Saturday, May 10, 2008

Confessing vis-a-vis Professing Christ

I'm not certain where I first came across the following citation, but it stuck with me:

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

On the web it is generally attributed Luther's lips or pen, but I have never been able to verify the source. Some have given the reference to Luther's Works, Weimar Edition, Briefwechsel [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f., but one time when I had access to the WA, I checked it out -- and I don't think that is accurate. (Does anyone have access to the searchable electronic edition of the Weimaraner?)

Then, today I happened upon the statement in this context (Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family) -- note the minor differences -- and it seems much more likely to me that the statement originated here:

"But now to confess Luther seemed to me to have become identical with confessing Christ. It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity. It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess. If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved ; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.

"It seems to me also that, practically, the contest in every age of conflict ranges usually round the person of one faithful, God-sent man, whom to follow loyally is fidelity to God. In the days of the first Judaizing assault on the early Church, that man was St. Paul. In the great Arian battle, this man was Athanasius — " Athanasius contra mundum." In our days, in our land, I believe it is Luther; and to deny Luther would be for me who learned the truth from his lips, to deny Christ.

"Luther, I believe, is the man whom God has given to his Church in Germany in this age. Luther, therefore, I will follow — not as a perfect example, but as a God-appointed leader. Men can never be neutral in great religious contests ; and if, because of the little wrong in the right cause, or the little evil in the good man, we refuse to take the side of right, we are, by that very act, silently taking the side of wrong.

"When I came back to the convent I found the storm gathering. I was asked if I possessed any of Dr. Luther's writings. I confessed that I did. It was demanded that they should be given up. I said they could be taken from me, but I would not willingly give them up to destruction, because I believed they contained the truth of God. Thus the matter ended until we had each retired to our cells for the night, when one of the older monks came to me and accused me of secretly spreading Lutheran heresy among the brethren." (p. 276)


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I think what you have found is more likely a modified quote of Luther inserted into that work of historical fiction by Elizabeth Rundle Charles.

A similar statement with even more modification is found in another book from the same publisher, but different author, around the same period: Reminiscences of a Christian Life by Hannah Johnston Baily, 1885. (scroll to the bottom of that linked page)

In that book, Mrs. Baily (a Quaker social reformer) claims her late husband, Moses Baily (a Maine manufacturer), wrote that statement in his diary in this further modified form. It is conceivable he copied it down from something else he read.

I'd bet that this is, in fact, a statement of Luther's that, as powerful as it is, has thus been so often quoted through the years that we've simply lost the proper reference for it. I'd keep looking rather than attribute the quote to Elizabeth Rundle Charles.

Robert Preus attributed this statement to Luther in a wonderful paper he wrote on LUTHER: WORD, DOCTRINE, AND CONFESSION showing his secondary source of the Luther quote as follows:

Quoted from Francis A. Schaeffer, D.D., "Truth Versus the New Humanism and the New Theology" in Erich Kiehl and Waldo Werning, Evangelical Directions for the Lutheran Church, 1970, p. 21.

Perhaps if you find that book they might have the proper primary reference.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Correction: Those two books are from different publishers, but are from around the same period.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

Thank you, Erich. I'm impressed with your efforts. I was not aware of the Baily book from 1885. I was aware of the Preus quote -- and I had done some rather extensive attempts to track down Schaeffer's use which appears in more than one of his books -- one of which was quoted by Kiehl and Werning. Those works do not have explicit references.

Another eminently-qualified acquaintance, Rev. Dr. Christopher Brown (who is currently working to edit additional Luther volumes for the CPH/Augsburg-Fortress set) responded, confirming my suspicions that the reference to the Briefwechsel is only a similar quote - not the same one. Dr. Brown was gracious enough not only to provide the German, but also a translation:

He writes that WA Br 3:81f, letter no. 619, has a similar thought, but not the same words (also contained in Luther Deutsch):

Auch hilft nicht, daß jemand wollt sagen: “Jch will in allen Stücken
sonst gern Christum und sein Wort bekennen, ohn daß ich müge schweigen eines oder zwei, die meine Tyrannen nicht leiden mögen, als die zwo Gestalt des Sacraments oder desgleichen.” Denn wer in einem Stück oder Wort Christum verleugnet, der hat ebendenselbigen Christum in dem einigen Stück verleugnet, der in allen Stücken verleugnet würde, sintemal es nur ein Christus ist, in allen seinen Worten sämptlich und sonderlich.

