Gems from Luther Part 4

This will be my last Luther post from Bondage of the Will, so I'm going to throw in all the quotes left that I marked as being particularly good or funny. A couple of them I marked because of references to classical myths and legends, and because they were rather witty. The first is from an argument Luther presses to say that one must not quote from Church Fathers and old theologians authoritatively as if a simple quote holds enough authority in itself to prove an argument. (Abelard had already written his Sic et Non at this point, a collection of apparently contradictory quotes from the Church Fathers that shows that there was a wide range of opinion on various topics.) Luther wonders why Erasmus picks the worst statements of the Fathers rather than the best:

"To take an example: what can be said that is more carnal, more utterly godless, sacrilegious and blasphemous, than what Jerome is wont to say: "Virginity peoples heaven, marriage earth"-as though earth, not heave, is the right place for the patriarchs, apostles and Christian husbands, and heaven for pagan vestal virgins without Christ! Yet is it these sentiments and others like them, that the Sophists collect from the fathers to get themselves authority-for their weapon is numbers, rather than judgment. So did that idiotic Faber of Constance, who has just presented the public with his precious jewel, that is, his Augean stable-thus ensuring that there might be something to make the godly learned feel sick, and vomit!"

One thing I found funny was that Luther is comparing Faber's Malleus in Haeresin Lutheranam to the Augean stable. Those familiar with Greek mythology will know what the Augean stable was full of.

In this next quote, Luther makes a humorous comparison between Erasmus' conception of God and Homer's Zeus.

"On your view, God will elect nobody, and no place for election will be left; all that is left is freedom of will to heed or defy the long-suffering and wrath of God. But if God is thus robbed of His power and wisdom in election, what will He be but just that idol, Chance, under whose sway all things happen at random? Eventually, we shall come to this: that men may be saved and damned without God's knowledge! For He will not have marked out by sure election those that should be saved and those that should be damned; He will merely have set before all men His general long-suffering, which forbears and hardens, together with His chastening and punishing mercy [inside joke from previously in the book], and left it to them to choose whether they would be saved or damned, while He Himself, perchance, goes off, as Homer says, to an Ethiopian banquet!"

Finally, I thought it would be good to conclude with this. Luther, despite his sarcastic and satiric tone throughout Bondage of the Will, genuinely respects Erasmus as a scholar and is much is very grateful for him. Luther's German Bible was translated from Erasmus's Greek text, and Erasmus contributed greatly to the study of classical languages and literary arts. Luther shows himself to be a big man by acknowledging this and praying that Erasmus will learn to think as clearly theologically as he has in other areas:

"However, if you cannot treat of this issue in a different way from your treatment of it in the Diatribe, it is my earnest wish that you would remain content with your own gift, and confine yourself to pursuing, adorning and promoting the study of literature and languages; as hitherto you have done, to great advantage and with much credit. By your studies you have rendered me also some service, and I confess myself much indebted to you; certainly, in that regard, I unfeignedly honour and sincerely respect you. But God has not yet willed nor granted that you should be equal to the subject of our present debate. Please do not think that any arrogance lies behind my words when I say that I pray that the Lord will speedily make you as much my superior in this as you already are in all other respects. It is no new thing for God to instruct a Moses by a Jethro, or to teach a Paul by an Ananias."

As a brief conclusion, if you haven't read Bondage of the Will, go out now and buy a copy so you can. It is an amazing book, and a wonderful read. Luther's style is as fresh and witty today as it was 500 years ago, and his reason is clear and compelling.

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