Sunday, February 28, 2010

Martin Luther Despised Antinomian Distortions of His Teaching on Faith Alone and Didn't Reject Mosaic Law

I have hit upon this motif in the past; most notably in the following two papers:

Martin Luther on Sanctification and the Absolute Necessity of Good Works as the Proof of Authentic Faith (posted in April 2008)

Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis and Sanctification Linked to Justification (posted in November 2009)

Recently, I made this statement in a post about Luther:

Luther taught the absolute necessity of good works in the Christian life, as an inevitable manifestation of an authentic faith. He didn't separate justification and sanctification to the degree that Calvin (or even his successor Philip Melanchthon) did.

But Luther also did a very poor job of communicating the subtleties of his "faith alone" (sola fide) soteriology to the masses: most of whom were incapable of analyzing the fine distinctions entailed (a state of affairs which is largely true even to our present time). In his extreme rhetoric of separation of faith and works, the necessary continuing connections that Luther in fact maintained in his theology, rightly understood, were lost in the public mind. In this sense, he showed himself to be rather excessively naive, as to the likely misunderstandings that would result and how many people would act in ways that he neither condoned nor envisioned.

As a result, there was a strong tendency at first towards antinomianism and anarchism (neither sanctioned by Luther) among the populace, as evidenced by an increase of immorality (noted often by Luther himself) and the Peasants' Revolt.

Now onto Luther's own words (all the words below, with my blue highlighting and a few added bracketing Scripture references, mostly drawn from other Table-Talk versions). What he states below is scarcely different (if at all) from what St. Paul taught. There are errors elsewhere in his soteriology, assuredly, but I see none here, from an orthodox Catholic perspective.

* * * * *

St Paul says: "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us," etc. [Romans 8:3-4] That is, Christ is the sum of all; he is the right, the pure meaning and contents of the law. Whoso has Christ [1 John 5:12], has rightly fulfilled the law. But to take away the law altogether, which sticks in nature, and is written in our hearts and born in us, is a thing impossible and against God. And whereas the law of nature is somewhat darker, and speaks only of works, therefore, Moses and the Holy Ghost more clearly declare and expound it, by naming those works which God will have us to do, and to leave undone. Hence Christ also says: "I am not come to destroy the law." [Matthew 5:17] Worldly people would willingly give him royal entertainment who could bring this to pass, and make out that Moses, through Christ, is quite taken away. O, then we should quickly see what a fine kind of life there would be in the world! But God forbid, and keep us from such errors, and suffer us not to live to see the same.
We must preach the law for the sake of evil and wicked, but for the most part it lights upon the good and godly, who, although they need it not, except so far as may concern the old Adam, flesh and blood, yet accept it. The preaching of the Gospel we must have for the sake of the good and godly, yet it falls among the wicked and ungodly, who take it to themselves, whereas it profits them not; for they abuse it, and are thereby made confident. It is even as when it rains in the water or on a desert wilderness, and meantime, the good pastures and grounds are parched and dried up. The ungodly out of the gospel suck only a carnal freedom, and become worse thereby; therefore, not the Gospel, but the law belongs to them.

(Table-Talk, translated by Henry Hazlitt, CCLXXXVI, CCLXXXVII)

The cause that I at the first so harshly spake and wrote against the law was this; the Christian Church was grievously burdened with manifold superstitions and false believings, and Christ was altogether darkened and buried. Therefore I was desirous (through the grace of God, and the Word of the Gospel) to deliver good and godly hearts from such tormenting of consciences; but I never rejected the law.

(Table-Talk, "Extracts Selected by Dr. Macaulay," p. 58, cf. Google Reader Bell / Lauterbach / Aurifaber version, p. 197)

Anno 1541, certain propositions were brought to Luther as he sat at dinner, importing that the Law ought not to be preached in the church, because we are not justified thereby: at the sight whereof he was much moved to anger, and said, "Such seducers do come already among our people, while we yet live: what will he done when we are gone?" "Let us," said he, "give Philip Melancthon the honour due unto him; for he teacheth exceeding well and plainly of the right difference, use, and profit of the Law and Gospel. I, also, teach the same; and have thoroughly handled that point in the Epistle to the Galatians. . . . he that taketh the doctrine of the Law out of the church, doth rend and tear away both political and household government; and when the Law is cast out of the church, then there is no more acknowledging of sins in the world: for the Gospel reproveth not sin, except it maketh use of the office of the Law, which is done spiritually in describing and revealing sins that are committed against God's will and command."

(Table-Talk, translated by Henry Bell in 1650 from the Anthony Lauterbach / Joannes Aurifaber version; "Certain Principle Doctrines of the Christian Religion" section; from the year 1541, pp. 197-198)

Whether we should preach only of God’s Grace and Mercy, or not.

Philip Melancthon demanded of Luther whether the opinion of Calixtus were to be approved of, namely, that the Gospel of God’s Grace ought to be continually preached. For thereby, doubtless, said Melancthon, people would grow worse and worse. Luther answered him and said: We must preach Gratiam, notwithstanding, because Christ hath commanded it. And although we long and often preach of grace, yet when people are at the point of death they know but little thereof. Nevertheless we must also drive on with the Ten Commandments in due time and place.

The ungodly, said Luther, out of the Gospel do suck only a carnal freedom, and become worse thereby; therefore not the Gospel, but the Law belongeth to them. Even as when my little son John offendeth: if then I should not whip him, but call him to the table unto me, and give him sugar and plums, thereby, indeed, I should make him worse, yea, should quite spoil him.

The Gospel is like a fresh, mild, and cool air in the extreme heat of summer, that is, a solace and comfort in the anguish of the conscience. But as this heat proceedeth from the rays of the sun, so likewise the terrifying of the conscience must proceed from the preaching of the Law, to the end we may know that we have offended against the Laws of God.

Now, said Luther, when the mind is refreshed and quickened again by the cool air of the Gospel, then we must not be idle, lie down and sleep; that is, when our consciences are settled in peace, quieted and comforted through God’s spirit, then we must show also and prove our faith by such good works which God hath commanded. But so long as we live in this vale of misery, we shall be plagued and vexed with flies, with beetles, and with vermin, etc., that is, with the devil, with the world, and with our own flesh; yet we must press through, and not suffer ourselves to recoil.

Against the Opposers of the Law.

I do much condemn, said Luther, the Antinomians, who, void of all shame, reject the doctrine of the Law, whereas the same is both necessary and profitable. But they see not the effect, the need, and the fruit thereof. St. Austin did picture the strength, the office and operation of the Law, by a very fit similitude, namely, that it discovereth our sins, and God’s wrath against sin, and placeth them in our sight; for the Law is not in fault, but our evil and wicked nature, even as a heap of lime is still and quiet until water be poured thereon, but then it beginneth to smoke and to burn, not that it is the fault of the water, but it is the nature and kind of the lime, which will not endure water; but if oil be poured upon it, then it lieth still and burneth not. Even so it is with the Law and Gospel. It is an exceedingly fair similitude.

(Table-Talk, translated by Henry Bell in 1650 from the Anthony Lauterbach / Joannes Aurifaber version; "Of the Law and the Gospel" section; from the year 1541)

For thus do the Anabaptists teach, that baptism is nothing except the person do believe. Out of this principle must needs follow, that all the works of God be nothing if the man be nothing. But baptism is the work of God, and yet an evil man maketh it not to be the work of God. . . . Who seeth not here, in the Anabaptists, men not possessed with devils, but even devils themselves possessed with worse devils? . . .

