Thursday, December 08, 2016

Luther: The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "The Jews":

"The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves" (Weimar, Vol. 53, Pg. 502.)

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With these quotes, they attempt to show while Christ taught "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," Luther held the opposite in regard to the Jews.


Documentation
Luther Exposing the Myth cites "Weimar, Vol. 53, Pg. 502." It is probable that the quote actually was taken from  Peter F. Wiener's Martin Luther, Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor (1945). Wiener states,
It will be found, at close inspection, that Luther's laws are much more strict, or at least as severe, as those of Hitler. Very often he repeated his order, “The Jews have to be expelled from our country.” Or he gave the Christian advice. “The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves” (W53, 502).
The reference, "W53, 502" is accurate. It's from Luther's treatise, Von den Juden und ihren Lügen (On The Jews and Their Lies, 1543). Here is WA 53:502. The text being referred to is lines 8-10 ("Denn ein Wucherer ist ein Ertzdieb und Landreuber, der billich am Galgen sieben mal höher denn andere Diebe hengen solt") from this paragraph:


Von den Juden und ihren Lügen was a response to a letter from Count Schlick of Moravia. The Count had sent Luther a Jewish apologetic pamphlet allegedly containing a Jewish attack against Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Christian exegesis of the Old Testament. The Count asked Luther to refute it. Unfortunately, this letter and attack have been lost, so we are unaware of the exact tone of argument Luther was responding to. Whatever was in that Jewish writing, Luther erupted in vicious polemic, attacking not only through theology, but also in antagonistic ad hominem as well. Luther moved from his earlier writings of attacking Jewish theology to attacking Jewish people.

This treatise has been translated into English in LW 47. The quote can be found at LW 47:241-242. This treatise was translated "only to make available the necessary documents for scholarly study of this aspect of Luther's thought" and its translation "is in no way intended as an endorsement of the distorted view of the Jewish faith and practice or the defamation of the Jewish people which this treatise contains" (LW 47:123).

Context
If they were not so stone-blind, their own vile external life would indeed convince them of the true nature of their penitence. For it abounds with witchcraft, conjuring signs, figures, and the tetragrammaton of the name, that is, with idolatry, envy, and conceit. Moreover, they are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury. Thus they live from day to day, together with wife and child, by theft and robbery, as arch-thieves and robbers, in the most impenitent security. For a usurer is an arch-thief and a robber who should rightly be hanged on the gallows seven times higher than other thieves. Indeed, God should prophesy about such beautiful penitence and merit from heaven through his holy angel and become a flagrant, blasphemous liar for the sake of the noble blood and circumcised saints who boast of being hallowed by God’s commandments, although they trample all of them under foot and do not keep one of them [LW 47:241-242].
The context shows Luther was totally convinced of the medieval stereotype of the Jews as thieves, in this context, because of the practice of usury. The editors of Luther’s Works explain,
The practice of usury, in the simple sense of the taking of interest on loans (without any connotation of exorbitant rates), is prohibited in such texts as Exod. 22:25, Lev. 25:35 ff., and Deut. 23:19 f., but only with respect to fellow Israelites. The Deuteronomy text is the most explicit with regard to dealings with others: “To a foreigner you may lend upon interest, but to your brother you shall not lend upon interest” (23:20). The practice of usury was strictly forbidden to Christians by the medieval church, but permitted to Jews. They prohibition began to break down during the Reformation period; Luther himself, however, steadfastly maintained the medieval position [LW 47: 169 (footnote 31)].
Even if Luther was right that the Jews practiced some sort of usury, the situation during the sixteenth century was not as simple as Luther makes it out. Eric Gritsch explains,
In a sermon of 1519, Luther joined the discussion on the use and abuse of money-lending, linked to the practice of "usury." Jews were accused of usury. But the charge was linked to an arrangement between Christian princes and Jewish merchants: the Christian political authorities permitted Jews to charge interest rates, but also made the Jews pay considerable sums for protection. It was a form of pawn-broking or of retail trade. Jewish traders offered discount prices, and Christian artisans complained about being cheated, using popular anti-Semitic rhetoric. Roman Catholic Canon Law prohibited usury, referring to Luke 6:35 ("lend, expecting nothing in return") [Eric Gritsch, Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism, Against His Better Judgment (Grand Rapids: Eermans, 2012), p. 57].
Conclusion
In Luther studies there have been a number of researchers who conclude Luther's later anti-Jewish tracts were written from a position different than current anti-semitism. Luther was born into a society that was anti-Judaic, but it was not the current anti-Judaic type of society that bases it racism on biological factors. Luther had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society. He had nothing against Jews as “Jews.” He had something against their religion because he believed it denied and blasphemed Christ. If one frames the issues with these two categories (anti-semitism, anti-Judaic), Luther was not Anti-semitic. The contemporary use of the word "anti-semitism" though does not typically consider its distinction from anti-Judaism. The word now has a more broad meaning including anti-Judaism. The current debate centers around whether the evolved use of the term is a significant step towards describing previous history or if it's setting up an anachronistic standard for evaluating previous history [see my entry here in regard to Eric Gritsch]. As I've looked at this issue from time to time, I'm beginning to think more along the lines of evaluating Luther with the current understanding of the word anti-semitism.

I don't have anything to gain by an exoneration of Luther's obvious societal stereotype against the Jews. Luther was not infallible. He said a number of things ranging on the scale of brilliant to typical to ridiculous to offensive. From my perspective, Luther's theology neither stands nor falls because of statements on the negative side of the scale. It's my opinion that Luther's attitude toward the Jews is part of Church history, and, to point a finger at Luther one needs to consistently point the fingers beyond Luther as well. This would be the consistent thing to do. There are though a number of Rome's cyber-defenders that think the Third Reich began with Luther and think posting Luther's dreadful comments from The Jews and Their Lies is a meaningful argument against Protestantism. Consider what Luther, Exposing the Myth states:
While I leave to the reader to draw his own conclusions, it suffices to say that what Luther really was; and the picture that is presented of him today by modern scholars, Lutherans and Protestants alike is far from the truth. Given this fact, it’s not difficult to see how a nation like Germany was able to blindly follow a person like Hitler if it had previously so readily embrace a person like Luther. Adolf Hitler himself was indeed no doubt a true (spiritual) son of Luther and in many ways was only being logical to the principles set forth by Luther in his approach to things. Hitler himself declared the reality of this point in one of his speeches saying: “I do insist on the certainty that sooner or later – once we hold power – Christianity will be overcome and the German Church established. Yes, the German church, without a Pope and without the bible, and Luther, if he could be with us, would give us his blessing.”
Despite the slander against the nation of Germany (as if there is something intrinsically wrong with them), it's simply illogical to think Luther invented Jewish oppression and that the church collectively didn't play it's part in creating the anti-Judaic culture Luther lived in. If Luther's spiritual son was Hitler, whose spiritual son is Luther? Nope, many of Rome's cyber-defenders won't touch that one. The story of Luther's negativity towards the Jews is really to tell the story of medieval Christianity and medieval society's negativity towards the Jews.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Excellent analysis of Irenaeus and Roman Catholic claims

Timothy Kauffman has a series entitled "The Visible Apostolicity of the Invisibly Shepherded Church"   ( a series of 8 articles)

I have read Part 5 which deals with Irenaeus and the Roman Catholic claims of Papal authority.

It is very good. I learned a lot of new valuable information about Irenaeus and church history.

I also read Part 1, which is very good also.  Tim has done a lot of work and provided a lot of great information at his web-site/blog.  I wish I had time to fully digest more of it.

I encourage everyone to check out his material on this 8 part series and the one below.

See the links to each of the 8 articles at Apologetics and Agape.

This is also very good in dealing with Mary and the lack of any evidence in the early Patristic sources on Mary's sinlessness or Immaculate conception.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Luther: "Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger!"

Here's an obscure Luther quote in regard to Luther's Mariology:  "Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger!" This one most often is cited by Rome's defenders attempting to demonstrate "Luther was extraordinarily devoted to Mary." Contrary to this, one can also find odd Protestant websites citing it against Luther for the same reason. For instance, this website uses it to demonstrate "Martin Luther worshipped [sic] Mary until his death," while on page 64 of this PDF "exposing" Reformed theology (not Lutheran!) the quote is included among a litany of context-less shock-value quotes.  Between these two extremes, making the same point, here's a Lutheran pastor citing it along with numbing qualifiers like "Luther was very catholic in his faith and piety and, though some of this changed or diminished slightly by the end of his life..."

What does it mean to say, "the Hail Mary"?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Hail Mary (or Ave Maria) as a prayer to Mary:
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death: By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the "Mother of Mercy," the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the Today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender "the hour of our death" wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son's death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise. (2677)
Whatever nuances a Roman Catholic may want to add to this, the bottom line is that for Rome, the Hail Mary is a prayer for Mary's intercession. In Roman Catholic practice it is not simply an occasional prayer, it's intended to be a daily and spiritually important religious exercise. When Luther says "Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger," is he advocating praying to Mary? Is he saying that someone with a strong "faith" can pray to Mary? If one were to simply take the quote in question at face value, that's what Luther appears to be saying. We'll see below this is not the case.


Documentation
As far as I can tell, the quote found its way to cyberspace originally in a sparse form like this:
"Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation" (Sermon, March 11, 1523).
The documentation provided refers simply to "Sermon, March 11, 1523."  The form of the quote and documentation make it likely it was originally taken from an article by William J. Cole, "Was Luther a Devotee of Mary?" (Marian Studies 1970). Cole cites the quote verbatim to the way presented above:
Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation (WA 11, 61, 25 to 32) [William J. Cole, "Was Luther a Devotee of Mary?" (Marian Studies 1970), p. 188].
Most likely Cole is responsible for the English translation of the quote in the popular form it is in. It appears that, for some unknown reason, whoever originally introduced this quote into cyberspace ignored the documentation Cole provided. Cole cites WA 11, 61, 25 to 32. This refers to seven lines from Luther's sermon of March 11, 1523, Predigt über Das Ave Maria. Here are lines 25 to 32 on page 61:


It is often the case that the primary text for Luther's sermons are not from the pen of Luther. Rather, a large number of  these sermons are the result of those who took shorthand Latin notes with German words mixed in while listening to him preach. The sermons were then adapted into a readable form. The wonders of the Internet never cease to amaze: this appears to be the actual copy of  Rörer's handwritten notes for this sermon.

To my knowledge, this sermon is not available in English. The interesting thing though about Cole's citation is the multiple-page detailed overview he gives of this particular sermon and Luther's understanding of the Ave Maria in general.  Below we'll examine the context of Cole's article, and in doing so, we'll notice that whoever originally took the quote from Cole's article did so by ignoring crucial qualifiers in the context.

The Context of William Cole's Article
Cole begins his exposition of Luther and The Hail Mary on page 183. He works through the subject in Luther's writings chronologically. He notes that by 1522, Luther "becomes more cautious about the Hail Mary" (p. 184). In a sermon on the Feast of the Annunciation, Luther says the Hail Mary is "no prayer... we cannot make out of the Hail Mary either a prayer or invocation, for it does not seem right to us that we should give these words a wider meaning than the Holy spirit Himself has given." Cole summarizes Luther:
Then Luther becomes practical. He claims that we make use of the Hail Mary in two ways: 1) as a meditation inasmuch as we recall the graces which God has given Mary and 2) as an expression of our desire that she would be recognized on this account by every man and be held in respect [WA 17 (2), 409, 8 to 17)]. Once he had adopted this position, he seems never to have abandoned it. (Cole, p. 184).
Cole goes on to document another writing from the same year, Luther's Little Prayer Book. Cole cites Luther saying,
No one blasphemes this Mother and her fruit so much as those who bless her with many rosaries and who have the Hail Mary always in the mouth, for these are the very persons who blaspheme the Word of God and the faith to the greatest degree! (Cole, p. 185).
Cole then explains,
Then Luther gives his own view of how the hail Mary should be used. He claims that there are two ways of really blessing this Mother and her fruit — a way according to the flesh and one according to the spirit. The former way, he points out, is "with the mouth and words of the Hail Mary" and this way he refers to as "blasphemy". But the second way, the spiritual way, is with the heart by which "I praise and bless her child Christ in all His words, works, and sorrows. this no one does unless he believes correctly, for without such a faith no heart is good, but us by nature full of curses and blasphemies against God and His holy ones" [WA 17 (2), 409, 8 to 17)] (Cole, p. 185-186).
Cole then cites Luther's conclusion to this by saying it's confusing because Luther does not seem to be excluding the Hail Mary as a prayer:
Therefore, if one does not believe, he should be advised to leave the Hail Mary and all prayers alone, for of such persons, it is written: "His prayer must be sinful" —(Psalm 109:7) [WA 10 (2), 408, 13 to 409, 22; 17 (2), 409, 8 to 410, 12] (Cole, p. 186).
 It is here where Cole begins his exposition of Luther's sermon from March 11, 1523.
Perhaps Luther's meaning becomes clearer in a sermon that he preached on March 11, 1523. It has come down to us in a shortened Latin version. The contents of the sermon, inasmuch as they relate to the Hail Mary, are very interesting. Luther mentions that a Christian must know three things: the Ten Commandments, the faith (the Apostles Creed), the Our Father. He then makes mention of the Hail Mary and gives as his reason for doing so that he does not wish to pass over it, since it is in use, but unfortunately, for the most part, has been abused. He then explains his point:
"Mary should be honored, but Christ should not be neglected because of this. We must again return to the right track. Christ has done everything for us. It cannot be said of Mary: "I believe in you"; that would be a blasphemy against God. This honor belongs to God alone, for we have no other mediator, neither Mary, nor the Apostles and the Prophets. This is the right faith—that we come to the Father through Christ. If Mary had not had this faith, she would not have been blessed. To keep this faith inviolate we must all be on our guard against honoring Mary too much."
He then complains of the common teaching of Mary as mediatrix which is accompanied by the portrayal of Christ as a strict Judge whom Mary renders gracious. He returns to his description of the Hail Mary and advises us that:
"It were best that the Hail Mary should entirely be laid aside because of the abuses connected with it. It is no prayer; it is a formula of praise (Lobpreis). When we think of it in this way, we use it correctly, but this is not the custom. Man prays in order to attain something." 
He then proceeds to point out that Mary is on the same level as we are, in support of his contention that we really should not pray to her: 
"We are brothers and sisters of Mary; we call her Mistress of the world, Queen of the Heavens. She is bodily virgin and is adorned with more gifts, but these are exterior advantages; in spiritual things, she is not better than we since she has no other Christ, no other Gospel, than we have. I would wish that the Marian cult were removed alone because of the misuse" [WA 11, 59f.].
This famous statement of Luther's must be seen in its context. It certainly cannot be used to support any contention that Luther purely and simply wanted to destroy the Marian cult, For in the same sermon he goes on to declare that the Marian cult must be dealt with in such a way that we remain in the faith and serve our neighbors, because nothing is perfected except through a firm belief in God and love of neighbor. He then concludes:
"Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation" [WA 11, 61, 25 to 32].
Five years later (1528) Luther declares of the Hail Mary:
"It is a great text, because the Mother is blessed and even more, because the Son is such a great child. Still there is no one on earth who truly prays the Hail Mary. Whoever once rightly prays it, prays it more often. But it was prayed perversely, just as the hypocritical Jews prayed so often, but perversely" [WA 27, 232, 17 to 23 — July 21, 1528] (Cole, p. 186-188).

Conclusion
One of Rome's defenders argues that the quote under scrutiny demonstrates Luther is "only forbidding a use of Marian devotions apart from heartfelt faith." Is this so according to Cole's overview? If in Roman Catholicism the Hail Mary is fundamentally a prayer to Mary, that's not what Luther had in mind when he is recorded as saying, "Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger." Luther explicitly says, "It is no prayer." Note Luther's words above, "she is not better than we since she has no other Christ, no other Gospel, than we have." For Luther, one could praise God for the gifts given to Mary, but praying to her, or using her as an intercessor was not spiritually appropriate. When Luther states, "Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation," the implications are those who pray to Mary or view her as any sort of intercessor, or pray to her in order to obtain something are those who utter the Hail Mary with danger to their salvation.

One interesting aspect brought out by Cole is Luther's attempt to present the Hail Mary in an evangelical context. Luther was not a radical reformer. He seems to have realized how ingrained the Hail Mary was in the tradition of the church and sought to allow for its use with a different meaning poured in. Martin Brecht point out, "Something new was his interpretation of the Ave Maria, which was intended to put an end to the practice of praying the rosary. In Mary, the only thing to be praised and honored is God and what he did in her" [Brecht, Martin Luther, Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521-1522, p. 120].

 Luther says in his Personal Prayer Book:
You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor. Similarly there is no petition in the first words of the Lord’s Prayer but rather praise and glorification that God is our Father and that he is in heaven. Therefore we should make the Hail Mary neither a prayer nor an invocation because it is improper to interpret the words beyond what they mean in themselves and beyond the meaning given them by the Holy Spirit (LW 43:39).
He goes on to suggest that while one shouldn't use it as a prayer, "we can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her [as one blessed by God] (LW 43:39-40). He adds, "...[I]n the present no one speaks evil of this Mother and her Fruit as much as those who bless her with many rosaries and constantly mouth the Hail Mary. These, more than any others, speak evil against Christ’s word and faith in the worst way [LW 43:40]. Those who pray "with lips and the words of the Hail Mary; such persons blaspheme and speak evil of her most dangerously" [LW 43:40].

Instead of abandoning the Hail Mary, Luther allowed it as a form of meditation and a way to praise God, even though "It were best that the Hail Mary should entirely be laid aside because of the abuses connected with it." If it has to be used at all, this is how one uses it correctly with a "good (firm) faith," as a contemplative meditation.  In his sermon on the Feast of the Annunciation, he compared meditating on it in the same way one would meditate on the magnificence of creation: one thanks God for the splendid glory of creation, one could also praise God for the mother who brought the messiah into the world.   He says also, "We cannot make of the 'Ave Maria' either a petition or a call for help to Mary for these words must say nothing more than what they actually say and what the Holy Ghost has established" [Joel Basely, The Festival Sermons of Martin Luther (Michigan: Mark V Publications, 2005) p. 284-285 ].

Addendum #1: Luther's Form of the Hail Mary vs. Its Contemporary Form 
This author asserts that the form of the Hail Mary in Luther's Prayer Book was, "Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen." He contrasts this to its contemporary wording: "Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death. Amen." This makes sense as to why Luther did not overtly reject the Ave Maria but rather reinterpreted it.

Addendum #2: Rome's Defenders React to Luther's Interpretation of the Hail Mary
Like his other writings, Luther’s Personal Prayer Book was subjected to attack. In 1524 Christoph von Schwarzenberg published a pamphlet branding Luther’s book as a subtle mixture of poison with much that was good. He charged that Luther disparaged the prayers of Christians in the past and encouraged moral laxity (e.g., one was to observe the Sixth Commandment “as much as possible”). Schwarzenberg contended that Luther taught that all would be saved, even the devils, because they believe in God. However his main objection was Luther’s evangelical interpretation of the Hail Mary, which was bound to offend many who were accustomed to, the cult of the Virgin. Shortly thereafter, in 1525, Christoph’s father Johan Schwarzenberg attacked his son’s criticisms in a book himself, and a lengthy debate ensued between son and father, attacking and defending Luther’s Personal Prayer Book. [LW 43:9-10]

Addendum #3 (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2009. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Luther Wanted to Drown Jews Seeking Baptism?

Over on the Christian Forums discussion boards, a Luther quote about the Jews came up:

"If I had to baptise a Jew, I would take him to the bridge of the Elbe, hang a stone round his neck and push him over with the words `I baptise thee in the name of Abraham” – Martin Luther 'The Facts About Luther, TAN Books, 1987, p. 290. [36] Grisar, “Luther”, Vol. V. pg. 413."

This is a popular anti-Luther quote used by Roman Catholics, atheists, secularists, cultists, and virtually anyone with an ax to grind against Luther. This quote has a long history with usage increasing post-World War II. In the age of the Internet, it has the characteristics of a viral Facebook post or YouTube clip. Upon a surface reading of this quote snippet, one pictures a Jewish convert approaching Luther for baptism, and Luther brimming with murderous anti-Jewish hatred. Is this the case? Was Luther advocating drowning Jews that were being baptized into the Christian faith? Well see below the quote is not something Luther wrote but rather exists as an anecdote with such a sparse context, that even if he did say it, there's not enough information for an exact interpretation.

Documentation
The quote in the form above is probably being pulled from the Roman Catholic webpage, "Luther Exposing the Myth" (the references are similar and the "[36]" is a clear indicator this webpage was utilized). I've reviewed this webpage here. Some years back I contacted the author and was told he would take a look at my reviews and get back to me. He never did.

The documentation provided first refers to "Martin Luther 'The Facts About Luther, TAN Books, 1987, p. 290." This old book had sunk into obscurity until it was revived by the Roman Catholic publisher Tan Books in 1987. This particular quote is not on page 290 (nor did I locate its use anywhere in the book). Luther, Exposing the Myth does use this reference but attaches it to another quote.  The second bit of documentation ("Luther", Vol. V. pg. 413is verbatim from Luther, Exposing the Myth and attached to this quote.  Luther, Exposing the Myth may have taken the quote from  Peter F. Wiener's Martin Luther, Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor (1945). Wiener states,
Of course, Luther proposed in detail how his followers should treat the “damned Jews.” “Never ought a Christian to eat or drink with a Jew”. “On being asked whether it would be right to box the ears of a Jew, Luther replied `Certainly. I for one would smack him on the jaw. Were I able, I would knock him down and stab him in my anger. It is lawful, according to both the human and the divine law, to kill a robber; then it is even more permissible to slay a blasphemer.'” Not a very Christian attitude; but worse is still to come. If I had to baptise a Jew, I would take him to the bridge of the Elbe, hang a stone round his neck and push him over with the words `I baptise thee in the name of Abraham'” (Detailed references given in Grisar, “Luther”, vol. v, p. 413)
Wiener points to Hartmann Grisar, a Roman Catholic historian writing during the period of destructive criticism and hostility towards Luther. After noting Luther's disappointment that Jews were not converting to Christianity after the outbreak of the Reformation,  Grisar states on pages 412 - 413:
The fact is, however, that no increase in the number of conversions took place. This disappointing experience, the sight of the growing insolence of the Jews, their pride and usury, not to speak of personal motives, such as certain attempts he suspected them to have made on his life at the instigation of the Papists, brought about a complete change in Luther s opinions in the course of a few years. As early as 1531 or 1532, when a Hebrew baptised at Wittenberg had brought discredit upon him by relapsing into Judaism, he gave vent to the angry threat, that, should he find another pious Jew to baptise he would take him to the bridge over the Elbe, hang a stone round his neck and push him over with the words: I baptise thee in the name of Abraham; for "those scoundrels," so he adds, " scoff at us all and at our religion.
Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 196. Schlaginhaufen, "Aufzeichn.," p. 131. In both the passage begins: "Should I again baptise a Jew," thus pointing to an unfortunate experience of Luther's own, which is related more in detail in Schlaginhaufen's report. In the corresponding passage in "Colloq.," ed., Bindseil, 1, p. 460, we read further: " sicut fecit ille, qui hie Wittebergae baptizabatur."
Grisar mentions a historical setting and provides documentation to the primary sources. The words "Cordatus," "Tagebuch," "Schlaginhaufen," "Colloq.," and "Bindseil," are clues that the primary source for the quote is Luther's  Tischreden, in English known as the Table Talk. Luther didn't write the Table Talk. It is a collection of second hand comments written down by Luther's friends and students, published after his death. Since the statements contained therein are purported to have been made by Luther, they should serve more as corroborating second-hand testimony to something Luther is certain to have written.

Grisar first refers to "Cordatus, "'Tagebuch,' p. 196." Conrad Cordatus was one of the earliest to take notes on Luther's incidental statements. Of his notes, he didn't always hear and record the comments himself. He is said to have taken Luther's comments from other sources. He later revised his Table Talk notes, making stylistic changes, thus his notes are as LW says, "a step further from what was actually said at the table" (LW 54:170). Because of this, Luther's Works (English edition) includes only a small sampling of those statements compiled by Cordatus (found in WA TR 2, 1950-3416).  Here is page 196 from Tagebuch Über Dr. Martin Luther, Geführt Von Dr. Conrad Cordatus (1885). The text reads:

"Schlaginhaufen, Aufzeichn.," refers to According to the records (nach den Aufzeichnungen ) of  John Schlaginhaufen. Schlaginhaufen was responsible for the entries 1232 to 1889 in WA, TR 2. His entries date from 1531 to 1532. LW states, "Nothing more is known about him until he appears in November, 1531, as one of the young men who lived in Luther’s home and ate at his table"(LW 54:125). Here is page 131 of Tischreden Luthers aus den jahren 1531 und 1532 Nach Den Aufzeichnungen von Johann Schlaginhaufen (1888):


 The last reference is to "'Colloq.,' ed., Bindseil, 1, p. 460." This refers to to D. Martini Lutheri Colloquia published by Henrico Ernesto Bindseil in 1848.  Here is page 460. The text reads,



This text from Bindseil can also be found in WA TR 2, 566 (entry 2634b). The Cordatus entry can be found on the same page (entry 2634a). Both of these entries appear in the Cordatus collection in WA.

As to the historical setting mentioned by Grisar ("As early as 1531 or 1532, when a Hebrew baptised at Wittenberg had brought discredit upon him by relapsing into Judaism"), Grisar says the information comes from "an unfortunate experience of Luther's own, which is related more in detail in Schlaginhaufen's report." This report does say something like,  "those villains of our religion laugh at us, as did the one who was baptized here at Wittenberg." Other than this, no documentation is provided. I've yet to find any credible information documenting or expounding on the details of this event.

For reasons mentioned above, the translators of LW chose not to include either of these entries. However, an English translation of (what appears to be) the German text did appear in 1848 by William Hazlitt: The Table Talk Or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, p.165.  Hazlitt's  translation is unique in three ways. First, the entry is probably mis-dated as 1541 (it is more likely from 1531-1532). Second Hazlitt rearranged the sentences in the statement, placing the leading controversial statement towards the end. Third, he added a concluding sentence not found in the primary contexts cited above.


Context
In 1541, Doctor Menius asked Doctor Luther, in what manner a Jew should be baptized? The Doctor replied: You must fill a large tub with water, and, having divested the Jew of his clothes, cover him with a while garment. He must then sit down in the tub, and you must baptize him quite under the water. The ancients, when they were baptized, were attired in white, whence the first Sunday after Easter, which was peculiarly consecrated to this ceremony, was called dominica in albis. This garb was rendered the more suitable, from the circumstance that it was, as now, the custom to bury people in a white shroud; and baptism, you know, is an emblem of our death. I have no doubt that when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, he was attired in a white robe. If a Jew, not converted at heart, were to ask baptism at my hands, I would take him on to the bridge, tie a stone round his neck, and hurl him into the river; for these wretches are wont to make a jest of our religion. Yet, after all, water and the Divine Word being the essence of baptism, a Jew, or any other, would be none the less validly baptized, that his own feelings and intentions were not the result of faith [William Hazlitt: The Table Talk Or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, p.165].
The original sources cited above demonstrate that this English text has been edited into a different order. The text should read this way, the added sentence is in red lettering:
[Martin Luther said:] If a Jew, not converted at heart, were to ask baptism at my hands, I would take him on to the bridge, tie a stone round his neck, and hurl him into the river [Elbe]; for these wretches are wont to make a jest of our religion [as did the one who was baptized here at Wittenberg].  Doctor Menius asked Doctor Luther, in what manner a Jew should be baptized? The Doctor replied: You must fill a large tub with water, and, having divested the Jew of his clothes, cover him with a while garment. He must then sit down in the tub, and you must baptize him quite under the water. The ancients, when they were baptized, were attired in white, whence the first Sunday after Easter, which was peculiarly consecrated to this ceremony, was called dominica in albis. This garb was rendered the more suitable, from the circumstance that it was, as now, the custom to bury people in a white shroud; and baptism, you know, is an emblem of our death. I have no doubt that when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, he was attired in a white robe. [Yet, after all, water and the Divine Word being the essence of baptism, a Jew, or any other, would be none the less validly baptized, that his own feelings and intentions were not the result of faith].
I've yet to find the Table Talk entry the last sentence was taken from. It is strikingly similar to a statement from Luther's Large Catechism:
For even though a Jew should to-day come dishonestly and with evil purpose, and we should baptize him in all good faith, we must say that his baptism is nevertheless genuine. For here is the water together with the Word of God. even though he does not receive it as he should, just as those who unworthily go to the Sacrament receive the true Sacrament even though they do not believe.
Conclusion    
I began this entry by saying that upon a surface reading of this quote snippet, one pictures a Jewish convert approaching Luther for baptism, and Luther brimming with murderous anti-Jewish hatred. Luther though,  had nothing against Jews as “Jews.” He had something against their religion because he believed it denied and blasphemed Christ. In the same Table Talk collection, an utterance verifies that Luther had no problem baptizing converted Jews:
“A Jew came to me at Wittenberg, and said: He was desirous to be baptized, and made a Christian, but that he would first go to Rome to see the chief head of Christendom. From this intention, myself, Philip Melancthon, and other divines, labored to dissuade him, fearing lest, when he witnessed the offences and knaveries at Rome, he might be scared from Christendom. But the Jew went to Rome, and when he had sufficiently seen the abominations acted there, he returned to us again, desiring to be baptized, and said: Now I will willingly worship the God of the Christians for he is a patient God. If he can endure such wickedness and vallany as is done at Rome, he can suffer and endure all the vices and knaveries of the world” (Hazlitt, p. 353).
While this story also appears to have some odd additions placed by Hazlitt, notably the words "Wittenberg" and "Philip Melancthon" making this popular late Middle Ages story personal (contrast Hazlitt's rendering with WA TR 3, 3479 and LW 54:208-209), the sentiment from this alleged 1536 Table Talk gives the impression that Luther had no issue with Jews converting to Christianity and seeking baptism. The Table Talk material is highly rhetorical, and easily misconstrued when over-literalized. While some may see the quote under scrutiny exemplifying Luther's antisemitism, perhaps the quote would be better viewed as hostile hyperbole or bitter sarcasm. Certainly Luther wrote hostile rhetoric towards enemies of the Gospel, and certainly his rhetoric heated up in his later years towards the Jews. However, this quote contradicts his actual written statements about Jews converting to Christianity.

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2007. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

In The News: The Pope credited Martin Luther?

I caught this recent comment from Pope Francis via CARM and the Catholic Answers forums
The temptation to “give glory to each other” and to exploit the faith for one’s own purposes is a persistent “cancer in the Church.” The Pope credited Martin Luther with rejecting “an image of the Church as an organization that can go ahead ignoring the grace of the Lord, or considering it as a possession to be taken for granted.” Returning to a theme that he had emphasized frequently in the early days of his pontificate, he said: “This temptation to build a self-referential Church, which leads to conflicts and divisions, always keeps coming back” [link].
The source for this information comes from "a lengthy interview with the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire." Here is the actual text:
Avvenire: Il patriarca Bartolomeo in un’intervista ad Avvenire disse che la radice della divisione è stata la penetrazione di un «pensiero mondano» nella Chiesa. Anche per lei è questa la causa della divisione?
Pope Francis: Continuo a pensare che il cancro nella Chiesa è il darsi gloria l’un l’altro. Se uno non sa chi è Gesù, o non lo ha mai incontrato, lo può sempre incontrare; ma se uno sta nella Chiesa, e si muove in essa perché proprio nell’ambito della Chiesa coltiva e alimenta la sua fame di dominio e affermazione di sé, ha una malattia spirituale, crede che la Chiesa sia una realtà umana autosufficiente, dove tutto si muove secondo logiche di ambizione e potere. Nella reazione di Lutero c’era anche questo: il rifiuto di un’immagine di Chiesa come un’organizzazione che poteva andare avanti facendo a meno della Grazia del Signore, o considerandola come un possesso scontato, garantito a priori. E questa tentazione di costruire una Chiesa autoreferenziale, che porta alla contrapposizione e quindi alla divisione, ritorna sempre.
How did Roman Catholics respond to this vague affirmative sentence? Here's a sample from the Catholic Answers discussion:

"I pray for the Holy Father daily. He is most sincere, and obviously wishes only the best for people. But 'crediting Martin Luther"?... Perhaps this is a bad translation of the interview (and I am more than willing to accept that), but that definitely is not going to come across well, and not just to those with a respect for the traditionalist point of view. o use the name of Martin Luther, who is regarded as the key to the whole destruction of a semi-unified Christendom... especially coming so soon after the event of October which still sits uneasily even on the most 'ecumenical' of stomachs, as an example of how to acknowledge something 'off' in the Church. . .well, the Holy Father must know what he is saying but it is very unclear and upsetting to me. I will continue to pray for enlightenment." [link]

"History and scholars have determined that Martin Luther wanted reform, and NEVER intended to start a whole new church or destroy the one he was a part of. Painting the man as evil sure discourages many fine people from returning to the faith. But, I realize this is a popular opinion." [link]

"It should also be noted that Martin Luther suffered from severe anxiety and scruples (today would almost certainly be diagnosed with OCD.) Martin Luther was most likely not seeking change and reform due to maliciousness or evil, but, rather out of fear and anxiety of "not making it to heaven" (and it was even harder "to make it" in that time period." [link]

"This is a must read for anyone who'd like to know more about Martin Luther https://www.amazon.com/Facts-About-L.../dp/0895553228" [link]

"I think the Church needed reformation at the time, but the split resulted from Luther and the Church not coming to terms. I've read and heard that Luther had some valid points. Why can't the Pope reference one to bring everyone closer together?" [link]

"...I personally was troubled, and have been troubled, with the emphasis on Martin Luther as an exemplar of how to approach the Church when there are troubles. Because no matter how valid some of his points may have been at the start (and neither I nor members of the Church, even from the get-go, have ever denied that there were some issues among individuals that needed a firmer hand to deal with them) --heck if you search some of my posts here I have noted more than once that if Martin Luther had worked patiently within the Church instead of giving up and attempting to impose his will not just on the real difficulties but on his own gradually increasing personal interpretations that he insisted be observed as gospel, that he would have probably become Saint Martin Luther. So in that sense he is a tragic figure, in that as usual Satan tries to take what is best and brightest, and make that fall. Henry VIII is another one --a man of great gifts, "Defender of the Church" (ironically written by him against Luther!), who likewise became intoxicated by his own admitted gifts to the point of inserting himself and his will again as 'gospel'. [link]

"We, as Catholics, are commemorating jointly with the Lutherans the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Joint services of common prayer and other commemorations will be occurring in dioceses throughout the world over the course of the next years." [link]

[in response to the previous comment] "What! That is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. I'm certainly not commemorating it. Why not make him a saint too? an inspiration for others to follow in leaving the Church and starting their own, good idea." [link]

"You would do well to inform yourself of the decisions taken by the Holy See with regard to Luther and Lutherans since 1983 and to conform yourself to what the Holy See has declared." [link]

"The pope should have an assistant that intervenes to prevent him from saying stupid things. He comes off as arrogant in the article." [link]

"A 500th year anniversary commemorating the reformation, is absolutely scandalous in the extreme for the Catholic Church to be involved in, the reformation is something the Church mourns. To 'commemorate' such a thing in the Catholic Church is wrong on so many levels." [link]

[in response to the previous comment"Let us be perfectly clear: 1) The decision of a joint commemoration of the Reformation is that of both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. 2) This decision is implemented by the Holy See. It is to be shown complete and absolute deference. 3) The bishops, dispersed throughout the world, and the conferences of bishops in their various geographical divisions have decreed what is to be done. For laity to speak of the decisions of the hierarchy at its highest levels as scandalous is nothing short of intolerable and invites censure from ecclesiastical authority. The commemoration has been implemented by the Pope and by the bishops of the world. Full stop." [link]

"Not full stop, not full stop at all. You are right, I am just a lay person with little knowledge and practically no authority to speak on such matters, but I know that it is wrong to commemorate the fracturing (reformation) of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I don't need to have authority or great knowledge to see that." [link]

"I believe some may be taking the commemoration too far, and it begins to look a bit like celebrating, especially when we see lots of praise heaped on Martin Luther. But as has been mentioned in many theological reports, he is a complex figure. I respect, for isntance, his reverence toward the Eucharist. I remember the story of how when he was celebrating Mass once towards the end of his life, he couldn't stop his hands from shaking after the consecration and spilled some of the Precious Blood on the floor of the altar. The old man got on his hands and knees and lapped up the Precious Blood with his tongue like a dog. But on the other hand, he did many things that give us bad examples of what a Christian witness should do, such as abandoning his vows of celibacy he made at his priestly ordination by marrying Katharina von Bora." [link]

"we are stuck with discussing the red herring of Martin Luther  His words of blasphemy against the sacrifice of the Mass and sacrament of marriage seem to conveniently be forgotten." [link]

"while I think we should defer to the Pope in simply commemorating (not celebrating) the Reformation this year and next by praying for unity and understanding, I don't see or understand why Catholics have to conform themselves to what the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity declared on Luther and Lutherans in 1983 or in this recent document. I don't see where that commission, comprised of both Lutherans and Catholics, is analogous to the Holy See, but I am open to correction." [link

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Luther: "The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe..."

Allegedly Luther stated, "The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness . . ." What are the implications of this brief snippet? Did Luther denigrate a book of Sacred Scripture? Did Luther deny the book of Esther to be Holy Scripture?

This has been a favorite Luther quote for Rome's defenders. This version of the quote came from a person who was "moving beyond being a life-long Mormon into full communion with the Body of Christ, which is His Church." By "His Church," Rome is meant. Elsewhere in cyberspace, this defender of Rome uses a version of the quote as an example of "Luther's Narcissism." This online Roman Catholic periodical uses it to imply Luther was "an enemy of the Bible." The quote also made it's way on to Luther, Exposing the Myth. Shoebat.com says the quote displays Luther's "contempt for Holy Scripture." Examples could easily be multiplied. We'll see there's a case to be made that this quote doesn't prove Luther was a narcissist an enemy of the Bible, or holding Scripture in contempt. I'll demonstrate below this isn't one quote, it's actually two different quotes put together from an unreliable source. The first sentence is not about the book of Esther at all.


Documentation: Secondary Source, Patrick O'Hare, The Facts About Luther
When the quote is documented on-line, often the source given is either to Roman Catholic author Msgr. Patrick O'Hare or his book, The Facts About Luther. This old book had sunk into obscurity until it was revived by the Roman Catholic publisher Tan Books in 1987.  In their zeal, some of Rome's 1990's early e-pologists put O'Hare's content on the Internet without checking his facts about Luther. Here is how Father O'Hare presents the quote:
But even for the books he chose to retain, he showed little or no respect. Here are some examples of his judgments on them. Of the Pentateuch he says: "We have no wish either to see or hear Moses." "Judith is a good, serious, brave tragedy." "Tobias is an elegant, pleasing, godly comedy." "Ecclesiasticus is a profitable book for an ordinary man." "Of very little worth is the book of Baruch, whoever the worthy Baruch may be." "Esdras I would not translate, because there is nothing in it which you might not find better in Aesop." "Job spoke not as it stands written in his book; but only had such thoughts. It is merely the argument of a fable. It is probable that Solomon wrote and made this book." "The book entitled 'Ecclesiastes' ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it. It has neither boots nor spurs; but rides only in socks as I myself did when an inmate of the cloister. Solomon did not, therefore, write this book, which was made in the days of the Maccabees of Sirach. It is like a Talmud, compiled from many books, perhaps in Egypt at the desire of King Evergetes." "The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness." "The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible." "The first book of the Maccabees might have been taken into the Scriptures, but the second is rightly cast out, though there is some good in it." (p.207-208, p.202 Tan)
O'Hare does not say where he took this material from (his documentation is often sketchy). The trail does not stop here. These quotes had been circulating in English for quite some time previous to The Facts About Luther.

Documentation: Secondary Source, Sir William Hamilton
There were a number of English sources previous to Father O'Hare presenting versions of this quote. One of the closest English translations previous to O'Hare is from an 1865 work:
"The book of Esther," he exclaims, "I toss into the Elbe! I am such an enemy to the book of Esther, that I wish it did not exist; for it judaizes too much, and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness" [link].
I mention this source because there are striking similarities with it and some of O'Hare's other Luther quotes (O'Hare appears to have borrowed from this source). This author cites "Edinburgh Review, No. 121" which refers to an article from 1834 entitled, On The Right Of Dissenters To Admission Into The English Universities. This appears to be the main source from which all the English translations of the quote stem from. This article was put together by Sir William Hamilton. Hamilton was not a Roman Catholic theologian but rather a Scottish philosopher and academic. The article has to do with the issue of whether or not those with dissenting religious views should be allowed into universities and compelled to follow the religious views of the English universities.

A number of Luther's statements are brought up to explore Luther's views and contemporary Lutheran orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Hamilton states, "We can easily show... there is hardly an obnoxious doctrine to be found among the modern Lutherans, which has not its warrant and example in the writings of Luther himself." Hamilton then provides a "hasty anthology of some of Luther's opinions." He provides a few pages of Luther citations broken down into categories. Under the heading of "Biblical Criticism" he quotes Luther saying,
"The book of Esther, I toss into the Elbe. I am so an enemy to the book of Esther that I would it did not exist; for it Judaises too much, and hath in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness" [link].
This appears to be the main English source for the quote. Hamilton does not admit to doing the English translations (but he did have the ability to do them) nor does he provide a reference as to where the quote comes from.

Documentation: Primary Sources
In response to a critic, Sir Hamilton revised his article and included documentation: "Colloquia c. lx.§ 10." "Colloquia" refers to Luther's Table Talk. His documentation though is less than adequate. Which version of "Colloquia" was being used? Hamilton doesn't say. In this revised version, buried in a footnote, he does say in passing that originally he "copied...Walch from whom... I translated." "Walch" refers to the German edition of Luther's works compiled by Johann Georg Walch between 1740-1753. This was one of the standard sets used by academics in the early nineteenth century. The actual text Hamilton probably used originally was page 2079 from Walch 22 (1743). The text reads, "Esther",


The documentation Hamilton added does not match up to this edition. Later editions of Walch's text correct the  Esther / Esdras error. For instance, in Dr. Martin Luther's sämmtliche Werke, Volumes 60-62 (1854) states,


The same corrected text is found in WA TR 1:208. This text only accounts for the first sentence used by Hamilton ("The book of Esther, I toss into the Elbe").  This utterance was not translated into English in LW 54. However, an English translations was provided in William Hazlitt's edition of the Table Talk:
The third book of Esdras I throw into the Elbe; there are, in the fourth, pretty knacks enough; as, “The wine is strong, the king is stronger, women strongest of all; but the truth is stronger than all these." 
The rest of the quote used by Hamilton is from a different Table Talk utterance. Hamilton originally took it from page 2080 from Walch 22.  In a later edition of Walch (Dr. Martin Luther's sämmtliche Werke, Volumes 60-62, 1854), the text reads,


This text can be also be found in WA TR 1:208. An English translation was provided by Sir Hamilton in his revised article. There is also a corrupted English translation in Hazlitt's edition of the Table Talk (link).
Hamilton's Translation: And when the doctor was correcting the second book of the Maccabees, he said: I am so an enemy to the book of Esther, that I would it did not exist; for it Judaizes too much, and hath in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness. Then said Magister Foerster," — "The Jews rate the book of Esther at more than any of the prophets; the prophets Daniel and Isaiah they absolutely contemn. Whereupon Dr. Martinus:—It is horrible that they, the Jews, should despise the noblest predictions of these two holy prophets; the one of whom teaches and preaches Christ in all richness and purity, while the other pourtrays and describes, in the most certain manner, monarchies, and empires along with the kingdom of Christ.
Hazlitt's Translation: I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalitiesThe Jews much more esteemed the book of Esther than any of the prophets; [though they were forbidden to read it before they had attained the age of thirty, by reason of the mystic matters it contains]. They utterly condemn Daniel and Isaiah, those two holy and glorious prophets, of whom the former, in the clearest manner, preaches Christ, while the other describes and portrays the kingdom of Christ, and the monarchies and empires of the world preceding it. Jeremiah comes but after them.
Hazlitt was probably working from the same text as Hamilton. One noticeable difference is Hazlitt's addition of the phrase highlighted in red lettering,  "though they were forbidden to read it before they had attained the age of thirty, by reason of the mystic matters it contains." I highlighted this phrase because it is not in the context of the German text cited above. It appears Hazlitt made a copyist error and took this partial sentence from a different Table Talk comment that occurs in the same section in which Luther is said to have explained that Genesis 1 was forbidden until age thirty:



Conclusion
There is clearly a variant in the first Table Talk statement used by sir Hamilton therefore discounting it as evidence on Luther's view of Esther. This mistake of Esther for Esdras dates back to the sixteenth century (for instance, here is the same variant in a 1567 edition). There does not appear to be any similar variant in the second Table Talk utterance. Below in Addendum #2 there is some evidence presented in regard to Forster's recorded complaint that the Jews esteemed Esther higher than some of the other Old Testament books. Luther's recorded response to Forster isn't necessarily about the book of Esther.

There is though some evidence in this second comment in regard to Luther's view of Esther. Luther calls himself an "enemy" of the book of Esther, wishing that it did not exist due to "heathenish" attributes. What exactly does this mean? To my knowledge, there is no text from Luther clarifying his meaning. The closest explanation I could locate comes from late in Luther's life in his book, The Jews and Their Lies:
They are real liars and bloodhounds who have not only continually perverted and falsified all of Scripture with their mendacious glosses from the beginning until the present day. Their heart’s most ardent sighing and yearning and hoping is set on the day on which they can deal with us Gentiles as they did with the Gentiles in Persia at the time of Esther.  Oh, how fond they are of the book of Esther, which is so beautifully attuned to their bloodthirsty, vengeful, murderous yearning and hope.[LW 47:156]. 
This explanation though is purely speculative. This is one of the main problems with the Table Talk: devoid of a broader context and historical setting, the statements contained therein are open to interpretation. This Table Talk utterance stands as the only purely negative comment Luther is said to have about the book Esther. The Table Talk is a collection of second hand comments written down by Luther's friends and students, published after his death. It often appears to fall on deaf ears when I point out to the defenders of Rome that Luther didn't write the Table Talk. Since the statements contained therein are purported to have been made by Luther, they should serve more as corroborating second-hand testimony to something Luther is certain to have written (this will be explored in addendum #1). As it stands, neither Table Talk utterance proves conclusively that Luther was a narcissist, an enemy of the Bible, or holding sacred scripture in contempt.


Addendum #1: Luther on the Canonicty of Esther
 A basic search of his writings reveals that Luther freely quoted from the book of Esther, assuming it's value in the Bible. There is at least one instance though in which Luther seems to speak negatively about its canonicity.  Erasmus had used a passage from the book of Ecclesiasticus in defense of the freedom of the will,
I do not think anyone will object against the authority of this work that it was not, as Jerome points out, regarded as canonical by the Hebrews, since the Church of Christ has received it by common consent into its canon; nor do I see any reason why the Hebrews felt they must exclude the book from theirs, seeing they accepted the Proverbs of Solomon and the Love Song. As to the fact that they did not receive into their canon the last two books of Esdras, the story in Daniel about Susanna and Bel the dragon, Judith, Esther, and several others, but reckoned them among the hagiographa, anyone who reads those books carefully can easily see what their reasons were. But in this work there is nothing of that kind to disturb the Reader. [Erasmus, The Diatribe, as cited in Luther's Works 33:110]
In De Servo Arbitrio, Luther responded to Erasmus:
“...[T]hough I could rightly reject this book [Ecclesiasticus], for the time being I accept it so as not to waste time by getting involved in a dispute about the books received in the Hebrew canon. For you poke more than a little sarcastic fun at this when you compare Proverbs and The Song of Solomon (which with a sneering innuendo you call the “Love Song”) with the two books of Esdras, Judith, the story of Susanna and the Dragon, and Esther (which despite their inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical)." [LW 33:110]
"Though I might with justice repudiate this book [Ecclesiasticus], yet for the present I receive it, so as not to lose time by entangling myself in a dispute about books received into the Jewish canon. You are somewhat biting and derisive yourself about that canon, when you compare the Proverbs of Solomon and the Love-song (as with a sneering innuendo you term it) to the two books of Esdras and Judith, and the History of Susanna and of the Dragon, and the book of Esther (though they have this last in their canon; in my opinion, however, it is less worthy to be held canonical than any of these)." [The Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957), Reprint October 1999, 143].
In this comment, Luther appears to assume that Esther was not in the Jewish canon, therefore non-cannonical. But in his translation of the Bible, Luther translated and included Esther (as early as 1524). He did not offer any negative criticism as to its non-canonicity in his Bible prefaces (Luther did not write a preface for the canonical Esther). He translated it, not with the apocryphal books, but rather with the canonical books. If he considered it apocryphal, why didn't he translate it with apocrypha? Why didn't he place it with the apocrypha when he placed the Biblical books in order? In his Bible prefaces, Luther distinguishes the particular non-canonical parts of Esther, and place them with the other apocryphal writings:
Preface to Parts of Esther and Daniel 1534
Here follow several pieces which we did not wish to translate [and include] in the prophet Daniel and in the book of Esther. We have uprooted such cornflowers (because they do not appear in the Hebrew versions of Daniel and Esther).  And yet, to keep them from perishing, we have put them here in a kind of special little spice garden or flower bed since much that is good, especially the hymn of praise, Benedicite,  is to be found in them. But the texts of Susanna, and of Bel, Habakkuk,  and the Dragon, seem like beautiful religious fictions, such as Judith and Tobit,  for their names indicate as much. For example, Susanna means a rose,  that is, a nice pious land and folk, or a group of poor people among the thorns; Daniel means a judge,  and so on. Be the story as it may, it can all be easily interpreted in terms of the state, the home, or the devout company of the faithful.[LW 35:353]
The editors of Luther’s Works state,
Luther’s ordering of the apocryphal books is his own. It does not follow the sequence in which they appeared either in the Vulgate or in the Septuagint where they were interspersed among the canonical books in positions which varied with the different manuscripts. In the older German Bibles, Judith had followed Tobit and preceded Esther; Wisdom had followed Song of Solomon and preceded Ecclesiasticus [LW 35:339, fn 9 ].
Luther abandoned the ordering of the Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the older German Bibles. He placed the apocryphal books at the end of his Old Testament translation, clearly separating them from those Old Testament books he considered canonical. He included Esther with the canonical books. Roger Beckwith (author of The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church) has said, “It is sometimes said that Luther, following certain of the Fathers, denied the canonicity of Esther, but Hans Bardtke has questioned this, as not taking into account of all the evidence (Luther und das Buch Esther, Tubingen Mohr, 1964)” (Beckwith, p.1), Bardke assembled around seventy instances in which Luther referred to Esther (see pages 88-90).

Addendum #2: The Debate Between William Hamilton and Julius Charles Hare
Sir William Hamilton was challenged for his Luther citations and lack of documentation by Julius Charles Hare. Hare demonstrated that the entire section on "Biblical Criticism" was taken from Luther's Table Talk, an unreliable source. On the quote in question, Hare states:
...[W]hen our eyes run through the Reviewer's anthology, one of the most startling sentences is this: "The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe." If a person familiar with Luther's style lights upon this sentence, he will recognize the great Reformer's unmistakable mark in the words, I toss into the Elbe; and it will be a pang to him to find Luther applying such rude words to any book, even the least important, in the Holy Scriptures. But he did not. The Reviewer asserts that he gives us Luther's "own words literally translated: "Mr Ward asserts that the Reviewer's name is "a sufficient voucher for the accuracy of his quotations:" and yet Luther never said anything of the sort about the book of Esther. The original of this "literal translation" is plainly the following sentence in Luther's Tabletalk; Das dritte Buch Esther werfe ich in die ElbeThe third boot of Esther I toss into the Elbe. Why the Reviewer left out the word third in his "literal translation," it is for him to explain. Were one to follow the example he sets in imputing the vilest motives to all persons in authority in the University of Oxford, one should call this a fraudulent imposition. Was he puzzled to make out what could be meant by the third book of Esther and did he intend tacitly to correct the text? When words are made the ground of an accusation, they should be examined with scrupulous care; and if it appear requisite to alter them, this should be expressly stated. Here the next sentence plainly shews that a totally different correction is needed. "In the fourth book; in that which Esther dreamt, there are pretty, and also some good sayings, as, Wine is strong, the king stronger, women still stronger, but truth the strongest of all." I quote from Walch's edition, Vol. xxii 2079, and have no means of examining older copies of the Tischreden; but the old English translation speaks of the third book of Hester. So that the errour, gross as it is, seems to have belonged to the original text. For there can be no question that Luther had been talking, not of a nonexistent third and fourth book of Esther, but of the books of Ezra or Esdras; though there is still much confusion in the report of his words, since the argument about strength does not stand in the fourth book, but in the third, the first of the apocryphal ones; those of Ezra and Nehemiah being numbered as the first two. Thus Luther's words are nothing but a Lutheran mode of saying what Jerome actually did, when he cast these apocryphal books out of his Version, as he says in his Preface to the book of Ezra: "Nee quemquam moveat quod unus a nobis editus liber est; nee apocryphorum tertii et quarti somniis delectetur; quia et apud Hebraeos Ezrae Neemiaeque sermones in unum volumen coarctantur, et quae non habentur apud illos, nee de viginti quatuor senibus sunt, procul abjicienda." Nor can anything well go beyond Jerome's contemptuous expressions about the same books in his pamphlet against Vigilantius. Assuredly too the next sentence quoted by the Reviewer,—" I am so an enemy to the book of Esther that I would it did not exist; for it Judaizes too much, and hath in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness,"—though here again the English Translation agrees with Walch in applying Luther's words to the Book of Esther, was in fact spoken of the apocryphal books of Esdras. For the whole passage in the Tabletalk is as follows: "When the Doctor was correcting the translation of the second Book of the Maccabees, he said, I dislike this book and that of of Esther so much, that I wish they did not exist; for they Judaize too much, and have much heathenish extravagance. Then Master Forster said, The Jews esteem the book of Esther more than any of the prophets." The combination of the book with that of the Maccabees,—which the Reviewer ought not to have omitted,—as well as Forster's remark, leaves no doubt that Luther spoke of the book of Esdras. These blunders shew how unsafe it is to build any conclusions on the authority of the Tabletalk [link].
Seemingly provoked by Hare, some years later Hamilton republished his article and added lengthy clarifications and retractions of his Luther material. In regard to this quote, he extended it and added documentation:
"The book of Esther, I toss into the Elbe" [Colloquia c. lx.§ 10].  —["And when the doctor was correcting the second book of the Maccabees, he said:—] I am so an enemy to the book of Esther, that I would it did not exist; for it Judaizes too much, and hath in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness. [Then said Magister Foerster," (the great Hebrew professor):— "The Jews rate the book of Esther at more than any of the prophets; the prophets Daniel and Isaiah they absolutely contemn. Whereupon Dr. Martinus:—It is horrible that they, the Jews, should despise the noblest predictions of these two holy prophets; the one of whom teaches and preaches Christ in all richness and purity, while the other pourtrays and describes, in the most certain manner, monarchies, and empires along with the kingdom of Christ [Colloquia c. lx.§ 10] [link].
It's obvious that the extension and documentation of this quote was the result of Hare's critique. Hamilton went on to give the following response to Hare:
Soon after the publication of this article, I became aware, that Esther was a mistake for Esdras; and this by the verse quoted. The error stands in all Aurifaber's editions of the Table Talk, and from him is copied by Walch, from whom again I translated. It is corrected, however, in the recensions by Stangwald and Selneccer, and, of course, in the new edition by Bindseil. It was therefore without surprise, that I found Mr. Hare for once to be not wrong in finding me not right. In excuse, I can only say, that at the time of writing the article, not only was I compelled to make the extracts without any leisure for deliberation; but I recollected, though the book was not at hand, that Luther, in his work on the Bondage of the Will, had declared that Esther ought to be extruded from the canon—a judgment indeed familiar to every tyro even in biblical criticism. His concluding words are:—"dignior omnibus, me judice, qui extra Canonem haberetur." (Jena Latin, iii. 182.) Esther, I thus knew, was repudiated by Luther, and among his formulae of dismissal the preceding recommended itself as at once the most characteristic and the shortest. Mr. Hare speaks of Luther as "a dear friend." But it appears from his general unacquaintance with even this, the Reformer's favorite, and perhaps most celebrated book, certainly from its two recent translations into English by two Anglican clergymen, the book of his best known in this country—that Luther, instead of being "a dear friend," is almost an utter stranger to the Archdeacon. For Mr. Hare knows nothing (even at second hand), of Luther's famous repudiation of Esther, in his most famous work.—As for myself, I relied also on the following testimony; and which, had we nothing else, would be alone decisive in regard to Luther's rejection of Esther [link].
On this Mr. Hare, inter alia, remarks: "The combination of the book with that of the Maccabees—which the Reviewer ought not to have omitted—as well as Forster's remarks, leaves no doubt that Luther spoke of the book of ESDRAS." I have now given the whole relative context; and had Mr. Hare possessed the sorriest smattering of the Rabbinic lore which he affects—had he, in fact, not been unread even in the most notorious modern works on biblical criticism, he would certainly have had "no doubt," but no doubt that Luther spoke, and could speak only of the book of Esther. I shall simply quote the one highest Jewish authority in regard to the comparative estimation among the Jews, of Esther and the Prophets; while, as for Christian testimonies, I may refer to almost every competent inquiry into the canonicity of the books of the Old Testament. Let us listen then to the "Rabbi of Rabbis," Rambam, Moses Ben Maimon, Moses Maimonides; to him whom the learned Hebrews delight to honor with every title of Oriental admiration; and who, by the confession of the two greatest among Christian scholars,
"Solus nugari Judaeos desiit inter." 
"All the Prophetic books, and all the [HagiographicWritings are of the things to be abolished in the days of the Messiah, saving alone the roll of Esther. For, lo, this endureth, like the Law of Pentateuch and the Oral Law [Talmud]; and these, they shall not cease, even unto eternity. For howbeit the memory of all other persecutions shall die out; . . . . yet, as it is written,'the days of Purim shall not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed. [Esther, ix 28."] (Yad Chasaka, B. iii. tr. x., Hilchot Meghilla, c. 2, § 18; and passages to the same effect are to be found in his Ikkarim. Compare also the Midrasch Meghilla; and the margin of the Jerusalem Talmud, where, among the commentators, the Rabbi Jochanan and the Rabbi Resch-Lakisch, from the texts, of Deut. v. 22; and Esth. ix. 28, deduce the same result, by a marvelous and truly Jewish reasoning.) On the other hand, who has ever heard, as Mr. Hare assumes, and would have it understood, that Esdras was, at any time, not to say always, held, even as a prophet, in any special estimation among the Israelites? Besides these, there are sundry elementary errors in Mr. Hare's relative observations on this book; but these, as they do not directly concern the question, may pass. Traveled in the Ghemara, and stumbling on his own Church's threshold ! [link].
Addendum #3
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2006. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

I've been examining Luther's opinion on Esther for over ten years. In that time, I've interacted with Rome's defenders on this subject. The following are a record of some of those encounters:

Luther & Esther: Response to a Defender of Rome

Luther and Esther: Another Response To a Defender of Rome

Luther’s Preface To Parts of Esther, 1534

Luther's View of Esther: A Response to "Nazaroo"

Tossing Blog Comments into the Elbe, Save One (The Book of Esther)