October 31, 2014

Myths about Martin Luther

As a former Lutheran, I know that many Lutherans like to remind the general American populace that today is not only Halloween, it's the day Martin Luther allegedly nailed 95 theses for discussion about church theology to a door in Wittenberg, Saxony.

Note that I used the word "alleged"?

That's because the 95 Theses story is largely myth. So are other things, like his alleged pledge, during a frightful thunderstorm, to become a monk, and he did not say "Here I stand" at the Diet of Worms.

Click here for a brief debunking of a these and a few other Luther legends.

And, that website isn't a bunch of atheists, or similar. It's a Luther history site from Germany.

Beyond that, the largest Lutheran denomination in the US rejects or questions some Luther myths, including the 95 Theses and the Here I stand.

Another non-atheist, and in fact quite Christian, site notes several apocryphal Luther quotes. Luther also likely never said he was down with being ruled by a "wise Turk" instead of a "foolish Christian," for example. Indeed, whoever actually coined the phrase may have done it as an aside or a dig at at Emperor Charles V.

And, speaking of that man?

Atheists aside, you will find plenty of Catholics today still spreading plenty of scurrilous myths about Luther.

Uh? That was 500 years ago. Get over it. What next, acting like Serbs over Kosovo?

Speaking of that part of the European world? I love theologians of the Orthodox tradition using this time of year to often embrace some snooty superiority over both Catholics and Protestants. Really? Your multi-generational wars over iconoclasm vs iconodoulia haven't taught you better?

As to what Luther DID say?

Well, it did include some of the most scurrilous anti-Semitism this side of Adolf Hitler and the Russian-crafted Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Speaking of "that person," many Lutherans in America, especially of the conservative wing in which I grew up will still try to minimize the vileness of what Luther said, and how much or how little effect it had on Nazism.

Well, it was quite vile, and it was widely quoted by the Nazis.

And, per the "500 years" quote, skeptics of various stripes will want to keep up their guard in the next three years until it's technically exactly 500 years and not 497.

As for the background of his violence-laden invective against Jews? Most people think it was confined to the latter years of his life, and his apologists use this, and his health issues then, as an excuse.

Not true. As Michael Massing notes in his great new "Fatal Discord," a parallel dual biography of Luther and Erasmus which is reviewed here, Luther was already expressing such thoughts in his pre-95 Theses lecture notes on the book of Psalms, right in the mix of the Reuchlin-Pfefferkorn controversy.


Anonymous said...

The "fringe within the fringe" (to quote you in SciSal) salutes you.
My "Luther, Hitler, Unelected" show where Hitler came from:

Gadfly said...

Well, we'll disagree on mythicism, but not on everything. With German reunification, unlike with the 450th anniversary, I suspect 2017 will not be too big of a deal in German. Here in the States, though, I suspect much differently.