In the comment section of the post Catholic Fallacies: Private Interpretation, John (jswranch) made the following comment:
We Catholics are not the only ones claiming this chaos in Sola Scriptura. Just look at the words of Luther:
“There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams.”
I wasn’t buying John’s use of this quote so I searched around for the original quote in context but was unsuccessful. I asked James Swan of Beggars All Reformation, who is the online Luther expert, if he was familiar with the quote.
With his usual excellence in getting quotes and context correct, James has posted an in-depth look at this quote. I am including just some excerpts here, you really must read James’ post in it’s entirety:
“When checking these obscure Luther quotes used by Roman Catholics, the first thing to remember, most often, they didn’t get them by reading Luther in context. Often, they’ve pulled these quotes from secondary sources.”
James was able to track down the actual quote in context in a letter by Luther:
“We believed, during the reign of the pope, that the spirits which make a noise and disturbance in the night, were those of the souls of men, who after death, return and wander about in expiation of their sins. This error, thank God, has been discovered by the Gospel, and it is known at present, that they are not the souls of men, but nothing else than those malicious devils who used to deceive men by false answers. It is they that have brought so much idolatry into the world.
The devil seeing that this sort of disturbance could not last, has devised a new one; and begins to rage in his members, I mean in the ungodly, through whom he makes his way in all sorts of chimerical follies and extravagant doctrines. This won't have baptism, that denies the efficacy of the Lord's supper; a third, puts a world between this and the last judgment ; others teach that Jesus Christ is not God ; some say this, others that ; and there are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads.” - Letter of doctor Martin to the Christians of Antwerp.
Finally, James notes:
“First, it should be obvious the quote is being used out of context. Luther isn’t talking about the devastating effect of sola scriptura. He’s talking about the devastating effect of the devil, who, Luther says, was at peace in his papal fortress, but now with the gospel being loudly proclaimed, must find a different way to keep men enslaved to sin and darkness.”
The rest of James' article goes on to make some excellent points about the need for an infallible interpreter of scripture (as Catholics claim). As this topic was also brought up in the comment section of the post on private revelation, I hope to address this topic more thoroughly in a future post. Again, make sure you read James' full post as he has alot of interesting information there.
John (jswranch), I know how much you love to quote Luther but unfortunately you will have to cross this particular quote out of your play book. And while you are updating your playbook, you may also want to check out James’ “Luther Myths” posts listed in my sidebar.