The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther (Part One)

 

By James Swan

 July 2003

Tertiumquid@msn.com

 

 

 

 

 

-Overview-

 

I. Introduction:

A look at the destructive criticism of Luther by Roman Catholics 1500 - 1920.

 

 

II. Johannes Cochlaeus: 

The first Catholic apologist to critique Luther: Luther was a child of the devil, the fruit of a union between Satan and Luther's mother (who later regretted not having murdered him in the cradle). Luther lusts after wine and women, is without conscience, and approves any means to gain his end. Luther is a liar and a hypocrite, cowardly and quarrelsome. Demonic monstrosities boiled out of Luther’s powerful  perverted mind. At Luther's death, Satan came to drag him off to hell.

 

III. Heinrich Denifle: 

The 19th Catholic scholar who held Luther was a fallen-away monk with unbridled lust, a theological ignoramus, an evil man, and used immorality to begin the the Reformation. Denifle accuses Luther of buffoonery, hypocrisy, pride, ignorance, forgery, slander, pornography, vice, debauchery, drunkenness, seduction, corruption, and more: he is a lecher, knave, liar, blackguard, sot, and worse: he was infected with the venereal disease syphilis.

 

IV. Hartmann Grisar:

The Jesuit historian who used Freudian psychology to arrive at the assessment that Luther was a monk obsessed with the lust of the flesh and a pathological manic-depressive personality. Luther’s view of justification by faith alone came from his own immorality—that in order to justify his loose life and to excuse his renunciation of the monastic ideal, Luther denied salvation with works. Luther was a neurasthenic and a psychopath. He sees him as the victim of bad heredity, a maladjusted misfit entering the monastic life because of some traumatic experience during a thunderstorm. Grisar argues that Luther was simply a neurotic man who spent his entire life unhappy and guilt-ridden.

 

V. Catholic Encyclopedia:

Catholic historian George Ganss presents a a wild tempered Luther, depressed and mentally ill. Luther was the victim of lust seeking unbrideled sexual liscence through his teaching. Luther ended up abandoned by most of his friends and colleagues, dejected and despairing, tortured in body and spirit.

 

VI. Patrick O'Hare: The Facts About Luther:

Father O’Hare presents a Luther who is not only mad, but morally depraved and corrupt. He asserts that Luther in the Wartburg was in close touch with Satan. Luther lived indecently, decried celibacy and virginity, sanctioned adultery, dishonored marriage, authorized prostitution and polygamy, and was a drunkard and frequenter of taverns who preached his theology in the fumes of alcohol in the midst of his fellow revolutionaries. He attributes to Luther a fickle and cunning character, an inordinate impudence, an unbridled presumption, a titanic pride, a despotic nature, and a spirit of blasphemy; Luther was a blasphemer, a libertine, a revolutionary, a hater of religious vows, a disgrace to the religious calling, an enemy of domestic felicity, the father of divorce, the advocate of polygamy, and the propagator of immorality and open licentiousness.

 

 

VII. Other Catholic Anti-Luther Writers:

A brief look at a few other Catholic approaches to Luther.

 

VIII. Conclusion

 

Endnotes

 

 

I. Introduction

 

I have heard it said that more books have been written about Martin Luther in the last 500 years than any other historical figure, with the exception being Jesus Christ. With such a wealth of material from a number of differing points of view, studying Luther is not a simple task. Luther left behind a vast amount of writings born in a complex historical time period. A researcher approaching Luther has an overwhelming task. He must be familiar with such things like 16th century culture, medieval theology, Roman Catholic doctrine, the history of Germany, and a host of other religious, sociological, philosophical, and political factors. For the 21st Century reader of a Luther biography, a certain amount of faith must be placed in the author. One must hope that the author has researched Luther as thoroughly as possible. One hopes that the author has given some effort to see past their inherent biases (all authors have bias!). One must hope they have taken great strides to present Luther in his context, both theological and historical. 

 

As quickly as Luther’s ideas poured off the press, books and pamphlets either in favor or against Luther came forth as well. Roman Catholic apologists quickly attempted to counter the Reformation.  Similarly utilizing the new invention of the printing press, they put forth their side of the story, warning the masses of the danger of Luther. In the past five hundred years, how have Catholic scholars understood Luther? What has been their side of the story? A simple answer to this question would leave many loose ends. An in-depth answer would entail writing an entire theological treatise. But perhaps by focusing on their presuppositional understanding of Luther, one can gain insight into their side of the story. What follows is the first part of an historical overview of key Roman Catholic authors and their approach to Luther. In this first installment, Catholic authors with a severe negative bias toward Luther will be discussed. This negative bias was the underlying theme to almost the entirety of Catholic Luther studies up until the early 20th century:

 

“It took Roman Catholicism a long time to come round to giving Luther a cold and careful look. For over four and a half centuries, since the night that Luther nailed up his Ninety-five Theses against Indulgences on 31 October 1517, Roman Catholicism took an unrelenting line of vicious invective and vile abuse against Luther's person, while virtually disregarding his vital and vivid religious experience, his commanding and irrefutable biblical theology, and his consuming concern to reform the Church according to the teaching and purpose of its founder, Jesus Christ. It is one thing to offer criticism; it is quite another to hurl scurrilous abuse: the former creates and maintains some relationships; the latter will deaden and destroy any relationship that exists.” [1]

 

My interest in this subject grew out of reading Roman Catholic web pages on Martin Luther. I began to repeatedly see the name of the Jesuit scholar Hartmann Grisar put forth as the definitive source for all Luther information. Upon probing Grisar’s works, I came across the tradition of destructive criticism he belonged to.[2] Simultaneous to this, I had discussions with Roman Catholics who produced a wealth of Luther quotes, but were unable to provide contexts. They informed me the quotes were taken from the book, The Facts About Luther by Msgr. Patrick O’Hare. Both Grisar and O’Hare are Catholic authors from long ago, and their flawed negative approach to Luther had similarly been responded to long ago. I doubt these counter-responses were sought out by modern-day Roman Catholics. Had they been, perhaps O’Hare and Grisar would never have been pulled from the historical discard bin and thrust onto the World Wide Web, as if these fatal responses to their work had never been given. These authors are once again able to perpetuate their flawed historical studies.

 

In part two, Catholic authors that have taken wiser steps in trying to understand Luther without ad hominem attacks will be addressed. There are a wealth of Roman Catholic authors whose opinions and research are worthy of a close look. As Richard Stauffer has noted, “If one wanted to sum up briefly the path Roman Luther-scholars have trodden since 1904, one could say that they passed from destructive criticism to a respectful encounter.”[3]  This in no way is an exhaustive list or in depth doctrinal investigation.[4] In my studies, I utilize both Catholic and Protestant works on Luther. Those names that have appeared continually in both theological traditions are the emphasis. This paper is intended to be more of a bibliographic resource, it can be read out of sequence. Since my desire is for this paper to serve as a reference guide, I have included lengthy citations from relevant scholars. It is my desire to allow them to speak, rather than put forth my own opinions.

 

 

 

II. Johannes Cochlaeus (1479 - 1552)

 

Background

Catholic writings against Luther began highly polemic. During Luther’s lifetime, one of Luther’s first biographers was also a great adversary with lasting impact: Johannes Cochlaeus. Cochlaeus spent a great deal of his life writing against Luther, and went so far as maintaining printing presses at his own cost to make sure his work was published. The Catholic Encyclopedia gives this description:

 

“Naturally of a quiet and studious disposition he was drawn into the arena of polemics by the religious schism. There he developed a productivity and zeal unparalleled by any other Catholic theologian of his time.”

 

“With indomitable ardour he published pamphlet after pamphlet against Luther and Melanchthon, against Zwingli, Butzer, Bullinger, Cordatus, Ossiander, etc.” [5]

 

It is for his writings against Luther that Cochlaeus is remembered. Even with such a great output of works against Luther, the Catholic Encyclopedia goes on to state that “Almost all of these publications, however, were written in haste and bad temper, without the necessary revision and theological thoroughness, consequently they produced no effect on the masses.” Note, the Encyclopedia does not repudiate the information put forth by Cochlaeus, only that his tone and structure of the material held it back from gaining popularity with the sixteenth century people. Overall, the Catholic Encyclopedia presents Cochlaeus in a favorable light: he “worked untiringly to bring about the reconciliation of Luther,”  he wrote against the [peasant’s] rebellion and Luther, its real author,” “he laboured strenuously in 1530, to refute the Augsburg Confession,” he was one of the “foremost champions of the Church,” and “He was one of that distinguished group of scholars” that fought against Protestantism. 

 

Cochlaeus’s Position on Luther

What did this great scholarly opponent say about Luther? Here are a few summary statements from modern Catholic and protestant scholars of the content of Cochlaeus’s image of Luther:

 

“Luther is a child of the devil, possessed by the devil, full of falsehood and vainglory. His revolt was caused by monkish envy of the Dominican, Tetzel; he lusts after wine and women, is without conscience, and approves any means to gain his end. He thinks only of himself. He perpetrated the act of nailing up the theses for forty two gulden- the sum he required to buy a new cowl. He is a liar and a hypocrite, cowardly and quarrelsome. There is no drop of German blood in him…” [6]

 

“He refers to Luther as a child of the devil, the fruit of a union of Satan with Luther's mother who later regretted not having murdered him in the cradle. His fellow monks knew him as a demon-possessed quarreler who lusted after drink and sex, without conscience, ready to use any means to further his own plans. Demonic monstrosities boiled out of his powerful but perverted mind. At Luther's death, this "father" appears to drag him off to hell.”[7]

 

“Cochlaeus did not go about his difficult work with the coolness and detachment of a non-partisan historian, nor did he think it a fault not to do so. He felt his readers should not only be informed about Lutheranism, but also made fully aware that Luther had devastated the Church and had brought unutterable misery to his German homeland. Every deprecation, slander and evil legend was snatched up by the author: he asserted, for example, that Luther entered into the indulgence battle against Tetzel because, as an Augustinian, he was jealous of the lucrative indulgence trade enjoyed by Tetzel and the Dominicans. Another story had it that Luther already as a fifteen-year-old lad was indulging in immoral relations with his benefactress, Frau Cotta zu Eisenach; that he lived a riotous student life in Erfurt; and that during his first period in the cloister Luther lived in concubineage with three nuns, from which experience, he is supposed to have contracted venereal disease.”[8]

 

“By his own admission, Cochlaeus set out to make his readers feel revulsion toward Luther… Cochlaeus did use Luther's own works, citing from or referring to 140 writings of the reformer. In selecting for citation, Cochlaeus had an eye especially for passages in which Luther attacked Catholic doctrines and institutions. The excerpts were to show the reader a Luther quite reckless in polemics, clearly destructive of church, clergy, and sacraments. Cochlaeus depicts Luther as the cause of the violence in Germany in 1525, when the peasants revolted, and laments the desolation of his native land, all due to Luther's heresies and defiance. Luther, according to Cochlaeus, was not even consistent, but kept changing his views as occasion suggested.”[9]

 

“Cochlaeus found Luther to be a man full of evil intentions and ambitions, and he was clear that jealousy, selfishness, hypocrisy, and a desire for notoriety ultimately motivated all the Reformer's actions. No good was to be expected of such a man, and no defamation seemed too base to be left unmentioned. In his Sincere and Thorough Apology for Duke Georg of Saxony of 1533, Cochlaeus thus willingly accepted Peter Sylvius's fable of Luther's creation by the Devil; and although in the Commentaria he expressed some doubt about the truth of the rumour, he remained convinced that, as a destroyer of the Church and the German nation, Luther was an agent of Satan himself. Such obsession with the person of Martin Luther made Cochlaeus blind to the wider context of the Reformation, and his writings in consequence show remarkable ignorance and misjudgement of the German political situation, of growing lay interest in the shaping of Church life, and of the intellectual outlook of the new learning.”[10]

 

Protestant scholar Robert Kolb notes that Cochlaeus saw Luther as “an agent of the devil, a perversion, and a monster.”[11] Cochlaeus best expressed this portrayal of Luther as a seven-headed dragon, in a book as well as in an accompanying artistic portrayal.[12] Cochlaeus explains the picture:

 

“It is indeed a miracle and surpasses all reason and understanding, however sublime and venerable, that in one deity there are three, and these three deities are one—one in substance, yet three in person. But in one cowl of this one Luther, there are seven, and these seven Luthers are not only one in substance, but even in person. An extraordinary theology indeed, hitherto unheard of not only among Jews and heathens, but also among Christians! In the old, most Christian Evangel, there was one heart among the multitude of believers and one soul; yet in this new Evangel one heart and flesh are cut apart into many heads, and not only is it that diverse people hold diverse opinions, but one and the same mind grows several heads next to itself.”[13]

 

The goal of Cochlaeus in the use of this image was to point out that Luther was thoroughly contradictory in his own beliefs. Cochlaeus ultimately did not fight against Luther via Scripture and Church decrees. Rather, he used Luther’s own words, set up in such a way that they appeared contradictory and absurd. Cochlaeus had done what would later be a standard approach to vilifying Luther: create a book of out-of-context Luther quotes so parishioners of Catholicism would not have to read Luther for themselves.  Cochlaeus divided up the life of Luther into seven distinct periods, each represented by one of the heads on the monster. Each head held a contradictory opinion to the other. He explains what each head represents:

 

“Thus all brothers emerge from the womb of one and the same cowl by a birth so monstrous, that none is like the other in either behavior, shape, face or character. The elder brothers, Doctor and Martinus, come closest to the opinion of the Church, and they are to be believed above all the others, if anything anywhere in Luther's books can be believed with any certainty at all. Lutherus, however, according to his surname, plays a wicked game just like Ismael [lat. ludere—Luder, Saxon pronunciation for Luther]. Ecclesiastes tells the people who are always keen on novelties, pleasant things. Svermerns rages furiously and errs in the manner of Phaeton throughout the skies. Barrabas is looking for violence and sedition everywhere. And at the last, Visitator, adorned with a new mitre and ambitious for a new papacy, prescribes new laws of ceremonies, and many old ones which he had previously abolished—revokes, removes, reduces. This is the sum of my book.”[14]

 

 

Assessment and Influence of Cochlaeus

In his books, Cochlaeus does what later Catholic critiques of Luther promise: to present the real “facts” about Luther, undistorted from Luther’s own writings.[15] When not vilifying Luther’s character using hearsay and slander, he will at times over-analyze Luther sentence by sentence, to the effect of missing the central points of Luther’s reformation teaching. Catholic scholar Adolf Herete showed that Cochlaeus had in fact actually read very little of Luther’s books from cover to cover. Most of the citations used were from the prefaces and conclusions of Luther’s treatises.[16] Gotthelf Wiedermann notes,

 

“Septiceps Lutherus is nevertheless a masterpiece of distortion, misrepresentation, and also stupidity. With little regard for the dialectical nature of Luther's writings—more often than not the Reformer was obliged to fight on two fronts at the same time—quotations are torn out of context and 'edited' in a way that created artificial contradictions to make nonsense of anything Luther ever wrote. If Cochlaeus reproduced Luther's words, he certainly violated his thoughts and arguments, seizing on passages that sounded particularly scandalous and revolutionary with all the zeal of a cheap journalist.”[17]

 

Even though the Catholic Encyclopedia says Cochlaeus had no “effect on the masses”, his work did have a great effect on subsequent Catholic understanding of Luther. The Encyclopedia goes on to say that “His greatest work against Luther is his strictly historical "Commentaria de Actis et Sciptis M. Luther" (extending to his death), an armoury of Catholic polemics for all succeeding time.” The Encyclopedia also states that Cochlaeus is “in the main followed by Catholic investigators” doing research on Luther.

