Archive E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Philosophy Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

Now He Is Become Luther, the Destroyer of Civilization

Everyone knows that Martin Luther hated reason and thereby destroyed Europe, culture, kittens, and organic farming. After all, he once called “holy reason” a “mangy, leprous whore.” Again, “reason is the devil’s prostitute and can do nothing else but slander and dishonor what God does and says.”1

So, again, everyone knows that Martin Luther hated reason.

Eli Cash - what this post presupposes is ...maybe he didn't?

If it wasn’t already clear that such a facile reading of Luther is wrong, it is shown definitively to be erroneous by Christine Helmer in The Trinity and Martin Luther: A Study on the Relationship between Genre, Language and the Trinity in Luther’s Works (1523-1546). Among other things, Helmer demonstrates the absolute necessity of keeping genre and generic rules in mind when reading Luther (though the point applies to pretty much everything). In his Disputations preeminently, the use of reason flourishes–but in a restricted way, subject to the matter of divine revelation and in the power of the Spirit.

Such a restriction is crucial (if you will pardon the pun) to Luther in two areas especially: the doctrine of God as trinity in unity and the doctrine of salvation, that is, the gospel and its application. Neither of these are doctrines that man’s reason can work out on its own or to which man’s reason can appropriately bring its own preconceptions about how God must be or act.

Now, where would Luther have gotten such a crazy idea? Where could this insane and absurdist pathology have come from that introduced irrationalist revolution, secularism, and the destruction of WESTERN CIVILIZATION and THE MEDIEVAL SYNTHESIS? I mean, I dunno, I think he got it from Augustine.

Augustine, after all, begins On the Trinity in the following way:

The following dissertation concerning the Trinity, as the reader ought to be informed, has been written in order to guard against the sophistries of those who disdain to begin with faith, and are deceived by a crude and perverse love of reason. 

That’s, like, the first sentence of the work, which is sort of, how do you put it, programmatic. Does that mean he doesn’t use “reason” anywhere in the fifteen books that follow? Um, nope. The same goes for Luther.

It’s 2017, and time for Protestants to celebrate. So just for this year, if you want to blame someone for the destruction of “the culture,” please go ahead and engage in an act of charity–and blame Augustine instead.

  1. Both translations are from the American edition of Luther’s Works. The first comes from Luther’s last sermon, written down by others (LW 51), and the second comes from Against the Heavenly Prophets (LW 40).

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

One reply on “Now He Is Become Luther, the Destroyer of Civilization”

Thanks for this. I compare the Luther/reason issue to Paul’s “rejection” of eloquence (1. Cor. 1/2) and Plato’s “rejection” of poetry (Republic).

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