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Martin Luther… The Man And The Myth

August 5, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 5

(Editor’s Note: As this October marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Raymond de Souza is taking a break from his usual apologetics to correct the popular image of Luther.)

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The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity stated that “Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today, recognizing him as a ‘witness to the Gospel’,” and the German Catholic bishops praised Luther as a “Gospel witness and teacher of the faith.”
It seems that the folks who work at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have not read the Gospel very often of late.
But did Jesus ever say anything about sola fide, faith alone without works or the keeping of the Ten Commandments?
Jesus said many things about salvation. Here is a classic teaching:
A rich young man asked Jesus a straight to the point, clear question: “Master, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
See how the man’s question assumes that you must do something to gain eternal life; he does not make reference to an act of faith you must make to gain eternal life.
Jesus replied. “If you wish to enter life, accept me in your heart as your personal Lord and Savior . . . and you will be saved.”
No, sorry, He did not say that at all. Instead, He said, “If you want to enter life, keep the Commandments.” Keep the Commandments! That is, do the things the Commandments order you to do. And to keep the Commandments is not just to keep them in mind, but in deed (Luke 18:18-20).
“Which ones?” the young man inquired. Jesus replied, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”
We know the rest of the story. Jesus invited him to lead a religious life, without earthly goods or family. But he went away.
Notice that Jesus mentioned murder and adultery before stealing and the other sins. This is of particular importance, since Luther effectively justified murder and adultery, provided you accept Jesus’ sacrifice first. Instead of obeying the Commandments, Luther insisted that “sin must be committed. To you it ought to be sufficient that you acknowledge the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world; that sin cannot tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders.”
(Let Your Sins Be Strong, from “The Wittenberg Project”; “The Wartburg Segment,” Schriften, Letter n. 99, August 1, 1521. See also Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Paris, A. Picard, 1912-1913, volume II, p. 404.)
It is quite evident that when Luther said that his faith alone was sufficient to save him even if he committed adultery a hundred times a day and as many murders, he was demonstrably wrong, to put it extremely charitably. To put it less charitably, he was on his road to losing his soul, purely and simply. He believed in exactly the extreme opposite of what Jesus said to the rich young man.
But you could ask: And his conscience? He was a Christian, and Christians do have consciences.
Really?
More bad news for Luther: To call upon the name of the Lord and accept Him in your heart as your personal Lord and Savior is demonstrably not enough. As Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
To do the will of His Father who is in Heaven necessarily involves things you must do; deeds, good works. And good works perfect faith, as St. James teaches us. We must keep the Commandments, as Jesus told the rich man.
The great St. Paul taught: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So it is necessary to hear the words of Christ, yes, but also put them into practice! Otherwise. . . .
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matt. 7:24-27).
Our Lord could hardly be clearer: If you do not do according to His words, you crash, just as Luther’s new doctrines crashed into thousands of pieces as each follower interpreted it his own way, in the great cacophony of religion initiated by the lustful monk of Wittenberg.
The whole Sermon on the Mount — a true manifesto of Christian living in the imitation of Christ — says absolutely nothing about faith alone. On the contrary, Jesus calls blessed those who do good and avoid evil, such as the humble (the poor in spirit) as opposed to Luther’s pride (“A papist and an ass are the same thing”).
Jesus praises the meek, as opposed to Luther’s rebellion (“Here one must yield not a nail’s breadth to any, neither to the angels of heaven, nor to the gates of hell, nor to St. Paul, nor to a hundred emperors, nor to a thousand popes, nor to the whole world; and this be my watchword and sign”).
And those who mourn, as opposed to Luther’s defiance (“He who does not believe like me is destined to Hell. My doctrine and God’s doctrine are one and the same. My judgment is God’s judgment”).
Those who hunger and thirst after justice, righteousness, as opposed to Luther’s self-giving to a life of sin (“sin must be committed”); the merciful, as opposed to Luther’s unmerciful treatment of the peasants who revolted against the oppressing Lutheran lords (“They have deserved a manifold death of body and soul . . . as perfidious, perjured, lying, disobedient wretches and scoundrels. . . . It is right and lawful to slay at the first opportunity a rebellious person. . . . Therefore, whosoever can, should smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly . . . just as one must slay a mad dog”).
The clean of heart, as opposed to Luther’s unapologetic impurity (“Chastity and continence are physically impossible”….“The gratification of sexual desire was nature’s work, God’s work, and, as necessary, aye, and more so, than eating, drinking, sweating, sleeping”).
The peacemakers, as opposed to Luther’s warmongering (“a prince may more easily win heaven by the shedding of blood than others by prayers”).
Those who suffer persecution, as opposed to Luther’s persecution of any one who disagreed with him, even other Protestants (“Whoever rejects infant baptism . . . shall be punished with death. . . . As for the simple people, . . . if they do not wish to renounce Anabaptism, they shall be scourged, punished with perpetual exile, and even with death if they return three times to the place whence they have been expelled.”)
And yet, even given all the above, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity stated that “Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today, recognizing him as a ‘witness to the Gospel’,” and the German Catholic bishops praised Luther as a “Gospel witness and teacher of the faith.”
Paul VI was right in saying that it is as though the smoke of Satan has entered the Church.

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(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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