As soon as Luther and Calvin and the others began preaching sola scriptura and the right of private interpretation, immediately there was an explosion of interpretations of Scripture and with this an explosion of divisions within Protestantism. The immediate result was doctrinal chaos.
Listen to what one prominent Protestant theologian and professor was saying a mere two years — two years! — into the Reformation being launched:
"Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Gospel better than I or St. Paul; they are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers…. There is no smearer but when he has heard a sermon or can read a chapter in German, makes a doctor of himself and…convinces himself that he knows everything better than all who teach him."The "prominent Protestant theologian" was Martin Luther, of course. The comment is said to have been made "a mere two years into the Reformation being launched," placing this comment in 1519. We'll see that not only was this not something Luther said or wrote in 1519, some of the quote wasn't written by Luther, and it isn't one quote, it's two quotes from two different years. The quote being put forth by Mr. Hensley therefore qualifies as... propaganda.
No documentation is provided, nor could I locate exactly which secondary source Mr. Hensley used. Almost the same exact form of the quote can be found here in a 2013 blog entry from another defender of Rome:
Claims about the perspicuity of Scripture and the claim that the Holy Spirit has promised to guide each person's private readings of the Bible do not stand up - not even in the day-to-day practice of those who make them. Later in life, Luther lamented those who believed themselves to "understand the [Gospel] better than I or St. Paul; they are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers ... there is no smearer but whenever he has heard a sermon or can read a chapter in German, makes a doctor of himself ... and convinces himself that he knows everything better than all who teach him." Vost, Kevin, Memorize the Reasons: Defending the Faith with the Catholic Art of Memory (San Deigo: Catholic Answers, 2013), p. 195.This blogger locates the quote later in Luther's life rather than 1519. The similarities of the English translation of Luther are so similar, they have to be coming from the same secondary source. I could not bring myself to purchase the Catholic Answers book referenced to check the footnote provided. If this was the actual source Mr. Hensley used, I'm not spending the $$ to find out.
In 2005, a participant of the Catholic Answers forums posted a similar version of the quote:
"Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Evangelium better than I or St. Paul; they are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers"... "There is no smearer but whenever he has heard a sermon or can read a chapter in German, makes a doctor of himself, and crowns his as*s, convincing himself that he knows everything better than all who teach him"…No documentation is given, but the quote is broken up into two citations. In 2006, this blogger likewise breaks the quote up into two citations and provides primary source documentation:
"Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Evangelium better than I or St. Paul" said Luther "they are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers." 17
"There is no smearer but whenever he has heard a sermon or can read a chapter in German, makes a doctor of himself, and crowns his ass, convincing himself that he knows everything better than all who teach him." 18
17 M. Luther, Walch XIV, 1360Ultimately, these two quotes probably arrived in cyber-space via Roman Catholic sources from the 1800's or early 1900's. For instance, both can be found in Patrick O'Hare's The Facts About Luther. O'Hare cites the first quote on page 214 and the second quote on page 213. In Luther, An Historical Portait, J. Verras cites the first quote on page 302 and the second quote on page 121. My best guess is that Verras is responsible for the English translation, Father O'Hare took it from Verras, and someone in the age of the Internet utilized O'Hare and put the quote together. Why and how Mr. Hensley arrived at "a mere two years — two years! — into the Reformation being launched" for the date of both of these quotes is a mystery. There's nothing in either O'Hare of Verras I noticed that could be misconstrued to place the quotes in the year 1519.
18 Walch V.1652
"Walch XIV, 1360" and "Walch V, 1652" are accurate primary references (both O'Hare and Verras provide them as well). Walch XIV and Walch V refer to the fourteenth and fifth volumes in a set of Luther's works published between 1740-1753 by Johann Georg Walch. Here is Walch XIV, 1360. Here is Walch V, 1652.
