Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Chasing Luther Quotes
01/04/2008 - James SwanI've spent a lot of time chasing Luther quotes, particularly those put forth by Catholic apologists. Back in November, I posted a brief review of a Martin Luther quote used by Steve Ray in his book Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church. The quote suggested Luther wrote a letter to Zwingli telling him only a Church Council could decide their differences. It's not just Steve, this particular quote is a favorite of those dedicated to defending Rome, both past and present.
I have found Roman Catholic citations of Luther often less than accurate. His words are used as a polemical tools to solidify whatever point is being made. I enjoy the opportunity to look up the quotes, demonstrate the underlying bias, and the abandonment of context. If you find a Catholic quoting Luther conceding a council would be that which could unify the Reformers, or that Luther wrote Zwingli (a man he ultimately considered a heretic), and stated only decrees of councils could resolve the Lord's Supper issues between them, your mental brakes should go on immediately.
I have never been so attacked with such vigor by Roman Catholics than in this particular instance. I've read blog articles and discussion threads obfuscating the issues I raised, along with plenty of insults and rhetoric. All testify to how awful I am for questioning this particular Luther saying. As I read all of it, it lead to one conclusion: no one in Catholic apologetics seemed to have any idea where Luther said what he was quoted as saying, and no one had any idea what the context was. In my original posting, I provided the answers to both.
Steve responded with an 11 page PDF document and then an updated version (and has also mentioned doing another revision at some point). Originally, Steve joined with the others in attacking my work on this quote. After my counter-response, Steve mentioned that he was "grateful for [my] research" and that he intended to thank me for it in his next revision. We've had some cordial e-mail exchanges, agreeing to take the discussion between us off the radar until more information about the quote surfaced.
Even though Steve and I agreed to this, I was thrust into a dispute with Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong over this particular Luther quote, with Steve linking to Armstrong's attacks off his blog. Mr. Armstrong informed his readers that he was doing research on the quote that would possibly render me "decisively refuted and embarrassed." Well, that dreaded moment finally arrived. Mr. Armstrong posted his findings.
It was claimed that Luther wrote a letter to Zwingli from which this particular quote was taken. I denied the existence of this letter, and I made the challenge to produce any letter from Luther to Zwingli. Armstrong concluded the quote wasn't from a letter, nor could he produce any such letters. I then put forth the actual treatise and context from which the quote came. Mr Armstrong concluded,
"Swan is also correct that the citation in question is indeed from Luther's 1527 treatise: That These Word of Christ, "This Is My Body," etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics (found in LW, vol. 37)."
I then provided the specific name to the treatise as it appeared in Latin, being translated from the original German. Mr. Armstrong responded,
"In a source helpfully provided by our esteemed friend James Swan, it is noted that the Latin version was entitled contra Fanaticos Sacramentariorum spiritus. This would account for the widely differing source names, according to whether one was citing a Latin or German version. Of course, the main "fanatical Sacramentarians" Luther is responding to were Zwingli and Oecolampadius; thus in common usage we can see how it could become known as simply Contra Zwingli and Oecolampadius or variation thereof."
Now that Mr. Armstrong's research has produced what I claimed all along, one would think an apology of some sort would be given. No, Mr. Armstrong does what he does best, continue to insult and obfuscate. He's put together two blog entries filled with his usual meandering reasoning (one of them is back-posted to December 15, 2007, even though it is recent). He's indeed correct the German original and the Latin translation have a difficulty in matching up. On the other hand, the Latin quote came from a Latin treatise, which means it had a context.
Mr. Armstrong should know how easy it is for Luther to be taken out-of-context, as he has written so much on Luther, and has so many books on Luther. There simply is no way he could miss this particular fact about Luther studies. I have stated more than once, that these Catholic apologists, when going to print with their books, claiming to be deep in history is to cease being Protestant, should live up to their standards. If they make a historical statement, they should go deep into history to validate that statement when challenged.
Armstrong recently stated,
"The citation will be proved (in the near future) to be a solid one, that has been used by many important people: themselves highly intelligent and scholarly. If anyone has been acting like a condescending fool, in over his head, in this current dispute, it is James Swan, not Steve Ray or myself."
Well, Dave Armstrong 2008 appears to be a lot like Dave Armstrong 2007. Dave didn't prove anything except what I originally stated. This means, Luther was taken out-of-context.