Saturday, September 09, 2017

Luther: If he will not keep quiet, then let the civil authorities command the scoundrel to his rightful master, namely, Master Hans [i.e., the hangman]

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:

"There are others who teach in opposition to some recognised article of faith which is manifestly grounded on Scripture and is believed by good Christians all over the world, such as are taught to children in the Creed. ... Heretics of this sort must not be tolerated, but punished as open blasphemers. ... If anyone wishes to preach or to teach, let him make known the call or the command which impels him to do so, or else let him keep silence. If he will not keep quiet, then let the civil authorities command the scoundrel to his rightful master, namely, Master Hans [i.e., the hangman]." Source: Martin Luther, Commentary on 82nd Psalm, 1530(Janssen, X, 222; EA, Bd. 39, 250-258; Commentary on 82nd Psalm, 1530; cf. Durant, 423, Grisar, VI, 26-27)

This quote (in this form!) has a lot of mileage on it. Atheist John Loftus uses it, as do some of the descendants of the radical reformation.  A simple Google search though reveals that Rome's defenders are quite fond of this quote. Whether it be a web page or a discussion forum, Rome's defenders often use this quote as evidence in support of a Tu quoque argument:
Protestant charge: the Roman Catholic Church committed atrocities like the Inquisition. The Roman church was intolerant. 
Roman Catholic response: There were also Protestant atrocities and also a Protestant "Inquisition." Early Protestants were also intolerant. 
Rome's defenders follow up this argument with a string of evidence of Protestant atrocities (including the Luther quote mentioned above). For instance, Catholic Apologetics Information uses this Luther quote under the subheading "Death and Torture for Catholics and Protestant Dissidents." St Margaret Mary Catholicism 101 uses it under the heading "Protestant Inquisitions" to demonstrate "the early reformers were not into 'freedom of religion' and 'free speech'," as does

While there is a sense in which I'm sympathetic to their overall Tu quoque argument, there's also a sense in which I think much of their proof comes across as propaganda when scrutinized. We'll see with this particular Luther quote that this particular Internet rendering doesn't come from someone actually reading "Martin Luther, Commentary on 82nd Psalm, 1530." Rather, I believe it's been swiped (then edited / truncated) via a hostile secondary source. Then, the corroborating ("cf.") sources show that those using this quote appear to be asleep at the wheel:  one of the "cf." sources is bogus, and the other actually says the opposite —  that Luther wasn't as intolerant as Rome and he eventually arrived at a position of religious tolerance. Then we'll see that the context does not show the blatant intolerance suggested. Rather, Luther has a specific focus of intolerance for radical teachers and leaders causing societal unrest.

Different from most of the other quotes used thus far in this series, this one is treated with a number of references. It appears to me that the quote was truncated / edited using the first of the secondary sources mentioned (Janssen), not a direct reading of Luther. First though, let's look at the corroborating ("cf.") sources, for they reveal that when the quote is used with this documentation, it's a strong indicator that Grisar and Durant were not checked for accuracy, but were simply cut-and-pasted.

Here is Grisar, VI, 26-27 (a Roman Catholic source). There is nothing remotely related to this quote on pages 26-27 in volume VI. Grisar's discussion is on an entirely different subject (school curriculum, school issues). I checked pages 26-27 in the other 5 volumes from Grisar, and no discussion of the quote occurs on those two pages. Yes, Grisar does mention this quote in his massive biography of Luther (at least once), but it certainly was not in volume VI on pages 26-27.

Here is Durant, 423 (a secular source).  Will Durant only mentions the quote briefly. "In 1530, in his commentary on the Eighty-second Psalm, he advised governments to put to death all heretics who preached sedition or against private property, and 'those who teach against a manifest article of the faith... like the articles children learn in the creed, as for example, if anyone should teach that Christ was not God but a mere man.'" Durant's treatment of the quote is merely one sentence, which makes one wonder why the person who originally cited Durant included him as a reference. It's a ridiculous reference, reminiscent of a high school paper. But beyond this silliness, Roman Catholics who use this Durant reference for their Tu quoque argument should read what Durant says previous to this sentence on page 423: "Despite the violence of Luther's speech he never rivaled the severity of the Church in dealing with dissent; but he proceeded, within the area and limits of his power, to silence it as peaceably as he could." And also after the sentence on page 423, Durant states: "We should note, however, that toward the end of his life Luther returned to his early feelings for toleration. In his last sermon he advised abandonment of all attempts to destroy heresy by force; Catholics and Anabaptists must be borne with patiently till the Last Judgment, when Christ will take care of them." I think Durant isn't quite right in his overall assessment, but this is beside the point: Rome's defenders have told us that Durant is a source of proof for their argument. Durant though says something quite different about Luther. Why would Rome's defenders send us to a source against their own Tu quoque argument?

Here is Janssen, X, 222 (a Roman Catholic source). This reference is to nineteenth century Roman Catholic historian Johannes Janssen's History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages Volume 10 (originally written in German). Janssen's work belongs to the period of destructive criticism of Luther and the Reformation. As far as I can tell, the quote under scrutiny was truncated / edited using a footnote from Janssen:
Luther, who had at first strongly disapproved of the execution of heretics, began, after 1530, to advocate capital punishment for false doctrine and heresy. (1)
(1)This comes out clearly (as Paulus, Katholik, 1897, i. 539 if., has shown) in Luther's explanation of the 82nd Psalm, as well as in a pamphlet of 1536. In the explanation of the Psalm (Der LXXXII. Psalm, ausgelegt von Mart. Luther, Wittenberg, 1530, Ca -Fb, Luther's Werke, Erlanger Ausgabe, Bd. 39, pp. 250-258), he deals exhaustively with the questions 'whether the secular rulers ought to check and punish objectionable doctrines or heresies.' ' There are two sorts of heretics,' he says: 'first, those who are turbulent and seditious; these must undoubtedly be punished. Then there are others who teach in opposition to some recognised article of faith which is manifestly grounded on Scripture and is believed by good Christians all over the world, such as are taught to children in the Creed: as, for instance, the heresy which some of them teach, that Christ is not God, but only an ordinary man, and just the same as any other prophet of the Turks or of the Anabaptists; heretics of this sort must not be tolerated, but punished as open blasphemers. Moses in his laws commands that blasphemers of this sort, and indeed all false teachers, are to be stoned to death. And there must not be lengthy disputation on the subject; such blasphemy must be condemned without that or examination. . . . For articles of belief of this sort, held by united Christendom, have been sufficiently inquired into and thoroughly established by the Scriptures and by the unanimous assent of all Christians.' Sermons calculated to disturb the unity of the faith, Luther goes on, must not be tolerated, still less must private preaching and secret ceremonies be allowed. It is the duty of the burghers to give information of any of these clandestine proceedings to the civil authorities and to the clergy. 'If anyone wishes to preach or to teach, let him make known the call or the command which impels him to do so, or else let him keep silence. If he will not keep quiet, then let the civil authorities commend the scoundrel to his rightful master — namely, Master Hans [hangman].'
One can see how this footnote from Janssen was sifted through to create the quote in question. Janssen though did a similar thing: he sifted and truncated his quote from eight pages of text (also noted in the popular Internet documentation, "EA, Bd. 39, 250-258"). Here is EA 39 page 250.

Luther's comments on Psalm 82 have been translated into English in LW 13. Let's work through these multiple pages of LW 13 and look at what Luther stated.

A question arises in connection with these three verses. Since the gods, or rulers, beside their other virtues, are to advance God’s Word and its preachers, are they also to put down opposing doctrines or heresies, since no one can be forced to believe? The answer to this question is as follows: First, some heretics are seditious and teach openly that no rulers are to be tolerated; that no Christian may occupy a position of rulership; that no one ought to have property of his own but should run away from wife and child and leave house and home; or that all property shall be held in common. These teachers are immediately, and without doubt, to be punished by the rulers, as men who are resisting temporal law and government (Rom. 13:1, 2). They are not heretics only but rebels, who are attacking the rulers and their government, just as a thief attacks another’s goods, a murderer another’s body, an adulterer another’s wife; and this is not to be tolerated.
Second. If some were to teach doctrines contradicting an article of faith clearly grounded in Scripture and believed throughout the world by all Christendom, such as the articles we teach children in the Creed—for example, if anyone were to teach that Christ is not God, but a mere man and like other prophets, as the Turks and the Anabaptists hold—such teachers should not be tolerated, but punished as blasphemers. For they are not mere heretics but open blasphemers; and rulers are in duty bound to punish blasphemers as they punish those who curse, swear, revile, abuse, defame, and slander. With their blasphemy such teachers defame the name of God and rob their neighbor of his honor in the eyes of the world. In like manner, the rulers should also punish—or certainly not tolerate—those who teach that Christ did not die for our sins, but that everyone shall make his own satisfaction for them. For that, too, is blasphemy against the Gospel and against the article we pray in the Creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” and “in Jesus Christ, dead and risen.” Those should be treated in the same way who teach that the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting are nothing, that there is no hell, and like things, as did the Sadducees and the Epicureans, of whom many are now arising among the great wiseacres.
By this procedure no one is compelled to believe, for he can still believe what he will; but he is forbidden to teach and to blaspheme. For by so doing he would take from God and the Christians their doctrine and word, and he would do them this injury under their own protection and by means of the things all have in common. Let him go to some place where there are no Christians. For, as I have often said: He who makes a living from the citizens ought to keep the law of the city, and not defame and revile it; or else he ought to get out (LW 13:60-62).
This is the first part of the quote (it occurs on page 60). First, In context, Luther is writing specifically about those who teach severe false doctrines. This is not immediately clear in the Internet version of the quote because it's surrounded by other quotes and is found often under the heading "Intolerance of Other Christians" or "Death and Torture for Catholics, Protestant Dissidents, and Jews." Second, in context, Luther allows that those teachers "can still believe what he will," but cannot actively teach. This tolerating aspect is entirely left out of the Internet version of the quote!

Third, Luther goes on beyond this context about what to do if "the papists and the Lutherans (as they are called) are crying out against one another because of certain matters of belief, and preaching against one another..."(LW 13:62-63). He says, "My Lutherans ought to be willing to abdicate and be silent if they observed that they were not gladly heard" (LW 13:63). This is yet another aspect of tolerance left out of the Internet version of this quote, and it certainly doesn't support the sometimes used heading, "Death and Torture for Catholics..." Luther then has a short discussion on those factions who argue over customs not found in the Bible. Notice the lack of intolerance in Luther's comments,
For what the Scriptures do not contain, the preachers ought not wrangle about in the presence of the people. Rather they ought to deal always with the Scriptures, for love and peace are far more important than all ceremonies. Thus St. Paul says (Col. 3:14) that peace is to be preferred to all else, and it is unchristian to let peace and unity yield to ceremonies. If this command does not help, then he who, without Scripture, insists on ceremonies as necessary to salvation, and who would bind men’s consciences, should be ordered to keep silent (LW 13:63)
He then goes on to have a brief discussion about secret ceremonies. He says they should not be tolerated. He's referring to those teachers who hold religious meetings in secret without the knowledge of the church. He then says, "For the rest, anyone may read what he likes and believe what he likes. If he will not hear God, let him hear the devil" (LW 13:64). That's yet another aspect of Luther's tolerance left out of the Internet version of this quote. This leads directly into a discussion in regard to unauthorized religious teachers. Luther shows great concern for scrutinizing radical teachers that sneak into a community. Here we will pick up the tail end of the Internet quote we're scrutinizing:
I have had to say these things about the sneaks and false preachers—of whom there are now all too many—in order to warn both pastors and rulers. They should exhort and command their people to be on their guard against these vagabonds and knaves and to avoid them as sure emissaries of the devil, unless they bring good evidence that they are called and commanded by God to do this work in that special place. Otherwise no one should let them in or listen to them, even if they were to preach the pure Gospel, nay, even if they were angels from heaven and all Gabriels at that! For it is God’s will that nothing be done as a result of one’s own choice or decision, but everything as a consequence of a command or a call. That is especially true of preaching, as St. Peter says (2 Peter 1:20, 21): “You should know this first: No prophecy was brought out by the will of man; but the holy men of God spoke, driven by the Holy Spirit.” Therefore Christ, too (Luke 4:41), would not let the devils speak when they cried out that He was the Son of God and told the truth; for He did not want to permit such an example of preaching without a call. Let everyone, then, remember this: If he wants to preach or teach, let him give proof of the call or command which drives and compels him to it, or else let him be silent. If he does not want to do this, then let the rulers hand the knave over to the right master, the police. That will be what he deserves; for he certainly intends to start a rebellion, or worse, among the people (LW 13:65-66)
Notice Luther's warning against these teachers is not blatant intolerance across the board. He states they can be heard in society if "they bring good evidence that they are called and commanded by God to do this work in that special place." This is yet another aspect of tolerance left out of the Internet version of this quote. Those though that enter a community and simply demand an audience are not to be tolerated. Even this aspect of Luther's alleged "intolerance" amounts to a desire to keep peace and order in a community. In the background of Luther's concern were the extreme radicals like Thomas Müntzer (named by Luther in the same context, LW 13:64). Luther's "intolerance" in this aspect of the quote isn't a sweeping generalization, but has at its center the radicals causing societal unrest.

Certainly there are aspects of the quote in which Luther expresses intolerance, but it isn't to the extreme that is suggested by the truncated version of the quote. In context, Luther's primarily concerned with teaching / preaching radicals that cause societal unrest, but even in his intolerance of them, he would rather they be banished: "But if they went or stayed where there are no Christians, and where, like the Jews, they would be heard by no one, then we would have to let them blaspheme to the stones and trees in some forest, or possibly in the depths of the sea, or in a hot oven" (LW 13:67). If though they insist on teaching, they should be given over to the authorities.

As I stated above, there is a sense in which I'm sympathetic to the defenders of Rome who put forth the Tu quoque argument that Protestants have also committed atrocities, so bringing up Rome's past sins isn't a logically compelling argument against her . This is why I rarely have written against Rome by pointing out her moral evils. On the other hand, some of Rome's defenders have a habit of making Luther worse than he was: by presenting truncated quotes devoid of context, accompanied by spurious documentation. This I am not sympathetic to.  It is the way of propaganda. I am not sympathetic to such methodology, at all. 

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