Thursday, February 02, 2017

Calvin and Luther justified Christians Killing Muslims and Pagans? (Part Two)

The title of this post "Calvin and Luther justified Christians Killing Muslims and Pagans?" takes its name from an "Atheism/Agnosticism/Sec Humanism" discussion board comment. At some point on this particular forum a secularist inferred that Calvin and Luther advocated killing Muslims and pagans. The secularist was challenged to provide evidence. To challenge someone for evidence and documentation is justifiable. On the other hand, to do so while repeatedly badgering the secularist saying, "Still can't present evidence your claims are true" and "So you were incorrect. Nothing advocating Christians killing infidels and pagans. Why did you say that? Was it dishonesty or just a big screw-up?"demonstrates that the inquisitor is not fully aware of Reformation history. An earlier entry looked at Luther's attitudes towards Muslims. Let's take a brief survey of Luther's attitude towards Pagans. By "Pagans" the secularist meant witches: "Both Luther and Calvin supported witchcraft trials." The following was provided as evidence:
Luther, in his 1522 sermon, charged the "witches" with a litany of supernatural behaviors, including transformation into different animals, accusations which, to the rationally thinking mind, would be ludicrous indeed. This further demonstrates that Luther's motive for breaking away from the Catholic Church was not to defend freedom of individual thought, but to establish a religious orthodoxy of his own.
No actual documentation was provided other than the cut-and-pasted paragraph directly above, and even that was not documented. The paragraph appears to come from How Martin Luther and John Calvin Conducted Witch Hunts and Persecuted Dissenters, G. Stolyarov II, Issue CX - June 24, 2007. This link is to an article from The Rational Argumentator, A Journal for Western Man. The author,
Gennady Stolyarov II, appears to be the leading figure for The Rational Argumentator.  His article states,
The early 16th-century Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin were not enlightened, forward-thinking individuals. They were brutal, superstitious, intolerant, and repressive individuals who exploited popular stereotypes of "witches" in order to persecute those who disagreed with their views.
The Protestants' use of the witch craze to enforce religious orthodoxy was no less dramatic than that of the Catholics. One of Martin Luther's tools for attracting a mass following to his breakaway movement from the Catholic Church was the use of powerful emotional imagery. Just as he compared Rome to Babylon and the Pope to the Antichrist following his rejection of papal authority during the Leipzig debate in 1519, Luther was ready to brand eccentric or ideologically divergent individuals as "the Devil's whores."
Luther, in his 1522 sermon, charged the "witches" with a litany of supernatural behaviors, including transformation into different animals, accusations which, to the rationally thinking mind, would be ludicrous indeed. This further demonstrates that Luther's motive for breaking away from the Catholic Church was not to defend freedom of individual thought, but to establish a religious orthodoxy of his own.
Luther, in addition to his intense anti-Semitism, strived to encourage the adoption of his version of Protestantism as the state-sponsored religion of numerous German principalities, at the expense of the religious freedoms of those principalities' citizens. His intolerance extended even to the Zwinglians in Switzerland, with whom he exhibited only a minor disagreement over transubstantiation. Luther would undoubtedly have been eager to use the fear of witches as yet another weapon to direct mass hostility against those whose views diverged with his own.
Similar to the secularist on the discussion board, Stolyarov provides no documentation for his Luther assertions, nor does he actually document "How Martin Luther.... Conducted witch Hunts...", one of his main goals as expressed by the title of his article. He barely scratched the surface of his other objective: to demonstrate  how Luther "Persecuted Dissenters." Referring to opponents as "Babylon," "Antichrist," or "the "Devil's whores" might function as hostile polemic, but it hardly qualifies as physical persecution. The only documentary clue given is to a 1522 sermon. The sermon appears to be from the Church Postil (Christmas) from 1552: The Gospel for the Festival of the Epiphany, Matthew 2:1-12 (LW 52:159-286; Lenker 1:319-455). Luther does mention "witches" and does mention "a litany of supernatural behaviors, including transformation into different animals."

Luther is expounding on Deuteronomy 18; 9-14,
9 “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord; and because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so.
Luther comments,
 60. Moses mentions many ways by which men seek knowledge. Deut. 18, 10-11 There are eight classes as follows. 1. The users of divination. They are those who reveal the future, like the astrologers and false prophets by inspiration of the devil. 2. Those that practice augury. They designate some days as lucky for making a journey, for building, for marrying, for wearing fine clothes, for battle and for all kinds of transactions. 3. The enchanters or rather diviners—I know no better name to call these, who conjure the devil by means of mirrors, pictures, sticks, words, glass, crystals, fingers, nails, circles, rods, etc., and expect in this way to discover hidden treasures, history and other things. 4. The sorcerers, or witches, the devil mongers who steal milk, make the weather, ride on goats, brooms and sails (mantles) shoot the people, cripple and torture and wither, slay infants in the cradle, bewitch certain members of the body, etc. 5. The charmers, who bless people and animals, bewitch snakes, bespeak steel and iron, bluster and see much, and can do wonders. 6. The consulters of familiar spirits, who have the devil in their ears and tell the people what they have lost, what they are doing or what they will do in the future, just as the gypsies do. 7. The wizards, who can change things into different forms so that something may look like a cow or an ox, which in reality is a human being, that can drive people to illicit love and intercourse, and more such works of the devil. 8. The necromancers, who are walking spirits. (Lenker 1:348-349; LW 52:182].
The phrase Lenker translates as "the devil mongers" is the same phrase LW translates "the wicked devil's whores," so this appears to be the ultimate source used, though I doubt Stolyarov used it. Stolyarov says this quote is supposed to demonstrate that a "rationally thinking mind" would find Luther's comments "ludicrous indeed." Rather, what Luther's cherry-picked comments demonstrate is Stolyarov's blatant presentism, congratulating himself for being in the current elite group of "enlightened, forward-thinking individuals" rather that being a 16th century person who was "brutal, superstitious, intolerant, and repressive."

Despite Stolyarov's sloppy article, there is evidence that Luther's view of witches went beyond simply describing them. A simple internet search reveals some interesting tidbits. For instance:
Martin Luther and the witches“I want to be the first to put fire to them”, said Martin Luther about the increasing witch mania of the 16th century. The Reformer was by far not the only one who demonstrated such zeal. Countless stakes burned all over the country; thousands of people, most of them women, lost their lives. [link]
Martin Luther was firmly convinced of the existence of witches. He believed that they harmed human beings, cattle and the harvest with their magic. He requested that witches should be killed by fire. However, he wanted nothing less or more than punishment for a crime that he perceived as a real one. Like murder or theft, the crime of witchcraft should also be punished. [link]
The actual witch mania, with mass hysteria and mass executions, only began one generation after Luther's death. During his time there were individual persecutions, for example the burning of four alleged witches in Wittenberg. At that time, however, the Reformer was not in Wittenberg, and he never uttered a word about the case. Luther himself held an aggressive sermon against witches in 1526. Within five minutes, his parishioners in Wittenberg heard him say five times that witches must be killed. He justified his opinion with the Second Book of Moses in the Bible: "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live." Other striking statements of Luther are: "They do harm in manifold ways. Therefore they shall be killed.", or "I want to be the first to put fire to them." [link]
I did a cursory search of Luther's writings and the clearest example is from his Exodus sermon of 1526. He does translate Exodus 22:18 something like "you shall not permit a witch to live" (WA 16:551). He goes on to say, "The law that sorceresses should be killed is most just, since they do many cursed things while they remain undiscovered..." and also, "Therefore, let them be killed" (English translation source).

Luther typically did not write his sermons. The extant copies we posses are the result of those who took notes while he preached. These sermon transcriptions are far more reliable than Luther's Table Talk which is a compilation of snippets of conversation (often without a context) in which Luther is purported to have said something. So, for instance, Luther in a Table Talk utterance is purported to have said, "I would burn all of them"-
August 25, 1538, the conversation fell upon witches who spoil milk, eggs, and butter in farm-yards. Dr. Luther said: "I should have no compassion on these witches; I would burn all of them. We read in the old law, that the priests threw the first stone at such malefactors. 'Tis said this stolen butter turns rancid, and falls to the ground when any one goes to eat it. He who attempts to counteract and chastise these witches, is himself Corporeally plagued and tormented by their master, the devil. Sundry schoolmasters and ministers have often experienced this. Our ordinary sins offend and anger God. What, then, must be his wrath against witchcraft, which we may justly designate high treason against divine majesty, a revolt against the infinite power of God. The jurisconsults who have so learnedly and pertinently treated of rebellion, affirm that the subject who rebels against his sovereign, is worthy of death. Does not witchcraft, then, merit death, which is a revolt of the creature against the Creator, a denial to God of the authority it , accords to the demon?"
And in this Table Talk as well:
On that day (August 20, 1538), Spalatin related the tale of a witch's insolence, and how a girl at Altenburg shed tears of blood whenever the woman was present, for, even if she did not see her nor know of her, yet she felt her presence and shed tears. Luther answered: "One should hasten to put such witches to death. The jurists wish to have too many witnesses, despising these plain signs. Recently I had to deal with a matrimonial case, where the wife wished to poison her husband, so that he vomited lizards. When she was examined by torture she answered nothing, because such witches are dumb; they despise punishment and the devil does not let them speak. These facts show plainly enough that an example should be made of them to terrify others."
Serious Luther studies would not present these statements as a first line of proof in establishing Luther's view, but given his Exodus sermon comment, they do seem plausible.  For a more thorough treatment of Luther's view on witches, Hartmann Grisar does an adequate job combining many of the pertinent primary texts, even if he does rely heavily on the Table Talk (see Luther V: 289 ff).

A useful article in regard to Luther's view of witchcraft is Sigrid Brauner, "Martin Luther on Witchcraft: A True Reformer?" found in, The Politics of Gender in Early Modern Europe Vol. XII, 1989. While I do not recall the author documenting the quotes above in this article, the author demonstrated that Luther's view is "unique" (p.29) challenged the prevailing more harsh view in regard to the female witch. The author also states that during Luther's lifetime "few witch trials were held..." (p.29). The onslaught against witches began in 1560 (some years after Luther's death). Philip Schaff though reports that "In 1540, six years before Luther's death, four witches and sorcerers were burnt in Protestant Wittenberg." The event was captured by Wittenberg's court painter, Lucas Cranach:

I'm still in the process of tracking down what (if any) involvement Luther had in this. Had there been extensive involvement, one would think the information would be plastered all over the Internet, yet I've not come across much indicting Luther. Grisar, who typically leaves no stone of negativity unturned in his evaluation of Luther merely says, "Shortly before this Luther had lamented that the plague of witches was again on the increase," and this evidence is from the Table Talk. Typical of Grisar, he sees Luther as one of the main culprits in the witch "mania" of later times, this while ignoring the lasting impact of the Malleus Maleficarum written by Dominican papal inquisitors in 1487. If Grisar wanted to trace blame, that's where more than one finger should point.

There is also a report I came across that Luther had excommunicated a group of witches in 1529. Similarly, I'm looking for verification of this.

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