If one heresy die, by and by another springeth up, for the devil doth neither slumber or sleep. I myself, which, although I be nothing, have been now in the ministry of Christ about twenty years, can truly witness that I have been assailed with more than twenty sects, of the which some are already destroyed, . . . But Satan, the god of all dissension, stirreth up daily new sects, and last of all (which, of all other, I should never have foreseen or once suspected), he hath raised up a sect of such as teach that the Ten Commandments ought to be taken out of the church, and that men should not be terrified with the law, but gently exhorted by the preaching of the grace of Christ . . . Such is the blindness and presumption of these frantic heads, which even by their own judgment do condemn themselves. . . . let the minister of Christ know that so long as he teacheth Christ purely, there shall not be wanting perverse spirits, yea, even of our own, and among ourselves, which shall seek, by all means possible, to trouble the church of Christ. . . . Yea, let him rejoice in the troubles which he suffereth by these sects and seditious spirits, continually springing up one after another.

(Commentary on Galatians, Lafayette, Indiana, Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc., 2002, Preface, pp. xx1-xxii)

Martin Luther Says His Lutheran Followers "Do Not Care" Whether They "Live According To" His Gospel; "Ingrates" Deserving God's "Wrath"

By Dave Armstrong (2-28-10)

All the cited words below are Luther's own, from non-Catholic sources. The blue highlighting is my own.

So what is my own "take" on all this business of Luther's teachings and current events in Germany and among the early Lutherans, during the earliest period of Protestantism? I think causes of historical events are always extraordinarily complex, just as causes of human behavior in general are. That has always been my position, as long as I can remember. I despise simplistic attempts of positing single causes for things as obviously complex as our topic of the social / theological situation of Germany in the 16th century.

Cynical, misinformed critics, however, ridiculously caricature "my position" as the following:

1) Luther (a man who was an evil scoundrel, madman, foul loudmouth, and fanatic) wrote a bunch of dumb, heretical stuff that had no redeeming value whatever.

2) Folks therefore responded in kind and doctrinal and moral chaos resulted entirely because of Luther's teaching.

In actuality, my position is far more nuanced than knee-jerk anti-Catholic opponents or quick-to-judge Lutherans unfamiliar with my overall collection of writings on Luther (including many where I agree with him), imagine:

1) Luther was a man with good intentions, who sought to follow God. He was prone to extremely fiery, unhelpful anti-Catholic rhetoric, but he was not mad, and far less fanatical and heretical than the Protestant sects that broke away from his own; including John Calvin's.

2) His teachings were a mixture of previous Catholic tradition, (particularly regarding Mary, baptism, and the Eucharist), and novel error.

3) Luther taught the absolute necessity of good works in the Christian life, as an inevitable manifestation of an authentic faith. He didn't separate justification and sanctification to the degree that Calvin (or even his successor Philip Melanchthon) did.

4) But Luther also did a very poor job of communicating the subtleties of his "faith alone" (sola fide) soteriology to the masses: most of whom were incapable of analyzing the fine distinctions entailed (a state of affairs which is largely true even to our present time). In his extreme rhetoric of separation of faith and works, the necessary continuing connections that Luther in fact maintained in his theology, rightly understood, were lost in the public mind. In this sense, he showed himself to be rather excessively naive, as to the likely misunderstandings that would result and how many people would act in ways that he neither condoned nor envisioned.

5) As a result, there was a strong tendency at first towards antinomianism and anarchism (neither sanctioned by Luther) among the populace, as evidenced by an increase of immorality (noted often by Luther himself) and the Peasants' Revolt.

6) At the same time, Luther's radical change of the rule of faith from an infallible Church and tradition to private judgment and sola Scriptura (Scripture as the only infallible authority) and comments about plowboys being able to interpret Scripture without the checks and balances of that Church and tradition, naturally led to excesses of individuality and sectarianism. People reasoned (consciously or not) that since Luther felt free to break away from Catholicism and gave the example of an ongoing smear campaign of propaganda and calumny against the existing Church, that there was little reason why they could not reject both the Catholic Church and him. In other words, he was again naive to think that he could unleash an entirely new principle, yet expect that no one but him would utilize it, in precisely the way that he had. Hence, Carlstadt and the Anabaptists and Zwinglians and Calvinists and other groups arose, to his great dismay. The truth (whatever it was) was not self-evidently clear to all from Scripture alone. He again failed to see any connection whatever between his teachings on authority, and what ensued.

7) Luther always had the last resort of recourse to the devil as the end-all explanation of any problems in his own ranks. This sort of hypothesis or theory was impervious to any possible falsification: being entirely subjective and speculative. All heretical breakaway groups through history have rationalized persecution or vehement disagreement from others by holding that it was inevitable, just as Jesus and the prophets and the early Christians were also persecuted. This allowed Luther to isolate himself from any possible criticism of his faulty teaching or faulty teaching methods of both false and true aspects of his teaching, as at least a partial cause of the difficulties. He was God's man of the hour, delivering the "Gospel" (as if Catholics didn't already have it); therefore, he couldn't possibly be wrong in any major way. It was unthinkable to him.

* * * * *

Thus we have the teaching of nature and of reason regarding the sin of men's ingratitude toward one another. How much greater the evil, how much more shameful and accursed, when manifested toward God who, in his infinite and ineffable goodness, conferred upon us while yet enemies to him and deserving of the fires of hell—conferred upon us, I say, not ten dollars, not a hundred thousand dollars even, but redemption from divine wrath and eternal death, and abundantly comforted us, granting us safety, a good conscience, peace and salvation! These are inexpressible blessings, incomprehensible in this life. And they will continue to occupy our minds in yonder eternal life. How much more awful the sin of ingratitude for these blessings, as exemplified in the servant mentioned in the Gospel passage for today, to whom was forgiven the debt of ten thousand talents and who yet would not forgive the debt of his fellow-servant who owed him a hundred pence! (p. 333)

Is it not incredible that there are to be found on earth individuals wicked enough to manifest for the highest and eternal blessings such unspeakable ingratitude? But alas, we have the evidence of our own eyes. We know them in their very dwelling-places. We see how the world abounds with them. Not only are the ingrates to be found among deliberate rejecters of the acknowledged truth of the Gospel, concerning God's grace, an assured conscience and the promise of eternal life, terrible as such malice of the devil is, but they are present also in our midst, accepting the Gospel and boasting of it. Such shameful ingratitude prevails among the masses it would not be strange were God to send upon them the thunders and lightnings of his wrath, yes, all the Turks and the devils of hell. There is a generally prevalent ingratitude like that of the wicked servant who readily forgot the straits he experienced when, being called to account for what he could not pay, the wrathful sentence was pronounced against him that he and all he possessed must be sold, and he be indefinitely imprisoned. Nor have we less readily forgotten how we were tortured under the Papacy; how we were overwhelmed, drowned as in a flood, with numberless strange doctrines, when our anxious consciences longed for salvation. Now that we are, through the grace of God, liberated from these distresses, our gratitude is of a character to increasingly heap to ourselves the wrath of God. So have others before us done, and consequently have endured terrible chastisement. Only calculate the enormity of our wickedness when, God having infinitely blessed us in forgiving all our sins and making us lords over heaven and earth, we so little respect him as to be unmindful of his blessings; to be unwilling for the sake of them sincerely to forgive our neighbor a single slighting word, not to mention rendering him service. We conduct ourselves as if God might be expected to connive at our ingratitude and permit us to continue in it, at the same time conferring upon us as godly and obedient children, success and happiness. More than this, we think we have the privilege and power to live and do as we please. Indeed, the more learning and power we have and the more exalted our rank, the greater knaves we are; perpetrating every wicked deed, stirring up strife, discord, war and murder for the sake of executing our own arbitrary designs, where the question is the surrender of a penny in recognition of the hundreds of thousands of dollars daily received from God notwithstanding our ingratitude. (pp. 333-334).

