I don’t have a whole lot to say about Martin Luther in this venue. I would understate in calling him a controversial figure; his thoughts and writings created a rift in the Church and in world politics that persists to this day. I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I have zero desire to try in a public forum to persuade any fellow Christian to abandon that Church and to see things my way. And I don’t want to be misconstrued as having that desire. So I don’t want to get into any theological details in this post. My main purpose today is to express my relief concerning Luther’s rhetorical style.
In my posts about Jean Calvin, I’ve made it clear that, quite apart from any particulars of doctrine that I may or may not agree with, his bullying and name-calling wearied me, worried me, and at times offended me. So I finished the Institutes last year with a great sense of release and looked forward to enjoying in Luther a less angry and aggressive presentation of Protestantism. But in my recent study of the Reformation in Will Durant’s history of western civilization, I read that Luther filled his speech and writings with the invective that was standard in his time. My heart sank.
Very pleasantly, though, I’ve discovered in the last couple of weeks that Luther could moderate his abusive language quite well. Maybe Durant read other selections. Maybe the editor of my book purged some of the more offensive language. But I’m just not seeing invective. Yes, he says that the Pope serves Satan’s purposes, but only to the extent that he (Luther) believes Satan to be the source of all untruth, even mistaken notions he himself might espouse from time to time. To an unbeliever, this may not make any sense, but after making a mistake, I would find it much easier dealing with being told that my mistake served Lucifer’s ends than with hearing myself called puerile or insane, as Calvin very frequently does. Hearing that I’ve advanced darkness by my erring ways is painful, to be sure, but at least the observation keeps me on an even level with the person who tells me; we all make mistakes and cause harm now and again. The person who calls me childish or mad, on the other hand, assumes the superior position of the only rational adult in the relationship and thus ends all hope of conversation.
Well, the rest of my many thoughts about the Luther reader I’ve been enjoying get into details I just don’t feel comfortable discussing in a blog. So I should stop. I’ve expressed my relief. I can do no other.