As indicated above, Mr. Hensley is citing two different quotes as one. The first quote is "Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Gospel better than I or St. Paul; they are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers…." I've written about this quote before. Even though Walch XIV, 1360 refers to a treatise entitled "D. Martin Luthers Prophezeiung nach dem Abscheiden des Churfürsten Johannes," the quote appears to find its genesis in an August 1532 Table Talk utterance. The utterance states,
The text can also be found here from a version of the Table Talk from the early 1700's (right column, first paragraph). A lengthier utterance can also be found in WA TR 2: 259 (1906b). Keep in mind, Luther did not write the Table Talk. The Table Talk is a collection of second hand comments written down by Luther's friends and students, published after his death. An English rendering of the Table Talk states,
Kings, princes, lords, any one will needs understand the gospel far better than I, Martin Luther, ay, or even than St Paul; for they deem themselves wise and full of policy. But herein they scorn and condemn, not us, poor preachers and ministers, but the Lord and Governor of all preachers and ministers, who has sent us to preach and teach, and who will scorn and condemn them in such sort, that they shall smart again; even He that says: "Whoso heareth you, heareth me; and whoso toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye." The great ones would govern, but they know not how. (link)
Quote #2 states, "There is no smearer but when he has heard a sermon or can read a chapter in German, makes a doctor of himself and…convinces himself that he knows everything better than all who teach him." This quote is from Luther's Commentary on Psalm 117 (1530). Unlike Quote #1, this was written by Luther. An English translation can be found in LW 14. Quote #2 appears on page 7.
THIS is a short, easy psalm, doubtless made this way so that everyone might pay more attention to it and remember better what is said. No one can complain about the length or content, much less about the sharpness, difficulty, or profundity of the words. Here we find only short, precise, clear, and ordinary words, which everyone can understand if he will only pay attention and think about them. All God’s words demand this. We must not skim over them and imagine we have thoroughly understood them, like the frivolous, smug, and bored souls who, when they hear some word of God once, consider it old hat and cast about for something new. They think they have thoroughly mastered all they have heard. This is a dangerous disease, a clever and malicious trick of the devil. Thus he makes people bold, smug, forward, and ready for every kind of error and schism. This is really the vice known as ἀκηδία, slothfulness in God’s service, against which St. Paul exhorts us (Rom. 12:11) to be fervent in spirit. And in Rev. 3:15–16 the Spirit says of such people: “Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.” It is true that such half-educated people are the most useless people on earth, and it would be better for them if they knew nothing; for they obey no one, can do everything better than anyone else, and can expertly judge all art and literature. In short, they can teach no one anything worthwhile, and they let no one teach them. They have devoured the whole schoolbag, which no one can master; and yet they do not have even one book that they could properly teach to others! The devil has many such vicious cases, particularly among the rabble. The meanest bungler who hears a sermon or reads a chapter in German immediately makes himself a doctor of theology, crowning his own asininity and convincing himself most marvelously that he can now do everything better than all his teachers. This is Master Smart Aleck, who can bridle a steed in its hind end. All this, as I see it, is the result of reading and listening to God’s Word carelessly instead of concentrating on it with fear, humility, and diligence.
I have often felt this particular devil and temptation myself, and even today I cannot guard and cross myself against it too carefully. I confess this freely as an example to anyone; for here am I, an old doctor of theology and a preacher, and certainly as competent in Scripture as such smart alecks. At least I ought to be. Yet even I must become a child; and early each day I recite aloud to myself the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and whatever lovely psalms and verses I may choose, just as we teach and train children to do. Besides, I must deal with Scripture and fight with the devil every day. I dare not say in my heart: “The Lord’s Prayer is worn out; you know the Ten Commandments; you can recite the Creed.” I study them daily and remain a pupil of the Catechism. I feel, too, that this helps me a lot, and I am convinced by experience that God’s Word can never be entirely mastered, but that Ps. 147 speaks truly: “His understanding is beyond measure” (v. 5), or Ecclesiasticus: “Who drinks of me shall thirst even more after me” (24:29). Now if I have such difficulties, what will happen to those smug, self-satisfied charlatans who neither struggle nor labor?
