My Luther Research Lied About Again (James Swan & CARM)


Photograph of Pinocchio, by “sferrario1968” (1-3-16) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons license]


I’ve gone through this nonsense repeatedly through the years. The “logic” seems to run as follows:

1. Dave Armstrong writes critically about Martin Luther.

2. Dave Armstrong is  a Catholic, and worse still, a Catholic apologist!

3. Therefore, his research is immediately questionable and inaccurate.

This is assumed without proof, and often (i.e., when closely scrutinized) flows largely from mere anti-Catholic prejudice. If someone actually makes a false claim, however, about a particular  piece of research of mine regarding Luther, then we have something concrete to talk about, and I can either demonstrate that I was not guilty of inaccuracy or “shoddy” research, or if shown to be in error, I will publicly retract it (as I have done several times over 21 years online, but not all that often, in matters of research).

I have defended myself many times and shown beyond doubt that the charges about my supposedly bad Luther research were false (examples: one / two / three / four / five / six / seven / eight / nine). I have refuted (innumerable times) James Swan, who was obsessed with my work for many years and wound up being so unable to refute it that he stooped in exasperation to truckloads of childish insults, including the classic claim that I am “psychotic” (examples of my refutations of his false charges: one / two / three / four / five / six / seven / eight / nine / ten / eleven / twelve / thirteen).

Now, I know 99% of those reading this couldn’t care less about those old disputes about relative minutiae. But I’ve learned that I have to document things, in order to stop rumors and innuendo. It’s a matter of record that these accusations have occurred over and over and that they have been summarily refuted. And James Swan never learns; that’s why I wanted to document that this has been going on with him for now 14 years.

Over at the very large Protestant-run CARM forum, which is notorious for its anti-Catholicism, a loudmouthed polemicist (apparently of Anabaptist leanings) who goes by “Bigboy” (in August 2017) has been ranting about Martin Luther, and using some of my early papers on the topic to do it. By “early” I mean early 1990s. This was right after I became a Catholic, and so I had relatively few resources about Luther other than the Protestant ones I already had in my library. I wanted to read Catholic perspectives on him. And so at a Catholic university library, I ran across materials like Jesuit Hartmann Grisar’s six-volume biography, Luther, and Johannes Janssen’s 16-volume History of the German People.

I was much more “polemical” against Luther in those days than I am now, because I was disgusted by the kinds of things I was discovering. Luther had been a big hero of mine. But I’d only read one side. As the years have gone by, I have written more and more positive things about Luther as well, and have defended him against many bum raps, urged folks to read him in context and to understand his use of humor and sarcasm and exaggeration, and even compiled an entire book of his utterances that Catholics would agree with. All of this can be readily seen on my extensive web page about Luther.

So this guy “Bigboy” has taken to citing this early research of mine, and arguing in ways (and with an obnoxious manner) that I never would. He appears to be “anti-Luther” (something I am not at all). He quotes this early research of mine where I am scathingly critical of Luther, while ignoring my material where I defend him or disabuse Catholics of false notions (examples: one / two / three / four / five / six).

That’s the backdrop. Then other Protestants on the board started replying to “Bigboy” and objecting to his use of my material. “Theo1689” opined on 8-20-17 (comment #344):

No, here are some unsubstantiated “quotes” you got from others who hate Luther. [cites six examples — all from me — from “Bigboy’s” posts]

I see you’re highly dependent on Dave Armstrong for your “quotes”.

Not only does this demonstrate that you’re not willing to do any work yourself, and that your’e not interested in an honest, unbiased view (“hey, let’s just do a Google search for quotes that support my opinion!”), it also demonstrates you haven’t checked any of the primary sources for accuracy.

Sorry, but I know too much about the Catholic Dave Armstrong to trust anything he had to say about Luther or Calvinism. That would be like going to Porky Pig to learn about astrophysics.

Alright! This is very typical of the garbage I’ve had to deal with through the years: no actual argumentation; no direct challenge: just sweeping, insulting rhetoric of this flatulent and vapid sort. As I alluded to, I was largely dependent on secondary sources in those early days of my Catholic research. Janssen and Grisar were originally in German. I read English translations (not knowing German), but unfortunately, the primary sources they would cite are invariably German sources. As time went on (these past 27 years) I have found most of my Luther quotations from English sources, such as the standard 55-volume Luther’s Works (I have the whole set in hardback).

This was the case for one of the sources cited: “Martin Luther, Commentary on 82nd Psalm, 1530 (Janssen, X, 222; EA, Bd. 39, 250-258; Commentary on 82nd Psalm, 1530; cf. Durant, 423, Grisar, VI, 26-27).” I cited a portion of it from the secondary sources Janssen and Grisar, and noted that Will Durant also mentioned it (in his large tome on the “Reformation”). But is it available in English? Yes, in Luther’s Works,  vol. 13, pp. 39-72. In my 2004 paper, “Luther Favored the Death Penalty for Anabaptists”, I cited pp. 61-62 from this English “official” translation. That proves that this citation is absolutely genuine.

The only difference is that in the early 90s I had cited the work, as conveyed through Grisar and/or Janssen, themselves citing German primary works of Luther, which were then translated into English. Same work, different translation. But that is not dishonest or inaccurate citation. Why, then, did “Theo1689” derisively put the word quotes in quotation marks, in order to insinuate that I had offered up non-authentic quotations? He railed against “Bigboy” for not checking sources, but he clearly didn’t do that, either, or else he would have seen that mine were perfectly legitimate.

A second source from my older work was “(Janssen, X, 222-223; pamphlet of 1536).” We will trace this and explain how James Swan engages in ridiculous personal attack, falsely arguing (as always!) that I am a completely incompetent, inept, dishonest researcher. Bottom line: he lies in accusing me of lying, as regards Luther sources. He’s been doing this for 14 years now. It gets very old and tired and pathetic. And I will refute it once again, for the umpteenth time.

All six of the quotations that “Theo1689” wanted to make an issue of were from my 1991 paper, “The Protestant Inquisition (“Reformation” Intolerance and Persecution).” I dug up a version of it from Internet Archive, from my original website, dated 17 August 2000. All I listed in this first version of the paper was “pamphlet of 1536”: information gleaned from Janssen, volume 10, pp. 222-223, and I had assumed that Luther made the statement.

This is where the plot thickens at CARM, and my perpetual nemesis James Swan salivated over another opportunity to make an ass of himself (while thinking that he had put me in my place). He chimed in about this pamphlet on 8-31-17 (comment #351), saying, “Luther did not write this. Melanchthon wrote it.” “Bigboy” blew this off, but Swan was right. Luther’s best friend and successor Philipp Melanchthon did indeed write it. Score one for Swan. And now the “detective work” about the original quotation gets very interesting.

I revised the “Protestant Inquisition” paper twice: on 31 October 2003 and 7 March 2007. In the second revision (see an archived version of it from 6-2-04), I still have the same basic bibliographic material, but I also have a citation from very well-known Luther biographer Roland Bainton, shortly after it, which reads (my blue highlighting):

In 1530 Luther advanced the view that two offences should be penalized even with death, namely sedition and blasphemy . . . Luther construed mere abstention from public office and military service as sedition and a rejection of an article of the Apostles’ Creed as blasphemy. In a memorandum of 1531, composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, a rejection of the ministerial office was described as insufferable blasphemy, and the disintegration of the Church as sedition against the ecclesiastical order. In a memorandum of 1536, again composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, the distinction between the peaceful and the revolutionary Anabaptists was obliterated.

(Bainton, 295 [i.e., Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Mentor Books, 1950, p. 295])

So sure, I should have made this more clear, but it was an honest and understandable mistake, as I shall explain; not deliberate dishonesty. By October 2003 I had understood that this “pamphlet” was written by Melancthon, not Luther; but Luther did give assent to it by signing it, so it is his opinion as well (which is casually assumed by Bainton). And the original source is an authentic one, that James Swan himself will prove below. I quote additional remarks by Bainton, connected to the above, in my 2004 paper on Luther and the death penalty, as well as a longer portion from the 1536 Melanchthon “memorandum” or “pamphlet”, which is still taken from Janssen.

In the 2nd revision of this old paper of mine, on 7 March 2007, I fully explain the quotation right underneath it, by noting, “(Janssen, X, 222-223; pamphlet of 1536 [written by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, as Bainton notes, not far below] )”.

James Swan (back to the CARM board), in a comment on 8-22-17 (#363) has a field day, using his timeworn tactics of distortion and calumny and unsubstantiated charges against me as a dolt and an imbecile in matters of research:

3. In regard to the quote, allow me to cut-and-paste my own words. The Roman blogger you cited refers to “Pamphlet of 1536” found in “Janssen, X, 222-223.” This is referring to an old Roman Catholic secondary source (not Luther!), Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, Vol. X, 222-223. This source can be found here. Janssen documents the quote as “the [injunction] of 1536 (published in the Zeitschr für histor. theol. xxviii [1538], p. 560 ff.” This refers to Zeitschrift für die historische Theologie, Volume 28. Page 560 can be found here. What’s being referred to is a document written by Melanchthon entitled, Ob christliche fürsten schsind, der Wiedertäufer unchristliche Sect mit leiblicher Strafe und mit dem Schwert zu wehren, or, Das Weltiche Oberkeitt den Widertafferen mit leiblicher, Straff zu weren schuldig sey / Etlicher Bedenken zu Wittenberg.

The man can definitely locate primary source material. Of course, he has the great benefit of having virtually all of this old writing available online. Back in 1991, I was going to libraries, copying physical books on the copy machine, and then using a typewriter to write a paper using that research, that later got scanned and transferred to my website (after 1997). The Internet was as of yet, unknown.

Note that Swan completely authenticates my citation, that “Theo1689” snidely claimed was dubious or false. Swan took the bibliographical information I provided and ran it down, in English and in German (primary source). Thanks for the thorough verification and vindication, James! But he wouldn’t be James Swan if he didn’t go on to accuse me of deliberate dishonesty. And so he does his shameful dirty work once again:

4. The error of attributing this writing to Luther is throughout the Internet. Whoever originally swiped this quote from Janssen (and I’m fairly certain I know who that was) never bothered to look the quote up to check it. Hence there are now all sorts of web pages claiming Luther wrote it. Shame on Rome’s apologists. What can be said of it is that Luther and the other Wittenberg theologians signed the document in agreement with what Melanchthon had penned. For an overview of this document, see: John S. Oyer, Lutheran Reformers Against Anabaptistsp. 173 ff.

As usual, he doesn’t name me (he even writes pseudo-“reviews” of my books without ever naming me LOL), but he is clearly talking about me. But in trying for the trillionth time to “prove” that I am an incompetent, unethical liar in my research, he again provides the proof that exonerates me. For he has linked to the very pages in Janssen (vol. 10, 222-223) that I retrieved my quotation from. And on those pages, anyone can see that Janssen didn’t make it clear that Luther hadn’t written the memorandum or pamphlet; he only signed on to it in agreement.

Swan chides me because I “never bothered to look the quote up to check it.” That’s right, I didn’t. Why? Because it was an obscure German primary source (Ob christliche fürsten schsind, der Wiedertäufer unchristliche Sect mit leiblicher Strafe und mit dem Schwert zu wehren, or, Das Weltiche Oberkeitt den Widertafferen mit leiblicher, Straff zu weren schuldig sey / Etlicher Bedenken zu Wittenberg), in the days before the Internet, and I don’t read German. Swan, as far as I know, can’t read German, either, but he seems to think he will impress people by his ability to look up the original primary sources in German, even though he can’t read a word of it. It takes a little digging, but anyone can do that. Unless he has learned German, he hasn’t read the original primary source anymore than I have. But it just looks so impressive to come up with that miles-long German title, doesn’t it?

Google Translate revealed the name: “Whether Christian priests were to repel the unchristian sect with bodily punishment, and with the sword.” And Melanchthon’s conclusion, agreed to by Luther, was “yes.” Anabaptists should be killed, because they rejected infant baptism. Swan, as usual, misses the very point, which was to show that Luther and Lutherans were every bit as intolerant as the Catholics of those times, if not more so. I proved it in the early 90s; he substantiated my source (thanks again!), and I have now shown that there was no dishonesty or incompetence whatever involved in my original paper.

My source hadn’t made it clear that Melanchthon wrote the pamphlet, and I couldn’t find out from the primary source without learning German.  So mine was an honest mistake. As soon as I learned that he did, I made changes to the paper, in revisions that are now over 13 and ten years old. And I am still being outrageously accused of dishonesty by James Swan.

The sun goes up, birds sing, bears poop in the woods, and James Swan lies about me yet again, bearing false witness, which is a violation of the Ten Commandments. Just an ordinary day for him and for me (the life of a Catholic apologist) . . .

Meanwhile, this very day, “Theo1689” made a statement (8-22-17, comment #374) that applies much more to his ludicrous accusations against me, than to my research from over 25 years ago):

I’m a teacher, and the fact that these people will quote secondary sources, and clearly biased sources, and not even QUESTION the accuracy of what is stated absolutely amazes me.

Have they never had to write essays in school?

Did they never have to use (and therefore learn) proper documentation and citation?

They are embarrassing themselves.

Yes, “they” are; but we disagree as to the exact people “they” refers to. Swan writes after that (comment #375):

Back in the early 2000’s I had to actually buy many of the secondary sources because they weren’t online. Now, almost everything is a click away. I can recall how entertaining it was here on CARM to get a hold of some of the secondary sources Rome’s defenders were using in regard to the Reformation and showing either the bias, the misquotation, or the abuse of the primary source being used by the secondary source.

I’m sure he can show that people like “Bigboy” engage in lousy research (and method of “outreach”), but in no way has he done that with my source above. He verified absolutely everything I cited. It’s a real memorandum, and Melanchthon wrote it and Luther agreed with it: exactly as I claimed in 1991 (i.e., Luther’s opinion was for Anabaptists to be executed). No lies, no distortion. I simply couldn’t get to the obscure German source back then, and I made a simple human mistake of assuming that Luther wrote it rather than agreeing with someone else’s writing. We’ve seen the proof of why I thought that. My source didn’t make it clear.

“Theo1689” keeps the game going (comment #376):

Over the years, I’ve developed a knack for finding unique phrases and sentences in papers, and could easily find the source with a simple Google search. Students think they’re [sic] teachers are so stupid…

Yeah, they might think their teachers are stupid when said teachers use “they’re” when they should use “their.” Back in 1991, we not only didn’t have Google; we didn’t have the Internet. I didn’t even own a computer, and was writing on a typewriter. Swan produced the original source I was looking at, and it was clearly an honest mistake on my part. But he couldn’t resist lying about me, in a place where he thought no one was looking, and so, could be behind my back. Ah, but I use a Google search every day (just as the good teacher above urged us peasants to do), to see what lies might be written about me that I am hardly ever informed of, and guess what turned up today?!


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