Saturday, October 22, 2011

Martin Luther on the "Roman Church"

Back on November 12, 2009, I posted the thread, Luther: "I honor the Roman Church". [NOTE: One will discern after reading the entire thread, that the post is more about the view of Charles Hodge on the Roman Church, rather than Luther's view.]

The following is the quote I provided from Luther:

I honor the Roman Church. She is pious, has God's Word and Baptism, and is holy. (Martin Luther, from his sermon on Matt. 21:42, D. Martin Luther’s Werke, Vol. 47.425 – also known as the Weimar edition; English trans. from What Luther Says, p. 126.)

Two days later, James Swan of the Beggars All blog, felt a need to expand on the quote, and published THIS THREAD. At first glance, it seems that the primary focus of his post is to demonstrate that, "Luther makes a distinction between the Roman church and the papal hierarchy". But at the end of the thread, he states:

Since Rome officially anathematized the Gospel at Trent, I don't consider her part of the Catholic Church. The debate on this amongst the reformed still goes on...Here would be a good example of something I part company with Luther on, and even many of my Reformed friends. I don't think the papacy can be extracted from the Church of Rome and still have the term "Church of Rome"make sense.

It seems that the focus has transitioned from what Luther actually said/penned (James' forte), to James interpretation of Trent. (See the following threads for some germane reflections on this particular issue: link 1; link 2; link 3.)

Moving forward nearly two years, James posted the following thread:

Ten Martin Luther Myths.

This thread caught my eye, and after reading his list of "ten", I added an 11th in the combox, linking back to my 11-12-11 post (link). Ken Temple then added a brief comment, and I responded; James then linked to 2 of his previous posts, to which I in turn commented on; the subsequent comments have prompted this new thread at AF.

For the record, I am specifically addressing James' following charge in greater detail:

I think the point you originally made was misleading, as was your blog post (which I responded to when you posted it, see the links I posted). Perhaps not purposefully, but misleading nonetheless.

It's not so much what you're saying, it's what you're not saying.

For clarification, you need to emphasize the distinctions Luther did. Otherwise, your blog post is simply a bit of propaganda. (link).

Though I made a sincere attempt to explain my initial post (and subsequent repost), of the Luther quote, it seems that I have hit a 'nerve' with James. The rest of this post is my attempt to address his charges/concerns. [Note: the following quotations from Luther shall be in blue; quotations from blogs in green; all other quotations in red.]

The quote I provided from Luther was meant to introduce, and augment, Dr. Charles Hodge's view that the Roman Church has remained a Christian church. It has been my experience (both online and in numerous personal interactions) that very few folk are aware of the fact that Luther, and some prominent Reformed theologians, believe/maintain that the RCC is a Christian church. I shall begin the augmentation of my original Luther quote with the following from the esteemed pen of Dr. Philip Schaff:

How far, we must ask here, did Luther recognize the dominion of the papacy as a part of the true catholic church? He did not look upon the Pope in the historical and legal light as the legitimate head of the Roman Church ; but he ought him to the end of his life as the antagonist of the gospel, as the veritable Antichrist, and the papacy as an apostasy. He could not have otherwise justified his separation, and the burning of the papal bull and law books. He assumed a position to the Pope and his church similar to that of the apostles to Caiaphas and the synagogue. Nevertheless, whether consistently or not, he never doubted the validity of the ordinances of the Roman Church, having himself been baptized, confirmed, and ordained in it, and he never dreamed of being re-baptized or re-ordained. Those millions of Protestants who seceded in the sixteenth century were of the same opinion, with the sole exception of the Anabaptists who objected to infant-baptism, partly on the ground that it was an invention of the popish Antichrist, and therefore invalid.

Nor did Luther or any of the Reformers and sensible Protestants doubt that there always were and are still many true Christians in the Roman communion, notwithstanding all her errors and corruptions, as there were true Israelites even in the darkest periods of the Jewish theocracy. In his controversy with the Anabaptists (1528), Luther makes the striking admission : "We confess that under the papacy there is much Christianity, yea, the whole Christianity, and has from thence come to us. We confess that the papacy possesses the genuine Scriptures, genuine baptism, the genuine sacrament of the altar, the genuine keys for the remission of sins, the true ministry, the true catechism, the Ten Commandments, the articles of the Creed, the Lord s Prayer. ... I say that under the Pope is the true Christendom, yea, the very élite of Christendom, and many pious and great saints."[1]

[1] "Ich sage, dass unter dem Papst die rechte Christenheit ist, ja der rechte Ausbund der Christenheit, und viel frommmer, gorsser Heiligen." (Von der Wiedertaufe, (Erl. cd. XXVI. 257 sq.) The Roman Catholic Möhler does not fail to quote this passage in his Symbolik, p. 422 sq. He says of Luther s conception of the church (p. 424), that it is not false, but only one sided (nicht falsch, obgleich einseitig). He virtually admits the Protestant distinction between the visible and the invisible church, but holds that the Catholics put the visible, church first as the basis of the invisible, while the Protestants reverse the order.