Therefore I certainly believe that there is not one who truly knows everything the Holy Spirit says in this short psalm. If they were forced to teach or instruct someone from it, they would not know at which end to begin. To put these vicious people to shame and to honor God’s Word, I have taken it upon myself to interpret this psalm, so that one may see how clear God’s Word is, how simple, and yet how altogether inexhaustible. And even though everything were reasonable, which is not the case, still it is inexhaustible in power and virtue. It renews and refreshes the heart, restoring, relieving, comforting, and strengthening us constantly. I see and learn daily how the dear prophets studied their Ten Commandments, and where lies the source of their sermons and prophecies. Let us, then, divide this psalm into four parts—prophecy, revelation, instruction, and exhortation (LW 14:7-8).
Mr. Hensley's first error is making these two quotes into one quote. His second error is providing no documentation. His third error is dating both of these quotes to the year 1519. Rather, the first quote is thought to be a recollection from 1532. The second quote is from 1530. The fourth error is using a Table Talk utterance as a reliable interpreter of Luther's history. Luther did not write part of the quote Mr. Hensley attributes to him. It is something Luther is purported to have stated.
A fifth error is matter of presuppositions, and I don't expect either Mr. Hensley or my Roman Catholic readers to agree with me. Luther expected the proclamation of the Gospel to have a devastating effect on society. He was not a postmillenialist. He expected the devil to fight back with all his might. When he complains about people abusing Scripture, the ultimate culprit in Luther's mind was Satan. Luther was not looking over his world and regretting the Reformation. Luther expected the Gospel to incite the activity of the Devil, particularly among those who did not embrace it. He expected the Gospel to cause division and trouble, and to infuriate the world against the true church.
A sixth error is also a matter of presuppositions, and again, I don't expect either Mr. Hensley or my Roman Catholic readers to agree with me. I've compiled quite a number of blog entries on the chaos of Rome's interpreters. If they can't agree on interpreting either the Bible or the magisterium, it's a bit disingenuous to point the finger at Luther and subsequent Protestant churches.
Addendum: Sola ScripturaSola scriptura means that the Bible is the ultimate and only infallible sufficient source of authority for a Christian. There are lower authorities, like Church leaders and teachers (these must always though be judged by sacred Scripture).
The counter charge (from Roman Catholics) seems to be that one needs to include an infallible tradition or infallible Church hierarchy as the ultimate and sufficient source as an authority. This must be so because Protestants disagree with one another, so obviously sola scriptura is a failure. Without an infallible interpreter and authority like the Roman Catholic Church, one has doctrinal chaos. Sola scriptura is a blueprint for anarchy.
Roman Catholics and Protestants agree that apostolic teaching previous to New Testament inscripturation was an infallible, sufficient source for doctrine. But yet we find that those who heard apostolic teaching previous to New Testament inscripturation disagreed among themselves on the teaching they heard at times. In other words, there was error present in the early church while the apostles were teaching. Because those who directly heard the apostles teaching got it wrong and disagreed among themselves at times, does this mean that the apostles were insufficient sources as an infallible authority for the early church? Those who heard the very voices of infallibility in the first century made errors, but it does not follow that the apostles were insufficient as authorities.
Similarly, that some people misinterpret or twist the Bible is not the fault of the Bible, hence not a proof against sola scriptura. In the same way, that I may possibly configure my computer incorrectly is not the fault of the owner’s manual that comes with it. The misuse of a sufficient source does not negate the clarity of that sufficient source.
It's worth repeating: the misuse of a sufficient source does not negate the clarity of that sufficient source. This same principle applies to Roman Catholicism. That some Roman Catholics misuse and abuse their ultimate source of authority doesn't necessarily negate their infallible source of authority. What this means as well is the argument that sola scriptura is a blueprint for anarchy fails as well. If the argument you're using works just as well against your own position, it's an invalid argument. Shall we conclude that an infallible interpreter + infallible tradition + infallible scripture = harmony? The facts speak for themselves. The misuse of a sufficient source does not negate the clarity or authority of that sufficient source.