TRANSLATED: Neither is it of any help if someone would say, 'I will gladly confess Christ and His Word in every other article, except that I may keep silence about one or two that my tyrants may not tolerate, such as both species in the Sacrament and the like.' For whoever denies Christ in one article or word has denied the same Christ in that one article who would be denied by [denying] all the articles, since there is only one Christ in all His words, taken all together or singly.

Both of you note that the Elizabeth Rundle Charles book goes back to 1901 -- but I would further draw attention to the fact that Charles' 1901 book is a _translation_ of something which purports to be from the 16th Century.

For example one of the stories speaks of "1415 and 1416" as being "nearly a hundred years ago."

"Nearly a hundred years ago, two priests preached in Bohemia,
called John Huss and Jerome of Prague. They seem to have
been dearly beloved, and to have been thought good men during
their life-time; but people must have been mistaken about them,
for they were both burnt alive as heretics at Constance in two
following years — in 1415 and 1416 ; which of course proves that
they could not have been good men, but exceedingly bad."

In any case, I don't think that the stories in the book took place in or around 1901.

The best thread to pull next would be to look at the Luther references which Charles mentions on page 8.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I find trying to track down quotes to be rather interesting and fun. I learn a lot by doing so. I admire your desire to track this one down and am glad to help in what little way I can.

The 1901 edition of the Elizabeth Rundle Charles book you referenced is a posthumous reprint of her 1862 book. It was a piece of historical fiction written to order for an editor who wanted a book about Luther.

As historical fiction, it only pretends to be about real people in the 16th Century. Here's an 1864 edition of that same book.

Charles wrote several books of this sort, such as DIARY OF MRS. KITTY TREVYLYAN, written in the form of a woman's diary, supposedly occuring during the mid-18th Century time of George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers.

Her books were not translations of actual accounts (though CHRONICLES itself was translated into several languages). They were purely historical fiction. Read more about Elizabeth Rundle Charles here.

I agree that it would be worthwhile to look into the references which Charles mentions in the beginning of her book. As an historical fiction writer, she did her research well. I bet she either came across that quote in one of those references or else it was as commonly quoted in 1862 as it is now.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

Erich, you confirmed my suspicion that Charles' "translation" was a work of historical fiction (like another work I've appreciated, "The Memoirs of Hadrian" by Marguerite Yourcenar, 1951) -- but I hadn't the time to track it down just now (or even to read the book in its entirety).

So I very much appreciate you setting the records straight. I stand corrected. And when I think about it, I wonder if it is even possible that real people of the time would have chronicled events and experiences in the way that the characters in this book did. That was foolish of me.

Perhaps you ought to post a few tips about how you track down editions of books, too. It's obviously very effective and I'm certain that my students and others could benefit from that knowledge. You could probably help us all raise our "book report skills" up several notches.

Hopefully this summer when I have a bit more time to do some serious study, I can look at those references mentioned in the front of the book. If they actually contain the quote in question -- it's likely that they may contain other gems as well.

Thanks again!

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

One last thing: As has been noted, many people have made reference to this Luther citation. I wonder where THEY read it -- and did everyone on the internet just start copying it from one another? Did Francis Schaeffer read it in Luther directly, or in a compendium of Luther's letters -- or even in one of these works of historical fiction?

Could rule out the latter because it isn't word-for-word? Still, if different translators translated the same quotation, I doubt that their translations would be 90% identical. There must be a common English source, don't you think? Is there any way of finding out about how widely circulated a book like Charles' and Baily's were -- at a time when, I assume, there were not as many books in print as there are today?

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

Upon further investigation, I've found editions of Charles' book from both 1964 and 1983. It just keeps popping up. I wonder if the later editions have any further references.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

HA! I actually OWN a copy! It's something on my bookshelf that I acquired but hadn't read.

There an edition edited and revised by James & Stacy McDonald, illustrated by Johannah Bluedorn (of the Trivium Bluedorn family, I presume) published by Books on the Path ( with the title:


It has nice engravings and illustrations and even a pull-out timeline of Luther's life . . . but alas, no references.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

As for my methods, I don't think they're anything I could provide instructions for. It's simply a matter of persistent trial and error Googling (with a fast Internet connection). I use quotation marks a lot in my searches in order to ensure that the specific phrases or names are searched for rather than close matches. I found the Baily book by searching in Google books with different sections of the quote. Since there are variations in its usage, I figured trying various significant three to four word segments might bring up other quotations of it.

Your final questions are good ones. I expect that much of the usage of this quotation has been copying it from others who attributed it to Luther. The footnote by Robert Preus is a good example of this. I've never felt that citing quotations from secondary sources was a good practice.

The WA Br 3 citation was probably provided by someone who was showing this to be consistent with Luther's thoughts, and then was mistakenly taken to have been providing the source of the original quote.

It's interesting to note that neither Charles nor Baily attributed the statement to Luther. I think that's another reason to doubt that either of them is the original source. A lot of good people have attributed this statement to Luther.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I wonder what source this book of quotations gives. Sadly, you'd probably have to buy it to find out. The page of footnotes on which this one is included is missing from the Google Books version.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

Yes, I saw that one, too. I could probably just do an inter-library loan . . .

If we look at the various renditions of the text, it's important to pick a search phrase that the all have in common.
(I think you elected to search "if we profess with the loudest" -- which gets a hit on Baily but not Charles.) I guess I've used several, but lately I've used "mere flight and disgrace".

But even that portion of the citation isn't in every quote -- some leave off the last part.

Still, that particular phrase turns up in all sorts of books including those which are Right to Life to one which favors the gay agenda to one which tells teachers of evolution how to deal with Christians in the classroom. (This I got from doing the phrase-in-quotes method you mentioned.)

Other more scholarly works go back to the Briefwechsel citation (provided above by Dr. Brown), but I really doubt that that was the quote behind Charles' reference -- but maybe she was using poetic license given the fact that she translated hymns among other things. Still, I wonder that a scholar like Lindbeck could have been so uncritical.

So, until I can get back to the references which Charles mentions in the beginning of her book (thanks to her for those), I think I'm sticking with the hypothesis that Charles' 1863 "translation" (or manufactured quote/paraphrase) is the earliest English source of the Luther "quote" -- and quite possibly the one from which all the others derive.

The fact that it was published at the time of the Civil War -- and that it was her best-known work -- is also interesting.

j40bob said...

I have been trying to find the source of this quote as well. I searched the electronic Weimar using German and Latin keywords for devil, world, soldier, battle, and battlefield and came up empty.

I found the Schaeffer quote cited by Preus--no reference. Schaeffer also uses this quote in two other works without citation. He always says that the statement is "attributed" to Luther. I found a book today that uses the quote where the author claims to have gotten in from the 1904 English translation of Luther's Church Postils. He also says that he has lost the exact reference. Tomorrow, I am going to try to find an index to see if there is a way of finding it.

What is disappointing to me is that so may people quote this passage and cite it as WA Briefe 3:81ff. They just seem to be copying other people without actually looking it up themselves. As you already point out, it is not the same quote. Doesn't anyone do original research anymore?

j40bob said...

I have the Charles book in my hand. Can those of you who know the quote is in here be kind enough to give me a page number?

Pamela said...

j40bob, I believe the page number is 276.

Pamela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pamela said...

I really love this quote & would like to know how I should give credit correctly. All help appreciated.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

I think this site provides the most thorough research for the quote:

Anonymous said...

See also this extended post: