Friday, September 15, 2017

"Luther exhibited the same vicious hatred and jealousy of the Jews, as later characterized the rule of Adolph Hitler"

Over on the CARM boards, a participant with seemingly Anabaptist leanings has been actively posting against John Calvin and Martin Luther. The view being expressed is that Luther was "a demon possessed wicked butcher" (link), and "His actions speak louder than his words, he was responsible for the death of untold thousands." This person put forth a number of Luther quotes, which I suspect were a direct cut-and-paste from a page like this or this. I'd like to look at some of the information presented.

 After a string of Luther quotes, the following proof of Luther's dastardly deeds is presented:

His Actions speak louder than his words, he was responsible for the death of untold thousands. Here is what he thought of Jews:

Luther exhibited the same vicious hatred and jealousy of the Jews, as later characterized the rule of Adolph Hitler. In early pamphlets, he called upon Christians to take the Bible from Jews, to burn their books and synagogues with pitch and brimstone, and to forbid their worship under penalty of death. He described Jews as young devils doomed to hell who should be driven out of the country. And, in his final sermon before he died, Luther once more called down the vengeance of heaven upon the Jews.


There is no actual Luther quote presented. Rather, the proof against Luther takes the form of a summary statement. Let's take a closer look at this statement. I'm not going to attempt to exonerate Luther for his hostility towards the Jews (for he was a sinner, and he did make some outrageous statements), but I don't think any of them prove he was a "a demon possessed wicked butcher" or "responsible for the death of untold thousands."

Documentation
There is no documentation presented, but this in no way means the person on CARM wrote the summary himself.  It took only a quick Internet search to reveal this summary was cut-and-pasted from another source. Its presentation on CARM amounts to blatant plagiarism: the paragraph gave off the impression that it was written by a CARM participant. There was no credit given to the original author. I'm also going to demonstrate that whoever compiled this summary statement actually plagiarized it. The paragraph amount to a plagiarism of a plagiarism!

This paragraph may have been taken from "The Plain Truth About the Protestant Reformation Protestant Reformation Lessons for Us." This link was compiled by a group named "Giving and Sharing." They appear to be an independent Sabbatarian sect that believes (among other things) in the unique place of the Jews in God's continued eschatological plan.  While there is no author listed for this web article, there is an interesting closing sentence: "Roderick C. Meredith's excellent 94-page article, The Plain Truth About the Protestant Reformation, is available on 30-day LOAN for a donation of $3.00." For those of you at least as old as me, the title "The Plain Truth..." probably rings a bell. The Plain Truth was the magazine for the cult group founded by Herbert W. Armstrong. Sure enough, if you visit the Herbert W. Armstrong website, one finds the article by (the late) Roderick C Meredith, "The Plain Truth about the Protestant Reformation" (1956) (the website also includes a pdf of the original type written manuscript). In a paragraph  on page 50, one finds where Giving and Sharing took their statement:
In view of the subsequent history of Germany, it will be well to note that Luther's final sermon was a railing attack against the Jewish people. He seems to have been possessed with the same vicious hatred and jealousy of the Jews as later characterized the rule of Adolph Hitler. Alzog describes this tendency: "Ascending the pulpit of St. Andrew's Church, in Eisleben, for the last time, Luther once more called down the vengeance of heaven upon the Jews, a race of people whom he had so unjustly and virulently assailed in his earlier writings, that his followers after his death were confused at the very mention of his malignant denunciations. In his first pamphlet against them, he called upon Christians to take the Bible from them, to burn their books and synagogues with pitch and brimstone, and to forbid their worship under penalty of death; and in his second, entitled 'Of Shem Hamphoras,' he describes them at the very outset as 'young devils doomed to hell,' who should be driven out of the country" (Universal History, p.271).
Thus, when we read of the atrocities committed against the Jews by Hitler's Third Reich, we may be reminded that this has been a tendency among many German zealots and was remarkably displayed in the founder of German Protestantism.
One can see from the text in bold how giveshare.org moved some of the words and sentences around to create the paragraph we're examining. One can also see from Roderick Meredith's paragraph that he was actually citing someone else. A large portion of the summary statement we're looking at was actually penned by Roman Catholic historian Johannes Baptist Alzog, found in his book, Manual of Universal Church History.

Analysis
Let's take a look now at the paragraph. One thing to keep in mind is that Alzog wrote previous to World War II, so the references to Hitler are not his doing. They are the responsibility of Meredith. While writers previous to World War II did mention Luther's writings against the Jews, they did not do so in the same way or with the same emphasis as writers after World War II. Previous to WWII, many historians would simply cover that Luther's later treatment of the Jews had similarities to the abusive language he directed towards groups like the papacy and the radicals. After WWII, entire books were written on Luther's attitude toward the Jews, sparking an entire field of research all of its own.

The first sentence says, "Luther exhibited the same vicious hatred and jealousy of the Jews, as later characterized the rule of Adolph Hitler." This is a plagiarized change of emphasis from what Meredith originally stated, "He seems to have been possessed with the same vicious hatred and jealousy of the Jews as later characterized the rule of Adolph Hitler." Meredith is also describing Luther's final sermon, whereas the summary paragraph presents no such qualifier. Regardless of this error, the comparison between Luther and Hitler is often made, but rarely expounded on. One of the major differences that proves the comparison flawed was that Hitler and the Nazis considered Jews to be Untermenschen (subhuman, less than human). You will not find this in Luther's writings.  It was not "the same vicious hatred and jealousy." The two men were also motivated in their negativity towards the Jews for different reasons. For instance, this link expounds on Hitler's hatred of the Jews. Luther's "hatred" was primarily theological: Luther viewed the Jews as an enemy of the Gospel, they taught a different way of salvation, and any such different way was ultimately fueled by Satan. Since Luther believed his generation was living in the final days of the planet earth, Satan was to be fought against as if it were the end of the world... because for him, it was.

The second sentence and third sentences say, "In early pamphlets, he called upon Christians to take the Bible from Jews, to burn their books and synagogues with pitch and brimstone, and to forbid their worship under penalty of death." The key plagiarizing error is the phrase "early pamphlets." What Meredith was referring to were Luther's late writings against the Jews, particularly (what he thinks) is the first of these negative writings, "In his first pamphlet against them." The actual historical truth is that Luther's early writings against the Jews were favorable to them, this much against the prevailing collective societal negativity against them. It was in the late 1530's that a shift can be seen in Luther's writings. His final years saw his harshest treatment of the Jews (1543-1546).  The "early pamphlet" or "first pamphlet" being referred to is On The Jews and Their Lies (1543). This was actually not Luther's first writing against the Jews. He had written Against the Sabbatarians in 1538. This writing is not mentioned as much because Luther's arguments are theological and restrained from excessive harsh language.

"[H]e called upon Christians to take the Bible from Jews, to burn their books and synagogues with pitch and brimstone, and to forbid their worship under penalty of death..." This harsh treatment being referred to comes from On The Jews and Their Lies. Luther argued that because of their blasphemy against Jesus, Mary, the Trinity, and the whole of the Christian faith, his understanding of the Jewish people reduces them to being murderers, blasphemers, liars, and thieves. He has stereotyped an entire group of people to be the worst of criminals. I don't recall Luther saying exactly to "forbid their worship under penalty of death" in the treatise under consideration. What he did write was  "...their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb" (LW 47:269).  As I stated above, I'm not going to attempt to exonerate Luther for his hostility towards the Jews. I do not condone Luther's "harsh mercy" intended to convert Jews and to protect Christians from blasphemy, and neither did most of Luther's contemporaries.

The third sentence says " He described Jews as young devils doomed to hell who should be driven out of the country." Meredith (via Alzog) says this is from "Of  Shem Hamphoras," Luther's second main writing against the Jews (this was actually Luther's third main writing against the Jews). Alzog says, "he describes them at the very outset as 'young devils doomed to hell,' who should be driven out of the country." It is true that Luther describes the Jews as the "devil's children" and "children of the devil" "damned to hell" at the outset of this writing. He does not say though "who should be driven out of the country" at the outset. These appear to be Alzog's words.  If Luther did write it in this treatise, it isn't where Alzog claims. (See addendum below on Vom Schem Hamphoras)

The fourth sentence says, "And, in his final sermon before he died, Luther once more called down the vengeance of heaven upon the Jews."  Meredith (via Alzog) says "Ascending the pulpit of St. Andrew's Church, in Eisleben, for the last time, Luther once more called down the vengeance of heaven upon the Jews..." Actually, he did not. What's being referred to is not content Luther actually preached from the pulpit. Rather, there was an addendum attached to the printed version of Luther's last sermon entitled, An Admonition Against The Jews (1546). It would be Luther's last written comments on the Jews. It's an odd document. Luther begins by saying, "Now, we want to deal with them in a Christian manner, and in the first place, to offer them the Christian faith, so that they will receive the Messiah" (LW 58:458), or as others have translated it, "We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord." However, Luther still is quite harsh against the Jews, requesting that if the Jews don't convert, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the Lords to "drive them away." It's obvious Luther wasn't calling for the Jews to be killed, but he certainly would only tolerate them in society if they converted. Otherwise, they were to be banished. Luther comes across different than Hitler: he was not against Jews as "people" but rather quite intolerant of their religion.


Conclusion
There have been a number of researchers who conclude Luther's later anti-Jewish tracts were written from a position different than current Antisemitism. Luther was born into a society that was anti-Judaic, but it was not the current anti-Judaic type of society that bases it racism on biological factors. Luther had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society. He had nothing against Jews as “Jews.” He had something against their religion because he believed it denied and blasphemed Christ. If one frames the issues with these categories, Luther was not Antisemitic.

Post World War II though, there has been much discussion about the nuances and etymology of the term Antisemitism. The contemporary use of the word "Antisemitism" does not typically have its distinction from anti-Judaism considered. The word now has a more broad meaning including anti-Judaism. The debate centers around whether the evolved use of the term is a significant step towards describing previous history or if it's setting up an anachronistic standard for evaluating previous history [see my entry here in regard to Eric Gritsch, Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012)]. As I've looked at this issue from time to time, I'm thinking more along the lines of Gritsch's revised view, rather than what I wrote here some years ago. I accept the modern definition of Antisemitism, and I think that it does include anti-Judaism. While Luther may have been primarily against the religion of Judaism, his harsh recommendations could have effected them as human beings.  

In regard to the summary statement this entry has scrutinized, despite its plagiarism, historical blunders, and faulty comparison to Hitler, it does accurately describe some of Luther's later intolerance towards the Jews.  It does not though prove Luther "was responsible for the death of untold thousands." What it proves to me is that despite his brilliance, despite his boldness, Luther still was a sinner that could easily violate the command Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no getting around it: in his later years, Luther did say some awful things about the Jewish people. Where Luther was gravely in error, Protestants must admit his faults.

Addendum
Above, Luther's anti-Jewish writing, Vom Schem Hamphoras was mentioned. This has not been translated into English in Luther's Works (yet). There is an English translation I used for this blog entry: Gerhard Falk, The Jew in Christian Theology: Martin Luther's Anti-Jewish Vom Schem Hamphoras, Previously Unpublished in English, and Other Milestones in Church Doctrine Concerning Judaism (North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1992). There is also a polemical blogger called, "Back To Luther" who has produced a translation of the first section. I in no way endorse the entirety of this blogger's perspective or work, but I do appreciate his undertaking. Here is his Table of Contents of Vom Schem Hamphoras, First section:

Table of Contents – First Section, concluded in Part 8:
  • Introduction – Paragraphs 1 & 2 (Parts 1 & 2) - sequel to On The Jews and Their Lies
     Body Text
  • Paragraphs 1 - 2: Introduction to Jewish fable published by Porchetus (Part 2)
  • Paragraphs 3 - 17: The Jewish fable “Schem Hamphoras” – Luther’s translation (Pts 23)
  • Paragraphs 18 - 20: Luther first remarks of contempt on this fable (Pt 4)
  • Paragraphs 21 - 26: Luther’s first pass recounting the individual points made in fable (Pt 4)
  • Paragraphs 27 - 29: Luther’s second remarks of contempt (Pt 4)
  • Paragraph 28 : Luther’s second pass on fable’s points (Pt 4)
  • Paragraph 29: Luther’s third remarks of contempt  (Pt 4)
  • Paragraph 30  : Did Luther make his judgment of Jews too coarse and inedible? (Pt 5)
  • Paragraphs 31 - 33: Three mockeries – of God, of us Christians, of Jews, and...  (Pt 5)
  • Paragraphs 34 - 36: “... vain, dead, worthless letters” of Schem Hamphoras (Pt 5)
  • Paragraphs 37 - 39:  Luther’s answer to:  Christians do the same thing – in the Sacraments (Pt 5)
  • Paragraphs 40 - 41: The Pope’s jugglery, enchantments (Pt 5)
  • Paragraphs 42 - 54: Explanation of the words “Schem Hamphoras” (Pt 6)
  • Paragraphs 55 - 58: Luther’s rhetorical questions showing fable’s illogical nature (Pts 67)
  • Paragraph 59: The sow’s behind, the Rabbi, and the Talmud (Pt 7)
  • Paragraphs 60 - 69: Scham HaPeres - devil’s version of Schem Hamphoras  (Pt 7)
  • Paragraph 70: Luther’s prayer to God  (Pt 7)
  • Paragraphs 71 - 73: The abyss of hell; concluding remarks on “Schem Hamphoras” fable  (Pt 7)
  • Paragraph 74: Luther’s addresses the Jewish Tetragrammaton and the names of God  (Pt 8)
  • Paragraphs 75 - 81: Luther refutes Jewish Tetragrammaton; names of God, esp. Jehovah  (Pt 8)
  • Paragraph 82: Luther’s summary – Jews do not have the Word of God (Pt 8)
The next post presents Part 2, which concludes the general introduction, and paragraphs 1 - 6.

2 comments:

LPC said...

Dear James,

I hope by now you have heard of conservative Catholics accusing this Pope of heresies and one of them is in his alignment with Luther. It is interesting that one of this Pope's alleged alignment is in the idea of Luther on marriage.

Here is their document
http://www.correctiofilialis.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Correctio-filialis_English_1.pdf

If you have any treatment of Luther on Marriage and why he rejected it as a sacrament, I thought it would be faster if I come to you, as I said, you are my favorite Luther scholar even though you are not Lutheran :-(

Thank you,

LPC

James Swan said...

Hi LPC,

Nice to hear from you again.

I've heard of this controversy, but haven't gotten to it. I know my friends over on Triablogue have been following it.

I've done a number of posts in regard to Luther and marriage. Better though, you should simply review Luther's comments from the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (LW 36). Luther begins his treatment saying,

"Not only is marriage regarded as a sacrament without the least warrant of Scripture, but the very ordinances which extol it as a sacrament have turned it into a farce." (LW 36:92).

He then states,

"We have said that in every sacrament there is a word of divine promise, to be believed by whoever receives the sign, and that the sign alone cannot be a sacrament. Nowhere do we read that the man who marries a wife receives any grace of God. There is not even a divinely instituted sign in marriage, nor do we read anywhere that marriage was instituted by God to be a sign of anything. To be sure, whatever takes place in a visible manner can be understood as a figure or allegory of something invisible. But figures or allegories are not sacraments, in the sense in which we use the term."

And his discussion goes on from there. If you don't have LW... this treatise is online...

http://www.lutherdansk.dk/Web-babylonian%20Captivitate/Martin%20Luther.htm