Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Mythical Luther, Part Two

James Swan has continued his series on myths associated with Luther.

He writes:

1. Luther Had a Mental Disorder?
The story goes that while listening to a Gospel lesson at mass on Mark 9:14-29 about an evil spirit being cast out, Luther fell to the floor in the choir of the monastery at Erfurt crying out, "It is not me, not me!" Luther is said to be crying out he was not demon possessed. Psychologist Erik Erikson wrote an entire chapter in his book Young Man Luther on this incident, concluding Luther had a mental disorder. The source for the story comes not from the pen of Luther, but rather from the writing of one of Luther's earliest Roman Catholic opponents, Cochlaeus, who got the story third hand. Cochlaeus was devoted to destroying Luther. He would print anything he could find to use against him, whether true or not. Cochlaeus was convinced Luther was demon possessed and had been seen with the Devil. Cochlaeus stated of Luther, "...he knows the Devil well, and is in turn well known by him... he was even seen by certain people to keep company bodily with the Devil."

2. Luther Said "Be a Sinner and Sin Boldly" Because Salvation is by Faith Alone and Works Do Not Matter
More than a few Catholic authors have accused Luther of teaching a wanton lawlessness of sinning boldly. If justification is by faith alone, aren't Christians then free to sin as much they want? In 1521 Luther wrote to Melanchthon and stated, "If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world." Luther was prone to strong hyperbole. It's his style, and this statement is a perfect example. Luther's point is not to go out and commit multiple amounts of gleeful sin everyday, but rather to believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly despite the sin in our lives. Throughout his career, Luther taught that faith was a living faith. Luther stated, "Faith is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith." Luther also stated, "Accordingly, if good works do not follow, it is certain that this faith in Christ does not dwell in our heart, but dead faith." Luther preached and taught this regularly.

3. Luther Took Books Out of the Bible?
Luther's translation of the Bible contained all of its books. Luther also translated and included the Apocrypha, saying, "These books are not held equal to the Scriptures, but are useful and good to read." He expressed his thoughts on the canon in prefaces placed at the beginning of particular Biblical books. In these prefaces, he either questioned or doubted the canonicity of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation (his Catholic contemporaries, Erasmus and Cardinal Cajetan, likewise questioned the canonicity of certain New Testament books). Of his opinion, he allows for the possibility of his readers to disagree with his conclusions. Of the four books, it is possible Luther's opinion fluctuated on two (Hebrews and Revelation). Luther was of the opinion that the writers of James and Jude were not apostles, therefore these books were not canonical. Still, he used them and preached from them.

4. Luther Was "Extraordinarily Devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary"?
Normally Catholics vilify Luther. But, when it comes to Mary, Luther becomes a leader all Protestants should learn a great lesson in Mariology from. True, Luther said some nice things about Mary. Luther though saw the idol medieval theology had created. His abandoning of the intercession of the saints and his doctrine of justification significantly changes his Marian approach. Therefore, Luther was not devoted in any sort of Roman Catholic sense to Mary. True, he used the phrase Mother of God, but did so intending the rich Christ-centered usage of Theotokos when discussing the incarnation or Christ's Deity. He also uses the term simply as a synonym for Mary, which was common in the sixteenth century. Perhaps the most startling aspect of Luther's Mariology is his lifelong belief in her perpetual virginity. While holding this belief, Luther will not have Mary's perpetually virginity extolled. He condemns those who venerate this attribute, and notes that it exists only to bring forth the Messiah. He abandoned the Immaculate Conception sometime after 1527. In 1532 he preached, "Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood."

5. Did Luther Really Say " Here I Stand"?
The most famous of all statements from Luther might actually be one he never said. Standing before Emperor Charles V and Papal authorities, Luther refused to recant of the charges made against him and the books he had written. Defying Church and Emperor, his famous speech ends, "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me." While the earliest printed versions of this historic event include these words, they were not recorded on the spot. Luther's famous biographer Roland Bainton suggests, "The words, though not recorded on the spot, may nevertheless be genuine, because the listeners at the moment may have been too moved to write" (Bainton, Here I Stand, 144).


  1. "Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood."

    Who is "this child" in the second part of the comment? If it's Mary, then she was born in sin in the first part, but later is described as born not with sinful flesh and blood.

    If "this child" is Jesus (is there a greater context?) then Mary was made sinless for the conception of Jesus (sanctified and purified her so that this child was...).

  2. rswood:

    "Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we. However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are…For in that moment when she conceived, she was a holy mother filled with the Holy Spirit and her fruit is a holy pure fruit, at once God and truly man, in one person."

    Source: The Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 3(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996)p. 291