Friday, February 23, 2018

On Justification by Faith, Luther said, “Be a sinner and sin on bravely...

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

On Justification by Faith, Luther said, “Be a sinner and sin on bravely, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: sin must be committed. To you it ought to be sufficient that you acknowledge the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the sin cannot tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders” (Enders, “Briefwechsel”, III, 208) Don.

This quote pops up all the time. I've gone over it a number of times, simply because there's so many different versions of it, and so many different people using it. This is one of those quotes that I categorically classify as the "Antinomian Luther." They are typically posted by those dedicated to defending the Roman church (but not limited to them!). Historically, such "shock" quotes served as propaganda used by pre-1930 Roman Catholic controversialists. The champion of this view was Heinrich Denifle (1844-1905), an Austrian Roman Catholic historian. For Denifle, one of Luther's major problems was lust and immorality. It was Luther's craving for sex that led him to not only break his monastic vows, but to revolt against the established Roman church. Denifle would use statements like this to prove Luther invented the doctrine of justification to excuse his gross immorality.  This quote proves Luther was so devious in his theology of justification, he believed people should just go ahead and sin as much as possible, because Christ simply forgives it anyway.

The person who posted the quote provides obscure documentation (Enders, “Briefwechsel”, III, 208). 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.

Even if he (she?) did compose any of these web pages, 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. For this quote particularly, this EWTN web-page appears to be that which was directly plagiarized. EWTN did say they took the quote from the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia version is exactly as it appears on 2001 EWTN web-article. The person responsible for the English version of the quote was probably the author of the "Luther" article in the Old Catholic Encyclopedia, George Ganss (1855 – 1912). Ganns was heavily influenced by Denifle (Denifle uses the quote here).  The article by Ganss in the Catholic Encyclopedia was influential to American Catholics in the early twentieth century. With the old Encyclopedia now online, Ganns' view has been popularized again, even though the New Catholic Encyclopedia takes a much different approach to Luther.

The documentation provided is "Enders, 'Briefwechsel', III, 208." "Enders" refers to ‎Ernst Ludwig Enders. He edited 18 volumes of Luther's letters, known as, Dr. Martin Luther's Briefwechsel (1884–1932). Here is volume III, page 208. The text being referred to is the following:

This Latin text from Luther is from a fragment of a letter, August 8, 1521 (sometimes also dated June 29, 1521). A few sources I have say the fragment was found by John Aurifaber "in the Spalatine library," but I could not confirm this. If  Aurifaber found this fragment, the letter has been around since at least the late sixteenth century. LW 48 says the letter has no address, salutation, or signature. In other words, it has no beginning or ending, thus lacking a complete context. Most scholarship thinks the letter was written to Philip Melanchthon from Luther's seclusion in the Wartburg Castle. This fragmentary letter can be found in WA, Br 2, No. 424 , DeWette 2, 34, and in English in LW 48:277-282.

If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner [LW 48:281-282].
Luther was prone to strong hyperbole. It's his style, and this statement is a perfect example. The first thing to recognize is that the sentence is a statement of comparison. Luther's point is not to go out and commit multiple amounts of gleeful sin everyday, but rather to believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly despite the sin in our lives. Christians have a real savior. No amount of sin is too much to be atoned for by a perfect savior whose righteousness is imputed to the sinner who reaches out in faith.

But what then is the practical application of sinning “boldly”? What is at the heart of this comparison? Luther explains elsewhere how to take on the attitude of sinning “boldly”:
Therefore let us arm our hearts with these and similar statements of Scripture so that, when the devil accuses us by saying: You are a sinner; therefore you are damned, we can reply: The very fact that you say I am a sinner makes me want to be just and saved. Nay, you will be damned, says the devil. Indeed not, I reply, for I take refuge in Christ, who gave Himself for my sins. Therefore you will accomplish nothing, Satan, by trying to frighten me by setting the greatness of my sins before me and thus seducing me to sadness, doubt, despair, hatred, contempt, and blasphemy of God. Indeed, by calling me a sinner you are supplying me with weapons against yourself so that I can slay and destroy you with your own sword; for Christ died for sinners. Furthermore, you yourself proclaim the glory of God to me; you remind me of God's paternal love for me, a miserable and lost sinner; for He so loved the world that He gave His Son (John 3:16). Again, whenever you throw up to me that I am a sinner, you revive in my memory the blessing of Christ, my Redeemer, on whose shoulders, and not on mine, lie all my sins; for "the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" and "for the transgression of His people was He stricken" (Is. 53:6-8). Therefore when you throw up to me that I am a sinner, you are not terrifying me; you are comforting me beyond measure[WA 40,1: 89; LW 26:36-37; this English translation from  Ewald Plass, What Luther Says 3:1315].
The strong hyperbolic comparison Luther makes between “sinning boldly” and believing and rejoicing in Christ “even more boldly” comes clear. When assaulted by the fear and doubt of Christ’s love because of previous sins or the remnants of sin in one’s life, one is thrust back into the arms of Christ “on whose shoulders, and not on mine, lie all my sins…”. Rather than promoting a license to sin by saying “sin boldly,” Luther compares the sinner to the perfect savior. Left in our sins we will face nothing but death and damnation. By Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the world, we stand clothed in His righteousness, the recipients of His grace, no matter what we have done.

No historical information exists that indicts Melanchthon of ever murdering or fornicating, even once. The point Luther is making is not to go out and murder or fornicate as much as possible, but rather to point out the infinite sacrifice of Christ’s atonement. There is no sin that Christ cannot cover. His atonement was of an infinite value. That this statement was not to be considered literally is apparent by Luther’s use of argumentum ad absurdum: do people really commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day? No. Not even the most heinous God-hating sinner is able to carry out such a daily lifestyle.

1 comment:

PeaceByJesus said...

James, are you sure you do not work as a police detective on the side:)

But Luther's propensity to sometimes detrimental outrageous hyperbole means your work is cut out for you.