Monday, December 28, 2020

Luther: No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise

On the web page, Twenty Vile Quotes Against Women By Church Leaders from St. Augustine to Pat Robertson, the following Martin Luther quote is mentioned:
No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise. –Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546), Table Talk

This quote is one of a number proving "Christianity produced a steady diet of misogyny for over 2000 years," put forth by a "former evangelical," now a "psychologist and writer." Her biography can be found here. She appears to still embrace some form of spirituality, but rallies against conservative Christianity. It's interesting that while her entry spans the entirety of church history, she chose a big picture of Martin Luther to head her blog post (pictured here also). 

Let's take a closer look at the quote. It's easy to cherry-pick quotes from church history, especially with an agenda and self-imposed blinders. While Luther was not in any sense a modern-day feminist, he was not the simplicity of a few quotes strung together to make him "vile."  


The quote has traveled far, found not only in a number of webpages, but published books as well. The webpage simply says, "Table Talk," which in essence, isn't a helpful reference, but the majority of uses I found either don't provide a reference or similarly mention the Table Talk

The quote does come from the Table Talk.  It's from the recollection of Luther's associate, John Schlaginhaufen, who recorded Luther's' remarks from 1531-32. The comment probably dates from May 1532. The comment can be found in WA TR 2:130 (#1555):

The comment made it into English via the German version of the Table Talk put together by John Aurifaber (FB. 1, 208 above). The text reads

This German version was translated into English in the seventeenth-century:

Then the English was eventually revised in the eighteenth-century:

What ill becomes the Women.
There is no gown nor garment that becomes a woman worse (said Luther), than when she will be wise.
There are also subtle English variations: 
"There is no gown or garment becomes a woman worse" (said Luther), "than when she will be wise." (1832)
There is no gown or garment that worse becomes a woman than when she will be wise.  (1848)
 Examples of the English version that began this entry can be found in the early twentieth-century.  

An interesting contemporary English rendering comes from Susan C. Karant-Nunn and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Luther on Women: A Sourcebook: "There is no dress that suits a woman or maiden so badly as wanting to be clever." In their rendering, "wanting to be clever" has a different spin than wanting "to be wise."


As with many Table Talk comments, there is not a context provided.  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 "former evangelical" using the quote would've given herself more credibility had she first documented the quote correctly, then, secondly, not used it at all, but rather utilized a quote with a context and a better pedigree (something actually written by Luther).  From our current western pro-feminist zeitgeist, she would've certainly found some Luther quotes. 

Here's an opportunity to point out to Rome's defenders how wonderful "tradition" is (yes, that's sarcasm). Luther inherited his views on women from that which preceded him (as do we also). The basic overview from Luther on Women: A Sourcebook is helpful: "Luther's view of women's nature is continuous with that of earlier thinkers and compatible with the opinions of many other sixteenth-century theologians." They go on to mention an interesting historical tidbit: 

Luther was not an abject misogynist, nor a consistent misogynist. Another blogger examining the quote made an interesting observation.  If one were to follow the method of citing the Table Talk for Luther's positions, the entry that comes before the quote in question says, 
I have oftentimes noted, when women receive the doctrine of the gospel, they are far more fervent in faith, they hold to it more stiff and fast, than men do; as we see in the loving Magdalen, who was more hearty and bold than Peter.
Factor in also the comments Luther made about his wife (which would double the size of this entry). Did the "former evangelical" consider any of this evidence? I have my doubts. It's simply human nature, be it male or female, to vilify that which we're against, to treat people unfairly, especially if they've been dead for many centuries, lived in a different time period and in a different culture... that's the way discrimination works.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Calvin to Melanchthon: "It is indeed important that posterity should not know of our differences" and Melanchthon's Tears

From a discussion entitled, The ruinous Protestant Deformation of Catholic Christendom in Europe, comes the following alleged interaction between Protestant Reformers John Calvin and Philip Melanchthon:
"It is important" said the heretic Calvin in a letter to Melanchton [sic], "that posterity should not know of our differences. For it is indescribably ridiculous that we, who are in opposition to the whole world, should be, at the very beginning of the Reformation, at variance among ourselves." And Melanchton [sic] replied "All the waters of the Elbe would not yield me tears sufficient to weep for the miseries caused by the Reformation". The most regrettable Protestant Deformation of Catholic Christendom was a manifest tragedy from the very beginning.
This Calvin / Melanchthon pericope has been around for many years in various forms (typically perpetuated by Rome's defenders). The basic thrust is that Calvin and Melanchthon's lack of unification proves "the most regrettable Protestant Deformation of Catholic Christendom was a manifest tragedy from the very beginning."  In the quote above, Calvin appears as attempting to cover up his differences with Melanchthon for "posterity" (deliberate deception?), while Melanchthon is portrayed as responding distraught over the disunity and the overall results of the Reformation (severe regret).  In essence, Calvin appears to want a cover up which provokes Melanchthon to seek out an endless box of tissues to wipe his tears due to the "miseries caused by the Reformation." Let's take a closer look at this interaction:  it's basic Roman Catholic propaganda seeking to present the Reformers in the worst possible way.  

Documentation: Calvin's Letter to Melanchthon 
This particular bit of rhetoric has been around over one hundred years. I suspect it gained its cyber- popularity for English speaking audiences through Father Patrick O'Hare's The Facts About Luther.  The book was originally published in 1916, then again by the Roman Catholic publisher Tan Books in 1987.  O'Hare states,
The other reformers were not a whit better than Luther in regard to toleration. The injury done their cause by their bickerings, disunions and hostilities did not escape their own notice. Calvin, for instance, fully aware of the disastrous results accruing from the specious principles of universal liberty by which the reformers had allured multitudes to their standard, wrote to Melanchthon: “It is indeed important that posterity should not know of our differences; for it is indescribably ridiculous that we, who are in opposition to the whole world, should be, at the very beginning of the Reformation, at issue among ourselves.” Melanchthon wrote in answer that "the Elbe with all its waters could not furnish tears enough to weep over the miseries of the distracted Reformation.” [source]
The 1987 reprint includes an ironic typo in this section: "It is indeed important that posterity should now know of our differences" (p. 293). That's quite a difference in meaning! One of Rome's more popular defenders appears to have noticed the error / difference when citing it and used brackets: "[not]". O'Hare's English rendering was probably not his own: the exact same English translation appears in this 1881 text.  O'Hare was a master at nineteenth-century cut-and-paste... the majority of citations in his book were taken from secondary sources.  

Contrary to most modern on-line occurrences of this pericope, O'Hare's main thrust was that Calvin made his comment because he was "fully aware of the disastrous results accruing from the specious principles of universal liberty by which the reformers had allured multitudes to their standard." That "universal liberty" which "allured multitudes" was, as he goes on to say, "the lawless anarchy into which Protestantism in its various forms had sunk...". For O'Hare, Calvin wanted a major cover-up because of moral failure perpetuated by those adhering to Protestantism. How ironic, given that Calvin is often chastised for being the disciplinarian tyrant of Geneva, beating people down when they violated the Genevan moral code!

O'Hare had many sources to choose from: Calvin's part of this pericope circulated heavily in English texts in the nineteenth century (typically without Melanchthon's reply), for example: "It is of great importance that the divisions which subsist among us should not be known to future ages: for nothing can be more ridiculous than that we, who have broken off from the whole world, should have agreed so ill among ourselves from the very beginning of the Reformation." That O'Hare utilized it is typical of Roman Catholic anti-reformation propaganda of that time period.    

This Calvin quote is genuine. It does indeed come from a letter written to Melanchthon (November 28, 1552). It can be found in the Corpus Reformatorum 14:415 (this scan is poor, this PDF download link here is better). The text reads, 

This Latin text has been translated into English in Dr. Jules Bonnet's Letters of John Calvin Volume 2, p. 375-381, with the quote occurring on pages 376-377

Context: Calvin's response to Melanchthon
Jules Bonnet points out that Melanchthon's correspondence to Calvin had gone through a period of "long silence" probably due to wars in Germany. The letter Calvin was responding to was written October 1, 1552. It's a short two-paragraph Latin letter (C.R. 7:1085).  Philip Schaff translates the relevant first paragraph:
“How often," wrote Melanchthon, Oct. 1, 1552, "would I have written to you, reverend sir and dearest brother, if I could find more trustworthy letter carriers. For I would like to converse with you about many most important matters, because I esteem your judgment very highly and know the candor and purity of your soul. I am now living as in a wasp's nest; but perhaps I shall soon be called from this mortal life to a brighter companionship in heaven. If I live longer, I have to expect new exiles; if so, I am determined to turn to you. The studies are now broken up by pestilence and war. How often do I mourn and sigh over the causes of this fury among princes." 
 Calvin's reply is much longer, the opening includes the quote:
Nothing could have come to me more seasonably at this time than your letter, which I received two months after its dispatch. For, in addition to the very great troubles with which I am so sorely consumed, there is almost no day on which some new pain or anxiety does not occur. I should, therefore, be in a short time entirely overcome by the load of evils under which I am oppressed, did not the Lord by his own means alleviate their severity; among which it was no slight consolation to me to know that you are enjoying tolerable health, such at least as your years admit of and the delicate state of your body, and to be informed, by your own letter, that your affection for me had undergone no change. It was reported to me that you had been so displeased by a rather free admonition of mine which, however, ought to have affected you far otherwise—that you tore the letter to pieces in the presence of certain witnesses. But even if the messenger was not sufficiently trustworthy, still, after a long lapse of time, his fidelity was established by various proofs, and I was compelled at length to suspect something. Wherefore I have learned the more gladly that up to this time our friendship remains safe, which assuredly, as it grew out of a heartfelt love of piety, ought to remain for ever sacred and inviolable. But it greatly concerns us to cherish faithfully and constantly to the end the friendship which God has sanctified by the authority of his own name, seeing that herein is involved either great advantage or great loss even to the whole Church. For you see how the eyes of many are turned upon us, so that the wicked take occasion from our dissensions to speak evil, and the weak are only perplexed by our unintelligible disputations. Nor, in truth, is it of little importance to prevent the suspicion of any difference having arisen between us from being handed down in any way to posterity; for it is worse than absurd that parties should be found disagreeing on the very principles, after we have been compelled to make our departure from the world. I know and confess, moreover, that we occupy widely different positions; still, because I am not ignorant of the place in this theatre to which God has elevated me, there is no reason for my concealing that our friendship could not be interrupted without great injury to the Church. And that we may act independent of the conduct of others, reflect, from your own feeling of the thing, how painful it would be for me to be estranged from that man whom I both love and esteem above all others, and whom God has not only nobly adorned with remarkable gifts in order to make him distinguished in the eyes of the whole Church, but has also employed as his chief minister for conducting matters of the highest importance. And surely it is indicative of a marvelous and monstrous insensibility, that we so readily set at nought that sacred unanimity, by which we ought to be bringing back into the world the angels of heaven.

Documentation: Melanchthon's Response to Calvin
Father O'Hare does not document Melanchthon's response to Calvin that "the Elbe with all its waters could not furnish tears enough to weep over the miseries of the distracted Reformation." This book which preceded his by a year or so uses a different wording for the Calvin quote followed by the exact Melanchthon quote (also noting it was a response to Calvin). 

The two quotes appear to have originally been placed together for polemical reasons but not as a written correspondence between the two Reformers. This 1874 Roman Catholic source uses both quotes but does not indicate Melanchthon was responding to Calvin. This book from 1895 uses both quotes, but similarly does not indicate the words are a response to Calvin (and also places a quote from Beza in-between). Note the following example of Roman Catholic propaganda from Our Sunday Visitor, March 19,1916:

Nineteenth century English texts have a number of instances of Melanchthon's tears and the ElbeThis text from 1849 reads, "Could I but shed as many tears as our Elbe pours of waves when in full stream, my grief would not be drawn dry." This nineteenth century book attributes the quote from Melanchthon to Luther: "The Elbe with all its waters, wrote Melanchthon, to his dear master Luther, would not supply me with tears enough to lament all the evils of the Reformation." This text has "the Elbe with all its streams..." weeping over "the divided reformation." In an 1828 text, the quote is put forth as "The Elbe (wrote he in confidence to a friend) 'the Elbe with all its waves could not furnish tears enough to weep over the miseries of the distracted reformation.'" Was Calvin 'the friend"? That a defender of Rome would pass up Calvin's name seems unlikely! This 1828 text was originally in French (1824), put forth as "l'Elbe avec tous ses flots ne sauroit me fournir assez de larmes pour pleurer les malheurs de la réforme divisée." The translation of this French text may be the the English source of this quote that ultimately wound up in O'Hare's book. 

It's difficult to locate an exact reference for Melanchthon's quote as presented by Father O'Hare. Often nineteenth century texts document versions of  the quote as "Epist. lib. ii, EP 202" (I've yet to find this).  The reason the reference and original source are so elusive is that Melanchthon used the "Elbe + tears" imagery a number of times. Johannes Janssen says that in a September 1545 letter Melanchthon said, "Had I as many tears as the waters of the Elbe... still they would not cease to flow." Janssen's source appears to be this 1545 letter to Dr. Theodore Vitus, "Si tantum lacrymarum fundere possem, quantum undarum noster Albis pleno vehit alveo, non posset exhauriri meus dolor ortus ex hac dissensione."  In 1548 Melanchthon wrote to  Archbishop Cranmer
I do not, however, desire in this letter to do any thing more than express my grief, which is so great, that it could not be exhausted, though I were to shed a flood of tears as large as our Elbe or your Thames.
In in a letter from September 1, 1554, Melanchthon writes: 

This source cites this letter, saying that Melanchthon "wrote to Joannes Timannus (c.1500-c. 1577) in Amsterdam that he wished that he had as many tears as there was water in the Elbe to cry grief about the dispute regarding the Lord's supper." In a letter dated September 5, 1555, Melanchthon says, 

In a letter dated April 18, 1556, Melanchthon writes:

Note that Melanchthon's Elbe tears are linked to "propter dissensionem in Ecclesia."

I came across this bit of propaganda back in 2006, then questioning where the letter from Melanchthon back to Calvin could be found. Now, with so many sources available, it has been much easier to solidify my suspicion that no such letter exists. In its popular form, the pericope is not a back and forth dialog between Calvin and Melanchthon, but appears rather to be the result of English anti-Reformation rhetoric from the nineteenth and early twentieth century that placed the two comments together. 

While Calvin and Melanchthon did have written correspondence,  Melanchthon did not respond back with this comment. While Calvin and Melanchthon did have disagreements, they did have mutual respect for each other. Calvin was not advocating or perpetuating a cover-up, and whatever regret Melanchthon did have over aspects of the Reformation, it was not regret that it ever happened.