Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Springtime for Luther and Germany!

Bouncing around the web, I have run into several articles where Mr. James Swan and other dyspeptic Protestants have taken umbrage to my opinion of both Martin Luther, arch-heresiarch and apostate, and Fr. Joeph Lortz, a Catholic priest who was a fan of both Martin Luther and ADOLPH HITLER.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Fr. Lortz was both an admirer of Hitler and an APOLOGIST for Nazism. When Mein Kampf was published it was widely scorned in the Catholic Press. Fr. Lortz on the other hand wrote a pamphlet DEFENDING the book and making the case that Nazism and Catholicism were compatible. In fact he was a card carrying member of the Nazi party from 1930 all the way through the end of World War II. After the war, Fr. Lortz claimed that he had tried to quit the party when he had seen the excesses of Nazism, but that they wouldn't let him. Like Michael Corleone, "Everytime I tried to get out they pulled me back in." All we can say is that at the cessation of hostilities, Fr. Lortz's party dues were paid up.

Mr. Swan and his refluxing compatriots extol Fr. Lortz because he took a positive attitude towards Luther and broke with the usual Catholic criticisms of the man as a heretic who was intemperate in word and deed as well as mentally unstable and emotionally disturbed. Mr. Swan in particular likes to poke fun at the works of German priests Fr. Heinrich Denifle and Fr. Hartmann Grisar who both wrote multi-volume studies of Luther's life and writings and who found several serious flaws in the man. Fr. Denifle was a world class expert on medieval texts and Fr. Grisar was a renowned Church historian. Their works evaluated Luther in greater depth than the cursory pseudo-hagiography that he receives in most Protestant biographies.

Fr. Grisar's multi-volume work on Luther in English translation is available free on the Internet:


Fr. Denifle's books are also available on line in German:


In America in the 1910s, Professor Preserved Smith from Amherst College wrote several articles and books analyzing Luther from a Freudian perspective and finding evidence of psycho-pathology in him.

In 1937, a Copenhagen Psychiatrist, Paul J. Reiter MD wrote a 2 volume study, Martin Luther's World Character and Psychosis and the Influence of These Factors on his Development and Teachings which also demonstrated in detail from his own writings that Luther was mentally disturbed.

There is a review of Reiter's book here:


There was a brief summary of the findings of these scholars given in the Presidential address by Dr. William Langer delivered at the annual dinner of the American Historical Association at the Statler Hotel, New York City, on December 29, 1957:

Most striking, however, is the case of the greatest of the reformers, Martin Luther, who seems to me to reflect clearly the reaction of the individual to the situation I have been sketching. Luther left behind almost a hundred volumes of writings, thousands of letters, and very voluminous table-talk, suggesting an unusually self-analytical and self-critical personality.56 From all this material it has long been clear that he suffered from an abnormally strong sense of sin and of the immediacy of death and damnation. Tortured by the temptations of the flesh and repeatedly in conflict with a personalized demon, he was chronically oppressed by a pathological feeling of guilt and lived in constant terror of God's judgment. So striking were these traits that some of Luther's biographers have questioned his sanity.57

Here it is interesting to recall that one of our own colleagues, the late Professor Preserved Smith, as long ago as 1913, attacked the problem in an article entitled "Luther's Early Development in the Light of Psychoanalysis."58 Smith, who was remarkably Conversant with Freudian teaching when psychoanalysis was still in its early stage of development, considered Luther highly neurotic--probably driven to enter the monastery by the hope of finding a refuge from temptation and an escape from damnation, and eventually arriving at the doctrine of salvation by faith alone only after he had convinced himself of the impossibility of conquering temptation by doing penance. It may well be that Smith overdid his thesis, but the fact remains that his article was treated with great respect by Dr. Paul J. Reiter, who later published a huge and greatly detailed study of Luther's personality. Reiter reached the conclusion, already suggested by Adolf Hausrath in 1905, that the great reformer suffered from a manic-depressive psychosis, which, frequently associated with genius, involved a constant struggle with, and victory over, enormous psychological pressures. The point of mentioning all this is to suggest that Luther's trials were typical of his time. In any event, it is inconceivable that he should have evoked so great a popular response unless he had succeeded in expressing the underlying, unconscious sentiments of large numbers of people and in providing them with an acceptable solution to their religious problem.59
56. Karl Holl, "Luthers Urteile uber sich Selbst," Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte, I, Luther (Tübingen, 1921); Heinrich Böhmer, Road to Reformation; Martin Luther to the Year 1521 (Philadelphia, 1946), foreword; Karl A. Meissinger, Der katholische Luther (Munich, 1952), p. 2.

57. Hartmann Grisar, Luther (London, 1913-1917), I, 110 ff.; VI, chap. xxxvi, discusses many of these views but Grisar takes a more moderate stand. The most recent Catholic biography is that of Joseph Lortz, Die Reformation in Deutschland, which is a very model of reasonableness.

58. Amer. Jour. Psychology, XXIV (1913), 360-77.

59. Hausrath, Luthers Leben (Berlin, 1905); Reiter, Martin Luthers Umwelt, Charakter und Psychose (Copenhagen, 1937, 1941); Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum, Genie, Irrsinn und Ruhm (4th
ed, Munich, 1956), pp. 375-78. See also Walther von Loewenich, "Zehn Jahre Lutherforschung," in Theologie und Liturgie, ed. Liemar Hennig (Cassell, 1952), pp. 119-70 and Martin Werner, "Psychologisches zum Klostererlebnis Martin Luthers," Schweiz. Zeitsch. für Psychologie, VII (1948), 1-18, who follows Smith's thesis closely. The argument hinges on the harshness of Luther's upbringing and the extent of his father fixation. Smith noted that on at least one occasion Luther asserted that he had entered the monastery to escape harsh treatment at home. His father's unalterable opposition to this step may have played a part in Luther's later decision to leave the monastery. According to Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York, 1950), pp. 288 ff., Luther's decision (in 1525) to marry was at least in part due to his
wish to gratify his father's desire for progeny. Recent writers tend to explain away the harshness of Luther's youth, which indeed was probably less unusual and less important than Smith supposed. See Otto Scheel, Martin Luther (Tübingen, 1916); Böhmer, Martin Luther; Meissinger, Der katholische Luther; Robert H. Fife, The Revolt of Martin Luther (New York, 1957), pp. 5, 9, 99, 117 ff.; Bainton, Here I Stand, pp. 23, 25, 28 and chap. xxi passim, who insists that Luther's psychological troubles were of a strictly religious character, due to "tensions which medieval religion deliberately induced, playing alternately upon fear and hope."

More recently there have been other books on Luther which have confirmed much of what the two priests originally said:

Luther: An Experiment in Biography by Richard Marius (1975)

Luther: the Man and the Image by Herbert David Rix (1985)

Luther: The Christian between God and Death by Richard Marius (1999)

Here is a compilation of many worrisome statements by Luther that his defenders wish he had not written:


But still, Mr. Swan is on a one-man crusade to ignore this strand of modern scholarship and discredit people like me who want this information more widely disseminated. He insists that Fr. Lortz gives a more balanced picture of Luther and that all the rest of us are loony bigots. He dismisses scholars like Fr. Denifle, Fr. Grisar. Prof Smith, Dr. Reiter, Dr. Rix, Dr. Marius, etc. with a wave of his hand and we are supposed to believe that Luther was a great Christian hero who championed truth, justice, and the German way! We poor benighted Catholics need to get on the bandwagon and march to a Lutheran beat of rampant amoralism, purely forensic justification, and a religion based solely on what we have decided that we want to believe for ourselves.

And a Nazi shall lead the way...

Well, I think Mr. Swan needs a reality check. My pointing out Fr. Lortz's Nazi sympathies is not a mere ad hominem dismissal. Nazism -- as all ideologies -- had intellectual consequences and, as a Nazi, Lortz's admiration for Luther was not merely based on "fairness" or "scholarship". It was politically motivated and was a direct outgrowth of his Nazi ideology and Pan-German idealism.

The Nazi's LOVED Martin Luther. He was to them a great German hero who resisted the corrupting influence of non-Germanic outsiders like the Pope and the Southern European non-Aryan masses. Catholicism was to them an effeminate religion. Luther with his boldness and his support of unrestricted force (including rape, torture, mutilation, and execution) by the German Princes against the peasantry was their kind of guy. Luther was also a vituperate anti-Semite and recommended putting Jews to the sword in some of his writings. From a Nazi perspective, what's not to love?

There is a book Martin Luther: Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor by Peter F. Wiener that was published during WWII in England which is available free online which speaks about the admiration both Hitler and the Nazis had for Luther. You can read it here:


William Shirer in his magnum opus The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich also repeats this charge.

And then there is Karl Barth, the great Swiss Protestnst theolgoian. He had been teaching in Germany when the Nazis took over and he was instrumental in composing the Barmen Church Declaration which stated that Christianity and Nazism were incompatible. For his part in this, Barth was targeted for elimination and had to flee to Switzerland for his life.

Protestant scholar Robert McAfee Brown, wrote in Kairos: Three Prophetic Challenges to the Church, (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1990):

“Almost immediately after Hitler's seizure of power in 1933, Protestant Christians faced pressure to "aryanize" the Church, expel Jewish Christians from the ordained ministry and adopt the Nazi "Führer Principle" as the organizing principle of church government. In general, the churches succumbed to these pressures, and some Christians embraced them willingly. The pro-Nazi "German Christian" movement became a force in the church. They glorified Adolf Hitler as a "German prophet" and preached that racial consciousness was a source of revelation alongside the Bible. But many Christians in Germany—including Lutheran and Reformed, liberal and neo-orthodox—opposed the encroachment of Nazi ideology on the Church's proclamation. At Barmen, this emerging "Confessing Church" adopted a declaration drafted by Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen, which expressly repudiated the claim that other powers apart from Christ could be sources of God's revelation. Not all Christians courageously resisted the regime, but many who did—like the Protestant pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Roman Catholic priest Bernhard Lichtenberg—were arrested and executed in concentration camps.”

Karl Barth argued that the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Swords made German Lutherans more susceptable to totalitarian takeovers and more passive towards unjust actions by the state. This doctrine originated with Luther himself. During the Reformation, political passivity and absolute support of the Prince/state to keep order was one of the prices that Lutherans had to pay in order to win the nobility away from Catholicism. By saying that Church and State wielded separate "swords" and that the Church should not interfere in state matters desensitized many Lutherans towards the horrors of the Nazi system. Around 85% of Lutheran ministers joined the pro-Nazi German Christian movement and large numbers of them wore Nazi regalia in the pulpit while preaching on Sunday.

For a balanced view of this complex historical issue see:


There is further evidence of the Nazi appropriation of Luther. Consecrated in 1935, the Martin Luther Memorial Church still stands in Berlin. Originally the Church bells and altar contained the swastika, but they were later removed because of post-war law that outlaws swastikas in Germany. Nevertheless, the church still retains many of the Nazi symbols and icons, including a muscular Aryan Jesus, Iron cross chandeliers, statues of Nazi stormtroopers, and a bust of Adolf Hitler. During the 30s, Nazi party members made up two thirds of the church attendance, where they also baptized their children.

The above picture from the church shows Nazi Soldiers and Aryan women surrounding a muscular Aryan Christ.

And above we have Adolph Hitler's likeness carved into the baptismal font. He is holding an SS serivce cap with a death's head emblem on the brim.

And here is a Nazi Luthertag [Luther Day] Commemorative Badge struck for Germany's Martin Luther Day on 10th November 1933. Strictly speaking not a Nazi award but, nevertheless, it was issued after Hitler's rise to power. Broad segments of the Nazi Party participated in Luther Day ceremonies across Germany every year.

Here are some quotations from Nazis about Luther especially highlighting his antipathy for Jews:


Luther was openly praised by Hitler in Mein Kampf. He referred to Martin Luther as a great warrior, a true statesmen, and a great reformer, alongside Richard Wagner and Frederick the Great. Here are some statements in this book about the Jews:


NB: This is the same book to which Fr. Lortz gave a glowing review.

The point of all this is to show that Fr. Lortz as a Nazi party member did not approach his study of Luther with scholarly detachment. He was motivated ideologically and politically to see Luther as not only a great man, but a great German, and a forerunner of Nazi ideology up to including its nacent anti-Semitism. Even after the war, Fr. Lortz continued to support a strong political leadership with totalitarian authority and found the democracies weak and ineffective. He had the same agenda for unifying Europe based upon Germanic Culture, an agenda that was not merely eurocentric but chauvinistic. He longed for the pre-Renaissance period in European history when the First Reich flourished. And he was still suspicious of foreign cultural influences. In essence, after World War II, Fr. Lortz was promoting the same things as a cure for the ennui of modernity that he had been advocating when the Nazis were in power except without the Swatikas, goose-stepping, and cool uniforms. And he never to my knowledge apologized for his involvement in Nazism. He just tried to "explain" it.

Meet the new Lortz: same as the old Lortz.

In summary, Fr. Lortz ignored a long standing school of Luther studies which had deep roots among Catholic scholars and replaced it instead with a "new direction" which just so happended to coincide with the Nazi appropriation of Luther as a German cultural icon. Meanwhile, support for the older critical view of Luther was growing even among Protestant scholars like Marius.

I proudly stand in the tradition of Fr. Denifle et al and I warn people that the foundation of the Protestant Deformation was in the psychopathology of one man-- Martin Luther -- whose melancholy and bipolar disorder touched a personal chord with many Northern Europeans but which had NOTHING to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It caused them to revolt against historic Christianity and to invent a new family of disparate religions that catered to bourgeosie morality and subjective personal needs, and not to either theological integrity or moral rectitude.

Fr. Lortz revolted against that tradition for political reasons and made excuses for Luther and Lutheranism in support of Nazism and its political agenda. As a Nazi, he saw Luther as a spiritual ancestor and forerunner of German cultural supremacy. Lortz's support of Nazism must be seen also as a support for all the horrors that the Nazis perpetrated on their world and the Nazis justified their program in part by referring back to Martin Luther and his teachings.

I leave it to my readers to decided which of us made the correct choice, and whose assessment of Luther is the most credible.


Shane said...

Now, usually when I hear persons speak about Luther's different attitudes (be they Protestant or Catholic, and be they opposing or supporting Luther), they will say that faith alone is not an excuse to sin and Luther was very firm on this point, that one cannot simply sin and keep the faith.

Is this simply a complete fabrication, or is there at least some source from which they draw these statements? Did Luther make such statements elsewhere, only to contradict himself?

Arthur C. Sippo MD, MPH said...

The whole system of "justification by faith alone without doing good works" (JBFA) is clearly antinomian. As it is preached by virtually all Protestants it implies that you have to do 'nothing' to be saved but put a trusting faith in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross. When objections are raised that this tends to excuse sin, all of a sudden JBFA dies the death of a thousand qualifications at the hands of Protestant apologists and we are told that good works will flow from justification or that they will be done out of gratitude but without any impact on the state of salvation or the like.

This was not always so. In his letter to Jerome Weiser, Luther himself made some very disturbing statements. Weiser was very concerned about being tempted to sins of the flesh while drinking in the local inn and contemplating the barmaids. He asked Luther what he should do.

Instead of telling him to avoid the near occasions of sin (i.e., drinking at the inn) Luther advised Weiser that whenever the Devil tempted him (NB- That is whenever the Devil tempted Weiser to doubt in his salvation, not the temptations to indulge in sins of the flesh.) he should desensitize himself and commit "some sin" to spite the Devil. Luther advised "The whole Decalogue must Go!... Sin strongly, believe more strongly!"

Lutherian apologists have tried to explain away such comments as exaggerations, but there are far too many of them peppered throughout the corpus of Luther's works to ignore.

For example in his Commentary on Galatians Luther said several times that faith ALONE "unformed by charity" was all that was needed to save you. "Unformed by charity" is a technical phrase that means a saving faith in the promises of Christ is salvific whether or not it conforms one's behavior to the love of God or neighbor. Remember his words: "The whole Decalogue must go!" he was willing to excuse more than mere peccadillos. Idolatry, cursing, murder, adultery, violating vows or oaths: all of these were overlooked in his mind on account of faith ALONE with no other qualifications.

God will allegedly forgive you graciously for Christ's sake no matter what sins you may have or what hatreds you harbor.

Luther was a seriously mentally- ill person and he responded inconsistently to question about salvation and good works depending on his mood and mental state. There is no way to logically harmonize all the things that he said and he never gave us a systematic presentation of his thought. It is by understanding his mental disorder that we can explain his inconsistencies.

His first and foremost concern was not "doing the right thing" but "How can I find a gracious God?" Luther was not interested in reforming himself so much as he was in feeling "safe" about going to heaven. He had very black periods of depression and his antinomian thesis of JBFA was his catharsis to bring him out of it. If they'd had Prozac in the 15th Century, the whole Deformation would never have happened.

There have been many advocates of the "once saved always saved" heresy in Protestantism. The genocidal and regicidal maniac Oliver Cromwell is an excellent example.

When he ran amok in Ireland, Cromwell and his forces committed atrocities and needless wanton slaughter as a terror tactic to brutally subjugate the Irish people. On his deathbed, Cromwell was haunted by his crimes and he was afraid to die for fear of Hell. So he called all the major Puritan divines together and asked them if it really was true that once you had the experience of "being saved" you could never lose your salvation. The divines conferred together and then reassured Cromwell that his conversion experience as a young man had saved his soul eternally. So the monster Cromwell went to his death unrepentant of his many sins.

I find this story very frightening. JBFA gave permission to Oliver Cromwell to go on a genocidal rampage. It likewise was used by Luther to justify the equally brutal suppression of the peasants by the German nobles in his own day.

Quit listening to the dissembling of those who would tell you that faith in Christ does not require "love of neighbor" in order to save you.

IMHO, the Pope rightfully excommunicated Luther and the Council of Trent correctly condemned his heretical ideas.

Lucas said...

Hello Dr. Sippo. Great post. I have a question though. If Luther was so mentally ill and unstable than could it be that his level of culpability is reduced? I always thought the Church teaches that a person with his mental state is not entirely at fault for what he has done. Depression and bipolar disorder are both categorized as diseases and if he suffered from both, and it appears that he did, God could've judged him less severely. I have always wondered about this. Thanks for any comments.

Arthur C. Sippo MD, MPH said...

Great question, Lucas. I would agree that Luther's mental illness does introduce the possibility of mitigated moral responsibility. I really do hope that is the case and that God cut him some slack.

Luther is one of those people that you can't entirely dislike. He did give some good practical pastoral advice. When his ex-student and fellow Protestant revolutionary Karlstadt -- who had ridicule him and acted against him -- fell on hard times, Luther took him in and cared for him as he died.

But he reacted violently when anyone questioned his "theology" because it was the only thing that kept his depression at bay.

Former Lutheran Fr. Richard John Nieuhaus has said - and several Catholic and Protestant scholars back him up on this - that Luther never intended to rip the Church apart. He just could not control his own impulses.

We should pray for Martin Luther and ask God to forgive him because he knew not what he did.


rr1213 said...

A couple comments. I've not read Lortz but, if he was a Nazi, that is a legitimate point to make in attacking his credibility. Still, in and of itself, it does not necessarily prove that his scholarship was bad. Instead, it shows a possible bias which could reasonably be inferred may have affected his analysis and research. Of course, the same could be said for other Catholic scholars of Luther--they also could be inferred to be biased in a different sense due to their faith and their position within the Catholic Church.

