Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Catholic Apologist Art Sippo on Luther Scholarship and Research (Part 1)

“…the deformation must be extirpated from the face of the Earth.”
-Catholic apologist, Art Sippo

Catholic apologist Art Sippo responded to my recent comments on Luther and Patrick O’Hare’s book The Facts About Luther, as well as some other authors. He also offered a fair amount of tangential material. This will be the first part of my review of his comments. I’ve tried to keep my responses organized by topic. To view Art’s side of things, click here and scroll down to about the 13th post in the thread. I'm assuming this topic may bore some of you to tears, but I find it helpful to understand what information motivates Catholics toward hostile polemic.

Hello Dr. Sippo,

Thank you a detailed response, and sharing your feelings about Luther scholarship. You gave me a lot to respond to- some of it, I feel, rather tangential (no offense intended here).

I don't expect either of us to agree on very much. I don't even dialog with you with a "hope" of changing your mind on anything- and likewise, you shouldn't think that you're going to change my mind on anything either. This dialog though interests me, because rarely will I find someone able to defend the earlier, outdated approach to Luther that began with Cochlaeus, and more-a-less ended with Patrick O'Hare.

This tradition, is a tradition of destructive criticism that generally attacks Luther "the person". During the first few hundred years of Catholic evaluations of Luther, a strong emphasis on vilifying Luther’s character as a means of discrediting the Reformation was the normal Catholic approach.The emphasis shifted in the Twentieth Century: Catholics began to study Luther as a sincere religious man and an honest theologian.

Art Sippo on Patrick O’Hare’s "Facts About Luther"
Sippo earlier said that O’Hare book “was written in the mid-19th Century.” After my correction, he commented, “While Fr. O'Hare's book was published in 1917, it represented 19th Century scholarship.” This is true- In Catholic approaches to Luther, O’Hare’s book was kind of the last stop in this type of pseudo-scholarship which had gone on for a few hundred years, and had peaked in the 19th Century. O’Hare’s book more-a-less echoes earlier work which came before his. Interestingly though, Sippo doesn’t note his earlier mistake and my correction- not sure why.

As to his comment on Luther’s sermon on marriage that was transcribed by a student, and subsequently not mentioned in later biographies, Sippo gives no further information. It is a historical curiosity for me, and I was hoping Sippo could document it. This being said, our interaction on O’Hare’s book is probably over. Sippo already distanced himself from the accuracy of the book, and I don’t blame him. I’m hopeful Catholic laymen will follow his lead here.

Art Sippo on the Catholic Historian, Joseph Lortz

Sippo says:

I have some quibbles about Lortz. He was a Catholic Scholar who was very "German" before and during WWII. He was very conciliatory towards the Nazis and the Lutherans. Remember that Luther was seen by the Nazis both as a great German hero and a supporter of anti-Semitism. These facts have discredited most of what he wrote.”

Sippo discredits Lortz’s work on Luther due to Nazis and WWII. To my knowledge, Lortz was never charged with war crimes, nor kicked out of the Roman Catholic Church. He is known as perhaps the most famous Catholic Luther scholar of the twentieth century. Protestants and Catholics alike refer to his work on Luther as monumental. He continued his work on Luther after WWII as well, influencing an entire field of excellent Catholic Luther researchers (like Jared Wicks). For Sippo’s claim to be justified, he should be able to produce Nazi-conciliatory remarks from Lortz’s work on Luther. It should be obvious to everyone: simply because Lortz was "wrong" about the Nazi party, does not mean he is "wrong" about Luther. It is a logical fallacy is thinking that because he was wrong on one thing, he's therefore "wrong" on all things.

Interestingly, Lortz ultimately concludes Luther was a heretic.

Sippo may find this quote interesting:

Three of the five theologians whom Krieg analyses, Eschweiler, Lortz and Adam, achieved later notoriety for their open support for the new Nazi regime, at least to begin with. Together with lesser-known figures whom Krieg discusses, their motives were extremely varied. In fact, as he points out, none of these men can be seen as representative of the whole Catholic milieu. Despite the prestige of these professors, their affirmations were matched by the opposing views held by their colleagues and bishops. Karl Eschweiler would seem to have been a firm authoritarian. Hitler's leadership against modernity and especially against the Bolshevik danger was the main attraction. Joseph Lortz however had a much grander vision. He looked for the renewal of Western civilization, whereby Hitler's political energies could be united with Catholic spirituality. Such co-operation, as Mussolini had shown, could be beneficial in rebuilding a spiritually vibrant society along organic lines. It was, as Victor Conzemius pointed out, "idealism separated from reality".

To be fair, Lortz soon enough began to recognize that the Nazi movement contained other and more dangerous elements. His subsequent withdrawal was sufficient to enable him to resume a long and fruitful academic career after the war

Dr. Sippo's comments on Lortz are out of touch with the consensus:

It was not until 1939, when Joseph Lortz. The Catholic professor at Muenster, published his fine two-volume study of Luther, entitled Die Reformation in Deutschland (1939-40), that the first ray of hope of any creative theological dialogue between Catholicism and Protestantism lit the dark horizon. The work was so scholarly and so informed that it was found to subserve a highly significant and irenic critique of Luther and Lutheranism.” [James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), 3].

the popular demonization of Luther started in the 16th Century by Luther’s opponent Cochlaeus was “so lasting that …the entire Catholic historiography of the Reformation until the publication in 1939 of Joseph Lortz’s magnum opus came under the spell of such powerful polemic [that of Cochlaeus].”[Ulrich Kremer comments from the book,“ Seven Headed Luther” Oxford Press, 1983, 207. In the same book, Gotthelf Wiedermann agrees: “It was only in the twentieth century that Cochlaeus’s hold on the Catholic image of Luther was gradually broken [because of Lortz], 204].

With Lortz' great three hundred page essay on Luther, Catholics left behind the unscrupulous hatred of Cochlaeus (whose legends of 1549 turned up monotonously in Catholic works on Luther for over three hundred and fifty years), the charges of immorality and ignorance leveled by Denifle, the cold and one-sided reading of Grisar.” [“Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther”(Jared Wicks, S.J, Editor. 1970, Loyola University Press), 1].

“…Denifle and the Jesuit Hartman Grisar, used Freudian psychology to arrive at their assessment that Luther was a monk obsessed with the lust of the flesh and a pathological manic-depressive personality….These polemical portraits were corrected in the 1940’s when an ecumenically oriented scholar, Joseph Lortz, rejected Freudian psycho-historical methods in favor of a more objective critical assessment to depict Luther as a faithful priest-professor who had succumbed to ‘subjectivism.”[ Eric W. Gritsch, Martin Luther-God’s Court Jester, Luther in Retrospect ( Fortress press, 1983), 146.

Johann Heinz points out, “Lortz tried seriously to understand Luther and the Reformation. In one stroke he abandoned, once and for all, the polemical approach, denying, for example, the legend of Luther's immorality. Lortz declares that "Luther was not motivated by low inclinations and desires when he broke with the church . . . this ought to be understood by everyone." The Reformation was inevitable, Lortz suggests, with the Catholic Church having been guilty of corrupting the life and thought of medieval Christianity” [Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and his Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II,” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, 1988, Vol. 26, No. 3), 256].

Art Sippo on Catholic Writer, John Todd

Sippo says:

Todd's work in the 1960s was written in Ecumenical fervor and IMHO does not point out the clearly dark side of Luther and the Lutheran movement. Luther was excommunicated and condemned by the Catholic Church as a heretic. You would never know that reading Todd. He is not critical enough. I do not recommend him.”

I suggested Todd’s book for its writing style- his work is extremely reader friendly, particularly for those who haven’t read anything on Luther. Todd’s books are a well-balanced approach to Luther: one senses neither a lurking negative polemic or an obvious adulation. Todd simply puts forth the big facts, and presents a balanced case from a Catholic perspective. If you’re looking for a Jerry Springer type of “shocker” or National Enquirer style of distorted facts, Todd’s book is not for you. If you’re level headed and you want to get a good overview of the big picture from well written books, then pick up John Todd’s offerings on Luther.

Todd does criticize Luther, for instance:

“…[Todd] blames [Luther] for having denied the Sacrifice of the Mass, for having deprived the sacraments of their objective character by repudiating the concept of the opus operatum, for having drawn from his doctrine of original sin, catholic in essence, a distinction without Scriptural foundation, for having approved the rise of an irrational fideism, and finally for having rejected the authority of Pope and Councils. On this last point, which played a large part in Luther's condemnation of Rome, Todd is careful to draw our attention to the pertinent fact that Catholicism held a different position in the sixteenth century from today; the authority of the Pope was not then regarded as necessarily instituted by God, and his relations with councils was still under discussion.”[Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1967, 67-68].

“[Todd] does full justice to Luther's innermost religious and theological intentions, while at the same time criticizing him for having denied the sacrifice of the mass, for having repudiated the objective nature of the sacraments, for having drawn non-biblical conclusions in his doctrine of original sin, for inaugurating a kind of irrational fideism, and for having rejected the authority of popes and councils. There is little in the book not already found elsewhere (in Rupp, for example, and in Lortz); nevertheless it is a valuable book to have at the present, issuing as it does from the pen of a sensitive and fair-minded lay historian of the Roman Catholic Church.” [James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 33].

Sippo says, “Luther was excommunicated and condemned by the Catholic Church as a heretic. You would never know that reading Todd.” Actually, what Todd does is put history in context. Todd argues that Rome was not able to address Luther constructively or helpfully on the 95 Theses. The Church was mired in abuse, and its theologians had no desire to hear from one Luther. If Catholics want to deal honestly with Luther, they have to take responsibility for the subterfuge that surrounded the 95 Theses. I appreciate the fact that Todd is not afraid to do. For this, I respect him and his work.

