Tag Archives: Reformation Day

The Motivation of Luther

 

In our first post on the Reformation, in this broader series on church history, we simply introduced the Reformation with a few general thoughts on how some of the events surrounding this historical occasion have been subjected to tradition.  Here, we’ll discuss Luther’s 95 Theses as well as some correspondence surrounding the event to gain additional insight into his motivation.

When articulating Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses, we often hear his motivation presented as a desire to uphold “justification by faith alone” or sola fide.  However, it should be noted that Luther posted his theses, intended for academic debate only by the way, in 1517, while his doctrine of justification likely evolved and developed from at least that time (possibly a year or two earlier) until its full gestation around 1531 when he formally taught Galatians and penned its commentary.  Despite this, it’s probable that for Luther, “justification by faith alone” became part of his vernacular in 1519, two years after posting his theses, and the year which he taught the Psalms for the second time.  At the very least, it was likely this year that Luther became a Christian, at least as he describes in his own words.

Additionally, as we look to Luther’s own 95 theses, we would find them to largely espouse Roman Catholic doctrine and not, as we may have been led to believe, a protestation against her doctrine, instead upholding it.  Regarding the theses, Phillip Schaff writes, “They sound very strange to a modern ear [1858], and are more Catholic than Protestant.  They are no protest against the Pope and the Roman Church, or any of her doctrines, not even against indulgences, but only against their abuse.  They expressly condemn those who speak against indulgences (Th. 71), and assume that the Pope himself would rather see St. Peter’s Church in ashes that have it built with the flesh and blood of his sheep (Th. 50).  They imply belief in purgatory.  They nowhere mention Tetzel.  They are silent about faith and justification, which already formed the marrow of Luther’s theology and piety.  He wished to be moderate, and had not the most distant idea of a separation from the mother church. “  Citing Luther’s own comments on the republication of these theses in his collected works, Schaff writes, “I allow them to stand, that by them it may appear how weak I was, and in what a fluctuating state of mind, when I began this business.  I was then a monk and a mad papist, and so submersed in the dogmas of the Pope that I would have readily murdered any person who denied obedience to the Pope.” (Vol. 7, pg. 157)

Luther’s first correspondences regarding these 95 Theses was to the Elector, Archbishop Albert of Hohenzollern (Brandenburg; Mayence/Mainz) on October 31, 1517, the same day he posted his theses, where he decries the selling of indulgences without the Electors knowledge and consent.  The excerpt below summarizes the situation well.

“With your Electoral Highness’s consent, the Papal Indulgence for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s in Rome is being carried through the land. I do not complain so much of the loud cry of the preacher of Indulgences, which I have not heard, but regret the false meaning, which the simple folk attach to it, the poor souls believing that when they have purchased such letters they have secured their salvation, also, that the moment the money tingles in the box souls are delivered from purgatory, and that all sins will be forgiven through a letter of Indulgence, even that of reviling the blessed Mother of God, were any one blasphemous enough to do so. And, lastly, that through these Indulgences the man is freed from all penalties ! Ah, dear God ! Thus are those souls which have been committed to your care, dear father, being led in the paths of death, and for them you will be required to render an account. For the merits of no bishop can secure the salvation of the souls entrusted to him which is not always assured through the grace of God, the apostle admonishing us ” to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” and, that the way which leads to life is so narrow, that the Lord, through the prophets Amos and Zechariah, likens those who attain to eternal life to brands plucked from the burning, and above all, the Lord points to the difficulty of redemption. There fore, I could be silent no longer.”

As mentioned earlier, this letter affirms the motivation of Luther in calling out those who were preaching the sale of indulgences for salvation from purgatory as being out of step with the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.  He therefore was not protesting against the RCC, but was appealing to her in order to correct these perceived deficiencies. Boiling down Luther’s focus, essentially he was shining a light on greed and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church and it was this, the love of money, not a disagreement over the pure doctrine of Scripture or even the inconsistent application of Rome’s corrupt doctrine, that would warrant such a strong response from the Pope.

He concludes his letter above, which accompanied a copy of his 95 Theses, with these words

“What else can I do, right reverend father, than beg your Serene Highness carefully to look into this matter, and do away with this little book of instructions, and command those preachers to adopt another style of preaching, else another may arise and refute them, by writing another book in answer to the previous one, to the confusion of your Serene Highness, the very idea of which alarms me greatly. I hope that your Serene Highness may graciously deign to accept the faithful service which your insignificant servant, with true devotion, would render you. The Lord keep you to all eternity. Amen. Wittenberg, the night before All Saints’ Day 1517.

If agreeable to your Grace, perhaps you would glance at my enclosed theses, that you may see the opinion on the Indulgences is a very varied one, while those who proclaim them fancy they cannot be disputed. Your unworthy son, Martin Luther”

This letter isn’t earth-shattering, but it does go along way in showing that Luther wasn’t initially acting as a revolutionary, nor was he acting in isolation from his superiors, rather he was appealing to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to bring resolution to the errant ways of the indulgence preachers.  Remember that Luther posted these theses for academic debate.  The problem was that not one single professor or academic responded to the challenge.  For Luther, the real reformation, namely an internal one, was yet to come.  However, the match that the Lord would use to ignite the reformation had been nailed to the door.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Happy Reformation Day – 2014

The video below is a narration, by the excellent Max McLean, of the events surrounding the bold stand taken by Martin Luther against the oppression and tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th Century. Below that video is a repost of a previous Reformation Day blog that includes some additional thoughts on Luther and the significance of the Protestant Reformation that he sparked.

In honor of Reformation Day 2014, this is a repost of an older post that highlighted the trial of Martin Luther, several years after he boldly nailed his 95 Thesis to the Castle Church door of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.  An event which sparked the Protestant Reformation and changed the world forever: “Here I stand.  I can do no other.”

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In reading R.C. Sproul’s classic book, The Holiness of God, I was fascinated with the chapter entitled The Insanity of Luther in which he describes Luther’s trial at the Diet of Worms (dee-et of vorms).  An interesting note that Sproul highlights is that at the initial inquisition, Luther was not the bold, fearless man that we’ve seen portrayed in movies or read of in books.  Like his first mass after his ordination, he faltered.  The first session met April 17, 1521 and prior to his arrival, Luther had spoken out boldly saying, “This shall be my recantation at Worms: ‘Previously I said the pope is the vicar of Christ.  I recant.  Now I say the pope is the adversary of Christ and the apostle of the Devil.”  Such was Luther and the crowd expected much of the same, but instead to his 95 thesis Luther replied “The books are all mine, and I have written more.”  When asked if he recanted them he replied, “I beg you, give me time to think it over.”  That night feeling the weight of the situation Luther prayed:

O’God, Almighty God everlasting! How dreadful is the world! Behold how its mouth opens and swallows me up, and how small is my faith in thee!…Oh! the weakness of the flesh, and the power of Satan!  If I am to depend upon any strength of this world – all is over….The knell is struck….Sentence is gone forth….O God! O God! O thou, my God!  Help me against all the wisdom of this world.  Do this, I beseech thee; thou shouldst do this…by thy own mighty power….The work is not mine, but thine.  I have no business here….I have nothing to contend for with these great men of the world!  I would gladly pass my days in happiness and peace.  But the cause is thine….And it is righteous and everlasting!  O Lord! Help me!  O faithful and unchangeable God!  Does thou not hear?  My God! Art thou no longer living?  Nay, thou canst not die.  Thou dost but hide thyself.  Thou hast chosen me for this work.  I know it!…Therefore, O God, accomplish thine own will!  Forsake me not, for the sake of thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, my defense, my buckler, and my stronghold.  Lord – where art thou?…My God, where art thou?…Come! I pray thee, I am ready….Behold me prepared to lay down my life for thy truth…suffering like a lamb.  For the cause is holy.  It is thine own!…I will not let thee go! No, nor yet for all eternity! And though the world should be thronged with devils – and this body, which is the work of thine hands, should be cast forth, trodden under foot, cut in pieces,…consumed to ashes, my soul is thine.  Yes, I have thine own word to assure me of it.  My soul belongs to thee, and will abide with thee forever!  Amen!  O God send help!…Amen!

And with that, literally one man against the entire Roman Church, the following day Martin Luther delivered the legendary defiant response similar to the scene captured in the movie clip below:

 

Reformation Day 2011 – Martin Luther

In honor of Reformation Day 2011, this is a repost of an older post that highlighted the trial of Martin Luther, several years after he boldly nailed his 95 Thesis to the Castle Church door of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.  An event which sparked the Protestant Reformation and changed the world forever: “Here I stand.  I can do no other.”

____________________________________________

In reading R.C. Sproul’s classic book, The Holiness of God, I was fascinated with the chapter entitled The Insanity of Luther in which he describes Luther’s trial at the Diet of Worms (dee-et of vorms).  An interesting note that Sproul highlights is that at the initial inquisition, Luther was not the bold, fearless man that we’ve seen portrayed in movies or read of in books.  Like his first mass after his ordination, he faltered.  The first session met April 17, 1521 and prior to his arrival, Luther had spoken out boldly saying, “This shall be my recantation at Worms: ‘Previously I said the pope is the vicar of Christ.  I recant.  Now I say the pope is the adversary of Christ and the apostle of the Devil.”  Such was Luther and the crowd expected much of the same, but instead to his 95 thesis Luther replied “The books are all mine, and I have written more.”  When asked if he recanted them he replied, “I beg you, give me time to think it over.”  That night feeling the weight of the situation Luther prayed:

O’God, Almighty God everlasting! How dreadful is the world! Behold how its mouth opens and swallows me up, and how small is my faith in thee!…Oh! the weakness of the flesh, and the power of Satan!  If I am to depend upon any strength of this world – all is over….The knell is struck….Sentence is gone forth….O God! O God! O thou, my God!  Help me against all the wisdom of this world.  Do this, I beseech thee; thou shouldst do this…by thy own mighty power….The work is not mine, but thine.  I have no business here….I have nothing to contend for with these great men of the world!  I would gladly pass my days in happiness and peace.  But the cause is thine….And it is righteous and everlasting!  O Lord! Help me!  O faithful and unchangeable God!  Does thou not hear?  My God! Art thou no longer living?  Nay, thou canst not die.  Thou dost but hide thyself.  Thou hast chosen me for this work.  I know it!…Therefore, O God, accomplish thine own will!  Forsake me not, for the sake of thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, my defense, my buckler, and my stronghold.  Lord – where art thou?…My God, where art thou?…Come! I pray thee, I am ready….Behold me prepared to lay down my life for thy truth…suffering like a lamb.  For the cause is holy.  It is thine own!…I will not let thee go! No, nor yet for all eternity! And though the world should be thronged with devils – and this body, which is the work of thine hands, should be cast forth, trodden under foot, cut in pieces,…consumed to ashes, my soul is thine.  Yes, I have thine own word to assure me of it.  My soul belongs to thee, and will abide with thee forever!  Amen!  O God send help!…Amen!

And with that, literally one man against the entire Roman Church, the following day Martin Luther delivered the legendary defiant response similar to the scene captured in the movie clip below:

Oh that God would give us more Martin Luther’s to stand up against the attacks of God’s Word that are happening on a daily basis within the Church.  Men whose consciences are captive to the Word of God.