Should Any Catholic Praise Luther?

By Dr. Christopher J. Malloy on Theological Flint (and reposted on Rorate Caeli)

Rorate: “Blogger Dr. Christopher Malloy has written an eloquent piece on why we absolutely should not praise Luther as we draw near to the 500th anniversary of his initial public act of rebellion. Rorate thanks Dr. Malloy for his permission to cross-post this timely collection of quotations here.” 

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We praise someone who fundamentally deserves praise. No one is without fault, and no one without some merit. But only those are worthy of praise who fundamentally deserve praise, whose pith and marrow is good.

Now, Luther certainly saw some things in the Church as evil that were evil. No one can say that his vision was totally corrupted. But was his vision fundamentally worthy of praise? We must, of course, distinguish contemporary Lutherans from Luther. Here, we are interested in the founder, in the foundation he laid.

What should be the matter upon which we judge this case? Luther’s own texts, of course.

So, in this post, we will cite Luther at length in one of his key contributions. Granted, this key contribution he did not continue explicitly to lay out. However, he never retracted it. In another post, we can lay out the theses he continued explicitly to hold.

In reading the below, ask yourself these questions: Could a saint utter the words below? Could a holy man write the following? Could a true lover of God, one in the state of grace, write the following?

First Thesis of Luther. For Luther, Divine Foreknowledge means that there is No Contingency, and that means that there is No Freedom. This thesis he lays down, so he asserts, to protect God’s foreknowledge so as to protect his promise so as to protect our confidence in salvation by faith alone. Indeed, here we see the connection between this foundation and the explicit teaching of his that endures and which will be treated in a future post. The connection: If future events are contingent, God’s promise is not as trustworthy as we need it to be. Hence, future events are not contingent.

For Luther, there is either grace or freedom (Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, from Luther’s Works vol. 33, p. 126; hereafter, LW 33:126). There is either freedom or Christ (LW 33:279).

(Regarding Pharaoh), Luther writes: “If there had been any flexibility or freedom of choice in Pharaoh, which could have turned either way, God would not have been able so certainly to predict his hardening. Since, however, the Giver of the promise is one who can neither be mistaken nor tell a lie, it was necessarily and most certainly bound to come about that Pharaoh should be hardened; which would not be the case unless the hardening were entirely beyond the capacity of man and within the power of God alone” (LW 33:183).

Again,

“If God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas necessarily became a traitor, and it was not in the power of Judas or ay creature to do differently or to change his will, though he did what he did willingly and not under compulsion, but that act of will was a work of God, which he set in motion by his omnipotence, like everything else” (LW 33:185).

Again,

“It is not in our power to change, much less to resist, his will, which wants us hardened and by which we are forced to be hardened, whether we like it or not” (LW 33:187).

Again,

“I admit that the question is difficult, and indeed impossible, if you wish to maintain at the same time both God’s foreknowledge and man’s freedom. What could be more difficult, nay more impossible, than to insist that contradictories or contraries are not opposed, or to find a number that was at the same time both ten and nine?…. Paul is thus putting a check on the ungodly, who are offended by this very plain speaking when they gather from it that the divine will is fulfilled by necessity on our part, and that very definitely nothing of freedom or free choice remains for them, but everything depends on the will of God alone…. Not that any injustice is done to us, since God owes us nothing, has received nothing from us, and has promised us nothing but what suits his will and pleasure” (LW 33:188).

Again,

“God’s foreknowledge and omnipotence are diametrically opposed to our free choice”(LW 33:189).

Again,

“Here, then, is something fundamentally necessary and salutary for a Christian, to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that he foresees and purposes and does all things by his immutable, eternal, and infallible will. Here is a thunderbolt by which free choice is completely prostrated and shattered…” (Bondage [LW 33:37]).

Luther presents as his evidence that God is unchanging. So, he concludes, is God’s will. So far, so good. But from these he deduces that therefore, nothing is contingent. Again,

“From this it follows irrefutably that everything we do, everything that happens, even if it seems to us to happen mutably and contingently, happens in fact nonetheless necessarily and immutably, if you have regard to the will of God” (Bondage [LW 33:37f]).

What have real saints said about this thesis? Well, St. Thomas More labelled Luther’s thesis on absolute determination to be:

“THE VERY WORST AND MOST HARMFUL HERESY THAT EVER WAS THOUGHT UP; AND, ON TOP OF THAT, THE MOST INSANE.”

AMEN to St. Thomas More. How can we contradict St. Thomas More here? Should we, out of human respect and errant versions of ecumenism, lose our theological heads, not in service of martyrdom, but rather in praise of such execrable doctrine?

Let us continue the citations.

For Luther, the thesis of absolute determinism is necessary in order to Protect Faith’s Certainty. No faith is possible unless one already “knows” that because God wills all things, nothing is contingent (LW 33:42).

“For if you doubt or disdain to know that God foreknows all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe his promises and place a sure trust and reliance on them? For when he promises anything, you ought to be certain that he knows and is able and willing to perform what he promises; otherwise, you will regard him as neither truthful nor faithful, and that is impiety and a denial of the Most High God. But how will you be certain and sure unless you know that he knows and wills and will do what he promises, certainly, infallibly, immutably, and necessarily?” (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, LW 33:42)

Now, this reason for humility is utterly false, since it contradicts Catholic Dogma. But St. Bernard said that giving false reasons for humility is in fact pride. Hence, Luther also takes one of the steps of pride in contending that this thesis Benefits Humility.

Luther recognizes that the notion of absolute determinism seems to make God utterly evil and perverse. Instead, then, of rejecting it as blasphemous and fideistic, he embraces it as lifting up Faith and Revelation, since it is so contrary to all reason:

“This is the highest degree of faith, to believe him merciful when he saves so few and damns so many, and to believe him righteous when by his own will he makes us necessarily damnable, so that he seems, according to Erasmus, to delight in the torments of the wretched and to be worthy of hatred rather than of love” (LW 33:62f).

Luther’s own words are the evidence. This is the testimony of his own mouth. Let the honest and decent reader judge the case.

Before the bar of every rational and decent person, does Luther not convict himself of utter inhumanity?

Before the bar of all that is reasonable in moral exhortation – from parental to educational to civil and criminal, does he not convict himself of a crime against all law? Is he, therefore, anarchical?

Before the bar of Catholic Dogma, supreme criterion on earth of what we know is and is not part of and/or in harmony with the Deposit of Faith, does he not convict himself of heresy?

Before the God whom we ought to honor, to whom we ought to ascribe only what is good and true and fitting, does he not convict himself of great blasphemies, greater even than the Gnostics who first attempted to ruin the Church? For the Gnostics distinguished two gods, one good and one evil. Does not Luther add to the evil by subtracting from the number of Gods, folding that Evil, which all right reason and right faith and common decency vomit out as execrable, into the one God?

Indeed, DOES NOT ALL OF MODERN THOUGHT — which, incidentally, is not entirely corrupt, though it is by and large no friend of Christ — REJECT SUCH VILE THOUGHT? If we, then, accept what is good and decent in Modernity – as it rebels against fideism and voluntaristic notions of God and absurd notions of justification and divine predetermination and the destruction of all legitimate autonomy of man – must we not therefore reject this foundational thesis of Luther? Finally, does this predetermination to evil harmonize with the errant notion of a mercy shorn of justice, so popular these days?

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35 Responses to Should Any Catholic Praise Luther?

  1. Joseph Moore says:

    I’ve long held that Bondage of the Will is the essential Lutheran statement, not the disingenuous and largely incoherent Christian Liberty. Then, once, when researching some of Luther’s writings, I came across a quotation from Luther from towards the end of his life, stating that Bondage of the Will remained the essential statement of his theology. So, no, we will not be celebrating Luther’s 500th in our household.

