Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Martin Luther: "Those who ascribe something to man’s freedom of will regard those things differently from those who know only God’s free grace"

March 1, 1517.

From our cloister in Wittenberg. Martin Luther, of the Augustinian Order. To John Lange

About Erasmus.

I am at present reading our Erasmus, but my heart recoils more and more from him. But one thing I admire is, that he constantly and learnedly accuses not only the monks, but the priests, of a lazy, deep-rooted ignorance.

Only, I fear he does not spread Christ and God’s grace sufficiently abroad, of which he knows very little. The human is to him of more importance than the divine.

Although unwilling to judge him, I warn you not to read blindly what he writes. For we live in perilous times, and every one who is a good Hebrew and Greek scholar is not a true Christian; even Dr. Hieronymus, with his five languages, cannot approach Augustine with his one tongue, although Erasmus views all this from a different standpoint.
Those who ascribe something to man’s freedom of will regard those things differently from those who know only God’s free grace.

Source: Luther's Letters

I found this letter interesting for a few reasons. First, the date of its composition was March 1, 1517, months before the posting of the 95 Theses. Much debate surrounds when exactly Luther had his "evangelical breakthrough". Many scholars find Luther's understanding of Justification growing, and coming to fruition sometime after the posting of the 95 Theses. In this letter, it's obvious Luther was well on his to his understanding of justification, for "Those who ascribe something to man’s freedom of will regard those things differently from those who know only God’s free grace."

Second, the letter itself is understood best by a comment that Packer and Johnston make in their introduction to Luther's Bondage of the Will:

"Writing to Spalatin in October 1516, Luther had remarked that he considered Augustine the greatest exegetical writer and Jerome a poor second. Erasmus would have reversed the order. Erasmus followed Jerome in interpreting the justification by works against which Paul writes as merely justification by outward ceremonial observance. Luther, believing that any kind of effort or contribution man may attempt to make towards his own salvation is works-righteousness, and therefore under condemnation, preferred the thorough-going exegesis of Augustine, who magnifies the grace of God. If the person is changed, then- and only then- will the good works follow. Such was Luther's position."

Source: Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will [(Translated by J.I. Packer and O.R.Johnston),Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957, p.25].

One can see from this letter and background the two usual interpretations of Paul's letter to the Romans at work in the theology of Luther and Erasmus: Luther and the Protestants, affirming man's total helplessness and need of grace; Erasmus and Rome, interpreting Paul only to mean "ceremonial law", and assuming mankind's ablity to contribute to one's own eventual (or possible) salvation.

In December 1525, Luther makes this point in The Bondage of The Will, even questioning the salvation of Jerome when discussing what Paul means by "law":

"Paul's meaning is commonly escaped and avoided by saying that what he calls 'works of the law' are ceremonial works, which since the death of Christ are death-dealing. I reply: This is the error of ignorant Jerome, which, for all Augustine's strenuous resistance, spread throughout the world when God withdrew, and Satan prevailed, and has continued to this day; with the result that it has been impossible to understand Paul, and the knowledge of Christ has been inevitably obscured. Had there been no other error in the church, this one was sufficiently potent and destructive to wreck the gospel. Unless extraordinary grace has interposed, Jerome deserved hell rather than heaven for it—so far am I from having the audacity to canonise him and call him a saint! It is not true that Paul is here speaking only of ceremonial works; else, how will his argument to prove that all are unrighteous and need grace, stand good? For one could then say: Granted, we are not justified by ceremonial works; but a man can be justified by the moral works of the Decalogue. So your syllogism [Erasmus] has not proved that grace is necessary to all men. And how profitable, in that case, grace would be, delivering us merely from ceremonial
works, which are the easiest works of all, and can be screwed out of us by plain fear or self-love!Moreover, it is erroneous to say that ceremonial works are deadly and unlawful since the death of Christ. Paul never said that. What he says is that they do not justify, or in any way help man to free himself from ungodliness in God's sight. It is fully compatible with this that one can do them without doing anything unlawful. Eating and drinking are works which do not justify or commend us to God, yet he who eats and drinks does not therefore do something unlawful

Source: Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will [(Translated by J.I. Packer and O.R.Johnston),Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957, p.284].

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Roman Catholicism Update

I’ve done a major update on this link on my sidebar archive :

Roman Catholic Related Papers And Blogs By James Swan

I was amazed by how many entries I’ve done on Roman Catholicism in this past year. I never think that I’ve written that much on anything except Martin Luther, but this link proves that I’ve done much more. Go ahead, give it a look. The page took about 4 hours to put together.

This archive page on Roman Catholicism is organized by sections:

The first section: includes blog entries on general topics.
The second section: includes blog entries on specific church fathers.
The third section: specific to blog entries on Catholic apologists and laymen.

This link will help me keep track of what I’ve written, as well as being a quick reference for topics covered. I’ve also included some of the guest blogger entries by Frank Marron and Ray Aviles. Their contributions have been a true blessing to me, particularly these:

Did Jerome Change his Mind on the Apocrypha?- An excellent entry done by Ray Aviles proving Jerome did not think the apocrypha belonged in the canon, and never changed his mind.

Thoughts on the Examination of the Council of Trent- Guest blogger Frank Marron’s excellent look at Chemnitz’s book on the Council of Trent.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pope Luther and Pope Calvin

"The moral defects of the "Reformers" are there for all to see who care to see. Yet Protestants think nothing of deriving their distinctives from these sinful men. These guys are the very Founders of Protestantism. They exercised far more prerogatives and power over their flocks than any pope ever dreamt of. Luther claimed to be God's mouthpiece; so did Calvin, in effect. By what authority did they dare say that? None except their own self-appointed "authority."" [Source: Sinful Church Leaders]


I would have to immediately ask, how does one compare the dreams of power popes have had, to that of the historical record of Luther and Calvin? It is wishful thinking to think that Luther and Calvin had even an ounce of the power that the medieval papacy exerted. Luther didn't have an army, or even a large salary. Calvin lived as an exile, and wasn't even a citizen of Geneva till the end of his life.

Neither Luther or Calvin are the ultimate sources for Protestant theology. They are not the wellspring from which Protestants “derive their distinctives." They are nothing more than figures from church history. They are nothing more than Christian men that held positions of authority within the church at a particular point in church history. Both Luther and Calvin pointed to the Scriptures as the ultimate authority.

Looking over his life’s work, Luther, the alleged infallible-interpreter-super-pope, said:

I would have been quite content to see my books, one and all, remain in obscurity and go by the board. Among other reasons, I shudder to think of the example I am giving, for I am well aware how little the church has been profited since they have begun to collect many books and large libraries, in addition to and besides the Holy Scriptures, and especially since they have stored up, without discrimination, all sorts of writings by the church fathers, the councils, and teachers. Through this practice not only is precious time lost, which could be used for studying the Scriptures, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench (as happened to the book of Deuteronomy, in the time of the kings of Judah)…

I cannot, however, prevent them from wanting to collect and publish my works through the press (small honor to me), although it is not my will. I have no choice but to let them risk the labor and the expense of this project. My consolation is that, in time, my books will lie forgotten in the dust anyhow, especially if I (by God’s grace) have written anything good. Non ere melior Patribus meis.  He who comes second should indeed be the first one forgotten. Inasmuch as they have been capable of leaving the Bible itself lying under the bench, and have also forgotten the fathers and the councils—the better ones all the faster—accordingly there is a good hope, once the overzealousness of this time has abeted, that my books also will not last long. There is especially good hope of this, since it has begun to rain and snow books and teachers, many of which already lie there forgotten and moldering. Even their names are not remembered any more, despite their confident hope that they would eternally be on sale in the market and rule churches.” (LW 34:283-284).

For Protestants, what Luther or Calvin said is only worthy with how closely it conforms to the Scripture, and my guess would be Luther and Calvin would readily agree. A few months back, guest blogger Frank Marron made some insightful observations from a Lutheran perspective:

"As a communicant member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, I can honestly say that the historic man Martin Luther is seldom quoted. On the other hand, the same verses rediscovered in the 16th century by the Augustinian monk Martin Luther are quoted frequently: Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 1:17, and Romans 5:8 - among others.

The legacy of Martin Luther that survives to this day is Sola Scriptura - Holy Scripture is the norm and basis for all Christian beliefs - not any historic personage. Roman Catholics, and others, are confused over this basic issue because of their unquestioning allegiance to another man - the pope. Consequently, Roman Catholics simply transfer their own thought processes to any Protestant by attacking the historic man Martin Luther. This is an error in their logic. Although I believe that Luther was used by God as an instrument, I also realize that he was a sinner like all men, in need of the Savior.

What Roman Catholics consistently fail at is recognizing that their church body stands accused of many heresies by the Word of God, not Martin Luther who was merely God's voice piece. This is the truth: all men and material things fade away but the Word of the Lord endures forever. As a Lutheran I believe we are still in the Reformation. The exact same fallacies and heresies confronted by Luther in the medieval church are alive and well in American Evangelicalism and elsewhere. Mankind can simply not believe the truth of God as spoken in His Word - primarily because of a confusion between Law and Gospel. All religions of the world are works righteousness oriented and have similarities. Only orthodox Christianity is the opposite of commonsense, maintaining that salvation is totally dependent upon the Grace of God from start to finish. This is so difficult for fallen man to comprehend, since even the spiritual discernment of this truth requires the Holy Spirit's enlightenment (1Cor. 2:14)."

Well said Frank. In regard to Calvin: That he was a tyrant in Geneva is a myth. He never held a real civic office. He was not even a citizen until late in the 1550’s. His position in Geneva was not really secure until 1555, when his enemies were clearly not going to be elected to the city council. His only authority was based on his moral authority and teaching. The city council many times goes against him and his recommendations. For example: Calvin wanted weekly communion, the city council though decided it would be adminstered four times a year.

Calvin held that God wants his people edified by the Word of God: to receive spiritual nourishment, which comes from the scripture. It is the authority in life of the Christian and the Church. This is not abstract, but “practical religion.” Calvin was trained as a lawyer and not a philosopher. his main concern was, “how shall we know the will of God?” In Calvin’s day, the challenge of the Medieval Church was: “We know the will of God by the Bible and Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church. " Calvin rejected this authority. He held the Bible is sufficient; it did not need to be supplemented. He held the scripture created the church, so the church is dependent on the Bible, not the Bible dependent on the church.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

MARTIN LUTHER . TO A STRANGER Consolation to one doubting his election to eternal life.

July 20, 1528.

Dear sir and friend — I wish you above all the grace and mercy of God through his Son Jesus, our sole Savior. Some days ago, my brother, Caspar Cruciger, doctor of the Holy Scriptures, informed me that you were afflicted with strange thoughts as to God’s omniscience, and had become quite perplexed, so that it was feared you might take your own life (which may God Almighty prevent).

You find difficulty in believing that the Almighty knew from all eternity who should be saved, whether they were already dead, alive, or as yet unborn. Now, all must admit this, for He knows all things, and nothing is hidden from Him who counts the stars in the heavens, the leaves of the trees, nay, even the hairs of men’s heads, from all which you seem to fancy you may do what you will, good or evil, for if God has ordained whether you shall be saved or not (which is true)your thoughts are more taken up with damnation than salvation, and you sink into despair and become a prey to despondency. So I, as my Lord Christ’s servant, send this letter of consolation to let you know God’s thoughts towards you, whether you be destined to blessedness or perdition.

Although the Almighty knows everything, and no one can go against the decrees of His will, still it is His earnest desire, nay command, decreed from all eternity, that all men should be partakers of everlasting joy, as is clearly seen from Ezekiel 28:23 — “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord; and not that he should return from his ways, and live?”

Seeing He desires the salvation of sinners, who swarm beneath heaven’s lofty vault, why will you with your foolish thoughts prompted by Satan separate yourself from them, thereby cutting yourself off from the grace of God? “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him,” and cry for help. For He is rich toward all who call upon Him. But it is only strong filth which can drive away such despairing thoughts as in Romans 3:22, “Even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe.” Mark these words: unto all , and upon all . If not among that number, at least you can reckon yourself among the sinners, which is a greater reason that you should pray and be certain of the answer should God delay coming speedily to your help; for He will never forsake those who call upon Him, nor fail to drive away your despairing doubts which are the fiery darts of the devil and his emissaries. Why wander in false ways when so good and straight a path is before you, and the Father cries, “This is my beloved Son!” Listen to His counsel! And even although in your despair you were so hardened as not to hear God’s voice, you cannot overlook that of the Son, who stands across the path which all must tread, crying in trumpet-like tones, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He not only uses the word “come,” but “all.” No one is excluded, no matter how wicked he be. So, seeing all may come, do you run with them, leap and spring, and do not remain among those lost crowds.

Further, He says “to me !” who knows every foot of the way, and will not let thy foot slide. Why wander aimlessly about? But who are to come? The weary and heavy laden! And what kind of company would that be? I do not know Messrs. Weary and Heavy Laden. They ought to have high-sounding names, such as burgher-master, and such like — these master minds, who love to grovel in God’s Word with their human reason, like the sow in a turnip field ! Not at all. It is he who is weary and heavy laden, borne down with sad thoughts direct from the Evil One, who is called, — the man who does not know to what hand to turn, and is ready to sink into despair. So that is why He says “heavy laden,” as if He had known our burdens, and wished to help us to bear them, nay, even relieve us of them entirely.

And consider that God Almighty created and elected us, not to damnation, but to everlasting life, even as the angels in the first sermon proclaimed to the shepherds on the field: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” And it was inner, not bodily peace they meant. It was not from those who injured them, but from the world, the flesh, and the devil, they were to be delivered. Hence one can see from the Scriptures how great is God’s mercy, and these and such like thoughts can enable him to form an opinion as to God’s foreseeing, and then there is no occasion for a man to torture himself, nor would it avail even were he to worry his flesh from his bones.

What business is it of yours that God causes the dear sun to shine over good and bad, over arid and green? God has ordained that the sun should endue the moisture of the ground with its vital powers, thus causing the roots and branches of the trees to fructify and yield fruit. And if a dried-up tree should nevertheless remain impervious to the rays of the sun, still the tree is not so much at fault as the soil which is marshy. For “good ground, good corn,” as the proverb says. Thus, where the preaching is good and full of consolation, there are sure to be tender consciences and joyful hearts. Therefore as you cannot hinder the natural sun, which is a tiny spark compared to the starry firmament, — the smallest star being larger than the whole world, — from spreading her rays abroad, still less can you limit God’s grace, being fathomless, having neither beginning nor end.

Dear one, do not reckon so close with God. Fancy if the Son of God had asked the high priests and Levites at the crucifixion if He should receive the malefactor into Heaven, what would they have said? Doubtless the answer would have been: “If thieves and murderers desire to enter Heaven we do not object,” and might have added, “If he belong to Paradise we should not have hung him upon a gallows, and it is as likely he will enter Heaven as that you are God.”

Thus speaks a scornful world and man’s reason.

How well Christ answered His disciples who asked, as John lay asleep on His bosom, “What shall this man do ?” “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” as if to warn him not to fall. “Let every one sweep before his own door, and then we shall be saved!” This would prevent much heart-burning as to what God in the eternal counsel of His will has decreed concerning those who should be saved or lost. He who will not accept a certainty for an uncertainty will at length come away emptyhanded, besides being the object of ridicule. He who will not be counselled in time and despises God’s Word will fall a prey to a raging devil as sure as God is God. If things went with us according to our thoughts, prompted by the flesh and the devil, we should all be given over to death, therefore we have the word of promise: “Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days. But go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”

If we persevere to the end we may console ourselves that devilish thoughts shall be expelled, and we may raise our hearts in faith to God, and be certain that we have received forgiveness of sins, and shall be, nay, are justified, according to Christ’s promise, by faith of Jesus Christ, as St. Paul testifies in Galatians 3:22.

That is when we are cast down, and every path seems shut up to us, we shall once more stand erect in faith, resting on God’s promises of Christ, or in Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

John Calvin on the Greatness of Mary

John Calvin said: 

"It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor." (John Calvin, Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 348).

Examples of Roman Catholic webpages using this quote to point out Calvin's belief in the "greatness of Mary" can be found here and here. Well, thanks, my Roman Catholic friends, for translating this quote from the original Latin text. Wouldn't it have been much easier to simply look up the quote in the English renderings of Calvin’s commentaries, which have been available for decades? This quote is yet another example of cyber-propaganda: it's a cut-and-paste one of Rome's defenders found in a book somewhere and put out in cyberspace to prove Rome's version of Christianity. At this point, identifying the culprit isn't an easy task. The genesis web-page may have been The Protestant Reformers on Mary.  

The source given is : "John Calvin, Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 348." Page 348 can be found here. The text in question states,

I doubt the person who compiled these Calvin quotes actually translated this text into English. The quote is found easily enough in Calvin’s Commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels. The context is as follows.

Luke 11:27. Blessed is the womb. By this eulogium the woman intended to magnify the excellence of Christ; for she had no reference to Mary, whom, perhaps, she had never seen. And yet it tends in a high degree to illustrate the glory of Christ, that she pronounces the womb that bore him to be noble and blessed. Nor was the blessing inappropriate, but in strict accordance with the manner of Scripture; for we know that offspring, and particularly when endued with distinguished virtues, is declared to be a remarkable gift of God, preferable to all others. It cannot even be denied that God conferred the highest honor on Mary, by choosing and appointing her to be the mother of his Son. And yet Christ’s reply is so far from assenting to this female voice, that it contains an indirect reproof.
What Calvin says, I know no Protestant would deny. I, as a member of a Reformed church know that in God’s providence, Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus Christ. Indeed, that is a great honor. Calvin goes on though to the real point of this text. He says,
Nay, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God. We see that Christ treats almost as a matter of indifference that point on which the woman had set a high value. And undoubtedly what she supposed to be Mary’s highest honor was far inferior to the other favors which she had received; for it was of vastly greater importance to be regenerated by the Spirit of God than to conceive Christ, according to the flesh, in her womb; to have Christ living spiritually within her than to suckle him with her breasts. In a word, the highest happiness and glory of the holy Virgin consisted in her being a member of his Son, so that the heavenly Father reckoned her in the number of new creatures. In my opinion, however, it was for another reason, and with a view to another object, that Christ now corrected the saying of the woman. It was because men are commonly chargeable with neglecting even those gifts of God, on which they gaze with astonishment, and bestow the highest praise. This woman, in applauding Christ, had left out what was of the very highest consequence, that in him salvation is exhibited to all; and, therefore, it was a feeble commendation, that made no mention of his grace and power, which is extended to all. Christ justly claims for himself another kind of praise, not that his mother alone is reckoned blessed, but that he brings to us all perfect and eternal happiness. We never form a just estimate of the excellence of Christ, till we consider for what purpose he was given to us by the Father, and perceive the benefits which he has brought to us, so that we who are wretched in ourselves may becomehappy in him. But why does he say nothing about himself, and mention only the word of God? It is because in this way he opens to us all his treasures; for without the word he has no intercourse with us, nor we with him. Communicating himself to us by the word, he rightly and properly calls us to hear and keep it, that by faith he may become ours.
In Calvin’s estimate, though it was an “honor” for Mary to bear Christ Jesus, much more important was that she was given spiritual life by our Lord. In fact all of us are blessed if we are given spiritual life by Jesus. To yank one sentence out of Calvin’s commentary about Mary and think it represents Calvin as a firm supporter of Roman Catholic Mariology is just not an accurate way to handle texts. Note how Calvin treats the Hail Mary, and what it means to call Mary blessed:
Next comes the third clause, that she (Mary) is blessed among women. Blessing is here putdown as the result and proof of the Divine kindness. The word Blessed does not, in my opinion, mean, Worthy of praise; but rather means,Happy. Thus, Paul often supplicates for believers, first “grace” and then “peace,” (Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:2,) that is, every kind of blessings; implying that we shall then be truly happy and rich, when we are beloved by God, from whom all blessings proceed. But if Mary’s happiness, righteousness, and life, flow from the undeserved love of God, if her virtues and all her excellence are nothing more than the Divine kindness, it is the height of absurdity to tell us that we should seek from her what she derives from another quarter in the same manner as ourselves.

With extraordinary ignorance have the Papists, by an enchanter’s trick, changed this salutation into a prayer, and have carried their folly so far, that their preachers are not permitted, in the pulpit, to implore the grace of the Spirit, except through their Hail, Mary. But not only are these words a simple congratulation. They unwarrantably assume an office which does not belong to them, and which God committed to none but an angel. Their silly ambition leads them into a second blunder, for they salute a person who is absent.
Addendum 2017
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2006. 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.

Monday, November 20, 2006

How Do You Know? Answering Faulty Catholic Epistemological Arguments

How do you know with certainty your non-Roman Catholic faith is true? I tend to gravitate towards this question- because in college I majored in Philosophy. One of my mentors was a devout skeptic, who similarly repeatedly asked “…how do you know what you know about anything, and how can you be certain you know it?”

Roman Catholics think that their epistemological problems have somehow vanished by their choice to enter and believe the Roman Catholic Church. My philosophy teachers would have a field day with such a person. It would be very easy for a non-Christian skeptic to tear their arguments on "certainty" to shreds.

Protestants though approach the certainty claims of Roman Catholics a bit differently than a skeptical gadfly. We ask similar questions, but with the purpose of showing that allegiance to an infallible interpreter gives no such thing as absolute certainty. For instance, In his book , Upon This Slippery Rock: Countering Roman Claims to Authority [New York: Calvary Press, 2002], Eric Svendsen asks the following questions:

1. When the Roman Catholic apologist asks, “How do you know your private interpretation of the Bible is correct over against the private interpretation of every other denomination?,” we should respond by asking a question of our own: “How do you know that your private interpretation of Roman documents is correct over against the private interpretation of other Roman Catholics?”

2. When the Roman Catholic apologist asks, “how can you be certain that you are in the truth since all you have to go on is your own fallible private judgment that your church is right?,” we should counter with a similar question: “How can you be certain that you are in the truth since all you have to go on is your own fallible private judgment that Rome is right?”

3. When the Roman Catholic apologist asks, “How do you know you’ve picked the right denomination?, we should respond by asking, “How do you know you’ve picked the right infallible interpreter?”

4. When the Roman Catholic apologist insists that the principle of Sola Scriptura has resulted in 25,000 denominations, we should in turn insist that the principle of Scripture plus an infallible interpreter has resulted in an even greater number of religious cults.

Source: Eric Svendsen, , Upon This Slippery Rock: Countering Roman Claims to Authority [New York: Calvary Press, 2002] 65-66.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Roman Catholic Reliance on Private Judgment

As mentioned previously, I've been reading Eric Svendsen's book, Upon This Slippery Rock: Countering Roman Claims to Authority [New York: Calvary Press, 2002]. The book looks at some of the basic, but all-important authority claims made by the recent batch of Catholic apologists. Sometimes looking at those basic points that an apologetic system relies on stops an argument before it even begins.

A mantra-like point made by Catholic apologists is that Protestants rely on their own fallible private judgment when reading the Bible or studying Church history. A Protestant therefore can have no actual certainty, because they have no infallible interpreter making doctrine and history explicitly clear. A Protestant is forced to “pick and choose” which interpretation of Scripture and history seems best to them. If I had a dollar for every time I heard this put forth, I could pay my mortgage every month with the money collected. It’s a favorite line of reasoning used on the show, The Journey Home seen on the EWTN Network, and among those who “convert” to Roman Catholicism.

Of this line of reasoning, Dr. Svendsen points out:

“…[T]his implies that if one decides on Rome as that choice, he must do so without engaging in the very private judgment that the Roman Catholic apologist has told us is illegitimate. That means, for instance, that the Roman Catholic cannot appeal to his interpretation of Matthew 16, which he thinks identifies Peter as the first pope; nor to any other biblical passage for that matter, since appealing to any passage of Scripture would necessarily force the Roman Catholic to engage in private interpretation. Nor can he look down the annals of Church history to find evidence that the churches granted primacy to the Roman bishop, for those writings too are subject to interpretation, and most church historians disagree with Rome’s understanding of them. Hence, he would again be forced to engage in private judgment.” [Source: Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock, 33].

To put it bluntly, those that have chosen to become Roman Catholics have to use their own private judgment to do so. One who converts to Rome had to engage in private judgment when making a decision to become Roman Catholic. Those touting Catholic “certainty” over against Protestant “uncertainty” are putting forth a double standard. They are claiming that their position is certain, while anything else is uncertain. But their own decision to become Catholic comes from their own private judgment. Svendsen notes of the “convert” to Rome:

The fact is, he had to engage in the very same principle of private judgment that we all must use to decide among the various options; namely, a thinking, objective reasoning process, apart from reliance upon the system to which he would eventually subscribe. But it is that very same principle of private judgment that leads him to Rome and others of us away from Rome. Certainly Rome condemns the decision we reached, but she cannot condemn the principle we used to that decision, since it is the very same principle that all Roman Catholics must use to decide that Rome is the ‘true’ church. The Roman Catholic cannot introduce a double standard at this point and still be consistent.” [Source: Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock, 34].

Thus, the Catholic convert used private judgment and private interpretation to choose Rome, but in the next breath condemns the Protestant for using private judgment and private interpretation. Even after giving oneself over to an infallible interpreter, The Catholic convert still must use private interpretation and judgment, because very few biblical texts have actually been infallibly interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church.

But the final blow to the Roman argument comes with the fact that the entire basis it rests on is self-refuting. Svendsen notes: “The body of literature we are told plainly identifies the ‘infallible interpreter’ for us (namely, Scripture and church history) is the very body of literature that we are later told we cannot understand without an ‘infallible interpreter’” [Source: Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock, 36]. When asked how the Roman Catholic Church can establish her authority, the Catholic apologist answers that it is proved by the testimony of the Scriptures. Hence, they use a circular argument: they prove the authority of the Scriptures by the Church, and the authority of the Church by the Scriptures.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Catholics are Not Unified on the Inerrancy of Scripture

I've been reading Eric Svendsen's book, Upon This Slippery Rock: Countering Roman Claims to Authority [New York: Calvary Press, 2002]. Eric makes some great points about Catholic authority claims, and i'd like to share a few of them in the next couple blog entries.

If you ever engage those who advocate Catholic apologetics, you're probably familiar with the argument that Catholics are unified in their beliefs, while Protestants are not. Let's concentrate on Catholic unity- for if an argument, when applied to one's own position, refutes one's own position, it is an invalid argument.

Svendsen points out that variations among belief in a religious system among its advocates either invalidates that system or does not:

One cannot…argue that his religious system is more legitimate on the basis that there is less disagreement within it than within other systems of belief. It is an all-or-nothing proposition. Either disagreements nullify a system, or they do not. Otherwise, the best one can argue is that his religious system more nearly conforms to a set standard of unity, but does not actually meet that standard. It is also important to keep in mind that the ‘diversity of belief’ argument is one that was invented by Roman Catholic Apologists….Any system that argues for an arbitrary criterion for being the ‘true’ church must itself conform to that criterion.” [Source: Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock, 23].

The example Svendsen uses to dismantle Rome’s claim for absolute unity is the Vatican II document, Dei Verbum. He goes right to an extremely pertinent issue for anyone claiming the name “Christian”: the authority of Scripture. Dei Verbum states:

107. The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore ALL that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures." [Vatican II DV 11]

Svendsen points out that this statement itself is prone to multiple interpretations with the Roman community. Conservative Roman Catholic apologists see this as a clear statement that the entirety of Scripture is without error. Some Roman Catholic scholars though (like R.A.F. MacKenzie and Raymond Brown) see the phrase “for the sake of our salvation” as limiting inerrency to only those sections of Scripture that teach about salvation.

Svendsen notes, “No one can tell us what the ‘official’ Roman Catholic teaching is on this issue, and Rome’s ‘infallible interpreter’ is of absolutely no advantage to the Roman Catholic apologist, for he has remained silent on the matter. [Source: Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock, 24]. Thus, the actual teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are prone to interpretation. The Catholic apologist must use his own private interpretation to determine what the meaning of Roman Catholic teaching is. The conservative and liberal Roman Catholic can read the same document and come to two differing opinions.

So on a fundamental issue- what are, or are not, the very Words of God, Catholics are not unified. Svendsen also points out that these important issues likewise do not have an "official" clarification, thus granting divergent opinion:

- Predestination

- The Literal vs. Mythical interpretation of the creation account in Genesis

- The validity of the new mass

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Luther: The Infallible Church Declared The Contents of Scripture?

"We are obliged to yield many things to the Papists--that with them is the Word of God, which we received from them; otherwise we should have known nothing at all about it."- Martin Luther

That’s an incredible quote from Luther, isn't it? Roman Catholics frequently use it when discussing the Canon of Scripture:

In his Commentary on John, discussing the sixteenth chapter of that Gospel, Luther admitted, "We are obliged to yield many things to the Papists--that with them is the Word of God, which we received from them; otherwise we should have known nothing at all about it." [Brian Harrison, Logic and Protestantism's Shaky Foundations (This Rock Volume 3, Number 12 December 1992)]

Martin Luther makes a pertinent observation in the sixteenth chapter of his Commentary on St. John "We are obliged to yield many things to the papists [Catholics]—that they possess the Word of God which we received from them, otherwise we should have known nothing at all about it." [Jason Evert, How to Defend the Deuterocanonicals (This Rock Volume 11, Number 9, September 2000)].

These are but two examples from This Rock Magazine, an actual Roman Catholic publication. If one were to do a quick Internet search for this quote, the quote is used often and vigorously. See for example, this search. The online defenders of Rome seem to love this quote, as if it actually proves a point for them. It does not.

In the above articles from This Rock Magazine, the quote is supposed to prove that Luther believed the Roman Catholic Church determined the canon of Sacred Scripture. Luther is portrayed to be saying the Papacy gave us the Bible. The papacy (maybe even by infallible pronouncement) determined the canon of Scripture for Luther. Brian Harrison thinks the quote is an example of Luther at times coming “…close to recognizing that sola scriptura was false, insofar as he was relying, to some extent, on the despised "Papists" and not only on the Bible.” See, Luther said it himself: the Papists gave us the Bible, without them doing so, we would have never known what Scripture is.

How To Respond:
1. Locate a Reference or Citation: Commentary or Sermon?
First, thank the Roman Catholic using this quote for providing a reference. Normally, the citation given will simply be “Luther’s commentary on John 16.” Now this is not totally correct. The citation is from Luther’s Sermons on John 16 [LW 24], not a commentary. Luther preached on John 14-16 after March 14, 1537, finishing in either June or July of 1537. The sermons were taken down and edited by Caspar Cruciger. Luther actually credits Cruciger for writing the book. In other words, Luther didn’t sit down and write an exegetical commentary on John. Rather, this quote was the result of preaching, and someone else writing it down the way he heard it.

2. Locate a Translation: Do Catholics Actually Read Luther?
The question that I always consider when reading Roman Catholics quote Luther, is if they’ve actually read Luther. This quote serves as a great opportunity to find out. The quote as typically cited, “We are obliged to yield many things to the Papists--that with them is the Word of God, which we received from them; otherwise we should have known nothing at all about it” is not the translation from the standard English 55 volume version of Luther’s Works [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House]. Nor is it from the earlier small English set of Luther’s Works (known as the Philadelphia or Holman edition of the Works of Martin Luther), because that set doesn’t contain Luther’s Sermons on John 16. So where did the Roman Catholic citing this quote get it from? They probably can’t tell you, because they haven’t actually read Luther’s Sermons on John 16. They have this quote which they've read somewhere, and thought it made their point. It's probably the result of cut-and-paste, not research.

3. Put the Quote in a Context: What Does Luther Really Mean?
In expounding on John 16, Luther discusses how those who call themselves the “True Church” actually became corrupt and began persecuting true believers- just as the Jewish leadership did to the Old Testament prophets (like Jeremiah). Luther says,
Today the pope and his crowd cry out against us that they are the church, since they have received Baptism, the Sacrament, and Holy Writ from the apostles and are their successors. They say: "Where else should God’s people be than where His name is praised, and where the successors and heirs of His apostles are to be found? Surely the Turks, the Tartars, and the heathen cannot be His people. Therefore we must be His people; otherwise it will be altogether impossible to find a people of God on earth. Consequently, he who rebels against us resists the Christian Church and Christ Himself." [LW 24:303].
But Luther insists they who make this claim are just like the Old Testament Jewish leadership. They claimed to be God’s people (and at one time they were), but because of sin and corruption, they actually persecuted God’s true people. They did not heed the words of the prophets. Luther notes that the plight of the true Christian in such a circumstance is exceedingly difficult. He says,
This will surely offend and repel anyone who is not armed with different weapons and different strength, who listens only to such opinions of the most eminent and influential people on earth. “You are a heretic and an apostle of the devil,” “You are preaching against God’s people and the church, yes, against God Himself.” For it is exceedingly difficult to deprive them of this argument and to talk them out of it. [LW 24:304].
Then, comes the citation in question:
Yes, we ourselves find it difficult to refute it, especially since we concede—as we must—that so much of what they say is true: that the papacy has God’s Word and the office of the apostles, and that we have received Holy Scripture, Baptism, the Sacrament, and the pulpit from them. What would we know of these if it were not for them? Therefore faith, the Christian Church, Christ, and the Holy Spirit must also be found among them. What business have I, then, to preach against them as a pupil preaching against his teachers? Then there come rushing into my heart thoughts like these: “Now I see that I am in error. Oh, if only I had never started this and had never preached a word! For who dares oppose the church, of which we confess in the Creed: I believe in a holy Christian Church, etc.? Now I find this church in the papacy too. It follows, therefore, that if I condemn this church, I am excommunicated, rejected, and damned by God and all the saints.” [LW 24:304].

Is Luther conceding an infallible church gave us the canon? Absolutely not. Is Luther saying an infallible extra-biblical tradition produced the Canon? Absolutely Not. Luther is simply saying that he learned about the Scriptures, Baptism, and the Pulpit, etc. from the Church of his day, in the same way the Prophets were born into a society in which the religious structure of their day was functioning, and gave the Old Testament people a religious context to live in. The visible church indeed promulgated the Scriptures and Christian doctrine. Who can deny this? But simply because they did so, does not mean the visible church in Rome infallibly declared the canon of Scripture.

Luther held that the Church was God's hand maid and servant. It does not create God's Word, God's Word creates the Church. As the servant of the Word, it gives the Word to the body of Christ, His people. Indeed, who would know God's Word if it were not for the Church continually upholding it and pointing God's people to it in each generation? One should be able to sense the thrust of Luther's argument: when the visible Church goes bad, going against it is an awesome and fearful undertaking. The Church is God's handmaid. It is to protect and promulgate the Word- but what happens when the servant disobeys the Master? Who can condemn the handmaid and not be fearful?

The quote as cited by Roman Catholics has nothing to do with an infallible Church declaring the contents of Scripture. The quote isn't discussing canonicity. The quote isn't discussing if Rome gave us an infallible list of biblical books. Rather, the quote is part of an argument based on Old Testament Israel persecuting God’s true people, and the Roman Catholic Church persecuting the Reformers. This is made clear as Luther continues. Old Testament Judaism had God's law. does this mean they were the ones who infallibly declared what that law was?
But what is now our defense? And what is the ground on which we can hold our own against such offense and continue to defy those people? It is nothing else than the masterly statement St. Paul employs in Rom. 9:7: “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants.” Not all who bear the name are Israelites; or, as the saying goes: “Not all who carry long knives are cooks.” Thus not all who lay claim to the title “church” are the church. There is often a great difference between the name and the reality. The name is general. All are called God’s people, children of Abraham, Christ’s disciples and members; but this does not mean that they all are what the name signifies. For the name “church” includes many scoundrels and rascals who refused to obey God’s Word and acted contrary to it. Yet they were called heirs and successors of the holy patriarchs, priests, and prophets. To be sure, they had God’s Law and promise, the temple, and the priesthood. In fact, they should have been God’s people; but they practiced idolatry so freely under the cloak of the name “church” that God was forced to say: “This shall no longer be My temple and priesthood. My people shall no longer be My people. But to those who are not My people it shall be said: ‘You are sons of the living God’  (Hos. 1:10; 2:23). [LW 24:304].
Luther realizes that even within the corrupt papacy, the true church exists:
Thus we are also compelled to say: “I believe and am sure that the Christian Church has remained even in the papacy. On the other hand, I know that most of the papists are not the Christian Church, even though they give everyone the impression that they are. Today our popes, cardinals, and bishops are not God’s apostles and bishops; they are the devil’s. And their people are not God’s people; they are the devil’s. And yet some of the papists are true Christians, even though they, too, have been led astray, as Christ foretold in Matt. 24:24. But by the grace of God and with His help they have been preserved in a wonderful manner. [LW 24:305].
In the meantime we adhere to the distinction made here by Christ and do not regard as Christendom those who do not hold truly and absolutely to what Christ taught, gave, and ordained, no matter how great, holy, and learned they may be. We tell them that they are the devil’s church. On the other hand, we want to acknowledge and honor as the true bride of Christ those who remain faithful to His pure Word and have no other comfort for their hearts than this Savior, whom they have received and confessed in Baptism and in whose name they have partaken of the Sacrament. These are the true church. It is not found in only one place, as, for example, under the pope; but it exists over the entire earth wherever Christians are found. Outwardly they may be scattered here and there, but they meet in the words of the Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was born, suffered, and died for us on the cross.” In like manner, they pray: “Our Father who art in heaven.” They share the same Spirit, Word, and Sacrament. They all lead the same holy and blessed life, each one according to his calling, whether father, mother, master, servant, etc. Thus whatever we preach, believe, and live, this they all preach, believe, and live. Physically separated and scattered here and there throughout the wide world, we are nevertheless gathered and united in Christ.[LW 24:309].
From these paragraphs, it should be obvious what Luther is driving at. It is the job of the True Church- those who believe and trust only in Christ's righteousness by faith, to call the visible church to repentance. The visible church will claim to be God speaking. The visible church may claim to be that authority which determined the Canon. But if the visible church is in rebellion against God, it is the task of the true Christian to point her back to her master.

Sometimes the quote is cited like this:
"We are compelled to concede to the Papists that they have the Word of GOD, that we received it from them, and that without them, we should have no knowledge of it at all."
This version goes at least as far back as the late  1800's:
It has now been proved that the powerful voice which speaks with full authority in the name of God, was alone able to establish the Canon of the holy books, and demand our faith in their authenticity and inspiration, and each one of us may say with the great Augustine: "For my own part, I should not have believed the Gospel if I had not been influenced by the authority of the Catholic Church." And with Bossuet, "It is through the Church that the Holy Spirit leads us to believe in the Scriptures, and necessarily so, since it is confessedly the Church which puts the Scriptures into our hands." And with Luther himself: "We are compelled to concede to the papists, that they have the word of God; that we received it from them, and that without them we should have had no knowledge of it at all."
Also note this 1994 pro-Roman book that adds the quote is from "Luther's Commentary on St. John."
This version is often used on pro-Roman Catholic webpages, too numerous to count.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Canon: The Empty Arguments From the Defenders of Rome

A guy over on the CARM boards frequently posts things that I can only describe as the writing of a fanatic...Here’s a recent post from the CARM boards in which he hijacked a quote from a Catholic apologist and seeks to put some of the "glory" theology on display:

Canon of the New Testament

Protestants do, of course, accept the traditional Canon of the New Testament (albeit somewhat inconsistently and with partial reluctance - Luther questioned the full canonicity of James(it was always a pain to luther), Revelation and other books). By doing so, they necessarily acknowledged the authority of the Catholic Church. If they had not, it is likely that Protestantism would have gone the way of all the old heresies of the first millennium of the Church Age - degenerating into insignificant, bizarre cults and disappearing into the putrid backwaters of history” [Source: The New Testament Canon].

My response:

1. What Luther thought about the canon is interesting, but not relevant to determining the canon for Protestants.

2. Luther questioned the canonicity of particular books, as did others during his time- Cardinal Cajetan and Desiderius Erasmus. Because of the recovery of the Greek New Testament, theologians during the Reformation period looked afresh at Canon issues. Note that Cajetan and Erasmus were not "Reformers" but were Roman Catholic Theologians of great importance.

3. Of the four books Luther questioned, it is very possible that Luther’s opinion fluctuated on two (Hebrews and Revelation). James and Jude comprise a total of 6 chapters. Thus, one can conclude that Luther questioned the canonicity of 6 chapters of Scripture. To my knowledge, Luther did not question the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, which I do. Thus, according to Catholic reasoning, I must be as much of canon-destroyer as Luther.

4. The Roman Catholic apologist seems to be arguing that the Reformers settled the canon based on the infallible pronouncement of the Roman Catholic Church. This is historical error. A simple reading of Reformed and Lutheran confessions would prove such is not the case. Find me a valid Reformed or Lutheran confession that states the Reformers appealed to an infallible pronouncement of the church to settle the canon.

5. The testimony of church history is a valid approach to canon research. Church history though is not to be equated with an infallible pronouncement from the Roman Catholic Church. Nor is it the only test for canonicity.

6. To argue that the church must infallibly define the canon is to simply say something is proven because the church "says so". Catholics argue that the canon was settled by an infallible pronouncement from the Roman Catholic Church. When asked how the Roman Catholic Church can establish her authority, they answer that it is proved by the testimony of the Scriptures. Hence, the Romanist uses a circular argument: they prove the authority of the Scriptures by the Church, and the authority of the Church by the Scriptures.

7. This comment deserves attention: "If they had not, it is likely that Protestantism would have gone the way of all the old heresies of the first millennium of the Church Age - degenerating into insignificant, bizarre cults and disappearing into the putrid backwaters of history." Says who? How does he know what may or may not happen? Why is this "likely"? Rather, it would have been better to use the word, "possible". Perhaps though, this Catholic apologist has Ms. Cleo psychic abilities, and knows what would "likely" happen. Or, perhaps his argument is based on a false premise, and thus "likely" (but not necessarily) leads to a false conclusion.

8. Another CARM participant provided a well-constructed post on disagreements throughout Church history on the canon, found here. He finishes by quoting 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.”

He notes: “This article (carrying both Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat), informs us that 'the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church', and that such a decision regarding the canon was not made by the RCC until the Tridentine Council, which appears, as the article so rightly says 'rather late in the history of the Church'.”

He argues his case well. However, there is one last nail to be put in the Catholic canon argument in regard to Luther. Luther, Erasmus, and Cajetan, all practiced Canon criticism, and were all trained as Catholic theologians. If the New Catholic Encyclopedia is correct, Erasmus, Cajetan, and Luther had every right within the Catholic system to engage in Biblical criticism and debate over the extent of the Canon- because they did so previous to Trent's declaration on the canon. Catholics frequently argue and appeal to the fact that biblical opinion and speculation is allowed previous to an infallible decree. Thus, Luther, Erasmus, Cajetan, and a host of others just did what was allowed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Theirs was not even a radical higher criticism. The books they questioned were books that had been questioned by previous generations. None were so extreme as to engage in Marcion-like canon-destruction. Both Erasmus and Luther translated the entirety of Bible, and published it. Thus, they did what they did as theologians, not as radical heretics.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Prophecies of Martin Luther

Recently I posted a link to a rare Luther book: Martin Luther’s Letters by Margaret A. Currie (London, 1908). I pointed out that the website hosting the link seems a bit wacky. If you explore the site use some caution and discretion.

One of the other documents they host drew my interest:

Several choice prophecyes of the incomparable and famous Dr. Martin Luther, as also, The remarkable prophecy of the learned and reverend Dr. Musculus

The website hosting this link refers to it as one of Luther’s writings. It is not. It is the work of one of Luther’s students: Andreas Musculus (1514-1581). Musculus’ writing is interesting, as it represents a trend which occurred as the result of Luther’s impact during the 16th-17th Centuries. Musculus viewed Luther as a genuine prophet sent from God. In examining Malachi 4:5 and the return of Elijah before the “last day”, Musculus reasoned that Luther, like John the Baptist, was the returned Elijah, signaling the end of the world. The link above is an example of 16th Century apocalyptic literature. Musculus was certain the end was near.

The link above is about 32 pages and is an interesting read.Much of the information is biographical, presenting a recounting of Luther’s life. Also one finds an emphasis on the Turks and the papacy. For instance:

"Antichrist must fall, and it plainly and clearly appeareth, saith Luther, that the Pope is true Antichrist; those that transgresse his Decrees and Statutes, are farr more feverely and diligently punished, then those who offend the Laws and the word of God: In such a sort doth the Pope exalt himself over, and above God, and he is therefore most properly called Antichrist, in regard that he fitteth in the Temple, and in the Church of God, and boasteth himself above all that is called God. The Turk is not this Antichrist, saith Luther, for he fitteth not in Gods Church; he is but the Battle-Axe of God, whereby he executeth is Vengeance upon the Nations, he is a wicked Beast; out of Gods Church, there is not Antichrist; now the Pope fitteth in the Holy Church, and taketh unto him that Honour and Worship which is due unto God onely, therefore the Pope must be the true Antichrist. It is but a cold, and an idle dream of the Papists, that Antichrist should be a single, and unattended person that should govern in a wilde way by suborning, and scattering of moneys in the streets, and that he should do Miracles, and carry about him a fiery Oven, and that he should destroy the Saints, Eliah, and Enoch. There are too many (said Luther) who complain and think, I am too fierce and too violent against the Pope, when alas I conceive my self to be too milde; I do with that I could breath out thunder-bolts against the Pope and Popery, and that every word were a clap of thunder."

For Luther it was also the end of the world in the 16th Century. The entirety of his Reformation career embraced an impending consummation of history. Mark Edwards points out:

In general Luther viewed the history of his own time as the realization of the apocalyptic predictions of Daniel and Revelation. The events of his age, he was convinced, were certain signs that the End Time was at hand. The 1530 foreword to his translation of Daniel makes clear how firmly set this conviction was. Following traditional exegesis, Luther identified Daniels ‘kingdom of iron’ with the Roman Empire, which, through its transference to the Germans, had survived into Luther’s own time and would persist until the last day. The papacy was the antichrist alluded to in the eleventh chapter of Daniel, and the Turk was the small horn that replaced three horns of the beast in the seventh chapter. The appearance of the papal antichrist and the success of the Turk left no doubt in Luther’s mind that the apocalyptic drama was in its final act” [Source: Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 97].

Those of you who know me, know that I do not argue against Rome by using prophecy or identifying the Pope and papacy as the anti-Christ. I do though find this type of historical information very helpful in trying to get a sense for the "mood" of the 16th Century.

Musculus actually went further with his respect and admiration for Martin Luther than many of his contemporaries. For Musculus, Luther’s writings were from God’s special servant: God’s prophet. Luther’s words were thus that vehicle by which to interpret Scripture by. In a 1573 work by Musculus, he noted he daily meditated on the Bible joined with a careful study of Luther’s writings. While ultimate authority was found in the Bible, interpretation of the Scripture was to be guided by Luther’s writings.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

On Indulgences and the Reformation

It's not often that I would direct readers to Father Patrick O’Hare’s book, The Facts About Luther. Now, this is one of the worst biographies available in print about Luther. But, I found an interesting section in which Father O’Hare whitewashes the utter shambles that the Church was in at the time of the Reformation:

Julius II had it brought under his notice that the ancient basilica of St. Peter, which had been given to the Church by the Emperor Constantine, was now falling into decay. He determined to use the opportunity and to employ all the architectural talent of that brilliant period in order to erect a new basilica in its place, which by its magnificence should be worthy of its position as the memorial of the great Apostle and the central church of the Catholic world. Julius II commenced the work and devoted large sums to its accomplishment. These, however, were far from sufficient, and it became evident that the cost of a building of such magnitude could be defrayed only by a successful appeal to the piety of the Christian world. Accordingly, Leo X, the successor of Julius, who died in 1513, proclaimed an Indulgence; that is to say, he granted an Indulgence of a most simple kind to all, wherever they might be, who would contribute according to their means towards the expense of the rising edifice”[Source: Father Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Reprint 1987) Tan Publishers, 60-61].

Now, the corruption of the practice of indulgences was far more complicated. The practice over time developed, or should I say, became corrupted. The indulgence developed from the practice of penance. The indulgence originally was a granted permission to relax or commute the penance imposed upon a repentant sinner as an outward sign of sorrow. It was the opportunity to substitute one penalty for another. The original intent was to help the penitent. Serious sins required extreme satisfaction. If the penitent was unable to perform acts of extreme satisfaction due to health reasons or extenuating circumstances, the church in its mercy allowed a substitution: often amounted to a reduction in the satisfaction required, or, as it developed giving money.

Pope Boniface VIII (14th century) made use of the idea of a “general” indulgence. Certain times a year/years (like every 100 years) pilgrims could come to Rome and could receive a general indulgence: the removal of all the penalties for their sins. This general indulgence also required one to engage in the whole scope of penance (contrition and confession) as well the payment of certain amount of money. Through this, the original intent of the personal, internalized sacrament of penance became external and commercialized. Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) declared that general indulgences could apply also to the dead. By this he increased money revenue.

Also worth mentioning is the development of a type of indulgence granted to soldiers who fought for the Papacy against Islam. Remember, Mohammed had let his soldiers know that everyone who died fighting for Isalm would be immediately allowed into paradise. What of the Papal army? Pope Leo IV gave assurances to his troops they would likewise receive a heavenly reward. John VIII promised those going on the crusade absolution for their sins. Leo IX used the promise of a remission of penance in his recruiting of troops. Eventually, the forgiveness granted included not only those involved in penance, but purgatory as well.

Now about Luther. A few points. There was no complete dogma on the indulgence when Luther posted the 95 Theses. There was no official doctrine as to the effect of the indulgence upon Purgatory. Hence, Luther was not really a heretic (in official “Thus spoke Rome” terms). The Roman Catholic Church in its political inanity attacked Luther with no good cause. It was they who went "too far", not Luther in not addressing the situation. They went as far as they could to not address the situation. Hey, if my source of income was going to be challenged, i'd fight it too. It's sinful human nature.

Interestingly, the 95 Theses does not deny the validity of the indulgence. Rather, Luther attacked and exposed the abuse of the sale of indulgences. Luther was troubled that those he was ministering to were ignoring the good works he was directing them towards, but rather were purchasing indulgences as a means of satisfaction. They were also being purchased to alleviate suffering of those in Purgatory.

A Roman Catholic once suggested to me that “an abuse of a doctrine or practice does not make the entire system null and void nor the principle behind the doctrine untrue.” Luther came to realize that the entire system of indulgences was non-biblical and non-Christian. For the perfect work of Christ requires no indulgence. Luther said, “The indulgences are not a pious fraud, but an infernal, diabolical, antichristian fraud, larceny, and robbery, whereby the Roman Nimrod and teacher of sin peddles sin and hell to the whole world and sucks and entices away everybody’s money as the price of this unspeakable harm.”

In Biblical terms,

"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”

In other words, Christ has paid the penalty for my sin, I do not need an indulgence. My righteousness is the perfect righteousness of Christ, given to me as a gift. My perfect works are Christ’s works, given to me as a gift.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Martin Luther's Letters...The Rare 1908 Version Surfaces On-Line

I have an ever-increasing collection of books by or about Martin Luther. Recently in an antique store in West Virginia, I purchased an 1837 edition of Luther’s Commentary on Galatians. I also have a growing collection of books about Martin Luther by Roman Catholics, many of which also date from the 1800’s. I’m also fond of books written by Lutherans from the 1800’s and early 1900’s about Luther.

Like any book collector, I do have a “wish list” of books I look for. Some of them I track down via the Internet, but most of the time I don’t purchase them because the price is simply too much. The “Dutch” in me takes over, and I can’t justify spending $100 or $200 on a book.

One such book that I’ve sought out over the years is Martin Luther’s Letters by Margaret A. Currie (London, 1908). Now some of you may be familiar with the volumes of letters in Luther’s Works, or the book by Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther. This book is different, and pre-dates these. Every so often I can find a used copy on-line for a lot of money. It usually costs too much for me- so it simply sits on my wish list, year after year.

Well, the Internet never ceases to amaze me. While updating the links on my sidebar I actually found an on-line version of Martin Luther’s Letters by Margaret A. Currie. The site that hosts it seems a bit wacky- but I guess you gotta be in order to scan in 352 pages, and then hyperlink every 10th word. I will in no way vouch for the content on the site, but I do have a fair level of certainty that the text actually is Martin Luther’s Letters by Margaret A. Currie (London, 1908).

The links for this book are as follows:

Opening Page


Martin Luther’s Letters


Some of you probably don't realize that Luther's writings exist in various forms. Take for instance Luther's Tabletalk. There are many versions of the Tabletalk, and some are very different than the current edition. The same can be said about Luther's letters. There are more than a few books of Luther's letters, and these all have different content. Also, Preserved Smith, who wrote The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, used Margaret Currie's book as a source. If you're familiar with Smith's book, you know that often Smith doesn't quote a letter in full, and also spends more time giving commentary than actually publishing Luther's letters. I'm very pleased to have a version of Currie's book because of my desire to do ad fontes research.

So, the 2 or 3 of you that have interest in Luther should save a copy of these links- who knows how long they will be up? A few months back I posted a link to W.H.T. Dau's book Luther Examined and Rexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation. Dau's book examined false charges against Luther brought by Roman Catholics. The book has been out of print for decades- and it was available for free on-line. Last I checked, it was no longer available via the link.

Blog Update

I'm taking some time to update my sidebar. i'm adding links to those websites I frequently use -mostly Reformation/Roman Catholic related. If anyone has any links they think I would be interested in, please feel free to drop me a few links.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Material Sufficiency Of Scripture vs the Partim Partim View of Scripture in Roman Catholicism

Here's a great link expounding the Roman Catholic issue on the material sufficiency of Scripture vs partim partim view of Scripture: Rome's Apologists At It Again (by James White)
The link contains a section from White's book, The Roman Catholic Controversy (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996), 76-80.

Roman Catholic Material Sufficiency: The idea that the Scriptures are “materially sufficient” simply means the entire content of revelation is in the Scriptures, or that divine revelation is contained entirely in Scripture. That is, all the doctrines Christians are to believe are found in the Bible. Along with affirming totum in Scriptura, Catholics who maintain material sufficiency also hold “Tradition” likewise contains the entire content of revelation: “totum in traditione”. Thus, two vehicles carry God’s special revelation in total: Scripture and Tradition. Both are infallible in the Catholic view.

Roman Catholic Partim-Partim Sufficiency: Part of God’s special revelation is contained in the Scripture, and part is contained in tradition. In this view, the Bible is “materially insufficient.” The New Catholic Encyclopedia states of those who hold this view, “Neither tradition nor Scripture contains the whole apostolic tradition. Scripture is materially (i.e., in content) insufficient, requiring oral tradition as a complement to be true to the whole divine revelation” [New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) Vol 14, p.228].David King points out that “…nearly every theologian from the Council of Trent to Vatican I (a span of about 300 years) understood the teaching of Trent to be a denial of both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture” (David King, Holy Scripture, Vol 1, p.183).

Over on a discussio board I recently posted on this topic. One response from a Roman Catholic was quite interesting. He said in response at first:“The fact the Bible doesnt list the canon of Scripture can be used to say "material sufficiency" means nothing.” Then he later said: “In general (eg apart from the canon) I believe everything is contained in the Bible either explicitly or implicitly.”

This Roman Catholic has a little dilemma. On the one hand, he posits that "material sufficiency means nothing” because a list of which books belonging in the canon is not contained in the Scripture. But then he affirms material sufficiency, except for the canon. Basically, he's attempting to affirm both material sufficiency and partim-partim while at the same time affirming neither. I think that if he can’t even affirm one of the positions, it seems clear to me that sophistry is at work. I know that sounds derogatory, but I spent the time to outline the two acceptable views of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s logically either one or the other. There wasn’t any intended trickery going on with my post. Perhaps he hasn’t studied this issue, so he's “winging it”. Perhaps he's trying to come up with his own view. His position is demonstrative of how much uncertainty exists with those who hold to Roman Catholicism.

Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner made the following comment in his book, Theological Investigations:

"We will not be able to doubt or dispute the fact that in post-Tridentine theology the main trend of thought has been to maintain, on the basis of an anti-Protestant front, that there is not only the truth of the inspiration and of the canon of scripture but that there are also other truths of faith which are not to be found in scripture, so that for them oral tradition is a materially distinct source of faith" [Theological Investigations (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1969), Vol. VI, 106-107].

The irony is a Roman Catholic that uses the Canon to argue against material sufficiency is left holding the partim-partim view, as was demonstrated in the CARM discussion. The argument demonstrates that the a Roman Catholic cannot affirm material sufficiency without having to change their understanding of Canon certainty. When the partim-partim view is applied to believers who lived during Old Testament times, the paradigm fails. Believers in the Old Testament were able to recognize Scripture without an infallible authority telling them what they were. In other words, they recognized God's voice with out an infallible office. In Matthew 22:29-33, Jesus held people responsible for the teachings contained in the Old Testament.

For a Protestant, the recognizing of the canon is not itself the product of an infallible tradition or human declaration. God defines the canon by giving us the canon.He did so during the Old Testament period, and did so as well during the New Testament period. The Old Testament saints did not need an inspired infallible tradition to determine the Old Testament canon.

If pressed, I think a Roman Catholic will deny material sufficiency rather than give up a favorite Canon argument. More likely is a redefinition of what material sufficiency means. Sophistry will be very busy for a Roman Catholic who wants both material sufficiency and partim-partim.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Luther and the Peasant's War

"Stab, smite, slay, whoever can. If you die in doing it, well for you! A more blessed death can never be yours, for you die obeying the divine Word and commandment in Romans XIII, "As a result, thousands died when the German nobility, spurred by Luther's words attacked and killed those they disagreed with in the Peasant's War."[source]

Not quite. Luther's “Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants” was actually published after the peasants war. The treatise was delayed, and thus did not have a role during the war. The German nobility were not "spurred by Luther's words." They were "spurred" by the peasants who strove towards anarchy and civil unrest.

One of the reasons Roman Catholics have difficulty understanding Luther is they fail to keep in mind that Luther lived in the sixteenth century. One cannot apply Twenty-First Century standards to medieval people. Countless arguments indicting Luther can be dismissed with this realization. This is not to excuse Luther’s words or behavior, but only to suggest that Luther was not a speech-sensitive democratic American with a bent towards some poorly defined notion of “tolerance.” To dismiss Luther’s theology for his comments on the Peasant’s war is an example of historical anachronism. Luther’s attitude toward the peasants demonstrates that he was a medieval man. It does not demonstrate his theology was somehow responsible for civil unrest, the blueprint for anarchy, or demonstrative of a sub-Christian morality.

To indict Luther with no study on this issue is simply unfair. Luther first published “The Admonition to Peace” (prior to the peasant’s war). In the first section, Luther blames the princes and rulers for the unstable state of affairs. Luther said to them:

"We have no one on earth to thank for this disastrous rebellion, except you princes and lords, and especially you blind bishops and mad priests and monks, whose hearts are hardened, even to the present day. You do not cease to rant and rave against the holy gospel, even though you know that it is true and that you cannot refute it. In addition, as temporal rulers you do nothing but cheat and rob the people so that you may lead a life of luxury and extravagance. The poor common people cannot bear it any longer. The sword is already at your throats, but you think that you sit so firm in the saddle that no one can unhorse you. This false security and stubborn perversity will break your necks, as you will discover."

Well, then, since you are the cause of this wrath of God, it will undoubtedly come upon you, unless you mend your ways in time.”

If it is still possible to give you advice, my lords, give way a little to the will and wrath of God. A cartload of hay must give way to a drunken man—how much more ought you to stop your raging and obstinate tyranny and not deal unreasonably with the peasants, as though they were drunk or out of their minds Do not start a fight with them, for you do not know how it will end. Try, kindness first, for you do not know what God will do to prevent the spark that will kindle all Germany and start a fire that no one can extinguish.”

Also previous to the peasant’s war, Luther ventured into peasant lands to preach against the false prophets that were leading them into rebellion. They heckled him and interrupted his sermons. He mentions he was lucky to get away from them without injury or being killed. It was after this encounter he wrote “Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants.” Even in this, Luther was only exhorting “bad” peasants, or those who were using the gospel as a means of causing political chaos. Luther was convinced that the peasants that had produced the “Twelve Articles” were lies presented in the name of the gospel. It is against those peasants that were using the gospel to cause rebellion that Luther opposed. To put it bluntly, they were the devil’s agents, leading people away from the gospel. Luther said:

The peasants are not content with belonging to the devil themselves; they force and compel many good people to join their devilish league against their wills, and so make them partakers of all of their own wickedness and damnation. Anyone who consorts with them goes to the devil with them and is guilty of all the evil deeds that they commit, even though he has to do this because he is so weak in faith that he could not resist them. A pious Christian ought to suffer a hundred deaths rather than give a hairsbreadth of consent to the peasants’ cause.”