In the last two days we have considered some of the antisemitism in the early church fathers that deeply affected Roman Catholic theology and their views and treatment of the Jews. Truly, there is so much and it runs so deeply that I can only scratch the surface. In the interest of moving forward at a reasonable pace, I would like to address Martin Luther, ‘father’ of the Protestant Reformation.
Many wrongly believe that by some miracle, the Roman Catholics who founded the Protestant Reformation were so enlightened in their new found truths, that they left the RCC’s antisemitism behind. Such is not the case. In fact, many of the ‘fathers’ of the Reformation were rabidly antisemitic. Martin Luther, the ‘champion’ of the Reformation, set the dubious standard with his vile 65,000 word screed titled The Jews & Their Lies. A straight line can be drawn from Martin Luther to the crematorium of Auschwitz! In fact, Adolf Hitler used Martin Luther’s works to silence and woo the Lutheran church of Germany while simultaneously firing the hatred of Aryan Germans against not just Jews but many others he wanted to destroy.
As I was ‘waking up’ to some of the falsehood I had accepted in Christendom, I stumbled onto excerpts from former hero, Martin Luther. As I read and studied I began to understand just how much antisemitism affected me, a seminary trained pastor in a ‘conservative’ pulpit. At the end of that article I quoted the following excepts from Luther’s warped demonic point of view,
“What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? … First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn…. Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed… Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them… Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb… Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them… Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam… “ etc.
While we will discuss in the next installment some of the false theologies derived from antisemitic works by Martin Luther and and his Roman Catholic predecessors, it is important here to understand how Luther’s vitriol toward the Jews in his later years laid the foundation for the Third Reich’s holocaust. In a well researched and documented wiki article, Luther is demonstrated to have started reaching out to the Jews and even condemning those who treated them badly, but when they rejected his advances, he became their violent enemy.
The prevailing view among historians is that Luther’s anti-Jewish rhetoric contributed significantly to the development of antisemitism in Germany, and in the 1930s and 1940s provided an ideal foundation for the Nazi Party‘s attacks on Jews. Reinhold Lewin writes that “whoever wrote against the Jews for whatever reason believed he had the right to justify himself by triumphantly referring to Luther.” According to Michael, just about every anti-Jewish book printed in the Third Reich contained references to and quotations from Luther. Diarmaid MacCulloch argues that Luther’s 1543 pamphlet On the Jews and Their Lies was a “blueprint” for the Kristallnacht. Shortly after the Kristallnacht, Martin Sasse, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thuringia, published a compendium of Martin Luther‘s writings ; Sasse “applauded the burning of the synagogues” and the coincidence of the day, writing in the introduction, “On November 10, 1938, on Luther’s birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany.” The German people, he urged, ought to heed these words “of the greatest anti-Semite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews.” In 1940, Heinrich Himmler wrote admiringly of Luther’s writings and sermons on the Jews. The city of Nuremberg presented a first edition of On the Jews and their Lies to Julius Streicher, editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer, on his birthday in 1937; the newspaper described it as the most radically antisemitic tract ever published. It was publicly exhibited in a glass case at the Nuremberg rallies and quoted in a 54-page explanation of the Aryan Law by Dr. E.H. Schulz and Dr. R. Frercks. On December 17, 1941, seven Lutheran regional church confederations issued a statement agreeing with the policy of forcing Jews to wear the yellow badge, “since after his bitter experience Luther had [strongly] suggested preventive measures against the Jews and their expulsion from German territory.”
Every bit of that is easily confirmed in an honest look at history. Luther planted the seeds of the holocaust and then 400 years later the slow growing tree brought forth its fullest and ugliest fruit. There were many in the meantime that breathed or acted on hate toward the Jews and most all pointed to Luther as their inspiration.
Multiple books have been written on Luther and his infamous attitudes toward the Jews that pervaded his writings in his later years. One such work that details quote after quote and many of the results against not just the Jews but other targets of Luther’s hate-filled pen is Martin Luther ~ Hitler’s Spiritual Ancestor, by Peter F. Wiener. Another more recent work is The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologies and the Bible in Nazi Germany by Susannah Heschel.
In multiple places Heschel clearly connects Luther with the antisemitic policies and propaganda of not just the church in Nazi Germany, but with the leadership of the National Socialist Party. Here are a few samples demonstrating the seeds of destruction sown by Luther and his antisemitic ilk,
Theologically, the Institute [for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life] was meant to signify a new Reformation, completing what Luther had begun. p.11
The Godesberg Declaration asserted that Christian churches could not be international; that National Socialism is an extension of Martin Luther’s efforts; and that Christianity repudiates Judaism. p. 81.
Theodor Pauls, an Institute member and professor of pedagogy, who edited several volumes of Luther’s texts, lectured on the “destructive Jewish intellect” and “racial mixture” of Jews that Luther himself had warned against. p. 144-145
The fusion of Protestantism and Germanism was read into Nazism by German Christians, and Jesus was viewed as prefiguring Hitler, who in tern was imagined as an avatar of Martin Luther; Leffler declared in 1935 that Hitler stood in a direct line with Luther. Both had brought about a national revival that Leffler interpreted as part of religious history, and the two were conflated: “So we cannot think of Adolf Hitler without Martin Luther.” p.283
Many in the church would deny culpability claiming ‘that was a different time,’ or ‘Luther is just misunderstood,’ or ‘I don’t believe that way and am not guilty,’ but the great error of the church, going back many hundreds of years is in not repudiating in the strongest possible terms and loudest possible voice all traces of antisemitism. Rather, it has been allowed to fester in the hearts of even the leaders, while quietly infecting every doctrine of the church.
There are some who recognize this great danger and are speaking out in repentance and with tears, but, not nearly enough! Michael L. Brown, Ph.D., begins chapter ten of Our Hands Are Stained With Blood,
A little more than 100 years ago, a Christian minister to the Jews “was asked what he thought wanting on the part of the friends of Israel. He replied, ‘More tears.’
“More tears” is the urgent need on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel today. “More tears” must flow from the Church’s eyes before tears of repentance, and then tears of joy, will flow from Israel’s eyes. God grant us more tears!
Next, we will consider the effects of antisemitism in leading to false doctrines and theology. For now, I pray you have more tears as you watch this short video of repentance and remembrance.