Saturday, January 15, 2011

Luther: We must remove the Decalogue out of sight and heart

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "The Commandments":

“We must remove the Decalogue out of sight and heart” (De Wette 4, 188).

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With this quote, they attempt to show Christ said keep the commandments, while Luther says the opposite.

Luther, Exposing the Myth cites "De Wette 4, 188." De Wette" refers to a collection of Luther's letters. Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht De Wette compiled five volumes of Luther's letters: Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken (the set was later expanded). Page 188 of volume 4 is a section from a letter Luther wrote to Jerome Weller, 1530. The letter begins on page 186. On page 188, the text reads:

Luther, Exposing the Myth probably didn't take this quote from De Wette 4. Rather, they probably took it from Patrick O’Hare's The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), p. 311 (315). O'Hare offers, "We must," he says, "remove the Decalogue out of sight and heart" (De Wette, 4, 188). If you do a simple search, you can see how far this quote has traveled.

This letter is not available in the English edition of Luther's Works. It has though been cited either in full or partially in a number of works. The letter itself also has quite a polemical history, cited often by Roman Catholic sources. The English translation below comes from W.H.T. Dau, Luther examined and reexamined: a review of Catholic criticism and a plea for revaluation (Concordia Pub. House, 1917 ), pp. 119-122 [another translation can be found here]. There is some ambiguity as to the date. Dau dates the letter "sometime in July." Others date the letter to November. Hartmann Grisar goes with July and points out, "In the older reprints the letter was erroneously put at a later date" [source].

Grace and peace in Christ. My dearest Jerome, you must firmly believe that your affliction is of the devil, and that you are plagued in this manner because you believe in Christ. For you see that the most wrathful enemies of the Gospel, as, for instance, Eck, Zwingli, and others, are suffered to be at ease and happy. All of us who are Christians must have the devil for our adversary and enemy, as Peter says: 'Your adversary, the devil, goeth about,' etc., 1 Pet. 5, 8. Dearest Jerome, you must rejoice over these onslaughts of the devil, because they are a sure sign that you have a gracious and merciful God. You will say: This affliction is more grievous than I can bear; you fear that you will be overcome and vanquished, so that you are driven to blasphemy and despair. I know these tricks of Satan: if he cannot overcome the person whom he afflicts at the first onset, he seeks to exhaust and weaken him by incessantly attacking him, in order that the person may succumb and acknowledge himself beaten. Accordingly, whenever this affliction befalls you, beware lest you enter into an argument with the devil, or muse upon these death-dealing thoughts. For this means nothing else than to yield to the devil and succumb to him. You must rather take pains to treat these thoughts which the devil instills in you with the severest contempt. In afflictions and conflicts of this kind contempt is the best and easiest way for overcoming the devil. Make up your mind to laugh at your adversary, and find some one whom you can engage in a conversation. You must by all means avoid being alone, for then the devil will make his strongest effort to catch you; he lies in wait for you when you are alone. In a case like this the devil is overcome by scorning and despising him, not by opposing him and arguing with him. My dear Jerome, you must engage in merry talk and games with my wife and the rest, so as to defeat these devilish thoughts, and you must be intent on being cheerful. This affliction is more necessary to you than food and drink. I shall relate to you what happened to me when I was about your age. When I entered the cloister, it happened that at first I always walked about sad and melancholy, and could not shake off my sadness. Accordingly, I sought counsel and confessed to Dr. Staupitz, --I am glad to mention this man's name. I opened my heart to him, telling him with what horrid and terrible thoughts I was being visited. He said in reply: Martin, you do not know how useful and necessary this affliction is to you; for God does not exercise you thus without a purpose. You will see that He will employ you as His servant to accomplish great things by you. This came true. For I became a great doctor--I may justly say this of myself--; but at the time when I was suffering these afflictions I would never have believed that this could come to pass. No doubt, that is what is going to happen to you: you will become a great man. In the mean time be careful to keep a brave and stout heart, and impress on your mind this thought that such remarks which fall from the lips chiefly of learned and great men contain a prediction and prophecy. I remember well how a certain party whom I was comforting for the loss of his son said to me: Martin, you will see, you will become a great man. I often remembered this remark, for, as I said, such remarks contain a prediction and a prophecy. Therefore, be cheerful and brave, and cast these exceedingly terrifying thoughts entirely from you. Whenever the devil worries you with these thoughts, seek the company of men at once, or drink somewhat more liberally, jest and play some jolly prank, or do anything exhilarating. Occasionally a person must drink somewhat more liberally, engage in plays, and jests, or even commit some little sin from hatred and contempt of the devil, so as to leave him no room for raising scruples in our conscience about the most trifling matters. For when we are overanxious and careful for fear that we may be doing wrong in any matter, we shall be conquered. Accordingly, if the devil should say to you: By all means, do not drink! you must tell him: Just because you forbid it, I shall drink, and that, liberally. In this manner you must always do the contrary of what Satan forbids. When I drink my wine unmixed, prattle with the greatest unconcern, eat more frequently, do you think that I have any other reason for doing these things than to scorn and spite the devil who has attempted to spite and scorn me? Would God I could commit some real brave sin to ridicule the devil, that he might see that I acknowledge no sin and am not conscious of having committed any. We must put the whole law entirely out of our eyes and hearts,--we, I say, whom the devil thus assails and torments. Whenever the devil charges us with our sins and pronounces us guilty of death and hell, we ought to say to him: I admit that I deserve death and hell; what, then, will happen to me? Why, you will be eternally damned! By no means; for I know One who has suffered and made satisfaction for me. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where He abides, there will I also abide."
Usually this letter is singled out because of the counsel Luther gave to his friend to "drink more freely." For this quote though, Luther's alleged aversion to the Ten Commandments is in view. This is hardly the case, as I've documented here. When Luther makes strong statements against the Law, it's always the Law considered as a means of salvation or justification. While Luther, Exposing the Myth sees Luther as a gross antinomian hoping to "remove the Decalogue out of sight and heart," the actual advice to Jerome Weller  is quite sound. W.H.T. Dau notes,

In Luther's remarks about sinning to spite the devil we have always heard an echo from his life at the cloister. One's judgment about the monastic life is somewhat mitigated when one hears how Dr. Staupitz and the brethren in the convent at Erfurt would occasionally speak to Luther about the latter's sins. Staupitz called them "Puppensuenden." It is not easy to render this term by a short and apt English term; "peccadillo" would come near the meaning. A child playing with a doll will treat it as if it were a human being, will dress it, talk to it, and pretend to receive answers from it, etc. That is the way, good Catholics were telling Luther, he was treating his sins. His sins were no real sins, or he had magnified their sinfulness out of all proportion. This same advice Luther hands on to another who was becoming a hypochondriac as he had been. When the mind is in a morbid state it imagines faults, errors, sins, where there are none. The melancholy person in his self-scrutiny becomes an intolerant tyrant to himself. He will flay his poor soul for trifles as if they were the blackest crimes. In such moments the devil is very busy about the victim of gloom and despair. Luther has diagnosed the case of Weller with the skill of a nervous specialist. He counsels Weller not to judge himself according to the devil's prompting, and, in order to break Satan's thrall over him, to wrench himself free from his false notions of what is sinful. In offering this advice, Luther uses such expressions as: "Sin, commit sin," but the whole context shows that he advises Weller to do that which is in itself not sinful, but looks like sin to Weller in his present condition. When Luther declares he would like to commit a real brave sin himself as a taunt to the devil, he adds: "Would that I could!" That means, that, as a matter of fact, he could not do it and did not do it, because it was wrong. What bold immoral act did Weller commit in consequence of Luther's advice? What immoralities are there in Luther's own life? Luther's letters did not convey the meaning to his morbid young friend that Catholic writers think and claim they did. (Luther Examined and Reexamined, p.124-125).
Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.


Aaron Mansfield said...

"When Luther makes strong statements against the Law, it's always the Law considered as a means of salvation or justification..." sounds like something Paul might say!

I've really appreciated the Luther posts.

Brigitte said...

He is so able to comfort people, a true shepherd and doctor of the Bible and the soul.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

Conscience must never sleep or be put to rest. I think what Luther's trying to say or do is false because it is only a half-truth. And the part that's left out is vitally important. We must judge ourselves in this life so that we might not be condemned by God in the next (so Saint Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:31). The devil will try do destroy us in two ways: either driving us into despair, or tempting us with pride. We must find the balance in the Gospel, which teaches meekness (not pride) and hope (not despair).
Luther, and all Protestants after him, lost track of half of the equation, in my opinion: (and we can't walk with one leg, or fly with one wing).

James Swan said...

The problem with your interpretation Lvka is this isn't a doctrinal treatise, but a private letter to a friend. I suggest you do some background research into Jerome Weller.

James Swan said...

I've really appreciated the Luther posts.

Thank you.

Brigitte said...

Lvka, when there are distinctions which need to be made. For one there are people who need to hear the law at a particular point in life or the day, and there are crushed souls which should only hear the gospel and it not mixed with law. The law must be stern and never weakened into something we can tame or control, the gospel must be sweet and consoling and not taken away by mixing in the law. This is basic soul care. C.F. Walther did a great job in the "Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel."

Here, Luther is banishing all law from the preaching of the gospel to a sorrowful soul, so that it will actually have the effect of eliciting hope and faith.

Also when speaking about justification, you cannot have a justification by faith which includes works, or else it is not by Christ's doing and denigrates his Savior-ship, so to speak.

Works and law, have their place, but not here and in this context with this person.

Nick said...

Just reading the title, it's clear there is a problem, since both of Luther's Catechisms taught directly on the Decalogue point by point.

James Swan said...

there are distinctions which need to be made. For one there are people who need to hear the law at a particular point in life or the day, and there are crushed souls which should only hear the gospel and it not mixed with law

That was my point when I stated to Lvka the citation I posted was a letter, and then exhorted him to look up Weller.

Luther was a pastor- and each sheep has a particular situation that the pastor must respond to.

I find it interesting how some Roman Catholics (since the Reformation) will take a letter of private counsel and make it an official statement of Luther's doctrine- at the expense of Luther's basic theological positions outlined in his major writings.

This quote is a perfect example of that.

Elmer G. White said...
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