It is Saturday 6th of July 1415. Today, the goose is going to be cooked. John Hus. He is the follower of John Wycliffe and has been advancing his heretical ideas. The Church is at its flimsiest time. The previous years saw the Great Schism of the papacy. It was the years that saw two popes claiming to be the true Vicar of Christ. Urban reigning from Rome and Clement from Avignon.
The Council of Pisa (1409), which was set to resolve this matter, added more problems. They denounced both popes and appointed yet another, Alexander V. Urban and Clement did not recognised Pisa’s authority, thus did not let go of the chair of St. Peter. Alexander V, thus, joined the two. Now, we did not only have two but three popes at the same time. This was the great wall of shame in our Catholic Church history.
Reformers were no better. They were not saints neither. They had greater walls of shame. A century after the goose was cooked, burned at the stalk, a swan nailed 95 Theses of Contention at church of Wittenberg. Using the Swan’s own words:
“St. John Huss prophesied of me [Martin Luther] when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia, “They will roast a goose now (for ‘Huss’ means ‘a goose’), but after a hundred years they will hear a swan sing, and him they will endure.” And that is the way it will be, if God wills.”(LW 34.104)
Luther’s Wall of Shame: His Odium Theologicum Against Jews
Martin Luther sang. His songs changed the course of Western civilization. But he too had a great, if not the greatest, wall of shame. Luther abhorred Jews. His intensive hatred poured in full wrath towards Jews at his late stage of life is unjustifiable. We are justified in condemning his theological anti-semitism. His odium theologicum towards Judaism clearly marks the worst and the darkest phase of Luther’s life. Here he failed miserably.
What happened to the Luther who published in 1523 That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, a treatise that defended the Jews against theological anti-semitism? What happened to the Luther who advised that:
“I would request and advise that one deal gently with them and instruct them from Scripture; then some of them may come along. Instead of this we are trying only to drive them by force, slandering them, accusing them of having Christian blood if they don’t stink, and I know not what other foolishness. So long as we thus treat them like dogs, how can we expect to work any good among them? Again, when we forbid them to labor and do business and have any human fellowship with us, thereby forcing them into usury, how is that supposed to do them any good?”(LW 45.229)
What happened to the Luther who taught that Jews are blood relatives of Christ while we Gentiles are “aliens and in-laws”(LW 45.201)? Why did he not practice what he preached, when he concluded that:
We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, that they may have occasion and opportunity to associate with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either.(LW 45.229)
O how I wished Luther did not become the total opposite of what he earlier believed about Jews. In his 1543’s treatise, On The Jews And Their Lies, Luther is at his worst. It is a book I wished Luther had died before he could write it. It is his greatest wall of shame. This work left his very contemporary reformers such as Melanchthon and Osiander not only disappointed but also saddened.
In this book Luther placed himself among those who intensively hated and opposed Jews. He called for burning of their synagogues, demolishing of their homes, confiscation of their prayer books and deportation. Fortunate his proposal’s found no favor among authorities. No synagogues were burned, no house demolished. But the seed was planted. This work was unfortunately reprinted and put into action. Action was applied to words. Thousands of Jews did not only lose their synagogues, and houses but their very own lives. If Nietzsche’s The Will To Power and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, among others, were used to provide philosophical justification for malicious treatment of Jews in Germany, Luther’s On The Jews And Their Lies sadly secured theological justification.
How can I love such a man? How can I? I love him because I am no better than him. I am not a saint yet I am loved. I have my own great wall of shame yet I am accepted. My sins are so heavy that I cannot bear, yet there is One in my place He bears. If I were to be loved because I was lovable, none would ever loved me. Not even God.
I love Luther not because of what he is in himself, but what he is in Christ. Like me, Luther has no righteousness of his own. None. He is a beggar, just like me, sitting at the table of Christ Jesus. I love Luther because he sang to me that Christ alone our shame He bore. Christ alone our sin He carried. I love Luther because he showed us that it is not our righteousness that saves. For we have none. What saves is Christ’s righteousness in us. I am a sinner. In Christ, I am a saint. This sainthood is not ours but Christ Jesus’ in us. This was the truth Luther sang. This is why the Luther I am ashamed of is the Luther I love.