Sunday, September 04, 2016

Luther: The possession and reading of the whole Bible ought to be limited to those with a high degree of education?

A blog entry (and its discussion) was recently forwarded over to me: Which Luther? The entry makes some good points about reading Luther in context (particularly his historical context). There's no content I wish to add to this entry, good points were made. What interested me more than the actual entry was the discussion which followed. A participant (who appears to hold a doctorate and who also may be Roman Catholic?) commented on the notion that Luther saw the need to place the Bible into the hands of the ordinary Christian:
You know, or should know, that in the last decade of his life Luther vehemently repudiated this idea, which he had embraced for a time in the early 1520s, even citing with approval the statement of the 15th-Century preacher Geilo of Kaysersberg "“to give a layman the Bible and ask him to read it for himself is like giving a three-year-old child a hatchet to play with.”
Luther was all for general Bible-reading in the late 15teens and early 1520s, and thought that the plowboy reading the Bible at the plow, and the milkmaid at the stool would lead to a revival of “true Christianity.” When, however, he realized that “read for yourself” Bible study drew far more ordinary folk into sectarian movememts of all sorts — Anabaptists, milennarians, spiritualists and rationalists — than to orthodox Lutheranism, and also — and just as bad — gave rise to the view that academic Bible scholars (such as himself) had no privileged insight into its its meaning by virtue of their linguistic, literary and dialectical training, he changed his tune; and came to believe that the possession and reading of the whole Bible ought to be limited to those with a high degree of education, and that for the rest (the great majority) they ought to be supplied with selected Biblical excerpts and pericopes calculated to promote their devotional lives and moral practice, buut avoiding anything likely to lead to theological speculation.
And, of course, the later Luther was right.
I've never heard this one before, that later in his life "Luther vehemently repudiated this idea" of putting the Bible in the hands of the common man. This argument was cogently challenged by the participants (link #1; link #2; link #3). The response was as follows:
I have to admit that I may have been mistaken, as I cannot find the source of the quote. My memory is, that I found it in one of Steven Ozment's books. I did get the name wrong: he was Johann Geiler of Kaysersberg (1445-1510), one of the most renowned preachers of late medieval Germany, who spent much of his career in Strassburgh; cf.:
A google search turned up this:
See p. 107 for the quotation, which, however, I can barely read on my screen, as the print is tiny, and the text upside-down.
See also p. 96 here:
I would not have been surprised to have actually had some sort of statement from Luther offered about limiting Bible availability, but none was given. Then the next step would have been to evaluate the context to see what was going on. I've come across a number statements from Luther about those who misuse the Gospel, and Luther's response is typically something like, "Yes, that will happen, but the Gospel must go forth regardless." I would assume his feeling about the actual availability of the Bible would be similar: "Yes, the Bible may be misused, but the Word of God must go forth regardless." I don't have any statements from Luther saying this currently at my fingertips, but it would be consistent with how he thought about these important spiritual things.

The notion that Luther quoted and approved of the statement "to give a layman the Bible and ask him to read it for himself is like giving a three-year-old child a hatchet to play with," would be a very interesting find. If I were one of Rome's defenders and I came across a tidbit like this, it would be plastered all over the Internet.

Geiler von Kaiserberg
I found the Geiler von Kaiserberg quote in W. Kooiman, Luther en de Bijbel, 73
Principieel kon de Kerk moeilijk bezwaar hebben tegen overzetting van de Bijbel in de volkstaal. Van oudsher was de Schrift immers vertaald; de Septuagint was een vertaling van het Oude Testament in het Grieks, de Vulgaat een vertaling in het Latijn, maar deze officiële overzettingen, inzonderheid de Vulgaat, werden als authentieke Bijbel beschouwd. Op de tekst van de Vulgaat was de scholastieke theologie gebouwd. Afwijkende vertalingen konden onoverzienbare gevolgen hebben voor de kerkelijke leer. Daarom wenste de Kerk in die dagen zeker de lekenbijbel niet. Het lezen en bestuderen van de heilige Schrift moest voorbehouden blijven aan de geestelijke stand, die immers ook alleen in staat was haar inhoud te verklaren. Zo waarschuwt de beroemde Straatsburger prediker Geiler von Kaisersberg: 'Het is een kwaad ding om de Bijbel in het Duits te drukken. Hij moet immers geheel anders verstaan worden dan de tekst luidt. Het is gevaarlijk om kinderen het mes in de hand te geven om ze hun eigen brood te laten snijden. Ze kunnen er zich mee verwonden. Zo moet ook de H. Schrift, die het brood van God bevat, gelezen en verklaárd worden door mensen met gevorderde kennis en ervaring, die de ware zin er uit kunnen halen' . Vertalingen in de volkstaal ontstonden dan ook veelal in ketterse kringen, die zich in hun verzet tegen de wereldlijke macht van de Kerk en haar leergezag terug-trokken op Gods Woord om van daaruit steeds weer hun aanvallen in te zetten , al was dit in Duitsland minder het geval dan elders. 
Kooiman cites "Bij G. Buchwald, 400 Jahre deutsche Lutherbibel, 1934, S.4" as his source. I have a hard copy of the English translation as well (The Kooiman book has been translated into English). Kooiman does not link the quote in question to any sort of affirmation from Luther. I also have some Ozment books, and only found one which referenced Geiler von Kaiserberg in passing (The Reformation in the Cities). I didn't Google search any of Ozment's books, I simply checked the indexes of the ones I own.

If anyone has any information on any sort of connection between Luther and Geiler von Kaiserberg, I would be very interested.

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