Saturday, October 17, 2015

Challenging the Significance of Luther's Bible... on Catholic Answers

Via the Catholic Answers forums discussion, Martin Luther's translation of the bible........., I came across a fascinating article: The Contested History of a Book: The German Bible of the Later Middle Ages and Reformation in Legend, Ideology, and Scholarship by Andrew Gow (University of Alberta). The author takes a helpful look at the significance and impact of pre-Reformation Bibles. There's a lot to chew on in this article. Overall it's probably one of the best concise contemporary overviews on this subject I've ever read in regard to pre-Reformation Bibles.

Some of the Catholic Answers participants are up to their usual shenanigans. One participant citing the article asks,

[W]as [Luther] lying or just mistaken when he said this?

"In his ‘Table Talk’, Luther is reported to have presented an example of the ‘extreme blindness’ under the Papacy, on the 22nd of February, 1538, namely that “Thirty years ago, no-one read the Bible, and it was unknown to all. The prophets were not spoken of and were considered impossible to understand. And when I was twenty years old, I had never seen a Bible. I thought that the Gospels or Epistles could be found only in the postills [lectionaries] for the Sunday readings... "

From the actual context of the article, the author (Gow) doesn't appear to think it's "lying." In the very same paragraph the above comes from, the author states:
"Memory plays tricks, and an old man’s reminiscences about a period for the putative end of which he had come to consider himself to have been a cause might not be the best source of information for historical inquiry."   And then later in the same article in regard to Luther's claim of the unavailability of the Bible ( and the related infamous Bible kept "under the bench" comment): "Both contemporary Catholic polemicists as well as those of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries tried hard to show that Luther was exaggerating or lying." Here we see one of Rome's unwritten traditions alive and well: Luther was a liar.

One other related issue brought up in the Catholic Answers discussion is: who during the Reformation period was able to actually read a Bible? Rich people? How many were literate? Gow's article makes an interesting comment as to who it was reading Luther's Bible:
Luther’s 1522 ‘September Testament’ was immediately and wildly successful, selling out rapidly and experiencing multiple reprintings in the same year. As Johannes Cochlaeus, one of Luther’s fiercest opponents, later wrote with some venom, 
"Luther’s translation was read (as the source of all wisdom, no less) by tailors and shoemakers, even women and simpletons, many of whom carried it around and learned it by heart, and eventually became bold enough to dispute with priests, monks, even masters and doctors of Holy Scripture about faith and the gospels."
Medieval prelates’ fears had come true, Cochlaeus is informing us. He tells the story in this form not necessarily because these were the only people reading the Luther Bible, but because they were precisely the unqualified readers of Scripture the medieval church had sought to discourage or exclude.
This is actually one of the most significant comments from the article that the Catholic Answers folks should dwell on.  Here the issue of authority comes front and center.  One can quibble about which Bibles came before Luther, how important they were, how accurate they were, how expensive they were, who could read them, etc. These sorts of tedious Internet discussions go on endlessly as people cut-and-paste facts off the internet intending to prove their position owns history.

Luke tells us the Bereans "were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11).  This is exactly what "tailors and shoemakers, even women and simpletons" were doing with Rome's Biblical interpretation and ultimate authority claims. Rome's medieval defenders like Cochlaeus would have it the other way around: the Bereans first had to be authorized by Paul to hear his message and then authorized to read the Bible to see if what Paul said was true. That is, the authority is assumed before it's proved.

The current generation of Rome's cyber-defenders (like those on Catholic Answers) ultimately want people to accept the absolute authority of their infallible magisterium, and that they are the ones qualified to interpret the Bible and that those not accepting this authority are not qualified. There's not much of a difference in intent between the complaint of Cochlaeus and Rome's modern cyber-warriors.

6 comments:

PeaceByJesus said...

He seems to be much influenced by a Thomas Kaufmann, whm he cites 16 times, who published a detailed account of pre-Lutheran vernacular Bibles and their articulation with Luther’s Bible translations.

But that "the Bible was as widely known in the later Middle Ages" is doubtful, for Rome much hindered personal examination of it via the restrictions which Gow does not spend enough time on. Gold is also widely available to day, but which does not translate into wide ability of possession. And we can see why Rome would be anxious about who read the Bible on their own and hindered it:

By 1515, a German preacher could complain of people who said they had the Scriptures in their own hands and can know and interpret themselves what is necessary for salvation, and do not need the church and pope.119 The cat was obviously already out of the bag, despite the public and printed calls by the Straßburg preacher Geyler of Kaysersberg120 and the futile attempts by the archbishop of Mainz, Berthold von Henneberg, in 1485 to ensure that the Bible be interpreted to the laity correctly and to name particular offices in Mainz, Erfurt and Frankfurt to supervise printing.121 Such decrees and attempts at censorship of Holy Scripture in the Empire seem to have had little or no effect, as we have already noted.

And if some evidence indicates "biblical texts in the vernacular were relatively cheap and easy to find just before the Reformation" and that "an active concern for the German Bible existed throughout the Middle Ages, that it was stronger than ever in the 14th and 15th centuries," then it seems hard to explain why Luther’s 1522 ‘September Testament’ was immediately and wildly successful, selling out rapidly and experiencing multiple reprintings in the same year." The authors attempts to explain this seem inadequate.

Meanwhile, we have the testimony of the preface to The Douay–Rheims Bible to the Roman attitude and actions concerning literacy in this regard:

Which translation we do not for all that publish, upon erroneous opinion of necessity, that the Holy Scriptures should always be in our mother tongue, or that they ought, or were ordained by God, to be read impartially by all,or could be easily understood by every one that readeth or heareth them in a known language; or that they were not often through man's malice or infirmity, pernicious and much hurtful to many; or that we generally and absolutely deemed it more convenient in itself, and more agreeable to God's Word and honour or edification of the faithful, to have them turned into vulgar tongues, than to be kept and studied only in the Ecclesiastical learned languages...

In our own country, notwithstanding the Latin tongue was ever (to use Venerable Bede's words) common to all the provinces of the same for meditation or study of Scriptures, and no vulgar translation commonly used or employed by the multitude, yet they were extant in English even before the troubles that Wycliffe and his followers raised in our Church..

Which causeth the Holy Church not to forbid utterly any Catholic translation, though she allow not the publishing or reading of any absolutely and without exception or limitation..(http://www.bombaxo.com/douai-nt.html).


Cary Driscoll said...

Having purchased a couple Catholic bibles recently, both from Ignatius Press, I was surprised to find that the book of Daniel is claimed by both to have been written in the 2nd century BC. I went back to the Catholic book store where I purchased them to see what other bibles and bible commentaries had to say about its dating. They were all unanimous in promoting the liberal dating of higher criticism.

This is surprising to me because it undermines the Catholic claim of authority. Basically, the late date requires Daniel to be an uninspired fictional forgery. Gabriel is therefore reduced to being a fictional character who never could have appeared to Mary, and Jesus' words of endorsement regarding Daniel also must be fiction. To be consistent, Catholics should drop Daniel, Luke and any of the other three Gospels that endorse Daniel as a prophet from its canon of scripture.

I can't help but wonder how the Catholic church could not have corrected such a blunder in teaching if in fact its claim of authority for the past two millennia were true? Clearly, either this erroneous date is what the Catholic church wishes to teach, or all of its publishers are schismatic.

And one of the Bibles I purchased was the new Didache bible.

PeaceByJesus said...

I went back to the Catholic book store where I purchased them to see what other bibles and bible commentaries had to say about its dating. They were all unanimous in promoting the liberal dating of higher criticism....I can't help but wonder how the Catholic church could not have corrected such a blunder in teaching if in fact its claim of authority for the past two millennia were true?

The latter is a self proclamation, and the fact is testimony to her liberal scholarship gets worse. For decades the helps and notes in her own New American study Bible have relegated historical accounts such as Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Balaam and the talking donkey, Jonah and the fish, Joshua's long day, etc., to being fables, and things like Joshua's conquests to being mainly folk tales, and doubts the sermon on the Mount was actually where it says.

But while some consider such to be grievous, RCs can also blithely dismiss such as not being binding. And just what is or is not binding is another matter of interpretation.



Ken said...

"peace by Jesus" - I clicked on your link; you have a great compilation of early church father quotes, based on Jason Engwer's work. I appreciate that. Good job. I need to look at that more. I wish I had time to get a fuller handle on church history and the details than I do.

Thanks for your reading our posts and contributions over the years.

James Swan said...

I'm not familiar with Kaufman, nor did I track down his materials, so I did not comment on it.

PeaceByJesus said...

RE Engwer's work

...compilation of early church father quotes, based on Jason Engwer's work. I appreciate that

That was by permission of Jason, whose labor I appreciate, via a special executable file that he provided, but which does not run on Windows 10. There were more topics that I could have included in what I copied, but which copying I put on the back burner (along with many others).

As I have expressed before, I am saddened that sites such as his and NTRmin.org are no longer operative, especially since free Christian hosting is available,

However, you can access NTRmin.org on the web archive, and also download the entire site!

Thank God for what helps and edifies.