Did Martin Luther Regard the (Roman) Catholic Church as a Non-Christian, Apostate Institution?

Featuring dozens of citations from Luther's own writings; particularly On the Councils and the Churches (1539) and Against Hans Wurst (1541)

Dave Armstrong

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 Martin Luther's words will be in blue, and those of others in green. Emphasis added throughout (bolding) will be my own (original emphases will be in italics).

TABLE OF CONTENTS (Hyper-linked)

I. The Catholic Outlook on Luther's Initial Resistance (1515-1521)
II. Does Dave Armstrong "Hate" Martin Luther?
III. Martin Luther's Virulent Anti-Catholicism,  Copiously Documented From His Own Words:

1. On the Councils and the Churches (1539)

2. Three Letters, a Pamphlet, and Luther's (First) Will

3. Table-Talk

4. Wider Hans Wurst, or Against Jack Sausage (1541)

5. Luther's Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531-1546, by Mark U. Edwards, Jr.

6. Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil (March 1545): Vulgar and Outlandish Cartoons/Woodcuts Accompanying the Work (with historical and descriptive commentary by Mark Edwards)

IV. Additional Comments and Summary Analysis


Birth and Origin of the Pope; art (one of a series of eight) commissioned by Martin Luther to the artist Lucas Cranach, for his work Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil (March 1545). Luther told him what to depict, and wrote a rhyming verse for each plate. Mark Edwards, from whose book I found this "art" (see Part Two) wrote: "A third cartoon shows the Pope and three cardinals being expelled from the anus of a female devil while three furies are nursing and caring for three infant popes . . .  a graphic echo of Luther's assertion in his treatise that the pope had been born from the devil's behind."

I. The Catholic Outlook on Luther's Initial Resistance (1515-1521)

How can any Christian institution be expected to revolutionize its doctrinal framework based on the critique of one man? I mentioned in my paper Martin Luther, Indulgences, and the Origins of the Protestant Revolt, that Luther ditched five of the seven Catholic sacraments (in 1520). Now, if Protestants could set aside the theological differences from a moment and imagine themselves in the position of the Catholic Church, facing this rebel, what would they do?

Maybe by applying this scenario to, say, the Reformed church, a Protestant could comprehend the
dilemma, and see the force of my objection. Suppose I go up to Westminster Seminary or the R.C. Sproul headquarters and start preaching that TULIP [Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints] is all wrong; that the Calvinists ought to adopt Arminius's five points in the Remonstrance of 1610.

Now, would this be accepted cheerfully, causing the Reformeds to repent en masse, tear their shirts (robes?) open and pour dust on their heads, acknowledging their gross errors and corruptions and the historically and biblically obvious? I think not. I have a sneaking suspicion that I would be thrown out on my Arminian, Molinist ear, and that I would be extended infinitely less patience than Luther was accorded by the Catholic Church.

Yet this is what many Protestants expect the Catholic Church to have done in 1517-1520, due to the pleadings and jeremiads of a lone maverick monk with tendencies to morbidity, filthy language, severe moodswings, frequent contradiction, and overscrupulosity (psychological characteristics documented by many historians of all persuasions). I stated that Luther's beliefs before he ever got into direct conflict with the Church (as early as 1515) made him implicitly desire to split off, if not explicitly (or, more concisely, the inner logic of his radical position inexorably led to a split, whether or not Luther desired that end).

That is, unless he was stupid and naive enough to think that the Church would simply bow to his superior wisdom, as if he were some sort of angel from heaven or prophet ushered in by flaming chariots, a la Elijah. We have reason to believe that he thought of himself in this way, but why should others, pray tell?

II. Does Dave Armstrong "Hate" Martin Luther?

I wrote the following in one of my papers about Luther:

And -- believe it or not -- I (like many Catholics) do admire him in certain ways. I like his passion and boldness and apparent sincerity and good intentions (though thoroughly deluded and wrongheaded). He had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary and to the Eucharist.

Also, in a 1994 paper about Luther's Marian views:

To summarize, it is apparent that Luther was extraordinarily devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is notable in light of his aversion to so many other "Papist" or "Romish" doctrines, as he was wont to describe them. His major departure occurs with regard to the intercession and invocation of the saints, which he denied, in accord with the earliest systematic Lutheran creed, the Augsburg Confession of 1530 (Article 21).

His views of Mary as Mother of God and as ever-Virgin were identical to those in Catholicism, and his opinions on the Immaculate Conception, Mary's "Spiritual Motherhood" and the use of the "Hail Mary" were substantially the same. He didn't deny the Assumption (he certainly didn't hesitate to rail against doctrines he opposed!), and venerated Mary in a very touching fashion which, as far as it goes, is not at all contrary to Catholic piety.

Therefore, it can be stated without fear of contradiction that Luther's Mariology is very close to that of the Catholic Church today, . . .

