MARTIN LUTHER

Protestant Reformer or Devout Catholic

After reading the two selections which follow, consider if Luther was a Protestant and rebel, as the existing church claimed or was he a devout Catholic as he claimed until his dying day.

 

THE PROTESTANT LUTHER

Luther had an uncanny ability not only to surrive but to build around himself a new political-religious community vital enough to maintain itself. Both during the 16th century and today, the image of Luther is based upon the incredible quality of his writings--tracts, treatises, sermons, commentaries, translations, disputations, hymns and letters---nearly a 100 modern volumes, certainly Luther was a voluble and expansive man.

He rejected clerical celibacy along with the other doctrines of the old church. His kitchen table served not only his own family but became the center of the Protestant world. His table always had visitors and after dinner when the table was cleared, and beer steins passed, he and his friend would talk about what became the theology of the reformation. The results of these conversations were writtne down in Luther's "Tabletalk."

Consider the following which expresses the views of Luther, the Protestant Reformer:

"In short, as a monk I experienced such horrors; I had to experience them before I could fight them. I almost fasted myself to death, for again and again I went for three days without taking a drop of water or a morsel of food. I was very serious about it."

"When I was a monk I was unwilling to omit any of the prayers, but when I was busy wiith public lecturing and writing I often accumulated my appointed prayers for a whole week, or even two or three weeks. Then I would take a Saturday off, or shut myself in for as long as three days without for and drink, until I had said the prescribed prayers. A Christian was taken to be nothing but a fool. I know priests who said six or seven masses while I said only one. They took money for them and I didn't."

"It is necessary to have life, salvation, and grace before good works. Infants who have no works are saved by faith alone, and therefore faith along justifies. If the power of God can do this in one person it can do it in all."

 

THE CATHOLIC LUTHER

The writings which follow focus on the last years of Luther the Catholic (pre 1517), and the years he spent at Wittenberg when he was a young professor of theology. Theory says that Luther was a bad Catholic then not a solitary figure fighting against the "terror of the Holy." He was said to be a rebel willfully distorting the rules of his order and arrogantly preferring his own interpretations of scripture and tradition to that of the Church. He is accused of being overbearing and selfish, and neglectful of his proper religious duties.

The Church claimed Luther had become a mystic. The Church has always been sort of mystical anyway but Luther seems to have gone overboard. His opposition to good works opened his mind to a false conception of the doctrines of those books of the mystical life. The Church claimed tried to transform all theology into what he called a "theology of the Cross." He would recognize only the highest motives, namely reasons of the greatest perfection for himself as well as for others. Fear of devine punishment and hope of devine reward were to be excluded.

The Catholic proof against Luther stems from a letter to a friend in which Luther writes:

"I do hardly anything all day but write letters. I am at the same time preacher to the monastery, have to preach in the refectory and am even expected to preach daily in the parish church. I have to provide for the delivery of fish from Leitzkau pond, I am lecturing on Paul, compiling an exposition of the Psalter... It is seldom that I have time for the recitation of the Divine Office or to celebrate Mass, and then, too, I have my peculiar temptations from the flesh, the world and the devil."

 

It was his duty (as it was the duty of every monk) to arrange his affairs as to be able to comply with these obligations. The saying of Mass is the central obligation of every priest. If Luther did not know how to observe due moderation in his labors, if he were derelict in the prioncipal duties of the spiritual life, it was to be feared that he would gradually drift away from the religious state.

 

Now, is Luther a rebel or a loyal churchman?