One Scripture, the underlying disagreement was with the priesthood

One
of Luther’s most prominent and early opponents was Jerome Emser, a secretary to
Duke George of Saxony of Leipzig. Luther and Emser wrote multiple public
letters back and forth in the early 1500s, debating the interpretation of
Scripture. While the focus of the letters was the interpretation of Scripture,
the underlying disagreement was with the priesthood of all believers. The
letters, the dispute on how to interpret scripture, and the disagreement on the
priesthood of believers, ultimately lead to the development of reformation
anticlericalism.             Before diving into Luther and
Emser’s dispute, it is best to understand the history between the two. Emser,
who studied law and theology at Tubingen and Basel, lectured at Erfurt, where
he received his master’s degree. During his time as a lecturer, Luther happened
to be one of his students. There is not much recorded though of the two’s
interactions at Erfurt (Luther, 1930, p. 216). In July 1518, Emser invited
Luther over to his house in Dresden for a social gathering, while Luther was a
guest preacher at the castle church. 
While at the dinner, Luther and another guest got into a vigorous
theological debate in which Luther was lured into making a few incriminating
remarks. These remarks would later be used against Luther when he was charged
with heresy. After the dinner, Luther was extremely suspicious that entire
gathering was a set up and his suspicions were later confirmed the following
year at the Leipzig Debate (Baudler, 2016, p. 47).            On July 5th, 1519, Luther
debated Eck, a German Scholastic theologian and Catholic prelate, at the
Leipzig Debate, over multiple Catholic beliefs, including the legitimacy of
papal authority.  During the debate
Luther sided with some of the teachings of Hus, a heretic who was burned at the
stake. When questioned that he was siding with a heretic, Luther countered that
the Council of Constance may have been in error. If the council had erred, then
so had the popes and canon law. Luther remained steadfast on the fact that
Scripture, not the Popes or Canon Law, had finally authority for the church (Leipzig
debate). Merely a month later, Emser wrote a letter to John Zack, administrator
of the office of Prague’s archbishop, that attacked Luther’s praise of the Hus,
while at the same time attempting to be non-partisan. However, there were
multiple accusations directed towards Luther, while only praise towards Eck (Strand,
1961, p. 29).             The letter that Emser wrote to Zack
was the starting point for numerous open letters written between the two
opponents. Luther, furious after reading Emser’s letter, replied with a letter
called “Wild Goat Emser”; the title in reference to Emser’s coat of arms, which
graced the title page of Emser’s open letter. 
Then Emser countered with a “Defense against Luther’s Chase”, accusing
Luther’s vengeance toward the Pope due to the fact that he did not share in the
profits of the sale of indulgences. After reading this letter, Luther did not
find it necessary to even reply to such an insane accusation (Luther, 1930, p.
217). In 1520, Luther published “Address To The Christian Nobility of the
German Nation”, which Emser attacked in an open letter in August of that same
year. Emser’s attack exploded their jousting over the interpretation of Scripture
and the common priesthood of all believers into open warfare (Baudler, 2016, p.
47). Luther in his letter “To the Leipzig Goat” let Emser know that he would
not be permitted to remain on the arena without a battle. In which Emser
replied with “To the Wittenberg Bull”, where Emser tried to discredit Luther.
Again, Luther immediately replied with “Reply to the Answer of the Leipzig
Goat”, where he exposes the lies and explains the incident at Leipzig.
Ultimately, the main treatise at controversy is Emser’s “Against The
Unchristian Book of The Augustinian Monk Martin Luther Address to the German
Nobility”, in which Luther responded to, in March of 1521, with “Answer to the HyperChristian,
Hyperspiritual, and Hyperlearned Book of Goat Emser of Leipzig” (Luther, 1930,
p. 217-218). While all of these letters touch on the interpretation of
Scripture and the priesthood of all believers, that latter two go in depth the
most.             Emser’s view on the interpretation
of Scripture is that God’s Word can be interpreted through the Church’s
Authority, the past religious theologians (Fathers), and the Scripture itself or
as to he refers to them the Spear, the Dagger, and the Sword. For Emser there
is strength in understanding the unbroken tradition of the Church’s teaching
(Paulson, 2000, p.173). Instead of reading Scriptures alone to find its truth
and meaning, Emser turned to the doctrines and the practices set in the church
(MacKenzie, 2004, p.8). He believes that one must not interpret the bare
Scripture, but the interpretation of the Fathers. Therefore making the Fathers the
judges and testers of God’s word. For example, when Emser translated the Bible
to German, he went directly to Luther’s version and revised it on the basis of
Latin Vulgate to fit with the Catholic doctrine, rather than starting with the
original Scripture to understand its meaning in German (MacKenzie, 2004 p.13).  Hence why in Emser’s translation of the Bible,
in Matthew 3:2 he included the words “take heed for the heretics, who despise
penance and confession” and in Matthew 7:20 “every heretic is a bad tree, which
brings no good fruit” (Stand, 1963, p.115-116). While Emser does look at the
Scripture when interpreting it, his first response to is look at the Catholic
Doctrine and how the Father’s before him have interpreted the Scripture.             Furthermore, Emser believes there is
a two-fold way to interpret scripture. He developed this idea when he was
interpreting 2 Corinthians 3:6, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
The letter, Emser believes, refers to interpreting the literal meaning of
Scripture, where as the spirit refers to a higher and allegorical meaning of
Scripture (Paulson, 2000, p.170).  If one
interprets Scripture literally that will lead to death, where as interpreting
Scripture with a higher allegorical meaning leads to life, according to Emser.
Emser’s interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3:6 was built on the teachings of
Origen, Dionysius, and other previous religious scholars.             Using his two-fold way to interpret
scripture, Emser then interprets 1 Peter 2:9, “Ye are royal priesthood and a
holy nation”. The literal translation of this verse is that all Christians
shall be such priests as are consecrated bishops, but according to Emser this
is the wrong way to interpret this verse. Rather if one was to interpret the verse
according to the Spirit, Peter is talking about the inner spiritual priesthood,
which all Christians have, not the consecrated priesthood. From this Emser deciphers
that there are two kinds of priesthoods referenced in Scripture, a spiritual
priesthood and a consecrated priesthood (Dipple, 1996, p. 41).  The words of Peter throughout his writings can
be applied to both kinds of priesthoods and according to Emser the difficult
part is applying them to the right kind of priesthood.            On the other hand, Luther (1930)
believes that Scripture should only be interpreted using Scripture(p.258) For
one “cannot prove the light with darkness, but what is obscure and uncertain
must be made clear by that which is clear and certain” (Luther, 1930, p.258).
Luther (1930) specifically points to Deuteronomy 4:2, where God commands that
“Ye shall not add unto my words nor diminish ought from them” (p. 281). He
continues by stating how the appointed priests are teachers of the law, but
have no authority to teach their own law. For Jeremiah 23:31 says            “I have not sent these prophets, yet
they preached; I gave them no command,     yet
they taught. But if they had stood in my counsel and had caused my people          to hear my words, then I could have
turned them from their evil way and from      their
doings.”Additionally,
Luther (1930) believes that the pope and the sophist theologian’s books are the
devil’s teaching for they have been received peacefully without opposition
having been held in honor and higher esteem than the holy Gospel (p.235). If
what they had been teaching truly came from God, it would have satisfied a
smaller number and brought conflict into homes (Luther, 1930, p.235).             Additionally, Luther interprets the same scripture
that Emser interprets, 2 Corinthians 3:6, but he interprets it with Scripture
alone. He explains that the letter and the spirit are not intended to be two
senses, but rather two kinds of preaching, one in the Old Testament and one in
the New Testament (Luther, 1930, p.271). Luther looks at Corinthians 3:3 to
better understand what Corinthians 3:6 actually means. For Corinthians 3:3 says
            “Ye are an epistle of Christ,
through our ministry, written not with ink, but with the           Spirit of the living God; not in
tables of stone, but in the fleshy tables of the heart.         Therefore we needed not epistles of commendation to you. And
such trust have            we to God to
through Christ not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think       anything of ourselves, but our sufficiency
is of God; who also hath made us able           ministers
and preachers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit”From
the verses above, Luther (1930) describes that St. Paul is speaking of two
tables and two kinds of preaching (p. 271). For the tables of Moses were stone,
where the law was inscribed by God, and the tables of Christ are the hearts of
Christians not written by man, but with the spirit of God through the Gospel
(Luther, 1930, p.271). Clearly the letter is the divine law, which is given in
the Old Testament through Moses. It is called “letter” because it was written
with letters on stones, therefore it will always remain, never giving anything
except its commands. Where as the spirit cannot be contained in any letter, but
rather written only on the heart. Hence it is a living writing of the Holy
Spirit and with that spirit, grace, man does what the law commands and
satisfies. Therefore, according to Luther (1930), the entire purpose of the
verse is not of two senses, but rather two ministries, the law and the gospel
(p. 272). The law is what shows man his sin, killing him, and the gospel is
what allows man to perfectly meet all the laws, returning him life.  Luther (1930) also refers to Romans 3:22 to
verify his interpretation of this verse (p. 272). For Romans 3:22 says “But the
scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus
Christ might be given to them that believe.”              Moreover, Luther (1930) emphasized
the need to be careful when interpreting the Bible, especially when it comes to
figures of speech in the vernacular language (p. 269). Figures of speech were
just as popular in the time that the Bible was written as they were in Luther’s
time or even now. Particularly if one is interpreting a book by one of the
prophets and is not mindful of figures of speech when interpreting, their
interpretation will most likely be wrong. For example, “if Luther were to
say, Emser is a stupid ass, a simple-minded man hearing these words would
understand that Emser were actually an ass with long ears and four legs” (Luther,
1930, p.269). Clearly, the simple-minded man would have been deceived in his
understanding because in reality Luther is trying to say that Emser is a
blockhead. Luther (1930) points to specific examples in the bible; in Luke 3:7
John and Christ call the Jews a generation of vipers and in Colossian 2 Paul
calls the Jews dogs (p. 269). Luther (1930) also points out an example of a
figure of speech that was not common in his time (p. 269). In Psalms 110:3 it says,
“The dew of thy children shall come out of the womb of the morning.” This verse
is not speaking of a physical womb, but rather the children of Christ are born
without the work of man, like dew from heaven, out of the morning of the
Christian church (Luther, 1930, p. 269).            Besides warning about figures of
speech, Luther also discusses how Scripture should be interpreted as plainly
and fully as possible. To expound upon his point, Luther (1930) examined three
verses, John 14:26, Luke 10:6 and Romans 7:12 (p. 261). John 14:26 says “The Holy
Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and
bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” If
someone did not look at this verse plainly, he or she may interpret it as
Christ did not cause everything to be written in the Gospel, in turn allowing
man’s law in the church. Luther (1930) explains though, that when Christ says
the Holy Ghost will bring to your remembrance, He is speaking of not what one
shall ordain and command, but what He has commanded (p. 261). The disciples,
who listened and followed Jesus, could not take in and understand everything
that He said and therefore the spirit would remind them (Luther, 1930, p.261).
Additionally, Luke 10:6, “He that heareth you, heareth me” if not taken plainly
can be interpreted to mean that people are privileged enough to make laws as they
please, but what God is actually trying to say is Christ speaks only of the
Gospel which the apostles are to preach and we are to hear (Luther, 1930, p.261).
Lastly, Romans 7:12 says, “The law of God is good, just, holy, and spiritual.”
As mentioned earlier, the law is the letter that kills and in this verse it is
still referenced in that same sense. Luther (1930) states that by reading this
plainly, the law shows how good, righteous, holy, spiritual and equal man
should be, yet man is found to be wicked, unrighteous, sinful, carnal, and
unequal to any demand of the law (p. 272). Hence the law shows man how terrible
of a person he is and that he is in need of the spirit and grace, which in turn
brings him life (Luther, 1930, p.272).             Lastly, Luther interprets 1 Peter
2:9, “Ye are a royal priesthood and a holy nation,” to not only further his
point that Emser interprets Scripture incorrectly, but also to further his idea
of the priesthood of all believers. According to Luther (1930), “the scriptures
make us all priests alike…but the churchy priesthood which is now universally
distinguished from the laity and alone called a priesthood, in the Scriptures
is called… a ministry, a service, an office, an eldership, a fostering, a
guardianship, a preaching office, shepherds” (p.247). Luther (1930) expounds upon
this with a verse where Paul says to Timothy, “the servant of the Lord must not
strive” (p. 247). Paul calls Timothy a servant of God, whose duty it is to
preach and be a spiritual leader.  He
continues by describing that the word “priest” comes from Greek word
presbyteros, which is equivalent to senior in Latin and elder in Luther’s time.
Therefore, priest does not indicate a rank, but rather age, implying that the
word priest does not make a man more spiritual or a minister (Luther, 1930, p.247).
Additionally, the word bishop is also derived from Greek, episopus, which
corresponds to the Latin word speculator or “watchman on his look-out” in
Luther’s time. Hence every minister or spiritual ruler should be a bishop, or
an overseer who watches and sees that the Gospel and faith in Christ is
established and defended against all foes. In Scripture all of these titles are
interchangeable, which is evident in Titus 1:5-7. Paul in these verses refers
to the same man as a priest, bishop, elder, and watchman.  The fact that in the early 1500s the church
had “bishops, rectors, priest, chaplains, canons, monks, and other similar
titles signifying a difference in office, should not be a surprise;” for
Luther (1930) states that “it has all come from their habit of so
interpreting Scripture that not a word of it retains its true meaning” (p. 248).
Bishops, as they were defined in the 1500s, according to Luther (1930) are
man-made laws and ordinances, having no basis in Scripture (p. 248). Since
everyone was a spiritual priest in the Christian communities in the years
before the 1500s, the oldest or most learned was elected to be their servant,
officer, guardian, and watchman. Therefore, Luther believes and interprets this
Scripture to help emphasize his idea on the priesthood of all believers.            Clearly, there is a connection
between Emser and Luther’s interpretation of Scripture and Luther’s belief and
Emser’s disbelief in the priesthood of all believers. First of all, when Emser
interprets scripture, he utilizes the church’s authority, the Father’s
interpretation, and the scripture or also known as the spear, the dagger, and
the sword. Since his view on interpreting Scripture requires outside knowledge
and study, it makes sense that he does not agree that everyone in the Christian
Church can be a priest. Where as Luther believes that in order to interpret
Scripture, all you need is Scripture. Furthermore, the two different
interpretations of 1 Peter 2:9 is the biggest association between their views
on interpretation and their views on the priesthood of all believers. As
mentioned, Emser believes this verse is specifically referring to a spiritual
priesthood, but that Paul also makes reference to the consecrated priesthood throughout
Scripture. Where as Luther argues that the consecrated priesthood is nowhere to
be found in Scripture, rather it is a man made institution.             Through Luther’s letters with Emser,
“he sharpens and expands the brief discussion of the origins of the clerical
office;…a clear indication of the evolution of Luther’s anticlericalism”
(Dipple, 1996, p. 42).  Luther though, in
the “Address to the Christian Nobility” was not arguing to abolish it
completely. Where as in his “Answer to the Hyper Christian, Hyper Spiritual,
and Hyper Learned Book of Emser of Leipzig”, he expands his identification of
the contemporary clergy as opponents of the gospel mentioned in Scripture,
referring to them as antichrist, false prophets, false apostles, and false
priests. Luther’s evolution from inferring that the clergy of the old faith are
unchristian to insisting that they are the antichrist was central in the
development of anticlericalism.  While
Luther does refer to the pope and those who choose to support him as the antichrist,
he does not demand their destruction or a clear formulated vision of the
reformed society, rather he calls on Christ to push the papal into hell (Dipple,
1996, p. 44).             In the spring and summer of 1521,
two events caused Luther to further reflect on the traditional priesthood; one
being the Faculty of Theology of the University Paris condemning his doctrine
on the priesthood of all believers and Emser’s letter, “Quadruplica to Luther’s
Recent Answer, Concerning His Reformation.” Luther responded to Emser’s letter
in early October with “Dr. Luther’s Retraction of the Error Forced Upon Him by
the Most Highly Learned Priest of God, Sir Jerome Emser, Vicar in Meissen” In
Luther’s “Retraction,” where he once again comes back to the interpretation of
Scripture, specifically 1 Peter 2:9. Luther claims now that Emser’s definition
of a physical priesthood should be applied to all Christians. Luther can
decipher between the true priesthood of all believers and those who have misused
the title priest, “tonsure-bearers”. Luther went as far to say,            “What good does the tonsured crowd
do us? They are neither spiritual nor          physical
priest. And why do we need them since we ourselves are all physical,             spiritual, and all other kinds of
priests? Just as Emser himself teaches us with his       blade, they eat our bread like strange and unnecessary guest.
Therefore away,            away with the
knaves” (Dipple, 1996, p. 45). This
language along with Luther’s early language of antichrist was likely to have a
bigger impact on his followers than the fact that he did not have a clear
vision as to what should replace the clergy in the reformed society.             After the “Retraction”, Luther put
the Emser controversy to rest and began wrestling with the idea of reforming
mass. “Luther’s concern with what he perceived to be the abominations of the
mass also involved reflection upon the nature of the priesthood performing the
mass” (Dipple, 1996, p. 46), which is a clear relationship between Luther’s
sacramental theology and reformation anticlericalism. In Luther’s “Retraction”
to Emser, he develops a link between the sacramental system and the priest’s
power over it and manipulation of the congregation. Luther furthers this
connection in “On the Missuse of the Mass.” His attack on mass incorporates an
assault on the priesthood, which he concludes are works of the devil and must
be avoided. This work of Luther is where he fully develops his anticlericalism
(Dipple, 1996, p.46).

            Recognizably, Emser’s letters and
attack on Luther’s priesthood of all believers after the publication of “The
Address to the German Nobility” were the catalyst in the development of
Luther’s anticlericalism.  While Luther’s
anticlericalism did not reach its fullest development when he was in debate
with Emser, the time-lapse between the two is incredibly short. Luther’s review
of the Catholic theology of the mass inevitably involved an evaluation of the
priesthood performing it. After Luther’s lengthy exchange with Emser, Luther,
in this “Missuse of the Mass”, accomplished complete obliteration of the papal
priesthood. Emser and Luther’s different views on how to interpret scripture
lead to their different views on the priesthood of all believers, which
ultimately lead to anticlericalism.

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