 

Cochlaeus, in essence, became one of Luther’s most influential opponents. His biography “deeply influenced the image of Luther held by Catholics for more than two centuries.”[18] His overall “image of the devilishly destructive Luther dominated Catholic popular understanding of Luther for centuries.”[19] The scholars agree:

 

“There can be no doubt of the sincerity and conviction of Cochlaeus, but neither can there be any doubt that it was he who poisoned the well of historical studies. Roman Catholic historians have drawn their prejudice against Luther from this polemical source, which in its animosity has an almost total disregard for objective truth and historical facts. Denifle, Grisar, Cristiani, Paquier, and Maritain (to cite the most famous and influential) have all drunk deep of this poisoned well-too deeply- and lesser historians have adopted their position.”[20]

 

“An answer to this question of why the more scientific and accurate Catholic depiction of Luther is so recent was well stated at the time of World War II by Catholic scholar Adolf Herte in a three-volume work, Das katholische Lutherbild im Bann der Lutherkommentare des Cochlaeus. His clear and, for many Catholics, embarrassing answer was this: Catholic Luther interpretation for the previous 400 years had more or less repeated what Johannes Cochlaeus, a contemporary of Luther, set forth in his extremely negative Commentaria de actis et scriptis M. Lutheri.. Cochlaeus' writings were basically nothing but fiction, calumny, and lies. In the rude style of that time, Cochlaeus depicted Luther as a monster, a demagogue, a revolutionary, a drunkard, and a violator of nuns.”[21]

 

Thus, the influence of Cochlaeus on Roman Catholic approaches to Luther cannot be minimized or overlooked. His polemical work served as a distorted systematic guideline of what Catholics were to think about Luther:

 

“Through the centuries, generation after generation of Catholic priests were brought up on church histories, encyclopedias, world-chronicles, and histories of heresy all of which, deliberately or unknowingly, accepted Cochlaeus's verdict on Luther. Only in the Age of Enlightenment did the Commentaria temporarily lose some of its hold on Germany, though not on France; and even then the revival of confessionalism in the nineteenth century renewed the old influences and continued to do so right into modern times.”[22]

 

Protestant theologian Ulrich Kremer points out that the popular demonization of Luther started in the 16th Century by Cochlaeus was “so lasting that, …the entire Catholic historiography of the Reformation until the publication in 1939 of Joseph Lortz’s magnum opus came under the spell of such powerful polemic [that of Cochlaeus]”.[23]  Gotthelf Wiedermann notes, “It was only in the 20th century that Cochlaeus hold on the Catholic image of Luther was gradually broken, especially by Joseph Lortz’s Die Reformation in Deutschland, (1039-40)”.[24] Modern Catholic historians are aware of the vast shortcomings of the work of Cochlaeus. Catholic historian Adolf Herte “published studies on Cochlaeus and his influence (1935, 1943) which make it clear how Cochlaeus had intentionally sketched Luther in the worst possible light so as to arouse suspicion and hatred toward his person.”[25]

 

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “Luther, to the vexation of Cochlaeus wrote in answer only a single work, "Adversus Armatum Virum Cocleum".” This is indeed true, yet Cochlaeus’s name appears various times throughout Luther’s Works. Late in his career, Luther was to say:

 

“Thus the papists, too, studiously distort our statements in order to enhance their own cause. When we declare that a man is not justified by works, they assert that we are forbidding and condemning good works. Such vipers are Cochlaeus, Witzel, and others.  These are satanic lies of venomous and very evil men who do not listen to our statements and do not want to listen. Yet they force them into having a different meaning—a meaning which they themselves want them to have.”[26]

“For thus the enemies of the truth are accustomed to obscure, traduce, and corrupt the fruits and gains of the Gospel and of salvation among simple and godly hearers. Eck, Cochlaeus, Pighius, and many others are the best contrivers of such calumnies.  They adorn themselves with false and counterfeit praises; but they defame us, in order to make us more obnoxious to those who are strangers to our doctrine. Accordingly, they secretly take away what is most beautiful and best for winning over the hearts of simple men, namely, the favor and goodwill of men, by which we could gain and educate many through the Word. We have to be befouled in order that they may be beautiful.”[27]

 

Had Luther the foreknowledge of Cochlaeus’s lasting impact on Catholic scholars studying his life and writings, perhaps Luther would have spent more time refuting his material.  Luther did not take him all that seriously. Rather than engage him, Luther lampoons, insults or simply dismisses his writings as nonsense. Luther refers to Cochlaeus as a “windbag,”[28] a  viper,”[29]impudent young rascal,”[30] and he sarcastically calls him the “profound thinker that he is.[31] Luther would say this in regard to Cochlaeus:

 

“I fear no fanatic, for I know none who can oppose me with arguments that would put me to confusion. All their arguments I’ve already heard from the devil-in fact, more weighty ones—but I have overcome them through the Word of God. I don’t think Cochlaeus could stand my devil even as long as it takes me to say a single word. He and those like him know nothing about this.”[32]

 

There is a story in the Weimar edition of Luther’s Works, that the Elector of Brandenburg’s son had seen Cochlaeus’s picture depicting Luther with seven heads. The boy remarked, “If Dr. Luther has seven heads, he will be invincible, for so far they have not been able to vanquish him though he has but one![33]  

 

 

III. Heinrich Denifle (1844 – 1905)

 

Background

The Catholic Encyclopedia states that Heinrich Denifle was one of the best Austrian Catholic preachers in the 1880’s, and “beloved by Leo XIII and Pius X.” He was also an accomplished scholar, with groundbreaking work on the relationship between scholastic theology and medieval mysticism.[34] The Encyclopedia praises Denifle:

 

“Catholic and non-Catholic savants alike… have recognized that he was immeasurably superior to his adversaries. This was owing to his intimate knowledge of the Fathers, of theology -- both scholastic and mystic -- of medieval history, and lastly of Middle-High German with its dialects.”

 

In the course of his research on medieval theology and the corruption of the Church, Denifle developed an interest in understanding Luther. The Encyclopedia states,

 

“At the beginning of this painful investigation Denifle had not a thought about Luther, but now he saw that he could not avoid him; to estimate the new departure it was necessary to understand Luther, for of this appalling depravity he was the personification as well as the preacher. So Denifle devoted many years to the task of ascertaining for himself how, and why, and when Luther fell.”

 

A great irony in Luther studies is that the protestant heirs of Luther did not know they possessed a copy of Luther’s early 1515 – 1516 commentary notes on Romans, while the Vatican claimed to be in possession of a copy. In 1880, Leo XIII opened the secret archives of the Vatican to scholars. Luther’s then-unknown Roman’s treatise was found, and Denifle working as an assistant archivist was able to utilize it.  The announcement that Father Denifle was going to publish a biography including never before writings from Luther was highly anticipated in the academic world. The Encyclopedia touts,

“For some time previous it had been known that Denifle was engaged on such a work, but when in 1904 the first volume of 860 pages of "Luther und Luthertum in der ersten Entwicklung quelienmässig darstellt" appeared, it fell like a bomb into the midst of the Reformer's admirers. The edition was exhausted in a month. The leading Protestants and rationalists in Germany, Seeberg, Harnack,[35] and seven other professors, besides a host of newspaper writers attempted to defend Luther, but in vain. Denifle's crushing answer to Harnack and Seeberg, "Luther in rationalistischer und christlicher Beleuchtung" appeared in March, 1904, and two months afterwards he issued a revised edition of the first part of the first volume; the second was brought out in 1905 and the third in 1906 by A. Weiss, O.P.”

 

The Encyclopedia approvingly evaluates Denifle’s work on Luther:

 

“[Denifle] examines [Luther’s] views on the vow of chastity in detail, and convicts him of ignorance, mendaciousness, etc. The second part which is entitled "a contribution to the history of exegesis, literature and dogmatic theology in the Middle Ages", refutes Luther's assertion that his doctrine of justification by faith, i.e. his interpretation of Rom., i, 17, was the traditional one, by giving the relevant passages from no fewer than sixty-five commentators. Of these works many exist only in manuscript. To discover them it was necessary to traverse Europe; this part which appeared posthumously is a masterpiece of critical erudition. The third part shows that the year 1515 was the turning point in Luther's career, and that his own account of his early life is utterly untrustworthy, that his immorality was the real source of his doctrine, etc. No such analysis of Luther's theology and exegesis was ever given to the learned world for which it was written.”

 

“He has thrown more light on Luther's career and character than all the editors of Luther's works and all Luther's biographers taken together. Denifle wished to offend no man, but he certainly resolved on showing once and for all the Reformer in his true colours. He makes Luther exhibit himself. Protestant writers, he remarks betray an utter lack of the historical method in dealing with the subject, and the notions commonly accepted are all founded on fable. As he pointedly observes: "Critics, Harnack and Ritschl more than others, may say what they like about God Incarnate; but let no one dare to say a word of disapproval about Luther before 1521". Denifle's impeachment is no doubt a terrible one, but apart from some trifling inaccuracies in immaterial points it is established by irrefragable proofs.”

 

Interestingly, these positive comments from the Catholic Encyclopedia come from roughly the same time period in which Denifle’s work on Luther appeared. It is apparent that the compilers of the Encyclopedia were quite favorable to Denifle: he is a frequently cited scholar throughout the entire work on a variety of topics. That Denifle is a respected scholar is beyond question. That his opinion on Luther would carry weight in the academic world is understandable, particularly since Denifle had a deep knowledge of medieval theology, and access to early works from Luther otherwise unavailable to the modern world.

 

Catholic scholar Leonard Swidler points out that Denifle’s work met with great approval of the highest authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, and influenced papal statements. Denifle’s influence can be found in the encyclical Militantis ecclesiae, written for the Canisiusjubilaeum August 1, 1897. Here Pope Leo XIII spoke of the Reformation as the “Lutheran Rebellion” that ushered in the demise of morals.  Pius X wrote an encyclical on St. Charles Borromaeo, Editae saepe, (May 26, 1910) in which he put forth:

 

“There arose haughty and rebellious men, "enemies of the cross of Christ . . . men with worldly . . . minds whose god is the belly." They strove not for the betterment of morals but rather for the denial of the foundations of faith. They cast everything into confusion and cleared for themselves and others a broad path of undisciplined wilfullness, or sought, indeed openly at, the bidding of the most depraved princes and peoples and under the disapproval of the ecclesiastical authority and leadership, to forcibly obliterate the Church's teaching, constitution and discipline.”[36]

 

 

Denifle’s Evaluation of Luther

How though did Denifle’s research stand the test of time?  Here are a few summary statements from modern Protestant and Catholic scholars evaluating the content of Denifle’s work on Luther:

 

“The Dominican Denifle attempted to perform a "moral and scholarly execution" of Luther as a fallen-away monk with unbridled lust, a theological ignoramus; Luther was an evil man, and the Reformation fundamentally sprang from immorality. He wrote, "Luther, there is nothing godly in you!" Luther was ‘an ordinary, or if you will, an extraordinary destroyer, a revolutionary, who went through his age like a demon ruthlessly trampling to earth what had been reverenced a thousand years before him. He was a seducer who carried away hundreds of thousands with him in his fateful errors, a false prophet who in his contradiction-burdened teaching as in his sin-laden life manifested the exact opposite of what one should expect and demand from one sent from God. He was a liar and deceiver who through the very overthrowing of all moral limitations under the banner of Christian freedom attracted to himself so many deluded souls.’”[37]

 

 

“Denifle has two principle theses: the first is that Luther was so vile that he could not possibly be an instrument of God, that he was an imposter whose reforming zeal was but a cloak to his own moral decadence; the second theses is that this so-called reformer made no discovery at all in the theological realm, that he was not only a liar, but an ignorant liar- too ignorant of the true medieval context to understand the prevalent teaching of the righteousness of God. To defend his first theses, Denifle accuses Luther of buffoonery, hypocrisy, pride, ignorance, forgery, slander, pornography, vice, debauchery, drunkenness, seduction, corruption, and more: he is a lecher, knave, liar, blackguard, sot, and worse. Rupp describes such language as belonging to criminal pathology. Such accusations are seriously drawn up, and in the guise of scientific objectivity have deceived many: they are dictated by blind anger. He cries out toward the end of his book, ‘Luther, there is nothing divine in you! At the end he appeals to Protestants, ‘Have done with Luther; return to the Church’.” To defend his second thesis, concerning Luther's theological incompetence, Denifle argues that Luther was contaminated with nominalism, and had shown himself utterly unable to understand the golden age of scholasticism. In a volume of sources published the following year, Denifle analyzes no fewer than sixty-six commentaries on Romans from the time of Augustine onwards, in an attempt to bring out Luther's errors on justification and his ignorance of medieval tradition. Unfortunately for Lutheranism, no Luther scholar of the day could match Denifle’s mastery of the Middle Ages or his knowledge of the religious life for use in preparing a response. When the Protestants eventually did reply, Denifle simply dismissed them, referring to the 'inferior mentality' of Protestants (men such as Harnack and Seeberg!) and describing them as symptomatic of 'the bankruptcy of Protestant Science'.” [38]

 

“[Denifle] had expert knowledge which could have served well in understanding Luther's earliest works… But Denifle, a pugnacious Tyrolian, chose not to understand Luther but to demolish him, showing Luther to be a theological ignoramus and decadent, fallen monk victimized by unruly passion According to Denifle, Luther's theology rests on the conviction that the human heart is wholly dominated by lust anger, and pride. Luther had not taken monastic discipline seriously and failed to cooperate with the graces God offered him. Luther had fallen into numerous sexual sins and his theology then is simply a clever justification for a life without self-discipline and moral striving. Along the way in his exposition, Denifle heaped intemperate abuse on Protestant accounts of Luther for their misunderstandings of medieval thought. He opened one of his concluding chapters with a flourish, ‘Luther, there is no once of godliness in you!’”[39]

 

“The evidence which Denfile presented [about Luther] was certainly impressive and his influence on anti-Lutheran writers has been continuous and considerable; but it had been marshaled in a distinctly slanted fashion He had, for instance, laid great stress on Luther's use of the word ‘concupiscentia', mistakeningly interpreting it as sexual lust. He quoted a phrase which Luther used in a letter to his wife, 'I gorge myself like a Bohemian and I get drunk like a German. God be praised. Amen', to suggest that he was a worldly man, but he did not note the context of the letter, a humorous one written to his wife when she was very worried by his poor appetite. He used a series of portraits in his first edition to show how the thin, ascetic scholar and monk became obese and unattractive; the last of his portraits, he noted, was surprisingly bestial', though the fact that it was made of the reformer after his death, and possibly after decomposition had set in, should have minimized his astonishment.”[40]

 

 

“Denifle has grossly misrepresented [Luther] in identifying [Luther’s admitting of sins] with the lusts of the flesh, and his theory that the sensual tendency ultimately led him to a sense of moral bankruptcy and induced him to take refuge in the doctrine of justification by faith alone is utterly misleading. It is not shared by reasonable Roman Catholic writers like Kiefl, who have rightly discarded the theory of Denifle and his followers Grisar, Paquier, Cristiani as untenable.”[41]

 

“Father Heinrich Denifle in his Luther und Lutherthum made three major points: 1) Luther had broken his monastic vows; 2) at least sixty-five instances can be found of interpretations of Romans 1:17 in Luther's sense before Luther's time; and 3) the year 1515 was the turning point for Luther when lust overpowered him. It is useful to recall the tone of Denifle's polemic. "Luther's melancholy interior is the midpoint of his theology" (vol. 1, p. 590). "Luther gave the impression of being a man who hurls himself into the flood, without knowing what he is doing. He believed thereby to have found the best means with which to make himself the leader of the movement. Now he first sees what he has begun; he cannot turn back, the waves have been set free, his pride does not allow him to rescue himself from it, so he becomes completely radical" (vol. 2, p. 13). Warming up to his subject, Denifle continues: "Luther's undertaking was faustian, the black magic artist Dr. Faust is only an idealized Luther" (vol. 2, p. 108); "the devil controlled him, the devil who bothers Luther so terribly is Luther's own uneasy conscience and this devil plagues him more and more" (vol. 2, p. 118). "The Reformation was the cloaca maxima, the large drainage canal, through which the debris, which had long been piling up, was conducted away, which would otherwise have ruined and poisoned everything if it had remained in the church" (vol. 2, p. 109).”[42]

 

“[Denifle] depicted Luther as a moral miscreant who had invented the doctrine of justification to excuse his own immoral life. He accused the Reformer of being guilty of a "damned halt-knowledge" and of a "philosophy of the flesh," and he called Luther's doctrine a "seminar of sins and vices." In several passages he chose the form of personal address to Luther, exclaiming, for example, "Luther, in you there is nothing divine!"”[43]

 

“Denifle pursued the question of Luther's relationship to medieval theology, especially to Thomas Aquinas. His conclusion: the Reformation was based at least in part on Luther s woeful ignorance of classical Roman theology. As for the causes of Luther s reformatory views, Denifle found them in what he called Luther’s unbridled sensuality, his uncontrollable lust, thirst, and appetite.  Justification by faith then became the cover-up for his own sins. The composite picture of Luther is that of a glutton, a forger, a liar, a blasphemer, a drunk; a vicious, proud, unprincipled, syphilitic man whose communion with God ceased entirely before his death, which may have been self-inflicted.”[44]

 

“Denifle began to quarry from Luther's own works and manuscripts what was rumored even before publication to be "ein boses Buch!" The work was aimed at annihilating Luther's reputation, but out of his own mouth and from his own pen. The young Catholic Luther, torn with sin and constant remorse, was pitted against the hardened old reprobate. Grilling his subject mercilessly like a savage district attorney, Denifle denied him veracity, depicted a lecherous young man ridden by unconquerable concupiscence of the flesh, and later exhibited a bloated besotted beast given to vile ragings and obscene vituperation. Luther had been wicked very wicked indeed—why, his own words about culpa, culpa, mea maxima culpa!" and his inability to find peace even behind monastery walls convict him! Unable to find any goodness even with God's grace Luther in final desperation simply "invented" forgiveness for nothing, i.e., justification through faith—and then advised "pecca fortiter," sin boldly! Thus he unleashed all the wicked passions of the Evangelical Reformation.”[45]

 

What are Denifle's theses? There are two. The one seeks to make Luther into a man so vile that he could not be the instrument of God, an imposter whose "reforming" activities were merely a wretched camouflage to mask his moral decadence. The other tries to prove that the "pseudo-reformer" had made no rediscovery at all in the theological realm; it was that his propensity for lying or his crass ignorance only prevented him from understanding that the justitia Dei familiar to the medieval theologians was as important for them as he said justification was for him. To defend the first of these theses, which was self-condemnatory purely because of its exaggeration, Denifle does not hesitate to accuse Luther of buffoonery, hypocrisy, pride, ignorance, forgery, slander, pornography, vice, debauchery, drunkenness, seduction, corruption, and the like. These accusations, drawn up as a list of indictments which, disguised as scientific objectivity, are dictated by the blindest anger, culminate in a paragraph headed "The Christian Character of Luther". Having stated there that Luther wanted to be a filthy swine because this animal embodied his ideal of the spiritual life, Denifle pronounces the verdict: "Luther, there is nothing divine in you!" To the Protestant readers who have the patience to read to the end of his invectives, Denifle addresses a final appeal: "Have done with Luther; return to the Church."[46]

 

“…[T]he high point in controversial literature was reached in the writings of Heinrich Denifle and Hartmann Grisar shortly after the turn of the century. The Dominican Denifle attempted to perform a “moral and scholarly execution” of Luther as a fallen-away monk with unbridled lust and a theological ignoramus. Luther was an evil man, and the Reformation fundamentally sprang from immorality. Denifle wrote “Luther, there is nothing godly in you!” Luther was “an ordinary, or if you will, an extraordinary destroyer, a revolutionary, who went through his age like a demon, ruthlessly trampling to earth what had been reverenced a thousand years before him. He was a seducer who carried away hundreds of thousands with him in his fateful errors, a false prophet who in his contradiction- burdened teaching as in his sin-laden life manifested the exact opposite of what one should expect and demand from one sent from God. He was a liar and deceiver who, through the very overthrowing of all moral limitations under the banner of Christian freedom, attracted to himself so many deluded souls.”[47]

 

 

Assessment and Influence of Denifle

The bias of Denifle is overtly apparent. Catholic scholar Jared Wicks points out the immediate reaction to Denifle’s work from Catholic scholars:

 

“Catholic university men in Germany were reserved about Denifle’s bombshell from Rome. Some coolly pointed out that a person so depraved as the Luther depicted by Denifle could not possibly have produced the literature that in fact changed the course of Christian history. It was lamented that the new documents Denifle presented would never lead to corrections of Lutheran views of Luther, since the Dominican had clothed his work in a vitriolic rhetoric repulsive to Lutherans.”[48]

 

Catholic scholar Joseph Lortz unmasks the link between Cochlaeus and Denifle, and clearly expresses that he purposefully has abandoned

 

the evaluative categories of a Cochlaeus, … dominated [Catholic Luther studies] for over 400 years, and those of the great Denifle…. Gradually Catholics have come to recognize the Christian, and even Catholic, richness of Luther, and they are impressed. They now realize how great the Catholic guilt was that Luther was expelled from the Church to begin the division that burdens us so today--even in theology. Finally, we are anxious to draw Luther's richness back into the Church. ”[49]

 

In God’s blessed providence, Denifle’s works on Luther have not been widely disseminated in English, but remain one hundred year old, out of print German tomes. The English world has been spared his biased attacks against Luther. Still, even though his work remains obscure, Catholics on the World Wide Web still find ways of utilizing his material:

 

“Our (people) are now seven times worse than they ever were before. We steal, lie, cheat, ... and commit all manner of vices." (110:22/47 - Denifle, Heinrich, Luther and Lutherdom, vol.1, part 1, tr. from 2nd rev. ed. of German by Raymund Volz, Somerset, England: Torch Press, 1917)”

"The world by this teaching becomes only the worse, the longer it exists ... The people are more avaricious, less merciful ... and worse than before under the Papacy." (110:25/49 - Denifle, Heinrich, Luther and Lutherdom, vol.1, part 1, tr. from 2nd rev. ed. of German by Raymund Volz, Somerset, England: Torch Press, 1917)”[50]

 

Atkinson says, “Denifle's thesis has wreaked irreparable harm to the Catholic understanding of Luther, and has exercised an astonishing influence on Catholicism in general and on Catholic scholarship in particular, which one might have thought impervious to such impassioned and biased thinking.”[51] Denifle’s attacks though did have this positive aspect: he forced Protestant scholars to do even greater research into Luther, particularly to reviewing the early years of Luther’s life and medieval scholasticism. Richard Stauffer notes the Reponses to Denifle’s main points on Luther:

 

“Whereas in the first thesis he seeks to rule out his opponent on the score of morality, in the second he aims at proving Luther's incompetence, if not dishonesty, in theology. In this new attempt at liquidation Denifle revives the idea that Luther was contaminated by the nominalism of William of Occam and failed to appreciate the golden age of scholasticism…Denifle's theses stirred up considerable feeling in Protestantism. The former had nevertheless a certain usefulness, in that it made Lutheran historians finally renounce hagiography and rediscover the true Luther: a man who, besides his greatnesses had also his littlenesses and who, because he was conscious of his wretchedness, was able to be unreservedly the herald of God's grace. Among those who were stimulated by Denifle's attacks to try to give Protestantism a sound picture of the Reformer, we must mention Otto Scheel. The biography which he set out to write, but which unfortunately remained unfinished, is a remarkable work. It devotes no less than two volumes—all that appeared-to tracing Luther's development up to 1515, a period treated only very superficially by nineteenth-century Luther-scholars. Denifle's second thesis had the effect of reminding Protestant theologians that, to know the young Luther, it is also necessary to know the teaching of scholasticism; that, to understand his message, the necessary preliminary is to have understood the thought of the Middle Ages. In this respect, the German historian whom one can regard as the initiator in the renaissance of Luther studies, Karl Holl. did a wonderful work. He was able to show, in particular, that Luther s interpretation of Rom. 1: 17 represented not only a rediscovery of the thought of St Augustine but even a new understanding of God.”[52]

 

 

IV. Hartmann Grisar (1845 – 1932)

 

Background

The Jesuit scholar Hartmann Grisar made a positive attempt to go beyond Denifle’s vilification, but in essence did nothing more than follow in his footsteps. Grisar delved deeply into Luther studies. His work on Luther spanned multiple volumes and thousands of pages. His books were considered the standard Catholic understanding of Luther for decades; so popular were they that the Knights of Columbus gave thousands of copies of Grisar’s books to libraries all across America.[53]  His books on Luther were highly praised as a new height in Luther research:[54]

 

“[Grisar’s] book is so studiously scientific, so careful to base its teaching upon documents, and so determined to eschew controversies that are only theological, that it cannot but deeply interest Protestant readers.”

 

“[Grisar’s] Life of Luther' bears fresh witness to his unwearied industry, wide learning, and scrupulous anxiety to be impartial in his judgments as well as absolutely accurate in matters of fact.”

 

This 'Life of Luther' is bound to become standard ... a model of every literary, critical, and scholarly virtue.”

 

This third volume of Father Grisar's monumental  ‘Life’ is full of interest for the theologian And not less for the psychologist; for here more than ever the author allows himself to probe into the mind and motives and understanding of Luther, so as to get at the significance of his development.”[55]

 

Grisar can indeed be praised for avoiding some of the abusive polemic language that filled Denifle’s work. He also strove to disprove many of the stories about Luther’s personal life that Denifle used to damage the reputation of Luther:

 

“Grisar demolished two major points in the thesis of Denifle. He was not at all disposed to credit the tale of Luther’s moral turpitude. He stated emphatically that ‘the only arguments on which the assertions of great inward corruption could be based, viz. actual texts and facts capable of convincing anyone…simply are not forthcoming’ He admitted that Denifle’s interpretation of  ‘concupiscence’ would not bear examination. ‘Nor does the manner in which Luther represents concupiscence prove his inward corruption. He does not make it consist merely in the concupiscence of the flesh.’ He can pay tribute to Luther’s minor virtues, as when he admits that “Of Christian Liberty” “does in fact present his wrong ideas in a mystical garb which appeals strongly to the heart.”[56]

 

 

“[Grisar] further demolishes Denifle’s criticism of Luther on the matter of the understanding of concupiscentia: Denifle had interpreted Luther completely in sexual terms, whereas Grisar shows that Luther understood the word as the 'I' in every man that sets itself against God.”[57]

Grisar’s Evaluation of Luther

While noting these positive aspects of Grisar’s work, most scholars tend to treat Grisar and Denifle together, as two scholars who basically arrived at the same conclusions, sharing the same bias. Richard Stauffer has succinctly said,

 

“Compared with Denifle's work, that of Grisar seems an improvement, if only by its tone; for is it not written with a chilliness preferable to the rabies of its predecessor? One might think so at first sight; but I follow Walter Kohler in regarding the brutality of the Dominican as better than the smoothness of the Jesuit. Where Denifle says straight out what he thinks to be the truth, Grisar makes subtle insinuations. One example from among many will illustrate this. It concerns the illness from which Luther suffered in 1523. In asking what was the cause of first the fever and then the insomnia, Grisar relies on a document which an historian cannot draw on in this case and so suggests that Luther could have had the malum Franciae, that is, syphilis. Grisar does not make positive statements; he is content to hint. But by this he shows clearly enough the malice of which the Roman Catholic historian Adolf Herte accused him thirty years later.”[58]

 

Similarly, H. Boehmer has said,

 

“As Denifle himself stands within a great historical tradition of belief, so his words have also a formative influence… The chain of catholic tradition is not broken. Not even with Grisar, however much the coarse bludgeoning is replaced by the elegant and refined silkiness. But one does not know whether this change of weapons really means a genuine superiority. Denifle's grossness is at least honest; one knows where one is. But Grisar will just hint, or raise a question, or suggest possibilities, without wanting to decide, so that there is always a certain ambiguity in what he says. It is certainly not proved, but on the other hand, it is not all complete invention; there must be something in it.” [59]

 

Catholic scholar Jared Wicks points out the basic key to understanding Grisar’s interpretation of Luther, which cast a shadow of suspicion over his research:

 

“Grisar looked at times to psychology for understanding Luther. In this account, Luther verged on neurosis as he swung from pseudo-mystical quiet to intemperate attack and near-hysteria. As Luther dealt with his maladjustments he came to hold doctrines diverging from church teaching. Late in life Luther suffered bouts of dismal depression, but then he would swing over to jocularity, frenetic work, and violent polemics.”[60]

 

It is Grisar’s emphasis on approaching Luther with a psychology evaluation that ties his name with Denifle. Both Grisar and Denifle evaluate Luther’s character, and attempt to explain why Luther denied that ‘works’ contribute to salvation. . According to these men, Luther’s doctrine of justification was due to his abnormal psychology, faulty education in Nominalist theology, and moral corruption:

 

“The key to Luther for Grisar was his education in the decadent system of William of Ockham. Add to this Luther's fascination with a mysticism of passivity, and one can grasp why Luther polemicized against good works. Luther's early successes made him proud and unreceptive to sound correction.”[61]

 

“…Denifle and the Jesuit Hartman Grisar, used Freudian psychology to arrive at their assessment that Luther was a monk obsessed with the lust of the flesh and a pathological manic-depressive personality….These polemical portraits were corrected in the 1940’s when an ecumenically oriented scholar, Joseph Lortz, rejected Freudian psycho-historical methods in favor of a more objective critical assessment to depict Luther as a faithful priest-professor who had succumbed to ‘subjectivism.’” [62]

 

“Although Denifle's insistence that there was a fundamental moral flaw in his personality was questioned by the scholarly Jesuit, Hartmann Grisar, yet his interpretation of Luther was not basically different. 'The real origin of Luther's teaching', he concluded, 'must be sought in a fundamental principle ... his unfavorable estimate of good works' ”[63]

 

“[Grisar’s] huge, three-volume work presents Luther as a man who was physically, mentally, and spiritually ill, a psychopath who should have been hospitalized. Grisar invites the reader to pity Luther, but his own malice shows through very clearly. Luther is a wholly impure, deeply immoral individual... in a 1926 one-volume summary of Luther, Grisar thought he foresaw the time when no one would take Luther seriously.”[64]

 

“…[A]s Strohl observes, ‘Grisar does not differ fundamentally from Denifle.’ Both writers speak of the fall of Luther... He found the root of Luther’s heresy in the Reformer’s hatred of good works, and in domestic quarrel between Observants (‘the Little Saints’) and the Conventuals within the Augustian order. ‘The real origin of Luther’s teaching must be sought in a fundamental principle…his unfavorable estimate of good works.’ ‘His estrangement from what he was pleased to call ‘holiness by works’ always remained Luther’s ruling idea, just as it had been the starting point of his change of mind in monastic days.’ Thus, the cumulative impression of Grisar’s work is not much more flattering to Luther than that of Denifle.” [65]

 

“It is well known that the most important works leading up to Lortz are the defamation of Luther by H. Denifle…and the pathological interpretations of Luther by H. Grisar.”[66]

 

“The brutal frontal attack of Denifle was replaced by the smooth insinuations of the Jesuit professor Father Hartmann Grisar in his chilly Martin Luther, which even goes so far as to insinuate that Luther could have had syphilis. Grisar also repeats Denifle’s main thesis, namely, that Luther was incompetent to teach on justification; he contends that this incompetence derives from a wrong attitude toward good works, a hostility to 'holiness by works'. Furthermore, he argues that Luther’s view did not have its origin in his study of either Romans 1.17 or in any theological source, but in his own immorality—that in order to justify his loose life and to excuse his renunciation of the monastic ideal, the apostate monk had no other course than to become the apostle of salvation without works… Grisar goes beyond Denifle is in asserting that Luther was a neurasthenic and a psychopath. He sees him as the victim of bad heredity, a maladjusted misfit entering the monastic life because of some traumatic experience during a thunderstorm when a student. Grisar argues that Luther was simply a neurotic man who spent his entire life unhappy and guilt-ridden.”[67]

 

“Grisar not only depicted Luther as a manic depressive but misrepresented his teaching on central doctrines. "The actual point of departure for Luther's teaching," he wrote, "was his overweening opinion of himself, intellectual pride was his actual misfortune" (vol. 1, pp. 9 I ff., 97). Luther simply could not overcome concupiscence. "That is the 'famous article concerning justification by faith alone,' a purely magical process, born out of the individual condition of one who let himself be over-powered through his guilt by his strong feelings" (vol. 1, pp. 450ff). Grisar argued that "Luther leaves no actual Grace which makes for righteousness and which dwells within man himself, for he sees in God a will to grace, not to view us as sinners and to lend us his active support in fighting sins." In discussion of these, Father Sartory speaks of the "pan-sexual" interpretation of Denifle and the "pathological interpretation" of Grisar.”[68]

 

In Grisar's eyes, Luther was a sinner in the complete sense of the word, that is to say, a being who was the victim of his egoism and his pride as well as of his sensuality. But the attempt at character study does not stop here. Luther must have been above all (and here we have Grisar's real originality) a neurasthenic and a psychopath. Victim of a bad heredity, maladjusted by nature, he had suffered an incurable shock when at the age of twenty-two the thunderbolt struck close to him near Stotternheim. Thus, "beginning at the storm of July 2, 1505", it was possible to see in Luther as he entered the monastery "a young religious burdened with a neurosis, and throughout the following years an unhappy man whose suffering" was "a sad and pitiful cross".”[69]

 

 

 

Assessment and Influence of Grisar

Scholars have evaluated Grisar’s work on Luther and have found it still with an implicit bias against Luther, not so dissimilar in intent from the blatant attacks by Denifle. Below are comments from both Catholic and Protestant theologians on the inherent bias in Grisar’s work:

 

Ian Siggins says that Grisar’s works on Luther are  A Catholic historian’s learned but extremely negative critique of Luther.”[70] Roland Bainton calls Grisar’s work “Disparaging of Luther.”[71]  Lutheran Charles Anderson said Grisar (and Denifle) saw Luther as a “villain who tore the seamless robe of the church…”.[72] Jared Wicks calls Grisar’s books on Luther “cold and one-sided.”[73]  He also says, “Grisar had vast factual knowledge of Luther, but he also showed a subtle talent for stirring suspicions about Luther. He repeatedly showed how problems plaguing modern Protestantism stemmed from Luther.”[74] Wicks says also:

 

“Among the strongly judgmental Catholic treatments of Luther, pride of place belongs to the well-informed German Jesuit, Hartmann Grisar, whose massive original volumes are digested into the mere 600 pages of Martin Luther, His Life and Work.”[75]

 

The New Catholic Encyclopedia states,

 

Grisar's analysis of Luther is, by his own description, psychological rather than biographical in orientation. Though intended to be more objective and moderate in tone than previous Catholic studies such as that by Heinrich Seuse Denifle in 1903, it tends to emphasize negative qualities in Luther's personality. Contemporary Catholic appraisals of the Reformer appear more balanced than Grisar's without totally replacing it.”[76]

 

James Atkinson has said,

 

“Grisar’s intent was to ruin Luther’s reputation, and among those who accept him as an authority without reading further, we may suppose that he succeeds altogether too well. Nevertheless, not all Catholic scholars have been convinced. Friedrich Heiler said of Grisar’s work that it was not an essay in understanding Luther, but an attempt to rule out Luther’s person and liquidate Luther’s work. Hubert Jedin, Adolf Herte, and Yves M.-J. Congar have expressly stated that Grisar was wrong to argue that Luther was a spent force.” Rupp writes of Grisar and Denifle, ‘Anybody who cares to work through their thousands of pages will emerge knowing that he has heard all that can plausibly be said against the character and work of Martin Luther.”[77]

 

Jaroslav Pelikan stated,

 

“The names of three Roman Catholic scholars who dealt with Luther are important here: Denifle, Weiss, and Hartmann Grisar….despite the scholarship, however, and despite great erudition, these biographies [of Luther] persisted in repeating the old slanders and in cultivating the old tone-deafness to the religious accents of the Reformation. And so Denifle had ‘used the framework of his book in order to perpetuate a brand of infamy so tendentious, so objectively untrue, and so frightfully vulgar that it’s equal has not been thought up in our time even by second-rate scribblers’. Weiss had ‘put together all the heresies of the 14th and 15th century from the Atlantic Ocean to the Bohemian forests in order to determine that Luther is a combination of all of them and disappears in them completely.’ And Grisar, too, had still retained ‘remnants of the vulgar-Catholic way of battling,’ even though his research had led him a long way from the earlier screeds.”[78]

 

Patrick W. Carey stated,

 

“During the nineteenth century American Catholics generally identified Luther as a religious revolutionary, but I know of nothing in American Catholic literature of the nineteenth century to match the passionate and unsubstantiated attacks on Luther's immorality or mental sickness that are found in the twentieth century works of the Dominican Church historian and Vatican archivist Heinrich Denifle and the Jesuit professor of Church history at Innsbruck Hartmann Grisar. Both authors were given great attention in the early twentieth century because of their scholarly reputations. Many early twentieth-century American Catholic scholars tended to rely upon Denifle's acknowledged scholarship and followed his judgments on Luther's moral turpitude, and/or followed Grisar on Luther's psychological weaknesses.”[79]

 

Leonard Swidler states,

“For the Jesuit Hartmann Grisar, Luther was not so much a morally evil man as a mentally sick man. We should turn not our hate but our pity toward Luther the psychopath, who was subject to illusory visits by the devil and terrible fits of depression. It is granted by Protestants that Grisar went about his work with a great deal of scholarly zeal and that his work "contains a powerful denial of the old Catholic Luther-fables and calumniations as well as the deep-rooted view, most lately upheld by Denifle, according to which Luther was driven down the path of the Reformer by lust of the flesh." However, this improvement over Denifle was hardly satisfying to Protestants ; Grisar's polished style merely poured salt in the wound, and his apparent objectivity convinced no one. Without a doubt all the terrible words of Luther, full of hate, anger, "Wildheit und Rohheit" are actually found in Luther's writing's. But the complaint was raised that this was far from all that was in Luther's writings; this was only a one-sided picture, and therefore a distortion, though one with a certain refinement. In the end, "Grisar, just as Denifle, wishes to annihilate Luther." [80]

 

Joseph Lortz has said,

 

"a number of questions [concerning Luther] come to the fore here that can be grouped under such categories as "psychological introspection," "sense of responsibility," "crudity," "scrupulosity," "spiritual instability," etc. In this regard it is true that Luther suffered injustice from Grisar and Reiter, and more recently from the American Psychologist, Erik H. Erikson. but the factual situation still exists and must be critically assessed.”[81]

 

A.G. Dickens and John Tonkin note,

 

“…the work of two scholars whose writings dominated Roman Catholic research on the Reformation in the first two decades of the 1900’s underlines the unpredictability of historical scholarship and the complex relationship between polemical and historical interests. Heinrich Denifle and, to a lesser extent, Hartmann Grisar manifested a spirit of bitterness difficult to parallel in the history of Catholic thought; yet, paradoxically, much of the power of their attack derived from the wealth of genuine sources on which their writings were based.”

 

“…few scholars could credit [Grisar’s] work as a whole with that basic fairness he sincerely believed it to have. This was because Grisar's achievements were invariably balanced by failures. If he boldly refuted a number of palpable fables and groundless calumnies against Luther, he revivified just as many and left standing by innuendo others, which he acknowledged in the telling as unproven. He exhibited throughout a deep hostility and partiality, which led most scholars—both Catholic and Protestant—to conclude that his differences from Denifle were, in the last analysis, marginal.”[82]

 

Johann Heinz has said:

 

“[Compared to Denifle] A more subtle, but in its effect no less offensive, approach was used by Jesuit priest Grisar, Professor of Church History in Innsbruck, whose book entitled Luther appeared in 1911. Ostensibly, Grisar gave the impression of being fair and objective, but into his supposedly neutral statements he skillfully mingled subtle insinuations about Luther's immorality, abnormality, and haughtiness. The Catholic philosopher Johannes Hessen has evaluated the methods of Denifle and Grisar as follows: "One may doubt which of the two methods of killing Luther was the most pleasant: The rude, but open, way of the Dominican ... or the cunning method of the Jesuit. . . . There is no doubt that both methods are failures."”[83]

 

Peter Brunner and Bernard Holm have said:

“Grisar set out in three ponderous volumes to assassinate Luther not with the cudgel but with stiletto and rapier. He would employ the technique of asking, not asserting. Noting that lukewarm Protestants were already willing to let the Reformation pass into historic oblivion he took up a new weapon; introspective psychology. It was to be the age of Freud. He treated Luther as a personal tragedy. Ah, what a fervent young man, what gifts, what potentialities! But also what scrupulosities, what false twistings of a psychotic mind, what inner torments—a thoroughly unbalanced temperament! Instead of listening to gentle correction from a kind Church, Luther rushed always into extremes, and then ended in years of agonizing doubt, blaming the devil for the tormenting question whether he had upset the world in his madness! Where Denifle robbed Luther of his integrity and morals, Grisar questioned his mental health, and informs us dial the Catholic writer Janssen used to urge Catholics to pray for sick Luther's poor soul.”[84]

 

 

Leonard Swidler states,

 

“For the Jesuit Hartmann Grisar, Luther was not so much a morally evil man as a mentally sick man. We should turn not our hate but our pity toward Luther the psychopath, who was subject to illusory visits by the devil and terrible fits of depression. It is granted by Protestants that Grisar went about his work with a great deal of scholarly zeal and that his work “contains a powerful denial of the old Catholic Luther-fables and calumniations as well as the deep-rooted view, most lately upheld by Denifle, according to which Luther was driven down the path of the Reformer by lust of the flesh.” However, this improvement over Denifle was hardly satisfying to Protestants. Grisar’s polished style merely poured salt in the wound, and his apparent objectivity convinced no one. Without a doubt all the terrible words of Luther, full of hate, anger, “Wildheit und Rohheit” are actually found in Luther’s writings. But the complaint was raised that this was far from all that was in Luther’s writings. This was only a one-sided picture, and therefore a distortion, though one with a certain refinement. In the end, “Grisar, just as Denifle, wishes to annihilate Luther.”[85]

 

It amazes me how frequently contemporary Catholics (both laymen and apologists) refer to Grisar’s work on Luther. I have a strong suspicion that those who utilize him are unaware of the shortcomings of his work, and are unaware that Catholic scholars have progressed past his work. I agree with Catholic scholar Jared wicks: “Denifle and Grisar left deep marks on both theological and popular presentations of Luther by Catholics in the twentieth century.[86] Why adherents to Catholicism think they should be taken seriously about Luther by quoting Grisar simply shows they have never thought critically about Grisar. If I were to continually quote a modern scholar speaking against Catholicism whose research and overt bias was apparent, my opponents would not listen. With such a wealth of much better Catholic studies on Luther, I can only speculate that those who quote Grisar agree with his psychological approach. To accuse Luther of a twisted mentality as the reasoning behind Luther’s insistence of justification by faith alone is to ignore the biblical text: this is where the discussion should be, not trying to evaluate Luther’s psyche from a modern psychological perspective. 

 

V. Catholic Encyclopedia (1910)

 

American Catholics in the first half of the twentieth century were guided in their understanding of Luther by the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia written by George Ganss (1855 – 1912). Now available on-line, a new generation of Catholics (and non-Catholics!) are similarly coming under the influence of Ganss’s work. Ganss was strongly influenced by Denifle, and he has been credited for bringing the “views of Denifle to the English speaking world.”[87] James Atkinson gives an accurate summary of Ganss’s article:

 

“He declares that Luther inherited a wild temper from his father, who was an irascible man almost carried to murder by his fits of temper. Ganss denies that Luther ever had a true vocation to the monastic life; and suggests that in the monastery he became the victim of inward conflicts. He also claims that Luther was unfaithful both to the rules of his order and to the teaching of the Church, and that his infidelity brought on very deep depressions of a mental and spiritual kind. Ganss attributes Luther’s consequent despair to a false understanding of the Roman teaching on good works, and describes his break with the church as the product of reforming zeal that degenerated into political rebellion. The reformer is portrayed as a revolutionary who, in the enforced leisure of his sojourn at the Wartburg, broke down under sensuality; it is alleged that in his book On Monastic Vows, Luther pleads for an unbridled license.

 

Ganss presents Luther’s irascibility in pathological terms, and describes him as disheartened and disillusioned in his old age, dejected and despairing, tortured in body and spirit, abandoned by friends and colleagues alike. He assembles his portrayal of Luther in terms of “The Accusers’: it is all a matter of revolt, apostasy, a fall- the unhappy end of a monk unfaithful to his vows. There is nothing of Luther’s searching biblical theology, of his glad-heartedness in Christ and joy in the gospel, of his deep prayer life, of his compelling power as a preacher, of his invincible faith. He speaks of Luther’s sojourn in the Wartburg as beset by sensual temptations, and yet makes no reference to the fine books he wrote there during his captivity of some nine months, books such as his Refutation of Latomus, not to mention his magnificent and influential literary masterpiece, the translation of the entire New Testament, which in itself would have been a life’s work for any other mortal.”[88]

 

Patrick W. Carey also gives an insightful review:

“To give the article a sense of scholarly objectivity, Ganss informed his readers that he had relied primarily upon German Protestant authors as his authorities, and when he cited Catholic authorities he put an asterisk beside the authors' names. The lengthy article quoted selectively from the Protestant sources and from a few of Luther's own texts to verify the negative assessments of Luther found in the Catholic historian Denifle. Throughout the article, the early Luther is presented as a deeply disturbed personality, one with a brooding melancholy, scrupulosity, and morbidity that was susceptible to spiritual depression. Luther, Ganss asserted, would later attribute his own personal religious anxiety to the Church's teachings on good works. Thus the central doctrine of the Reformation was, in Ganss s view, the product of a "hypochondriac asceticism." Ganss failed to examine in any detail the substance of Luther's teachings and presented Luther as an isolated figure in the history of Christianity, neglecting to place Luther in the context of the late Middle Ages, except to agree with Denifle's judgment that Luther's "historical inaccuracies have been proved so flagrant, his conception of monasticism such a caricature, his knowledge of Scholasticism so superficial, his misrepresentation of medieval theology so unblushing, his interpretation of mysticism so erroneous, ... as to cast the shadow of doubt on the whole fabric of Reformation history.

