A Warning from St Thomas More on Luther:
“The gentle reader must forgive me if much that occurs offends his feelings. Nothing has been more painful to me than to be compelled to pour such things into decent ears. The only other alternative would, however, have been to leave the unclean book untouched.”

The Real Luther
“I have greater confidence in my wife and my pupils than I have in Christ.”
Martin Luther (Table Talk 23976)

“For, like his doctrines and his writings, Luther’s life was a mass of contradictions arising from the neurotic temperament”

From early youth, Luther was a very neurotic character. He had an extremely strict upbringing and tells us himself that

“My mother flogged me until I bled on account of a single nut”.

At school and university it was not much better. He was whipped by his teachers as often as fifteen times a day, all for ridiculous offences. “The undue severity of which he was the victim as a little boy left its mark on his character; he always remained somewhat timid, wild and mistrustful.”

His friends already remarked then that young Luther “suffered from an uneasiness of spirit” and psychical abnormality”. He began very early in life to suffer from melancholia, and there can be no doubt that “his whole nervous system was strained”.


It is interesting to remember how he decided at this period to enter the Church. “On July 2, 1505, as the young man was returning from a visit to his parents at Magdeburg, a violent storm overtook him not far from Erfurt. As he was travelling alone near Stotterheim, a bolt of lightning struck in his immediate vicinity and laid him prostrate on the ground. `Help me, help me! If thou helpest me, St. Anne, I will become a monk!’” So it was that he entered the monastery.

Nothing could have been worse for that frightened, nervous, emotional, unstable young man than the rather hard and monotonous life of a monk. Thus it is not surprising that his monastic life was full of strange incidents. “One day when Luther was present at High Mass in the monks’ choir, he had a fit during the Gospel, which, as it happened, told the story of the man possessed. He fell to the ground and in his paroxysms behaved like one mad, shouting `I am not possessed, I am not possessed’.” We often hear in his later life that “hysterical weeping and sobbing overwhelmed him”. While he was still in the monastery, “the other monks often thought that he was possessed by the devil.”
Complete mental instability remained the keyword to his life. He tried to overcome his depressions by overwork or too much prayer, always overdoing things, with the result that his mental state deteriorated. There are many passages in his own writings which give us a good insight into Luther’s psychological processes. Here is where he is overworking himself. “I need two secretaries. I do practically nothing all day long but write letters. . . . I am Preacher of the Convent and the Refectory; and vicar in the district, and therefore elevenfold  Prior; I am responsible for the fish-ponds at Leitzkau; I am agent at Torgau in the suit for Herzberg parish church; I give lectures on St. Paul, I am collecting notes on the Psalter. I rarely have time to recite my Office and say Mass.” “Physically I am fairly well, but I suffer in spirit,” he would confess. “For more than the whole of last week I was tossed about in death and hell”..

(The quotes below are from Hitler’s Spiritual Ancestor by Peter F Wiener - who does not appear to be a Catholic.)

“Perhaps no other individual in the long history of Christ’s church has done it, and in consequence the world, more harm than Martin Luther. Even the infamous Henry VIII can be seen as following in Luther’s turbulent wake. The difference in their works can be seen in the naming of them.

The church Luther founded identifies itself with him - the Lutheran Church. Henry VIII’s work resulted in time in something calling itself the Anglican Church - clinging to the fiction that it was still part of the Catholic Church - the English part - though not in communion with the Holy See.”

Who was Martin Luther?

We all know the Protestant legend of the devout Augustinian friar who goes on pilgrimage to Rome but is scandalised by the decadence he sees there and shocked by the pilgrims advancing on their knees up the Holy Stairs at the Lateran. Now the great reformer, he returns to the Fatherland and the rest is history.

But what can we know of this friar? What might enable us to assess him, his reactions and his credibility? Let us rely on his words, though as we will find, that is not always a pleasant or prudent course.
“I still tremble all over my body and am exhausted. Billows and tempests of despair and blasphemy assailed me and I had lost Christ almost entirely” (Luther’s Letters, Enders Edition, vol. 1, pp. 66, 67, and vol. 6, page 71).

At other times he does nothing at all. “I am here in idleness, ”he writes in 1521, “alas neglecting prayer and not sighing once for the Church of God. I burn with all the desires of my unconquered flesh. It is the ardour of the spirit that I ought to feel. But it is the flesh, desire, laziness, idleness and sleepiness that possess me” (ibid. vol. 3, page 189).
So it goes on and on; and the more we read Luther, the more we find how justified are those biographers of his who say: “It seems difficult to dismiss here the hypothesis of neuropathic disorder “(Maritain). Others describe his sufferings as “delirious hallucinations” (Funck-Brentano), “religious fanaticism” (Professor B. Schoen), or describe him simply as “mentally deranged” (ibid).

Even his greatest admirers and apologists have to admit that he suffered from “religious melancholia”, “mania for persecution”,or “a mania for greatness”(Professors A. Hausrath,J. Husslein, A. Harnack).
The older he grew, the worse he got. He suffers from “temptations” and especially from “devil-mania”. Everything he disliked, everybody who disagreed with him, was inspired by the Devil. “He was subject to numerous strange hallucinations and vibrations which he attributed invariably to the direct action of Satan. Satan became, in consequence, the dominating conception of his life.” “It is one of the chief characteristics of Luther that in his intellectual life, in his social intercourse, in speech, in writing, and in preaching he always brought in the Devil—attributed far more influence and importance to him that is warranted by Scripture.”

Here it must be mentioned that there is something which makes it difficult to quote his sayings, not merely on the Devil, but on many other subjects. This is his language.

“Satan sleeps with me much more than my wife does”, is a relatively harmless remark. Other quotations can be given only with dashes indicating unprintable indecencies. Luther’s language was indeed something quite abominable and indescribable. “He is obsessed with filth and obscenity”, writes Maritain. To call it “revolutionary journalism” is an understatement. “He would be furiously angry, and when he was angry he fairly vomited filth. He wrote things one cannot quote in decent English,” is much nearer to the mark. This again, was only the natural outcome of his neurotic character. There was nothing godlike or holy about him, there was little patience or human understanding; he loved to scream, shout and blaspheme in the manner of the most vulgar German politician, such as our generation has seen more than enough. With pride he himself exclaimed:
“Rage acts as a stimulant to my whole being. It sharpens my wits, puts a stop to the assaults of the Devil and drives out care. Never do I write or speak better than when I am in a rage. If I wish to compose, write, pray and preach well,I have to be in a rage” (Table Talk, 1210).

It is particularly interesting to note what he understood by “praying well”. “If I can no longer pray, I can at least curse. I will no longer say `Hallowed by Thy Name’, but “Curse and blast and damn the name of Papist’. I will no longer say “Thy Kingdom come’, but will repeat “Curse and damn the Papacy and send it to perdition’. Yes, that is how I pray, and I do so every day of my life and from the bottom of my heart” (E25, 108).

It may be argued that the language of the Middle Ages knew different standards from that of our own time. But,“in this respect Luther went far beyond the custom among educated men of his time, shocking his friends and leaving his opponents speechless with rage and amazement at his audacity.”

It may be urged that a man who said and wrote so many lovely things, might well be entitled to overstep the limit occasionally in the other direction. But Luther’s writings were rarely beautiful, and most of them display “an undignified vulgarity, spiced with sexual allusions.” I fully agree with one of his commentators (H. Hallam) who says of his language that “Its intemperance, its coarseness, its negligence, its inelegance, its scurrility, its wild paradoxes menaced the foundations of religious morality and were not compensated by much strength and acuteness and still less by any impressive eloquence” (“Introduction to the Literature of Europe”).

This mythical, mentally unbalanced, diseased character was the hero of the Reformation. His intemperance, his persecution mania, his varying moods, were the origin of his permanent contradictions. There was nothing reasonable in him. Indeed, he admitted himself that he hated reason, and that he was guided merely by his passions, by his violent temper. More than once he condemned in his violent language, reason and a reasonable approach to matters. “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and an manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom. . . . Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism. . . . She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets” (E16, 142-148).

There are many more sayings in the same sense, though not always so dirtily phrased. “Usury, drunkenness, adultery—these crimes are self-evident and the world knows that they are sinful; but that bride of the Devil, `Reason’, stalks abroad, the fair courtesan, and wishes to be considered wise, and thinks that whatever she says comes from the Holy Ghost. She is the most dangerous harlot the Devil has.” “Reason is contrary to faith”, he writes elsewhere. “Reason is the whore of the Devil. It can only blaspheme and dishonour everything God has said or done” (E29, 241) So it goes on and on. It is here, in Luther’s teachings, in his personality, in his hatred of reason, that we find the seeds of the German belief in a romantic world, of the distrust of anything logical and reasonable. Luther’s violent language and temper, his
inability to speak and think like a rational being, made him distrust and dislike reason; and his nation—who accepted this new Christianity only too willingly—believed in it and welcomed it as a modern religion.
It is interesting to compare how two great scholars, utterly different in outlook and views, interpret this anti-rational hysteria of Martin Luther—Nietzsche, the free thinker, and Jacques Maritain, who so nobly attempts to make an unchristian world more Christian. Nietzsche quotes Luther’s “If we could conceive by reason that God who shows so much wrath and malignity could be merciful and just, what use should we have in faith?”” and the philosopher continues: ““from the earliest times, nothing has ever made a deeper impression upon the German soul, nothing has ever tempted it more, than that deduction, the most dangerous of all, which for every true Latin is a sin against the intellect: credo quia absurdum est.”

Maritain for his part gives quotations in which Luther expresses his dislike of reason; and the Catholic philosopher continues: “I have quoted these passages because it is instructive to discern in the beginning, in its authentic tone and quality, the false anti-intellectualist mysticism which was to poison so many minds in more subtle and less candid guises in the nineteenth century. . . . Luther delivered man from the intelligence, from that wearisome and besetting compulsion to think always and think logically.” “It was not long before Luther’s pseudo-mysticism translated itself into deeds. He persuades himself that he is guided in all his actions and resolutions by a sort of Divine inspiration.” He first began to explain, in a new fashion, “God’s Word”. But it soon became apparent that “by `God’s Word’ Luther of course always meant his own interpretation of Scripture, his own doctrine, which he prided himself has been revealed to him by God.”

“When I am angry, I am not expressing my own wrath, but the wrath of God”. Luther knew that he was superior to any man or saint. “St. Augustine or St. Ambrosius cannot be compared with me.” “They shall respect our teaching which is the word of God, spoken by the Holy Ghost, through our lips”. “Not for a thousand years has God bestowed such great gifts on any bishop as He as on me” (E61, 422). “God has appointed me for the whole German land, and I boldly vouch and declare that when you obey me you are without a doubt obeying not me but Christ” (W15, 27). “Whoever obeys me not, despises not me but Christ.” “I believe that we are the last trump that sounds before Christ is coming”.

“What I teach and write remains true even though the whole world should fall to pieces over it.” (W18, 401).“Whoever rejects my doctrine cannot be saved.” “Nobody should rise up against me”.

“No mortal ever spoke of himself as Luther did”. His persecution mania turned with advancing years into a mania of self-glorification, of grandeur. He really and truly believed that he was God’s representative upon earth. He did not refrain from saying and teaching, “I am Christ”; and he exclaimed, almost in the same breath, “I am the prophet of the Germans, for such is the haughty title I must henceforth assume.”
Luther’s God and Luther’s Christ had to be blamed—and this is a natural consequence of the Reformer’s character, views and manias—for every wrong Luther himself committed. “If God is concerned for the interests of His son He will watch over me; my cause is the cause of Jesus Christ. If God careth not for the glory of Christ, He will endanger His own and will have to bear the shame.”

 “I do insist on the certainty that sooner or later—once we hold power—Christianity will be overcome and the German church, without a Pope and without the Bible, and Luther, if he could be with us, would give us his blessing.”  ADOLF HITLER  
(“Hitler's Speeches”, edited by Professor N. H. Baynes (Oxford, 1942), page 369).

Thus, quite naturally, Luther does not always see eye to eye with God or Christ. “I have greater confidence in my wife and my pupils than I have in Christ,” he said on one occasion quite shamelessly (Table Talk, 2397b). “When I beheld Christ I seemed to see the Devil”. I had a great aversion for Christ”. “Often I was horrified at the name of Christ, and when I regarded Him on the Cross, it was as if I had been struck by lightning; and when I heard His name mentioned, I would rather have heard the name of the Devil” (see Janssen **, 72; also Maritain, “Three Reformers”, p. 169).

 “I did not believe in Christ,” wrote Luther in 1537. The example of Jesus Christ Himself very often meant nothing to Luther (see E29, 196).
God, on the other hand, seemed to him “a master armed with a stick”. “God did mischievously blind me”; “God often acts like a madman”; “God paralyses the old and blinds the young and thus remains master”; I look upon God no better than a scoundrel”; “God is stupid” (Table Talk, No. 963,W1, 48)

Strange sayings from the mouth of the reformer! But stranger still are his references to God and Christ when it comes to Luther’s own shortcomings. We shall see later his own attitude to sex and morality. But he excused his own adultery—to quote merely one more example—by the teachings of Christ. “Christ”, says Luther, “committed adultery first of all with the woman at the well about whom Saint John tells us. Was not everybody about Him saying:`Whatever has he been doing with her?” Secondly, with Mary Magdalene, and thirdly with the woman taken in adultery whom He dismissed so lightly. Thus even Christ, who was so righteous, must have been guilty of fornication before He died” (Table Talk, 1472) (W2, 107).

I have quoted chiefly Luther’s own words, and have shown his character as I believe it was. To my mind this is the infinite tragedy of Luther and Germany, that he himself believed in his manias, in his mission from God, in his replacing Christ—and that his countrymen believed it, too.

Who will ever decide whether a country produces her outstanding men, or whether these outstanding men have a revolutionary influence on their country? In Luther’s case probably both are true. Nowhere else but in Germany, which was not yet as civilised as the Latin countries, could a man like Luther have been born and bred. And nowhere else could a man like Luther—hysterical, irrational, irreligious— have been followed by the whole nation for centuries.A nation which found it easy to accept a character like Luther as Christ, could not find it difficult to accept a man like Hitler as Messiah.


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