Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Luther: the world grows every day the worse for this teaching; and the misery of it is, that men are nowadays more covetous, more hard-hearted, more corrupt, more licentious, and more wicked, than of old under the Papacy

Here's a closer look at a recent post from a participant at the Catholic Answers Forums in which the alleged "effects" of Luther's "revolt" against Rome are displayed in a despondent quote. In this second entry, I'm going to focus on the first part of this quote in which Luther is quoted as saying, "Every thing is reversed, the world grows every day the worse for this teaching; and the misery of it is, that men are nowadays more covetous, more hard-hearted, more corrupt, more licentious, and more wicked, than of old under the Papacy…" As I explained previously, the quote below is actually at least three quotes from three different contexts pasted together. Why would someone paste three different quotes together? My suspicion is dramatic effect at best, or perhaps a propaganda effort at worst.

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Default VERY sad and telling quote from Martin Luther... he begin to see the effects of his revolt against the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

“Every thing is reversed, the world grows every day the worse for this teaching; and the misery of it is, that men are nowadays more covetous, more hard-hearted, more corrupt, more licentious, and more wicked, than of old under the Papacy… Our evangels are now sevenfold more wicked than they were before. In proportion as we hear the gospel, we steal, lie, cheat, gorge, swill, and commit every crime. If one devil has been driven out of us, seven worse ones have taken their place, to judge from the conduct of princes, lords, nobles, burgesses, and peasants, their utterly shameless acts, and their disregard of God and of his menaces… Under the Papacy, men were charitable and gave freely; but now, under the gospel all almsgiving is at an end, everyone fleeces his neighbor, and each seeks to have all for himself. And the longer the gospel is preached, the deeper do men sink in avarice, pride, and ostention.” - Martin Luther

Lutherans, we love you. Come home.

You can read more:

The nuts and bolts of the documentation for this quote can be found in my previous entry. The quote was translated into English by the Dublin Review (Sept. 1848), and they claim they took it from Döllinger's Die Reformation: Ihre innere Entwicklung und ihre Wirkungen vol. 1 (The Reformation: It's Interior Development and Effects, 3 vols. 1846-1848), p. 297. The quote appears to based on this snippet from Döllinger:

Döllinger cites "Hauspostille Walch XIII. 19." This refers to a collection of Luther's sermons (the House Postil). "Walch XIII. 19": This edition of Luther's Works dates from 1740-1753,compiled by Johann Georg Walch. The sermon being cited by Döllinger appears to be on Matthew 21:1-9. There are a few different editions of Walch's House Postil. The one in which I located the quote can be found here (scroll to page 7, look for the reference to the left that says XIII, 19-21). The text in question reads:

This sermon wasn't preached at church to the general public. It was preached to his close circle of friends, family, and a few others at Luther's residence.  Documenting Luther's comments from the House Postil can be a little confusing. While Luther did certainly preach the sermon, he didn't really write the text to the House Postil. The sermons were written down by two people who heard them: Veit Dietrich and Georg Roerer, so it's possible that two versions of the same sermon exist (and they will at times have differences). Luther actually says in the introduction to the House Postil  that he wasn't aware they were taken down and he thought they "were long since forgotten." The Walch text I'm using dates the sermon at 1533.

This sermon has been translated into English. Dietrich's account can be found in Dr. Martin Luther's House-Postil, in the First Sunday in Advent sermon (Matthew 21:1-9). Roerer's version can be found in The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Volume 5 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000) pp. 25-30. Both accounts are very similar, except that Dietrich's is longer, containing additional material at the end. Scholars say Roerer's transcriptions are more exact and trustworthy (see p.15 of The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 5 for more information). Döllinger appears to be relying on Dietrich's version.

Luther first explains how the Jews expected a grand powerful king, not a meek man riding on a donkey. They expected a man of might and power like all earthly rulers. A king who could provide earthly riches and power, thrusting the Jews to a powerful place over all the nations. Rather, this man on a donkey had a different power: the forgiveness of sin and everlasting life:
For we are all poor sinners, but in baptism, and afterwards in our whole life, if we turn unto Christ, He comforts us, and says: Give me your sins and take my righteousness and holiness; let your death be taken from you, and put on my life. This is, properly speaking, the Lord Jesus' government. For all His office and work is this, that He daily takes away our sin and death, and clothes us with His righteousness and life.
Luther explains that a king with such extraordinary gifts should be most coveted, yet it is not. Here we find the first part of the quote in question:
"This announcement we should indeed hear with great joy, and every one should thereby be bettered and made more holy. But alas, the contrary is true, and the world grows worse as it grows older, becoming the very Satan himself, as we see that the people are now more dissolute, avaricious, unmerciful, impure and wicked than previously under the papacy." [Dietrich''s version]
"We must certainly receive this message eagerly and gratefully, by it becoming more pious and godly. Unfortunately there's the opposite side, that by this teaching the world becomes more and more hostile, wicked, and malicious; yet not through the fault of the teaching but of the people, thanks to the pernicious devil and death. Today people are possessed by seven devils, whereas before it was only one. The devil now bulldozes the people so that even under the bright light of the gospel they become greedier, slyer, more covetous, crueler, lewder, more insolent and ill-tempered than before under the papacy." [Roerer's version]
Notice in Roerer's version, Luther doesn't blame his teaching, but the people and ultimately Satan.
Luther goes on to say:
What causes this? Nothing else than that the people disregard this preaching, do not use it aright for their own conversion and amendment, that is, for the comfort of their conscience, and thankfulness for the grace and benefit of God in Christ; but every one is more concerned for money and goods, or other worldly matters, than for this precious treasure which Christ brings us. For the most of us, when we do not feel our misery, the fear of sin and death, would rather, like the Jews, have such a king in Christ as would give us riches and ease here on earth, than that we should comfort ourselves in Him in the midst of poverty, crosses, wretchedness, fear and death. The world takes no delight in this, and because the gospel and Christ do not give it what it desires, it will have nothing to do with Christ and the gospel.[Dietrich's version]
"Why so? Not through fault of the teaching but because the message is not met with thankful acceptance; people cast it to the wind and pay more attention to money and goods than to the blessed treasure which our Lord Christ brings to us." [Roerer's version]
In harmony with his earlier points, he explains people seek after earthly riches, not heavenly riches. Most people want the same powerful king the Jews expected, not the foolishness of Christ. With a pastoral heart, Luther warns:
Therefore our Lord in turn rebukes this world and says: Do you not rejoice in this, nor thank me, that through the sufferings and death of my only begotten Son, I take away your sins and death? Then I will give you sin and death enough, since you want it so; and where you were possessed of and tormented by only one devil, you shall now be tormented by seven that are worse. We see farmers, citizens and all orders, from the highest to the lowest, guilty of shameful avarice, inordinate life, impurity and other vices. Therefore let every one who would be a Christian be hereby warned as of God himself, joyfully and thankfully to hear and receive this announcement, and also pray to God to give him a strong faith, that he may hold fast this doctrine; then surely the fruit will follow, that he will daily become more humble, obedient, gentle, chaste and pious. For this doctrine is of a character to make godly, chaste, obedient, pious people.
Luther states those who accept this gospel will have fruit follow and "will daily become more humble, obedient, gentle, chaste and pious. For this doctrine is of a character to make godly, chaste, obedient, pious people." Then there are those who will not accept the gospel:
But those who will not gladly receive it, become seven times worse than they were before they heard it, as we see everywhere. And the hour will surely come when God will punish this unthankfulness. Then it will appear what the world has merited by it. Now, since the Jews would not obey the prophet, it is told to us that our King comes meek and lowly, in order that we may learn wisdom from their sad experience, and not be offended by His poverty, nor look for worldly pomp and riches, like the Jews; but learn that in Christ we have a King who is the Just One and Savior, and willing to help us from sin and eternal death. This announcement, I say, we should receive with joy, and with hearty thanks to God, else we must take the devil, with walling, weeping and gnashing of teeth."
The participant at the Catholic Answers Forums says this quote shows the "effects" of Luther's "revolt" against Rome. In a sense, the quote does show that. In context, it's the world which grows worse because of the gospel being preached. Those who accept the gospel are transformed by the gospel. Luther consistently held that the gospel would find great opposition, and would be attacked from all sides. The gospel would be used by the world as a licence to sin and all sorts of evil because of Satan. The gospel would indeed make those of the world worse. But what the participant at the Catholic Answers Forums seems to think is that the quote shows Luther regretted his proclamation of the gospel because of the "effects." This isn't the case at all.

I've actually gone through this quote before. Roman Catholic apologist Steve Ray cited it in his book, Crossing the Tiber. See my link here: Luther: People are Worse Than They Were Under The Papacy.

In taking a fresh look at this quote, I came across an interesting old article from the Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 15.  I found it interesting that this article came across the same sources I did and commented on them.


Bruno Lima said...

Great! Thanks James!

Brigitte said...

When you have rejected the truth, you can't just be neutral. There is a cognitive dissonance that drives to outright hatred of it.