Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Luther Was counseled by the Devil to Stop Celebrating Holy Mass?

A participant on the Catholic Answers Forums asked about Martin Luther's interaction with the Devil:
Hello, does anybody have Luther's book “De missa privata et unctione sacerdotum” (1521) in english? I read here and in another source (a book about Holy Mass written by a Bishop in 1899) that Luther wrote about how he was counseled by a Devil to stop celebrating Holy Mass. I want to use this argument in a conversation with a protestant, however I don’t want to use argument which might be fake. Therefore I would be really glad if someone could look it up. If it was there then I would love to have a photo of that page.Thanks a lot!
Despite the fact this Roman Catholic wants to "use this argument in a conversation with a protestant," one can appreciate the caution that the story may be "fake." There are two basic affirmatives to answer this historical question.  Yes, there is a recorded conversation between Luther and the Devil about the Mass (documented and described by Luther himself), particularly, private masses, and yes, the dialog is in essence, fake.

Let's start with the clues given in the Catholic Answers discussion, particularly the link provided. When I first visited the link, there was little content, now it has magically reappeared (if it disappears again, try accessing it via Google Cache). The link is to an article written by Anne Barbeau Gardiner, "A Colloquy with Satan, or The Spirit of Martin Luther" found in the July 14, 2016 issue of The Latin Mass: The Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition. Gardiner's article is not an actual reading of Luther, but rather someone else's reading of Luther. Gardiner presents a review of a section from an old pro-Roman Catholic book, Abraham Woodhead's, Two discourses: the first concerning the spirit of Martin Luther, and the original of the Reformation; the second, concerning the celibacy of the clergy (1687).  Summarizing Woodhead, Gardiner says,
The core of The Spirit of Martin Luther is Woodhead's analysis of Luther's colloquy with Satan in 1522. It is unforgettable. Luther had engaged in many previous "negotiations" and "familiar disputes and conferences" with the "Enemy of mankind," but this one was crucial. In De Missa Privata and Sacerdotum Unctione (1533), he wrote of his "long experience" with Satan's "arts and practices" and of "many a sad and bitter night" spent in talks with him, but the colloquy on the Mass that took place in 1522 had such an effect on him that he never offered another Mass.  On that occasion, Satan in a "grave and strong voice" persuaded him that he had committed "idolatry" for fifteen years by adoring, and causing others to adore, "naked bread and wine."
The phrases "negotiations," "familiar disputes and conferences," "Enemy of mankind," and  "arts and practices," are not Luther's words, but rather, Woodhead's. The phrases "many a sad and bitter night," "grave and strong voice," and "naked bread and wine" are ascribed by Woodhead directly to Luther.  Gardiner has created confusion with her dates, mingling both 1522 and 1533 together. As far as I can tell, everything cited in the paragraph above appears to refer only to Luther's 1533 treatise, De Missa Privata and Sacerdotum Unctione. Furthering the confusion, I have not ascertained why the person at Catholic Answers ascribes the incorrect date 1521 to this treatise.

The Catholic Answers participant asked for the actual sources. De Missa Privata and Sacerdotum Unctione is the Latin version of Luther's 1533 treatise, Von der Winckelmesse und Pfaffen Weyhe (WA 38: 195-256). Yes, this treatise is available in English: The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests. It can be found in LW 38:139-214.