The world remains the devil's own. We must remember we shall not by any means find with the world that Christian heart pictured by the apostle; on the contrary we shall find what might be represented by a picture of the very opposite type —the most shameless ingratitude. But let the still existing God-fearing Christians be careful to imitate in their gratitude the spirit of the apostle's beautiful picture. Let them give evidence of their willingness to hear the Word of God, of pleasure and delight in it and grief where it is rejected. Let them show by their lives a consciousness of the great blessing conferred by those from whom they received the Gospel. As recipients of such goodness, let their hearts and lips ever be ready with the happy declaration: "God be praised !" For thereunto are we called. As before said, praise should be the constant service and daily sacrifice of Christians; and according to Paul's teaching here, the Christian's works, his fruits of righteousness, should shine before men. Such manifestation of gratitude assuredly must result when we comprehend what God has given us. (p. 338)

(from The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Vol.4.2, edited by John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000, pp. 330-342; available online also in the Sermon on the Twenty-Second Sunday After Trinity [Philippians 1:3-11]: revised translation from the 1827 Erlangen edition of Luther's writings by Socrates Henkel, in Dr. Martin Luther's Church Postil: Sermons on The Epistles, New Market, Virginia: New Market Evangelical Lutheran Publishing Company, 1869)

* * *

. . . they who do as the gospel teaches, are true Christians. However, very few of these are found; we see many hearers, but all are not doers of the Gospel. (p. 104)

But who are they that love God, and cleave not to gold and worldly possessions? Take a good look at the whole world, also the Christians, and see if they despise gold and riches. It requires an effort to hear the Gospel and to live according to it. God be praised, we have the Gospel; that no one can deny, but what do we do with it? We are concerned only about learning and knowing it, and nothing more; we think it is enough to know it, and do not care whether we ever live according to it. However, on the other hand, one is very anxious when he leaves lying in window or in the room a dollar or two, yea, even a dime, then he worries and fears lest the money be stolen; but the same person can do without the Gospel through a whole year. And such characters still wish to be considered Evangelical. Here we see what and who we are. If we were Christians, we would despise riches and be concerned about Gospel that we some day might live in it and prove it by our deeds. We see few such Christians; therefore we must hear the judgment that we are despisers of God and hate God: the sake of riches and worldly possessions. Alas! That fine praise! We should be ashamed of ourselves in our inmost souls; there is no hope for us! What a fine condition we are in now! That means, I think, our names are blotted out. What spoiled children we are! (pp. 105-106)

Now the world cannot conceal its unbelief in its course outward sins, for I see it loves a dollar more than Christ; more than all the Apostles, even if they themselves were present and preached to it. I can hear the Gospel daily, but it does not profit me every day; it may indeed happen if I have heard it a whole year, the Holy Spirit may have been given to me only one hour. Now when I enjoyed this hour I obtained not only five hundred dollars, but also I riches of the whole world; for what have I not, when I have the Gospel? I received God, who made the silver and I gold, and all that is upon the earth; for I acquired the Spirit by which I know that I will be kept by him forever; that much more than if I had the church full of money. Examine now and see, if our heart is not a rogue, full of wickedness and unbelief. If I were a true Christian, I would say: In the hour the Gospel is received, there comes to me a hundred thousand dollars, and much more. For if I possess this treasure, I have all that is in heaven and upon earth. But one must serve this treasure only, for no man can serve God and mammon. Either you must love God and hate money; or you must hate God and love money; this and nothing more. (pp. 106-107)

(from The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 3.1; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000, pp. 102-117. It is readable online as Second Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity [Matthew 6:24-34] from the book, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, Vol. 14, edited by John Nicholas Lenker, Minneapolis, Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1905, 118-126. From Walch edition, Vol. XII, 1234 and Vol. XI, 2171)

* * * * *

Luther's Letter to His Wife Katie Regarding the State of Wittenberg: 28 July 1545

To my kind and dear mistress of the house, Luther’s Catherine von Bora, a preacher, a brewer, a gardener, and whatever else she is capable of doing- Grace and peace! Dear Katie!

John surely will tell you everything pertaining to our journey; I am not yet certain whether he should stay with me, but Doctor Caspar Cruciger and Ferdinand, of course, will tell you. Ernst von Schönfeld has treated us graciously at Löbnitz, and Heintz Scherle at Leipzig even more so.

I would like to arrange matters in such a way that I do not have to return to Wittenberg. My heart has become cold, so that I do not like to be there any longer. I wish you would sell the garden and field, house and all. Also I would like to return the big house to my Most Gracious Lord. It would be best for you to move to Zölsdorf as long as I am still living and able to help you to improve the little property with my salary. For I hope that my Most Gracious Lord would let my salary be continued at least for one [year], that is, the last year of my life. After my death the four elements at Wittenberg certainly will not tolerate you [there]. Therefore it would be better to do while I am alive what certainly would have to be done then. As things are run in Wittenberg, perhaps the people there will acquire not only the dance of St. Vitus or St. John, but the dance of the beggars or the dance of Beelzebub, since they have started to bare women and maidens in front and back, and there is no one who punishes or objects. In addition the Word of God is being mocked [there]. Away from this Sodom! If Leeks Bachscheisse, our other Rosina, and [her] seducer are not yet imprisoned, then help as much as you can to see that this scoundrel loses what he has gained. While in the country I have heard more than I find out while in Wittenberg. Consequently I am tired of this city and do not wish to return, May God help me with this.

The day after tomorrow I shall drive to Merseburg, for Sovereign George has very urgently asked that I do so. Thus I shall be on the move, and will rather eat the bread of a beggar than torture and upset my poor old [age] and final days with the filth at Wittenberg which destroys my hard and faithful work. You might inform Doctor Pomer and Master Philip of this (if you wish), and [you might ask] if Doctor Pomer would wish to say farewell to Wittenberg in my behalf. For I am unable any longer to endure my anger [about] and dislike [of this city].

With this I commend you to God. Amen.

(LW, vol. 50, 273-278)

* * *

Away with this Sodom. Our other Rosina and deceiver is Leak's dung, and yet not in prison; do what you can to make the wretch stultify himself. I hear more of these scandals in the country than I did at Wittenberg, and am therefore tired of that city and do not wish to return, God helping me. Day after to-morrow I am going to Merseburg, for Prince George has pressed me to do so. I will wander around here and eat the bread of charity before I will martyr and soil my poor old last days with the disordered life of Wittenberg, where I lose all my bitter, costly work. You may tell Melanchthon and Bugenhagen this, if you will, and ask the latter to give Wittenberg my blessing, for I can no longer bear its wrath and displeasure. God bless you. Amen.

(in The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, edited by Preserved Smith, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1914, p. 416)

See related papers:

Martin Luther: After Lutheranism Was Preached, Germans Became More "Avaricious, Unmerciful, Impure and Wicked Than Previously Under the Papacy"

Martin Luther: Protestants' "Manner of Life" No Better Than That of the "Papists"

Martin Luther's Regrets as to the Relative Failure of the "Reformation" (Piety, Morals and Inconsistencies Regarding Replacing Bishops With Princes)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Martin Luther: God is the Author of Evil and Eternally Hates Some Men / Horse and Rider Analogy / Everything (+ Damnation) Predetermined

By Dave Armstrong (2-27-10)

All the cited words below are Luther's own, from various translations of The Bondage of the Will (his own favorite work). Sources are always non-Catholic ones unless specifically identified as "Catholic". The blue highlighting is mine.

* * * * *

Summary of English Versions of The Bondage of the Will (Luther Treatise of 1525)

Translation by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957.

Translation by Phillip Watson (based on WA 18 600-787); in Luther's Works [LW], Volume 33.

Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, edited by Ernest Gordon Rupp and Philip S. Watson, LCC XVII, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969.

Translation by Edward Thomas Vaughan, 1823.

Translation by Henry Cole, 1823.

Combination of the Vaughan and Cole versions , by Henry Atherton, 1930.

The Horse (Man) and its Rider (God)

In short, if we are under the god of this world, away from the work and Spirit of the true God, we are held captive to his will, as Paul says to Timothy [II Tim. 2:26], so that we cannot will anything but what he wills. For he is that strong man armed, who guards his own palace in such a way that those whom he possesses are in peace [Luke 11:21], so as to prevent them from stirring up any thought or feeling against him; otherwise, the kingdom of Satan being divided against itself would not stand [Luke 11:18], whereas Christ affirms that it does stand. And this we do readily and willingly, according to the nature of the will, which would not be a will if it were compelled; for compulsion is rather (so to say) “unwill.” But if a Stronger One comes who overcomes him and takes us as His spoil, then through his Spirit we are again slaves and captives—though this is royal freedom—so that we readily will and do what he wills. Thus the human will is placed between the two like a beast of burden. If God rides it, it wills and goes where God wills, as the psalm says: “I am become as a beast [before thee] and I am always with thee” [Ps. 73:22 f.]. If Satan rides it, it wills and goes where Satan wills; nor can it choose to run to either of the two riders or to seek him out, but the riders themselves contend for the possession and control of it. What if I can prove from the words you yourself use in asserting freedom of choice that there is no free choice? What if I convict you of unwittingly denying what you seek so carefully to affirm? Frankly, unless I do so, I swear to regard everything I write against you in the entire book as revoked, and everything your Diatribe either asserts or queries against me as confirmed. (LW, vol. 33, 65)

So man's will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills: as the Psalm says, 'I am become as a beast before thee, and I am ever with thee' (Ps. 72.22-3). If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have hold of it. (Packer / Johnston, pp. 103-104)

Thus, the human will is placed, as a sort of packhorse, in the midst of two contending parties. If God hath mounted, it wills and goes whither God pleases; as the Psalmist says, I am become as a beast of burden, and I am ever with thee." (Psa. Ixxiii. 22, 23.) If Satan hath mounted, it wills and goes whither Satan wills. Nor is it in its own choice, to which of the two riders it shall run, or to seek its rider; but the riders themselves contend for the acquisition and possession of it. (Vaughan)

Thus the human will is, as it were, a beast between the two. If God sit thereon, it wills and goes where God will: as the Psalm saith, " I am become as it were a beast before thee, and I am continually with thee." If Satan sit thereon, it wills and goes as Satan will. Nor is it in the power of its own will to choose, to which rider it will run, nor which it will seek; but the riders themselves contend, which shall have and hold it. (Cole)

Either God or Satan rules over men; to this pet thought he adds: "The matter stands simply thus . . when God is in us, the devil is absent and then we can will only what is good; but when God is not there, the devil is, and then we can will only what is evil. Neither God nor Satan leaves us with an indifferent will." "When the stronger of the two comes upon us," he says, " and makes a prey of us, snatching us away from our former ruler, we become servants and prisoners to such an extent that we desire and do gladly what he wills (ut velimus et faciamus libenter quce ipse velit). Thus the human will stands," Luther continues, using a simile which has become famous, "like a saddle-horse between the two. If God mounts into the saddle, man wills and goes forward as God wills . . . but if the devil is the horseman, then man wills and acts as the devil wills. He has no power to run to one or the other of the two riders and offer himself to him, but the riders fight to obtain possession of the animal." (Hartmann Grisar [Catholic], Luther, Vol. II, p. 274 )

God's Foreknowledge the "Thunderbolt" that Destroys Human Free Will

Here, then, is something fundamentally necessary and salutary for a Christian, to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that he foresees and purposes and does all things by his immutable, eternal, and infallible will. Here is a thunderbolt by which free choice is completely prostrated and shattered, so that those who want free choice asserted must either deny or explain away this thunderbolt, or get rid of it by some other means. (LW , vol. 33, 37)

It is, then, fundamentally necessary and wholesome for Christians to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will. This bombshell knocks 'free-will' flat, and utterly shatters it; so that those who want to assert it must either deny my bombshell, or pretend not to notice it, or find some other way of dodging it. (Packer / Johnston, p. 80)

God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that he foreknows, purposes, and does all things according to his immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, Free-will is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. (Cole, p. 26)

This, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, “Free-will” is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert “Free-will,” must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them. (Atherton, section IX)

God foreknows nothing contingently, but that he foresees and purposes and does all things by his immutable, eternal, and infallible will. Here is a thunderbolt by which free choice is completely prostrate and shattered . . . (Rupp and Watson, p. 118)

All That Happens is By Necessity, Not Free Will

From this it follows irrefutably that everything we do, everything that happens, even if it seems to us to happen mutably and contingently, happens in fact nonetheless necessarily and immutably, if you have regard to the will of God. (LW, vol. 33, 37; same in Rupp/Watson, p. 119)

From which it follows, by resistless logic, that all we do, however it may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, is in reality done necessarily and immutably in respect of God's will. (Packer/Johnston, p. 80)

Hence it irresistibly follows, that all which we do, and all which happens, although it seem to happen mutably and contingently, does in reality happen necessarily and unalterably, insofar as respects the will of God. (Vaughan, p. 33)

From which it follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God. (Cole, p. 27; same in Atherton, section IX)

God is the Author of Evil

But hardest is the view of those who say that free choice is a mere empty name, that it is God who works both good and evil in us, and that all things which happen come about by sheer necessity. (LW, vol. 33, 112; this is a statement of Erasmus that Luther is stating back to him in the dispute; Erasmus is opposing the notion, while Luther is supporting it; see Erasmus' own statement of it in Rupp/Watson, p. 54)

'that the opinion of those who say that Free-will is an empty term, for that God works in us both good and evil, is most severe.' (Cole, pp. 119-120)

* * *

Here you see that when God works in and through evil men, evil things are done, and yet God cannot act evilly although he does evil through evil men, because one who is himself good cannot act evilly; yet he uses evil instruments that cannot escape the sway and motion of his omnipotence. It is the fault, therefore, of the instruments, which God does not allow to be idle, that evil things are done, with God himself setting them in motion. (Rupp/Watson, pp. 232-233)

* * *

God works evil in us, i.e., by means of us, not through any fault of his, but owing to our faultiness, since we are by nature evil and he is good; but as he carries us along by his own activity in accordance with the nature of his omnipotence, good as he is himself he cannot help but do evil with an evil instrument, though he makes good use of this evil in accordance with his wisdom for his own glory and our salvation. (Rupp/Watson, p. 234)

God works evil in us, that is, by us, not from the fault of God, but from the fault of evil in us: -- that is, as we are evil by nature, God, who is truly good, carrying us along by his own action, according to the nature of his omnipotence, cannot do otherwise than do evil by us, as instruments, though he himself be good; though by his wisdom, he overrules that evil well, to his own glory and to our salvation. (Cole, p. 211)

* * *

Hence the divine action and omnipotence impels the will of Shimei, which like all his members is already evil and has already been inflamed against David . . . (Rupp/Watson, p. 234)

