By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
I suppose that everyone knows that the Pentateuch is the five first books of the Old Testament, traditionally attributed to Moses as their author. What did Luther have to say about them? — “We have no wish either to see or hear Moses.”
Only Moses? Oh, no. Here are his opinions on other books:
“The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy of this book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness.”
“The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible.”
“Esdras I would not translate, because there is nothing in it which you might not find in Aesop.”
“Job spoke not as it stands written in his book, but only had such thoughts. It is merely the argument of a fable. It is probably that Solomon wrote and made this book.”
“The book entitled ‘Ecclesiastes’ ought to have been made more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it. It has neither boots nor spurs; but rides only in socks, as I myself did when an inmate in the cloister. Solomon did not, therefore, write this book, which was made in the days of the Maccabees of Sirach. It is like a Talmud, compiled from many books, perhaps in Egypt at the desire of King Evergetes.”
The books of the New Testament were not spared from the attacks of the new “prophet.” He rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of St. James (not without good reason, since St. James, an apostle of Christ, refutes Luther’s new doctrine of faith without works. And, naturally, Luther is right, and St. James, wrong. . . .).
Regarding the Gospels, here is Luther’s judgment: “The first three speak of the work of our Lord, rather than of His oral teaching; that of St. John is the only sympathetic, the only true Gospel and should undoubtedly be preferred to the others. In like manner the epistles of St. Paul are superior to the first three Gospels.”
This is easy to understand, since the first three Gospels speak abundantly of faith with good works, and Luther’s favorite (mis)quotes to favor his new doctrines are taken from St. Paul’s epistles, as if the Master could be less than the servant.
Luther denounced the Epistle of St. James as “an epistle of straw.” And he added: “I do not hold it to be his writing, and I cannot place it among the capital books.” Of the Epistle to the Hebrews, he wrote:
“It need not surprise one to find there bits of wood, hay, and straw.” About the Apocalypse (Revelation), he said: “There are many things objectionable in this book; to my mind it bears upon it no marks of an apostolic or prophetic character….Everyone may form his own judgment of this book. As for myself, I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is sufficient reason for rejecting it” (Samtliche Werke [Collected Works], 63, 169-170. Apud: “The Facts About Luther,” pp. 202-203).
Well, if any Catholic had treated — or mistreated — the word of God in this fashion, I can easily imagine the furor of those who believe in Sola Scriptura. But when the very founder of the Sola Scriptura religion debases Scripture in this manner, all we hear in most places is a thundering silence.
After belittling the Bible in this way, no wonder that he mistreated the books of the Old Testament that the Scribes and Pharisees removed from the Bible:
“Judith is a good, serious, brave tragedy”; “Tobias is an elegant, pleasing, godly comedy”; “Ecclesiasticus is a profitable book for an ordinary man.”
“Of very little worth is the book of Baruch, whoever the worthy Baruch may be”; “The first book of the Maccabees might have been taken into the Scriptures, but the second is cast out, though there is some good in it.”
Rabaud, a Protestant writer, admitted that “Luther has no fixed theory of inspiration: If all his works suppose the inspiration of the Sacred Writings, all his conduct shows that he makes himself the supreme judge of it” (Rabaud, p. 42, Apud: “The Facts About Luther,” p. 203).
When any scholar objected to his deplorable treatment of Sacred Scripture, Luther ignored his criticism and cried out in his usual way: “Papists and asses are synonymous terms.”
He would keep his changes in the Bible no matter what, right or wrong: “Here one must yield not a nail’s breadth to any, neither to the angels of heaven, nor to the gates of hell, nor to St. Paul, nor to a hundred emperors, nor to a thousand popes, nor to the whole world; and this be my watchword and sign” (“The Facts About Luther,” p. 204).
Did Luther believe himself to be infallible? Yes, he did:
“My word is the word of Christ: My mouth is the mouth of Christ.” And to prove this outlandish assertion, he made a “prophecy”: “If the ‘gospel’ is preached but for two years, then pope, bishops, cardinals, priests, monks, nuns, bells, bell towers, masses — rules, statues, and all the riffraff of the papal government will have vanished like smoke” (“The Facts About Luther,” p. 204).
It should be noted that what he calls “the gospel” is in reality his novel doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide — they have nothing to do with the Scriptures or the Christian Faith.
It should also be noted that as a “prophet” Luther also failed: Not only two years of preaching his “gospel” had passed, but several centuries passed and everything he contemptuously calls the “riffraff of the papal government” has not vanished like smoke at all, but has grown and prospered rather beautifully. His “gospel” is the one that burned itself into smoke, blinding the eyes of millions and fragmenting Christianity into thousands of headless bodies.
Luther claimed to have made a new translation of the Bible into German, supposedly a much better one than those that the Church had made before. But he mistranslated it to make sure that the biblical text confirmed his novel ideas.
The typical falsification in Luther’s Bible was the addition of the word Sola, that is, “only” or “alone,” in certain key verses that he wanted to mistranslate. So, for instance, in Romans 3:28, the original text reads, “We account a man to be justified by faith without the works of the Law” — he wrote, “We hold a man to be justified without the works of the Law by faith alone.”
Jerome Emser, a learned doctor of Leipzig, made a critical examination of Luther’s translation when it first appeared and detected more than a thousand glaring faults, including textual falsifications.
How did Luther receive the critical examination of his work? In his usual way: “If your papist annoys you with the word [alone], tell him straightway: Dr. Martin Luther will have it so: Papist and ass are one and the same thing. Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go-by: the devil’s thanks to him who censures it without my will and knowledge. Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all doctors in Popedom” (Amicable Discussion, 1. 127 — Apud: “The Facts About Luther,” p. 201).
And more of the same: “Those popish asses are not able to appreciate my labors” (Sackendorf, Comm. L.I., section 52 — Apud: “The Facts About Luther,” p. 200).
But unfortunately for Luther, not only even the Vatican donkeys were intelligent enough to point out the falsification and corruption of the Bible translation by the great Deformer of Wittenberg: Martin Bucer, a brother “reformer” himself, affirmed that Luther’s “falls in translating and explaining the Scriptures were manifest and not a few” (Bucer, Dial., Contra Melanchthon, Apud: “The Facts About Luther,” p. 200).
But if Martin Bucer is not much known among Catholic readers, Ulrich Zwingli certainly is. He was another leading “reformer” who examined Luther’s translation of the Bible and declared it to be “a corruption of the Word of God” (Amicable Discussion, Trevern, 1, 129 — note, Apud: “The Facts About Luther,” p. 200).
“To know history is to cease to be a Protestant,” said John Henry Newman. How true!
Next article: More on Luther.
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(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is: www.RaymondeSouza.com.)