WHEN THESE TWO GODS ARE AT WAR…

AT WHAT PRICE PEACE?

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[In “Bondage of the Will” Luther lashes out at Erasmus, and correctly so, for in Luther’s mind, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, had equivocated on the Gospel when he wrote his book “De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio.” And this book was written in fact, not to defend the truth, but to destroy Luther. But at one time, Erasmus, had liked Luther and had thought of Luther as a “kindred spirit.”  However, Erasmus was something of a cautious soul by nature, a humanist, and this meant that Erasmus was a new school thinker. (and even though Luther was 16 years younger than Erasmus, Luther was the last of the Medieval scholastics –old school mindset.)  Furthermore, it is very demonstrable that Erasmus was the type of individual who wanted more than anything else to get along with the establishment; which was in his case, to let the church and the church councils make the hard decisions for him. Erasmus wanted peace, and we must admit, for it is indeed true, that Erasmus worked tirelessly to quietly change the church from inside, rather than to directly confront it. Unfortunately, however, in doing so (perhaps also because of a large dose of personal vanity) Erasmus compromised his academic integrity and the truth because he wanted peace and the status quo more than he wanted God. But in the end, he found neither.

Hans_Holbein_d._J._-_Erasmus_(detail)_-_WGA11500The decision to reply to Erasmus’ work, which was to write the “Bondage of the Will”, was a difficult decision for Luther, and he avoided doing so for a period of time, and perhaps even went into a bit of a depression.  However, when Luther finally became convinced that this is what he should do, that this is what he had to do, Luther did not rest until it was completed; and he spared no pains in writing it.  In reading Luther’s reply, and in between Luther’s wit and insight (especially his one-liners), one almost has to feel sorry for Erasmus, because in this work, Luther is here the consummate schoolmaster and Erasmus (who was a leading intellectual of his day) looks very much like the village idiot; scratching on the surface of his subject, but not really understanding it in depth, theologically. One thing that I am quite sure of, is that Erasmus never expected the reply that he received.  You might say in today’s vernacular,  “he never saw it coming.”  –MWP]

I choose rather to endure the collisions of a temporal tumult, for asserting the word of God, with an invincible and incorruptible mind, rejoicing all the while in the sense and manifestations of his favor, than to be crushed to pieces by the intolerable torments of an eternal tumult, as one of the victims of God s wrath.

The Lord grant that your mind be not such (I hope and wish he may!) but your words sound as though, like Epicurus, you accounted the word of God and a future state to be mere fables; when, by virtue of the doctorial authority with which you are invested, you wish to propose to us, that, in order to please pontiffs and princes, or to preserve this dear peace of yours, we should submit ourselves, and, for a while, relinquish the use of the word of God, sure as that word is, if occasion require; although, by such relinquishment, we relinquish God, faith, salvation, and every Christian possession. How much better does Christ advise us, to despise the whole world rather than do this!

But you say such things, because you do not read, or do not observe, that this is the most constant fortune of the word of God, to have the world in a state of tumult because of it. Christ explicitly asserts this, when he says, I am not come to send peace, but a sword. (Matt. x: 34.) And in Luke, I am come to send fire on the earth (Luke xii. 49). And Paul (2 Cor. VI. 5.) “In seditions” etc. And the Prophet testifies the same thing, with great redundancy of expression, in the second Psalm, when he asserts, that the nations are in a tumult, that the people murmur, that the kings rise up, that the princes take counsel together against the Lord and against his Christ: as though he should say, numbers, grandeur, riches, power, wisdom, justice, and whatsoever is exalted in the world, opposes itself to the word of God.

See, in the Acts of the Apostles, what happens in the world through Paul’s preaching only, not to mention the other Apostles; how he singly and alone stirs up both Gentiles and Jews: or, as his enemies themselves affirm in that same place, how he troubles the whole world. The kingdom of Israel is troubled under the ministry of Elijah, as king Ahab complains. What a stir there was under the other Prophets! Whilst they are all slain with the sword, or stoned; whilst Israel is led captive into Assyria, and-Judah, in like manner, to Babylon. Was this peace? The world and its God neither can nor will endure the word of the true God; the true God neither will nor can be silent.

When these two Gods are at war, what can there be but tumult in all the world?

The wish to hush these storms is nothing else but a wish to take the word of God out of the way, and to stay its course. For the word of God comes for the very purpose of changing and renewing the world, as often as it does come; and even Gentile writers bear witness that a change of things cannot take place without commotion and tumult, nay, without blood. It is the part of a Christian, now-a-days, to await and endure these things with presence of mind; as Christ says, “When ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be not afraid, for these things must first be, but the end is not just yet.”

I, for my part, should say, if I saw not these tumults, the word of God is not in the world: but seeing them, I rejoice in my heart and despise them; most sure…

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German monk, former Catholic priest, professor of theology and seminal figure of a reform movement in 16th century Christianity, subsequently known as the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with monetary values. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor.

Luther taught that salvation and subsequently eternity in heaven is not earned by good deeds but is received only as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin and subsequently eternity in Hell. His theology challenged the authority of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God, and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood.Those who identify with these, and all of Luther’s wider teachings, are called Lutherans even though Luther insisted on Christian as the only acceptable name for individuals who professed Christ.

His translation of the Bible into the vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible, which had a tremendous impact on the church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the King James Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant clergy to marry.