* * *

Why then does God not cease from that motion of his omnipotence, by which the will of the wicked is moved to go on in evil, and to become worse? I answer: this is to wish that God, for the sake of the wicked, would cease to be God . . . Why does he not then change, in his motion, those evil wills which he moves? -- This belongs to those secrets of Majesty, where "his judgments are past finding out." (Cole, p. 214)

God Decrees the Damnation of the Lost From All Eternity

Now, if you are disturbed by the thought that it is difficult to defend the mercy and justice of God when he damns the undeserving, that is to say, ungodly men who are what they are because they were born in ungodliness and can in no way help being and remaining ungodly and damnable, but are compelled by a necessity of nature to sin and to perish (as Paul says: “We were all children of wrath like the rest,” since they are created so by God himself from seed corrupted by the sin of the one man Adam)—rather must God be honored and revered as supremely merciful toward those whom he justifies and saves, supremely unworthy as they are, and there must be at least some acknowledgement of his divine wisdom so that he may be believed to be righteous where he seems to us to be unjust. For if his righteousness were such that it could be judged to be righteous by human standards, it would clearly not be divine and would in no way differ from human righteousness. But since he is the one true God, and is wholly incomprehensible and inaccessible to human reason, it is proper and indeed necessary that his righteousness also should be incomprehensible, as Paul also says where he exclaims: “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” But they would not be incomprehensible if we were able in every instance to grasp how they are righteous. What is man, compared with God? How much is there within our power compared with his power? What is our strength in comparison with his resources? What is our knowledge compared with his wisdom? What is our substance over against his substance? In a word, what is our all compared with his? (LW, vol. 33, 289)

And if you are concerned about this,—that it is difficult to defend the mercy and justice of God, seeing that, he damns the undeserving, that is, those who are for that reason ungodly, because, being born in iniquity, they cannot by any means prevent themselves from being ungodly, and from remaining so, and being damned, but are compelled from the necessity of nature to sin and perish, as Paul saith, " We all were the children of wrath, even as others," when at the same time, they were created such by God himself from a corrupt seed, by means of the sin of Adam,— (Cole, p. 370)

But if this disturb us, that, it is difficult to maintain the mercy and equity of God, in that he damns the undeserving, namely, ungodly men who are even of such a sort, that, being born in ungodliness, they cannot by any means help being ungodly, remaining so, and being damned; yea, being compelled by the necessity of their nature to sin and perish (as Paul speaks, "We were all the sons of wrath even as others"), being created such as they are, by God himself, out of a seed which became corrupted through that sin which was Adam's only. (Vaughan, p. 460)

God Hates Many Men From All Eternity

God’s love toward men is eternal and immutable, and his hatred is eternal, being prior to the creation of the world, and not only to the merit and work of free choice; and everything takes place by necessity in us, according as he either loves or does not love us from all eternity, . . . (LW, vol. 33, 198)

[T]he love and hatred of God towards men is immutable and eternal; existing, not only before there was any merit or work of Free-will, but before the worlds were made; and that, all things take place in us by necessity, accordingly as he loved or loved not from all eternity. (Cole, p. 240)

We know very well, that God does not hate or love, as we do; since we both love and hate mutably; but he loves and hates according to his eternal and immutable nature: so far is he from being the subject of accident and affection. And it is this very thing which compels Freewill to be a mere no thing; namely, that the love of God towards men is eternal and immutable, and his hatred towards them eternal; not only prior to the merit and operation of Freewill, but even to the very making of the world; and that every thing is wrought in us necessarily, according to his having either loved us or not loved us, from eternity: insomuch that not only the love of God, but even his manner of loving, brings necessity upon us. (Vaughan, p. 305)

* * *

. . . the hatred by which we are eternally damned . . . (Vaughan, p. 306)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Erik Erikson Believed That Martin Luther Was a "Manic-Depressive" (Bipolar)

By Dave Armstrong (2-26-10)

Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was a well-known psychologist and author of the famous book, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (1958). I hadn't realized that he regarded Martin Luther as a "manic-depressive" (current fashionable term: bipolar disorder). Here is what he wrote about it in his book:

I will not claim that the clinical form which this martyrdom assumed in Luther's middle age, namely, a severe manic-depressive state, could have come about without a specific constitutional make-up. But I would point out, as I did with regard to Martin's identity crisis, the life-stage which provided the scene for this breakdown. (p. 243)

In its excess, Luther's obscenity expresses the needs of a manic-depressive nature which has to maintain a state of unrelenting paranoid repudiation of an appointed enemy on the outside in order to avoid victimizing and, as it were, eliminating itself. (p. 246)

Luther then tasted fully the danger of this stage, which paradoxically is felt by creative people more deeply than by others, namely, a sense of stagnation, experienced by him in manic-depressive form. (p. 260)

Previously, at least four Catholic biographers of Luther (Heinrich Denifle, Albert Maria Weiss, Hartmann Grisar, and Paul J. Reiter: a psychiatrist) were of the same opinion. Erikson, however, was Jewish, so the ubiquitous accusation of "Catholic bias" doesn't realistically apply to his analysis.

I myself have not taken a position one way or the other as to whether Luther was bipolar. I have cited in two papers many historians who note his undeniable bouts with severe depression:

Luther's Frequent Depression, Spiritual Crises, and Erroneous Projection Onto St. Paul of His "Evangelical Experience"

Did Martin Luther Suffer From (Probably Biochemically Produced) Serious Psychological Maladies (Particularly Recurring Severe Depression)?

In the first I wrote:

I don't maintain any particular position as to Luther's mental health, though I understand that it is pretty much the consensus of historians that he at least suffered fairly regular (if not cyclical) bouts with severe depression, . . . But even if he were bipolar or whatever, so what? Millions suffer from this malady, and it is now known to be largely if not wholly chemical in nature. One cannot be held responsible for chemicals in one's brain going awry. . . .

I hasten to add that I wouldn't hold serious depression or wrestling with the devil or the dark night of the soul, or tormented conscience per se against anyone, having experienced, years ago, severe depression and existential angst myself (shortly after that I converted to evangelical Protestantism and have never experienced it again).

And in the second:

I don't judge the man, if indeed he suffered from significant psychological difficulties (as appears to be the case), in all likelihood caused by (as we now know) biochemical imbalances. I'm the parent of two special needs children, and I surely don't blame them or look down on them because of factors beyond their own control.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

We Made an Igloo! Loads of Winter Fun . . .

It was about 8 feet tall (five feet on the inside), and 8-10 feet diameter on the inside.

By Dave Armstrong (2-25-10)

I've been wanting to do this for years. The closest I came was about 22 years ago in my parents' backyard, but I only got to a few feet high before the snow ran out (and I was sick as it was). We finally got socked last week with big snow (surprisingly, up here in southeast Michigan we haven't gotten much snow this winter, while everyone else has).

So about six days ago I decided to take the bull by the horns and make an igloo at long last. There was lots of fresh snow and it was perfect packing, at just under 32 degrees. I started by myself (the first three hours' worth of work). I carved out the inside diameter with a snow shovel (about 8-10 feet), left the snow as it was around the edges, packed it down with a shovel and carved it at a 45 degree angle on the outside, so that the foundation was about twice as thick as all layers above it.

After that, it was pretty simple: I made snow bricks using a dishwashing pan, stomping on it so it was well-packed. Then I added bricks all the way around for level two, alternating bricks up and down (because the dishpan tapers out on the sides). I set the bricks about two inches towards the middle, past the edge of the previous layer. We did this for the rest of the construction. Then I packed in the angled spaces on the outside with snow, so that it would be smooth. My gloves were absolutely soaked!

By that first day I had it built about three feet high. The next day my 13 yo son helped the whole time, and my 8 yo daughter did the filling-in packing on the inside (perfect for her since that was so low at first). We kept making bricks and bricks and got the igloo up to about 6 feet high after the second day of construction; eventually using plastic toboggans to pull loads of six bricks at a time to the construction site. We worked on the doorway, making it straight up, and then put in one piece of wood at the top, to make sure it wouldn't collapse. That was the only part of it that wasn't snow (if you don't count the wooden door).

On the third day we were determined to finish and see if the dome would hold. It was exciting! For some reason it got less round the higher we went, and took on more of a rectangular shape. But that probably helped stabilize the top more. It was a happy accident. The snow was less packable than the day before, when it was perfect. Now it was more icy and less like wet sand on the beach. After a few more hours, the igloo got to where there was just a small hole on top.

The top layer had to be added from the outside with the help of a small step ladder. We just set some bricks on top that covered about six inches or so of empty space. My son packed snow real good from inside, on the ceiling (saved my back!). I then put two more layers of bricks on the top, figuring that would cause the top to melt more slowly. That's what gave it the pointed "top of a mountain" look, because of this extra "padding" and the already rectangular top section. It was solid all around, with no hint of possible collapse. We had done it! We had no major obstacles to overcome. Everything had gone smoothly.

It snowed some more in the next few days, making a nice smooth sparkling white exterior. It looked like a miniature mountain. On the first night my son and I played chess inside of it, with a camping lantern (he won: he's better than I am). And the next night he actually slept in it, but got cold at about 6 AM (probably because he didn't have a proper winter coat: it was wet) and took refuge in the house. I camped in Rocky Mountain Park in 1979 (all of age 21 then) at 9000 feet in a funky little pup tent, and when I woke up a few inches of snow was on the ground. Gorgeous to hike in! I was perfectly warm with my down jacket. The day before I had hiked 17 miles at that altitude: a huge circle. His night reminded me of that adventure.

For the last three or four days the temperature has been above freezing, so unfortunately it is melting rapidly. What a shame, after all the work. But it was a blast. I wouldn't trade the experience, working / playing with my son, for anything. He said it was some of the greatest fun he had ever had, and I said I felt like a kid again: the new, fresh experience. It was one of those classic, priceless father-son "moments." That's what it's all about.

Hope you enjoy the photos. I'm curious to hear if anyone else has made one of these and if you constructed it differently, and if you ran into any "engineering problems."

Pretty dark inside and very quiet. The walls were about a foot-and-a-half thick. The square item is a plastic milk crate.

Here is my adorable daughter having a blast. My son rigged up a rope for the door that went through a hole, like a drawbridge.

Here's my son who worked so hard. The inside looked exactly like a cave (I slept in one in the Grand Canyon in 1978), with white walls. It settled in to something between ice and hard-packed snow. Here it is after several days of melting. The whole thing appears to have sunk. My son is almost 5'8", so the top has lost about two feet and the doorway is about two-thirds as high as it originally was. The inside is still solid: for now!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Martin Luther Advocates Torture and Execution for Prostitutes, Female Sorcerers, Burning of "All" Witches

By Dave Armstrong (2-22-10)

In the past, I have noted Luther's propensity for intolerance and capital punishment; particularly for Anabaptists and adulterers and frigid women. The myth of the tolerant Luther dies hard in many folks. For example:

Luther never persecuted, imprisoned, put to death, those who differed from him in his religious teachings.

(The Lutheran Witness, Vol. 34, 1915, p. 197)

One can only present the facts. Here are some more:

* * * * *

Out of special hatred for our faith, the devil has sent some whores here to destroy our poor young men . . . such a syphilitic whore can poison ten, twenty, thirty or more of the children of good people, and thus is to be considered a murderer, or worse, as a poisoner. . . .

And I must speak plainly. If I were a judge, I would have such a poisonous, syphilitic whore tortured by being broken on the wheel and having her veins lacerated, for it is not to be denied what damage such a filthy whore does to young blood, so that it is unspeakably damaged before it is even fully grown and destroyed in the blood.

(Table-Talk, WA, TR, IV, no. 4857, pp. 552-554; cited in Susan C. Karant-Nunn & Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks [editors and translators], Luther on Women: a Sourcebook, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 157-158)

Concerning the female sorcerer
. . . . Why does the law name women more than men here, even though men are also guilty of this? Because women are more susceptible to those superstitions of Satan; take Eve, for example. They are commonly called "wise women." Let them be killed.

(Sermon on Exodus 22:18: "You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live," 1526, WA XVI, p. 551; in Susan C. Karant-Nunn & Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, ibid, p. 231)

August 25, 1538, the conversation fell upon witches who spoil milk, eggs, and butter in farm yards. Dr. Luther said: "I should have no compassion on these witches; I would burn all of them. We read in the old law, that the priests threw the first stone at such malefactors, `Tis said this stolen butter turns rancid, and falls to the ground when any one goes to eat it. He who attempts to counteract and chastise these witches, is himself corporally plagued and tormented by their master, the devil. Sundry schoolmasters and ministers have often experienced this. Our ordinary sins offend and anger God. What, then, must be his wrath against witchcraft, which we may justly designate high treason against divine majesty, a revolt against the infinite power of God. The jurisconsults who have so learnedly and pertinently treated of rebellion, affirm that the subject who rebels against his sovereign, is worthy of death. Does not witchcraft, then, merit death, which is a revolt of the creature against the Creator, a denial to God of the authority it accords to the demon?"

(Table-Talk, translated by William Hazlitt, 1857, DLXXVII; see alternate URL; yet another URL; also variant by Preserved Smith)

One should hasten to put such witches to death.

(Table-Talk, 20 August 1538; from Conversations With Martin Luther, translated and edited by Preserved Smith and Herbert Percival Gallinger, New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1915, p. 163)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Biblical Evidence for Penitential Mortification of the Flesh (Sackcloth / Hair Shirts)

By Dave Armstrong (2-19-10)

Lately, a great deal of controversy has occurred with regard to the information that has come about concerning Pope St. John Paul II's penitential practices and self-mortification. Mortification has a long history of use in the Catholic Church, as most people are aware. But is there any biblical justification for such a thing?

The answer (as usual) is yes. The most obvious parallel is the common biblical motif of sackcloth (Hebrew, saq; Greek, sakkos). What was this? Was it simply a burlap bag, such as the kind that holds potatoes? Not quite. It is much more like the "hair shirt" that is often thought of as synonymous with this sort of penitence.

Let's consult a well-known Protestant reference: The New Bible Dictionary (edited by J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, "Sackcloth," p. 1112), for our basic introduction to biblical sackcloth:

A coarse cloth . . . usually made of goat's hair . . . Sackcloth was worn as a sign of mourning for the dead . . . , or of mourning for personal or national disaster . . . or of penitence for sins (1 Ki. 21:27; Ne. 9:1; Jon. 3:5; Mt. 11:21), or of special prayer for deliverance . . .

The form of the symbolic sackcloth was often a band or kilt tied around the waist . . . it was usually worn next to the skin (2 Ki. 6:30; Jb. 16:15; 2 Macc. 3:19), and was sometimes kept on all night (1 Ki. 21:27; Joel 1:13) . . . Sometimes the sackcloth was spread out to lie on (2 Sa. 21:10; Is. 58:5) . . .

Prophets sometimes wore it as a symbol of the repentance which they preached (Is. 20:2; Rev. 11:3).

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich and translated and abridged in one volume by Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985, pp. 995-996, "sakkos [sackcloth]") elaborates:

The word originally means "haircloth," i.e., the coarse fabric, mostly of goat's hair, out of which tents, sails, carpets, etc. are made . . .

In the Semitic world sackcloth is from early days the garb of mourning and penitence. It is also prophetic garb in the OT. Originally perhaps a mere loincloth, it becomes a lower garment fastened with a cord or girdle and worn over the naked body. . . .

It signifies self-abasement (along with ashes and sometimes self-disfigurement) either before God (2 Kgs. 19:1) or others (1 Kgs. 20:31 ff.). It is also worn at night (1 Kgs. 21:27). Personal crises (Ps. 30:11) and times of national emergency (Esth. 4:1-2) or imminent eschatological destruction (Joel 1:13) are occasions for its penitential use. It has become a rite in Neh. 9:1 etc. . . . Fasting often accompanies it (Ps. 35:13). . . .

sakkos is a sign of conversion and penitence in the saying in Mt. 11:21 and Lk. 10:13, whether in the sense of the garment or the penitential mat. Jesus perhaps has Jon. 3:4 ff. in mind; but clearly conversion itself, not the external sign, is what matters.

For a brief overview of the use of the hair shirt in the early Church, based on the above background, see the article on same in The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Anti-Catholic Steve Hays and one of his buddies tried to make the argument that sackcloth was simply a Semitic custom of those times (using the secularist, anti-supernaturalist "anthropological" approach that theological liberals are notorious for), or that it was for mourning only, and in no sense prescribed by God. Hence, Hays asserted:

Dave fails to draw some rudimentary distinctions between what the Bible describes, prescribes, proscribes, and permits. . . . the Bible frequently describes ANE customs. . . . there’s nothing inherently holy, much less prescriptive, about the use of sackcloth. . . . Armstrong’s failure to distinguish between Biblical descriptions and Biblical prescriptions . . . Mourners often engage in irrational or self-destructive behavior . . . grief-stricken Jews sometimes forgot these prohibitions. In the heat of the moment they reverted to the social customs of the day. . . .

[A]s usual, you engage in a bait-and-switch. . . . you also disregard all of the specific arguments in my post. Not that you're ever capable of interacting with somebody's arguments at a serious level.

How odd, then, that the prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God (as prophets are wont to do), recommends ("prescribes"?) the wearing of sackcloth (Is 32:11). The prophet Jeremiah does the same (Jer 4:8; 6:26). Ahab's use of sackcloth, fasting, etc., is seen by God Himself as evidence of his humility before God (1 Ki 21:27-29), as is the similar behavior of the Ninevites, when they repented (Jonah 3:5-10). Isaiah reports (Is 22:12) that God Himself prescribed sackcloth and other similar customs: "In that day the Lord GOD of hosts called to . . . baldness and girding with sackcloth."

Likewise, Jeremiah has God proclaiming, "Gird yourselves with sackcloth" (Jer 49:3). The prophet Joel brings the following "word of the LORD" (Joel 1:1): "Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth . . . Gird on sackcloth and lament, O priests" (Joel 1:8, 13). The prophet Amos quotes God in the same vein: "I will bring sackcloth upon all loins" (Amos 8:10). This all sounds awful prescriptive to me (not just permissive).

Likewise, it is God (not mere Babylonian or Assyrian or Persian custom) Who commands the prophet Ezekiel to lay on his left side for 390 days, so as to "bear" the "punishment" of Israel (Ezek 4:4-5), and then on his right side for another 40 days, to "bear the punishment" of Judah (Ezek 4:6). Then God (masochist and "pain-freak" that He is) tells him: "I will put cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other" (Ezek 4:8). I guess that God needs to attend the Steve Hays School of Elementary Spirituality to get up to speed and learn that all these terrible things aren't necessary at all.

Even much later, at the outset of the New Covenant, our Lord casually refers to sackcloth in association with repentance, with no hint of condemnation (Matt 11:21; Lk 10:13). Jesus knew the Old Testament well. He knew that the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Joel had all prescribed and condoned the practice, as had God Himself, as reported by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos. Any Jew worth his salt knew this. It is only anti-Catholic Bible students today who can't see the obvious.

Finally, St. John reports in inspired Scripture that God says in a period near the end of the age: "I will grant my two witnesses power to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth" (Rev 11:3). How utterly strange that God would again prescribe an ancient custom several thousand years after it began. Could it be that (as usual) the anti-Catholics just don't get it? That certainly could be the case!

Having been called on his bankrupt eisegetical "arguments," Hays reverted back to his usual smart-alecky, garden-variety anti-Catholic mode (on the level of Jack Chick or "Maria Monk" et al):

You can also see this externalized piety in the purely decorative use of Scripture in Catholic apologetics. There’s no serious effort to ascertain the actual meaning of the prooftext in context. No, it’s just so much pretty wallpaper. And the more reams of wallpaper a Catholic apologist can roll out, the more impressive the argument. . . . This surface-level piety also blinds them to the obvious.

("Breach of etiquette", 2-29-10)

Catholicism substitutes fetishism for real grace. It fetishises “holy” persons, buildings, paintings, furniture, relics, &c. . . . Protestants are supposed to defer to Catholic fetishism. Catholics wax indignant of you dare to treat their ascriptively holy persons as ordinary men and women like you and me because, deep down, there is no depth to Catholic piety. In practice, externals are all they’ve got. So they cling to their externals for dear life. . . . for them, ascriptive holiness trumps actual holiness.. . .

("Catholic fetishism," 2-19-10)

Please pray and do penance for this poor deluded soul who is leading many astray. Among anti-Catholics, he is considered one of the best critics of the Catholic Church.

Let's now look at what the Bible (RSV) teaches us about sackcloth and closely related practices:

Use of Sackcloth as a Sign of Repentance or Penitence

Matthew 11:21 Woe to you, Chora'zin! woe to you, Beth-sa'ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

Luke 10:13 Woe to you, Chora'zin! woe to you, Beth-sa'ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

1 Kings 20:31-32 And his servants said to him, "Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings; let us put sackcloth on our loins and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; perhaps he will spare your life." [32] So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and went to the king of Israel and said, "Your servant Ben-ha'dad says, `Pray, let me live.'" And he said, "Does he still live? He is my brother."

1 Kings 21:27-29 And when Ahab heard those words, he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. [28] And the word of the LORD came to Eli'jah the Tishbite, saying, [29] "Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the evil upon his house."

2 Kings 19:1-4 When King Hezeki'ah heard it, he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD. [2] And he sent Eli'akim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. [3] They said to him, "Thus says Hezeki'ah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. [4] It may be that the LORD your God heard all the words of the Rab'shakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words which the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left." (cf. Is 37:1-2)

Nehemiah 9:1-2 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth upon their heads. [2] And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.

Esther 4:1-4 When Mor'decai learned all that had been done, Mor'decai rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; [2] he went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one might enter the king's gate clothed with sackcloth. [3] And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. [4] When Esther's maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mor'decai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.

Job 16:15 I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and have laid my strength in the dust.

Psalm 69:7-11 For it is for thy sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face. [8] I have become a stranger to my brethren, an alien to my mother's sons. [9] For zeal for thy house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me. [10] When I humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach. [11] When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

Isaiah 32:11 Tremble, you women who are at ease, shudder, you complacent ones; strip, and make yourselves bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins.

Jeremiah 4:8 For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and wail; for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned back from us.

Jeremiah 6:26 O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, and roll in ashes; make mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation; for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.

Ezekiel 7:16-18 And if any survivors escape, they will be on the mountains, like doves of the valleys, all of them moaning, every one over his iniquity. [17] All hands are feeble, and all knees weak as water. [18] They gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror covers them; shame is upon all faces, and baldness on all their heads.

