Monday, June 15, 2009

Luther as an "infallible, unquestionable theological / spiritual guide or authority"

The following comes from the book, Martin Luther: Catholic Critical Analysis and Praise:

Now we need to look at what Luther actually claimed as the basis for his spiritual authority: [p.41]

Against all the sayings of the Fathers, against all the arts and words of angels, men and devils I set the Scriptures and the Gospel . . . Here I stand and here I defy them . . . The Word of God I count above all else and the Divine Majesty supports me; hence I should not turn a hair were a thousand Augustines against me, and am certain that the true Church adheres with me to God's Word. (Against Henry VIII, King of England, 1522; in Grisar, Vol. IV, 391 / from Werke [Weimar], Vol X, II, p. 256 ff.)

Whoever teaches differently from what I have taught herein, or condemns me for it, he condemns God, and must be a child of Hell. (Ibid., from O’Connor, 15)

These quotes from Luther are all of a piece: they all indicate that he considered himself some sort of infallible, unquestionable theological / spiritual guide or authority. Lots of people claim this, of course. Why should Martin Luther have been regarded any differently from any other self-proclaimed prophets or oracles of God? I think this is a perfectly legitimate and highly important question that Protestants would do well to ponder. [p.45]

I found these quotes interesting because I recently read Luther's Against Henry VIII, King of England, the source of the two Luther quotes above. The entire document is an excellent read, particularly if you're involved with Catholic argumentation about authority. It can be found here:

Martinus Lutherus contra Henricum Regem Angliæ
Martin Luther against Henry King of England
translated by the Rev. E. S. Buchanan, M.A., B.Sc. New York: Charles A. Swift, 1928

One would think these quotes are the ravings of lunatic, waving his Bible around alone in the woods. However, if you read through the treatise, such is not the case. Luther's argues throughout about which authority is infallible: church fathers or the Bible? While Luther based his argumentation on the Bible, King Henry cited particular church fathers, often at the expense of Scripture. The argument is not that church fathers aren't important, the argument is that they are not infallible. The only record the church has of God's infallible voice is found in the sacred scriptures. If one is going to bind doctrine on the church, those doctrines should be clearly supported by Scripture.

As to the first quote, the author pulled it out of a secondary source, Hartmann Grisar's Luther IV, rather than actually reading it in context. In context, Luther is wrapping up argumentation against the sacrifice of the mass (which Henry defended):

Finally [Henry] brings in the sayings of the Fathers to establish the sacrifice of the Mass, and laughs at my folly, who claim to know alone more than all others, which is most foolish, etc.

And here I say that by this argument of his my opinion is confirmed; for this is what I said, The Thomist asses have nothing they can bring forward but the number of men and the antiquity of the use, and then they say to one who brings forward Scripture, Are you the wisest of all? Do you alone know? And then, It must be so. But to me, the most foolish of all men, this is enough, that the most wise Henry can produce no Scripture against me, nor can he confute those that I have brought against him. Then also he is forced to grant that his Fathers have often erred, and that their ancient use does not make an article of faith, and that it is not lawful to trust in them,--but only in that Church of the multitude, of which he is the Defender with his Indulgences.

But I against the sayings of the Fathers, of men, of angels, of devils place not ancient usage, not multitudes of men, but the word of the one Eternal Majesty, the Gospel, which they are forced to approve, and in which the Mass is clearly said to be a sign and testament of God, wherein He promises us His grace, confirming it with a sign. This is God's word and work, not ours. Here I stand, here I sit, here I remain, here I glory, here I triumph, here I laugh at the Papists, Thomists, Henrys, Sophists and all the gates of hell, nay, at the sayings of men, however saintly, and at their fallacious customs.

The word of God is above all. The divine Majesty makes me care not at all though a thousand Augustines, a thousand Cyprians, or a thousand of Henry's Churches should stand against me. God cannot err, or be deceived. Augustine and Cyprian and all the elect could err, and have erred. Answer me now, Lord Henry. Be a man now, Defender. Write books now. Thy curses are nothing. Thine accusations have no effect. Thy lies I despise. Thy threats do not frighten me. For thou art as stupid in this passage as is a block; and at other times art nothing but words.

A little later, Luther concludes,

The sum of the matter is this: The whole of Henry's book is based on the words of men, and on the use of the centuries, and on no words of God, nor on any use of the Spirit, as he himself is compelled to confess.

On the contrary, the sum of my argument is that whereas the words of men, and the use of the centuries, can be tolerated and endorsed, provided they do not conflict with the sacred Scriptures, nevertheless they do not make articles of faith, nor any necessary observances. If therefore King Henry, in conjunction with all the might and learning of Thomists, papists, devils and men, can show that the observance of human words is necessary, then is Luther overthrown, and this by his own verdict and confession. For then, after all I have said, I must take as articles of faith whatever even the Thomists choose to order. But if Henry cannot show this, then Luther is victorious. For what do they want? Not if they were to write a thousand books against me, will they ever be able with me to make any other issue.

For I do not ask what Ambrose, Augustine, or the Councils, and use of the centuries say; nor was there any need for King Henry to teach me these things; for I knew them so well that I once before even attacked them, whence the folly of Satan is to be wondered at, which attacks me with the very things which once before attacked; and constantly begs the question. lo not, I confess, dispute what has been said by some man, or lot said; what has been written, or not written; but I argue whether this saying, or writing, is necessary to be observed, whether it is an article of faith, whether it is on an equality with the word of God, whether it binds the conscience. I put the question: Is it to be liberty, or captivity? For liberty I fight; the King fights for captivity. I have shown the reasonableness of liberty. The King omits his reasons for captivity; and merely babbling on that which is captivity, brings us into bondage without assigning our fault. And so, Farewell to the foolish and unhappy Defender of the Babylonish Captivity, and of his papal Church.

As to the second quote, it was from Luther's own statements concerning his teaching and its results By Henry O'Connor. For some reason, perhaps by mistake, this book is listed as one of Luther's "Primary Works" on page 260. It certainly is not a primary work. It is a collection of out-of-context Luther quotes. O'Connor got it from the German version of the same treatise: Antwort auf Konig Hetirich's Yon Engelland Buck, wider seineu Tractat von der Babylonischen Gefangmss. As far as I can tell, the quote "Whoever teaches differently from what I have taught herein, or condemns me for it, he condemns God, and must be a child of Hell" is unique to the German version. Grisar cites it in Luther V as "whoever teaches otherwise than I have taught, or condemns me, condemns God and must remain a child of hell" (" Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 229 f. ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 347. ) (It's also cited in Erl. as being on page 346). So whatever Luther said in context, waits to be seen.

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