August 04, 2017

Luther legend shitstorm is about to hit (updated)

I blogged nearly three years ago about myth vs reality on Martin Luther, well in advance of the 500th anniversary of his allegedly doing something with some theses. Indeed, I started with that legend, for legend it is, that he nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.

And, I was already planning on starting a series of blog posts with the anniversary nearing vision.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think that a liberal American opinion magazine would be the spark for my memory, to get started.

But, it is.

The Nation uncritically repeats the legend about the 95 theses (It's unclear whether any of the books it reviews have this, or just itself) in a review of several new biographies about Luther and/or his times.

The 95 Theses has been refuted here and here.

Luther also did not say, as best as we know, "Here I stand, I can do no more," at the Diet of Worms in 1521. The "Here I stand" legend is refuted at the first of the two links in the paragraph above and also here.

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

And, as noted in that original piece, Luther’s virulent anti-semitism is no legend at all.

A lighter-hearted mythbusting site, from within the liberal wing of Lutheranism, itself gets a thing or two partially wrong. Luther perhaps may not have hated all peasants. But, citing the fact that his grandfather was a farmer is proof of nothing. Many acorns fall close to the tree, but to reverse the cliche, the dandelion seed head blows far away. It seems pretty clear that he DID hate "uppity" peasants, especially ones who might be trying to implement a 1500s version of social gospel, let alone liberation theology. Luther's "Admonition" to both peasants and lords was not as 50-50 as claimed. In any case, even for that day and age, arguably, The Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants are more irenic than, say, something written in conjunction with the Wat Tyler Revolt in England 150 years earlier.

The real issue is that, when he wrote "On the Thieving, Murderous Hordes," and afterward, Luther (in my own debunking of another myth) refused to admit he was wrong. Appeals to people to prove him wrong were, by 1525 at the latest, nothing more than rhetorical tropes.

He shows this clearly in his dealings with non-Lutheran Reformed brethren, starting with, but by no means limited to, Ulrich Zwingli. Even a middleman like Martin Bucer came in for Luther's wrath. In general, he used the same language on Reformed leaders as he did on Catholics, even though their language in response was, and remained, much more irenic.

If there's a "fault," beyond irreconcilable doctrinal issues, that, in Germany and beyond, there wasn't a more united Protestantism until the Prussian Union, the fault lies with Martin Luther more than any other single person.

Oh, and he was wrong about the papacy being the Antichrist. Antichrist, whether a person or spiritual stance, in 1 John, is not the same as the "man of lawlessness" in 2 Thessalonians. (That sets aside, of course, the issue of whether "the man of lawlessness" is the papacy. And, even on a literalist, even fundamentalist, reading of 2 Thessalonians, that's a hard stance to take.)


Traruh Synred said...

Luther's antisemitism vs Nietzsche's "Just now I'm having all anti-Semites shot" (or something to that effect) when he was in the nut house.. I think it in the preface to Kaufman's translation the 'Will to Power' but I could be wrong.

I think it's in one of the crayon scribbles N wrote after his break down.

Gadfly said...

I've got Kaufman's Portable Nietzsche; I'll have to take a look, but that sounds about right.

Gadfly said...

As for who that "man of lawlessness" is? Depending on the time of writing of 2 Thessalonians, and its target audience and "pitch," it could be Nero. It could the leader of one or another of the groups that took over the Temple. It could be the High Priest Ananus for killing James.