Art Sippo on Heinrich Denifle

Sippo says,

Fr. Denifle needs a little defending. He was an expert in medieval texts. When the 1893 celebration of Luther's birth was going on in Germany, Fr Denifle saw that the German Protestants were touting Luther as the founder of religious freedom and personal autonomy. Fr. Denifle was surprised though that they rarely quoted from Luther's works to that effect. He dug into the archives where only scholars had previously gone and he found evidence of Luther's intemperate personality, his intolerance, and his gross logical inconsistency in what he wrote. He also resurrected the complaints of many of Luther's contemporaries about the man's erratic behavior and his excesses. It is Fr. Denifle who brought these things to light and spurred on the more critical portrait of Luther that would emerge in the 20th Century from Fr. Grisar, Preserved Smith, Paul Reiter, Erik Ericsson, Marius, and Rix.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia states that Heinrich Denifle was one of the best Austrian Catholic preachers in the 1880’s, and “beloved by Leo XIII and Pius X.” He was also an accomplished scholar, with groundbreaking work on the relationship between scholastic theology and medieval mysticism. I was surprised to find Sippo so exuberant about his work on Luther. Here are some basic “Facts” about Denifle’s approach to Luther:

The evidence which Denfile presented [about Luther] was certainly impressive and his influence on anti-Lutheran writers has been continuous and considerable; but it had been marshaled in a distinctly slanted fashion He had, for instance, laid great stress on Luther's use of the word ‘concupiscentia', mistakeningly interpreting it as sexual lust. He quoted a phrase which Luther used in a letter to his wife, 'I gorge myself like a Bohemian and I get drunk like a German. God be praised. Amen', to suggest that he was a worldly man, but he did not note the context of the letter, a humorous one written to his wife when she was very worried by his poor appetite. He used a series of portraits in his first edition to show how the thin, ascetic scholar and monk became obese and unattractive; the last of his portraits, he noted, was surprisingly bestial', though the fact that it was made of the reformer after his death, and possibly after decomposition had set in, should have minimized his astonishment.”[ V.H.H. Green, Luther and the Reformation (New York: G.P.Putnum’s Sons, 1964) 193-195].

Denifle has grossly misrepresented [Luther] in identifying [Luther’s admitting of sins] with the lusts of the flesh, and his theory that the sensual tendency ultimately led him to a sense of moral bankruptcy and induced him to take refuge in the doctrine of justification by faith alone is utterly misleading. It is not shared by reasonable Roman Catholic writers like Kiefl, who have rightly discarded the theory of Denifle and his followers Grisar, Paquier, Cristiani as untenable.” [James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. I (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962), 105].

The bias of Denifle is overtly apparent. Catholic scholar Jared Wicks points out the immediate reaction to Denifle’s work from Catholic scholars:

Catholic university men in Germany were reserved about Denifle’s bombshell from Rome. Some coolly pointed out that a person so depraved as the Luther depicted by Denifle could not possibly have produced the literature that in fact changed the course of Christian history. It was lamented that the new documents Denifle presented would never lead to corrections of Lutheran views of Luther, since the Dominican had clothed his work in a vitriolic rhetoric repulsive to Lutherans.” [Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 18].

Joseph Lortz unmasks the link between Cochlaeus and Denifle, and clearly expresses that he purposefully has abandoned:

the evaluative categories of a Cochlaeus, … dominated [Catholic Luther studies] for over 400 years, and those of the great Denifle…. Gradually Catholics have come to recognize the Christian, and even Catholic, richness of Luther, and they are impressed. They now realize how great the Catholic guilt was that Luther was expelled from the Church to begin the division that burdens us so today--even in theology. Finally, we are anxious to draw Luther's richness back into the Church. ” [Jared Wicks (ed.) Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther (Loyola University Press, 1970), 6-7].

James Atkinson says, “Denifle's thesis has wreaked irreparable harm to the Catholic understanding of Luther, and has exercised an astonishing influence on Catholicism in general and on Catholic scholarship in particular, which one might have thought impervious to such impassioned and biased thinking.” [James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic , 11.].

Denifle’s attacks though did have this positive aspect: he forced Protestant scholars to do even greater research into Luther, particularly to reviewing the early years of Luther’s life and medieval scholasticism.

This ends part one of my response to Art Sippo's opinions on particular authors who have written on Martin Luther. One should be able to see what's going with Sippo's approach: Sippo maintains a 19th Century Roman Catholic approach to Luther. That negative polemical tradition has by and far been abandoned by Catholic historians.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Guest Blog: The Word Of The Lord Endures forever, Not The words Of Martin Luther!

By Frank Marron (Lutheran)

As a communicant member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, I can honestly say that the historic man Martin Luther is seldom quoted. On the other hand, the same verses rediscovered in the 16th century by the Augustinian monk Martin Luther are quoted frequently: Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 1:17, and Romans 5:8 - among others.

The legacy of Martin Luther that survives to this day is Sola Scriptura - Holy Scripture is the norm and basis for all Christian beliefs - not any historic personage. Roman Catholics, and others, are confused over this basic issue because of their unquestioning allegiance to another man - the pope. Consequently, Roman Catholics simply transfer their own thought processes to any Protestant by attacking the historic man Martin Luther. This is an error in their logic. Although I believe that Luther was used by God as an instrument, I also realize that he was a sinner like all men, in need of the Savior.

What Roman Catholics consistently fail at is recognizing that their church body stands accused of many heresies by the Word of God, not Martin Luther who was merely God's voice piece. This is the truth: all men and material things fade away but the Word of the Lord endures forever. As a Lutheran I believe we are still in the Reformation. The exact same fallacies and heresies confronted by Luther in the medieval church are alive and well in American Evangelicalism and elsewhere. Mankind can simply not believe the truth of God as spoken in His Word - primarily because of a confusion between Law and Gospel. All religions of the world are works righteousness oriented and have similarities. Only orthodox Christianity is the opposite of commonsense, maintaining that salvation is totally dependent upon the Grace of God from start to finish. This is so difficult for fallen man to comprehend, since even the spiritual discernment of this truth requires the Holy Spirit's enlightenment (1Cor. 2:14).

Monday, May 29, 2006

Catholic Apologist Art Sippo on Father O’Hare’s “Facts About Luther”

Ok, so I’m almost president of the Father O’Hare fan club at this point. I probably have written about The Facts About Luther more than anyone. No award waits for me I’m sure (Guinness Book of World Records has not yet contacted me).

Catholic apologist Art Sippo recently commented on The Facts About Luther over on the Planet Envoy boards. I found his comments interesting- and I plan on using them next time a zealous Catholic suggests this book as the definitive in Luther studies. Sippo says some accurate things,-mixed in with nonsense.

Sippo said,

Sadly the book "The Facts About Luther" was written in the mid-19th Century and while it is worth reading, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Some of the things it says about Luther are not accurate.”

"Luther gave a lecture on marriage. His notes did not survive but those of one of his students did. Based on that student's notes Luther was accused of some digusting[sic] teachings. It is considered by later historians that this was an inaccurate repesentation[sic] of what Luther taught. Consequently, later biographers did not mention it.

Fr. O'Hare also imputed to Luther certain base motives that I don't think he had. Luther was a bipolar manic-depressive who was virtually psychotic during his periods of mania. His madness was confused for many things during his lifetime including religious zeal, duplicity, fanatacism [sic], inconsistentcy[sic], and possession by the devil. Read Rix for a good discussion of this.

Luther did say some egregious things about marriage and sexuality such as his support for the bigamy of Philip of Hesse and his advice to a woman married to an infertile husband that she seek some willing relative or friend to impregnate her.

Generally, Fr. O'Hare's book is okay, but Rix is infinetly[sic] superior. Marius likewise gives a more accurate rendering of what Luther really acted like than Fr. O'Hare and of how he was perceived by his contemporaries.

I should also mention Fr. Hartmann Grisar's work Luther which is avaialble[sic] in both a five volume detailed study and a one volume condensed version.There is also the magisterial work of Fr. Heinrich Denifle whose 5 volume work Luther and Lutherdom set the standard for Catholic Lutehran[sic] scholarship. He wrote this in German and only one volume was ever translated into English.The works of Frs. Grisar and Denifle are hard to find but well worth reading."

First, I’d like to actually thank Mr. Sippo for not recommending Father O’Hare’s Facts About Luther. He is correct- “The book needs to be taken with a grain of salt” and “Some of the things it says about Luther are not accurate.” And yes, Sippo is correct, “Fr. O'Hare also imputed to Luther certain base motives that I don't think he had.”

Sippo makes a claim I’m not familiar with. He refers to a lecture on marriage given by Luther which was taken down by a student. Most of O’Hare citations on Luther’s view of marriage come from chapter 9. O’Hare draws from multiple sources, so I’m not sure which source he has in mind.

But Mr. Sippo also has made some errors here as well:

Father O’Hare’s book was not written in the “mid-nineteenth century.” The book came out in 1917. To my knowledge, O’Hare didn’t write it decades earlier in the 1800’s and then wait till 1917 to release it.

Perhaps the most outrageous claim from Sippo is “Luther was a bipolar manic-depressive who was virtually psychotic during his periods of mania. His madness was confused for many things during his lifetime including religious zeal, duplicity, fanatacism [sic], inconsistentcy[sic], and possession by the devil.” If there was ever an un-provable assertion, this is it- very reminiscent of Erik Erickson’s psychoanalysis of Luther in his book Young Man Luther (1958). Erickson’s work has been criticized for its poor use of the evidence- of making the “facts” prove 20th Century psychoanalysis rather than doing 16th Century history. Sippo’s claim is also reminiscent of the work done by Hartmann Grisar and Heinrich Denifle (two authors he recommends). I’ve tackled both of these writers here:*The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther(Part One)*

Grisar was a Jesuit historian who used Freudian psychology to arrive at the assessment that Luther was a monk obsessed with the lust of the flesh and a pathological manic-depressive personality. Luther’s view of justification by faith alone came from his own immorality—that in order to justify his loose life and to excuse his renunciation of the monastic ideal, Luther denied salvation with works. Luther was a neurasthenic and a psychopath. He sees him as the victim of bad heredity, a maladjusted misfit entering the monastic life because of some traumatic experience during a thunderstorm. Grisar argues that Luther was simply a neurotic man who spent his entire life unhappy and guilt-ridden.

Heinrich Denifle compiled some of the worst treatment of Luther ever written. He was a 19th Catholic scholar who held Luther was a fallen-away monk with unbridled lust, a theological ignoramus, an evil man, and used immorality to begin the Reformation. Denifle accuses Luther of buffoonery, hypocrisy, pride, ignorance, forgery, slander, pornography, vice, debauchery, drunkenness, seduction, corruption, and more: he is a lecher, knave, liar, blackguard, sot, and worse: he was infected with the venereal disease syphilis.

Luckily, the books are hard to track down. Grisar’s works can be found via used bookstores for a fairly reasonable price. Denifle though is nearly impossible to track down in English. Sippo says “Denifle whose 5 volume work Luther and Lutherdom set the standard for Catholic Lutehran[sic] scholarship.” This is simply not true. Denifle comes near the end of the destructive Luther scholarship started by Cochlaeus in the 16th Century. Generally, good Roman Catholic historians do not cite Denifle anymore. Even Grisar corrected Denifle on points.

But thanks Art for your comments on O'Hare's book. They will come in handy next time a zealous Catholic says "The best book on Luther is The Facts About Luther..."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Guest Blog: Law & Gospel

By Frank Marron (Lutheran)

Lutheranism maintains that the Holy Scriptures distinguish two ways God speaks to people – Law and Gospel. “Law” refers to the commands and will of God and is presented in a variety of ways, the most obvious being the 10 commandments. The “Gospel” is God’s communication with humanity whenever the emphasis is upon the actions of Him on behalf of mankind, the most obvious being the incarnation, perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as atonement for the sins of the entire world. Throughout the Scriptures the word “Law” often refers to the Penteteuch,or first 5 books of the bible, the “Torah”. When Jesus used the expression “the law and the prophets”(e.g. Matthew 22:40), this is the implication of the word. At other times “Law” refers to the 10 commandments specifically, or the will of God in general.

The Lutheran way of reading the Scriptures is that of a Christocentric approach: everything in the Holy Scriptures is somehow related to Jesus Christ, as substantiated by Christ Himself in the New Testament(e.g. Luke 24:25-27; John 5:39). Hence, even when someone who is relatively obscure in the Old Testament is mentioned, there is somehow a connection to the Christ. So when Rahab is mentioned in Joshua chapter 2, we see her significance primarily as an ancestor of Christ Himself in the flesh(Matthew 1:5).

Lutherans see the entire concept of “Law” in a three-fold way:

1. God’s curb on evil in society

2. God revealing sin to mankind

3. As a reminder of His will to believers

The first use of the “Law” in Scripture is best illustrated in Romans chapter 13, where Paul emphasizes that the civil authorities are God’s instrument for peace and stability in society. The primary reason for the necessity of this stability is to enable the preaching of the Gospel. The second use of the “Law” is to magnify the existence of sin in the heart of man. Although all men are born with a conscience( Romans 2:15), the will of God is often obscured and unclear throughout various cultures. Without the “Law”, mankind would be ignorant of the extent of his sinfulness and need for salvation(e.g. Romans 7:7-12; Galatians 3:23-24). The third use of “Law” is to always remind believers what the will of God is in specific areas. For example, a new believer may be unaware that abortion is murder and violates the will of God as specified in the fifth commandment. Also, new converts may not completely understand that when a man and woman live together outside of marriage, this violates the sixth commandment.

Perhaps the most instructive way to understand Law and Gospel is as follows:

There are two basic types of people:

1. those who live under the Law

2. those who live under the Gospel

As mentioned earlier, "Law" does not merely refer to "Torah", the first 5 biblical books, nor merely the 10 commandments, but the will of God as found throughout the Scriptures. Certain people read passages of Scripture as commands or prescriptions for their lives-these are those who live under the Law, thinking that what they do makes a difference to God as to their salvation. The same verses of Scripture read by a person living under the Gospel are seen as a description of his status before God on account of the finished work of Christ. What a difference it makes! Since all men are born under the Law, there is a natural tendency to view everything from this perspective. However, continued bible study, hearing the Word and receiving the Sacraments, enlightens the mind to give men freedom and true abundant life(John 10:10) . Hence, we are free to love our neighbor through good works, whereas living under the Law commands us to do so. We live out of being saved and adopted by God as his child, not in order to please Him.

A couple of examples might help. The person living under the Law would read John 3:16 as something he must do in order to be saved: he must believe in Christ.

John 3:16
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

Hence, this verse would be read as a command of God, His will, what we should do. On the other hand, the person living under the Gospel sees this verse as a PROMISE of God which he trusts. This man knows that he is already saved by the finished work of Christ and that the Holy Spirit has created that saving faith within Him miraculously through hearing the Word(Romans 10:17).

Living under the Gospel is such a comfort and assurance, whereas the man who continually lives under the Law is never positive about his relationship with God. The first epistle of John is chocked full of apparent contradictions to the man living under the Law. 1John 1:6 says the man who sins walks in darkness with no life; verse 2:4 says we need to keep His commandments, and 3:10 says we must practice righteousness. These are plain commands of God to the man living under the Law. However, the man living under the Gospel reads the entire context of John's letter, seeing in verse 1:9 that even though we will always sin, God is pleased with our confession of sin because it always appeals to His Beloved Son's sacrifice as atonement for such. Also, in 3:23 we see that God's true will for us is to believe in His Son. To the person living under the Gospel, although he still sins while in this mortal body, he is not proud of it and confesses it. This man knows that he automatically produces fruits of the Holy Spirit because he is grafted into the true vine(Christ-John 15), and a good tree automatically produces good fruit. This man lives a life of continual repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ. This man understands that as long as he lives in the world, there are two natures within him: the Old Adam, as described by Paul in Romans 8, and the New Creation referred to throughout Paul's letters(e.g. Gal 3:28; 2Cor 5:17). The Old Adam always sins and is also referred to as the “flesh”, while the New Creation never sins and automatically loves, trusts, and obeys God. Hence, John's first epistle remains contradictory and confusing until we realize that John is at one place chastising the Old Adam and at another praising the New Creation within each believer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Guest Blogger: Frank Marron (Lutheran)

From time to time I’d like to have some other voices take the helm. If you'd like to be involved- feel free to send me a testimony or a short essay at

I have greatly appreciated the writing and comments of Frank Marron. Frank has been stopping by this blog from the beginning, and I also dialoged with him on a Lutheran discussion board last year. His comments are always insightful and provocative. He has sent me a few articles that I plan on posting in the next few days.

Below is a short biography he gave on this blog earlier this week:

I was born and raised in a loving and devout Roman Catholic family. Today I am a communicant member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. As I reflect back on my life I recall many obstacles I encountered in leaving Roman Catholicism. In general these impediments were unfounded fear of the unknown: I knew that Protestants believed in Christ but somehow lacked the “fullness” or more complete revelations of Christian faith. I looked upon the many and various facets of Roman Catholicism, such as the heavy emphasis upon the long traditions of the church, reverence for past saints, the beautiful liturgical services, etc….

The break with Roman Catholicism started when my young wife and I requested our youngest child be baptized. The young priest insulted us unknowingly by saying that members of his congregation would have to testify that we were not degenerates! To a young couple this was a total insult. Eventually we attended a Lutheran Church and began reading the bible. Over time the Word of God began to change our perspectives and thoughts – from looking outward at the church to looking inward at our sin and need for a Savior. Through the Word of God we became Christocentric rather than church-centered.

It took time for my personal viewpoints on the virgin Mary to change. For the longest time I simply could not come to believe that Mary, although special in view of her child-the Christ, was similar to all human beings-a sinner in need of the Savior. Eventually my views on Mary changed and were also conformed by the Word of God to that of Christ-centered theological beliefs. But it took time.

Looking back over the years, I liken this change to a person who has been deprogrammed from a cult. My initial reactions were those of tremendous animosity at having been deceived for so many years. Eventually my attitude mellowed and now I look at my Roman Catholic family and friends as fellow Christians, but carrying heavy baggage with them in the form of false teachings and myths and legends.

As a Lutheran, I consider myself catholic, in the historic sense of that word. All the beautiful liturgy and history of the church is part of my inheritance. As my Lutheran Confessions state, I am a member of the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints. Although the similarities with Roman Catholicism exist, such as vestments, liturgies, infant baptism, the True Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, confession and absolution, the differences are striking. I am not a Protestant in the normal sense of the word. I am a Lutheran, an Evangelical Catholic. As Martin Luther and his fellow Reformers of the 16th century believed, we have retained the beautiful traditions and practices of the historic Christian Church and have eliminated only those contrary to Holy Scripture. We did not “throw out the baby with the bath water”.

Although the Roman Catholic Church has the Gospel and sacraments, the incorporation of many unscriptural practices and beliefs has often clouded the Word ofGod, resulting in a confusion between Law and Gospel. From my Lutheran perspective, the failure to properly distinguish between Law and Gospel is the primary reason for disagreements between Christians in general, resulting in a weakening of assurance.

-Frank Marron

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Exposed: Melanchthon Advocated The Death Penalty

"So keep challenging, my Protestant friends, and I will keep proving my assertions more and more strongly, with more and more sources. If that is what you desire, go ahead, and keep questioning both my stated facts and even (also almost invariably) my motivations for why I do these things."- 

A Detective Catholic Apologist has exposed even more damning evidence against Lutheran reformer Philip Melanchthon. This time, he’s uncovered the often suppressed fact that Melanchthon advocated “the death penalty for denial of the Eucharistic real presence and his later crypto Calvinist Eucharistic positions.”

He says his intent this time is to prove his point to an Anglican friend who challenged him. He does though link to his earlier magnum opus, The Protestant Inquisition, Reformation Intolerance and Persecution. - the link contains extensive, blood curdling documentation on the intolerance of people who lived in the 16th Century. I’m sure most of you will be shocked to find out that Protestants in the 16th Century were…. intolerant.
I’m sure this will greatly trouble Lutherans everywhere: a 16th Century man advocated the death penalty for theological reasons. It sounds so hard to believe that a person born in the 16th Century would think something so, medieval.

So after reading these links, I’m sure many of you will be leaving your Protestant churches, to join the “Give Peace A Chance” Roman Catholic Church- A Church with a long history of peace, love, and respect for human being everywhere.

Assumption About the Assumption, In Action.

A recent discussion I’ve been in shows definite “assumptions about the Assumption”- that is, belief in the Assumption rests on faith and private interpretation rather than Biblical proof and historical confirmation. Recall, Pope Gelasius condemned the earliest books that speak of Mary’s Assumption. A Roman Catholic said:

Gelasius condemned books, not necessarily specific doctrines, in the Decretum. That's the point. The books were apocryphal because they had dubious origins and authorship. And like most apocryphal writings, they contained some truth and some error.”

