Letter to Calvin Martin continued...
Last week I left off with the Luther quote, “It is not forbidden that a man should have more than one wife.” Luther said this for a very specific reason. In 1523 Phillip the Fair, Duke of Hesse, married Christine of Saxony, daughter of Frederick of Saxony. Remember him, Martin Luther’s first protector who hid Martin in the Wartburg Castle? She was as ugly as the back side of a mud fence and a heavy drinker. This was not a problem for Phillip, an aristocrat; there were plenty of women available. Still, the whole thing was bothersome. Luther said that Phillip was living in sin and thus could not receive communion. Phillip was grieved in conscience, but he couldn’t just dump the daughter of the duke of Saxony.
One of Luther’s collaborators, Phillip Melanchthon came up with a novel solution that he thought might apply just as well to Henry VIII of England. Why couldn’t the King of England or Phillip the Fair or another rich important person have more than one wife? After all, the patriarchs and kings in the Bible had busloads of wives. Hadn’t Doktor Luther said as much? Armed with this deep spiritual insight, Phillip the Fair decided to marry the daughter of one of his sister's ladies-in-waiting, Margarethe von der Saale. Margarethe hesitated. She wanted to hear from theologians as well as Philip’s first wife and her family back in Saxony.
Philip’s first wife, Christine was fine with the arrangement as was her family, probably glad to have the old sot living elsewhere. The Lutheran theologians were hesitant. After all Luther, like Henry VIII of England, disputed the pope’s right to give dispensations. Now Philip the Fun Loving wanted a dispensation to have two wives. Bucer, another collaborator of Luther’s, understood Phillip’s logical argument that Phillip would ally himself with the Catholic Emperor if the Protestant theologians didn’t agree to the marriage, and the new religion would be toast. The Wittenberg theologians wisely acceded to the Duke’s finely crafted arguments. Martin the brave, Martin who probably didn’t say at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand I can do no other!” acquiesced, but told Phillip to keep it a secret. Having secured the “secret advice of a confessor” namely Luther and Melanchthon, Philip married wife number two on March 4, 1590. A few weeks later Philip's sister spilled the beans and the scandal ran through Germany like beer through a German.
Luther, refused to admit his part in the mess, claiming that it was a matter of the seal of confession. Apparently Luther could still be Catholic went he wanted to be. After all, he had warned Phillip that, “When it comes to writing, I shall be quite competent to wriggle out of it and to leave your Grace in the lurch.” In other words Luther was smart enough not to leave a paper trail. The dodge didn’t work. Luther lost the leadership of the reformation to John Calvin, the disciple of Luther’s archenemy Huldrych Zwingli, who became the rising star of the protestant revolt. Most protestant and so called non- denominational churches trace their roots back to Calvin, not to Luther. Lutheranism is a relatively small part of modern Christianity. There are probably around 100 million Lutherans in the world. There are 1billion, 200 million Catholics in the world. The other 600 or 700 million Protestants in the world are various mutations of Calvinism.
I have already mentioned Luther’s humility. I would like to revisit the topic. He once humbly said, “What I teach and write remains true even though the whole world should fall to pieces over it.” He had no idea how prophetic these words would be. In his tract, “On War Against the Turk”, Luther is far less critical of the Muslim Turks than he is of the Pope, whom he calls an anti-Christ, or the Jews, whom he describes as “the Devil incarnate.” Christianity has fractured into a myriad of sects, some large some small. Luther weakened Europe just as the Caliphs of Islam were about to overwhelm her. Were it not for the steadfastness of the Hapsburgs and Spain and especially the bravery of the Poles, all of the women in Europe would be wearing burkas and walking behind their husbands.
All the deprecation of marriage and women, all the polygamy and violence would not have bothered Luther one little bit, though the Islamic prohibition against alcohol might have been difficult for him, despite his many tea-totaling followers:
“Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” A couple more Luther quotes: “I am but a man prone to let himself be swept off his feet by society, drunkenness, and the movements of the flesh.” And, “Why, do you think, do I drink too much wine ...? It is when the Devil prepares to torment me and mock me and I wish to take the lead.”
In a couple of years, the man will be lionized, but he sounds more like Rasputin than Christ. In Luther are laid the seeds of our current disaster, the redefinition of the family, a private, self-serving morality and all the rest. Our licentious age finds its parent in Luther;
“Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides… No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.”
Europe is dying. It was Luther who killed it. The terminal illness was made obvious by the German Nationalism that caused the Franco-Prussian war when the Prussian Lutherans and Calvinist tried to make an empire. It matured in the First World War and finally exploded in an orgy of hatred, murder and racism in the Nazi madness which gripped the German-speaking peoples in the middle of the 20th century. Hitler and his Nazis skillfully used Luther’s anti-Semitism to inflame an entire people to insanity. These are Luther quotes, not Hitler quotes:
“My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulfur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire… Second, that all their books– their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted…Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country…Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it… He who hears this name [God] from a Jew must inform the authorities, or else throw sow dung at him when he sees him and chase him away.” (Martin Luther; On the Jews and Their Lies).
It sounds a lot like Kristallnacht, when the Nazis burned the synagogues and the scrolls. Martin continues:
“Burn their synagogues. Forbid them all that I have mentioned above. Force them to work and treat them with every kind of severity, as Moses did in the desert and slew three thousand… If that is no use, we must drive them away like mad dogs, in order that we may not be partakers of their abominable blasphemy and of all their vices, and in order that we may not deserve the anger of God and be damned with them. I have done my duty. Let everyone see how he does his. I am excused.”
“If I had to baptize a Jew, I would take him to the bridge of the Elbe, hang a stone round his neck and push him over with the words I baptize thee in the name of Abraham.”“The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves.”
Doktor Luther wrote the prescription for the death camps of the Nazi monsters. Hitler was the pharmacist who filled the prescription. So what will I be doing to celebrate Reformation day 2017? I suppose I will be hiding under my bed saying the Rosary.
The Rev. Know-it-all