as well is a selective use of the historical facts leading to negligent historical conclusions.
1. "Luther's Darker Side: the German Peasants"
The first "dark side" that's been hidden from the unsuspecting world is that Luther initially caused the Peasant's War of 1525-1526, that he wrote "an admonition to massacre" "in which he called on everyone to kill the peasants, en masse," he offered "the prospect of martyrdom to those fighting for the aristocracy, but only hellfire for all the slain peasants," and that in all this Luther "had his way" with the eventual slaughtering of 100,00 to 300,000 peasants.
The first blatant criticism is that on a basic level, this alleged "darker [part] of Luther's legacy" that is supposed to have been an example of the "whitewashing of the real history of Luther" is a fairly common aspect of Luther's history, found easily and readily in popular Protestant biographies of Luther. In today's explosion of easily accessible information, even a 6th grader utilizing Wikipedia's basic entry on Luther for a book report on the Reformer will uncover this alleged whitewashed dark fact kept hidden away by those wishing to secure the heroic myth of Luther.
Second, the view being put forth by Shameless Popery is ahistorical. They state, "A few years after Luther's break from the Catholic Church, the revolutionary momentum that he had helped to unleash culminated in a massive popular (and bloody) uprising called the German Peasants' War," and also that Luther "accidentally sparked a bloody revolution." The simple fact of the matter is that the unrest and uprisings of the peasants in Germany was not something that began with Luther. It's not as if the peasants were content in their oppression until Luther came along as their potential political savior. The revolts and insurrections were throughout the fifteenth century (see Boissonnade, pp. 327-331). Roland Bainton points out,
The Peasants' War did not arise out of any immediate connection with the religious issues of the sixteenth century because agrarian unrest had been brewing for fully a century. Uprisings had occurred all over Europe, but especially in south Germany, where particularly the peasants suffered from changes which ultimately should have ministered to their security and prosperity. Feudal anarchy was being superseded through the consolidation of power. In Spain, England, and France this had taken place on a national scale, but in Germany only on a territorial basis; and in each political unit the princes were endeavoring to integrate the administration with the help of a bureauc- racy of salaried court officials.Third, Shameless Popery mentions that initially Luther called for peace from both the rulers and the peasants, but then took a "new position" that "can fairly be characterized as an admonition to massacre."* The caricature being presented is that Luther initially wanted peace, but then changed his mind that the peasants should be slaughtered. The historical record though shows Luther wrote Duke John of Saxony July, 1524 and presented the same position he maintained throughout 1525- that ruler's have a right to keep order in society by suppressing revolts. Even in his Admonition to Peace, Luther warned the peasants that societal unrest and anarchy would be met with judgment.
Fourth, after quoting Luther's "new position" Shameless Popery (citing Mark U. Edwards) concludes that "Luther had his way" and the "peasants were brutally suppressed." If all that is meant is that societal order was restored by suppressing the peasants, this would be consistent with Luther's thought that rebellion was to be met with force and containment. On the other hand, there is a sense in which Luther did not have his way, because the rulers did not distinguish between the seditious and innocent peasants.
Fifth, I think it's ironic that Luther's Roman Catholic critics are so quick to blame Luther for the deaths of peasants, but yet never offer an answer as to why the papacy didn't intervene to protect the peasants, or why they weren't actively working behind the scenes previous to 1525 to better the lives of the peasants. The hard truth appears to me to be that the papacy was content with letting the peasants remain peasants, and whatever their plight was, really wasn't an important issue. On the other hand, once Luther could be linked to the deaths of peasants, the peasants all of sudden became... important members of society that died tragically. Now for hit pieces like that put forth by Shameless Popery, there's never any thought to look into the role of the papacy throughout those periods of history in which the peasants were neglected and downtrodden. This never enters the picture.
It's a bit naive though to think somehow a person living in a peaceful country, hundreds of years later, can actually determine the guilt of Luther's writings in the entire peasants revolt. How would Shameless Popery write their criticisms if it was they who lived through 1524-1525? What would they say about the peasants while the peasants ransacked their houses, or killed their family members, and threatening the stability of the land? I would posit many the same defenders of Rome criticizing Luther would be the first to buy his book Against the Robbing and Murdering Mobs of Peasants.
It certainly is true that Luther's ideas had an impact upon Germany in the early 1520's, and particularly that the Peasants sought to utilize Luther in their plight. Bainton points out, "...Luther's principles were to his mind perverted and the radicalism of the sectaries contributed to a state of anarchy. Nothing did so much as the Peasants' War to make Luther recoil against a too drastic departure from the pattern of the Middle Ages." If Shameless Popery really desires to put forth an "honest assessment," they should take a simple step back from their myopic view that Luther's theology and fight against Rome caused the Peasants revolt to realizing that oppressed people will utilize anything they can for their cause. Luther was popular and available, so they made use of him.