And then later:

You're asking me why someone would decree certain books to be apocryphal? Do you agree that the Deuterocanonicals have some truth in them - yet you consider them to be apocryphal? Now I could turn around and cherry pick any doctrine out of them (as Mr. Swan has done) and claim that it was that particular doctrine was the reason why you declared them apocryphal. Now do you see the flaw in that method?"

At least, Gelasius had the benefit of the 27-book New Testament which contained the testimony of eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Could it be, Gelasius had a rule of faith- the 27 book New Testament which contained the writings of eyewitnesses by which to judge purported New Testament books? It must have been something to this effect, unless Roman Catholics want to hold God simply told Gelasius certain books were not to be accepted. Recall though in the decree of Gelasius he sets forth a list of “accepted books’.

Does one find the teaching of Mary's Assumption in the New Testament? No. What about in the writings of the Church Fathers previous to Gelasius? No. What about in the authentic piety of decreed Roman Catholic festivals and observances? No.

So in the Bible, in the writings of the Church Fathers previous to Gelasius, and in the authentic decreed piety of the Roman Catholic Church, the doctrine of the Assumption is non-existant.

But yet this Roman Catholic says that Gelasius didn't condemn the Assumption when he condemned the Transitus Beatae Mariae of Pseudo–Melito. Well, on what basis could Gelasius have affirmed the Assumption? History shows no basis- not the Bible, not the writings of the ECF's, nor in official piety and festivals of the Roman Catholic Church.

This Roman Catholic’s point rests on two foundations:

1) Faith. He begins with the belief that the Assumption is a fact, so no amount of evidence showing it isn't will change his mind.

2) Private interpretation. When reading the decree of Gelasius, This Catholic invokes what Roman Catholics abhor: private interpretation. He interprets the decree to mean what it needs to mean in order for the Assumption to remain a 'fact' in his theological worldview. He’s not alone in this. Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis does the same thing, by use of his private interpretation he speculates the books were condemned because they gave “conflicting accounts” of the true fact of Mary’s Assumption.

Now, I grant that no amount of evidence will convince this roman Catholic that Gelasius condemned Mary’s assumption, and that no “tradition” of Mary’s Assumption was given by the apostles (the earliest ‘tradition’ suggests no one ‘knows’ what happened to Mary). I grant that the few wires he’s able to cross in his own theological electrical system gets him off the hook and allows his theological worldview to keep churning along like a car that needs a complete overhaul. But Roman Catholics should stop for a moment and consider the facts and logic I’ve just presented. Then read the condemnation by Gelasius. Then take into consideration this statement from William Webster:

"In 494 to 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius issued a decree entitled Decretum de Libris Canonicis Ecclesiasticis et Apocryphis. This decree officially set forth the writings which were considered to be canonical and those which were apocryphal and were to be rejected. He gives a list of apocryphal writings and makes the following statement regarding them:

The remaining writings which have been compiled or been recognised by heretics or schismatics the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church does not in any way receive; of these we have thought it right to cite below some which have been handed down and which are to be avoided by catholics (New Testament Apocrypha, Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed. (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1991), p. 38).

In the list of apocryphal writings which are to be rejected Gelasius signifies the following work: Liber qui apellatur Transitus, id est Assumptio Sanctae Mariae, Apocryphus (Pope Gelasius 1, Epistle 42, Migne Series, M.P.L. vol. 59, Col. 162). This specifically means the Transitus writing of the assumption of Mary. At the end of the decree he states that this and all the other listed literature is heretical and that their authors and teachings and all who adhere to them are condemned and placed under eternal anathema which is indissoluble. And he places the Transitus literature in the same category as the heretics and writings of Arius, Simon Magus, Marcion, Apollinaris, Valentinus and Pelagius.


Pope Gelasius explicitly condemns the authors as well as their writings and the teachings which they promote and all who follow them. And significantly, this entire decree and its condemnation was reaffirmed by Pope Hormisdas in the sixth century around A.D. 520. (Migne Vol. 62. Col. 537-542). These facts prove that the early Church viewed the assumption teaching, not as a legitimate expression of the pious belief of the faithful but as a heresy worthy of condemnation."

Source: William Webster, The Assumption of Mary

Of course, this appeal was denied by the Catholic I was discussing this issue with:

"Mr. Swan, I can be convinced. All you have to do is produce a magisterial document from the Roman synod of 494 A.D. that condemns Mary's Assumption. I will help you: look for a document that contains some kind of a formal statement or declaration along these lines: "If anyone says that the Mother of Our Lord was assumed bodily into heaven, or says that The Blessed Mother did not undergo the bodily corruption that is the destiny of all created beings, let him be anathema."My fictitious example here is the way formal doctrinal condemnations come in the Catholic Church. They do not come by way of routine blanket declarations regarding apocryphal literature like the Decretum Gelasianum. The fact is, you will never be able to produce an authentic magisterial document that contains the preceding statement, because such a document does not exist. The only thing you could do is used the one I just wrote and present it as authentic. But that wouldn't convince me either."

The books condmend by Gelasisus were condemned for what the taught, as well as their dubious origins: Gelasius says,

"These and the like, what Simon Magus, Nicolaus, Cerinthus, Marcion, Basilides, Ebion, Paul of Samosata, Photinus and Bonosus, who suffered from similar error, also Montanus with his detestable followers, Apollinaris, Valentinus the Manichaean, Faustus the African, Sabellius, Arius, Macedonius, Eunomius, Novatus, Sabbatius, Calistus, Donatus, Eustasius, Iovianus, Pelagius, Iulianus of ERclanum, Caelestius, Maximian, Priscillian from Spain, Nestorius of Constantinople, Maximus the Cynic, Lampetius,Dioscorus, Eutyches, Peter and the other Peter, of whom one besmirched Alexandria and the other Antioch, Acacius of Constantinople with his associates, and what also all disciples of heresy and of the heretics and schismatics, whose names we have scarcely preserved, have taught or compiled, we acknowledge is to be not merely rejected but excluded from the whole Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church and with its authors and the adherents of its authors to be damned in the inextricable shackles of anathema forever (New Testament Apocrypha, Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Ed., (Cambridge: James Clark, 1991)."

Big Question time: This Catholic claims that the Transitus material contained truth and error mixed together: "like most apocryphal writings, they contained some truth and some error." and also:

"Pope Gelasius rightly condemned this writing because it was obviously fictional, NOT because it contained an account of Mary's assumption, which it does. After all, other apocryphal writings condemned by early popes contain accounts of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Does that mean the popes rejected the idea of the resurrection and ascension of Christ? No. It just means that errors and fabrications are usually mixed with truth in apocryphal writings."

I'll grant that apocryphal material can contain elements of truth. We could go through one of the stories on Mary's Assumption together and take a look. Now, since Gelasius in notes that the teaching of the Transitus material is condemned as well, can he show which standard Gelasius used as his rule of faith? Can he show which rule of faith he uses to determine what is true or false in the condemned book?Most importantly, show me which rule, or rules of faith Gelasius used. If he says it was "Tradition" that allowed him to affirm the Assumption in this material, show me that "Tradition." Show me something, please, anything historical that will prove the Assumption was a true belief at the time of the condemnation of Gelasius.

What he's asking me to grant is that a "tradition" of the Assumption exisited, Galasius knew it, and did not judge the Assumption in the transitus literature as heretical. All he needs to do is produce that "standard". Unless he does this, I can only conclude that Gelasius had a 27 book New Testament by which to judge truth from error by.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Assumptions About The Assumption #4

Does the Feast of the Assumption of Mary prove the early church believed in the Assumption?

Some Roman Catholics say the condemnation issued by Pope Gelasius of the early apocryphal literature about Mary’s Assumption was not a denial of the Assumption per se, but rather a condemnation of other spurious material contained in these books. I examined this argument here. Related to this is the following question:

“If Pope Gelasius really was condemning The Assumption, why was the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary allowed to be celebrated in the church?” This feast was being celebrated around the same time Pope Gelasius condemned the apocryphal writings containing the story of Mary’s Assumption (495 AD). Indeed, it does seem rather strange that Gelasius would allow a “Feast of the Assumption” but not a doctrine of the Assumption. The Catholic Encyclopedia verifies that the Feast was celebrated around the time of the condemnation byGelasius:

According to the life of St. Theodosius (d. 529) it was celebrated in Palestine before the year 500, probably in August. In Egypt and Arabia, however, it was kept in January, and since the monks of Gaul adopted many usages from the Egyptian monks, we find this feast in Gaul in the sixth century, in January . The Gallican Liturgy has it on the 18th of January, under the title: Depositio, Assumptio, or Festivitas S. Mariae. This custom was kept up in the Gallican Church to the time of the introduction of the Roman rite. In the Greek Church, it seems, some kept this feast in January, with the monks of Egypt; others in August, with those of Palestine; wherefore the Emperor Maurice (d. 602), if the account of the "Liber Pontificalis" (II, 508) be correct, set the feast for the Greek Empire on 15 August.”

Well, this is only one Marian feast day of many. After the second half of the sixth century the organization of the Marian festivals was complete. Those having to do with her “person” came later than the earlier ones that focused on her role in the biblical narrative.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes of the Assumption Feast, “Regarding the origin of the feast we are also uncertain. It is more probably the anniversary of the dedication of some church than the actual anniversary of Our Lady's death.” Note, “Our Lady’s death.” The festival said to celebrate her “Assumption” was more likely originally a celebration of a church dedication , but note also the other less likely option: her death, or her “passing over” or her “falling asleep” (koimesis). The festival probably first celebrated the day of her death, because death was viewed as the day of birth to the true heavenly life. That’s why the celebrations of particular Martyrs were celebrated on their death day. That word "koimesis" is used by Epiphanius:

If the Holy virgin died and was buried, her falling asleep (koimesis) was surrounded with honor. Death found her pure and her crown is in her virginity. If she was killed- according to Luke 2:35- she is glorified among the martyrs and her holy body is blessed by which the light shone forth upon the world. Or whether she continued in life here, because nothing is impossible to God…No one knows her end.”

Source: Epiphanius, Panarion 78, 11 (as cited by Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary: The Roman Catholic Marian Doctrine (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1955), 85).

The Assumption feast evolved. Initially, the object of the feast was the blessed death of Mary, or her transition of her soul to heaven. As Meigge explains,

The actual title of the Assumption (feast) does not necessarily mean the resurrection of the body or its elevation to heaven. The most ancient liturgical formulae maintain a wise reserve in regard to this, confining themselves to the statement- as does the Gregorian Sacramentary- that the holy Mother of God ‘underwent bodily death but could not be held by the chains of death’."

Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary: The Roman Catholic Marian Doctrine (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1955), 95.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Exposed:Philip Melanchthon's "Strong Enthusiasm For Astrology"

A Catholic apologist has uncovered the long hidden fact that Philip Melanchthon, one of the chief figures of the 16th century Protestant Reformation had “strong enthusiasm for astrology.” He does this because he’s trying “to show the true nature of these "reformer's" beliefs, in all of their flying colors. Truth is always more interesting than pseudo-hagiography and myths of origins.”

As you may or may not know, Protestant historians have an “Opus Dei” like conspiracy to keep information like this hidden- they decided long ago to keep damning information like this away from the general mass of Kool-aid-drinking-protestants. Secret meetings have been held throughout the centuries in which Protestant scholars meet together and swear their allegiance to putting forth the myth of the Reformation. Keeping Protestant laymen ignorant of their real history keeps them from joining God’s “True Church.” Luckily, the work of brave Catholic apologists helps to continually crack the “Reformation Code”.

Yes, it is true, Melanchthon was quite the astrologer. When I learned this, I almost instantly abandoned the Reformation and joined the Roman Catholic Church. I had been misled by Protestant historians to view Melanchthon as a complex man, with flaws and faults, but also a man who produced great work in a volatile time. Helpfully, a Catholic apologist popped that bubble for me also.He also noted of Melanchthon:

As for Melanchthon's "complexity": yes, he sure was: a mild-mannered humanist who was too much of a wimp to even stand up to his friend Luther, yet who was in favor of killing peaceful Anabaptists, those who rejected the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (the very belief that he himself later came to hold!), and those who held that some heathen might be saved. He described the Calvin-instigated burning of Michael Servetus as "'a pious and memorable example to all posterity." A very complex man indeed: and typical of the first generation of Protestants: not exactly renowned for their exceptional holiness, doctrinal orthodoxy or religious toleration . . .”

Wow- I had to do some real soul searching when I read this real history of Melanchthon! This short paragraph really sums up Melanchthon, doesn't it? I was so blind by following and (probably) worshipping the early Reformers! For instance, in one of those “auntie-Catholic” truth hiding long biographies of Melanchthon I wasted my money buying, one Protestant author attempted to do damage control on the dark secret of Melanchthon’s astrology:

The paradoxical sixteenth century was an age of criticism. It questioned history, theology, ecclesiasticism, and culture. It was an age of learning, with many strains of culture mingling to produce the foundations of modern life; but it was also an age of superstition, with its books of fantasy, sorcery, astrology, and demonology. Humanism was the great tool of this critical age, but humanism was also used to preserve the past. Some of the most educated men were the most morbidly scrupulous. None of the great leaders of the age escaped this aspect of the dark past. A large circle of astrologers surrounded Pope Paul III. Kepler included astrological predictions in his calendar of 1594 and became court astrologer under Kaiser Rudolf II. The founding of the Wittenberg University was delayed until a favorable astrological moment presented itself, and the first rector, Martin Polich of Mellerstadt, was the author of many annual star predictions. Those who did not accept astrology nevertheless had their dreams, and devils, and angelologies. Records show that a large circle of the best scholars of the time were directly associated with Melanchthon in pursuing astrology [footnote #5: Hieronymous Wolf, Camerarius, Achilles Gassar, Vitus Amerbach, Johannes Homelius, J. Schoner, J. Heller, David Chytraeus, Joachim Cureus, Herman Witekind, Jacob Milich, and Caspar Peucer]."

Source: Clyde Manschreck, Melanchthon The Quiet Reformer (New York: Abingdon Press, 1958),103.

Can you just see the historical Protestant kool- aid being dolled out here? This Protestant historian is trying to whitewash the evidence of Melanchthon’s devious astrological bent by placing the reformer in a historical context! As if this excuses such an attribute of Melanchthon! Further, in his bent against the Roman Catholic Church, this Protestant author had the audacity to print the probable lie that a Pope of the “true Church” himself had astrologers! Of course, the astrologers were probably placed there by the government or something- it’s impossible that the man sitting in the chair of Peter could believe in astrology!

This same spin-author goes on to suggest that Melanchthon considered systematized astrology a “science.” Imagine, a medieval humanist believing that astrology was something to scrutinize as a Science! The author then lists a whole bunch of humanists who thought the same thing! Gosh, these guys were silly. Why couldn’t these guys be as informed as we are in the year 2006? Surely that silly idea of historical anachronism doesn’t apply. I expect these guys should have been just as informed as we are. They shouldn’t have been so medieval.

The same “spin doctor” Protestant author points out:

Astrology, dreams, and omens were a part of Melanchthon’s inheritance, a legacy which he did not transcend. He inherited some of his religious nature from his father, who was unusually pious and god-fearing, but also superstitious about such things as astrology, for he had Phillip’s horoscope read. Melanchthon’s tendency toward astrology might be analyzed as an attachment to his father. Philip was also greatly influenced by his uncle Reuchlin, who, in spite of the fact that he criticized alchemy and astrology as magical arts of the devil, was strongly attached to the cabala. Reuchlin sought to find in Jewish words and numbers the secret depths of religion. Even enlightened, critical humanism was not without its Aberglaube. Renaissance popes Julius II and Paul III honored astrology, and chairs of astrology were actually established in many universities. Almost every court had its astrologer.”

Source: Clyde Manschreck, Melanchthon The Quiet Reformer (New York: Abingdon Press, 1958),110-112.

Here is yet more spin to try to dismiss the facts about Melanchthon. Now the author tries to blame Melanchthon’s father and relatives! Look what’s going on here- this spin-author is trying to put forth a historical context simply to dismiss the facts. Protestant Reformation authors will do anything to cover up the truth! Then, as a last blast of anti-Catholicism, the author again seeks to slander the Papacy by pointing out Popes Julius II and Paul III honored astrology. Look at the depths of deception this writer will sink to.

So after learning the awful truth about Melanchthon’s devotion to astrology, why do I remain a Protestant? Well, it’s because I’m an “auntie- Catholic”. But don’t worry, DA has found me out. He notes that I “misrepresent Catholic theology with ridiculous whoppers”, and that my writing is in some instances “absurd” and “filled with many elementary errors about Catholic doctrine.” But, hopefully with his continued historical research into the Reformation, many of you will be spared from my absurdities and errors.

***Addendum*** Catholic Apologetics Wonders Never Cease*******

Ah, some Catholic apologists never ceases to amaze me. He visited this blog entry and snatched (or perhaps "hijacked") the two quotes I utilized from Clyde Manschreck's book, Melanchthon The Quiet Reformer (New York: Abingdon Press, 1958). This is humorous because due to his "self imposed" resolution won't directly respond to me, but yet taking the information I provided and synthesizing it into his own material is fine and dandy.

He says of these quotes:

"many thanks to amateur Luther historian James Swan for kindly transcribing this material."

Well, perhaps someone reading his blog will benefit from these quotes. Perhaps his readers will be able to extract what I tried to say jokingly in this blog post: history must be presented in a historical context. DA's original entry did nothing to set the record straight. It was simply an example of "shock" apologetics, similar in nature to those out-dated polemics used by Father Patrick O'Hare.

DA mentions in his blog back comments:
"It's the anti-Catholics who need to be confronted with their "historical hypocrisy" and highly selective, warped presentations of Church history. They can do with this material what they will. It's out there now (all I did was collect stuff from the Internet and a little bit from books not online), and I believe the more facts we know about anything, the better we are informed, in order to take an educated, intelligent position, whichever way we come down on things."

Indeed, confront me. Hopefully you're now better informed by the material I posted here which you hijacked and used on your blog.

Assumptions About The Assumption #3

Why Did Pope Gelasius Condemn Apocryphal Stories About Mary's assumption?

Condemned apocryphal material is the earliest historical substantiation for Mary's bodily assumption. the Transitus Beatae Mariae of Pseudo–Melito’ dates from the end of the fifth century. Giovanni Miegge gives an excellent summation of the story contained in this material, which i've quoted in detail:

After the death of Jesus, Mary stayed for twenty-two years in the home of John's relatives, which was close to the Mount of Olives. One day as she was praying to be reunited with her Son, an angel appeared to her who gave her a palm from God's paradise, telling her to carry it to her bier because in three days she would be dead. Mary asked to be attended by the twelve apostles in that supreme moment. The angel vanished, Mary dressed herself in her festal clothes, took the palm and went to the Mount of Olives. There she addressed a prayer to Jesus asking to be saved from the assaults of the infernal powers during her passage. Then she returned home.

In that same instant the apostle John, who had been caught up by a cloud at Ephesus as he was praying, appears on the threshold. Then all the other apostles similarly caught up and carried find themselves at Mary's door to the amazement of all. Paul also is there and Peter invites him to offer a prayer to God in the name of all that He will make His will known. But Paul demurs, declaring the primacy of Peter. (The writing of Pseudo-Melito is Latin.) The apostles are pleased with the humility of Paul. Peter prays and as he says "Amen" the apostle John comes out of the house where Mary has told her vision. All go in. Mary tells the apostles that the Lord has sent them to comfort her in the anguish of the last passage and asks them to watch.

The three days pass in devout converse and prayers. At the third hour of the day all those present in the house fall into a deep sleep except the apostles and the three virgins who are attending Mary. Jesus appears with a multitude of angels and asks Mary to come with Him into the rest of eternal life. Mary repeats her desire not to see the infernal spirits and Jesus tells her that He has had to bear their assault on the cross and that she too will see them, for such is the condition of humanity, but the demons can do nothing to her and she will be defended by the hosts of heaven. Then the Holy Virgin lies down upon her bed and renders up her spirit while the apostles see a dazzling light. Jesus entrusts her soul to the archangel Michael, prefect of paradise and head of the Hebrew nation, and orders the apostles to bury her body. While the heavenly train mounts to the supernal regions the virgins prepare Mary for the funeral.

She has turned white as a lily and from her comes a perfume of incomparable sweetness. Then the funeral cortege starts on its way, preceded by John who carries the heavenly palm in his hand. The coffin is carried by Peter and Paul, the former at the head, the latter at the foot. All sing, In exitu Israel de Egypto, alleluia! A crown of light appears on the coffin and the angels sing with surpassing sweetness.

At the sound of the heavenly music a multitude of fifteen thousand people comes together, for the Jews have sworn to burn Mary's body. One of them, the chief priest, filled with fury, flings himself upon the coffin to overturn it. But the hands and forearm of the evil man become shriveled and he remains fastened to the bier. The cortege goes on while the Jew leaps up and down howling with pain. The other Jews cannot come to his help because they are blinded by the angels. Finally Peter tells the Jew that if he will confess Jesus Christ he will be healed. He not only confesses but eloquently praises Jesus Christ, with quotations from the books of Moses. Then, recovered, he receives from Peter the heavenly palm carried by John and is told to go back into the city and preach to those who have been made blind. Those who will confess Christ will be healed and the others will stay blind. And so it comes to pass.

Meanwhile the apostles, having come into the valley of Jehoshaphat to the place the Lord showed them, place Mary in a new tomb and seat themselves at its entrance. And then, unexpectedly, the Lord Jesus comes down from heaven with an innumerable company of shining angels. He greets the apostles, "Peace be with you." They answer, "Let thy mercybe upon us, 0 Lord, as our hope is in thee." Then Jesus, reminding them that according to His promise they will sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel, asks them to decide what Mary's future is to be. Peter answers for all, "Lord, thou hast chosen her, thy servant, that thy dwelling should be immaculate. As for us, thy poor servants, thou hast taken us into thy service. From all eternity Thou knowest all things, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, with whom Thou art one divinity only, a power equal and infinite. Here, then, is what has seemed right to us Thy servants: as Thou dost reign in glory after having conquered death, so let the body of Thy Mother be given life again and be brought with Thee into celestial joy." Jesus said, "Let it be according to thy word." He orders Michael to take the soul of Mary. The archangel Gabriel opens the sepulchre, Mary emerges from the tomb and embraces Jesus, who gives her into the care of the angels who carry her into paradise. Then Jesus embraces the apostles and disappears caught up by a cloud. Other clouds carry the apostles away to their fields of work

Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 86-88.

Stories like these about Mary’s death and Assumption were specifically condemned by Pope Gelasius. What’s ironic, is that Roman Catholics argue for the validity of the Assumption in these condemned stories (in a roundabout way). For example, note the response of Robert Sungenis to this material presented by James White:

James White: “Roman historians admit that the first historical reference to the concept [of Mary’s Assumption] is not found in orthodox Christian writings, but in the writings of heretics, specifically, in the Transitus literature of the late fifth century. This literature was condemned as heretical by the bishop of Rome, Gelasius, in A.D. 495.”

Robert Sungenis: Dr. White also tries to cast doubt on the viability of Mary's Assumption by referring to the Transitus Mariae (Passage of Mary) documents of Pseudo-Melito. Granted, in the Decretum Gelasianum, Gelasius rejected these documents, since some of them contained fanciful stories similar to other apocryphal literature. But that is not the issue at stake here. The issue is that these documents show a undying concern with the Assumption of Mary in the early church, since the Transitus Mariae documents have been dated as early as the second or third century. The interesting fact that Dr. White does not reveal about the Transitus Mariae is that much of it claimed that Mary had actually died and was not assumed into heaven. Perhaps this was why it was rejected by Gelasius, either because it denied the Assumption, or because its contents contained conflicting accounts of what occurred."

Source: Answering James White on the Bodily Assumption of Our Lady

I don’t know exactly what Sungenis means when he claims much of the Transitus Mariae claims Mary actually died and was not assumed into Heaven. The stories I have read all contain some version, though differing in details on Mary’s death and Assumption. Sungenis speculates it may have been the “conflicting accounts”. But yet, Gelasius never says this. Here we find Catholic private interpretation telling us what the condemnation means.

Along these lines is an interpretation offered to me by a Catholic layman:

Pope Gelasius rightly condemned this writing because it was obviously fictional, NOT because it contained an account of Mary's assumption, which it does. After all, other apocryphal writings condemned by early popes contain accounts of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Does that mean the popes rejected the idea of the resurrection and ascension of Christ? No. It just means that errors and fabrications are usually mixed with truth in apocryphal writings.”

This response differs from that given by Sungenis, though one thing is consistent- it is again the private interpretation of a Roman Catholic layman. First, its essential to see exactly what was said in the condemnation by Gelasius. Here is the relevant section:

The remaining writings which have been compiled or been recognized by heretics or schismatics the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church does not in any way receive; of these we have thought it right to cite below a few which have been handed down and which are to be avoided by Catholics:


the book which is called the Assumption of holy Mary


These and those similar ones, which Simon Magus, Nicolaus, Cerinthus, Marcion, Basilides, Ebion, Paul of Samosata, Photinus and Bonosus, who suffered from similar error, also Montanus with his obscene followers, Apollinaris, Valentinus the Manichaean, Faustus the African, Sabellius, Arius, Macedonius, Eunomius, Novatus, Sabbatius, Calistus, Donatus, Eustasius, Jovianus, Pelagius, Julian of Eclanum, Caelestius, Maximian, Priscillian from Spain, Nestorius of Constantinople, Maximus the Cynic, Lampetius, Dioscorus, Eutyches, Peter and the other Peter, of whom one disgraced Alexandria and the other Antioch, Acacius of Constantinople with his associates, and what also all disciples of heresy and of the heretics and schismatics, whose names we have scarcely preserved, have taught or compiled, we acknowledge is to be not merely rejected but eliminated from the whole Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church and with their authors and the followers of its authors to be damned in the inextricable shackles of anathema forever.”

Now, let's apply the Roman Catholic reasoning offered above. I don’t find anything in the above where Gelasius says,

“I reject the book about Mary’s assumption because it’s obviously fictional.”

“Mary’s bodily assumption is true, but the book is rejected for other reasons.”

“The book about Mary’s assumption contains some true statements, these we accept, and the false statements we reject.”

In order to grant the validity of the reasoning, one has to have some knowledge as to what content provoked the pope to condemn Transitus Mariae. So far, the reasoning given is speculation in the guise of absolute knowledge. Do they have any evidence to back up their arguments? Do they have some other writing from Pope Gelasius in which he explains in greater detail why he rejected particular books?

Let me counter speculate: The statement from the decree says, the “...Apostolic Roman Church does not in any way receive” the book Transitus Mariae. It also says that he who wrote it “we acknowledge is to be not merely rejected but eliminated from the whole Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church and with their authors and the followers of its authors to be damned in the inextricable shackles of anathema forever.” Now, this decree isn’t fooling around. Whatever was taught in the book “The Assumption of Mary” must have really ticked off Gelasius.

Since there is no counter-evidence to suggest that the early church taught and believed in Mary’s assumption, it is probably more likely that the Pope was calling the Assumption a heresy by his above condemnation. I think the evidence points to the notion that Mary’s Assumption was being condemned by Gelasius, simply because the church had never believed in Mary’s Assumption. The earliest church fathers say “no one knows what happened to Mary.” This is much different from “We know Mary was Assumed”- which they did not say.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Even I get caught up in stories of defections.

Over on a Lutheran discussion board, a guy announced he was "defecting back to Calvinism". You can read it here:

These are always interesting to read. I could probably post a Lutheran response:

"You mean, you're going to embrace a false view of the Eucharist?" "You're going to embrace the heresy of limited atonement?"

These seem to be the issues that Lutherans dwell on. In the first, Calvinists and Lutherans should at least agree to disagree. In the second, Lutherans should at least read up on the Reformed perspective on limited atonment before speaking about it negatively. In other words, go out and get a few books from actual Reformed authors. Read their points and be prepared to know what you're talking about.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Assumptions About The Assumption #2

If the Assumption is not true, then where is Mary’s tomb?” This question was offered to me once in support of the Assumption. This is a dangerous way to argue for the truth one's beliefs. The corrupt/bogus practice of gathering alleged relics exploded during the 16th Century. Such things like pieces of the cross and drops of the Virgin Mary's milk became objects of great idolatry. Calvin said once,

"St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin has a whole body at Apt in Provence, and another at Notre Dame-de-lille in Julich, and a third in a tower named after her in Thuringia. I shall not speak of her other relics shown in more than a hundred different places."

Perhaps St. Anne was given the gift of ubiquity! But what of the question, "Then where is Mary's historical tomb?"- This method of determining truth says in effect, that if a relic or tomb has been historically said to exist, it therefore verifies the truth about the Assumption, one way or another. Since no historical reference to Mary's tomb has surfaced, Mary was bodily assumed. But I have found a reference to Mary's tomb. In his book The Virgin Mary, the historian Giovanni Meigge wrote,

"She [Mary] departed life humbly and modestly as she had lived it, and none remembered the place of her burial, even if a tradition toward the mid-fifth century gave her a sepulcher near Jerusalem in the Garden of Gethsemane."

Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 85.

Miegge’s book details the growth of the “cult of Mary” and its impact on such things like the Assumption. I find it curious that a “tradition” gave Mary a sepulcher!Now, I would posit it probably wasn't really Mary's tomb- but who knows? Tradition is saying it- and "Tradition" says a lot of curious things- some silly, some contradictory, and some which may be the truth, or have a kernal of truth- but verifying its claims is not the easiest task.

It seems to me that early church history didn’t know what to do about the death of Mary. For instance, the words of Epiphanius contradict the idea of a long held belief in the Assumption. Epiphanius notes another "tradition" that no one knows what happened to Mary. His is the earliest non-heretical voice that comments on the subject of Mary's bodily assumption, around 377:

But if some think us mistaken, let them search the Scriptures. They will not find Mary’s death; they will not find whether she died or did not die; they will not find whether she was buried or was not buried ... Scripture is absolutely silent (on the end of Mary) ... For my own part, I do not dare to speak, but I keep my own thoughts and I practice silence ... The fact is, Scripture has outstripped the human mind and left uncertain ... Did she die, we do not know ... Either the holy Virgin died and was buried ... Or she was killed ... Or she remained alive, since nothing is impossible with God and He can do whatever He desires; for her end no-one knows.’" (Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 78.10-11, 23. Cited by juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed., Mariology, Vol. II (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1957), pp. 139-40).”

William Webster has rightly pointed out:

For centuries in the early Church there is complete silence regarding Mary’s end. The first mention of it is by Epiphanius in 377 A.D. and he specifically states that no one knows what actually happened to Mary. He lived near Palestine and if there were, in fact, a tradition in the Church generally believed and taught he would have affirmed it. But he clearly states that ‘her end no one knows.”

In addition to Epiphanius, there is Jerome who also lived in Palestine and does not report any tradition of an assumption. Isidore of Seville, in the seventh century, echoes Epiphanius by saying that no one has any information at all about Mary’s death. The patristic testimony is therefore non-existent on this subject.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Humor of

Ok- spams my e-mail. Of course, they know i'm a sucker for books. This one though I found funny:

Dear Customer,
We've noticed that customers who have purchased
Calvin: A Biography by Bernard Cottret also purchased books by Donald K. McKim. For this reason, you might like to know that Donald K. McKim's Calvin and the Bible is now available . You can order your copy by following the link below.

Calvin and the BibleDonald K. McKim (Editor)

Yeah- I just happen to have 75 bucks sitting around! Please! I have never paid 75 bucks for a book. To top it off, I'm Dutch.

Assumptions about the Assumption #1

I regard the Bible as "true" as a basic presupposition in my own thinking. It serves as the basis for all other aspects of my thinking. It even serves as the basis for “doing” history. Thus, I begin with the Bible as a beginning point, it is a core belief (we all have these). God has spoken. No authority exists above God to validate this, even history. History doesn't prove the Bible. The Bible proves history.

In the case of the Mary's Assumption, Catholics claim that it is a Christian truth. I don’t grant the validity of an extra-biblical infallible authority, all claims for religious truth must be weighed and tested by the only infallible authority: the very voice of God found in the Scriptures. The Assumption fails this test. Biblical proof of the Assumption simply doesn't exist.

Roman Catholics also appeal to the record of history to validate their claim for an infallible authoritative tradition that exists beside Scripture. The Assumption fails this test as well, as we will see momentarily.

Here is a test the Assumption doesn’t fail: "I believe in the assumption and the claims of the Roman Catholic Church because I want to. I begin with a core presupposition that Rome is infallible, and God’s living church. The testimony of either Scripture or history that contradicts the core presupposition in Rome’s infallibility is not to be considered as harmful to my core presupposition, because my faith rests in Rome, not in the Bible or history."

In my conversations with Roman Catholics, i've never had them admit the doctrine of Mary's Assumption can only be held on the basis that they "want to" believe this doctrine. Here's a typical Catholic defense about Mary's Assumption:

"Last night I heard the Bible Answer Man repeated an oft used Protestant canard concerning Pope Gelasius' document Decretum Gelasianum. This is usually used to somehow show how popes contradict one another.He made the claim that pope Gelasius explicitly condemned the notion of Mary's assumption into heaven in this document and makes it anathema. Of course this claim is false. No one can produce a single document in which the pope specifically condemns the belief that Mary was assumed into heaven.Gelasius did, however, condemn a group of apocryphal books in his decree, including one called Transitus Mariae, which contained fanciful stories of the 12 Apostles being transported to Jerusalem to meet Jesus at Mary's tomb - some of whom are magically resuscitated from death (prematurely resurrected?) for this purpose. The Twelve then urge Our Lord to take Mary into heaven with Him, and He concedes. So Pope Gelasius rightly condemned this writing because it was obviously fictional, NOT because it contained an account of Mary's assumption, which it does. After all, other apocryphal writings condemned by early popes contain accounts of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Does that mean the popes rejected the idea of the resurrection and ascension of Christ? No. It just means that errors and fabrications are usually mixed with truth in apocryphal writings. Sorry Hank."

The problem, if I recall, is not so much Gelasius condemning Transitus Mariae, a book which included the notion of Mary's assumption. Rather, the problem is, the Transitus Mariae is the earliest source that speaks of Mary's bodily assumption.

You see the problem: a condemned apocryphal book is the earliest substantiation for Mary's bodily assumption. Now, red flags should definately be going up.

The assumption is a big historical problem for Roman Catholics. The first church father to teach it was Gregory of Tours in 590 AD. The Transitus Mariae dates from the end of the fith century. Catholic historian Ludwig Ott confirms this as the earliest source of Mary's assumption:

"The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus-narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these are apocryphal they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing. The first Church author to speak of the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours' "

Source: Ludwigg Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 209-210.

Pope Gelasius condemned the authors of the Transitus Mariae, as well as the teachings it promoted as well as any who would follw those teachings. I would assume, Mary's bodily assumption is a teaching of the Transitus Mariae. In a future blog post- i'll look at the charge that only certain heretical teachings were condemned- and Mary's assumption was not one of them. This claim is more wishful thinking than it is a "fact" of history.

Now, the Roman Catholic Church claims the assumption is a historical fact, yet they can't provide historical verification that links it back to an unwritten teaching of the apostles. They can link it back to a condemned apocryphal gnostic book. If this isn't enough to make someone stop and consider what it means to put their faith in the Roman Catholic Church, nothing will.

This is what Roman Catholics are required to believe about Mary's assumption:

"...We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

Hence, if anyone, which God forbid, should dare wilfully to deny or call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic faith...It is forbidden to any man to change this, Our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul

source: decree Munificentissimus Deus by pope Pius XII

Here's An excellent resource for the historical facts about Mary's bodily assumption:

Monday, May 15, 2006

Luther's Canon: A Response To Catholic Dude (Part Four)

I have found James Swan’s work credible in the past, that doesn’t mean I agree with everything but I do take into consideration valid points.” - Catholic Dude

This will part four in my response to a Roman Catholic named “Catholic Dude” who reviewed my paper *Luther’s View of the Canon of Scripture*. The first three responses were directed towards entries from the Catholic Answers boards:

First response: Luther's Canon: A Response To "Catholic Dude" (Part one),
Second Response: Luther's Canon: A Response to Catholic Dude (Part Two).
Third Response: Luther's Canon: A Response To Catholic Dude (part Three)

The material from the Catholic Answers boards was from May 2005. I was sent a private message from Catholic Dude who stated: “I went to your page yesterday and read that luther card page. I went through it and posted my response.” At the time, I read through the Dude’s material and did not respond for two reasons: time constraints, and the Dude’s criticisms appeared trivial. In retrospect, after now responding to his charges a year later, my reactions were justified. So, why did I bother to respond now?

I’ve recently become active again in another discussion forum, a forum that has a good number of laymen Catholic apologists. In April 2006, a person with the nickname “Catholic Dude” again reviewed my paper. Seems to me to be the same person. I figured it was time to put his criticisms to the test. Catholic Dude’s latest review of my paper on Luther’s Canon can be found here. Generally, the Dude presents a number of irrelevant criticisms, sometimes making me wonder if he’s disagreeing with me simply for the sake of disagreeing. I believe Catholic Dude has an underlying bias that skews his ability to understand this issue and dialog with the material cogently.

Catholic Dude’s words will be in Red. The words from my article will be in blue. My responses will be in black. The Dude went through my entire paper, commenting sections-which is how I’ll respond to his comments.

Chapter 2: Luther’s Concept of The Canon Of Scripture
After reading this section, the Dude comments: “According to the article [Luther] did include [all the New Testament books] but he put them in a sort of doubtful category. None the less I found this quote to be interesting: ‘[23] Luther treated Scripture with amazing freedom, with so much freedom indeed that one wonders why he did not disrupt the canon. Tradition at this point was presumably too strong for him.’ Ill be interested to find out what "Tradition" was so "strong" for him.”

The quote is from Roland Bainton. Bainton doesn’t explain “tradition” in either book The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century or Studies on the Reformation. However, it seems to me that Bainton simply means the corpus of the books contained in many of the Bibles at the time of the Reformation. Now, “tradition” was not an infallible guide for Luther- thus I think Bainton is simply pointing out Luther was not radical in his re-evaluation of the canon. Luther realized that, for the most part, the Bible of the sixteenth century comprised of canonical and non-canonical books.

Chapter 3: Luther’s Liberty With The Canon And Trends In Church History
“[Swan’s paper] tries to point out [Luther] took on a scholastic view when "regarding James as the writings of a second century Christian", yet it only cites Eusebius as a major source. It should have included multiple quotes from ECFs.”

My paper pointed out that historical questions were an aspect of Luther’s understanding of the canon, but never do I say these issues were the sole determining factor. I’m simply taking Luther’s words at face value- Luther notes the question of the apostolic nature of James as one of his reasons for doubting its canonicity. Luther was not alone in this- the great humanist Desiderius Erasmus and the Catholic Scholar Cardinal Cajetan did as well.

The editors of Luther’s Works include a footnote in Luther’s Preface To James noting that both Eusebius and Jerome raised or confirmed doubts to the apostolicity and canonicity of James. Even the NIV Study Bible says similarly: “As Eusebius noted long ago, one interesting fact connected with the General Letters is that most of them were at one time among the disputed books of the NT. James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John and Jude were all questioned extensively before admitted to the canon of Scripture [NIV Study Bible, 1878].

As to quoting multiple early church fathers- Is truth determined by a majority opinion? Eusebius notes that he doubts the authenticity of James “since few of the ancients quote it.” Hence, it is the lack of citation that provoked Eusebius to question James- not the abundance of citation:

The Epistle of James is classed by Eusebius (in Bk. III. chap. 25) among the antilegomena. The ancient testimonies for its authenticity are very few: It was used by no one, except Hermas, down to the end of the second century. Iren`us seems to have known the epistle (his works exhibit some apparent reminiscences of it), but he nowhere directly cites it. The Muratorian Fragment omits it, but the Syriac Peshito contains it, and Clement of Alexandria shows a few faint reminiscences of it in his extant works, and according to Eusebius VI. 14, wrote commentaries upon "Jude and the other catholic epistles." It is quoted frequently by Origen, who first connects it with the "Brother of the Lord," but does not express himself with decision as to its authenticity. From his time on it was commonly accepted as the work of "James, the Lord's brother." Eusebius throws it among the antilegomena; not necessarily because he considered it unauthentic, but because the early testimonies for it are too few to raise it to the dignity of one of the homologoumena (see Bk. III. chap. 25, note 1).”
Source: Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Series II, Vol. 1


Most writing from before 200 do not mention the Epistle of James. One significant text does quote James: The Shepherd of Hermas, written before 140 M66. The theologian and biblical scholar, Origen, quotes James extensively between 230 and 250. He mentions that James was Jesus' brother, but does not make it clear if the letter is scripture M138. Hippolytus and Tertullian, from early in the third century, do not mention or quote James. Cyprian of Carthage, in the middle of the third century, also makes no mention. The "Muratorian Canon," from around 200, lists and comments on New Testament books, but fails to mention James, Hebrews, and 1 and 2 Peter. Yet by 340 Eusebius of Caesarea, an early Christian historian, acknowledges that James is both canonical and orthodox, and widely read. However, he categorizes it, along with the other catholic epistles, as "disputed texts" M203. Two Greek New Testaments from that time each include James, along with the other catholic epistles M207. In 367 Athanasius lists the 27 New Testament books we presently use as the definitive canon M212. But the battle for James was not won. Bishops in 428 and 466 rejected all the catholic epistles M215. Early bibles from Lebanon, Egypt, Armenia, India and China do not include James before the sixth century M219. A ninth century manuscript from Mount Sinai leaves out the catholic epistles and the Syriac Church, headquartered in Kerala, India, continues to use a lectionary without them still today M220.