For proof he refers, strangely enough, to the very passage of Paul, 2 Thess. 2 :3, 4, from which he and other Reformers derived their chief argument that the Pope of Rome is Antichrist, "the man of sin," "the son of perdition." For Paul represents him as sitting "in the temple of God;" that is, in the true church, and not in the synagogue of Satan. As the Pope is Antichrist, he must be among Christians, and rule and tyrannize over Christians. Melanchthon, who otherwise had greater respect for the Pope and the Roman Church, repeatedly expressed the same view. Luther came nearer the true position when he said that the Roman church might be called a "holy church,'" or ex parte, with the same restriction with which Paul called the Galatian by synecdoche Christians "churches," notwithstanding their apostasy from the true gospel. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 7.529-531, Eerdmans 1980 reprint - bold emphasis mine.)

A bit earlier (1518/1519), Luther was even more conciliatory to the Pope/papacy:



To the Most Blessed Father,


Martin Luther,

Augustinian Friar,

wisheth everlasting welfare.

I have heard evil reports about myself, most blessed Father, by which I know that certain friends have put my name in very bad odor with you and yours, saying that I have attempted to belittle the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore I am accused of heresy, apostasy, and perfidy, and am called by six hundred other names of ignominy. My ears shudder and my eyes are astounded. (Works of Martin Luther - With Introduction and Notes, 1915, vol. 1.44.)

The letter ends with:

Wherefore, most blessed Father, I cast myself at the feet of your Holiness, with all that I have and all that I am. Quicken, kill, call, recall, approve, reprove, as you will. In your voice I shall recognize the voice of Christ directing you and speaking in you. If I have deserved death, I shall not refuse to die. For the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof. He is blessed forever. Amen.

May He have you too forever in His keeping. Amen.

ANNO MDXVIII. (Ibid. p. 48 - bold emphasis mine.)


[Letter] 32. To Pope Leo X - Altenburg, January 5 or 6, 1519

Draft of the letter to the Lord Pope

Most Holy Father: Necessity again forces me, the lowest of all men and dust of the earth, to address myself to Your Holiness and August Majesty. May Your Holiness therefore be most gracious and deign to lend your ears in a fatherly fashion for a short time, and willingly listen to the bleating of this, your little sheep, for you truly stand in the place of Christ.

The honorable Sir Charles Miltitz, chamber secretary to Your Holiness, has been with us. In the presence of the Most Illustrious Sovereign Frederick he very harshly accused me in the name of Your Holiness of lacking respect for and being rash toward the Roman church and Your Holiness, and demanded satisfaction for this. Hearing this, I was deeply grieved that my most loyal service has had such an unhappy outcome and that what I had undertaken—to guard the honor of the Roman church—had resulted in disgrace and was suspected of all wickedness, even so far as the head of the church was concerned. But what am I to do, Most Holy Father? I do not know what to do further: I cannot bear the power of your wrath, and I do not know of any means to escape it. The demand is made that I recant my theses. If such a revocation could accomplish what I was attempting to do with my theses, I would issue it without hesitation. Now, however, through the antagonism and pressure of enemies, my writings are spread farther than I ever had expected and are so deeply rooted in the hearts of so many people that I am not in the position to revoke them. In addition since our Germany prospers wonderfully today with men of talent, learning, and judgment, I realize that I cannot, under any circumstances, recant anything if I want to honor the Roman church—and this has to be my primary concern. Such a recanting would accomplish nothing but to defile the Roman church more and more and bring it into the mouths of the people as something that should be accused. See, Father, those whom I have opposed have inflicted this injury and virtual ignominy on the Roman church among us. With their most insipid sermons, preached in the name of Your Holiness, they have cultivated only the most shameful avarice and have substituted for sanctification the vile and abominable Egyptian scandal. And as if that had not been bad enough, they accuse me before Your Holiness—me, who opposed their tremendous monstrosities—of being the author of the temerity which is theirs.

Most Holy Father, before God and all his creation, I testify that I have never wanted, nor do I today want, to touch in any way the authority of the Roman church and of Your Holiness or demolish it by any craftiness. On the contrary I confess the authority of this church to be supreme over all, and that nothing, be it in heaven or on earth, is to be preferred to it, save the one Jesus Christ who is Lord of all—nor should Your Holiness believe the schemers who claim otherwise, plotting evil against this Martin.

Since in this case I can do only one thing, I shall most willingly promise Your Holiness that in the future I shall leave this matter of indulgences alone, and will be completely silent concerning it (if [my enemies] also stop their vain and bombastic speeches). In addition I shall publish something for the common people to make them understand that they should truly honor the Roman church, and influence them to do so. [I shall tell them] not to blame the church for the rashness of [those indulgence preachers], nor to imitate my sharp words against the Roman church, which I have used—or rather misused—against those clowns, and with which I have gone too far. Perhaps by the grace of God the discord which has arisen may finally be quieted by such an effort. I strive for only one thing: that the Roman church, our Mother, be not polluted by the filth of unsuitable avarice, and that the people be not led astray into error and taught to prefer indulgences to works of love. All the other things I consider of less importance, since they are matters of indifference. If I can do anything else, or if I discover that there is something else I can do, I will certainly be most ready to do it. (Luther's Works - Volume 48: Letters I, Gottried G. Krodel Editor and Translator, Concordia Publishing House, 1963, pp. 100-102 - bold emphasis mine.)

After the Diet of Worms, Luther changed his stance on the papacy, but not on the Roman church. Note the following (in chronological order):

C. The Cause of This Hatred and Persecution.

24. This is the first part of this Gospel and prophecy of Christ. The second part now follows, explaining how it is that such worthy people, the best, the wisest and most holy among God's children, who earnestly seek to serve and honor God, should so bitterly and mercilessly persecute Christ and his people.

"These things will they do unto yon, because they have not known the Father nor me"

25. There you have the reason. Christ tells what moves them to such hatred and persecution of Christians. It is, he says, because you preach concerning me, whom they do not know; for they jealously regard their own office of teaching and preaching In the capacity of chief-priest and scribe (and in this day of pope, bishop, etc.) repudiating all doctrine that differs from that of Moses and the Law. They rigidly follow the command of Moses in Deut 13, 6ff. How, then, shall the apostles be permitted to promulgate this utterly new doctrine concerning an unknown Messiah, one, too, whom they reject as a false prophet, yea, whom they have crucified as a deceiver and blasphemer? Who, in opposition to all recognized authority and intelligence, would acknowledge as Christ this executed victim? These so-called people of God boast to the apostles of their authority, saying, in Acts 5, 28 : ''Did we not straitly charge you not to teach in this name?"

26. That they do not know this Christ is true without a doubt. Their own confession and deeds prove it. It is plainly evident in what high esteem they hold themselves as being the people of God, who possess the Law, and the promise, the priesthood and worship of God (even as our people possess the Scriptures, baptism, the sacrament and the name of Christ) ; yet they are blind and without the true knowledge of God and of Christ, and consequently have become hardened, opposing God and his Son with their acts of ban and murder, under the very appearance and with the boast of thereby serving God. But Christ strengthens and comforts his own people that they may not fear harsh judgment, nor be intimidated by jealous authority from preaching and confession, but may say to their adversaries as the apostles answered the chiefpriests and the council at Jerusalem, in Acts 5, 29 : "We must obey God rather than men."

27. In this connection Christ fixes the standard of judgment and points out the difference between the true and the false Church. The Church is not to be judged by name and external appearance; but insight must be had and the identifying mark be forthcoming, by which the holy Church and the true people and servants of God may be recognized. Reason and human wisdom cannot furnish the necessary qualifications for the true Church. The actual test is in ascertaining who have the real knowledge of Christ and who have it not. Judgment cannot be passed in this case according to mere external appearance and name, according to the office and authority and power of the Church ; in all these externals the Jews excelled the apostles and the papacy excels us by far.

28. Accordingly, we concede to the papacy that they sit in the true Church, possessing the office instituted by Christ and inherited from the apostles, to teach, baptize, administer the sacrament, absolve, ordain, etc., just as the Jews sat in their synagogues or assemblies and were the regularly established priesthood and authority of the Church. We admit all this and do not attack the office, although they are not willing to admit as much for us ; yea, we confess that we have received these things from them, even as Christ by birth descended from the Jews and the apostles obtained the Scriptures from them.

29. In view of these prerogatives, they make their perverse boast against us and censure and curse us as obstinate and recreant apostates and enemies of the Church. It is unpleasant to suffer such reproach, and for this reason the devil easily terrifies the hearts of some of the ignorant and overwhelms men with the thought: Alas! the Church has pronounced the ban and it really possesses the office; this is certainly a thing not to be made light of, for Christ says in Mt 18, 18: ''What things soever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven." Therefore whom the Church excommunicates is undoubtedly also condemned by God. Most assuredly they do not excommunicate in the name of the devil, nor of the pope, but in the name of God the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, by the authority of Christ etc., embellishing the ceremony with appropriate and high-sounding and solemn words.

30. It is necessary to a thorough understanding of the matter that we understand what Christ here says concerning the two Churches : One is the Church which is not recognized by the world, but is robbed of its name and exiled ; the other, the Church that has the name and honor but persecutes the small flock of believers. Thus we have the opposing situations : The Church which is denied the name is the true Church, whilst the other is not the reality, though it may occupy the seat of authority and power, and possess and perform all the offices conceded to be offices and marks of the holy Church and yet we are obliged to suffer its ban and judgment.

31. The reason for the difference in the two Churches is contained in Christ's saying: "Because they have not known the Father nor me;" that is, the false Church regards itself as superior to the teachings of Christ, when a knowledge of Christ is the very basis of distinction between the true and false Church. It is not enough merely to have the name and the office of the Church since these could be unlawfully assumed and abused; the second commandment and the second petition of the Lord's Prayer indicate that the name of God is often abused, not hallowed but blasphemed and dishonored. Hence, we must not be too ready to endorse the declaration : I say or do this in the name of God or of Christ, and at the command and by the authority of the Church. But we should reply thus: I accept the name of God and of the Church as they are dear and precious to me ; but I do not concede to you that in this name you should prescribe and sell whatever you please.

32. Thus we say to the papists : We grant you, indeed, the name and office, and regard these as holy and precious, for the office is not yours, but has been established by Christ and given to the Church without regard for and distinction of the persons who occupy it. Therefore, whatever is exercised through this office as the institution of Christ, and in his name and that of the Church, is at all times right and proper, even though ungodly and unbelieving men may participate. We must distinguish between the office and the person exercising it, between rightful use and abuse. The name of God and of Christ is always holy in itself ; but it may be abused and blasphemed. So also, the office of the Church is holy and precious, but the person occupying it may be accursed and belong to the devil. Therefore, we cannot decide according to the office who are true or false Christians, and which is the true or false Church. (Sermons of Martin Luther, John Nicholas Lenker Editor and Translator, Baker Book House reprint, n.d., 3.264-267 - Volume 3 is a reproduction of The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, volume 12, 1907 - bold emphasis mine.)

Jerome raises an important question here: Why does Paul call “churches” those that were not churches? For Paul, he says, is writing to the Galatians, who had been led astray and turned away from Christ and from grace to Moses and the Law. I reply: When Paul calls them the “churches of Galatia,” he is employing synecdoche, a very common practice in the Scriptures. Writing in a similar vein to the Corinthians, he congratulates them that the grace of God was given them in Christ, that is, that they were enriched in Him with all speech and all knowledge (1 Cor. 1:4–5). And yet many of them had been perverted by false apostles and did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, etc. So today we still call the Church of Rome holy and all its sees holy, even though they have been undermined and their ministers are ungodly. For God “rules in the midst of His foes” (Ps. 110:2), Antichrist “takes his seat in the temple of God” (2 Thess. 2:4), and Satan is present among the sons of God (Job 1:6). Even if the church is “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,” as Paul says to the Philippians (2:15), and even if it is surrounded by wolves and robbers, that is, spiritual tyrants, it is still the church. Although the city of Rome is worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, nevertheless there remain in it Baptism, the Sacrament, the voice and text of the Gospel, the Sacred Scriptures, the ministries, the name of Christ, and the name of God. Whoever has these, has them; whoever does not have them, has no excuse, for the treasure is still there. Therefore the Church of Rome is holy, because it has the holy name of God, the Gospel, Baptism, etc. If these are present among a people, that people is called holy. Thus this Wittenberg of ours is a holy village, and we are truly holy, because we have been baptized, communed, taught, and called by God; we have the works of God among us, that is, the Word and the sacraments, and these make us holy.I say this in order that we may distinguish sharply between Christian holiness and other kinds of holiness. The monks called their orders holy, although they did not dare call themselves holy; but they are not holy, because, as we said above, Christian holiness is not active but passive. Therefore let no one call himself holy on the basis of his way of life or of his works—fasting, prayer, flagellation, almsgiving, or the consolation of the sad and afflicted. Otherwise the Pharisee in Luke (18:11 ff.) would be holy too. Such works, of course, are holy, and God strictly demands them of us; but they do not make us holy. You and I are holy; the church, the city, and the people are holy—not on the basis of their own holiness but on the basis of a holiness not their own, not by an active holiness, but by a passive holiness. They are holy because they possess something that is divine and holy, namely, the calling of the ministry, the Gospel, Baptism, etc., on the basis of which they are holy.

Therefore even though the Galatians had been led astray, Baptism, the Word, and the name of Christ still continued among them. Besides, there were still some good men who had not defected from Paul’s doctrine and who had a proper understanding of the Word and the sacraments, which could not be defiled by those who did rebel. For Baptism, the Gospel, etc., do not become unholy because I am defiled and unholy and have a false understanding of them. On the contrary, they remain holy and exactly what they were, regardless of whether they are among the godly or the ungodly; men can neither defile them nor hallow them. By our good or evil behavior, by our good or evil life and morals, they are defiled or hallowed in the sight of the Gentiles (Rom. 2:24) but not in the sight of God. Therefore the church is holy even where the fanatics are dominant, so long as they do not deny the Word and the sacraments; if they deny these, they are no longer the church. Wherever the substance of the Word and the sacraments abides, therefore, there the holy church is present, even though Antichrist may reign there; for he takes his seat not in a stable of fiends or in a pigpen or in a congregation of unbelievers but in the highest and holiest place possible, namely, in the temple of God (2Thess. 2:4). Thus our brief answer to this question is this: The church is universal throughout the world, wherever the Gospel of God and the sacraments are present. The Jews, the Turks, and the fanatics are not the church, because they oppose and deny these things. Now there follows the salutation. (Luther's Works - Volume 26: Lectures on Galatians 1535 - Chapters 1-4, Jaroslav Pelikan Editor and Translator, Concordia Publishing House, 1963, pp. 24-26 - bold empahsis mine.)

The dear prophets have always been plagued by the aspect and the name of the church and God’s people. For the prophets have always been contradicted with the words: “My dear friend, let them say what they please, ‘The Law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the Word from the prophet’ (Jer. 18:18). If a thousand Jeremiahs were to confront us, we have three things that cannot fail us: the priests, who teach the Law, will not teach what is wrong; the prophets, who have God’s Word, will not prophesy falsely; and the elders and the wise men—for example, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and the king—will surely know what must be, done. At any rate, God has ordained that the priests should teach the Law, that the prophets should have the Word and revelation, and that the leaders should counsel and rule. These three things must remain as they have been given by God.” Therefore those who preached against these statements had to be damned heretics.

Behold, this could easily annoy even a stalwart Christian and cause him to say: “Where, pray, are You leading me? Am I to stand up alone and preach against Your people, Your kingdom, Your priests, and Your Word? For that, of course, is where Your name is; they have Your Law, Your temple, and both the spiritual and the worldly government, ordained by You Yourself. Who am I to oppose singlehandedly all that is God’s? I would rather say that they are right, retract my preaching, or at least keep silence.” This offended the prophets most of all; it was the strongest argument against them, just as it causes us the most trouble. Paul himself had to contend against it. Indeed, he sternly brought it to bear against himself in Rom. 9:4 and said “What am I accomplishing with my preaching? I must preach against my own people, who have God’s Law, promise, miracles, prophets, temple, and worship, and Christ Himself.” Really, only a dauntless man would not be offended by this and not be down in the mouth.

Today the pope and his crowd cry out against us that they are the church, since they have received Baptism, the Sacrament, and Holy Writ from the apostles and are their successors. They say: “Where else should God’s people be than where His name is praised, and where the successors and heirs of His apostles are to be found? Surely the Turks, the Tartars, and the heathen cannot be His people. Therefore we must be His people; otherwise it will be altogether impossible to find a people of God on earth. Consequently, he who rebels against us resists the Christian Church and Christ Himself.”

This will surely offend and repel anyone who is not armed with different weapons and different strength, who listens only to such opinions of the most eminent and influential people on earth. “You are a heretic and an apostle of the devil,” “You are preaching against God’s people and the church, yes, against God Himself.” For it is exceedingly difficult to deprive them of this argument and to talk them out of it. Yes, we ourselves find it difficult to refute it, especially since we concede—as we must—that so much of what they say is true: that the papacy has God’s Word and the office of the apostles, and that we have received Holy Scripture, Baptism, the Sacrament, and the pulpit from them. What would we know of these if it were not for them? Therefore faith, the Christian Church, Christ, and the Holy Spirit must also be found among them. What business have I, then, to preach against them as a pupil preaching against his teachers? Then there come rushing into my heart thoughts like these: “Now I see that I am in error. Oh, if only I had never started this and had never preached a word! For who dares oppose the church, of which we confess in the Creed: I believe in a holy Christian Church, etc.? Now I find this church in the papacy too. It follows, therefore, that if I condemn this church, I am excommunicated, rejected, and damned by God and all the saints.”

Well, what are we to do in these circumstances? In, the face of such excommunication it is difficult to remain steadfast and to preach. But if we let this intimidate us, and if we do what they want us to do—retract or cease our preaching, when we know that it is true and God’s Word—we would fare as the prophet Jeremiah did. Then God’s Word would kindle in us a fire which would melt away and burn up our hearts. no man could endure this, and I would rather die ten deaths than burden my conscience in such a way; for this would soon kill me anyhow.

But what is now our defense? And what is the ground on which we can hold our own against such offense and continue to defy those people? It is nothing else than the masterly statement St. Paul employs in Rom. 9:7: “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants.” Not all who bear the name are Israelites; or, as the saying goes: “Not all who carry long knives are cooks.” Thus not all who lay claim to the title “church” are the church. There is often a great difference between the name and the reality. The name is general. All are called God’s people, children of Abraham, Christ’s disciples and members; but this does not mean that they all are what the name signifies. For the name “church” includes many scoundrels and rascals who refused to obey God’s Word and acted contrary to it. Yet they were called heirs and successors of the holy patriarchs, priests, and prophets. To be sure, they had God’s Law and promise, the temple, and the priesthood. In fact, they should have been God’s people; but they practiced idolatry so freely under the cloak of the name “church” that God was forced to say: “This shall no longer be My temple and priesthood. My people shall no longer be My people. But to those who are not My people it shall be said: ‘You are sons of the living God’ ” (Hos. 1:10; 2:23).

Thus we are also compelled to say: “I believe and am sure that the Christian Church has remained even in the papacy. On the other hand, I know that most of the papists are not the Christian Church, even though they give everyone the impression that they are. Today our popes, cardinals, and bishops are not God’s apostles and bishops; they are the devil’s. And their people are not God’s people; they are the devil’s. And yet some of the papists are true Christians, even though they, too, have been led astray, as Christ foretold in Matt. 24:24. But by the grace of God and with His help they have been preserved in a wonderful manner.

Therefore this proud and defiant boast of theirs is far from having any validity: “We, the pope, bishops, and all who are subject to us, are the Christian Church; for we have been named for Christ and are the successors and heirs of the holy apostles and fathers. Hence we have good reason to excommunicate you who resist us and believe or teach otherwise.” Yes, dear sirs, we do not begrudge you the name, but after this let us see whether you really are and live up to what you claim to be. For to be called by a name and to be what that name implies are two different things. I would surely call myself a king or an emperor if the name alone were enough and people had to be subject to me for this reason. The proverb says that we call many a person a pious man and many a person a scoundrel and do an injustice in both cases. For it is the custom of the whole world to use beautiful names, and grand and high-sounding words when they really do not fit. If it were written on everyone’s forehead what he is, he would not keep this name very long. Therefore I say that we must maintain, and call attention to, the distinction made by St. Paul: that not all who are called God’s people or the church are God’s people or the church. From this we can gain both instruction and strength not to be offended by their ban and condemnation but to retort: “I congratulate myself if they excommunicate me; for such a ban is nothing but a misnomer, just as all their boasting and all their activity are false. Christ Himself warned me here beforehand and exhorted me not to be concerned about this.”

“Yes,” you ask, “but what do you have to say about this? After all, it was the Christian Church that excommunicated you.” I reply: “No, this it did not do; for even though it boasts of the name, this does not make it the church. What do I care if those who use nothing but the mere name excommunicate me? But if those who really are the church of Christ were to excommunicate me, I would indeed have to fall down at its feet, beg for mercy, and render implicit obedience.”

Now you ask: “But how do I know which is the true church and which is not?” Answer: “As I have said, all depends on the right knowledge of the essence of the church and on the proper differentiation between the name and the essence of the church.” Christ Himself will give this distinctive and authoritative identification in the following words: “And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor Me” (John 16:3). With this touchstone I can easily and reliably judge who are and who are not the church. For one can see without difficulty who knows the Father and Christ and who does not know them; in fact, these people identify themselves. Here I am bringing into court the pope, his bishops, and all who call themselves the church, and asking them: “Do you also believe in Christ, that you have forgiveness of sins and salvation solely through His blood and that this faith conforms to the will of God the Father? Are you baptized; do you receive the Sacrament; and do you hope for eternal life in this faith?”

“Yes,” they say, “we surely do believe.” But in order to see whether they really believe this, I ask further: “Why, then, do you teach that we adults have long since lost Baptism and that everyone must now atone for his sins and be saved by good works?” Now they have the insolence to preach and write that Christ died and atoned only for original sin, and that we have to devise ways of atoning for our actual sins. Here we discover that they have fallen away from the faith and are leading the people away from Christ to their own works by telling them to enter a cloister or to go on a pilgrimage to Rome or to St. Iago di Compostella, to lead an austere and ascetic life, or to choose the Virgin Mary or this or that saint as intercessor, in order to be saved by this. Thus they make of Christ nothing but a stern and irate Judge who must be feared as One who wants to cast us into hell. They portray Christ seated on His judgment seat on a rainbow, with His mother Mary and John the Baptist on both sides as intercessors against His terrible wrath.

This amounts to a complete removal of Christ; it means that He is not only not known but is simply kept completely out of sight, buried, and covered with earth, in order that I may no longer see Him as the One who was born, suffered, died, and rose again for me—as the children say in the Creed—but only as the One who wants to judge me according to my life and my works, whether I have paid or atoned for sin or not. If I view Him in such a light, I cannot run to Him for help but must flee from Him and seek refuge with Mary and other saints rather than with Christ and His redemption. Behold, those are the people who want to be called the Christian Church but cast Christ completely aside. We are expected to obey them and to fear their writ of excommunication rather than Christ Himself.

Therefore let this be for you the touchstone, the rule, the plummet, and the level by which you condemn them as knowing neither Christ nor the Father and as being neither able nor willing to listen to Him. For the pope, of course, strongly resents our attacks on his own man-made doctrine of our works and deeds; he will not tolerate anyone’s preaching the pure doctrine of Christ. We, on the other hand, will not permit anyone to suppress this Christ and to replace Him with our works. Here the dispute begins. They proceed to condemn and excommunicate us in the name of the church. But we oppose this and say: “It is not the church of Christ that is taking this action; it is the bride of the devil and the mob of Antichrist. For the true church, which knows Christ, will surely not excommunicate anyone because of its Lord’s Word, since this church itself preaches, believes, and gladly hears this Word. Thus St. Paul opposes the Jews with the words: “Those who are God’s true Israel will not be hostile to me or persecute me; only those will do so who merely have the name but are not God’s true Israel.” As Christ says in John 8:42–43: “If you knew My Father, you would also understand what I say.” Although they made use of these words and names—“God the Father,” “God’s Word,” “worship and people of God”—they denied this with their deeds, as St. Paul says (2 Tim. 3:5). Consequently, the apostles simply have to hear this condemnation: “You are the devil’s preachers, not God’s; for you are preaching against the Law, against this temple and worship of God, against the holy people chosen by God and in possession of His promise.”

And then St. Paul must open his mouth again and say: “My dear sirs, one must distinguish between two different peoples of God. The one believes in the promise concerning Christ, who has now come; this is the true people and the true seed. Then there is the other people, which to be sure, is born in a natural way from Israel and is descended from the holy fathers; but they do not believe in Christ and do not want to be sanctified and saved by grace but by their own works. These are the false and apostate children. No, they are not children at all; they are enemies of God, even though they are the great majority, who are in possession of the government and have prestige, as if they alone were the true people. Therefore even if they excommunicate the others, we say to them: “To be sure, you are called God’s people, but you are not. You are renowned as being descended from the saints and as being numbered among them. Therefore you imagine that everything you do must be right. But this is far from true; for it is written (Rom. 9:7): ‘Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.’ ” Thus not all who bear the name “church” are the church. No, it is necessary to consider their beliefs and teachings. If I see that they preach and confess Christ as the One sent by God the Father to reconcile us to the Father through His death and to obtain grace for us, then we are in agreement, and I regard them as my dear brethren in Christ and as members of the Christian Church.

Yet the proclamation of this text—together with Baptism, the Sacrament of Christ, and the articles of the Creed—has remained even in the papacy, although many errors and devious paths have been introduced alongside it. Still many people have been saved on their deathbeds through this text, because they have fallen away from the other, false trust, have clung to Christ alone, and have confessed Him in faith. All errors notwithstanding, the true church has never perished. The majority, however, which boasts of the name, has forgotten Baptism, has rejected Christ, has despised God’s Word, and has replaced these with their own baubles and their self-devised worship, their saints, their idolatry, their sacrifice of the Mass, their buying and selling for all the living and the dead, yes, even for cows and oxen. They have filled everything with the pope’s stench and poison, and have suppressed the Christian doctrine with such power that no one but those to whom God gave special enlightenment and whom He tore out of error could recognize it.

Behold, here Christ wants to teach the Christians not to worry if they are excommunicated by those who are called the church and God’s people. He wants them to make sure beforehand that they are capable of distinguishing plainly and clearly between the alleged church, which boasts of the name, and the true church, which does not bear that name and yet is the true church. He wants them to hold to the true church, even though the great crowd of exalted, powerful, and holy men is opposed to it and persecutes it, just as the leaders of the people, the princes, the chief priests, the scribes, and the prophets did in Christ’s time. For Christ is not at all concerned about their condemnation of Him and His own; He keeps on overthrowing their rule and what they do, just as He will also do in the end with His present-day enemies.

In the meantime we adhere to the distinction made here by Christ and do not regard as Christendom those who do not hold truly and absolutely to what Christ taught, gave, and ordained, no matter how great, holy, and learned they may be. We tell them that they are the devil’s church. On the other hand, we want to acknowledge and honor as the true bride of Christ those who remain faithful to His pure Word and have no other comfort for their hearts than this Savior, whom they have received and confessed in Baptism and in whose name they have partaken of the Sacrament. These are the true church. It is not found in only one place, as, for example, under the pope; but it exists over the entire earth wherever Christians are found. Outwardly they may be scattered here and there, but they meet in the words of the Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was born, suffered, and died for us on the cross.” In like manner, they pray: “Our Father who art in heaven.” They share the same Spirit, Word, and Sacrament. They all lead the same holy and blessed life, each one according to his calling, whether father, mother, master, servant, etc. Thus whatever we preach, believe, and live, this they all preach, believe, and live. Physically separated and scattered here and there throughout the wide world, we are nevertheless gathered and united in Christ.

Behold, this is the true catholic, universal Christian Church; it will surely not excommunicate or persecute us but will gladly accept and confirm our doctrine and regard us as dear brethren. Even if the pope excommunicates us and condemns us to hell, we can bear this joyfully and despise it. But we await the Judge from heaven, our Lord and Savior, who will separate us, comfort us, and give us the true name of the church—the name which they are now taking away from us—and will expose them publicly as the devil’s bride, forever segregated and expelled from his kingdom.

Thus the apostles, Paul and others, must declare in opposition to their Caiaphas, Annas, Ananias, and all the Jews: “Dear sirs, if you do not want to let us be apostles and preachers, and if you yourselves do not want to give God’s Word, Baptism, and the Sacrament—you for whom it is proper to do this, since you are in office and in the regular government—then we ourselves will do so among one another and pay no attention to you. Then let the Judge come and decide who have the right name and who do not.” And this is what He did. Their kingdom, land, priesthood, temple, and everything they had were torn to shreds, destroyed, and thrown on a heap, so that not one stone remained upon another (Matt. 24:2), and the people were cast out into all lands and had to wander about aimlessly without God’s Word, a priesthood, or a government. Furthermore, they disgracefully lost the title they once bore; this has been transferred to the heathen, who previously were without a title. All this was proclaimed to them by the prophets. Thus the pope now usurps the name of the church of the true worship; he wrests it from the true Christians and gives it to his godless rabble. But the situation will be reversed, and we will take back the name from them. Then they will stand condemned, and before the whole world they will be stripped, and remain stripped forever, of all the honor and glory they now want to have. (Luther's Works - Volume 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John - Chapters 14-16, Jaroslav Pelikan Editor, Martin H. Bertram Translator, Concordia Publishing House, 1961, pp. 303-308 - bold emphasis mine.)

I have attempted, with the above quotations, to convince James (and all others who may read this thread), that my original brief quote from Luther was any but, "misleading", rather, that it represented Luther's mature thought on the Roman church, namely, that it remained a Christian church.

Grace and peace,


(FYI: My dear wife has been ill this week, significantly limiting my time on the internet, and for creating this post; I am sure there are probably a few transcriptional and/or spelling errors that need to be corrected in the next couple of days—I sincerely appreciate your patience in this matter.)

No comments: