Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Luther: On Putting Women and Adulterers To Death

Here's an odd one from the CARM boards. A Roman Catholic stated the following about Luther:

"...how can protestants follow a man who said if a woman was frigid or frail and no longer able to perform the marital act, she should be put to death by the state? Adulterers should also be put to death by the state."

This one sounded vaguely familiar. I recall Luther saying adulterers should be put to death by the state, but the frigid frail woman no longer able to perform the marital act part just didn't sound quite right. After asking a few times where this information came from, it was finally admitted it came from another CARM poster who "seemed educated." I was able to track down this educated CARM person, and then on a hunch and a search engine, I tracked this little bit of Luther trivia back to this web-page: Martin Luther: The Civil Government Ought to Put Frigid Wives and Adulterers to Death.

The treatise this negative sentiment was pilfered from was Luther's The Estate of Marriage, 1522. It is located in in the English edition of Luther's Works, volume 45. The editors point out no specific information is known as to why Luther wrote this treatise. They do though point out,
Among the practical problems with which every priest, pastor, and confessor had to deal were those involving the marriage relationship. Since marriage was numbered among the sacraments, it was hedged about with numerous rules and restrictions. Luther had for years been a parish priest and confessor to his flock in Wittenberg (LW 45:14).
As to papal marriage rules, a large portion of the treatise actually engages them. Judged by our current standards some of the rules seem silly:"If I sponsor a girl at baptism or confirmation, then neither I nor my son may marry her, or her mother, or her sister." Or, "If my fiancée should die before we consummate the marriage, I may not marry any relative of hers up to the fourth degree."

Some of the papal rules though carry more medieval prejudice: "I may not marry a Turk, a Jew, or a heretic." Recall, against popular culture, Luther had no problem with a Christian marrying someone who is ethnically Jewish, even until his dying day. Or, note the discrimination here: "When I marry one who is supposed to be free and it turns out later that she is a serf, this marriage too is null and void." Luther reiterates the corruption surrounding all of these rules: if one pays enough money to the papal authorities, any of these rules could be overcome.

Luther himself says he's was even reluctant to get involved in this subject. Recall, he wasn't married at the time. He says,
"How I dread preaching on the estate of marriage! I am reluctant to do it because I am afraid if I once get really involved in the subject it will make a lot of work for me and for others. The shameful confusion wrought by the accursed papal law has occasioned so much distress, and the lax authority of both the spiritual and the temporal swords has given rise to so many dreadful abuses and false situations, that I would much prefer neither to look into the matter nor to hear of it. But timidity is no help in an emergency; I must proceed. I must try to instruct poor bewildered consciences, and take up the matter boldly. This sermon is divided into three parts" (LW 45:15).
Some of what Luther will put forth concerning marriage will seem shocking to us. Even the papal marriage laws Luther responded against don't fair much better. I would venture to say the way our current world is redefining marriage, we would be shocking to Luther and the sixteenth century papacy as well! That is, when we read documents like this, it doesn't do very much good to stand in judgment as if our society is morally superior. We may be superior in some ways, but in others we're far worse. Even some of the most shocking things Luther says about marriage show he's a man far more concerned with morality and God's commands than the people of our day.

In part one, Luther considers which persons are qualified for marriage: men and women. They are given a biological need for each other by God. They are told to be fruitful and multiply. For Luther, this is an inflexible ordinance. He Says, "'Be fruitful and multiply,' ...is more than a command, namely, [it is] a divine ordinance which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore" (LW 45:17). Not only is it a divine ordinance, it's something people have been created to do. Luther says,
"Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but creates them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice" (LW 45:18).
For Luther, marriage is inherently tied up with having children. To be married and not have children (in most instances) is to break God's divine ordinance. It is something quite serious, as R.C. Sproul would say, it's a form of cosmic treason against one's maker. This is actually a crucial key to this entire blog post. By keeping in mind Luther's understanding of this divine ordinance , Luther's shocking words about adultery and (allegedly) "frigid women" (we'll see later this description is a misreading of Luther) isn't as shocking as one may think.