Source: James and Canon: The Early Evidence

Chapter 4: Martin Luther Called The Book Of James “An Epistle Of Straw”

The Dude then takes a look at Luther’s most famous canon comment and says,

then [Swan’s paper]goes onto the part of Luther calling James "an Epistle of Straw" and tries to point out some "context" in which Luther said it, yet despite the "conclusion" of the foot notes I don’t see any grounds for this: ‘Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw,  compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.’ On what grounds does he "compare" and conclude this? Then it turns the subject to the fact his commentaries dropped this "epistle of straw" talk later in the "Reformer’s career".”

The ground of course, is the Gospel. What did Luther mean, “epistle of straw”? The answer may be found in his Preface to Hebrews. Luther says the author of Hebrews wrote his book on the foundation of faith laid by the apostles. The author used “gold, silver, precious stones, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians 3[:12]”[LW 35:395]. Luther then says, “Therefore we should not be deterred if wood, straw, or hay are perhaps mixed with them...”[LW 35:395]. Luther says that James “has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.” The gospel would then be gold, silver, and precious stones. Luther dropped the comment “epistle of straw” as well as many other statements from his prefaces. In some instances, he eliminated comments because his opinion had changed, in other instances his attitudes had softened. In the case of the “epistle of straw” comment, I can only speculate that perhaps his opinion softened.

Chapter 5: Luther’s Opinion Of The Book Of James

Catholic Dude says:

To top that off here is the very next section: "Luther appears to have held lifelong doubts about the canonicity of James." And look what he said "toward the end of his life": We should throw the Epistle of James out of this school [Wittenberg],  for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning [Jas. 1:1; 2:1]. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did. ... Pretty amazing, does this sound like reasoning based on historical sources? "Some Jew wrote urge works alone" I smell "not by Faith Alone" as the real test.”

The Dude needs to read carefully. I said Luther appeared to have lifelong doubts about the canonicity of James. The emphasis is on “appeared”. At times, it appears Luther accepted James as an apostle and his book as canonical. For instance, in 1536 Luther preached on James 1:16-21. It is curious that in the sermon, Luther refers to James as “the apostle,” and it is also interesting that he does discuss the gospel and the Resurrection.

Luther was also aware of the common protestant harmonization of Paul and James, and even at times offered it himself:“This is what St. James means when his says in his Epistle, 2:26: ‘Faith without works is dead.’ That is, as the works do not follow, it is a sure sign that there is no faith there; but only an empty thought and dream, which they falsely call faith.” (Sermons of Martin Luther 2:2:308)

In regard to the quote that the Dude used, keep in mind it’s a comment from Luther’s Tabletalk. I always caution the Catholic folks who dialog with me to be careful with Luther’s Tabletalk. It is a collection of comments from Luther written down by Luther’s students and friends. Thus, it is not in actuality an official writing of Luther and should not serve as the basis for interpreting his theology.

As to the Dude smelling “faith alone”- as the “real test” in determining canonicity for Luther, I have never denied that Luther used the Gospel in his determining of canon. What I have suggested is understanding Luther on this issue demands approaching him from two perspectives: 1. Luther’s perspective on the canon as a sixteenth century Biblical theologian 2. Luther’s personal criterion of canonicity expressed in his theology.

The Dude’s comment is most revealing, and this is what I think is going on: the Dude thinks Luther evaluated the canon solely on the basis of sola fide, and historical concerns were merely a “smoke screen” used to justify his approach. Such of course is nonsense- it assumes Luther is fundamentally dishonest, and secondly- if we apply the Dude’s understanding to Luther’s evaluation of Jude, one finds Luther’s comments directed towards historical and textual concerns. Where is Luther’s “faith alone” in his criticism of Jude? It isn’t there. Catholic Dude shows a dedication to a theological worldview that refuses to see the facts of history in their context.

The Dude continues by evaluating my comments on a Catholic who selectively cited Luther’s preface to James:

“[Swan’s paper] goes onto cite Catholic deception: … This Catholic author cites Luther as saying, “ I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my Bible.” There is no period after the word “Bible.” The sentence in its fullness reads, “ I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my Bible; but I would not prevent anyone placing him or raising him where he likes, for the epistle contains many excellent passages.” Now the question is was this deception on the Catholic Apologist's part? No, he was singling out the key passage "I refuse James a place among the true canon" what does this say about his intentions?”

I did not use the word “deception.” This is the Dude using inflammatory words to provoke emotion. What I would point out in this instance is the particular Catholic webpage I cited selectively used Luther’s words to the exclusion of other of his statements- to the point where the webpage placed “periods” in Luther’s writings where there weren’t any. In other words, the webpage was not seeking to understand Luther’s view, but rather present a caricature of Luther’s view. Now, I do not believe the author of that web page had a malicious deceptive intention. What I do believe though is that his pre-commitment to Roman Catholicism makes him see only what he wants to see. And of course, this is the same charge I level against Catholic Dude: he shows a dedication to a theological worldview that refuses to see the facts of history in their context.

Catholic Dude then says:

At this point I strongly suggest people read Part 5 of the article (especially paragraph 2). In this issue I don’t believe he makes a good case in regards to historical evidence, it also includes a biased agenda as paragraph 2 states. Paragraph 3 is simply a sad display of scholarship on Luther's part, its clearly an agenda oriented problem. Paragraph 4 is very unfounded. Paragraph 5 is very Damming in the realm of "scholarship"!”

Of course, I deny the charge that my case was not “good.” I’m not exactly sure what my “biased agenda” was in paragraph 2- as has been demonstrated, at times Luther embraced the harmonization of Paul and James as suggested by Protestants. I can only conclude that Luther did not fully embrace the paradigm because of his commitment to the notion that James was not written by an apostle, but came later. I deny that Luther’s scholarship is “sad” in paragraph 3. The Dude would have to prove this assertion- the “sad” part I find is that the Dude himself has “an agenda oriented problem” when reading Luther- The dude can’t help but treat Luther as dishonest, no matter what he says. My commentary on Paragraph 4 is not unfounded- the Dude simply needs to do some study on the book of James. In paragraph 5, I pointed out that Luther made an error in his exegesis. I doubt this error “damned” him.

Chapter 6: Luther Cited and Preached From The Book of James

Part 6 of the article is inconclusive, given that Luther quoted even from the DC books when commenting on stuff.”

No, part 6 was not “inconclusive”. I proved exactly what Luther held about James. While he didn’t think it was canonical, like the duetero-canonical books it still had value. He quoted from it positively throughout his career and also preached on it. One can find the same thing with Luther’s treatments of Jude, Revelation, Hebrews, and some of the apocrypha as well.

Chapter 8: Martin Luther’s Opinion of the Book of Jude

Part 8 (another non issue to me) is about what Luther thought of Jude, it has something good to point out, here is what Luther said: ‘This epistle is ascribed to the holy apostle St. Jude, the brother of the two apostles James the Less and Simon, the sons of the sister of the mother of Christ who is called Mary the wife of James or Cleophas, as we read in Mark 6:3’ For those protestants out there who talk about the "brothers of Christ" we see Luther understood what that meant: relatives, cousins, etc., not the typical evangelical incorrect view.”

What’s so striking about the Dude’s comment here is how completely irrelevant it is. The comment has nothing to do with Luther’s view of the Canon. If there was ever an example of a commitment to an underlying bias this is it. Luther’s views on Mary have nothing to do with the Canon.

The Dude says though this section is a “non issue”. That he calls it a “non issue” is a clear example of an underlying bias. The Dude has said that Luther’s Canon is the result of Luther’s devious “agenda” – and downplays my documentation of the historical concerns Luther had toward the canon. Here though in Luther’s evaluation of Jude, what does one find? One finds Luther raising historical and exegetical concerns about the authenticity of the book of Jude. The Dude makes the same type of statement about Section 9: Martin Luther’s Opinion Of The Book Of Revelation. He says, “Part 9 a non issue for me, just interesting how Luther's views change from one moment to the next.” So much then for Catholic dude’s charge of Luther’s “agenda”. Luther’s comments on these books don’t fit Catholic Dude’s paradigm- so he ignores them. The same can also be said of the Dude’s comments about Luther’s opinion on Hebrews.

Conclusion: Removing The “Luther-Card”

The concluding paragraph "Removing the Luther Card", the evidence is against the author of this article. There are clear statements by Luther to the effect the individual can decide if a book is canonical AND that personal religious views do go into deciding this. I see in this article a clear and deliberate confusing of the idea of historical grounds and personal religeous grounds.”

No, the “evidence” is not against my material. Catholic Dude needs to study a little Roman Catholic history at this point. The New Catholic Encyclopedia has honestly pointed out,

According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books, i.e., about their belonging to the canon.”

If the New Catholic Encyclopedia is correct, Erasmus, Cajetan, and Luther had every right within the Catholic system to engage in Biblical criticism and debate over the extent of the Canon. All expressed “some doubt.” Theirs was not a radical higher criticism. The books they questioned were books that had been questioned by previous generations. None were so extreme as to engage in Marcion-like canon-destruction. Both Erasmus and Luther translated the entirety of Bible, and published it.

There was no attempt to confuse Luther’s historical concerns and his theological concerns. As has been demonstrated in this response, a reading of Luther’s comments shows both. With some of the books, the scales tipped toward historical concerns. With others, the scale tipped toward theological concerns. Both though were factors. Any attempt to deny either is to distort Luther’s view.