Monday, March 30, 2009

Pseudo-Luther quote: updated information.

Back on April 15, 2008 I posted a THREAD that examined a quite famous quote usually attributed to Martin Luther: “justification by faith alone is ‘the article upon which the church stands or falls (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae)’”.

I noted that the phrase was actually coined in the early 18th century (1718) by one Valentin E. Löscher. The scholar, Eric W. Gritsch (on whose research I had relied upon for the information), suggested that Löscher’s phrase was probably derived from Luther’s Smalcald Articles (Part II, Article I), which, at that time, seemed like a good candidate to me. However, yesterday afternoon, I believe that I came across a much better predecessor. In the introduction, “The Argument”, to his 1535 “Lectures on Galatians”, Martin Luther said:

In this epistle, therefore, Paul is concerned to instruct, comfort, and sustain us diligently in a perfect knowledge of this most excellent and Christian righteousness. For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost. And those in the world who do not teach it are either Jews or Turks or papists or sectarians. For between these two kinds of righteousness, the active righteousness of the Law and the passive righteousness of Christ, there is no middle ground. Therefore he who has strayed away from this Christian righteousness will necessarily relapse into the active righteousness; that is, when he has lost Christ, he must fall into a trust in his own works. (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works – Volume 26: Lectures On Galatians 1535, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan, p. 9.)

Another version (Middleton’s) reads:

St. Paul, therefore, in this Epistle, goeth about diligently to instruct us, to comfort us, to hold us in the perfect knowledge of this most Christian and excellent righteousness. For if the article of justification be once lost, then is all true Christian doctrine lost. And as many as are in the world that hold not this doctrine, are either Jews, Turks, Papists, or heretics. For between, the “righteousness of the law,” and “Christian righteousness,” there is no mean. He then that strayeth from this “Christian righteousness,” must needs fall into the “righteousness of the law ;” that is to say, “when he hath lost Christ he must fall into the confidence of his own works.” (Martin Luther, A Commentary On Saint Paul’s Epistle To The Galatians, 1839 ed., p. xcviii.)

Note this phrase: “For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.”

IMHO, the above seems to be the best candidate (to date) as the probably source for Löscher’s (in)famous dictum.

Grace and peace,


UPDATING THE UPDATE: It did not take very long for this thread to stimulate further research into the origins of the phrase “articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae”. The very next day, TurretinFan provided some additional information in a subsequent THREAD he had posted on his blog. Within hours, JOHN BUGAY, brought to light some important information that had been posted back on September 1, 2008 by DR. R. SCOTT CLARK. The significant footnote referenced by Dr. Clark from McGrath’s Iustitia Dei is reproduced below:

For the sense and origins of this celebrated phrase, see F. Loofs, ‘Der articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae’. It is necessary to challenge Loofs upon several points, particularly his suggestion that the phrase is first used in the eighteenth century by the Lutheran theologian Valentin Löscher in his famous anti-Pietist diatribe Vollständiger Timotheus Verinus oder Darlegung der Wahrheit und des Friedens in denen bisherigen Pietistischen Streitigkeiten (1718-21), and is restricted to the Lutheran constituency within Protestantism. This is clearly incorrect. The Reformed theologian Johann Heinrich Alsted uses the phrase a century earlier, opening his discussion of the justification of humanity coram Deo as follows: ‘articulus iustificationis dicitur articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae’ (Theologia scholastica didacta (Hanover, 1618), 711). Precursors of the phrase may, of course, be found in the writings of Luther himself ““ e.g., WA 40/3.352.3: ‘quia isto articulo stante stat Ecclesia, ruente ruit Ecclesia’. For more recent reflection, see Schwarz, ‘Luthers Rechtfertigungslehre als Eckstein der christlichen Theologie und Kirche’. (Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, Third Edition, p. vii.)

[Note: this same information was provided (with minor variations) in the First Edition, 1986, 2.193, footnote #3; and in the Second Edition, 1998, p. 448, footnote #3.]

P.S. I had read the First Edition, cover-to-cover, back in the late 90s, but had obviously forgotten about this important information concerning Alsted; and this, in spite of the fact that I discovered upon checking my personal copy I had actually highlighted the footnote!

P.S.S. I want to thank Dr. Clark, John Bugay, TurretinFan, and James Swan for their efforts on this subject.


Akakius said...

Mr. Waltz,

I am a newcomer to your blog; and though I am certainly not Catholic, I would like to say that I am impressed with much of the research you have written on this blog. The information you have provided on Luther is interesting; but for me, your posts on subordinationism are much more enlightening. That a Catholic could be so objective and honest on this is something that is quite unique in my experience. Will you be posting more on subordinationism in the future?


Anonymous said...

I was recently commended elsewhere for being Catholic and honest. I was sharing with a Mormon how I don't think Linus, generally understood to be first bishop of Rome after St. Peter, understood the prerogatives of being the first pope or the meaning of the promise of the keys of the kingdom to Peter in Mt. 16:18-20.

I think your commendation of our worthy blog host for objectivity and honesty is not misplaced. However, I think his position on subordination in the early years of the Church is similar to mine regarding the view of the papacy. There seems to be an assumption among non-Catholics that in order to be Catholic one believes that the Apostles explicitly taught and understood all of the teachings the Catholic Church currently proposes to the faithful. If that were the Catholic position, it would be impossible to be Catholic.

In biblical times, the Old Testament revelations relating to Christ's passion and death were not understood until historical events brought to the minds of those who pondered God's law their significance. It seems unlikely to me that prior to Christ's being lifted from the Cross, having expired without having His legs broken, that anyone, be he ever so devout and prayerful could have by searching God's Word understood that it would be in this fashion, that the Scripture would be fulfilled, "You shall not break a bone of him." (John 19:36)

Many other examples could be given to show that revelation is best understood after time, sometimes centuries, in association with historical events or controversies which help to make implicit teachings, only dimly understood, more plain.

There is no way as a Catholic that I think the Apostles had enough knowledge to formulate the Nicene Creed. It took three centuries of pondering, and as many generations poring over the Sacred texts to be confronted by someone who claimed that Christ was a creature for the doctrine to be developed. There is a similar, and I would suggest, biblical process, by which we perceive God's hand in history preserving the Church from error in regards to the papacy, soteriology, the Mother of God, and other areas where the Catholic opponent never exhibits the same trust that God will continuously preserve the One Church from grievous error.

I am coming to perceive that the non-Catholic confidence stems greatly from the knowledge that the Scriptures do not explicitly formulate doctrines defined later by the Church. That has to be why you commend David for honesty with regard to subordinationism. It is as though you think he is conceding something that is harmful to his position. Far from it. Neither was I being peculiarly honest in giving my opinion that Linus was probably ignorant of certain papal prerogatives.

My final opinion to share for now is that prerequisite to becoming a confident Catholic, is the knowledge that supernatural revelation has always, in biblical times, as today, been brought into clearer focus as time passes, and events make them more and more clear.


Ken Temple said...

This is off the topic; I put it "up front" because I wanted to make sure you see this.

Part 1 is under the thread about subordinationism and I appreciate your answers to my question about "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You."

What do you think of this author's take on contextualizing the term "son of God" for Muslims?

This is part 2

Thanks for your other interaction.

David Waltz said...

Hello Akakius,

Forgive my belated response, but I had a very busy weekend, that unfortunately included food poisoning…

Anyway, I would like to welcome you to AF; and yes, I will be doing more on subordinationism in the near futher (the Lord willing).


Excellent post! (As always).


Thanks for the link to Rick Brown’s essay. See my response in the original thread for more on this…

Grace and peace,