Thursday, June 01, 2023

Bad Arguments Against Roman Catholicism

Have you ever considered the cogency of your argumentation? I began this blog back in late 2005. It served primarily as a place in which to keep track of my interactions with Roman Catholicism and my theological endeavors. Now almost two decades later, here is a reflection on those lines of reasoning I think are the least meaningful in engaging Rome's defenders. They are in no particular order, nor is this list exhaustive. 

1. The Pope is the Antichrist, or Rome is the "Whore of Babylon" etc.
I was raised in a period when many took Hal Lindey's The Late Great Planet Earth seriously. This also coincided with Jack Chick tracts and comic books ("Alberto"). It wasn't all that long ago that Dave Hunt released his opus, The Woman Rides The Beast. The belief that the Pope is the antichrist and the Roman church plays prominently in Revelation may seem like the meanderings of the Schwärmerei, but it was also included originally in the Westminster Confession of Faith and some of the Reformers were convinced of it (the Reformers were not the first but were preceded by the Joachimites). Generally, Protestants in the historicist tradition of end times interpretation identified the papacy in Revelation. My two cents: First, arguing that the Papacy is embedded in eschatology is speculative. There is no certain way to know that it fulfills prophecy... until prophecy is fulfilled. Second, the exact interpretation of the culmination of the events of the world, while important, is not the main issue of division between Roman Catholic theology and the church of Jesus Christ... the Gospel is. 

2. Abuse Scandals
Abuse scandals can certainly serve as good examples of hierarchical subterfuge in any organization that claims a lofty pedigree of divine favor. The Reformers had no problem using scandal and abuse as arguments against Rome. The scandals pointed to greater doctrinal issues that played a key role in perpetuating ecclesiastical abuse. My two cents: The problem is that using abuse scandals as an apologetic argument against Rome forces one to explain abuse scandals within various Protestant churches. If it is argued that an abuse scandal proves that Rome is not the ultimate infallible authority, how does one avoid this contrary: abuse scandals within Protestantism prove that the Bible cannot function as an infallible authority? If the argument you're using works against your own position, you've refuted yourself as well. Simply saying "Well, they've got more than us" is not a logically good response: truth is not determined by a head count. 

3. Executing Heretics
Similar to abuse scandals, it is true that many have lost their lives at the hands of the Roman church. Some of Rome's defenders are simply waiting for the inquisition or some similar horror to be mentioned so they can then mention the intolerance of the early Reformers or the Salem Witch trials. To complicate it more, Rome's defenders and Protestants have to grapple with the violence recorded in the historical sections of the Bible.  My two cents: like abuse scandals, ff the argument you're using works against your own position, you've refuted yourself as well. Simply saying "Well, they've got more than us" is not a logically good response: truth is not determined by a head count. 

4. Theotokos: Mother of God
Some of the silliest dialogues with Rome's defenders is over the phrase, "Mother of God." Rome's defenders may employee a method of attempting to back people into affirming Christological heresies if the title "Mother of God" is denied. My Two Cents: The term has evolved in its usage. What was once a rich theological term expressing a doctrinal truth about Christ developed into a sweeping venerating praise to Mary. One should affirm the former and deny the excessive veneration of the later, reclaiming the etymological essence of "Mother of God." 

5. Big Ornate Buildings
As the argument goes, the Papacy has a lot of money... rather than helping the poor with all their resources, they waste their finances constructing large ornate buildings, therefore, Rome is a false church.  My two cents:  Similarly, some Protestant churches have big buildings and a lot of money (this has provoked the house church movement). Unless one is personally willing to embrace absolute asceticism and only be part of religious organizations doing similarly, I don't see how one can consistently make the argument that Rome is a false church because of excessive wealth.  

6. Church history previous to the Reformation was "Roman Catholic"
Some of Rome's defenders think all of church history previous to the sixteenth century was completely "catholic" and then Protestantism was born, having their first day of church history on October 31, 1517. Similarly, some non-Roman Catholics think that all of church history between the closing of the New Testament canon and the sixteenth century Reformation was the history of apostate Roman Catholicism and should be thrown out. In its place, only the Bible should be cited against Romanism. My two cents: While responding to Rome's claims with the Bible has precedent, the history of the church from its inception to the Reformation period is not the sole property of Rome's defenders. It is the history of the church, not the Roman church. Understanding how earlier generations of Christians understood and applied the Bible can be a valuable tool in taking apart Rome's claims to having a pure apostolic "Tradition."  

7. Arguing against a particular Roman apologist rather than an official statement
It can be invigorating dismantling a Roman Catholic apologist, sifting through their arguments and stopping their shell game of hiding their ultimate authority. Therefore, when one defeats a Roman Catholic apologist, one has defeated Rome. My two cents: Many (if not most) of Rome's defenders are self-proclaimed Roman Catholic apologists: the Pope has not sanctioned them to venture into cyberspace and tap away on their keyboards to defend the Roman church. Therefore, if you are engaging in a dialog with a defender of Rome, you are not necessarily doing apologetics against Roman Catholicism, but rather, an interpretation of Roman Catholicism.  Whenever possible, ask Rome's defenders to document their points with official dogmatic pronouncements from the magisterium. If they attempt to interact with you over the Bible, make sure to challenge them to document their use of the Bible with Rome's official dogmatic interpretation of the passage being utilized.  Similarly with history: say a defender of Rome makes a declaration about Martin Luther, make sure to inquire if it's their opinion, or an official historical conclusion of the Magisterium.

8. Honoring other Christians
Rome's defenders have developed an excessive system of honoring specific people (i.e., people from the Bible and those from church history deemed, "saints"). Seeing the excessive nature of their honoring system and its tie to the Treasury of merit, some react by throwing out "honor" all together.  My two cents: "Honor" does not necessarily have to mean "praying to" or utilizing the Treasury of merit. One can honor those who came before us, whether in the Bible or in subsequent church history. I have no problem saying Mary deserves honor as an important person in the Bible... and so does Moses, Abraham, Noah, Peter, Paul, Stephen, etc. I honor the life and work of Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Spurgeon... and, Dr. R.C. Sproul! I also am keenly aware of honoring those still active in defending the church.   

9. Anything written by a Roman Catholic is wrong
Rome's defenders have written something so it must be wrong or not utilized... even if it is being put out by Catholic Answers or some of the lowest hanging fruit of Roman Catholic apologetics. My two cents: While difficult to do (and I've failed many times), the arguments Rome's defenders are putting forth should be evaluated first before engaging in personal polemic. Recently I read an article from Catholic Answers defending the immaculate conception of Mary. While I disagreed with their premise of Mary's immaculate conception and their conclusion of how it answers a modern theological dilemma of a young girl becoming pregnant with the Messiah, I was challenged by their question of how one should respond when Mary's conception of the Messiah is placed in the same realm as Muhammed having seven-year-old girls as wives. In other words, I did not dismiss the article entirely because it positively argued for the immaculate conception of Mary. 

10. Protestants believe in justification by faith, Roman Catholics believe they are saved by works
This may be the most important bad argument presented.  It is paralleled by Roman Catholics who think Protestants believe they are saved by faith, and works do not matter at all (antinomianism). My two cents: Roman Catholics do not deny the role of faith in salvation, nor do Protestants deny the role of works in salvation. The debate is over their relationship. Both Protestants and Roman Catholics believe in justification by faith... which is why I rarely say "justification by faith." Rather, I say "justification by faith... alone." "Alone" is the sine qua non of the phrase, placing justification in the complete works of Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Catholic Answers on Luther's View of the Immaculate Conception

Catholic Answers posted an article defending their belief that Mary was entirely without sin, particularly when detractors question the impregnation of a teenage girl. While Martin Luther's view of the immaculate conception was only a passing comment, it represents a change in typical Roman Catholic cyber-treatments of the Reformer's Mariology. Apologist Trent Horn writes,  

Some Protestants might say that at best, this proves only that Mary was free from sin at the Annunciation, not necessarily since her conception. Martin Luther, for example, moved away from belief in the Immaculate Conception, but even in 1540, he said with regard to the Annunciation, “The flesh and blood of Mary were entirely purged, so that nothing of sin remained.” In response, I would just say that it seems arbitrary to say God chose this moment to give Mary grace rather than at any other moment and that the angel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace,” signifies that her being full of grace was a part of her identity even before the announcement about the Incarnation.
Let's take a look at the citation used and conclusion reached by Mr. Horn of Catholic Answers.

Other than the date 1540, no meaningful documentation is provided. The quote is from an English rendering of Luther's Disputation On the Divinity and Humanity of Christ (February 27, 1540). The Latin text can be found in WA 39.2:107.

This writing has been available online for many years via Project Wittenberg. This disputation has been included in LW 73, with the quote found at LW 73:267-268 (utilized below). The English translation in LW 73 was done by the same person who did the web version on Project Wittenberg.  

Argument 10
Every man is corrupted by original sin and has concupiscence. Christ had neither concupiscence nor original sin. Therefore he is not a man.
Response: I make a distinction with regard to the major premise. Every man is corrupted by original sin, with the exception of Christ. Every man who is not a divine Person, as is Christ, has concupiscence, but the man Christ has none, because he is a divine Person, and in [his] conception the flesh and blood of Mary were entirely purged, so that nothing of sin remained. Therefore Isaiah says rightly, "There was no guile found in his mouth" [Isa. 53:9]; otherwise, every seed except for Mary's was corrupted.
Mr. Horn rightly says that Luther "moved away from belief in the Immaculate Conception." I would qualify this though by saying: Luther didn't just "move away" from it, he ceased believing it. It appears earlier in his life he accepted it, later in his life he did not.

If the sands of cyber time were reversed, this same quote, and others, were used by some of Rome's defenders to prove Luther held a lifelong belief in the immaculate conception of Mary!  It would be interesting to know what sources Mr. Horn used on Luther's view of the immaculate conception. Back in the early 2000's, it was common to find Roman Catholic webpages using Luther's statements about Mary as an apologetic tool against Protestants. I do not find the same amount of these webpages today. It seems to me the newer generation of Rome's defenders have learned from the errors of the older generation... of perhaps... they are better at using Google! 

Monday, May 15, 2023

St. John Chrysostom: “If you knew how quickly people would forget you after your death, you would not seek in your life to please anyone but God”... or Allah?

This quote from John Chrysostom has been making the cyber-rounds. I suspect most people rightly resonate with the profound depth of the words. My first reaction though was.... great quote... where exactly did John Chrysostom write this? What source does this quote come from?

A cursory search produced a seemingly complete absence of documentation of the quote in this particular English form. The quote in this form seems recent to the last few years. 

 A curious version also circulating states, "If you knew how fast people would forget you after death, you would not live your life to please anyone but Allah." This English version seems to predate the Chrysostom English version, but not by all that many years. It also appears to be cited much more by those devoted to Islam.

Without finding any meaningful documentation, the quote may be someone's commentary of what either John Chrysostom wrote or what Islam teaches. It is within the realm of possibility that both quotes developed independently of each other, but that the English versions are so similar points towards a common source.  Someone borrowed from someone! 

For my friends familiar with the extant writings of John Chrysostom, I would be interested in any leads as to anything sounding vaguely familiar in his writings (for instance, note some of the similarities in this quote). For those of you knowledgeable of Islam: where do you think the quote comes from?  Do you think a Christian plagiarized an Islamic source? 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Peter Kreeft: Luther Was Simply Right About Faith Alone?

I've come across this quote from Roman Catholic author Peter Kreeft a number of times over the years:

"How do I resolve the Reformation? ​ Is it faith alone that justifies, or is it faith and works?​ Very simple. No tricks.​ On this issue I believe Luther was simply right; and this issue is absolutely crucial. ​ As a Catholic I feel guilt for the tragedy of Christian disunity because the church in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was failing to preach the gospel.​ Whatever theological mistakes Luther made, whatever indispensable truths about the Church he denied, here is an indispensable truth he affirmed — indispensable to union between all sinners and God and union between God’s separated Catholic and Protestant children."​

It is interesting to find a Roman Catholic author saying anything nice about either the Reformation or Martin Luther... but the quote just seems too good to be true. Based on the context below, I would caution Protestants from utilizing this quote from Peter Kreeft because... it is too good to be true. There are indeed "tricks" going on. 

The version above was cut-and-pasted from an Internet discussion forum. It was posted without any documentation. Kreeft's comment appears in a published book: Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (San Fransico: Ignatius Press, 1998). Via Google books, the quote can be found here and here

The fourth issue is the most crucial of all. It is the issue that sparked the Reformation, and it is the issue that must spark reunion too. It is, of course, the issue of faith, of faith and works, of justification by faith. 
This is the root issue because the essence of the gospel is at stake here. How do I get right with God? This was the issue of the first century church at Galatia, a church Protestants see as making the same essential mistake as the Catholics-preaching the gospel of good works. Protestants dare not compromise on this issue or they would be turning to what Paul calls "another gospel". Thus his harsh words to the Galatians, the only church for which he has not one word of praise: 
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel-not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed." 
How do I resolve the Reformation? Is it faith alone that justifies, or is it faith and good works? Very simple. No tricks. On this issue I believe Luther was simply right; and this issue is absolutely crucial. As a Catholic I feel guilt for the tragedy of Christian disunity because the church in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was failing to preach the gospel. Whatever theological mistakes Luther made, whatever indispensable truths about the Church he denied, here is an indispensable truth he affirmed-indispensable to union between all sinners and God and to union between God's separated Catholic and Protestant children. 
Much of the Catholic Church has not yet caught up with Luther; and, for that matter, much of Protestantism has regressed from him. The churches are often found preaching one of two "other gospels": the gospel of old-fashioned legalism or the gospel of new-fangled humanism. The first means making points with God and earning your way into heaven, the second means being nice to everybody so that God will be nice to you. The churches, Protestant and Catholic, may also preach the true Christian gospel, but not often enough and not clearly enough and often watered down and mixed with one of these two other gospels. And the trouble with "other gospels" is simply that they are not true: they don't work, they don't unite man with God, they don't justify.
No failing could be more serious; but on the Catholic side, as distinct from the liberal Protestant side, it is a failing in practice, not doctrine. When this happens, the Catholic Church fails to preach its own gospel. It is sitting on a dynamite keg and watering the fuse; it is keeping a million dollar bank account and drawing out only pennies. Catholicism as well as Protestantism affirms the utterly free, gratuitous gift of forgiving grace in Christ, free for the taking, which taking is faith. Good works can be only the fruit of faith, flowing freely as a response to the new life within, not laboriously, to buy into heaven. 
But there are two important verbal misunderstandings in the Reformation controversy over faith and works. First, when the Council of Trent affirmed, contrary to Luther, that good works contribute to salvation, it meant by salvation not just getting to heaven but the whole process of being transformed and becoming incorporated into the life of God. In other words, salvation meant not just justification but sanctification as well; and it was quite correct to say that both faith and works contribute to sanctification, thus to salvation. 
Second, Catholic and Protestant theologians mean different things by the word faith. Protestants usually follow biblical usage: faith means saving faith, the heart or will accepting Christ. Catholics usually follow a more technical philosophical and theological usage: faith means the act of the mind, prompted by the will, which accepts Christ's teachings as true. In Protestant language, faith means heart faith, or whole-person faith; in Catholic language, faith means mind faith. Thus, Catholic theologians are right to deny justification by faith alone in that sense (which of course was not Luther's sense). For "the devils also believe, and tremble." in this narrower sense faith can exist without the works of love; as James writes, "Faith without works is dead." In the larger sense, faith cannot exist without works, for it includes works as a plant includes its own blossoms.

I see only one positive aspects of this quote: Kreeft espouses 20th Century ecumenism embracing (a position taken by a number of Roman Catholic scholars) not placing the entirety of blame for the Reformation on Luther. Rome's laymen often say the opposite: Luther was completely responsible for everything. Other than that, I would caution Protestants from utilizing this quote from Peter Kreeft. Here are my reasons. 

1. Peter Kreft is putting forth theological confusion by inferring the Protestant Reformers had the same Gospel, but Rome's error was that they were not preaching this agreed upon Gospel in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I've mentioned a number of times on this blog over the years, Rome did not have an official dogmatic pronouncement on justification previous to the Council of Trent: 
Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a 'nude imputation' that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification. [Jaraslov Pelikan, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation [New York: Harper and Row, 1964, 51-52].
All the more tragic, therefore, was the Roman reaction on the front which was most important to the reformers, the message and teaching of the church. This had to be reformed according to the word of God; unless it was, no moral improvement would be able to alter the basic problem. Rome’s reactions were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone—a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers—Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition [Jaroslav Pelikan, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism (New York: Abingdon Press, 1959), pp. 51-52].
2. Kreeft puts forth an ecumenical hodge podge statement attempting to portray an agreement between Rome and Luther: "Catholicism as well as Protestantism affirms the utterly free, gratuitous gift of forgiving grace in Christ, free for the taking, which taking is faith. Good works can be only the fruit of faith, flowing freely as a response to the new life within, not laboriously, to buy into heaven." What exactly is Kreeft saying?  Further down he clarifies he's putting forth pure Romanism: 
First, when the Council of Trent affirmed, contrary to Luther, that good works contribute to salvation, it meant by salvation not just getting to heaven but the whole process of being transformed and becoming incorporated into the life of God. In other words, salvation meant not just justification but sanctification as well; and it was quite correct to say that both faith and works contribute to sanctification, thus to salvation.
This is not Reformation theology! In Luther's thought, being justified before God was on the basis of a perfect righteousness (Christ's) that is not one's own. One is not sanctified to eventual justification finally completed after being purified in purgatory. 

3. Kreeft then launches into a discussion of the term "faith" positing that Protestants use the word as defined by the Bible, while Roman Catholics use the word defined by philosophy and theology! I can only speculate he added "theology" as some sort of jab at Protestants clinging to Sola Scriptura while Rome's defenders have more than one infallible authority to "theologize" from (Tradition and the Magisterium). 

4. It's true that Trent says that faith is needed to be justified, but Trent did not affirm that faith alone justifies. The Protestant Reformers held that faith is placed in the works of another: Christ's works, and only those works serve as a basis for a right standing before God. In Protestant theology, the fruit of works are a response of gratitude that one has been justified. One's works are not done in the process of being eventually justified. 

5. Kreeft says "Good works can be only the fruit of faith, flowing freely as a response to the new life within." That seems "Protestant" enough until one reads his eventual clarification. He mentions James writing "faith without works is dead" and adds, "faith cannot exist without works, for it includes works as a plant includes its own blossoms." Using his own analogy, in Roman Catholic theology, one is a plant growing into an eventual justified blossom! 

Here's an interesting YouTube link in which Scott Hahn wrote Peter Kreeft about this very issue. In the letter, Kreeft says (at around 1:40) that he "confused the truth in Luther, sola gratia, with the untruth, sola fide." 

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

"Tradition" reposted


Originally written in April of 2016.  Reposting now with an important link to Scott Hahn's testimony restored.

μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων

 "And in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men" Mark 7:7


ἀφέντες τὴν ἐντολὴν τοῦ θεοῦ κρατεῖτε τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων

 "leaving/abandoning the commandment of God, you are holding onto the traditions of men"

Mark 7:8

 The Aorist participle of "leaving"/ "neglecting" / "abandoning" (aphentes- αφεντες, from aphiaemi αφιημι ) seems to be contrasted with the present active verb of "holding onto" ( κρατειτε )- because they are so focused on teaching as doctrine, the commandments of men (verse 7), or they are so focused on holding onto their own man-made traditions (8b), it caused them to neglect, abandon, leave the commandment of God (the word of God, the Scriptures).  Or, it could be an adverbial participle of means or manner, modifying the way they are holding onto the traditions of man - "by abandoning" or "by neglecting" . . . "you are holding onto". Or it could be a causal participle, "because you neglected the commandment of God, you are holding onto the traditions of man".  Or it could be a temporal participle:  "while neglecting the commandment of God" or "after neglecting the commandment of God".   Any of these three fit the context.  This is exactly what the church started doing little by little in history.

 It is interesting to me that the word for "leaving" ("abandoning" or "neglecting") is also the word used in Revelation 2:4 - "you have left your first love"
ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὅτι τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκες "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love"

Matthew 23:23 - "you have neglected the weightier provisions of the law . . . "

Dr. Plummer pointed out in the video that this word, aphiaemi / αφιημι - has a wide range of meaning, many times, in context, it means "to forgive" sins, and other times "to divorce", but you can see the idea of "leaving", "abandoning", "neglecting", "forsaking" in the basic concept.

This is what the Roman Catholic Church did in history, by clinging to man-man traditions and holding onto them, they neglected and abandoned important doctrines such as justification by faith alone; and emphasized Mary too much and exalted her too much, and created doctrines such as Purgatory; and said that bread and wine turns into the body and blood of Jesus by the words of a RC priest. They emphasized and clung to external works and relics and penances and pilgrimages, and clinging to those things caused them to not see the main issues. Justification by faith alone was there all along in the Bible, and hinted at by some early church fathers, but it was left behind and neglected by their emphasis on external works, focus on non-Biblical things about Mary, statues, priests, penances, relics, etc.

Some Roman Catholics like to say that Protestants treat "tradition as a dirty word" or "always negative" and some (far too many) Evangelicals have done that; but that should not be and everyone should be able to handle the passages that speak of "traditions" in a positive way, since they are the true apostolic traditions.

 2 Thessalonians 2:15

"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you rom the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15
I have never understood why former Evangelicals who have converted to Rome say that they could not explain or handle verse 15.  As in the following in Scott Hahn's testimony of how he just melted into goo when the question was posed to him about 2 Thessalonians 2:15:    (to see where this is, scroll down to the paragraph with the heading "Teacher at a Presbyterian Seminary")  ( As I recall, a lot of the Surprised by Truth (edited by Patrick Madrid) testimonies also told of how they were unprepared to deal with that verse.)

Then he turned the tables on me. The students were supposed to ask him a question or two. He said, "Can I first ask you a question, Professor Hahn? You know how Luther really had two slogans, not just sola fide, but the second slogan he used to revolt against Rome was sola Scriptura, the Bible alone. My question is, 'Where does the Bible teach that?'"
I looked at him with a blank stare. I could feel sweat coming to my forehead. I used to take pride in asking my professors the most stumping questions, but I never heard this one before. And so I heard myself say words that I had sworn I'd never speak; I said, "John, what a dumb question." He was not intimidated. He look at me and said, "Give me a dumb answer." I said, "All right, I'll try." I just began to wing it. I said, "Well, Timothy 3:16 is the key: 'All Scripture is inspired of God and profitable for correction, for training and righteousness, for reproof that the man of God may be completely equipped for every good work....'" He said, "Wait a second, that only says that Scripture is inspired and profitable; it doesn't say ONLY Scripture is inspired or even better, only Scripture's profitable for those things. We need other things like prayer," and then he said, "What about 2 Thessalonians 2:15?" I said, "What's that again?" He said, "Well, there Paul tells the Thessalonians that they have to hold fast, they have to cling to the traditions that Paul has taught them either in writing or by word of mouth." Whoa! I wasn't ready. I said, "Well, let's move on with the questions and answers; I'll deal with this next week. Let's go on."
I don't think they realized the panic I was in. When I drove home that night, I was just staring up to the heavens asking God, why have I never heard that question? Why have I never found an answer? 

Aside for failing to distinguish between 1 or 2 Timothy, it is amazing to me, that he could not handle this, when one looks at the context of verses 13 and 14; and the date and historical background of when 2 Thessalonians was written.

1.  The historical context of when the Thessalonians epistles were written.  (50-52 AD) Obviously, at this point, the only other letters that Paul has written are Galatians (48-49 AD) and 1 Thessalonians (50 AD), so it seems obvious that the apostle was preaching and teaching content that will be later included in letters such as Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, etc. There is no evidence at all that the apostle taught anything that Roman Catholics claim he may have, RC traditions like Mary as a perpetual virgin, or purgatory, or priests as a NT office, or indulgences, or the Papacy, or the Immaculate Conception of Mary, or Transubstantiation, external penances, relics, praying to Mary. No; it is obvious that Paul means was essential doctrine that will be later in the rest of Scripture. There is no evidence that the apostles taught any of those things that Roman Catholics developed centuries later. They read their own traditions back into the word "tradition".

2.  The context of the verse within the paragraph.  Verse 14 identifies the traditions of verse 15 as the gospel ("our gospel"), and verse 13 shows the doctrines of election, salvation, "sanctification by the Spirit", "faith in the truth" as part of the gospel.

2 Thessalonians 3:6
This verse points to the context of the teachings in verses 7-14, and what Paul already taught them in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 and 5:14.

1 Corinthians 11:2 - same principle here; 1 Corinthians is early also, around 55 AD, so the same principle goes, and by the rest of the content of the whole letter of 1 Corinthians, especially in the rest of chapter 11 and 15, but not excluding any of the letter.   Paul considers his teaching and letters as spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:12-13) that he is passing on/delivering/handing over = "traditioning" to them. Since they have written questions about issues that were raised after he taught them (see 1 Cor. 7:1); and he will also write another letter to them (2 Corinthians, which may have as part of it embedded in it, the same content as the "painful letter" about church discipline mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7:8 and 7:12 and possibly with 2 Corinthians 2:2, or it may also refer to 1 Corinthians 5 about church disciple), (or it may be a lost letter); it seems obvious the traditions are basic gospel issues and teachings.  These essential teachings will all be included in writing, that will eventually all be finished by 96 AD.  All Scripture is written down by either 70 AD or 96 AD.  Also, the context is on the content of what he writes to them in chapter 11.

1 Corinthians 15:3 has the verbal form of "tradition", "to deliver", which is also used in Jude 3 - "the faith once for all delivered to the saints". It seems obvious that the context of 1 Corinthians 15 is about gospel essentials (which agrees with 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15, and that Jude 3 shows that all the truths of the faith necessary for the saints was already delivered once for all. This, along with Jesus' promise that when the Holy Spirit comes, He would lead the apostles into all the truth (John 16:12-13) and bring to their remembrance everything (John 14:26); it is reasonable to assume that all the truths needed would be written down.

 It seems to me easy to see, when 2 Timothy 3:16 says that "all Scripture is God-breathed", that whatever is God-breathed or inspired is revelation from God, and when that revelation is written Scripture; and since it is God-breathed, is also "canon", since "canon" meant "principle", "law", "criterion", "standard", before it meant "a specific list of books" recognized / discerned as "God-breathed".
As Dr. White has said many times, and James Swan in an article below, 

"The canon list is not revelation, it's an artifact of revelation."  

This means it is physical evidence and a result of revelation, a proof that revelation happened in history, since all 27 books were first individual scrolls in the first century, and each one was God-breathed Scripture, the list is merely the "footprint" or evidence or product of them all together. 
 Scripture is sufficient to equip the man of God in the church for "every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17; verse 17 is important to include), for ministry and teaching and counseling people (rebuking, correcting, training). Paul assumes that the "man of God" is a man like Timothy who has already been qualified to be an elder/pastor/teacher/overseer in the local church (see the whole letters of 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus).  Things like the local church (1 Timothy 3:14-16), teaching, being an elder/pastor/teacher, a man of God, a man of prayer, qualified, are assumed in the whole context of the whole letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.  The fact that Paul quoted gospels with law in 1 Timothy 5:18 as Scripture, and that Peter wrote that all of Paul's letters are Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), along with the "once for all" of Jude 3, rounds things out as logical and reasonable to assume that all things that were needed for the church were written down in Scripture.   2 Timothy 3:15 is about the OT only, but 2 Timothy 3:16 expands it to "all Scripture", including by principle, all of the NT books, even those written in the future.

Colossians 2:8 and 2:20-23 are also negative on man-made traditions.  They also point to man-made traditions,  (as Mark 7 and Matthew 15 do), philosophy, and the "elementary principles of this world" (see with Galatians 4:9-11) - these things seem to point the things that Roman Catholicism emphasizes - external rituals and laws, asceticism, rites and things that humans can do to make themselves feel religious - like visiting graves and praying to the dead, kissing relics, and the legalisms of adding things to faith as being necessary to do in order to merit finally that one may be justified before God in the future.

Those gospel essentials or essential doctrines are what Irenaeus (180-200 AD), Tertullian (190-220 AD), Origen (250 AD), and Athanasius (297-373 AD) refer to when they explain what "the tradition of the apostles" or "the faith" or "the preaching" is to their readers in the centuries that follow.  When they explicate what the tradition is, it never includes any of the things that Roman Catholics read back into it.  They are the same basic content as the early creeds, such as the Apostles Creed and the Nicean Creed.  More on that later, Lord willing.

See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:10:1 to 1:11:1
and 1:22:1
and 3:4:2.

Tertullian, Presciption Against Heretics, 13:1-6
Against Praxeas 2:1-2

Origen, On First Principles, 1. preface. 2-8

Athanasius, To Serapion, Concering the Holy Spirit Against the Tropici Heretics, Book 1, 28-32
This work, unforuntately, is not available at the or site.

But the others are there for all to see and read.

Friday, March 03, 2023

The Real Reason Why Luther Rejected the Book of James?

Here's a statement evaluating Martin Luther's opinion of the Epistle of James.

Luther strongly repudiated the Epistle as "a letter of straw", and "unworthy of the apostolic Spirit", and this solely for dogmatic reasons, and owing to his preconceived notions, for the epistle refutes his heretical doctrine that Faith alone is necessary for salvation.

 Soley for dogmatic reasons? As I've looked at this over the years, it's more complicated than that. There's actually contradicting evidence on Luther's opinion of the Epistle of James and exactly what his "rejection" entirely entails. Let's take a look at these charges and see if the real reason (or reasons) Luther rejected James can be determined. 

I came by the statement above on a website dedicated to early Christian writings. Searching for the author, the webpage cited: "Camerlynck, A. "Epistle of James." Early Christian Writings. 2023. 22 Jan. 2023."  Doing a search for "Camerlynck, A," I discovered this webpage was a complete cut-and paste from the old Catholic EncyclopediaAchilles Camerlynck was a well-educated Roman Catholic scholar from long ago. The old Catholic Encyclopedia is generally not favorable to Luther, so it makes sense that multiple shots are taken at Luther by Camerlynck 

The early Christian Writings website appears to be selling CD-ROM's (remember those?) of the entire content of the website (I'm not sure what the legality of that is... selling someone else's work?). Back in 2015, the owner of the site gave a brief overview of who he was: a young man with Roman Catholic roots that's become some sort of agnostic (as of 2015). Where he is now on his spiritual journey, I didn't spend time to discover. His blog entries stop December 2015. From a cursory search, he appears to have fallen off the cyber-radar in 2015. 

Letter of Straw? Epistle of Straw?
Luther's famous statement is "Saint James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw" compared to John's gospel and epistles, Paul's epistles, and 1 Peter, and, further, that James "has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it" (LW 35:362). The  "epistle of straw" line comes from Luther's Preface to the New Testament, originally penned in 1522.  I suspect most realize this is a negative comment. 

Back in 2004, I addressed the "epistle of straw" comment in Luther's View of the Canon of Scripture (on the now defunct website). In 2007, I put up a short article on Six Points On Luther's Epistle of Straw. Now years later, there's nothing significant to add beyond repeating this pertinent fact:  The "epistle of straw" comment was deleted by Luther himself. He eventually dropped this comment along with the entire paragraph that placed value judgments on particular biblical books (see LW 35:361-362, particularly the footnotes, and also fn. 5 on p. 358).  Unfortunately, the editors of Luther's Works include all the deleted text, using brackets [ ] to delineate what was dropped from the final text. The older Philadelphia edition does the same thing. I suspect they simply intended to be transparent and scholarly (presenting a type of critical text). What the final product though practically does is insert back into the text what Luther wanted edited out!  

Why did Luther delete his text? I don't know. The editors of LW offer this reason: they suggest Luther's early biblical prefaces had a polemic bent directed toward his opponents: 
Divergences from the original 1522 text were due primarily to Luther’s desire to accommodate the text of the New Testament prefaces to that of the Old Testament prefaces with which they were—in the 1534 complete Bible—to appear for the first time, rather than to criticism on the part of Emser or other opponents (LW 35:357, fn 5).
It would be interesting to see which of Luther's contemporary opponents criticized Luther's view of James, especially those early on in the 1520's. In 1530, Johann Eck included it against Luther:
106 Many, with much probability, have asserted that this epistle was not written by the apostle James, and that it is not worthy of an apostolic spirit (Luther) .
 After Luther's death, his archrival Cochlaeus wrote,
For Luther seemed to the best people to have proceeded too maliciously against the Sacred Scripture of the New Testament; since he had, with an audacious censorship, rejected the Letter to the Hebrews, the Letter of James, the Letter of Jude, and the Apocalypse of John from the canon of the New Testament. He defamed these books openly, with savage falsehoods, in his prefaces.
Luther saw fit to delete the comment. Subsequent citations of this quote should at least mention his deletion. The "epistle of straw" comment is cited by those favorable and unfavorable to Luther. I suspect many of those not hostile to him citing it often don't know about the deletion and that Luther did not intend the statement to be part of his enduring legacy. For those who cite it against him, the deletion probably doesn't matter anyway. They will find a way to spin the comment to use against him. 

Unworthy of the Apostolic Spirit?
The basic thrust of "unworthy of the apostolic spirit" is that Luther did not believe the Epistle of James was written by an apostle or eyewitness of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He argued at times that James was a second-generation Christian. Camerlynck probably took the phrase he used from Luther's 1520 treatise, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. In commenting on the Roman Catholic sacrament of extreme unction, Luther writes: 
If ever folly has been uttered, it has been uttered especially on this subject: I will say nothing of the fact that many assert with much probability that this epistle is not by James the apostle, and that it is not worthy of an apostolic spirit; although, whoever was its author, it has come to be regarded as authoritative. But even if the apostle James did write it, I still would say, that no apostle has the right on his own authority to institute a sacrament, that is, to give a divine promise with a sign attached. For this belongs to Christ alone (LW 36:118).

A blatant thing to note here is that there's nothing in the context about faith alone. Luther is expressing doubts about the authorship of James in regard to extreme unction.  Here Luther presents two options but appears to favor the Epistle of James as not apostolic, though grants the possibility of it being apostolic. For Luther, the epistle of James may have been written by a later Christian, therefore not an apostle or eyewitness of the risen Christ, therefore not canonical. 

Just a year earlier (1519), Luther wrote the following, (and this may be his earliest criticism of James):

For although it is argued from the epistle of the Apostle James that ‘faith without works is dead,’ the style of that epistle is far inferior to the Apostolic majesty of St. Paul, and should in no way be compared with him. Paul speaks of living faith, for a faith that is dead is not faith but opinion. Yet you see theologians who hold on to this one authority and care nothing at all that the rest of Scripture teaches faith without works. That’s how these fellows do it. They rip out one little phrase from a text and set it up against all of Scripture. [Quod autem Iacobi Apostoli epistola inducitur ‘Fides sine operibus mortua est’, primum stilus epistolae illius longe est infra Apostolicam maiestatem nec cum Paulino ullo modo comparandus, deinde de fide viva loquitur Paulus. Nam fides mortua non est fides, sed opinio. At vide theologos, hanc unam autoritatem mordicus tenent, nihil prorsus curantes, quod tota alia scriptura fidem sine operibus commendet: hic enim mos eorum est, una abrepta oratiuncula textus contra totam scripturam cornua erigere] (WA 2:425; English translation).
Here, faith alone is in view. Luther appears to accept James as an authority, but of lesser authority than Paul. Luther says James lacks "Apostolic majesty," which echos "apostolic spirit," therefore questioning apostolic pedigree (and therefore, canonicity). Luther's emphasis is on those who use James as a prooftext to refute "the rest of scripture." Luther accuses his detractors of misusing James: "They rip out one little phrase from a text and set it up against all of Scripture." Luther explains what Paul means but does not overtly explain what James meant.
Then in his 1522 Preface to James, Luther reiterates that James was written by a second-generation Christian, 
...[H]e throws things together so chaotically that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few sayings from the disciples of the apostles and thus tossed them off on paper. Or it may perhaps have been written by someone on the basis of his preaching [LW 35: 396-397].
Moreover he cites the sayings of St. Peter [in 5:20]: “Love covers a multitude of sins” [1 Pet. 4:8], and again [in 4:10], “Humble yourselves under the hand of God” [1 Pet. 5:6]; also the saying of St. Paul in Galatians 5[:17], “The Spirit lusteth against envy.” And yet, in point of time, St. James was put to death by Herod [Acts 12:2] in Jerusalem, before St. Peter. So it seems that [this author] came long after St. Peter and St. Paul [LW 35:397].

When challenged that the Epistle of James stood against justification by faith alone, in 1543 Luther stated: "The authority of this (James) is not so great that (it detracts from the divine promise [or that] on its account one should abandon the doctrine of faith and depart from the authority of the rest of the apostles and all of Scripture" [LW 73:349-350; WA 39(2): 219].

Luther is recorded in a 1542 Table Talk utterance saying,

We should throw the Epistle of James out of this school, for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning [Jas. 1:1; 2:1]. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.' This he did. He wrote not a word about the suffering and resurrection of Christ, although this is what all the apostles preached about. Besides, there’s no order or method in the epistle. Now he discusses clothing and then he writes about wrath and is constantly shifting from one to the other. He presents a comparison: ‘As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead’ [Jas. 2:26]. O Mary, mother of God! What a terrible comparison that is! James compares faith with the body when he should rather have compared faith with the soul! The ancients recognized this, too, and therefore they didn’t acknowledge this letter as one of the catholic epistles.” [LW 54:424].
I say "recorded in the Table Talk" because Luther didn't write these words, someone else transcribed them, context unknown. The comments do though match up to the sentiment found in Luther's earlier comments.
Did Luther simply arrive at this authorship conclusion without precedent? No. He maintained a position that echoed other voices from church history. Eusebius and Jerome both recorded (at least) doubts to the apostolicity and canonicity of James. The great humanist Scholar Erasmus likewise questioned the authenticity of James, as did Cardinal Cajetan, one of the leading 16th Century Roman Catholic scholars. Some think the early influence of Erasmus impacted Luther view. consider the speculation from Lutheran scholar J.M Reu:
It is possible that the position of Erasmus had influenced Luther in some particulars. Luther had first expressed his critical attitude towards the Epistle of St. James in his Resolutiones of 1519; afterwards more energetically in De Captivitate Babylonica. Under such conditions we have no reason to be surprised that Luther entered into the question in his New Testament of 1522, especially as the fundamental understanding of Scripture that had come to him compelled him to take a stand, at least concerning James, and furthermore, he did not think that these matters were to be kept hidden from the congregations but even discussed them in his sermons [M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934), 176].
Reu points out that Erasmus "had assumed a critical attitude towards [James, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation] in the Annotationes of 1516" (Reu, 175). Reu then later speculates, that Luther publicly altered his criticisms of James "to keep his personal opinions in the background, especially as the German Bible was intended for the whole congregation" [Reu, 226]. Reu documents the changes from Luther's September-Testament to the softening revision in the 1530's (p.226-227):
In fine, he wanted to guard against those who tried to rely on faith without works but he was too weak in spirit, understanding and words, and so he rends Scripture and opposes Paul and all Scripture, trying to accomplish by the occasion of the Law what the other apostles effect by incentives to love. Therefore I will not have him reckoned in my Bible in the number of the real chief books, but will not prevent anyone from esteeming him as he pleases, for otherwise it contains many good sayings. One man is reckoned, as no man in worldly affairs. How then should this one alone count against Paul and all the rest of Scripture ?
Then, this statement was modified in the 1530's:
In fine, he wanted to guard against those who tried to rely on faith without works but was too weak for the undertaking, trying to accomplish by the coercion of the Law what the other apostles effect by incentives to love. Therefore I will not have him reckoned in my Bible in the number of the real chief books, but will not prevent anyone from esteeming him as he pleases. For it contains many good sayings.
Did Luther Want to Throw the Epistle of James in the Stove?
Was Luther’s hatred for the Epistle of James was so severe, he wanted to burn the book in a stove? This charge comes from a comment found in The Licentiate Examination Of Heinrich Schmedenstede, July 7 1542. At one point, James chapter 2 is raised as a potential counter argument against justification by faith alone: “James says that Abraham was justified by works. Therefore, justification is not by faith.” Protestant Heinrich Schmedenstede countered this by saying, “James is speaking of works as the effect of justification, not as the cause.” Luther then gave his opinion:
That epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest. Up to this point I have been accustomed just to deal with and interpret it according to the sense of the rest of Scriptures. For you will judge that none of it must be set forth contrary to manifest Holy Scripture. Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kalenberg did [LW 34:318; cf WA 39(2):199, n.2].
Luther does not deny the answer put forth by Schmedenstede. What Luther does point out is heavy Roman Catholic reliance on James 2. It troubled him that this passage weighed so strongly in Roman Catholic arguments against justification by faith alone. Interestingly, he also says that he has previously interpreted it “according to the sense of the rest of Scriptures” (which will be shown below) But what of the comment “I feel like throwing Jimmy in the stove”? What is not explicit in the context above is the historical background of Luther’s comment. The editors of Luther’s Works explain,
The preacher of Kalenberg, when visited by the duchess, heated the room with the wooden statues of the apostles. The statue of James was the last and as the preacher shoved it into the stove he exclaimed, “Now bend over, Jimmy, you must go into the stove; no matter if you were the pope or all the bishops, the room must become warm" [LW 34:318].

 Even though Luther isn't saying to throw the actual Epistle of James into the stove, it's obvious there's a sarcastic intent to his comment and frustration being expressed.  

Luther Did Not Reject James Because of "Faith Alone"?
There is also evidence from Luther that complicates the information above. For instance, even while criticizing James, he positively quoted it throughout his career. He also occasionally preached from the book: in 1536 Luther preached on James 1:16-21, Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter, "Two things there are which part men from the Gospel: one is angry impatience, and the other evil lust. Of these James speaks in this epistle." But more surprisingly, there are also statements in which Luther harmonized James and Paul on the relationship of faith and works!

In his early lectures on Romans, Luther provides a harmonious explanation of James on faith and works (LW 25:234-235), "Therefore justification does not demand the works of the Law but a living faith which produces its own works" [LW 25:236].

In 1530, Luther answered the question, "Why does James [2:26] say, 'Faith apart from works is dead'?" Luther answered:
James is dealing with a moral point, not theological, just as he is almost entirely about morality. Morally speaking, it is true that faith without works is dead- that is, if faith does not do works or if outward works do not follow faith. In this way then, faith cannot exist apart from works; that is, it cannot fail to do works, else there is no faith alone.

We, however, are dealing with a theological point here since we are discussing justification before God. Here we assert that faith alone is counted as righteousness before God, apart from works and merits." (LW 61:183-184).
In The Disputation Concerning Justification, Luther answered this spurious proposition: Faith without works justifies, Faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:17, 26). Therefore, dead faith justifies. Luther responded:
The argument is sophistical and the refutation is resolved grammatically. In the major premise, ‘faith’ ought to be placed with the word ‘justifies’ and the portion of the sentence ‘without works justifies’ is placed in a predicate periphrase and must refer to the word ‘justifies,’ not to ‘faith.’ In the minor premise, ‘without works’ is truly in the subject periphrase and refers to faith. We say that justification is effective without works, not that faith is without works. For that faith which lacks fruit is not an efficacious but a feigned faith. ‘Without works’ is ambiguous, then. For that reason this argument settles nothing. It is one thing that faith justifies without works; it is another thing that faith exists without works. [LW 34: 175-176].
In a 1521 sermon Luther is recorded as saying,
See, this is what James means when he says, 2, 26: "Faith apart from works is dead." For as the body without the soul is dead, so is faith without works. Not that faith is in man and does not work, which is impossible. For faith is a living, active thing. But in order that men may not deceive themselves and think they have faith when they have not, they are to examine their works, whether they also love their neighbors and do good to them. If they do this, it is a sign that they have the true faith. If they do not do this, they only have the sound of faith, and it is with them as the one who sees himself in the glass and when he leaves it and sees himself no more, but sees other things, forgets the face in the glass, as James says in his first chapter, verses 23-24.
[This passage in James deceivers and blind masters have spun out so far, that they have demolished faith and established only works, as though righteousness and salvation did not rest on faith, but on our works. To this great darkness they afterwards added still more, and taught only good works which are no benefit to your neighbor, as fasting, repeating many prayers, observing festival days; not to eat meat, butter, eggs and milk; to build churches, cloisters, chapels, altars; to institute masses, vigils, hours; to wear gray, white and black clothes; to be spiritual; and innumerable things of the same kind, from which no man has any benefit or enjoyment; all which God condemns, and that justly. But St. James means that a Christian life is nothing but faith and love. Love is only being kind and useful to all men, to friends and enemies. And where faith is right, it also certainly loves, and does to another in love as Christ did to him in faith. Thus everyone should beware lest he has in his heart a dream and fancy instead of faith, and thus deceives himself. This he will not learn anywhere as well as in doing the works of love. As Christ also gives the same sign and says: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." John 13, 35. Therefore St. James means to say: Beware, if your life is not in the service of others, and you live for yourself, and care nothing for your neighbor, then your faith is certainly nothing; for it does not do what Christ has done for him. Yea, he does not believe that Christ has done good to him, or he would not omit to do good to his neighbor. [The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 3:1 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), pp. 71-72].
Elsewhere in The Sermons of Martin Luther, Luther states:
This is what St. James means when his says in his Epistle, 2:26: ‘"Faith without works is dead." That is, as the works do not follow, it is a sure sign that there is no faith there; but only an empty thought and dream, which they falsely call faith. Now we understand the word of Christ: "Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness." That is, prove your faith publically by your outward gifts, by which you win friends, that the poor may be witnesses of your public work, that your faith is genuine. For mere external giving in itself can never make friends, unless it proceed from faith, as Christ rejects the alms of the Pharisees in Mat. 6:2, that they thereby make no friends because their heart is false. Thus no heart can ever be right without faith, so that even nature forces the confession that no work makes one good, but that the heart must first be good and upright. [The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 2:2 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), p. 308].


The extant evidence of Luther's view is therefore conflicting. On the one hand, Luther overtly doubted the apostolic pedigree of the Epistle of James and saw that it conflicted with Paul. On the other hand, Luther approvingly cited James, preached from it, embraced a harmonious way of understanding James and Paul, and softened his earlier criticisms. This contradictory evidence appears to run parallel throughout his life. It could very well be that definitive answer on Luther's view of James... is that there is not a definitive answer. It seems to me that in light of Rome's defenders generally, Luther argued James was not canonical, particularly if pressed that James refuted justification by faith alone. In other contexts generally, Luther treated James as harmonious with the rest of scripture. As I've read Luther over the years, the balance of these positions seems to lean more towards the former evidence that James was not an apostolic witness. This could simply be the result of the continual polemical conflicts Luther found himself in. 

Perhaps Reu's speculation that Erasmus influenced Luther on authorship and LW's conclusion that his papal opponents were citing James against him may be the pertinent factors that explain the confusion as to Luther's view. For both of these speculations, I would need to see evidence. For the former, I have never seen a statement from Luther demonstrating he was following Erasmus on James. For the later, I searched through my collection of early polemical writers against Luther and did not come across many meaningful early uses of James being cited against Luther, though I suspect it certainly was! It seems to be assumed as a papal criticism in the many disputations Luther took part in throughout his life. 

This blog post isn't presenting any information that's not readily available elsewhere. There is no original historical thought being presented.  I suspect there's even more statements from Luther on the epistle of James. I only offer this brief exploration to simply outline the basic evidence and have it ready for my own personal use.  

Addendum #1: Interacting With Rome's Defenders on Luther's View of James
If you're dealing with Luther's detractors, most often Rome's defenders... keep in mind that one of the main reasons they're bringing up Luther's view of James is that its intention is to put forth the infallible authority of Rome in determining the canon of the Bible. Simply in response: it does not follow that unless Rome infallibly determines the canon of the Bible, everyone will pick and choose their own Biblical canon. Despite Luther's view of James, this has practically not happened. To my knowledge, there was not any significant following of Luther on his view of James, nor has Protestantism created 30,000 canons to match the alleged 30,000 denominations Rome's defenders continually squawk about. I would exhort the reader to realize that the choice between the infallible authority of Rome and total anarchy is a false dilemma. 

If you're engaging Rome's defenders on the canon and Luther's view of the canon comes up, a counter question that they should be forced to consider is answering.... why has the canon of the Bible remained very consistent despite Luther's views? Is Rome responsible for this? Is so, how? If Luther's view amounts to a subjective personal canon, why is it that the canon has been so stable since the publication of Luther's opinions found in his translation of the Bible?

I've argued elsewhere that Erasmus, Cajetan, and Luther had rights within the Roman Catholic system to engage in Biblical criticism and debate over the extent of the canon previous to the dogmatic declarations of the Council of Trent. All expressed some doubt. Theirs was not a radical higher criticism. The books they questioned were books that had been questioned by previous generations. The editors of Luther’s Works note that both Eusebius and Jerome raised or confirmed similar doubts to the apostolicity and canonicity of James:
In the earliest general history of the church, Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History (II, xxiii, 25), the author… writes, “Such is the story of James, whose is said to be the first of the Epistles called Catholic. It is to be observed that its authenticity is denied, since few of the ancients quote it, as is also the case with the Epistle called Jude’s.”… Eusebius also includes both epistles in his list of “Disputed Books” (History, III, xxiv, 3)…Cf. the statement by Jerome (d. 420) in his Liber de Viris Illustribus (II) concerning the pseudonymity ascribed to the epistle of James and its rather gradual attainment of authoritative status [LW 35:396].

Follow this up the following from The New Catholic Encyclopedia

According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books, i.e., about their belonging to the canon.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. III Can to Col (New York: Mcgraw-Hill, 1967), 29.
Nihil Obstat: John P. Whalen, M.A., S.T.D. Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur: Patrick O'Boyle, D.D. Archbishop of Washington, August 5, 1966

Rome's defender Robert Sungenis admitted the validity of my argument in regard to Trent and the canon. 

Addendum #2: John Warwick Montgomery
Here's nitpicking myself: Back in 2004, I addressed the "epistle of straw" comment in Luther's View of the Canon of Scripture. I cited John Warwick Montgomery writing, 

Few people realize — and liberal Luther interpreters do not particularly advertise the fact — that in all the editions of Luther’s Bible translation after 1522 the—Reformer dropped the paragraphs at the end, of his general Preface to the New Testament which made value judgments among the various biblical books and which included the famous reference to James as an “Epistle of straw.
In my old paper I summarized Motgomery saying, "An interesting fact about this quote (hardly ever mentioned by Luther-detractors!) is that it only appears in the original 1522 Preface To The New Testament." It is true that, as it was back in 2004, I did not come across Rome's defenders admitting Luther deleted the comment, "epistle of straw." On the other hand, LW 35:358, fn. 5 states: "The portions here set in brackets did not appear in any editions of the complete Bible, nor in editions of the New Testament after 1537." It appears to me that editions of Luther's New Testament previous to 1537 and incomplete editions of the Bible previous to 1534 probably did include the "epistle of straw" comment.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

What Luther Says, Available Online

Volume 1 (Internet Archive)

Volume 2 (Internet Archive)

Volume 3 (Internet Archive)

The Internet Archive continues to provide free access to many of the books I've purchased! I bought the three-volume set of What Luther Says around twenty years ago. It's not a set that simply sits on my bookshelf: I've continued to use it regularly in my studies or treatments of Luther here on this blog.  Early on, when I came across a seemingly outrageous charge about Luther, often I was able to get a broad overview of what Luther really thought on the subject by using this anthology.  

In regard to English treatments of Luther, this set is one the most helpful in my entire library. The author, Ewald Plass, went painstakingly through Luther's writings (in their original languages) and compiled a massive anthology of what Luther thought about particular topics. It isn't a systematic theology per se, but there is a sense in which it's a topical systematic treatment of Luther's immense literary output. According to the Forward of the set, the project began in 1948 and finished in 1956.  

What I find unfortunate is that detailed information as to exactly who the author was is not easily located online. Concordia Publishing says of the author, 

Edwald Plass, a long-time Lutheran college professor, devoted his life to introducing laypeople and clergy alike to Martin Luther, a man's whose writings he thoroughly studied and read in the original language. His great work What Luther Says remains in print to this day as the most outstanding and thorough collection of the wit and wisdom of Martin Luther. This volume offers a storehouse of information about Luther, about those with whom he worked and struggled during the tumultuous years of the Reformation. In his book, Plass presents Luther's attitudes on many aspects of life, while demonstrating Luther's one overriding passion that animated everything he did: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let Ewald Plass introduce you to Martin Luther.
With a such a unique name, I suspected the author was the founding pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Milwaukee WI:
Founding Pastor, Rev. Ewald M. Plass, imparted to the congregation a strong support for foreign missions which remains a part of Mount Calvary’s ethos. Rev. Plass served two years at the Lutheran Seminary in Brazil and his passion for overseas mission work took hold at Mount Calvary.

This was confirmed in an obituary which provided the following information:

Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod pastor at Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI from 1926 to 1936; Assistant pastor at Nazareth Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI. He served as a professor at Concordia Seminary, Porto Alegre, Brazil from 1923 to 1925 and Concordia College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin from 1936 to 1960, where he was also the librarian from 1941 to 1950. He served as the Secretary of the Commission on College and University Work for the LCMS from 1932 to 1956. He was a published author, providing a book of sermon illustrations with Frederick Selle, as well as a Luther biography in 1948 and his monumental three-volume anthology of "What Luther Says" in 1959.

I'm sure there are some of you reading this that, sometimes like me, do a basic Internet search of your name to see what's out there. Sad to say that many cyber hits to my name are slanderous and malicious. Not so with Ewald Plass! A typical search of "Ewald Plass" produces countless hits to his set, What Luther Says. He truly left a significant legacy and deserves to be remembered!


Volume 1 (Google Books, search only)

Volume 2 (Google Books, search only) 

Volume 3 (Google Books, search only)

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

John Calvin: the Roman Catholic Church was the Mother church?

 John Calvin was a secret Roman Catholic? Here's an odd John Calvin quote utilized on a discussion forum:

Calvin on the RCC:
"the Roman Catholic church was the Mother church; that no one had the right to withdraw from the Mother church even if it were sinful; and that there was no salvation outside the walls of the Mother church."(Book 4, Institutes, Calvin)
If this quote seems awkwardly worded and suspicious... you're right! While there are some aspects of this quote that hint at some of Calvin's comments from Book Four of the Institutes, it's common knowledge that he was clearly opposed to Roman Catholicism. Rome's defenders overtly recognized him as an enemy of the Roman church. Let's take a closer look at this quote and see if it can be determined exactly how Calvin ended up supporting Roman Catholicism! 

The person who posted this quote provided the vague reference, "Book 4, Institutes, Calvin." Granted, Calvin released different editions of the Institutes throughout his lifetime, but I did not come across any meaningful direct hits to this quote in the Institutes.  The only direct search hit that did occur was to a webpage entitled, Calvinism is a counterfeit Christian cult. It is actually carefully disguised Roman Catholicism. That webpage states, 
Not only is calvinism a counterfeit Christian cult, it is also largely based upon the Catholic heresies which were greatly influenced by Augustine. And, no great surprise, for Calvin’s Institutes were also greatly influenced by that same Augustine. Thus, calvinism is merely a counterfeit Catholic belief; Calvin was, all along, a closet Catholic. He declared that the Roman Catholic church was the Mother church; that no-one had the right to withdraw from the Mother church even if it were sinful; and that there was no salvation outside the walls of the Mother church. (Book 4, Institutes, Calvin)
As far as I could determine, the author of this link is anonymous. The website hosting the page states
"Hoppers Crossing Christian Church is a small home based church in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne. Over the past two to three years since inception, we have become concerned about the state of the Christian Church in western society and have therefore embarked on a mission to spread the truth about what we are seeing."
The website hosts an entire collection of articles under their category, "Calvinist heretics & heresies," with John Calvin taking many beatings. Someone (perhaps the author?) on the website claims to have been a "Calvinist" for 19 years... therefore now, of course, an expert! From reading the biographical information provided, this person admits to being born into a Presbyterian family and then had some sort of theological epiphany at age 19, I think it's disingenuous to claim a full 19 years of a well-researched and understood Calvinistic background. Rather, why not simply admit to being born into a family with particular theological leanings, and then later on questioning that upbringing in later teen years?   

Since an exact reference to the Institutes Book 4 was not provided, this following is a quick overview of Calvin's Institutes comments on Romanism and a speculative excursion into which texts from Calvin were misconstrued into the Reformer supporting Roman Catholicism.

In Book 4 Calvin shows his deep criticism of the Roman Church (they are "Christ's chief adversaries"). For instance:
Instead of the ministry of the Word, a perverse government compounded of lies rules there, which partly extinguishes the pure light, partly chokes it. The foulest sacrilege has been introduced in place of the Lord’s Supper. The worship of God has been deformed by a diverse and unbearable mass of superstitions. Doctrine (apart from which Christianity cannot stand) has been entirely buried and driven out. Public assemblies have become schools of idolatry and ungodliness. In withdrawing from deadly participation in so many misdeeds, there is accordingly no danger that we be snatched away from the church of Christ. The communion of the church was not established on the condition that it should serve to snare us in idolatry, ungodliness, ignorance of God, and other sorts of evils, but rather to hold us in the fear of God and obedience to truth.

They indeed gloriously extol their church to us to make it seem that there is no other in the world. Thereupon, as if the matter were settled, they conclude that all who dare withdraw from the obedience with which they adorn the church are schismatics; that all who dare mutter against its doctrine are heretics. 

Surprisingly, Calvin did refer to Rome as the "mother church" In Book 4 he wrote, "Of old, Rome was indeed the mother of all churches; but after it began to become the see of Antichrist, it ceased to be what it once was" (4,7,24). He compares Rome to the "ancient church of Israel," meaning that in a similar way that Israel was corrupt /idolatrous, so also was Rome: "The Romanists, therefore, today make no other pretension than what the Jews once apparently claimed when they were reproved for blindness, ungodliness, and idolatry by the Lord’s prophets." In 4,2,20. Calvin discusses why one must separate from the corrupted church.

This does not mean though there is no such thing as "mother church" since Rome's corruption. Rather, there is a visible church that is the mother of believers and there is no salvation apart from her. Calvin writes,  
But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title “mother” how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matthew 22:30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation, as Isaiah [Isaiah 37:32] and Joel [Joel 2:32] testify. Ezekiel agrees with them when he declares that those whom God rejects from heavenly life will not be enrolled among God’s people [Ezekiel 13:9]. On the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true godliness are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem [cf. Isaiah 56:5; Psalm 87:6]. For this reason, it is said in another psalm: “Remember me, O Jehovah, with favor toward thy people; visit me with salvation: that I may see the well-doing of thy chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the joy of thy nation, that I may be glad with thine inheritance” [Psalm 106:4-5 p.; cf. Psalm 105:4, Vg., etc.]. By these words God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church. (4,1,4). 
Some years back I took a look at Calvin's adherence to the phrase that there is no salvation outside the church. In summary, I concluded that the extra ecclesiam nulla salus of Calvin and Rome are in essence quite different.

In fairness to whoever put the quote together, it is true that in Book 4 of the Institutes John Calvin applied the phrase "mother church" to Rome. It's also true that Calvin believed one had to be joined to the mother church, and it's also true he believed there is no salvation outside the church. However, these concepts are to be interpreted according to their immediate context, and when done, the exact opposite is discovered: for Calvin, Rome may have originally held an important maternal pedigree in a qualified sense, but it no longer did. Yes, there is a "mother church," but it was the visible church, not the visible Roman church.  One needed to be joined to that visible church as the normal means of salvation. 

This quote is a perfect example that one cannot simply assume a quote found on the Internet is accurate. In this case, what John Calvin actually wrote in Book 4 of the Institutes is directly opposed to the quote he's purported to have written! It appears to me that this the words "He declared that the..." were cut off of the original anti-Calvin webpage, thus creating a quote alleged to be directly from Calvin. Therefore, the key to this quote... is that it's not a direct quote from Calvin's Institutes. The author of the anti-Calvinist webpage appears to be erroneously summarizing some points from Calvin's Institutes, Book 4.