Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Luther Preferred Islam to Papism? The Turks Exhibit Greater Devotion Than Christ?

Luther preferred Islam over the Papacy? Luther commended their devotion as being above and beyond that of Jesus Christ?  I came across the following comment left on an old entry from the What's Wrong with The World website:
When it comes to seeing Islam as preferable to Papism, Luther can speak for himself:
"From this book, accordingly, we see that the religion of the Turks or Muhammad is far more splendid in ceremonies -- and, I might almost say, in customs -- than ours, even including that of the religious or all the clerics. The modesty and simplicity of their food, clothing, dwellings, and everything else, as well as the fasts, prayers, and common gatherings of the people that this book reveals are nowhere seen among us -- or rather it is impossible for our people to be persuaded to them. Furthermore, which of our monks, be it a Carthusian (they who wish to appear the best) or a Benedictine, is not put to shame by the miraculous and wondrous abstinence and discipline among their religious? Our religious are mere shadows when compared to them, and our people clearly profane when compared to theirs. Not even true Christians, not Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display. This is the reason why many persons so easily depart from faith in Christ for Muhammadanism and adhere to it so tenaciously. I sincerely believe that no papist, monk, or cleric or their equal in faith would be able to remain in their faith if they should spend three days among the Turks. Here I mean those who seriously desire the faith of the pope and who are the best among them." -- Martin Luther, preface to the Tract on the Religions and Customs of the Turks, published in 1530.
As I said above I expect that Luther's purposes were polemical; but it is some polemic that can draw a comparison to Islam and find "even Christ himself" lacking. (N.b. it might be interesting to see alternate English translations of this passage, if any exist.).
Here were some responses to the quote:
"That Luther quotation is really appalling." (link)
"The Luther quotation is _so_ bad that I really do not believe any translation could make any difference, as long as the one given is reasonably accurate, which we can assume. I haven't seen much to equal it. A polemical purpose is no excuse. One assumes he meant what he said, regardless." (link)
The person originally posting this quote was "Zippy" (who appears to be the same author of the Zippy Catholic website). "Zippy" has posted this quote elsewhere: here and here. In these other postings, "Zippy" has placed these words from Luther in bold, "Not even true Christians, not Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display." That Jesus Christ is mentioned (seemingly negatively) in comparison to the works of the Turks appears to be that which irked Zippy. In fairness, "Zippy" does point out that the entirety of Luther's remarks here appear polemical, but he (she?) goes on to state, " is some polemic that can draw a comparison to Islam and find 'even Christ himself' lacking." Below, let's look at this polemical remark and see if it really is offensive.

The documentation provided refers to "Martin Luther, preface to the Tract on the Religions and Customs of the Turks, published in 1530." A link is also provided to an English translation from which this quote is taken: Martin Luther—Translations of Two Prefaces on Islam:Preface to the Libellus de ritu et moribus Turcorum (1530), and Preface to Bibliander’s Edition of the Qur’an (1543) by Sarah Henrich and James L. Boyce (updated link). I commend "Zippy" (a Roman Catholic) for providing a useful reference (often lacking from Rome's defenders).  The link contains a translation of the entire short treatise from which the quote was taken from.  Originally, the quote can be found in WA 30 (2):206,

At the time this quote was originally posted (2007), the link provided appears to be the first complete English translation of this short preface from Luther (1996). Since that time, an English translation appeared in LW 59:255-262 (2012).

Therefore, from this book we see that the religion of the Turks or of Mohammed, in its ceremonies (I might almost say in its behavior), is much more attractive in appearance than our own, even among our religious and clerics. The modesty and simplicity [of the Turks] in food, clothing, buildings, and all things, as this book declares—as also in fasts, prayers, and common assemblies of the people—are not to be seen anywhere among us. Indeed, it is impossible to persuade our people to do likewise. Then there are the miracles and marvels of abstinence and discipline among their religious—who among our monks, whether he be a Carthusian (who wish to be regarded as the best) or a Benedictine, is not embarrassed in the face of these things? Our religious are only a shadow compared to them, and our people are simply profane in comparison to theirs. Not even true Christians nor Christ Himself nor the apostles nor the prophets ever presented such a fine appearance. And this is why so many people readily abandon faith in Christ for Mohammed and cling to him so stubbornly. To be plain: I believe that no Papist, monk, cleric, or anyone else sharing their faith would remain steadfast in their faith if they lived three days among the Turks. I am speaking here about those who take seriously the faith of the pope and are the best among them. The rest of the crowd and the greater part of them, particularly the Italians—because they are "swine from Epicurus' herd" and believe nothing whatsoever—are protected from all heresy and error and are strong and invincible in their Epicurean faith, as much against Christ as against Mohammed, and even against their own pope himself. (LW 59:259).

The ultimate comparison Luther is making is between those who profess the outward demonstration of religiosity, particularly the works righteousness of "those who take seriously the faith of the pope and are the best among them."  As a subset, he includes "among us" "true Christians" (evangelicals). Of the first group, Luther repeatedly attacked Rome for works righteousness. Of the second group, Luther would make repeated (and lifelong) exhortations that those with the Gospel demonstrate its possession by true good works done out of gratitude to God. Compared to both groups, Luther saw the outward display of religious devotion by the Turks to their convictions surpassing the outward demonstrations of the papists and the evangelicals.  One author states of the Luther quote in question:

Why though would Luther include in the comparison "Christ Himself nor the apostles nor the prophets ever presented such a fine appearance"? Nowhere in the immediate context does Luther explain the remark. The defender of Rome who posted the quote is on the right track: the comment is indeed polemical. When Luther mentions the "fine appearance" of religion, that's exactly what I think he means: the external outward appearance of religiosity. As he goes on to say in the very writing in question,
For the gospel teaches that the Christian religion is by far something other and more sublime than showy ceremonies, tonsures, hoods, pale countenances, fasts, feasts, canonical hours, and that entire show of the Roman church.
When Jesus walked the earth, he and his disciples were judged by the religious authorities of his day. Consider his interaction with the Pharisees in Matthew 15:1-10. They judged that Christ was allowing his disciples to break the tradition of the elders. Think of the scandal that provoked the Pharisees when they noticed Jesus allowed his disciples to eat food with unwashed hands (Mark 7). Or think of the judgment of John's disciples when in Matthew 9:14 they ask, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” The teachers of the law judged Jesus to be a blasphemer in Mark 2:6-7. Jesus defied the religiosity of the Pharisees by picking grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-27). this was followed by Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6), such a violation of religiosity that the Pharisees  began plotting to kill Jesus. When Luther is comparing Christ and the apostles to Islam, the comparison is in regard to those with the outward appearance of religion. According to Luther, the Turks had a stellar appearance of religion. When it comes to keeping the rules and the appearance of religion, Luther is saying that they excel over and above anyone, including Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets.

 Luther says elsewhere:
Human works appear attractive outwardly, but within they are filthy, as Christ says concerning the Pharisees in Matt. 23[:27]. For they appear to the doer and others good and beautiful, yet God does not judge according to appearances but searches “the minds and hearts” [Ps. 7:9]. For without grace and faith it is impossible to have a pure heart. Acts 15[:9]: “He cleansed their hearts by faith.” [LW 31:43].
It's surprising to me that more of Rome's defenders have not used this quote against Luther. I suspect the reason is that the quote may have escaped older generations of Rome's anti-Luther writers, and the current-day cyber-apologists haven't come across it in any of their typical secondary-source research. One of the only instances I could find of the quote being used in the blogosphere was from an ex-defender of Rome.

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