Monday, June 10, 2013

Martin Luther on the life and practices of the "Turks" (i.e. Muslims of the Ottoman Empire) and the God worshipped by them

Before I resume my review of James R. White's, What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur'an, I wanted to share an article that I found online last week; an article that includes two translations from Luther's corpus that I had never read; an article that I think many will find to be quite interesting. The article is from the Lutheran journal, Word & World (Volume XVI.2, Spring 1996, pp. 250-266). A pdf copy can be accessed (and downloaded) via the following link:

In addition to the translations of the Preface to the Libellus de ritu et moribus Turcorum (1530), and Preface to Bibliander’s Edition of the Qur’an (1543), a valuable introduction is provided. From the introduction we read:

Throughout this period, guided by his perspective of the two realms, civil and spiritual, and the duties appropriate to each, Luther repeatedly argued for the obligation of obedience to all secular authority as instituted by God for the preservation of order, going so far as to say, even if it be the authority of Turkish captors. Accordingly, Luther was often charged with being responsible for a perceived reluctance on the part of Lutherans to fight against the Turkish invaders and thus for hindering good morale on the part of the defenders of Europe. At the same time Luther’s writings consistently show him to have been more concerned with Christians at home than with the Turk, with matters of theodicy and with a call for contrition and inward preparation on the part of a Christian population in great need of repentance before the present catastrophe, which he saw to be the punishment of God. (Page 252)

The authors then briefly comment on a few of Luther's polemical treatments against the "Turks", and follow that section with:

Whatever must be granted in Luther’s language in this document [On War Against the Turk] to the context, to the extremities of the political situation, and the rhetoric of war, still in the almost contemporary work included below in Part II we see a much more balanced discussion. (Page 254) 


...we see that the religion of the Turks or Muhammad is far more splendid in ceremonies—and, I might almost say, in customs—than ours, even including that of the religious or all the clerics. The modesty and simplicity of their food, clothing, dwellings, and everything else, as well as the fasts, prayers, and common gatherings of the people that this book reveals are nowhere seen among us—or rather it is impossible for our people to be persuaded to them. Furthermore, which of our monks, be it a Carthusian (they who wish to appear the best) or a Benedictine, is not put to shame by the miraculous and wondrous abstinence and discipline among their religious? Our religious are mere shadows when compared to them, and our people clearly profane when compared to theirs. Not even true Christians, not Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display. This is the reason why many persons so easily depart from faith in Christ for Muhammadanism and adhere to it so tenaciously. I sincerely believe that no papist, monk, cleric, or their equal in faith would be able to remain in their faith if they should spend three days among the Turks. (Page 259)

Moving on to the God worshipped by the "Turks", we read the following from Luther's Large Catechism:

These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people upon earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they have do not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illuminated and blessed by any gifts of the Holy Spirit. (The Book of Concord, "The Large Catechism", 1959, p. 419 - bold emphasis mine.)

As with so much of Luther's thought/writings, I come away with a strong sense of tension between some of his more basic reflections on the "Turks", and his polemical outbursts.

With that said, I hope that some of my readers will find the above resources as interesting as I have.

Grace and peace,



Rory said...

I suppose three days with a Turk might be preferable to three days with Luther.

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

You said:

==I suppose three days with a Turk might be preferable to three days with Luther.==

Indeed, especially if one were Jewish.

Grace and peace,