Monday, April 27, 2020

Luther in the Thunderstorm, "Help me, Saint Anne, and I will become a monk." Fact or Fiction?

Martin Luther's dramatic decision to become a monk while cowering in a thunderstorm is popular in print and throughout cyber-space.  Examples could be endlessly multiplied, but for simplicity sake, let's use that provided on-line by Ligonier Ministires in which Stephen Nichols stands outside a building in Erfurt:
In 1505, Martin Luther was here in Erfurt. He had received his master’s degree in January, and he just spent a few months studying law. He thought he’d go home and pay a visit to his family, so he traveled about 90 kilometers to the north to the town of Mansfeld. On the way back, Luther was caught in a violent thunderstorm, in fact, he thought God had unleashed the very heavens to take his life. So Luther tried to get shelter, and he found this big granite rock, and he grasped it, and he cried out, “Help me, Saint Anne, and I will become a monk.”
The Ligonier link goes on, in essence, to describe the deficiencies of Luther's medieval Roman Catholic worldview.  This dramatic story captures Luther's unwavering youthful dedication to the church of Rome (via his reliance on a mediator other than Christ, Saint Anne), his fear of God, his anfechtungen, and his ultimate need for the Gospel. It's a powerful way to begin his story. Some have gone so far as comparing the story to Paul on the way to Damascus. This author goes to the extreme of speculating that perhaps Luther was also thrown off his horse during the storm! But is is true? Recently, I came across one of Rome's defenders challenging it:
What I can't fathom is that most protestants know very little about their "father", Martin Luther. He was a disobedient Augustinian monk; obedience to their Superiors and the Church is a vow he took. He was, in today's language, a wayward Catholic. This unbelievably arrogant man, who only became entered the Church after (as the fairytale goes) not being struck by lightning during a storm. He, apparently, saw this as a sign from God that he was protected to enter clerical life. This same man (the protestant father) had debates with the Devil. Imagine that a "good man" debating with Satan himself. 
Each sentence drips with blatant disdain for Luther.  Such vitriol is symptomatic of an absence of  rational Reformation research.  The "fairy-tale" statement though on Luther's vow to Saint Anne is intriguing: it unwittingly challenges a popular Protestant historical narrative used by professional historians. It can be found in the opening paragraph of Roland Bainton's of Here I Stand, as well as Heiko Obermann's Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, to name only two of perhaps thousands who treat the story credibly. Let's dig into Reformation history and figure out where this event was recorded and if the details are trustworthy or a fairy-tale.

Whether it's books or web-pages, the story is often told without a reference. Unlike a lot of Luther tidbits used by Rome's defenders,  the primary source for this one isn't too hard to track down. The story comes from the Tischreden, in English, the Table Talk. The Table Talk is a collection of second-hand comments written down by Luther's friends and students, published after his death. Luther didn't write the Table Talk. Since the statements contained therein are purported to have been made by Luther, they should serve more as corroborating second-hand testimony to something Luther is certain to have written.

The statement can be found in WA TR 4: 440, entry 4707.  The text reads,

This comment was taken down by Anthony Lauterbach, an eyewitness to the actual statement, whose collection dates from 1538-1539. LW 54 posits that he wasn't trying to document Luther's life, but rather his own! According to LW, Lauterbach was good with recording dates. The dating of this story does play a role in its veracity.

The dating of the story is tricky. As per WA, the date of the remark is listed as July 16,1539 ("16. Iulii").  In the actual remark, Luther says, "Today is the anniversary of my entrance into the monastery at Erfurt" (July 16). There's sometimes confusion here. Some sources say he entered on July 16, while the overwhelming majority say it was July 17. Most biographies point out he announced his intentions to join the monastery to his friends on July 16, in fact this very Table Talk comment mentions the gathering of Luther and friends on July 16. Technically, Luther is referring to the night before he entered the monastery as the anniversary date.

This story recorded by Lauterbach in 1539 is thirty-four years removed from when it was said to have occurred in 1505.  In many of the accounts, the thunderstorm date is calculated as July 2, 1505 because in the Table Talk comment itself, the story of the storm and his vow to Saint Anne is said to take place "two weeks earlier on his way through Stotternheim." That would therefore place the date at or around July 2, 1505.

Some scholars try to infer a dating error on the statement of July 16.  Ironically, St. Anne's feast day was on July 26. Grisar appears to follow this. When he cites the story, he references it as "Luther to his friends on the feast day of St. Anne, July 16 (?26), 1539." He refers to Bindseil's third volume of Luther's Colloquia, p.187, but that text clearly says it was the feast day of St. Alexius, July 16, 1539 (though the feast is on July 17!). Oddly, Grisar elsewhere notes it was the Feast for Alexius.  On the other hand, with the date of the storm on July 2, 1505, Franz Posset simply says "Oddly enough, the feast day of St. Anne is celebrated not on July 2, but on July 26" (p.53).

To my knowledge, there's been no "official" English translation of this Table Talk statement by the keepers of Luther's writings. Typically, the story has been used by authors expressing the comment in their own words. Some have extensive embellishments.  For instance, this author tells the story in a much greater detail than the actual original context provides.  Even the Ligonier version that began this entry has details not in the original context: "Luther tried to get shelter, and he found this big granite rock, and he grasped it...".  The "granite rock" and shelter seeking is not in the original context.

There are though extended English versions found here and here. These will serve as the English translation.

"Today is the anniversary of my entrance into the monastery at Erfurt"¬ and he began to tell the story of how he had vowed his vow. About two weeks earlier on his way through Stotternheim, not far from Erfurt, he had said in terror, "Help, Saint Anne, I promise to become a monk!" "But God heard my vow in Hebrew where Anna means by grace as opposed to by law."
And also:
On July 16, the day of [St.] Alexius, he said, "Today it is the anniversary of my entry into the monastery in Erfurt." And he began to recount the story how he had made a vow almost fourteen days earlier when underway he was upset by a lightening bolt near Stotternheim, not far From Erfurt. In his fear he had called out, "'Help me holy Anna, I want to become a monk.' At that time, however, God regarded my vow in Hebrew: Anna, that is to say, in grace and not under law. I regretted my vow, and many told me that I shouldn't keep it. I persisted, however, and on the day before [St.] Alexius, I invited my best friends to say goodbye so that they could accompany me to the monastery the next day. When they wanted to hold me back, I said 'Today you will see me for the last time.' Under tears they brought me away. Also, my father was very angry about the vow, but I stuck to my decision, I never considered leaving the monastery. I was completely dead to the world."

This basic historical inquiry shows Luther did not write down anywhere that he made a vow to Saint Anne. The historical veracity of the vow is based solely on a second-hand statement recorded by a former student and friend of Luther's, thirty-four years removed from the actual event. There's no reason though that I'm aware of to doubt that Anthony Lauterbach accurately transcribed what he heard Luther say,  nor is there any reason to suspect that Lauterbach put forth his own emendations.  On the other hand, the evidence of Table Talk statements should serve more as corroborating second-hand testimony to something Luther is certain to have written or stated elsewhere. I'm not aware of any corroborating witnesses recording the same vow to Saint Anne, nor am I aware of any others in Luther's lifetime that credibly attest to it.

A glaring problem some see with the vow to Saint Anne is Luther's statement, "But God heard my vow in Hebrew where Anna means by grace as opposed to by law."  Roman Catholic writer Franz Possett states,
A critical examination of the Table Talk shows that Luther said that God understood his "vow" as spoken in the Hebrew language because "Anna" in Hebrew means "under grace." [H]anna derived from the Hebrew root hen. Yet, is such linguistic and religious self-interpretation from hindsight in agreement with reality? One may have doubts. Luther at the time did not have an inkling of Hebrew. How could he have "spoken the vow in the Hebrew language"? Luther did not want to make a historical-biographical, but a theological statement. What he wanted to say is this: his life's journey is the outcome of God's grace" (p.53).
Possett based his comments on "Angelika Dörfler-Dierken: Luther und die heilige Anna, LUJ 64 (1997) 19-47." It's a meaningful observation: that Luther links the vow to a Hebrew exposition without actually knowing Hebrew speaks loudly of theological embellishment thirty-four years removed. Even if it's only asserted that Luther spoke in German and God understood it in Hebrew, it still points to interpolation. It can't be ruled out that all of Luther's vow to Saint Anne is an embellishment, but the Hebrew aspect of it certainly raises suspicion that Luther was pouring in meaning using insights he gleaned during the course of twenty years.

While the vow to Saint Anne has only one second-hand  attestation, there is evidence that Luther decided to become a monk during a storm. In a letter to his father in 1521, he says that he had been called by "terrors from heaven" and that he,
...did not become a monk of my own free will and desire, still less to gain any gratification of the flesh, but that I was walled in by the terror and the agony of sudden death and forced by necessity to take the vow. Then you said, "let us hope that it was not an illusion and deception" (LW 48:332).
This testimony does have corroborating Table Talk evidence:
No. 623: Father Criticizes Luther for Becoming Monk Fall, 1533
He [Martin Luther] became a monk against the will of his father. When he celebrated his first mass and asked his father why he was angry about the step he took, the father replied reproachfully, “Don’t you know that it’s written, Honor your father and your mother?” [Exod. 20:12]. When he excused himself by saying that he was so frightened by a storm that he was compelled to become a monk, his father answered, “Just so it wasn’t a phantom you saw!” (LW 54:109)
There is also a letter written to Luther from Crotus Rubeanus, October 16, 1519 that testifies to the storm. Notice that a comparison of Luther in the storm is compared to Paul on the road to Damascus.  Rubeanus states,
Whenever you, Martin, are mentioned, I am wont to call you the pater patriae, worthy of a golden statue and of annual feasts, for having first dared to deliver the people of the Lord from noxious opinions and to assert true piety. Go on as you have begun, leave an example to posterity; for what you do is not without the inspiration of the gods. Divine Providence intended this when, as you were returning from your parents, a thunderbolt from heaven prostrated you like another Paul on the ground before the town of Erfurt and forced you from our company, sad at your departure, into the walls of the Augustinian fold.
There is also a description of Luther's reasons for entering the monastery from Luther's friend Justus Jonas, though this testimony was taken down by an anonymous person. Similarly, the content does not mention a vow to Saint Anne, and only mentions the basic facts.

That a violent storm played a role in Luther's entering the monastery, and that it strongly influenced him seems most likely, it's at least better documented. Only the most bare historical treatments see Luther's entrance into the monastery due to a vow to Saint Anne as the sole direct cause. Better treatments mention quite a number of factors, the thunderstorm only playing a partial role.

Is Luther's vow to Saint Anne a fairy-tale? Not necessarily. Assume Luther was telling the truth, he had no reason to make up the story, and the story was transcribed correctly. It also does correspond to the better-attested storm details. The story does though demonstrate the difficulties of substantiating history.  In this case, Luther's vow to Saint Anne is based on a second-hand comment thirty-four years after it happened, and is never directly tied to anything Luther ever wrote or preached. The comment itself does appear to include embellishments. In fairness to Rome's defender, he unwittingly raised an interesting issue as to the basis of particular historical facts. A happy medium would be for those using Luther's vow to Saint Anne, to do so cautiously and not as the sole reason for Luther's decision.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Luther Believed in Mary's Perpetual Virginity?

A favorite tactic of Rome's apologists is to find quotes from Martin Luther in which he says things sounding blatantly Roman Catholic and confusingly un-Protestant at the same time. Luther's argumentation for Mary's perpetual virginity is a perfect example.  Below, a convert to Rome presents a typical version of Luther and perpetual virginity:
Not only do modern Protestants disagree with the early church...  they also disagree with their own forefathers, who affirmed Mary’s perpetual virginity. Take the following examples:
“When Matthew says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her… This babble… is without justification… he has neither noticed nor paid attention to either Scripture or to the common idiom” Martin Luther
“Christ, our Saviour, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb… This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that… Christ… was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him… I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.” Martin Luther
Yes, it's true Luther adhered to Mary's perpetual virginity,  but, it's important to realize this convert has assumed the overarching context of a Roman Catholic historical interpretive paradigm. Many of Rome's defenders use a basic historical narrative: the early church testifies to to their beliefs only, those who don't are exceptions or heretics, if particulars of the early church don't quite fit their narrative, "development of doctrine" is brought in to smooth the rough edges over. If Luther testifies to a distinctively Roman Catholic belief, his testimony is put forth to demonstrate modern Protestants have deviated from their founder and the universal testimony of the ancient church. While a Roman Catholic historical paradigm smooths church history over for their own benefit, that same method is never offered to smooth over any of the differences with the early Reformers and modern Protestantism. Typically, they say modern Protestants have drifted far away from the ideals of their founders, implying not only separation with the "true" Church, but their very founders as well. Only by bowing the knee to Rome will one escape this historical quandary.