And in February 2001, I wrote on the Catholic Convert Message Board:

I have never maintained that Luther was "evil" or essentially a "bad" man, nor have I ever denied his good intentions (I think I am being remarkably ecumenical in those respects). No one can find those sentiments on my website (if they do -- i.e., if I remember incorrectly --, I will promptly remove them). I do continue to maintain that he had some fairly serious psychological problems, and I am not alone in this opinion, by any means. I would suspect that the majority of Luther historians would agree that he suffered from some major (perhaps some would say "minor") psychological maladies, tendencies, or whatever one might call them.

III. Martin Luther's Virulent Anti-Catholicism,  Copiously Documented From  His Own Words

On the Councils and the Churches (1539)

Source: Works of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Co. & The Castle Press, 1931, vol.
5, pp. 133-136,264-265,269,272,276-277,284,286,289-292; Introduction and Translation by
Charles M. Jacobs - from the Weimar edition of Luther's Works, L, 509-653)

Translator's Introduction (pp. 127-130)

The work "On the Councils and the Churches" is intimately related to the Smalcald Articles. Both of these writings originated as a result of the proposal to hold a general council of the Church to settle the questions that Protestantism had raised.

As early as 1520, Luther had urged the assembly of a general council for the reformation of the
Church and had declared that if the pope were unwilling to call such a council, the secular authorities should do so.

. . . it was becoming more and more apparent that in such a council the Protestant cause would not
have a real hearing, and that the kind of reformation which Luther and his hearers desired would not be accomplished by it . . .

. . . in December [1535] the Smalcald League, representing the Lutheran princes and cities, laid
down four conditions for their entrance into the council. It must be a free council, not a papal council; the Protestants must be invited to it as full participants, not as heretics; its decisions must be based on the authority of Scripture, not of the pope; it must be held in Germany, if at all possible. These conditions were entirely unacceptable at Rome.

[Dave: I find it curious that Protestants absolutely demanded that Catholics in effect become Protestants -- sola Scriptura, no pope --, before they would sit down and discuss theology with them "freely" in a Council; yet they complain loudly that Luther was treated so autocratically and arbitrarily at the Diet of Worms, when he was bound by oath as a monk to obedience to his superiors. Ironies and double standards never cease . . . I had never heard this before]

It was in these circumstances that the Smalcald Articles were prepared. Luther was their author, but they present the view of Christian truth and of the state of the Church which his party held when the council was imminent . . . They were never actually adopted by the Smalcald League, but were published by Luther in 1538 . . .

It was during this time of uncertainty about the holding of the council and about the things such a
council would be likely to do, that the treatise On the Councils and the Churches was written . . .

completed in March, 1539 . . . certainly published before August. It was inevitable that it should
have many points of contact with the Smalcald Articles, to which, indeed, it is the best and most
authoritative commentary . . .

This treatise deserves a place in any edition of Luther's selected works . . . All the hopes for a
reformation of the Church, such as he had envisioned in 1520, have disappeared. The thing is not
going to come to pass. Nevertheless, the fight for a pure Church is not to be given up . . .

Part III deals with the question, "What is the Church and what are the marks by which it is known?" This was not a new subject for Luther. He had discussed it as early as 1519, and his answer to the question is substantially the same as that which he had given twenty years before, in his debate with John Eck at Leipzig and in his tract, "The Papacy at Rome" . . . It is the third part of the work that has the greatest permanent significance.

Martin Luther:

Introduction (pp. 133-136)

. . . They know and confess that, on many points, they are wrong, and have the Scriptures and God against them besides; and yet they would force their way through against God, and knowingly defend wrong as right . . . God reigns on our side, and the devil on theirs.

. . . all the world must despair of a reformation of the Church. The matter cannot be given a hearing, but they would rather (as they boast) allow Christendom to be destroyed; in other words, they would rather have the devil himself as god and lord, than have Christ and lay aside even a little of their idolatry. Not satisifed with that, they would compel us poor Christians, with the sword, to join knowingly in their worship of the devil and blasphemy of Christ. Such a defiance no history records and no age has known. Other tyrants have the poor honor of crucifying the Lord of Majesty unknowingly, as do the Turks, heathen, and Jews; but here are men who under Christ's name, and as Christians, nay, as the highest of Christians, puff themselves up and arm themselves against Christ, and say, -- "We know that Christ's words and deeds are against us; nevertheless, we will not endure His Word or yield to it, but He must yield to us and endure our idolatry; and yet we will be Christians, and be known as such."

Thus the pope, with his followers, refuses to hold a council and will neither reform the Church nor contribute advice or assistance to a reformation, but would defend his tyranny by force, and let the Church be destroyed. Therefore we, whom the pope has so sadly deserted, can do nothing else than go elsewhere for advice and help, and begin by seeking and praying for a reformation from our Lord Christ. For because of these abandoned tyrants, who compel us to despair of a council and a reformation, we must not despair of Christ, or leave the Church without advice or help; but we must do what we can, and let them go to the devil, as they desire.

By this they loudly testify against themselves that they are true antichrists . . . who condemn
themselves and obstinately desire to be condemned. Thus they exclude themselves from the Church, and openly proclaim that they are, and will continue to be, the Church's worst enemies. For he who says that he would rather that the Church should be destroyed than that he should let himself be improved, or should yield on any point, confesses thereby that he is not only no Christian and does not want to be in the Church . . . but also that he will do what he can for the destruction of the Church . . .

. . . the pope and his followers now declare that the Church must go to death for them, so that they may continue in their tyranny, idolatry, knavery, and all rascality . . . Now who could guess that these lords had such great power that the Church and Christ and God Himself must so easily go down before their threats? They must be far, far mightier than the gates of hell and all the devils, for the Church has remained, and must remain, in spite of them.

. . . they have made us out heretics and cursed us and slain us, because we would not listen to them
as though they were the Church . . .

. . . they have made God out to be blind, crazy, mad, and foolish . . .

. . . The pope . . . and his will let the Church be destroyed. Thus he has turned himself out of the
Church . . . He is out; he has bidden the Church good-bye . . . we are the Church, or in the Church, which the papists would let go to destruction in order that they may remain. But we, too, would like to remain and do not intend to go down so miserably, with our Lord Christ and His Father, the God of us all, before the defiance of the papists . . .

Part III (pp. 264-265,269,272,276-277,284,286,289-292)

. . . the Church is , , , "a communion of saints," that is, a group or assembly of such people as are
Christians and holy. That is a Christian, holy group, or Church . . .

. . . One who heard the words "Christian, holy people" would have been able to decide off-hand,
"The pope is not a people, still less a holy Christian people." So, too, the bishops, priests, and
monks are not a holy Christian people, for they do not believe in Christ, do not lead holy lives, and are the devil's wicked, shameful people. He who does not rightly believe in Christ, is not Christian or a Christian, and he who has not the Holy Ghost to resist sin, is not holy. Therefore they cannot be a Christian, holy people, that is sancta et catholica ecclesia . . .

. . . That, then, is Christian holiness. The pope will not have it; he must have a peculiar holiness that is far holier. Men must be taught . . . monkery, nunnery, masses, saint-worship, and countless other
points about external, bodily, transitory things. That one lives among these things without faith, fear of God, hope, love, and the other works of the Holy Ghost . . . but substitutes for them misbelief, uncertainty of heart, doubt, despising of God, impatience toward Him, a false trust in works (which is idolatry!) instead of a trust in the grace of Christ or His merits, making one's own satisfaction by works . . .

. . . Just throw a surplice over your head and you are holy with the Roman church's holiness, and can be saved without Christian holiness. But we will not concern ourselves about these filthy people; what we do for them is done in vain . . . We shall speak to one another about the Church . . .

. . . the devil must leave a cry and an uproar behind him, when he goes out, as is evident in Emser,
Eck, Cochlaeus, . . . sow, ass and the rest of his cryers and writers. They are all mouths and
members of the devil . . . but it does them no good; they must go out and cannot endure the power
of the Word . . .

. . . the pope, with his loud-mouthed uproar-makers for the devil . . . if they will show me one person among them who is worth as much as a school-boy, or who can do as much with Holy Scripture as a seven-year-old girl, I will give up . . . true apostles, evangelists, and prophets preach God's Word, not against God's Word.

. . . they lead all the souls in the world astray . . . just as they reject all the fathers and theologians from their canons, so we reject them from the Church and the Scriptures . . . Now they want to put us out of the Church and the Scriptures, and they cannot get in themselves! . . .

. . . The sum of it all is that pope, devil, and his church hate the estate of matrimony, as Daniel says [17:37]; therefore he wants to bring it into such disgrace that a married man cannot fill a priest's office. That is as much as to say that marriage is harlotry, sin, impure, and rejected by God; and although they say, at the same time, that it is holy and a sacrament, that is a lie of their false hearts, for if they seriusly considered it holy, and a sacrament, they would not forbid the priests to marry. Because they do forbid them, they must consider it unclean, and a sin, as they plainly say . . .

. . . the noises made by monks and nuns and priests are not prayers or praises to God. They do not understand it and learn nothing from it; they do it like hard labor, for the belly's sake, and seek thereby no improvement of life, no progress in holiness, no doing of God's will.

. . . Now when the devil saw God building this holy Christian Church, he took no holiday, but built
his own chapel alongside it, greater than God's temple . . . He saw that God took outward things, --
baptism, Word, Sacrament, keys, -- and used them to make His Church holy ; and because he is

always aping God and trying to imitate God and improve on Him in everything, he, too, took
outward things that were to become means of holiness (acting just as he does with the rain-makers, conjurers, drivers-out of devils, etc.) and he even has the Lord's Prayer prayed over them and the Gospels read over them . . .

. . . he [the devil] has far more people in his kind of holiness than God has in His . . . With this apery
he draws people away from faith in Christ and causes Christ's Word and sacraments to be despised
. . .

