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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Luther's Table Talk against new Astronomer, Copernicanism; Part 7

[2018-04-04 Addendum at bottom added on John Warwick Montgomery, Angus Menuge, and Jack Kilcrease; 2018-03-30: added note in red text below on J. Michael Reu]
      This continues from Part 6, a series on Copernicanism and Geocentricity (see Intro & Contents in Part 1) in response to a letter from a young person ("Josh") who asked if I believed Geocentricity ... and did not ridicule me in his question.
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      From Walther's comments against Copernicanism in 1868, I want to go back to the Table Talk recorded of Luther on this subject.  Of all the writings of the old German Missouri Synod fathers, I have seen none of them reference this Table Talk of Luther.  That seemed somewhat curious to me since Luther here seems to speak directly on the subject, whereas the Missourians (Walther, Pieper, etc. and the Synodical Conference) appealed essentially to Holy Scripture.  I wonder that they knew that an appeal to Luther's Table Talk would be discounted because these came not from his own hand, but were recorded second hand by students and friends.
Owen Gingerich
A. D. White
      Owen Gingrich, in an article for Christian History, says one of the Table Talk versions was by "an eager young student", the other by "another student".  So there were apparently two witnesses to this saying of Luther, not one, which enhances its credibility.  He also states that it largely was made prominent by Andrew Dickson White, first president of Cornell University.  I have not seen evidence in my research to refute Gingrich's assertion so far.  And it will also be noted that Gingerich does not question whether Luther actually made this statement, unlike some other scholars who discount it.  In any event, I want to present both available versions. 
      The first version is my translation from the St. Louis Edition, vol. 22, page/column 1546 [fixed link 2018-01-08].  The pertinent passage is the second paragraph under the heading "2. Wie ferne man Astronomiam billigen soll." (How far one should approve Astronomy) beginning with "Es ward gedacht ..."; the subheading "Der erste Absatz bei Cordatus No. 1183" (The first passage by [Conrad] Cordatus No. 1183):

Translation by BackToLuther; highlighting is mine.

It was thought that a new Astrology wanted to prove that the earth would be moved and go around, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and moon; just as if one sits on a cart or in a ship and is moved, meaning he was sitting quietly and at rest, but the earth and the trees go about and are moving. But so it goes now, that whoever would be wise leaves nothing of what others brought, he must make something of his own which must be the very best, as he makes it.  The fool wants to turn around the whole art of astronomy. But as the Holy Scripture indicates, so Joshua called the sun to stand still, not the earth. Josh. 10: 12-13.

The second version is from the American Edition of Luther's Works, vol. 54, pgs 358-359, published in 1967.  It was edited and translated by Theodore Tappert.  It is a translation from the Weimar edition and used a different recorder of Luther's table talks – Anthony Lauterbach.   Below I present this version including Tappert's footnote:

No. 4638: Luther Rejects the Copernican Cosmology
June 4, 1539
There was mention of a certain new astrologer 401 who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked,] “So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Josh. 10:12].”
– – – – – – – – –
401  The reference is undoubtedly to Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543).  His revolutionary theory was finally set forth in his Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres (1543), but before this it was taught, among other places, in Wittenberg itself.  For the historical context, see John Dillenberger, Protestant Thought and Natural Science (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1960), pp. 28-49; Walter A Hansen (trans.), Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House), I (1962), 414-431.

Tappert, along with Gingrich, does not question the authenticity of this general statement by Luther against Copernicanism. [2018-03-30: J. Michael Reu, the noted Luther scholar, also did not question the authenticity of this Table Talk in his 1944 book Luther and the Scriptures, p. 56]
John R. Christianson
Luther College, emeritus

      So it came as a bit of a surprise that a Lutheran scholar of history, John R. Christianson of Luther College, attempted to deny aspects of this Table Talk of Luther, especially since there were two witnesses.  In his article "Copernicus and the Lutherans" in the Sixteenth Century Journal, October 1978, page 2 (Jstor copy here), he indeed agreed with Heinrich Bornkamm, calling this Table Talk of Luther 
"next to worthless". (!)
So there is some disagreement among today's scholars over the significance of these Table Talks of Luther.

      But Franz Pieper did not refer to Luther's Table Talk in his Christliche Dogmatik textbook, he referred to Luther's own first hand writings that touched on astronomy and largely confirmed the essential point of this table talk.  Could it be that Profs. Christianson and Bornkamm were uninformed on Luther's own writings on the subject of Astronomy?  This denial by Christianson calls to mind what other scholars have attempted to do in denying Luther's absolute dependence on the authority and inspiration of Holy Scripture.  —
      And there is the parallel subject of Biblical chronology which is largely denied today by scholars, but Luther said this about Biblical chronology (ref. this blog post):
"This thing has moved me that though I have not despised the historians completely, I have preferred Holy Scripture to them. I use the historians in such a way that I am not made to contradict the Scriptures. For I believe that in the Scriptures the true God speaks; but in the histories, good people by their ability, their diligence, and their faithfulness prove (but as human beings), or at least that the copyists, can err."
This quote perfectly summarizes Luther's position also regarding Astronomy... he would not despise Astronomists, but would prefer Holy Scripture to them, just as he handled historians and Biblical Chronology.
     I will revisit some of the persons mentioned in this blog later, especially Andrew Dickson White. —  But my research kept going in many directions, one of which ran into the 'scientific' antagonist Robert (Bob) Schadewald and his well-known fight against not only the Bible's teaching of Creation, but also Geocentricity.  In the next Part 8, I visit some of his writings.

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2018-04-03: In addition to the antagonistic Bornkamm and Christianson above, there are less antagonistic (perhaps) scholars on the significance of these Table Talks.  It has come to my attention that in 1970, John Warwick Montgomery authored his “classic” book In Defense of Martin Luther (recently republished NPH here and NRP here) which included the following section, pp. 91-92:
... Luther’s resistance to the Copernican theory. Now it is quite true that Luther on one occasion set over against the Biblical account of Joshua’s commanding the sun to stand still the view of “a certain new astrologer who proved that the earth moves.” However, those who confidently quote this passage (usually from a late, redacted text) are invariably unaware that (1) Copernicus is not named in the passage, so it is not absolutely certain that Luther had him in mind; (2) the statement was a conversational table remark made in the year 1539, four years before anything by Copernicus had been printed, and so could not possibly have been made on the basis of an actual study of Copernicus’ arguments; (3) this is the only such remark contained in the entire corpus of Luther’s writings — extending to some seventy-five volumes in the best critical edition; Luther, in other words, made no negative comments on Copernicus’ theory after the publication of the De revolutionibus in 1543; (4) Luther elsewhere makes clear that he is quite willing to admit that the Biblical writers can and do describe physical phenomena from their own observational standpoint and not in absolute terms;11 thus the Joshua passage could not have been for him an insuperable barrier to the acceptance of the Copernican position; and, finally, (5) Luther’s one passing remark, which may or may not have been directed to Copernicus, did not appear in print until 1566 — a full twenty years after Luther’s death— so it cannot be regarded as having acted as an actual deterrent to the spread of the new world picture among Lutherans or others. Indeed, followers of Luther were instrumental in the initial promotion of Copernicus’ theory.

This "apologetic" has apparently been given the widest acceptance among modern Lutherans since 1970 – most recently Dr. Montgomery gave a lecture for the "Village Lectures" November 8, 2017 entitled "A Lawyer's Defense of Christianity".
In 2015 Prof. Angus Menuge, of Concordia University–Wisconsin, largely relies on Montgomery's above “defense” of Luther on Copernicanism in his essay “The Cultural and Aesthetic Impact of Lutheranism” in the recent book Where Christ Is Present: A Theology for All Seasons on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (p. 225 ff.).  Menuge is a professor of philosophy at Concordia University, Wisconsin.  And according to this website, he is “principal drafter of the LC-MS Commission on Theology and Church Relations report, In Christ All Things Hold Together: The Intersection of Science and Christian Theology (LC-MS, 2015)”.  

Then in 2016 Dr. Jack Kilcrease, in a Spring 2016 Lutheran Quarterly book review confirmed Menuge's (and Montgomery's) “apologetic” with the following statement:
“On the other end of the spectrum, the Liberal Protestant and Roman Catholic impulse to synthesize culture with Christianity has the destructive effect of treating finite and provisional human culture as if it were on par with the Word of God. There is no clearer example of this than the sciences, where the Roman Catholic Church’s synthesis of Aristotle and the Bible made it initially unable to accept the new astronomy of the seventeenth century. This harmed Christianity by making it appear scientifically backward. At present, Menuge believes that Mainline Protestants are essentially making the same mistake with their unqualified acceptance of Neo-Darwinism.”
Kilcrease's statement, equating faith in the words of Joshua 10:13 with "Aristotle" and "the Roman Catholic Church's synthesis" would seem to be similar to the charge against "religion" by Andrew Dickson White of "The Warfare of Science".

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