Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Reformation Fan Club Testimonials

"I’ve read quite a bit about the man, and my theology teacher in high school completed his doctoral thesis on Martin Luther and his life. His hatred for Jews and Authority stems from his childhood, both because his father worked for rich Jews and resented it, and because his mother was a prostitute in a bath house which catered towards many corrupt member of the Catholic Church. " [source] (The entire discussion can be found here).

Hmm...I don't recall these "insights" about Luther's parents. Funny, you can read the quote with the subject being the high school theology teacher, and it works just as well.

I wanted to add also, the rumor of Luther's mother being a prostitute is actually that she was a prostitute and had intercourse with a demon to produce Luther. This myth is thought to have been perpetuated by Luther's nemesis Cochlaeus, but really, it was a typical unsubstantiated sixteenth century myth. The reason why Luther's legitimacy is suspect is because Luther's mother is documented as saying she can remember the day, but not the year Martin was born. This was reported by Melanchthon:

"The name of Luther is widely spread throughout the ramifications of an ancient family within the Lordship of the illustrious Counts of Mansfield, but the parents of Martin Luther originally resided in the town of Eisleben, where he was born, subsequently they removed to Mansfield, where his father, John Luther, filled the office of magistrate, and for his integrity of character, was valued and beloved by all good men. In his mother, Margaret Luther, was found a fair assemblage of domestic virtues; and a peculiar delicacy of mind was conspicuous in her character, accompanied by the fear of God and the spirit of prayer, so that many excellent women found in her a bright example of Christian virtues. Her reply to questions which I have occasionally put to her, respecting the time of her son's birth, was, that she clearly remembered the day and the hour, but that she was doubtful as to the year; she said, however, that he was born on the 10th of November, after eleven o'clock at night; and that the name of Martin was given to the infant, because the following day on which, by baptism, he was initiated into the church of God, was dedicated to Saint Martin. But his brother James, a man of uprightness and integrity, was accustomed to say, that the opinion of the family, respecting Luther's age was, that he was born in the year of our Lord 1483."

Somehow, this means Luther was an illegitimate child. What folly! As to the bathhouse, this is probably derived from the story of Luther being born in a bar. WHT Dau explains:

"Some have declared [Luther] the illegitimate child of a Bohemian heretic, others, the oaf of a witch, still others, a changeling of Beelzebub, etc. Many of these writers, giving themselves the airs of painstaking investigators who have made careful research, repeat the tale of Barbour, viz., that Luther was born in the day-and-night room of an inn at Eisleben. If this is so, Luther's mother must have been a traveler on the day of her first confinement. If this were so, the fact could, of course, be easily explained without dishonor to Luther's mother: she merely miscalculated the date of the birth of her first-born,--not an unusual occurrence. Carlyle believed this story, but gave it an almost too honorable turn, by likening the inn at Eisenach to the inn at Bethlehem.

But this story of Luther's birth in a bar-room is not history; it belongs in the realm of mythology. Nobody knows to-day the house where Luther was born. Preserved Smith, his latest American biographer, says there is a house shown at Eisleben as Luther's birthplace, but it is 'not well authenticated.' There is a bar and a restaurant in this particular building now, for the accommodation of foreign visitors. It is possible that in this mythical birthplace of Luther you can get a stein of foaming "monk's brew" or a "benedictine" from the monastery at Fecamp, or a "chartreuse" from Tarragona, distilled according to the secret formula of the holy fathers of La Grande Chartreuse. If you sip a sufficient quantity of these persuasive liquors, you will find it possible to believe most anything. And the blessing of the holy fathers who have prepared the beverages for your repast will be given you gratis in addition to their liquors.

The journey of Luther's mother to Eisleben which compelled her to put up at an inn is, likewise, imaginary. Melanchthon, Luther's associate during the greater part of the Reformer's life, investigated the matter and states that Luther was born at his parents' home in Eisenach during their temporary sojourn in that city, prior to their removal to Mansfeld.

These stories about the place and manner of Luther's birth originated in the seventeenth century. They were unknown in Luther's time. Generations after a great man has died gossip becomes busy and begins to relate remarkable incidents of his life. Lincoln did not say or do one half of the interesting things related about him. He has been drawn into that magical circle where myths are formed, because his great name will arouse interest in the wildest tale. That is what has happened to Luther. These "myths" are an unconscious tribute to his greatness. One might let them pass as such and smile at them." "[Source: WHT Dau, Luther Examined and Reexamined (St. Louis, Mo. Concordia Publishing House 1917) p.17-18]

As to Luther's father being employed by Jewish people, even the polemical Father Patrick O'Hare's Facts About Luther notes Luther's Father "...owned and cultivated a small farm. He worked and struggled against great odds to eke out a frugal livelihood" (p.23). Of course, O'Hare, no friend of Luther, goes on to perpetuate the myth that Luther's father was a murderer. More often, Luther's father is described as owning a smelting business, which is the most accurate descrption. I've never read that Luther's father "worked for rich Jews"- one would have to know who owned the mine in the town of Eisleben, where Luther's father worked before opening his own trade. It really wouldn't matter who owned the mine- 15th and 16th century employees tended to hate their employers. Of course, the Jews were hated throughout the Middle Ages and Reformation period by the majority of non-Jewish people. So, even if the assertion of Luther's father is true, it would have been true of the majority of non-Jewish people. This doesn't excuse it, but it stops Luther's father for being singled out, as if he was somehow different from the majority of people from that time period. This information from the editors of Luther's Works helpful:

"In Mansfeld, which was at that time the heart of the copper mining industry, the Luders sought their fortune in mining and made it. Through hard work, thriftiness, and honesty Gross-Hans made his way from hired mine hand to renter, co-owner, and owner of mines and furnaces, and from an immigrant to the city to a position comparable to a present-day alderman. By 1508/09 the Luders had gained the respect of their fellow-citizens and some wealth." [LW 48:329]

1 comment:

EA said...

Wow! A high school teacher that completed his Doctoral Disertation and in Historical Psycho-Analysis no less! That's.....unbelievable!