Luther: Just as Wrong Now as He Was Then.
Therefore let Martin himself and all those adhering to him, and those who shelter and support him, through the merciful heart of our God and the sprinkling of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ by which and through whom the redemption of the human race and the upbuilding of holy mother Church was accomplished, know that from our heart we exhort and beseech that he cease to disturb the peace, unity, and truth of the Church for which the Savior prayed so earnestly to the Father. Let him abstain from his pernicious errors that he may come back to us. If they really will obey, and certify to us by legal documents that they have obeyed, they will find in us the affection of a father's love, the opening of the font of the effects of paternal charity, and opening of the font of mercy and clemency. (Exsurge Domini- issued June 15, 1520 by Pope Leo X)
Who would ever have thought we would see a pope lauding the likes of the confused charlatan Martin Luther? In general I do not like to focus on the latest absurdities coming out of the Vatican. Many of the news headlines strung together day in, day out show much like a low budget soap opera. We could call it, 'As the Vatican Turns.' Certain things however I find hard to let pass by especially when it comes to the salvation of souls. I continuously see an erroneous narrative being put forth in the media by the Vatican which is hindering evangelization. Would most Lutherans today ever consider converting to the Catholic faith based on what we are hearing from the Vatican media? Notice I distinguish between the Vatican media and the Church. The Church cannot err, and yet individuals in the Church acting through the Vatican can err. Should we sit by silently with all of this absurd Martin Luther, Reformation praising nonsense being peddled? I don't think we should sit by silently while a false narrative continues to be painted which effect the souls of millions across the globe. Most people hearing the Vatican media will not distinguish between it and the formal teachings of the Church. That being the case I believe that each one of us can make a difference if we stand up for the truth of the Church so it is not hidden underneath what we see in the media.
Unfortunately Pope Francis and several of his cohorts in the Vatican have now made several public statements which are fundamentally false concerning the Reformation and Martin Luther. The statements are misleading to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, which could very well affect the salvation of souls. There are two statements that have been made recently among many, that I wish address in this article.
1. Pope Francis commenting on Luther’s view of justification. “Today, Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.”
2. The ecumenical document ‘From Conflict to Communion’ released under the watch of Pope Francis states the following, “29. Implicit rapprochement with Luther’s concerns has led to a new evaluation of his catholicity, which took place in the context of recognizing that his intention was to reform, not to divide, the church. This is evident in the statements of Johannes Cardinal Willebrands and Pope John Paul II. The rediscovery of these two central characteristics of his person and theology led to a new ecumenical understanding of Luther as a “witness to the gospel.”
In order to address these two erroneous statements, we must look at the facts. What was Luther’s view of justification, and does it coincide with the Catholic doctrine on justification? This should not be a hard question to answer since Catholic saints, popes and apologists have addressed this for almost 500 years now. But for my own exercise, and the benefit of my few readers, I will proceed. Luther’s teaching on justification is sometimes summed up as ‘Sola Fide’ or 'Faith Alone.' Luther’s confusing ideas lead him to despise many pious prayerful exercises like the Rosary for example. Luther claimed that works themselves were not sufficient means of salvation and he erroneously denied works done through grace are part of our justification. As Catholics we could indeed say that works done outside of the state of sanctifying grace are not salvific, but we would never deny that works are a part of the way God works out our justification.
For example, Luther said, "Faith is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.” Luther seems to think that works done in grace are merely outward signs of someone’s faith. In reality he denies the actual justification that God is working through those works, which is an error of the gravest proportion. Luther shows his erring understanding further when he states the following about Catholic “works”, “How they mislead people with their good works! They call good works what God has not commanded, as pilgrimages, fasting, building and decorating their churches in honor of the saints, saying mass, paying for vigils, praying with rosaries, much prattling and bawling in churches, turning nun, monk, priest, using special food, raiment or dwelling,-who can enumerate all the horrible abominations and deceptions? This is the pope's government and holiness.” The very fact that Luther attacks these pious acts should disturb any Catholic, but let us go deeper.
The problem here lies in the fact that Luther completely denied the notion that God actually perfects His elect by the works He does through them. Hence the age-old doctrine of deification. Luther taught that man was merely covered over by Christ’s grace, and not actually transformed by grace. The fact that Luther defines praying the rosary and saying Mass as man made evils, should give any sane Catholic a clue that he was not at all correct in his idea of justification, but lets continue. Luther’s error is like a snowball. It gets larger the further it rolls down the hill of heresy. Luther’s ‘Faith Alone’ doctrine when played out not only leads to denial of deification, it leads to an idea that the sinner remains a sinner and cannot stop sinning! This in turn leads people to a false confidence of their salvation, to which works are only symbols of their faith. Hence you have millions of people making mere professions of faith while not actually living their lives according Christ's demand of being perfected. (Matthew 5:48) This is not merely a matter of mild semantics, it is a fundamental difference in how one views God and how one views God's gift of grace and salvation to man.
