I am critical of Luther where I think he was wrong. What’s wrong with that? Do Catholics not have a right and even a duty to defend Catholic truth claims when they are severely attacked? I don’t “hate” the man or think he was a “bad” man. I admire him in some ways.
Some folks insist on blasting my Luther research, largely based on hearsay and reading only critiques without reading my replies to such critiques. I think it is a problem today, especially on the Internet, that lots of people like to talk about others and make comments about their work, without actually reading or interacting with it. I’m all about friendly dialogue. If someone doesn’t care for something I write, they are more than welcome to critique it (I positively encourage it), and I’d be delighted to have a dialogue and present all of my critics’ views on my own blog.
The views of my severest critics concerning my treatment of Luther, are more than a little unbalanced and inaccurate. My concern, as a Catholic apologist, is with theological truth and historical truth, not tearing down human beings simply because I disagree with them.
Hence I am happy to defend Luther or agree with him, when I am able to do so as a Catholic, in good conscience. I’m as ecumenical as I am apologetic. In some ways, I am less critical of Luther than even his fellow Protestants were. Calvin said he was an idolater. I haven’t said that. Other Protestants during his time implied that he was mad or otherwise profoundly unbalanced. I haven’t claimed that, either. I have simply noted that he was prone to depression, as all of his biographers freely acknowledge. And I say that this may have had an effect on his soteriology, which I think is quite plausible, and which has been asserted by many historians also.
My positions on Luther are often quite “moderate” compared to what is seen in some Catholic circles. For example, there is a current controversy going on (I’ve only skimmed it), where a Catholic has apparently claimed that Luther lost faith because two of his children died. I think that is outrageous and disgusting, to make such a tragic issue fodder for Luther-bashing.
If many thousands of certain sorts of Protestants can make out that Catholics aren’t even Christians, because we are Catholics (an extreme insult indeed), then certainly I can criticize a man for having what I believe is incorrect theology, or incorrect moral positions, no?
Reviews from Lutherans about me are mixed. I get accused of being “anti-Luther” by some and am commended by others. But the ones I have actually dialogued with say nice things about me:
Dave Armstrong is a former Protestant Catholic who is in fact blessedly free of the kind of ‘any enemy of Protestantism is a friend of mine’ coalition-building . . . he’s pro-Catholic (naturally) without being anti-Protestant (or anti-Orthodox, for that matter). [“CPA”: professor of history: LCMS]
Whether one agrees with Dave’s take on everything or not, everyone should take it quite seriously, because he presents his arguments formidably.
Dave is one of the best Catholic apologists. [Lutheran Pastor Ken Howes: LCMS]
You are a very friendly adversary who really does try to do all things with gentleness and respect. For this I praise God. [Nathan Rinne, Lutheran apologist: LCMS]
Also, a very severe critic of mine who is Reformed Protestant (and anti-Catholic), a guy who goes by the nickname, “Turretinfan”, bore extraordinary witness to my true attitude in this regard:
One other thing I should point out in Dave’s defense. He has, if I recall correctly, previously responded to some of the most extreme anti-Lutheran garbage out there. So, while he’s clearly on the other side of the Tiber from Luther, one should not conclude that his errors in scholarship are somehow solely the result of malice and ill-will toward Luther. (3-1-10, on a Lutheran blog)
First I’m accused (usually by Lutherans or those non-Lutheran Protestants who fancy themselves experts on Luther) of being a Luther-hater and anti-Protestant and evil incarnate and all the rest. Then I’m accused of loving and being infatuated with Martin Luther so much that I have excommunicated myself and grossly compromised my Catholic beliefs. It’s amazing what two different people will perceive in the very same thing (my book on Martin Luther), and the very same person (me!), ain’t it?
First a couple sophist anti-Catholic Protestants say I ain’t a real Catholic; then an anti-Catholic radical reactionary Catholic who is more Catholic then the pope sez I ain’t a real Catholic in good standing, cuz I just excommunicated myself. Shortly before that, one of his buddies claimed I was a wicked, deceitful enemy of Christ and of His Church. It’s the hyper-literal, can’t-see-the-forest-for-t
People of this sort (whether anti-Catholic Protestants or anti-Catholic radical reactionary Catholics) just don’t get it. If they are horrendously burdened with the task of having to analyze anything more subtle than a water buffalo or an elephant, they’re out to sea. In fact, if they saw a whale while they were out to sea, they’d probably think it was a water buffalo.
To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton’s humorous remark about critics and William Shakespeare (I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, under the ludicrous circumstances, being a great advocate of the witty retort): “Dave Armstrong is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else.” (Orthodoxy, 1908, ch. 2)
(originally 9-30-08, 5-28-09, and 1-6-15)