The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther (Part Two)


By James Swan

 October 2003

{Revised: September 2005}




I. Introduction:

A look at the positive evaluations of Martin Luther by Roman Catholics, 1900- present.



II. Franz Xaver Kiefl:

German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther never denied good works or holy living. Rather good works are the way in which faith expresses itself.


III. Sebastian Merkle:

German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther’s motives were religious, not revolutionary or psychological.


IV. Anton Fischer:

German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther was a man of prayer.


V. Hubert Jedin:

German Roman Catholic Historian. Catholicism never condemned Luther by name at Trent. No official judgment on Luther exists by which a loyal Catholic is bound.


VI. Joseph Lortz:

German Roman Catholic Historian. Luther was a theologian of the highest rank. Luther was a profoundly religious man, a true Christian, who lived by a deep faith in Jesus Christ.


VII. Adolf Herte:

German Roman Catholic Historian. Proved that all Catholic biographies of Luther simply echoed the vilification of the Sixteenth Century Catholic author Cochlaeus.


VIII. Johannes Hessen :

German Roman Catholic Theologian. Luther’s theology is not based on subjectivism.


IX. Karl Adam:

German Roman Catholic Theologian. Credits Luther with an original understanding of the essence of Christianity and a passionate desire to reject whatever is not holy or of God.


X. Yves M.-J. Congar:

Catholic French Scholar. The Reformation was a religious movement, an attempt to renew religion at its source. He considers Luther a profoundly religious man who had a deeply sensitive conscience and was obsessed by the longing to find peace of heart and a warm, living, consoling contact with God.


XI. Father Thomas Sartory:

German Benedictine Monk. Love inspired Luther. In spite of his mistakes and weaknesses, Luther was a genuine religious personality.


XII. George Tavard:

American Catholic Scholar. There is no real contradiction between Roman Catholic theology and Luther's gospel; the gospel had been eclipsed in Luther's day.


XIII. Father Thomas M. McDonough :

Catholic American Scholar. Luther had a true experience with the living God. His experience was the effect and Fruit of God's objective, external Word.


XIV. Leonard Swidler :

Catholic American Scholar. The Reformation was needed.


XV. John M. Todd:

Catholic American Lay Historian. Luther was an honest theologian with important insights.


XVI. Harry J. McSorley:

 Catholic American Scholar. Luther’s protest was not attempt to divide Christianity.


XVII. Jared Wicks:

Catholic American Scholar. Luther is a forceful teacher of lived religion. He is a resource for the enrichment of personal spirituality for members of all Christian confessions.



XVIII. Conclusion






I. Introduction

 In my last installment, Catholic authors with a severe negative bias toward Luther were discussed (see: The Roman Catholic Understanding of Luther Part 1).  The discussion will now focus on a sampling of Catholic authors that have taken a more irenic approach to understanding Luther. There is a wealth of Roman Catholic authors whose opinions and research are worthy of a close look. As Richard Stauffer has noted, “If one wanted to sum up briefly the path Roman Luther-scholars have trodden since 1904, one could say that they passed from destructive criticism to a respectful encounter.”[1] Their desire to understand the theological issues raised by Luther rather than setting up vilifying caricatures, serve to advance positive dialogues between Protestants and Catholics. Where Catholic scholarship has shined, Protestants would do well to appreciate their efforts, despite our disagreements.


Perhaps the primary difference between early and later Catholic approaches to Luther is the shift in emphasis on Luther the person. As was noted in part one, during the first five hundred years of Catholic evaluations of Luther, a strong emphasis on vilifying Luther’s character as a means of discrediting the Reformation was the normal Catholic approach.[2]  The emphasis shifted in the Twentieth Century: Catholics began to study Luther as a sincere religious man and an honest theologian.  Since an exhaustive critique of Catholic theological approaches to Luther would entail a massive undertaking, the emphasis of this paper will be an overview of Roman Catholic attitudes toward Luther “the person” during the Twentieth Century.


No extensive treatment of the criticisms put forth by these Catholic authors against Luther will be included, however I have included a basic overview of their concerns. Suffice it to say, there is not a consensus among Catholic scholars in criticizing Luther. Some accuse Luther of subjectivism, other deny this. Some still criticize Luther for psychological factors, others do not. Some stress Luther’s Nominalist background, while others note Thomistic consensus was not established. Sorting through their criticisms would be an entire undertaking in itself. It would be a mistake then to see the Catholic scholars covered here as agreeing with all the central tenants of Protestantism, a fact that should not need to be noted, but I expect one could read through this web-page and think contemporary Catholic scholars embrace Protestant Lutheranism. Most of the authors evaluated here have strong ecumenical concerns; they are willing to evaluate Luther as a fellow Christian, rather than a son of perdition.  


This in no way is an exhaustive list or in depth doctrinal investigation. In my studies, I utilize both Catholic and Protestant works on Luther. Those names that have appeared continually in both theological traditions are the emphasis. This paper is intended to be more of a bibliographic resource; it can be read out of sequence. Since my desire is for this paper to serve as a reference guide, I have included lengthy citations from relevant scholars. It is my desire to allow them to speak, rather than put forth my own opinions.[3]




Franz Xaver Kiefl (1917)


A. Overview of F.X. Kiefl’s Attitude toward Luther

F. X. Kiefl is credited as the first Catholic scholar to put forth a new kinder approach to Luther. Kiefl was a German theologian at the University of Wurzburg. His groundbreaking article on Luther was Martin Luther’s Religious Psyche as the Root of a New Philosophical World View.[4] While Kiefl’s theological predecessors denied that Luther had any bonafide religious motives, Kiefl speaks of Luther’s “profound piety, his indomitable will, and his extraordinary literary genius.”[5] Kiefl broke with his scholarly predecessors: theological motives explain Luther.[6] Leonard Swidler explains, that Kiefl “…treated the psyche of Luther. However, as the title indicates, he treated it not as the object of depth psychology, but rather as a religious soul. He maintained that Luther’s starting point and his main interest were religious. It was from Luther’s religious psyche, as the “most profound and vital source,” that “as out of a seed everything later grew.”[7]


Kiefl was quite bold. He rejected the earlier Catholic approach of attacking Luther for his doctrine of Justification. Catholic scholar Heinrich Denifle had made popular the notion that Luther simply invented his doctrine to excuse sinful behavior, thus Denifle spent considerable time painting Luther as a gross sinner. Kiefl rejects this. He sees past Denifle’s rhetoric and distorted facts and sees that Luther never denied good works or holy living. Rather good works are the way in which faith expresses itself.[8]  


Kiefl also evaluated the debate between Luther and Erasmus and found that Luther understood Christianity on a much deeper level than did Erasmus. Erasmus was a man of Renaissance learning, and Kiefl concludes by noting the negative impact of the Renaissance on Christianity and Luther’s positive impact of being God’s “powerful instrument of Providence” in the work of Church “purification”:


Through Luther’s bringing into existence a spiritual movement which convulsed centuries, Providence has purified the Church in its inward holiness from the seductions of the culture of the Renaissance and has through this bitter physic kindled a new, fresh life in the whole organism of the Church. Luther was the powerful instrument of Providence in this work of purification, not by discovering a new source under the rubble of abuses but, with these real abuses affording him an occasion, by pushing a religious principle (to him quite justified) too far precipitating the Church into a war that shook its very foundations.”[9]


James Atkinson sums up Kiefl: “Kiefl showed a deep knowledge of Luther’s works. He appreciated Luther’s profound piety, his indomitable will, and his literary genius. True, he suggests that Luther’s spirituality was morbid, but he picks up the powerful phrase from Trent when Luther was reported as a powerful instrument chosen by Providence to reform the Church and purify it.”[10]



B. Criticism of Luther by Kiefl

Kiefl criticizes Luther for taking God’s “almightiness” too far. Luther’s doctrine of total depravity (leading to a denial of free will) was his error: “[Kiefl] saw Luther as mastered by God. It was his concept of a God who acted unilaterally that led Luther to deny free will, to affirm man’s total depravity, to hold a doctrine of imputed righteousness, and finally to reject a Church that claimed to mediate salvation[11] Kiefl thinks Luther went too far and convulsed the Church in internal strife, but he does bring Luther back into the religious sphere where he belongs and where he ought always to have been.”[12]