Luther's Reformation ideas were successful, however, primarily because he pleaded with the masses in the language of the populace when he could not win his scholarly battles in the academy through the regular process of disputation. His appeal, moreover, was to the "latent slumbering national aspirations" of the German princes and people. And by such solicitations the reformer became "the revolutionary." His physical ailments and his "congenital heritage of inflammable irascibility and uncontrollable rage" isolated him during the days of his decline and he ended his life in a "deluge of vituperacion" against the Jews and the papacy. From Gansss perspective Luther was a tortured and unhappy soul whose own self-delusion operated as a driving force behind the Reformation. It was a moral and psychological analysis that isolated the individual from the wider historical currents of thought and culture, and that gave no insight into the theological discoveries Luther had made. It is difficult to know in the present state of scholarship how widespread Gansss view of Luther had become in early twentieth century American Catholicism. Similar negative views of Luther were evident in Father Patrick R O'Hare's (1848-1926) The Facts About Luther (1916), a popularized account of Luther's character and motives reminiscent of Denifle and Grisar. Luther, in O'Hare’s view, was no religious reformer but "a deformer."”[89]

 

Richard Stauffer has also provided a valuable analysis of Ganss’ article:

With the help of Denifle, Ganss sketches a portrait of Luther with the following main characteristics. Burdened with a bad inheritance (his father, irascible by nature, was carried by fits of temper almost to the extent of murder, cf. p. 438, col. 2), the young Augustinian monk was the victim of inward conflicts which jeopardized his vocation—supposing he ever had a vocation. Unfaithful to the rules of his order and to the teaching of the Church, he sank into a "depression, physical, mental and spiritual" which, by a strange aberration, he attributed to the Roman Catholic doctrine of good works (p. 441, col. 2). Cornered by despair, he had to react; and this he did by breaking his ties with the Church and setting himself free for "religious agitation". But this "reforming activity" had to degenerate into "political rebellion". By considering himself to be the herald of the aspirations of his people, Luther became "the revolutionary" (p. 445, col. i). In all this he could not find the peace he was seeking. To his ordinary disquiet must be added, during his sojourn at the Wartburg, outbursts of sensuality that found him defenseless (p. 447, col. i). Under these conditions he wrote the De votis monasticis and promulgated a new moral code in which concupiscence cannot be overcome, "sensual instincts are irrepressible" and sexual appetites to be satisfied by no matter what physiological demands (p. 448, col. i). So vicious a man could obviously not enjoy a happy old age. Ganss therefore puts a last touch to his portrait. Having reminded us that Luther's increasing irritability and explosions of passion must be viewed pathologically rather than historically, he depicts the Reformer as abandoned by most of his friends and colleagues (p. 456, col. 2), dejected and despairing, tortured in body and spirit (p. 457, col. i). Thus he draws up a completely negative balance sheet. In it nothing can be seen of the eminently theological motives to which Luther subjected himself. In effect, it makes it all a matter of the revolt, apostasy, fall, and unhappy end of a monk who was unfaithful to his vows. On the other hand, although Ganss is blind to the bright side of Luther's work and character, he does play down Denifle's more violent theses. One must grant that his portrait is far the better of the two, both in manner and at heart.”[90]

 

Interestingly, the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) does not use Ganss’s article on Luther, but rather uses Catholic Reformation scholar John P. Dolan’s article.[91] Dolan argues,

“no evidence existed for prior Catholic assertions that Luther's family's poverty "created an abnormal atmosphere" for his early development. It was absolutely absurd, moreover, to contend that Luther was a "crass ignoramus," and it was no longer tenable to hold, as Denifle did, that Luther was an "ossified Ockhamite." To question Luther's religious motives for entering the monastery, furthermore, did Luther a Fundamental injustice. Dolan instead focused upon Luther’s religious and theological discoveries and admitted the scandalous and immoral simoniacal acts associated with the sale of indulgences. Dolan’s article recognizes precisely what religious and doctrinal issues were at stake in the Reformation, a view that was not evident in the earlier twentieth or nineteenth century views of Luther.”[92]

 

 

VI. Patrick O’Hare: The Facts About Luther (1917)

 

Background

On the 400th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses, a book called The Facts About Luther was published by Msgr. Patrick F. O’Hare. The intent of the author was to provide a reasonably priced book to English speaking audiences expounding similar sentiments put forth by Cochlaeus and the great German scholars Denifle and Grisar.  The book received favorable reviews from many pro-Catholic publications:[93]

 

The Ecclesiastical Review

“The whole is a vivid presentation of Luther the man, the religious, the preacher, and writer. In it "the whole gamut of the apostate's life is described in a calm, impartial manner which permits no gainsaying." It is permeated by no "spirit of bitterness or bigotry," though of course it is not sweet or rose-scented.”

 

America

“To write a book of this character is by no means easy, for the author has had in turn to play the role of an historian, a theologian and an apologist, and withal to present indelicate facts delicately, offensive facts inoffensively, subtle facts concretely. But in his Facts About Luther  Mons. O’Hare has admirably succeeded in doing this.”

 

Catholic News

“The author makes no unfair attack on the founder of Protestantism. He has not written in a spirit of bitterness or bigotry…O’Hare’s aim…adopted throughout the book was ‘to write about Luther, not against him’…”

 

The Catholic Universe

“Mons. O'Hare's book is a real addition to our popular controversial literature. It does not pretend to scholarship. Yet none but a scholar could have made the exhaustive study of Luther bibliography evident in its pages… To read The Facts About Luther is to know as much as any intelligent man need know about the founder of Protestantism… Mons. O'Hare has performed a great service to truth in providing a book at once so timely, so practical, so long- needed, so good-tempered, and—not least of its advantages—so cheap.”

 

St. Antony’s Messanger

“Mons. O’Hare displays the real Catholic sense of criticism. Along with his straightforwardness of attack, he carries the balm of charity and pity for the poor, misguided followers of Luther, ‘whose common sense and sense of decency saved them from their own faith.’”

 

Homiletic Monthly, N.Y.

“Every priest will find many new facts about Luther in its pages. He would do well to distribute many copies of it in his parish, putting it in the hands of those who are probably picking up false notions of the Reformation from the secular press and Protestant neighbors.”

 

The Western Catholic

“The Facts About Luther is a splendid work. It is a treasure-house of Facts- only Facts, and Facts cannot be denied or contradicted. This work should be in every Catholic home to strengthen the faith and enlighten the minds of our people.”

 

Even with the above rave reviews, the book eventually sank below the surface and went out of print. It would have remained obscure, but the Catholic publisher Tan books resurrected it in 1987 with a new printing. With the rise of the Internet, The Facts About Luther is probably more popular now than it was in 1917. Tan claims this book is:

 

“Incredible history; fascinating, damning evidence about [Luther] that is quite contrary to the popular image. Many quotes from his own mouth. Essential history!”[94]

“The Facts about Luther is a sobering, eye-opening, record-straightening, analysis of the life, the thought, and the work of Martin Luther...Not one important aspect of Luther’s life and work remains unexamined, but in the process, the picture of the man that emerges is anything but complimentary- yet all is documented, and much of it in Luther’s own words of his contemporary Protestant associates, or quoted from eminent Protestant historians.”

“In this little work we have had no desire to libel Luther’s person, distort his doctrine or misrepresent his life work. We would willingly allow him to remain in his grave, but as his friends insist on resurrecting him, we have no alternative but to show the disciples of a system which is the child born of a great lie and nursed and fostered in heresy and infamy that Luther by his own works and teachings was a malicious falsifier of God’s truth, a blasphemer, a libertine, a revolutionist, a hater of religious vows, a disgrace to the clerical calling, an enemy of domestic felicity, the father of divorce, the advocate of polygamy, and the propagator of immorality and open licentiousness. These charges are serious, but we beg to remind you that we have not interpreted or edited Luther—as he took the liberty to do with the Scriptures…

"Unrest, agitation and widespread discontent, inherited from the religious upheaval of the sixteenth century, prevail throughout the world. The decadent, retrogressive and ruinous policies advanced by Martin Luther and upheld by his followers, distracted society, divided Christianity and alienated thousands from the source of all true progress, only to lay the foundations of an atheism which is eating out the very vitals of all social and Christian life."[95]

 

St Joseph’s Communications likewise recommends the book: “This is a popular exposé of Luther's life and work based on Protestant historians.  Incredible history, fascinating evidence about Luther, and many important quotes are given.”[96] The book has wide popularity among Catholics. Numerous pro-Catholic websites give O’Hare’s work tremendous accolades, and cite it frequently.  It is not uncommon to engage Catholics in discussion about Luther and hear the words, “Patrick O’Hare says…” or “Martin Luther is quoted as saying in The Facts About Luther…

 

The Facts About Luther claims “The Luther of fiction is being more and more obscured by the Luther of fact.” The book promises that “The whole gamut of the apostate’s life is here described in a calm, impartial manner which permits no gainsaying…The reader may take up this work with assurance that here there is no unfair attack upon the founder of Protestantism. It is not with a spirit of bitterness or bigotry that Monsignor O’Hare describes the real Luther.”[97]

 

At one point, Father O’Hare presents the Catholic Church as the victim of misunderstanding and propaganda:

 

"Catholics naturally feel indignant at the vilification,abuse and misrepresentation to which their ancient and worldwide religion is constantly subjected, but they are charitable and lenient in their judgment towards all who wage war against them. They are considerate with their opponents and persecutors because they realize that these are victims of a long-standing and inherited prejudice, intensified by a lack of knowledge of what the Catholic Church really upholds and teaches. Even as the Church's Founder prayed the Heavenly Father to forgive those who nailed Him to the Cross because they knew not what they did, so do His followers, with malice to none but with charity to all, pray for those who oppose the spread of the Kingdom of God on earth because they do not realize to the full that, in despising the Church, they despise Him who founded her to be the light of the world. Most of the Church's enemies are to be greatly pitied, for they have never been taught the significant lesson that the man-made system of religion they hold or adhere to is false, an offense and an apostasy in the eyes of God, who despises heresy and who warned His followers to be on guard against every teacher not commissioned by Him to announce divine truth. Of all this they are unaware. They know nothing of the Church they malign, abuse and vilify. They are ignorant of her history, of her organization, of her constitution, of her teaching, of her mission and her place in the world. They know her not, and many of them, otherwise honest but nurtured in opposition, are led to hate what with divine light they would come to admire, love and embrace."[98]

 

Patrick O’Hare’s Evaluation of Luther

What are “the facts about O’Hare”? On page one we get a glimpse at those scholars whom O’Hare quotes and emulates:

 

“Learned and distinguished historians like Janssen, Denifle, Grisar, and many others, have painted with masterly accuracy the real picture of the reformer from material supplied for the most part by his own acknowledged writings. These celebrated authors have practically pronounced the last word on the protagonist and champion of Protestantism…”[99]   

 

Similarly, Rev. Guilday in the preface states:

 

Since the publication of Denifle’s works, the suite of events in Luther’s apostasy has had to be changed; and we see at last that the furthermost point backwards to which his cleavage from the Church can be traced is not opposition to the Papacy, but the false idea, which seems to have haunted him into obsession- his total impotency under temptation. It was this negation of the moral value of human actions, this denial of one’s ability to overcome sin, which led to his famous doctrine on the worthlessness of good works. The only hope he had was in a blind reliance on God, whose Son, Jesus Christ, had thrown around him the cloak of his own merits. From this starting point it was facilis descensus Averni [an easy descent to Hell.]” [100]

 

Towards the end of the book O’Hare says, “The reader may consult Grisar’s monumental work on Luther if he is anxious to learn more about the filthy, scandalous, and indecent utterances of this vile man.[101] As shown above, the scholars whom O’Hare emulates have a deep bias against Luther. The Facts About Luther subjects one to the same sort of evaluation put forth by Grisar and Denifle. Luther is going to be evaluated psychologically, and heavy emphasis will be placed on his supposed denial of good works. Lest anyone underestimate the influence of Cochlaeus, O’Hare cites him approvingly throughout the book, and echoes his approach to Luther. He puts forth the popular caricature that Luther’s theology was a day by day contradiction: “Cochlaeus says: ‘The seven-headed Luther everywhere contradicts himself and his own teaching.” [102]

 

James Atkinson has provided an excellent summary of O’Hare, and shows that O’Hare’s “facts” are a means to vilify Luther. O’Hare loudly echoes the bias of Denifle and Grisar. Atkinson is worth quoting at length:

 

“He presents Luther as the son of a murderer who after an unhappy childhood entered the monastery without any real vocation to monasticism. He suggests that Luther never understood Augustianism or monasticism, and that as a monk he experienced long fits of melancholy and depression. O’Hare follows Grisar in making Luther a sick man of abnormal mentality suffering morbid spiritual maladies, a man mentally deranged.

 

According to O’Hare, Luther was not only mad, but morally depraved and corrupt. He makes much of Luther’s strong and sometimes course language, but fails to notice that Luther generally uses such language in retaliation, when he feels called to administer a verbal flogging to some hypocrite or spiritual imposter. Most of the time Luther’s language is singularly simple and beautiful, and in prayers and letters of spiritual counseling or addressing the bereaved or sick he often becomes almost poetical. In any case, his language never became as vulgar as that of Thomas More in Contra Martinum Lutherum.

