Martin Luther's 'Greatness'
By postDigital in Culture
Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 05:50:52 PM EST
Tags: religion, history (all tags)
Martin Luther'a inherent greatness is not universally believed, nor is it proper to assert without understanding at least part of the substance that lay within the charges of heresy leveled against him.
"I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.
Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521 - The Columbia World of Quotations, 1996.
One of the most significant charges against Martin Luther, from a contemporary perspective, because of its permanence in the public's consciousness, was his insertion of an extra word into his Bible translation, which directly aided substantiating one of his primary assertions of faith contradicting Papal canon: by faith alone.
The most important example of dogmatic influence in Luther's version is the famous interpolation of the word alone in Rom. 3:28 (allein durch den Glauben), by which he intended to emphasize his solifidian doctrine of justification, on the plea that the German idiom required the insertion for the sake of clearness. But he thereby brought Paul into direct verbal conflict with James, who says (James 2:24), "by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" ("nicht durch den Glauben allein"). It is well known that Luther deemed it impossible to harmonize the two apostles in this article, and characterized the Epistle of James as an "epistle of straw," because it had no evangelical character ("keine evangelische Art").
He therefore insisted on this insertion in spite of all outcry against it. His defense is very characteristic. "If your papist," he says, "makes much useless fuss about the word sola, allein, tell him at once: Doctor Martin Luther will have it so, and says: Papist and donkey are one thing; sic volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. For we do not want to be pupils and followers of the Papists, but their masters and judges." Then he goes on in the style of foolish boasting against the Papists, imitating the language of St. Paul in dealing with his Judaizing opponents (2 Cor. 11:22 sqq.): "Are they doctors? so am I. Are they learned? so am I. Are they preachers? so am I. Are they theologians? so am I. Are they disputators? so am I. Are they philosophers? so am I. Are they the writers of books? so am I. And I shall further boast: I can expound Psalms and Prophets; which they can not. I can translate; which they can not .... Therefore the word allein shall remain in my New Testament, and though all pope-donkeys (Papstesel) should get furious and foolish, they shall not turn it out."
Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910; Luther's Translation of the Bible; The Protestant Spirit of Luther's Version
Given the era, calling James an "epistle of straw", and the Pope a "Papstesel", would rationally be a cause for indictment under charges of sedition and heresy. They were harsh dangerous words to be throwing at a Biblical apostle, and the Pope, in front of subjects of the Holy Roman Emperor, especially since it was that very ass of a Pope, who sceptered the Emperor's divine right.
It is also noteworthy, that Martin Luther's greatness is disputed by many Catholics, along with their disputation of his words' divinity. In The Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Martin Luther can be found the assertion that Martin Luther was afflicted with "an evident congenital inheritance", which made him prone to fly off into fits of rage. This, when considered along with his early home environment of "extreme simplicity and inflexible severity", including unmerciful beatings, gives one pause to contemplate Martin Luther's sanity. The article also alleges that Martin Luther's decision to enter into a monastical order was itself influenced, not primarily by faith, but was the harvest of these seeds sown from the past of deep and dark psychological motivations:
Luther's sudden and unexpected entrance into the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt occurred 17 July, 1505. The motives that prompted the step are various, conflicting, and the subject of considerable debate. He himself alleges, as above stated, that the brutality of his home and school life drove him into the monastery.
The article even goes further, and makes the claim that Martin Luther lied about his own biographical facts, as a grounding for his heresy:
Of Luther's monastic life we have little authentic information, and that is based on his own utterances, which his own biographers frankly admit are highly exaggerated, frequently contradictory, and commonly misleading. Thus the alleged custom by which he was forced to change his baptismal name Martin into the monastic name Augustine, a proceeding he denounces as "wicked" and "sacrilegious", certainly had no existence in the Augustinian Order. His accidental discovery in the Erfurt monastery library of the Bible, "a book he had never seen in his life" (Mathesius, op. cit.), or Luther's assertion that he had "never seen a Bible until he was twenty years of age", or his still more emphatic declaration that when Carlstadt was promoted to the doctorate "he had as yet never seen a Bible and I alone in the Erfurt monastery read the Bible", which, taken in their literal sense, are not only contrary to demonstrable facts, but have perpetuated misconception, bear the stamp of improbability written in such obtrusive characters on their face, that it is hard, on an honest assumption, to account for their longevity.
There is great merit to the charge that Martin Luther's arbitrary insertion of an extra word within his translation of Romans 3:28 represented a significant change in the text's meaning:
- allein durch den Glauben - by faith alone
- durch den Glauben - by faith
There are many variations of this verse between Biblical translations, some small, yet still significant in implication. Here are some examples of differences between translations of Romans 3:28, and James 2:24:
- Latin: Nova Vulgata
- Romans 3:28 - Arbitramur enim iustificari hominem per fidem sine operibus legis.
- James 2:24 - Videtis quoniam ex operibus iustificatur homo et non ex fide tantum.
- Luther Bible 1545/1912
- Roemer 3:28 - So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben.
- Jakobus 2:24 - So sehet ihr nun, daß der Mensch durch die Werke gerecht wird, nicht durch den Glauben allein.
- New Jerusalem Bible
- Romans 3:28 - since, as we see it, a person is justified by faith and not by doing what the Law tells him to do.
- James 2:24 - You see now that it is by deeds, and not only by believing, that someone is justified.
- King James
- Romans 3:28 - Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
- James 2:24 - Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
- 21st Century King James Version
- Romans 3:28 - Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
- James 2:24 - Ye see then how by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
- Revised English Version/American Standard Version
- Romans 3:28 - We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
- James 2:24 - Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith.
- Darby Translation
- Romans 3:28 - for we reckon that a man is justified by faith, without works of law.
- James 2:24 - Ye see that a man is justified on the principle of works, and not on the principle of faith only.
- Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition
- Romans 3:28 - For we account a man to be justified by faith, without the works of the law.
- James 2:24 - Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only?
- New Century Version
- Romans 3:28 - A person is made right with God through faith, not through obeying the law.
- James 2:24 - So you see that people are made right with God by what they do, not by faith only.
- New International Version
- Romans 3:28 - For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
- James 2:24 - You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
- Wycliffe New Testament
- Romans 3:28 - For we deem a man to be justified by faith, without works of the law.
- James 2:24 - Ye see that a man is justified of works, and not of faith only.
- Young's Literal Translation
- Romans 3:28 - therefore do we reckon a man to be declared righteous by faith, apart from works of law.
- James 2:24 - Ye see, then, that out of works is man declared righteous, and not out of faith only;
- Worldwide English (New Testament)
- Romans 3:28 - We know that if a person believes in Christ, God makes him right again. It is not because that person has obeyed the law.
- James 2:24 - You see, a man is a good man because of the things he does, and not just because he believes.
- New Living Translation
- Romans 3:28 - So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.
- James 2:24 - So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
- New International Reader's Version
- Romans 3:28 - We firmly believe that people are made right with God because of their faith. They are not saved by obeying the law.
- James 2:24 - So you see that a person is made right with God by what he does. It doesn't happen only because of what he believes.
- New Life Version (does not follow the same standard of verses in Romans 3-has only 25 verses)
- Romans 3:16 - So God's promise is given to us because we put our trust in Him. We can be sure of it. It is because of His loving-favor to us. It is for all the family of Abraham. It is for those who obey the Law. It is for those who put their trust in God as Abraham did. In this way, he is the father of all Christians.
- James 2:24 - A man becomes right with God by what he does and not by faith only.
Martin Luther's conception of "faith alone", is often taken out of context, and presented in a manner leading persons to believe he was asserting there was no need or justification for actions to lead a life of Christian grace. This is a gross distortion of what Luther wrote. What he stated is that actions not motivated from a true faith, from an embrace of the tenets of Christianity, which were instead grounded in a "fear of punishment or love of reward" (next citation), was hypocrisy, and would be judged as such in the final accounting. Martin Luther firmly believed that a true practise of Christian Faith would also be manifest with Christian Acts:
The distortion of Luther's "Faith Alone", which deflates the value of action to nil, when coupled with the concept of "God helps those who help themselves", has had great impact upon the present-day conceptualisation of the Protestant Work-Ethic. This admixture is applied as a means to stigmatise the down-trodden and poor, implying that it is their own sloth and lack of Christian Faith, which has caused them to fall into their horrible plight, and because of that, they are not worthy recipients of individual/societal charity. A heretical religious justification for the existence of an underclass; a defense of personal avarice and greed, which has no factual grounding in New Testament Biblical texts, and is served up as an assuagement for guilt, after coming face to face with poor-folk.
Hence it comes that faith alone makes righteous and fulfils the law; for out of Christ's merit, it brings the Spirit, and the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus good works come out of faith. That is what he means in chapter 3, after he has rejected the works of the law, so that it sounds as though he would abolish the law by faith; "Nay," he says, "we establish the law by faith," that is, we fulfill it by faith.
Martin Luther, Luther's Works, vol 35 St. Louis: Concordia, 1963, as published and revised at bible-researcher.com by Michael Marlowe
Martin Luther should be rightfully credited for his greatness, in that he was a primary force in the creation of Protestantism. He helped aid into being, the concept of a secular state, which was built upon by Calvin (see: John Calvin, "Institutes of the Christian Religion", 1536), and was a part of the foundation used in the Creation of America. Yet, Martin Luther was also a force in Protestantism's almost immediate fracturing into schisms during the Reformation:
His attitude hardened toward various sects, especially the Anabaptists, whose growth presented a serious challenge to his conception of the church. His uncompromising attitude in doctrinal matters helped break up the unity of the Reformation that he was anxious to preserve; the controversy with Huldreich Zwingli and later with Calvin over the Lord's Supper divided Protestants into the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Churches. After attempts at union, the Lutherans drew up their own articles of faith in the Augsburg Confession (see creed 4 ), which was written by Melanchthon at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 with the sanction of Luther, who was not permitted to attend. About this time the control of the Lutheran Church had passed further into the hands of the Protestant princes.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition