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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Luther’s warning: “I believe what Church believes” (the "Köhler" or “charcoal-burner's faith”)

      In continuing my project of hyperlinking the references in Franz Pieper's Christliche Dogmatik work, I ran across his quote from Luther's writing that sounded so familiar to me.  (CDk1, p. 512, n. 1190)  A little research found that it does not seem to be in the American Edition of Luther's Works, but it surely has been quoted by many – somewhere – because it sounds so familiar!  And because the translation in the English edition Christian Dogmatics (vol. 1, p. 429, n. 55) did a great service of presenting this famous passage in English, I want to republish this short section.  (German speakers can read the text at St. L. XVII, 2013, #15 or here.)  But a little background will help to understand one of the terms used for people outside of Germany.
"Köhler" or "charcoal-burner"

The terms "Köhler" and "Köhlerglaube" are used by Luther and Pieper in the German language, and this is translated as "collier" in the English edition of Pieper's work.  "Köhler" means "charcoal-burner", but "collier" can also mean "coal miner" so the English translators took some liberty in using the term "collier".  There is a very interesting article in the German Wikipedia on "Köhler", the "charcoal-burner"... he "led a poor, lonely life".  And let it be known that the German term "Köhlerglaube" is translated by Google Translate as "blind faith", not "collier's faith".  As to the reason why it is translated this way will become apparent by the following story from Martin Luther.  So with this explanation of terms, I now will let Luther proceed with his story:
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“The story is told that a doctor of theology, meeting a charcoal-burner on the bridge at Prague and taking into account that he was but a poor layman, asked him: ‘My good man, what do you believe?’ The charcoal-burner answered: ‘I believe what the Church believes.’ The doctor: ‘And what does the Church believe?’ The charcoal-burner: ‘The Church believes what I believe.’ Later, when the doctor came to die, the devil so severely troubled him as to his faith that he knew not where to turn and found no rest until he said: ‘I believe what the charcoal-burner believes.’ 
Thomas Aquinas

A similar story is told of the great Thomas Aquinas. As his end approached, he could find no rest from the devil until he said: ‘I believe what this book says,’ meaning the Bible in his arms. But God preserve us from such a faith! For if they had no better faith than this, both the doctor and charcoal-burner believed themselves into the abyss of hell.”
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Ah, yes, we hear Luther speak of the famous Thomas Aquinas, a well-known Roman Catholic theologian.  And Luther shouts to us through the ages, that a "blind faith" is just that: a blind faith and not a true faith.  I remember the warning given by that phrase "I believe what the Church believes".  And on this point, the great teacher Franz Pieper chides the Papists:
They actually expect people to believe what the Church believes without knowing what the Church believes and Scripture teaches. To this Luther says: “God preserve us from such a faith!” 
Indeed, in this 500th Anniversary of Luther's Reformation, may "God preserve us from such a faith"!   May no reader of this blog "believe themselves into the abyss of hell"!  For we know "that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 John 4:14) and that "He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

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