“Swan struck me as a real lightweight, and the above seems to verify my suspicion. He is a ‘wanna-be’ and it seems like he tries to puff out his chest to look bigger than he actually is.”
“It seems he is a James White wanna-be, though he’s no where near as clever.”
These are recent comments directed towards me from Catholic apologist Steve Ray, simply because I dared question his methodology in a brief entry entitled, “When Footnotes Attack.” This entry examined a Martin Luther quote typically used by Roman Catholics, particularly used by Mr. Ray. I’ve come across this quote at various times over the years, never documented in any helpful way:
“If the world lasts for a long time, it will again be necessary, on account of the many interpretations which are now given to the Scriptures, to receive the decrees of councils, and take refuge in them, in order to preserve the unity of faith.” Epis. ad. Zwingli (ap. Balmes, p. 423)” – Martin Luther
Steve Ray cites this quote in an article entitled, Ankerberg Aweigh hosted by Catholic Answers, and also referred back to it in his book Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church on page 45. It is my contention that Steve Ray never actually read this Luther quote in context, and uses it out of context for polemical purposes. Here is not the place to rewrite my entire entry. You can read it for yourself, here.
Mr. Ray took time away from his pilgrimages and promotional work to respond with an eleven page PDF file entitled, “Is the Swan’s Song in Tune?” Now an eleven page response may seem a bit long, but for Mr. Ray, this is only “a few words”: “I am not going to get in a spitting contest, don’t have the time nor the inclination to debate someone I’ve never heard of before, but I tend to defend my books so I thought a few words would be appropriate.” If my brief entry was so trivial to Mr. Ray, put forth by a “lightweight” “wanna-be,” I find it ironic that his eleven page response to me “…will remain permanently on [Ray’s] Resources page along with other responses to critics of my works.” He begins his response by referring to me as, “some guy named Swan” but then puts me in his list with others with whose critical work he considers on a higher plateau (like Dr. White’s). If my concerns over his published works are so trivial, written by “some guy,” one would expect him to simply ignore them. Obviously, Mr. Ray is bothered by the issues I raised, enough so that he was compelled to actually treat them with more seriousness than he is claiming.
Some Catholic apologists are capable of putting forth massive replies, clouding an issue with a lot of tedious detail. Indeed, this was the method employed by Steve Ray in his response: if you write enough, throw in a bunch of footnotes, well, that equals a complete refutation. Of course, a lengthy reply can indeed be a thorough refutation, or it can simply be a lot of words and obfuscation seeking to direct one away from the real issues. Mr. Ray’s eleven page response falls in the category of the later. I had to sift through Mr. Ray’s eleven pages of “a few words,” looking for any type of meaningful response to the issues I raised.
Reading Luther Before Citing Luther?
Can Steve Ray provide a context for this Luther quote? Or, did he just use a quote to make a polemical point, regardless of context? I’ve found that the current batch of pop-Catholic apologists have an entire arsenal of Luther quotes, and when you actually go check the context, the point they are making sometimes isn’t Luther’s point at all. Let’s find out if Steve Ray actually read this context before citing Luther.
Mr. Ray first ventures an answer three pages in: “I first found the Luther quote under consideration in the little booklet Bible Quizzes to a Street Preacher written by Fr. Charles Carty and Rev. Dr. L. Rumble, M.S.C., which is an excellent little booklet of apologetics.” Okay, strike one. This little booklet has poor documentation as well, citing the quote as “Epis. ad. Zwingli (ap. Balmes, p. 423).” Carty and Rumble do not provide any sort of context or helpful documentation.
As to the source, “Epis. ad. Zwingli,” Mr. Ray admits he hasn’t read it: “I did not read or translate the passage from German or Latin. I can’t read Latin or German so I depend on reputable sources and those who can read the languages.” Well, Strike Two, whatever context Luther originally said this in was not checked by Mr. Ray. Mr. Ray states this quote is from Luther’s letter to Zwingli. He gathered this from a secondary source written in the 1800’s by Jaime Luciano Balmes. Ray states, “I trusted a scholar Rev. Jaime Luciano Balmes (and continue to do so, over and above the speculation of our challenger).” Strike three, Balmes doesn’t provide a context or a helpful reference either.
Mr. Ray states that because I questioned whether or not he actually read Luther in context, I ought to apologize to him,
“As a young boy, my good Baptist father taught me the value of truth and honesty above all else. Swan’s insinuation that ‘I doubt very much Mr. Ray actually cares if he’s cited Luther accurately’ is not only condescending and arrogant, but it is dishonest and incorrect. If anyone has taken the time to read my books one will know something right from the beginning—I care very much about the accuracy and truth of what I write. I may be wrong here and there on a few topics, but not caring about truth or accuracy is not part of my constitution. I think Swan ought to apologize for those words. We’ll see how much he cares about then accuracy of what he writes—especially in making such an inflammatory and ignorant comment—impugning my honesty and my character.”