Challenge this assumption: Rome's pop-level historical paradigm is not the sine qua non for viewing the past, even within Roman Catholicism! It is simply one method in the cacophonous endeavor of interpreting the maze of history. Protestants also have an historical worldview that takes into account the early church and the incongruous beliefs of the Reformers.  Like Roman Catholicism, they also have multiple interpreters ranging from conservative to liberal. While a full exploration of either historical worldviews is beyond the scope of this entry, we'll focus here on the full context of Luther's quotes and then offer a counter-response that places Luther within a historical stream that doesn't assume Rome's view of history. Simply because Luther accepted perpetual virginity does not necessarily mean contemporary Protestants have to accept a distinctively Roman Catholic Marian dogma.

Documentation, Quote #1 ("When Matthew says that Joseph did not know Mary...")
No reference is provided.  This is a typical Roman Catholic cut-and-paste quote sifted from another web-page. The first quote is from Luther's treatise, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew (1523). What's presented as one quote is actually spread out over two pages (pp.212-213), so it appears one of Rome's defenders did some not-so-fancy editing.

Documentation, Quote #2 ("Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit")
Again, no reference is given. The second quote is from Luther's Sermons on the Gospel of John (LW 22). What's presented as one quote is actually spread out, this time, over 190 pages! It appears one of Rome's defenders did some horrific editing (someone may have used Patrick Madrid as a source, or this source, changed the spelling of "savior" and morphed the quotes together). The first part of the quote is found on page 23 ("Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb… This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that").  The rest of the quote is found on pages 214-215.

Context, Quote #1
In 1523, rumor had it that Luther denied Mary's perpetual virginity: "Jesus was conceived of the seed of Joseph, and that Mary was not a virgin, but had many sons after Christ" (LW 45:197; cf. Smith, 156). Luther thought it was a joke: "Ferdinand has openly made [a charge] against me at Nuremberg, viz., that I teach the new doctrine that Christ is of the seed of Abraham. At first I took this crazy charge as a jest, but they are so insistent on it that I have been compelled to believe it is true" (Smith, 165; cf LW 45:197). The rumor provoked Luther to write That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew (LW 45:195-229). He took this very seriously. LW 45 says, " In view of the current adoration of the Virgin Mary, these were serious charges." One interesting aspect is that Luther blamed Roman Catholics for the rumor:
How these lies tickle my good friends, the papists! Indeed, because they condemn the gospel it serves them right that they should have to satisfy and feed their heart’s delight and joy with lies. I would venture to wager my neck that none of those very liars who allege such great things in honor of the mother of God believes in his heart a single one of these articles. Yet with their lies they pretend that they are greatly concerned about the Christian faith (LW 45:199).
Luther goes on to put forth a very typical Roman Catholic exposition of Mary's perpetual virginity, particularly that the biblical authors do not record what happened after the birth of Christ.
Thus, the words of the evangelist do not refer to anything that occurred after the birth, but only to what took place before it. For the prophet and the evangelist, and St. Paul as well, do not treat of this virgin beyond the point where they have from her that fruit for whose sake she is a virgin and everything else. After the child is born they dismiss the mother and speak not about her, what became of her, but only about her offspring. Therefore, one cannot from these words [Matt. 1:18, 25] conclude that Mary, after the birth of Christ, became a wife in the usual sense; it is therefore neither to be asserted nor believed. All the words are merely indicative of the marvelous fact that she was with child and gave birth before she had lain with a man  (LW 45:212).
Luther continues, and here is where the first quote is found:
The form of expression used by Matthew is the common idiom, as if I were to say, “Pharaoh believed not Moses, until he was drowned in the Red Sea.” Here it does not follow that Pharaoh believed later, after he had drowned; on the contrary, it means that he never did believe. Similarly when Matthew [1:25] says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her. Again, the Red Sea overwhelmed Pharaoh before he got across. Here too it does not follow that Pharaoh got across later, after the Red Sea had overwhelmed him, but rather that he did not get across at all. In like manner, when Matthew [1:18] says, “She was found to be with child before they came together,” it does not follow that Mary subsequently lay with Joseph, but rather that she did not lie with him.
Elsewhere in Scripture the same manner of speech is employed. Psalm 110[:1] reads, “God says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.’ ” Here it does not follow that Christ does not continue to sit there after his enemies are placed beneath his feet. Again, in Genesis 28[:15], “I will not leave you until I have done all that of which I have spoken to you.” Here God did not leave him after the fulfillment had taken place. Again, in Isaiah 42[:4], “He shall not be sad, nor troublesome, till he has established justice in the earth.” There are many more similar expressions, so that this babble of Helvidius is without justification; in addition, he has neither noticed nor paid any attention to either Scripture or the common idiom (LW 45:212-213).
Context, Quote #2a
However, we do not let ourselves be troubled by the blasphemies which the devil, through the mouths of his lying servants, speaks against Christ the Lord—now against His divinity, now against His humanity—and by the attacks which he then makes against Christ’s office and work. But we cling to the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). Their testimony about Christ is clear. He is our Brother; we are members of His body, flesh and bone of His flesh and bone. According to His humanity, He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb (of which Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to her in Luke 1:42: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!”). This was without the co-operation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. Everything else that a mother [V 22, p 24]  imparts to a child was imparted by Mary, the mother of God’s eternal Son. Even the milk He sucked had no other source than the breasts of this holy and pure mother (LW 22:23-24).
Context, Quote #2b
Now the question may occupy us how Christ could have brothers, since He was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him. Some say that Joseph had been married before his marriage to Mary, and that the children of this first wife were later called Christ’s brothers. Others say that Joseph had another wife simultaneously with Mary, for it was permissible for the Jews to have two wives. In the Book of Ruth we hear that a poor daughter was often left on the shelf (Ruth 3:10 ff.). This displeased God; therefore He commanded that such daughters be provided for. Thus it became incumbent upon the nearest relative or friend to marry such a poor orphan girl. Mary, too, was a poor little orphan, whom Joseph was obligated to marry. She was so poor that no one else wanted her. Any children born to Joseph by other wives would have been half brothers of Christ. This is the explanation offered by some. But I am inclined to agree with those who declare that [V 22, p 215]  “brothers” really means “cousins” here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers. Be that as it may, it matters little. It neither adds to nor detracts from faith. It is immaterial whether these men were Christ’s cousins or His brothers begotten by Joseph [LW 22:214-215].

These are obviously only a few Luther quotes pertaining to perpetual virginity. There are more scattered throughout his written corpus. Of interest, in Vom Schem Hamphoras, he mentions briefly that Mary didn't have other children so people would not be confused as to which one was the real Christ (Falk, 217). He held Mary retained her virginity during the birth of Christ (in partu) (LW 58:433-434). How was this possible? Luther held that Christ has a "spiritual mode"  "to which he neither occupies nor yields space but passes through everything created as he wills," including his mother (LW 37:222). As I've surveyed his vast writings, it isn't often that he launches into a detailed exposition of what happened to Mary's virginity after the birth of Christ. His comments in That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew may in fact be one his most detailed explanations of it, perhaps his most detailed.

Let's go a bit deeper into Reformation history than many of Rome's defenders do when they use these quotes. There's are curious nuances typically left out of their cut-and-pasted versions sifted from That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. Previous to the words of Luther they cite, he makes some damning remarks of the "papist" understanding of Mary and perpetual virginity:
Now just take a look at the perverse lauders of the mother of God. If you ask them why they hold so strongly to the virginity of Mary, they truly could not say. These stupid idolators do nothing more than to glorify only the mother of God; they extol her for her virginity and practically make a false deity of her. But Scripture does not praise this virginity at all for the sake of the mother; neither was she saved on account of her virginity. Indeed, cursed be this and every other virginity if it exists for its own sake, and accomplishes nothing better than its own profit and praise (LW 45:205).  
For this reason, too, Scripture does not quibble or speak about the virginity of Mary after the birth of Christ, a matter about which the hypocrites are greatly concerned, as if it were something of the utmost importance on which our whole salvation depended. Actually, we should be satisfied simply to hold that she remained a virgin after the birth of Christ because Scripture does not state or indicate that she later lost her virginity. We certainly need not be so terribly afraid that someone will demonstrate, out of his own head apart from Scripture, that she did not remain a virgin. But the Scripture stops with this, that she was a virgin before and at the birth of Christ; for up to this point God had need of her virginity in order to give us the promised blessed seed without sin (LW 45:205-206). 
Three observations. First, Luther uses perpetual virginity to criticize his papal adversaries. He was keenly aware that when he spoke of Mary's perpetual virginity, it had different emphasis than Rome's version.  He calls them "perverse lauders of the mother of God" and "stupid idolators" that use Mary's perpetual virginity to "practically make a false deity of her." This theme runs throughout Luther's Mariology, that the "papists" had turned Mary into an idol and a deity. Don't let Rome's defenders respond by parsing out contemporary Mariology, as if everything has always been perfect.  Luther faced radical Mariolatry, and he vehemently spoke against it, often.

Scripture, according to Luther, isn't concerned with perpetual virginity, but the papal "hypocrites are greatly concerned." Perpetual virginity is not "something of the utmost importance on which our whole salvation depended[s]."  Luther points out that Mary fades from the biblical account after the birth, because the emphasis of the Scriptures are on her child. However dedicated Rome's defenders may think Luther was to perpetual virginity in the context of That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, he affirms it, but without much fanfare and also negatively juxtaposes it against popular sixteenth century Roman Catholic piety. Luther pulls the plug on honoring Mary because of perpetual virginity, indicting those concerned about it as idolaters. 

Second, in That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, Luther says "Scripture stops with this, that she was a virgin before and at the birth of Christ." He later goes on to say similarly, "the words of the evangelist do not refer to anything that occurred after the birth, but only to what took place before it." His explanation of biblical passages function as a means to demonstrate the Bible doesn't say what happened to Mary after the birth of Christ. True, he does refer to the position of Helvidius as "babble," but it is interesting to note his caution in his explanation, even while affirming perpetual virginity. 

Third, Luther will not have perpetual virginity extolled.  He condemns those who venerate this attribute, and holds it exists only to bring forth the Messiah. He says, "cursed be this and every other virginity if it exists for its own sake, and accomplishes nothing better than its own profit and praise." Why would he say this?  What other "virginity" was prevalent in the sixteenth century?  The most popular was the virginity achieved by celibacy from monastic vows. To become a monk, one needed to take a vow of celibacy.  Some of Rome's defenders argue that Mary herself made a lifelong vow of virginity at the Annunciation:
At the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she asked, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34). From the earliest interpretations of the Bible we see that this was taken to mean that she had made a vow of lifelong virginity, even in marriage. If she had not taken a vow the question from the angel Gabriel would not have made sense.
In this view, Mary achieved the ascetic ideal.  From a Protestant perspective, Jaroslav Pelinkan posits, "The growth of the ascetic ideal in the church helped to give support to [the perpetual virginity] of Mary as the model of the ever virgin." Another historian notes that "with the sudden spread of the ascetic ideal and of the attempts to attain it either in solitude or in the monastic community, there is associated a novel and fervid praise of the perpetual virginity of Mary" (Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary: The Roman Catholic Marian Doctrine (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1955), 40).

Contrarily, Luther's Mary did not want people to "exalt her virginity" (LW 21:321). In his view, "They, therefore do her an injustice who hold that she gloried, not indeed in her virginity, but in her humility. She gloried neither in the one or the other, but only in the gracious regard of God" (LW 21:314). Luther's Mary, described in his exposition of the Magnificat, is that of a lowly and humble maiden that did housework her entire life. She has done nothing. There was no free-will choice to become the mother of Jesus or give her virginity to God. She's serves as the example of what God can do. Roman Catholic historian Hilda Graef  aptly summarizes, "Luther's whole view of Mary as a rather pathetic young girl without intrinsic sanctity or merit is opposed to Catholic teaching." Graef is right: compare Luther's Mary with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Mary is celebrated as the "ever-virgin." It says that Mary gave her virginity as the "undivided gift of herself to God's will" and it is "the sign of her faith." "It is her faith that enables her to become the mother of the Savior." She is "more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ."

Despite these three considerations, none of them changes the fact that Luther believed in Mary's perpetual virginity. They do demonstrate though Luther's view of perpetual virginity is not exactly Rome's view. When Luther speaks on the subject, it has some different underpinnings. Here is where it's important to keep your eye on historical interpretive paradigms. Let Luther be Luther. There's no need to be embarrassed or confused when Rome's defenders bring up his comments on perpetual virginity.  I suspect the quotes would be most surprising to someone ignorant of church history, particularly those unaware of the ebb and flow of trends and traditions, both within Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.  It's true that the early Reformers, particularly Luther, made comments about Mary that current Protestants would not make. But similarly, there are comments made by Protestants today that would probably surprise Luther. This isn't, to use the cliché,  rocket science. The Marian climate of Luther's proto-Protestant world is not the Marian climate of the current theological landscape. When Luther broke with Rome, he was, in some regard, a transitional figure. To steal a concept from Alister McGrath: the Reformers demonstrated both continuity and discontinuity with the period which immediately preceded it. It shouldn't be at all surprising then to discover elements of Luther's Mariology that echoed the medieval theological worldview. Contrarily, it should also not be surprising to discover there were elements of Luther's understanding of Mary that broke with the medieval theological worldview. This excursus into an aspect of his Mariology demonstrates this with vigor: he retained perpetual virginity, but poured different nuances into it as he interacted with the theological culture around him.  

Related to this is that one needs to be aware of Rome's double standard on development of doctrine. Rome's view is that there is an "acorn" of doctrines found in the Biblical record that later turns into the full-blown oak tree. For instance, For Rome,  the Bible is said to make allusions to undeveloped Marian doctrines which then grew and expanded, infused by "Tradition" into full dogmas over the course of history. The guiding factor of how development occurs is the Roman magisterium. They ultimately determine if the acorn has developed into an oak tree.  For Rome's defenders, they have no problem creating elaborate development schemes when earlier historical testimonies don't match current doctrinal or dogmatic ideals. Yet, when it comes to Protestant history, all current forms of Protestantism that don't exactly match the earliest Reformers are put forth as not being true to the essence of Protestantism. Why? Why do they get to have development, and everyone else does not? Why could it not be that the correct stream of Mary's doctrinal "development" is that of a non-Roman pedigree? There's only one answer: because there is an underlying assumption that Rome is the determiner of development.   

This may be shocking to some Protestants: development of doctrine is not the sole property of Rome. For Protestants, doctrine also develops, but the guiding force that drives it is the Bible itself. It's not the outside influence of "Tradition" or an infallible outside source that solidifies it. The very Word of God has a rich depth that confronts each generation. Each generation produces keen minds that delve into the original languages of the Bible, analyzing the textual tradition, comparing scripture with scripture, challenge previous interpretations. If tradition plays a role, it's the role of being uncovered and rooted out if it's working as an interpretive blinder or force keeping the meaning of a biblical text shrouded. When Luther relies on an interpretive tradition to interpret the word "until" in his argumentation for perpetual virginity, or that "brothers" means "cousins," that interpretive tradition is to be called out, thrown on the table, and scrutinized closely, as the biblical discussions about the heos hou / ἕως οὗ construction demonstrate. 

This discussion only begins to scratch the surface. Wrangling with Rome's defenders over whose version of church history is correct and who determines the development of doctrine is opening a Pandora's box discussion in which one will eventually grow weary or at some point run, as fast as one can, for any door of escape. If you find yourself confronted by quotes from Luther sounding blatantly Roman Catholic and confusingly un-Protestant, there is a simple solution.  Say, yes the quotes from Luther are different from the way Protestants think today, however, Luther himself didn't want his readers to follow him. He directed people back to the Scriptures. Looking over his life’s work, Luther said:

I would have been quite content to see my books, one and all, remain in obscurity and go by the board. Among other reasons, I shudder to think of the example I am giving, for I am well aware how little the church has been profited since they have begun to collect many books and large libraries, in addition to and besides the Holy Scriptures, and especially since they have stored up, without discrimination, all sorts of writings by the church fathers, the councils, and teachers. Through this practice not only is precious time lost, which could be used for studying the Scriptures, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench (as happened to the book of Deuteronomy, in the time of the kings of Judah)…I cannot, however, prevent them from wanting to collect and publish my works through the press (small honor to me), although it is not my will. I have no choice but to let them risk the labor and the expense of this project. My consolation is that, in time, my books will lie forgotten in the dust anyhow, especially if I (by God’s grace) have written anything good. Non ere melior Patribus meis.  He who comes second should indeed be the first one forgotten. Inasmuch as they have been capable of leaving the Bible itself lying under the bench, and have also forgotten the fathers and the councils—the better ones all the faster—accordingly there is a good hope, once the overzealousness of this time has abeted, that my books also will not last long. There is especially good hope of this, since it has begun to rain and snow books and teachers, many of which already lie there forgotten and moldering. Even their names are not remembered any more, despite their confident hope that they would eternally be on sale in the market and rule churches. (LW 34:283-284).

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Facts About Johann Tetzel

I came across a Roman Catholic stating Johann Tetzel "is one of history's most unjustly persecuted figures by Protestantism," and also, "Tetzel didn't sell nor could he have sold indulgences." It was asserted that to "portray Dr. Tetzel an ignorant goof-ball by Luther is shear arrogance and fabrication." Over the years I've come across a number of Rome's cyber-defenders similarly trying to defend the reputation of Johann Tetzel.  If you come across someone from the other side of the Tiber defending Tetzel, here are some basic facts to keep in mind.

Did Tetzel Really Say "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs"?
It is usually taken at absolute fact that Tetzel often used this jingle while preaching his indulgence sermons. It may be surprising to find out that attributing this exact jingle to Tetzel isn't as easy as one may think. Roman Catholics have a valid gripe if they question if Tetzel was the originator of the jingle. It does not appear in his extant written sermons. There is though evidence from contemporaries of Tetzel that he did use it. This phrase may actually be traced back to a much earlier date (Martin Brecht notes the University of Paris complained about this popular jingle as early as 1482). For a full discussion of Tetzel and this jingle, see my blog entry here, and the related discussion here.

Where can I find one of Tetzel's indulgence sermons? Were they that bad?
Yes, they were horrific. Extracts from Tetzel's indulgence sermons can be found here. In this link you will find Tetzel preaching, "Don’t you hear the voices of your wailing dead parents and others who say, ‘Have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me, because we are in severe punishment and pain. From this you could redeem us with a small alms and yet you do not want to do so.’ Open your ears as the father says to the son and the mother to the daughter, ‘We have created you, fed you, cared for you, and left you our temporal goods. Why then are you so cruel and harsh that you do not want to save us, though it only takes a little?"

Where can I find the instructions Tetzel was given to preach indulgences?
The instructions can be found here, towards the bottom of the entry. You'll see the instructions included "the complete remission of all sins."

Did Tetzel say that for every mortal sin committed, there will be seven years of  penitence or suffering purgatory? Would an indulgence letter take the suffering away?
According to an extant sermon, he did.  He preached, "Consider, that for each and every mortal sin it is necessary to undergo seven years of penitence after confession and contrition, either in this life or in Purgatory," and also, "But with these confessional letters you will be able at any time in life to obtain full indulgence for all penalties imposed upon you, in all cases except the four reserved to the Apostolic See. Thence throughout your whole life, whenever you wish to make confession, you may receive the same remission, except in cases reserved to the Pope, and afterwards, at the hour of death, a full indulgence as to all penalties and sins." For a full discussion, see my blog entry here

Was the indulgence controversy the fault of Tetzel, or did Rome have a role also?
Tetzel typically gets thrown under the bus for his significant role in the indulgence controversy. But what about Rome? Were they at fault as well? Yes they were involved, and it was a scandalous financial involvement. Find the facts here.

How do Roman Catholic encyclopedias portray Tetzel?
It's interesting to see if  Roman Catholic sources will criticize Tetzel in any way. The Old Catholic Encyclopedia blames his errors on following the wrong opinions. The New Catholic Encyclopedia does similarly.  See their treatment here

What types of indulgences were preached by Tetzel?
He preached the complete remission of all sins, he offered a confessional letter that enabled a person to receive absolution from all sins, and a release from purgatory of dead people. See the addendum at the bottom of this entry for the specifics. 

What is the definitive biography on Tetzel?
I haven't come across anything modern yet, but the most popular biography of Tetzel was done in the nineteenth century by the Roman Catholic scholar, Nikolaus Paulus. Paulus is credited for a scholarly positive defense of Tetzel, proving that often Reformation polemics against him went too far. For a discussion of Paulus' defense of Tetzel, see this entry

Where can I find Tetzel's rebuttal to Luther?
You can find Tetzel going after Luther here.  

How would you respond to a Roman Catholic defending Tetzel?
Here's how I did it in response to some comments defending Tetzel found in a Catholic Answers discussion. 

Did Tetzel sell an indulgence to a man who then robbed him? 
I found this one Wikipedia. As far as I can tell, the story functions more as hearsay than an actual historical happening. See my blog entry here for the full details. 

Did Luther lie about Tetzel?
It's true that Luther was harsh against Tetzel, and he would attribute the worst things to him without checking the facts (I will do some posts on this in the future). However, Luther did get some things right about Tetzel, as this blog entry shows