BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Martin Marty, why a book on Martin Luther?
MARTIN MARTY, AUTHOR, "MARTIN LUTHER": First of all, my book on Martin Luther, because there is a series Viking Penguin Books on everybody from Crazy Horse to Mozart to Churchill to Mao. And around the year 2000, there were many surveys of who were the most important people and what were the most important incidents of the millennium before. It`s a silly game, but it`s still a game. And Martin Luther came up in the top five in all the surveys that showed up, and often Gutenberg. And tying the two together, of course, is interesting. Well, if -- you know, that kind of figure, and he`s not in the series, he belongs in the series. And they asked me, and that`s why there`s a book on Martin Luther.
LAMB: What would the world be like if he hadn`t come along?
MARTY: I think that there was enough reform going on in Catholicism -- Spain, Italy, France, parts of what today is Germany -- that something would have happened. You can see the break that Henry VII did in England on different grounds. Somebody once asked me to summarize the Lutheran reformation, and I said it`s the revolt of the junior faculty at Wittenberg. Of all those, that was the one that caught.
And I think it was a set of circumstances -- his own spiritual power, his own rhetorical gift, his own energy and the drama a life in which for a quarter century or -- every day, you could be killed -- we pay special attention to that kind of figure. And whether Europe would have broken up as much as it did -- Western Europe was all Catholic, except Jews in ghettos. And at the end of his time and with the few people around him, John Calvin, others -- you never again had European unity.
I think he did advance, whether he wanted to or not, the cause of human freedom by placing so much on individual conscience -- yes, the Bible, but reason and conscience. When he was 500 years, in 1983, there were some columnists who all but attributed writing the Declaration of Independence and the invention of the Boy Scouts to him. You see modern things that have come along and say -- trace it to that. I don`t want to overstate the case. But I think that breaking up that imposed unity on Europe, giving people churchly options and speaking up for conscience are probably the two things that he greatly advanced.
LAMB: Born in 1483. What was the world like then?
MARTY: There`s a wonderful book by a Dutch historian, Johann Huizinga. It was called "The Waning of the Middle Ages." The new translation is better. It`s called "The Autumn of the Middle Ages." And the first chapter of it is called "The violent tenor of life." And I think that really captures what had happened. A lot of things were falling apart. Everyone`s fighting everybody. The German princes fight each other. France and the pope are fighting each other. It`s just turmoil all over. Peasants are beginning to rise. Feudal lords don`t have the power they used to have. Disease -- a century before, you`ve had Black Death. A third to a half the population may have died. And you`re never feeling secure again.
There are many analogs to our own time. If somewhere in the High Middle Ages, you could feel, Here`s the pope, here`s the emperor, here are the cathedrals, here are the systems -- that isn`t working anymore. Unrest all over. And Luther himself is part of that. The town he grows up in, they`re thoroughly convinced that up in the mountains, there are witches and poltergeists. For him, it was usually devils as many as roof tiles, he said, when he went to be tried by the emperor. So I think the shortness of life, the threat to life, the failure for the old systems to speak to you as they had.
And what many historians have found now in studying that century and 1483 typically is that under the official symbols, the divine trinity, the mass, all the official Catholic and Christian symbols, people -- as one -- somebody said they smuggled in their Gods in plain brown wrappers. They made pilgrimages. They made a great deal of relics -- superstition, we would call it today. And the Catholic historians looking back on that would say that now, too. Everyone who was in power was less secure and acted frantically because they were less secure than they had. And the system of Thomas Aquinas and official Catholic philosophy is being challenged at the new universities. So unrest, unrest, unrest, insecurity, insecurity, insecurity.
LAMB: How many people in the world?
MARTY: Well, we don`t know about the larger world. We know that -- I know the population of Wittenberg, which is...
LAMB: How big was that?
MARTY: Less than 2,000. And that...
LAMB: And that was where?
MARTY: That is in what is called today in Saxony. It was in East Germany. And it`s still not much of a town. It existed only because the local prince wanted his own university and that was a place where he could plant it. But it was a nothing place. I can`t give you the population of things. I don`t know if anybody knows the estimates. We can kind of guess how many people lived in Antwerp and Amsterdam, and so on, but we wouldn`t know how to add it up.
LAMB: The other map you have in your book is the -- it includes a look at the Holy Roman Empire. What was it then?
MARTY: That`s one of the hardest things to get across to people because I think they think if it`s Roman, it must be in Rome, and if it`s holy, it must be holy, and if it`s an empire, it must be an empire. And it was none of the three, as many historians pointed out. Most of its territory is what is in today`s central Europe and mainly Germany. But emperors often also came from Spain. And the one during Luther`s life, Charles V, was from Spain. But it`s basically an enlarged Germany, the lowlands, the Netherlands, and so on. It was what was left of the old Roman empire.
In Italy, as the map shows, you now have separate entities. The Vatican itself has it own army and is a separate territory. What we call Germany wasn`t invented until 1870. What was the German-speaking lands then were 300 territories mutually contradictory in rivalry. They could only unite over against common enemies. And the pope became one of them along the way.
It was effectual in many ways, but as the map (UNINTELLIGIBLE) shows, there`s England, there`s France, there`s the Ottomans, the Turks are coming from another direction, southern Italy. So it isn`t old Rome anymore, it`s a residue. And it`s called "holy" because it was always a part of the -- the pope is in on disciplining the emperors. It was part of the Catholic regime, in that sense, though also often in rivalry with the Vatican or the pope.
LAMB: What was an emperor?
