Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Luther's Comments About the Jews vs. The Papal Bull "Decet Romanum"

[To the left: the Papal Bull Decet Romanum (January 3, 1521) that declared Luther and his followers to be heretics]

I don't have anything to gain by an exoneration of Luther's obvious societal stereotype against the Jews. Luther was not infallible. He said a number of things ranging on the scale of brilliant to typical to ridiculous to offensive. From my perspective, Luther's theology neither stands or falls because of statements on the negative side of the scale. It's my opinion that Luther's attitude toward the Jews is part of Church history, and, that really, to point a finger at Luther one needs to consistently point the fingers beyond Luther as well. This would be the consistent thing to do.

There are though a number of Rome's cyber-defenders that think the Third Reich began with Luther and think posting Luther's dreadful comments from The Jews and Their Lies is a meaningful argument against Protestantism. For instance, a participant on Catholic Answers stated,

I am sure that we are going to hear emphasized the portion of the above quote which speaks of the 'medieval prejudices' against the Jews, but it should be noted that nobody made ANY of the seven recommendations that Luther made as to what should physically happen to the Jews.

I've responded to this sort of argument before. It's simply illogical to think Luther invented Jewish oppression and that the church didn't play it's part in creating the anti-Judaic culture Luther lived in. If Luther caused  the Third Reich... who caused Luther? Nope, Rome's cyber-defenders won't touch that one. In fact, last time I brought this up on Catholic Answers, my main post on this was deleted.

There is though a double standard that I had never considered until recently. While it's easy to cut-and-paste Luther's harsh recommendations against the Jews and triumphantly declare, "look how awful!" consider the following Papal Bull "Decet Romanum" against a group of people, known as "Lutherans":
On all these we decree the sentences of excommunication, of anathema, of our perpetual condemnation and interdict; of privation of dignities, honours and property on them and their descendants, and of declared unfitness for such possessions; of the confiscation of their goods and of the crime of treason; and these and the other sentences, censures and punishments which are inflicted by canon law on heretics and are set out in our aforesaid missive, we decree to have fallen on all these men to their damnation.
We add to our present declaration, by our Apostolic authority, that states, territories, camps, towns and places in which these men have temporarily lived or chanced to visit, along with their possessions—cities which house cathedrals and metropolitans, monasteries and other religious and sacred places, privileged or unprivileged—one and all are placed under our ecclesiastical interdict, while this interdict lasts, no pretext of Apostolic Indulgence (except in cases the law allows, and even there, as it were, with the doors shut and those under excommunication and interdict excluded) shall avail to allow the celebration of mass and the other divine offices. We prescribe and enjoin that the men in question are everywhere to be denounced publicly as excommunicated, accursed, condemned, interdicted, deprived of possessions and incapable of owning them. They are to be strictly shunned by all faithful Christians.
I would say this statement has some of the same features Luther's comments against the Jews have. Property is to be confiscated, those adhering to "Lutheranism" are to be treated as criminals against the Empire. They were considered "excommunicated, accursed, condemned, interdicted, deprived of possessions and incapable of owning them. They are to be strictly shunned by all faithful Christians."

In regard to the immediate impact of Luther's comments against the Jews, Gordon Rupp stated that "Nobody took Luther's programme seriously, and the new mandate of John Frederick in 1543, though severe, was on other lines. Three years later, as we shall see, Jews were still living unmolested in the Mansfeld area" [Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 18]. On the other hand, there were a number of Protestant martyrs during the 16th-century (yes, I know there were Roman martyrs as well, but that's besides the point).

So when Rome's cyber-defenders bring up Luther's attitude toward the Jews, respond back with Decet Romanum, and ask them if they think the bull disproves the Roman church.

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