Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Catholic Answers Asks: Reformers or Revolutionaries?

As we draw nearer to the anniversary landmark of the Reformation, cyber-space is a flutter. The Catholic News Herald in North Carolina posted recently, "Luther’s concern was the gospel of the glory of God’s grace. While he was a reform-minded person, it was not his intention to become the founder of a separate Reform church. His goal was the renewal of the Catholic Church from the perspective of the Gospel." On the other hand, the North American Magisterium, Catholic Answers, has published a brief article entitled, Reformers or Revolutionaries? by Steve Weidenkopf. Once again, yet another article states its purpose is to give "the real story." It's not hard to guess that Catholic Answers still holds the old Roman Catholic view of Luther and will deem him a revolutionary by the end of the article.

The author starts out with the "Luther-was-an-abused-child" myth: "Martin Luther had a difficult childhood, owing to his overbearing and sometimes abusive parents."  A few paragraphs later this blossoms into, 
Luther’s extremely negative image of God, which may have reflected that of his abusive father, influenced his theology and his conflicts with authority. To Luther, God was not a loving father, as revealed by Christ, but rather a tyrannical and wrathful judge who delights in tormenting sinners.
I've written previously about this mythology. Why use the word mythology? The sparse bits of information about Luther's childhood fueling such claims stem from, if not almost entirely, the Table Talk. A few strands of second-hand comments have blossomed into ridiculous studies, like Erik Erikson's Young Man Luther.  Further, the conclusion that Luther's image of God proper (and Jesus Christ) was that of an angry judge, because of Luther's parents is erroneous based on actual historical information. Throughout his explicit writings, Luther did not blame his parents for his early understanding of God, but rather the medieval church. He said the culture he lived in viewed God as an angry judge, and the way to appease the angry judge was through the Virgin Mary and the saints. 

The author continues by describing some of Luther's early treatises as "revolutionary writings." These writings had the effect of causing societal unrest: 
Luther’s revolutionary writings led to outbreaks of violence throughout Germany. By 1525, mobs had destroyed churches, burned sacred art, and profaned the Eucharist. Nobles sympathetic to Luther’s teachings appealed to him for help ending the violence. In response, Luther wrote a pamphlet titled Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, in which he called on the nobility to suppress the rebellion with all necessary violence, which they did with ferocious efficiency, killing 130,000 peasants.
I would never argue Luther's early writings were insignificant, but the author here is engaging in post hoc erog propter hoc thinking. The peasants had been in active revolt even previous to Luther. The book the author refers to, Against the MurderousThieving Hordes of Peasants was actually published after the peasants war began. The treatise was delayed and did not have an immediate role during the war. The German nobility were not spurred on by Luther's words. They were spurred on by the peasants who strove towards anarchy and civil unrest.

But not only did Luther cause societal havoc resulting in the death of 130,000 peasants, the author then takes it back to a more personal level showing that Luther also attacked the very foundation of society: Luther was a revolutionary against marriage:
Several years later, Luther’s break with Christian teaching on marriage was made complete when he advised one Philip, landgrave of Hesse, that he could enter into a bigamous marriage so long as he kept it secret. When word of it leaked out, Luther advised Philip to deny it, writing, “What harm is there in telling a good bold lie for the sake of making things better and for the good of the Christian Church?”
Ignored are the countless statements from Luther's pen on the beauty and importance of marriage. Rather, one particular situation (with political ramifications) that Luther was involved with, one which he not soon thereafter regretted, becomes his standard operating procedure for marriage. 

And what Luther hit-piece would be complete without including Luther's views of the Jews? "Luther wrote On the Jews and Their Lies, a treatise in which he put forth an eight-point plan to rid Germany of its Jews." There's anachronism at play here. The author leaves out that in reality, the story of Luther's negativity towards the Jews is really to tell the story of medieval Christianity and medieval society's negativity towards the Jews.

Weidenkopf isn't being historical, he's being polemical. Reformation or Revolution? This has been one of his reoccurring themes for a number of years. The switching of "Reformation" to "Revolution" isn't the result of the historical creativity of Mr. Weidenkopf. This is standard procedure for Roman Catholic polemicists. E.G. Schweibert described it back in 1950 as typical of the defenders of Rome and secularists:

E.G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950), p. 8.

For a fascinating treatment of this switching of terms, see Reformation or Revolt or Revolution by Dr. Paul Peters (of whose article I'm indebted for referring me to Schweibert). Peters explains how complicated this subject actually is. I recommend a careful reading of this old article as there's a lot to chew on. I found the section "But Luther Answers his Roman Catholic Critics" well-constructed. Dr. Peters presents an overview from many of Luther's writings as to how Luther himself would respond to those who said he had caused a revolt.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Did Calvin Murder Servetus? by Standford Rives

Previously I went through a quote attributed John Calvin in which he is purported to have written, "I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard." There's good evidence that this quote is from a forged letter and not from the pen of Calvin at all.  The nuts and bolts of this can be found in my previous post. What I did not realize then was the extent to which one of the modern sources has popularized this quote. Over on the CARM boards a person posted the quote and was kind enough to provide a link to the book it came from: Did Calvin Murder Servetus? by Standford Rives.  A few folks defended this book as the go to source on the Calvin / Servetus issue. I'd like to take a closer look at the way the quote appears in this book, and then mention a few questions I have in regard to  the author. 

Did Calvin Murder Servetus? by Standford Rives
First let's take a look at how Mr. Rives cites the quote. He prefaces it with, "Unrepentance of Calvin To The Very End":
It is also a fact that Calvin remained unrepentant as of 1561 about his role and responsibility for the death of Servetus. In 1561, Calvin wrote a letter to the Marquis Paet, chamberlain to the King of Navarre, in which Calvin said: “Honour, glory, and riches shall be the reward of your pains; but above all, do not fail to rid the country of those scoundrels [Anabaptists and others], who stir up the people to revolt against us. Such monsters should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard.”548
The author then concludes, "One can readily see in this fire-breathing quote that the Christian spirit had been extinguished in Calvin." (Kindle Locations 4398-4403). The documentation provided states,
548 David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America (Lincoln and Edmands, 1813) at 186, quoting Rev. Robert Robinson’s Ecclesiastical Researches (Cambridge: Francis Hodson, 1792) at 348.
Here is not the place to delve into a defense or prosecution of Calvin's involvement in the execution of Servetus. What interests me is the quote itself and how it's documented. One thing to immediately note is that the phrase  "[Anabaptists and others]" is not from the original, it was added in. More troubling though is the documentation. Rives quotes Benedict, who is quoting Robinson, who is allegedly quoting Calvin! First, it's in vol. 1 of Benedict (his footnote left that out). Second, when one goes to look at Robinson, one discovers that author is citing Voltaire who is citing Calvin. So Standford Rives never actually quoted Calvin directly. He quoted someone quoting someone who quoted someone quoting Calvin!

This letter from Calvin was first popularized by Voltaire. It was included in Dr. Jules Bonnet's collection of Calvin's letters, published originally in French in the 1850's. There is an English translation of Calvin's letters from Bonnet's French. The letter in question can be found in Letters of John Calvin Vol. IV, pp. 439-440. Dr. Bonnet included this letter in a chapter entitled, "An Historical Calumny Refuted." There Bonnet documents the spuriousness of the letter. He mentions that the first publication of the letter was in 1750. He also documents that the letter swept across nineteenth century scholarship. After personally seeing the letter, Bonnet argues it (along with another one) is a fraud. Those reasons can be found in my previous post (or simply read "An Historical Calumny Refuted). The most compelling of the reasons is that the alleged letter gives someone a title he did not hold until twenty years later (M. du Poet, grand chamberlain of Navarre).

Over on CARM, the work of this author received accolades. The topic was said to be "thoroughly researched," "brilliantly researched," "you'll hardly find a more well-researched or documented book...with more footnotes to verify any information yourself," and "will eviscerate the common stock Calvin apologists' arguments." We've just seen above a blatantly poor neglect of information and spurious documentation. The ironic thing is that Rives cites the french version of Bonnet's Calvin letters a few times. I can think of a few reasons why this information about the forged letter was left out. First, he missed it because he didn't do adequate primary research; second, he willfully left it out because it did not fit his construction of Calvin. Third, perhaps he was not convinced of the forgery. One would think though in a 606 page book that the author would have at least mentioned it.

Standford Rives, Author of Did Calvin Murder Servetus?
Who is this author? That's actually not a simple question. From what I can figure out, Standford Rives self-published his book, Did Calvin Murder Servetus? (2008). Even though Amazon misspells his first name on their purchase page, they also say in his bio that he's been a Christian since he was 15 years old, was a member of a "Calvinist church for over 10 years," but his major credential is that "As an attorney, Rives examines the trial of Servetus initiated by Calvin and prosecuted by Calvin to determine whether Calvin was responsible for wrongfully killing Servetus as a heretic." None of these necessarily qualify him to write a book in regard to an historical event from hundreds of years ago, written in a different language in a different country. Here's what the back cover of the book says,
Mr. Rives is a California attorney. He has been in practice for twenty-seven years. In school, he studied Classical Greek and Latin. Mr. Rives has been an evangelical Christian since age 15. He was first baptized in a Baptist church. He has spent most of his thirty-one years as a Christian attending a Reformed Calvinist congregation.
Keep your eye on the ball. Amazon says Rives was in a Calvinist church for over 10 years, the back cover says most of his 31 years, and we'll  now see that the stat turns into over 15 years in his own on-line bibliography: "In my experience for over 15 years in a Reformed Congregation..." OK, so before it was "over ten years," then most of his thirty-one years, now he's says "over 15 years." So, is he still in a Reformed church? His Calvin book blurb says he "was" a member of Calvinist church. Which Reformed church? Was he a member? Was he there ten years, 15 years, or most of his thirty-one Christian years?

So who exactly is the author of Did Calvin Murder Servetus? I don't really know. I know the facts about his previous Calvinist churches are movable. Here's where it becomes interesting: do a search for "Standford Rives" along with words like "attorney," "lawyer," "esquire." Add in "California" if you want. From my cursory search, I didn't come up with any significant hits to verify this information. Now, perhaps he's retired? Perhaps his practice flies under the Internet radar?  I found another one of his self-published books (2012) which said on the back cover,
Mr. Standford Rives is a licensed practicing attorney. He has been in practice for over twenty-eight years. Mr. Rives has been an evangelical Christian since age 15. From 1998-2002, Mr. Rives served as a self-funded full-time missionary with his wife in Latin America in an out reach to children of the very poor.
This book was written after his Calvin book, so it appears he was still in practice as of 2012, so we know he was still in practice up until recently, at least. If anyone can find some hits to this mystery lawyer, I'd be interested in seeing that information. The bottom line is there is zilch in regard to the author's credentials to write an historical account from the 16th Century, and actually, there is next to nothing to know about this self-published author / lawyer.

I did find a website that claims "Standford Rives" is a fictitious name. This may be be the truth of it. If so, I think I actually have found the author's real name, but until I can verify this, I'm not going to post it. A reviewer on Amazon also mentions "Standford Rives" is a pseudonym, and also mentions the real author has some bizarre doctrinal beliefs, including a link to the author's website that demonstrates the author rejected and denigrated the apostleship of Paul and also denies Paul's books as Sacred Scripture. From my quick cursory search, this does appear to be the same person, but in this age of information deception, who knows? It could very well be there's a lawyer out there that's flying under the online information radar. On the other hand, if it is the same person mentioned in the Amazon review,  the person that wrote against John Calvin with such authority, did the same with the Apostle Paul!

Am I suspicious of the caliber of the book? Absolutely. Simply because someone writes a book does not mean they're necessarily qualified to be taken seriously as an authority on a particular subject. Now with self-publishing available, all sorts of  unqualified people are writings books. It appears to me "BookSurge Publishing" (used by Standford Rives) is a self-publisher. Sure, someone could produce a quality self-published book, that is within the realm of possibility. But, consider these following two points in terms of writing (and selling!) an historical account:  

1) If you're going to to write a book on X, it's essential to cite X, not someone quoting X.
2) If historical figure X spoke a different language than the author does, the author should be able to read X in his/her own language.

So far in my cursory look into his book, Rives has not demonstrated either of these points. What would make it all the worse is if the author is not using his real name. If someone is going to write an historical account and actually sell it, then why not have the integrity to use a real name? If this is explained somewhere in his Calvin book, I have not come across it yet. If the author is using a pseudonym, the book's credibility amounts to the same as that of an anonymous website, but in this case, someone has to pay money for the content, unlike a website that can be accessed for free.

Granted, none of this information refutes what the author argues in his book, Did Calvin Murder Servetus? It should though serve as a warning about being careful with the content. Yes, sometimes you can take your broken car to your weird friend Bob and have him fix it. Other times, Bob might be in over-his-head, working on an antique foreign car that requires bonafide training and skill. He might get it running, but if you honk the horn, the lights may turn off.