Justification and Martin Luther

The Word from The Word (Sacred Scripture)

Luke 18:9-14 He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity– greedy, dishonest, adulterous– or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access (by faith) to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;

The Catechism (Read the whole section HERE.)

Paragraph 1987: The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism:34

Paragraph 1993: Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent:

Paragraph 1994:  Justification is the most excellent work of God’s love made manifest in Christ Jesus and granted by the Holy Spirit. It is the opinion of St. Augustine that “the justification of the wicked is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth,” because “heaven and earth will pass away but the salvation and justification of the elect . . . will not pass away.”43 He holds also that the justification of sinners surpasses the creation of the angels in justice, in that it bears witness to a greater mercy.

The Joint Declaration (Lutheran-Catholic) (Read it HERE.)

Here is a key paragraph, a Vatican website screen shot,  from the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.

Martin Luther

What little I know about Martin Luther comes mostly from The Story of Christianity, Volume 2, Chapter 2: Martin Luther: Pilgrimage to Reformation. The history book is by Justo L. Gonzalez who has a PhD in historical theology from Yale and has been a professor of church history at Emory, United Seminary, and the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. Here are some key facts/turning points in Luther’s life.

1505 – Entered Augustinian monastery at age 21 where he suffered “an overpowering sense of his own sinfulness.” He never felt he had completely confessed all his sins. He was ordered to prepare to teach Sacred Scripture at Wittenberg University.
1512 – Received doctorate in theology
1515 – Concluded, based on his study, that the “righteousness of God” is given to those who “live by faith” simply because God wishes to give it. Therefore both faith and justification, he argued, are “the work of God, a free gift to sinners.”
1517 – Took strong position, as part of his “95 Theses,” against the sale of indulgences by a guy raising money for construction of The Basilica of St. Peter (The one in Rome). The sales guy, John Tetzel, had a little ditty: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” The infamous 95 Theses, thanks to recently invented and rapidly expanding printing technology (Twitter of the 15th century), were widely distributed and got to Pope Leo X. Pope Leo turned the matter over to the Augustinians, Luther’s order, but they generally supported him. Pope Leo then turned the matter over to Cardinal Cajetan who demanded that Luther recant. Luther refused.
1521 – Luther was called before the Diet of Worms by Emperor and Pope and, when asked to recant, declared in German, “My conscience is a prisoner of God’s Word. I cannot and will not recant, for to disobey one’s conscience is neither just nor safe. God help me. Amen.” From that point, he was an outcast from the church.

The Reformation took on different characters, and different theologies, under leadership of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Henry VIII, and Knox. Anabaptists differed from them all because of their belief in baptism only for believers and by immersion. Many died in the ensuing conflicts during a time when church and state were hopelessly entangled. According to Gonzalez, “The martyrs were many – probably more than those who died during the three centuries of persecution before the time of Constantine.”

Luther was a believer in the Real Presence and the importance of Mary in the Salvation story. He is quoted as saying that he would rather partake of the Blood of Jesus with the Pope (whom he strongly disliked) than to sip mere wine with Zwingli (Swiss reformer who denied the Real Presence.)

Luther is infamous for anti-Semitic rants and other strange behavior in his waning years. Perhaps he was suffering from dementia or other mental problems.

Most scholars would support the idea that Luther had no interest in founding a Lutheran Church but only wanted to reform the True Church.

Pope Leo X

There is an extensive article in New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia about Pope Leo X.  One paragraph from that article addresses his role in the Reformation and is copied below. You will find the paragraph quoted at this link. It is the third paragraph from the end of the article.

“The most important occurrence of Leo’s pontificate and that of gravest consequence to the Church was the Reformation, which began in 1517. We cannot enter into a minute account of this movement, the remote cause of which lay in the religious, political, and social conditions of Germany. It is certain, however, that the seeds of discontent amid which Luther threw his firebrand had been germinating for centuries. The immediate cause was bound up with the odious greed for money displayed by the Roman Curia, and shows how far short all efforts at reform had hitherto fallen. Albert of Brandenburg, already Archbishop of Magdeburg, received in addition the Archbishopric of Mainz and the Bishopric of Hallerstadt, but in return was obliged to collect 10,000 ducats, which he was taxed over and above the usual confirmation fees. To indemnify hiim, and to make it possible to discharge these obligations Rome permitted him to have preached in his territory the plenary indulgence promised all those who contributed to the new St. Peter’s; he was allowed to keep one half the returns, a transaction which brought dishonour on all concerned in it. Added to this, abuses occurred during the preaching of the Indulgence. The money contributions, a mere accessory, were frequently the chief object, and the “Indulgences for the Dead” became a vehicle of inadmissible teachings. That Leo X, in the most serious of all the crises which threatened the Church, should fail to prove the proper guide for her, is clear enough from what has been related above. He recognized neither the gravity of the situation nor the underlying causes of the revolt. Vigorous measures of reform might have proved an efficacious antidote, but the pope was deeply entangled in political affairs and allowed the imperial election to overshadow the revolt of Luther; moreover, he gave himself up unrestrainedly to his pleasures and failed to grasp fully the duties of his high office.”


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