The Reformation: Martin Luther’s Pathological War

luc

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Hi all, about a year ago, I did some research on Martin Luther and the reformation, which kind of sat in a file but which I'd like to share now. I tried to clean it up, but it's still a bit redundant and long! Apologies. I thought it's worth sharing anyway because it might give some hints and clues, and maybe others have something to add or correct.

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I stumbled upon an observation that piqued my interest – namely that one reason why the enlightenment unfolded the way it did, containing an anti-religious seed that in our days came to fruition, was the fact that the enlightenment happened right after the Thirty Year’s War. The thesis is that since the unbelievable carnage of this war was caused by religious conflict, people were deeply sceptical about religion and religious answers afterwards, which showed in the enlightenment thinkers and helped the anti-religious movements gain traction.

So, it seems the Reformation was immensely important for the whole of modern history – in a sense, it shaped the world we live in today. It not only led to the carnage of the war, anti-religiousness etc., it also broke the church to pieces (now there are 30k protestant dominations) and created the religious “thought world” of the British and US empire.

This made me wonder – what was this Reformation business all about?

The story I’ve been told (like most people I guess) is that Martin Luther was a hero who rebelled against a corrupt and autocratic church – nailing his theses on the wall, for which the corrupt pope excommunicated him, and so he had no choice but found a new religion so to speak. Granted, he wasn’t perfect – he was a rampant anti-Semite, for example –, but other than that, he was a real genius and champion for the common man, an early enlightened “egalitarian” democrat, or something like that. Well, that sounds suspicious, given what we know about “revolutions” and their leaders.

So I wanted to find out – what is the catholic perspective on all this? Is there another side to the story? It is actually not as easy as I thought to find criticism of Martin Luther and the reformation, though recently, some have come out of the woodwork.

On the secular front, there is Peter Henkel’s German book “Enough with Luther – On the erroneous ways of a radical” (“Schluss mit Luther – von den Irrwegen eines Radikalen”). It’s a great little book that compiles a lot of facts and quotes from and about Luther that make your hair stand up, and also questions the official history of “evil Catholics against progressive protestants”. The author is a mainstream journalist and self-proclaimed atheist, so it’s not a catholic partisan book, which gives it more credence. On the other hand, some of what he writes is just standard atheist, anti-religious drivel. Another problem of the book is that it doesn’t provide sources/footnotes.

On the catholic front, I found these blog posts about Luther and Protestantism very illuminating: Search Results for “luther” – Shameless Popery
One thing that makes the whole story so confusing is that Luther was quite the opportunist, shifting his allegiances all the time. Also, his theology can be very contradictory. In fact, it reminds me a bit of postmodernist sophistery – ill-defined, contradictory arguments that nevertheless can “sound convincing”. Luther also was a master of the German language, which may explain in part why he was so successful. Another aspect is that he was absolutely zealous and fanatic, which led to a constant outpour of polemics which he spread using what can only be called a medieval “propaganda machine”, including obscene artwork for the illiterate.

To get a feel for the guy, here’s a quote from Karl Marx – apparently Marx thinks faults are virtues und virtues are faults:

Glory to Luther! Eternal glory to the dear man, to whom we owe the salvation of our noblest goods, and from whose good deeds we still live today! It is inappropriate for us to complain about the limitations of his views... It is even less fitting for us to make a harsh judgment of his faults; these faults have done us more good than the virtues of a thousand others. The fineness of Erasmus and the mildness of Melanchthon would never have brought us as far as the sometimes divine brutality of Brother Martin.
- Karl Marx
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Theology

Let’s begin with his theology. I think this is important to understand the historical developments because it makes clear that Luther was not an “accidental reformer” who was just speaking out against the corruption of the church, to which the evil church reacted by excommunicating him, which then eventually led to a schism. This is the protestant version of events – and they MUST see it that way, because otherwise, they get into theological trouble: if Luther came to the scene with a radical new theology from the get-go, one at odds with what Christians have believed for millennia, then he clearly WAS a heretic. But if they believe he just went after the corruption, and all he really wanted was some sensible reforms from within the church but the church went on with its corruption, then they can blame the church – and see themselves as the “true church” that continued its development.

See, the dilemma here is that protestants do recognize all kinds of dogmas of the catholic church, which came before the reformation, as “God’s truth”, and as such they recognize its authority to interpret the scripture. This means they cannot simply say “Luther came and founded a new religion against Church doctrine”. They need to frame him as a “reformer”, someone who just wanted to overcome the church’s corruption from within, but failed because of the evil clerics, and so “by accident” the church split. Otherwise, it would be dubious why Protestantism accepts the doctrines of the church up to a certain point, but rejects its authority at some arbitrary point in history.

However, this “reform story” is not what happened. Even before Luther’s famous “95 theses”, his radical new theology, especially his “sola fide” doctrine (more on that later), was in place. He published his “97 theses”, or “Disputation against the scholastic theory” in September 1517, in which he wanted to do away with Aristotle and the scholastics. This was very radical stuff that already contained the seed for turning the church tradition upside down.

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Here’s my theory: Luther was obsessed with his own salvation, felt haunted by the devil, “hated God’s judgement”, had psychological issues etc. Thus he came up with his strange theory of “faith alone” and “there is no free will”, which is already there in his 1517 “disputation”, even before all of this took off. I suspect that he thought his tortured soul might be “saved” if his doctrine is true: by faith alone, and anyway, since everything is predestined, he cannot do anything; it’s not his fault. Then he wrote his 95 theses which led to his popularity, because many people were not happy with the corruption of the church at that time (although the theses were more a result of Luther’s “faith alone” doctrine than of righteous critique of corruption). After Rome’s mild reaction, he specified his “theses” and unfolded his radical theology, building on his previous work. Realizing that the church (unsurprisingly) rejected his radical doctrine, he needed to reject the church’s authority, frantically searching the bible for statements that support his theory, which he did – by cherry-picking some statements while rejecting others, even messing with the text itself (by “translation in his favour”) to suit his doctrine. But to make his point, he also needed to discard the church’s emphasis on tradition and proclaim that the bible alone is what counts – so he could get rid of the scholastics, Aristotle and everything else in the authoritative church tradition that contradicted his ideology. After all, he needed to be saved! So the whole thing escalates to the point where he calls the pope the “antichrist” and the church the “-jezebel- of Babylon” and his violent rants about killing bishops and cardinals and so on.
After initial mildness and multiple attempts to bring Luther to reason, the church had enough and finally excommunicated him.

But it’s really hard to establish what exactly happened. Apparently, Luther wrote a letter in 1517 to his bishops and a few friends, which contained his now famous “95 theses”. These are still pretty mild compared to his later rants and mainly focus on the corruption of those commissaries who dealt in indulgence. He didn’t even doubt the practice – he just critizised how it was done, though the document itself seems pretty wild and incoherent at times. It also contains the “ranty” language typical for Luther and the air of absolute authority – it seems he really believed he’s infallible, and the whole thing comes across as very arrogant.

How did Rome react? Very mildly. They realized that these were the words of a revolutionary, and the bishops advised Luther’s superiors to gently bring him to moderation. There were also elements in the church that clearly realized that there are problems with corruption and had some sympathy.
However, Luther didn’t stop and instead went on to “specify” what he meant, building on his previous (probably largely unknown) work that already contained the key elements of his doctrine, thus slowly rolling out his theology that was completely at odds with what the church taught (more on that later). At first, Luther tried to smooth-talk the pope into adopting his doctrines. When that (predictably) failed and the pope basically said “no thank you”, he went berserk. This is when he started his rants against pope (“Antichrist”) and church (“-jezebel- of Babylon”).

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Luther came to the scene with his absolutely radical “Sola fide” concept, which by logic necessity undermines the whole tradition of the church. And Luther was absolutely unwilling to modify his teaching even one bit, maybe for psychological reasons as we’ll see.

Anyway, you can read about some of the catholic church’s theological positions in the wiki article on the Council of Trent.

As for the protestant’s theory of “gentle reformer”, historian Eugene F. Rice, Jr., in his book The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559, explained why the Reformation was never really a reform movement, at heart:

The leaders of the Protestant Reformation, too, were sensitive to ecclesiastical abuses and wished to reform them. Yet the reform of abuses was not their fundamental concern. The attempt to reform an institution, after all, suggests that its abuses are temporary blemishes on a body fundamentally sound and beautiful. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin did not believe this. They attacked the corruption of the Renaissance papacy, but their aim was not merely to reform it; they identified the pope with Antichrist and wished to abolish the papacy altogether. They did not limit their attack on the sacrament of penance to the abuse of indulgences. They plucked out the sacrament itself root and branch because they believed it to have no scriptural foundation. They did not wish simply to reform monasticism; they saw the institution itself as a perversion. The Reformation was a passionate debate on the proper conditions of salvation. It concerned the very foundations of faith and doctrine. Protestants reproached the clergy not so much for living badly as for believing badly, for teaching false and dangerous things. Luther attacked not the corruption of institutions but what he believed to be the corruption of faith itself. The Protestant Reformation was not strictly a “reformation” at all. In the intention of its leaders it was a restoration of biblical Christianity. In practice it was a revolution, a full-scale attack on the traditional doctrines and sacramental structure of the Roman Church. It could say with Christ, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” In its relation to the Church as it existed in the second decade of the sixteenth century, it came not to reform but to destroy.
This aim of destruction becomes apparent when you read some of Martin Luther’s reprehensible, vulgar drivel against the church, which he doled out consistently even when the church was ready to make concessions. For example:

“If we punish thieves with the yoke, highwaymen with the sword, and heretics with fire, why do we not rather assault these monsters of perdition, these cardinals, these popes, and the whole swarm of the Roman Sodom, who corrupt youth and the Church of God? Why do we not rather assault them with arms and wash our hands in their blood?"

Martin Luther, On the Pope as an Infallible Teacher, 25 June 1520

"If I had all the Franciscan friars in one house, I would set fire to it. ... To the fire with them!"

(Grisar, VI, 247; Table Talk [edited by Mathesius], 180; summer 1540) / Luther, Volume 6 (Hartmann Grisar)p.247
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But back to the theological questions: the major dispute was about justification, or Sola fide Sola fide - Wikipedia). Basically, the catholic church (as well as the orthodox church) maintains that you attain salvation/justification by “faith and works”, i.e. faith and goodness in one’s actions and deeds. Luther/the protestants, on the other hand, say that “faith alone” brings salvation. Only “faith in Jesus” counts and absolves you – not your good works, not the Church, not liturgy, not monastery life and so on. Luther was even more radical, saying basically that even good deeds by people who don’t accept Jesus are of the devil.

Here, we see the roots of this whole evangelical shtick of “accept Jesus and -boom!- you’re instantly saved!”. As Wikipedia puts it:

Sola fide
, or "by faith alone", asserts that good works are not a means or requisite for salvation. Sola fide is the teaching that justification (interpreted in the Lutheran and Reformed theologies as "being declared just by God") is received by faith alone, without any need for good works on the part of the individual.

The church didn’t like this idea for pretty obvious reasons and said as much in the Council of Trent:
"If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema (excommunicated).”
Or, from Wikipedia:
Justification (sixth session) was declared to be offered upon the basis of human cooperation with divine grace as opposed to the Protestant doctrine of passive reception of grace. Understanding the Protestant "faith alone" doctrine to be one of simple human confidence in divine mercy, the Council rejected the "vain confidence" of the Protestants, stating that no one can know who has received the grace of God. Furthermore, the Council affirmed—against Protestant doctrine—that the grace of God can be forfeited through mortal sin.
Maybe in a sense, this protestant Sola fide doctrine is a move away from a more Stoic philosophy that emphasized the right conduct of life. The emphasis in Catholicism seems to be more on the “life in Christ”, “actively taking part in the body Christ” and so on.

Now, from this Sola fide concept, it follows that monasteries should be abandoned; that the church cannot absolve, that the saints have no special place etc. etc. So in this strange doctrine, the complete dismantling of the catholic church as we know it was already built in. (Remember that the concept of “Sola fide” was already present in Luther’s 1517 “disputation”, before his famous theses and before it was about corruption etc.)

If faith alone brings salvation, the question then of course is – what is faith? Since according to Luther’s logic, the church got it wrong on this one, the church’s general authority to make sense of the scripture should be questioned. Which leaves the scripture alone as the sole authority, which brings us to the next pillar of protestant theology: “Sola scriptura”, or scripture alone.

Of course, this is sold to us in protestant circles as a great liberation move away from the church – now everyone should read the bible and make up his own mind, no more authority of the evil church and so on. The church on the other hand maintained that “the Bible and Church Tradition (the tradition that made up part of the Catholic faith) were equally and independently authoritative”.

But now, we have a problem: who has the right interpretation of the bible? Luther’s move was as bold as it was absurd: he maintained that the right interpretation of the bible is contained within the text itself – that there simply cannot be any disagreement about God’s word. Yeah right. What he really meant though, of course, was that HIS interpretation was the right and only one, the one “contained in the text”, and everyone who disagreed was just too stupid to get it.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, who was critical of the church himself, told him flat-out in a letter: “This is the error, that you continually impose on us your interpretations as God’s word.”

What this led to, of course, is complete subjectivism: everyone can read into the bible whatever he wants. It’s some kind of medieval form of postmodernism: everything is relative, except of course MY opinion, which is absolute and universal! Just witness how immediately, protestant groups began to multiply just like postmodern “victim groups” to the point that we now have 30k+ protestant denominations. Think about it: it’s always the same story with people who detest any sort of authority over themselves and want to “play god”. Whatever the level of corruptness of the current authorities may be, you cannot simply burn them and their entire, rich history to the ground in order to become “your own master”. In the case of the church, this history contains some very wise and interesting philosophers who extracted some timeless wisdom from the bible – in sharp contrast to Luther’s incoherent drivel.

There seems to be a parallel to today’s postmodernists who think they can “deconstruct” Shakespeare in the most primitive ways, refusing to consult the long and rich tradition of previous generations of academics who extracted sense and wisdom out of those great works. And just like the modern day politically correct thought police, Luther even messed with the texts in the bible, for example putting the word “alone” in his translation of Romans 3:28 to support his sola fide shtick, and other even more serious “creative edits”. (Martin Luther and the Book of James – Shameless Popery)

Anyway, it seems to me the church’s position was actually pretty wise, whereas Luther’s position, come to think of it, seems pretty backwards, destructive and ill-conceived, although it is usually framed in a democratic, “egalitarian” light. Again, I think we can see roots here that eventually led to fundamentalist Christianity – taking the bible literally and as the only source of divine wisdom, in stark contrast to the catholic tradition of philosophical discourse, especially in the scholastic tradition. Without this protestant “bible only” (sola scriptura) move, I guess we wouldn’t have fundies, creationists and so on today! What's more, Luther all but invented the hostility towards reason by "faithful people" and as such had a role in the split between science and religion.

Luther against reason

We’ve seen some of the many contradictions in Luther’s and the protestant’s thoughts. And just like the postmodernists, Luther instinctively saw only one way out: attacking logic – reason – itself. Standard theological arguments of the incomprehensible nature of God notwithstanding, he seems to have had serious beef with the human capacity for reason:
Reason is a wh**re, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
"Whoever wants to be a Christian must be intent on silencing the voice of reason."

Source: Martin Luther, "Sermons on the Gospel of St. John," in Works, Vol. 23, p. 99.

"Whoever wishes to be a Christian, let him pluck out the eyes of his reason."

Source: Martin Luther, "Lectures on the First Psalm," in Works, Vol. 11, p.285.

"Christ wants to slay reason and subdue the arrogance of the Jews."

Source: Martin Luther, "Sermons on the Gospel of St. John," in Works, Vol. 22, p.320.

One author convincingly argues how Luther’s hatred for reason contributed to, if not downright caused, the split between science/reason and religion:
It is easy to see how one of the most profound effects of Luther’s approach to reason was a generalized distrust of it amongst the theologians and adherents of the reformed tradition, the theological and spiritual tradition that dominates the Anglo-Saxon world. Luther’s distrust of reason was broader however, than its application to theology. It was not long before philosophy, that branch of knowledge most closely associated with reason, was itself regarded as something detached from religion. If Luther thought that his knowledge of God through the Scriptures (faith) was superior to human reason, others began to regard human reason as superior to faith. That movement was called the Enlightenment; the Age of Reason with capital letters.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the West inherited from Luther two “thought worlds”: one which, putting reason aside, believed in God relying only on conclusions drawn from Scripture; and the other, putting the “question” of God to one side, relied on the application of reason to human realities. Thus, Luther’s deprecation of reason is one of the factors that gave rise in the West and particularly in the English-speaking world to the split between faith and reason. From there it was a small step to a supposed conflict between religion and science. The origins of this conflict certainly owed something to propagandist use of the Galileo affair by Enlightenment writers, but at a more basic level, it had to do with the perceived distance between the knowledge of God and the knowledge of the universe first insisted upon by Martin Luther.
Another key element of his theology is the denial of free will – as opposed to the teaching of the catholic church. This is from Luther's book "On the Bondage of the Will" that contains this theory:

But this false idea of “free-will” is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences. If we do not want to drop this term [“free-will”] altogether – which would really be the safest and most Christian thing to do – we may still in good faith teach people to use it to credit man with “free-will” in respect, not of what is above him, but of what is below him. That is to say, man should realize that in regard to his money and possessions he has a right to use them, to do or to leave undone, according to his own “free-will” – though that very “free-will” is overruled by the free-will of God alone, according to His own pleasure. However, with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, he has no “free-will”, but is a captive, prisoner and bondslave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.

