01 February 2004

In Hindsight, a Very Important Day...

And happy Saint Brigid's Day to you. If you fancy making a Saint Brigid's cross, and have some improbable reeds handy, here are some instructions

For what it's worth, the first of February was the old Celtic festival of Imbolg, celebrating the first day of Spring. It looks as though Saint Brigid's day caught on as a way of making newly Christianised Gaels feeling they weren't being shortchanged on the festival front.

Yesterday was an insanely busy day here, with me having eight call-outs over the day; I had to range from being generally helpful, to being advisorly and pastoral, to being an iron-fisted disciplinarian.

There was a party in the Common Room late in the evening, so I had two members of our JCR committee come to my room to fill out the necessary form. While they were here I got a message from An Leath Eile on MSN messenger; I answered it quickly, blushing and saying, "Oh, it's the other half," and then presented David and Becky with the form, and began reading it to them.

I liked the form, though we had some discussion over one of the first points on it: "The organisers must accept responsibility for making sure that the party finishes on time and that all requests made beforehand and during the party by the tutor are complied with." 

As an example of the latter I said, "So, if, for instance, I were to point out a couple of girls in advance and request that they be brought scantily clad to my room, you guys would have to arrange it."
"Were you not just chatting to your missus there?" asked David.
"Um, yes," I admitted.

"Tell them that Dr Martin Luther will have it so!"
I went to mass this evening in St Augustine's church, which is the chaplaincy for Manchester Metropolitan University. The service was an unusual one for me, beginning as it did with nine people being welcomed into the Church; one as a catechumen, and the others having been recently baptised; coming from a country where, to all intents and purposes, everybody is brought up as a Catholic, this was something I'd never seen.

The epistle was interesting, and one I've heard several times over the last year; it was chapter thirteen of Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. It's a favourite at weddings, with good reason.

Today something struck me about this passage. The second verse, in isolation and in context, struck me as crucial. "And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." If that hadn't made Paul's point, verse thirteen drove it home: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

So? Well, think about how the sixteenth century schisms within the Church began. If there was one cardinal text for the reformers it was Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, where he declared "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'", or as that last bit is more usually translated "The just shall live through faith" (1.17).

Luther built his entire understanding of scripture around this notion, and in his translation of the Bible into German famously mistranslated Romans 3.28, adding in the word 'only', so that it read 'For we hold that a man is justified by faith only apart from works of law.'

Luther's theological opponents argued against this clear modification of scripture, which deliberately added a force to the passage that was not in the original text, but Luther shouted down any such criticism: 
"If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him: 'Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing.' [. . .] Please do not give these donkeys any other answer to their useless braying about that word sola than simply this: 'Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the pope.' Let it rest there. I will from now on hold them in contempt, and have already held them in contempt, as long as they are the kind of people (or rather donkeys) that they are."
Despite accusing the more orthodox theologians of sophistry, Luther's own 'defence' of his addition to scripture reeked of sophistry: 
"I know very well that in Romans 3 the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text -- the papists did not have to teach me that. It is fact that the letters s-o-l-a are not there. And these blockheads stare at them like cows at a new gate, while at the same time they do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text -- if the translation is to be clear and vigorous [klar und gewaltiglich], it belongs there."

But does it? Hardly, if the words of Saint James are to count for anything, as Saint James explicitly stated that "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." (James 2.24). By mistranslating the Pauline text, Luther set the two apostles at odds.

All of this is to get away from the point somewhat, which is not that James said that faith alone wasn't enough to save us, but rather that Paul said the same thing, and that faith without love was worthless. Interesting, that. I wonder how Luther got round that. 

I've no doubt he did so, but wonder how.

No comments: