Skip to comments.Luther vs. Rome
Posted on 06/19/2009 10:03:34 PM PDT by dangus
Praise God, that we are saved by grace alone. Works without faith are utterly without merit. This is not merely a Protestant notion.
Such has been the persistent teaching of the saints throughout the ages. Yet a whitewashing of Martin Luther has led to many people, even Catholics, fundamentally misunderstanding the Catholic Church's criticism of him.
Please understand that what I write here is no ad-hominem attack on Luther for any purpose, including the slander of Protestantism. Attacking the moral character of Martin Luther is gainless, for no-one supposes Luther to be imbued with the gift of infallibility. But when the counter-reformation is known by most people only by what it opposes, it becomes necessary to clarify what it was that it opposes. Further, given the whitewashed history of Martin Luther, it is imperitive to remember the context of the Catholic Church's language and actions, which seem terribly strident, presented out of the context.
The Catholic Church does not believe that one could merit salvation by doing good works. Nor could one avoid sin by one's own strengths. In fact, the Catholic position is one held by most people who believe they follow Luther's principle of sola fides. We are saved by grace alone, by which we have faith, which necessarily leads us to righteous works, and the avoidance of sin.
This is not Luther's position. Luther held that it was impossible to avoid sin. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. (Letter to Melanchthon, 1521) "They are fools who attempt to overcome temptations by fasting, prayer and chastisement. For such temptations and immoral attacks are easily overcome when there are plenty of maidens and women" (Luther's Works, Jena ed., 1558, 2, 116; cited in P. F. O'Hare, "The Facts About Luther", Rockford, 1987, 311).
As such, it was not necessary to avoid sin. If grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. In fact, the way to conquer sin, he taught was to indulge it: The way to battle a tempting demon was to in-dulge some sin in hatred of the evil spirit and to torment him. Even the greatest sin was permissible, so long as one believed in Christ.: Sin shall not drag us away from Him, even should we commit fornication or murder a thousand times a day. (all quotes from Letter to Melanchthon, 1521)
These quotes are often brushed aside as being hot-headed rhetoric. (Ironically, one passage to suggest that such intemperate statements were righteous is Jesus' warning that should one's eyes cause him to lust, he should cast the eye into Gehenna. How diametrically opposed to Jesus' teaching is Luther's!) But they were not said in a harmless context. Luther counseled Prince Phillip that it would be fine to take a mistress. And his comments that peasants were born to be cannon fodder is horrific in light of the deaths of 100,000 peasants in a rebellion of which he spoke, I said they should be slain; all their blood is upon my head... My little book against the peasants is quite in the right and shall remain so, even if all the world were to be scandalized at it. (Luther's Works, Erlangen ed., 24.299)
Such beliefs are not incidental to Luther; they are a major part of the reason for many princes siding with him against the Catholic church. Without such support, his movement would have no base. But he also appealed to their financial motives, arguing that they had no obligation to fight Muslims. In fact, Luther preached that Islamic domination was superior to Catholicism. His horrors at the excesses of Rome were pure fiction, aimed at weakening Rome's military strength. His lies are betrayed by his ignorance of Rome's geography. (He mistakenly thought that the Vatican was built on one of the seven hills of Rome, an assertion he'd make time and time again in asserting that the Papacy was Babylon.) Again, the context is horrifying: Belgrade fell in the very same year as the Council of Worms, 1521. By 1529, the Islamic horde had reached Vienna.
Luther even attacked the Holy Bible, itself. Nowhere does the bible say we are saved by faith alone. In fact, those words exist only in the Letter of James. So, Luther sought to have that book struck out of the bible. At the Council of Worms, he was shown how the 1st Letter of Peter refers to purgatory, how Revelations depicts the saints in Heaven praying for the souls below, how James explicitly states that faith alone is dead, if it has not works. Later Protestant apologists offered alternate explanations for these difficult passages, but Luther simply declared that they were false: Many sweat to reconcile St. Paul and St. James, but in vain. 'Faith justifies' and 'faith does not justify' contradict each other flatly. If any one can harmonize them I will give him my doctor's hood and let him call me a fool
His violence to the Word of God was worse still regarding the Old Testament. In condemning the Ten Commandments, he said Moses should be damned and excommunicated; yea, worse than the Pope and the Devil. Yet this man argued that the bible alone was authoritative?
When confronted by the Catholic church over his statements, Luther never disavowed these statements, or claimed they were exaggerations, or apologize for putting his foot in his mouth. Instead, he boasted, Not for a thousand years has God bestowed such great gifts on any bishop as He has on me.
Thus, the Catholic church was in the position of defending Western Civilization militarily against the Islamic horde, when an outrageous heretic preached all manner of hatred against it, instigating insurrection, and leading political forces to align against it. In doing so, he attacked not only the Church, but the historical and biblical under-pinnings of the bible. Could there be any wonder that the church responded harshly? Luther is dead, and he has never been held to be infallible or sinless. This is not an attack on him, but a defense on the Catholic Church, which he assailed.
It's 1529. The Muslims are in Bavaria. There's a madman boasting that he's responsible for 100,000 dead peasants, and he sides with the Turks. Can you really say that the Church treated him too harshly?
Again, to emphasize the Catholic church’s position on works v faith:
Through grace, we have faith, by which we will certainly perform works if our faith is true. That is, we worship, pray, receive the sacraments, and perform works of mercy. When we do those works, God pours out further grace upon us, not because those works have earned us anything, but so his grace may be confirmed by the works.
The Catholic Church couldnt treat him harshly. Martin Luther was protected by protestant german princes. When the Turks besieged Vienna, Luther’s church was made secure by a deal between the Austrian emperor and the german protesant princes in return for supporting him against the Turks.
The French Catholic king also supported the Turks against the Austrian/Spanish/Dutch Holy Roman Emperor. Politics was more important to many people than religion.
Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:
Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of interest.
Obama Says A Baby Is A Punishment
To answer some anticipated objections:
As Luther aged, he recognized the threat Muslims were to Germany, and he spoke against them. But the princes who sided with him never fought against the Muslims, nor did he preach that they must.
Also, many people debate dismiss the quotes I provided, since they seem to lead one to antinomianism, and Luther opposed antinomianism. What Luther opposed, however, was the notion that sinning was as good as not sinning. He did find it preferable not to sin. At the same time, however, he denied both that the most horrific sins were inconsistent with being saved, and that committing certain sins could be lead to preventing other sins.
I think we find here in Luther a precursor to Freud’s sexual indulgences. Luther seems to be arguing that sin is harmful (although he seems to argue against any harm to the sinner), and that the experience of receiving forgiveness for sins helps remove the urge to commit that sin in the future. As if one might say: “Gee, I actually slept with so-and-so, and it’s no big deal, and I don’t feel the urge to do it anymore. I’ll be happy from now on with my wife.” Unfortunately, the truth is that experiencing sin scandalizes the soul, and can harden the heart. Or, they respond to diminishing enjoyment from the sin with an urge for ever more wicked sins.
It’s a curious turn in history...when a 3rd rate priest out in the boonies of Germany...ends up as public enemy number one of the worldly dominating Catholic Church...then he finds a couple of princes in the Worms area of Germany who go with his stance and defend him from threats. The Catholic Church is split at a key point in history...and never really recovers from that split.
The French sided with the Muzzies over the Spanish/Austrian/Italian/Polish alliance; they also sided with the Lutheran Germans/Scandinavians over the rest of the Catholics in the 30 years’ war.
>> Luthers church was made secure by a deal between the Austrian emperor and the german protesant princes in return for supporting him against the Turks. <<
Isn’t it lovely that Charles needed to strike a deal with the Protestant princes, when the Turks were in Bavaria? At least after 1529, Luther quit preaching that the Muslims were preferable to the Catholics. Sure, it was too late for those poor saps in Bulgaria, Bohemia, Hungary, who were slaughtered while Luther was admiring the Muslims. But what did they matter to Martin?
>> Its a curious turn in history...when a 3rd rate priest out in the boonies of Germany...ends up as public enemy number one of the worldly dominating Catholic Church...then he finds a couple of princes in the Worms area of Germany who go with his stance and defend him from threats. The Catholic Church is split at a key point in history...and never really recovers from that split. <<
It’s amazing what a third-rate priest can accomplish by appealing to people’s evil motives. Go ahead, Prince Phillip, cheat on your wife... it’s not a sin. Go ahead, comrades in arms, whore-mongering will lessen your desire to do worse perversions. Go ahead, chevaliers, abandon the defense of civilization; did you not read from Hus that God hates war? Go ahead, kings of the North, why should you pay to kill Muslims in the South? And, of course, all that Church property can be yours!
“Many sweat to reconcile St. Paul and St. James, but in vain. ‘Faith justifies’ and ‘faith does not justify’ contradict each other flatly. If any one can harmonize them I will give him my doctor’s hood and let him call me a fool “
There is some merit to this argument. I cannot reconcile them.
By the way, the princes who struck the deal to defend Vienna weren’t the ones I meant never helped out in the defense against Islam, obviously. Those princes’ realms eventually reverted to Catholicism. Ever wonder why Austria, Hungary, Spain, Italy, Poland, Portugal and the Balkans all stayed Catholic? Because they understood what the Catholic Church was fighting for... they had faced Islam. In Germany, the split was largely North-South. The North stayed Lutheran, the South stayed Catholic or reverted.
St. Paul says that faith is necessary; St. James says faith is not sufficient. There’s no conflict between those two. If you want to drive somewhere, gasoline is necessary. But it’s not sufficient; you also need a car. Faith powers our works. Without faith, our works are in vain. But what good is the force, without an object to act apon?
Justification is through faith, and faith alone...
Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the law.”
If a man says that he has faith in Christ and has not the evidence, then his faith is in vain.
Matthew 7:16 “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?”
What James is saying, he is saying that if a man is truly born again, it will manifest itself outwardly, true faith in Christ cannot contain itself, and must be manifest outwardly.
How will this faith be manifest? By obedience to Christ.
Not by membership in a certain denomination, not by observances of sacraments, but by obedience to Christ and Christ alone.
We're justified by faith alone, and that faith will show.
That's what James was saying when he said that faith without works is dead.
But when the counter-reformation is known by most people only by what it opposes, it becomes necessary to clarify what it was that it opposes.Luther may have been an imperfect messenger, but I was always taught that one of his primary concerns was the sale of indulgences.
indulgence: a pardon for certain types of sin that was sold by the Catholic Church in the late medieval period.We can agree that at least on THIS point he was correct, right?
The sale of indulgences motivated Martin Luther to post the "95 Theses."
Or, is there a Biblical foundation for this practice?
I believe that was exactly Luther's feelings towards the papacy.
***I had been under the impression that the Muslims had not got farther than the gates of Vienna. ***
They did not. But the only reason was that the Catholic West threw everything it had against them. If Vienna were lost, so would also go the Balkans and southeast Europe including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece maybe not, but certainly Slovakia and portions of Poland.
Once they had entrenched, who knows? Suleiman the Magnificent was a great general. Could he have grown the next generation of warrior to take the fight west? History will never know thanks to the last chance desperate stand at Vienna.
I read years ago that Luther, like many others did not get to read all of the Bible until he went to the University as a student...
It was there that he read the actual words and realized that the Catholic Churxch had moved away from the original idea of salvation by grace, “justified by faith”
did you not read from Hus that God hates war?
Actually God calls Himself “a man of war”
The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name Exodus 15:3
Too bad those ancients would not read the “Jewish” text...
“I read years ago that Luther, like many others did not get to read all of the Bible until he went to the University as a student...”
And that is one of the most idiotic and yet enduring MYTHS about Luther's life and it was a quote from Luther that began it all. Luther most certainly did see and read Bible and individual Biblical books since the time he was a child. There were more than 14 German language editions of the Bible published before Luther produced his own, and there were plenty of Latin editions around as well.
Luther, in his table talks later in life made stories like this: “ I was twenty years old,” says Luther, “before I had ever seen the Bible. I had no notion that there existed any other gospels or epistles than those in the service. At last I came across a Bible in the library at Erfurt, and used often to read it to Dr. Staupitz, with still increasing wonder.”
This is simply impossible. Impossible. As the Catholic Encyclopedia points out:
His accidental discovery in the Erfurt monastery library of the Bible, “a book he had never seen in his life” (Mathesius, op. cit.), or Luther's assertion that he had “never seen a Bible until he was twenty years of age”, or his still more emphatic declaration that when Carlstadt was promoted to the doctorate “he had as yet never seen a Bible and I alone in the Erfurt monastery read the Bible”, which, taken in their literal sense, are not only contrary to demonstrable facts, but have perpetuated misconception, bear the stamp of improbability written in such obtrusive characters on their face, that it is hard, on an honest assumption, to account for their longevity. The Augustinian rule lays especial stress on the monition that the novice “read the Scripture assiduously, hear it devoutly, and learn it fervently” (Constitutiones Ordinis Fratr. Eremit. Sti. Augustini”, Rome, 1551, cap. xvii). At this very time Biblical studies were in a flourishing condition at the university, so that its historian states that “it is astonishing to meet such a great number of Biblical commentaries, which force us to conclude that there was an active study of Holy Writ” (Kampschulte, op. cit., I, 22). Protestant writers of repute have abandoned this legend altogether.
The story is a fabrication or at the very least a gross exaggeration and a reference to a massive single volume Bible rather than the usual two volume version. In any case, the story is a tale and not the truth. And that is like much of what the Protestant Revolution is built on.
“It was there that he read the actual words and realized that the Catholic Churxch had moved away from the original idea of salvation by grace, justified by faith”
Wrong. The Church before then, at that time and today believes in salvation by grace alone. That is NOT the same thing as “justified by faith” which is a peculiar and novel Protestant idea started by Luther. Luther himself cut books from the canon for a time that he believed went against his understanding of “justified by faith”. The idea that he “realized” anything other than his own fantasies is farcical.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.