Friday, January 12, 2018

Luther: As for his evangelical followers, Luther added that “they are seven times worse than they were before."

Here's a Martin Luther-related excerpt that appeared on the Catholic Answers Forums:

As for his evangelical followers, Luther added that “they are seven times worse than they were before. After preaching our doctrine, men have given themselves over to stealing, lying, trickery, debauchery, drunkenness, and every kind of vice. We have expelled one devil (the papacy) and seven worse have entered.” (Werke, 28, p. 763, in ibid., p. 440).

This is one of those quotes that I categorically classify as "Did Luther Regret the Reformation?" They are typically posted by those dedicated to defending the Roman church. Historically, such "shock" quotes served as propaganda used by pre-1930 Roman Catholic controversialists. Those writers put forth the conclusion that the Reformation was a failure: it didn't produce any real fruit, and Luther's own words and the state of Protestantism at the time prove it. The argument goes: Protestantism isn't a movement of the church. It is the result of heresy, and heresy never leads anyone to true holiness. Then statements are typically brought forth from Luther's career, indicting him of regret for starting the Reformation. Most of these pre-1930 books had fallen into obscurity, but with the arrival of the information explosion brought forth by the Internet, these quotes made a comeback. It's not at all uncommon to visit discussion forums like Catholic Answers and find these "regret" quotes taking center-stage. Let's take a look at this quote and see if Luther was really admitting all of his followers
became severely morally bankrupt ("seven times worse") due to his influence.

Plagiarism
The person who posted the quote provides obscure documentation ("Werke, 28, p. 763, in ibid., p. 440"). Such obscurity often indicates that the material was not taken from an actual straight reading of text written by Luther. This person also stated,
I am a convert from Protestantism who used to idolize Luther until I read his writings (eventually). Before, and while undertaking my doctorate (early music history + performance), I had learned to read primary sources, this is what also lead me to the Catholic Church - the Apostolic Fathers + St Augustine + Aquinas. Today many people will watch a movie about Luther and think they are well informed about him.
I do question the validity of this testimony of learning, especially the claim of reading Luther's writings and the ability to read primary sources to form opinions. Of the two posts of Luther material this person presented in this discussion (#1#2), neither demonstrates a straight reading of Luther. The material was probably taken from a few web-pages, then cut-and pasted over on to the Catholic Answers discussion forum. I suspect this pagethis page, and perhaps this page was utilized. Unless the person posting this material on Catholic Answers wrote these links, much of the content presented is blatant plagiarism. For this quote particularly, this web-page appears to be that which was directly plagiarized.

Even if he (she?) did compose this web page (or one of the others), I still doubt any of the material came from a straight reading (or "studying") of the "primary sources" for Luther. Some of what was posted was directly plagiarized from Father Patrick O'Hare's, The Facts about Luther. This quote appears to have been plagiarized from this webpage that presents an article written by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira entitled, Luther Thought He Was Divine! It appears this article was "originally published in the Folha de S.Paulo, on January 10, 1984," so it's probable that the article was not originally in English. This version  provides information about the author, and we can safely rule out the person at Catholic Answers being Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: he died in 1992.  This version of the article presents the quote in a very similar form with a few exceptions:
And Luther added, regarding his evangelical henchmen, that “they are seven times worse than they were before. After the preaching of our doctrine men have given themselves up to robbery, lying, imposture, debauchery, drunkenness, and every kind of vice. We have expelled one devil (the papacy), and seven worse ones have come in” (Werke, XXVIII, p. 763; Franca, p. 441).
Notice the opening begins with the inflammatory, "And Luther added, regarding his evangelical henchmen.." rather than "As for his evangelical followers.." There are some other minor word variances as well ( "robbery" "imposture").  There's also some confusion in the documentation. Some of the versions say  "in ibid., p. 440" others say "Franca, p. 441." I did locate a Portuguese version of the article that uses p. 440 (on the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira website) along with an English version using p. 440.


Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira did attempt to accurately document his source for his article. He states: "I will cite excerpts from the work of Fr. Leonel Franca SJ titled The Church, the Reform and Civilization (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Civilizacão Brasileira, 3rd ed., 1934, 558 pages)." Notice that de Oliveira didn't actually reference Luther's writings when the article was composed back in 1984, he borrowed from someone else. Here is page 440  and 441 of  the 1958 edition of Franca's book, A igreja, a reforma e a civilização. I suspect the 1934 version was reworked and expanded, because the quote actually appears on page 390 in the 1958 edition (and the 1948 edition):




Documentation
The secondary reference, "in ibid., p. 440" refers to Fr. Leonel Franca,  A igreja, a reforma e a civilização, 1934 edition, page 440 (see above). The primary reference being used is "Werke, 28, p. 763." This refers to volume 28 of the Weimar edition of Luther's works. Here is WA 28:763. The text reads,


The text being cited is from Luther's comments on Deuteronomy 9:25 from a 1529 sermon. It can also be found in Walch III, 2727.To my knowledge, the complete context this paragraph comes from has yet to be translated into an official English version of Luther's Works. 

Context
Some years back I came across an English translation of paragraph 49 from Walch III, 2727.
Moses is thus a fine teacher; he has well expounded the first commandment, and led the people to a knowledge of themselves, and humbled the proud and arrogant spirits, besides which he upbraided them with all kinds of vices, so that they had merited anything but the promised land. If we do not abide by our beloved Gospel, we deserve to see those who profess it, our Gospellers, become seven times worse than they were before. For, after having become acquainted with the Gospel, we steal, lie, cheat, we eat, drink, and are drunken, and practise all sorts of iniquity. As one devil has been driven out of us, seven others, more wicked, have entered in; as may be seen at the present time with princes, noblemen, lords, citizens, and peasants, how they act, without shame and in spite of God and His threatenings.
Conclusion
The above translation of this obscure quote is from an old book, Luther Vindicated by Charles Hastings Collette. Collette's book is fascinating. He similarly examines obscure out-of-context Luther quotes and offers corrections and contexts. It wasn't Roman Catholics he defended Luther against, rather, the culprit was the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, who, according to Collette was "a professed Minister of the (Reformed) Established Church of England." Interestingly, Baring-Gould appears to have gathered some of his Luther material from Roman Catholic sources, and was part of a group sympathetic to Rome. Of this group, Collette states, "These gentlemen sigh for pre-Reformation days when the priest ruled and the sacramental system flourished, to the glorification of the priest, and ignorance, superstition, thraldom, and degradation of the people" (p.6). If this link is about the Sabine Baring-Gould in question (which I think it is), he's the writer of the famous hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers." Of this quote in question, Collette quotes Baring-Gould stating:
"...let us take Luther's own account of the results of his doctrine :—' There is not,' says he,—' one of our Evangelicals who is not seven times worse than he was before he belonged, to us,—stealing, lying, deceiving, eating, and getting drunk, and giving himself up to all kinds of vices. If we have driven out one devil, seven others worse than the first have come in his place."
Collette begins analyzing the quote stating,
"The reference is 'Ed. Walch, iii. 2727.' Here it is self-evident that the rev. gentleman, by 'our Evangelicals,' intends to point to the new converts to Luther's teaching."
"By the reference we are guided to Luther's Commentaries on the 'fifth Book of Moses, ix. 25.' On turning to the column indicated, we find the passage purported to be quoted, but in it there is not the most distant intimation that Luther was pointing to his own people, or to the new converts; but to the state of utter depravity to which priests and people, nobles and commoners,—nominal Christians of all ranks,—had fallen."
After documenting this moral climate, Collette states,
But what I have to expose is the barefaced mistranslation put before us in the above extract by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould, thereby making Luther allude to "our Evangelicals" as "belonging to Luther's disciples," who had become seven times worse by the change from Popery. I will let the reader judge for himself by placing before him a literal translation of the original; the text I add as a footnote :—
Collette then cites the context of Luther's statements:
"Moses is thus a fine teacher; he has well expounded the first commandment, and led the people to a knowledge of themselves, and humbled the proud and arrogant spirits, besides which he upbraided them with all kinds of vices, so that they had merited anything but the promised land. If we do not abide by our beloved Gospel, we deserve to see those who profess it, our Gospellers, become seven times worse than they were before. For, after having become acquainted with the Gospel, we steal, lie, cheat, we eat, drink, and are drunken, and practise all sorts of iniquity. As one devil has been driven out of us, seven others, more wicked, have entered in; as may be seen at the present time with princes, noblemen, lords, citizens, and peasants, how they act, without shame and in spite of God and His threatenings."
The key to the quote is the phrase, "Our Gospellers." Collette explains,
" 'Our Gospellers' I have thus translated 'unsereEvangelischen.' Luther did not mean the true believers in and followers of the Evangelists, which some readers might suppose to be a name applicable to all members of the Reformed Churches, from their known attachment to the Gospel, but he applied the expression to outward professors of the Gospel.

Addendum
This is an oft-used obscure Luther quote. I've gone over it a number of times. Rome's defenders seem to think that Luther was so deluded that he continued to preach the gospel for decades, without any positive results. In their minds, this must be a telling sign that Luther proclaimed a false gospel. In actuality, Luther consistently held that the gospel would find great opposition, and would be attacked from all sides, including within. The gospel would be used by the world as a licence to sin and all sorts of evil because of Satan. The gospel would indeed make those of the world worse. There would also be false converts and people that followed the gospel for the wrong reasons. Luther was well aware that just as people followed Christ for the wrong reasons in the first century, so to in the sixteenth century.

Luther wasn't postmillennial. While he was discouraged that the world seemed to be getting worse, his eschatological expectation can be traced back even to the early days of his Reformation work. For Luther, it was the end of the world. Things were indeed going to get worse. The Gospel was going to be fought against by the Devil with all his might. The true church was a tiny flock in a battle against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. He hoped the people would improve with the preaching of the Gospel, he often admitted he knew things were going to get worse because of the Gospel. It's one thing to argue Luther suffered from depression or had a despondency over the state of things, it's quite another to use his words to prove he had a sense of "failure and guilt" over the preaching of the Gospel, or that he was in agony over the Gospel going forth into the world and the trouble he admitted and expected it would cause.

2 comments:

John Q Public said...

Can anyone living today deny that he was right?

James Swan said...

John Q Public said...
Can anyone living today deny that he was right?


Thanks for the hit-and-run, JQP.