Friday, June 01, 2018

Luther: The Devil Can So Completely Assume the Human Form...'Tis Only the Devil in the Shape of a Woman

Here are a few Martin Luther quotes that appeared on the CARM discussion boards. Luther is said to have believed humans are engaging in sex with devil and producing offspring:
“The Devil can so completely assume the human form, when he wants to deceive us, that we may well lie with what seems to be a woman, of real flesh and blood, and yet all the while ’tis only the Devil in the shape of a woman. ‘Tis the same with women, who may think that a man is in bed with them, yet ’tis only the Devil; and…the result of this connection is oftentimes an imp of darkness, half mortal, half devil….”
“How often have not the demons called ‘Nix’ drawn women and girls into the water, and there had commerce with them, with fearful consequences.” 
Why would someone post these quotes? They appear to have been posted by someone with sympathies to the Mormon church in response to a Lutheran participant. A Lutheran applied 2 Tim. 3:3-4 to Mormonism, saying her members prefer "myths to the truth."  The Mormon then prefaced these Luther quotes by saying,
Before you throw too many more rocks through your glass house in a vain attempt to hit the house next door, a question for you: Are you expecting people to believe that people in YOUR church didn't refer the following myths as the truth? I mean, antis whose own church's founder taught that men and women often have sex with the devil and produce half-human, half-demon children-----isn't that a textbook case of rocks from a glass house, or of criticizing a mote in someone else's eye while the accuser has a phone-pole-sized log in her own eye?????
The argument here is that Lutherans should not criticize Mormon beliefs as myths or tales if in fact the originator of Lutheranism (Martin Luther) believed in myths as well. The argument appears to be that since Luther believed in mythical changelings having sex with humans and producing offspring, there's no basis to criticize anything similarly strange in Mormonism. The argument though doesn't follow: the "myths" being referred to in Mormonism are those found in their books of divine revelation. Luther's "myth" holds no such divine pedigree. Search through the official documents of the Lutheran church, and one will not find doctrinal approval for changelings, Nixes, or half-human-half-demon children. 

What though of these quotes? Did Martin Luther really write the words cited above? Did he really believe that the devil was masquerading as human and producing offspring? Let's take a look at these Luther quotes to determine their authenticity.

No documentation was provided, but the same person posted the quotes here also claiming, "As quoted by John Mark Ministries." I found two web-pages from John Mark Ministries using these quotes. The first page, Quotes From Luther (2003) appears to have been written by the founder of JMM, Rowland Croucher (but I'm not entirely sure). What's interesting is that Croucher(?) listed a number of undocumented Luther quotes taken from someone who had posted them on an open newsgroup. Croucher(?) determined the quotes probably came via this page, from a person that said he "didn't keep track of the exact citations" because he compiled them for his own "amusement." Croucher(?) then goes on to defend Luther, saying at one point, "...we see that these quotes were not collected out of serious or honest interest, but merely for someone’s careless amusement. Thus, the sincerity and reasonableness of both the compilers of the quotes page and the users of these quotes is called into question."  The second JMM page is simply entitled, Martin Luther (2005). This page also contains a number of "shock" undocumented Luther quotes that appear to have been originally posted by someone going by the moniker,"Mark T." The page simply ends with this vague comment, "Despite the previous posts which discredit Martin Luther, all the good that he did for the Christian faith in the first half of the 1500’s. must be remembered." No documentation is provided for the quotes in question from this other web page.

There are a number of books using forms of this quote (example #1, example #2, example #3, example #4, example #5). Based on the form of the quotes and their usage, I suspect they originally came from the English version of  Jules Michelet's nineteenth-century book, The Life of Luther Written By Himself. This book quotes Luther saying,
"The devil can so completely assume the human form, when he wants to deceive us, that we may very well lie with what seems to us a woman, of real flesh and blood, and yet all the while 'tis only the devil in the shape of a woman: Satan, according to St. Paul, has great power over the children of unrighteousness. 'Tis the same with women, who may think it is a man in bed with them, yet 'tis only the devil; and when it is considered that the result of this connexion it oftentimes an imp of darkness, half mortal, half devil, such cases are peculiarly horrible and appalling. How often have not the demons called Nix, drawn women and girls into the water, and there had commerce with them, with like fearful consequences. The devil, too, sometimes steals human children; it is not unfrequent for him to carry away infants within the first six weeks after their birth, and to substitute in their place imps, called in Latin supposititii, and by the Saxons kilkropff. 
Michelet does not document this material (nor does the original French version of this book). In this section, of the sparse documentation given, most of it points to the Tischreden (Table Talk). I suspect Michelet took this quote from one of the earliest published version of the Table Talk, Tischreden oder Colloquia Doct. Mart. Luthers (1566). Elsewhere in the book (French also), Michelet mentions "Tischreden (Table Talk) (Frankfort, 1568)." Here is the 1568 edition. These early editions were put together by someone who knew Luther,  John Aurifaber. LW points out "In this form the Table Talk became widely known" (LW 54, Introduction), so it would make sense that this was the version used by Michelet.  On page 213 of the 1568 edition, the following appears to be the text Michelet drew from:

The same text is found on page 300 in the 1566 edition; the 1570 edition has a clearer scan (see page 272), see also Sämtliche Werke, Volume 60, 37-39, and WATR 3, 517-518.

Almost the entirety of this version of the Table Talk was translated into English by Captain Henry Bell (1652): Dris Martini Lutheri Colloquia Mensalia: Or, Dr Martin Luther's Divine Discourses at His Table, etc. The page in question can be found here (minus the first paragraph). Bell's version of the Table Talk was republished as a two-volume set in the nineteenth century with updated English, but this section was curiously left out (it should fall on pages 128-129). A revised English version of this section though was published in 1827: Table Talk: Or, Selections from the Ana. Containing Extracts from the Different Collections of Ana, French, English, Italian, and German. With Bibliographical Notices. The statement can be found here (also leaving out the first paragraph), and is reproduced below.

The Table Talk was not written by Luther. It's a compilation of remarks Luther is purported to have stated.  I'm not sure Aurifaber actually heard Luther make the comments in question. Aurifaber did not have a lot of personally recorded remarks of Luther's. To publish his edition of the Tischreden, he relied heavily on the notes of others, particularly Anthony Lauterbach's redactions  (see Smith's discussion here). WATR 3, 515-516 (3676) includes a Latin / German entry that has similar characteristics to that presented by Aurifaber, but the source is "Math. L" and also includes a possible date: November or December, 1537. Aurifaber did not begin recording remarks he heard Luther utter until 1545. It is possible though Luther made the same sort of comments twice (if he made them at all), yet Aurifaber's version was heavily redacted and edited. This section appears more like polished narrative.    

Both Aurifaber's version and the parallel statement found in WATR 3 (3676) have been popular because of the strange story the entry relays, a version of the Mélusine myth / or succubus story. The paragraph from Aurifaber (left out of the English translations) specifically says "wie denn die Melusine zu Lucelburg auch ein solcher succubus oder Teufel gewesen ist." That story forms the first part of the Table Talk comment below. A comparison of the collected Mélusine myths though show that the Table Talk version has significant differences, making the comparison seem forced. The majority of the Mélusine stories I found typically denote her as hiding her serpent form. In the Table Talk story, the woman is deceased, but appears to returns to life, then disappears after a particular set of words are spoken.  The similarity appears to be that the Mélusine was considered to be a type of demonic succubus, as was the deceased woman. 

A Gentleman had a fair young wife which died, and was also buried. Not long after, the Gentleman and his servant lying together in one chamber, his dead wife in the night time approached into the chamber, and leaned herself upon the Gentleman's bed, like as if she had been desirous to speak with him. The servant (seeing the same two or three nights one after another) asked his master, whether he knew, that every night a woman, in white apparel, came unto his bed? The Gentleman said. No: I sleep soundly (said he) and see nothing. When night approached, the Gentleman, considering the same, lay waking in bed. Then the woman appeared unto him, and came hard to his bed-side. The Gentleman demanded who she was? She answered, I am your wife. He said. My wife is dead and buried. She said. True: by reason of your swearing and sins I died; but if you would take me again, and would also abstain from swearing one particular oath, which commonly you use, then would I be your wife again. He said, I am content to perform what you desire. Whereupon his dead wife remained with him, ruled his house, lay with him, ate and drank with him, and had children together. Now it fell out, that on a time the Gentleman had guests, and his wife after supper was to fetch out of his chest some banqueting stuff: she staying somewhat long, her husband (forgetting himself) was moved thereby to swear his accustomed oath; whereupon the woman vanished that instant. Now seeing she returned not again, they went up into the chamber to see what was become of her. There they found the gown which she wore, half lying within the chest, and half without; but she was never seen afterwards. This did the Devil, (said Luther) he can transform himself into the shape of a man or woman.
The Prince Elector of Saxony (John Frederick,) having received advertisement of this strange accident, sent thereupon presently unto me (said Luther,) to have my opinion what I held of that woman, and of the children which were begotten of these two persons? Whereupon I wrote to his Highness, that in my opinion, neither that woman, nor those children, were right human creatures, but devils; for the devil casteth before the eyes a blaze, or a mist, and so deceiveth the people; insomuch that one thinketh he lieth by a right woman, and yet is no such matter; for, as St Paul saith, the devil is strong by the children of unbelief. But inasmuch as children, or devils, are conceived in such sort, the same are very horrible and fearful examples, in that Satan can plague and so torment people, as to beget children. Like unto this is it also with that which they call the Nix, in the water, who draweth people unto him, as maids and virgins, of whom he begetteth (devils) children. The devil can also steal children away, (as sometimes children within the space of six weeks after their birth are lost,) and other children, called Supposititii, or Changelings, laid in their places. Of the Saxons they are called Killcrops.
There is a tedious fact about the first quote worth mentioning. From an examination of Aurifaber's German text, the English Table Talk translations, and Michelet's original French version,  it appears the English translator of Michelet, William Hazlitt,  took some liberties with the French text by adding a sentence. The French text reads,
Le diable peut se changer en homme ou en femme pour tromper, de telle manière qu'on croit être couché avec une femme en chair et en os, et qu'il n'en est rien; car, suivant le mot de saint Paul, le diable est bien fort avec les fils de l'impiété. Comme il en résulte souvent des enfans ou des diables, ces exemples sont effrayans et horribles. C'est ainsi que ce qu'on appelle le nix, attire dans l'eau les vierges ou les femmes pour créer des diablotins. Le diable peut aussi dérober des enfans; quelquefois dans les six premières semaines de leur naissance, il enlève à leur mère ces pauvres créatures pour en substituer à leur place d'autres, nommés supposititii, et par les Saxons, kilkropff.
The English translator (Hazlitt) appears to have added, "'Tis the same with women, who may think it is a man in bed with them, yet 'tis only the devil." This addition does no actual harm to the gist of the French text (Hazlitt does say he added to Michelet's work), but this sentence is also not found in Aurifaber's German account.  In regard to the overall account, Aurifaber's version of the Table Talk was already heavily edited and pieced together (see Smith's explanation of this redacted version), so Hazlitt has added yet another layer to an already suspect narrative. Interestingly, Hazlitt included the Mélusine tale / Succubus Myth in his English version of the Table Talk, minus Luther's comments (see Addendum #1 below).

There is another tedious problem. I see some ambiguity as to whose story it actually is. The German text states, "Doctor Martin Luther sagte, „daß er selbs von H. Johanns Friederich, Kurfürsten zu Sachsen, eine Historien geHort hätte." Bell's translation states, "In Germanie (faid Luther) was heretofore a Noble Familie, which were born of a succubus, and fell out thus..." Hazlitt states, "Dr. Luther said he had heard from the elector of Saxony, John Frederic, that a powerful family in Germany was descended from the devil, the founder having been born of a succubus. He added this story..." Is the story from John Frederick or Luther?

I've actually been through some of these quotes previously (2013), probably because of comments from the same Mormon-leaning CARM participant. In 2013, one of the sources being used was the Internet article, Changelings An Essay by D. L. Ashliman, 1997. This author stated,  "Luther was very much a product of his own times with respect to superstitious beliefs and practices." This should come as no surprise. For instance, a "Nix" appears to be a type of water-demon, something a German boy would learn about as a child. Luther held to a lot of odd beliefs that were part of the medieval culture in which he lived. 

Is it possible Luther made the comments reported in the Table Talk? Yes, but the version in the Table Talk appears heavily edited to form a compelling account woven together with a folk tale (especially when compared to WATR 3, 3676). While Luther may have had medieval views like those found in Aurifaber's Tischreden account, it's interesting to see the caution Luther had in interpreting the "sons of God" and the Nephilim of Genesis 6. This would be the perfect opportunity to speculate on beings from the spiritual realm cohabiting humans.  Luther refers to the "sons of God" being those who "fell away from the worship and Word of God and became entirely worldly, with the result that they corrupted not only the church but also the state and the home" (LW 2:32). The "giants" that were born were "arrogant men who usurped both the government and the priesthood" (Ibid.). They were giants in the sense of being "not men of huge mass of body, as in the passage in Numbers, but unruly and mischievous men, the way the poets depict the Cyclopes, who fear neither God nor men but pursue only their own desires and rely on their own power and strength" (LW 2:34). There is also a contrast with "the true sons of God, namely, Noah with his children" (LW 2:37).

