Thursday, May 27, 2004

My Alleged Pathetic Martin Luther Research, Luther-Bashing and "Dishonesty"

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/art/pic_luther.jpg

I posted the following on the Catholic Message Board on 2-23-04 after discovering that someone (a Lutheran, as it turns out) was trying to discredit my Luther research yet again. This person's ("CommonMan") words will be in blue. The words of "walt" -- another detractor (but much less insulting) will be in red. Since this charge has come up more than once, and there is never any substance to it, I thought it was high time to put it to rest once and for all.

* * * * *

I reserve the right to post occasionally -- as an exception to my self-imposed "rule" -- when someone is falsely portraying my work or myself, and the need for clarification exists, since I am a published apologist, whose writing is used by others in defense of Catholic doctrines, and have once again been (rather ridiculously) accused of incompetence and dishonesty.

The following is very long, tedious and boring, to be sure, but if any of you (particularly Catholics) have heard of me, or read or otherwise used my writing (especially concerning Luther) here and elsewhere for research, apologetics, or evangelism purposes, and are tired of hearing charges made about my writing, methodology, "dishonesty," "profound bias" and what-not, then please stick it out, because you are in for some real enlightenment as to the sort of sham charges an apologist has to deal with, and concerning the unsavory methods used to run down a person when their arguments are unable to be defeated by force of argument, logic, and fact. It's a sad tale indeed, but quite revealing. This will put these sort of asinine tactics on record, at least where I am concerned.

If people don't personally attack me (almost always "behind my back" initially), then they attack those who cite my work, like beng, and they are accused (either subtly or not-so-subtly) of being slavish sycophants who hang on my every word and don't check out the accuracy of my research because I am their "hero" and "champion" and so forth.

This stinks, and it is time to speak out against it. If people look up to me on these boards, then I am humbled and honored and glad to be of service. I've certainly worked hard enough (and usually for little or no money) so it is rewarding on a human level to receive a bit of "recognition" (and I thank those of you who have made kind and nice comments about my work, from the bottom of my heart. May God bless you).

Some people may occasionally inadvertantly distort my argument in some fashion, or miss some of the nuances and qualifications. They're human beings. They need to be cut some slack. People are at different levels in their theological and "apologetic" development. We're all in the process of learning and growing. But if the charge is that they are wrong mainly because my work is not worthy enough to be cited in the first place, and is mere "propaganda," then the critics need to lay off and get the guts and courage to come to me and make their case, rather than gossip and snipe in public and run off at the mouth about things they know little about.

The latest instances of this nonsense come from "Common Man" and "walt". Common Man has implied that I am deliberately dishonest (or darn close to it, at any rate) in how I present Luther on my website, and in how I edited a recent exchange here with walt, for my blog. He has stated recently that virtually all my Luther citations are "out of context" and that they are absurdly, cynically selective, and thus, in effect, unfair to Luther. Along with the usual poppycock charges, he seems to believe that I cannot possibly be fair to Luther (nor does he -- far as I can tell -- think I wish to be) simply because I am a Catholic apologist; thus severely-biased, by definition (thus, he called my work mere "spin").

Common Man was essentially reprimanded by two moderators on this board (Signum Crucis and Della) for resort to personal attack (for which I am thankful: good job!). To crown the absurdity of his attacks, he plainly admitted that he knows fairly little about Luther himself. But by some weird, convoluted reasoning (unfathomable to me, I confess), he nevertheless "knows" that I (who have studied the man for twenty years: both as a Protestant and as a Catholic) cannot be trusted in dealing with Luther.

I challenged Common Man to produce any specific, concrete example of my distortion of Luther. Of course, he has not done so, and I won't hold my breath waiting, either. So his prattling on and on was much ado about nothing. When challenged, he didn't have any goods to produce. And of course this is nothing new. The tactic is as old as the hills. This is the sort of insulting behavior and "intellectual bullying" tactics (and even calling it "intellectual" is a big stretch) that constitute much of the reason why I have become completely disgusted with discussion boards. It was heartening, at least, to see two moderators condemn it.

Here are some examples of Common Man's insulting and uncharitable rhetoric and falsehoods on this board (I know from experience that if I don't document this sort of thing, it will be denied or distorted later on and come back to "haunt" me, so here it is):

As to the quotes from Luther, I found no context on the Armstrong site (pity) and I would prefer to read them in context so I will look to do so later today. There are a couple of claims (not quotes) I am familiar with and I will also respond to them.

Of course if this is to be a "quote fest" we could bury each other in quotes all day and that is a bore.

(Jan 16, 2004 6:32 am Subject: Luther Dialogue)

The initial point I was making was that as a Lutheran, my church history is as connected now as when I was a Catholic . . .

I meant what I said about a "quote fest". Shall I start dragging out quotes from Catholic leaders out of context? If I paste some quote from another site and we don’t have the ability to read the surrounding text why quote it? There are pages of complete books of Luther theology available on-line from which to pull a quote so that it can be checked. If any one has a link to Against the Falsely So-Called Spiritual Estate of the Pope and Bishops, where these quotes came from, then that would be fine to post and refer to. Luther was a prodigious writer and I don’t pretend to be a Luther scholar who has read all his works.

(Jan 16, 2004 9:35 am Subject: Luther Dialogue)

. . . you posted the quotes knowing Luther wrote it but not the context nor reason behind it, and Armstrong was light on the facts too. It was meant to inflame, not inform.

(1-17-04, 4:30 PM)

If I tell you why Luther wrote Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope and the Bishops Falsely So Called why would you accept my explanation when Armstrong already has you convinced otherwise?

Clever how Armstrong never mentions Leo at all in that page you cited. That is because Armstrong wants you to think Luther is writing to the Church of Christ when in fact he is addressing Leo.

(1-18-04, 2:11 PM)

[The paper where I cite this tract at length was about how Luther claimed an extraordinary authority that I have described as "super-pope." Whomever he was addressing, it contains statements about himself that are not undercut based on who he was writing to. See: Martin Luther the "Super-Pope" and de facto Infallibility (With Extensive Documentation From Luther's Own Words). I cite straight from LW, volume 39, at great length, so there can be no charge of "out of context." The remarks themselves have to be seen to be believed.

CommonMan claims that it was written to Pope Leo but the very title disproves that. It is against the "spiritual estate" of both pope and bishops. That's not just the pope! In the first line, Luther writes: "To the papal bishops [I offer] my service and self-understanding in Christ." It is addressed to a plurality throughout, not to the pope: "dear lords," "any one of you," "Even though you might take my life, since you are murderers," etc. (LW, 39, 247-248). And he refers to the pope in the third person; e.g,: "The pope, to be sure, in his canon law forbade punishing the prelates" (p. 249). So CommonMan is absolutely wrong (while he mocks me for my supposed deception and inaccuracy). The introduction in LW, by Eric and Ruth Gritsch, knows nothing of this "written to the pope" theory, either. It never claims that it was written to the pope (who is only mentioned briefly for contextual background), but it says plenty about Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, and then it is noted that "Luther turned to a general attack on the 'papistic' establishment" (p. 244). So much for both CommonMan's theory and bogus charge against me.]

. . . Beng has found many a Luther quote on a few Catholic apologist web sites and that seems to be the primary source of his information, he refers to them often. He jumped into the conversation on Jan. 12 with an armful of quotes from Dave Armstrong. I have since found other sites using nearly the same information. Like a rubber stamp, these individuals have presented these (mostly out of context) quotes to skew the opinion of those who have only a superficial understanding of Luther. Not that my knowledge of him is great, but I have a better picture of the man and his times than can be gleaned from an apologist site.

The quote I asked about was an incomplete paragraph Beng posted. I expect the intention of posting that quote was to make the reader think Luther had flip-flopped . . .

. . . the fact that he never mailed this letter speaks volumes on the honesty of any web site who uses this to try to make their point. Shame shame, they seem to have forgotten the 9th commandment . . . .

(1-20-04, 6:47 am)

[Yet about a month later, CommonMan denies having insulted me:

You said I insulted you. Well I did find my specific remarks and I don't think that is a fair assessment [he cited other remarks that I have not used here, in my documentation] . . . I did clearly state that your page was designed to show Luther in a negative light. It is biased and you admit that you are biased. I do think it's unfortunate that that page is the sum total of many a readers knowledge. So I try to give another view point, again, if that offends you I don't understand how.

(post of 2-19-04, 11:26 PM, in the "New Book About Martin Luther" thread)

I had written in my first post on the board in the same thread (2-19-04, 8:54 PM):
This nonsense about me being a dishonest researcher with regard to Martin Luther has been tried before; notably by one gentleman . . . who tried to "argue" (as you have) that mere use of ellipses implied dishonesty and quoting out of context.

. . . You wanna prove I am dishonest or incompetent as an apologist -- particularly with regard to Martin Luther? Be my guest. Come to my blog, present your case (that is assuming that it exists in the first place, and consists of more than gratuitous potshots in public venues such as this), and we will have a public discussion, and I will put it all on my website. Otherwise, please desist in making public charges that you cannot back up when the person who is the object of your unfounded criticisms challenges you.

But CommonMan denied having made any of these charges up to this point (i.e., after his remarks I have documented, above). The next day, he reiterated:
If anyone can tell me how he was "dissed" and how I "insulted him" and called him "dishonest", please provide those quotes where I say that. Or is this just more DA spin?

(see larger post and URL information, below)

It is seen below that he again accuses me of deliberate dishonesty based on how I edited the exchange with walt. Either CommonMan has a very faulty memory, or he talks out of both sides of his mouth, depending on his audience, or he thinks that questioning one's "honesty" or charging a professional, published apologist (whose reputation is based on good, solid research) with "mostly out of context" quotes or falsely accusing them of violating the 9th commandment is not an "insult." Any way one looks at it, it stinks to high heaven. It's merely yet another person who can't control his tongue, where it concerns theological opponents, and has to sadly resort to (essentially) public gossip, as opposed to writing to the person being critiqued, and inquiring about perceived "difficulties" in his work -- precisely as two board moderators later urged CommonMan to do]

Unfortunately you have a one sided view. I agree with the posts above, you could use a more objective source for your information.

(Thu Jan 22, 2004 11:30 pm Subject: Luther Dialogue)

. . . the paragraph posted here did not indicate to me that his writing [i.e., Hilaire Belloc's] would be any more factual than the Dave Armstrong quotes I read here.

(1-30-04)

The quotes from Dave Armstrong's web page are not going to give you a complete understanding of Luther, Tetzel, Leo X ,the times they lived in or even a basis for understanding the split. His site is simply a very one sided biased look at a tiny portion of it all. Designed to paint Luther in as negative a way as possible.

I do not expect you to take as much of an interest in Luther as I do, but at least go a little deeper than Dave Armstrong.

(2-16-04, 10:23 PM)

I did not say that Armstrong's site was not Luther quotes, I said it was a tiny tiny portion. Picked over, culled from tens of thousands of words either written by, or written about Luther.

In truth you don't want to learn the whole story. That's your choice, but I would have more respect for your opinion if you had more substance in your argument. You won't find substance in a web page and it comes through when you speak about the Reformation and Luther.

(2-17-04, 6:21 AM)

[beng]: "Does it matter that they are picked over? Does that make them out of context or not true?"

YES IT MATTERS VERY MUCH!

It's SPIN dear Beng! And you are spinning in it's wake. Context of the document, context of the times. All this does matter!

Luther spoke in colorful terms. Look at this one [from my website];

Most Holy Father, prostrate at the feet of your Holiness, I offer myself with all that I am and have . . . I will acknowledge thy voice as the voice of Christ.

(Letter to Pope Leo X, May 30, 1518)

What are those ellipses? what's missing? Don't you wonder?

(2-17-04, 6:11 PM)

DA [me] "First of all, I will not be staying because I don't participate on boards anymore " [followed by an icon of a person crying]

Oh well walt, I guess you aren't going to get your answer.

Of course his snippets from Luther will show up here by the efforts of others time and again anyway so he may be gone but not forgotten.

If anyone can tell me how he was "dissed" and how I "insulted him" and called him "dishonest", please provide those quotes where I say that. Or is this just more DA spin?

(2-20-04, 12:29 PM)

I would like to hear your comments on Armstrong's posting of the dialog between walt and Armstrong.

Armstrong posted it on his blog, and in the process edited the conversation leaving out part of walt's words with no indication that he had done so. He changed the dialog to make it appear more favorable to him.

(2-21-04, 2:51 PM)

. . . Armstrong himself admitted he was biased so my mention of it is in accord with his own words and I think it's a fair assessment.

Beng sends me to a page that calls Luther a "super pope" and it is filled with negative Luther quotes (no context) is meant to give the reader a negative opinion.

. . . Luther wrote and his words appear in volumes and volumes of books comprising tens of thousands of words. It's fair to say there is but a tiny percentage of Luther's words on Armstrong's website.

Beng told me context did not matter. I said it did and the page he sent me to was spin. If it isn't spin then what is that page for?

Finally, walt exposed him. Armstrong recognized that walt has a much deeper knowledge of Luther and he had a dialog with him and was forced to adjust his explanation, then upon posting it on his blog, edited and tweaked it to make it appear more favorable. He, by his own actions, proved my point about missing words replaced with ellipses. In this case, he did not even add the ellipses.

I am not arguing about Luther here what I am arguing is that I think Armstrong received a pass because he is a local hero.

(2-21-04, 4:04 PM)

At this point, moderators Signum Crucis and Della both rendered their opinion on CommonMan's remarks within a half-hour:

. . . CommonMan, we don't want to promote what might be construed as a personal attack against another poster. We have no control over Dave Armstrong or any other professional apologist. That's why it is best to confront him personally.

Professional or not, we do believe that a person is accountable for his words/actions. We don't necessarily condone every word or action just because a poster is Catholic or a professional. We do believe in going to the source for clarification or complaint. That includes interaction between posters on here as well. If I have a problem with something you say, I'm going to confront you with it, not the other Protestant members of the board . . .

(2-21-04, 4:29 PM)

The topic thread started out as if it was about generalities but when asked to be specific, it became a complaint against a member who rarely posts here, and who is perfectly capable of answering for himself.

On the msg board we haven't encouraged topic threads about the "failings" of other members. We have always been encouraged to simply respond to whatever is posted, and if it is personal, to contact either the other person via PM or email or contact one of the moderators with any complaints about fellow board members.

(2-21-04, 4:29 PM)

CommonMan didn't respond on this thread, but -- undaunted -- continued on with his personal attacks and charges that I dishonestly edited and was "deliberately deceptive" and supposedly have a "limited understanding of Luther's teachings":

Walt's conversation with this person was edited on the "blog".

This person removed part of the conversation and posted it with no indication that he had edited it.

No one on this board seems to care and they have chosen to ignore this dishonest ploy. So be it.

Walt exposed him as having a limited understanding of Luther's teachings. Anyone who cares to use this person as a source for arguing Luther should do so at their own risk. For the foundation of his knowledge and thus their argument, is weak.

(2-21-04, 9:35 PM)

In this case the editing did "twist" Walt's words around and as Walt explained above and leads the reader to a different conclusion. That is not proper editing.

Now, is it deliberately deceptive editing or is it accidentally deceptive editing? I dare not say lest it cause ranting. Maybe you can answer that Beng.

(2-21-04, 11:14 PM)

The real reason I want to preserve your quote is for my new hobby, collecting quotes so as to use them out of context in future discussions. [smiley face icon]

(Feb 22, 2004 6:00 pm Subject: The Bible Is Corrupt)

Thanks for the Biblical links. I like that because it helps me to learn and think a bit, always refer to the Scripture and I'll check it out, better than the apoligists [sic] page anyday.

(Feb 23, 2004 6:01 pm Subject: I need help to this question !!!)

Walt (though much less insulting than Common Man) thought that I didn't understand an elementary distinction with regard to works being placed in the category of sanctification rather than justification, and moaned and groaned about my editing of his words (even though I provided the URL to the relevant thread on this board so that people could read the original exchange for themselves).

He repeatedly refers to me as an "apologist" (i.e., in quotes), and to "apologetics", as if there is some intrinsic pretense involved, or as if I ought to be ashamed of my full-time vocation as a published apologist who has three books out (soon to be four), and one of the three most-visited Catholic apologetics websites on the Internet (along with Catholic Answers and Envoy). Why else would he put the word in quotes? Does he habitually put the words baker or banker or professor or cashier in quotes when he refers to those professions or occupations?

I asked him if he would be willing to dialogue about Luther on my blog and he refused. That offer is still in force. I removed his words from my blog and the paper I wrote as a result of our recent discussion because he kept complaining about it -- NOT because I did anything wrong or unethical. People can differ on how to edit these posts. It's no big deal. See: Martin Luther's Doctrine Concerning Good Works: Have I Misrepresented It? Walt wrote on the board:

I don't understand why you do not, as a matter of routine, verify (and cite) your quotations of Luther in the standard English editition of Luther's Works; LW is, for English speakers, the most complete, and the most readily available, edition of Luther's works; references to out-of-print editions, none of which are as complete as LW, are not terribly helpful.

[This is interesting, since many Luther scholars do not follow walt's advice that he seems to think is self-evident. So, for example, Roland Bainton's famous biography of Luther, Here I Stand (1950), was written in English seven years after the last volume of the six-volume Philadelphia edition of Luther's works came out, yet he never cites that work. He relies exclusively on the German editions of Luther's writings. Does walt think the average English reader had ready access to those?

Likewise, Gordon Rupp's well-known Luther's Progress to the Diet of Worms, published in 1951, utilized the Philadephia edition occasionally, but stuck mostly to the German editions. Moreover, in Luther: Early Theological Works, edited and translated by James Atkinson (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), the editor writes on page 365: "All references to the
Luther text are made to the Weimar text, volume, page, line, and where significant to the title and
date of the work cited." This tendency holds even for recent English books about Luther. Alister McGrath's Luther's Theology of the Cross (1985), relies exclusively on German Luther sources, long after the 55-volume English edition became available. And David Steinmetz' Luther in Context (1995; 2nd edition, 2002) is still overwhelmingly utilizing the German Weimar edition, with only a rare reference to LW.

I submit that reliance upon German works -- with regard to English readers -- is as "unhelpful" to English readers as citations of the Philadelphia edition or citations from Grisar, Janssen, Durant or anyone who got their material from the German, and whose books -- in the case of the first two -- were themselves translated into English. The important thing is to use primary material from Luther. I use LW extensively, but this is no absolute requirement for Luther research, or else the above five works by reputable Protestant scholars are all immediately suspect.]

The first mark of good "apologetics" is good scholarship; the absence of good scholarship provides, not "apologetics," but propaganda.

(2-20-04, 9:39 AM)

If "Catholic apologists" want to study Lutheran "heresies," start with the one work of Luther which practically all Lutherans have actually studied and read -- the Small Catechism -- and not with those works of Luther of which most Lutherans have not heard, and fewer still have actually read.

(2-21-04, 9:10 PM)

Unless an "apologist" is nothing more than an antiquarian, he should be addressing what Lutherans today actually believe.

[of course I have done so, in papers about confessional Lutheranism, in whole or in part]

. . . If you're a history buff, by all means study the Arians. But the task of an "apologist" is to defend (or explain) the teachings and practices of his faith community against (or to) those who are really existing outside of his faith community now, not to hypothetical persons, or persons of the past.

. . . Perhaps the problem is in the definition of "apologetics"; I take "apologetics" to mean "systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine)". Thus, the task for a Catholic "apologist" is an affirmative one: to defend the Catholic faith, not to refute alternatives. For this, one of the resources for a Catholic "apologist" is John Paul II's Catechism of the Catholic Church.

(2-21-04, 9:57 PM)

[in another post dated 2-21-04, 10:54 PM -- at the same URL -- , walt continued using quotation marks: five times: "apologist" and twice: "apologetics"]

[T]he "apologist" has to deal with real people, who have real ideas. Demolishing straw men may be a lot of fun, but it serves no "apologetic" purpose to demolish that which your conversation partner doesn't believe in anyway. Beyond that, it's counterproductive; the "apologist's" target audience is going to be completely alientated if the "apologist" insists that he believes something which in fact he does not.

(2-21-04, 11:23 PM)

One tires of all this very quickly. It is only the latest manifestation of illegitimate attacks on my research pertaining to Luther. I guess some folks simply don't like to see dissenting opinions being rendered and supported. When it comes to Martin Luther, who is a hero to many (he used to be mine as well, so I perfectly understand this), some Protestants don't want to read any negative criticisms, no matter how well-documented or balanced they might be.

And faced with that "threatening" situation, the all-too-common recourse is to "attack the messenger" and engage in the ad hominem fallacy. If the facts can't be gotten over, then the "next best thing" is to attack the notorious "anti-Luther" Catholic (gasp!!!) apologist (even BIGGER GASP!!!) Dave Armstrong and pretend as if he doesn't know the slightest thing about his subjects. Mostly -- but not always -- these attacks come from anti-Catholics (i.e., those who deny that the Catholic Church is a Christian institution, just as Protestant denominations are). Their motivation is obvious and need not be discussed.

The remarkable, almost surreal history of these attacks makes for depressing, tragi-comic reading. One famous example was from a guy who goes by the moniker "BJ Bear." The exchange took place on the (very large) Protestant CARM board in 2002. His charge was the usual "you can't be trusted with Luther citations because you are incompetent and too biased." He made one particular accusation that I had deliberately botched a Luther quote with ellipses (. . . . ) that encompassed 25 pages in the primary source. This was trumpeted about (quite condescendingly and triumphantly) as proof positive of my grossly-inadequate research skills. This lie is repeated to this day in some quarters because they are so desperate to prove me wrong on something. Yet I have refuted it publicly two or three times now. The answer to the charge is very simple. I have written about it elsewhere, as follows:

"BJ Bear" had made the following blast against me because of this notorious "false quote":
Propaganda isn't as effective when specific references are given. The severe editing of the text in the original post and the following commentary betrays an incredible lack of understanding and/or deliberate bias. Using your style of citation and interpretation an atheist can easily prove that the Bible teaches there never was a god. Using your method it would go like this, "In the beginning ... There is no god ... You are gods."
I responded in [another] paper:
The entire discussion was about a quote in one of my papers that was from Luther. "BJ" complained that it deleted large portions of material that he found in the 55-volume version of the words under consideration in Luther's Works in English. He argued / insinuated that because I didn't include ellipses [i.e., . . . ], and because there were several pages of material in-between, that I was therefore incompetent and had not the slightest clue of how to document information.

Well, it turned out that the mistake was not mine at all, but, in fact, that of Will Durant, the noted historian and author of the well-known multi-volume Story of Civilization (from which I got my quote). As far as I can tell (though it is speculative), it turned on the fact that he was citing a German version of Luther's writings, which differed from the English version of that particular excerpt. I take it as uncontroversial that I, as a non-academic lay apologist, can cite a professional historian . . . and trust that he has checked out the primary sources, and so forth. Since Durant made this egregious mistake that "BJ Bear" made so much of, this only goes to show that either the German version of Luther's words was different (in which case it wouldn't be a "mistake" at all, but a case of differing versions) or that professional historians make mistakes in citation (which I already knew, as they are human beings like the rest of us).

But did this error (or differing translation) prove (following my opponent's convoluted reasoning) that Will Durant suffered from "an incredible lack of understanding and/or deliberate bias"? I think not. After I pointed these inconvenient facts out, "BJ Bear" understandably went rather silent . . . His task was to embarrass me and show me up as an incompetent boob, not to do that to the secularist historian Will Durant (who wasn't exactly an "RC apologist")! The amusement of such folly and comic turn of events more than made up for the offensiveness of the false charge . . . readers can make up their own mind as to who is failing to attain a certain level of "scholarly respectability" and refraining from "hostility and ad hominem."

So much for this charge. Needless to say, "BJ Bear" has not responded to this reply. He knows better, by now. Elsewhere, he described another Luther paper of mine as follows:
"misleads" [implied: possibly deliberately and deviously, or simply through incompetence]
"misinforms" [ditto]
"ignorant of primary source material" [sheer intellectual and apologetic incompetence]
"absurdity of the 'analysis' above" [derisive use of quotation marks]
"illogical and baseless 'analysis'" [ditto]
[failure to do a] "competent reading of the primary source" [charge of basic incompetence]
"Propaganda is not effective when proper citations are given" [mere "propaganda" rather than legitimate respectable research]
"Not interested in what Luther wrote but interested in propaganda" [ditto]
But of course these are all just statements -- easy to make; much harder to substantiate and prove. Another bogus charge is that I "hate" Martin Luther. I do not, of course (quite the contrary: I admire him in many ways) and I have made that clear in several papers. I don't think he was an evil man and I don't question his sincerity or religious motivations. Beyond that, I have essentially defended him in several papers against false charges, notably, in the following:

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

Did Martin Luther Believe That Jesus Had Carnal Relations With Mary Magdalene
and Others?

In fact, in my recent exchange with walt about Luther's view of good works, I (in effect) defended Luther from the all-too-common charge that he denies the necessity of good works. I had already been doing that for years, as I showed walt, including in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. On my blog recently, I did so again, in response to a Catholic who didn't understand some fine points of Luther's view. Furthermore, I often cite Luther favorably when he agrees with the Catholic position, as in several papers about his Mariology, and his views on the Eucharist and baptismal regeneration.

In my upcoming book, The Catholic Verses, I cite him at length in opposition to contraception and deliberately childless marriages (where he makes some marvelous and dead-on observations, with his characteristic passion and zeal and eloquence). When Luther is right about something he is brilliantly right, and I happily regard him as my ally at those points.

Some people realize that I am doing this, and then I get accused of being hypocritical, since I disagree with Luther in one place and agree with him in another, as if this is somehow inexplicably improper. LOL You can't win for losing. Why can't these critics see that I am simply after the truth, wherever it lies? I think Luther got some things wrong and some things right. This is some incredible, incomprehensible phenomenon?

Another tack has been to say that, well okay, I may not be outright dishonest or incompetent in researching Luther (begrudging admissions that maybe I do know a thing or two after all, even though I am a lowly Catholic), but nevertheless I rely excessively on "anti-Luther" Catholic biographers, such as Hartmann Grisar, S.J. (author of a six-volume biography of Luther: the largest I have ever seen).

This was pointed out in print as early as 1994, by Ralph Mackenzie, co-author with Norman Geisler of the helpful book, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences. He reviewed my conversion story (and the others) in Surprised by Truth, and we talked on the phone once. He is not an anti-Catholic. Neither is Edwin Tait, a doctoral candidate in Church history, with whom I have had several enjoyable dialogues. But Edwin made the same charge recently. I decided that I had heard this enough (when I get fed up it tends to motivate me to disprove the bogus claims in writing), and wrote a paper about it, proving it was unfair and inaccurate: My Alleged Excessive Reliance on Catholic Luther Biographer, Hartmann Grisar, S.J.

Yet Edwin -- always the gentleman and scholar -- admitted in that exchange: "I have not read Grisar." And after looking over my documentation of my use of Grisar, he confessed:

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.
And he wrote:
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).
He also stated in correspondence, "You are one of the most thoughtful and careful apologists out there." But Edwin is fair, a serious thinker, and he doesn't have an axe to grind (unlike my harshest critics). He thinks I have a bias, for sure, but he also believes I am a competent and charitable apologist. I respect Edwin Tait, because he has sought to be fair and thoughtful in his disagreements with me.

This is all I ask: that if a person disagrees with my Luther research, to show me why, and to engage in normal, congenial, non-insulting, substantive discussion about it, without the stupid, false charges which poison the well from the outset (in other words, rudimentary Christian ethics and normal intellectual discourse). I've also had several constructive dialogues about Luther with Edwin Tait. Yes, we continue to disagree, but I am not presently writing about disagreement; rather, about fairness and how to make a genuine critique which deserves to be taken seriously, with respect, and the avoidance of ad hominem absurdity and juvenile, sub-Christian behavior.

Another charge (repeated by Common Man) is the old canard about "quoting out of context" (always ready at hand when someone wants to dismiss a piece of evidence without having to do any serious work of refutation). But this cannot be disproven in an overview such as this. It has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Again, only very rarely has anyone actually sought to demonstrate this with concrete example. Anyone is welcome to try. I challenge them, dare them, beg them to "put up or shut up." There is nothing to the charge. If someone is confident enough to produce some sort of rational argument along these lines, I will either refute the objection as groundless and at odds with the facts, or gratefully make a retraction.

My latest response to the same old same old, is a demonstration of the amount and nature of documentation in my Luther papers (some 25 or so now). For each paper, I listed the number of citations from Luther himself and from Protestant scholars (i.e., directly concerning Luther -- some papers have a wider subject matter), and noted the sources. I didn't even include Catholic scholars (even when they cite Luther's own words) because hostile critics (again, predominantly the anti-Catholic Protestants, as opposed to the fair-minded ecumenical ones) simply dismiss them as incorrigibly biased against Luther and therefore untrustworthy. This is not true, of course, but I am trying to think as these people do, and make an argument most effective for the purpose of countering their false (and often personally slanderous) charges.

If Common Man or walt or anyone else wants to have a normal dialogue about anything in my papers (actually about the subject at hand, rather than me and my supposedly terrible, scandalous methodology), they are welcome to do so on my blog. In the meantime, the charges have been soundly refuted yet again, and those here and elsewhere who cite my work can feel confident that they are not relying on a raving lunatic with an axe to grind about Luther, but a serious, credentialed, published lay apologist who profusely documents his contentions, tries very hard to be fair-minded, and is thoroughly willing to entertain rational critiques. When this nonsense comes up again, they can refer to the following paper (and this present one), to counter it:

"Does My Luther Research Lack Proper Documentation? (Particularly Regarding Primary Material From the 55-volume Luther's Works?)"

Nothing like facts and actual solid reasoning. They will trump innuendo, gossip, and potshots, and absurdly broad and general comments any time (made by people who often admit they don't know what they're talking about, either openly, or by the implication of their inability or unwillingness to back themselves up with something solid, when challenged).

This paper can be used when these dumb and utterly unfounded charges are raised the next time here or anywhere, and someone knows about my reply, that can be alluded to, which (hopefully) will stop the coming bogus, sham charges dead in their tracks and get the conversation back onto the issues and theology where it belongs.

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Walt responded in the thread that I started on the Catholic Message Board (with the above message -- slightly different): "My Alleged Lousy Luther Research & 'Dishonesty'",

His response was from 2-23-04, 6:43 PM.

But this is 2004, not 1950, and LW was completed in its print version almost 20 years ago, and is now available on a [*relatively* inexpensive] CD-ROM.

I generally cannot afford $174 for such a work (which is the cost I heard). Perhaps one day when I have some extra money I will buy that. As it is I have 13 volumes of the set in hardcover, that I was blessed to be able to get for $1.50 - $2.00 each at a used book sale, plus various other individual primary works of Luther. I have what I need to write a decent paper. If I need more, I go to the local Catholic seminary (as I have done several times for the more involved of my Luther papers).

Why is it, though, that (as I already pointed out) Alister McGrath's Luther's Theology of the Cross (1985), relies exclusively on German Luther sources, and David Steinmetz' Luther in Context (1995; 2nd edition, 2002) almost all German sources? It's amazing how you selectively quote, so as to make your opponent's argument look incoherent. But it is not succeeding. I cited five works: three of which were after LW came out (one was from 1962). With the other two I specifically used the direct analogy of them not utilizing the Philadephia six-volume edition, which was the best one in English then available, to my knowledge.

Roland Bainton, in his Studies on the Reformation (1963) is still using all German sources. Same thing for the famous Young Man Luther (1958), by Erik Erikson. What's with these guys? Didn't they know that the English set had come out?

I would note that when Martin Brecht’s three-volume biography of Luther was translated from German into English, references to LW were added to Brecht’s citation of the WA. References to LW were also added to the English translation of Bernard Lohse’s Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development.

And I would note that when Heiko A. Oberman's well-regarded Luther: Man Between God and the Devil was translated from German into English in 1990 (Yale University Press), references to LW were NOT added to Oberman's citation of the WA. You're not gonna succeed in this point. How many counter-examples are necessary? I'm just a lay apologist, not a scholar. I document my contentions more than adequately. I use LW as much as possible (and I am in the process of documenting that now, because of these sorts of charges and "requirements"), but I am maintaining that one need not always cite LW to prove one's point. Certainly this matter has no bearing on "apologetic competence."

I do not regret suggesting that those who are serious about carrying on apologetic conversations with those who are serous about Luther cite the LW, which is readily available to the sincere student or Apologist," and provides a useful common reference point.

Nor do I regret suggesting that the actual Luther scholars quite often do not do so, so why should apologists necessarily do it? The more the better, sure; I just don't think it is any kind of requirement before one can intelligently and substantively discuss Luther at all. Many Protestants of a certain stripe couldn't care less what Catholic scholars (let alone lowly apologists like myself) say about Luther: they will simply dismiss it as biased, no matter how well-documented.

It seems to be a sort of obscurantist game that is played: if you can't show how your opponent has misrepresented Luther, then bring out the usual charges of selectivity, quotes out-of-context, insufficient use of LW, incompetence, unconscionable, outrageous use of Catholic (GASP!) scholars (or older, more "triumphalistic" and "anti-Luther" Catholic scholars) in Luther research, hostile motives, charges of "anti-Protestantism" . . . you're not as bad as most, but you still start to go down the same kind of road.

I stand by what I said: as I understand “apologetics,” its task is to defend and/or explain a religious faith against objections or in response to questions that are actually being raised in the contemporary environment; it is not an historical exercise, and it does not deal in merely hypothetical questions. I freely note that there are many reasons why one might be interested in figures from the past -- including discussions from the past that may have been “apologetic” in their own day (compare my suggestions that historians and apologists alike can profit from a careful study of the Augsburg Confession, the Roman Confuation, and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession).

This is beyond silly, and only shows me that you have only a dim realization of the task and responsibilities of an apologist: be they Catholic, Protestant, or left-handed, green-eyed, red-haired Rastafarian. If you had simply added the word "primarily" after "its task is to" then I would have readily agreed. But as it is you want to be extreme and say the Catholic ought not to deal with Martin Luther at all, or offer critiques of competing views, etc.

Why did St. Augustine write tracts against the Manichees and Donatists and Pelagians, then, rather than simply defend the Catholic Church? Why does Cardinal Ratzinger attack various modernist assumptions in The Ratzinger Report (as does Pope John Paul II in several encyclicals)? Why does Ronald Knox deal with Protestant history in his Enthusiasm, or Louis Bouyer do the same in his apologetic yet simultaneously ecumenical (brilliant) book, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism? Chesterton constantly writes about various aspects of Protestantism; C.S. Lewis goes after scientism, Cardinal Newman critiques the Anglican view of history, etc., etc. Examples are as numerous as the stars in the sky. But somehow you come up with this novel viewpoint. Furthermore, anti-Catholic Protestants are bashing us all the time, often with truly atrocious and inaccurate research. Yet according to you we cannot critique anything in their system . . . all we can do is defend our own beliefs.

I would further note that a Catholic “apologist” whose apologetic interest was defending and/or explaining the Catholic faith to Jews or Muslims would not need any real knowledge of Luther to carry out his task (any more than a Protestant “apologist” addressing the same audience would need any real knowledge of St. Thomas Aquinas to carry out his task.)

First of all, congratulations that you actually slipped and used the word apologetic without using quotation marks. A sign of better things to come in your own "anti-apologetic" . . .

But this is more silliness. I do all sorts of apologetics on my site. I have dialogued with Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses. I was at a gathering of Muslims and Christians a month ago with a Reformed friend of mine, and defended the Holy Trinity (then we had a great time at a restaurant afterwards -- gee, this group of about eight Protestants hate me so much that we had wonderful fellowship. No one punched me out, amazingly enough). I've written two entire books that had no specifically "Catholic" elements in them at all. I debate atheists and Mormons and homosexuals. And to do that, you can't just write about your view; you gotta critique the other side, too. In the meantime, people's faith and confidence in their belief-system gets strengthened (I know because they tell me, in letters). There are more ways than one to skin a cat. The reason I write about Luther is obvious. If you don't get it, many others do.

But that doesn't mean my interest is to bash Luther and lie about him. I'm simply trying to provide a bit of a Catholic viewpoint. All we hear is the Protestant side. It's called "balance" and "fairness" and "hearing both sides of the story." The truth is far more interesting than either the Protestant hagiographical or Catholic demonizing tendencies in dealing with Martin Luther. And that is what I am always after.

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I thought CommonMan may have taken his leave of absence from this board, but alas, I found him making several comments recently, including a few still subtly attacking me. The bravado and posturing is greatly tempered, but one can read in-between the lines:

CommonMan (all replies to others):

Enough with the Luther bashing. Just ignore him, he has been dead a long time and his life shouldn't mean a thing to you.

(Feb 23, 2004 6:47 pm Subject: I need help to this question !!!)

Did you forget that Luther was a man? . . .

(Feb 23, 2004 7:51 pm Subject: I Don't Understand Men)

Forget Luther, if someone asks you about him change the subject. He has nothing to do with your faith.

(Feb 23, 2004 8:00 pm Subject: I need help to this question !!!)

I find this utterly fascinating. All of a sudden, (coincidentally) within 90 minutes from the moment I posted my lengthy response to his wholesale distortions of my research, motivations, and actual arguments, CommonMan experiences an extraordinary epiphany and decides that Luther isn't worth talking about anymore. He urges beng to "ignore" and "forget" him because he has been dead for 450 years and his life "shouldn't mean a thing." He is just "a man" (no kidding?). He has nothing to do with anyone's faith.

I'm delighted to see that CommonMan has come to this newfound conclusion about relative importance, since it will do him good to change emphasis and to work on lessening the influence of his obsessions. When I did a search of his name and the subject "Luther" in this forum, it listed 96 matches. That is from January 12th to February 23rd only. So in a mere 42 days, CommonMan mentioned Luther in his posts 96 times, for an average of 2.29 times a day: every day from January 12th till now! But alas, now Luther ought to be forgotten and ignored. At least while I am around, huh? :-)

Since CommonMan now (insofar as I understand him) feels that talking about Luther so much is vanity (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), I was curious to see how many times he mentioned our Lord Jesus Christ, during the same time period. It was 58 times. So he has talked about Jesus only 60% as much as he talked about Luther. And since he has said that Luther had nothing to do with anyone's faith, I wondered how much he has mentioned faith. That came out to a paltry 43, or just over an average of once a day and a mere 45% as much as Luther. And since Luther stressed Bible Alone as the final authority in matters of faith, then clearly CommonMan would follow his advice and talk more about the Bible than a mere man, Luther, right? Wrong! He has mentioned the Bible a pitiful 25 times, or 26% as much as Luther. Something is out of whack here. But since CommonMan has now acknowledged it, we ought to give him great credit.

One can readily see, then, what a revolution this newfound realization will be in CommonMan's day-to-day life. Luther has nothing to do with one's faith; should be forgotten and ignored, yet he has talked about him in the last six weeks more than twice as much as "faith" and almost twice as much as Jesus, and nearly four times as much as the Holy Bible. He mentioned him ten times yesterday alone, or almost four times more than his average frequency. So this will be quite a change. Just in time for Lent . . .

Incidentally, CommonMan (a Lutheran) showed himself factually-challenged yet again and misinformed about Luther's beliefs and actions when he wrote, a month ago:

. . . he was imperfect too. But not all the stuff you have read is true. He was not a fornicator, he was a good father and husband. His language was sometimes enough to make your skin crawl. He was "rough", but not evil. There were Lutherans who took things too far and yes they killed people for their beliefs. Not a good thing, not Luther either.

(Jan 24, 2004 12:17 am Subject: Sorry, we got carried away)

Here is the old myth that Luther (if I read CommonMan right) was not in favor of capital punishment for dissenting doctrinal beliefs (i.e., for other Protestants, not Catholics). That's news to me. Since CommonMan supposedly knows so much more than I do about Luther, how is it that he can be so abysmally ignorant about this easily-verifiable historical question?

How can he know less than the person (yours truly) whom he has described on this board as "light on the facts," lacking a "complete understanding of Luther," and "substance" -- a person so inept in his Luther research that CommonMan urged folks to "go a little deeper" than my website? Life is funny (and very ironic) sometimes . . .

Luther, in fact, regarded Anabaptists as seditious (worse than the dreaded, evil Catholics) and sanctioned capital punishment in their case, most notably in his Commentary on the 82nd Psalm (vol. 13, pp. 39-72 in the 55-volume set, Luther's Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan et al), written in 1530, where he advocated the following:

If some were to teach doctrines contradicting an article of faith clearly grounded in Scripture and believed throughout the world by all Christendom, such as the articles we teach children in the Creed -- for example, if anyone were to teach that Christ is not God, but a mere man and like other prophets, as the Turks and the Anabaptists hold -- such teachers should not be tolerated, but punished as blasphemers . . .

By this procedure no one is compelled to believe, for he can still believe what he will; but he is forbidden to teach and to blaspheme.

(LW, Vol. 13, 61-62)

Is this merely my interpretation? Hardly. The famous Luther biographer Roland Bainton wrote:
In 1530 Luther advanced the view that two offences should be penalized even with death, namely sedition and blasphemy. The emphasis was thus shifted from incorrect belief to its public manifestation by word and deed. This was, however, no great gain for liberty, because Luther construed mere abstention from public office and military service as sedition and a rejection of an article of the Apostles' Creed as blasphemy.

In a memorandum of 1531, composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, a rejection of the ministerial office was described as insufferable blasphemy, and the disintegration of the Church as sedition against the ecclesiastical order. In a memorandum of 1536, again composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, the distinction between the peaceful and the revolutionary Anabaptists was obliterated . . .

Melanchthon this time argued that even the passive action of the Anabaptists in rejecting government, oaths, private property, and marriages outside the faith was itself disruptive of the civil order and therefore seditious. The Anabaptist protest against the punishment of blasphemy was itself blasphemy. The discontinuance of infant baptism would produce a heathen society and separation from the Church, and the formation of sects was an offense against God.

Luther may not have been too happy about signing these memoranda. At any rate he appended postscripts to each. To the first he said,

I assent. Although it seems cruel to punish them with the sword, it is crueler that they condemn the ministry of the Word and have no well-grounded doctrine and suppress the true and in this way seek to subvert the civil order.
. . . In 1540 he is reported in his Table Talk to have returned to the position of Philip of Hesse that only seditious Anabaptists should be executed; the others should be merely banished. But Luther passed by many an opportunity to speak a word for those who with joy gave themselves as sheep for the slaughter.

. . . For the understanding of Luther's position one must bear in mind that Anabaptism was not in every instance socially innocuous. The year in which Luther signed the memorandum counseling death even for the peaceful Anabaptists was the year in which a group of them ceases to be peaceful . . . By forcible measures they took over the city of Munster in Westphalia . . .

Yet when all these attenuating considerations are adduced, one cannot forget that Melanchthon's memorandum justified the eradication of the peaceful, not because they were incipient and clandestine revolutionaries, but on the ground that even a peaceful renunciation of the state itself constituted sedition.

(Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Mentor, 1950, 295-296)

Moreover, Luther wrote in a 1536 pamphlet:
That seditious articles of doctrine should be punished by the sword needed no further proof. For the rest, the Anabaptists hold tenets relating to infant baptism, original sin, and inspiration, which have no connection with the Word of God, and are indeed opposed to it . . . Secular authorities are also bound to restrain and punish avowedly false doctrine . . . For think what disaster would ensue if children were not baptized? . . . Besides this the Anabaptists separate themselves from the churches . . . and they set up a ministry and congregation of their own, which is also contrary to the command of God. From all this it becomes clear that the secular authorities are bound . . . to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders . . . Also when it is a case of only upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism, original sin, and unnecessary separation, then . . . we conclude that . . . the stubborn sectaries must be put to death.

(Martin Luther: pamphlet of 1536; in Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumes, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [orig. 1891]; Vol. X, 222-223)

Oh, sorry, I forgot that Luther was just a man, and should be ignored; a momentary slip . . .

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 24 February 2004.


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