Thursday, August 02, 2018

Luther: "Idiots, the Lame, the blind, the Dumb, are Men in Whom the Devils have Established Themselves"

Here's a Martin Luther quote that appeared on the CARM discussion boards:

“Idiots, the lame, the blind, the dumb, are men in whom the devils have established themselves: and all the physicians who heal these infirmities, as though they proceeded from natural causes, are ignorant blockheads….”

This quote appears to have been posted by someone with sympathies to the Mormon church in response to a Lutheran participant (see my previous entry for details). The point for using it is to defend Mormonism. In another place the same person states, "...demons causing diseases, etc. like much of Christendom used to believe.? I dunno if there is an official LDS doctrine on that. Maybe we are allowed to have opinions on it. But if you wanna talk about Luther, the founder of the Reformation, he certainly believed that demons were responsible for all kinds of stuff that most today would call wacky superstition."

Did Luther think the Devil was responsible for the condition of "idiots, the lame, the blind, the dumb"?  Let's take a look at this Luther quote to determine its authenticity.

No documentation was provided, but the same person posted the quote here also claiming, "As quoted by John Mark Ministries." I found two web-pages from John Mark Ministries using this quote. 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 this quote (simply try a quick Google search).  I contend that the main English source for this quote is William Hazlitt's translation of  Jules Michelet, The Life of Luther Written By Himself, p. 321 . Michelet's English text reads,
Idiots, the lame, the blind, the dumb, are men in whom devils have established themselves; and all the physicians who heal these infirmities, as though they proceeded from natural causes, are ignorant blockheads, who know nothing about the power of the demon." (14th July, 1528.) 
Michelet's text was originally in French:
Les fous, les boiteux, les aveugles, les muets sont des hommes chez qui les démons se sont établis. Les médecins qui traitent ces infirmités, comme ayant des causes naturelles, sont des ignorans qui ne connaissent point toute la puissance du démon. » (14 juillet 1528.) 
The French text provides documentation:  "Il y a des lieux. — Ibid. 212." The "Ibid." refers to the Tischreden, or Table Talk. I suspect Michelet used an early copy. Here is page 212  from the 1568 edition.  The text reads, 

The same text can be found in Sämtliche Werke 60:31 and also in WATR 2:387. To my knowledge, this complete Table Talk comment has not been translated into English. 

A minor issue with the quote is that it is a statement Luther is purported to have made. It is not something he actually wrote as part of a detailed treatise or exposition. The Table Talk is a collection of second hand comments written down by Luther's friends and students, published after his death. Since the statements contained therein are purported to have been made by Luther, they should serve more as corroborating second-hand testimony to something Luther is certain to have written. 

The major problem with the quote is that it appears Michelet took liberties with the text. Certainly Luther is recorded as saying, "Also muß ich auck sagen, daß viel Taube, Lahme, Blinde :c. aus Bosheit des Teufels also seien" in the second paragraph. The next sentence though, "and all the physicians who heal these infirmities, as though they proceeded from natural causes, are ignorant blockheads…" is a little harder to find in the context. Nothing immediately jumps out as this being the context Michelet used in the continuing paragraphs. In fact, in the third paragraph, Luther says  that evil angels inflict the human race with diseases, but God in his mercy provides medicines to alleviate suffering.

The solution appears to be that Michelet utilized the first paragraph for the later part of the quote.  Luther opens by saying that physicians often attribute everything to natural causes, ignoring the fact that the Devil can be behind certain illnesses. They do not know how powerful the Devil actually is.  Luther says physicians even attempt to soothe the conditions with medicines, but do not realize the real cause behind such conditions: the Devil. Luther goes on to point out that this is the testimony of Scripture as well (Acts 10:38) (consider also, Luke 8:26-39; Luke 9:37-40; Matthew 12:22; Matthew 4:23-25).

I do not see in this context where Luther refers to physicians as "ignorant blockheads.  He is recorded as saying, "daß sie nicht wissen, wie mächtig und gewaltig der Teufel ift." This doesn't have the same polemical value as "ignorant blockheads." maybe "blockheads" was an interpretive English rendering from Hazlitt? Michelet's original French text says, "Les médecins qui traitent ces infirmités, comme ayant des causes naturelles, sont des ignorans qui ne connaissent point toute la puissance du démon." Hazlitt seems to have amped up the quote by using the word, "blockheads."

Michelet concocted a quote by taking a sentence from the second paragraph then following it up with a sentence from the first paragraph, and also ignored the entirety of the context. Hazlitt added "blockheads."

Luther was not entirely against medical doctors. Consider the following Table Talk statement:
No. 360: Medicine May Be Used to Cure Disease Fall, 1532
 “I believe that in all grave illnesses the devil is present as the author and cause. First, he is the author of death. Second, Peter says in Acts that those who were oppressed by the devil were healed by Christ. Moreover, Christ cured not only the oppressed but also the paralytics, the blind, etc. Generally speaking, therefore, I think that all dangerous diseases are blows of the devil. For this, however, he employs the instruments of nature. So a thief dies by the sword, Satan corrupts the qualities and humors of the body, etc. God also employs means for the preservation of health, such as sleep, food, and drink, for he does nothing except through instruments. So the devil also injures through appropriate means. When a fence leans over a little, he knocks it all the way down to the ground.
 “Accordingly a physician is our Lord God’s mender of the body, as we theologians are his healers of the spirit; we are to restore what the devil has damaged. So a physician administers theriaca [antidote] when Satan gives poison. Healing comes from the application of nature to the creature, for medicine is divinely revealed and not derived from books, even as knowledge of law is not from books but is drawn from nature. It’s remarkable that a prince is sure to find effective the medicines which he administers to himself but finds ineffective what his physician prescribes. So both electors have eye drops which help when they take them, no matter whether their affliction is caused by heat or cold, but a physician wouldn’t dare prescribe the drops. It’s so in theology too. Philip lifts up my spirit with a mere word. If Eck or Zwingli said the same thing, it would dash me to the ground. It’s our Lord God who created all things, and they are good. Wherefore it’s permissible to use medicine, for it is a creature of God. 
“Thus I replied to Hohndorf, who inquired of me when he heard from Karlstadt that it’s not permissible to make use of medicine. I said to him, ‘Do you eat when you’re hungry?’ (LW 54:53-54) 
In researching this quote, I  came across a discussion from 2012. A blogger going by "The Cartesian Theist" called out an atheist for using this undocumented quote in a video. The atheist responded. Neither of these bloggers found the source in their respected entries (though it may be buried in their comments section).


PeaceByJesus said...

Seeing the trad. Cath response to the latest use the wand of Francis, (Francis has ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" -, then they are sounding more and more toward their pope as some have Luther saying towards doctors. Or even as a man in whom the devils have established themselves.

Leadership can go South, but Scripture does not.

Anonymous said...

Dear James,

I have heard it said by Roman Catholic apologists the Martin Luther taught that man had no free will. Is there any truth to that claim?


James Swan said...

Luther wasn't the sort of person who tried to figure out exactly all the nuances of the human will.

Basically For Luther, we are free in horizontal relationships, that is, person to person (choosing things like food or spouses), but the will is bound in its vertical relationship with God, it's bound and enslaved away from choosing God. We are all born with a severe defiance in the heart against God. One will never move toward God without first being set free by God.