* Shamless Popery states "In May of 1525, he published a work originally titled Against the Rioting Peasants, the title of which was quickly changed to Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants...". I haven't found a reputable source yet to document this change in title. It is quite possible Shameless Popery took this fact from Wikipedia's Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants. They state, "In May 1525, he wrote Against the Rioting Peasants, a title which would be harshened by printers in other cities without Luther’s approval." If this fact was taken from Wikipedia, it's interesting that Shameless Popery didn't mention it was the printers who changed the title. If they didn't take the fact from Wikipedia, I would be interested in further documentation.
2. "Luther's Darker Side: the Jews"
3. "Germany's Darker Side"
As with the Peasant's Revolt, Shameless Popery appears to think that Luther's anti-Jewish writings and beliefs are secrets kept from the general public. Such is not the case for the same reasons mentioned above. Perhaps though Shameless Popery is more concerned about emphasis- that when people generally tell Luther's story of his battle against Rome they neglect to mention his attitude toward the Jews. They state, "There's a popular Luther narrative that plays out a little like Star Wars" in which "A humble son of the Church rises up to overthrow the Dark Side, the Evil Empire, the Roman Catholic Church..." This same sort of criticism was lodged by Luther's detractors when the 2003 film Luther was released. Why didn't the movie present the real Luther who hated the Jews? While Hollywood may be a cesspool and manipulates the facts of history, in this instance, along with many who tell the "popular Luther narrative" it's because Luther's anti-Jewish writings come primarily at the end of his life. Even Shameless Popery could've put their own facts together to construct this answer. They mention "One of the last works Luther ever wrote was his 1543 book On the Jews and Their Lies, published just three years before his dead [sic]." When the basic Luther story is told, the major events are from the beginning of his Reformation career, not from his final days in which he wrote scathing attacks not only against the Jews, but Islam and the Papacy as well. Even many good biographies only focus on the first years of Luther’s career up to 1530.
The simple and hard truth here is that Luther's stand against the Roman church is the primary highlighted historical fact which Luther is rightly remembered for, while his anti-Jewish statements are facts better suited to the story of medieval Christendom. To tell the story of Luther's negativity towards the Jews is really to tell the story of the Roman church as well as medieval Christianity in their similar negativity towards the Jews. If Luther had a dark side with his negativity towards the Jews, Romanism does as well. If some of Luther's supporters are whitewashing his history on his attitude toward the Jews, some of Rome's defenders do the same for their dark past. For instance similar to Luther, one of the leading Roman Catholic theologians of his day, his nemesis Johann Eck, also wrote some virulent anti-Jewish tracts. Here we find two leading theologians of the Protestant Church and the Roman Catholic Church both engaging in clearly anti-Christian attitudes. How could two of the best minds of the sixteenth century be so wrong and not realize it? Had it just been Luther, perhaps a critic could say: “See the basis of Protestantism is flawed and leads to anti-Semitism.” However, Johann Eck was considered a Roman Catholic theologian of great brilliance (see his entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia). He was respected and revered by the Papacy (and utilized by the Papacy!), and yet he also attacked the Jews unjustly.
Surprisingly, Shameless Popery identifies the world that Luther was part of had "widespread Catholic suspicion and hatred of the Jews," and that "Luther lambasted the Catholic Jew-haters who he accused of both treating the Jews in a subhuman manner, and in driving them from the Gospel." They also rightly point out that Luther did not put forth a biological antisemitism like Hitler, but rather Luther was against Judaism. This doesn't stop Shameless Popery though from putting forth the argumentation of William Shirer. Here they put their facts together and conclude, "...anti-Judaism predates Luther. That said, it is undeniable that Luther recognized the dangers of this hatred of the Jews, and yet fueled the fires nonetheless." It's a situation in which Luther knew better, but went ahead in hatred anyway. In actuality, As Gordon Rupp pointed out, even the early Luther thought that humanly speaking, the Jews were nonconvertible and could not be saved by human action, and, because they reproach God and blasphemed against Christ their faith is an actively anti-Christian religion [see: Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 9] .
4. "Why This Matters"
The final section of this hit piece delves into why the Peasants' Revolt and Luther's anti-Jewish writings matter. They are said to serve as examples of Luther's "sin of pride." With the peasants, Luther was gentle with them until they disagreed with him. With the Jews, when he thought the Gospel would be accepted by them, he was nice to them, when they didn't convert, he turned on them. Luther's pride was that he alone considered himself right, and everyone else wrong. As noted above though, Luther's position towards the peasants was consistent throughout- civil unrest was not to be tolerated and those disrupting society faced dire consequences. The change for Luther is in tone based on circumstances, not in theory. With Luther's attitude toward the Jews, it's true that Luther was disappointed that they still rejected the Gospel once it was unshackled from Rome. On the other hand, this was not the only reason, and his blatant anti-Judaism took years to develop (see my paper here). Luther had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society, but he maintained a lifelong intolerance of Judaism.