Having been in the blogging business many years now, there will inevitably be a heckler who will say that I am not interpreting Luther properly. In order to avoid this I want to take a look at how the Lutheran’s themselves understand Luther's Sola Fide proclamation: "through faith alone" means that we believe that, to use a phrase Luther made famous, Christians are at the same time sinners and saints (simul justus et peccator). Justification is an act, a declaration. It is not a process. Through faith in Christ, and only through faith, sinners are declared to be forgiven and to be perfectly right with God. This declaration is whole and complete, totally independent of any inherent goodness in us sinners. In short, because of God's act on the cross received through faith, we sinners are declared to be perfect saints in God's sight. But this does not mean that forgiven sinners, when judged by God's law, do not continue to be sinners. We are not "perfectionists" in the sense of teaching that following conversion, Christians stop sinning. "Forgiveness is needed constantly," says Luther. "Because we are encumbered with our flesh, we are never without sin" (Large Catechism II, 54). (Taken from What do Lutherans believe? By Dr. Samuel Nafzger ) Again, for Luther God just overlooks everyone’s sin, and gives a pass to everyone’s sin after they are “justified.” The process of deification is outrightly rejected. So Luther teaches that by faith alone you have confidence that God has covered your sins, but that you still go on sinning. This is in complete contradiction to authentic Christian theology, which teaches that through God’s grace man can choose not to sin! Luther reinforces this line of thinking, “The commandments only purpose is to show man his impotence to do good and to teach him to despair of himself”
The Catholic Church teaches that when a man lives in God’s grace, everything good that they do in Christ is meritorious. That is, when man performs acts that are done in the grace of the Holy Spirit, God perfects him through those actions whatever they may be; going to Mass, praying the Rosary, etc. You know, all of things that Luther attacks. It is not as if God’s grace merely covers over the stench of man’s sin and his good works are merely outward signs of the stench being covered over. This was Luther’s foolish idea, which is actually a blasphemous insult to God, being that God wants us to live out the Commandments and not despair over them. As we will soon see, the Catholic Church condemned his teaching formally as heresy.
If we look to the infallible statements by the ecumenical Council of Trent, we can clearly see that through grace man actually receives divine filiation, through which he has the power to walk a righteous path, or follow the Commandments. After Luther boldly concocted his new teaching on justification, the Church took time to analyze his teaching, and then held the Council of Trent, which several of the canons that were proclaimed were directed toward his dangerous, perverse error. Trent clearly proclaimed that Luther’s teaching on justification to be anathema, i.e. heretical.
Canon 9: "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."
Canon 12 "If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ's sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified...let him be accursed"
Finally Canon 24 drives home the error of Luther, which is still the same error today as it was then...
Canon 24: "If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema."
In light of this examination I can say with complete confidence that Luther did err in his view on justification, and that Lutherans today are still teaching the same doctrine, and are hence, still in error.
This brings us to the second proclamation made by the ecumenical document ‘From Conflict to Communion’ which says Luther was a “witness to the Gospel.” At first glance after learning that his teaching on justification was completely erroneous as well as his assault on the prayerful gifts of the Rosary and other pious practices, it should be very easy to determine that he was not a "witness to the Gospel." Just for the fun of it, let us probe a little deeper into his life and statements so we may have no doubt as to his sub-defective witness to the Gospel.
Looking at Luther’s own words concerning his prayer life and his ideas of the Catholic Church give us an idea as to his credibility as being a “witness to the Gospel.” "For I am unable to pray without at the same time cursing. If I am prompted to say: 'hallowed be Thy name', I must add: 'cursed, damned, outraged be the name of the papists'. If I am prompted to say: 'Thy Kingdom come', I must perforce add: 'cursed, damned, destroyed must be the papacy.' Indeed I pray thus orally every day and in my heart without intermission" (Sammtl. W., XXV, 108). If we contradict the statements of this maniac with the statements of the Saints who are the true witnesses of the Gospel we hear a different tune. St Catherine of Siena wrote, “If you are against holy Church, how can you have a share in Christ’s blood, since the Church is none other than that same Christ?” Catherine wrote this in times that were just as corrupt as Luther’s time, and yet she loves the Church. Unlike the unhinged comments that came from the foul lips of Luther., she chooses to love despite the corruption she saw in the Church.
As we know Pope Leo X wrote a papal bull condemning Luther to which Luther responded in fury. This again demonstrates a disposition contrary to holiness. “But whoever wrote this bull, he is Antichrist. I protest before God, our Lord Jesus, his sacred angels, and the whole world that with my whole heart I dissent from the damnation of this bull, that I curse and execrate it as sacrilege and blasphemy of Christ, God's Son and our Lord. This be my recantation, Oh bull, thou daughter of bulls...Of the cross of Christ, that all men should resist them. You then, Leo X, you cardinals and the rest of you at Rome, I tell you to your faces: "If this bull has come out in your name, then I will use the power which has been given me in baptism whereby I became a son of God and co-heir with Christ, established upon the rock against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. I call upon you to renounce your diabolical blasphemy and audacious impiety, and, if you will not, we shall all hold your seat as possessed and oppressed by Satan, the damned seat of Antichrist; in the name of Jesus Christ, whom you persecute.” Does this furious rant sound like a “witness to the Gospel?”
I could go on recounting the terrible unholy life that Luther lived including the lauding of many who broke their vows including the former nun whom he “married.” I think that it is clear based on Luther’s own words and the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church that he did indeed err, and he was most certainly not a “Witness to the Gospel.” He was wrong then, and he is still wrong now, no matter what proclamations we may hear coming out of the Vatican media these days. Let us pray for our dear Church and those who have mistakenly made these public proclamations so that no souls may be lost because of them. We should also inform fellow Catholics and Lutherans that we personally know about the true teaching of our Church. When we have the opportunity we should charitably preach the true Gospel so that everyone may come to know Christ through His one and only Catholic Church, for her true teachings will never cease to be proclaimed until Christ returns.
"God called me to be a Franciscan for the conversion of sinners and heretics." St Lawrence of Brindisi.