This truncated Luther quote bouncing around cyberspace has been used in a number of ways. I've seen it used as purporting to show Luther's "contradiction and vacillation" and "doublespeak." Ex-Westminster Seminary graduate / Roman Catholic convert Dr. Taylor Marshall says it "showes [sic] that even over a year after the Wittenburg incident, Luther still saw himself as a Roman Catholic opposed to schism." Rome's defender Steve Ray published an extended version of the quote in his book, Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church and a truncated version in Upon this Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church. In an old web article Ray includes it as an example of one of "a few of the quotations that rocked my world and [made] me stand up and take notice and eventually contributed to my decision to become Catholic. " Here's how he cites it:
“I never approved of a schism, nor will I approve of it for all eternity. . . . That the Roman Church is more honored by God than all others is not to be doubted. St, Peter and St. Paul, forty-six Popes, some hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have laid down their lives in its communion, having overcome Hell and the world; so that the eyes of God rest on the Roman church with special favor. Though nowadays everything is in a wretched state, it is no ground for separating from the Church. On the contrary, the worse things are going, the more should we hold close to her, for it is not by separating from the Church that we can make her better. We must not separate from God on account of any work of the devil, nor cease to have fellowship with the children of God who are still abiding in the pale of Rome on account of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, no amount of evil, which should be permitted to dissolve the bond of charity or break the bond of unity of the body. For love can do all things, and nothing is difficult to those who are united.” Martin Luther to Pope Leo X, January 6, 1519 more than a year after the Ninety-Five Theses quoted in The Facts about Luther, 356. [link]We'll see below that this quote that "rocked" Steve Ray's world isn't one quote from a letter to Pope Leo written on January 6, 1519. It's actually two different quotes from two different documents and neither is a letter, nor is either a letter to Pope Leo. One part of the quote, "I never approved of a schism" is not something Luther actually wrote, but is actually something he is reported to have said, and he wasn't saying it about the "schism" he caused.
Rome's defenders typically cite the source as Luther's letter to Pope Leo, January 6, 1519. Yes, there was a letter written by Luther on that day to Pope Leo, but it was never sent. The letter written that day was the result of Luther’s meeting with the Papal nuncio Karl von Miltitz. Miltitz was attempting to reconcile Luther with the Pope. He spoke of how favorably the pope felt toward Luther and how angry he was with Tetzel. He attempted to make this deal with Luther: Luther would cease with his part of the indulgence controversy- and he promised those who opposed Luther would also be silent. He also requested Luther write a letter to the Pope. Heinrich Boehmer notes Miltitz specifically requested that Luther’s letter contain a confession
…that [Luther] had been too vehement and sharp although he had never thought of injuring the Roman Church, but was aiming only at the disgraceful preaching [of indulgences]…he would have a note sent out, exhorting everyone to be obedient to the Roman Church and also confessing that he had expressed the truth in an all too heated and, perhaps untimely fashion….The letter [was to] close with the characteristic words: ‘I am willing to do anything, provided I am not made to renounce anything more, for nothing will come of the recantation.’” [Heinrich Boehmer, Road To Reformation (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1946), p.254].Boehmer notes the letter was written and presented to Miltitz, but Luther “absolutely refused to recant.” Miltitz then dropped the whole idea of the letter. Luther was under the impression that Miltitz would set up a meeting in which a learned bishop would evaluate Luther’s points. Luther writing to elector Frederic says, “Miltitz will write the Pope at once, informing him how things stand, and asking him to recommend the matter to some learned bishop, who will hear me and point out the errors I am to recant. For when I have learned my mistakes, I will gladly withdraw them, and do nothing to impair the honor and power of the Roman Church.” Miltitz did write the Pope, informing him Luther was ready to recant everything, but this never happened. As I pointed out previously, Roman Catholic apologists ignore what Boehmer calls "the conventional, curialistic style" and the accepted means of dialog with Rome. Rome's defenders often miss the politics of the Reformation.
I actually found the draft of the letter (and note). It is completely different in content than that being cited by Rome's defenders above. Nowhere in this letter will one find "I never approved of a schism, nor will I approve of it for all eternity" etc.
Draft of the letter to the Lord Pope
Most Holy Father: Necessity again forces me, the lowest of all men and dust of the earth, to address myself to Your Holiness and August Majesty. May Your Holiness therefore be most gracious and deign to lend your ears in a fatherly fashion for a short time, and willingly listen to the bleating of this, your little sheep, for you truly stand in the place of Christ.
The honorable Sir Charles Miltitz, chamber secretary to Your Holiness, has been with us. In the presence of the Most Illustrious Sovereign Frederick he very harshly accused me in the name of Your Holiness of lacking respect for and being rash toward the Roman church and Your Holiness, and demanded satisfaction for this. Hearing this, I was deeply grieved that my most loyal service has had such an unhappy outcome and that what I had undertaken-to guard the honor of the Roman church-had resulted in disgrace and was suspected of all wickedness, even so far as the head of the church was concerned. But what am I to do, Most Holy Father? I do not know what to do further: I cannot bear the power of your wrath, and I do not know of any means to escape it. The demand is made that I recant my theses. If such a revocation could accomplish what I was attempting to do with my theses, I would issue it without hesitation. Now, however, through the antagonism and pressure of enemies, my writings are spread farther than I ever had expected and are so deeply rooted in the hearts of so many people that I am not in the position to revoke them. In addition since our Germany prospers wonderfully today with men of talent, learning, and judgment, I realize that I cannot, under any circumstances, recant anything if I want to honor the Roman church-and this has to be my primary concern. Such a recanting would accomplish nothing but to defile the Roman church more and more and bring it into the mouths of the people as something that should be accused. See, Father, those whom I have opposed have inflicted this injury and virtual ignominy on the Roman church among us. With their most insipid sermons, preached in the name of Your Holiness, they have cultivated only the most shameful avarice and have substituted for sanctification the vile and abominable Egyptian scandal. And as if that had not been bad enough, they accuse me before Your Holiness-me, who opposed their tremendous monstrosities-of being the author of the temerity which is theirs.
Most Holy Father, before God and all his creation, I testify that I have never wanted, nor do I today want, to touch in any way the authority of the Roman church and of Your Holiness or demolish it by any craftiness. On the contrary I confess the authority of this church to be supreme over all, and that nothing, be it in heaven or on earth, is to be preferred to it, save the one Jesus Christ who is Lord of all-nor should Your Holiness believe the schemers who claim otherwise, plotting evil against this Martin.
Since in this case I can do only one thing, I shall most willingly promise Your Holiness that in the future I shall leave this matter of indulgences alone, and will be completely silent concerning it (if [my enemies] also stop their vain and bombastic speeches). In addition I shall publish something for the common people to make them understand that they should truly honor the Roman church, and influence them to do so. [I shall tell them] not to blame the church for the rashness of [those indulgence preachers], nor to imitate my sharp words against the Roman church, which I have used-or rather misused-against those clowns, and with which I have gone too far. Perhaps by the grace of God the discord which has arisen may finally be quieted by such an effort. I strive for only one thing: that the Roman church, our Mother, be not polluted by the filth of unsuitable avarice, and that the people be not led astray into error and taught to prefer indulgences to works of love. All the other things I consider of less importance, since they are matters of indifference. If I can do anything else, or if I discover that there is something else I can do, I will certainly be most ready to do it [LW 48:100-102].Where Does The Bogus Quote Come from?
I think I can account for some of the reasons why Rome's defenders cite and document this quote the way they do. Notice above that Steve Ray states, "quoted in The Facts about Luther, 356." This refers to Patrick O'Hare, The Facts About Luther, a Reformation-hostile book written in the early twentieth century by a Roman Catholic Priest. O'Hare states:
To help all who are anxious to come to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus and His Church, it may be well to recall that Luther before he formally separated himself from obedience to Rome and when he seemed to abhor such a course, declared "I never approved of a schism, nor will I approve of it for all eternity." In a letter written by him in 1519 to the then reigning Pontiff Leo X. and quoted in the History of the Reformation by that partisan Merle D'Aubigne, he says, "That the Roman Church is more honored by God than all others is not to be doubted. St.Peter and St. Paul, forty-six popes, some hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have laid down their lives in its communion, having overcome hell and the world; so that the eyes of God rest on the Roman Church with special favor. Though nowadays everything is in a wretched state, it is no ground for separating from the Church. On the contrary, the worse things are going, the more should we hold close to her, for it is not by separating from the Church we can make her better. We must not separate from God on account of any work of the devil, nor cease to have fellowship with the children of God who are still abiding in the pale of Rome on account of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, no amount of evil, which should be permitted to dissolve the bond of charity or break the bond of unity of the body. For love can do all things and nothing is difficult to those who are united." (See De Wette, I, 233 ff.)This appears to be the source that Rome's defenders mined for their quote. Yes, O'Hare mentions a 1519 letter written to the Pope, he even provides a primary reference to one of Luther's letters written to the Pope, De Wette I, 233 ff. This letter though is not from January 6, 1519 but rather March 3, 1519. As has been demonstrated above, none of the content cited by O'Hare and used by Rome's defenders comes from the January 6, 1519 letter.
The first part, "I never approved of a schism, nor will I approve of it for all eternity" appears to be from the Leipzig debate. Reformation historian Merle D'Aubigne (cited by O'Hare) documents the interaction between Luther and Johann Eck. Bringing up the controversy of the church with Jan Huss:
Luther.—" I do not like and I never shall like a schism. Since on their own authority the Bohemians have separated from our unity, they have done wrong, even if the Divine right had pronounced in favour of their doctrines; for the supreme Divine right is charity and oneness of mind."
Nunquam mihi placuit, nec in aeternnm placebit quod-cunque schisma—Cum supremum jus divinum sit charitas et unitas spiritus. Ibid.Other sources document this as well (including the Latin), see for instance, J. Verras, Luther: An Historical Portrait, p.77. Verras states,
The proceedings of the day on which Luther made the above mentioned remark (5. July) served greatly to clear up the situation. In the morning he strongly protested against the supposition that he was favourable to the schism of the Hussites. May God forgive him (Eck) for representing me as their patron . . . The Bohemians do wrong, that by their own authority they separate themselves from our unity, even if they should have divine right on their side."The "schism" technically in question was that caused by Jan Huss and the Bohemians, not Luther's schism. The text comes from WA 2:275-276:
The second part O'Hare says is from a letter: " In a letter written by him in 1519 to the then reigning Pontiff Leo X...". This is incorrect. Daubigne' (cited by O'Hare) does not say it's from a letter:
Yet he still felt esteem for the ancient Church of Rome, and had no thought of separating from it. “That the Roman Church,” said he in the explanation which he had promised Miltitz to publish, “is honored by God above all others, is what we cannot doubt. Saint Peter, Saint Paul, forty-six popes, many hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have shed their blood in its bosom, and have overcome hell and the world, so that God’s eye regards it with especial favor. Although everything is now in a very wretched state there, this is not a sufficient reason for separating from it. On the contrary, the worse things are going on within it, the more should we cling to it; for it is not by separation that we shall make it better. We must not desert God on account of the devil; or abandon the children of God who are still in the Roman communion, because of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, there is no evil that should destroy charity or break the bond of union. For charity can do all things, and to unity nothing is difficult.The source for this particular Luther quote is from Luthers Unterricht auf etliche Artikel, die ihn von seinen Abgönnern aufgelegt und zugemessen werden (Luther's report on the articles attributed to him by his enemies) (1519) found in WA 2:69-73. The quote can be found on page 72-73:
This text is scheduled to be translated into English in a forthcoming volume of Luther's Works (LW). A partial translation and explanation of the text can be found here:
In the Instructions concerning Some Articles, published almost cotemporaneously with the writing of this letter [to Pope Leo, March 3, 1519] he makes a statement on some of the topics concerning which his teaching had been misrepresented. It is interesting to observe how gradual is his progress towards the position he ultimately attained. The invocation of saints, Purgatory, even indulgences, with certain qualifications, are approved. Miracles, he thinks, are still performed at the tombs of saints. The great abuse, against which he warns, is that of seeking only temporal and bodily blessings instead of spiritual by their intercession. "Who now invokes them for patience, faith, love, chastity?" Nor should they be invoked as though they had the power, of themselves, to bestow these things; they secure them only by their intercession with God. Indulgences are entirely matters of freedom. No one sins who does not procure them; nor does one obtain merit through their purchase. He who withholds needed help from a poor man in order to purchase an indulgence, mocks God. God's commandments are to be esteemed above those of the Church, as gold and precious stones are to be preferred to wood and stubble.
"A man who swears, curses, slanders, or refuses his neighbour needed assistance is much worse than one who eats meat or does not fast on Friday. Nevertheless both classes of commandments are to be observed; only it is advisable that to prevent their being placed upon an equal footing, some of the ecclesiastical requirements be abolished in a General Council. That the Roman Church is honoured by God above all others is a matter of no doubt, for there Sts. Peter and Paul and forty-six popes, besides many hundred thousand martyrs, have shed their blood. Even though matters might be better at Rome, nevertheless no reason can justify one in separating from this Church. Nay, the worse it is the more should one adhere to it. No sin or evil can be imagined, for the sake of which the bonds of love should be sundered and spiritual unity divided. But as to the power and sovereignty of the Roman See, and as to how far it extends, the learned must decide."
Such was the presentation of the case made by Luther in fulfillment of his promise to Miltitz. But the efforts of the papal nuncio were fruitless.Conclusion
The quote that "rocked" Steve Ray and pushed him over the Tiber is actually an inauthentic concoction of two bonafide quotes from two different documents. Luther did not actually write "I never approved of a schism, nor will I approve of it for all eternity." Rather, this was something he was recorded as saying in his debate against Eck at Leipzig, and it was in regard to Hus and the Bohemian schism. Does the second part of the quote demonstrate Luther's doublespeak? I can see how someone holding to a Roman worldview may think so. A much more plausible explanation though is how I've explained elsewhere. Rome's defenders often miss what Heinrich Boehmer calls "the conventional, curialistic style" and the accepted means of dialog with Rome. Granted, this second quote is not from a letter, but it does demonstrate that early on Luther was willing to negotiate and interact with Rome in this writing. Luther's view of the heresy of the Roman church was in development. If Rome's defenders can claim, "development of doctrine," I'll simply claim, development of Luther.
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2008. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former, other than that in the original I did not expound on the actual sources of the bogus quote because at the time, I only determined the documentation of the quote was bogus and that there were two quotes in question. Part of the revision was prompted by comments left in this blog entry by Turretinfan who provided information in regard to determining where some of the Luther comments came from.
In revisiting this entry I did a quick search for "I never approved of a schism" to see what's happened since 2008 or what I may have missed the first time around. I found it being miscited by a Lutheran pastor (2012). This blogger, who appears to be one of the original perpetrators disseminating this bogus quote, has since added some disclaimers about the faulty information. This disclaimer though does not stop a number of bloggers keeping the miscitation alive: CatholicFidelity.com, CatholicSistas, Communio, Protoevangelium, Matt 1618, etc.