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Martin Luther… The Man And The Myth

August 12, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Part 6

(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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Gerhard Cardinal Muller, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, openly declared that there is nothing to celebrate about Luther’s 500th anniversary. And His Eminence is perfectly right. Luther’s deformation — not reformation — of the Christian faith was a catastrophe for the Church founded by Jesus Christ, even if a statue of the heresiarch was erected in the Paul VI Hall of the Vatican. Quite the contrary!
The discourse on the Last Judgment in Matt. 25:32-46 is too long to be quoted here. It suffices to remember that the sheep who did good works to their neighbors, did so to Christ Himself, and took possession of the Kingdom. But the goats who did not do good works to their neighbors, did not do them to Christ, and were the accursed ones that went into the everlasting fire. They were not condemned for not having had “faith,” but for not having put it into practice by good works of charity.
St. Paul is even more explicit in 1 Cor. 13: “Though . . . I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. . . . And now abides faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is . . . faith? No, it is charity.”
The conclusion stands on its own: Faith without the good works of charity is nothing.
The first main heresy of Luther was Sola Scriptura, or the Bible alone without the Church, and the second one was Sola Fide, or salvation by faith alone without any good works, not even the obligation to keep the Ten Commandments. According to Luther, it is enough to acknowledge Jesus’ meritorious sacrifice for our salvation, and we are saved. It does not matter what we do, we are saved.
But his new doctrine was not only unscriptural, that is, the Bible does not say anywhere that faith alone without good works, without keeping the Commandments, is enough for salvation. St. James was very clear in his epistle about that: “But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? But man is not justified by faith alone. Faith without works is dead. The devils also believe, and tremble.”
Sometimes it is difficult to prove the obvious. The worst kind of blindness is when the blind man refuses to see. Now, just like its sister in heresy, Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide is thoroughly unhistorical: absolutely no early Christian, Church father, or Christian theologian had ever mentioned this belief up to Martin Luther’s revolution in 1517. Sola Fide is thoroughly unscriptural, since nowhere in the whole Bible does it say that “faith alone” is required for salvation without the fulfillment of God’s Commandments — good deeds, or works.
The only time when the words “faith” and “alone” appear together in the Bible is to say precisely the opposite of Luther’s heresy: that faith without works is dead — St. James the Apostle is adamant about that.
But to this day many still selectively quote some of St. Paul’s teachings to try to justify Luther’s heresy of faith without good works. Here are a few of them:
Romans 3:28: A man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Romans 10:9-10: If you confess with your lips the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.
Gal. 3:11: No man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith.
Gal. 3:24: The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
And there are many more of the same kind. They are all true, of course, and we Catholics fully believe in them, but not a single one of them mentions faith alone! Faith, yes, of course; but faith alone, never!
The fact is that it is evident that without faith it is impossible to please God, as St. Paul taught to the Hebrews, but he never taught the people that the Commandments were to be disregarded, as Luther did. He never gave people permission to sin as they pleased, as Luther did; he never said that regardless of your sinful life, you will still get to Heaven, as Luther did.
No, the works that St. Paul was referring to in those verses I quoted a moment ago, were the works of the Law of Moses, that is, the diets, ablutions, ceremonies, sacrifices, Sabbaths, feast days, and so on — such works were no longer required to be followed by Christians under the New Covenant.
The Church has always taught that we are saved by grace alone, acting through faith and good works, namely, the belief in Jesus and His full message and the fulfillment of the Commandments. Not faith alone, not works alone, but grace alone, working through our faith and good works. It is God’s grace that works in us both the will to do good works and the performance.
Again, St. Paul taught the Philippians: “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who in His good pleasure works in you both the will and the performance” (Phil. 2:12).
We are saved by grace alone, yes, which God freely gives to us, and our response to that gift is a double one: through faith and works. We can neither have faith without God’s grace, nor can we perform any meritorious work without God’s grace. Grace is essential.
The main error of Luther, which is accepted by most non-Catholic sects today, is that righteousness is imputed to us, that is, we are legally declared “righteous” by faith alone. But in this way the sinner is not cleansed of his sin. He is as filthy as ever, in the case of the pile of manure covered by snow.
But the truth is that through faith, perfected by works, Christ does not impute righteousness on us — He makes us righteous.
For St. Paul, there was none of this business of “accepting Jesus in his heart as his personal Lord and Savior” and be locked into salvation, oh no! St. Paul, whom Luther misquotes so extensively to support his erroneous doctrines, was very explicit about the possibility of his own perdition, and did good works of bodily penance in this regard: “I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps after preaching to others I myself should be rejected” (1 Cor. 9:27).
If you were to be asked the question, “Do you walk by faith or by sight?” Of course, you would be expected to say with St. Paul, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” Fine. But not faith alone, because in the same chapter he points out that “all of us must be made manifest before the tribunal of Christ, so that each one may receive what he has won through his body according to (his faith? No!) his works whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:7, 10).
He insists about this point in the Epistle to the Romans: “[God] will render to every man according to his works. . . . Life eternal indeed he will give to those who by patience in good works seek glory and honor and immortality. . . . Tribulation and anguish shall be visited upon the soul of every man who works evil. . . . Glory and honor and peace shall be awarded to everyone who does good.”
“In doing good let us not grow tired . . . while we have time, let us do good to all men” (Gal. 6:7-10).
Luther claimed that those who do not believe like Him will go to hell. Evidence says that it is the other way around.

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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:

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