MARTY: The emperor was someone endowed by the pope with special powers. Always debates about should he be crowned, all the way down to the 19th century, when Napoleon grabbed the crown from the pope and put it on his head because he wanted to be emperor. So it was very important that he was different. He had nominal power and symbolic power over all these separate princes, but again, they weren`t always content with that kind of power. He had the powers to condemn. When Luther stands before him, he can ask Luther to recant, and if Luther doesn`t, he can bring about a death penalty. Symbolic power, connecting power, but never independent power in the breaking up of the Middle Ages.
LAMB: What was a king back then?
MARTY: Well, a king was what we all know with Henry VIII and France`s first -- France, that is (ph). You`re beginning to get out of the mess of provinces of France a single unity, and in England. I used to always be puzzled why England had so many wars on French soil, and vice versa, and why English kings show up on French soil. In a strange way, from the king`s angle, the English Channel was more like a river, constantly transecting across it.
But they gained power, and I think the key to their power is similar to that of the emperor, in that what we tried to get rid of in 1776, the concept of the divine right of kings -- that is, of all the rulers, all the royalty, this is the one that passes on through his genes and through his anointment -- or in Elizabeth`s case, her transmission. They had a special power, and you weren`t supposed to question that power. Of course, you did, but you weren`t supposed to.
LAMB: How many years did you teach at the University of Chicago?
MARTY: I taught exactly 35 years. I was on a committee that was supposed to solve the problem of what to do when they could no longer fire you when you were of age. Eight of us said, We will quit at the minute they would have made us quit. Could go on forever now. So I quit at 5:00 PM March 20, 1998, and I began at midnight July 1, 1963, 35 happy years.
LAMB: What`d you teach?
MARTY: All over the place. Chicago has very low boundaries between disciplines. I was in three faculties. Divinity basically paid my salary. The divinity school at Chicago is not a separate seminary. It`s like law school, business school, et cetera. It`s older than the university. I taught in the history department, which there is social sciences, and I taught in the humanities, and I also taught undergraduates. For most if the years, I was originally to have taught what we called Atlantic culture -- northwest Europe, North America. Then I became an associate dean for a few years and couldn`t get back to sources in Europe. And I had a large family and wanted to stay put, so I became an Americanist, pretty pure and simple, until the late `80s.
My last 10 years, I was drawn into a whole new field. The American Academy of Arts And sciences asked me to head a project to study comparative militant fundamentalisms around the world. We got 200 scholars busy, and five fat volumes grew out of it. And then we began to study comparatively the way religion is involved in ethnic disputes -- Yugoslavia -- in human rights -- South Africa, and so on. So I became an implicit internationalist. But my roots and my love has been American.
On the other hand, my whole life -- I am a Lutheran, and all my life, Luther is off there somewhere. So when they asked me to write a book on him, I was ready to go.
LAMB: Why are you a Lutheran?
MARTY: Well, I was born Lutheran. That`s one thing. I have a hunch that if I thought about it and I born in India, I probably would be a Hindu. Being trained to be a university professor, you are also trained, as you train others, to question yourself and everything. And so I`ve had a lot of occasion to question. I`m basically happy there. I like the core of what it`s about. But like all human institutions, it`s not just a movement. It has the same flaws as everywhere else. I am and have been all my career, 50 years, deeply involved in the ecumenical venture, what is it, Vatican II, things like that, and through the last dozen years, on interfaith things.
But for me, partly the childhood training, partly that every time I tested it, I came close enough to what it was about that I stayed with it. Partly, it`s family and the culture around it. And the culture around it is a big part. For me, being Lutheran means being with Johann Sebastian Bach, being with more music than anything else, the grand musical tradition.
And I guess I would say, if I`m being a Lutheran skeptic some day and asking questions of its words, I`ll go into a church on a Saturday afternoon when an organist is practicing and hearing him do these grand chorales, and that probably ministers more to my faith and who I am, which is, I think, true probably of most traditions. A lot of Catholics aren`t real happy with the dogma, but they like aspects of the ritual or the ethos or whatever. So that`s -- I had plenty of chances to flee the coop, and I chose not to.
LAMB: You say that out of 6 billion people in the world, 64 million of them are Lutherans.
LAMB: Where are they mostly located?
MARTY: Well, they were mostly located in Europe, including Eastern Europe, but the collapse of Eastern Europe also meant the collapse of most of Lutheranism. It was one of the main centers of the resistance to the regime and the quiet revolution that helped topple the Berlin Wall. These are people marching with candles out of the church in Leipzig, Thomaskirche, where Bach used to play and where Lutheranism was preached. But once they lacked that enemy, Soviet enemy, East German government, a sagging (ph) because all for those years, 37 years, 50 years, 75 years, in a sense, from Lenin until the end, you have oppression of religion. And there was just enough allowed that the oppression didn`t give you a power. The Soviet oppression was so much that everybody -- Baptist, Jehovah`s Witness and orthodox, and so on -- hung together. The day the curtain fell, everything was shown (ph).
Well, like most of Europe -- Scandinavia was the Lutheran homeland, and in Scandinavia, there`s a tremendous decline. So some of the 64 million Lutherans are probably just on the rolls from that. North America has about 6.5 or 7 million, but the growth is in Africa. You can`t keep up with the growth in Africa. I once spoke at a seminary called Luther Seminary. It`s the largest of the Lutheran seminaries, which was a transplant of Norwegian Lutherans. And a lot of people in that tradition looked back. I was on the board of St. Olaf`s College there, which is -- of that, too (ph). Most people aren`t Norwegian there, but you look back to that root.
And at their banquet, I spoke. And the president of the seminary was just back from Namibia, before we were allowed to call it Namibia by the U.S. government. And he said, You know, you think Lutheranism is in Norway. More Lutherans worshipped in Namibia last Sunday than in Norway. And that was this little symbol. Tanzania and many such nations, that`s where the new vitality is.
LAMB: Martin Luther King -- why would a father name his son Martin Luther King?
MARTY: I was asked recently -- I knew King somewhat. He wrote for a magazine of which I was one of the editors. And we`re not intimate, but we`d (UNINTELLIGIBLE) together off and on. And somebody said, Did you ever compare your names, why were you named Martin and how he got Martin Luther King? And it (UNINTELLIGIBLE) No, I never asked that. I know that he was named Michael originally, but the name was changed.
And if you think of the struggle in the African-American churches -- they love the symbols of breaking free. Martin Luther King often identified with the prophets or with Moses. You`re always seeing across the Jordan to a promised land. And so figures like that were important to them. And my hunch is that Daddy King at Ebenezer Baptist looks ahead and looks at this boy and looks at his future and thinks this is a good name.
He caused me all kinds of trouble because while doing research on this, any time I would try to access Martin Luther and find out you get tens of millions of Martin Luther Kings to clutter it. Somebody had told me that in our part of the world, the three people about whom most writing had been done were Lincoln and Napoleon and Luther, and I wanted to certify that. Well, I could get Napoleon, I could get Lincoln, but there are too many Martin Luther Kings for me to do that. Freedom, freedom, freedom. I think that`s what`s behind the choice of that name.
LAMB: Martin Luther lived for how many years?
MARTY: From 1483 to 1546, which makes him -- I`m not real good at math -- 66...
LAMB: Or 63.
MARTY: Yes. The years 1483 to 1530 are the years the biographers all like. There was a film about him last year, and it ends in 1530. That`s when the movement gets put together. In his last 16 years -- I have a friend, Mark Edwards at Harvard, who has written a book called "Luther`s Last Battles." He said, All you other people get the exciting, dramatic young Luther, and I get the sour old Luther.
Sour old Luther kept doing some very important and good things. I think his commentaries on Genesis that came out of those years are really rich, worth reading. I make that one of my basic texts in there, in fact.
But the Reformation didn`t go the way he wanted it to. He really was sour on Wittenberg. He didn`t even like to go back to it. He thought that Germany would have moral reform that it didn`t have. He thought that everybody would come flocking to his catechism, and he had to have the police, I guess you`d say, enforce that. So he was a very disappointed person, frustrated that the Jews didn`t convert. He thought they`re all going to convert when you get -- he read the Hebrew scriptures as the Christian Bible. And so when Jesus comes along, that`s just fulfilling that. So why wouldn`t the Jews all come running? And well, it must be the rabbis who are holding (ph) them. So he spewed out terribly anti-Semitic things.
The empire is breaking up. You`re facing the issue of the Turk, the Muslim. He calls them Mohammaten (ph). Somebody said they -- the Turk is Luther`s luck. He wouldn`t have been alive if it weren`t for the threat of the Turk along the way. He read the Quran -- bad paraphrase, but he at least knew what was there. And sometimes he sounded friendlier to the Turk than he did to the pope. In his last years, too, the pope had become for him the anti-Christ. And the language that people then used -- there`s a whole volume of exchange between Luther and Thomas More, whom we think of as a cool humanist, "The Man for All Seasons. The language they use is -- we couldn`t use it on this program or anywhere else. That`s just how it was. And that shows up mainly in his late years.
LAMB: What were his mother and father like?
MARTY: The mother came from a family that probably had been landed, but there wasn`t any land left. She wasn`t impoverished. I would say they were lower middle class in their ancestry. But his father -- Luther liked to brag he came from peasant stock, but his father was a speculator in and an owner of a copper mine, which was a very dangerous business. You could get killed. You could lose your investment, and so on. And I think that contributed to a lot of the things in his life. His father wanted social security and insurance, which meant his son had to earn some money, and that meant should be a lawyer. And he was outraged when Luther chose not to be a lawyer and to become a monk.
Erik Erikson, the great psychoanalyst, wrote a book called "Young Man Luther" in which he took some clues out of Luther`s relationship to his father and tried to make it seem as if Luther was nothing but an Oedipal figure, or that his mother was very severe because Luther was -- she once wrapped my knuckles until they bled.
The more I read it, the more I don`t find that that explains his life. What young person doesn`t have some kind of tension as to what the family dream is and what you turn out to be? And in the late years, when his father was dying, he wrote very tender letters to him, which I don`t think you do -- they`re not repentant letters -- you know, Sorry that I did this to you, Dad -- but rather, I`m close to you. I will meet you in heaven. We`ll finish the project we`re on now.
I think the father moved into upper middle class, in one sense, in that the town they moved to had five citizens who represented the grievances and interests of the townfolk to the prince and to the magistrates. And Luther`s father was elected to that. So he wasn`t a poor peasant.
LAMB: Did he ever marry?
MARTY: He married. Interesting story. If you read the 19th century Catholic histories, they always sort of made it seem as if the guy is so brimming with lust, he had to tear the church apart so he could get married. Well, if so, it took him seven years to do it, and he was kind of dragged screaming into it.
LAMB: Seven years from what?
MARTY: From -- well, departing from the vows of celibacy and monasticism. Of course, he -- by his own action, he would have been free to marry seven years earlier than he did.
LAMB: By the way, just on that point, was he ever a priest?
MARTY: Yes, he was ordained.
LAMB: A catholic priest?
MARTY: Yes. He came in as a monk. Very dramatic story. He`s supposed to be a lawyer, and having visited home, he`s on the way back to the university at Erfurt. There`s a lightning bolt strikes him down. He has already told us, he said, Even the trembling of a leaf can make me tremble. So he`s obsessed with his guilt, his smallness, his meaninglessness. And that lightning bolt comes and he says, St. Anne, save me and I will become a monk. St. Anne was the patroness of miners, by the way. So his father prayed to St. Anne. And he became a monk.
And while in the monastery, a man I call the best talent scout around and my favorite Catholic of the century, Johann von Staupitz, became his mentor, listened to his confession, spotted his talent and pushed him on into getting a doctorate and getting him ordained. And the ordination meant then that he could say mass, and for him to hold the bread and the wine, which were now very literally the body and the blood of Christ, and he`s an unworthy person, he had such trauma, he almost didn`t go through with it.
He took the priesthood very seriously, monasticism very seriously. But when the change (ph) came, some of the people around him started marrying. If you no longer invest celibacy with the same aura of authority that you once did, then why not marry? And he began to write a great deal on that. His key thing was that the layperson, every baptized person, is on the level. You might be called to be a priest or a pastor or a monk. He wasn`t against monks if they didn`t have to take a vow. What they did was fine. They studied. They prayed. He liked that. All that could work.
But he wanted to be so sure that everyone was equal -- and that could be part of your first question, What was another part of his revolution? One line the publisher and the editor suggested I not keep because it was confusing was this. Luther says when a little child is baptized, he comes sputtering up from the water and is already a priest, a bishop and a pope. I wanted to say on page two, And so at 7 years old, little Pope Martin went off to school. They said that could be confusing. But it gives me a chance to make the point of that leveling.
All right. Now you are ordained as a priest, and he thought he kept all the powers that came with that -- not that you`re above the others, but that God has called you to say mass and to counsel and to preach. And then you take away celibacy and then you value marriage, and he began to write a great deal about that.
I did a book once called "Protestantism," my least exciting title, and the English publisher had a colorful woodcut on the cover there. Everybody said, They got it upside down. What it was, was a Reformation-era woodcut of a church standing on its steeple. And you look closely, you see that the monk is pushing the plow and the layperson is saying the prayers. He`s turning it all over. He calls it vocation. You`re called to that.
And now marriage is a vocation, and he makes a great deal of that. But he didn`t follow through in a hurry. One night, they smuggled some nuns out of a convent. Again, these were often very young girls. Large families, you can`t support them and you put them in a convent and they`re there for life. Well, a lot of them chafed, and at this Nimbschen convent, they were chafing. And the guy who delivers herring there puts them in barrels and smuggles them out.
And it`s Luther and his friends` job to marry them off. There`s no economy for a single woman. One of them is left over, Katharine von Bora, who also came from a family that had been landed but didn`t have land anymore. And he lined her up with somebody that she didn`t like. And she said, You`re the one I want. And they did. And I say here that it wasn`t a romantic marriage, but it turned out to be affectionate.
LAMB: How old was he?
MARTY: Well, well into his 30s. I can`t think of the exact date of...
LAMB: Actually, my notes say 42.
MARTY: Oh, 42? OK.
LAMB: How long would she have been? Was she younger than him?
MARTY: She`d be younger, yes. And she outlived him. And I think what`s interesting in the development here -- some modern feminists say, Well, he didn`t finish the job. You -- he wanted an education for girls, he wanted women to marry, which is a great feminist thing to think of, but it`s still a little ceiling. There`s nothing else there.
But I say with Katharine von Bora, who must have been, A, very talented, and B, very strong-willed, maybe even sharp-tongued -- she ran the place. They were given a wing of the old monastery, where the people are training for ministry, and it was like dorm living, frat house living. And she`s cooking for all of them. She brews the beer for them. She raises the pigs. She cards the wool. But most symbolic to me is at the end, he has her write their will and run the estate. This is really unknown for a commoner to be handling the estate. So she`s a very strong person.
LAMB: How many children?
MARTY: Five or six. One of them died very young, Magdalena. And I`d like to stress that. It was -- again, he was on the road a good deal. He wasn`t around all the time. But there`s a clear bond of affection. We have letters that he wrote between his son, Hans, and him. But when Magdalena died, I think 14 years old or so, he said, Of all the times I`ve had doubt, I`ve had temptation, I`ve wondered if there`s God, if there`s anything to it, this is the one time I really broke with God. I lost my faith. I fell into doubt. And I think that`s a symbol of how attached he did become to them. And overall, a warm family life. It went on and on. There are people in America today who are direct descendants of the Luther kids. And it was a strong family.
LAMB: What`s the difference between a monk and a priest?
MARTY: Well, the monk -- a monk can be a priest and a priest can be a monk, but the monks who are brothers can`t say mass. They don`t have all the duties there. The actual priestly role in Roman Catholicism of standing in the Apostle`s stead, right straight down from Peter, the hand of the previous generation of bishops on your bishop and your bishop on you, makes you an alter (ph) Christus, another Christ in the presence there. And so when you are saying the words, "This is my body, this is my blood," and the prayer that, to oversimplify, turns the water -- the wine into blood and the bread into the body, you`re producing Christ. And that`s the huge concentration of what it is to be a priest. And the monk, the normal monk who is not ordained to be a priest, can`t do that.
LAMB: And what years did he serve in the cloister, in the monastery?
MARTY: Well, it`s in the early 1520s. So he would have been -- 17 plus 20 -- he`s well into his mid-30s. And his transition out of it is kind of casual. First of all, he`s released from his vows by his superior, Staupitz, to give him more freedom. Again, Staupitz really saw what he had his on hands here. And to release him from those vows meant he`s less likely to be killed because if you are a -- in the vows and you`re a heretic, you`re much more vulnerable than if you`re a layperson out there. So he`s released from the vows early on, and he kept writing things.
The only thing he really complained about monasticism was that it was a vow, and he thought that the problem with a vow was you took the vow in order that that would make you get closer to God, that you were ascending, that you were achieving something. So they could pray, they could study, they could do good works, they did charitable works. That`s all fine, but you can`t use it to earn salvation.
LAMB: How much -- if he came back today, there are six billion people in the world. A million -- I`m sorry, a billion Catholics and a billion Protestants. How much of those billion Protestants would exist if Martin Luther hadn`t come along?
MARTY: Oh, a large percentage. I think vying with Lutherans in size around the world would be the Anglicans, the Episcopalians. And I think that they would have existed apart from him. Now, in the first generation, a great number of the leaders went to Wittenberg and the other German universities. There was a lot of intellectual interaction there. But the Reformation had started already in England, under Wycliffe and Tyndale a century earlier.
So I think that would be present. What form it takes, I don`t know. The Anglicans always wanted to stay closest to Rome, but Rome always rebuffed them, because they weren`t accepting papal authority.
What about the rest? In America, the strongest influence was indirectly from Switzerland, John Calvin. Up into England into our Puritan tradition. And so the Lutherans have never been a strong center of what`s going on in America.
LAMB: Where do the Baptists come from?
MARTY: Where the Baptists come in? In his own time, there were people on the continent that were called Anabaptists. They were the ones who said, Luther, you`re too conservative. You`re keeping the mass, communion, with a different set of meanings, but you`re keeping it. And you`re keeping infant baptism. For Luther, that was the most important thing to say about faith. I was baptized, I was born February 5, baptized February 26, and as far as Lutheran theology is concerned, that`s the most important day of my life, because that`s when you become a part of the recipient of grace in a special way. And your faith grows out of it. And a good Lutheran every morning make a sign of the cross and says a prayer to remember your baptism, that you get a new start. Don`t worry about tomorrow, no guilt about yesterday. You have a new start. It`s really huge.
That`s the same object (ph) the Catholics are doing, what about this whole business of infant baptism? Faith has to be something that you`re conscious of and that you`re doing. It isn`t only a gift. It makes perfect sense, if you make baptism a strong feature. And they were Anabaptists, they were in Switzerland, they were in Germany, they were in the Netherlands. They really bugged Luther and Calvin on this, and frankly the Protestants persecuted them as much as the Catholics did. In -- some of them were drowned by it, some of them were burned by it. It was really a rough time.
They are the people who today in the United States are called Mennonite, Church of the Brethren, the Amish are splinters of that. American Baptists and the Baptists that are surging around the world today are of a different sort, and that`s pretty much (UNINTELLIGIBLE), mainly born in New England, for people ask the same kind of thing, how are you sure that that Puritan preacher is giving you salvation? It has to be your assent, and pretty soon they start baptizing.
They moved from New England. Brown University was one of their strongholds -- down into Virginia. When the mountains opened, they went into the west, and that`s why the South is so Baptist, and they`ve spread around the world. They have a very strong missionary force.
LAMB: Back in the early 1500s, when he was active, Martin Luther was in the monastery and all that, how powerful was the pope and who was it, who was pope?
MARTY: Well, the pope in the main part of his great (ph) career was a man named Leo XIII, who once said that God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it. When we tour Rome and we see the Sistine Chapel, Pope Sixtus, Pope Julius, they were Renaissance princes, and most of them were quite corrupt. Read any history of the papacy by a Roman Catholic, and they admit it, they were fathering illegitimate children, they were often theologically untrained. One prince got this empire, one got this one, and one got this.
There were some holy people among them, but by and large, that had compromised it. So that on one level, the pope officially had all the power. The vicar of Christ. All the authority on Earth.
LAMB: Got it from where?
MARTY: Got it from the pope before him.
LAMB: Handed it down, said you`re the pope?
MARTY: No, like today, cardinals would vote for it. But believed that was the direct act of the Holy Spirit. They would never make a mistake. Before the popes of Luther`s time, there had been a split in the papacy. One time there were three popes, Avignon, France. The papacy -- so the papacy had grown rather frail, but now it`s getting back its power, and it has its army, and it`s fighting off, defending the territory. And wealth.
And that`s why we have Sistine Chapel and they have the beginnings of Saint Peter`s in Rome. But they didn`t have enough wealth, and the pope needed money from the other side of the Alps. And there we see the limits of the pope`s power. The people there are starting to say, there is a difference between the spiritual power, the authority he has to say who the bishop will be and whether I can go to mass and be baptized, and his temporal power, which they`re rebelling against.
I have a picture of the church pew, beautifully carved in Germany, in the 1470s, I think, of the gates of hell, flames, the devil, and the people are pushing the pope into it. In other words, there was tremendous popular resistance to the pope, which weakened him a good deal.
And then we have various practices they didn`t like, all of which the northern princes thought was gouging, as Luther`s prince said, we need our own churches, why should we pay for the one we`ll never see? So the pope had tremendous spiritual power, but he had to fight for his place along the way. And Leo X just didn`t catch on to Luther early on. He`s the one who excommunicated him. He`s called him a wild boar, as running through the vineyard of God, a metaphor he probably got because he was a wild boar hunter and spent a lot of time wild boar hunting, so he could apply the metaphor to Luther.
LAMB: What year did he excommunicate him?
MARTY: Exact year of excommunication? Again, my, I should get my math in -- in -- I don`t have the exact date.
LAMB: Was it -- it was obviously before he was married?
MARTY: Oh, yes. Yeah.
LAMB: So it had to be in his `20`s.
MARTY: It would be around 1520. 1517 is the beginning of the break, when he posted the theses. So those, the next two or three years are the times when all this is happening.
One of the reasons I`m fuzzy on the date here is that it`s a several step process. First, you get the warning, and then the actual date of the burning, he -- we make so much of the burning of the papal bulla, the bull, the document that says you`re out, but maybe the more important thing he did that same morning was burn canon law. Canon law was the name for all the church law, and this was his way of saying, that doesn`t apply. Church should not be ruled by law, he makes a point. The church is ruled by the gospel, the grace, the faith. State is ruled by law. And by burning that and then having his own excommunication go with it -- and from then on, he`s a hunted person.
MARTY: By emperor, anybody. A layperson could kill him with impunity, because he`s condemned. That condemnation comes in 1520 at the Diet of Worms, when he stands before the emperor and says that famous line that he couldn`t step back unless convinced by reason and scripture. And from then on in, it could happen. But it didn`t happen because he had the protection of the princes near him, German princes.
LAMB: Diet of Worms is what?
MARTY: Diet is a kind of an ad hoc parliament.
LAMB: That`s why they call it the Japanese Diet?
MARTY: Yes, yeah, and so it`s an imperial thing. The emperor has to be there for it to happen, to have an imperial Diet. And Luther is getting so uppity and the things are spreading so fast, and the German princes aren`t controlling, and the emperor steps in. And the city -- Cathedral of city of Worms, one of the great city -- had been a Jewish stronghold in the Middle Ages, quite a beautiful, famous city. The right setting for the emperor to be there. And the whole show now is to say, Luther, you have your last chance to come back. It`s almost humorous how in his earliest years, Luther thought what he was doing would appeal to the pope and his archbishop. He sends in the 95 Theses, almost with fawning language, you know, my beloved prince of the church, you`ll be really happy that we`re getting rid of all of these corrupt practices. He bet wrong there.
LAMB: You mentioned that the popes were corrupt, but you say that the popes were vicars of Christ. Why would the average person then follow a pope if they were corrupt? I mean, why would Christ establish a church that allowed popes to become corrupt?
MARTY: That`s the question Luther asked. That was what part of the Reformation was.
On the one hand, I think you have to say always, Christians believe that God can work through (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Somebody once asked me, you`re a Lutheran and you write history, where`s your Lutheranism showing? I said, Luther once said God carves the rotten wood, God rides the lame horse. That`s a big part of the Christian understanding. You want nobility, you want sacrifice, you want humility, you want honesty, but you don`t always get that perfectly, and I think that the Christian people had been trained that no matter what, the act -- technical word is Ex Opere Operato, going through the act, however corrupt the person is doing it, who`s doing it, the act is God`s way of acting upon you.
And so, you know, your army might fight against the pope, and still the pope could excommunicate you. You`d have no power. There were times in the Middle Ages when the pope would excommunicate an emperor, and the emperor -- that meant -- and then pronounce an interdict, which meant no priest in your territory could say mass. Well, that is a pretty scary thing, because what if I die, I`ll go to hell without it. The pope had all these kinds of powers along the way.
So in a certain sense, the average person didn`t really have the means to question or to act upon the question. The intellectuals are starting to ask the questions, and it`s breaking apart. But I think the common people would just say, well, he is our pope and God ordained him and we`ll live with it.
LAMB: How much did that have to do with the pope controlling all the avenues of communication, the printing presses, the ability to learn new things, what was taught in your schools? I mean, was it a case where they were brainwashed?
MARTY: No. Here`s the place where the pope had least power. What is happening is the rise of universities. In Bologna and Paris and Oxford and so on. And they`re all -- obviously all Catholic. Every theologian, every philosopher is Catholic, but they`re really thinking up new ideas. William of Ockham, notably, came up with a whole new philosophy, which is called the new theology, or nominalism. And they start putting more authority on the Bible than on tradition, et cetera. And so the -- he had real trouble actually controlling -- the director of the university would control, and he would be responsible to the pope, but a lot could go on.
And the mystics. Martin Luther`s first two publications were books of mysticism. Well, mystics can never be reined in. It`s like in our own time, the mystic is not -- might be a Catholic mystic, but you`re also off on your own somewhere. So -- and most of all, the first part of what you asked about, the printing press, he didn`t have control. Here is where Luther and the Lutherans really got the jump on him, and they -- they`d been publishing ever after Guttenberg, but they didn`t quite catch on, and some people say that Luther`s genius at knowing how to use this medium and the entrepreneurship of Wittenberg and Strassburg was the center of printing. Luther never made a penny off his writings, which come to 110 volumes in German.
LAMB: Did he make money at all? Was he -- did he -- was he a rich man when he died?
MARTY: No, no, no, no. He -- when the friendly prince gave a couple of goblets to him and his wife at marriage, she had to hide them because she was afraid he`d hock them and sell them. It was that kind of thing. No, he always had to worry. Once you don`t have the support of a monastery, once you don`t have the support of the papal system, you`re an evangelical, they called them -- they didn`t call them Lutheran -- an evangelical pastor, where are you going to get the money for it? So he`s always out there trying to raise funds.
LAMB: You say that the Catholic Church sold indulgences. What are indulgences and how much did they sell them for?
MARTY: OK, a sliding scale is how they sold them. The belief was present, and it still is around a little bit. Pope John Paul II disappointed a lot of us and a lot of Catholics by putting a premium on them a few years ago. It`s still on the books but not widely used. The sense that after this life, if I`m on the way to heaven, I`m carrying such a burden of sins, my faults on this Earth, that I cannot have made them up, no matter how pious, how generous I was.
But the saints had done so much that they had a surplus, and that`s put in kind of a treasury of merit. And how do you get access to it? You get access to it through indulgences, which were pieces of paper that certified that you had done this transaction.
Now, in one sense, you could have done this through repentance, through penance. But needing money for Saint Peter`s Church in Rome and that kind of thing, they kind of patented a system in which -- mainly one man became known -- Johannes Tetzel, a Dominican monk, who would go from town to town and he`d have a little piece of paper which he`d sell. And it was a sliding scale. If you`re a poor peasant, they get everything out of you they could; whereas if you`re rich, they could do a good deal more. And the more of you did of this, the more your time in purgatory would be shortened. And this was to Luther and the common people the heart of it all. Actually, debate over a peace of paper.
As far as Luther is concerned, everybody is running off -- Luther`s prince wouldn`t allow Tetzel in his territory. Luther`s prince had his own system. He had 17,000 relics that people would come to see. A thumb of a saint or something, and he`d make his money off that, and the indulgences competed there, so...
LAMB: Let me ask you about all this.
LAMB: One of the words that you use in your book a lot, and Luther used a lot was "faith." We`ll go back to the popes. You say the popes were corrupt and they sold things like indulgences. Why wouldn`t it lead somebody to say that popes gathered around their cardinals and they said, let`s establish a church? Let`s say to everybody, you`ve got to have faith. We can`t prove to you what it is, but you have got to have faith. And then they say, we`re going to raise money by selling them ways to use their faith to buy relics, to buy indulgences, to get themselves into something called heaven. And this is all not true. I mean, what -- if you`re a Lutheran, what guarantee do you have that faith matters, that it really exists? That there really is something beyond?
MARTY: OK, first of all, with the pope, Luther never said that there had not been faith or there had not been a church. As long as you have the Lord`s supper, the reading of the Bible, baptism, there`s always the church. It may be corrupt and everything, but it`s the church, they`re God`s saints. They were never ruled out.
As late as -- as the late as the year of Luther`s death, his sidekicks still could say if the pope would be reformed, we could have a pope, that doesn`t bother us. Somebody has to rule; that isn`t it. What the problem was that as far as they were concerned, faith had been so compromised by the system of merit and work, you had to achieve it so much that faith meant nothing. So for the Lutheran, for Luther, it all turned around. He started reading the letters of Paul. And some of the Hebrew scriptures that talked this way, that your whole relationship to God is based on God`s initiative, God`s action, God reaching down, God doing it all.
Now, you can resist, you can deny, but faith is the grasp upon the gifts of God. Now, where is the security of it? Well, faith is faith. You don`t -- you don`t have security like you thought you had with a piece of paper called an indulgence. And that`s what bothered Luther and the prince, they`re going off and buying their way into it, and that has to be done away with. That`s why he did the 95 Theses, which said your whole Christian life should be repentance. Repentance means 180 degree turn. The course you`re on, you turn all the way around so that God can act upon you. And everything then is based on the grace of God, the downward action and the faith with what you`re receiving.
LAMB: Let me read from your book, because you also get into the downside of Martin Luther, he wasn`t as true to his beliefs sometimes. "The most dramatic case in point was that of Philip of Hesse."
LAMB: "An important leader in the Smalkaldic League. And one who advanced Luther`s cause. He was a womanizer who had been tied through an early arranged marriage to Christina, the daughter of Luther`s political arch-foe, Duke George of Saxony. Philip complained that Christina was surly and given to drunkenness and she stank. He must have overcome the offensive odor enough to get close and sire 10 children she bore, three of them after he had taken a second wife without divorcing Christina."
You go on to talk more about, you know, the whole idea -- I don`t know if you use the word annulment, but basically Martin Luther looked the other way.
MARTY: Well, yeah, he couldn`t figure a way out of this. He needed the prince and the prince needed him. So he asked, what`s the least worst thing? Well, he didn`t believe in divorce.
LAMB: Who didn`t?
MARTY: Luther didn`t. That would have been easy, if he had just to Philip of Hesse, you can have a divorce, but he thought the Bible had absolute prohibition against divorce, unless there was -- if Philip`s wife had been unfaithful, divorce would have been a solution. But she was faithful, so there was no way he could have a divorce.
Polygamy was brought up. That was -- Luther didn`t quite know what to make of it, because the great patriarchs were all polygamists and there is no page of the Bible where it says you can`t be polygamist. But it was against the law, it wasn`t (UNINTELLIGIBLE) other times. So he asked, what`s the least worst, would be bigamy, but since it was against the law, he shouldn`t own up to it. And if he`s asked, he should lie.
Here`s where you see a course of a person who starts out with what looks like morality, gets mixed with politics, gets mixed with compromise, and turns into gross immorality. That`s not a defensible act. In fact, his best friend, Philip Morangton (ph), who went along with him at a certain stage, got so much guilt over it that he became psychosomatically ill, almost mad and near death over the guilt of this, and Luther engaged in some acts of healing that helped him out of it. It`s not anything that anyone writing a biography of Luther could say, go and do that likewise.
LAMB: There`s a sentence I wanted you to explain. It`s on the same page we`re talking about all of this. "A counselor, he explained, sometimes had to offer ambiguous advice that went against the norm in order to protect a norm, in this case that of marriage without divorce," which is basically what you have been talking about here. As I read this, I keep saying, well, this seems like people had it both ways all the time. Whenever they didn`t like what was going on, they just changed the rules.
MARTY: But you have to really, really, really be up against something. There are a couple of technical terms for this. Kierkegaard talks about Abraham is supposed to kill his own son, and he calls it a teleological suspension of the ethical, that is with a certain (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you might have to suspend something. Colleague at Chicago, Paul Racur (ph), talked about the ethics of distress.
For example, in World War II, in one of the great novels, World War II, there`s a lifeboat with 15 people from your own ship on it and there`s a German sub underneath, and if you don`t drop a depth charge, they might get your hospital ship and kill 1,000 people. You drop a depth charge, you`re going to kill 15 of your own people. And the man, the commander drops the depth charge and says, one must do what one must do and then say one`s prayers.
I think that it`s that kind of thing. You don`t likely do this. And that`s why I put it in the book to show the grievousness of that flaw. But in Luther`s theology, you don`t get away with that. You take things very, very seriously.
But I think many a pastoral counselor in Catholicism or Protestantism today will find some circumstances in which you will say -- this isn`t quite going by the books, but you`re a frail human being, I see a potential in you for doing something else. This is what went all wrong in the Catholic priestly abuse thing. People would say, I see you as a good priest, you could do other things, so we`ll kind of wink at that. So the stuff can really go wrong. But I don`t think anybody can go through a whole pastorate and go home every night and say, I counsel absolute virtue every day. You try to get the best out of people, and the best out of the grace of God, and then you return to the principle right away, so Luther can go back and say, we never gave over the principle of integrity of marriage. He paid an awfully high price for keeping it.
LAMB: I know that there`s a great gap between the 1500`s and when Hitler came in, but you read the attitude of Martin Luther towards the Jews, and you say, boy, that`s -- what his attitude was moved all the way through the years up to the 1930`s.
MARTY: There was a book in World War II, "Hitler`s Spiritual Ancestor," and William Shirer, who wrote the very famous book on the rise of Nazis made it a popular theme and a lot of people ever since have been wrestling with it. Shirer-ism doesn`t really hold up today anymore, but there`s enough to it that the Lutheran churches, the -- the Evangelical Church in America, formally goes on the record with abject, total surrender and reparational kind of thing, which is why an author like I has to say, I`m bound never to defend what he did.
But now, I want to point out what the differences are. Hitler`s is a racial anti-Semitism. It`s the act of being born Jewish means you are loathsome, you don`t belong in the human race, I have a right to kill you. Luther`s was a religious one. Any Jew who converted was just fine with him, because they were totally equal. It wasn`t your race at all, it was your denial of the faith, and the reason he struck out at them so much was he thought that they`re going to say, a-ha, this -- getting rid of the pope, getting rid of all that and just God`s grace is what the Book of Isaiah is about. That`s what a lot of the prophets are about, this is for us. And of course, almost nobody converted, and he was frustrated and enraged. And most of his attacks are on the rabbis, because he thought they were the ones that were preventing the normal Jews from getting it.
LAMB: Well, some of the stuff is strong. In (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of 1543, you write: "Luther kept elaborating on the theme that rabbis were calling the Virgin Mary a whore and Jesus a bastard." Some of this I want to read. "In turn and in rage, Luther felt licensed to use degrading imagery that rabbis made Jews kiss, gobble down, guzzle and worship the s-h-i-t they were teaching along with the Judas` p-i-s-s of their biblical interpretations." Where does all that language come from?
MARTY: Out of a -- maybe a diseased mind by then.
LAMB: His mind?
MARTY: Yeah. I mean, everything in his body is not working anymore by then. If I say that, though, that lets him off the hook, because he`s still on the hook. He is in a culture -- let me explain it -- he is in a culture in which that`s -- that`s the language used, that`s the background used. My other hero of that century, Erasmus, on my wall I always had Luther and Erasmus, Erasmus, I envy you French, because you don`t have any Jews
LAMB: What`s that all about?
MARTY: Oh, 15th century is of Jewish anti-Semitism.
LAMB: But what`s the basis?
MARTY: That they didn`t convert. Some of it was -- and that was a debate in the United States in respect to a movie, should he have the line in there that the Jews had said, his blood be on us and on our children? And that colored an awful lot.
You can almost deal with those 15 centuries and not find a bright spot in Christians` relations to Jews. They`re always seen as the villains. Again, often there could be a converted Jew, and that was all right. But in general, theologically the Jews were at fault, and they were flawed. I have a big fat book on the Jew and Christian art. In Wittenberg where Luther was, there is a picture of a sow suckling, and that`s, you know, the pig is offensive to the Jews, the sow is suckling the Jews. In the great cathedrals of Europe, you always have two figures -- we had often two figures -- church, synagogue. Church is beautiful woman, synagogue is blindfolded, it doesn`t see the truth. You can`t write a happy chapter there, and he`s a part of it. Modern anti-Semitism is purely racial. They didn`t care about what Jews believed, and a lot of Jews had adapted to German life.
LAMB: We`re going to be out of time, but let me ask you a couple of questions about you. What part of the world did you grow up?
MARTY: I was born in Nebraska. I`m a son of the plains. I left at age 21, but one part of my heart stays there, and I like to measure from that. But for the last 50 years, I have been in Chicago.
LAMB: And where did you go to college yourself?
MARTY: I went to the Lutheran College. It was called a preparatory school, prep school, like a Catholic minor seminary, and there are two Lutheran seminaries, and then I went into my life work of teaching, and I got my Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.
LAMB: And your parents did what?
MARTY: My father was a schoolteacher, my mother was a humble home maker, who brought us up well. And we had a -- I always say I`ll never write a memoir, because it can`t be dramatic because I have nothing to fight about my early years. It was depression, it was drought, it was dust bowl. Nobody had a lot, but we were nurtured well and prepared for I think the -- my whole life has been in a world that you would call secular and pluralistic. I never -- well, for (ph) 10 years, I was a pastor (ph) of a flock, but all my years at the University of Chicago, interfaith, interreligious, secular. I have always been interested in the political dimensions of religion. So it`s never been cozy, and I think they prepared me for that.
LAMB: Martin Marty has been our guest, and the book looks like this. It`s a Penguin "Lives" series, and there`s Martin Luther on the cover. He was how tall?
MARTY: We don`t know how tall he was. He was skinny when young and fat when old, and people said you could see every bone in his body. So when you cast him as a young person, he`s that way. At the end, he said, "I`m ready to die now and give the maggots a fat doctor to eat."
LAMB: We`re out of time. This is what the cover looks like. Thank you very much for joining us.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.