Friday, February 19, 2010

Taking Luther Out of Context? Reply to Lutheran Edward Reiss

Here we go again. I have a whole section on my Martin Luther and Lutheranism web page devoted to controversies over my Luther research. A lot of folks become very upset when various facts about Luther (some, quite unpleasant and perhaps even embarrassing to many well-meaning, devout Protestants) are highlighted.

I can't say that I blame them all that much. They upset me, too, when I first learned about them (Luther having been a big hero of mine in my evangelical days), and even played a partial role (along with a great mass of facts about the so-called "Reformation") in my becoming Catholic.

But I do become tired of being misrepresented and falsely accused, as if I am over here engaged in some nefarious conspiracy to smear Luther. I've explained till I am blue in the face what my motivation is in all this. Just today, for example, I wrote:

My goal was simply to make people aware of these uncomfortable facts. Folks always hear endlessly about Catholic persecution and intolerance. Once in a while it is good to set the record straight that we weren't the only ones.

I get very tired personally of the myth that Protestants in general were far more tolerant than Catholics in the 16th century.

Learning facts never hurt anyone (though it may disenchant those who are attached to the prevalent myths).

Nor do I claim to be some sort of scholar. I assume that people know that (since I say it so often), and thus, do not expect the extreme rigor that professional historians bring to their field. Though I do try to document everything as much as I can, my work on Luther is not produced as if intended for a professional journal of history. I'm merely an amateur historian. Apologetics is my field. I quote historians, assuming that they (being the experts, not I) understand citations in context and the overall opinion and worldview of the person being cited.

Getting it right is their responsibility, and that of other historians who can "check" any errors on their part. Thus, if I cite historians who, in turn, may have cited Luther out-of-context, that's not my fault. I don't have unlimited time to do all that. And I am not making any pretense of achieving the rigor of professional historiography and all that that entails, in the first place. Some folks seem to think that they have done this, when they have not at all; they are merely amateur historians as I am, and "Luther buffs" as I am. I don't have to play that game.

But I think my research can stand up, in any event, under critique (not that I never make mistakes or simple errors, of course, as we all do!) and that the bum rap of conscious citation out of context is unwarranted. There is a larger picture that is usually neglected in reacting to these Luther citations: a neglect that is probably in large part due to natural partisan attachment (and also, a polemical, and/or anti-Catholic orientation in certain quarters).

A recent example of this sort of criticism that I am "anti-Luther" comes from Lutheran apologist Edward Reiss. He wrote, referring to yours truly:

. . . on the occasions I have responded to outrageous Luther quotes I have found that he is taken out of context more often than not. . . . It seems to me that if one has to take Luther out of context to "prove" something about "protestantism", that perhaps one's own position is a bit weaker than one would like.

Finally, this does not mean that one has to agree with Luther, but one should disagree with him based on what he actually believed and said, and not because of quotations taken out of context.

("Taking Luther Out of Context," 2-24-10)

Interestingly, many of these folks would not agree that the behavior of the popes tells against RCism, yet outrageous citations of Luther are proof against "Protestantism".

(Combox, 2-25-10)

Prominent online Lutheran pastor Paul McCain (LCMS) also took (on 2-19-10) one of his typically fact-challenged, uncharitable swipes at me, along the same lines:

Armstrong's attacks on Lutheranism are just embarrassing. The scholarship is an example of a first-rate, third-rate grasp of facts. He relies on sources that are purely polemical RC tripe. I mean, seriously, how anyone can possibly begin to take the man seriously is quite beyond me.

This, from a man who committed out-and-out butchery of a citation of Pope Benedict XVI, with references to St. Augustine, as I documented, and who compared Lutheran pastors who convert to Catholicism or Orthodoxy to Judas Iscariot.

Anyway, I replied on Reiss' blog as follows:

Just curious: what is it that you think I am (was) trying to prove about "Protestantism" with Luther citations?

Also, what do you think is my own opinion of Luther as a man?

Please provide documentation of what I wrote that leads you to have whatever your opinion is in your reply.



Rather than talking about me writing about someone else, . . . (and, I suspect, without knowing all that much about my overall opinions, . . .), I think it would work a lot better actually talking to me about it; having a real conversation with someone who won't immediately conclude that you are an inveterate liar if we disagree (like fellow Protestant Steve Hays did).


We'll see if he wants to engage in a discussion (that would be nice for a change), where something constructive could actually be accomplished, or just take potshots.

* * * * *

[see Edward Reiss' complete first reply. I respond below]

Your opinions about Luther as a man are not really relavent [sic]--you could believe he is the bees knees and still take him out of context.

So you aren't willing to state publicly what you think my opinion of Luther may be?

it seems to me that you have taken Luther out of context. I have not read your book, so it is possible [the] critique [from someone else] is off base,

There is a background to everything. What is being critiqued is one appendix from one book, entitled "The Agony of Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer Over the State of Early Protestantism." That was my entire "editorial" comment. I simply cited Luther's words. I was not editorializing the entire time and steering readers in the direction I wanted them to go, like some other people I know (rather like the liberal news media giving their interpretation of any speech by a conservative, as if people are too dumb to understand what was just stated).

Do you deny that Luther was very upset about aspects of early Protestantism?: e.g., the Anabaptists, the Sacramentarians, the social problems brought on by the Peasants' Revolt and social unrest in Germany from that time (1525) till his death in 1546; Carlstadt and iconoclasm, etc.? This was what my citations had to do with.

The quotes were mostly compiled from research I did in 1990-1991, right at the time of my conversion. That was before the Internet. I didn't have many books on the topic from a Catholic perspective. Now we have Google Reader and "Look Inside" at amazon and Internet Archive and access to thousands of books, so that we can get to context right on the Internet. It's far easier to do research on something like this than it was in 1991. So there are limitations inherent in what I was doing then, because of those things, but it doesn't make the entire set of citations bogus or out-of-context or somehow fundamentally different in meaning.

At that time, I had very little material on Luther from a Catholic perspective. It was before the Internet. I was mostly copying things by hand from a local seminary and the library at the University of Detroit. The book was completed in May 2003. Even then, I don't think Google Reader was yet around. So it's very easy to do all this further research now and claim that I have butchered all these quotes. I simply cited historians (Durant, Denifle, Janssen). If anyone cited wrongly, therefore, they did, not I.

You refer to my "claims" being "rather difficult to believe." As I said, the only "claim" in this appendix was that Luther had "agony over the state of early Protestantism." One either denies that or they do not (what do you think?). But it is plain enough from the historical record.

Then you talk about "if one has to take Luther out of context to 'prove' something about 'protestantism', . . . So now you want to claim that I am trying to make an argument about Protestantism in that appendix, when in fact it was simply documentation of Luther's distress, which is about his emotions, not Protestantism itself. So you have missed the essence of what I was doing there. Thus, you are making editorial statements about arguments I didn't make, and complaining about out-of-context citations from a book of mine that you have never read. This is supposed to be impressive method? One might see a lot of irony in it . . .

It is my contention that a lot of RC apologists follow the RC tradition of citing Luther out of context to "prove" something rotten at the heart of "protestantism".

I'm sure they could be found. But the matter at hand was not your complaints about Catholic apologists as a class, but rather, about myself. You cited my name and my book and went on to make various claims about what I did. So here I am giving my side and providing a rebuttal.

My point about the pope is germain [sic] here: if Luther's outrageous statements tell us something about "protestantism"

I have not said that they do. The situation was very complex. The citations have to do mostly with the historical situation in Germany from 1525-1546. What I was trying to show was accurately described in the title of the appendix. That's the purpose of a title: to sum up content underneath it.

Do you deny that Melanchthon and Bucer were upset about how things were proceeding, too? Or do you not know enough about those things to have any opinion one way or another?

(which you did not specifically claim in the post I respond to)

Your post was about one of my books, not the recent posts that I have put up about Luther. Am I to take this as a semi-concession that you cannot find that I have made the claims (relevant to my book) that you initially criticized?

then how much more do corrupt popes tell us about RCism--especially given the elevated claims of the RCC?

I've argued for 20 years that the "sin argument" proves very little about anyone or about competing truth claims. I'm currently writing a book about Calvin. In the Institutes, Book IV he makes extensive arguments about "sin in the Church" not proving anything. It is to be expected precisely because of original sin and propensity for actual sin. I completely agree with him. Therefore, papal sin proves little about Catholic claims, and nothing about papal infallibility, because it has nothing to do with that. Infallibility is about doctrinal proclamations, not sins that a particular pope may be committing.

Usually when I document "controversial" stuff in Protestant history or in Luther's words in actions, it is to overcome the myth that early Protestants were inherently more noble and holy than the Catholics at the time. Luther himself specifically disavowed that opinion when he stated that "our manner of life is no better than the papists."

In other words, the methodology and intent is not to disprove Protestantism by citing Protestant sins and hypocrisy, but rather, to show that the above claim that many Protestants make about Catholicism is factually untrue, as seen in Luther's own statements.

Two very different arguments . . . But you seem to have missed these crucial distinctions in your attempted critique of my book and alleged out-of-context quotations.

* * *

But let us focus on one quote:

This is from a recent post of mine, not my book, which was the recent focus of your criticism.

Men have broad chests and narrow hips; therefore they have wisdom. Women have narrow chests and broad hips. Women ought to be domestic; the creation reveals it, for they have broad backsides and hips, so that they should sit still.

The link you supplied a link where the quote reads thus:

Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.

The quotes are slightly different, with the latter quote not making the claim that men have wisdom not because of their narrow hips, but just a claim that men have more wisdom which is much less silly. This is one of the risks when using Table Talk--which version is "true"? Was it ever really uttered etc.

The differences above are exactly what we would expect from different renderings of the same event: much like the Synoptic Gospel accounts. You can major on the minors if you like, but to me it is clear what Luther was driving at, when we see the other comments that he also made; particularly:

God created man with a broad chest, not broad hips, so that in that part of him he can be wise; but that part out of which filth comes is small. In a woman this is reversed. That is why she has much filth and little wisdom. [WA, TR II, no. 1975, p. 285]

The first quote above that I used was from two professional historians, in a book published by Cambridge University Press; taken from the Weimar edition of Luther's works in German: considered the most authoritative version. If you think it is inaccurate in some way, then go after them. I simply cited what they produced. But there are different renderings in Table-Talk because of different recorders and translation issues.

Your post claims that scholars believe these are Luther's words. Which version is Luther's words?

Which of the three Synoptic Gospels accurately record Jesus' words? Are you in the habit of questioning those, too?

The one where men have wisdom because they have narrow hips, or the one where men are simply asserted to have more wisdom than women?

Based on several other versions I have seen, looking around more on Google Advanced Book Search, the first. Here's one example:

Men have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and accordingly they possess intelligence.

Richard C. Gamble, Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Presbyterian Theological seminary in Pittsburgh, backs up that interpretation. He states that Luther:

. . . argued in his Genesis commentary that women could not be created in the image of God. Certainly, their broad hips and intellectual inability makes that clear to anyone, he argued.

(in Always Reforming: Explorations in Systematic Theology, edited by A. T. B. McGowan, Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2006, p. 233)

The citation you supplied also does not give the context of the remark. If the context is one of demanding physical labor it is not too outrageous at all, nor is it outrageous if Luther did not say that men have wisdom because of their narrow hips.

Table-Talk generally has little context. But if we cross-reference similar statements to each other (here and elsewhere), we can get the drift. This is one such case.

* * *

Reiss has now shown that he is clearly not interested in rational discussion with a differing position, in three combox comments (one / two / three). He's simply repeating catch-phrases over and over and not interacting with my arguments. I had some hopes that he was willing to get out of the usual rut of Catholic-Protestant discussion, but as so often I was too idealistic and optimistic. Oh well; I tried. I never regret trying to achieve a real dialogue., even if it was a failed attempt. Time now to get back to my "regularly scheduled program" . . .


Adomnan said...

Dave, the accurate citations of Luther you provided would be highly objectionable and scandalous in any "context." Context doesn't and can't redeem them. (Although I suppose that if the context were that "Luther was drunk when he said that," it could be a mitigating circumstance. Maybe that's the context his defenders have in mind?)

All you're doing is supplying your readers with the historical facts. Who can object to that? What's wrong with knowing the whole truth about Luther? And why should a Catholic, of all people, be expected to hide that truth?

romishgraffiti said...

Adoman beat me to it. I'd say challange them to pick any one of those quotes and show how context mitigates it. Just one. I won't hold my breath because "context" is one of those reactions that is a specific objection that can easy tossed into the mix, but has the convenience of vagueness.

Scott W.

Dave Armstrong said...

I guess we "drag" it into the discussion for the same reason that Hays dragged it into the topic of Pope John Paul II and his mortification practices. I defended those from Holy Scripture and all of a sudden I saw that Hays was writing about Carmelite Dominatrices and topless Poor Clares at Spring Break (the latter was -- amazingly enough -- actually a mockery of a Scripture verse where God was giving a command). He compared paintings of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian to "homoeroticism." We didn't start all that.

After he brought in the sexual themes, someone noted his views on masturbation. Like Adomnan said: in a discussion of supposed sexual "fetishes" and abnormalities of Catholics, it is perfectly relevant to note Hays' own predilections and defense of mortal sins that cold possibly contribute to someone ending up in hell.

He's one of your fellow Calvinists, Tim. Maybe you can explain to us how that mentality works. Are jokes about nuns and sex some kind of inside Calvinist joke or something?

But I carefully replied to your previous post, and you have not replied to mine; particularly the following portion that had two questions:

"Under normal dialogical conditions, with folks who don't deny that I am a Christian, and who don't assume coming in that I am an incompetent, deliberately misrepresenting klutz, and who don't think I have a 'psychosis,' I certainly would be inclined to do so, because that is my nature, and everything I've written is perfectly defensible. But I don't waste time attempting interaction with folks who say they don't take me seriously and who think I'm nuts. What would be the point? Would YOU try to 'dialogue' under such ridiculous conditions?"

So far, over at Reiss' blog today, no one seems to have a problem with someone being called a psychotic, who needs therapy and meds. No one will condemn that. And no one thinks it is odd that I would not want to "dialogue" with a person who thinks this about me.

And I even defended Reiss recently when Steve Hays was calling him a liar 3,758,103 times.

I've seen you say the right thing several times now, even though it is in a place where it will be an unpopular sentiment. You supported me on Hays' site in saying that I made resolutions about anti-Catholics, not vows (which was the fundamental question at hand and what I have been saying for years to no avail). This is another such occasion.

Dave Armstrong said...


y wife Judy was saying at dinner today that she heard on the radio someone say that when someone is lied about and smeared and made the target of a gossip campaign, it's not just bearing of false witness that comes into play, but also stealing: attempted stealing of someone's reputation. I never thought of that before. How true, though.
So now there are two of the ten commandments broken, when these things are done.

Many thousands of people who read these kind of slimeball sewer scum charges on anti-Catholic blogs about me think any number of falsehoods about me. The lying and slander has an effect. I don't care for my sake, but I care a great deal about the persons who spread this stuff and believe it: what it does to their souls and walk with God. The purveyors of course have the far greater sin. That's why I denounce it so strongly. The anti-Catholics think I do that for myself. They don't get it. It's not about me. I only happen to be the target and I know firsthand about the lies that are at my expense.

And then of course I will be called out for saying that someone is a "slanderous ass." Yes, I do sat that, because I have been the target of his slander and lying and misrepresentation for now eight years. I'm the world's biggest expert on my own writings and I know full well when someone is lying about them and (more importantly) consistently has refused any and all correction or clarification I have tried to provide.

Therefore, there is no doubt whatsoever that he has lied and misrepresented my work, and has indulged in attempted character assassination all the while, too.

These are serious sins, and in effect I enable them if I don't protest and say that he is not worthy to be dealt with in "serious" conversation.

James White says the same thing about many people (including myself). Eric Svendsen decided to stop dealing with me altogether many years ago now, as has the inimitable, illustrious David T. King. Tim Enloe has done that. By the same token, I have every prerogative to hold the same opinions about those whose academic and logical and truthtelling abilities I regard as entirely substandard.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

No one takes instructions or orders from me on either side of the Tiber, if they pay me any attention at all. That's life.

But I freely admit my naivete in pointing out the Luther posts to Dave, and regret thinking that something positive could come of it.

You forgot to mention that it was Bellisario and Alex that introduced the creepy sex talk into the Luther quotes comment thread. Or did you?

And getting savaged by Dave's "innocent bystander" on his site was an unexpected touch, but only this once.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Now, I have not been on the computer most of the day and was unaware, until I saw my e-mail inbox just now, that Dave had posted several comments here to which I should respond. I have responded to Adomnan's most recent comments.

I am going to take some time to read Dave's, and I will respond as thoughtfully as I can and as soon as I can.

Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks. I appreciate it.

Phil said...

After all your research on Luther I am surprised that you haven't done an analysis on his 1542 work, "On the Jews and their Lies". Perhaps I just haven'y looked hard enough. Still it's a controversial, (and not to mention highly questionable) viewpoint to come from Luther. Any possibilty of doing something along those lines in the future?

Dave Armstrong said...

That has gotten a lot of exposure, so I thought it wasn't all that necessary for me to do. Most people who know anything about Luther are well aware of it.

Dave Armstrong said...

Please go easy on pilgrimsarbour, though. He may be a little sensitive, being an "outsider" of sorts here, but he has been a refreshing exception to the rule of rude, relentlessly insulting anti-Catholic Calvinists (he's not anti-Catholic) and has acted like a gentleman in all of our discussions. I've enjoyed them a lot and hope to have many more.

I count him as a friend. I have no problem whatever being friends with Protestants. The other night at a discussion group at my house I had an Anglican priest who is an old friend (since 1982), do the presentation, and an evangelical friend of almost 30 years came also.

It's only the anti-Catholic Protestants who are determined not to get along with me. Even with them, I think if we could actually meet it might be different. But as it is, there is no hope of getting along.

Adomnan said...

Dave: Please go easy on pilgrimsarbour, though. He may be a little sensitive, being an "outsider" of sorts...

Adomnan: I'll stop badgering him. He is a gentleman, certainly. And I've made my points.

Dave Armstrong said...

Tim Enloe. the Polemicist (he who has forsaken the blogosphere altogether), has weighed in, in his inimitable fashion:


The introversion of Catholicism as exemplified by the authors you mention really is amazing. Catholicism is the font and source and sole protector of all Light and Truth and Goodness in the world. Anything good outside of Catholicism exists only by way of parasitism on Catholicism. Catholicism is It, the Real Thing, the Cream of the Crop, the Tip of the Top. Scandals and failures in Catholicism are just remaining human sin, and have no measurable impact on its witness to the world. Scandals and failures in others are objective proof of heresy and lack of "full" connection to the true vine.

It gets absurd listening to it after a while, and one is reminded of Paul's words to the Roman Church in Romans 11: Do not be puffed up as if you are the root of the tree and not just a wild branch grafted into the tree. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare the grafted in ones if they become corrupt.


Dave Armstrong said...

Amazing. As I said, I'm done with all this nonsense. I'm very vigilant about my time and I've already wasted far too much of it on this matter. The only good thing to come of it are the ten new Luther papers.

Adomnan may want to counter-respond or may not want to. Anyone is free to comment here as they wish.

Adomnan said...

Edward Reiss: There is no hint of agony over the state of protestantism. Nor is there a hint that things were better under the papacy.

Adomnan: So let me get this straight. You are actually claiming that Luther is happy that, under his teaching, "no one will give a farthing?"

So why did he give this sermon, in which he complains that no one gives alms anymore? To reinforce his listerers in their complacent refusal to be generous? To praise them for being stingy because at least they weren't trying to look good in other men's eyes? His aim in the sermon was just to take another swipe at Catholics instead of chastising his own crew?

And are you really saying that Luther wasn't disappointed, indeed bitterly disappointed, that his flock was demonstrating none of the "gratitude" he said should flow from the Evangel? He expected all along that everything would be just as bad, even worse, under Luther as it was under the Pope?

Edward Reiss said...


"Agonizing over the state of something is different from claiming that it has utterly failed."

Could you point out Luther's agony for me in the citation we are discussing?

Dave Armstrong said...

I'm done with this discussion, Ed. It's going nowhere. As far as I am concerned, I have amply proven all my points in several posts, and Adomnan is reinforcing that with further examples (thanks, guy!). He may wish to continue it with you, though.

Adomnan said...

Edward Reiss: Regarding agony, that is the title of the particular section of the book, as DA himself says here.

Adomnan: Right. I overlooked that, but Dave himself already pointed out why he used that word. I might have avoided the word myself, but the question of whether Dave could have found a better word to describe Luther's dismay over his followers' avarice is trival and irresolvable. After all, one of the definitions of "agony" is a "sudden or intense emotion of a particular sort," such as an agony of doubt or of indecision. In this usage, the idea of mental pain is less emphasized.

Edward Reiss: Regarding your citation, it is from a different work than the one under discussion. Context again.

Adomnan: So, by your understanding of context, we could not use, say, what Paul writes in Romans to provide context for what he writes in Galatians, because they are different works?

Edward Reiss: Luther speaks of the devil making the world become worse, not his followers.

Adomnan: I don't understand this sentence. Do you mean that Luther speaks of the devil making only the world worse, but not making his followers worse? Or do you mean that Luther speaks of the devil making the world worse, while Luther's followers, in contrast, are making the world better (or at least not worse)?

Be that as it may, I am aware from "The Bondage of the Will" of Luther's opinion that God and the devil were responsible for everything. (I don't know if he thought the devil had free will, though; he may have confined free will to God and considered the devil God's "tool" along with everyone else.)

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Edward,

I have a half-hour to kill so I will say a few things, but this continues to be a ridiculous, fruitless discussion, as far as I am concerned.

At best, I grant that one might argue that "agony" was too strong of a term. That is at least respectable, and even Adomnan seemed to agree with that. Anyone can choose one word wrongly, and miss an excruciating, minute accuracy. But big wow, in the scheme of things. It doesn't follow from that, that I took 16 or so quotations out of context. I vehemently disagree.

You don't like "agony"? Okay, here are the sort of terms used by Protestant historians to describe Luther's view of the course of Protestantism in his later years:

Mark U. Edwards:

1. Personal disappointment and fears
2. shocked and disappointed him 3. inevitable disappointment
4. extreme frustration
5. his hope for the progress of the gospel in this world, however faint, withered in the light of experience
6. gripped by apocalyptic hopes and fears
7. he became ever more pessimistic

Richard Marius:

1. His last years in Wittenberg were bitter
2. disappointed
3. he raged at his audiences from the pulpit
4. lambasting the Wittenbergers

Philip Schaff:

Luther and Melanchthon themselves often bitterly complained in their later years

Does that mean I think Luther thought the "Reformation" itself or his ideas were utter failures? No, not at all. I have not said that he thought that. In fact, I have often said the opposite. As usual, my critics misrepresent my actual opinions. As I have noted (obviously to no avail), in this appendix I was applying his opinions to the "state of Protestantism": not Protestantism as a theological viewpoint or idea.

I have criticized Luther several times for making no connection at all between some of his views and the immediate results as one cause among many, but I haven't held an opinion that he thought the whole thing failed or that he regretted it altogether. Perhaps he had some limited regrets (mostly unexpressed, if so).

My Roget's Thesaurus gives as synonyms of "agony" the following: pain, distress, grief.

Dave Armstrong said...


The online gives as synonyms:

affliction, anguish, distress, dolor, misery, pangs, passion, throes, torment, torture, woe

I would say that at least half of those as applied to Luther's views in his last years are well-nigh indisputable, according to biographers; e.g., "affliction, distress, misery."

Arguably "anguish, torment, and torture" are too strong. But "agony" has that fairly wide range of meaning, according to the Thesaurus.

The historians I cite often use the descriptions of 1) "disappointed" and 2) "bitter." So let's see what the Thesaurus gives as synonyms for those:

1) aghast, balked, beaten, chapfallen, complaining, crestfallen, defeated, depressed, despondent, disconcerted, discontented, discouraged, disenchanted, disgruntled, disillusioned, dissatisfied, distressed, down, down in the dumps, downcast, downhearted, foiled, frustrated, hopeless, objecting, shot down, taken down, thwarted, unhappy, unsatisfied, upset, vanquished, worsted

2) acrimonious, alienated, antagonistic, begrudging, biting, caustic, crabby, divided, embittered, estranged, fierce, freezing, hateful, intense, irreconcilable, morose, rancorous, resentful, sardonic, severe, sore, sour, stinging, sullen, virulent, vitriolic, with chip on shoulder


"Agony" may be too strong a term (reasonable people can disagree, I think), but it is not so far off that I deserve all of this garbage and charges thrown my way for using it. Luther clearly was very unhappy about many things. That was my main point, and quibbling about whether "agony" was the right description does not evade the central point: that Luther was very unhappy, disappointed, etc.

Given his history of depression, I thought at the time I wrote (and still now) that "agony" was not too extreme of a description, and that it probably was in play.

Nor have my assertions been overthrown or shown to be out of context. Adomnan's one concrete example shows exactly that.

[more on this later tonight]

Dave Armstrong said...

It's not like I am the only person in history who ever connected Luther and "agony" (or similar notion) over other Protestants, either. For example, here is a biographer, and Luther's own words as recorded by his famous Lutheran biographer Julius Köstlin.

If Luther precisely uses the word "agony" about his own feelings in dealing with Protestant sectarians, who is Edward Reiss to disagree? Now, you want to quibble with Luther's own words to describe himself, as if you know better? Yet when I use the same word, it is an avalanche of chaos and nonsense?

"Luther's struggle with the Antinomians within his own camp is a clear indication that the Reformer was not apathetic to the practice of 'good works' among believers . . . in connection with the Antinomians and those who denied the Trinity Luther expressed his greatest agony, saying it might have been better had he never written anything than to endure the onslaught of the devil in this respect.

"Luther's fear of and struggle against those who at one time had appealed to him can only be understood when it is considered that the dissident groups were radicals in the true sense of the word . . . "

(Harry Loewen, Luther and the Radicals, Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 3rd edition, 1974, pp. 156-157),+agony&lr=&as_drrb_is=q&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=&as_brr=3&cd=7#v=onepage&q=Luther%2C%20agony&f=false

"[in 1527] he was also vigorously carrying on a conflict with Zwingli and Oecolampadius. In a letter to Jonas [10 November 1527] he exclaimed, 'O that Erasmus and the Sacramentarians (Zwingli, etc.) could only for a quarter of an hour experience THE AGONY OF MY HEART; I am sure they would honestly change their minds; now, my enemies are strong and take a savage delight in heaping upon me pain upon pain, whom God has already so fearfully afflicted.'"

(Julius Köstlin, The Life of Martin Luther, translated by John G. Morris, Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1883, p. 319),+agony+sacramentarians,+OR+sects,+OR+Anabaptists,+OR+Zwinglians,+OR+Carlstadt&lr=&as_drrb_is=q&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=&as_brr=3&cd=11#v=onepage&q=Luther%2C%20agony%20sacramentarians%2C%20OR%20sects%2C%20OR%20Anabaptists%2C%20OR%20Zwinglians%2C%20OR%20Carlstadt&f=false

William Hazlitt translates the same letter, in Michelet's Life of Luther (p. 207):

"the agonies which my poor heart endures.",+Jonas,+1527+inauthor:Martin+inauthor:Luther&lr=&as_drrb_is=q&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=&as_brr=3&cd=5#v=onepage&q=Luther%2C%20Jonas%2C%201527%20inauthor%3AMartin%20inauthor%3ALuther&f=false

Dave Armstrong said...

Much more from the last-mentioned book:

Same letter to Jonas, 10 November 1527:

". . . the pope and the emperor, the princes and bishops, the whole people hate me and assail me; and, as if this were not enough, my own brethren now come to persecute me!"

(p. 207)

Preserved Smith translates the same letter:

". . . the anguish of my heart . . . "

(Luther's Correspondence and Other Contemporary Letters, Vol. II, p. 421),+OR+sectarians,+OR+sacramentarians,+OR+zwingli,+OR+antinomians,+OR+Oecolampadius,+OR+dissension+inauthor:Martin+inauthor:Luther&lr=&as_drrb_is=q&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=&as_brr=3&cd=2#v=onepage&q=anguish%20anabaptists%2C%20OR%20sectarians%2C%20OR%20sacramentarians%2C%20OR%20zwingli%2C%20OR%20antinomians%2C%20OR%20Oecolampadius%2C%20OR%20dissension%20inauthor%3AMartin%20inauthor%3ALuther&f=false

Ben M said...

If Luther precisely uses the word "agony" about his own feelings in dealing with Protestant sectarians, who is Edward Reiss to disagree?

Besides, wasn't Luther in agony over some darn thing nearly always? ;-))

"luther was in agony"

"luther felt anguished"

"luther anguished"

"luther agonized"

"luther's agony"

"luther's anguished"

Dave Armstrong said...

A new post is up now about this nonsense, with several fresh new Luther (and historians') quotes to prove my point beyond all doubt. It is now far stronger than it was in the first place.

Thanks very much Edward! Keep fighting against the facts of history and you will merely motivate me to prove them all the more . . .