 

O’Hare makes a great deal of Luther’s words to Melancthon, ‘Sin bravely’, but has not a clue to their meaning, nor does he complete the sentence: ‘but still more bravely believe in Christ’.  He refers to the bigamy of Philip of Hesse, but forgets to relate that this was normal advise of the time in such cases, advise given by the Pope himself to Henry VIII in the case of Anne Boleyn, advise that Erasmus also tendered in the same case. He states that Luther was prepared to lie his way through the scandal (casuistry that is regrettably based on fact). He asserts that Luther was not regular in his devotions, gradually lost his faith, developed into an enemy of the Church, and that in the Wartburg he was in close touch with Satan. He upbraids Luther for capturing and marrying a nun, and describes him and his wife as the Adam and Eve of the new gospel of concubinage. He argues that Luther lived indecently, decried celibacy and virginity, sanctioned adultery, dishonored marriage, authorized prostitution and polygamy, and was a drunkard and frequenter of taverns who preached his theology in the fumes of alcohol and in the midst of his fellow revolutionaries. He attributes to Luther a fickle and cunning character, an inordinate impudence, an unbridled presumption, a titanic pride, a despotic nature, and a spirit of blasphemy; he writes, ‘Luther was…a blasphemer, a libertine, a revolutionary, a hater of religious vows, a disgrace to the religious calling, an enemy of domestic felicity, the father of divorce, the advocate of polygamy, and the propagator of immorality and open licentiousness.’”[103]

 

Similarly, Fred Meuser has offered this summary:

 

“[The Facts About Luther] claimed to show by extensive quotation of the sources what kind of man Luther really was. O'Hare makes no effort to understand Luther. Instead he heaps up quotation upon quotation from Luther to prove that he was an absolutely immoral, mentally and spiritually deranged man. All of Luther s weaknesses and misjudgments (such as the case of the bigamy of Philip) are paraded in a spirit of angry outrage. "The cesspool," he says, "seems to have been the garden that furnished his choicest flowers of rhetoric." Martin and Katie are the Adam and Eve of a new gospel of concubinage. His purpose was to deify indecency, decry celibacy and virginity, dishonor the married state, sanction adultery, prostitution, and indecency. He was a drunkard who went for beer to the Black Eagle, theologized in taverns in the midst of alcoholic fumes surrounded by revolutionary comrades. He was "a blasphemer, a libertine, a revolutionist, a hater of religious vows ... the father of divorce . . . and the propagator of immorality and open licentiousness." His Gospel was directly opposed to the Gospel of Christ; he fabricated justification sola fide, perverted the Word of God, founded his own church out of hatred of authority and love of disorder. He was a deformer, not a reformer, an Antichrist, the enemy of God and man.”[104]

 

Richard Stauffer’s overview also aptly summarizes The Facts About Luther:

 

“Luther is presented as the son of a murderer (pp. 32 f.). His nerves were injured by his unhappy childhood (pp. 35 ff.), and he was led to embrace in the monastic life a career for which he was not intended (pp. 42-45). Without any real vocation, stubbornly believing that he was bound by a rash vow (pp. 48 f.), he never understood the spirit of the Augustinian rule (p. 60). Far from being quietened in the monastery, the fits of melancholy and depression to which he had been subject from his youth were only nourished by his excessive scruples and fear of God's judgment (p. 46). Following in Grisar's wake, O'Hare thus makes Luther a sick man. He speaks of his "abnormal state of mind" (p. 46), of his "abnormal spiritual maladies" (p. 61). More explicitly, he considers him "mentally unbalanced" (p. 124), on the edge of madness (p. 162), someone "mentally deranged" (p. 349). But Luther is not only half-mad for O'Hare. He is also morally corrupt, a man whose behavior can only inspire profound disgust. One can see how, to buttress his arguments, O'Hare makes use of Luther's obviously deplorable grossness of language, his audacious advice to Melanchthon {Pecca fortiter) (pp. 125 f.), of the undoubtedly regrettable double marriage of Philip of Hesse (pp. 334-342), and of the "good, downright lie" recommended by the Reformer to stifle the scandal caused when it came to light. To prove Luther's immorality, however, O'Hare is not content with these facts, which are open to argument. Having agreed that he carried out his monastic duties faithfully (p. 51), he tries to show that, because he was not regular in his spiritual exercises (p. 57) and neglected discipline and forgot to pray. Luther gradually lost his faith (p. 65) and became an irreclaimable enemy of the Church (pp. 138 f.). The time in the Wartburg, one of the most fruitful periods in the Reformer's life, is similarly interpreted in a completely negative way. It appears to O'Hare as "a time of idleness, despair and temptation" (p. 200), during which Luther, the victim of the lust of the flesh, was "in constant contact with Satan" (p. 201). Luther's marriage to "a kidnapped nun" (p. 269) also furnishes our author with a weighty argument; to him, Martin Luther and Katharine von Bora are "the Adam and Eve of the 'new gospel' of concubinage" (p. 242). Even more, O'Hare thinks that in renouncing the cowl, the Reformer (who was perhaps syphilitic—pp. 320 f.) had "the Satanic desire and diabolical purpose" of deifying "indecency, decrying celibacy and virginity and dishonoring the married state"; worse still, "of sanctioning adultery" (p. 341), and authorizing prostitution (p. 331) and polygamy (p. 356). But the picture is still not complete. Finally to convince the reader of the immorality of his model, the author of The Facts About Luther paints in one last shadow. And so we discover that the Reformer was a drunkard (p. 162) who used to go for his beer to The Black Eagle (p. 177), and who theologized down in taverns, in the midst of the fumes of alcohol and surrounded by his revolutionary comrades (p. 287). Distressing as are these accusations, they do not exhaust O'Hare's repertoire. On top of the gross wickednesses already mentioned, he attributes to Luther a fickle and cunning character (p. 248) ,16 an inordinate impudence, an unbridled presumption (p. 82), a "titanic pride", a "despotic nature" and a "spirit of blasphemy" (p. 209). All these evils are in a way summed up in one sentence: "Luther was ... a blasphemer, a libertine, a revolutionary, a hater of religious vows, a disgrace to the religious calling, an enemy of domestic felicity, the father of divorce, the advocate of polygamy, and the propagator of immorality and open licentiousness" (p. 357). It would be impossible to be more unjust. After such a judgment, there remains nothing good in the Reformer, even if he also condescends to see in him "a tireless worker, a forceful writer, a powerful preacher, and an incomparable master of the German language" (p. 11). If O'Hare thus describes the man, it is obviously with the sole end of discrediting the Reformer. He never tires of denouncing Luther's inadequate theological education, his ineptitude for reasoning and expressing himself clearly. He accuses him of blaming the Roman Catholic doctrine of good works for "the sad condition of his soul"(p. 59), of slandering and distorting the teachings of Christianity (p. 144), of declaring war on the Church by composing his theses against indulgences (p. 79), of inventing a "new gospel which is directly and openly opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (p. 104; cf. p. 358), of undermining morals by his fabrication of the doctrine of justification by faith alone (pp. 107 ft.), of falsifying and perverting the Word of God in his translation of the Bible, and finally of founding his own church out of hatred of authority and love of disorder (pp. 139 f, 145). And so Luther becomes a "spiritual degenerate" (p. 172), a "heretic", an "apostate" (p. 85) and a "revolutionary" (pp. 96, 286, 301). This fallen priest animated by "a spirit that was not of God" (p. 61), appears here as a "false hero" (p. 254), a "false prophet" (p. 140) and a false reformer.22 Lacking constructive judgment (p. 14), but endowed with "the genius of destruction" (p. 146; cf. pp. 11, 23) he reformed nothing at all (pp. 143 f.), for he was "a deformer and not a reformer". In O'Hare's eyes, therefore, he deserves to be compared with Judas (p. 16) and the Anti-Christ (p. 286), to be regarded as an "enemy of God and man" (p. 271). The work is no better than the man. The Reformation was only a "deformation", a "revolution" which had the most dire consequences. It ruined morality, condoned libertinism (pp. 112, 358), and, in a word, begot the most terrible corruptions.”[105]

 

 

Thus, The Facts About Martin Luther is a complete vilification. One is left amazed at the earlier claims of fairness and truth when contrasted with O’Hare’s actual tone and obvious strong hostility.  One reads page after page of a man controlled by Satan destroying all that he touches. Luther is:

 

The “pretended Reformer,” with “depraved manners and utterances,” “perversity of principle coupled with falsity of teaching…” (310)

 

“That he was a deformer and not a reformer is the honest verdict of all who are not blind partisans and who know the man at close vision for what he was and for what he stood to sponsor.” (310)

 

Luther reasons “out of the depths of his depraved mind…”  (311)

 

“Why, then call Luther a reformer- one who would not in our times be regarded fit to be entrusted with police duty in the worst slums of our cities, much less to be made the presiding officer of a vice purity committee?” (312)

 

“The serpent’s rattle made itself distinctly heard in his unholy utterances…” (312)

 

“As a matter of fact, he was openly blamed for his well-known and imprudent intimacy with Katherine Von Bora before his marriage…”(313)

 

[Directed at Luther]:“Out upon your morality and religion; out upon your obstinacy and blindness! How have you sunk from the pinnacle of perfection and true wisdom to the depths of depravity and abominable error, dragging down countless numbers with you!” (313)

 

“That he was consumed by the fires of fleshly lust he admits himself.” (314)

 

“Did the corruption of his mind, as is plainly evidenced in his speech, induce to laxity of behavior and lead him to exemplify his teachings in grave moral delinquencies? Corrupt teaching begets corrupt action, and hence it is difficult to believe that anyone holding such principles and ‘consumed by the fires of his unbridled flesh’ could wholly escape in his own case the exemplification of his unhallowed pronouncements.” (316)

 

[O’Hare insinuates that Luther suffered from syphilis and suggests]: “On this delicate matter anyone may, if further information be desired, read Grisar, Vol. II pp. 162-164, where all the details of the question are carefully and learnedly discussed.” (317)

 

“…[T]o deify indecency, decry celibacy and virginity and dishonor the married state, was Luther’s satanic desire and diabolical  purpose.” (318)

 

 “The way in which this ‘glorious evangelist’ explains his beastly theories in his course Latin and in his still coarser German is such that it cannot be given here, ‘so full is it,’ …’not only of indelicacy but of gross filthiness.’” (319)

 

“The thoughts that filled his depraved mind and reflected on the greater part of mankind led him on, after his excommunication, to strive with diabolical energy to eradicate from the people’s hearts the love for and belief in the possibility of chastity outside of wedlock.” (322)

 

“The evidences of his depravity are so overwhelming and convincing that they are forced to the conclusion that this shameless advocate of brazen prostitution could not be and was not a ‘messenger of the all Holy God.’” (327)

 

“If a Catholic, especially a Jesuit, had ever played fast and loose with the truth as Luther did, what an outcry, and justly so, would be raised!” (334)

 

“Katherine Von Bora was only his companion in sin, and the children brought into the world through the unholy alliance were illegitimate children.” (340)

 

“His wild pronouncements wrecked Germany, wrecked her intellectually, morally, and politically. The havoc wrought directly or indirectly by him is almost without example in history.” (7)

 

“…[I]t behooves every serious man to know this charlatan for what he was and to learn that he has absolutely no claim to any consideration as a heaven-commissioned agent, as even an ordinary ‘reformer’ or ‘spiritual leader,’ or as in any respect a man above and ahead of the frailties of his age.” (18)

 

After putting forth the myth that Luther’s father was a murderer, O’Hare insinuates [through a quotation] that “Martin was a veritable chip of the hard old block.” (27)

 

 

Evaluation and Influence of O’Hare

Tan Books obviously wishes to continue the false rhetoric begun by Cochlaeus, Denifle, and Grisar, regardless of the fact that both Catholic and Protestant scholarship note the vast shortcoming of this approach. Tan books claims its founder’s original concept was “both to publish books and to distribute the best books of other Catholic publishers..."[106] One wonders how The Facts About Luther qualifies as one of the “best books”…. perhaps best in terms of vilification and ad hominem? James Atkinson notes the intent of O’Hare:

 

O’Hare’s sole purpose seems to have been to discredit Luther on the principle that if one throws enough mud, some is sure to stick. He frequently denounces Luther’s inadequate theological education, his inability to reason and express himself clearly; he describes Luther as ambiguous and contradictory, saying one thing today, another tomorrow. The sad state of his soul is attributed to his attack on the Roman Catholic doctrine of good works. O’Hare accuses Luther of declaring war on the Church by composing his theses on indulgences, of inventing a new gospel wholly opposed to Christ’s, of undermining morale by his fabrication of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, of falsifying the Word of God in his translation of the Bible, and of founding his own church. He excoriates Luther as a spiritual degenerate, a heretic, an apostate, a revolutionary, a fallen priest driven by a spirit other than God’s, a false hero, a false prophet, and a false reformer- in fact, not a reformer, but a deformer. O’Hare compares him with Judas and the anti-Christ, an enemy of God and of man, and denounces the Reformation as a deformation that had the direct consequences. Luther’s doctrine of justification, he argues, ruined morality and encouraged libertinism.

 

As Stauffer has said, O’Hare did not write a volume on Luther but against Luther: another batch of poison thrown into the well. Yet, as the fresh and continuous rain from heaven cleanses the most poisoned wells of time, so the divine springs of truth will in time cleanse us of all our man-made pollutions.”[107]

 

O’Hare said his aim was to “tell the truth about the standard-bearer of the Reformation,” and also boldly proclaims “and of this no one should be afraid, for truth and virtue triumph by their own inherent beauty and power…”. O’Hare warns us that friends and opponents “have at times indulged in too great a display of feeling and exaggeration” in Luther studies. He instructs us to “cool down the bitterness aroused among the parties [108] by consulting non-biased research. Patrick O’Hare completely misses this high standard he set. The book would be comical, if the subject was not the worth of another human being’s life.

 

A final criticism of The Facts About Luther that cannot be overlooked is of an tangential academic nature. The author has created a text filled with citations from Luther and both Protestant and Catholic scholars on almost every page. Many times, references are not given. With those references that are given, many are not complete enough to provide any help for the researcher in tracking them down.[109] This seems to not bother TAN publishers all that much, since they have been printing this book for about 15 years. It is indeed an irony that a book that claims to be filled with “facts” isn’t that concerned with making sure its readers have sufficient information to check the truthfulness of those “facts.” A Lutheran friend of mine once made this comment: “propaganda is not effective when proper documentation is given.” With TAN’s version of The Facts About Luther, I cannot help but agree.     

 

 

VII. Other Catholic Anti-Luther Writers

 

Professor Conrad Wimpina (1518): A Dominican defender of Tetzel, who wrote 106 Theses in response to Luther’s 95 Theses.  Atkinson states that these 106 Theses “bear no trace of original thought, but simply reiterate the conventional scholastic teaching on the subject: they are dismal reading indeed.” [110] The Catholic Encyclopedia states that at times these Theses “gave an uncompromising, even dogmatic, sanction to mere theological opinions, that were hardly consonant with the most accurate scholarship.”

 

 

Sylvester Prieras (1519): Master of the Sacred Palace of Rome who also supported Tetzel. Accompanying Luther’s 1518 summons to Rome, a work by Prierias was included, “Errors and Arguments of Martin Luther Enumerated, Exposed, Repelled, and Fully Ground to Pieces.” Prieras described Luther as a “leper and loathsome fellow, a false libeler and calumniator, a dog and a son of a bitch, born to bite and snap at the sky with his doggish mouth, having a brain of brass and a nose of iron.”[111]

 

John Pistorius The Younger (Late sixteenth century)

John Pistorius the Younger, a convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism via Calvinism, continued the polemical attack with even greater zeal. Having read through the work of Luther three times, he prepared a list of quotations from Luther to prove that their author was possessed of a host of evil spirits-the sensuous, blasphemous, slovenly, erroneous, insolent, proud, fraudulent, and traitorous. His portrayal of this “hellish person” also nourished controversial Roman Catholic literature for several centuries. Pistorius' use of Luther quotes is a perfect example of what can happen when one reads the works of an opponent for the sole purpose of gathering polemical ammunition. It is bald polemic masquerading as history.” [112]

 

 “In his book Anatomiae Lutheri, Pistorius described Luther as possessed by seven devils. He explained this allegation by colorful language verbally dissecting Luther. Stauffer notes, “The Anatomiae Lutheri abounds in misinterpreted quotations from Luther and is, after Cochlaeus’ book, the most vehement, gross and unjust indictment ever pronounced against Luther.”[113]

 

Ignaz Dollinger (mid-nineteenth century)

Dollinger was a famous church historian who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church after the declaration of papal infallibility. He wrote a three-volume work entitled Die Reformation. “Dollinger admitted that Luther was the most popular character that Germany had ever possessed, but declared that the Protestant Reformation, judged according to its fruits, was a "soul-murdering heresy" which stifled every arousal of conscience by the illusion of a false assurance of salvation.”[114]

 

Johannes Janssen (late nineteenth century)

Janssen was a historian who later became a Catholic priest. His main work on Luther was Geschichte des Mittelalters. The book glorifies the Middle Ages, while looking poorly on the Reformation.[115]  Janssen followed in the tendency of Cochlaeus seeing Luther as “a sick soul with inferior character.”[116]

 

“Johannes Janssen, historian at Frankfurt, made out an impressive case for the claim that Luther and his followers choked off a rich and promising flowering of church life, art and science to had been developing for several centuries. Dazzling in his use of medieval literature, objective in tone, Janssen gave documentary proof for all his claims. His influence can be surmised from the fact that the volumes dealing with the Reformation went through twenty editions and were to be found in the library of almost every rectory.”[117]

 

Hilaire Belloc (early twentieth century)

 

Belloc wrote the chapter, “Europe and the Faith” in the book What Was The Reformation? (1912).  Richaard Stauffer notes, “…although he had certainly never read a word of Denifle, instinctively knew well enough how to caricature Luther and ridicule his intentions…[118]

 

 

Jaques Maritain (1950)

“Even the philosopher Jacques Maritain falls into this category of those who see Luther as the demon. To him Luther adds up to be the man of total self-will, who brooks no restraint and no authority. By his emphasis on paradox and his mistrust of human reason "Luther brought a deliverance and an immense relief to humanity. ... He delivered man from the intelligence, from that wearisome and besetting compulsion to think always and think logically." To him Luther is the egocentric par excellence, obsessed with indecency, who convulsively forces trust in Christ to save himself. For such a man Maritain has only a feeling of deep disgust.”[119]

“Maritain couples Luther with Descartes and Rousseau as the three false prophets who have promised freedom to modem man. Luther promised the false liberty of private religious judgment, and so left modern man religiously irresponsible. Maritain would think of Luther not as a gloomy inebriate, nor as a paranoic, but a right merry monster, who ate his food on fast days, kissed his nun-wife, berated the Pope .. . but utterly rejected philosophy! For Luther's rejection of this in principle he has no understanding whatever. And into the arena of serious theology, where Luther labored and fought, Maritain does not want to descend for discussion. Luther has to him no profundity of mind whatever, but at best that sort of natural slyness which enabled him to befool people at a time when thousands of poor Christians wished some excuse to escape the yoke of the Church. Thus Denifle took from Luther his morals, Grisar his mental balance, and Maritain his intelligence.”[120]

 

 

Remigius Baumer (1980)

In 1980, Remigius Baumer took a giant leap backwards in Catholic opinions about Luther with the publication of a biography and essay on Cochlaeus. He treats Cochlaeus as the great defender of the Catholic faith, and thinks that Cochlaeus’s Commentaria is a “reliable and faithful survey of the life and writings of Martin Luther.”[121] Gotthelf Wiedermann summarizes his work:

 

“Both works reproduce in essence the picture of Luther drawn by Cochlaeus more than four hundred years ago, and attribute the origins of the Reformation to Luther's subjective experience and selfish ambitions. Baumer's Luther did not want reform, and merely sought to destroy ecclesiastical structures. Obstinacy and hatred of authority motivated all his actions, so that even before the Diet of Worms, Luther simulated obedience to the Pope, when doing his best to seduce the German nation into rebellion against the Church. For Baumer, it was clearly contradictory and inconsistent of Luther to demand that the Pope and his prelates should be made to justify their indictment by Holy Scripture, so that the Reformer's excommunication was entirely proper, just, and lawful. Likewise, Luther's translation of the Bible into German was highly subjective in style, and distorted the true meaning of its text. Luther himself was largely to blame for the Peasants' Revolt, first inciting them to rebel, and when he realized that their cause was lost, siding with the princes and urging them to slaughter every one of the rebels. Even at such a time of crisis, Luther did not scruple to take a nun as his wife—a bloody, sacrilegious, and immoral marriage if ever there was one! At the Diet of Augsburg, both Luther and Melanchthon continued their black art of deception by deliberately misleading the Emperor with the Confessio Augustana; all negotiations at this Diet, as those at later diets and colloquies, thus failed as a result of Protestant obstinacy. Baumer's conclusion therefore comes as no surprise: 'Luther's Reformation achieved not reform, but the division of the Church.' It was Luther's choleric disposition, the intemperance of his anger and polemic, that had made him blind for Catholic truth…Luther's evangelical discovery revealed nothing new-only Catholic truth as represented and taught by most medieval exegetes. Baumer, in short, with such one-sided selection and uncritical treatment of historical documents, actually continues the historiographical tradition originated by Cochlaeus to regard the Reformation as an illegitimate event in the history of the Church.” [122]

 

 

VIII. Conclusion

 

In order to prove the guilt of a person, a prosecutor may attempt to sway the jury by presenting a character examination of the alleged perpetrator. In some instances, this may simply be the prosecutor doing his job well (by giving a correct look into the defendant’s character). It may also be an example of the prosecutor taking his jury into something like a mirrored room in a carnival funhouse, where images are distorted by the makeup of the glass. The later is true of the above Roman Catholic evaluations of Luther.

 

Sadly, the influence of Cochlaeus, Denifle, Grisar, O’Hare, and Ganss still can be felt. Their popular vilifying caricatures of Luther are gaining new life with the rise of the World Wide Web. Perhaps zeal towards their church drives Catholics to use emotionally charged approaches to Luther. My suspicion is that ad hominem arguments are easier to understand and put forth, provoke intense discussions, and convince those not willing to dig deeply into the real theology of Luther. It’s much easier to use a rhetorical argument that appeals to emotion than it is to engage in a study of what Luther actually said, in his own context.

 

Amidst the hostility put forth by Patrick O’Hare in his Facts About Luther, he actually said something quite profound:

 

“Catholics naturally feel indignant at the vilification, abuse and misrepresentation to which their ancient and world-wide religion is constantly subjected, but they are charitable and lenient in their judgement toward all who wage war against them. They are considerate with their opponents and persecutors because they realize that these are victims of a long-standing and inherited prejudice, intensified by a lack of knowledge of what the Catholic Church really upholds and teaches.” [123]

 

These words equally apply to Catholics steeped in a tradition that vilifies Luther. O’Hare missed that he was also an “abuser” and “misrepresenter.” Nor was he “charitable and lenient” toward Luther. He does though point out an important “fact”: people do feel indignant when their beliefs are vilified, abused, and misrepresented. The Catholic authors cited above indeed are guilty of gross misrepresentation. Worse still, their work and ad hominem arguments still have impact today.

 

It is my hope that Protestants will realize that many of the hostile arguments against Luther have been around for hundreds of years. Many of these anti-Luther arguments will be very familiar to any who have engaged Catholics in discussions about Luther.

 

 There truly is “nothing new under the sun.”

 

 

 

ENDNOTES



[1] Atkinson, James. Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic (Grand Rapids: WB Eerdman’s Publishing co., 1983), 3.

 

[2] The great ecumenical writer Friedrich Heiler notes that those not acquainted with Luther’s life and writings are susceptible to being mislead by Grisar: “Like Denifle, Grisar wants to demolish Luther. And for a reader who is not at home in Luther’s religious literature, Luther is demolished after a reading of [his] book” (Luther in okumenischer Sicht, ed. A. von Martin, Stuttgart, 1929, pp. 257-260). I took this quote from: Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 18-19.)

 

[3] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics (Virginia: John Knox Press, 1967), 7.

 

[4] Richard Stauffer has done a similar survey of Catholic opinion on Luther in his book, Luther As Seen By Catholics (Virginia: John Knox Press, 1967). He says,  “To avoid misunderstanding, I must say that I shall not deal with Roman Catholic work on particular aspects of Luther’s theology but only with the more general works which betray the impression produced on the Roman Catholic consciousness by the figure of the Reformer” (p. 7).

 

[5] The Catholic Encyclopedia, (on-line version) found at http://www.newadvent.org/. All subsequent quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia were taken from this web site. A use of their search engine will locate any quotes I used that one may be interested in.

 

[6] Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany, trans. Ronald Walls (London: Darton, Longman & Todd 1968), 1:296.)

 

[7]Fred W. Meuser and Stanley D. Schneider (eds.) Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969), 41.

 

[8] Leonard Swidler, “Catholic Reformation Scholarship in Germany”, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 2 1965, 189.

 

[9] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy (Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983) 15-16.

 

[10] Gotthelf Wiedermann, “Cochlaeus as Polemicist,” found in, Peter Newman Brooks (ed.), Seven-Headed Luther (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983) 196.

 

[11] Robert Kolb, Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher, and Hero (Michigan: Baker Books, 1999), 31.

 

[12] A similar idea was put forth by the court physician Johann Pistorius. In his book Anatomiae Lutheri, the doctor described Luther as possessed by seven devils. He explained this allegation by colorful language dissecting Luther.

 

[13] Johannes Cochlaeus, S[epticeps] L[utherus] (Dresden, 1529), fol. lib. Cited in: Peter Newman Brooks (ed.), Seven-Headed Luther, 196.

 

[14] Ibid. 197.

 

[15] Leonard Swidler presents this helpful overview of Cochlaeus: “Since the time of Johannes Cochlaeus in the sixteenth century, Catholic Reformation scholarship has not been disposed to look upon the Reformation in a very favorable light. Johannes Cochlaeus (1479-1552), one of the bitterest and, in the long run, most influential opponents of Luther’s acts and writings. His Commentaria  de Actis et Scriptis Martini Lutheri Saxonis came out in 1549, three years after Luther’s death. Cochlaeus did not go about his difficult work with the coolness and detachment of a non-partisan historian, nor did he think it a fault not to do so. He felt his readers should not only be informed about Lutheranism, but also made fully aware that Luther had devastated the Church and brought unutterable misery to his German homeland. Every deprecation, slander and evil legend was snatched up by the author. He asserted, for example, that Luther entered into the indulgence battle against Tetzel because, as an Augustinian, he was jealous of the lucrative indulgence trade enjoyed by Tetzel and the Dominicans. Another story had it that Luther, already as a fifteen year old lad, was indulging in immoral relations with his benefactress, Frau Cotta zu Eisenach; that he lived a riotous student life in Erfurt; and that during his first period in the cloister, Luther lived in concubinage with three nuns, from which experience he contracted venereal disease. Some of the stories about Luther, because they are handed on in all seriousness, take on an air of humor. For example, when Luther wanted to emphasize a statement he might say, “I am not drunk now—I know what I am saying,” which was immediately taken by his calumniators as an admission that he often was drunk and did not know what he was saying.  Only the completely baseless legend of Luther’s suicide, which Paul Majunke revived as late as 1890, is missing in Cochlaeus. Any really first-hand reports coming from Protestants, especially Luther’s close companions Melanchthon and Mathesius, are conspicuously absent, since they would be favorably to Luther” [Leonard J. Swidler, The Ecumenical Vanguard:  The History of the Una Sancta Movement ].

 

[16] Gotthelf Wiedermann, “Cochlaeus as Polemicist,” 200.

 

[17] Gotthelf Wiedermann, “Cochlaeus as Polemicist,” 200.

 

[18] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 15.

 

[19]  Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy,16.

 

[20] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic (Grand Rapids: WB Eerdman’s Publishing co., 1983), 8.

 

[21] Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and His Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, 26, Autumn 1988), 253.

 

[22] Gotthelf Wiedermann, “Cochlaeus as Polemicist,” 204.

 

[23] Seven-Headed Luther, 207

 

[24] Seven-Headed Luther, 204.

 

[25] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 16.

 

[26] LW 3:193

 

[27] LW  7:92

 

[28] LW 54:137

 

[29] LW 54: 262

 

[30] LW 41:150. The term in German is “Rotzleffel,” and “was a widely current term of opprobrium for some young or inexperienced person” (LW 35 187, ff) The English edition of Luther’s Works comically translates it, “snot nose” and “Doctor Snotty Nose.”

 

[31] LW 47:46

 

[32] LW 54:93

[33] WA, TR 2.382.12, cited in Peter Newman Brooks (ed.), Seven-Headed Luther,  4.

 

[34] “In his day he had an immense reputation in the scholarly world, especially for his works on medieval mysticism, on the history of the universities up to 1400, on the cartulary of the University of Paris, and on The Desolation of the Churches, Monasteries, and Hospitals in France towards the Middle of the Fifteenth Century” (Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 13).

 

[35] The Catholic Encyclopedia is cheerleading at this point. Stauffer has pointed out, “…the way in which [Denifle] reproached A. Harnack and R. Seeberg in his Luther in rationalistiscer und christlicher Beleuchtung shows that he was not a man who could engage in a genuine theological dialogue” (Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 17).

 

[36] Leonard Swidler, “Catholic Reformation Scholarship in Germany”, 190. Says Swidler elsewhere, “Grisar and Denifle, of course were supported in their attitudes by the highest church authorities. Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Militantis ecclesiae, written for the Canisius-jubilaeum August 1, 1897, described the Reformation as the “rebellio lutherana,” which brought about the ultimate ruin of morals. St. Pius X in his encyclical on St. Charles Borromaeo, Editae suepe, May 26, 1910, said:  There arose haughty and rebellious men, ‘enemies of the cross of Christ . . . men with worldly . . . minds whose god is the belly.’ They strove not for the betterment of morals but rather for the denial of the foundations of faith. They cast everything into confusion and cleared for themselves and others a broad path of undisciplined wilfulness, or sought, indeed openly at the bidding of the most depraved princes and peoples and under the disapproval of the ecclesiastical authority and leadership, forcibly to obliterate the Church’s teaching, constitution and discipline” [Leonard J. Swidler, The Ecumenical Vanguard:  The History of the Una Sancta Movement ].

 

 

[37] Leonard Swidler, “Catholic Reformation Scholarship in Germany”, 190.

 

[38] James Atkinson,  Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic , 10.

 

[39] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 17-18.

 

[40] V.H.H. Green, Luther and the Reformation (New York: G.P.Putnum’s Sons, 1964) 193-195.

 

[41] James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. I (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962), 105.

 

[42] Lewis Spitz, “Images of Luther,” (Concordia Journal 11, March 1985), 46.

 

[43] Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and His Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, 26, Autumn 1988), 255.

 

[44] Fred W. Meuser and Stanley D. Schneider (eds.) Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, 39.

 

[45] Peter Brunner and Bernard J. Holm, Luther in the 20th Century, (Iowa: Luther College Press, 1961), 86.

 

[46] Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 13.

 

[47] Leonard J. Swidler, The Ecumenical Vanguard:  The History of the Una Sancta Movement .

 

[48] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 18.

 

[49] Jared Wicks (ed.) Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther (Loyola University Press, 1970),  6-7.

 

[50] http://www.findamass.com/quotes.htm

 

[51] James Atkinson,  Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic , 11.

 

[52] Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 14.

 

[53] Lewis Spitz, “Images of Luther,” (Concordia Journal 11, March 1985), 46.

 

[54] Richard Stauffer makes an interesting comment on Grisar’s books on Luther: “This monumental work, replete with all sorts of repetitions, abounding in digressions that are often long enough to be monographs in their own right, is not very easy to read” (Luther as Seen by Catholics, 15). The comment is indeed an irony, since many current web pages utilizing Grisar can be charged with the same criticism.

 

[55] Comments from various reviews of Grisar’s work, found in: Hartmann Grisar, Luther IV (Missouri: B. Herder, 1915), iv.

 

[56]Gordon Rupp, The Righteousness of God  (Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton Publishing, 1953), 25.

 

[57] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 39.

 

[58] Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 15. Stauffer also gives another example: “We may give yet another example, this time in regard to Luther's alleged drunkenness, which illustrates Grisar's cleverness: "He has been accused of being a 'drinker'—another accusation without foundation. The fanatics and the mischief makers, the often austere anabaptists, even some catholics, ill-informed adversaries, have spread the rumours. Some polemical writers have wanted to find a pretext for this charge in certain words of Luther that they have misinterpreted. They have not understood that these were words said in fun, expressions excusable in a man known for not being always careful in his language." The case seems clear: Luther is not a drinker. But directly after these words, Grisar retreats from what he has just said: "No cases of drunkenness have ever been conclusively attested of Luther, although it is notorious that, in the German manner, he was sometimes a bit too fond of his glass of beer" (cf. E.T. Ill, pp. 294-318)” (18).

 

[59] Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 16.

 

[60] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 19.

 

[61] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 18-19.

 

[62] Eric Gritsch,  God’s Court Jester, Luther in Retrospect. (Fortress Press, 1983), 146.

 

[63] V.H.H. Green, Luther and the Reformation (New York: G.P.Putnum’s Sons, 1964) 193-195

 

[64] Fred W. Meuser and Stanley D. Schneider (eds.) Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, 52.

 

[65] Gordon Rupp, The Righteousness of God, (Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton Publishing, 1953), 25.

 

[66] Otto Pesch, “Twenty Years of Catholic Luther Research” Lutheran World, 13, 1966. 304.

 

[67] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 39.

 

[68] Lewis Spitz, “Images of Luther,” (Concordia Journal 11, March 1985), 46.

 

[69] Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 15-16.

 

[70]  Ian D. Kingston Siggins, Luther (London: Harper & Row, 1972) 197.

 

[71] Roland Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 263

 

[72]  Charles Anderson, “Will The Real Luther Please Stand Up?” (Concordia Journal 11, March 1985), 254.

 

[73] Jared Wicks (editor) Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther, 1.

 

[74] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 19.

 

[75] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 160-161.

 

[76] The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 808.

 

[77] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 12-13.

 

[78] Jaroslav Pelikan (editor), Interpreters of Luther. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), Quote contained in Pelikan’s article, “Adolph von Harnack on Luther” 261-262.

 

[79] Luther in an American Catholic Context” by Patrick W. Carey, 44.

 

[80] Leonard Swidler, “Catholic Reformation Scholarship in Germany” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 2 1965. 190-191, 203. 

 

[81] Jared Wicks (ed.) Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther, 6-7, 11.

 

[82] A.G. Dickens and John Tonkin, The Reformation in Historical Thought (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985) 200, 201.

 

[83] Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and His Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, 26, Autumn 1988), 255.

 

[84] Peter Brunner and Bernard J. Holm, Luther in the 20th Century, 87-88.

 

[85] Leonard J. Swidler, The Ecumenical Vanguard:  The History of the Una Sancta Movement

 

[86] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 19.

[87] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 14.  Stauffer notes, “The "Accusers", as I have called them, did not fail to influence Roman Catholic theologians in the English-speaking world who were interested in the person and work of Luther. To my mind, the first time that Denifle's control is perceptible is in the long article "Martin Luther" in The Catholic Encyclopedia. If he is indebted in the first place to Janssen and Dollinger, the author, H. G. Ganss, owes a not inconsiderable part of his information to Denifle. Moreover, he pays him homage more than once. Thus, he praises him for demolishing the "legend" that Luther built on his memories of the monastery. He praises him, too, for succeeding in the greater feat of calling in question Luther's account of the history of the origins of the Reformation” (Luther as Seen by Catholics, 20).

 

[88] James Atkinson,. Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 14-15.

 

[89] Patrick W. Carey, “Luther in an American Catholic Context,” found in: Timothy Maschke, Franz Posset, and Joan Skocir (eds.), Ad Fontes Lutheri: Toward the Recovery of the Real Luther: Essays in Honor of Kenneth Hagen’s Sixty-Fifth Birthday, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2001), 45-46.

 

[90] Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 20-21.

 

[91] Ganss’s article makes factal errors as well as bias errors. For instance, Ganss says, “The papal Brief to Cajetan (23 August), which was handed to Luther at Nuremberg on his way home, in which the pope, contrary to all canonical precedents, demands the most summary action in regard to the uncondemned and unexcommunicated "child of iniquity", asks the aid of the emperor, in the event of Luther's refusal to appear in Rome, to place him under forcible arrest, was no doubt written in Germany, and is an evident forgery (Beard, op. cit., 257-258; Ranke, "Deutsche Gesch." VI, 97-98). Like all forged papal documents, it still shows a surprising vitality, and is found in every biography of Luther.”

 

There was indeed a forgery involved, but it was not with the words of Pope Leo mentioned above. Luther's enemies had forged a set of theses on the papal ban and attributed them to Luther. The editors of Luther's Works explain, "Meanwhile Luther’s enemies forged a set of theses on the papal ban which they published under Luther’s name, and added a bitter attack on the venality of the Roman Curia. As soon as Luther learned of this, he published his Sermon on the Ban (the original preaching of which had suggested the forgery) in order to circulate his true views. The damage had been done, however, for Emperor Maximilian, who had seen a copy of the forgery, wrote a letter to Leo X, urging that immediate action be taken against Luther. This letter and the forgery caused the pope to send Cajetan, on August 23, an official communication commanding him to arrest Luther, to absolve him if he recanted, to use the ban and interdict to deal with him and his supporters if he did not recant. On the same day he wrote Frederick the Wise, requesting him to help arrest this “son of perdition.” He also planned with Gabriel della Volta, the general of the Augustinian Eremites, to have the provincial of Saxony arrest Luther over the head of Vicar Staupitz, who still remained friendly to Luther." [LW 31:255(For any using LW electronic edition, note the typo of "August 28"- the actual text in book form reads "August 23"]. One of the best historical sources on the facts about Luther is the work of Heinrich Boehmer. Both Catholic and Protestant scholars recognize his ability with the "details". He notes, "[Leo X] authorized Cajetan on August 23, in a very bulky breve (Postquam ad aures), to arrest the new heretic without delay and to gaurd him carefully until further orders from Rome. Under the same date he asked the Elector of Saxony, in a second breve, to deliver up the 'son of perdition' to Cajetan; and in a third breve to the head of the Augustinian Order, Gabriel della Volta, he asked that a brother of the Order, equipped with all necessary authority, be sent to Germany in order to seize the heretic and schismatic Martin, bind him hand and foot, and case him into prison."[Heinrich Boehmer, Road To Reformation, (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1946) 227].

 

[92] Patrick W. Carey, “Luther in an American Catholic Context,”

52-53.

 

[93] All of these reviews are included in: Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 370-378.

 

[94] Tan Books website: http://www.tanbooks.com/?page=shop/flypage&product_id=273&

 

[95] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther,  back cover and inside back cover. The last two paragraphs are quotes from the back and inside back cover.

 

[96] St Joseph’s Radio website: http://www.stjosephradio.com/pages/books/history-church/luther-facts.htm

 

[97] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, xii-xiii, introductory comments by Rev. Peter Guilday PH.D, Catholic University of America.

 

[98] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, 11-12.

 

[99] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, 1.

 

[100] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther xi.

 

[101] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, 347.

 

[102] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, 142.

 

[103]James Atkinson,. Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 4.

 

[104] Fred W. Meuser and Stanley D. Schneider (eds.) Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, 42.

 

[105] Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen By Catholics, 21-23. Note that Stauffer is reviewing the original version of O’Hare’s book, not the reprint by TAN.

 

[106] Tan Books website: http://www.tanbooks.com/?page=shop/aboutus&

 

[107]James Atkinson,. Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 4.

 

[108] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, 2.

 

[109]  Catholic writer Dave Armstrong presents an example of the difficulty utilizing O’Hare’s book. In Armstrong’s webpage, The Orthodox vs The Heterodox Luther, Armstrong presents a section on the bigamy of Philip of Hesse. O’Hare’s book spends much time “proving” that Luther was enemy of the institution of marriage. Armstrong picks up on this and says, “Some of Luther's most shocking opinions are regarding celibacy, chastity, and marriage. One might expect from Luther a certain disdain of Tradition, but not such a wanton disrespect of the moral teachings of the Bible. The most famous sexual scandal of the Protestant Revolt was the bigamy of the Prince ("Landgrave") Philip of Hesse.” To document this, Armstrong presents citations from Luther strikingly similar to those put forth by O’Hare, and provides no references to O’Hare, but rather uses O’Hare’s references in most cases. I would be quite surprised if Armstong is using a source other than O’Hare for his documentation.

 

1.Armstrong
We declare under an oath that it ought to be done secretly . . . It is nothing unusual for princes to have concubines . . . and this modest way of living would please more than adultery.(Document dated December 10, 1539 / Luther's Letters, De Wette -- Seidemann, Berlin, 1828, vol. 6, 255-265)


This quote appears in The Facts About Luther on page 331 in a longer form, though missing a footnote reference., but mentioning DeWette.

2.Armstrong
”The secret soon became public, whereupon Melanchthon "sickened almost to death with remorse."  (-no reference-)


From The Facts About Luther page 332: “When Melanchthon discovered that the news of the double marriage was spread broadcast, ‘he sickened almost to death with remorse” on account of the sanction he had given to it.” -no reference-


3. Armstrong

Luther, unabashed, acted as if he was totally unaware of the illegal and immoral transaction, and confided to friends:
A secret yes must remain a public no and vice versa. (De Wette, vol. 6, 263)


The Facts About Luther page 333:“…it took a short time for Luther to decide that the rumor of the permission given to Philpp to take a second woman and the farcical marriage should be met with a flat contradiction; ‘for,’ as he said, ‘a secret yes must remain a public no and vice versa.” (DeWette- Seidemann, VI., 263).”



4. Armstrong

What would it matter if, for the sake of greater good and of the Christian Church, one were to tell a good, downright lie? (Lenz, Luther's Letters, Leipzig, 1891, vol. 1, 382)


The Facts About Luther page 333: “Then Luther went so far to declare: ‘What would it matter if, for the sake of greater good and of the Christian Church, one were to tell a good, downright lie?’ (Lenz. Briefwechsel, I. 382).


5. Armstrong

Luther believed that polygamy was sanctioned in Scripture: I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. (De Wette, vol. 2, 459)


The Facts About Luther page 329-330 “Luther was an out-and-out believer in polygamy. To say that he did not "counsel" polygamy, or that he advised that it should be kept secret as a sort of matter of "conscience," is utterly beside the facts. When Bruck, the Chancellor of the Duke of Saxe-Weimer, heard that Carlstadt in 1524 advocated polygamy, he consulted Luther on the new and pernicious teaching. The Reformer, not in the least abashed, openly and distinctly stated: "I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter." (De Wette II, 459). Many other clear statements wherein Luther sanctions polygamy might be reproduced here, but the one given above will suffice for the present.”

 

As a response to O’Hare and Armstrong, it is true Luther allowed for polygamy, but only in a very narrow sense. Luther scholar Heinrich Boehmer points out that it was only to be in cases of “severe necessity, for instance, if the wife develops leprosy or becomes otherwise unfit to live with her husband… But this permission is always to be restricted to such cases as severe necessity. The idea of legalizing general polygamy was far from the reformers mind. Monogamy was always to him the regular form of matrimony…” (Luther And The Reformation in Light of Modern Research, 213-214). Luther understood monogamy was the Biblical norm. Such things like bigamy were only made possible due to severe necessity. For instance, Luther once said that he so hated divorce he would rather see a man in a bigamous relationship rather than a person go through divorce. This wasn’t like Mormonism which in some factions would grant a God-glorifying polygamy. No, bigamy, polygamy, divorce, etc were failing Band-Aids put over sinful, broken relationships. They are human efforts to fix Biblical norms.

Luther fell into some complicated situations, like the bigamy of Phillip of Hesse. Luther still retained a lot of his sentiment as a priest. It was not totally uncommon for Catholic priests to grant secret bigamous marriages. Cardinal Cajetan, perhaps the greatest living Catholic scholar of the day would be a good example of this. Even the Pope during this time sent the question of bigamy to cardinals for review. Thus, it was an arguable point within the Roman Catholic Church during the 16th Century. Thus when Phillip tricked Luther into granting him a second wife, Luther acted very much in the role of medieval catholic priest. Luther was not infallible, and in many instances he retained his medieval training. For this I gently fault him. The Roman Catholic Church had trained him as an Augustinian monk and to act a particular way in particular circumstances. Luther’s actions were more the result on the medieval Catholic climate than biblical misunderstanding.

Roland Bainton explains in detail the situation:

 
“There are several incidents over which one would rather draw the veil, but precisely because they are so often exploited to his discredit they are not to be left unrecorded. The most notorious was his attitude toward the bigamy of the landgrave, Philip of Hesse. This prince had been given in marriage with no regard to his own affections—that is, for purely political reasons—at the age of nineteen to the daughter of Duke George. Philip, unable to combine romance with marriage, found his satisfaction promiscuously on the outside. After his conversion his conscience so troubled him that he dared not present himself at the Lord s Table. He believed that if he could have one partner to whom he was genuinely attached he would be able to keep himself within the bounds of matrimony. There were several ways in which his difficulty could have been solved. If he had remained a Catholic, he might have been able to secure an annulment on the grounds of some defect in the marriage; but since he had become a Lutheran, he could expect no consideration from the pope. Nor would Luther permit recourse to the Catholic device. A second solution would have been divorce and re-marriage. A great many Protestant bodies in the present day would countenance this method, particularly since Philip had been subjected in his youth to a loveless match. But Luther at this point interpreted the Gospels rigidly and held to the word of Christ as reported by Matthew that divorce is permissible only for adultery. But Luther did feel that there should be some remedy, and he discovered it by a reversion to the mores of the Old Testament patriarchs, who had practiced bigamy and even polygamy without any manifestation of divine displeasure. Philip was given the assurance that he might in good conscience take a second wife. Since, however, to do so would be against the law of the land, he should keep the union a secret. This the new bride's mother declined to do; and then Luther counseled a lie on the ground that his advice had been given as in the confessional, and to guard the secrete of the confessional a lie is justified. But the secret was out, and the disavowal was ineffective. Luther's final comment was that if anyone thereafter should practice bigamy, let the Devil give him a bath in the abyss of hell.  [Here I Stand, 292-293].


Note Luther’s final comment, that if anyone thereafter should practice bigamy, let the Devil give him a bath in the abyss of hell.” A profound aspect of the Bible is its commitment to telling us about the sins of the human condition; even in those characters considered the greatest of God’s people. David was described as “a man after God’s own heart,” yet within his life one finds adultery and murder. Jesus called Peter “blessed,” yet not long after, Peter denied that he even knew him. Examples could be multiplied, and could go beyond the pages of Scripture into the halls of church history. God’s people struggle with sin, and sometimes take great falls. Such is the case of Martin Luther and his involvement with Hesses' bigamy. Luther's life shows many high peaks and some deep valleys: profound success for God’s kingdom, along with human failure. With Luther’s attitude on Bigamy, and his involvement with Phillip of Hesse, we see one of the warts of Luther. Luther had to learn the hard way with his attitude on Bigamy.

 

[110]James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 4.

 

[111] Lewis Spitz, “Images of Luther,” (Concordia Journal 11, March 1985), 46.

 

[112] Fred W. Meuser and Stanley D. Schneider (eds.) Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, 41.

 

[113] Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 16-17.

 

[114] Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and His Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, 26, Autumn 1988), 254.

 

[115] “ [Janssen] tried to stress the positive aspects of the Middle Ages and the negative aspects of Luther” (Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 30). Says Leonard Swidler, “The practice of seeing Luther as all evil and the Catholic Church as all good continued through the centuries. The nineteenth century historian, Johannes Janssen, for example, maintained that the Church had already begun a brilliant and profound reform in the fifteenth century, and that this reform was suddenly disturbed in a most unwarranted manner by Luther’s revolution” [Leonard J. Swidler, The Ecumenical Vanguard:  The History of the Una Sancta Movement ].

 

[116] Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and His Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, 26, Autumn 1988), 255.

 

[117] Fred W. Meuser and Stanley D. Schneider (eds.) Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, 42.

 

[118] Richard Stauffer, Luther as Seen by Catholics, 21.

 

[119] Fred W. Meuser and Stanley D. Schneider (eds.) Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, 43.

 

[120] Peter Brunner and Bernard J. Holm, Luther in the 20th Century, 88-89.

 

[121] Gotthelf Wiedermann, “Cochlaeus as Polemicist,” 204.

 

[122] Gotthelf Wiedermann, “Cochlaeus as Polemicist,” 204-205.

 

[123] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, 11.