Friday, March 30, 2007

Chadwick on Table Talk

I always find it funny when I read propaganda material on how of bad character this Luther guy happens to be. Similarly I find it interesting when I see those non-Lutherans who come quickly to his aid. Then there are Lutherans who are not bothered at all and could not care less what rude thing Luther said or what private devotional practice he exercised etc. etc. blah, blah and more blah. Most of the time, the contoversy is launched from what is alleged to have been said by Luther published in Table Talk. The supposed intent of this is to show ill character in the man with the hope that "his followers" might abandon their cause. This of course, underestimates the basis of why "his followers" appear to be "following him" ie his interpretation of certain Biblical passages. In reality though, these detractors are giving him lots of credit than he deserves, an effect of which they have not anticipated.

Here is what Owen Chadwick says about Table Talk in his book The Reformation, p.74-75
The characteristic memory of Luther is of a man presiding at his own table, with is his colleagues and friends around, arguing with him, or listening to his divinity, his politics and his humour, One of the friends shamefacedly took out a notebook and began to jot down Luther's remarks. The habit spread, and twelve different reporters made collections. Luther sometimes mocked nut neither resented nor forbade these deferential scribes. Twenty years after his death, one of them, Aurifaber, published a collection from a variety of collections . Thenceforth Luther's Table Talk became a classic of the Reformation. Rude and outspoken he might often be; 'Dear husband', said Catherine, 'you are too rude'. 'They teach me to be rude" replied Luther. He was so outspoken that his enemiesleaped to make capital out of the Table Talk. It is unreliable as a source for details of history, particularly when the events occured many years before the date of the reported conversation; and Aurifaber's text was not untouched by improvement or interpolation. But iit is a unique and authentic picture of a man and a divine; he who would understand Luther's person and mind cannot neglect it. It is impossible to apply any epithet to him less than the old classical epithet magnanimous, in its original sense of great-hearted.

I observe that Lutherans are not bothered at all by the assasination of character hurled at Luther, primarily because they are not bound by what Luther said, they are bound by what is in their confession, though some of it were written by him. For after all - Luther himself was both iustus et pecator, just like any other Christian, hence he is treated like any other Church Father, capable of error, respected but no idol.

1And I, when I came to you, brothers,[a] did not come proclaiming to you the testimony[b] of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. - 1 Cor 2


Exist~Dissolve said...

I personally think that Luther's Table Talk was the more profound segment of his admittedly thorough corpus.

On the whole, Luther is an enjoyable author to read, for his complete disregard for decorum in the literary endeavor is fascinating and attention-grabbing. In some ways, this hurts his arguments (e.g., his complete misrepresentation of Erasmus in BOW for the sake of ad hominem), but it does make trudging through the myriad twists and turns in his thinking a marvelous, if not perilous, adventure.

The very best quote from Luther, I think, was the one about sinning merely to spite the devil. It is, I suspect, the litmus test of the aspiring Luther theologian, as the manner in which one parses out the meaning of this nugget of thought will ultimately reveal the level on which one understands Luther's theological methodology, and the greater underlying philosophical presuppositions which drive his thought.

In this light, the whipper-snapper Catholic apologist who after reading said quote pipes up, excitedly exclaiming, "Look, Luther's teaching people to sin" is shown to be a complete boob.

J. K. Jones said...

Luther is quite bombastic. This makes him appeal to me.

I wonder what some of the Emergent Church group thinks of him. They tend to let their rhetoric get in the way of point sometimes, and I think Luther did.

The other thing that makes Luther so interesting is that his though does change over the course of his writings. In a good way, because the gospel had been hidden under a bushel for so long, Luther seems to be making it up as he goes sometimes. He’s wrestling with concepts that are being brought out into the light.

L P Cruz said...


If we want to know a character in history such as Luther, we should really go for what he wrote specially in the later years.

For example, Augustine had Retractions and this superceded some statements he made earlier.

J. K. Jones said...

I agree. Again, I wasn't trying to down him.

Are there some particular works of Luther you would reccommend as showing his developed theology.

L P Cruz said...

Basically his sermons rather than his combative works are of note because there you see him speaking as a Christian. The works on Table Talk and any quotes from it are really suspect because they were noted down by half intoxicated students who sometimes teased him.

For example earlier prior to Augsburg Confession, he had a high view of Mary then later on this got toned down and made sensible. Calvin I believed was the same.