Martin Luther’s Protest

Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483. His parents were severe disciplinarians. His father beat him so severely and regularly that they became bitter enemies. Nor was the physical abuse limited to that of his father: for stealing a nut, his mother beat him until he bled. Of the affect of abuse upon Luther, Will Durant writes in his The Story Of Civilization, The Reformation, at page 341:

The picture of deity which his parents transmitted to him reflected their own mood: a hard father and strict judge, exacting a joyless virtue, demanding constant propitiation, and finally damning most of mankind to everlasting hell.

Nor was the abuse limited to his home. In school he was once flogged fifteen times for a grammatical error. Throughout his life, Martin Luther saw not only angels, but devils and witches, as well. That he also absorbed from his parents’ influence.

His father sent him to the university at Wittenberg to study theology and philosophy. There, he began the study of law but shortly thereafter he abandoned the law to commit his life to a monastery. Will Durant notes at page 342 the turmoil of Luther’s life and its contradictions:

Vigorous to the point of sensuality, visibly framed for a life of normal instincts, and yet infused by home and school with a conviction that man is by nature sinful, and that sin is an offense against an omnipotent and punishing God, he had never in thought or conduct reconciled his natural impulses with his acquired beliefs. . . . The conception of God that had been given him contained hardly any element of tenderness; the consoling figure of Mary had little place in that theology of fear, and Jesus was not the loving son who could refuse nothing to his mother; He was the Jesus of the last judgment so often pictured in the churches, the Christ who had threatened sinners with everlasting fire. The recurrent thought of hell darkened a mind too intensely religious to forget it in the zest and current of life.

One day in about 1508, Luther was struck by the text in Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.” As he pondered it and considered the Catholic abuse of indulgences and related excesses, he came to believe, “saved by grace and not by works, lest any men should boast” to mean that one can be saved only by becoming “justified” by faith in Christ as atonement for man’s sin. Unlike the Catholic Church, he saw no need for a priest or other mediator; rather, one could be saved directly by faith in Christ and in his atoning power.

By 1537, he had developed his theological understanding of justification to the point that he formalized it in what became known as The Smalcald Articles. In the second article he set out the core of his statement of beliefs:

The first and chief article is this,

That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4, 25.

And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1, 29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53, 6.

Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freely, and without their own works or merits] by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3, 23 f.

Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3, 28: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. Likewise v. 26: That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ.

Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4, 12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53, 5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.

I have previously noted of Augustine that many Protestant notions have been derived from him. Luther was that vehicle. Luther became particularly acquainted with Augustine when he was appointed as professor of theology at the monastery at Wittenberg. In addition to his own notion of justification, Lutheran borrowed from Augustine the notion of predestination, i.e., that God knew before creation those souls who would be saved by the sacrificial act of Christ, and those who would be condemned to eternal damnation.

A fellow professor of theology at the University of the Wittenberg, known as Carlstadt, wrote about that same time a “little book,” upon which Will Durant comments at page 352 as follows:

exalting the Bible over popes, counsels, and the traditions, and the Gospels over the Epistles; if Luther had followed this last line, Protestantism might have been less Pauline, Augustinian, and predestinarian.


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