Monday, October 25, 2010

Luther: St. Augustine or St. Ambrosius cannot be compared with me

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "On Pride":

Christ taught: “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled” [Matt 23:12]. Luther teaches: “St. Augustine or St. Ambrosius cannot be compared with me”[Erlangen, Vol. 61, pg. 422].

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With these quotes, they attempt to show Christ taught one should be humble, while Luther says he's superior to Augustine and Ambrosius.

Luther, Exposing the Myth cites "Erlangen, Vol. 61, pg. 422." Erlangen referrs to Dr. M. Luthers Samtliche Werke, an older set of Luther's works from the nineteenth century. Volume 61 of this set contains the Tischreden, or Table Talk. Here is page 422. There is no such quote on this page. There is no possibility Luther, Exposing the Myth took this quote from any page in Erl. 61 (as I'll demonstrate), but rather swiped it from Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor by Peter Wiener. Wiener states,

“When I am angry, I am not expressing my own wrath, but the wrath of God”. Luther knew that he was superior to any man or saint. “St. Augustine or St. Ambrosius cannot be compared with me.” “They shall respect our teaching which is the word of God, spoken by the Holy Ghost, through our lips”. “Not for a thousand years has God bestowed such great gifts on any bishop as He as on me” (E61, 422).
The quote in question appears to be documented along with a few other quotes from the same context, but they are aren't from the same treatise at all. Wiener has pulled from multiple sources, only documenting an occasional quote, giving the appearance of one context rather than many. The first quote, "When I am angry, I am not expressing my own wrath, but the wrath of God" is from a comment Luther made in 1535 to the papal nuncio Vergerio that he would personally attend a church council. An account of this meeting can be found here, reconstructed by Preserved Smith [Janssen locates the quote in Walch 16]. The third quote, "They shall respect our teaching which is the word of God, spoken by the Holy Ghost, through our lips" is a Table Talk statement from Erl. ed., 62, p. 276. "Not for a thousand years has God bestowed such great gifts on any bishop as He as on me" is a Table Talk comment in which Luther expresses grief at the loss of his daughter (a great gift) [The account is found in LW 54:430]. Grisar documents it as Erl., 61, p. 422 in Luther IV, p. 332. This particular Table Talk comment has nothing about Augustine or Ambrosius in it, therefore Luther, Exposing the Myth miscited Luther.

I've written about "St. Augustine or St. Ambrosius cannot be compared with me" before. It is from Verantwortung der auffgelegten Auffrur von Hertzog Georgen, located in WA 38, page 103. The text reads,

To my knowledge, this document it not available in English. The full English title would be, Vindication Against Duke Georg's (Charge of) Rebellion, Including a Letter of Consolation to the Innocent Christians Driven By Him from Leipzig. It is scheduled for English translation in a forthcoming volume of Luther's Works.

One of the best overviews of the background of this work was put together by Mark U. Edwards in Luther's Last Battles. Duke George had set up a situation in which Protestants were to be watched how they took communion during Easter (they were to receive in one kind). Those not conforming to the method as directed by the Duke were to sell their possessions and be banished from Ducal Saxony. Luther was alerted to this situation, and he advised (via a letter) those convinced to receive both elements do so. The letter made it back to Duke George. Luther's letter was described as "Unchristian and rebellious" and an attempt to provoke the people to be rebellious against authority.

This sparked a written battle, Luther penning the Vindication Against Duke Georg's (Charge of) Rebellion. Edwards reviewed the argumentation used by Luther, beginning on page 56. The actual spot where our obscure quote comes in is WA 38:101-103. Edwards explains Luther's point:
While [Luther] bore no grudge against anyone, he wrote, he had to innocently bear the title of rebel, a title that Christ himself had to bear. 'For he himself was also crucified as a rebel and hanged between two murderers, and his rebellious title was King of the Jews, that is that he wished to oppose the emperor, his authority, to make his subjects disobedient and disloyal, and to make himself king, etc.' In fact, since the time of the apostles, no one had more magnificently upheld secular authority than had he. The real rebels were the Catholics who condemned the lay estate and tried to turn rulers into monks.
Interestingly, a contemporary Roman Catholic response to Luther was put forth by Johannes Cochlaeus (Edwards explores this as well). Cochlaeus later outlined his response in his book The Deeds and Writings of Martin Luther, which is now in print. On page 287, he quotes Luther saying:
"If any grace can be deserved from a cursed and sinful world, and if I Dr. Martin had taught or done no other good thing than thus to have brought to light and decked out the secular government and power, for that one deed at least they should both thank me and favor me. For I have such glory and honor, through the Grace of God, concerning this matter (whether it pleases or pains the Devil with all his fish-scales) that from the time of the Apostles no Doctor or writer, no theologian or legal scholar, has so notably and clearly strengthened, instructed, and consoled the consciences of the secular estates as I have done - through the extraordinary Grace of God, this I know for certain. For neither Augustine nor Ambrose (who nevertheless were excellent in this business) were my equals in this, etc."
In volume 5 of his massive Luther biography (pp.59-60), Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar cites the text as:
Such honour and glory have I by the grace of God -whether it be to the taste or not of the devil and his brood —that, since the days of the Apostles, no doctor, scribe, theologian or lawyer has confirmed, instructed and comforted the consciences of the secular Estates so well and lucidly as I have done by the peculiar grace of God. Of this I am confident. For neither St. Augustine nor St. Ambrose, who are the greatest authorities in this field, are here equal to me. . . . Such fame as this must be and remain known to God and to men even should they go raving mad over it [Werke, Erl. ed., 31, p. 236.]

The quote without background gives off the impression that Luther generally considered himself greater than Augustine and Ambrose in all areas. Comments about these men (as well as the church fathers in general) are peppered throughout Luther's writings. Luther held their opinions could not be unquestionably followed, thus he commends them at times, and criticizes them as well. Luther spoke favorably about Augustine and Ambrose at times, at other times not.

Mark U. Edwards states, "Luther, on the basis of his theology of the two kingdoms, could with complete consistency argue that no one had advocated obedience to secular authority more forcefully than had he" (Luther's Last Battles, p.66). Is this a prideful comment, in violation of Matthew 23:12? I guess it depends on one's disposition to Luther and approach to history. Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar is definitely onto something when he refers to this very quote and says, "[Luther's] actual words reveal their hyperbolical character, or rather untruth, by their very extravagance." True indeed, Luther was prone to strong hyperbole, and Roman Catholics continually miss this. If one reads through any of Luther's strong polemical treatises, this type of language abounds: anger, sarcasm, hyperbole, all weaved together.

"Hilary and Augustine, almost the two greatest lights of the church..." (LW 1:4)


Viisaus said...

Could either Ambrose or Augustine read the Holy Scriptures in their original Greek and Hebrew - like Luther could?

This is one of the main reasons we should not feel overt respect for the interpretations of some primitive fathers, especially Latin ones: their elementary lack of learning in original languages.

Jerome was a rare exception among Latin fathers in his knowledge of Hebrew.

dtking said...

This is one of the main reasons we should not feel overt respect for the interpretations of some primitive fathers, especially Latin ones: their elementary lack of learning in original languages.

Neither Augustine nor Ambrose knew Hebrew. Augustine only began to study Greek toward the end of his life, but Ambrose (though also a Latin theologian) had a thorough education in Greek.

But Ambrose informs us by his own testimony that he was only a novice when made the bishop of Milan...

Ambrose (c. 339-97): I make no claims, of course, to the glory of the Apostles—whoever could, other than those whom the Son of God himself chose? Nor do I claim to have the grace of the prophets, or the power of the evangelists, or the vigilance of the pastors. My wish is only to attain to the attention and diligence towards the divine Scriptures which the apostle ranked last of all among the duties of the saints, This is all I desire, so that, in my endeavor to teach others, I might be able to learn myself. For there is only one true Master, who never had to learn all that he taught everyone else: in this he is unique. Ordinary men must learn beforehand what they are to teach, and receive from him what they are to pass on to others.
In my own case, not even this was allowed. I was snatched into the priesthood from a life spent at tribunals and amidst the paraphernalia of administrative office, and I began to teach you things I had not learnt myself. The result was that I started to teach before I had started to learn. With me, then, it is a matter of learning and teaching all at the same time, since no opportunity was given me to learn in advance. Ivor J. Davidson, Ambrose, De Officiis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), Book 1, Chapter 1, §3-4, p. 119.

Jerome was a rare exception among Latin fathers in his knowledge of Hebrew.


Viisaus said...

Thank you, Dr. King. :)

It would actually quite useful if you could compile for us some sort of list of which notable church fathers could read Hebrew (or who could not), and which Latin fathers could read Greek - that would put things to a perspective.

Viisaus said...

Did a quick web-search, and it seems that both EO-traditionalist cranks and universalist heretics, basically all who have a beef with Augustinian theology, like to tout his ignorance of foreign languages:

"6 Græcæ autem linguæ non sit nobis tantus habitus, ut talium rerum libris legendis et intelligendis ullo modo reperiamur idonei, (De Trin. lib III); and, et ego quidem græcæ linguæ perparum assecutus sum, et prope nihil. (Contra litteras Petiliani, lib II, xxxviii, 91. Migne, Vol. XLIII.) Quid autem erat causæ cur græcas litteras oderam quibus puerulus imbuebar ne nunc quidem mihi satis exploratum est: "But what was the cause of my dislike of Greek literature, which I studied from my boyhood, I cannot even now understand." Conf. I:13."

Viisaus said...

It's claimed here:

"But suppose the Hebrew Gospel continued several centuries in existence, yet, if we except Origen and Jerome, perhaps none of the fathers, who have spoken of this Gospel, were able to read it. The objection therefore applies chiefly, if not entirely to Origen and Jerome."

Dr. King, is it true that the orthodox Greek fathers (that is, Origen excepted) could not read Hebrew?

dtking said...

Dr. King, is it true that the orthodox Greek fathers (that is, Origen excepted) could not read Hebrew?

1) First of all, I do not hold a doctorate. I don't want anyone to be misled in this respect - My formal education rises no higher than a Masters of Divinity degree.

2) I concur with the web site you posted - I am only aware of two ECFs who knew Hebrew, Origen and Jerome.