Here is an excerpt from LW 38. The entire story of Luther's conversation with devil goes on for multiple pages and is too long to post. I placed phrases used by Gardiner / Woodhead in bolded text:
I want to begin with myself and make a short confession before you sainted fathers. Grant me a good absolution which will not be injurious to yourselves. Once I awakened at midnight and the devil began the following disputation with me in my heart (for he is able to make many a night bitter and troublesome for me): “Listen, you very learned fellow, do you know that you said private masses for fifteen years almost daily? Did you not in reality commit sheer idolatry with such a mass and did you not worship there simply bread and wine, rather than Christ’s body and blood, and enjoin others to worship them?” I reply: “But I am a consecrated cleric; I have received chrism and consecration from the bishop, and, in addition, have done all this because of the command to do so and in obedience to it. Why have I not performed the consecration validly, since I have spoken the words in earnest and said mass with all possible devotion? You certainly know this.” “Yes,” he said, “that is true; but the Turks and the heathen also perform everything in their churches because of the command to do so and in earnest obedience to it. The priests of Jeroboam at Dan and Beersheba performed everything perhaps with greater devotion than the true priests at Jerusalem [I Kings 13:33]. What if your consecration, chrism, and consecrating are also unchristian and false like those of the Turks and the Samaritans?
At this point I truly broke into a sweat and my heart began to tremble and throb. The devil knows how to muster his arguments well and to make an impression with them, and he possesses a convincing, powerful way of speaking. Such disputations do not permit time for lengthy and numerous deliberations, but the answers come in quick succession. At such times I have seen it happen that one finds people dead in bed in the morning. He can kill the body. This is one thing; but he can also scare the soul with disputes so that it almost departs from the body, as he has quite often very nearly done to me. Now he had challenged me in this dispute, and I did not really want to be guilty of such a great number of abominations in the presence of God but wanted to defend my innocence. So I listened to him to hear the grounds on which he opposed my consecration and my consecrating.
First, he said, you know that you did not rightly believe in Christ and as far as your faith was concerned you were no better than a Turk; for the Turk and I myself, along with all devils, also believe everything which is written about Christ (James 3 [2:19]), that is, that he was born, died, and ascended into heaven. However, none of us takes comfort in him or has confidence in him as a Savior; but we fear him as a stern judge. This kind of faith and no other is the one you also had when you were consecrated a priest and said mass; and all the others, both the consecrating bishop and his ordinands, also believed this. For this reason, too, all of you turned away from Christ and depended on Mary and the saints, who had to be your consolation and helpers in need rather than Christ. This you cannot deny, nor can any pope. That is why you were consecrated and have celebrated mass like heathen and not like Christians. How then were you able to effect conversion? For you were not the kind of persons who were to bring about this change [LW 38:149-150].
So it's true that Luther recorded a conversation with the Devil. But was it a real conversation? First, Luther says, "I want to begin with myself and make a short confession before you sainted fathers." In context, Luther's words are directed at his Roman Catholic detractors. He's making a sarcastic jab. Second, notice above, Luther says the conversation took place internally: "Once I awakened at midnight and the devil began the following disputation with me in my heart." Third, the actual conversation goes on for multiple pages in detailed arguments. How was Luther was able to transcribe such a lengthy internal conversation? None of these aspects of the dialog add up. I suspect Rome's defenders would say Luther was either deranged, a liar, or both. Woodhead's argument is that Satan deceived Luther into attacking the Roman Catholic Church. Case closed.

Perhaps though there is a much less dramatic solution. The editors of Luther's Works point out that three draft versions of  The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests are preserved.  They explain, 
The idea of a disputation with the devil occurred to Luther while he was working on this third draft. This verbal exchange with the devil does not reflect his personal experience but is employed as an effective literary device in the first part of the book. The fact that Luther’s plan for the book changed as he developed these three outlines in succession is reflected in the rather abrupt way in which he concluded his writing as well as the remark that the book had become longer than he had originally intended it to be [LW 38:144].
Martin Brecht also points out:

And also:

This banal solution may not convince Rome's defenders. Gardiner and Woodhead don't mention it all. Their solution is far more complicated and dramatic: Woodhead says that in 1522 Luther had a disputation with Satan, based on Luther's statement in 1533 that Satan confronted Luther after he had been a priest for fifteen years (Luther was ordained a priest in 1507). In 1523, Luther released a treatise entitled, de Abominatione Missae privata, quam Canonem vocant (Of the Abomination of Private Mass, commonly called the Canon). Gardiner and Woodhead say this book was inspired by Luther's encounter with Satan (only later admitted by Luther in 1533). According to these authors, once the world found out that the earlier book was inspired by Satan, a scandal ensued among the Protestants causing some of them to go back to the Roman Catholic Church. I've yet to find any evidence though that Luther claimed that the 1533 recorded dialog with the devil was the impetus for the 1523 book. It appears to be the connecting of dots to produce a conspiracy. Gardiner sums up the conspiracy aptly:
Woodhead reflects that it was surely by the "merciful providence of God" that Luther showed the world by his "own confession" in 1533 who was "the original Founder and Abetter of the Reformation."
One other aspect of this topic should not go without mention. The topic of Luther's 1523 and 1533 treatises was the private Mass. The Catholic Answers participant asked specifically about Luther being "counseled by a Devil to stop celebrating Holy Mass." They are not the same thing. Another participant on the Catholic Answers forums pointed out the obvious: "Luther celebrated the mass throughout his life." Another stated, "He called his liturgical reform the 'German Mass'."  Gardiner appears to miss this: "...the colloquy on the Mass that took place in 1522 had such an effect on him that he never offered another Mass."