From the current SSPX Oregon newsletter:
The Triumph of Sin
Martin Luther was born in 1483 and died 63 years later, in 1546. After a strict and somewhat painful upbringing (his father was not gentle), and several years of higher studies, he abruptly decided to pursue the priesthood by joining the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. A story says that this decision was the result of a rash vow made in a moment of terror for his life.
In 1507, Luther was ordained a priest. He would write later that his first Mass was a moment of fear and terror for him, since he felt unworthy to celebrate the divine mysteries.
Luther’s superiors sent him to the University of Wittenburg to teach philosophy and dialectics. There he continued his own studies and eventually become a doctor in theology.
Luther was not a happy monk. Of a very melancholic disposition, he was over-sensitive and prone to scruples. His workload was tremendous. Teacher, lecturer, and sub-prior of his monastery, Luther was overwhelmed with his responsibilities. As often happens to scrupulous persons, Luther began to see temptation and mortal sin everywhere. His overwrought mind began to make him believe that God was angry with him. In vain he tried to find answers to his scruples by endless hours of study and to overcome his temptations by use of the most vigorous penance, but all to no avail. Exhausted, confused, disgusted, Luther gave in to despair. The result of Luther’s despair would change Europe and the world forever.
Luther’s Quandary and Solution
Luther’s writings tell us that, above all things, he wanted to be certain of his eternal salvation. He mistakenly believed that were he in the state of grace, he would be free from temptation and evil, and enjoy great spiritual consolations and ease and delight in prayer and the practice of virtue. Yet all he felt was temptation and despair. Luther therefore concluded that everything he did, no matter how hard and how good, was useless in preserving his soul from sin. On the contrary, the more he tried, the more he felt the uselessness of his works. He was a sinner, and sin was all he was capable of.
What, then, of Christ’s act of redemption? Was it useless?
Here we come to the heart of Luther’s new belief. For Luther, it is not virtuous living or good works that bring salvation to the soul, but a blind confidence in Jesus Christ, by whose actions and merits alone we are saved.
On the face of it, these teachings seem sound, for we are indeed saved by the actions and merits of Jesus Christ, in particular by His passion, resurrection, and ascension. But for Luther, they have a very diﬀerent meaning.
For Luther, man is so beset by sin that he is a prisoner of sin. Human nature is sinful to its core, in its very essence. It is wedded to sin, steeped in it so completely and so thoroughly that Christ freed us not from sin but merely from its imputation. In other words, thanks to what Christ did for us, God the Father has decided to no longer reproach us for the sins we commit. Sin is still with us and in us, and all we do is sinful, but if we have confidence in Christ, God will not hold our sin against us. Thus we will be saved.
Luther’s Definition of Justification
The central theme of Luther’s new doctrine is justification of the soul in Jesus Christ. For Catholics, justification has always meant the renovation, re-creation, and elevation of the soul to the supernatural life of God through the gift of sanctifying grace. Grace is thus a sharing and participation in God’s own divine life. It invigorates the soul and gives it divine beauty. It elevates us to the status of adopted sons of God.
Again, for Catholics, grace comes to the soul as a free gift that springs from faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is the beginning of justification; then comes baptism, which is the consummation of justification. Justification, or holiness, is then increased and made strong through the devout reception of those means given to us by Christ for the nourishment of our souls, namely, the sacraments.
Luther has an altogether diﬀerent understanding and interpretation of justification. Luther teaches that Christ’s redemption operated no restoration of human nature, and enabled no elevation of human nature to the supernatural life of grace. Christ did not merit anything for us other than the cancellation of our condemnation. Christ paid the price of our sins in such a manner that God can no longer hold sin against us. Christ was punished in our stead. He was nothing more than a mere scapegoat. We have been released from prison, but we remain covered in filth and clothed in rags.
It is important to understand that in his despair of himself, Luther despaired of the entire human race. The human race remains, for Luther, vitiated and alienated from God.
What then is God’s “grace” that Scripture mentions so often? God’s “grace” is a mere cloak that covers our corruption. Intrinsically, we remain children of wrath. There is no supernatural life of grace, no infused virtues , no gifts of the Holy Ghost. The whole supernatural apparatus whereby the soul is able to merit its salvation is gone!
We can now better understand Luther’s insistence on the uselessness of good works. Believing human nature to be irreversibly corrupted by sin, anything a man does must also be corrupt, immoral, and sinful. Our actions take on the filth of our nature, and thus may never be pleasing to God. Good works, therefore, do not exist.
For Luther, Justification is not Sanctification
What, then, remains to the Christian? On what basis may he hope to be pleasing to God and thus attain his salvation?
Luther declares that it is Christ’s justice that saves us. We are unjust, but He is just in our stead. By going to Him and covering ourselves in the cloak of His justice, we escape our punishment for our sins.
We must insist on Luther’s understanding of the justification of the sinner. It is radically opposed to the Catholic definition of justification, as beautifully expressed in the 4th Session of the Council of Trent. Luther’s definition of justification is one of despair. It brings nothing to man. Man is not made a new creature, a new man, a point upon which St. Paul insists in his epistles. There is nothing a man can do to eﬀect his salvation except “believe”. Worse still, even if he commits the most heinous of sins, it does not matter. Are we not sinners? Is not sin our normal state? Let us not pretend to be anything else but sinners, and let us dare to revel and rejoice in sin! Only believe with all your might that Christ has been punished in your stead, and His justice will save you.
Luther’s doctrine is devastatingly depressing. It raises an impregnable wall between God, the All-Holy, and man, the all-evil. The consequence is terrible to conceive. Bereft of God’s divine life, man is entrapped within himself and within his evil. Even if he clutches at God’s justice and clothes himself in it, in himself he is the incarnation of sin. Thus he is forever alone, shut up in his sinful self. Not even God has been able to make him anew. Man has only himself to look to for his salvation. In eﬀect, Luther robbed God of man and man of God, forever.
Whatever the excuses Luther had of rising up in rebellion to Catholic doctrine (corruption of the clergy, abuse of indulgences), his teachings are of a demonic bent. Luther’s new found theology allowed him to embrace a life of unwonted corruption and vice. His writings and his behavior became full of anger, calumny, hatred, lying, and drunkenness. He developed an obsession with filth and obscenity, not only calling on priests and nuns to abandon their vows, but actually encouraging them to set their passions loose. Monasteries were pillaged, convents destroyed, and orgies between consecrated persons were applauded and praised. Whole regions went wild at Luther’s preaching. If ever conscience reproached Luther at his scandalous behavior, he had ready advice: “Seek out the society of your boon companions, drink, play, talk bawdy, and amuse yourself. One must, sometimes, even commit a sin out of hate and contempt for the devil, so as not to give him the chance to make one scrupulous over mere nothings ; if one is too frightened of sinning one is lost.” “Oh! If I could find some really good sin that would give the devil a toss.”
Luther and his teachings changed the face of Germany and the world forever. True, the Catholic Church was in great need of reform, and Luther’s invectives at the corruption of the clergy had some foundation. But Luther brought no solution, rather the contrary.
Modern Lutheranism has distanced itself from the scandals and excesses of its founder and namesake. It has refined its theology to the point of professing the ideas of forgiveness of sin, holiness, and good works. However, when reading Lutheranism’s most conservative attempt at alignment with traditional Catholic teaching (The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1998), it is clear that they continue to deny the idea of the supernatural elevation of mankind by means of sanctifying grace, and man’s cooperation in the work of salvation through good works that are meritorious unto eternal life.
Lutherans continue to believe in justification by faith alone: believe, and God will forget about your sins and be your best friend. Catholics also believe in justification by faith, but in a very diﬀerent sense: believe, submit to the one, true Church founded by Christ, embrace its doctrines, traditions, and sacramental system, and receive the gift of grace whereby you are made sons of God. ✾”
I also recommend this recent talk from Dr. Peter Chojnowski during the recent Fatima Center conference in Chicago. Dr. Chojnowski examines much of Luther’s theology, including many insane and demonic quotes and actions attributed to Luther:
Also, to follow up on our last post, I am pleased to present to our readers another excellent communique from the SSPX, this time from the District Superior of Italy, Don Pierpaulo Maria Petrucci. Credit for English translation goes to The Remnant Newspaper.
The Umpteenth Scandal Before Which We Cannot Remain Silent
The visit of Pope Francis to Sweden to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s revolt, whose errors caused the loss of thousands of souls and provoked wars which ravaged Europe, is only the latest glaring confirmation of this. How can one declare oneself to be “profoundly grateful for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation”, thanking God for this, as happened in the ecumenical liturgy of Lund? How can one say that “Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church” without betraying one’s Faith?
Faced with this umpteenth scandal one cannot remain silent, especially if one has an important role in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, since he who remains silent consents and makes himself an accomplice.