Adultery and the Death Penalty
Part two is that section of the treatise that concerns this obscure Luther quote. Luther examines grounds for divorce. If a spouse is unable to fulfill the marital obligation and produce children, a divorce may be appropriate in some instances. For instance, if a spouse goes into a marriage with full knowledge of impotence, but keeps it a secret , this could be grounds for a divorce. Notice, the emphasis for Luther once again is on God's divine ordinance.

Another ground is adultery. If the adultery is secretive and only the offended spouse knows, Luther says,"he may rebuke his wife privately and in a brotherly fashion, and keep her if she will mend her ways. Second, he may divorce her, as Joseph wished to do" (LW 45:31). Exposed public adultery though should fall under the rules of the civil authorities, similar to that situation set up under Mosaic law. The state is responsible to enforce the rules of marriage, not the church. Luther states:

You may ask: What is to become of the other [the guilty party] if he too is perhaps unable to lead a chaste life? Answer: It was for this reason that God commanded in the law [Deut. 22:22–24] that adulterers be stoned, that they might not have to face this question. The temporal sword and government should therefore still put adulterers to death, for whoever commits adultery has in fact himself already departed and is considered as one dead. Therefore, the other [the innocent party] may remarry just as though his spouse had died, if it is his intention to insist on his rights and not show mercy to the guilty party. Where the government is negligent and lax, however, and fails to inflict the death penalty, the adulterer may betake himself to a far country and there remarry if he is unable to remain continent. But it would be better to put him to death, lest a bad example be set.
Some may find fault with this solution and contend that thereby license and opportunity is afforded all wicked husbands and wives to desert their spouses and remarry in a foreign country. Answer: Can I help it? The blame rests with the government. Why do they not put adulterers to death? Then I would not need to give such advice. Between two evils one is always the lesser, in this case allowing the adulterer to remarry in a distant land in order to avoid fornication. And I think he would be safer also in the sight of God, because he has been allowed to live and yet is unable to remain continent. If others also, however, following this example desert their spouses, let them go. They have no excuse such as the adulterer has, for they are neither driven nor compelled. God and their own conscience will catch up to them in due time. Who can prevent all wickedness? (LW 45: 32).
Note the sentence, "for whoever commits adultery has in fact himself already departed and is considered as one dead." The editors of Luther's Works point out,
Wer seyn ehe bricht, der hart sich schon selbst gescheyden. The significance of this sentence turns on the fact that the one German word (scheiden) has two distinct meanings—“to separate” either in the sense of dissolving a marriage or in the sense of departing this life—both of which are involved here. Luther’s point is that whoever destroys his own marriage has really left not only his wife but also his life; he has achieved not only his divorce but also his own death (LW 45:32, fn. 32).
For Luther, marriage joins together a man and woman, making them one complete person. Adultery is nothing other than killing oneself. Taken with this understanding, one can see the respect Luther had for marriage, rather than the ravings of a madman. He also includes this caveat:
Where the government fails to inflict the death penalty and the one spouse wishes to retain the other, the guilty one should still in Christian fashion be publicly rebuked and caused to make amends according to the gospel, after the manner provided for the rebuking of all other manifest sins, Matthew 18[:15–17]. For there are no more than these three forms of discipline on earth among men: private and brotherly, in public before the congregation according to the gospel, and that inflicted by the civil government (LW 45:32).
So far from Luther being a bloodthirsty lunatic, one must sit back for a moment and ask who really takes the vows of marriage seriously? I don't agree the death penalty for breaking marital vows is warranted, but I can understand why he said what he said, and I don't think it's all that outrageous for the sixteenth century.

Frigid or frail women no longer able to perform the marital act, should be put to death
Here now we come to the section of this treatise in which Luther outlines what should happen to a spouse who refuses "to fulfil the conjugal duty or to live with the other person." First consider again Luther's belief in God's divine ordinance for marriages to produce children. Luther says,
The third case for divorce is that in which one of the parties deprives and avoids the other, refusing to fulfil the conjugal duty or to live with the other person. For example, one finds many a stubborn wife like that who will not give in, and who cares not a whit whether her husband falls into the sin of unchastity ten times over (LW 45:33).
Here you should be guided by the words of St. Paul, I Corinthians 7[:4–5], “The husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does; likewise the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does. Do not deprive each other, except by agreement,” etc. Notice that St. Paul forbids either party to deprive the other, for by the marriage vow each submits his body to the other in conjugal duty. When one resists the other and refuses the conjugal duty she is robbing the other of the body she had bestowed upon him. This is really contrary to marriage, and dissolves the marriage. For this reason the civil government must compel the wife, or put her to death. If the government fails to act, the husband must reason that his wife has been stolen away and slain by robbers; he must seek another. We would certainly have to accept it if someone’s life were taken from him. Why then should we not also accept it if a wife steals herself away from her husband, or is stolen away by others? (LW 45:33).
Luther doesn't say "if a woman was frigid or frail and no longer able to perform the marital act." Rather, he's speaking of issues in which a spouse refuses sex. He cites Paul "do not deprive each other except by agreement." To willfully deny the other spouse is to rob the other spouse, and is something that is so contrary to marriage, it's like dissolving it. Luther recommends the state step in to compel the spouse, or face the death penalty. That is, marital duties are so crucial to marriage, they need to be taken very seriously. To willfully deny the other spouse is to rob the other, and is actually an act of killing a marriage. To kill a marriage is so terrible, it should meet with severe penalties.

As to an invalid spouse, Luther recommends taking care of the spouse, and says those who can't remain continent because of an invalid spouse are lying. You must serve your invalid spouse:
What about a situation where one’s wife is an invalid and has therefore become incapable of fulfilling the conjugal duty? May he not take another to wife? By no means. Let him serve the Lord in the person of the invalid and await His good pleasure. Consider that in this invalid God has provided your household with a healing balm by which you are to gain heaven. Blessed and twice blessed are you when you recognize such a gift of grace and therefore serve your invalid wife for God’s sake.
But you may say: I am unable to remain continent. That is a lie. If you will earnestly serve your invalid wife, recognize that God has placed this burden upon you, and give thanks to him, then you may leave matters in his care. He will surely grant you grace, that you will not have to bear more than you are able. He is far too faithful to deprive you of your wife through illness without at the same time subduing your carnal desire, if you will but faithfully serve your invalid wife (LW 45:35).
When Luther suggested the death penalty, the point was the seriousness of violating marriage ordinances. That's how seriously Luther took spouses being committed to each other. The sixteenth century was not the twenty-first century. Certain things will sound quite odd to us, but were not so outrageous during the sixteenth century. The Roman Catholic Church also believed in the death penalty for certain sins during the sixteenth century. The question is, should Luther's ideas about these marital sins warrant the death penalty? In Luther's mind, the sin was so grievous, it did. I am not an advocate of the death penalty, but I can't help but wonder what would happen if a society took marriage and sexuality as seriously as Luther did.

In Martin Luther: The Civil Government Ought to Put Frigid Wives and Adulterers to Death the author states,
Luther doesn't say whether an impotent man should likewise be put away by the wife or put to death by authorities (the "ED police"?). I suspect he would not take such a position. No, only women who aren't fulfilling their sexual duties (men always do, no doubt) are subjected to such drastic measures, and the adulterous man can flee to another country, where Luther in his wisdom recommends another "marriage" as the "lesser" of "two evils." We can see how the "Reformation" truly liberated women from chauvinistic medieval serfdom, can't we?
It appears the author has misread Luther. Had he read the document correctly, he would've found one more outrageous point to highlight from the Reformer's pen. According to Luther in this treatise, a spouse entering a marriage deceptively with a such a condition invalidates a marriage. On the other hand, if a spouse becomes an invalid, the other is to take care of him/her and remain continent. If a husband is unable to fulfill conjugal duty for some other reason, Luther recommends a surrogate mate:
If a woman who is fit for marriage has a husband who is not, and she is unable openly to take unto herself another—and unwilling, too, to do anything dishonorable—since the pope in such a case demands without cause abundant testimony and evidence, she should say to her husband, “Look, my dear husband, you are unable to fulfil your conjugal duty toward me; you have cheated me out of my maidenhood and even imperiled my honor and my sours salvation; in the sight of God there is no real marriage between us. Grant me the privilege of contracting a secret marriage with your brother or closest relative, and you retain the title of husband so that your property will not fall to strangers. Consent to being betrayed voluntarily by me, as you have betrayed me without my consent.
I stated further that the husband is obligated to consent to such an arrangement and thus to provide for her the conjugal duty and children, and that if he refuses to do so she should secretly flee from him to some other country and there contract a marriage. I gave this advice at a time when I was still timid. However, I should like now to give sounder advice in the matter, and take a firmer grip on the wool of a man who thus makes a fool of his wife. The same principle would apply if the circumstances were reversed, although this happens less frequently in the case of wives than of husbands. It will not do to lead one’s fellow-man around by the nose5 so wantonly in matters of such great import involving his body, goods, honor, and salvation. He has to be told to make it right (LW 45:20-21).
Of course, I disagree with Luther (both here and above about the death penalty), but my Roman Catholic readers should pay close attention to Luther's words, "...since the pope in such a case demands without cause abundant testimony and evidence." Before you put the noose up for Luther's neck, you should at least explain what he meant by that.


TeriAnnElizabeth said...

Hi James,

That was a thorough explanation. Thank you very much for taking the time to do so.

I had always been told by relatives that "it is God's law and therefore you do not question it".
I appreciate your willingness to engage in the conversation.

Blessings and peace,

Tim Enloe said...

The thing that strikes me about all of this is Luther's intensely pastoral focus. OK, sure, we don't agree with everything he says on these subjects, but I notice that here, as with JBFA and so many other topics, what he's interested in is the real lives of real people on the ground. Such situations are very fluid and complex, and justice concerning them cannot always be reduced to laws in books - let alone to bare declarations of "authority" to enforce the laws. Real human life in a sinful world is very messy, and as such, pastoral solutions to it are often equally messy.

The papacy, by contrast to the Reformers, was more interested in the sterile, neat and tidy letter of the law - and, as was mentioned, in the monies it could collect from enforcing the laws. Here, as in so many other places, we see that the Reformation was not some sort of crude "rebellion" against lawful authority, but rather a profoundly pastoral protest against legalism and the practitioners of it who were in many cases themselves simply lawless (and therefore, the real rebels).

Andrew said...

Good point Mr. Enloe.

Tim Enloe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Enloe said...

The fundamentally unjust behavior of the pope and his lackeys at the time of the Reformation is a key point that can't be stressed enough by Protestants. Reading through some old notes of mine last night, I was prompted to dig out Ewart Lewis' Medieval Political Ideas from my shelves and in Vol. 1 I re-read an extremely fascinating excerpt from one Manegold of Lautenbach. Manegold was a papalist - a defender of the papal system - who lived in the later part of the 11th century, almost 500 years before Luther. Interestingly, in this excerpt, Manegold, who is arguing for the right of the pope to depose unjust temporal lords, expounds the argument that if a lord perverts justice he becomes guilty of breaking the covenant with his subjects, and thereby ceases to be their lord. Accordingly, says Manegold, the subjects may lawfully resist him and not incur the charge of rebellion.

Again, Manegold was a papalist, and this was almost 500 years before Luther. Nothing prevents his logic from being applied to the papacy itself, and the historical record for about the last 150 years or so prior to the Reformation well demonstrates a growing sense in the papacy's subjects that it had become unjust and a tyranny. A very significant strain of Christian political thought is on our side, and it goes a long way toward dispensing with the incredibly "shallow in history" propaganda of many Catholic apologists regarding issues such as "authority" and "rebellion."

Turretinfan said...


You have to realize that some of the Romanist apologists have no interest in getting that deep into history. In fact, they mock the idea that it might be good to know Latin or to be familiar with medieval canon lawyers. Why? Perhaps it is because they are practical examples of sola ecclesia: it matters not what Scriptures teach, it matters not what the historical record is, if my church says it, I believe it, and that settles it.


Brigitte said...

Sorry, off topic, and new here. Hello!

I'm looking for: "On temporal authority and the extent to which it should be obeyed."

I tried your link under Luther's Works but it did not work for me.
Also, it is not listed under Project Wittenberg. Google books has versions with pages missing...

Perhaps someone can help. Thank you.

Tim Enloe said...

Oh, I do realize that, Turretin. This is why I am not afraid to label much of the Catholic apologetics movement both Sophistry and demagoguery. These terms are not merely terms of abuse; in Western political discourse, which has been shaped by 2,500 years of iron-sharpening-iron debate, these terms mean something very specific and their characteristic marks can be recognized by anyone who has done the requisite study to gain familiarity with the shape of the issues.

This is not the case with many of the "apologists." They have not done the work, and in some of the more egregious cases, they actually refuse to do the work, citing the epic American mythology of the untutored Common Man casting down the pretensions of so-called "betters" in the name of the very radical and socially-destructive agenda of "liberty, equality, and fraternity."

Although there are exceptions,as a general rule people doing "apologetics" on the Internet don't care about the messy realities of history, which take time and patience to sort through, but only the superficial appearances that support the allegedly "common sense" views that they already hold. They don't care about really substantive discourse, where everyone has to give and take and nobody can justly claim to have all the answers before the discussion even begins, but only about rhetorical success with the unlettered American democratic Common Man - the guy who wants all distinctions (intellectual, social, and otherwise) erased in the name of "equality" and who desperately seeks simple "one minute" answers to complex problems that have occupied the greatest minds of Christendom for millennia.

I don't think that as a general rule this is being done dishonestly, but it is nevertheless being done culpably. The American experiment with democracy has progressively degenerated from the Founding Fathers' ideal of a classically-educated (and so truly learned) populace that could make informed and responsible decisions about complex issues into a Jacksonian-esque idolization of unlettered frontier-style self-made, self-taught, and self-correcting mavericks looking down their snotty democratized noses at all the so-called "arrogant" people who dare to imagine that real distinctions of achievement, knowledge, and merit have anything to do with discussing important issues of religion and culture.

A bunch of vapid rhetoric on my part? Nah. I was looking at Nathan Hatch's The Democratization of American Christianity the other night, and his description of what happened to religious discourse per se thanks to the frontier revivalists matched almost word-for-word what we see in all these self-styled "apologists" on the Internet. Man, I wish more people would read that book.

Tim Enloe said...

And I should add that all of this is only magnified a hundred times by the adhesion of these deliberately unlettered, appearance-loving Common Men to a religious system that itself admits of no possibility of significant error.

A few years ago I almost put forward an essay that argued the point that Catholic apologists often act as if they are derivatively infallible merely by their association with the Magisterium. I'm starting to wonder again if that isn't true. It must be so comforting, when one encounters a complex issue that one has absolutely no insight into, to be able to appeal to "faith" that has been "revealed" to a special group of people whose claims can never be held accountable to anything outside of their own circle. And what an added bonus to then be also able to claim that you are "deep in history" merely by virtue of having read Newman! And of course, since others disagree with oneself, that means they are horribly prejudiced and don't have "faith."

It's a sweet system, really.

Tim Enloe said...

LOL, I see from the links on this post that I'm making someone's apologetics work day again. Glad to see it. I do what I can for the cause of nefarious quasi-anti-Catholic bigotry by bringing to light historical facts that poor downtrodden victims of prejudice (a.k.a., Defenders of the One True Church, Which is the Anvil Upon Which Many Heretic Hammers Have Broken) have never heard of, and don't have any idea how to answer intelligently.

Maybe, if the combox will let me and if it's not forbidden to post long quotes, I'll put that Manegold of Lautenbach up later today. When it comes to substantive discussion of historical matters, one usually has to provide these "apologists" with the material upon which to do their work, after all. Wikipedia doesn't have enough on Manegold of Lautenbach to enable a definitive "refutation" to be written. And I'm sure it's more than a little bit embarrassing to find out that he was a papalist.

James Swan said...

I'm looking for: "On temporal authority and the extent to which it should be obeyed."

It's in LW 45. It's also on the LW CD ROM, which is now much more affordable.... a worthy investment.

I tried your link under Luther's Works but it did not work for me.

OK, I found and archived version of the link you were looking for-

Try this link:

Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed

James Swan said...

the incredibly "shallow in history" propaganda of many Catholic apologists regarding issues such as "authority" and "rebellion."

A Romanist on a discussion board and also DA's link really brought home the fact the Romanists often do not go deep into Reformation history. They'll pull outrageous quotes (like the one in this blog entry) out of its context, and then make polemical conclusions, all the while avoiding the issues Luther was actually dealing with, which, in this case, had a lot to do with Papist legalities on marriage.

This document in particular dates from 1522, early in Luther's Reformation career (and before he was married). Romanists don't even take that into consideration No, Luther said "x." It sticks.

It really does amaze me when I read their WebPages of Luther quotes, and then I go back and actually read the quote in context, including background materials and concerns. A different picture often emerges. I recommend actually reading "The Estate of Marriage" and notice the Romanist issues Luther had to deal with about marriage.

But most troubling about their methods is they often totally ignore the fact that the 16th century was....the 16th century! Marriage, parenting, sexuality, race , etc., were understood in particular ways which aren't always similar to our ways- all the while hiding " outrageous" Roman Catholic opinions on the same topics.

James Swan said...

That was a thorough explanation. Thank you very much for taking the time to do so. .

Thanks Teri.

I had always been told by relatives that "it is God's law and therefore you do not question it".
I appreciate your willingness to engage in the conversation.

The 16th century mentality had no trouble executing people for all sorts of things. That's one thing the magisterial Reformers had in common with Roman Catholics, that's for sure.

I can appreciate Luther's concern for marriage and children. I'm not sure the death penalty would ever deter people from adultery against their spouses, or as a method to control marriages. My gut tells me it would not.

Tim Enloe said...

Hopefully it's OK to do this here - if not, let me know. Here's the papalist Manegold of Lautenbach on the right of subjects to hold lords who have become unjust as not being lords at all, and thus to disobey them without incurring the charge of "rebellion":

Therefore even as the royal dignity and authority excels all earthly authorities, so no infamous or shameful man is appointed to administer it, but he who no less in wisdom, justice, and piety than in place and dignity is superior to others. Therefore it is necessary that he who is to bear the charge of all and govern all should shine above others in greater grace of virtues and should strive to administer with the utmost balance of equity the authority allotted to him. For the people do not exalt him above themselves in order to grant him a free opportunity to exercise tyranny against them, but that he may defend them from the tyranny and unrighteousness of others. Yet when he who has been chosen for the coercion of the wicked and the defence of the upright has begun to foster evil against them, to destroy the good, and himself to exercise most cruelly against his subjects the tyranny which he ought to repel, is it not clear that he deservedly falls from the dignity entrusted to him and that the people stand free of his lordship and subjection, when he has been evidently the first to break the compact for whose sake he was appointed? Nor can anyone justly and rationally accuse them of faithlessness, since it is quite evident that he first broke faith. For, to draw an example from baser things, if someone should entrust his pigs to be pasture to someone for a fitting wage, and afterwards learned that the latter was not pasturing them, but was stealing, slaughtering, and losing them, would he not remove him with reproaches from the care of the pigs, retaining also the promised wage? If, I say, this principle is maintained in regard to base things, that he is not considered indeed a swineherd who seeks not to pasture the pigs, but to scatter them, so much the more fittingly, by just and probable reason, in proportion as the condition of men is distinct from the nature of pigs, is he who attempts not to rule men, but to drive them into confusion, deprived of all the authority and dignity which he has received over men….It is one thing to reign, another to exercise tyranny in the kingdom. For as faith and reverence ought to be given to emperors and kings for safeguarding the administration of a kingdom, so certainly, for good reason, if they break into the exercise of tyranny, without any breach of faith or loss of piety no fidelity or reverence ought to be paid them. - Manegold of Lautenbach, Ad Gebehardum Liber, ca. 1085 A.D., as cited by Ewart Lewis, Medieval Political Ideas, Vol. 1 (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., 1974), pg. 165

The applications to the Reformation are obvious to anyone who bothers to find out about real history. I hereby give Catholic apologists permission to use the above fruit of my transcription work, which they certainly would not have done for themselves (as it would have meant reading something carefully and trying to understand rather than merely polemicize) as fodder to write their masterful "refutations."

Richard Froggatt said...

Would any Catholic disagree with Manegold here? It's one thing to throw off the chains of a tyrannical pope, it's yet another to throw off the grace of the papacy. Even the pigs, when found with no real shephard, needed one. So too the people needed a king, minus the tyranny.

The question you should ask yourself here Tim, is this; why didn't Manegold apply his reasoning to the papacy?

If the Reformation had only went so far as to throw off tyranny, there would only be praise for it on either side of the Tiber.

Respectfully yours.

Tim Enloe said...


The answers to your questions are complex (I would not pretend that they are simple). For one thing, at the point in time that Manegold wrote, the papacy was not yet a tyranny. It was fast becoming one, thanks to Gregory VII's pretensions to absolute authority. But it was not yet there. Manegold is here arguing against the papalist perception that the Emperor Henry IV is acting like a tyrant and ought to be deposed by his aggrieved subjects. However, 500 years later, when the papacy itself has become an unrepentant tyranny, the same reasoning may be easily seen to apply to it as well as to the temporal lords. Catholics often pay lip service to the fact that the Church prior to the Reformation was in a real mess in a lot of ways, but I don't find that they often understand the seriousness of tyranny in the Western Christian political tradition, or the remedies for it that the tradition provides.

Now, as a papalist one could appeal to another part of the tradition that has always courted absolutism, and which thus has always been particularly vulnerable to fomenting tyranny in rulers. However, a Catholic could find a lot of support for absolutism in Medieval writers, too. The question then becomes one of weighing (analyzing) sources rather than simply counting (citing) them. I've read a number of papalist tracts from the Middle Ages, and also a few from Cajetan at the time of the Reformation, that argue the absolutist side of the tradition with great force. For myself, I say to Catholics trying to find a defense against the Reformation, "Hey, if you want to seek refuge in the defenders of tyranny, go for it." I'm confident that the arguments advanced by anti-tyranny thinkers are far superior to those advanced by pro-tyranny ones.

As for your observation that the "pigs" need a shepherd, you provide the answer by saying the people need a king, not a tyrant. This is, in fact, what the part of the tradition that Manegold is writing within holds: there is a difference between a king (legitimate ruler) and a tyrant (illegitimate ruler). The solution to a tyranny is not to get rid of all rule, but to reform the rule that exists and return it to a more healthy state. This is what the Reformers were interested in doing, albeit with the caveat that they, along with vast swaths of Christendom, had come to the conclusion that after close to 200 years of the papacy repeatedly rejecting reasonable rebukes of its tyranny, the institution had become contumaciously heretical and had to be thrown off and replaced entirely.

Although the specific issue I have introduced here is different from the specific topic of James' post, the issues at work remain the same: authority must be joined to real responsibility, and when the highest ruler abuses his flock, his subordinate rulers are allowed to "interpose" themselves (to use Calvin's terms) between the people and the tyrant, thus providing a more healthy governance and pastoral oversight for them.

Tim Enloe said...

And btw, I think you're wrong to say that praise for the overthrowers of tyrants would come from "either side of the Tiber." The papacy has proved for centuries upon centuries that what it is interested in is not the actual lived experience of Christians, but grand theories about Power and Dominion - specifically it's own advanced against everyone else. The papacy is basically a Christianized form of the Roman Empire, whereas the Reformation defended the basic ideas of the Roman Republic. You guys can have Tiberius and Nero. I'll take my stand with Cicero and Aristotle instead.

Brigitte said...

Thanks for posting the link for: On Temporal Authority...

After reading a few of your papers I am starting to think I really should get the complete works on CD ROM, though I don't like to read off the screen. Do you have a set you like the best in English and in German?

I enjoy Luther so much, that when I don't feel like getting up some morning, I tell myself I get to read some Luther today! (Of course, it's the Gospel we enjoy, but Luther, too, what a bonus!)

For all that enjoyment, I own precious few books by him, and NOTHING in German, though I'm a native.

James Swan said...

Thanks for posting the link for: On Temporal Authority...

No problem. When you couldn't find it, I posted it on to my site. I haven't compared that link to the Luther's Works version, so I don't really know how complete the link is. Again, if a link doesn't work, always try the archive link I posted on your blog.

After reading a few of your papers I am starting to think I really should get the complete works on CD ROM, though I don't like to read off the screen. Do you have a set you like the best in English and in German?

Likewise, I don't like reading books off a screen. I really enjoy Luther's sermons, so I have the 7 volume set that was reissued a few years ago. As to Luther's Works, I Have the old Philadelphia small set, and various volumes of the Concordia set. the CD Rom is very useful for searching, but terrible for those of us who enjoy reading books in a comfortable chair.

For all that enjoyment, I own precious few books by him, and NOTHING in German, though I'm a native.

You're fortunate. I do not speak German. If you hang around here long enough, don't be surprised if I try to enlist you to translate some things for me. Every so often I come across a context I'd love to have, but it's only available in German.

Brigitte said...

Anytime, I'd love to help. His Bible translation, of course, is great, too.

James Swan said...

Anytime, I'd love to help. His Bible translation, of course, is great, too.

Well, since you offered:

Here's a blog entry I did back in July. I looked at this Luther quote, ""Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Evangelium better than I or St. Paul; they are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers." (citation: Walch XIV, 1360. quoted in O'Hare, Ibid, 209.)"

I traced the source to this page. It's a very short German document. I would love to at least have an idea of what the context is, and exactly what the footnote says at the bottom of page 789. I'm not asking for a word for word translation of the whole thing (that would take a lot of time), but exactly what's going on.

It looks like a list of prophetical utterances. I don't know German, so I can only speculate a bit. Previous to the quote, Luther says something like, "Denmark will now be punished, including Venice, the Frankish nobility also been punished." The punishment appears to be for the people despising any authorities who have knowledge of the scriptures.

The beginning of the document is about Luther's concerns for the newly in charge John Frederick over Electoral Saxony. It is easily documented that Luther had serious concerns for the church and political front when John Frederick came to power. During these months of 1532, Luther was very concerned for the state of the church, and expressed this to John Frederick. Pastors were being treated poorly (including financially). The nobles as well as the peasants showed little respect for the pastors. Luther interpreted this lack of respect as an evidence for the last days. The gospel would be attacked on all fronts. The gospel will be abused and attacked, and then end will come. A remnant though, faithful to the gospel will be saved. The document, as far as I can ascertain reflects these concerns. The people treating pastor's poorly was simply another sign of the immanent end of the world.


Brigitte said...

I could not get the book that way.
Do you want to mail me the footnote?


James Swan said...


You can't view google book links? Ah well, they have a text feature which tries to change the page images into text. It's not exact, but the text of the footnote goes like this (some of the words will be nonsense):

»> Diese Nummer ist eine kleine Sammlung von Tischreden, die Aurifaber irgendwo aufgelesen und in die Eis- lebensche Ausgabe, Vd. II, Nl. 315b, gebracht hat unter dem Titel i V-Uicinium ^Ißii»« ^»x. ^nnu >IVXXXII pnst, öweessuru ^obHniu!, Lloewr!» «x viw. Fast jedes dieser Stücke bat sein Seitenstück in den Tischreden, ja, manche derselben fast von Wort zu Wort. W 2 und 3 in Cav. 45, 8 ?4, Absatz 4; ' Ausgabe, Nd. XXII, Col. 1248. 1277. übrigen Stücken sind nur einzelne lateinische Worte. Die Erlanger Ausgabe hat sich von dieser Schrift leicht frei gemacht, indem fie in dem vergleichenden Register mit der Ausgabe Walchs, Nd. 65, S, 92, angibt, dieselbe sei lateinisch geschrieben, während doch nur etwa der sechste Theil derselbe» lateinisch ist. Wir habe» das lateinisch Geschriebene ins Deutsche übersetzt. Aus der Eislebenschen Ausgabe ist die Schrift übergegangen in die Altenburger, Vd. V, S. IN30 und in die Leipziger. Nd. XXII, S. 583.

Brigitte said...

I can usually read Google book; I'm not sure what's not working here.

"This number is a small collection of table talks, which Aurifaber picked up somewhere and included in the Eisleben edition under the title Unicinium (bunch of nonsense). Almost each one of these pieces has its “Seitenstueck” ?? (corresponding piece ?) in the the Table Talks, yes, many the same word for word. … other pieces are single Latin words. The Erlangen edition has rid itself of this writing, in that it gives the comparative register (listing?) with the edition of Walch, which is said to be in Latin, however, really only one sixth of it is in Latin. We have translated the the Latin pieces into German. From the Eisleben edition these writings have passed into the Altenburger (edition) and the Leipzig (edition)."

James Swan said...


Thank you so much! The quote appears to be from a Tabletalk, as I suspected.

Thanks again,