  2. ginnyfree says:

    Short answer to the question comes naturally for this gal: NO! But the realist in me says also that there are Catholics so stupefied by heresy and error that they do praise Luther and a few others. Good article. Thanks for sharing it with us. I just downloaded the Common Prayer booklet that will probably be used by more than one well-meaning but stupid Catholic to entertain a make-believe ecumenical experience for those in the neighborhood of the local parishes. Without a sound qualifying introduction though, it will do harm because there will be those who will think that the Church is approving of Lutheranisms in general. If they are not introduced to this stuff in a sound way, they will fall for it. This is why God calls us sheep. We fall for stuff that is baaad baaad, baaaad for us. (That is my attempt at making a sheep sound. Forgive me.) God bless. Ginnyfree.

  3. I suppose Dr. Malloy will be criticized for this article and accused of being politically incorrect. However, I am sure there are large numbers of people who, like me, agree completely with the ideas he has expressed here.

  4. ginnyfree says:

    You peeked my curiosity so I looked up Bondage of the Will and found a simple 156 page explanation by the heretic himself. I think reading this will remain on my to do list for a while. Anyone got a synopsis handy? God bless. Ginnyfree.

  5. Crow says:

    Luther was the author of ‘The Jews and their Lies’. Will they be talking about this book on the 500th anniversary?

  6. kathleen says:

    Should one praise the man most responsible for the break-up of Christendom… and the wars and killings that followed in its wake? Should one praise this man’s warped, distorted understanding of Almighty and All-Loving God? Should one praise a man beset by fears and scruples, pride and obstinacy, possessor of one of the greatest egos imaginable?

    Most definitely – NO!

  7. Michael says:

    This, for me, is one of the fundamental characteristics of the Protestant heresy – that it splits apart things previously held together in creative tension (e.g.; grace and nature; divine omniscience and human free will; faith and reason; spirit and letter). The acts of Luther and his successors drove a giant rent in the European soul, and laid the ground for the rationalism and materialism (as well as their converse – fideism and quietism) that followed. Which is why I find it hard to understand the sentiments of the concluding paragraph in the above article – Modernity and Protestantism are of a piece; they rest on the same assumptions about human nature and will.

    Modernity is the offspring of Protestantism, and evidence of why (IMO) Protestantism is the most pernicious heresy that has yet existed – it not only bifurcated and decontextualised previously held concepts of freedom and the will, giving rise to radical individualism, materialism and naked rationalism, as well as providing the perfect pretext with which nation states could free themselves from any bonds of obligation to the common weal, but did this under the cloak of seeming orthodoxy. We still have the creeds, the Scriptures (well, most of them), etc, the ‘Reformers’ cried – we are still part of the catholic Church! And so it was that much easier for the subtle errors they promoted to gain a foothold in the collective consciousness.

    With respect to this bizarre idea that Catholics should praise Luther’s ‘insights’ or celebrate the Reformation in any way, I think that the answer has to be an honest no, unless we continue drifting along the currents of error he/it produced and allow the Church to become even more influenced by those very currents. Have a collective service of repentance for the wrongs committed on each side by all means, but celebration – absolutely not. And also, when repentance is made for the tragedies facilitated by the Reformation, wouldn’t it be nice if, for once, the Church weren’t the one that had to do all the apologising? Seems to me that these things always end up terribly one-sided.

  8. toadspittle says:

    “Seems to me that these things always end up terribly one-sided.”

    ..Which, of course, Catholicism is not.
    No one would suggest that for a moment.
    Luther was certain he knew The Truth about God.
    Big mistake. He was only human – only guessing and speculating.

  9. kathleen says:

    Michael @ 9:32 yesterday

    “Modernity and Protestantism are of a piece; they rest on the same assumptions about human nature and will.
    Modernity is the offspring of Protestantism, and evidence of why (IMO) Protestantism is the most pernicious heresy that has yet existed – etcetera”

    The whole of your excellent comment yesterday coming from this basic statement of what you say here ^^ really does hit the nail on the head.
    All the now hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Protestant denominations that started off with Luther’s rebellion, were all, in a manner of speaking, rejecting the authority of the Christ’s Church to ‘have it their own way’. If Luther had been a more humble and holy man he would have stayed in the Church to fight for its purification from what he saw were clerical abuses from some of its members… perhaps even becoming one day a great saint himself! Instead he gave in to his self-pride and arrogance, leading his own immortal soul, and those of countless others on a downward spiral of error and disobedience.

    As it says in the article you link to in the Imaginative Conservative, Luther was a revolutionary, not a ‘reformer’, and the whole Protestant ‘Reformation’ was, in fact, a revolutionary Deformation that split Christendom, and was the catalyst that started off centuries of wars and strife in Europe. Even Secularism today can be seen to having its roots in this rebellion against the Church, with the, “I know best”, or “I can think for myself”, attitude.

  10. kathleen says:

    Toad @ 17:43 yesterday

    “Luther was certain he knew The Truth about God.”

    Yup, he must have been listening to the tempter, Toad, same as did our first parents, Adam and Eve! Pride has ever been the root sin of all evil.
    For this reason Our Saviour built His Church on Peter and the Apostles, to safeguard the Truth and to guide and instruct Mankind, to keep us away from building a ‘church’ of our own making.

  11. Robert says:

    The point about Luther is the support he commanded by the intellectuals of that Age. His the spark that fired the false light of the enlightenment. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass became a Supper! The wide road was opened to the rebellion and apostacy that savaged the mystical body of Christ. Make no mistake the intellectuals were only to happy to throw off the yoke of the church and rush into the occult and hidden wisdom. It was in this pot that free masonry appeared (cloaked in the deception of having a basis in esoteric Judaism) . The membership of these enlightened materialists was from the intellectual and educated (not the common herd) its claim to internationalism found rather on these Protestant European Nations.
    Come the anti Christian rebellion and apostacy of France when Our Lady was replaced by Reason! See Reason replaces Revelation.
    The Faith is Dogmatic and Revealed like it or Not because God and Eternity are beyond Man’s comprehension. Reason is the old naturalism of pagan origins.
    Luther is the spark that set fire to human Reason replacing Revelation.

  12. toadspittle says:

    “(Luther’s) the spark that fired the false light of the enlightenment. “
    If it had been a “false’ spark – it would have ignited nothing, would it, Regbot?
    I like the imagery, though.
    Anyway, how do you personally* know it was false? (Never mind. l. I think it was false, too. No more point in believing in Lutheranism, than in Methodism, Muggletonianism – or in reading the entrails of dead sheep – in my book.)

    *Someone told you.

  13. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 08:58:

    f Luther had been a more humble and holy man he would have stayed in the Church to fight for its purification from what he saw were clerical abuses from some of its members… perhaps even becoming one day a great saint himself!

    Absolutely – this is the great tragedy of the man. If he had only been able to sit himself down and seriously ask the question ‘now, is it really likely that I understand the Gospel better than fifteen hundred years of saints, doctors and confessors, that the Holy Spirit has allowed the Church to languish in error all this time, and that only I, of all men, have the authority to set things right?’ then he could indeed have channelled his energies into a great work of actual reformation and yes, even perhaps become a great saint!

    It is frustrating that when this topic comes up, the common response as to why it all occurred is ‘well, Martin Luther saw all these terrible abuses going on and heroically set himself about setting things right’ – the two glaring things overlooked being that projects of reformation had always occurred throughout Church history (and in fact were happening within the Church at that very time) and that the clerical abuses, on the whole (it certainly differed from country to country) were no worse than at any other period in history. Wolf Hall, as has been discussed here before, is the classic example of this sort of (often deliberate) misunderstanding.

    To return to the contemporary praising of Luther’s insights etc though, what particularly annoys me is this, which is a common feature of all these sort of ecumenical get-togethers:

    This “liturgical order” is characterized by the dominance of Protestant material, and the one-sided praise for the Reformation while nothing at all is said about — or taken from — the distinctive elements of Catholic history, theology and heritage. The Reformation and Martin Luther are repeatedly extolled, while the Counter-Reformation and the Popes and Saints of the 16th century are passed over in total silence.

    It’s almost as if we’re embarrassed by the claims the Catholic Church makes, and will thus go out of our way to concede the claims made against her by others.

  14. Robert says:

    The false spark?
    The spark was and is a reverting to modern paganism under the cloak of Reformation actually seeking knowledge through whatever means including seances (sic Dr Dee ). “paganism being a doctrine of materialism and unbridled pleasure.”
    This is modernism and of course beastility that excuses unbrideled pleasure!
    Luther was the spark!

  15. Tom Fisher says:

    With respect to this bizarre idea that Catholics should praise Luther’s ‘insights’ or celebrate the Reformation in any way, I think that the answer has to be an honest no

    How do you feel about the Bible being freely available in the vernacular? Over the course of a few centuries, and without ever admitting as much, the Church gradually came to accept that the reformers were right on that one. Very few Catholic Bishops in 2016 in the UK would advocate death by burning for owning a Bible in English. A clear example of the reformers changing Catholic practice and norms.

  16. toadspittle says:

    “….the clerical abuses, on the whole (it certainly differed from country to country) were no worse than at any other period in history.”
    A ringing endorsement, if I’ve ever heard one: “Yes, things were bad, but no worse than usual.”

    “..seeking knowledge through whatever means including seances “
    We humans must seek knowledge by any reasonable means. Including seances – as long as they work. Which I highly doubt seances do.
    Nor is Paganismsm a “doctrine.” More a lack of doctrines.

  17. The Raven says:

    How do you feel about the Bible being freely available in the vernacular? Over the course of a few centuries, and without ever admitting as much, the Church gradually came to accept that the reformers were right on that one. Very few Catholic Bishops in 2016 in the UK would advocate death by burning for owning a Bible in English. A clear example of the reformers changing Catholic practice and norms.

    We have to proceed with a little caution, Tom, as the historical record is so very heavily embarnacled with propaganda on this point that our judgments are easily skewed.

    The issue that St Thomas More and other late medieval figures had with the vernacular bibles that were being imported into England was that they were bound together with biblical commentaries that were outright heretical: the vernacular bible wasn’t the problem, the problem was a bible poisoned by Luther’s glosses and commentaries (similar problems existed in Wycliffe’s translations).

    We also look back on the period of the Reformation without seeing that it marked a very distinct cultural change: up until this period it would have been a fair bet that anyone who could read was also educated in Latin; in this period English as a written language was very much a new thing (vide Duffy’s account of a young man teaching himself to write in English from his Latin Primer).

    Catholic opposition to having the Bible itself (without the heretical commentary) can be dismissed by reference to the publication of the Douay Rheims bible, which took place within the same century.

    If one looks to countries like France, where there was a longer tradition of a written vernacular, one sees the far earlier circulation and dissemination of bible translations.

  18. Michael says:

    Tom @ 05:33:

    See the excellent comment from The Raven above – that pretty much covers everything I think!🙂

  19. GC says:

    John Chapter 1 (Aelfric, circa 1000AD)

    1 On FRYMÐ WÆ word & þt word wæs mid gode & god wæs þt word.
    2 þt wæs on fruman mid gode
    3 ealle þing wæron geworhte ðurh hyne & nan þing næs geworht butan him.
    4 þt wæs líf þe on him geworht wæs. & þt líf wæs manna leoht
    5 & þt leoht lyht on ðystrum. & þystro þt ne genamon

    John Chapter 1 (Douay-Rheims, 1899 American Edition)

    1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    2 The same was in the beginning with God.
    3 All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.
    4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
    5 And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

  20. kathleen says:

    Michael @ 18:47 yesterday

    Yet another most insightful comment from you, Michael – thank you.

    Yes, as you point out (and The Raven too), there is such a lot of anti-Catholic bias out there, that very many Catholics themselves have bought into this negative propaganda that has infiltrated all walks of life and institutions, that we end up forever apologising for much of what never even had its roots in Catholicism at all!! Half truths can be more dangerous than outright lies… which usually can be uncovered as such in time.
    As you state:

    “It’s almost as if we’re embarrassed by the claims the Catholic Church makes, and will thus go out of our way to concede the claims made against her by others.”

    This is absolutely so, and makes any honest Catholic who knows the truth of our history want to cringe in indignation.
    Of course there have been many errors and sins committed by Catholics too who have not abided by their Church’s precepts – and we have never feared to admit this – but so much of what people believe about the Protestant Revolution erroneously puts the Catholic Church as the one at fault, and the Protestants as some meek heroes who confronted Her and brought ‘freedom’ and ‘enlightenment’ to the people. Nothing could be further from the truth!.

    “History is written by its victors”, as the saying goes, and the real victors of the 16th century Protestant Reformation were the Protestants in most European countries (despite the great achievements of the Counter Reformation and the purification and clarification of Church teaching by the Council of Trent). Where the Protestants kept the upper hand (UK, Germany, Holland, Scandinavia), these distorted facts and lies of the events leading up, during, and in the following subsequent centuries of the so-called Reformation, have become part of what most people think is common knowledge.

    As a good comparison, look at the passionate love and loyalty for the Catholic Church of nations such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, etc., who have never been truly threatened by the spread of Protestant errors, as we have in the West. None of our Western European squirming, apologetic demeanour from these dignified people; but a strong and noble pride to be counted as members of the One True Faith. They suffered greatly under atheistic Communism, but they kept the Faith amidst the horrors, and have triumphed!
    We could learn a lesson or two from these heroic Eastern European nations.

  21. ginnyfree says:

    Tom it wasn’t Martin Luther that brought the Bible to our homes. It was Guttenberg and the decrease in costs of publishing that did so. It was also a desire to know God’s words to us that provided the motive to purchase a book. Remember the chained Bibles? That was because of the prohibitive costs of manufacture. No, you cannot credit the Protestant Revolt for giving us the Scriptures. We lived happily with those chained Bibles for centuries. Anyone with a desire to know them simply spent time in Church reading from it and many did. As for the death by burning for owning a Bible, that is a pure fantasy, a fiction. Many persons, Luther included, had the money and the ability to publish error laden books as if they were Holy Writ. It is these fraudulent publications that were used for kindling and the secular institutes who were authorized by the governing bodies of said states who did whatever they felt was necessary to keep the peace in their lands and if that meant punishing the publisher(s) of this type of propaganda with burning to death publically so as to dissuade other like minded persons from attempting further corruption of the people, then that is what they felt was necessary to keep the peace and preserve their heritage. It is history. And that is what actually happened. Martin Luther published CORRUPTED scriptures as if they were revelations from God. He set about correcting a Church that had spent 1500 years producing and preserving the very texts he felt compelled to alter to support his new theology. A finer example of this process, perhaps the finest come to think of it, is the New World Translation used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to prevent folks from worshiping Jesus Christ and giving them a new god, Jehovah to worship. Surely you wouldn’t say this is an improvement, would you, something we should be praising them for or thanking Luther for? Hello Tom. Changed Scripture is cursed by God Himself. Read Rev. 22:18-19 “I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words in this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,19 and if anyone takes away from the words in this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city described in this book.” That alone would be enough cause the righteous man to tremble, but those who have no fear of God scoff and laugh off this prophetic warning. It is still as relevant now as it was when St. John wrote them. God’s Words are not to be tampered with. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  22. ginnyfree says:

    Yippie! For once I applaud your efforts Raven. Thank you. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  23. Tom Fisher says:

    The issue that St Thomas More and other late medieval figures had with the vernacular bibles that were being imported into England was that they were bound together with biblical commentaries that were outright heretical: the vernacular bible wasn’t the problem, the problem was a bible poisoned by Luther’s glosses and commentaries

    You’re hardly following your own admonition to be ‘cautious’. The above paragraph could easily give the impression that purchasing and distributing vernacular Bibles that didn’t happen to be bound with heretical material would have been just fine with the authorities. Which is simply not true, as you know.

    The late medieval Western Church had a problem with both free distribution of vernacular Bibles and heretical material. Your answer was an attempt to conflate those two issues, and obscure the fact that the culture of unfettered access to vernacular Bibles in the west was initiall fought against by the Church, before being accepted. — It is a clear example of the reformers ultimately succeeding in changing Catholic cultural norms.

  24. Michael says:

    Tom @ 17:42:

    I think the key issues here are the following:

    1. It is not the case that the Church had a problem with translations of the Scriptures into the vernacular – the problem was with unauthorised translations. A translation of the Gospels and Epistles was made into Castilian in 1512, readily available for any Spaniards who wished to read it, and between 1502 and 1517 (under the supervision and instigation of Cardinal Ximenes), the Polyglot Bible was produced, comparing Greek, Hebrew and Latin alongside critical apparatus for interpreting and comparing texts – not itself a vernacular translation I know, but all done to encourage sound scholarship and evidence that the Catholic Church was not hiding her Scriptures under a bushel, so to speak.

    Furthermore, as The Raven has pointed out already, the Douay-Rheims Bible was published in the same century as the Protestant publications, it pre-dated the King James Version, and its NT was used (as was Ximenes’ Polyglot Bible) as a source in the KJV translation project. As I’m sure you know, there had been plenty of vernacular translations in the early medieval period as well, but it is certainly not the case that the late medieval Church was against vernacular translations per se. The Protestant movement may have sharpened the edges of reform movements within the Church, but it did not create them – the same goes for the impetus to issue vernacular translations of the Scriptures.

    2. As Kathleen has pointed out in her most recent comment, we have to remember that we are reading these events through the lens of a culture shaped by the events that Luther et al set forth. The Reformation happened, and we have Bibles in the vernacular. But that doesn’t mean that if it hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have Bibles in the vernacular – in fact, for the reasons I’ve just mentioned, we have good cause to believe that they would have been issued without Luther’s protests. We mustn’t assume too much here, especially when we have good cause to question received wisdom on the topic.

    The Raven also made clear in his comment that literacy was associated with Latin reading during the period we are discussing, and that the English language was only just crystallising into something well-defined. People often talk now of how the KJV shaped the English way of speaking (though the actual extent of its influence is debatable) – this tells us that the reason vernacular translations were emerging at this time was precisely because it was only then that the language was settled enough for such a process to occur.

    It also begs the question as to whether, if the Protestant Revolution had not occurred, we might be talking about how the DRV shaped the English language! There seems little reason, apart from our buying into a version of history heavily shaped by Protestant propaganda, to believe that this would not have been so.

  25. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 13:02:

    An excellent comment, with which I agree wholeheartedly. When discussing this period it is so essential to recall just how much of our understanding of it has been shaped by Protestant propaganda – for people who grew up in Anglophone countries, we are fed through school textbooks, television series and popular fiction the narrative wherein Luther etc were essentially right to cause the rupture they did, and that things like the Bible in English would never have been possible without them. Thankfully this version of events has been corrected by a good number of historians now, but the popular consciousness is still very much shaped by it.

    Also, wonderful point about the heroic witness of the Eastern European nations who have stayed loyal during so much suffering – a lesson or two could be learned from them indeed, and one hopes that they may yet have some influence over the other, more decadent, European nations in time🙂

  26. The Raven says:

    Hello, Tom.

    I think that we can put the issue to a fairly simple test: are you able to cite any cases of people being prosecuted for owning bible editions which did not contain the commentaries?

