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Is it true that Martin Luther never considered the works of the early Church Fathers while he was developing and defending his teaching?

Here is the list of some of those Fathers (from Wikipedia):

1 Apostolic Fathers

1.1 Saint Clement of Rome
1.2 Saint Ignatius of Antioch
1.3 Saint Polycarp of Smyrna

2 Greek Fathers

2.1 Saint Irenaeus of Lyons
2.2 Saint Clement of Alexandria
2.3 Origen of Alexandria
2.4 Saint Athanasius of Alexandria
2.5 Cappadocian Fathers
2.6 Saint Cyril of Alexandria
2.7 Saint John Chrysostom
2.8 Saint Maximus the Confessor
2.9 Saint John of Damascus

3 Latin Fathers

3.1 Tertullian
3.2 Saint Cyprian of Carthage
3.3 Saint Hilary of Poitiers
3.4 Saint Ambrose of Milan
3.5 Saint Jerome of Stridonium
3.6 Saint Augustine of Hippo
3.7 Saint Gregory the Great
3.8 Saint Isidore of Seville
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1 Answer 1

up vote 9 down vote accepted

No, it is not true. Luther was widely read in many works of theology and church history and and if you take into consideration his commentary on various church Fathers and the merit or issues with their theology it is ridiculous to make such a claim.

It is true that he was sometimes critical of their works, but he clearly used them in his own studies. Sometimes he made favorable remarks about things that he had learned from them. For example he seems to have prefered Epiphanius over Jerome:

Epiphanius compiled a history of the church long before Jerome; his writings are good and profitable, and, if separated from dissentious agruments, worth printing. -- Martin Luther

In Augustine's writings he seems to have found a friend and ally:

Augustine was the ablest and purest of all the doctors, but he could not of himself bring back things to their original condition, and he often complains that the bishops, with their traditions and ordinances, troubled the church more than did the Jews with their laws. -- Martin Luther

However he didn't seem to think too highly of Chrysostom:

I will not presume to criticize too closely the writings of the Fathers, seeing they are received at the church, and have great applause, for then I should be held an apostate; but whoso reads Chrysostom, will find he digresses from the chief points, and proceeds to other matter, saying nothing, or very little, of what pertains to the business. When I was expounding the Epistle to the Hebrews, and turned to what Chrysostom had written thereupon, I found nothing to the purpose; yet I believe that he at that time, as being the chief rhetorician, had many hearers, though he taught without profit; for the chief office of a preacher is to teach uprightly, and diligently to look to the chief points and grounds whereon he stands, and so instruct and teach the hearers that they understand aright, and may be able to say: this is well taught. When this is done, he may avail himself of rhetoric to adorn his subject and admonish the people. -- Martin Luther

For further study you could check out the book The Table Talk of Martin Luther, a collection of misc writings by Martin Luther that includes lots of mentions of works he read and either profited from or objected to.

We must read the Fathers cautiously, and lay them in the gold balance, for they often stumbled and went astray, and mingled in their books many monkish things. Augustine had more work and labor, to wind himself out of the Father’s writings, then he had with the heretics. Gregory expounds the five pounds mentioned in the Gospel, which the husbandman gave to his servants to put to use, to be the five senses, which the beasts also possess. The two pounds, he construes to be the reason and understanding. -- Martin Luther

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WOW!! That's just amazing! Thank you very much! –  brilliant Jan 7 '12 at 21:43
    
Nothing like a little old fashioned Google'ing. –  Caleb Jan 7 '12 at 21:49

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