Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Luther's Theology of Mary... Facebook Style

 This meme was posted in a Facebook Group:

Typically, here would be an opportunity to launch into excessive amounts of text and documentation. Since most of us now have the reading concentration of a squirrel, here is the modern-day response (probably still too long): 

The first quote is supposed to prove Luther's acceptance of Mary's immaculate conception. The tedious details of why it doesn't prove it are found here. The quote appears to be an insertion into Luther's sermon by the editor who first published it in 1527. The quote was taken out of the sermon the following year by Luther.

The second quote was written before Luther's position on Mary's sinlessness changed. Rather than discussing Mary’s sinlessness, Luther's later writings insist Christ’s sinlessness was due entirely to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit during his conception, not Mary's.

Finally, the meme goes on to say, "Despite his schism from the Catholic church, Luther maintained a passionate devotion to the Mother of God his whole life." What exactly does "passionate devotion" mean? Luther saying nice things about Mary is not the same thing as Roman Catholic Marian devotion, both then and now.  

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Augustine's "On The Unity of the Church" reposted

Granted, I have not had time to post here much in recent years, but here is a repost of an article, because I noticed the link has changed over at William Webster's excellent web-site.

Augustine's "On the Unity of the Church" 


I am reposting this because the link changed.  Everyone in recent years is updating their web-sites, and with those new codes, etc. comes new links.

Here is my older article with the old links.


At William Webster's web-site, I discovered the full text of Augustine's "On The Unity of the Church" vs. the Donatists.   For the first time in history, the full text has been translated into English. (Amazing that it took so long !! Centuries!) I look forward to reading this, studying it, and possibly writing blog articles on this in the future.

New Link:

Some choice selections from Webster's Introduction:

Introduction:  “The question has been proposed: Is the Church of Christ among the Catholics or among the Donatists? This needs to be determined from specific and clear citations in Holy Scripture. First, evidence is brought forth from the Old Testament and then from the New Testament.”  (Augustine, Introduction, On the Unity of the Church. My emphasis)

. . . 

"But, as I had begun to say, let us not listen to “you say this, I say that” but let us listen to “the Lord says this.” Certainly, there are the Lord’s books, on whose authority we both agree, to which we concede, and which we serve; there we seek the Church, there we argue our case" (Chapter 5). (My emphasis)

Webster says that Augustine basically says, 

“Since both parties adhere to the truth of Scripture and believe them to be the word of God, it is scripture which should be the final arbiter.”

Augustine writes, “just as this doesn't need an interpreter” several times in his appeal to the Donatists.  Augustine believed that theses Scriptures were clear and perspicuous, and did not need an infallible interpreter to settle the dispute.  

In one of his sermons Augustine gives this exegesis of the rock of Matthew 16:

"Remember, in this man Peter, the rock. He’s the one, you see, who on being questioned by the Lord about who the disciples said he was, replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On hearing this, Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you’...‘You are Peter, Rocky, and on this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of the underworld will not conquer her. To you shall I give the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall also be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:15–19). In Peter, Rocky, we see our attention drawn to the rock. Now the apostle Paul says about the former people, ‘They drank from the spiritual rock that was following them; but the rock was Christ’ (1 Cor 10:4). So this disciple is called Rocky from the rock, like Christian from Christ.    Why have I wanted to make this little introduction? In order to suggest to you that in Peter the Church is to be recognized. Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer"
(John Rotelle, O.S.A., Ed., The Works of Saint Augustine (New Rochelle: New City Press, 1993), Sermons, Volume III/6, Sermon 229P.1, p. 327).

This treatise is of great interest historically because of what Augustine does not say constitutes unity. These words by Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger, the most renowned Roman Catholic historian of the 19th century, who taught church history for 47 years, are very telling:

St. Augustine has written more on the Church, its unity and authority, than all the other Fathers put together. Yet, from all his numerous works, filling ten folios, only one sentence, in one letter, can be quoted, where he says that the principality of the Apostolic Chair has always been in Rome—which could, of course, be said then with equal truth of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. Any reader of his Pastoral Letter to the separated Donatists on the Unity of the Church, must find it inexplicable...that in these seventy–five chapters there is not a single word on the necessity of communion with Rome as the centre of unity. He urges all sorts of arguments to show that the Donatists are bound to return to the Church, but of the Papal Chair, as one of them, he says not a word (Janus (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger), The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1869), pp. 70-74).

Augustine says, 'Whoever dissents from Holy Scripture concerning the head is not in the Church' (Paragraph 7). (my emphasis)

He repeats this passage:

But, as I had begun to say, let us not listen to “you say this, I say that” but let us listen to “the Lord says this.” Certainly, there are the Lord’s books, on whose authority we both agree, to which we concede, and which we serve; there we seek the Church, there we argue our case (Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 5).

"I do not wish the holy Church to be founded on human evidence, but on divine oracles" (Augustine, ibid., Chapter 6). (My emphasis)

"All such things then removed, let them demonstrate their Church, if they can, not in the speeches and murmurs of African, not in the councils of their bishops, not in the epistles of whatever debates, not in false signs and prodigies, since we are prepared and cautioned against them by the word of the Lord, but in the precept of the law, in the predictions of the prophets, in the songs of the psalms, in the utterances of the one shepherd himself, in the preaching of the evangelists, that is in all the canonical authority of the holy books, and not such that they might gather and cite things that are spoken obscurely or ambiguously or metaphorically which anyone might interpret according to his own opinion as he wishes. Such things cannot be properly understood and explained unless first those things that are said most openly are held with a strong faith (Chapter 47).

Monday, August 17, 2020

Luther's "Calvinism"? (Part One)

JS: Over on the blog sidebar there's a link to a paper entitled, Luther's Calvinism? Is Luther's Doctrine of Predestination "Reformed"?  This paper was put together back in 2011. Currently, it's available via the Internet Archive. The plan is to post it in sections here on the blog proper.   

Was Luther a "Good Calvinist"? 
There appears to be nothing more infuriating to a Lutheran than to suggest that Luther was fundamentally a "Calvinist" in his view of sovereignty and predestination. Back in 2009, Executive Director of Concordia Publishing House Reverend Paul McCain wrote, 
“Whenever the question of why are some saved and not others comes up, it is common for Calvinists who advocate for the view that God has predestined some to hell, and others to heaven, to try to drag Martin Luther into their argument and claim that they are actually being faithful to what Martin Luther taught. Let this much be clear: Martin Luther did not teach double-predestination”[1].
McCain could have any number of Reformed authors in mind. For instance, in his book Chosen By God, R.C. Sproul lays out his past intellectual resistance to the doctrine of predestination. “My struggle with predestination began early in my Christian life. I knew a professor of philosophy in college who was a convinced Calvinist. He set forth the so-called ‘Reformed’ view of predestination. I did not like it. I did not like it at all. I fought against it tooth and nail all the way through college[2]. Part of Sproul’s argumentation for eventually embracing the Reformed view includes a list comparing those who held a similar Reformed type of predestination view against those who do not. Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards are stacked against Pelagius, Arminius, Melanchthon, Wesley, and Finny. Sproul points out that such a comparison doesn’t prove one view correct over the other, but “we must take seriously the fact that such learned men agreed on this difficult subject[3]. Sproul states,
It is important for us to see that the Reformed doctrine of predestination was not invented by John Calvin. There is nothing in Calvin’s view of predestination that was not earlier propounded by Luther and Augustine before him. Later, Lutheranism did not follow Luther on this matter but Melanchthon, who altered his views after Luther’s death. It is also noteworthy that in his famous treatise on theology, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote sparingly on the subject. Luther wrote more about predestination than did Calvin [4].
Luther wrote more about predestination than Calvin? Melanchthon altered the Lutheran view on predestination for subsequent Lutherans? Such statements could easily lead to equivocating Luther and Calvin’s view of predestination, as well as Luther’s view with the so-called "five points of Calvinism."  Some in the Reformed camp have done precisely this. Lorraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination asserts Luther “went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself” and “He even asserted it with more warmth and proceeded to much harsher lengths in defending it than Calvin ever did.”[5]. Duane Edward Spencer’s popular primer on Calvinism places Luther among those “stalwart theologians” that have held “to the precious doctrines of grace known as Calvinism”[6] Edwin Palmer’s introduction to Calvinism refers to Luther as a “good Calvinist.”[7] The classic Steele and Thomas overview of Calvinism includes Luther as a champion listed on the “role call of Calvinists.”[8]

