MARTIN LUTHER and HIS ENEMIES
From the lectures of Dr. Philip Cary
In this lecture we move from political conflict to theology conflict.....
We will look at how Luther fought with theological opponents. As Luther says, we fight with the word not the sword, as he says over and over. He does tell people who fight with the sword, when to fight with good conscience; he takes credit for all the peasants killed in the peasant war. Because his word instructed the Prince to kill all those peasant.
But fundamentally his work is about the word not the sword. his job is about prayer, preaching, and writing.... For Luther this is God's words at work, not just mere words.... So Luther just preaches God's word, it's up to God to do the rest....
Luther picks out how wicked some were and just says we have to let them go.... You would think that would give his writings a peaceful face; seen not to control everyone; he just preaches. I wish that was so; I wish his writing had a peaceful tone; but the fact is it is not so!
His theological attacks on his opponents are fierce and bitter, they are ABUSIVE, and they leave lasting wounds....
So we must think about what's going on with Luther's vile and abusive language.....
We shall get a fix on what is destructive about Luther, and what is wonderful and great.....
WHY is Luther so ABUSIVE towards his theological opponents? WHY is he so NASTY? Was he just getting bitter and pessimistic in his old age? Racked by illness and pain, because he was a very sick man in the last 15 years of his life. Did his illness lead to inhibitions.... So he just let fly at his opponents? That may be part of it, but it can't be the whole story. There is a deliberate strategy in Luther's writing.... He knows how to use words, and he's accomplishing something definite I think towards strategy with abuse.
I need to give you one example of this. So you get some notion of how profoundly abusive he could be.
Luther is famous for scatological abuse..... Let me give you one example; it's hard to believe this would be in a theological debate.
Luther says, to one of his opponents, I'm paraphrasing now, "Now look, why don't you do it in your pants, roll it up into a sausage, put that sausage around your neck, and then gobble it down."
Can you imagine this in a theological debate? There it is! And there's lots more like it! especially in his later writings. You just have to read this stuff to believe it; it's impossible to tell you it's there unless you read it.... Luther is flinging filth at his opponents all the time.
Well to start with let's go back to one of those dualities Luther is always playing around with, a key I think to understanding the why.
He makes distinction between FAITH and LOVE. Faith is inward.... frees your conscience; LOVE is outward, it addresses your service to your neighbor; so that means in love you should never personally attack someone. Leave their person out of it. Don't attack their moral lives. Even when he attacks the Pope, he doesn't satirize the Pope, as Irasmas does - like: oh well you have all these children. your gready, your enriching your family, your fighting in wars. That is not how Luther attacks his opponents.
He attacks them on the issue of FAITH! On the issue of DOCTRINE, on Christian doctrine, Christian teaching. But here's a crucial point, when you are dealing in love with another person, you can compromise with them. Love does not stand on principle, giving up your principle for sake of your neighbor. But FAITH - faith doesn't back down on anything. Faith hangs on to the word of God, and you don't compromise when it comes to the word of God. You don't compromise the Gospel. You don't compromise Christian teaching. With love you can compromise all you want, give up your principles out of love for your neighbor. That's fine. But NOT with FAITH!
NO compromising with faith, no backing down. And that I think tells us a lot about Luther's strategy.
When he attacks his opponents, he's attacking not their moral life, he's attacking their conscience!
Luther is always writing about people's conscience. With his theology opponents he basically says they are lying against their conscience. And here's the worst part, THERE ARE SPEAKING FOR THE DEVIL!
Remember his break with Rome, he said the Pope was speaking as the anti-christ!
And with his Protestant opponents he's continually saying they speak for the devil!
Some of his Protestant opponents play into this, like Thomas Muntzer..... Leader of the peasant rebellion. So when Muntzer talks about the Spirit, he says, "Yes I know your spirit, it's a spirit of rebellion and violence, it's not the Holy Spirit, I know what's in your conscience Muntzer, not the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of violence. You have this voice speaking to you, and you should know better. This voice isn't God's word. So in your own conscience your giving in to the devil."
This is the fundamental attack Luther gives over and over again!
For instance, when he critics Carlshart, he says, it's stunning but typical of Luther's rhetoric, "It aught to surprise no one, that I call him a devil, for I am not thinking of Dr. Carlshart, I'm thinking of him whom Carlshart is possessed, for whom he speaks, namely the devil."......
So with Luther defending the Gospel against its enemies, it is always a fundamental battle with the devil, the spirit who speaks through his enemies.
We need to talk about what Luther thinks about this battle with the devil. Why he speaks so persistently of his own battle with the devil, persistently and casually. it's striking.
TO BE CONTINUED