aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
« Prev Reflections on the Ethics of the Eucharistic… Next »

§ 110. Reflections on the Ethics of the Eucharistic Controversy.


Dogmatics and ethics, faith and conduct, should agree like the teaching and example of Christ from which they are to be drawn. But, in practice, they often conflict. History shows us many examples of ungodly champions of orthodoxy and godly champions of heterodoxy, of unholy churchmen and holy dissenters. The angel of Ephesus is commended for zeal against false apostles, and censured for leaving the first love; while the angel of Thyatira is praised for his good works, and reproved for tolerating error. Some are worse than their belief, and others are better than their misbelief or unbelief.

Luther and Zwingli are by no means opposed to each other as orthodox and heretic; they were essentially agreed in all fundamental articles of the evangelical faith, as the Marburg Conference proved. The difference between them is only a little more Catholic orthodoxy and intolerance in Luther, and a little more Christian charity and liberality in Zwingli. This difference is characteristic of the Reformers and of the denominations which they represent.

Luther had a sense of superiority, and claimed the credit of having begun the work of the Reformation. He supposed that the Swiss were indebted to him for what little knowledge they had of the gospel; while, in fact, they were as independent of him as the Swiss Republic was of the German Empire, and knew the gospel as well as he.906906    In his book, "Dass die Worte Christi," etc. (1527, Erl. ed. XXX. 11), he calls the Sacramentarians "his tender children, his dear brethren, his golden friends" ("meine zarte Kinder, meine Brüderlein, meine gülden Freundlein "), who would have known nothing of Christ and the gospel if Luther had not previously written ("wo der Luther nicht zuvor hätte geschrieben"). He compared Carlstadt to Absalom and to Judas the traitor. He treated the Swiss not much better, in a letter to his blind admirer Amsdorf, April 14, 1545 (De Wette, V. 728), where he says that they kept silence, while he alone was sustaining the fury of popery (cum solus sudarem in sustinenda furia Papae), and that after the peril was over, they claimed the victory, and reaped the fruit of his labors (tum erampebant triumphatores gloriosi. Sic, sic alius laborat, alius fruitur). Dr. Döllinger (Luther, 1851, p. 29 sq.) derives the bitterness of Luther’s polemics against the Swiss largely from "jealousy and wounded pride," and calls his refutation of their arguments "very weak," and even "dis-honest" ("seine Polemik war, wie immer und gegen jedermann, in hohem Grade unehrlich," p. 31). The charge of dishonesty we cannot admit.

But it would be great injustice to attribute his conduct to obstinacy and pride, or any selfish motive. It proceeded from his inmost conviction. He regarded the real presence as a fundamental article of faith, inseparably connected with the incarnation, the union of the two natures of Christ, and the mystical union of believers with his divine-human personality. He feared that the denial of this article would consistently lead to the rejection of all mysteries, and of Christianity itself. He deemed it, moreover, most dangerous and horrible to depart from what had been the consensus of the Christian Church for so many centuries. His piety was deeply rooted in the historic Catholic faith, and it cost him a great struggle to break loose from popery. In the progress of the eucharistic controversy, all his Catholic instincts and abhorrence of heresy were aroused and intensified. In his zeal he could not do justice to his opponents, or appreciate their position. His sentiments are shared by millions of pious and devout Lutherans to this day, whose conscience forbids them to commune with Christians of Reformed churches.907907    The philosopher Steffens, who was far from uncharitable bigotry, always went from Berlin to Breslau to commune with the orthodox Old Lutherans. Bishop Martensen, one of the profoundest Lutheran divines of the nineteenth century, thought that only in cases of necessity could a Lutheran commune with a Calvinist, who denies what Luther affirms, or evades the mystery of the real presence. Briefwechsel zwischen Martensen und Dorner, Berlin, 1888, vol. I. 262 sq. He changed his view afterwards. I could name eminent living Lutheran divines who would hardly allow even this exception. In America the Lutheran theory had largely given way to the Zwinglian until it was revived by the German Missouri Synod, and found a learned advocate in Dr. Krauth, who went so far as to propose to the General Lutheran Council the so-called "Galesburg rule" (1875): "Lutheran pulpits for Lutheran ministers only, Lutheran altars for Lutheran communicants only." We may lament their narrowness, but must.respect their conviction, as we do the conviction of the far larger number of Roman Catholics, who devoutly believe in the miracle of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass.

In addition to Luther’s dogmatic standpoint we must take into account his ignorance of the true character of the Swiss, and their real doctrine. He had hardly heard of the Swiss Reformation when the controversy began. He did not even spell Zwingli’s name correctly (he always calls him "Zwingel"), and could not easily understand his Swiss dialect.908908    Zwingli’s Latin is better than his Züridütsch, in which his answers to Luther’s German attacks were written. He made a radical mistake by confounding him with Carlstadt and the fanatics. He charged him with reducing the Lord’s Supper to a common meal, and bread and wine to empty signs; and, although he found out his mistake at Marburg, he returned to it again in his last book, adding the additional charge of hypocrisy or apostasy. He treated him as a heathen, yea, worse than a heathen, as he treated Erasmus.

Zwingli was clear-headed, self-possessed, jejune, and sober (even in his radical departures from Rome), and farther removed from fanaticism than Luther himself. He was a pupil of the classical and humanistic school of Erasmus; he had never been so deeply rooted in the mediaeval faith, and it cost him much less trouble than Luther to break off from the old church; he was a man of reflection rather than of intuition, and had no mystic vein, but we may say a rationalistic bent. Nevertheless, he was as loyal to Christ, and believed in the Word of God and the supernatural as firmly, as Luther; and the Reformed churches to this day are as pure, faithful, devoted, and active in Christian works as any, and less affected by rationalism than the Lutheran, in part for the very reason that they allow reason its legitimate influence in dogmatic questions. If Zwingli believed in the salvation of the pious heathen and unbaptized infants, it was not because he doubted the absolute necessity of the saving grace of Christ, which he very strongly asserted, but simply because he extended this grace beyond the boundaries of the visible church, and the ordinary means of grace; and on this point, as on others, he anticipated modern ideas. He was inferior to Luther in genius, and depth of mind and heart, but his superior in tolerance, liberality, and courtesy; and in these qualities also he was in advance of his age, and has the sympathies of the best modern culture.

Making every allowance for Luther’s profound religious conviction, and for the misunderstanding of his opponent, nothing can justify the spirit and style of Luther’s polemics, especially his last book against the sacramentarians. He drew his inspiration for it from the imprecatory Psalms, not from the Sermon on the Mount. He spoke the truth in hatred and wrath, not in love.

This betrays an organic defect in his reformation; namely, the over-estimate of dogmatics over ethics, and a want of discipline and self-government. In the same year in which he wrote his fiercest book against the Sacramentarians, he seriously contemplated leaving Wittenberg as a veritable Sodom: so bad was the state of morals, according to his own testimony, in the very centre of his influence.909909    In July, 1545 (De Wette, V. 732 sq.), he wrote to his wife from Leipzig that he did not wish to return, and that she should sell house and home, and move "from this Sodoma" to Zulsdorf. He would rather beg his bread than torture his last days by the sight of the disorderly condition of Wittenberg. It required a second reformation, and such men as Arnd, Andreae, Spener. and Franke, to supplement the one-sided Lutheran orthodoxy by practical piety. Calvin, on the other hand, left at his death the church of Geneva in such a flourishing condition that John Knox pronounced it the best school of Christ since the days of the Apostles, and that sixty years later John Valentin Andreae, one of the noblest and purest Lutheran divines of the seventeenth century, from personal observation held it up to the Lutheran Church as a model for imitation.

Luther’s polemics had a bad effect on the Lutheran Church. He set in motion that theological fury which raged for several generations after his death, and persecuted some of the best men in it, from Melanchthon down to Spener.

His blind followers, in their controversies among themselves and with the Reformed, imitated his faults, without his genius and originality; and in their zeal for what they regarded the pure doctrine, they forgot the common duties of courtesy and kindness which we owe even to an enemy.910910    These champions of Lutheran orthodoxy were not simply Lutherisch, but verluthert, durchluthert, and überluthert. They fulfilled the prediction of the Reformer: "Adorabunt stercora mea." Their mottoes were,—
   "Gottes Wort und Luther’s Lehr

   Vergehet nun und nimmermehr;"

   and

   "Gottes Wort und Luther’s Schrift

   Sind des Papst’s und Calvini Gift."

   They believed that Luther’s example gave them license to exhaust the vocabulary of abuse, and to violate every rule of courtesy and good taste. They called the Reformed Christians "dogs," and Calvin’s God "a roaring bull (Brüllochse), a blood-thirsty Moloch, and a hellish Behemoth." They charged them with teaching and worshiping the very Devil (den leibhaftigen Teufel), instead of the living God. One of them proved that "the damned Calvinistic heretics hold six hundred and sixty-six tenets [the apocalyptic number!] in common with the Turks." Another wrote a book to show that Zwinglians and Calvinists are no Christians at all, but baptized Jews and Mohammedans. O sancta simplicitas! On the intolerance of those champions of Lutheran orthodoxy, see the historical works of Arnold, Planck, Tholuck (Der Geist der lutherischen Theologen Wittenbergs im 17ten Jahrh., 1852, p. 279 sqq.), and the fifth volume of Janssen.

We may quote here a well-considered judgment of Dr. Dorner, one of the ablest and profoundest evangelical divines of Germany, who says in a confidential letter to his lifelong friend, Bishop Martensen of Denmark, —


"I am more and more convinced that the deepest defect of Lutheran churchism heretofore has been a lack of the full appreciation of the ethical element of Christianity. This becomes manifest so often in the manner of the Lutheran champions. There is lacking the tenderness of conscience and thorough moral culture which deals conscientiously with the opponent. Justification by faith is made to cover, in advance, all sins, even the future ones; and this is only another form of indulgence. The Lutheran doctrine leads, if we look at the principle, to an establishment of ethics on the deepest foundation. But many treat justification, not only as the begin-ning, but also as the goal. Hence we see not seldom the justified and the old man side by side, and the old man is not a bit changed. Lutherans who show in their literary and social conduct the stamp of the old Adam would deal more strictly with themselves, and fear to fall from grace by such conduct, if they had a keener conscience, and could see the neces-sary requirements of the principle of justification; for then they would shrink from such conduct as a sin against conscience. But the doctrine of justification is often misused for lulling the conscience to sleep, instead of quickening it."911911    Die Rechtfertigungslehre wird vielfach zur Einschläferung statt zur Schärfung des Gewissens missbraucht."See Dorner’s letter of May 14, 1871, in the Briefwechsel just quoted, vol. II. 114. Dorner and Martensen, both masters in Christian dogmatics and ethics, kept up a most instructive and interesting correspondence of friendship for more than forty years, on all theological and ecclesiastical questions of the day, even during the grave disturbances between Germany and Denmark on the Schleswig-Holstein controversy, which broke out at last in open war (1864). That correspondence is as remarkable in theology as the Schiller and Goethe correspondence is in poetry and art.

Zwingli’s conduct towards Luther, judged from the ethical point of view, is much more gentlemanly and Christian, though by no means perfect. He, too, misunderstood and misrepresented Luther when he charged him with teaching a local presence and a carnal eating of Christ’s body. He, too, knew how to be severe, and to use the rapier and the knife against the club and sledge-hammer of the Wittenberg Reformer. But he never forgot, even in the heat of controversy, the great services of Luther, and more than once paid him the tribute of sincere admiration.


"For a thousand years," says Zwingli, "no mightier investigator of the Holy Scriptures has appeared than Luther. No one has equaled him in manly and immovable courage with which he attacked popery. But whose work is it? God’s, or Luther’s? Ask Luther himself, and he will say God’s. He traces his doctrine to God and his eternal Word. As far as I have read his writings (although I have often purposely abstained from doing so), I find them well founded in the Scriptures: his only weak point is, that he yields too much to the Romanists in the matter of the sacraments, and the confession to the priest, and in tolerating the images in the churches. If he is sharp and racy in speech, it comes from a pious, honest heart, and a flaming love for the truth .... Others have come to know the true religion, but no one has ventured to attack the Goliath with his formidable armor; but Luther alone, as a true David, anointed by God, hurled the stones taken from the heavenly brook so skillfully that the giant fell prostrate on the ground. Therefore let us never cease to sing with joy: ’Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’ (1 Sam. 18:7). He was the Hercules who slew the Roman boar .... I have always been grateful to my teachers, how much more to that excellent man whom I can never expect to equal in honor and merit! With no men on earth would I rather he agreed than with the Wittenbergers .... Many have found the true religion before Luther became famous; I have learnt the gospel from the same fountain of the Scriptures, and began to preach it in 1516 (at Einsiedeln), when I diligently studied and copied with mine own hand the Greek epistles of Paul,912912    The neat manuscript is still preserved in the library of the Wasserkirche at Zürich, where I examined it in August, 1886. before I heard the name of Luther. He preaches Christ, so do I, thanks to God. And I will be called by no other name than that of my Captain Christ, whose soldiers we are."913913    I have given the substance of several passages scattered through his polemical writings, and collected in the useful edition of Zwingli’s Sämmtliche Schriften by Usteri and Vögelin, vol. II., Part II., p. 571 sqq.


I may add here the impartial testimony of Dr. Köstlin, the best biographer of Luther, and himself a Lutheran: —


"Zwingli knew how to keep himself under control. Even where he is indignant, and intentionally sharp and pointed, he avoids the tone of passionate excitement, and uses the calm and urbane language of a gentleman of humanistic culture, and thereby proves his superiority over his opponent, without justifying the suspicion of Luther that he was uncertain in his own mind, and that the attitude he assumed was only a feint. His polemics forms thus the complete opposite to Luther’s book, ’That the words of Christ,’ etc. Yet it presents also another aspect. Zwingli characterizes, with select words of disregard, the writers and contents of the Syngramma, to which Luther had given his assent, and clearly hints at Luther’s wrath, spite, jealousy, audacity, and other faults poorly concealed under the cover of bravery, constancy, etc.; yea, here and there he calls his arguments ’childish’ and ’fantastic,’ etc. Hence his new writings were by no means so ’friendly’ as the title indicates. What is more important, we miss in them a sense for the deeper, truly religious motives of Luther, as much as we miss in Luther an appreciation of like motives in Zwingli .... He sees in Luther obstinate blindness, while Luther discovered in him a devilish spirit."914914    Martin Luther, II. 96 sq.



« Prev Reflections on the Ethics of the Eucharistic… Next »

Advertisements


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |