Reformation Day (or What Martin Luther Thought of Polygamy)

On the 31st day of October, in the year 1517 AD, the Catholic monk, Martin Luther, nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Chapel in Wittenberg, Germany.  luter_marcinThe 95 Theses were 95 points of debate, question, and criticism of the Church’s teaching and practice of selling letters of indulgence.  In other words, they were selling forgiveness of sins (even sins that had not yet been committed), for money.

Here is a selection of some of Luther’s  95 Theses:

21) Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.

27 & 28) They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

32) Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

36 & 37) Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.

41-43) Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.

45-51) Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.
Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
Christians are to be taught that the buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.

79) To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.

82) “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?” The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.

86) “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”

94 & 95) Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

The 95 Theses was not his only criticism of the corruption and apostasy he saw in the Church.  For these criticisms he was called to a tribunal before the Diet (Assembly) of Worms with the Emperor, Charles V, presiding.  There he was asked to recant his writings.

His response was, “If I recant those books, I will do nothing but add strength to tyranny, and open not only the windows but also the doors to this great ungodliness [speaking of the corruption in the Church].” He went on to say,

I am but a man, and I can err, but let my errors be proven by scripture.  Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scripture or by clear reason, and not by the words of the Pope or of councils which have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything.  To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other.  May God help me. Amen.

These words were his death sentence.  The Pope (Leo X) issued a decree for his arrest and punishment.  Fortunately, Luther was taken into hiding by Prince Frederick the Wise at Wartburg Castle where he worked to produce a common language text (German) of the Bible so that the common man could have access to the Word of God.  The actions of Martin Luther were key to the Christian Reformation, and the nailing of his 95 Theses to the chapel door, which was a catalyst for the Reformation, is celebrated on this day (Reformation Day, October 31st).

Incidentally, Joseph Smith was very fond of Luther’s translation.  He often quoted from it in his sermons and said of it, “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 349)

Lutherrose.svgFor Martin Luther, the scriptures were primary to the foundation of his faith.  He rejected the “traditions of the elders”, and relied solely on the authority of the Word of God to inform the tenets of his faith.

What does all this have to do with polygamy?  The freedom of both thought and action that were spawned by the Reformation allowed previously “heretical” or suppressed ideas in the scriptures to come again to light, to be discussed, debated, and even to be adopted as part of individual faith. Among these topics was the idea of polygamy.  Speaking on this topic Martin Luther wrote:

I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the Word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter.”

Letter to Chancellor Gregory Bruck, January 13, 1524
(De Wette II, 459, pp. 329, 330)

In fairness, it must be mentioned that Luther was not in favor of the general adoption of polygamy as a Christian form of marriage.  Indeed, he advised that it be reserved for extreme situations where the first wife was ill, etc.  However, he freely admitted that his objection to the general practice of polygamy by Christians was not based on any prohibition found in the words of scripture, but rather founded on social reasons; that scandal may be avoided, and that offenses be not given.  He quoted St. Paul saying, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient” (1 Cor. 6:12)

Even so, his views towards polygamy remained, shall we say, “permissive” throughout his life.  Sixteen years after the letter to Chancellor Buck, quoted above, Luther and other Reformation leaders were found giving their consent to the plural marriage of Prince Phillip of Hesse.  A fact which has proven an embarrassment to many Protestants since, and is considered to be one of Luther’s “warts”.

Not too surprisingly, Brigham Young had favorable things to say about Martin Luther (and Mormons in general view him, and all the reformers, in a very positive light – and not necessarily for his views on polygamy):

“We have been told a great many times that polygamy is not according to Christianity. The Protestant reformers believed the doctrine of polygamy. Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, one of the principal lords and princes of Germany, wrote to the great reformer Martin Luther and his associate reformers, anxiously imploring them to grant unto him the privilege of marrying a second wife, while his first wife, the princess, was yet living. He urged that the practice was in accordance with the Bible, and not prohibited under the Christian dispensation. Upon the reception of this letter, Luther, who had denounced the Romish church for prohibiting the marriage of priests, and who favored polygamy, met in council with the principal Reformers to consult upon the letter which had been received from the Landgrave. They wrote him a lengthy letter in reply, approving of his taking a second wife, saying,

‘There is no need of being much concerned for what men will say, provided all goes right with conscience. So far do we approve it, and in those circumstances only by us specified, for the gospel hath neither recalled nor forbid what was permitted in the law of Moses with respect to the marriage. Jesus Christ has not changed the external economy, but added justice only, and life everlasting for reward. He teaches the true way of obeying God, and endeavors to repair the corruption of nature.’

This letter was written at Wittemburg, the Wednesday after the feast of St. Nicholas, 1539, and was signed by Martin Luther, Philip Melancthon, Martin Bucer, and five other Reformers, and was written in Melancthon’s own handwriting.

The marriage was solemnized on the 4th of March, 1540, by the Rev. Denis Melanther, chaplain to Philip. Philip’s first wife was so anxious ‘that the soul and body of her dearest spouse should run no further risk, and that the glory of God might be increased,’ that she freely consented to the match.

This letter of the great Reformers was not a hasty conclusion on their part that polygamy was sanctioned by the gospel, for in the year 1522, seventeen years before they wrote this letter, Martin Luther himself, in a sermon which he delivered at Wittemburg for the reformation of marriage, clearly pronounced in favor of polygamy.

These transactions are published in the work entitled, ‘History of the variations of the Protestant churches.’

Ladies and gentlemen, I exhort you to think for yourselves, and read your Bibles for yourselves, get the Holy Spirit for yourselves, and pray for yourselves, that your minds may be divested of false traditions and early impressions that are untrue.”  June 18, 1865, Journal of Discourses 11:127

We owe a large debt of gratitude to the great man, Martin Luther, and to William Tyndale, and John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus, and to all the other brave men and women of the Reformation who risked both their lives and their fortunes to live and teach the Truth as they saw it.  They sowed some of the first seeds of religious freedom, and tho the crop is slow in growing, we are still reaping the benefits of their labors today.

HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!

Pioneer Day

Happy Pioneer DayFrom its very beginnings, Mormonism seemed destined to attract ridicule and persecution of every variety, of every intensity, and from every direction —  be it religious, secular, or political.  Even Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, noted about himself:

It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy?

Whether you agree with the doctrines and practices of Joseph Smith and Mormonism (and there is much to disagree with no doubt – for many of them are strange, and even offensive), the horrible abuse and religious persecution of the Mormon people at the hands of their oppressors (which included not only private persons, and mobs, but also state and federal governments) was shocking, horrific, and is completely unparalleled in the history of the United States.

Since the very beginnings of Mormonism in the state of New York, they were often treated harshly by their neighbors.  This mistreatment, which involved everything from mistrust and slander to murder and rape, caused the body of the Church to move from one place to another—to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and finally on to the land that would become Utah.  In fact, murder of Mormons was still officially sanctioned by the state of Missouri until June of 1976.

Being abused and driven continually from place to place quickly becomes old, and can be tolerated for only so long.  In all these tribulations the Mormons had petitioned the government (both state and federal) several times to aid them in their plights.  Perhaps most famously President Van Buren is reported to have said, when asked for aid, “Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you. … If I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri.”  Oh, the politicians!

KOG flag

The first wagon company entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24th of 1847.  Brigham Young stated then that if they would be left in peace for 10 years, they would ask nothing further of the government.  Ten years later to the day, on July 24th of 1857, the saints were celebrating Pioneer Day up Big Cottonwood Canyon at Silver Lake, with the Stars and Stripes flying in the breeze, when word came to the territory of Deseret that the United States was sending an army to crush a supposed Mormon rebellion.

31star

 

Of course the rumors of rebellion and lawlessness in the territory were exaggerated well beyond the point of lies, and were used as false pretense for military action.  Ultimately this proved very costly for the government, and embarrassing for President Buchanan (the Utah War is sometimes referred to as Buchanan’s Blunder).  The real reasons for sending a sizable chunk of the army into the western wilderness was all done for political reasons and had nothing to do with the disloyalty of the Mormon people (for they were not disloyal to the United States – and never have been).  Rather, the reasons had to do with the impending civil war (the massive military force, trudging across the plains at this critical time, left many federal arsenals and military stores unprotected in the South), and the recently adopted Republican Party platform (adopted at the GOP convention of 1856 in Philadelphia) to rid the US of:

“the twin relics of barbarism,

polygamy and slavery“.

After receiving the news about the approaching army Brigham Young told the people to finish their Pioneer Day celebrations, and then they began making plans and preparations.  The plan they decided on was to stall the army, thru bloodless guerrilla warfare, as long as possible from entering the territory (the stories of Lot Smith and Porter Rockwell are fascinating and entertaining, but sadly too long to relate here).  This was to buy them time to clear up the misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and outright lies that were circulating in the East about the Mormon people.  Ultimately, the plan was carried out in a brilliant manner, and was successful in its aims.

Here is what Brother Brigham had to say about the situation:

It is a pretty bold stand for this people to take, to say that they will not be controlled by the corrupt administrators of our General Government.  We will be controlled by them, if they will be controlled by the Constitution and laws; but they will not.  Many of them do not care any more about the Constitution and laws that they make than they do about the laws of any other nation.  That class [of people] trample the rights of the people under their feet, while there are so many who would like to honor them.  All we ever asked for is our Constitutional rights.  We wish the laws of our Government honored, and we have ever honored them; but they are trampled under foot by administrators.

And furthermore:

I do not lift my voice against the great and glorious Government guaranteed to every citizen by our Constitution, but against those corrupt administrators who trample the Constitution and just laws under their feet.  They care no more about them than they do about the Government of France, but they walk them under their feet with impunity.  And the most of the characters they have sent here as officers cared no more about the laws of our country and of this territory than they did about the laws of China, but walked them under their feet with all the recklessness of despots. – Millennial Star, No. 3, Vol. 20, pg. 33

So remember this Pioneer Day, that this day is about religious liberty as much as it is about settling a strange land and making the desert blossom as a rose.  I leave you with the inspiring words of Connor Boyack, who wrote a beautiful guest opinion for the Daily Herald (the original article can be found here).  His words are reproduced here in their entirety:

Happy Pioneer Day!