Friday, August 12, 2005

What Mattered Most to Luther

In 1528, Luther wrote his Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper. In the third part of this he offered what he said was his final confession of faith, "lest any persons during my lifetime or after my death appeal to me or misuse my writings to confirm their error, as the sacramentarian and baptist fanatics are already beginning to do." He structured this confession according to the creed, affirming the three articles and then anathemizing the contemporary views that denied these articles. While there is nothing new here for those familiar with the Lutheran confessions (especially the Smalcald articles) I found this a very useful summary of the faith that the mature Luther lived and died by. I have summarized the main points of this under the rubrices of the Nicene Creed (slightly rearranged) in red (cf. Luther’s Works, vol. 37, pp. 360-372):

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

After summarizing the Trinity and the incarnation, Luther anathemizes the ancient heresies on this teaching: the Arians (who denied the full divinity of the Son), the Macedonians (who denied the full divinity of the Holy Spirit), the Sabellians (who like the Oneness or "Apostolic" Pentecostal churches today taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are only modes of one God).

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man,

Luther anathemized the ancient heresies that taught the incarnation of the Father or the Spirit, and the Apollinarians who taught that Christ had a true human body, but not a true human soul. He also anathemized the Nestorians who separated Christ’s human and divine natures into two persons.

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

After summarizing the doctrine of original sin, here Luther anathemized "all doctrines which glorify our free will, as diametrically contrary to the help and grace of our Savior Jesus Christ." He also anathemized all old and new Pelagians "who will not admit original sin to be sin, but make it an infirmity or defect."He also anathemized "all monastic orders, rules, cloisters, religious foundations, and all such things" since they have been "founded and perpetuated with the idea that by these ways and works men may seek and win salvation" and so are a "notorious, abominable blasphemy and denial of the unique aid and grace of our only Savior." He admitted though that many great saints had lived in them, even "as the elect of God are misled by them even at this time, yet finally by faith in Jesus Christ have been redeemed and have escaped." (On this see more here).

Such orders might be salvaged, though, if they made themselves useful by teaching boys and girls.

Finally Luther confessed that there were only three "holy orders and true religious institutions": the office of priest, the estate of marriage, and civil government. Above them all is "the common order of Christian love" which "serves every needy person in general with all kinds of benevolent deeds."

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.

After summarizing how the Father’s giving us creation and the Son’s giving of himself for our sins would profit us nothing with the Holy Spirit help us understand this grace, receive it, preserve it, use it to our advantage, , impart it to others, and increase and extend it. Luther confessed that the Holy Spirit works inwardly and outwardly -- "inwardly by means of faith and other spiritual gifts, outwardly through the gospel, baptism, and sacrament of the altar."

I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins;

He thus anathemizes all the Anabaptists (i.e. Baptists) and Donatists, who claim that the gospel or baptism are invalid "if some have received it without faith or otherwise misused it."

In the same way, he confesses that in the sacrament of the altar "the true body and blood of Christ are orally eaten and drunk in the bread and wine." This is true only by the "Word and ordinance of God" regardless of the man’s belief or unbelief. But those who change God’s Word and ordinance and misinterpret it (i.e. the Reformed and Baptists) have only bread and wine.

And I believe in one holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.

In this church, which is "the community or number or assembly of all Christians in all the world," the bishops are not heads or lords, or bridegrooms, but servants, friends, and stewards."

This Christian church exists not only in the realm of the Roman church or pope, but in all the world." It is "physically dispersed among pope, Turks, Persians, Tartars, but spritually gathered in one gospel and faith."He anathmizes the Roman hierarchy saying "the papacy is assuredly the true realm of Antichrist" as prophesied in Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2; although the Turk (i.e. Islam) and all other heresies are also part of this abomination.

In this Christian faith alone is the forgiveness of sins, "for in it are the found the gospel, baptism, and the sacrament of the altar" not to speak of Christ and his Spirit and God. "Outside this Christian church there is no salvation or forgiveness of sins but everlasting death and damnation" and this is so despite all works of holiness that might appear. This forgiveness of sins comes not just once but frequently, as often as needed, until death.

Luther therefore commends private confession as a "precious, useful thing for souls" as long as no one is compelled to do so or to enumerate all ones sins as opposed to "those which oppress him most grievously."

Luther anathemizes papal pardons and indulgences as "a blasphemous deception" which "desecrates and nullifies the general forgiveness" and bases satisfaction for sins on the works of man and merits of saints, rather than on Christ alone.

But prayers for the dead are no sin, if offered freely without paid requiem masses and vigils and all the rest of the "devil’s annual fair." (See more below.)

Purgatory could of course be possible, but there is nothing about it in Scripture, so Luther anathemizes it, saying "It too was certainly fabricated by goblins." There is another purgatory (that of the suffering in the hour of death) "but it would not be proper to teach anything about it in the church" or establishe endowments or vigils for it.

Luther notes with pleasure how others have criticized the invocation of saints and likewise anathemizes it. "Christ alone should be invoked as our Mediator."

Unction might be practiced as in the Scriptures (Mark 6 and James 5), "but to make a sacrament out of it is nonsense." If any wish to visit the sick, pray for, and admonish them, and also annoint with oil, let them be free to do so in the name of God."

Neither is there any need to make sacraments out of marriage and the office of the priesthood. These orders are sufficiently holy in themselves. So too, penance is nothing else than the practice and the power of baptism."

Yet what Luther anathemizes "as the greatest of all abominations" is the mass itself "when it is preached or sold as a sacrifice or good work, which is the basis on which all religious foundations and monasteries now stand." Looking back on his youth, the crime that most tormented his conscience was his participation as a "holy monk" in this trade that "so horribly angered, tortured, and plagued my dear Lord."

Accordingly he advised people to abandon such foundations and monasteries and vows and come into the three true Christian orders, and so escape "these abominations of the mass and this blasphemous holiness, i.e. ‘chastity, poverty, and obedience,’ by whcih men imagine they are saved." Viriginity was once an excellent thing, but now being "used to deny the aid and grace of Christ" it is abominable; although viriginity, widowhood, and chastity can well be maintained "without these blasphemous abominations."

"Images, bells, eucharistic vestments, church ornaments, altar lights, and the like I regard as things indifferent. Anyone who wishes may omit them." Scriptural and historical illustrations are useful for teaching and he says "I have no sympathy with the iconoclasts."

and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Here Luther denies those who teach the devils will also be restored to salvation.

He concludes by asking: "I pray that all godly hearts will bear me witness of this, and pray for me that I may persever firmly in this faith to the end of my life. For if in the assault of temptation or the pangs of death I should say something different – which God forbid – let it be disregarded; henceforth I declare publicaly that it would be incorrect, spoken under the devil’s influence. In this may my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ assist me: blessed be He for ever, Amen."

Originally posted to Here We Stand

Labels: , ,