GREAT HYPOCRISY OF OFFICE
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
As it is in man, so
shall it be in his offices
It is certainly enlightening on Sundays to read Martin
Luther's letters. I treasure this excerpt from his 'Warning to the Dear German
"Furthermore, if war breaks out - which God forbid - I
will not reprove those who defend themselves against the murderous and
bloodthirsty papists, nor let anyone rebuke them as being seditious, but I will
accept their action and let it pass as self-defense. I will direct them in this
matter to the law and to the jurists. For in such an instance, when the
murderers and bloodhounds wish to wage war and to murder, it is in truth no
insurrection to rise against them and defend oneself. Not that I wish to incite
and spur anyone on to such self-defense, or to justify it, for that is not my
This 'Letter' was written in 1530, well after the Peasant
insurrection of 1525, which he had condemned in no uncertain terms. But in this
case he would let the lawyers wrangle while he, God's minister, would be a
perfect hypocrite and not "rebuke" those who violated the very principle
he had otherwise set forth, that no rebellion against authority is justified in
any case. In this case, he was implicitly justifying a rebellion by the newly
named "Protestants" against Emperor Charles V. After the 1530 Diet of Augsburg was concluded,
the Emperor proclaimed his 'Recess' setting forth the errors of the
Protestants, giving them six months to accept the Catholic position or else.
Luther supposed the "or else": he assumed the Emperor would use
force; therefore Luther condoned in advance the rebellion of his Dear People,
although it was not his "OFFICE" to advocate same.
The term ‘condone’ is appropriate here, in the sense of overlooking
a wrong. Luther had, in his treatise on Just War, clearly stated that a war of
inferiors against their superiors is wrong. That general position on Just War
was amply supported by scriptural interpretation and accorded with feudal law.
And he applied his general prohibition against insurrection to the particular
case of rebellious peasants in his 'Against the Thieving and Murderous Peasant
Hordes'. We recall that nearly 100,000 of the rebels, who had been his fervent
supporters because of his anti-clerical stance, were ruthlessly slaughtered by
professional soldiers in the Peasant War.
Luther stated, in his letter to Elector John of Saxony dated
March 6, 1530, that "According to Scripture, it is in no way proper for
anyone who would be a Christian to set himself against his government, whether
it acts justly or unjustly. Rather a Christian ought to suffer oppression and
injustice by his government."
Therefore, at least according to the Great Hypocrisy of
Office, it appears that, despite Luther's general prohibition of a war of
inferiors against superiors, Protestant rebellion against papist authorities is
quite just; but a peasant rebellion against any superior authority at all is
not just at all; it is only just against the papal authority.
While Thomas Muntzer, the foremost peasant leader, spoke of
Equality and the Brotherhood of Man, of a Kingdom of God on Earth here and now,
Luther divorced religion and politics, placing gospel in heaven and law on
"In civil policy and obedience to law... nothing must be
known concerning the conscience, the gospel, grace, remissions of sins,
heavenly righteousness, or Christ himself."
Thus did Luther propound the defeatist ethic which, imitating
Augustine, hands over the sword of Christ to the political authorities as long
as they defend the few selected by the grace of god to support them. Thereby a
convenient division of labor is realized, or rather a division between labor
and non-labor, works and faith.
No doubt the dualism of different standards for church and
state is conducive to political tyranny over the world at large regardless of
faith. The only legitimate business of the protesting faction is irrational faith,
not political works. As for the peasants whom Luther advised the authorities to
"stab and kill," they found out the hard way, under their Rainbow
banner, that works according to the communal precepts of Jesus are in direct
conflict with the political authorities. However, if only the protestant church
would mind its spiritual business, leaving the sword in the hands of legitimate
real princes, then it should be entitled to state protection.
That is, the state should defend the protestant church as
long as it does not support illegitimate ministers, defined as those who insist
that attacks on the state in defense of the true gospel would not only be just
but warranted by God.
The key word used by Luther in his subtle condonation of a
just rebellion against the papists was "OFFICE." Luther knew very
well the distinction between the office of a preacher of the gospel and the
office of a warrior and politician. The Great Reformation has rightfully been
called The Great Hypocrisy because it casts a brighter light on the underlying
crisis (hypocrisy) we all share, the failure to live up to our ideals so that
our acts suit our words. Today, we are so inured to glaring hypocrisy that we
scarcely notice it, or just ignore it as unavoidable.
For instance, during the presidential campaign, born-again
Christian candidate George W. Bush said Jesus was his hero, yet he frankly said,
during a discussion of the execution of a born-again condemned murderer, that
the death penalty is a political affair and that Christian principles do not
apply to the fulfillment of political office. Wherefore he would not give her
another thirty days of life, which is all he could have done under the law of
All one has to do is to take off one's protestant hat and put
on the political hat to make every violation of religious principle
justifiable. Before President Bush's nominees were sworn in, several of them
had to assure Congress they would leave their religious and political ideology
behind in ideological heaven with their abstract god in order to obey the will
of the people, their concrete political god.
Hypocrisy, indeed! In view of the aim of Machiavellian
politics, to achieve "peace" or "union" by any convenient
means whatsoever, including outright deception and total war, every politician
is bound take the Hypocritical Oath before taking high office.
But it is unfair to disparage ignoble politics and unholy
religion without considering the alternative to hypocrisy. Therefore we should
ask ourselves: Do we really want a theocracy ruled by a Falwell, a Robertson, a
bin Laden, a Jackson or Sharpton?
Pick any by-god swearer (bigot) or moral majority red-neck or
fanatic ideologist you do not like. Behold the age-old dilemma, the predicament
of a Luther and a Bush when he assumes the role he had better assume when he
take his respective office, even though his role must contradict his principles
if he has sufficient intelligence to realize it.
No, Luther would not "reprove" insurrection, but it
is not his OFFICE to justify it, a least not expressly: deceitful expressions,
allusions, subliminal suggestions and so forth must be resorted to.
Yes, Luther's letters are certainly an enlightening read on
Sundays. And what a predicament Luther found himself in: he wanted to reform
the Church and wound up with revolution. Confronted with the problem of OFFICE,
he helped provide the world with another excuse to do whatever it wanted to do,
protest the old authority, a protest now called Protestantism. But under that
faithful form, "God" is nowhere to be found in politics, so we might
wonder if the old Catholic slur is true in part, that Protestantism is really a
form of feel-good atheism.
Labels: Authority, bush, Catholicism, Christianity, Hypocrisy, Luther, Peasant Rebellion, Princes, Protestantism, Revolution, Sword