Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Luther: I am on the heels of the Sacramentaries and the Anabaptists; ... I shall challenge them to fight; and I shall trample them all underfoot

Over on the CARM boards, a participant with seemingly Anabaptist leanings has been actively posting against John Calvin and Martin Luther. The view being expressed is that Luther was "a demon possessed wicked butcher" (link), and "His actions speak louder than his words, he was responsible for the death of untold thousands." This person put forth a number of Luther quotes, which I suspect were a direct cut-and-paste from a page like this or this. I'd like to look at some of these quotes. Maybe Luther won't be exonerated for each quote (for he was a sinner, and he did make some outrageous statements), but I don't think any of them prove he was a "a demon possessed wicked butcher" or "responsible for the death of untold thousands."

The Luther quotes offered begin with the preface, "Intolerance of Other Christians." Here's one from the set:

"I am on the heels of the Sacramentaries and the Anabaptists; ... I shall challenge them to fight; and I shall trample them all underfoot." (Daniel-Rops, 86)

We'll see below that finding the context for this specific quote is no easy task.  The person using it simply cut-and-pasted it, and I'm confident that if challenged, that person could not provide a meaningful context. 

The documentation provided is "Daniel-Rops, 86." "Daniel-Rops" is not a writing of Luther's. It refers to page 86 in the second volume of The Protestant Reformation by Henri Daniel-Rops (1901-1965).  He was a French Roman Catholic writer. The chapter which houses this quote is entitled, "The Tragedy of Martin Luther."  As the title infers, the author takes a negative view.  For instance, even though Luther deserves "fraternal pity," Luther's mind "contained also something of the devil" (p.356). He "turned to rebellion of the worst kind." While there were "many in the Catholic camp" that contributed to the woes of the Reformation, "Nevertheless it remains true to say that the greatest guilt was Luther's" (p. 356). Henri Daniel-Rops sees Luther as a necessary evil, a heretic that provoked the Roman church to "genuine reformation" (p.356-357).

The book was originally in French (L'Eglise de la Renaissance et de la Réforme). His volumes on the Reformation were eventually translated into English and placed into one, with the quote in question found on page 339. After noting Calvin and Melanchthon were somewhat remorseful in regard to the divisions in early Protestantism, the author states:
Luther, of course, was impervious to such arguments. He pursued his own course, like a man chasing after a dream: 'I have the Pope in mind,' he said; 'I am on the heels of the Sacramentaries and the Anabaptists; but I shall march alone among them all; I shall challenge them to fight; and I shall trample them all underfoot.' 
The French version reads,
Ce langa e de sagesse n'eut guère d'écho. äuant à Luther, imperméable à des arguments de ce genre, il continuait sa course comme un homme qui poursuit un rêve: « J'ai le Pape en tête, disait-il; jai dans le dos les sacmmentaires et les  anabaptistes; mais je marcherai seul entre tous je les défierai au combat; je les foulerai aux pieds. (p.376)
The author does not document the quote (and in my cursory Internet search, I didn't find anyone else documenting it back to to its original source either). It's possible the author took the quote from J.B. Boussuet, L'Historie des variations des 'eglise protestantes (1688). Daniel-Rops mentions this source in his bibliography (p.533). Boussuet uses the same quote:

Here's Boussuet in English:
28. — Luther writes against the Sacramentarians, and why he treated Zuinglius more severely than the rest.
It provoked Luther to see, not only individuals, but whole churches of the new reformation, now rise up against him. But he abated nothing of his accustomed pride. We may judge from these words, — "I have the Pope in front; I have the Sacramentarians and Anabaptists in my rear; but I will march out alone against them all; I will defy, them to battle; I will trample them under my feet." And a little after, — "I will say it without vanity, that for these thousand years the Scripture has never been so thoroughly purged, nor so well explained, nor better understood, than at this time it is by me*." He wrote' these words in 1525, a little after the contest had commenced.
* Ad Maled. Reg . Ang. t. ii. 493.
Boussuet does provide a reference, "Ad Maled. Reg . Ang. t. ii. 493." This refers to a writing Luther made to King Henry. In Latin, it has been cited a number of ways: "Ad maledictum regum angliœ, resp.," "Responsio ad maledictum Regem angliœ," "Regis Angliae responsio ad Martini Lutheri epistolam," "Invictissimi principis Henrici VIII., regis Angliae et Franciae, ad Martini Lutheri epistolam responsio," etc. (In German, the title is  "Auf des Königs von England Lästerschrift Titel. M. Luthers Antwort,"  Answer to the King of England's slanderous book (1527) (which is found in WA 23:26-37 and is scheduled to be translated in a future English volume of Luther's Works). "t. ii. 493" refers to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther's Works. This would have been the edition Boussuet had access to in his historical period. "ii. 493" refers to the second volume, page 493.

The problem is with Boussuet's reference. The quote under scrutiny does not occur in "Ad Maled. Reg. Ang" on page 493 (but perhaps Boussuet was only noting that the treatise begins on page 493). There's also the problem that Luther's treatise (against King Henry) Boussuet is referring to was published in 1527, not 1525. What is interesting is that later in this writing, Luther does say that the devil, the papists, and the swarmers (Teufel, Papisten und Schwärmer) are attacking him from all sides, and that Luther's teaching will destroy and devour (Mein Leid ist bald aufgerieten; ab meine Lehre wird euch aufreiben und auffressen). That's in the ballpark of the quote in question, though not exact. The Latin version though states,

Notice the line, "Papistae in frontem aciem dirigite, a tergo intuadant Sacramentarii, Anabaptistae." That's verbatim for the quote in question. I think it's safe to say that the quote was taken from this treatise. The "thousand years" quote is on page 498 (intra annos mille).

When Luther said, "I am on the heels of the Sacramentaries and the Anabaptists; ... I shall challenge them to fight; and I shall trample them all underfoot," it appears that some people think through these words he advocated violence towards them. What the words appear though to be are rhetoric in regard to the theological and political battles Luther was engaged in.

This is one of those mystery quotes that's circulated the Internet for years. I would classify it as pure propaganda: it's devoid of any sort of meaningful context, and the documentation is far from useful if one wanted to read the quote in its context. The Internet version of the quote is typically used as an example to prove something about Luther other than what the original context or historical situation intended. For instance, on this old Catholic Answers discussion thread, the quote is used to demonstrate, "Luther on Protestant 'Heretics'." Similarly, Catholic Apologetics Information uses it for the same purpose under the overarching title, "The Protestant Inquisition 'Reformation'." This web page uses it to describe Luther's "Intolerance of Other Christians." This Mennonite blogger uses it to demonstrate, "Martin Luther, the often-cited Christian hero who condemned the corrupt practices of the state church of his time, was certainly not viewed as a Christian hero by the Anabaptists he persecuted." All of these web pages have one thing in common: none of them ever bothered to actually look the quote up, but rather use it for whatever their particular agenda demands. 

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