Monday, March 14, 2011

Brecht on Luther on the Turks

We have almost finished Martin Brecht's  "Martin Luther:  Shaping and Refining the Reformation".

Well, there is still chapter 10 on the "Diet of Augsburg" and Chapter 11 "From the Diet of Augsburg to the Nuremberg Standstill."  And there is Chapter 12 with miscellaneous subjects.

Chapter 9 dealt with the Reformation and Politics.  It was highly interesting full of things we don't usually hear  much about.  The latter part dealt with the threat of Turkish invasion.  The chapter finishes with these last  pages (366-368).

Luther considered the Army Sermon Against the Turks necessary, because no one had listened to On War Against the Turk and, now that the Turks had withdrawn, the Wittenbergers were relaxing once again.  In it, he wanted "first to instruct the consciences, then encourage the fists."  The vision of the four kingdoms of this world in Daniel 7 once again underlay the first part.  This gave his evaluation of the Turkish danger its eschatological coloration:  because the Roman Empire was the fourth and last kingdom of the world, the Turk could not be anything but a final episode within the history of the Roman Empire and not an independent epoch.  God's judgment would put an end to him.  Even though fixing a precise date was impossible, there were signs that they were in the final phase of history.  Although Luther saw the Turks--along with the pope--as one of God's ultimate enemies, he would not, as before, see a war against them as a Christian crusade, but rather as a secular struggle. If a Christian lost his life while fighting, he died for a just cause like a martyr.  Here a thought recurs that Luther had once used as encouragement in the Peasants' War.  If necessary, Christians should unhesitatingly and fearlessly risk their lives against the Turks, and also not let themselves be irritated by their atrocities against women and children.  With all his killing, the Turk could take away only one's temporal life, while he himself was lost eternally.  From an eschatological point of view, the war against the Turks was thus not a crusade, of course, but an apocalyptic struggle in which there truly was no longer a real solution of the conflict in the world.  Unlike the later confrontation with the pope, which also had apocalyptic overtones, this one did not prevent Luther from giving specific advice for politics, the "art of the possible." 
The "encouragement of the fist"  referred first to an exhortation to pay the necessary taxes.  All classes detested taxes;  Luther could sing his own song about the unwillingness of those who were selfish to pay church taxes.  But when they refused to pay the war tax, all of their possessions, and the populace as well, would fall prey to the Turks.  Because numerous Christians had been deported by the Turks, Luther also gave advice about how they should conduct themselves under Turkish rule.  Everything depended on holding fast to the second article of the Creed, which dealt with Christ.  In this way they could maintain their Christian identity even against the most impressive claims of Islam.  In general, imprisonment was to be tolerated patiently, and in such a case one would have to acknowledge that the Turk was one's authority.
Because of their timeliness, Luther's writings on the Turks were quickly and frequently reprinted.  The second Wittenberg edition of Army Sermon Against the Turks appeared before the end of 1529.  At the beginning of 1530, Luther published more information in Booklet concerning the Religion and Customs of the Turks, a book written in Latin in the fifteenth century by a Transylvanian Dominican who had lived among the Turks for a long time.  In his preface Luther emphasized the fervor of Islamic religiosity, which in many respects surpassed that of Christianity.  Precisely for this reason one had to make it clear that Christianity dealt with something other than ceremonies and practices, namely, faith in Christ.
The threat from the Turks continued.  In February 1530 there was already a rumor that the Turks were returning.  Thus Luther too could not get rid of this topic.  Right after arriving at the Coburg, he jumped ahead to Ezekiel 38-39 at the end of April, translated these chapters, and published them separately.  These two chapters deal with Gog's attack on Israel--also mentioned in Revelation 20--which God ultimately foiled.  Luther had previously identified Gog with the Turks.  The biblical and eschatological view of history was intended to provide comfort in the current danger, as well as to encourage reform and prayer.  Luther was unable to convert vast circles with his appeals, and this failure bothered him.  A new attack by the Turks would be punishment for impenitence and false security.  Yet the preachers of the Word dare not give up their task of admonition.  Therefore, at the beginning of 1532 he published John Brenz's sermons about the Turk with a preface of his own.  He did not treat this this theme again until years later.
Luther's relationship to the greater political situation in these years evidences an impressive consistency, both in its fundamental principles and in its details.  He persistently maintained the theological opinions he had worked out earlier.  He held strictly to the distinction between the earthly and the divine kingdoms, but without sundering them. He did not get mixed up in grand politics, and not infrequently he himself remained generally untroubled by major events.  He did not pursue the spread of the Reformation as a political strategy.  Persecution,k suffering, and death could ultimately have no effect on those who follow Christ and on their cause, he said.  Christians were forbidden to attack with force.  Nevertheless, the evangelical authorities could protect and defend their subjects.  In the face of aggression by the Turks, they were obligated to do so.  Self-defense reached its limits when it came to obedience to authority, and this pertained especially to the emperor, who could not be resisted in any case.  Luther's views were in no way merely the otherworldly theories of a theologian.  Although he himself regarded the results of his books on the Turks as negligible, it is difficult to evaluate their effect on the thinking of those who read them.  The imperial politics of Elector John, insofar as they concerned the Reformation, were substantially influenced by Luther's advice.  He also foiled the anti-Catholic and anti-Hapsburg politics of Philip of Hesse.  Both the Hessian-Saxon preemptive war and the Protestant alliance were thwarted.  Subsequent events appear to have vindicated Luther.  There were no obvious major disadvantageous consequences because of the Protestants' political weakness.  However, it remained to be seen how Christianity in Germany--and its divided camps--would fare theologically, ecclesiastically, and politically at the approaching Diet of Augsburg. 

Of interest to me here were these points:

1.  Luther's eschatological interest in the major events of his time linking them to Daniel and Ezekiel were quite thorough-going.
2.  The two kingdoms are applied consistently:  his role also was to "encourage the fists".  If the secular authorities were attacked (and only then) it was their duty to defend their Christian population with arms.  Necessary measures should be planned, taxed, undertaken by the secular government.  Any struggle against the attacking Turk was secular and arms should be used.
3.  He foiled several preemptive attacks by seeing them as unjust.  No bad consequences came of this. ("In quietness and trust shall be your strength"--Isaiah 30:15)
4.  The peasants' revolt was a bad mixing of the kingdoms.  Even more so measures had had to be taken against them.  The peasants wanted to revolt in the name of the Reformation and Christian freedom, as in a kind of war for the gospel.  This is not how Christian freedom works.  While he sought justice for the peasants he also encouraged the "fist" of the secular government against insurrectionists.

Now, we need to find the documents listed in this chapter:

Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved
On War Against The Turk
Concerning the Turks' Blaspheming and Murdering
Army Sermon Against the Turks

I only found the one link so far.  Perhaps, someone will help. :)

A short quote from "On War Against the Turk" explaining how war is never the church's work but purely secular defense;  this defense is still highly necessary.   It's a pretty interesting read, like all of Luther's writings.

  is not right for the pope, who wants to be a Christian, and the highest and best Christian preacher at that, to lead a church army, or army of Christians. For the Church ought not strive or fight with the sword; it has other enemies than flesh and blood, their name is the wicked devils in the air; therefore it has other weapons and swords and other wars, so that it has enough to do, and cannot mix in the wars of the emperor or princes, for the Scriptures say that there shall be no good fortune where men are disobedient to God.       Again, if I were a soldier and saw in the field a priests’ banner, or banner of the cross, even though it were a crucifix I should run as though the devil were chasing me; and even if they won a victory, by God’s decree, I should not take any part in the booty or the rejoicing. Even the wicked iron-eater, Pope Julius, who was half devil, did not succeed, but had to call at last on the Emperor Maximilian and let him take charge of the game, despite the fact that Julius had more money, arms, and people. I think, too, that this latest pope, Clement, whom people held almost a god of war, succeeded well with his fighting until he lost Rome and all its wealth to a few ill-armed soldiers. The conclusion is this: Christ will teach them to understand my article, that Christians shall not make war, and the condemned article must take its revenge, for it is said of Christians and will be uncondemned and right and true; although they do not care and do not believe it, but rush on more and more, hardened and unrepentant, and go to destruction. To this I say Amen, Amen.       It is true, indeed, that since they have temporal lordship and wealth, they ought to make out of it the same contributions to the emperor, kings, or princes that other holdings properly make, and render the same services that others are expected to render. Nay, these “goods of the Church,” as they call them, ought above all others to serve and help in the protection of the needy and the welfare of all classes, for they are given for that purpose, not in order that a bishop may forget his office and use them for war or battle. If the banner of Emperor Charles or of a prince is in the field, then let everyone run boldly and gladly to the banner to which his allegiance is sworn; but if the banner of a bishop, cardinal, or pope is there, then run the other way, and say “I do not know this coin; if it were a prayer book, or the Holy Scriptures preached in the Church, I would rally to it.” 


Steve Martin said...

Great work compliling this for us, Brigitte.

I'm learning!

Brigitte said...

I'm learning the way he thought about such issues. It connects a few dots.