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Old March 11th, 2010, 08:50 AM   #1
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Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


I'm halfway through Richard Marius' Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death; a very absorbing book indeed. It details the German reformer's then-radical theology and delves deeply into what I'm sure most here already know of his dissensions with the Church of Rome: denunciations of doctrines concerning indulgences, purgatory (or the supposed existence of), veneration of the saints, the worship of Mary as virtual co-redeemer with Christ, etc. as well as scandals within the Church itself such as the selling of investitures and the sexual license of ecclesiastic authorities. Marius also digs into the sources of Luther's rants against scholastics such as Aquinas and Abelard, men who attempted to reconcile the philosophy of Aristotle with biblical scripture; the compatibility of reason and faith. Luther however, asserts in no uncertain terms that one cannot understand or get to "know God" through the human faculty of logic, which is fine and dandy when applied to sorting out and solving temporal matters but totally useless when attempting to discover man's true relationship with the Big Kahuna himself. This, declares Luther, can only be accomplished by the unconditional surrender of one's will to God, and, if we're sincere and lucky enough, experiencing his love and purpose for us through a mystical awakening or revelation of sorts (which, naturally, cannot be expressed in mere words). It then follows that any attempts to understand God through linear, connect-the-dots type methods will be in vain -- you must personally experience God and this can only be realized through his grace alone; if and when he decides to grant it. But enough of this, on to the main point of the thread...

Says Luther, "I ask, what man does not shudder, does not despair, in the face of death? Who does not flee it? And yet because God wishes that we endure it, it is apparent that we by nature love our will more than the will of God. For if we should love the will of God more, we should submit to death with joy, indeed we should consider it a gain, just as though we considered it to be our will. He loves God less than himself, even hates him, who hates or does not love death (that is, the will of God)." He's saying, in effect, that seeing as how death is the gateway to Heaven and thus it should be the utmost desire of professing Christians to pass through it in order to reach the Promised Land, they instead defy God's will by fearing the transition; we care more for this world than we do for the next -- a world infinitely more to our liking than the much-loathed and sinful one we now inhabit. But why? The answer is plain for all to see: we don't have faith enough in what the Bible tells us and when the facade is finally stripped away our belief collapses like a house of cards; in reality we doubt the existence of a loving God and the promise of a heavenly afterlife. We fear death because in our heart of hearts we believe that death is in fact the final end; nothing but emptiness is to follow. Pretty heady stuff indeed for "believers" to contemplate, I must say...

Most here are familiar with the NT parable stating that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But it appears as though, according to Luther anyway, the Donald Trumps of this world may not be the only ones arriving at the Pearly Gates only to find that no one's answering the doorbell and that the locks have been changed. Bummer.

One more thing: I myself am agnostic (about the only argument preventing me from crossing the line over to atheism is "Pascal's Wager") so please don't interpret this post as being a vehicle with which to compel all you "slackers" to get with the program. These are Luther's views, not mine.



p.s. Marius also convincingly argues that one of the most dramatic religious-political acts of rebellion depicted in history -- Luther's nailing to the door of the church of Wittenberg his 95 theses -- never did actually occur. But that's another story...
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Old March 11th, 2010, 09:09 AM   #2
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Re: Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


The "eye of a needle" isn't a needle we know of today, it is a small portal in a city gate that a Camel bearing goods passes. The Camel would cramp his legs down and drag his belly to get through. If something in the load is detrimental to the city, the Camel could be easily delt with by the city dwellers.
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Old March 11th, 2010, 02:35 PM   #3

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Re: Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


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I'm halfway through Richard Marius' Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death; a very absorbing book indeed.

...

Says Luther, "I ask, what man does not shudder, does not despair, in the face of death? Who does not flee it? And yet because God wishes that we endure it, it is apparent that we by nature love our will more than the will of God. ..."

These are Luther's views, not mine.
Hi augustus. Does Marius cite in which of Luther's books that passage may be found? Is it in Table Talk?

Luther was a Lutheran preacher, so to speak. Lutheran preaching consists of two parts - first the damnation, then the free gift. So, I wonder if Marius might have left something out.
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Old March 11th, 2010, 02:41 PM   #4

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Re: Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


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p.s. Marius also convincingly argues that one of the most dramatic religious-political acts of rebellion depicted in history -- Luther's nailing to the door of the church of Wittenberg his 95 theses -- never did actually occur. But that's another story...
I had been given to understand that the door to the church there served as a sort of ad hoc bulletin board, since the students had to attend Mass 3 times a day and that people were always putting various notices up there in an un-dramatic way. Do you have any information on that?
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Old March 12th, 2010, 07:52 AM   #5
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Re: Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


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Hi augustus. Does Marius cite in which of Luther's books that passage may be found? Is it in Table Talk?

Luther was a Lutheran preacher, so to speak. Lutheran preaching consists of two parts - first the damnation, then the free gift. So, I wonder if Marius might have left something out.
I don't have the book at hand (I'm now forced to post at my local library due to having cancelled my at-home online service as a result of being unemployed since last June) but I do recall it being on p. 154. I'll check whether or not he's got a note attached to the passage and get back to you.
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Old March 12th, 2010, 08:08 AM   #6
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Re: Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


Have you read MacCulloch's book on the Reformation? It's a flawed work, but he argues very persuasively that Luther's theology was not actually that radical. Many Catholics - high up Catholics as well - agreed with him in theory, but resisted his condemnation of the Church per se. Luther's soteriology is essentially Augustinian.

I'm not really saying this as a corrective, I'm just poking around because you haven't really chosen a debate, so much as an interesting perspective.
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Old March 12th, 2010, 08:36 AM   #7
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Re: Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


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I had been given to understand that the door to the church there served as a sort of ad hoc bulletin board, since the students had to attend Mass 3 times a day and that people were always putting various notices up there in an un-dramatic way. Do you have any information on that?
True, it was common practice at the time to post (covertly in many cases) religious and political tracts/notices advocating this or condemning that on church doors and other public meeting places throughout Europe, not just Germany. And since you've broached the subject of posting public notices....

Marius states that Luther was extremely cautious in his challenging of what he saw as abuses of authority by the Pope and his minions and he was very much aware that any criticism at all of the Church was to be skating on very thin ice indeed. He intended the 95 Theses to be seen in the context of debating the issue of indulgences, not as a formal declaration of his condemnation or an outright act of defiance or rebellion. In his day any direct challenge to papal authority, however mild, was tantamount to heresy; the ultimate price to be paid for such insolence of course was being burned alive (I don't have to tell you that, I'm sure). That Luther exhibited a great deal of courage throughout his decades-long battle with the Church no one can doubt. However, Luther had absolutely no intention of being tied to a stake and having a Zippo put to him like a hamlet hut in Vietnam. No sir, the man wasn't stupid -- stubborn and vain, maybe, but certainly not lacking any grey matter between the ears.

In addition to his tremendous theological output (over sixty volumes in all) Luther's works comprised fourteen volumes of correspondence and his students penned six volumes of "table talk" -- those sometimes long-winded monologues of his dealing with his reflections on the meaning of true Christianity. But nowhere in all this ink is there the slightest reference to his supposed nailing of the Theses to any church door. In fact, the only contemporary of his to mention it, according to Marius, was a colleague of his -- whose name escapes me at the moment -- and he did so long after Luther had died. It seems logical that such a dramatic public act of defiance -- one that shook the continent like no other -- would've been recorded by more than just one man. Over the years myths have a way of transforming into legends; legends into fact. As I see it, the image we have had passed down to us over the centuries of Luther defiantly "hammering away" at Church abuses of authority seems to fit well with our conception of the intrepid reformer, so the myth of his physically pounding his Theses onto a door representing the authority of the Church of Rome remains indelible in our minds.

So much for Luther being the inspiration behind Peter, Paul, and Mary's "If I Had a Hammer" (just kidding).

Last edited by augustus; March 12th, 2010 at 11:17 AM.
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Old March 12th, 2010, 10:08 AM   #8
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Re: Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


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Originally Posted by Scipio View Post
Have you read MacCulloch's book on the Reformation? It's a flawed work, but he argues very persuasively that Luther's theology was not actually that radical. Many Catholics - high up Catholics as well - agreed with him in theory, but resisted his condemnation of the Church per se. Luther's soteriology is essentially Augustinian.

I'm not really saying this as a corrective, I'm just poking around because you haven't really chosen a debate, so much as an interesting perspective.
Can't say that I've read MacCulloch's book but I do agree with his view that Luther's theology wasn't all that radical; though his methods of getting it across to both Rome and the general public certainly were. Luther, though he claimed to be a unflinching papist when a young monk (and once stated that he'd literally kill anyone who dared defy Church doctrine) developed his beliefs to the point where they encompassed a strictly scripture-based theology, taking his lead straight from the Good Book itself; to hell with the Church's interpretation of it. Noted Catholic contemporaries of his such as the great Erasmus also questioned the Church's translation and implementation of the Bible's commands but more or less skated on the sidelines carefully avoiding direct confrontation with the bigwigs in Rome; though as you say, many agreed in theory with the loose cannon running amok in Germany. Luther, as you may know, entered the Augustinian brotherhood as a result of a vow he made to St. Anne when caught in a particularly nasty thunderstorm. "Get me out of this, Annie babe, and I swear I'll get a tonsure, schlep around in a ratty-ass robe, and live a thoroughly miserable life in a monastery with a bunch of other loser celibates!" (I am of course paraphrasing, in case you haven't guessed.) He soon regretted having fulfilled the vow and there are those of his antagonists who claim that he ingenously used the "those monks have got it all wrong" excuse to leave the order so as to live a worldly life of wine, women, and song. Anyway....

As far as a debate goes, I honestly don't see that much room for it myself -- though I'd certainly welcome it. Consider: Even in Luther's age of extreme superstition people of all degrees of faith greatly feared death -- and they took their religion much more seriously than those today professing to believe in the Christian promise of a heavenly afterlife. God, punishment, and reward were just as every bit as real to them as is that computer in front of you right now. The fact of the matter is that virtually every one of us fears death. But if we lead virtuous lives and adhere to the tenets of our religion -- whatever that religion may be -- it would be illogical to fear anything at all as we approach our demise. After all, the next stop is eternal bliss and co-habitation with the One we've worshipped and adored all our lives....correct? Why then brown-out in our bermudas instead of reaching for the plug next to our hospital bed , thus enabling us to get the process over with and speed up the transition? Are we so unsure of our belief in God and our ability to carry out his will? Has he in effect made the rules of the games so stringent that we believe we're too incompetent to play?

I'd be more than interested in your -- or anyone else's -- views on the matter. Thanks for the interest....

Last edited by augustus; March 12th, 2010 at 10:29 AM.
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Old March 13th, 2010, 07:50 AM   #9
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Re: Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


Here's a little something I thought some of you may be interested in. It's a Tower Experience "diagnosis" as propounded by a Freudian shrink:

One Erik Erikson, a psychiatrist and self-styled "historian", claimed that Luther was busy defecating when the momentous event occurred -- that is, the budding reformer's sudden revelation from God concerning the true nature of the relationship between man and himself. (Picture Rodin's "The Thinker" only tonsured while sitting on a crapper and you'll get the general idea.) Erikson's analysis of this charming little imaginary episode interprets it as being "a release from the bondage of fear that corresponded with the release of his bowels." (And you wonder why professsional appreciation of Sigmund Fraud's psychoanalytic pseudo-science has, pardon the expression, gone down the toilet over the last few decades?) Real historians such as Marius agree that this is nothing more than pure cra-- eh, psycho-babble on the part of Erikson offered up under the guise of a "professional analysis" of the man's complex personality. Luther just happened to casually, off-handedly mention something or other about the proximity of the monastery's latrine to his own room in one of his table talks discussing the revelation. Leave it to a student of the father of psychoanalysis to cook up such an inane fantasy and then attempt to explain Luther's motives and actions. Nevertheless, much as the fallacy of Luther's nailing to the door of the church of Wittenberg his 95 Theses continues to be perpetuated by historians irregardless of proof, so goes Erikson's quack analysis of an imaginary event. Only this particular juicy bit of misinformation is much more to the liking of puerile modern-day detractors of Luther (tee hee!) Just thought I'd clear that up.

And while I'm at it: Erikson, in yet another half-baked analysis of Luther, asserts that because he was supposedly repressed by an abusive father, the reformer took out his pent-up anger and frustrations on the "artficial fathers" that men had concocted for themselves: the priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes of the Roman Church.

Good grief. Anyone got a tylenol? Better yet, a fistul of?



And for you Lucius: Unfortunately I couldn't find anything in the book relating to students or anyone else other than Luther posting -- supposedly -- on church doors.

As far as th reference goes for the quote that interests you, I found it in his notes: AE 48: 51-2 (from Luther's Works: American Edition, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehman, 55 vols. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1955-1986.) Hope that helps....
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Old March 15th, 2010, 09:48 AM   #10
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Re: Eye of the needle -- smaller than you think?


Just one more post on the book then I swear I'll shut-up...

Here's my humble synopsis of what I've read (thus far) of Luther's theological views regarding death and destiny --

In my personal estimation, it all boils down to this: Most people out of necessity embrace a denial of death and, thus unencumbered by 'round-the-clock obsession with it, manage to live normal, relatively healthy lives -- that is of course until we're diagnosed with a terminal illness; then it's a whole new ball game. Initial panic followed by fear and depression then set in as we're now directly confronted with the question of whether or not "someone" has booked advance reservations for us at either Hotel Hell or the more comfortable, climate-controlled Gloria Astoria, located downtown and uptown respectively. We suddenly develop a case of Uh-oh! and our minds are totally absorbed with two distinct thoughts: one, the fear of impending death and two, what lies beneath the grave, if anything. Backs against the wall and not willing at this point to take any unnecessary chances, we then suddenly adopt the theology of "firehouse religion", hoping that our last-minute repentance will be perceived by God as being good enough and that he'll subsequently give us his official okie-dokie thereby enabling us to proceed on into heaven after we've flatlined. Many of us breathe our last in a state of fear and anxiety, not at all sure of the consequences of not having taken our religion seriously enough when we had the opportunity. Conversely, there are those more serious believers who, as they approach the moment of death, are in fact quite serene and fairly confident of their final destination. Throughout their lives they've taken the perspective that what the Bible teaches us is indeed "good news" for those who, by means of sincere effort, attempt to live by its tenets to the best of their ability. Though not monks or nuns cooped-up in sterile little monasteries and nunneries so as to isolate themselves from the unclean, sinful world into which they were born, these at least socially-functional people are nonetheless relatively secure in the knowledge that they've "earned" their way into paradise and are thus able to die in peace. Enter Luther cowled in his wet blanket...

According to the good doctor, no one "merits" a ticket to heaven; not the peasant, not the priest, not the Pope -- especially not the Pope. The Great Reward is bestowed upon us by God's grace alone and only to those of us whom he has "predestined" to receive it. Good works and an unwavering belief in God's divine benificence counts for nothing. In fact, faith itself is not something that man chooses to adopt or not to adopt; the very concept of "free will" is anathema to Luther. To qualify as a recipient of the "gift" of faith, God must first enter into one's soul and in effect drop it off; only then can we be saved (albeit without being made aware of it). By why does God to decide to "elect" only certain individuals through what appears to be a cruel game of eenie-meenie-miney-moe instead of bestowing his grace upon us all? The answer (or non-answer) according to Luther is that we will never be able to figure out why God chooses to pick a lucky few fated for a heavenly afterlife while condemning the less fortunate to eternal damnation. That will only be revealed to us after our built-in parking meters expire; when we die, not beforeheand. The question then follows: How can I know if I'm among the elect? To this Luther has a more definite, yet more confusing, reply: those who hate sin and are truly overwhelmed by the fear of not being among the predestined and who therefore experience unrelenting grief and anxiety throughout their entire lives in consequence of this harrowing state of mind, it is they who should rejoice, for it is indeed they who are chosen to spend eternity with God. (See the paradox here? Luther doesn't seem to. But then again, I'm not finished with the book so maybe I'm in for a surprise ending). Luther was of the firm belief that God wants us to lead lives filled with misery and dread induced by the fear of not being among the elect. What harsher punishment could God possibly impose on those still above ground and breathing than the belief that their short, miserable lives will soon be extinguished and that their fates will be infinitely more miserable for all eternity; only to find out -- to their immense relief no doubt -- that it was all just one big practical joke perpetrated by the ultimate prankster?

Per Luther, people who believe they are damned are in fact those destined to be saved -- not those goody-two-shoes types living under the false impression that they've done the best according to their abilities and hence relax in the comfort of the knowledge of their salvation. So, those who believe they are damned are not; those who believe they are not, are. Those who lead utterly miserable, fear-filled lives on earth are in the end rewarded; those who foolishly opt to live more balanced, mentally-healthier lives with a dash of whoopie! tossed into the mix now and then are doomed. Nice, real nice.


- fini -
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