Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Martin Luther & the Iconoclasts

Martin Luther is often portrayed as being opposed to the use of images and other outward forms in the church. This is a most unfortunate and inaccurate view of the Blessed Reformer. At this point many Lutherans who read this might wonder if I am inventing a problem where there isn't one. In other words, they may think, Do people really think that of Luther? I can assure you, he is still categorized by all too many Catholic apologists as the iconoclastic Arch-Protestant. At the same time, there also exist Lutherans who themselves unfortunately accept and follow a sort of Protestant-Gnostic conception of Lutheranism. Whatever one's background, and particular catechetical need might be in this regard, one thing is for sure, the only way one could buy into the Protestant, iconoclastic version of Luther would be by not actually reading him; ergo, the remedy is to expose people to what Luther actually wrote and said.

There is abundant material in Luther to straighten this out. And when I say abundant, I mean there is really much too much for a mere blog entry. But I would like on this occasion to share one little example of his attitude toward images, and toward the iconoclasts. This involves his defense for including illustrations of Bible stories in the 1529 edition of his Personal Prayer Book.

I do not think it wrong to paint such stories along with the verses on the walls of rooms and chambers so that one might have God's words and deeds constantly in view and thus encourage fear and faith toward God. And what harm would there be if someone were to illustrate the important stories of the entire Bible in their proper order for a small book which might become known as a layman's Bible? Indeed, one cannot bring God's words and deeds too often to the attention of the common man.

Even if God's word is sung and said, preached and proclaimed, written and read, illustrated and pictured, Satan and his cohorts are always strong and alert for hindering and suppressing God's word. Hence our project and concern is not only useful, but necessary-in fact, very badly needed.

I don't care if the iconoclasts condemn and reject this. They do not need our advice and we don't want theirs, so it is easy for us to part company. I have always condemned and criticized the misuse of religious pictures and the false confidence placed in them and all the rest. But whatever is no misuse of pictures I have always permitted and urged the use of for beneficial and edifying results. This is the way we teach our common people; those clever fellows shall be neither our pupils nor our masters. May Christ be with all who believe in him and love him. Amen. (AE 43: 43)

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