Saturday, March 25, 2006

Theological Forcast: Luther brawl on the CARM Catholic Board Brewing

I'm somewhat of a one (or two) trick pony. Actually, let me qualify, I’m a self-imposed one (or two) trick pony. On Internet discussion boards, I used to join into a lot of discussions. Due to time constraints, I try to limit myself to one or two discussions at most. These, I try to pursue with vigor, rather than engaging in multiple discussions half-heartedly. As far as I can tell, the discussion with Fr. Joseph on Calvin’s alleged Pagan Philosophy is at a standstill; however he’s more than welcome to continue when he wishes to. I’m still monitoring the CARM thread.

On the CARM Catholic board the latest topic I’m going to devote some energy to is called, Perspectives on Luther. One of the CARM Roman Catholics asks,

Most posts I've seen that refer to Luther seem to regard him as either completely right or completely wrong. Is it not possible that he could have been partly right? Could he not have been a Saul-like character who began by doing the will of God, which was greatly beneficial to the whole church, but then ended up pursuing his own goals, which resulted in the division of the Church? There were others who were dissatisfied with conditions in the Church who remained a part of it and helped to end many of the abuses that were taking place. It's a pity Luther didn't too. The Catholics (I'm one of them) need to appreciate that Luther did in fact do a lot of good, and the Protestants need to realize that he was not perfect, and he inadvertently did a lot of damage to the Christian community. Any thoughts?”

I appreciate the tenor of these remarks, even if I disagree with some of them. I have a special interest in Catholic interpretations of Luther. I find it somewhat of an irony that Roman Catholics are all over board on this one. Some say he’s a minion of Satan, others say he’s a Christian. This is nothing new. Catholic scholarship has no unified take on Luther. Here again, we find disunity among those perpetually claiming unity.

Now below I’ve listed many of the key Roman Catholic scholars who have opinions on Luther. What makes these opinions of Luther more important than the usual zealous Roman Catholic boldly pounding forth anti-Luther sentiment from his or her computer keyboard, is that most of the people mentioned below have actually read Luther’s writings. By and large, this is not the case of the current internet defenders of Rome.

Lets start with the pre-1900 Catholic approaches to Luther:

I. Johannes Cochlaeus:
The first Catholic apologist to critique Luther: Luther was a child of the devil, the fruit of a union between Satan and Luther's mother (who later regretted not having murdered him in the cradle). Luther lusts after wine and women, is without conscience, and approves any means to gain his end. Luther is a liar and a hypocrite, cowardly and quarrelsome. Demonic monstrosities boiled out of Luther’s powerful perverted mind. At Luther's death, Satan came to drag him off to hell.

II. Heinrich Denifle:
The Nineteenth Century Catholic scholar who held Luther was a fallen-away monk with unbridled lust, a theological ignoramus, an evil man, and used immorality to begin the the Reformation. Denifle accuses Luther of buffoonery, hypocrisy, pride, ignorance, forgery, slander, pornography, vice, debauchery, drunkenness, seduction, corruption, and more: he is a lecher, knave, liar, blackguard, sot, and worse: he was infected with the venereal disease syphilis.

III. Hartmann Grisar:
The Jesuit historian who used Freudian psychology to arrive at the assessment that Luther was a monk obsessed with the lust of the flesh and a pathological manic-depressive personality. Luther’s view of justification by faith alone came from his own immorality—that in order to justify his loose life and to excuse his renunciation of the monastic ideal, Luther denied salvation with works. Luther was a neurasthenic and a psychopath. He sees him as the victim of bad heredity, a maladjusted misfit entering the monastic life because of some traumatic experience during a thunderstorm. Grisar argues that Luther was simply a neurotic man who spent his entire life unhappy and guilt-ridden.

IV. Catholic Encyclopedia:
Catholic historian George Ganss presents a a wild tempered Luther, depressed and mentally ill. Luther was the victim of lust seeking unbrideled sexual liscence through his teaching. Luther ended up abandoned by most of his friends and colleagues, dejected and despairing, tortured in body and spirit.

V. Patrick O'Hare:
The Facts About Luther: Father O’Hare presents a Luther who is not only mad, but morally depraved and corrupt. He asserts that Luther in the Wartburg was in close touch with Satan. Luther lived indecently, decried celibacy and virginity, sanctioned adultery, dishonored marriage, authorized prostitution and polygamy, and was a drunkard and frequenter of taverns who preached his theology in the fumes of alcohol in the midst of his fellow revolutionaries. He attributes to Luther a fickle and cunning character, an inordinate impudence, an unbridled presumption, a titanic pride, a despotic nature, and a spirit of blasphemy; Luther was a blasphemer, a libertine, a revolutionary, a hater of religious vows, a disgrace to the religious calling, an enemy of domestic felicity, the father of divorce, the advocate of polygamy, and the propagator of immorality and open licentiousness.

And now, the post 1900 Catholic approaches to Luther:

I. Franz Xaver Kiefl: German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther never denied good works or holy living. Rather good works are the way in which faith expresses itself.

II. Sebastian Merkle: German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther’s motives were religious, not revolutionary or psychological.

III. Anton Fischer: German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther was a man of prayer.

IV. Hubert Jedin: German Roman Catholic Historian. Catholicism never condemned Luther by name at Trent. No official judgment on Luther exists by which a loyal Catholic is bound.

V. Joseph Lortz: German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther was a theologian of the highest rank. Luther was a profoundly religious man, a true Christian, who lived by a deep faith in Jesus Christ.

VI. Adolf Herte: German Roman Catholic Historian. Proved that all Catholic biographies of Luther simply echoed the vilification of the Sixteenth Century Catholic author Cochlaeus.

VII. Johannes Hessen : German Roman Catholic Theologian. Luther’s theology is not based on subjectivism.

VIII. Karl Adam: German Roman Catholic Theologian. Credits Luther with an original understanding of the essence of Christianity and a passionate desire to reject whatever is not holy or of God.

IX. Yves M.-J. Congar: Catholic French Scholar. The Reformation was a religious movement, an attempt to renew religion at its source. He considers Luther a profoundly religious man who had a deeply sensitive conscience and was obsessed by the longing to find peace of heart and a warm, living, consoling contact with God.

X. Father Thomas Sartory: German Benedictine Monk. Love inspired Luther. In spite of his mistakes and weaknesses, Luther was a genuine religious personality.

XI. George Tavard: American Catholic Scholar. There is no real contradiction between Roman Catholic theology and Luther's gospel; the gospel had been eclipsed in Luther's day.

XII. Father Thomas M. McDonough : Catholic American Scholar. Luther had a true experience with the living God. His experience was the effect and Fruit of God's objective, external Word.

XIII. Leonard Swidler : Catholic American Scholar. The Reformation was needed.

XIV. John M. Todd: Catholic American Lay Historian. Luther was an honest theologian with important insights.

XV. Harry J. McSorley:Catholic American Scholar. Luther’s protest was not attempt to divide Christianity.

XVI. Jared Wicks: Catholic American Scholar. Luther is a forceful teacher of lived religion. He is a resource for the enrichment of personal spirituality for members of all Christian confessions.

But as I mentioned, the storm is brewing in this thread. Someone calling himself "St. Thomas. More" has a post that is truly silly, Found here. I will be responding to this one, time allowing.


Churchmouse said...

Hi Jim,

I would love to read the interactions, possibly weigh in, especially since I have the utmost respect for you and your Luther scholarship (that's right bud, it is my humble estimation that have moved from the "researcher" to the "scholar" when it comes this Augustinian monk ;-). We really do appreciate the time and effort you put into the complete and unadulterated Luther. Yet, I am still unable to access CARM even though I have written repeated emails to the powers that be. I registered as "Churchmouse", I even got my password and my verification email. Yet, when I enter it, I get the welcome screen stating it is redirecting me to the forum, but all it does is redirect me right back to square on, as if I never logged on. Can you do me a favor and pop Diane, Eric, Matt, a PM and tell them of my plight? They can email me at


Churchmouse said...

Cool Jim!

Nice to see a face behind the blog, and Carm, and NTRM, etc.

It's amazing how we build our own ideas as to how one looks like. I thought for sure you'd have a beard, wear a robe, dwell in candlelight, and use a quill pen :-)

BTW, nice library :-) I haven't anything near the amount of books you have.


James Swan said...

LOL Ray-

I'll be turning 40 this year. I still have most of my hair intact, and I feel as good physically as I did when I was 20. In my 2o's I kept really long hair, I was heavily involved in bands and the music scene. I've never had the ability to grow a respectable beard.

Congrats on getting on CARM. I had a similar problem when buying the e-book of Dave Hunt's "What Love is This?" My MSN browser would not download the book. I spent about 13 hours trying to get it to work before I figured it out.