This series of blog entries will examine Luther’s views compared to the Reformed doctrine of predestination, giving attention as well to the Calvinistic slogans of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, effectual calling, and perseverance. While Luther’s theology may be Reformation theology, it is not Reformed theology. If one fails to take into account Luther’s underlying presuppositions as well as his explicit statements on predestination, the atonement, perseverance, etc., blatant errors against his theology occur. While there are similarities between Luther’s views and the Reformed view, important differences still separate both sides. When the Reformed haphazardly appeal to Luther as one of her own, they do so at the expense of historical accuracy.

1. Paul McCain, Refuting Calvinist Claims that Luther Taught Double Predestination, available from the Internet Archive.

2. R. C. Sproul, Chosen by God (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 11-12.

3. Ibid., p. 15.

4. Ibid.

5. Lorraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1932), 1.

6. Duane Edward Spencer, Tulip: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1979), 6-7.

7. Edward H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980), 19.

8. David Steele, and Curtis Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, and Documented (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2004), 74.


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Luther on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary

 August 15 is the official Feast of the Assumption, in which Mary was bodily assumed into heaven (either dead or alive, depending on who you're talking to!). There have been a number of Beggars All posts on Luther and the Assumption of Mary... simply because of the propaganda perpetuated by Rome's defenders claiming he believed it. Here are a few of those entries working through Roman Catholic claims:

Revisiting Luther on the Assumption of Mary  

Luther on the Assumption of Mary: "There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know"

Luther Celebrated The Feast of the Assumption?

Luther and the Assumption

 In a 1532 sermon (WA 52:681-682), Luther is said to have preached, 

The feast of the ascension of Mary is completely papist, that is, full of blasphemy and established without any grounding in Scripture. For that reason we have let it lapse in our churches and have used the day to preach about how Mary went over the mountain to visit her relative Elizabeth and what happened there. In the first place there is no sign in Scripture of the feast of the ascension of Mary so that the papists themselves just use a saying from Jerome, who is supposed to have said: "I do not know whether she ascended into heaven in her body or out of her body." And how is anyone supposed to know this when there is nothing in Scripture about it? The most annoying and dangerous thing about making this ascension into a feast is that people honor the Virgin Mary and call to her, as they sing in the response: "O you pure Mother of God, we ask that you, because you were taken up to heaven, be gracious to us and make us citizens in heaven."
But we Christians do not know of any ascension that we can enjoy except for that of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, and intercedes for us. For that reason we can console ourselves in his Ascension and know that we will enjoy this, that we will also come to heaven and shall be heard here on earth by him in everything we ask for in his name. for that reason it is a wonderful, exalted and comforting feast, the Ascension of Christ, that the Virgin Mary enjoyed just as we do. We however, even if she has already gone to heaven, cannot enjoy her ascension, and should not for that reason call to her or to take comfort in her intercession as the pope teaches and through this shames and dishonors the Ascension of our Lord Christ, because he wants to make the mother equal to the son in everything. [Translation from Susan C. Karant-Nunn and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks  Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 46-47]

Monday, August 03, 2020

Luther: Every week I preach justification by faith to my people, because every week they forget it.

Did Luther say, "Every week I preach justification by faith to my people, because every week they forget it"? Sometimes the quote is stated as "we need the gospel every day because we forget the gospel every day."

This is a murky Luther quote that seems like something he would have said, yet finding an exact reference isn't easy. A couple of people have searched for this quote uncovering interesting clues and theories of its origin (see for instance, About That Great Luther Quote and also the discussion here). Piggybacking on their efforts, I have my own theory of how this quote became popular: it's in the form it's in because singer-song writer Derek Webb was quoting Charles Spurgeon quoting Luther... whether he knew it or not!

Derek Webb, The House Show 
It was posited by this blogger that the quote popularly stems from Derek Webb's, The House Show CD. That seems possible. In this 2003 article from the Christian Post,  Webb is quoted as saying, 
Martin Luther was once quoted when a member of his congregation came in and said, "Pastor, why is it week after week you preach to us the Gospel? We've read your books, we know you to be a brilliant man. Why do we never move on? When do we get past this, on to something else?" And he said, "Beloved, because week after week, you forget it. You will never be without your need for the Gospel, so I will never cease to preach it to you."
In another version, Webb states:
There’s a great quote by Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. He had a church that he was the pastor of and some came to him and said, “Pastor, why is it that week after week after week all you ever preach to us is the gospel?” – implying that “we’re ready to move on to something else. Certainly we know this by now.” Luther’s response was, “Well, because week after week you forget it, because week after week you walk in here looking like a people who don’t believe the gospel. And until you walk in looking like people who are truly liberated by the truth of the gospel, I’m going to continue to preach it to you.” And, until his dying day, he did.
The blogger who uncovered Derek Webb's use states, "...what I think has happened is that Derek Webb put a bit of a story to an actual Luther quote...". He's right that the story was "jazzed up a bit," but I don't think Webb was jazzing up Luther directly. One year earlier, this 2002 author states, "A frustrated parishioner once asked Martin Luther why he preached the gospel of grace every Sunday. Luther replied, “Because every week you forget it.” Was this 2002 book on "Devotion for Dating Couples" the source Derek Webb used?  I don't know. I suspect one  (or both) of these people may have been "jazzing up" Luther via Charles Spurgeon.  

Charles Spurgeon
I've been through a few popular Luther quotes that are the result of Charles Spurgeon. This doesn't surprise me. Spurgeon's writings were widely published in English, he's still widely read, and he's extremely quotable! Spurgeon alluded to or quoted Luther from memory, though he typically did not quote Luther verbatim but rather summarized something from Luther in his own words. 

From an 1855 sermon, Spurgeon is recorded as saying, 
...the whole Bible tells us, from beginning to end, that salvation is not by the works of the law, but by the deeds of grace. Martin Luther declared that he constantly preached justification by faith alone, "because," said he, "the people would forget it; so that I was obliged almost to knock my Bible against their heads, to send it into their hearts." So it is true; we constantly forget that salvation is by grace alone.
The question then becomes: what source did Spurgeon use? Spurgeon's primary language was English. During his time period, there was only a limited pool of Luther's writings available in English. During Spurgeon's lifetime, one of the most popular of Luther's writings available in English was his commentary on Galatians. This blogger rightly identifies a comment from Luther's commentary that seems very likely what Spurgeon had in mind. Luther states,   
Bur here will some men say, the law is divine and holy. Let the law have his glory, but yet no law, be it never so divine and holy, ought to teach me that I am justified, and shall live through it. I grant it may teach me that I ought to love God and my neighbour; also to live in chastity, soberness, patience, etc., but it ought not to show me, how I should be delivered from sin, the devil, death, and hell. Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law,) but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me : to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually. for as it is very tender, so it is soon hurt. This Paul had well tried, and of this have all the godly also good experience. 

The quote in its current popular form does not appear to be an exact quote from Martin Luther, but rather a quote that was originally from his Galatians commentary, used extemporaneously by Spurgeon, and then picked up by a few people in the early 2000's. The only exact way to connect these dots is to specifically ask Derek Webb or the authors of Devotions for Dating Couples about it. Till then, here is Luther from one of his sermons:
The devil is ever on the alert to insinuate all kinds of wickedness into our hearts, and would fain make them as cold as ice. Where God’s Word is not repeatedly proclaimed in sermons, in hymns, in private conversation, so that we may not forget it or become callous towards it, there it is impossible for our hearts, which are burdened with many an earthly pain and sorrow, with wicked purposes and the devil's malicious instigations, not to fail and to fall from Christ. Thus it is an urgent necessity that the preaching of the Gospel continue among us, that we may hear and retain it, otherwise we would soon forget our Lord. 

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Luther: Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not

Did Luther say, "Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not"?

This quote has a healthy cut-and-paste life throughout cyberspace. Unlike many of the spurious sayings of Luther covered on this blog, this one is genuine! The only minor debate about the quote is whether Luther intended it to be part of prayer or praise. There are a number of websites (and also books) that say it's a prayer written by Luther. We'll see, it was not intended as a prayer, although it certainly would function as a good prayer!

Most often the quote is cited without documentation; fortunately, there are exceptions, making this an easier investigation. There are two frequent references. The first is to Luther's Letters of Spiritual Counsel, a collection put together by Theodore Tappert (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1955), p. 110 (Library of Christian Classics series). The second is to Luther's Works 48:12 (LW). The original English translation was done by Tappert. LW utilized it with "minor changes." Tappert is the one who translated it as a prayer.

The context is a letter from Luther to the Augustinian friar George Spenlein, April 8, 1516. The original Latin text can be found here. The text reads, 

Now I should like to know whether your soul, tired of its own righteousness, is learning to be revived by and to trust in the righteousness of Christ. For in our age the temptation to presumption besets many, especially those who try with all their might to be just and good without knowing the righteousness of God, which is most bountifully and freely given us in Christ. They try to do good of themselves in order that they might stand before God clothed in their own virtues and merits. But this is impossible. While you were here, you were one who held this opinion, or rather, error. So was I, and I am still fighting against the error without having conquered it as yet.
Therefore, my dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.” Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation. For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours. (LW 48:12-13)
Tappert's original translation reads slightly different, making the quote a prayer:
Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say: "Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou has taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not."
Tappert translates, "disce ei cantare et de te ipso desperans dicere ei" as "Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself," whereas LW says "Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself." LW appears to be a more accurate translation.

An interesting aspect of this letter and quote is its date of 1516 (previous to the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses of 1517). Many probably do not realize there's been a long debate as to the exact dating of Luther's evangelical breakthrough and his understanding of Romans 1:17-18. It's not uncommon to find Luther's detractors putting forth the myth of Luther discovering justification by faith alone on the toilet. More meaningful and scholarly debate focuses on the year. There are three main perspectives:

View A: 1514 or earlier
View B: 1515 or 1516
View C: 1518 (after the Ninety-Five Theses).

Some years ago I listened to lectures by Dr. Kolb. He stated that Luther discovered something about the grace of God quite early (perhaps in his early lectures on Peter Lombard's Sentences in 1509). One finds a strong emphasis on the grace of God in these early lectures. Dr. Kolb said that Luther's theology finally came together in 1518 and 1519 with his solidifying his concepts of promise, faith, justification, and the proper distinction of the law. Dr. Kolb said the contemporary debate on this topic originated with Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar, and was furthered by the scholarship of Saarnivaara, Bizer, and Green.
The dating of Luther’s discovery and its meaning for his theology have been the subject of wide discussion and debate. In his Road to Reformation (Philadelphia, 1946, pp. 87–117) Heinrich Boehmer says that Luther’s discovery took place in April or May, 1513. Uuras Saarnivaara argues that the great discovery took place as late as the autumn or winter of 1518–1519. He makes this assertion in his book, Luther Discovers the Gospel (St. Louis, 1951, especially pp. 92–120). In Luther’s Progress to the Diet of Worms (Greenwich, 1951, p. 39) Gordon Rupp says, “It is clear, in all essentials, his [Luther’s] theology was in existence before the opening of the church struggle in 1517.” Robert Herndon Fife, siding with Boehmer’s dating, provides documentation, bibliography, and discussion of Luther’s discovery in The Revolt of Martin Luther (New York, 1957, pp. 197–202). For introductory and interpretive material, cf. WA 54, 176–178, and Ernst Stracke’s Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte (Leipzig, 1926), Vol. 44, No. 140: “Luthers groszes Selbstzeugnis 1545 über seine Entwicklung zum Reformator historisch-kritisch untersucht.” (LW 34:326)
Whichever date it may be, the quote in question from the young Martin Luther certainly highlights Luther's grappling with sin and the righteousness of Christ as the possession of a sinner!