Saturday, June 17, 2006

Catholic Apologist Art Sippo on Catholic Historian Joseph Lortz

Here are some recent words of wisdom from Roman Catholic apologist, Dr. Art Sippo:
"Mr. Swan is like a broken record."
"Get over it, James. You are a cheer-leader for one of the evilest men in history who has led millions into perdition. You should be ashamed!"
"[Catholic historian joseph Lortz] was a Nazi just like Adolph Hitler. Both of them were Luther fans."
"You know, come to think of it, If Mr. Swan rally thinks that being a Nazi doesn't disqualify Fr. Lortz as a Luther expert, why doesn't he go right to the top and advocate the opinions of Adolph Hitler himself!"
"Mr. Swan wants us to believe that a man like Fr. Lortz who held to these "lofty ideals" can be trusted to interpret Luther correctly! Frankly, I would be embarrassed to be associated with him."
"Man you love those Nazis! Who cares about Lortz? He is passe."
In my discussion with Dr. Sippo, I recommended a few different Luther biographies for Roman Catholic laymen to read. My usual procedure is to list a few Catholic and Protestant biographies. I say, read books from both sides. The facts of the Reformation are simply the “facts”- that is, dates, events, etc are simply what they are. However, the context and the interpretation historians use to analyze these “facts” vary.

Some historians are conservative, while others make bold pronouncements and speculative verdicts. I tend to gravitate towards those who are more conservative. That is, those who gravitate more towards letting the facts simply be the “facts” get my attention more than those who speculate, have underlying gripes, or are experimenting in the pseudo-science psychohistory. For lack of better term, I’ll call this second group, liberal historians. Of course, these are broad categories, and do not always capture a particular writer accurately. But in many instances, this distinction works with biographers of Luther.

In my recommendations, I suggested Roman Catholic historian Joseph Lortz’s (1887-1975) two-volume set, The Reformation in Germany (1939). Lortz is credited with being key in the Roman Catholic reevaluation of Luther. Lortz more or less abandoned a 500-year Catholic precedent of vilifying Luther and attacking the “person” Luther rather than focusing on evaluating his theology. Many Roman Catholic writers followed after Lortz in this approach, and have produced some interesting historical evaluations from the Roman Catholic perspective. It should be fairly obvious that in my recommendation, I view Lortz as a conservative historian rather than a liberal historian (as I have defined these terms above).

Now, I am a Protestant, so I assume automatically Roman Catholics are suspicious of any author or book I recommend… they have every right to do... in fact, I encourage it. Go out, get the books I suggest, and prove that there either is, or is not, an underlying slight of hand being pulled in my recommendations. Prove I’m trying to deceive Roman Catholics by my recommendations. Prove that the books I recommend are those that try to whitewash the “real” Luther.

Now if you go to a good college library and track down Lortz’s books, you will find that Lortz is strikingly critical of Luther. While Lortz sees Luther as an honest man, he evaluates him as the victim of his own subjectivism. Isn’t this one of the BIG charges against Protestantism? They typically argue Roman Catholics have certainty while Protestants rely on their own subjective opinions? Well, this is similar to how Lortz evaluates Luther’s theology. Lortz ultimately concludes Luther was rightly declared a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church.

Lortz views Thomism as the only legitimate Catholic theology. Luther being trained in Occamism, was unable to fully understand the scriptures. When Luther attributed error to the Roman Catholic Church, he attributed Occamist theology to her: “Luther rejected a Catholicism which was basically not Catholic.”

Roman Catholic historian Jared Wicks summarizes Lortz’s criticism of Luther:
[Lortz] pointed out extremes in Luther, such as a lack of restraint in fulminating against his opponents. Lortz found in Luther an extravagance ill-befitting a teacher submissive to the word of God. Impulsive in interpreting the Scriptures, Luther distorted the full message of the New Testament by subjective selectivity [link].
Now, stop and ask, why in the world would James Swan recommend a book like this? It is so obviously against Protestant theology, and champions a distressing critique of Luther’s theology. I do so, because at least Lortz is playing the game in the right ballpark. He doesn’t waste his time in speculative psychohistory (a.k.a., “guessing”). He doesn’t waste time in futile discussions as to whether Luther was a depraved sex maniac (Denifle), a psychopath (Grisar), a manic-depressive (Reiter), or best understood via “crisis development” (Erikson). He doesn’t waste his time trying to uncover if Luther was demon possessed (Cochlaeus) or in contact with Satan (Patrick O’Hare).

Lortz spends his time presenting facts and then evaluates them from a Roman Catholic perspective of Rome having the (alleged) fullness of truth. While I strongly disagree with Lortz fundamentally, I can at least appreciate his efforts, and deal with them rationally, theologically, and historically. In my opinion, oftentimes the method is more important than the conclusions.

Catholic apologist Art Sippo though doesn’t share my respect for Lortz’s work on Luther. Dr. Sippo says,
With regard to Lortz, you betray your ignorance. Lortz has been marginalized by Catholic Scholarship over the last 3 decades because of his Nazi sympathies and overly "German" loyalties. No serious scholar Catholic scholar refers to his work anymore. The glowing reviews by the three prots you refer to prove my point. Lortz ignored what had gone before and wrote exactly what Lutherans (and the Nazis who co-opted the Lutheran ministers into their German Church Movement) wanted to hear. I am not surprised that prots would find him congenial.
And also:
Your allegation that mine is a 19th Century view of Luther a damnable lie. The view I support is also that of Preserved Smith, Fr. Hubert Jedin, Paul Reiter, Eric Ericsson, Herbert David Rix, and Richard Marius among others. All of these are 20th Century Scholars. The only "catholic" historians you quote from are a Nazi and an ecumaniac. Sorry. You will get no takers on this board for your 16th Century view of Luther.
Now isn’t this an irony: I have to defend a Roman Catholic historian that I don’t even fundamentally agree with against the charges from Roman Catholic layman / apologist, Dr. Art Sippo. According to Dr.  Sippo, Joseph Lortz was, is, and forever will be a Nazi. Now, that’s indeed a serious charge. But let’s suspend judgment for moment, and evaluate this form of argumentation. Say for instance, I was an expert on neurology, but I was also a member of the Taliban. Does being a member of the Taliban automatically prove that I cannot be an expert on neurology? No, of course not. In the same way, even if Lortz was a lifelong Nazi (he was not), it doesn’t necessarily mean he could not have been an expert on Luther.

When one looks at the life of Lortz, concluding that he should be characterized as “a Nazi” is indeed a twisting of the facts in order to poison the well against him. The facts of the matter are that Lortz had an early involvement with the Nazi party, and he understood it in a flawed idealistic sense. He thought that modernity had been so infected with subjectivism (which gave rise to secularism), that only a government combined with the church could defeat it (Luther was highly responsible for the rise of secularism according to Lortz).

In 1933, Lortz saw the early Nazi party as a vehicle for turning things around. By 1935, Lortz was becoming disillusioned with this. He began rethinking his involvement with the Nazi party, seeing that it would not be the vehicle to eliminate the problem of secularism. It was infected with anti-Christian sentiment, and thus itself was infected with secularism. He continued to distance himself from the Nazi Party, and by 1937 he wanted to cancel his membership in the Nazi party. He was told he could not: no one was allowed to withdraw from the Nazi party.

Note that his books on Luther were written after he intellectually and emotionally had distanced himself from the Nazi party (1939). After the war, the British Military required Lortz to go through a de-Nazification process. After which, he resumed his career in academia. Krieg notes, "For the next three decades, his writings played a significant role in the spiritual and theological renewal that eventually manifested itself in the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (November 21, 1964)" [Robert A. Krieg, Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany (New York: Continuum, 2004),56].

Despite this biographical information, Catholic apologist Art Sippo maintains Joseph Lortz was a lifelong Nazi. This is the main reason his work should be avoided. I've asked  Dr. Sippo bluntly: Can you show anywhere in Robert Krieg's Book Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany (New York: Continuum, 2004) where he asserts and proves Joseph Lortz was, is, and forever will be a Nazi? Did you get this from him, or are you just trying to slander one of your fellow Roman Catholics? Do you believe Lortz lived his entire life dedicated to Hitler, or to the Roman Catholic Church? Please provide documentation if you choose the former. Otherwise, I can only conclude you're making it up as you go along. Also, In answering this question, you may want to re-read Krieg's chapter on Lortz. Review page 80:"Lortz also contributed to the effort of Germans to acknowledge their failure in protecting Jews from Nazi persecution."Now, that's fairly odd behavior for a lifelong Nazi. Dr. Sippo's original reply was incoherent:
Frankly, I am disappointed byut not surprised. I have come to expect this type of nonsense from prots. If I were touting some Nazi's views you would be all over me about it. You obviously are not familiar with how subsequent Catholic Scholarship has dismissed Lortz but it is absolutely necesary for your apologteic against Luther's critics to use Lortz. Well you can't use him. He has been compromised and is of no value to you. A knowledgeable Catholic such as myself will dismiss Lortz and his Nazi credentials makes you suspect. Give it up. Move on. Lortz is trash.
His second response followed along the same lines:
Mr Swan claimed that Lortz had never been a Nazi. Dr. Krieg documents that Lortz in fact WAS was a Nazi. End of story. Mr. Swan was wrong. An apology is due to me.
Mr. Swan has proposed Fr. Lortz as a Luther expert. I refuse to accept that because of his Nazi past and the fact that the consensus of CATHOLIC scholarship is that Lortz did not understanad Luther and misrepresented him. End of story.
Well, possibly Dr. Sippo didn't even understand this basic question. The question asks if the man's entire life can be characterized into the phrase "Nazi." Dr. Sippo has not answered my question, because he can't without admitting his biggest gripe against Lortz is fallacious. Sippo has not shown anywhere in Robert Krieg's Book Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany where he asserts and proves Joseph Lortz was, is, and forever will be a Nazi, nor did he provide anything as proof for his constant assertion that he was a lifelong Nazi. He ignored the fact that Lortz's book was written after he repudiated the Nazi's. So, we can drop this whole "Lortz is a Nazi" thing- as Dr. Sippo has not in any way, proved that he wrote his books on Luther with Hitler in mind. I harp on this for one reason: Dr. Art Sippo doesn't know what he's talking about. His constant vitriol against "Prots" is not based on reason. If it were, he would be able to prove his assertions.

Dr. Sippo also asserts, “No serious scholar Catholic scholar refers to his work anymore.” He says also,
I dug out my copy of Catholic Theoloigans in Nazi Germany by Robert A. Krieg, a professor from Notre Dame. He had this to say about Lortz on Page 82:
Nevertheless as subsequent studies have shown, Lortz misrepresented Martin Luther's life and ideas. Concerned with stessing Luther's common ground with the Roman Church, Lortz made too little of the reformer's distinct theological orientation and his deliberate decision to break away from Rome. Thus Lortz's theological conviction about a single church led him to minimize significant aspects of Luther's life and thought. Similar to his mistaken view of National Socialism, Lortz forced historical data into a preconceived theory. For this reason, Victor Conzemius has described Lortz's view of church history in general and of National Socialism in particular as "idealism separated from reality."
In response, I would like to post a broader context of Krieg’s words:
Lortz was motivated in his study of Martin Luther by the theological conviction that there was one true church. Because Lortz took seriously Christ's prayer "that they may be one" (John 17:11), he judged that Catholic scholars needed to take a fresh look at Luther's life and thought, thereby questioning the prevailing Catholic view that the reformer was filled with rancor and was unstable. Lortz believed that if the Protestant and Catholic churches were united, they would help to bring about a new epoch in the West—an epoch characterized by the overcoming of secularism and the flourishing of a Christian society. Guided by these religious commitments, Lortz emerged as a Catholic pioneer in ecumenism. Indeed, his Reformation in Germany (which appeared in its sixth German edition in 1982) was, according to Hans Kung, "epoch-making." Nevertheless, as subsequent studies have shown, Lortz misrepresented Martin Luther's life and ideas. Concerned with stressing Luther's common ground with the Roman church, Lortz made too little of the reformer's distinct theological orientation and of his deliberate decision tobreak away from Rome. Thus Lortz's theological conviction about a single church led him to minimize significant aspects of Luther's life and thought. Similar to his mistaken view of National Socialism, Lortz forced historical data into a preconceived theory. For this reason, Victor Conzemius has described Lortz's view of church history in general and of National Socialism in particular as "idealism separated from reality." [Robert A. Krieg, Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany (New York: Continuum, 2004), 82].
First, Krieg is not arguing that the previous approaches to Luther that Lortz abandoned (Denifle, Grisar, etc.) are worthy approaches. In other words, the previous tendency to vilify Luther and focus on him as a “person” rather than looking at his theology is not being put forth as a good method to do Reformation history. Neither does Krieg affirm the approach of psychohistory. In other words, Krieg doesn’t champion Dr. Sippo’s approach to Luther.

I wouldn’t disagree with the method Krieg uses to say that Lortz misrepresented Luther’s life and ideas. Note, Krieg provides this comment to substantiate this point: “Concerned with stressing Luther's common ground with the Roman church, Lortz made too little of the reformer's distinct theological orientation and of his deliberate decision to break away from Rome. Thus Lortz's theological conviction about a single church led him to minimize significant aspects of Luther's life and thought.” Krieg is not arguing from a psychohistory perspective, or a vilifying perspective. He’s evaluating Lortz as I would: within the realm of a conservative approach to history.I would though, disagree with Krieg’s point that Luther made a “deliberate decision to break away from Rome.” Thus, I would defend Lortz’s theses.

Krieg’s comment, “Nevertheless, as subsequent studies have shown, Lortz misrepresented Martin Luther's life and ideas” is documented with only one study: Otto Pesch, “Theologische Uberlegungen zum ‘subjektivismus’ Luthers,” in Zum Gedenken an Joseph Lortz (1887-1976), ed. Decot and Vinke, 106-149. I haven’t read this study, but it is only one study. Krieg should have provided more than one study to justify his point. Neither can I comment on Pesch’s study, since I haven’t read it. Perhaps Dr. Sippo can provide us with Pesch’s proof, since it was Sippo who brought Krieg into this discussion. I doubt that Art Sippo read this article.

Art Sippo further maintains “If Mr. Swan would read a little more widely in Catholic circles he would find that Lortz is no longer considered a good resource.”

Let’s just continue to point out that Sippo’s only proof for this so far that "Catholic circles no longer consider Lortz a good resource,”is the statement by Robert Krieg that Lortz misrepresented Luther’s life and ideas. I don’t think Krieg ever says that Catholic circles have disregarded Lortz. This appears to be only Sippo's point. Which circles? The circle of serious Catholic historians, or the recent batch of pop-Roman Catholic apologists? Is Dr. Sippo even aware that their is still an entire group of Roman Catholic scholars considered in the vein of the "Lortz school"? How ironic. Seriously, If Art can direct me to any information to substantiate this, I’d be interested. I highly doubt he will, but maybe he'll come through. we'll see.

Lortz’s books have been scrutinized and criticized for years, as are many Luther biographies. I have never denied this. I have maintained Lortz’s books good for Roman Catholics to check out, simply because, as Krieg notes Lortz was “a Catholic pioneer in ecumenism.” As I stated earlier, Lortz is at least playing the game in right ballpark (contrarily, Dr. Sippo is not by his appeal to Denifle and Grisar, etc). I have already stated I disagree with Lortz in some major ways- yet his work stands as an attempt to look at Luther charitably, rather than using hatred and pyschohistory. I would never say Lortz, or any biography is flawless.

Has Sippo ever read Lortz? Does he have his books? Can he direct me to any recent studies from anybody saying that he is, and always will be a Nazi, and this is the reason he should be forgotten? If this is true, Why has the Lortz school of Roman Catholic theologians remained to this day? Are they Nazis as well? Are Catholic scholars Harry McSorley and Jared Wicks Nazis also?

Since Krieg utilized Otto Pesch’s study, and Sippo by default has so far only substantiated his claim with Krieg (who relies on Pesch). Pesch opinion seems to have some bearing on the whole matter. How does Pesch feel about Catholic Luther studies?
Catholic interest in Luther and his theology since the end of the Second World War has developed in such totally unexpected ways, and has produced such surprising results, that the yield of earlier decades can only be considered a prelude or even an aberration, and in any case a phase in the history of theological research which today is obsolete. It is therefore proper to begin a resume of this field with the end of the Second World War.
The situation at that point was, to be sure, dominated by two great works which had appeared at the beginning of or during the war — the history of the Reformation by Joseph Lortz which first appeared in 1939/40, and the three-volume study by Adolf Herte of the influence of Cochlaeus on the Catholic interpretation of Luther. Both works — and that will always be their merit in the history of Catholic theology — initiated a decisive change in the style of Catholic Luther research. While Herte's work provided an examination of conscience which is irrefutable in the sobriety of its documentation, Lortz gave an impetus for future Catholic study of Luther which is still felt today. These works are characterized by the concern to regard and elucidate Luther, his work and his theology in the twofold perspective of church history and biography. Historically, Lortz described, with a previously unknown fairness, the negative aspects of the church's teaching and life in the Middle Ages, and thus proved the necessity and urgency of a thorough-going reform. Biographically, Lortz described the man Luther as a person caught in a deep inner conflict progressively disturbed by the condition of the church, and thus virtually forced to form his new theology and finally to act as a Reformer. Thus Lortz created a basis for fundamentally taking Luther seriously as a religious figure, in spite of all his criticism at specific points. Thus it was possible for him to emphasize the subjective purity of Luther's desire and thereby to transfer an essential part of the guilt for the tragic schism in belief from Luther to the church of the late Middle Ages. This is precisely the change in style which Lortz brought about, (#4) and which has been, in spite of a few later regressions into the old "style", irreversible.
Footnote #4: It is well known that the most important works leading up to Lortz are the defamation of Luther by H. Denifle, Luther und Luthertum, 2 vols., Mainz, 1904/09 (Vol. I. 2nd ed.. 1904), and the pathological interpretations of Luther by H. Grisar, Luther, 3 vols., Freiburg/Breisgau, 3rd ed., 1924/25, and Martin Luthers Leben und sein Werk, Freiburg/Breisgau, 2nd ed., 1927. This pathological interpretation of Luther has representatives today on the Catholic as well as on the Protestant side, such as P. J. Reiter, Martin Luthers Umwelt, Charakter und Psychose. 1 vols., {Copenhagen, 1939/41 ; M. Werner, "Psychologisches zum Klostererlebnis Martin Luthers", Schweizensche Zeitschrift fur Psychologic, Vol. 7, No. 1. 1948, pp. 1-18 ; the articles by R. Weijenborg (cf. footnote 5); E. Grossmann, "Beitrag zur psychologischen Analyse der Personlichkeit Dr. Martin Luthers", Montasschrift fur Psychiatric und Neurologic. Vol. 132, No. 4, 1956, pp. 274-290. It is not so regrettable that this type of interpretation is attempted — if successfully or not is another Question. It is, however, regrettable that the claim is consciously or unconsciously made to have adequately handled a historical and theological problem, and even to have said the last word on it. [Otto H. Pesch, OP, Twenty Years of Catholic Luther Research (Lutheran World 13, 303-304].

Addendum 2018
This blog entry was edited and reformatted January, 27, 2018. The original can be found here. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former. The original source for Dr. Sippo's quotes is no longer available online. His words were taken from Patrick Madrid's Envoy Forums (no longer extant).


Churchmouse said...


Just to add to the Sippo citations you provided, the one that got me was:

The level of invective and personal attacks on this board are disgraceful. Some of you people don't knwo when to let go. I do.

My jaw just dropped. Is the man totally ignorant of his behavior?? No wonder no apologist wants to deal with Sippo. Who wants to expose themselves to a lunatic who thinks he has all the answers and who, I'm convinced, sees himself as infallible in all matters (move over Ratzinger). I've always said that some of the most intelligent men can be the biggest fools and I think Dr. Art Sippo is a prime example of this.


Anonymous said...

James, keep up the good work and nice head shot of Art. Too bad it wasn't a full body shot I would like to see if there is an anvil shaped bulge in his boxing glove. Grace and Peace Paul L.

Anonymous said...

James it just occured to me that you might not be in the loop about the anvil reference. Therefore. Enjoy. Paul L.

FX Turk said...

I think Dr. Sippo has forgotten that Protestants are not bound for perdition. Apparently he hasn't read the catechism lately.

You should ask him, James, if pp. 818 and 819 influence his view of the world in any way. That doesn't have anything to do with Luther except that clearly Lutherans are not bound for perdition as Dr. Sippo so glibly expounds.

James Swan said...

I'm just about done dealing with Art Sippo. Every so often, I think he actually knows something about something, and then I realize that it's his "fact" processor in his brain that simply doesn't work right. It's a little like being in one of those wacky funhouses I remember in the 70's at the Jersey Shore.

Believe it or not, I actually appreciate that he believes "Prots" are bound for perdition. I don't want to confuse him with the catechism. I was listening to an old Dividing Line (quite by accident), and Dr. Oakley mentioned Sippo would've been a great inquisitor back in the day.

FM483 said...

The Scriptures are clear that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father and everlasting life: the atonement of Christ on the cross has paved the way for all who believe in this sacrifice for their sins. The Reformation treatise "The Power And Primacy Of The Pope" clearly defines the theological abuses and falsehoods of the papacy in deceiving millions of people throughout the ages. This is what leads to "perdition", not faith in Christ as expounded by Martin Luther in his various writings and Small Catechism. The question is, are men responsible even when they deny Truth(Christ) and adhere to lies and falsehoods such as the Roman Catholic Church's papacy and works righteousness? The answer. based upon God's Word, is that only through absolute faith in the atonement of Christ is a man saved. Hence, unbelief leads to perdition, not believing any person in history. Martin Luther always pointed to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary for the atonement of the sins of the world. The papacy, and Roman Catholicism in general, points to the works of men and obedience to earthly power(i.e. the RCC and papacy) as necessary for salvation. This is what the Roman Catholic Church has officially taught in the Council of Trent, Vatican I and II, and in every unbiblical doctrine which proceeded from the "chair of Peter", the "Holy See"(e.g. Immaculate Conception, Bodily Assumption of Mary).

Frank Marron