Thursday, May 27, 2004

My Alleged Excessive Reliance on Catholic Luther Biographer, Hartmann Grisar, S.J. (vs. Dr. Edwin Tait)

The words in blue are from Edwin Tait: an Anglican with a doctorate in history.

Follow-up discussion of my paper, "The Ambiguous Relationship of Luther and the Early Protestants to St. Augustine."

I have not verified Dave's quotation yet. He got it from Hartmann Grisar's book on Luther, which is hardly an unbiased source.

Are you saying that Grisar, author of a six-volume biography of Luther, cannot be trusted when he cites a primary source, and/or that he mis-quoted the Protestant Luther scholar Kostlin, etc.? I readily admit that Grisar had a Catholic bias and a bias against Luther which is excessive, but do you deny that Protestant Luther scholars have a Protestant bias? It gets a bit ridiculous that -- in condemning the natural bias of an historian of a particular faith -- you become so paranoid about said bias that you don't even trust the historian to give you an accurate citation. If you wish to make that claim, then by all means go look at the letter yourself and then report back to us.

[I]n this case the source in question turns out not to be a primary source but a secondary one, and not the source that most scholars (including Catholics) would consider the most reliable at that (Grisar is certainly one interpreter of Luther who should be taken seriously, but to consult only Grisar is to beg for an entirely one-sided perspective).

This is another unnecessary slap at Grisar. Are you saying that historians cannot cite primary sources without being accused of inherent bias and dishonesty, simply because they are Catholics and don't think Luther was a saint? If you claim he is misrepresenting the letter, then prove it. In the meantime, I have given you plenty to chew on.

And of course we observe a certain double standard, as so often. The Jesuit biographer of Luther is so profoundly biased that he can't even be trusted in his citation of primary sources (despite the fact that he very often cites Protestant scholars like Kostlin in agreement).

Yet when some historian is arguing against some point of Catholic theology, his bias is irrelevant. Thus, a certain so-and-so has been extolling liberal "Catholic" historian Brian Tierney to the skies. It is unimportant, apparently, that he has a severe bias against the doctrine of papal infallibility, which would clearly affect his work on the history of that doctrine, just as Grisar's Catholic affiliation might affect his objective estimation of Luther in this or that respect. But that's fine. Our friend doesn't seem to care that Tierney has made some extremely "unscholarly" and "undetached" statements about papal infallibility such as:

In the years since 1870, therefore, theologians have devoted much ingenuity to devising a sort of pseudo-infallibility for the pope, a kind of Pickwickian infallibility.

In effect, they are content to pretend that the past did not happen. There is at least a beguiling innocence in this approach. Other theologians, more reprehensibly (from a historian's point of view), have devised hermeneutical principles so ingenious that the documents of the past can never embarrass them. By applying such principles, they can reinterpret any doctrinal pronouncement, regardless of its actual content, to mean whatever the modern theologian thinks that its framers ought to have meant.

The infallible doctrine of the past remains infallible but it is deprived of all objective content. This procedure seems based on a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland logic. One is reminded of the Cheshire Cat—the body of a past pronouncement disappears but its grin of infallibility persists.

(From the Introduction of his book, Origins of Papal Infallibility: 1150-1350: Leiden: 1972)

Don't you think, Edwin, that this guy's severe, mocking bias might affect his judgment of this Catholic dogma at least as much as Grisar's bias might affect his research? Just checking . . .

Regarding Grisar, I think you have misunderstood. I don't object to Grisar being read and used as an authority. I object to your using him as your primary authority on Luther, apparently without consulting either the original sources on many points or (since you don't know German and may not know Latin, though most of Luther's works are translated into English) modern secondary sources that differ with Grisar.

I use whatever is in my library and available on the Internet, mostly. This particular matter came up and the quote was from Grisar. I haven't seen it anywhere else. But he gave the primary sources, so we can check it out if one of has a library near us adequate enough to supply the primary source.

You might also want to check out my recent paper on the Peasants' Revolt:

Martin Luther's Violent, Inflammatory Rhetoric and its Relationship to the German Peasants' Revolt (1524-1525)

I submit that in that paper I was extremely charitable towards Luther, and take a much more "moderate" view on his involvement than people might expect from me (especially given all the distortions of what I believe that swirl about, since I am told that I am often cited on Internet discussion boards). If people will read my stuff sans the stereotypes of myself or Catholics in general, I think they will see that I am very ecumenical indeed and not "anti-Protestant" (let alone "anti-Luther") at all.

It isn't that a Catholic bias is inadmissable. It's that if you read Grisar you should read Martin Brecht to balance him.

Buy the book for me and send it and I'll be happy to read it.

If you are only going to rely on one major Luther biography it shouldn't be Grisar, because he doesn't represent the consensus of modern scholarship.

I rely on him less and less but -- let's face it -- a six-volume work about anyone is a valuable resource. Sometimes I go to the library of an evangelical college near me. In the Luther section there are no biographies anywhere near the length and depth of Grisar. There it is, sitting there, in six large volumes, and all the others are one volume.

If you choose to identify yourself with one extreme (though significant and formidable) strand of Luther scholarship, you can expect criticism for being biased. Especially if you have not read the more commonly accepted sources.

I don't see how I am identifying with anything. I simply use whatever resources I can find. I utilize as much primary source material as I can. Much too much is made of Grisar's "bias." I'm not relying on him in the sense that I ignore anything else. But I refuse to not use him because people think he is so profoundly biased. He is not. He has some obvious bias, but it is greatly exaggerated. He's a whipping-boy, in other words.

I will make a confession here: I have not read Grisar. My view of him is based on my advisor, David Steinmetz, whose judgment I trust (not implicitly but considerably). Steinmetz is a Methodist (a moderately conservative one), but he is frequently invited to speak by Catholics, and when my wife Jenn took his Luther seminar she was convinced he was a Catholic. He speaks respectfully of Grisar as a very learned man who stuck by an old-fashioned view of Luther that had become unfashionable even among Catholics (I believe he was disciplined in some way by his order, or by the Vatican, for his unecumenical approach). It isn't that Grisar can be dismissed, but simply that he should not be the one source on which you rely.

I do not at all. Let's put that one to rest. You need to look over some of my more recent papers on Luther, and you will be quickly disabused of this notion. I'm as "ecumenical" on the scale as Joseph Lortz (who is so highly-praised), if not much more so.

Brecht (whose work I know much better) is extremely biased as well (in fact I only have to read a few pages of him and he drives me crazy with his hyper-Lutheranism). I admit that generally if I'm going to read a highly biased author I prefer to read one with a bias in favor of the person they are writing about. But this would apply as well to Aquinas or Ignatius Loyola or any Catholic. People do not generally see clearly what they hate, though there are certainly exceptions. So while Grisar is very much worth reading (and I hope to do so some day), I question your excessive reliance on him to the exclusion of more sympathetic readings.

This is getting old: I don't know where you get this impression. Even in the posts above in this thread, my citations from Protestants (e.g., McGrath and Kostlin) were exponentially more extensive than anything from Grisar.

You can surely see why I would suspect you of deliberately picking the one major Luther scholar (and Grisar certainly is a major Luther scholar) who will tell you what you want to hear.

I can't see it, actually. You have an unbalanced view of my work with regard to Luther.

Generally one should read against one's biases, not with them, when dealing with history.

I love to read all viewpoints.

I was curious as to how much it can be shown that I cite and rely on Hartmann Grisar in my papers on Martin Luther. Here are all of them listed:

Catholic Response to the Movie Luther (2003): "Good to Hear Both Sides of the Story" 175K

3 citations out of many dozens.

Martin Luther's Violent, Inflammatory Rhetoric and its Relationship to the German Peasants' Revolt (1524-1525) 157K

1 section out of 18: each devoted to one historian: a good half of them Protestants. Grisar writes (quite fairly, it seems to me): "No one . . . will be so foolish to believe that it was really his intention to kill the Catholic clergy and monks."

Martin Luther's Devotion to Mary 12K

1 citation.

Martin Luther's Mariology (Particularly the Immaculate Conception)

1 section out of 11, but only because a controversy about Grisar himself arose. The paper utilized copious citations of Protestants.

Dialogue: Martin Luther the "Super-Pope," de facto Infallibility, and Protestant Tradition: A Philosophical and Analogical "Turning the Tables" Argument in Reply to Certain Protestant Rhetoric Against the Papacy (Dave Armstrong vs. Edwin Tait) 23K

Not mentioned.

Martin Luther the "Super-Pope" and de facto Infallibility: With Extensive Documentation From Luther's Own Words 68K

11 citations, but all of Luther's own words, and far exceeded by many words from Luther's Works in English and several other sources.

Did Martin Luther Regard the (Roman) Catholic Church as a Non-Christian, Apostate Institution?: Featuring dozens of citations from Luther's own writings; particularly On the Councils and the Churches (1539) and Against Hans Wurst (1541) 74K

Not mentioned, but copious citations from Luther's primary works.

"Martin Luther's Foul Language: How Sinful Was It? (and can it be justified on the grounds of culture and time-period?)" (Dave Armstrong vs. Edwin Tait) 52K
[this paper has since been deleted from my website]

Mentioned only once and not cited: "Hartmann Grisar's 6-volume biography is very thorough, but of course that is now dated and quite Catholic in bias. It's still full of fascinating information and documentation, though."

Did Martin Luther Believe That Jesus Had Carnal Relations With Mary Magdalene and Others? (Dave Armstrong vs. "BJ Bear" & "Bonnie" + EL Hamilton) 70K

Not mentioned.

"Dialogues on Martin Luther and His Relation to Subsequent Protestantism"
(Dave Armstrong vs. Edwin Tait) 49K
[this paper has since been deleted from my website]

Not cited. Discussed only because Edwin kept bringing him up as a biased historian.

"Martin Luther, Indulgences, and the Origins of the Protestant Revolt" 15K

[since removed from my collection]

1 citation.

The Orthodox vs. the Heterodox Luther 15K

Not mentioned.

2 Corinthians 5:21: Was Jesus Christ Literally Made Sin on the Cross? Did He Suffer the Horrors of Damnation? Luther and Calvin vs. the Church Fathers 29K

Cited extensively.

"Luther, Calvin, and Other Early Protestants on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary" 14K

Not mentioned.

"Man-Centered" Sacramentalism: The Remarkable Incoherence of Dr. James White:
How Can Martin Luther and St. Augustine Be Christians According to His Definition? 42K

1 citation of Luther's own words.

Baptismal Regeneration: Luther, Wesley, and Anglicanism 6K

Not mentioned.

"Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible" 9K

[since deleted]

1 citation.

"The Influence of William of Ockham and Nominalism on Martin Luther
and Early Protestant Thought" 205K

1 citation.

So out of 19 total papers, the tally is as follows:
Extensive citation: 1 paper.
11 citations (but all his own words): 1
3 citations: 1.
1 section out of many: 3 (but two of these were because my opponent brought him up, and the third was in a paper surveying Church historians' opinions).
1 citation: 5.
No citations or mentions: 8.
Furthermore, several of the citations were Luther's own words only; not Grisar's opinions of them. This small number is from a total size of file space of 1368K or 1.37 MB: easily the length of two significant books. This is hardly consistent with the following charges:
I object to your using him as your primary authority on Luther, apparently without consulting either the original sources on many points or . . . modern secondary sources that differ with Grisar.

If you choose to identify yourself with one extreme (though significant and formidable) strand of Luther scholarship, you can expect criticism for being biased.

It isn't that Grisar can be dismissed, but simply that he should not be the one source on which you rely.

I question your excessive reliance on him to the exclusion of more sympathetic readings.

You can surely see why I would suspect you of deliberately picking the one major Luther scholar . . . who will tell you what you want to hear.

Okay; point taken. My subjective impression was that Grisar seemed to come up a lot. But I admit that probably discussions I've had with you have blurred into discussions I've had with other Catholics online. I did get a bit of a bee in my bonnet because it seemed as if every time I got in a discussion with a conservative Catholic about Luther some rather tendentious claim would be made and backed up with Grisar.

You had a subjective impression of my use of Hartmann Grisar. When I brought the discussion down to objective facts: how much I actually cited the man and used his arguments in my 19 papers about Luther, we saw that your impression was mistaken, and you quickly conceded the point (for which I thank you, by the way). This is why I urge people to be very specific in their criticisms, so some objective discussion can be had, and any necessary changes made as a result of it.

Also, I'd like to compliment you on your essay on Luther and the Peasant Wars.
It's a lot more nuanced than what I remember seeing on your site previously on
this subject (though again, this may be more about how people used your site
than what you actually said).

Thank you. I would hope that I have grown in my twelve years of writing on these issues as a Catholic. I freely admit that my materials from the early 90s, right after my conversion, were far more polemical than I would write them today. Much of my writing about Luther on my site a few years back was from that period. I have since revised those several times, and even removed some of them (such as a general paper about Luther). And I have sought to utilize more primary sources, in part because of legitimate criticisms that I needed to do so, and in part because I was more interested and motivated to do extra research.

And yes, it is true that some folks may generalize and claim things about my work and opinions that are not true, or unduly exaggerated. One lady, for example, said that I "hated" Martin Luther. You can see that this is not true, judging from your opinion of this one paper. I think she could have seen it too, but a lot of people just see what they want to see. I guess I am often a "controversial" figure. But all my heroes were too (Socrates, Jesus, Paul, Newman, Wesley, Bonhoeffer, even Lewis -- who was much-despised among his academic colleagues at Oxford because of his apologetics and popular writings, and denied a professorship), so I am not ashamed to be in the company of the "controversial" simply because I take a stand for one view over others and believe in truth and dialogue as a means of obtaining that.

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 28 January 2004.

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