Jonah 3:5-6 And the people of Nin'eveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. [6] Then tidings reached the king of Nin'eveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

Use of Sackcloth in Conjunction With Prayer and Supplication

1 Chronicles 21:14-17 So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel; and there fell seventy thousand men of Israel. [15] And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but when he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he repented of the evil; and he said to the destroying angel, "It is enough; now stay your hand." And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jeb'usite. [16] And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. [17] And David said to God, "Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Let thy hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be against me and against my father's house; but let not the plague be upon thy people."

Psalm 30:8, 10-11 To thee, O LORD, I cried; and to the LORD I made supplication: . . . [10] Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be thou my helper!" [11] Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,

Psalm 35:13 But I, when they were sick -- I wore sackcloth, I afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with head bowed on my bosom,

Daniel 9:3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.

Jonah 3:7-9 And he made proclamation and published through Nin'eveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, [8] but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. [9] Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?"

2 Maccabees 3:18-19 People also hurried out of their houses in crowds to make a general supplication because the holy place was about to be brought into contempt. [19] Women, girded with sackcloth under their breasts, thronged the streets. Some of the maidens who were kept indoors ran together to the gates, and some to the walls, while others peered out of the windows.

2 Maccabees 10:25 As he drew near, Maccabeus and his men sprinkled dust upon their heads and girded their loins with sackcloth, in supplication to God.

Use of Sackcloth in Mourning

Genesis 37:34 Then Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.

2 Samuel 3:31 Then David said to Jo'ab and to all the people who were with him, "Rend your clothes, and gird on sackcloth, and mourn before Abner." And King David followed the bier.

2 Samuel 21:10 Then Rizpah the daughter of Ai'ah took sackcloth, and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell upon them from the heavens; and she did not allow the birds of the air to come upon them by day, or the beasts of the field by night. (cf. Is 58:5)

2 Kings 6:30 When the king heard the words of the woman he rent his clothes -- now he was passing by upon the wall -- and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath upon his body --

Isaiah 15:3 in the streets they gird on sackcloth; on the housetops and in the squares every one wails and melts in tears.

Isaiah 22:12 In that day the Lord GOD of hosts called to weeping and mourning, to baldness and girding with sackcloth;

Jeremiah 48:37 For every head is shaved and every beard cut off; upon all the hands are gashes, and on the loins is sackcloth.

Jeremiah 49:3 "Wail, O Heshbon, for Ai is laid waste! Cry, O daughters of Rabbah! Gird yourselves with sackcloth, lament, and run to and fro among the hedges! For Milcom shall go into exile, with his priests and his princes.

Lamentations 2:10 The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground in silence; they have cast dust on their heads and put on sackcloth; the maidens of Jerusalem have bowed their heads to the ground.

Ezekiel 27:31 they make themselves bald for you, and gird themselves with sackcloth, and they weep over you in bitterness of soul, with bitter mourning.

Joel 1:8 Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth.

Joel 1:13 Gird on sackcloth and lament, O priests, wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because cereal offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God.

Amos 8:10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

Deliberate Self-Infliction of Bodily Harm or Deprivation for Spiritual / Intercessory Purposes

Exodus 17:9-12 And Moses said to Joshua, "Choose for us men, and go out, fight with Am'alek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand." [10] So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Am'alek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. [11] Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Am'alek prevailed. [12] But Moses' hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

2 Samuel 12:16-17 David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in and lay all night upon the ground. [17] And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them.

[Steve Hays retorted: "And what was God's response to David's prayer and prostration and fasting? The child died." I replied:

And what was God the Father's response to Jesus' prayer and prostration and sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane? He was crucified.

Therefore, it is shown that Jesus shouldn't have prayed in such a manner.

And what was God's response to Jeremiah's prayer and prostration and endless preaching to the apostate Jews? The destruction of Jerusalem.

Therefore, it is proven that Jeremiah shouldn't have done what he did.

Is this a new school of exegesis? How compelling . . .]

Ezra 9:1-8 After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, "The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Per'izzites, the Jeb'usites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. [2] For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons; so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost." [3] When I heard this, I rent my garments and my mantle, and pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat appalled. [4] Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered round me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. [5] And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle rent, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, [6] saying: "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. [7] From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt; and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as at this day. [8] But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant, and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. (cf. Jer 48:37)

Jeremiah 41:5 eighty men arrived from Shechem and Shiloh and Sama'ria, with their beards shaved and their clothes torn, and their bodies gashed, bringing cereal offerings and incense to present at the temple of the LORD.

Ezekiel 4:1-8 "And you, O son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and portray upon it a city, even Jerusalem; [2] and put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it; set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it round about. [3] And take an iron plate, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel. [4] "Then lie upon your left side, and I will lay the punishment of the house of Israel upon you; for the number of the days that you lie upon it, you shall bear their punishment. [5] For I assign to you a number of days, three hundred and ninety days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment; so long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. [6] And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah; forty days I assign you, a day for each year. [7] And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared; and you shall prophesy against the city. [8] And, behold, I will put cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege."

Luke 2:36-37 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phan'u-el, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, [37] and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.

1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

[cf. NIV, Beck: "beat"; NEB: "bruise"; Williams: "beating and bruising"; Barclay: "batter"; NASB: "buffet"; NRSV: "punish"; NKJV: "discipline"; Wuest: "I beat my body black and blue and make it my abject slave"; Amplified: "I buffet my body -- handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships -- and subdue it"; Goodspeed: "I beat and bruise my body and make it my slave"; Moffatt: "I maul and master my body" -- there is considerable dispute among commentators as to what exactly St. Paul means, and the Catholic position does not absolutely require only one interpretation of this passage. In any event, even if this is metaphorical in some sense, it fits into the overall scriptural theme of self-sacrifice, as outlined above; therefore it is expressing some sort of asceticism; however one specifically interprets it]

[Fasting is also obviously an example of bodily deprivation for a spiritual purpose. See: Ex 34:28 and Deut 9:9 (Moses went forty days without even water); Deut 9:18 (Moses again fasts forty days without "bread" or "water" on behalf of the Israelites, after the sin of the idolatry of the golden calf); 1 Sam 30:12 (three days without water); 1 Sam 31:13 (seven days); 2 Sam 1:12; 1 Ki 19:8 (forty days); 1 Chron 10:12 (seven days); 2 Chron 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; 10:6; Neh 1:4; 9:1; Esther 4:3; 4:16 (three days without food and water); 9:31; Ps 69:10 ("humbled my soul with fasting"); Ps 109:24 ("My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt"); Jer 36:9; Dan 6:18; Joel 1:14; 2:12, 15; Jon 3:5, 7; Zech 7:3, 5; 8:19; Matt 4:2 (Jesus' forty days of fasting in the wilderness); Matt 6:16-18; 9:14-15 (cf. Mk 2:18-20; Lk 5:33-35; 18:12); Lk 7:33 (cf. Matt 11:18; Lk 1:15); Acts 13:2-3; 14:23]

Prophets' Wearing of Sackcloth

2 Kings 1:8 They answered him, "He wore a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather about his loins." And he said, "It is Eli'jah the Tishbite."

Isaiah 20:2 at that time the LORD had spoken by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, "Go, and loose the sackcloth from your loins and take off your shoes from your feet,"

Revelation 11:3 And I will grant my two witnesses power to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. (cf. John the Baptist and "camel's hair": Matt 3:4; Mk 1:6; possibly a continuation of the same ascetic tradition)