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Old 28 December 2008, 01:41 AM
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Default Martin Luther quote

On a webpage belonging to one Joyce Arthur, which is an expose on creationist Dr. Duane Gish, there is an unknown quote attributed to 16th-century religious reformer Martin Luther, it goes like this:

"What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church...a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them."

Arthur gives as her source a book written by one Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, first published in 1978 by Pantheon Books. Bok gives her source as Martin Luther cited by his secretary, in a book edited by Max Lenz which has a German title.

I went to Amazon.com and found Sissela Bok's book, both the 1978 original edition and a 1999 updated version. But I could not find the work edited by Max Lenz. The only things I found by him were a book on Napoleon and one on Bismark.

Where did this qoute come from?
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Old 28 December 2008, 03:19 AM
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This website gives a citation:

"What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church...a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them." in a letter in Max Lenz, ed., Briefwechsel Landgraf Phillips des Grossmuthigen von Hessen mit Bucer, vol. 1.

I assume this is the "book edited by Max Lenz which has a German title" you refer to.

More later.

Avril
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Old 31 December 2008, 01:05 AM
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Exactly. That is the book.

But you must notice that when Arthur placed this citation on her webpage, she failed to note a page number from either Bok's book, or that of Max Lenz. She also fails to name Luther's secretary or what letter the quote was supposedly contained in. Finally, the quote expresses utilitarian ethics, which did not yet exist in Luther's day. From what I've learned, this philosophy was created in the early 19th century with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.


Barb Rainey
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Old 31 December 2008, 01:19 AM
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I do note that. I forgot I was going to run a search for the book in WorldCat. It exists, at least, but I do not find that book in a regular Google search except in relation to the quote here. The Lenz book shouldn't be on Amazon, probably, since it is a nineteenth century text.

Avril
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Old 08 January 2009, 01:46 AM
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On both WorldCat and Wikipedia I found that Max Lenz also authored a biography of Martin Luther, only I can't find it on Amazon.com, either, since it was also written in the late 19th century. Most of Lenz's books were never translated into English.

Joyce Arthur gives her primary citaton for the Luther quote as a book by one Sissela Bok. On Amazon.com I learned that Sissela Bok is/was a Swedish-born writer and she wrote her book Lying in Switerland. Also, I wonder if Joyce Arthur's source citation is correct. The quote is nothing I ever heard of.

Barb Rainey
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Old 08 January 2009, 06:26 AM
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I doubt that I would have encountered such a quote in my studies of Luther, as they've all been through the Lutheran church. (They tend to gloss over his anti-Semitism too, although newer church publications are finally getting around to acknowledging that unsavory aspect of Luther's character.) However, the quote still seems out of character for Luther - he could be forceful, blunt, and even crude, but mostly in a "plain speaking" sort of way - most of his beefs with the Roman Catholic Church at the time could be boiled down to Luther's belief that the Catholic Church was lying to its congregants in the name of God - promising salvation for dead relatives through the sale of indulgences, to name one prominent example. Luther was predominantly a Biblical scholar, and was constantly seeking to align church practices with "truths" of the faith drawn from careful scripture reading.
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Old 08 January 2009, 03:36 PM
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What musicgeek said. It seems very out of character for Luther and I wonder if it was part of a larger section. That is, was it taken out of context to explain why people bought/believed in/continued the practice of buying indulgences.
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Old 11 January 2009, 12:49 AM
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I agree that if he said it then it was taken out of context. Maybe Joyce Arthur used it on her webpage to criticize Duane Gish whom she accuses of lying in his anti-evolution/pro-creationism writings. She thinks he is practicing deceit for the sake of promoting the integrity of the Scriptures. However, if Gish lies for the sake of the faith, then naturally he is breaking the ninth commandment in bearing false witness.

Barb Rainey
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  #9  
Old 24 September 2009, 07:14 PM
shallit
 
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Default Martin Luther quote is authentic

Barb:

The quote is correct and Luther said it. You have not provided a single reason to doubt it.

The quote comes from an incident in Luther’s life that is well-documented and attested to in many books. Briefly: Philip of Hesse (1504-1567), a German nobleman committed bigamy in 1540. Luther counseled him to lie about the bigamy, saying it would be for the good of the Christian church. This incident is discussed in many places, including here and in The Life and Letters of Martin Luther by Preserved Smith, Houghton Mifflin, 2nd edition, 1911, p. 381. This book is available through Google books here. This last link also contains the text of the quote in question.

Sissela Bok’s book, Lying, is not “obscure”. It was published by a mainstream publisher, and I have a copy in my own personal library. Bok is a well-regarded philosopher.

Max Lenz’s book, Bok’s source of the quote, is an edited version of the correspondence of Phillip of Hesse (1504-1567), entitled Briefwechsel Landgraf Philips des Grossm”uthigen von Hessen mit Bucer. This book, admittedly, is more difficult to find (the letters of an obscure 16th century German nobleman being not exactly fodder for Oprah’s book club) but it exists, is in 3 volumes, was published by S. Hirzel in Leipzig from 1880-1891. If you looked for the book, you may have had difficulty finding it because several sources give the title incorrectly with “Phillips” instead of “Philips”. Furthermore, it was reprinted by Zeller in Osnabr”uck in 1965. There are copies in the Harvard University Library, for example. You don’t seem to have done even the most cursory efforts to find this source or look at it.

But no longer: the book is available online here:
http://fig.lib.harvard.edu/fig/?bib=003466003

You can find the quote on page 373 of volume 1. Later I will post the original, a transcription into roman letters, and a translation.
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Old 24 September 2009, 09:38 PM
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You know, you could have said all that and left out the sllap in the face to Barb. Some people are better at searching the internet than others. Perhaps your google-fu is just a bit better. Too bad, I was really enjoying your post up to that point.
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  #11  
Old 25 September 2009, 07:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tweetilynn View Post
You know, you could have said all that and left out the sllap in the face to Barb. Some people are better at searching the internet than others. Perhaps your google-fu is just a bit better. Too bad, I was really enjoying your post up to that point.
I second that.

I followed shallit's link, but couldn't get a preview of the book. I don't know whether that is because I'm in Germany (copyright issues). If anybody could post a picture or screenshot of the original here, I could try and give you a translation of my own and some context.

Don Enrico
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  #12  
Old 25 September 2009, 09:12 AM
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While wer'e at it, Luther seems to have said lots of strange things. Here are two quotes I'd like to submit to your attention (my own translation, so there may be differences with the actual text):

"The believer's Faith has nothing to do with knowledge, wisdom or even common sense."

and:

"Sin, even sin a lot - but never forget to sin joyfully."

Are these really from Luther?
I did some research and couldn't find anything really positive. Maybe one of you will know more.

Last edited by Cyrano; 25 September 2009 at 09:18 AM.
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Old 25 September 2009, 03:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cyrano View Post
"Sin, even sin a lot - but never forget to sin joyfully."

.

That sounds like something Benjamin Franklin would've said!
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  #14  
Old 25 September 2009, 03:45 PM
shallit
 
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Default Luther quote

Here is the German text of the Luther quote:

http://www.cs.uwaterloo.ca/~shallit/luther1.jpg
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Old 25 September 2009, 04:01 PM
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The OP quote reminded me of this:

“The falseness of a judgement is not necessarily an objection to a judgment: it is here that our new language perhaps sounds strangest. The question is to what extent it is life-advancing, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-breeding; and our fundamental tendency is to assert that the falsest judgements (to which synthetic judgments a priori belong ) are the most indispensable to us, that without granting as true the fictions of logic, without measuring reality against the purely invented world of the unconditional and self-identical, without a continual falsification of the world by means of numbers, mankind could not live — that to renounce false judgements would be to renounce life, would be to deny life. To recognize untruth as a condition of life: that, to be sure, means to resist customary value-sentiments in a dangerous fashion; and a philosophy which ventures to do so places itself , by that act alone, beyond good and evil.” (Beyond Good and Evil, 333)

Certainly not the same intent, but both are saying that embracing lies for a greater good is okay, even necessary - neitzsche says that the good is what is life-enhancing, and Luther would say "yes, but (true) Christianity is what is really life-enhancing" - which of course would make Nietzsche howl in derision.
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Old 26 September 2009, 01:23 AM
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Jeffrey Shallit sent me that answer in an email yesterday. I guess I was a bit brash calling the quote a myth. Shallit sent another email stating that a lot of famous people have been known to make statements that most people have never heard off. And this is one of them,

Barb Rainey
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  #17  
Old 26 September 2009, 03:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shallit View Post
The quote is correct and Luther said it. You have not provided a single reason to doubt it.
Well, I am no Luther scholar, but just by the evidence in this thread, I see no reason to either doubt or believe it.

As far as I can tell, Luther allegedly made this remark in private to a secretary, and the quotation came out in the context of a scandal regarding clerical forbearance over the bigamy of a German royal. In the context of the times, it seems obvious that release of the pro-lying quotation would harm Luther's reputation. What was the secretary's motive in releasing this information?

Generally speaking, I regard with skepticism reports that a famous person was overheard saying something outrageous in private. Isn't good journalistic practice to have two sources for something like that?
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  #18  
Old 26 September 2009, 01:40 PM
shallit
 
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Default Luther quote

What was the secretary's motive in releasing this information?

You seem confused. The quote appears in the correspondence of Philip of Hesse, the man receiving the advice, not from a secretary of Luther's. It is a transcript of the Eisenach assembly of July 1540, called to discuss Philip's bigamy.

The quote is well-documented and accepted by historians - even pro-Luther historians, who accept it as authentic, but try to make excuses for it. See, for example, Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, volume 3, "The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546", pages 211-212 (available through google books):

"Luther continued to maintain this position during the heated discussions with the Hessian counselors and theologians during the Eisenach assembly in mid-July [1540]. This was no longer only a private scandal; the bigamy affected land and people, body and livelihood. Therefore the landgrave had to "tell a good, strong lie" and deny the second marriage; otherwise, Luther foresaw grave consequences for him and the church, and in this he was to be proved correct. Repeatedly, even to the present, Luther has been portrayed as unscrupulous because he advocated lying in this case. In fact, however, it was in no way an opportunistic morality that motivated him. As a confessor, he could do his client no better service than to protect his confidence under all circumstances."
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  #19  
Old 28 September 2009, 07:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shallit View Post
Here is the German text of the Luther quote:

http://www.cs.uwaterloo.ca/~shallit/luther1.jpg
Translated as good as I know:

Quote:
Wouldn't that be an advice, that something like that would be thrown into discussion, and whether he was called on it, should he say that he had well discussed it, but didn't come to an conclusion? And he should keep it secret. What would it matter, if one would tell a good strong lie for the better and for the sake of the christian churches? Another advice would be that one would stuff the people's mouth, that he sends R away within four weeks, and takes the other one to him, and would live well with her, so everybody would say that there is nothing about it, and it (maybe: The marriage) would be broken. If that shouldn't help, he wouldn't know other advice.
The author seems to be quoting someone here, but without context I can#t tell wether he's quoting Luther.

Don Enrico
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  #20  
Old 07 August 2010, 02:02 PM
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I don't know if anyone is still interested in this, but fwiw, here's my translation of the passage from the Eisenach protocols above- it's a bit more colloquial, but perhaps thus easier to understand, than Don Enrico's:

How would it be, if this [second marriage] came up for discussion, and if he [Philip] were challenged, he would say, that he had indeed considered it, but in the end did not go through with it? And he should otherwise keep quiet. What does it matter, if, for the sake of the good and the Christian church, one tells a good strong lie! And furthermore, to shut the mouths of the people, he should put N [this refers to Philip's second wife Margarethe von der Saale, perhaps a typo for "M"] away for four weeks, and take the other [his first wife Christine of Saxony] back and make good with her; then everyone would say, that there was nothing in it; and thus [their objections] would be broken. If that doesn't help, then he [Luther] saw no hope.

cheers from soggy Vienna, zilch
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