Second comment is that we must be careful about the technique of guilt by association. It is true that you are known by the friends you keep, as well as the enemies that you make. Nonetheless, again, these things go to credibility and not necessarily to the truth of the matter.

Last comment....it almost seems that your true aim is the opposite of what you first announced. Instead of discrediting Lortz with his association with the Nazis you seem more to be trying to discredit Luther by associating him with the Nazis. Luther was not responsible for National Socialism...at least no more than Catholicism was responsible for Franco or Mussolini.

rr1213 said...

Oh, one other thing. I think that we must be careful in attributing mental illness to a man who was never examined by any competent psychologist or psychiatrist. You're a medical doctor and know better than I, but I would be wary of a diagnosis made without seeing the patient.

Arthur C. Sippo MD, MPH said...

A POSSIBLE bias? What I have shown is that for the last 125 years Martin Luther's psychological quirks have been identified by scholars -- Protestant, Catholic, and secular -- as a major influence on his thinking. Fr. Lortz back tracked and tried to find "good reasons" for Luther's behavior. This tallied nicely with Protestant hopes that the Reformation was not the product of psychopathology AND with the Nazi desire for Luther to be a genocidal anti-Semite just like them. To do this Lortz had to abandon the well established scholarly tradition which questioned Luther's sanity. Since Lortz was not a Protestant but he was a card carrying, dues paying, member of the Nazi party who defended Mein Kampf, and who published all of his major works under the close supervision of Nazi censors, I think we can say that his prejudices were more than a "possible bias."

In any case, Fr. Lortz's assessment contradicts that of all the other scholars I mentioned. He does not refute them. He merely dismisses them with a wave of his hand (a Nazi salute and a "Sieg heil"?)! The only ones who like Lortz's work are Protestant apologists and ecumaniacs. I side with the old school and its mass of evidence. Lortz stands practically alone and he did not do the work to undermine or dissuade his opponents. He jsut said what the Nazis wanted to hear and they let him publish. You can read it for yourself.

Guilt by association? RR, Mr. Swan wants to use Fr. Lortz to completely undermine the work of Fr. Denifle, Fr. Grisar. Dr. Reiter, Prof. Rix, Dr. Marius, and the others. May I suggest that he needs to find a far more credible source to do so? Can he give me one non-Nazi Catholic scholar who thinks that Luther was right and who does not think that his psychological make-up may have influenced his excessive behavior? The answer of course is "No". Swan needs Lortz because ONLY Lortz says EXACTLY what Swan wants him to say. Not even Hans Kung goes that far and he has been declared to NOT be a Catholic theologian.

As to discrediting Luther because the Nazis liked him... well, I gave you the page where with all those quotations from Nazis extolling Luther's intemperate comments about Jews. The genocidal maniacs found inspiration in Luther. And Karl Barth blamed Luther's doctrine of the "Two Swords" for suppressing Lutheran resistance to Nazi political injustice. Let us just say that the bad fruit of the Deformation logically resulted in Totalitarianism and genocide, and Luther must share some of the blame for that.


Arthur C. Sippo MD, MPH said...

Oh, and I have heard this same trite argument about needing to examine the patient before giving a diagnosis before. Tell that to the FBI profilers who build up psychological profiles of serial killers and other criminals to aid in their capture. This is standard practice today not only in criminal investigation but also in espionage, counter espionage and diplomacy. Ironically, the first psychological profile was done on Adolph Hitler for the US War Department in 1942. This technique has been used extensively since then.

And Luther has accommodate us by his voluminous written output. He was the Andrew Greeley of his day: He never had an unpublished thought. There is a ton of material -- literally millions of words -- that give us a very full picture of the man, his disturbed mind and his psychopathology.

All the tradition from Fr. Denifle onwards was doing was giving a psychological profile of an severely disturbed man. Again, I urge you to read this for yourself. Get Rix's book which gives the best overall summary. The case is well documented and devastating. This is one of the reasons why reason that I see Protestantism as a demonic deception and the product of raving lunacy.