Friday, April 06, 2018

Luther: Augustine has Often Erred, He is Not to be Trusted

Here's a comment left under one of my old blog entries:
Luther did in fact exalt himself above the Fathers,if Protestant theologian/historian Philip Schaff is to be believed (though he doesn't express it in those terms). You will find the relevant citation in the 4th paragraph under "The dominating qualities of his doctrine" in the article "Teaching of St. Augustine of Hippo."
Who would care if  "Luther did in fact exalt himself above the Fathers"? Typically, this line of argumentation is put forth by Rome's defenders. The argument goes: Luther showed a lack of respect for those in church history who preceded him. One of Luther's failures, or flaws, therefore, was his pride and arrogance: the Catholic church, in all her history, awaited him as its savior. Everyone before him was theologically incompetent, expressing a false gospel. When Luther is charged with exalting himself above the Fathers, it's his alleged heretical arrogance Rome's defenders have in mind. How dare a heretic criticize a respected doctor of the church.

The person who left this comment did so anonymously (see their blogger description). I'm going to assume based on this argumentation (and the link provided) that the person is some sort of Roman Catholic. Here though is an example of someone using the same source (and quote) who appears to not be a defender of Rome, so who knows?  It's up to this mystery person to set the record straight.

The "relevant citation in the 4th paragraph" from the link appears to be the comment attributed to Luther, "Augustine has often erred, he is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in true faith as well as the other Fathers," so says Luther via Protestant historian, Philip Schaff. Of the same Luther quote, the great Reformed theologian B.B. Warfield refers to it as a "well-known assertion." While there are quite a number of comments Luther made about Augustine, we'll see below that finding the context for this "well known assertion" is not all that easy. We'll also take a closer look at the newadvent,org link provided, Philip Schaff's actual comment, and this particular Luther quote to see if it demonstrates "exalting himself above the fathers." As it stands now, Luther's overall opinion appears to be that Augustine was so incompetent, he shouldn't be trusted on anything.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Philip Schaff: Luther's Exhalation Above the Fathers
While church historian Philip Schaff is referred to as the deciding voice demonstrating Luther's arrogance, he isn't cited directly, he's alluded to via a link that leads back to the old Catholic Encyclopedia. It's admitted that Schaff "doesn't express it in those terms" that being, "Luther did in fact exalt himself above the Fathers." So, Schaff wasn't exactly saying what this mystery person is trying to prove. Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says:
Attempts to monopolize Augustine and to make him an ante-Reformation reformer, were certainly not wanting. Of course Luther had to admit that he did not find in Augustine justification by faith alone, that generating principle of all Protestantism; and Schaff tells us that he consoled himself with exclaiming (op. sit., p. 100): "Augustine has often erred, he is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in true faith as well as the other Fathers."
The Catholic Encyclopedia cites Schaff's Luther quote as "op. sit., p. 100." "op. cit." means "in the work cited." What they are referring to is found in their documentation: "Schaff, Saint Augustine, Melanchthon, Neander (New York: 1886)." Here is page 100 from that source. Schaff presents a number of comments about the fathers from Luther, and then states,
The Reformer was at times dissatisfied with Augustin himself, because, amid all his congeniality of mind, he could not just find in him his "sola fide." "Augustin has often erred, he is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in true faith as well as the other Fathers." But over against this casual expression stand a number of eulogies on Augustin. 
Luther's words must not be weighed too nicely, else any and everything can be proven by him, and the most irreconcilable contradictions shown. We must always judge him according to the moment and mood in which he spoke, and duly remember his bluntness and his stormy, warlike nature. Thus, the above disparaging sentences upon some of the greatest theologians are partly annulled by his churchly and historical feeling, and by many expressions, like that in a letter to Albert of Prussia (a.d. 1532), where he declares the importance of tradition in matters of faith, as strongly as any Catholic. In reference to the real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper, he says: "Moreover this article has been unanimously believed and held from the beginning of the Christian Church to the present hour, as may be shown from the books and writings of the dear Fathers, both in the Greek and Latin languages, which testimony of the entire holy Christian Church ought to be sufficient for us, even if we had nothing more. For it is dangerous and dreadful to hear or believe anything against the unanimous testimony, faith, and doctrine cf the entire holy Christian Church, as it has been held unanimously in all the world up to this year 1500. Whoever now doubts of this, he does just as much as though he believed in no Christian Church, and condemns not only the entire holy Christian Church as a damnable heresy, but Christ Himself, and all the apostles and prophets, who founded this article, when we say, 'I believe in a holy Christian Church,' to which Christ bears powerful testimony in Matt, xxviii. 20 : 'Lo I am with you always to the end of the world,' and Paul in 1 Tim. iii. 15 : 'The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth.'"
Schaff's actual view is certainly not the sentiment put forth by the anonymous comment which began this entry. The context of the remark concerns sola fide, not a blatant covering of everything either Augustine or the Church Fathers said or did. For Schaff, while Luther may have made disparaging comments directed towards the church fathers, these must be considered in the context in which they were made and be balanced with  his "churchly and historical feeling," i.e., those comments he made positively in regard to church tradition and the fathers. This is also hardly the view claimed by the old Catholic Encyclopedia: "Schaff tells us that he consoled himself with exclaiming..." Schaff does not say Luther "consoled himself." Here we see Rome's defenders treating the context of Luther's words as needed, to support... Rome.

Documentation:  "Augustine has Often Erred..."
In Fairness to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Schaff does not document the Luther quote in Saint Augustine, Melanchthon, Neander. Schaff uses the same undocumented quote in a few of his books, so perhaps it was he who popularized it (cf. this book, this book, this book). Schaff uses the quote in a an extended footnote in NPNF 1 with slightly different wording ("wanting in the true faith"), but similarly does not document it. In his History of the Christian Church series, he does though provide documentation:
Augustin did more than all the bishops and popes who cannot hold a candle to him (XXXI. 358 sq.), and more than all the councils (XXV. 341). If he lived now, he would side with us, but Jerome would condemn us (Bindseil, III. 149). Yet with all his sympathy, Luther could not find his “sola fide.” Augustin, he says, has sometimes erred, and is not to be trusted. “Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in the true faith, as well as the other fathers.” “When the door was opened to me for the understanding of Paul, I was done with Augustin” (da war es aus mit ihm. Erl, ed., LXII. 119).
Schaff cites Erl LXII, 119. This source states:

Schaff is citing the Table Talk. The Table Talk is a collection of second hand comments written down by Luther's friends and students, published after his death.  Schaff is relying on the later German version of the Table Talk. This particular statement was originally collected by Veit Dietrich, not in pure German, but rather German with Latin text mixed in. This text reads,

 Here is an English translation of  this older Latin / German version of this Table Talk statement:
No. 347: Augustine at First Devoured, Then Put Aside, Summer or Fall, 1532
“Ever since I came to an understanding of Paul, I have not been able to think well of any doctor [of the church]. They have become of little value to me. At first I devoured, not merely read, Augustine. But when the door was opened for me in Paul, so that I understood what justification by faith is, it was all over with Augustine. There are only two notable assertions in all of Augustine. The first is that when sin is forgiven it does not cease to exist but ceases to damn and control us. The second is that the law is kept when that is forgiven which does not happen. The books of his Confessions teach nothing; they only incite the reader; they are made up merely of examples, but do not instruct. St. Augustine was a pious sinner, for he had only one concubine and one son by her. He was not given much to anger. St. Jerome, like the rest of us—Dr. Jonas, Pomeranus, and me—we are all much more inclined to angry outbursts. Nor do I know which of our doctors today has Augustine’s temperament except Brenz and Justus Menius” [LW 54:49-50, WATR 1:140 (347); cf. alternate English translation of a version of this Table Talk statement].
There are some notable differences between these versions. In the pure German text relied on by Schaff, the entire first paragraph is missing. In this brief paragraph, Luther describes Augustine as an excellent teacher, presenting a defense against the heretical Pelagians, and faithfully teaching God's grace (cf. LW 54: 8, "In his controversy with the Pelagians, Augustine became a strong and faithful defender of grace"). Then comes the section about Paul, Augustine, the Confessions, etc., contained in both versions. The German version is then missing the final section beginning with, "St. Augustine was a pious sinner..."  This is the confusing nature of the Table Talk!

Schaff's documentation appears to only apply to the sentence, "When the door was opened to me for the understanding of Paul, I was done with Augustin" (da war es aus mit ihm). There is similar sentiment in this utterance, but it does not quite match up to what Schaff is citing Luther saying, particularly the quote under scrutiny. The original context nowhere says  "Augustin has often erred, he is not to be trusted." There is the possibility that Schaff did more of a dynamic equivalence sort of translation on the next sentence. If this was the case, Augustine being "good and holy" would correspond to the sentiment expressed in the first paragraph. This though is a stretch. The part about "lacking in true faith as well as the other Fathers" is a little easier to jive with what the text actually says, but this is still a stretch. Wherever Schaff got these two sentences from, they do not appear to be from the Table Talk utterance he's referring to (Erl LXII, 119).

It's interesting what some of Rome's defenders have done with this undocumented Luther quote from Schaff. Some have morphed it together with this other Table Talk utterance. Notice in the following example how Schaff's undocumented Luther quote is pasted together with the above Table Talk statement:

In this version, Schaff's original words "Augustin, he says, has sometimes erred, " have been turned  turn into Luther's direct words! Schaff has also been plagiarized: LW 54: 49 does not include "Augustine has sometimes erred and is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was lacking in the true faith, as well as the other fathers..." The English words appear to be Schaff's. The English translation appears to be unique to his writings.  Numerous examples of Rome's defenders cut-and-pasting this wrongly documented plagiarized mis-quote can be found all over the Internet (example #1example #2, example #3, example #4, etc.).

As of the writing of this entry, I have not been able to locate exactly where Schaff's Luther quote comes from. It appears to be unique to Schaff.  While one may not always agree with Schaff's historical interpretation, he was indeed a well-respected historian. When my detractor above states, "Luther did in fact exalt himself above the Fathers,if Protestant theologian/historian Philip Schaff is to be believed," yes, Schaff is to be believed, but his opinion does not equal historical infallibility. Here we find a great historian using an undocumented quote in multiple books, and then when Schaff did provide documentation for the quote, it's incorrect.

One thing Schaff does say that makes a lot of sense pertinent to all this is,  "Luther's words must not be weighed too nicely, else any and everything can be proven by him, and the most irreconcilable contradictions shown." If one were to rely simply on the Table Talk, this is indeed the case. For instance, consider Luther's 1539 Table Talk statement:
None of the sophists was able to expound the passage, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’ [Rom. 1:17], for they interpreted ‘righteous’ and ‘righteousness’ differently. Except only for Augustine, there was great blindness among the fathers. After the Holy Scriptures, Augustine should especially be read, for he had keen judgment. However, if we turn from the Bible to the commentaries of the fathers, our study will be bottomless (LW 54:352).
Here we find almost the exact opposite sentiment from the quote under scrutiny. There are quite a number of mentions of Augustine in Luther's writings, both negative and favorable. Yes, there were times Luther spoke negatively about Augustine and the Church Fathers, then there were times he did not. If one were step outside a Roman Catholic worldview, if only for a moment, Luther only considered the Scriptures to be infallible. The writings of everyone else, including his own, were not above criticism. This is not exalting oneself, this is placing the correct value on what is to be exalted; the Sacred Scriptures. Did not Augustine himself pen his own Retractationes (corrections)?

Beyond Schaff, I located another historian who uses a similar Luther quote: J.M Audin, History of the Life, Writings, and doctrines of Luther, vol. 2 (1854). This hostile Roman Catholic source says,
"St. Augustine often erred: he cannot be trusted.(2) Many of his writings are worthless.(3) It was a mistake to place him among the saints, for he had not the true faith."(4)
(2) Op. Luth. tom. ii. Jen. Germ. fol. 103; tom. vii. Witt. fol. 353; tom. ii. Alt. fol. 142. Von Menschen-Lehre zu meiden.
(3) Coll. Mens. Lat. torn. ii. p. 34.
(4) 'Enarr. in xlv. cap. Genes, tom. ii. Witt. Germ. p. 227; Alt. p. 1382. 
Notice how Audin placed three sentences together from three different sources! The sentence pertinent to this discussion is the first. It is documented with three references, all pointing to the same section of the same primary source: Von Menschen-Lehre zu meiden. Audin appears to be referring to this section:

This text is from WA 10, II, 89 (cf., Audin's references, Opera 2, 103, Opera 7, 353Alt 2, 142). This is a snippet from Luther's 1522 treatise, Avoiding the Doctrines of Men and a Reply to the texts Cited in Defense of the Doctrines of Men.  What Luther actually says is more involved than what Audin presented. In context, Luther was replying To King Henry's use of the popular quote "I should not  believe the gospel if I did not believe the church" (LW 35:149).  Luther states:
The third text is St. Augustine’s word in his book Against the Fundamental Letter of the Manicheans, which goes like this, “I should not believe the gospel if I did not believe the church [Kirche].”
“Look,” they say, “the church is to be believed more than the gospel.” I answer: Even if Augustine had said so, who gave him the authority that we must believe what he says? What Scriptures does he quote to prove this statement? What if he erred here, as we know that he frequently did, just as did all the fathers? Should one single sentence of Augustine be so mighty as to refute all the texts quoted above? God would not have that; St. Augustine must yield to them (LW 35:150).
A larger context of Luther's remarks can be found here. It does not appear to me that Schaff took his quote from this treatise because I could not find the next sentence, "Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in true faith as well as the other Fathers."


Kevin Failoni said...

Well,of course often Protestants think scholarship begins and ends with Schaff and others. Of course, some of us feel Schaff and others capitulated to RC historians. But why would we trust antichrist at all for their rendition of history. For example, classifying the Paulicians as the heretics, when true study shows them as the church in the wilderness fighting the beast. I know this, the Augustine consensus led to the civil enforcement of orthodoxy and orthopraxy to the point of killing. And the dregs of this infested the thorough going union between church and state with the Reformers, who fought for freedom of conscious at first, but then killed the Anabaptist through the state. My kingdom is not of this world. As far as I'm concerned the harshness of Luther on Augustine is inconsequential. There was enough there to criticize.

zipper778 said...

I find it interesting that Roman Catholics would attack and accuse Luther of being arrogant and prideful, while still acknowledging that he was never considered infallible or on par with Scriptural authority. Even though Luther is someone who may have an influence over someone, yet they turn a blind eye to, let's say Pope Pius IX who when questioned stated, "I am Tradition!"

We have Luther's (who is not considered infallible by anyone) theological statements and they are open for all to review, criticize, or agree if they wish.

Yet with Pope Pius IX, the infallible leader of Roman Catholicism who has not only influence, but also the power to declare (or dare I say change) Roman doctrine as he sees fit is fine when he arrogantly declares himself above all others.

The hypocrisy is astounding.

PeaceByJesus said...

Wow. Where is your book?

And I think you would like this from a Catholic convert attempting to provide an objective correction of extreme accusations against Luther by his comrades?:

zipper778 said...

Kind of a follow-up, it appears that Roman Catholics view the words of Pius IX suspiciously. Many of them seem to say that the "I am Tradition" quote comes from a second hand source and is therefore unverifiable. I'll keep digging into it.