After sifting through eleven pages, I still doubt that Steve Ray cares about his methodology. Rather than simply admitting he hasn’t read “Epis. ad. Zwingli” and has no idea as to what Luther actually said on this or where he said it, I received back eleven pages of obfuscation. One may think I’m nitpicking, and this is an isolated incident. I recently checked another Luther quote used by Mr. Ray and came up with the same conclusion- Mr Ray didn’t actually read what Luther said. The current trend in Catholic apologetics is to throw Luther quotes in, regardless of what Luther actually said. It gets the troops all riled up.
English Quotations With German And Latin Documentation
Mr. Ray completely missed one of my concerns on methodology and citation. I come across Luther quotes all the time when I read Catholic apologetic materials. The odd thing about these quotes is they frequently are English translations with references back to German or Latin sources. In my original entry, I stated: “One is left wondering if the current batch of Catholic apologists are fluent in Latin and German and have access to the rarest of books in the Luther corpus. So far, none has admitted either.” Mr. Ray responds “Just because I don’t read Latin or German doesn’t mean that I can’t trust scholars from this century or prior centuries in their translations and writings. Protestants apologists do it all the time.” Ray goes on to chastise me for relying on a translation myself: “In fact, later we will find Swan quoting from Luther’s Works, volume 37, which is translated by Robert. H. Fishcer (pg. vii). I think our friend Swan will be trusting Fischer’s translation rather than reading it from the original German or Latin himself.”
The trustworthiness of translation, while an important issue, was not my point at all. I’m asking a very simple question. When Mr. Ray uses this particular quote like he did in his article Ankerberg Aweigh, he cites it as “Epis. ad. Zwingli.” Steve, this is very simple: did you actually read “Epis. ad. Zwingli”? If you didn’t why provide this documentation? Why present the facade that you actually know what “Epis. ad. Zwingli” is, or where one can even find it? This goes for all the others engaged in polemical Catholic apologetics: if you’re going to cite the Reformers, don’t embarrass yourselves by proving you haven’t even read what you’ve just cited by using documentation in other languages. Ray states, “It’s no odder for a Catholic to cite Luther than it is for a Protestant to cite a pope.” Mr Ray, what is odd, is that Catholics don’t seem to have any problems citing Luther, knowing full well they can’t produce a context. Luther is notoriously quoted out of context. If I were to quote some outrageous statement from a pope, the first thing you would want is a context. Be consistent with the typical mantra put forth by Catholic apologetics: go deep enough into history as to be able to substantiate your claims with a context, or cease claiming Catholic apologetics actually can “do” history on a meaningful level.
Luther’s Letters To Zwingli
Mr. Ray states,
“Swan makes the certain declaration that the quotation is not from a letter from Luther to Zwingli, for which he offers no proof—only speculation, based on a ‘probably.’ If he has proof of this statement, let him trot it forward.”
If one checks Balmes, he never says “letter”. On page 423, Balmes cites the quote from Luther, stating “Luther writing to Zwinglius…”. I argued this quote is probably from the treatise That These Words Of Christ, “This Is My Body,” etc., Still Stand Firm Against The Fanatics (1527). The quote from Balmes and the one from this work are far too similar, the time frame is right, and Luther had Zwingli and the Swiss specifically in mind when he wrote it. The work in a large part was motivated by the continual writings against Luther coming from Zwingli.
Who Has The Burden Of Proof?
A typical tactic put forth by people who can’t provide documentation is to shift the burden to the one asking for proof. Ray states, “If, and only if, it is proved that Balmes is incorrect, then I will concede that my source had it incorrect.” Why is it my responsibility to produce Luther’s letter to Zwingli? Mr. Ray is the one going to print with particular bits of information- selling books, videos, and DVD’s. Shouldn’t he be the one taking responsibility for his words? Shouldn’t he be able to say, “Yes Luther said this, and here is the text?”
I challenge Mr. Ray to produce any letters from Luther to Zwingli. I doubt he could ever produce “Epis. ad. Zwingli”, so I would take anything at this point. As I’ve searched around, I’ve yet to find any letters from Luther to Zwingli. If Ray says Luther wrote a letter to Zwingli, let him produce it.
Is Balmes A Reliable Source?
Mr. Ray trusts the work of Jaime Luciano Balmes, the oldest source that I’ve been able to locate using this particular Luther quote. Ray says the quote was “used by me in good faith and from a reliable source“and “his word is good enough for me until proven otherwise.” Mr. Ray is the same man who trusts the work of Father Patrick O’Hare, the author of probably the worst book on Luther in print today (Steve includes O’Hare’s Facts About Luther on his “Top Fifty Books on Apologetics”), so I’m already somewhat suspicious as to what sort of criteria Ray uses to establish fact. Mr. Ray should check in his with his friend Mr. Armstrong as to why O’Hare is not a helpful source for Catholic apologetics.
Balmes uses the Luther quote under scrutiny in his book Protestantism and Catholicity Compared In Their Effects On The Civilization of Europe. Balmes uses Luther’s quote as proof that “the most distinguished Protestants have felt the void which is found in all sects separated from the Catholic Church” (p. 360). Really? Luther felt a void? Luther saying, “If the world lasts for a long time, it will again be necessary, on account of the many interpretations which are now given to the Scriptures, to receive the decrees of councils, and take refuge in them, in order to preserve the unity of faith” is supposed to prove this? Perhaps Balmes is only seeing what he wants to see. Balmes seems to have skipped over the many statements from Luther stating that the articles of faith are established by Holy Scripture, and that the Church has no authority as a superior judge to it. Maybe Mr. Ray can trust Balmes conclusions, but any writer who avoids blatant and obvious material from Luther on authority and councils, and rather puts forth an obscure quote without context in order to prove “the feeling of a void” is not a work I would have much faith in.
That These Words Of Christ “This Is My Body,” Etc., Still Stand Firm Against The Fanatics
In my original entry on Steve Ray’s use of Luther, I offered what appears to me to be the actual context from which the quote in question comes. The quote is probably from That These Words Of Christ, “This Is My Body,” etc., Still Stand Firm Against The Fanatics (1527) [LW 37]. Mr. Ray evaluated my explanation of the context, and granted my point that Luther saw councils could lead to only one thing, failure. Ray states, “Luther admits that the mess is such that they were damned if they did and damned if they don’t. It is a mess without authoritative councils, laws and decrees, and it is a mess with them.” He further clarified his comment to state that Luther made a concession on the need for a council, not that Luther wanted a council:
“I did not say that Luther wanted to take refuge in counsels! What I did say, based on my paraphrase of the quotation provided by Balmes is that, ‘Martin Luther conceded that reformers would again have to take refuge in the Church councils” (Crossing the Tiber, pg. 45). If Swan is going to quote me, at least he should do it accurately. That Luther said they would ‘have to take refuge’ is quite different from saying he ‘wanted to.’ It is obvious that Luther didn’t want to, but he admitted they might have to, as their subsequent history proves they eventually did, each new tradition imposing creeds and laws and authorities within their own new sects.”
Did Luther actually concede a council would be that which could unify the Reformers? He states in this treatise, “If the world lasts much longer, men will, as the ancients did, once more turn to human schemes on account of this dissension, and again issue laws and regulations to keep the people in the unity of the faith. Their success will be the same as it was in the past.” Both earlier and in the text after this particular quote, Luther states that councils will result in failure, because “human schemes ” “laws and regulations ” are not the work of the Holy Spirit, but of men. The text goes on to say, “In short, the devil is too clever and too mighty for us” because “If we wish to stand upon the councils and counsels of men, we lose the Scriptures altogether and remain in the devil’s possession body and soul.” Luther isn’t conceding anything. He’s describing precisely what men do when faced with dissension- come up with ways to try to stop it. Earlier in the same text, Luther describes the way councils arose, and attributes the Devil saying, ” It serves my purpose well that they should neglect the Word and not dispute over the Scriptures, but that at this very point they should be at peace and believe what the councils and the fathers say.”
Mr. Ray should pay close attention to the actual text he says he read in responding to me. Luther isn’t conceding the need for something that doesn’t work. He’s describing what men do. If the world lasts much longer according to Luther, men will try once again to do what they’ve done repeatedly- fail by use of a council to preserve unity. Mr. Ray should consider Luther’s attitude towards his opponents in this treatise. He did not consider them separated brethren, but heretics. Luther says of them, “For I have no hope that the teachers of a heresy or fanaticism will be converted. Indeed, if that were possible, so much has already been written that they would have been converted.” One does not call a council, or concede the need for a council to make peace with heretics. Rather, in this treatise, Luther argues for around 150 pages from the Scriptures against his opponents.
There was a fair amount of tedium involved in Mr. Ray’s response. I was said to have mis-cited a page number in Luther’s Work’s. Like Mr. Ray, I work off the LW CD these days. As I’ve used the program for a few years now, there appears to be some discrepancy with the way the program provides citation. I’ve found the auto-citation feature can be a page off from the actual page number being viewed. Ray is correct that Jaime Luciano Balmes book title includes the word “European,” of which was mistakenly left out when I formatted the entry. I did not point out all the spelling errors Steve made, nor did I see any need to comment on his conversion story which found its way into his response.