    All of the cases that I am aware of involved Tyndale’s editions (Coverdale’s and “Matthew’s” bibles were banned during the latter part of Henry’s despotate, but he’d already succumbed to Protestantism by then).

  27. kathleen says:

    Thanks, Michael, for your further defence of the truth.

    But as our old commenter, Tom Fisher, is plainly demonstrating here…. even many Catholics have swallowed the PC Protestant lies about the Reformation (and everything that followed in its aftermath), hook, line and sinker!😉

  28. Robert says:

    The reason for the Church’s stance on the Bible is because it and it alone has God’s Authority over Revelation. She alone to interpret it and protect its contents. Consider the religious life and the reading and studying of the Bible under the Protection of scared tradition. Literacy is only one aspect, because this is a Book whose Authorship exists in Eternity.
    It was the Church that actually preserved and defined the Books that together form a single revelation.
    This is no passing whimsical matter the protection and interpretation of Revelation and defimning Dogma. Luther was the spark but the timber and kindle was amongst the intellectuals and worldly whom themselves wanted to throw of the Church.

  29. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 09:02, January 21st:

    Indeed, it is a very pervasive narrative. We who have grown up in cultures shaped by Protestantism can never forget just how much of that history has been not only distorted, but made normative, part of the background of our cultural imagination(s). Vigilance and a good dose of calm, sober* scepticism must be maintained when dealing with this period, particularly with respect to the ‘received wisdom’ that so often underpins our engagement with it.

    *I make these qualifications for obvious reasons!🙂

  30. Tom Fisher says:

    …the English language was only just crystallising into something well-defined. People often talk now of how the KJV shaped the English way of speaking (though the actual extent of its influence is debatable) – this tells us that the reason vernacular translations were emerging at this time was precisely because it was only then that the language was settled enough for such a process to occur.

    I don’t agree. It is true that English was displaced as a literary language after the Norman invasion. And so, for example, Beowulf represents a literary tradition that was cut off. But English was not “just crystallizing into something well defined” in the late middle-ages. Chaucer matched, and superseded, his Italian sources before 1400. Late medieval English was a strong and confident language, and Wycliffe was a master of English composition.

  31. Tom Fisher says:

    I think that we can put the issue to a fairly simple test: are you able to cite any cases of people being prosecuted for owning bible editions which did not contain the commentaries?

    Our knowledge of these cases is limited. For any given prosecution it will always be impossible to demonstrate that the bible in question did not contain any heretical commentaries. But this seems to be simply a point of logic, which I don’t dispute.

  32. Michael says:

    Tom @ 10:03:

    I would have classed Chaucer as being in the late Middle Ages personally, but that’s by the by. The point is that written English was becoming a strong and confident language – it was not something settled, but still developing in many respects. Compare the English of Chaucer to that of Shakespeare (or the KJV) and you see a great many differences in a relatively short period of time.

    However, even if one were to say that the English language had settled down in Chaucer’s time, it would still take society a long time to change from one where literacy was associated with the reading and writing of Latin and English, to one associated with English alone. These things take time, and when one considers the ecclesiastical case in particular, taking into account the other points mentioned above (the authoritative nature of the texts and thus the requirement for authoritative translations, etc), one can see why it might be an even longer process.

    Again, the major point here is that just because literacy expanded (always bearing in mind how long it took for it to actually expand to today’s standards, given that the cost of purchasing books was still extremely high) with the Reformation, it doesn’t mean that this would necessarily have to have been the case, and apart from the fact that we have inherited a historical narrative shaped by Protestant rhetoric telling us that it must have been so, there aren’t any good reasons for thinking that the one really did determine the other.

  33. toadspittle says:

    Chaucer.
    …But Toad’s the last one to point the finger. His history of getting wrongly-spelled names into actual print, is legendary. Such as: H.L. Menken. And a reproach to him. (Toad, that is – not Mencken.)

    i”(English) was not something settled, but still developing in many respects. “
    Evolving, in fact, and still i – to this day.

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