Monday, March 30, 2009
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.