About a telling exchange between Luther and Erasmus from Rotterdam:
Luther's response was to reason that sin incapacitates human beings from working out their own salvation, and that they are completely incapable of bringing themselves to God. As such, there is no free will for humanity because any will they might have is overwhelmed by the influence of sin. Central to his analysis, both of the doctrines under discussion and of Erasmus' specific arguments, are Luther's beliefs concerning the power and complete sovereignty of God.

Luther concluded that unredeemed human beings are dominated by obstructions; Satan, as the prince of the mortal world, never lets go of what he considers his own unless he is overpowered by a stronger power, i.e. God. When God redeems a person, he redeems the entire person, including the will, which then is liberated to serve God. No one can achieve salvation or redemption through their own willpower—people do not choose between good or evil, because they are naturally dominated by evil, and salvation is simply the product of God unilaterally changing a person's heart and turning them to good ends. Were it not so, Luther contended, God would not be omnipotent and omniscient(citation needed) and would lack total sovereignty over creation, and Luther held that arguing otherwise was insulting to the glory of God. As such, Luther concluded that Erasmus was not actually a Christian.

So far, we have:

a) Faith in Jesus alone is what counts, forget about good works.

b) The only authority is the bible (though messing with it is OK if Luther does it, and of course Luther’s interpretation is the only right one).

c) Using your brain is dubious, if not downright sinful.

d) There is no free will, everything is predestined.


You begin to understand why the church called him a heretic! But it gets worse…

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Luther and the devil

First of all, Luther seemed to be paranoid and obsessed with his own salvation and fear of the devil. It seems to me that’s why he got this whole “sola fide” idea, which was the cornerstone of everything he did. He saw the devil everywhere and didn’t see any way out except changing the whole Christian faith so that he’s saved by “faith alone”. There is some support for this thesis in his own writings I think. Consider this, which Luther wrote at the end of his life, looking back on his “conversion”:
I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood ab out the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed," that had stood in my way. For I hated that word "righteousness of God," which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they call it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, "As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!" Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also fount in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strenght of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word "righteousness of God." Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.

There also was this episode that points towards some form of possession, or at least serious psychological issues:
“It’s not me!”, a furious Luther, now in his mid-20s, is said to have shouted at a mass several times, thrown himself to the ground and only calmed down again after some time. It was about the story of the Gospel of Mark about the healing by Jesus of a possessed man. There were people around Luther who certainly connected him with the phenomenon of possession.
(Source: "Schluss mit Luther")

There is also this disturbing poem by a young Luther:

To the devil I lied hostage,

In death I was lost,

My sin has tortured me night and day

Therein I was born;

I also fell deeper and deeper in it,

There was no good in my life,

The sin has possessed me.
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History

First, it seems rather clear that there were indeed corrupt elements in the church at the time, though it’s hard to say precisely what of it was real and what of it is protestant rhetoric. But even the catholic church seems to acknowledge that there were serious problems back then.

So what about the other side?

Well, there are two major points the Catholics make: first, while they acknowledge that there were problems with corruption and so on, they ask why the reformers haven’t worked with and within the church to set things straight instead of breaking it apart.

The official church position can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia from 1914 – here are some excerpts:

The great applause which Luther received on his first appearance, both in humanistic circles and among some theologians and some of the earnest-minded laity, was due to dissatisfaction with the existing abuses. His own erroneous views and the influence of a portion of his followers very soon drove Luther into rebellion against ecclesiastical authority as such and eventually led him into open apostasy and schism. His chief original supporters were won among the Humanists, the immoral clergy, and the lower grades of the landed nobility imbued with revolutionary tendencies. It was soon evident that he meant to subvert all the fundamental institutions of the Church. Beginning by proclaiming the false doctrine of "justification by faith alone", he later rejected all supernatural remedies (especially the sacraments and the Mass), denied the meritorious ness of good works (thus condemning monastic vows and Christian asceticism in general), and finally rejected the institution of a genuine hierarchical priesthood (especially the papacy) in the Church. His doctrine of the Bible as the sole rule of faith, with rejection of all ecclesiastical authority, established subjectivism in matters of faith. By this revolutionary assault Luther forfeited the support of many serious persons indisposed to break with the Church, but on the other hand won over all the anti-ecclesiastical elements, including numerous monks and nuns who left the monasteries to break their vows, and many priests who espoused his cause with the intention of marrying. The support of his sovereign, Frederick of Saxony, was of great importance. Very soon secular princes and municipal magistrates made the Reformation a pretext for arbitrary interference in purely ecclesiastical and religious affairs, for appropriating ecclesiastical property and disposing of it at pleasure and for deciding what faith their subjects should accept. Some followers of Luther went to even greater extremes. The Anabaptists and the "Iconoclasts" revealed the extremists possibilities of the principles advocated by Luther, while in the Peasants' War the most oppressed elements of German society put into practice the doctrine of the reformer. Ecclesiastical affairs were now reorganized by the Lutheran princes on the basis of the new teachings; henceforth the secular power is ever more clearly the supreme judge in purely religious matters, and completely disregards any independent ecclesiastical authority.
Notice the word “subjectivism” here – how right the church was can be seen of what happened after and even during the reformation: tons of splitting, new groups forming etc., until now we have 30k+ protestant denominations! And no wonder: since the bible is always subject to interpretation, everybody can use his subjective interpretation and proclaim that it’s God’s word! In other words: everything is subjective, except that I am right – shades of postmodernism?

About the tactics of the reformers, the catholic encyclopedia has this interesting thing to say:

A. METHOD OF SPREADING THE REFORMATION.—In the choice of means for extending the Reformation its founders and supporters were not fastidious, availing themselves of any factor which could further their movement.

Denunciation of real and supposed abuses in religious and ecclesiastical life was, especially at the beginning, one of the chief methods employed by the reformers to promote their designs. By this means they won over many who were dissatisfied with existing conditions, and were ready to support any movement that promised a change. But it was especially the widespread hatred of Rome and of the members of the hierarchy, fostered by the incessantly repeated and only too often justifiable complaints about abuses that most efficiently favored the reformers who very soon violently attacked the papal authority, recognizing in it the supreme guardian of the Catholic Faith. Hence the multitude of lampoons, often most vulgar, against the pope, the bishops, and in general against all representatives of ecclesiastical authority. These pamphlets were circulated everywhere among the people, and thereby respect for authority was still more violently shaken. Painters prepared shameless and degrading caricatures of the pope, the clergy, and the monks, to illustrate the text of hostile pamphlets. Waged with every possible weapon (even the most reprehensible), this warfare against the representatives of the Church, as the supposed originators of all ecclesiastical abuses, prepared the way for the reception of the Reformation. A distinction was no longer drawn between temporary and corrigible abuses and fundamental supernatural Christian truths; together with the abuses, important ecclesiastical institutions, resting on Divine foundation, were simultaneously abolished.
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Luther, the warmonger

Some of the more disgusting utterances of Martin Luther concern the peasant uprising against the authorities at the time. The incredible and horrible thing is that he himself initially praised and inspired these uprisings, because he saw them as a weapon against the evil church. You can find his words of praise and justification for the insurrection here. However, when he was protected by the local secular authorities, he had this to say about the peasant uprisings (from the same source):

"The pretences which they made in their twelve articles, under the name of the Gospel, were nothing but lies. It is the devil's work that they are at. ... They have abundantly merited death in body and soul. In the first place they have sworn to be true and faithful, submissive and obedient, to their rulers, as Christ commands. ... Because they are breaking this obedience, and are setting themselves against the higher powers, willfully and with violence, they have forfeited body and soul, as faithless, perjured, lying, disobedient knaves and scoundrels are wont to do ...

They are starting a rebellion, and violently robbing and plundering monasteries and castles which are not theirs, by which they have a second time deserved death in body and soul, if only as highwaymen and murderers ... if a man is an open rebel every man is his judge and executioner, just as when a fire starts, the first to put it out is the best man. For rebellion is not simple murder, but is like a great fire, which attacks and lays waste a whole land. Thus rebellion brings with it a land full of murder and bloodshed, makes widows and orphans, and turns everything upside down, like the greatest disaster. Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.

... They cloak this terrible and horrible sin with the Gospel, call themselves "Christian brethren." ... Thus they become the greatest of all blasphemers of God and slanderers of His holy Name, serving the devil, under the outward appearance of the Gospel, thus earning death in body and soul ten times over. ... Fine Christians these! I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have gone into the peasants. Their raving has gone beyond all measure.

I will not oppose a ruler who, even though he does not tolerate the Gospel, will smite and punish these peasants without offering to submit the case to judgment. ... If anyone thinks this too hard, let him remember that rebellion is intolerable and that the destruction of the world is to be expected every hour."

Source: Martin Luther, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants, May 1525

"If God permits the peasants to extirpate the princes to fulfil his wrath, he will give them hell fire for it as a reward."

Source: Letter of Martin Luther to John Ruhel, 4 May 1525

"My opinion is that it is better that all the peasants be killed than that the princes and magistrates perish, because the rustics took the sword without divine authority. The only possible consequence of their satanic wickedness would be the diabolic devastation of the kingdom of God. Even if the princes abuse their power, yet they have it of God, and under their rule the kingdom of God at least has a chance to exist. Wherefore no pity, no tolerance should be shown to the peasants, but the fury and wrath of God should be visited upon those men who did not heed warning nor yield when just terms were offered them, but continued with satanic fury to confound everything. ... To justify, pity, or favor them is to deny, blaspheme, and try to pull God from heaven."

Source: Letter of Martin Luther to Nicholas Amsdorf, 25 May 1525

"All my words were against the obdurate, hardened, blinded peasants, who would neither see nor hear, as anyone may see who reads them; and yet you say that I advocate the slaughter of the poor captured peasants without mercy. ... On the obstinate, hardened, blinded peasants, let no one have mercy.

They say ... that the lords are misusing their sword and slaying too cruelly. I answer: What has that to do with my book? Why lay others' guilt on me? If they are misusing their power, they have not learned it from me; and they will have their reward ...

See, then, whether I was not right when I said, in my little book, that we ought to slay the rebels without any mercy. I did not teach, however, that mercy ought not to be shown to the captives and those who have surrendered."

Source: Martin Luther, An Open Letter Concerning the Hard Book Against the Peasants, July 1525
It is probably safe to say that Luther in one way or another caused untold misery and bloodshed among the peasants...

~

Luther, anti-semitism and Hitler

While Luther’s anti-semiticm is grudgingly acknowledged in mainstream protestant circles, it is usually explained away by “the beliefs of his time”, or it is claimed that "Hitler instrumentalized him". But this isn’t just your run of the mill anti-Jewish stereotypes; this is Hitler-level genocidal anti-semitism!

Here's Martin Luther's recommendation on how to solve the Jewish question:

I shall give you my sincere advice:

First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly - and I myself was unaware of it - will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor Jews captive with the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 17 [:10 ff.]) in which he commands them to obey their teachers on penalty of death, although Moses clearly adds: "what they teach you in accord with the law of the Lord." Those villains ignore that. They wantonly employ the poor people's obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy.

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let they stay at home.

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess. Such money should now be used in no other way than the following: Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God's blessing in a good and worthy cause.

Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3:19). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants."

On the Jews and Their Lies (1543) pgs.63-65.
From Wikipedia:

Luther's sentiments were widely echoed in the Germany of the 1930s, particularly within the Nazi party. Hitler's Education Minister, Bernhard Rust, was quoted by the Völkischer Beobachter as saying that: "Since Martin Luther closed his eyes, no such son of our people has appeared again. It has been decided that we shall be the first to witness his reappearance ... I think the time is past when one may not say the names of Hitler and Luther in the same breath. They belong together; they are of the same old stamp [Schrot und Korn]".[60]
[...]
Wilhelm Röpke, writing after Hitler's Holocaust, who concluded that "without any question, Lutheranism influenced the political, spiritual and social history of Germany in a way that, after careful consideration of everything, can be described only as fateful."[78]
(BTW, as we've seen, Luther didn't only want to kill Jews, but also other Christian sects, priests etc.)

There's also the fact that the Reichskristallnacht took place from 9-10 November took place around Luther's birthday (10 November), and that the early Nazi book burnings were in part inspired by Luther. About the book burnings of 1933:

Local chapters were to supply the press with releases and commissioned articles, sponsor well-known Nazi figures to speak at public gatherings, and negotiate for radio broadcast time.

On the same day the Student Union published the "Twelve Theses", a title chosen to be evocative of two events in German history:

From a German article about the relationship between Nazis and religion (deepl):
The young Hitler was possibly not yet a pronounced anti-Semite...

In 1938 he spared the Jewish family doctor of his biological mother, Dr. Eduard Bloch, despite the already forced persecution of Austrian Jews by the Gestapo. Bloch later noted in his memoirs that the young Hitler had "not yet begun to hate the Jews". It is generally assumed by many historians that his hatred of the Jews was not already expressed in his Viennese time, but only in the course of World War I and the post-war period - especially during the period of the so-called Räterepublik. (14) The study of Martin Luther's writings - by Hitler - probably also falls into this phase. This prompted him time and again to express his sympathy for Protestantism.

[...]

Hitler's logical conclusion: "Luther was a great man, a giant. With a jerk he broke through the twilight; he saw the Jew as we begin to see him only today, unfortunately too late, and even then not where he is most harmful: in Christianity, oh, he would have seen him there, in his youth! He would not have attacked Catholicism, but the Jew behind it! Instead of rejecting the church in all its glory, he would have let all his passionate force fall on the true 'dark men'. Instead of glorifying the Old Testament, he would have branded it as the armory of Antichrist. And the Jew, the Jew would have stood there in his hideous nakedness, to eternal warning. He would have had to leave the church, the society, the halls of the princes, the castles of the knights, the houses of the guarantors. For Luther had the strength and the courage and the ravishing will, never would there have been a division of the church, never to the war which, according to the wishes of the Hebrews, shed Aryan blood for thirty years. (16)

This was followed by the Reichskristallnacht, the consistent denigration and dehumanisation of German Jews, their imprisonment and the millions of exterminations of European Jews during World War II.

Less well known to date is the attitude of the Protestant Church in particular. Not only that many regional bishops such as Martin Sasse welcomed the measures against Jews and other "inferior parts of the population" as "blessed by God" - many regional churches delivered already converted former Jews to the Protestant faith to the knife by excluding them from the church.

From William L. Shirer's book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:
It is difficult to understand the behavior of most German Protestants in the first Nazi years unless one is aware of two things: their history and the influence of Martin Luther. The great founder of Protestantism was both a passionate anti-Semite and a ferocious believer in absolute obedience to political authority. He wanted Germany rid of the Jew and when they were sent away he advised that they be deprived of “all their cash and jewels and silver and gold” and furthermore, “that their synagogues or schools be set on fire, that their houses be broken up and destroyed… and they be put under a roof or stable, like the gypsies… in misery and captivity as they incessantly lament and complain to God about us” – advice that was literally followed four centuries later by Hitler, Goering and Himmler.
It is also noteworthy that Hitler got massively more votes among protestants than among catholics in the early days of Nazism.

~

That's it for now. Hope this was useful, despite its length.
 
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genero81

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d) There is no free will, everything is predestined.
He had an impoverished world view. Free will was relegated to the rather small affairs of day to day living, but in terms of salvation or damnation, one was either under control of the Devil or God. I'm not sure we can conclude that he thought everything was predestined, however.

Once again we see a charismatic writer with an inability to grasp the nuances of a deeper reality. He needed things to be simple in order to find absolution for himself. But his oversimplification resulted in a disproportionate amount of harm to the church and contributed to some pretty major errors in thought from both those who wanted it to be all about faith, to those who wanted it to be all about reason.

I think we're beginning to see a pattern here.

Nice outline.
 

Voyageur

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On the catholic front, I found these blog posts about Luther and Protestantism very illuminating: Search Results for “luther” – Shameless Popery
[...]
Luther, the warmonger

Some of the more disgusting utterances of Martin Luther concern the peasant uprising against the authorities at the time. The incredible and horrible thing is that he himself initially praised and inspired these uprisings, because he saw them as a weapon against the evil church. You can find his words of praise and justification for the insurrection here. However, when he was protected by the local secular authorities, he had this to say about the peasant uprisings (from the same source):
I had a little of this saved from 2014 (from the above site quoted) as this comes out also as written by Joe Heschmeyer in 'The Dark Side of Martin Luther' - Luther really comes of the rails as described in his dealings with the peasantry, however, he had the ear of empire.

There’s a popular Luther narrative that plays out a little like Star Wars. A humble son of the Church rises up to overthrow the Dark Side, the Evil Empire, the Roman Catholic Church, all while cominfg to see his true identity. We love an underdog story, so it’s easy to root for Luther. And this narrative is an important one, both for Protestants (to show why the Reformation was “necessary”) and atheists (to show why Catholicism/Christianity/fundamentalism/religion is dangerous and evil).

But no matter how attractive it may be, this Luther narrative is a fundamentally false one. It relies on two sets of falsehoods: (1) distortions and exaggerations of the evils done on the Catholic side; and (2) a whitewashing of the real history of Luther and the early Protestants. I’ve addressed (1) before, and I’d like to address (2) head-on today...
Later Position: Call for Massacre

Luther’s Admonition to Peace was published in early 1525. Shortly after this, Luther toured the war-torn area, seeing both the severity of the peasants’ actions, and the ineffectiveness of his own preaching. His admonition to peace having failed, Luther’s new position can fairly be characterized as an admonition to massacre.

In May of 1525, he published a work originally titled Against the Rioting Peasants, the title of which was quickly changed to Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, in which he called on everyone to kill the peasants, en masse:

Besides, any man against whom it can be proved that he is a maker of sedition is outside the law of God and Empire, so that the first who can slay him is doing right and well. For if a man is an open rebel every man is his judge and executioner, just as when a fire starts, the first to put it out is the best man. For rebellion is not simple murder, but is like a great fire, which attacks and lays waste a whole land. Thus rebellion brings with it a land full of murder and bloodshed, makes widows and orphans, and turns everything upside down, like the greatest disaster. Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.
His new message was to offer the prospect of martyrdom to those fighting for the aristocracy, but only hellfire for all the slain peasants:
Thus it may be that one who is killed fighting on the ruler’s side may be a true martyr in the eyes of God, if he fights with such a conscience as I have just described, for he is in God’s Word and is obedient to him. On the other hand, one who perishes on the peasants’ side is an eternal brand of hell, for he bears the sword against God’s Word and is disobedient to him, and is a member of the devil. […] Strange times, these, when a prince can win heaven with bloodshed, better than other men with prayer!
As Dr. Mark U. Edwards, Jr. notes, “Luther had his way” and the “peasants were brutally suppressed.” Estimates of those slaughtered range from 100,000 to 300,000.
Thanks for the reminder and the other sources.
 

luc

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He had an impoverished world view. Free will was relegated to the rather small affairs of day to day living, but in terms of salvation or damnation, one was either under control of the Devil or God. I'm not sure we can conclude that he thought everything was predestined, however.
Yes, that was the wrong wording, thanks for spotting this. Predetermination was more of Calvin's thing I think, although I haven't looked in detail into this. Luther's rants about free will was more along the lines that God alone determines your salvation, kind of on a whim. He also held a much stronger view on original sin than the church - he kind of thought that humanity lives 100% in sin and that you can't do nothing about it. It's really twisted thinking IMO and again, my theory is that he was absolutely obsessed with his own sins, haunted by the devil, and desperately tried to find a way out of his own damnation. It seems to me that everything flows from there. Better kill every priest alive, all the Jews, and massacre peasants than being wrong about salvation!
 

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Great research article, Luc!

I stumbled upon this article while searching for more info on Luther:

The Pro-Islamic West: Born 500 Years Ago
by Raymond Ibrahim
FrontPage Magazine
November 1, 2017


Five-hundred years ago yesterday, on October 31, 1517, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a German church, thereby launching what would come to be known as the Protestant Reformation. Whatever else can be said of him, Luther unwittingly initiated something else that is often overlooked. "The Reformation produced one logical if unexpected result," explains European historian Franco Cardini: "a definite boost to the positive evaluation of Islam, and therefore to the birth and development of an often conventional and mannered pro-Islamic stance" in the West.

Thus, although Luther maintained the traditional Christian view of Islam—denouncing the Koran as a "cursed, shameful, desperate" book filled with "dreadful abominations"—he condemned the concept of crusading, which had been essential for the survival of some European Christians, such as those of Spain: since its conquest by Islam in the eighth century, the Iberian Peninsula had faced wave after wave of Islamic incursions emanating from North Africa (especially at the hands of the Almoravids and the Almohads, whose jihadi zeal and barbarous means far surpassed anything ISIS can come up with).

Nor was Luther merely against crusading "over there" (e.g., to liberate the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, etc.). In 1517, the same year that he nailed his theses, history's greatest jihadi empire—that of the Ottoman Turks—absorbed the vast domains of the Mameluke sultanate in the Middle East and North Africa and, having already conquered much of the Balkans, prepared to renew the jihad into the heart of Europe.

Against this, Luther originally preached passivity—going so far as to say that, although the Muslim sultan "rages most intensely by murdering Christians in the body ... he, after all, does nothing by this but fill heaven with saints." When the Turks marched to and besieged the walls of Vienna in 1529, rebellious Lutheran soldiers were heard to cry out that the "Unbaptized Turk" (meaning the sultan) was preferable to the "Baptized Turk."

By portraying the Catholic pope as an 'Antichrist' figure worse than the Turkish sultan—an office held by Muslim leaders who had been responsible for the slaughter and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Christians in the name of jihad—men such as Luther and John Calvin, who held that Islamic prophet Muhammad and the Pope were "the two horns of Antichrist," ushered in a sort of relativism that prevails to this day in the West; one which instinctively cites (often distorted) episodes from Catholic history to relativize and minimize ongoing Muslim atrocities.

To be sure, the Catholic Church responded with its own invective "and frequently tried to discredit Protestant doctrine by likening it to Islam—Muhammad was an early Protestant and the Protestants were latter day Saracens," explains Bernard Lewis. Cardini elaborates:
The Reformation generated more vehement and coherent arguments between Christians, the ultimate effect of which was to favor the Muslims. It became customary amongst Catholics and Protestants for each to censure the "vices" of the other's religion and to emphasize that the infidel [Muslims] exemplified the corresponding "virtue," which naturally would have been much better suited to the Christians.... In fact, the arguments between Catholics and Protestants frequently led to a competition as to which of the two could hurt the adversary more by heaping praise upon the infidel.

John Sigismund of Hungary, paying homage to Suleiman the Magnificent.

All the while, Muslims sat back and laughed—to the exasperation of sensible men such as Erasmus: "While we have been endlessly fighting among ourselves," argued the Renaissance humanist, "the Turks have vastly extended their empire or, rather, their reign of terror." Incidentally, of "Luther's contention that those who make war on the Turks rebel against God, who is punishing our sins [Catholicism] through them [the Muslims]," Erasmus countered that "if it is not lawful to resist the Turks, because God is punishing the sins of his people through them, it is no more lawful to call in a doctor during illness, because God also sends diseases to purge his people of their sins."
Be that as it may, what began with Luther was bequeathed to subsequent Protestant leaders. This was only expected; as the early Protestants and Muslims had the same common enemy—Catholic Christendom, particularly in the guise of the Holy Roman Empire—the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" came into dramatic play. By 1535, "It was one of the bitterest truths," writes historian Roger Crowley, "that the Catholic King [Charles V] would spend more time, money, and energy fighting the French and the Protestants than he ever devoted to the war with [Sultan] Suleiman" (Little wonder many Islamic conquests of European territory occurred under the "Magnificent One's" reign.)
Similarly, Queen Elizabeth I of England made common cause with the Muslim Barbary pirates—who eventually enslaved some 1.3 million Europeans, including not a few from Ireland and Iceland—against Catholic Spain, prompting that nation's papal nuncio to lament that "there is no evil that is not devised by that woman, who, it is perfectly plain, succored Mulocco [Abd al-Malek] with arms, and especially with artillery."


Princes Imre Thokoly (left) and Michael Apafi supported the Ottoman siege of Vienna.

In 1683, when the Turks came again for Vienna—enslaving and eventually slaughtering some 30,000 Christians in the process—their chief non-Muslim allies were two Protestant counts: the Lutheran Hungarian, Imre Thokoly, and the Calvinist Transylvanian, Prince Apafi. In fact, the Muslim pretext for marching onto Vienna was to provide military aid to Thokoly, who was then in rebellion against the Austrian Empire. Telling fellow Muslim commanders that "they ought to take advantage of the disorders of the Christians by the siege of the place [Vienna], the conquest of which would assure that of all Hungary, and open 'em a passage to the greatest victories," Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa mobilized arguably the largest Muslim army ever to invade Europe. Before setting off to the relief of Vienna, and cognizant of Thokoly's mischievous role, the Polish king, John Sobieski, wrote to the latter "that if he burnt one straw in the territories of his allies, or in his own, he would go and burn him and all his family in his house."

That the Protestant Reformation unwittingly benefited Islam should not be interpreted as an attack on the Reformation or a defense of Catholicism. Nor does it say anything about the theological merits, or truths, of either. (I am, for the record, neither Protestant nor Catholic, and don't have a horse in the race, as it were.) Rather, the point here is that the actions of fallible men, of both religious persuasions, had unforeseen consequences. And, if the historic rifts within Christendom—beginning at Chalcedon in 451, when Orthodoxy (not Catholicism or Protestantism) broke apart—always worked to Islam's advantage, it should come as no surprise that the greatest of all Christian sunderings also had the greatest impact.


To this day, naïve and favorable views of Islam are especially ingrained in historically Protestant nations.


In short, "The Reformation produced one logical if unexpected result: a definite boost to the positive evaluation of Islam, and therefore to the birth and development of an often conventional and mannered pro-Islamic stance." This "mannered" and "pro-Islamic stance" persists and continues to haunt the West to this day. After all, it's not for nothing that naïve and favorable views of Islam—to say nothing of passive responses to Muslim aggression and an all-consuming fear of being seen as "crusading" against Islam—are especially ingrained in and compromise the security of historically Protestant nations, including the U.K., Scandinavia, Germany, Australia, and the U.S.

Of course, that these views have less to do with anything intrinsic to Protestant theology and more to do with a number of historic forces that have culminated into a sort of uncritical or mindless tolerance for anything and everything in the West—including unabashed Islamic terrorism—is evident in one ironic fact: today it is the Catholic pope—a role traditionally filled by Islam's greatest and most vociferous opponents—who exhibits an unparalleled determination to empower Muslims and whitewash the image of Islam.
 

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The author's answer to someone who rebutted his article:

Luther, Islam, and the Lies that Cripple
by Raymond Ibrahim
FrontPage Magazine
November 15, 2017



Paul Gottfried inaccurately accuses me of blaming Islam's expansion in Europe on Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.

In "Islam's Expansion Across Europe: Not Martin Luther's Fault," one Paul Gottfried pretends to respond to my article, "The Pro-Islamic West: Born 500 years Ago." While many of his own readers saw through and exposed his misrepresentations in the comments section more thoroughly than I ever would have, Gottfried's piece is still worth examining if only for the important lessons surrounding it.

First, if you seek an example of or are uncertain what a "strawman argument" is—typically defined as "giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent"—then look no further than to Gottfried's "rebuttal" which exemplifies the strawman fallacy in a very special way, beginning with its title: "Islam's Expansion Across Europe: Not Martin Luther's Fault." Bravo, Gottfried—what an insight! But who ever said "Islam's expansion across Europe" was Luther's fault?
Well, if you read Gottfried's piece without crosschecking his claims against my article, apparently I did. Of course, back in the real world, I never did. Indeed, as someone who just finished writing a (forthcoming) book about the history of Islamic jihad against Europe—at least 75 percent of which occurred before not after Luther—the claim strikes me more than most as absurd.

Who ever said Islam's expansion across Europe was Luther's fault?

Gottfried's next obvious distortion appears in his very opening sentence: "In one of the stranger manifestations of misguided Catholic piety or repugnance for the Protestant Reformation, being exhibited on the occasion of its 500th anniversary, Raymond Ibrahim reveals a bizarre version of the blame game." I will address the "repugnance" thing below; for now, why does Gottfried offer as a possibility that I might have been motivated by "misguided Catholic piety" when I had clearly written that "I am, for the record, neither Protestant nor Catholic"?

Only two conclusions exist: either Gottfried never read my article (which is pathetic for someone claiming to "rebut" it), or else he is willfully misrepresenting. Although my first instinct was inclined to the former, other "techniques" employed by Gottfried point to willful deception. For example, he never quotes me as saying the things he claims I say—the way I am quoting him here—except on two occasions: in both, he claims I wrote that Luther urged "passivity" against the hostile Muslim invaders. In reality, I had written that "Luther originally preached passivity," which, of course, is an indisputable fact. Lest there remain any confusion on this point, along with the several quotes and sources I cited in my original article—including Luther's own words that although the Muslim sultan "rages most intensely by murdering Christians in the body ... he, after all, does nothing by this but fill heaven with saints"—here are some more Western authorities:

According to S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt, university professors and editors of The Crusades: A Reader: "The Protestant leader Martin Luther had earlier preached against an Ottoman crusade, believing that it was a Catholic cause, and therefore wrong in the eyes of God. Luther changed his mind after Vienna, when the threat moved closer to home..." (p. 413).

Ditto for Thomas Madden (Crusades historian): "Luther set the tone for Protestant thought on the Turkish threat. When [Pope] Leo X was still trying to resurrect his crusade in 1520, Luther wrote that 'to fight against the Turks is to oppose the judgement God visits upon our iniquities through them.' In Luther's view, crusades against the Ottomans were wars against God.... After the siege of Vienna in 1529, the Turkish threat became much more dire to Germans, and so Luther changed his mind" (A New Concise History of the Crusades, pp. 209-210).

Be that as it may; the relevant question here is, why does Gottfried intentionally misquote me—twice—as saying that Luther preached "passivity" when I wrote that he "originally preached passivity"? Simple: my formulation is correct, whereas something as "subtle" as omitting my qualifier ("originally") leads to the formulation that Gottfried needs to knock out his strawman.
One can go on and on, but the point should be clear by now. Anyone interested in seeing more observations concerning Gottfried's distortions is encouraged to go through the comments section of his article.

As for the second, more important lesson. Although many Protestants made it a point to agree with my original article, for others, the Reformation and especially Luther seem to be beyond reproach. Now, on the one hand, I understand the frustration, especially among pro-Israel Protestants: they've had to apologize for and be embarrassed by Luther's notorious antisemitism—and they'll be damned if Islam is also going to be laid at Luther's feet; hence the kneejerk response to any claim that negatively associates Luther with Islam.

The point of my original article was to trace how & why Western perceptions of Islam dramatically improved in past centuries.

But this misses the point of my original article entirely: to trace how and why the image of Islam dramatically improved in the West over the last few centuries; and yes, like it or not, Protestantism and its leaders played a major if unintentional role in this change, particularly by using "good" and "noble" Islam as a foil to demonize "bad" and "corrupt" Catholicism with. This is not a "controversial" view; it is established fact confirmed by many historians, including Protestant ones. Nor does the mere acknowledgment of this fact reflect, as Gottfried claims, "a repugnance [on my part] for the Protestant Reformation."

To reiterate—and for those hard of reading or worse—here is what I wrote in my original article:
That the Protestant Reformation unwittingly benefited Islam should not be interpreted as an attack on the Reformation or a defense of Catholicism. Nor does it say anything about the theological merits, or truths, of either.... Rather, the point here is that the actions of fallible men, of both religious persuasions, had unforeseen consequences. And, if the historic rifts within Christendom—beginning at Chalcedon in 451, when Orthodoxy (not Catholicism or Protestantism) broke apart—always worked to Islam's advantage, it should come as no surprise that the greatest of all Christian sunderings also had the greatest impact.
Incidentally, the irony of all this is that it is I, not those who revere Luther, who emulates his approach. For I truly find no man—not just popes, but Protestants, including their founder—infallible. (Hence here I stand. I can do no other.)

Islam is being empowered entirely thanks to a number of warped Western philosophies and 'isms."

From here we reach the greatest of all lessons: while increasing numbers of Western people are aware that Islam is hostile to the other, many fail to progress beyond this simple truism. The result is that they see only half the picture: yes, Islam is an intrinsically militant and supremacist creed—but that is not why the West is currently being terrorized by it. Rather, the West is being terrorized because of the West. Long gone are the days when Muslims, through sheer might alone, threatened and invaded the West. Today Islam is being enabled and empowered entirely thanks to a number of warped Western philosophies and "isms" that have metastasized among and crippled the populace from effectively responding to the suicidal road their civilization is speeding on.

As such, a little introspection is needed.
Plainly put, those who insist Islam is intolerant and violent—while equally insisting that nothing associated with them or theirs can ever be implicated in the equation—should consider if they are consigning themselves to a permanent state of limbo, forever taking one step forward followed by another step back in their struggle against jihad.
 

Adaryn

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Another article that I found interesting, about the English Reformation: When did the Schism begin, and why? Views on the English Reformation amongst Catholic polemicists
It's a long article, so I'm just quoting the introduction:

"The English Reformation lacks the great iconic ‘starting point’ of its German counterpart. Whilst debate continues about whether Luther did actually nail his 95 theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, and about its significance for Luther’s contemporaries, as Peter Marshall argues, for Protestants, particularly Lutherans, it became a powerful symbol of Luther’s stand for religious freedom of conscience, and of resistance to the corrupt power of an institutional Church. In Protestant narratives, Luther was inspired by religious revelation and driven to search for doctrinal purity, and his posting of the theses could be seen as a turning point. Compare this to the series of rather muddled events that make up the early Reformation in England, which, by many accounts, was an act of state as much as a search for theological reform. Henry VIII had offered a public rebuke to Luther, and argued for the authority of the Church, earning himself a papal title of Defender of the Faith. Within a few years, however, he rejected Papal authority, and created a separate Church of England, over which he claimed headship. English evangelicals were thus working in a context where immediate political, dynastic and personal motivations were contributing to the King’s move away from the Church of Rome.

And yet, looked at from an angle which emphasises the personalities involved, there is perhaps more to link Luther and Henry VIII, and their roles in their respective ‘national’ Reformations, than we might first assume. Some time ago, Thomas Betteridge pointed towards the marital situation of both men, and suggested that this might be construed not only as unorthodox, but as morally dubious, thus casting doubt on the ‘purity’ of the respective reformations. Henry’s desire for Anne Boleyn, which drove him to the Break with Rome, might be considered as somehow comparable to Luther’s attack on the Church, which enabled another unorthodox relationship: his marriage, as a former Augustinian canon to a former nun, Katherine Von Bora. Martin Luther’s Reformation was critiqued by Catholic opponents in terms of Luther’s dubious morality, but, as Andrew Pettegree argues, they lost the polemical battle in the face of overwhelming evangelical success in print. In England, however, English Catholic opponents of Henry VIII and his royal supremacy continued to stress the personal failings of the monarch, and continued to do so beyond Henry’s own lifetime. This article seeks to trace the ways in which English Catholic writers articulated this view of the Break with Rome and subsequent Reformation, over a period of roughly fifty years. It will focus on three key texts, written and circulated at three different points: as Henry’s break with Rome happened; during the regime of Mary I which returned England to the Roman Catholic Church; and several decades into the reign of Elizabeth I, as some sought to revive plans for the armed restoration of Catholicism. Whilst the specific circumstances faced by the writer(s) inflected each text with a different emphasis, they might be united by their common interpretation of the origins of the English Reformation lying in irreligious personal weakness of the monarch."
 

PERLOU

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Merci pour vos partages plus intéressants les uns que les autres et tout votre travail LUC...

Thank you for your interesting sharing and all your LUC work....
 

luc

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From here we reach the greatest of all lessons: while increasing numbers of Western people are aware that Islam is hostile to the other, many fail to progress beyond this simple truism. The result is that they see only half the picture: yes, Islam is an intrinsically militant and supremacist creed—but that is not why the West is currently being terrorized by it. Rather, the West is being terrorized because of the West. Long gone are the days when Muslims, through sheer might alone, threatened and invaded the West. Today Islam is being enabled and empowered entirely thanks to a number of warped Western philosophies and "isms" that have metastasized among and crippled the populace from effectively responding to the suicidal road their civilization is speeding on.
Very interesting! I would even go one step further in that Luther's doctrine contained the seeds of this whole mess (not that it's the single cause, but certainly a piece of the puzzle).

Thing is, if you adopt a "sola scriptura" doctrine, you basically have three options:

a) Luther's idea that God's word cannot be misunderstood; it contains the unambigious truth. This is obviously utterly ridiculous.
b) To "save" this absurd doctrine, you go literalist: each syllable in the bible must be taken literally. Which is just as ridiculous as a)
c) You go postmodern/relativist: to each his/her/xer own interpretation. Ah, and maybe you change God's gender while you are at it...

(Of course, there is another option that the best of protestant thinkers took: re-integrate the Christian philosophical tradition and talk intelligently about religion. But this arguably means going back to a more Catholic tradition and to discard Luther's nonsense.)

Isn't this precisely what happens in protestantism? On the one hand, you have the right-winger fundies, on the other hand you have the lefty-postmodern relativists.

And the latter have a very strong tendency not only to twist the bible and Christianity to suit their ideology, but also to twist the Koran/Islam to whitewash the whole thing! If you are a relativist, nothing is stopping you from coming up with whatever you "feel like". And don't worry about contradictions - Luther himself said reason is a "who*e". Just replace "who*re" with phallogo-centric and there you go! ;)

BTW, it's hilarious that a 21st century forum software feels the writings of a 16th century monk are too vulgar and offensive for its taste and replaces some words in Luther's drivel with "-jezebel-" !! :lol: What does that tell us about our world :huh:
 

bjorn

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Thanks Luc, very interesting. It seems Christianity (the essence of it) has been under attack in all sorts of way throughout it’s history.

You mentioned the fundie type protestants variant, and yeah, I can’t say they are true Christians.

Perhaps the following story of mine can add a little bit to the overall topic. I grew up on an island with a diverse group of people and the protesants are the ones you have to be careful with.

They won’t greet you and won’t go to shops other than those run that are part of their community.

Try to work in your garden at Sunday and they will start to harass you. (Because Sunday is the day God rests)

Many years back my dad bought up property and a house from a protestant family to renovate. Later on he and the construction crew found asbestos, which obviously wasn’t part of the deal.

My dad sued them.

He never told me much about it, but said that the construction crew refused to testify in court about the asbestos because they received death threats.

Oh, and bars that stayed open past the 24:00 mark on Saturday have been burned to the ground. You don’t need Sherlock Holmes to figure out who were responsible.

Their toxic influence on the Island is widespread while they try to keep ''Gods order'' in place. Though there are some they won’t dare to mess with.

They are: (and I’m telling this because the only thing that seem to really keep those fundie types at bay are bigger ‘’bullies’’

A family who earned a fortune in the ‘’flower business’’ Long story short, their warehouses on numerous times have been caught growing huge plantations of cannabis. So it leaves the ‘’flower business’’ in doubt.

Interesting enough as of late this family have been buying up bars on the island and grandfather is letting his grandsons running those places as they see fit. And ‘’God’s curfew’’ doesn’t seem to apply to them since they stay open till late in the morning.

I guess they made the protestants clear not to mess with their businesses.

Than there are the gypsies, the protestants considers them as abominations and harassed them in the past. Though you won’t mess with the gypsies. Let’s just say that if they have a problem with someone, they won’t call the police to fix it. Gypsies just like to be left alone and do … whatever they do.

Again I don’t want to generalize, but these protesants on the island are diffecult to deal with to say the least.

I can't say the same for the Catholics on the island, they are mostly warm and friendly people.
 

Pierre

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Luc said:
Luther was not an “accidental reformer” who was just speaking out against the corruption of the church, to which the evil church reacted by excommunicating him, which then eventually led to a schism. This is the protestant version of events – and they MUST see it that way, because otherwise, they get into theological trouble: if Luther came to the scene with a radical new theology from the get-go, one at odds with what Christians have believed for millennia, then he clearly WAS a heretic. But if they believe he just went after the corruption, and all he really wanted was some sensible reforms from within the church but the church went on with its corruption, then they can blame the church – and see themselves as the “true church”
Luther had been an Augustinian monk for years. Soon after Pope Leo X decided to let the Dominicans manage indulgences, and therefore deprived Luther's monastic order from this substantial source of income and power, Luther started his campaign against the Church.

And his defiance went much further than indulgences. His creed opposed the Christian creed in almost every aspect. See here for a list of 50 fundamental theological differences.

Knowing how much Lutheranism opposes the Christian faith, it is mind boggling that his religious movement is considered as Christian at all.

Thus he came up with his strange theory of “faith alone” and “there is no free will”,
Faith alone in the Bible. And which Bible? The one he translated (from Hebrew and Greek to German) of course. His translation is a very subjective piece of work where he integrated his bias and prejudices. One important example is the meaning of the word "Beruf" ("calling" in English).

As shown by Max Weber in "Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism", before Luther, "calling" referred to a transcendental move towards God: believers becoming monks and embracing an ascetic life made of prayers, vows, sacraments, etc. It was a transcendence of the temporal through the spiritual.

Luther removed this form of transcendence and limited the "calling" to the temporal sphere, particularly labor. The only way to please God was through arduous and conscientious work. One can see how this stance, negating the spiritual and overemphasizing the temporal, might have been a first major step towards materialism.

Luther's injunction to focus on "faith alone" removes any clergy, any intermediate. It was all about the believer and his faith in God. From this perspective it is not surprising that Protestantism became so fragmented (Lutheranism, Calvinism, Monism, Anglicanism, Methodism, Puritanism, Baptism, Evangelism, etc.).

This fragmentation applies to Protestant religious movement but, more importantly, to individuals too. When all that matters is the direct connection with God, there is no more shared creed, moral views and religious interpretations, what is then left to hold the religious community together? From this perspective, Lutheranism made an important step towards individualism.

Luc said:
Thus he came up with his strange theory of “faith alone” and “there is no free will”,
We've seen this removal of free will at work in Talmudism. It paves the way to a temporal asceticism made of a number of laws controlling every aspect of the temporal life of individuals. While Luther didn't elaborate a set of extensive temporal laws, Puritans did. Catholicism recognized free will and promised salvation to the ones who behaved virtuously, in this sense Catholicism encouraged honesty, humility, respect, etc. in one word: love. On the other hand, Luther and, later, puritan temporal asceticism encouraged obedience (to the "religious" laws). Love VS law, indeed.

Luc said:
anyway, since everything is predestined, he cannot do anything; it’s not his fault
The position of some forms of early Protestantism (particularly Calvinism) on predestination might be the most deleterious one. According to Calvin, there are the ones who will reach heaven (the chosen ones) and the ones who are condemned to hell. We've already seen this cosmogony and its effects in Judaism. This "dual humanity" replaced the Christian sense of equality and love ("you're all children of God", "treat the others like yourself") with a sense of contempt and superiority of the chosen ones over the doomed ones.

Predestination has another obvious consequences. Whatever one does during his life won't change the outcome. Therefore, one doesn't have to be virtuous anymore to reach heaven. If there is predestination, individuals have no more incentive (hope of salvation, fear of hell) to be good.

Early Protestantism denied this point and, along this line, Immanuel Kant (born in a Lutheran family) claimed that reason alone could bring morality to individuals. "Ethical atheists" and secularists followed this reasoning. The never-attained before horrors of the 20th Century illustrate how reason alone can not infuse genuine morality into human behaviors.

Interestingly, the rational approach of virtue led to the early forms of utilitarianism. For example, honesty was not to be favored anymore because it was right or good or pleasant to God, but because it was useful.

To illustrate this point Max Weber quotes Benjamin Franklin:
"Time is money [...]It shews, besides, that you are mindful of what you owe; it makes you appear a careful as well as an honest Man; and that still encreases your Credit. "
In Franklin's words, honesty is not and end by itself, it is not an ethos any more like it was during the times of the Catholic faith. Now It is only a mean to acquire, not even salvation, but just more credit in the eyes of some professional partners.

Luc said:
he calls the pope the “antichrist” and the church the “-jezebel- of Babylon” and his violent rants about killing bishops and cardinals and so on.[...] It also contains the “ranty” language typical for Luther and the air of absolute authority – it seems he really believed he’s infallible, and the whole thing comes across as very arrogant.
It all feels very schizoidal to me. For some reasons (impossibility to marry, management of indulgence given to the Dominicans), Luther went into full destructive mode and beyond the politically correct veneer (ending corruption, stopping indulgences, etc.) Luther's true and only objective was the destruction of the Church.
The inversion of data and accusatory inversion is blatant in Luther. He calls the Pope "antichrist", while, if there's someone who'll come down as the leader of antichristianism in the chronicle of true religious history, it is him.

Luc said:
The church didn’t like this idea for pretty obvious reasons and said as much in the Council of Trent:

"If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema (excommunicated).”
Luther puts individual beliefs above virtue, moral, truth. He also puts individual beliefs above reality: "in order to be saved you only have to believe so". This paradigm is strikingly similar to what would be known 5 centuries later as the "YCYOR" (You Create Your Own Reality) epitomized by the following quote attributed to Karl Rove:
That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.
Luc said:
Now, from this Sola fide concept, it follows that monasteries should be abandoned; that the church cannot absolve, that the saints have no special place etc. etc. So in this strange doctrine, the complete dismantling of the catholic church as we know it
Yes. Luther's narrative was to remove the corrupt Church and establish a direct connection between God and the believer.

Obviously the direct connection didn't last long. During the following Centuries, Protestantism prospered, with almost one billion followers, a structured Protestant clergy (deacons, priests and bishops. Canon, archdeacon, archbishop), numerous temples, and a variety of sacraments and prayers. Meanwhile Catholicism slowly died.

It suggests that all along the plan (I'm not talking about Luther's plan here, he was just disturbed pawn) was not to remove the intermediate (the Church) between God and Man but to destroy what was left of the Catholic Church and replace it with a Church that was more "adequate".

The greatest victory was that Luther's ideas and the subsequent ideologies (materialism, individualism, relativism, utilitarianism, etc.) ended up dominating most societies including the ones that are still considered as predominantly Catholic.

Luc said:
There also was this episode that points towards some form of possession, or at least serious psychological issues
Coincidentally or not, Voltaire, the father of the "Enlightenment", a movement that could not have emerged without the preparatory ideological work of early Protestantism, had similar words concerning Satan. We also know that Talmudic Judaism and Kabbalism have prayers for Satan.

Beyond the words if you look at the actions ("by their fruit you shall know them"), those three ideology (Kabbalism, Protestantism, Enlightenment), like Satanism, consider Christianism as their arch enemy and contributed massively to its destruction.

Luc said:
While Luther’s anti-semiticm is grudgingly acknowledged in mainstream protestant circles, it is usually explained away by “the beliefs of his time”, or it is claimed that "Hitler instrumentalized him". But this isn’t just your run of the mill anti-Jewish stereotypes; this is Hitler-level genocidal anti-semitism!
Paradoxically (or not) Luther was also a fervent Hebraist. He learned Hebrew from Reuchling book about Hebraic grammar:

Leucorea said:
Reuchling also wrote two books about Kabbala, Reuchling was close Pico de la Mirandola, one of the first "Christian" Kabbalist. In 1513, during the Reuchlin debate, Luther sided with the Humanists who wanted to protect Jewish books from burning. His book "On the Shem Hamephorash", published in 1543, shows that Luther himself was very well-informed about the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic hermeneutics. Furthermore, this book about Jews includes information about the Jewish traditions which can be pursued up to the 20th century.
This paradoxical stance, embracing anti-Semitism and radical forms of Judaism like Kabbalism, reminds me of the role played by some Zionist during the third Reich.

Those extreme ideologies never prosper more than when their flocks are and/or feel persecuted. This is probably one of the reasons why minority groups are so adamant to mention, trigger and sometimes manufacture violent acts against the ones they allegedly represent and defend.
 
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mkrnhr

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Knowing how much Lutheranism opposes the Christian faith, it is mind boggling that his religious movement is considered as Christian at all.
Thanks Luc, Pierre and the others for these insights. I'm learning about 'protestantism' for the first time. A few conversations with protestants always kept nagging me. A few protestants said to me "I'm not Catholic, I'm Christian" which, you may imagine, sounds oddly strange to someone who doesn't know the theological differences. One even declared during a meeting "if I ever do X, then I'll become catholic", as if it were the worst thing that could happen (like if I do X, I'll hang myself or something). The most disturbing is the very derogatory descriptives aimed not at Jews or Muslims, but specifically at Catholics. Very strange indeed.
 
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