. . . the Ecclesia, the holy Christian people, has mere outward words, sacraments, and offices, such as God's imitator, Satan, has and has in far greater number; but it has these things commanded, instituted, and ordained by God . . .

Three Letters, a Pamphlet, and Luther's (First) Will

From: The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, Preserved Smith, NY: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1911.

Letter to Philip Melanchthon at Schmalkalden, from Wittenberg: April 8, 1540

. . . the power of prayer of which the reprobate and baffled papists know nothing -- for they neither will nor can be wise. The wrath of God has finally come upon them who have drenched their hands in the blood of Christ and Christians, who, indeed, are totally submerged in the blood of the saints. Although we, too, are miserable offenders, in the body of sin, yet we are pure from blood; rather we hate the men of blood and the god of blood who possesses and animates them . . . O Lord, turn the evil upon our enemies and save us by thy name! . . . (pp. 390-391)

Letter to Philip Melanchthon at Ratisbon, from Wittenberg: April 4, 1541

. . . our opponents. I see that they think this is a comedy of men instead of a tragedy of God and
Satan, as it is . . . But thus it must be, for throughout history the Church has suffered, like St. Paul, the dangers of false brethren that the seal of God may be certain in us. God knows who are his own. I would write more did I not know that you hate such men and measures as much as I . . . (pp.392-393)

Pamphlet: How to Anoint a Right Christian Bishop (January, 1542)

. . . We poor heretics have committed a great sin against the hellish unchristian Church and against the most hellish father the Pope by anointing a bishop at Naumburg without ointment, butter, suet, bacon, grease, or smoke. (p. 396)

Luther's First Will (Gotha, February 28, 1537)

. . . For their sins are as nothing compared to the impiety, blasphemy, hatred, and murders of our antichristian enemies . . . (p. 313)

Letter to Montanus About Erasmus (May 28, 1529)

Erasmus writes nothing in which he does not show the impotence of his mind or rather the pains of the wounds he has received. I despise him, nor shall I honor the fellow by arguing with him any more . . . In future I shall only refer to him as some alien, rather condemning than refuting his ideas. He is a light-minded man, mocking all religion as his dear Lucian does, and serious about nothing but calumny and slander. (p. 211)

Table-Talk

(translated by William Hazlitt, Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society: n.d.)

Against Erasmus:

Erasmus of Rotterdam is the vilest miscreant that ever disgraced the earth . . . He is a very Caiaphas.  (#667, pp. 350-351)

Whenever I pray, I pray a curse upon Erasmus (#668, p. 351)

This I do leave behind me as my will and testament . . . I hold Erasmus of Rotterdam to be Christ's most bitter enemy . . . the enemy to true religion, the open adversary of Christ, the complete and faithful picture and image of Epicurus and of Lucian, (#676, p. 355)

Against "Papists"

I care not at all for an open enemy of the church, such as the papists . . . for by them the true church cannot receive hurt. (#677, p. 356)

. . . These [the heathen] the papists, void of all shame and Christianity, imitated . . . the invocation of saints is a most abominable blindness and heresy; yet the papists will not give it up . . . But thus goes the world; superstition, unbelief, false doctrine, idolatry, obtain more credit and profit than the upright, true, and pure religion. (#178, pp. 88-89)

. . . The Sadducees were infinitely more pious than the papists . . . (#429, p. 243)

I cannot imagine how there should be peace between us and the papists . . . 'tis an everlasting war, like that between the woman's seed and the old serpent . . . we cannot depart from the Gospel, nor will they desist from their idolatry and blaspheming; the devil will not suffer his feet to be chopped off, nor will Christ have the preaching of his Word hindered; therefore I cannot see how any peace or truce may be between Christ and Belial. (#447, p. 249)

It is impossible for a papist to understand this article: "I believe in the forgiveness of sins" . . . (#292, p. 175)

. . . The God of the Turks helps no longer or further, as they think, than as they are godly people; in like manner also the God of the papists . . . But a true Christian says: "I believe in Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour" . . . So that we plainly see, the true Christian faith is far different from the faith and religion of the pope and Turk . . . (#292, p. 176)

Against the Pope

Seeing the pope is antichrist, I believe him to be a devil incarnate . . . 'Tis a monstrous blasphemy for  a human creature to presume, now Christ is come, to exalt himself in the church above God. (#427, p. 242)

. . . the popes . . . are bitter enemies of the church . . . Pope, cardinals, bishops, not a soul of them has read the Bible; 'tis a book unknown to them. (#429, p. 243)

. . . The pope and his crew are mere worshippers of idols, and servants of the devil. (#446, p. 249)

. . . The pope may well be, and is, the head of the false church. (#457, p. 254)

Against Catholic Sacraments

They that do not hold the sacrament as Christ instituted it, have no sacrament. All papists do not, therefore they have no sacrament; for they receive not the sacrament, but offer it . . . The sacrament is God's work and ordinance, and not man's . . . (#344, p. 208)

Luther was referring, it is clear, not only to the papacy, but to the Catholic Church in general. E.g. (notably):

You were indeed all baptized in the true baptism of the ancient church, just as we were, especially as children. Now if a baptized child lives and then dies in his seventh or eighth year, before he understands the whorelike church of the pope, he has in truth been saved and will be saved -- of that we have no doubt. But when he grows up, and hears, believes, and obeys your preaching with its lies and devilish inventions, then he becomes a whore of the devil like you [written to Duke Henry, who was not a pope, either] and falls away from his baptism and bridegroom -- as happened to me and others [nor was Luther ever a pope, that I am aware of] -- building and relying on his own works.

Or:

Indeed, since there is nothing in-between, we must be the church of Christ and they the devil's church, or vice versa. Therefore it all turns on proving which is the true church . . . One part must be false and untrue . . . The Lord Christ commands us not to embrace the false church.

That makes me and all obedient, faithful Catholics (how about Pope John Paul II?) a "whore of the devil," just like any of the terrible popes whom Luther loathes with such true hatred (as he himself plainly stated). We participate in rank idolatry, blasphemy, and abomination at every Mass. In some respects, Luther even surpasses Calvin in his fanatical anti-Catholicism.

Wider Hans Wurst, or Against Jack Sausage (1541)

From: Luther's Works, 55 volumes, Philadelphia: Fortress Press (also Concordia Publishing
House), 1955 -, General editors: Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) / Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55)

Polemical piece against the Catholic (and corrupt) Duke Heinrich (or Henry) of Braunschweig /
Wolfenbuttel, written between February 19 and April 4, 1541. It contains much revealing and
plain-spoken "reasoning" concerning the true vs. the false Christian church, and the status of the
Catholic Church, its sacraments, the spiritual and moral estate of its adherents, etc. It is reprinted in  Volume 41 of Luther's Works, pp. 179-256; translated by Eric W. Gritsch.

. . . all devils, papists, and all their crew . . . as befits devils and the devil's lot, lie shamelessly . . . fear and mourn, you who lie and revile Christ and his followers, for your damnation is great in hell. (p. 189)

If, then, we are to be slandered, someone must do it. St. Peter and St. John will not do it, nor will any Christian or intelligent heathen, Clearly it must be done by mad, possessed people . . . the snot-nose [John Cochlaeus], Eck, Munzer, the Anabaptists, the pope, the cardinals, the devil and his mother, and other lackeys of the devil in the papacy . . . saints like these in the most holy church of the pope . . . Christ and St. Peter judge our slanderers and call them liars and damned enemies of God . . . they want to be damned by him as thieves and murderers of his fold, that is, his church. (pp. 190-191)

They allege that we have fallen away from the holy church and set up a new church . . . since they
themselves boast that they are the church, it is for them to prove that they are . . . But if they cannot prove it . . . they are not the church and . . . we cannot be heretics since we have fallen away from what is not the true church. Indeed, since there is nothing in-between, we must be the church of Christ and they the devil's church, or vice versa. Therefore it all turns on proving which is the true church . . . One part must be false and untrue . . . The Lord Christ commands us not to embrace the false church. (pp. 193-194)

We have proved that we are the true, ancient church . . . Now you, too, papists, prove that you are the true church or are like it. You cannot do it. But I will prove that you are the new false church, which is in everything apostate, separated from the true, ancient church, thus becoming Satan's synagogue. (p. 199)

You do not hold to the original, ancient baptism, for you have invented many other new baptisms, teaching that the original baptism is subsequently lost through sin . . . For where there is no baptism,the sacraments, the keys, and everything else are of no avail. (p. 199)

Who can tell all the abominable innovations you have devised in the sacred and holy sacrament of
the body and blood of Christ? . . . You have silenced and obliterated the remembrance of Christ . . . [this] makes you a new apostate heretical church, yes, the arch-whore of the devil and the synagogue of hell. For this thing is so hopelessly and abysmally evil . . . the vilest cesspool that the devil has on earth. (pp. 201-202)

The private mass is one of the worst abominations . . . with it you have built the devil a new church and worshiped him, thereby turning into murderers of souls, just like Moloch, the devourer of children. (p. 203)

Who has commanded you to innovate by damning, reviling, and condemning marriage as impure and incapable of serving God? . . . St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4 that in later times you would come and would separate and depart from the ancient church and the faith. You would be like the devil's own whore . . . God has already begun to strike you with his judgment and to dedicate this new holy church to the fires of hell, and he will not let you escape. We know that -- God be praised! (pp. 204-205)

We are certainly the true, ancient church, without any whoredom or innovation. (p. 205)

We too were formerly stuck in the behind of this hellish whore, this new church of the pope . . . we regret having spent so much time and energy in that vile hole. But God be praised and thanked that he rescued us from the scarlet whore. (p. 206)

The church of the pope . . . represents the jaws of hell . . . (p. 206)

You were indeed all baptized in the true baptism of the ancient church, just as we were, especially as children. Now if a baptized child lives and then dies in his seventh or eighth year, before he understands the whorelike church of the pope, he has in truth been saved and will be saved -- of that we have no doubt. But when he grows up, and hears, believes, and obeys your preaching with its lies and devilish inventions, then he becomes a whore of the devil like you and falls away from his baptism and bridegroom -- as happened to me and others -- building and relying on his own works. (p. 207)

She is the true arch-whore and the true whore of the devil [mentions Ezekiel 23] . . . You should
read that if you want to know what kind of whore your church is. (p. 208)

God . . . will damn the arch-whore for eternity. (p. 209)

We acknowledge not only that you have, with us, come from the true church and been washed and
made clean in baptism . . . but also that you are in the church and remain in it . . . But you are no
longer of the church, or members of the church, for in this holy church of God you are building your own new apostate church, the devil's brothel, with limitless whoredom, idolatry, and innovation. (pp. 209-210)

It is true that the true ancient church with its baptism and the work of God still remains with you, and your god, the devil, has not been able to obliterate it entirely. (p. 210)

What should one do with such people, with these vulgar Harrys [i.e., Duke Henry] and great asses
who think God's Word is a reed bent by the wind, over which they have power? (p. 212)

If they are not the church but the devil's whore that has not remained faithful to Christ, then it is irrefutably and thoroughly established that they should not possess church property. (p. 220)

They are impenitent and blinded, delivered to the wrath of God. We must give room to the wrath and let God's judgment run its course. Nor shall we any longer pray for their sin (as St. John teaches us), but pray about them and against them, and to the praise and glory of God we shall sing the Judas song . . .

". . . O damned papists, is this your deed,
That no true Christian life you were willing to spare? . . . " (pp. 255-256)

From: Luther's Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531-1546, by Mark U. Edwards, Jr.(Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1983):

Luther's tirade against Duke Henry and the devil, who had allegedly possessed his adversary:

You are both the real Hanswursts, bumpkins, louts, and boors . . . Both of you, father and son, are
incorrigible, honorless, perjured rogues . . . But suppose what you will, so do it in your pants and
hang it around your neck and make a sausage of it for yourself and gobble it down, you gross asses and sows! (pp. 150-151)

Mark Edwards:

"It was within the terms of this larger struggle between the true and false churches that Luther placed the controversy with Duke Heinrich. Moreover, he fully believed that the struggle was reaching its climax in his own time. As with his other polemics against Catholics, 'fanatics,' Turks, and Jews, this conviction allowed him to direct his attack more against the devil allegedly motivating the opponent than against the man himself." (p. 152)

"It becomes difficult to escape the impression that Against Hanswurst represented an escalation in the coarseness and abusiveness of the controversy . . . Heinrich Bullinger of Zurich . . . did
characterize it in a later letter to Bucer as 'unbecoming, completely immodest, entirely scurrilous, and frivolous,' but his evaluation remained private. Melanchthon, who generally disapproved of Luther's more passionate efforts, had nothing but praise for the work. As for Luther himself, he wrote Melanchthon that, upon rereading the treatise, he wondered what had happened that he had written so moderately against the duke . . . [this] may be another case of Luther's drier humor. Or, on the other hand, he may have actually believed that he had been unreasonably restrained in attacking what he believed was simply another of the devil's minions. The devil, of course, deserved all the abuse that could be heaped upon him." (pp. 154-155)

Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil (March 1545)

Mark Edwards:

"The last major polemic of Luther's life . . . was intended to inform Protestants of the true horror of the papal antichrist and to discredit the council convened at Trent . . . Without question it is the most intentionally violent and vulgar writing to come from Luther's pen." (p. 163)

Letter of Luther to Amsdorf, January 9, 1545:

The pope would rather publicly worship the Turk and Satan himself . . . than allow himself to be brought into order or reformed. (p. 184)

Vulgar and Outlandish Cartoons/Woodcuts Accompanying the Work

Mark Edwards:

"Luther even commissioned Lucas Cranach to do a series of eight cartoons to give graphic
expression to his evalutaion of the papacy. He provided instructions for what the cartoons were to show and penned satirical verses to accompany them. The violence and vulgarity of the treatise
carried over to the cartoons. For example, in the treatise Luther at one point urged the emperor,
kings, princes, and lords to deprive the pope of Rome, the Romagna, Urbino, Bolognia, and all of
his other possessions because he, the pope, was the 'possessor of the worst faith' and had acquiredall his possessions through 'lies and deceit, blasphemy and idolatry.' And he continued:

(Luther):

Next one should take the pope, cardinals, and whatever servants there are of his idolatry and papal holiness, and rip out their tongues at the roots (as blasphemers of God) and nail them on the gallows. . . Next, let them hold a council or whatever they want on the gallows or in hell among all the devils.

Edwards:

"One of the cartoons depicts the pope and cardinals, and their tongues, being treated in just this
brutal fashion . . .

"Another example, this one of the vulgarity with which Luther felt the papacy should be treated,
came in his discussion of the keys . . . 'In addition, we may in good conscience,' he wrote, 'take his coat-of-arms, which features the keys, and his crown to the privy and use them to relieve our needs [and] afterwards throw them into the fire (it would be better if it were the pope himself).' The associated cartoon shows a peasant defecating into the papal tiara while two other peasants await their turn . . . A third cartoon shows the Pope and three cardinals being expelled from the anus of a female devil while three furies are nursing and caring for three infant popes. The cartoon was titled 'origin of the pope' and was a graphic echo of Luther's assertion in his treatise that the pope had been born from the devil's behind . . . Luther . . . on 14 April [1545] . . . thanked his old friend Amsdorf for his 'distinguished testimony' on his book and observed that it did not please everyoneequally. He then shared with Amsdorf his reaction to the critics of the treatise:

But you know my nature, that I am not accustomed to attend to what displeases many provided that it is pious and useful and that it pleases the few good [people] . . . . .

"And when challenged on the cartoons, Luther replied that he realized that he did not have long to live and yet he still had much that ought to be revealed about the papacy and its kingdom. For this
reason he published these pictures, which each said a whole book's worth of what ought to be
written about the papacy. With them he could testify to the whole world what he thought of the pope and his 'diabolical kingdom.' It was, he stated, his testament. And he had placed his name on the pictures so there could be no charge that they were anonymous libels. He was prepared, he said, to offer in the presence of the whole empire a justification for their publication." (pp. 189, 199)

Here are the texts of the eight cartoons: their titles, and Luther's silly accompanying verses (from
Edwards, pp. 190-198; originally appearing in vol. 54 of Luther's Works, Weimar edition).

1. The Kingdom of Satan and the Pope. 2 Thessalonians 2

In the name of all devils the pope sits here, now revealed as the true antichrist as proclaimed in
Scripture.

[the pope is seated in the "jaws of hell," surrounded by demons]

2. Just Reward for the Most Satanic Pope and His Cardinals

If the pope and cardinals were to receive temporal punishment on earth, their blasphemous tongues would deserve what is rightly depicted here.

[described above]

3. The Pope, God of the World, is Worshiped

The pope has treated the kingdom of Christ just as his crown is here being treated. If you have
doubts about it, the [holy] spirit says [Rev 18] pour it in with good cheer, God Himself commands it.

[described above]

4. Birth and Origin of the Pope

Here is born the antichrist. Megaera is his wetnurse, Allecto his nursemaid, [and] Tisiphone who
walks him.

[described above, and pictured near the top of this web page]

5. The Monster of Rome, Found Dead in the Tiber, 1496

What God Himself thinks of the papacy is shown here by this horrible picture, which should horrify all who would take it to heart.

[A hybrid naked, demon-like female creature (standing), half lizard and half donkey, with two
demon-heads comprising a "tail"]

6. The Pope Offers a Council in Germany / Pope, Doctor of Theology, and Master of Faith (double
illustration)

Sow, you must allow yourself to be ridden, and well spurred on both sides. You wish to have a
council: for that here is my turd.

[The pope rides on a pig, holding excrement in his hand]

Only the pope can interpret the scripture and sweep away error, just as a donkey can pipe and
sound the right notes.

[just as the verse describes]

7. The Pope Thanks the Emperor for His Immense Benefits

The emperor has done much good for the pope and checked evil. For that the pope thanked him, as this picture truly shows you.

[The pope is an executioner, about to behead the kneeling and praying emperor with a huge sword]

8. Kissing the Pope's Feet

Don't frighten us, Pope, with your ban, and don't be such a furious man. Otherwise we shall turn
away and show you our rears.

[The pope is seated on a throne, with tiara, holding a decree, with two attending cardinals. Two
disrespectful men -- Lutherans no doubt -- are turning away from him, looking back, sticking out their tongues. Further description would be too vulgar; knowing Luther's mentality by now, the reader can easily imagine the rest, extrapolating from the text]

V. Additional Comments and Summary Analysis

Luther's thought on ecclesiology and the (Roman) Catholic Church (the "papists") grew progressively more hardened, and underwent an evolution. I have looked at (mainly) his writings of 1539 and 1541 (Luther died in 1546). Of course, if defenders of Luther want to maintain that he was too much of a nut-case or bitter old fool by then to be trusted any longer, they are free to take that approach (many historians indeed have done just that).

I've dealt with Luther's shortcomings elsewhere. Here I was concerned solely with his view of the Catholic Church, and whether he was "anti-Catholic" in my definition (one who denies that the Catholic Church is a Christian institution: the latter term meaning that a "good, faithful" Catholic is just as worthy a Christian -- on a basic level of definition -- as anyone else, and not only potentially, provided that they reject all in Catholicism which runs counter to Lutheranism or some other brand of Protestantism).

What I suspected is confirmed spectacularly above. In fact, the situation with regard to Luther is far worse than I had thought (and hoped) it was, with Luther even rejecting Catholic baptism for an adult Catholic who follows his Church's teaching obediently and without arbitrary selectivity.

Luther's view comes out loud and clear in the above citations (as they always do). Obviously, there is a distinction to be made, in that the ("Roman" Catholic) Church and the papacy are two different entities, but that is evident. There is no distinction, however, in Luther's mind in terms of whether the ("Roman" Catholic) Catholic Church is Christian. He says it is not, in a million different colorful, sometimes vulgar, ways.

Most Protestants ultimately adopt a different definition of "Catholic Church," in the sense of the universal church (which boils down to a "mystical" or "invisible" church, with disputed visible components), considered apart from the institutional Church we "papists" call the Catholic Church, headed by the papacy. Obviously, in my research, I was highlighting what Luther thought about my Church, the Catholic Church (often called "Roman Catholic," and headed by the pope, which entity and religious body had councils such as that at Trent, etc.).

Everyone on both sides knows what Luther is talking about above:  what he thought about that institution which calls itself the Catholic Church, or Roman Catholic Church (used mostly by its detractors), which is historically traceable and which is headquartered at Rome and headed by the pope. That is my concern in all this not a dispute over the meaning of a word (Church). . .  Whether one calls my Church the Catholic Church or not is a different matter than what Luther thought of my Church, whatever he or anyone else might call it. In other words, this is an historical and sociological (as opposed to theological /philosophical) question.

Clearly, Luther hardened his position as time went on, from what I would call contra-Catholic (much like my former view before I converted) to anti-Catholic. The early Luther was willing to recognize the institutional (Roman) Catholic Church reluctantly, and with radically mixed feelings, as in the above words. Later, he no longer held this view (by the time of 1539-1541, the period of most of my quotes) -- in direct contradiction to his earlier views.

I simply acknowledge what the man taught at different periods of his life. I have no stake in either of his positions; it has no effect on my own. So there is no conceivable or plausible reason for me to be deliberately biased in my Luther research, as some have charged.

By 1539 Luther thought that (Roman) Catholics were utter, damned apostates, idolaters, and conscious servants of Satan. The early Luther attacked what he agreed was the "Catholic Church," and wished to "reform" it (i.e., have it adopt all of his views, as they are so patently obvious and a new sort of quasi-revelation). The later Luther thought that same institution was the devil's whore-church, born from the devil's rear end, etc. And I would venture to guess that his excommunication (and de facto heresy by Catholic criteria prior to 1521 -- as early as 1515) had a little-bitty, teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy something to do with that . . . .

This sort of "historical tunnel vision" is part and parcel of the standard Protestant myth about Luther, I often observe. It is always "here I stand" -- the great and noble rebel and Restorer of the Gospel against the Babylonian whore-church, not the "compassionate and tolerant" Luther who ordered the peasants slain in 1525 (after he himself had played a key role in stirring them up), or the autocratic "State-Church" Luther, who sanctioned capital punishment for all sorts of "heresy," or the hateful "crabby and disenchanted old man" Luther, railing against Jew and Catholic and Anabaptist alike, consigning all to hell, beyond all hope or prayer. Myths and true history don't very well coincide.

Luther had redefined the word "Catholic" after 1521 to the classic Protestant invisible church concept (though he and the Reformed and the Anglicans all set up State-Churches to varying degrees). I don't think that Luther "hated the Church" and wished to "destroy" it. That is far too simplistic. My view is that he was already a heretic by Catholic standards by 1515 at the latest, and that he was incredibly naive and arrogant, to believe that the Church would accept all his novel innovations. In other words, his view was exactly like that of both Protestant and Catholic liberals today. Rather than acknowledge established doctrinal standards, they wish to stay in a group and "remake" it to their own ends and purposes.

That's why I have argued that Luther should have called a spade a spade, and acknoweldeged that he was no longer a Catholic (which was patently obvious, certainly by 1520), and left, in honest disagreement. But the liberal, heterodox mindset never works that way. They always want to stay and "reform" the institution after their own liking and designs. No Christian group can put up with such self-anointed arrogance and folly.

Unfortunately, Protestants and Catholics disagree on many definitions of words such as Church and faith. Protestants also disagree amongst themselves on a host of words and issues, e.g., sacrament, or baptism, or bishop, or Christian. So definitional controversy (as a corrolary of doctrinal controversy) simply can't be avoided. If there is to be any discourse whatever, both sides will have to be a bit more flexible in this vein.

But whatever one wishes to call what I call the Catholic Church, it is clear that Luther was utterly opposed to it by 1539 at the latest, and considered it as an institution no part of the Christian Church. He could scarcely have said anything else to make his views any more explicit than they were! I haven't studied the views on this issue of the Lutherans subsequent to Luther (recent agreements with the Catholic Church would seem to suggest a great difference). Here I am concerned with Martin Luther alone, as the founder of Protestantism, and greatly influential person on its later course, including that sad sub-strata of it which we describe as the anti-Catholic wing.

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Uploaded by Dave Armstrong: 14 February 2001. Revised on 4 December 2002.