Shameless Popery goes a step further in why it matters by stating:
When Catholics point out that several of Luther's early writings sound pretty Catholic, the standard Protestant response (and a quite reasonable one, I might add), is that Luther wasn't completely reformed yet. Even after he went into schism, he spent another quarter-century slowly divesting himself of his Catholic beliefs. But what's remarkable is that, as Luther became less and less Catholic, he became less and less Christian.
So based on two historical caricatures presented by Shameless Popery, it is concluded that Luther became less Christian. Here's an obvious tip off that they've never read many (or any) of Luther's sermons. In Luther's sermons one is confronted with his deep theology and piety, which was consistent throughout his life. He always preached Christ, and he always exhorted his hearers to a life of being conformed to the image of Christ. Shameless Popery though gravitates to Luther's later polemical writings, which are only one aspect of his writing output, as the epitome of his thought.
Here's a tip off as well that only certain facts will fit their paradigm. It would be interesting to know where they think the year 1527 fits (it's after the peasants' war). In 1527 the plague ravaged Wittenberg. Many of Luther’s friends died, and his students and colleagues fled for their lives. Luther’s son even became ill for a time. Luther though felt “public servants, preachers, mayors, judges, doctors, policemen, and neighbors of the sick who have no one to take care of them are on duty and must remain.” He did not begrudge those who fled, “for to flee dying and death and to save one’s own life is a natural instinct implanted by God and is not forbidden.” But for Luther, fleeing the plague was not an option. He turned his house into a makeshift hospital, where he and his pregnant wife took care of the dying. The house was quarantined, remaining so even after the plague subsided. Well, maybe he was still too Roman Catholic at this time. Or the years after that (up until his death) when Luther was quite ill, but still managed to fulfill he duties as a preacher and husband- perhaps he was still too Roman Catholic. Or, where does 1541 fit in when the Luther's took in a transient woman and cared for her, only to find out she lied to them and stole from them, "Yet Luther believed no one would become poor by practicing charity"? (Christian History Issue 39 Vol. XII, No. 3, 1993, pp. 2-3). Many more examples like these could be given. When it comes right down to it, Shameless Popery appears to not have done any actual historical study to make such an absurd conclusion.
Lastly, Shameless Popery ask a question that Protestants by and large could care less about: "Was Protestantism Founded by a Saint?" They state:
Within the same year, 1525, he both cautiously encouraged the peasant's revolt as possibly of God, and called for everyone involved in the revolt to be killed, saying that they were all going to hell. Does that sound like someone being led by the Holy Spirit, or like those that St. Paul warns (Eph. 4:14) are “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles”? I understand that even Saints make mistakes, and that even Saints sin. I get that, really. Nobody is expecting that Luther be perfect. But it does seem to me that there's a far cry from that platitude to saying that the guy who goes to his grave crying out for mass murder is a Saint.
This demonstrates a selective reading of Luther's text. Even in Luther's Admonition to Peace, Luther states the peasants would be wrong to use force, and that the law requires submission to the authorities. It appears Shameless Popery missed the following kind of comment from Luther's Admonition to Peace:
Second, it is easy to prove that you are taking God’s name in vain and putting it to shame; nor is there any doubt that you will, in the end, encounter all misfortune, unless God is not true. For here is God’s word, spoken through the mouth of Christ, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” [Matt. 26:52]. That means nothing else than that no one, by his own violence, shall arrogate authority to himself; but as Paul says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities with fear and reverence” [Rom. 13:1]. How can you get around these passages and laws of God when you boast that you are acting according to divine law, and yet take the sword in your own hands, and revolt against “the governing authorities that are instituted by God?” Do you think that Paul’s judgment in Romans 13 [:2] will not strike you, “He who resists the authorities will incur judgment”? You take God’s name in vain when you pretend to be seeking divine right, and under the pretense of his name work contrary to divine right. Be careful, dear sirs. It will not turn out that way in the end. [Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 46: The Christian in Society III. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 46, pp. 24–25). Philadelphia: Fortress Press].In conclusion Shameless Popery states, "So these are the reasons that I raise these unpleasant bits of history. In doing so, I hope that I've been fair to Luther, while raising questions worthy of serious examination." Based on their treatment of two historical situations from Luther's life and concluding "Luther became less and less Catholic, he became less and less Christian," I find that Luther hasn't been treated fairly at all. I could just as easily point out the Council of Florence, held "those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart 'into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels,'" and then later the Catholic Catechism stated, "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims, to the Pope in 2000 stating, "All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his Church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of this Kingdom." The further the Roman church moves away from the teaching of the Bible, the less and less she is Christian. When they conclude "he became crueler and more bloodthirsty, the longer he spent away from the Church" this is from someone whose church has actually taken part in cruelty and the spilling of blood. If there's a consistent argument from a Roman Catholic against Luther out there, "The Dark Side of Martin Luther" is nowhere near it.