Was Martin Luther a Murderer?
The Jesuit priest, Father Mitchell Pacwa, has announced on the Eternal Word Television Network, that it is the intention of EWTN to produce an extensive documentary on the life of Martin Luther. In the course of discussing this project, on EWTN and elsewhere, Father Pacwa has indicated that they will be discussing the “fact” that Martin Luther was a murderer and this great sin is what drove Luther to such depths of despair and despondency that, in spite of the Church’s teachings, he could find no comfort and so arrived at his views as a result of his own unbalanced feelings of guilt. I thank Mr. James Swan for drawing this to my attention.
I have consulted with my colleagues here at Concordia Publishing House who in turn have sought out the opinion of one of the finest Luther scholars today: Dr. Christopher Brown. My colleague here, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, and Dr. Christopher Brown prepared the following statement on Father Pacwa’s assertions that I believe is very helpful. No doubt as EWTN pursues this documentary, as if they continue to insist on the veracity of this vile lie about Luther, we will all be hearing more about it. Our pastors and faithful laity need to be aware of this situation and able to respond to it. Here then is Dr. Brown’s and Dr. Mayes’ response. I should note that when, and if, I acquire more information about this situation, I will post it.
Was Luther a murderer?
In the early 1980′s, Dietrich Emme popularized the theory that Martin Luther entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt not due to his experience in a storm, but in order to escape prosecution after killing a companion (Hieronymus Buntz) in a duel in 1505 (Martin Luther: Sein Jugend- und Studentenzeit 1483-1505 [Cologne, 1982]). Emme’s work on this point has been widely dismissed in recent scholarship as piling one speculative conclusion upon another (e.g., Andreas Lindner, “Was geschah in Stotternheim,” in C. Bultmann, V. Leppin, eds., Luther und das monastische Erbe [Tübingen, 2007], pp. 109-10).
The “duel theory” relies on one of Luther’s Table Talk comments:
“By the singular plan of God I became a monk, so that they would not capture me. Otherwise I would have been captured easily. But they were not able to do it, because the entire Order took care of me” (D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesamtausgabe [Weimar Edition]: Tischreden, vol. 1 [Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1912], p. 134, no. 326). Yet this refers to the Augustinian order’s protection of Luther from Rome in 1518, not a putative flight from prosecution for dueling in 1505.
If Luther’s “duel” were true, it would have been a matter of rather public knowledge, both casually, among students and the monks, and officially, both with whatever civil or episcopal authorities were supposedly trying to arrest Luther, as well as because a dispensation would have been required for Luther’s ordination (homicide being a canonical impediment for the sacrament of order). In other words, it would be practically unthinkable that when the Roman Catholic polemical biographer of Luther, Johannes Cochlaeus, was searching for data about Luther’s monastic career (and coming up with stories like Luther wailing in the choir) that such a “fact,” if true or even rumored, would not have emerged.
Dr. Christopher Boyd Brown, general editor, Luther’s Works: American Edition
Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes, managing editor, Luther’s Works: American Edition