As I've looked at this, the majority of proof for Luther's view relies solely on the Table TalkThe Table Talk is not something Luther wrote, it's statements Luther is purported to have said. Often, the contexts do not say enough to establish Luther's dogmatic lifelong opinion on a particular subject. Luther does make passing comments about changelings elsewhere (LW 47:254, 260, and LW 24:92-93). To simply demonstrate the incongruity with the second-hand nature of the Table Talk and more legitimate texts from Luther, note the following. In the quotes under scrutiny, the union of devil and human is said to produce "an imp of darkness, half mortal, half devil…." Elsewhere though,  Luther denies the Devil can beget human children. In his exposition of Genesis 6, Luther stated:
Moses simply calls the sons of the patriarchs, to whom the promise of the Seed was given, "sons of God"; they were the true church. When they yielded to the seductions of the Cainite church, they also proceeded to gratify the desires of the flesh and to take wives from the Cainite race, likewise concubines, as many as they wanted and whomever they chose. Lamech and Noah observed this with grief; and for this reason, perhaps, they married rather late (LW 2:10).
Here, too, the Jews come up with a variety of foolish ideas. They describe the sons of God as incubi from which that notorious and ungodly race was begotten; they further maintain that the sons of God are given this name because of their spiritual nature. The less extreme among them, on the other hand, prove these foolish ideas to be false and describe the 'sons of God' as the sons of the mighty. Lyra neatly disposes also of this idea by pointing out that the punishment of the Flood was not a punishment upon the mighty alone, but upon all flesh, just as the punishment of the Last Day will be.
So far as incubi and succubi are concerned, I do not deny, but believe, that the devil may happen to be either a succubus or an incubus; for I have heard many relate their very own experiences. Augustine, too, declares that he heard the same sort of story from trustworthy people whom he felt compelled to believe. It delights Satan if he can delude us by taking on the appearance either of a young man or of a woman. But that anything can be born from the union of a devil and a human being is simply untrue. Such an assertion is sometimes made about hideous infants that resemble demons very much. I have seen some of these. But I am convinced either that these were deformed, but not begotten, by the devil, or that they are actual devils with flesh that they have either counterfeited or stolen from somewhere else. If with God's permission the devil can take possession of an entire human being and change his disposition, what would be so remarkable about his misshaping the body and bringing about the birth of either blind or crippled children?" (LW 2:10-11) (alternate English text).
Addendum #1: William Hazlitt's Table Talk Version of the Succubus Myth
Dr. Luther said he had heard from the elector of Saxony, John Frederic, that a powerful family in Germany was descended from the devil, the founder having been born of a succubus. He added this story: A gentleman had a young and beautiful wife, who, dying, was buried. Shortly afterwards, this gentleman and one of his servants sleeping in the same chamber, the wife, who was dead, came at night, bent over the bed of the gentleman, as though she were conversing with him, and, after awhile, went away again. The servant, having twice observed this circumstance, asked his master whether he knew that, every night, a woman, clothed in white, stood by his bed-side. The master replied, that he had slept soundly, and had observed nothing of the sort. The next night, he took care to remain awake. The woman came, and he asked her who she was, and what she wanted. She answered, that she was his wife. He returned: my wife is dead and buried. She answered, she had died by reason of his sins, but that if he would receive her again, she would return to him in life. He said, if it were possible, he should be well content. She told him he must undertake not to swear, as he was wont to do; for that if he ever did so, she should once more die, and permanently quit him. He promised this, and the dead woman, returning to seeming life, dwelt with him, ate, drank, and slept with him, and had children by him. One day that he had guests, his wife went to fetch some cakes from an adjoining apartment, and remained a long time absent. The gentleman grew impatient, and broke out into his old oaths. The wife not returning, the gentleman, with his friends, went to seek her, but she had disappeared; only, the clothes she had worn lay on the floor. She was never again seen. (link)

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