Sunday, December 10, 2017

Luther: “As little as one is able to remove mountains, to fly with the birds, to create new stars, or to bite off one’s nose, so little can on escape unchastity”

Here's a Martin Luther-related excerpt that appeared on the Catholic Answers Forums:

In studying Luther, we must remember that his cardinal dogma when he abandoned Catholic teaching was that man has no free will, that he can do no good, and that to subdue animal passion is neither necessary nor possible. He insists that the moral law of the Decalogue is not binding, that the 10 Commandments are abrogated and that they are no longer in force among Christians. “We must remove the Decalogue out of sight and heart”(De Wette, 4, 188). “If we allow them — the Commandments – any influence in our conscience, they become the cloak of all evil, heresies, and blasphemies.” (Comm. Ad Galatians). “If Moses should attempt to intimidate you with his stupid 10 Commandments, tell him right out: chase yourself to the Jews." (Wittenb. Ad 5, 1573). “As little as one is able to remove mountains, to fly with the birds, to create new stars, or to bite off one’s nose, so little can on escape unchastity.” (Alts Abenmachlslehre, 2, 118)

A number of quotes are presented. This entry will concentrate on the last quote: "As little as one is able to remove mountains, to fly with the birds, to create new stars, or to bite off one’s nose, so little can on escape unchastity. (Alts Abenmachlslehre, 2, 118)." As to the other quotes, I've covered most of them already as part of my Luther, Exposing The Myth series, or elsewhere on this blog.

This is one of those quotes that I categorically classify as the "Antinomian Luther." They are typically posted by those dedicated to defending the Roman church (but not limited to them!).  Historically, such "shock" quotes served as propaganda used by pre-1930 Roman Catholic controversialists. Notice in the paragraph above, the Catholic Answers participant says Luther believed "to subdue animal passion is neither necessary nor possible." Then quotes are brought forth to demonstrate Luther was fundamentally immoral and rejected God's law. The champion of this view was Heinrich Denifle (1844-1905), an Austrian Roman Catholic historian. For Denifle, one of Luther's major problems was lust and immorality. It was Luther's craving for sex that led him to not only break his monastic vows, but to revolt against the established Roman church.

Let's take a closer look at this quote and see what's going on. Let's see if the historical record proves Luther was a sex-driven person who abandoned God's law to fulfill his fleshly desires.

The person who posted the quote provides obscure documentation.  This person also stated,
I am a convert from Protestantism who used to idolize Luther until I read his writings (eventually). Before, and while undertaking my doctorate (early music history + performance), I had learned to read primary sources, this is what also lead me to the Catholic Church - the Apostolic Fathers + St Augustine + Aquinas. Today many people will watch a movie about Luther and think they are well informed about him.
I do question the validity of this testimony of learning, especially the claim of reading Luther's writings and the ability to read primary sources to form opinions. Of the two posts of Luther material this person presented in this discussion (#1, #2), neither demonstrates a straight reading of Luther. The material was probably taken from a few web-pages, then cut-and pasted over on to the discussion forum. I suspect this page, this page, and perhaps this page was utilized. Unless the person posting this material on Catholic Answers wrote these links, much of these posts were blatant plagiarism. Even if he (she?) did compose one of these web pages, I still doubt any of the material came from a straight reading (or "studying") of the "primary sources" for Luther. Some of what was posted was directly plagiarized from Father Patrick O'Hare's, The Facts about Luther, especially the quote above under scrutiny. The paragraph appears in almost the exact form in Father O'Hare's book on pages 314-315. O'Hare uses it to question Luther's morality: to prove his "disturbed conscience," and that "he was not a God-inspired man and had no claim to be considered even an ordinary reformer or spiritual guide." O'Hare states, 
In studying Luther, we must remember, that his cardinal dogma when he abandoned Catholic teaching, was that man has no free-will, that he can do no good and that to subdue animal passion is neither necessary nor possible. He insisted that the moral law of the Decalogue is not binding, that the Ten Commandments are abrogated and that they are no longer in force among Christians. "We must," he says, "remove the Decalogue out of sight and heart." (De Wette, 4, 188.) "If we allow them—the Commandments—any influence in our conscience, they become the cloak of all evil, heresies and blasphemies." (Comm. ad Galat. p. 310.) "If Moses should attempt to intimidate you with his stupid Ten Commandments, tell him right out: chase yourself to the Jews." (Wittenb. ad. 5, 1573.) Having thus unceremoniously brushed aside the binding force of the moral law, we do not wonder that he makes the following startling and shameless pronouncements. "As little as one is able," he says, "to remove mountains, to fly with the birds (Mist und Ham halten), to create new stars, or to bite off one's nose, so little can one escape unchastity." Alts Abendmahlslehre, 2, 118.) Out of the depths of his depraved mind, he further declares: "They are fools who attempt to overcome temptations (temptations to lewdness) by fasting, prayer and chastisement.  For such temptations and immoral attacks are easily overcome when there are plenty of maidens and women." (Jen. ed. 2, p. 216.)
Whether the person at Catholic Answers took the quote from O'Hare's book or not, someone at some point did, and that's why it's on the Internet (now being disseminated by cut-and-paste plagiarism). To borrow from this Catholic Answers participant: today many people will read a biased and poorly researched web-page or book about Luther and think they are well informed about him.

O'Hare does cite a reference for the quote in question: "Alts Abendmahlslehre, 2, 118." This cryptic reference occurs numerous times in nineteenth-century Luther-related materials, primarily German writings, and then fizzles out in twentieth-century usage.The reference appears to point to the second volume in a book in regard to the Lord's Supper. Whatever is meant by this reference, versions of this quote with a similar reference can be traced back in its polemical usage to at least 1781. For instance,  this eighteenth-century author says Luther lived his early years in constant lust and fornication, and that he freely admitted he was unable to live a chaste life. He the cites the quote under scrutiny:

Notice with this book, also mentioned is a "2" and a "118," which is similar to what O'Hare is citing, but it leaves out "Alts Abendmahlslehre." Unfortunately, what's being referred to by Father O'Hare and this other reference isn't clear to me. "Alts" could be referring to the Altenberg edition of Luther's collected writings. If O'Hare and this author are citing volume 2 page 118 of the Altenberg edition, there's nothing on this page similar to the quote in question, nor is this treatise about the Lord's Supper. Interestingly though, notice the "T. 2. 292" from the 1781 book above. There is something very similar to the quote on p. 292 of Altenberg, volume 2 (which will be discussed below).

Another reference that also occurs with this quote at times is "Gottlieb. 2. Ausg. S. 245." For instance, this book from 1896 uses the quote and adds the Gottlieb reference:

"Gottlieb. 2. Ausg." refers to Briefe aus Hamburg: ein Wort zur Vertheidigung der Kirche gegen die Angriffe von sieben Läugnern der Gottheit Christi, Volume 2 by Gottlieb (Tilmann Pesch SJ). Here is Page 245:

Gottlieb simply cites the quotes with the "Alts Abendmahlslehre"  reference: "In abundance, Luther often says it outright, after man Pure, chaste life is impossible. As little as I can paint away mountains, fly with the birds, hold manure and urine, darken the sun, create new stars, and bite my nose, I can not let go of fornication (Alte Abendmahlslehre 2. 118)."

I'm not sure what source is meant by "Alte Abendmahlslehre 2." However,  as stated above, there is something very similar to the quote on p. 292 of Altenberg, volume 2 (cited in the 1781 text).  Page 292 states:

This page is part of Letter Luther wrote in August 1523 to the Burgemeister at Nuremburg."to resist papal pressures and to appoint an evangelical preacher." Jules Michelet explains:
One of the points which gave the greatest disquietude to the Reformer was the abolition of monastic vows. In 1522, he sent forth an exhortation on this subject to the four mendicant orders. The Augustines, in the month of March, the Carthusians in August, declared energetically in his favour.
To the lieutenants of his imperial majesty at Nuremberg, he writes, in August, 1523: "It is inconsistent with the nature of God to require vows which it is impossible for human nature to keep. . . Dear lords, we implore you to unbend in this matter. You know not what horrible and infamous cruelties the devil exercises in convents; render not yourselves accomplices in his wickedness, charge not your consciences with his guilt. If my bitterest enemies knew that which I learn every day from all the countries about us—ah, I am sure they would at once assist me in overthrowing the convents! You compel me to cry out louder than I otherwise would. Give way, I entreat you, ere these scandals burst forth more scandalously than they need to do."
It is in the context of this letter that something very similar to the quote occurs. This letter can be found in Sämtliche Werke, Volumes 53, 182-190 with the quote on page 188 and also in WABr 3:367-374, with the relevant section on page 372:

To my knowledge, this letter has no official English translation. In this section, Luther says that unless God provides a miracle of chastity, a vow of chastity is impossible to keep. It would be like the miracle of a person flying like a bird (Wer will doch fliegen geloben wie ein Vogel, und halten, es sei denn Gottes Wunderzeichen da?). Mankind was not created for chastity, but rather to be fruitful and multiply. To impose a vow of chastity on someone naturally born to procreate is like a person trying to hold their dung and urine (Mist oder Harn halten).  

I would be surprised if  "Alte Abendmahlslehre 2. 118" said anything different than what Luther 's letter from August 1523 to the Burgemeister at Nuremburg says above. I would also be surprised if some other context (other than this letter) the quote is purported to have been taken from actually exists. True, some of the key phrases are missing from the August 23 letter:  " remove mountains, to create new stars, or to bite off one's nose...". After going through years of these quotes, one thing I've noticed is that when a Luther quote provides a number of statements together saying the same thing, they can at times be secondary summary statements put together by someone reading Luther. 

One thing is clear from the context: Luther believed in celibacy for those who were given it by God. Otherwise, Luther believed in the married life as the norm for human beings. Biologically, people are typically designed with the desire to procreate. This desire can either be carried out in a God pleasing way (marriage) of a non-God pleasing way (fornication). During Luther's time, the monks and nuns were plagued with fornication because of the unnatural vow they took. Some of Luther's detractors though (like Denifle and O'Hare) painted a much different picture: Luther was simply espousing blatant fornication. Perhaps these men took issue with Luther here because they themselves worked hard at keeping their vow of celibacy.

Luther wrote often on vows and chastity. In his extended treatment of 1 Corinthians 7, he ends with this summary that well explains his view:
Now we may summarize this chapter thus: It is well not to marry unless it is necessary. It becomes necessary when God has not given us the rare gift of chastity, for no one is created for chastity, but we are all born to beget children and carry the burdens of married life, according to Gen. 1; 2, and 3. Now, if someone should not suffer from this necessity, he would be the exception solely by the grace and the miraculous hand of God, not because of command, vow, or intent. Where God does not effect this, it may be attempted, but it will come to no good end. Therefore they are nothing but abominable murderers of souls who put young people into monasteries and nunneries and keep them there by force, as though chastity were something that could be put on and off like a shoe and something that is in our hand. Meanwhile they themselves take quite a different view and drive others to attempt what they have never even raised their little finger to attempt or would not be able to. It is easy to say: “Be chaste,” but why are you not chaste? It is great for you to eat like a pig and drink like a horse while telling me to fast! But enough said for those who are willing to listen. And what more can one say to those who will not listen? May God enlighten them or prevent them from strangling souls in this fashion! Amen. (LW 28:55-56).


Anonymous said...

Given that Catholic "apologetics" are so bad, the true apologetic for Catholicism has not actually been stated by anyone.

Unknown said...

Hi brother James Swan, I'd like to comunicate with you to ask you some questions about the Reformation and its main doctrines but I can't find any email where I could text to you. Please responde this with an email or facebook/twitter account please. It would really really help me.

James Swan said...

Hi Rob:

There is a Facebook link on the right side of this blog.

Unknown said...

Hi brother, I´ve sent you an email at the adress that appears in this blog, (you have´nt responded yet) but nevermind I´ll send you a message on Facebook

James Swan said...

Hi Rob: so sorry for the delays, I haven't been online much. Go ahead and post of your questions, and I'll see if I can help you over the weekend.