Martin Luther and Aesop’s Fables

Not long ago a blog commentor scolded me for featuring Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings on my blog. I guess its not spiritual enough or something. She didn’t say. (Why she didn’t haul me over the coals for Wodehouse is beyond me!).

But I was not offended by the comment. Actually I was a bit saddened. It breaks my heart that some Christians would not consider accepting LOTR for what it is, a magnificent moral epic that can only be explained—as is true of the greatest literature—as a gift from the benevolent hand of God.

Sometimes it seems that contemporary Christians can use some help in properly appreciating the gifts of literature that God has blessed us with. And I’m not just talking about Christian literature either. Martin Luther understood this fact well. Today I came across these two quotes about how Martin Luther treasured the ancient pagan book Aesop’s Fables (think: the tortoise and the hare).

The first quote is by George Fyler Townsend in the introduction to his translation of Aesop’s Fables (2005), page 10:

“These fables … were among the books brought into an extended circulation by the agency of the printing press. … The knowledge of these fables spread from Italy into Germany, and their popularity was increased by the favor and sanction given to them by the great fathers of the Reformation … . Martin Luther translated twenty of these fables, and was urged by Melanchthon to complete the whole; while Gottfried Arnold, the celebrated Lutheran theologian, and librarian to Frederick I, king of Prussia, mentions that the great Reformer valued the Fables of Aesop next after the Holy Scriptures.”

And here is the man himself, Martin Luther, as quoted in his Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 54:210–211:

“It is a result of God’s providence that the writings of Cato and Aesop have remained in the schools, for both are significant books. Cato contains the most useful sayings and precepts. Aesop contains the most delightful stories and descriptions. Moral teachings, if offered to young people, will contribute much to their edification. In short, next to the Bible, the writings of Cato and Aesop are in my opinion the best…”


2 thoughts on “Martin Luther and Aesop’s Fables

  1. Thanks, Tony, for this word.

    I followed link on Challies’ blog yesterday to a report on (not ‘by’ per se) Driscoll’s labelling the Avatar movie as the most satanic thing he’s ever seen.

    I agree that we as Christians need to sift carefully through the dross that comes our way – but it seems to me that we have much bigger problems within evangelical Christianity in purporting satanic trash to be Christian. Emergent church and Osteenism are decieving far more folks than a movie full of blue people. Did Mars Hill have a problem with smurfs – they’re blue as well.

    Good literature and art point to Christ – even if that is not the avowed intent of the author. As Christians, we are able to transform literature and see beyond wizards and dragons and blue people and talking rabbits and see the true stories of creation, moral certitude and, in great art, ultimately redemption.

    Tolien? Potter? Lewis? Chesterton? (And with no reference to the actual *quality* of the movie) Cameron? Come on – I’m not scared of a fairy story. McLaren? Spong? Gene Robinson? Osteen? These are the the folks telling stories that I truly find horrifying and dangerous to the souls of the brethren.

  2. I’ve always found it amazing how so many Christians celebrate LOTR & C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” only to ban anything Harry Potter. Can someone please explain the rationale behind this behavior? If the rationale is to ban anything with witchcraft then we had better be ready to also ban the Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, and ol’ St. Nick himself who has many qualities of a witch. Come on, are evangelical youths really going to run down and join the nearest Wiccan community if they read Harry Potter novels?

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