Kiefl displays sympathy for Luther, and one will not find the deep hostile polemic that so characterized earlier Catholic German scholars. Kiefl though at one point gives a passing glance at Luther’s “abnormal” and “sick” spiritual condition. Another scholar though has pointed out, “Kiefl has merely recorded an abnormal condition without explaining it. This is sufficient to give Luther’s theology as a whole the character, not of a doctrine worked out by a normal Christian man, but of a remedy invented to relieve a sick soul.”[13]




Sebastian Merkle (1929)

 Sebastian Merkle was a German Catholic historian from the University of Wurzburg. In 1929, he contributed an article to a book on Luther featuring both Protestant and Catholic authors.[14] Like Kiefl, he attributes religious motives to Luther, rather than revolutionary or psychological: “Merkle…[is] remembered in Germany as an excellent and also courageous historian, [he] lays down the lines that Roman historians of the Reformation should follow. From the outset they must refrain from belittling and detracting from Luther, recognize the religious motives for his action, perceive that he was not the father of the free-thinkers or a revolutionary, and in sum admit that the movement he started was solely spiritual.”[15]


Father Leonard Swidler evaluates the value of Merkle:


“…Sebastian Merkle attempted to redress what he considered wrongs done to Luther and the Reformation. He pointed out that while Luther and many of his biographers exaggerated both the seriousness and the extent of the bad conditions in the Church—or Janssen would not have been able to bring up so much opposing documentation —it was at the same time true that there were a great many abuses rampant—or Luther would not have found such an enthusiastic following among strongly religious circles. ‘He would have to appear much more as the greatest wonder-worker of history, if he had brought about the mass defection from a flourishing Church, a Church on Martin, at the zenith of fulfilling its task.’ He quoted with approval the statement St. Clemens Maria Hofbauer made in 1816: ‘Since I have been a papal delegate in Poland I have become certain that the defection from the Church has come about because the Germans had and still have a need to be pious. The Reformation was not spread and held by heretics and philosophers, but by men who were really searching for a religion for the heart.’[16]


“[The] polemic approach to Luther and the Reformation, particularly by Denifle, soon found, critics among German Catholics. Already in 1906 the historian Hermann Mauert accused Denifle of wanting not to find the truth but only to win his argument. "With Denifle one finds oneself all too often listening to the prosecution of the state attorney who wants to subject the accused to an unconditional condemnation, and one misses the just, all-around careful weighing, objective probing of the non-partisan judge, and in this case of the calm, collected historian. In 1929 Sebastian Merkle said that to contend that such a completely base Luther was able to cause such a deep-going and long-lasting split in Christendom is "to stand all philosophy of history on its head and to view the entire history of humanity through the eyes of a worm." And by 1931 Hubert Jedin stated that no Catholic church historian in Germany any longer shared Denifle's view of Luther's moral personality.”[17]


Interestingly, Merkle came under attack for his work on Luther from fellow Catholics:

Denifle and Grisar left deep marks on both theological and popular presentations of Luther by Catholics in the twentieth century. But the vehemence of Denifle and the blanket rejection by Grisar began to stir reactions. Sebastian Merkle, Catholic church historian in Wtirzburg, objected to Denifle's tone and method, asserting that denying Luther historical justice was no service of the church or of truth. The effect was to worsen the relation between the churches. Merkle had to defend his critical stand against suspicions over his fidelity as a Catholic, but he stood firm and in 1929 published an essay contrasting good points in Luther with bad points in his Catholic critics. Merkle underscored the religious depth evident in the young Luther, his struggle with temptations to despair, and the low state of the church on the eve of the Reformation. It is no mystery why many did follow Luther out of the church in order to seek a more authentic faith. It is no credit to Catholicism, according to Merkle, that many try to show their loyalty to the church by insulting and reviling Luther. — It was becoming clear that Denifle and Grisar did not exhaust the possibilities on the Catholic side for forming an image of Luther.”[18]




Anton Fischer (1929)

 From the same book featuring Merkle, German Catholic historian Anton Fischer also contributed an article on Luther. Fischer puts forth an image of Luther as a “man of prayer;” an image that can be appreciated by Catholics:


“Fischer makes a distinction in Luther between the fighter and the man of prayer. The former, to his mind, is the concern of only a part of Christianity; all Christian denominations can, how ever, lay a claim to the second. In so far as he was a man of prayer, Luther was truly ecumenical. Even a Church rich in believers who are devoted to prayer (he means the Roman Church, of course) has much to learn from him.


And what can Luther teach all Christians about prayer? Two essential truths. The first is that prayer has only one valid criterion—the Word and the Holy Spirit who reveals Himself through Scripture. Luther drew all his strength from the Bible and took all his instruction about prayer from the Bible. In the same way, all believers are exhorted to nourish themselves on the Old and New Testaments, if they wish to pray effectively; there they too will meet with God. The second truth is that the Pater noster constitutes the very heart of the Christian life, and for this reason should be pronounced with the reverence and fervour due to Christ's own words. If it is said in the spirit of the great masters of prayer like St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assist and Martin Luther (so Fischer ends his article), the Lord's Prayer can bridge the gap which really separates Roman Catholics and Protestants.”[19]


Leonard Swidler explains Fisher: “The fighting Luther wounds—even today after four hundred years,” Fischer writes. “The praying Luther heals: The fighting Luther divides; the praying Luther unites Luther the fighter belongs to the past; Luther the man of prayer—may his mission begin in the present.”[20]


Interesting quotes from Fischer on Luther as a “man of prayer”: “The praying Luther belongs to all. He is a truly ecumenical man. He has something to say and to give to all Christian communities.”[21]However rich a Church may be in truly great Christian men of prayer, it would still have room for the distinctives of the praying Luther; it should not pass carelessly over this great man of prayer and his precious utterances on prayer and his excellent instruction on prayer.”[22]



Hubert Jedin (1931)

Hubert Jedin was a German Catholic historian from the Universities of Breslau and Bonn. He was a specialist in the history of the Council of Trent. While Jedin points out negatives about Luther[23], he put forth one of the first valuable books critiquing earlier Catholic approaches to Luther, and exposes them as totally inadequate:


Jedin makes certain criticisms of Denifle and Grisar. In particular, he points out that it is many years since any Roman historian in Germany shared Denifle's views of Luther's moral character… Jedin blames Denifle for not being able to appreciate the Reformer's religious greatness without at the same time betraying the Roman Catholic point of view. But he is not content to criticize his predecessors. He also outlines a programme which comes very near to Kiefl in many ways. For example, he says bluntly that any Roman Catholic who wants to understand Luther's thought and motives should first of all forget the image of Luther handed down in his Church.[24]


James Atkinson noted that Jedin pointed out that “Catholicism never condemned Luther by name at Trent, and that no official judgment on Luther exists by which a loyal Catholic is bound.”[25]



Joseph Lortz (1939)


A. The Importance of Joseph Lortz

Joseph Lortz is perhaps the most famous Catholic Luther scholar of the twentieth century. His two-volume work, The Reformation in Germany, is praised by both Catholics and Protestants alike. Lortz is usually seen as the first Catholic author to put forth a full-length treatment of Luther without vilifying him. So important is his work, an entire book could be written evaluating the work of Lortz. It is important then, to spend time looking at Lortz.


Scholars praise Lortz:


“It was not until 1939, when Joseph Lortz. The Catholic professor at Muenster, published his fine two-volume study of Luther, entitled Die Reformation in Deutschland (1939-40), that the first ray of hope of any creative theological dialogue between Catholicism and Protestantism lit the dark horizon. The work was so scholarly and so informed that it was found to subserve a highly significant and irenic critique of Luther and Lutheranism.”[26]


“the popular demonization of Luther started in the 16th Century by Luther’s opponent Cochlaeus was “so lasting that …the entire Catholic historiography of the Reformation until the publication in 1939 of Joseph Lortz’s magnum opus came under the spell of such powerful polemic [that of Cochlaeus].”[27]


“With Lortz' great three hundred page essay on Luther, Catholics left behind the unscrupulous hatred of Cochlaeus (whose legends of 1549 turned up monotonously in Catholic works on Luther for over three hundred and fifty years), the charges of immorality and ignorance leveled by Denifle, the cold and one-sided reading of Grisar.”[28]


“…Denifle and the Jesuit Hartman Grisar, used Freudian psychology to arrive at their assessment that Luther was a monk obsessed with the lust of the flesh and a pathological manic-depressive personality….These polemical portraits were corrected in the 1940’s when an ecumenically oriented scholar, Joseph Lortz, rejected Freudian psycho-historical methods in favor of a more objective critical assessment to depict Luther as a faithful priest-professor who had succumbed to ‘subjectivism.”[29]



B. Lortz’s Evaluation of Luther



i. Comments summarizing Lortz’s view of Luther

 “Lortz sees Luther as a religious man who can be assessed only in theological categories: the evangelist, the preacher of grace proclaiming Christ crucified and salvation in his name. He is fully aware of the deeply religious man who threw himself into the monastic life without reserve; of the Luther who immersed himself in Scripture, where he found a gracious God; of the Luther who could write on the Lords Prayer and on the Magnificat with such tender intimacy, and uphold confession in pastoral care; of the Luther who preached faith with invincible power and warmth; of the Luther who maintained a precious estimation of the Eucharist and of the Real Presence in that sacrament; of the Luther who was always deeply concerned for the cure of souls; of the Luther who prized a powerful prayer life and the ability to teach men to pray; of the Luther whose hymns and chorals plumbed great theological depths. This recognition of Luther as homo religiosus marks one of the greatest advances in Catholic scholarship in four hundred years, and as such does much to overshadow the calumnies of Denifle, Grisar, and their like.”[30]


“[Lortz saw] Luther was a creative genius who, so far as the heart of the matter went, was a self-made man. And, if it is hard to describe a genius, it is still harder when that genius is called Luther. Pointing out that even four hundred years after his death scholars, despite all their efforts, have still not arrived at an understanding of the significance of his person and of his work, Lortz does not attribute these differences of interpretation simply to confessional prejudice. They arise from the fact that Luther's nature is a complexio oppositorum, and that the more complex a person is, the greater the temptation to simplify him and neglect the traits that form one part of his character. He considers this reason fundamental, but he adds others. Thus, among the factors explaining why Roman Catholics find it so hard to be just to him, he mentions the changes, the paradoxes, the exaggerations and the vulgarities of Luther’s language.”[31]


“Lortz affirms as no Roman Catholic theologian has done before that Luther was a "religious man", that his life and work can only be understood in a theological perspective. Thus: "The basis of his being is that he is homo religiosus. Not the homo religiosus of some secularized Christianity, but the confessor of the theologia crucis, the evangelist who proclaims Jesus Christ crucified and who declares His religion of salvation and grace. The fact that Luther entered a strict monastery and there, without reservation and without care for himself, abandoned the inward conflicts which were to free him from sin and make him find a gracious God; the way in which he immersed himself in Scripture, and in which he entered into a wonderfully intimate and fruitful covenant with the Book of books; the way in which he expounded the Magnificat and in which he esteemed confession to the end of his life; the way in which he preached faith with power and ardour; the way in which he defended the real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist; . . .the way in which, filled with a zeal for souls, he could teach men to pray and in which, with an extraordinary power, he himself prayed; the fullness and the Christian content of his... chorals—all this depicts abundantly the homo religiosus, the Christian Luther."”[32]


“More than any previous Catholic writer, Lortz recognizes the genius and originality of Luther. ‘Luther did not express many thoughts which have no parallel in earlier theologies and reformers. Nevertheless, Luther is new.’”[33]



ii. Comments From Joseph Lortz about Luther

“The problems of an adequate treatment of Luther are obvious from several points of view. First, Luther is an intellectual giant, or, to use a word from Paul Althaus, an "ocean. " The danger of drowning in him, of not being able to come to grips with him satisfactorily, arises from his tremendous output, but no less from his own original style, which we are going to take up. It sounds banal, but cannot be left unsaid: Luther belongs in the first rank of men with extraordinary intellectual creativity. He is in the full sense a genius, a man of massive power in things religious and a giant as well in theological interpretation. Because of this, he has in many respects shaped the history of the world--even of our world today.”[34]

“Wherever Luther is sketched, one feels the gulf between the man and what is said about him. One is tempted simply to quote him--his wonderful outpouring of self, his tireless thrust to discover and express, his massive power, the immeasurable height, breadth, and depth of the message, the astounding vitality and fullness present in this man so captivated by the spirit of Scripture. And all of this--in spite of the constant repetitions.”[35]


“The Church condemned Luther as a heretic. That is certain, but whatever one thinks in detail of Luther’s orthodoxy or heterodoxy, however one may view certain sides of his character, whatever criticism one has to level against his immoderate polemic, there is no doubt that he was a profoundly religious man, a true Christian, who lived by a deep faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified and risen to save us. We must also remember that all his life Luther was a man of prayer and a zealous preacher of the Word of God.”[36]


“Luther grew only from within himself. There is in him a primal genius; he is a primal force. He grew in lonely, simply inaccessible circles.”[37]


“In his class lectures, sermons, books, and table remarks, Luther was an active personality. The works marking the major steps of his development --his early lectures on the Psalms and on Romans, the Disputations in Heidelberg and Leipzig, his reform writings of 1520, his works of liturgical renewal, the lectures and disputations of the 1530's and 1540's--have all formed human history. This was not merely because of their theological content, but also because of their power of expression and the personal strength that permeates them. Luther was not simply a theologian. In fact, he was very seldom and only briefly just a theologian, even in the classroom. He was more than all else a believer, a prophet, and a battler. To this day, Luther's works have retained much of his vitality. Thus they are not adequately understood when their abstract theological content is extracted and repeated. Successful interpretation must be tinged with prophecy. As we look back at Luther, we must bring out Luther's many instinctively sure resonances with historical developments in the world and in the Church. We must show the mutual influence between Luther and history.”[38]


“Luther was a theologian of the highest rank. My previous position--that Luther was not a theologian--was therefore misleading. But the decisive question is how one is a theologian. Luther cannot be analyzed like Ockham, Duns Scotus, or even Thomas Aquinas, who, in spite of everything, stands much closer to him.”[39]


“Let there be no misunderstanding. Luther was a man of rare intelligence, as his works reveal. Examples are endless, beginning with the numerous passages in his early lectures which even today give the mind such a bushel of nuts to crack. Think of the Heidelberg Disputation and of the peculiar, scholastically conceived explanations found in the lectures on Galatians in 1531. All of this stands without question.”[40]


“Luther was a genius with language. Spontaneously his thoughts found concrete expression in the most sensitive of linguistic phrasing. It would perhaps be more exact to say that his thoughts take form in words!”[41]



C. Lortz’s Assessment of the Cause and Need for Reformation

Lortz takes a bold stand on the state of the church during the sixteenth century. It was in need of an overhaul. It was filled with abuse and theological ambiguity: “[Lortz held that] the reformation is a Catholic matter in that Catholics share the responsibility and the guilt for its happening. So we must make it a concern for us Catholics. We must accept our guilt… It was this state of things within the catholic Church at the beginning of the sixteenth century that made Luther and the reformation possible, even in a certain manner historically necessary.”[42] Lortz said:  


“Theological confusion within Catholic theology was one of the specially important preconditions which precipitated a revolution in the Church. It is one of those keys which to some extent unlocks the riddle of the colossal apostasy.”[43]


“Theological confusion revealed itself even more profoundly however, amongst the guardians of the doctrine of the Church.”[44]


“The darkness [religious life before the Reformation] became all the more ominous because Catholics suffered from the illusion that Catholic doctrine had long since been settled on the disputed points. Few theologians were exempt from this illusion. In the polemic of the day- as we shall see- most of them used the unanimous consensus of the Church as an argument, whereas, in fact, on important questions only a more or less hazy opinion was the substitute for sure knowledge. The deliberations at Trent are proof of this.”[45]


“In Luther’s search for a gracious God he came to stand outside the Church without intending to do so. And it was no prearranged revolutionary programme, and no ignoble impulses and desires which led him to desire or seek a break with the Church.”[46]

“Today I would even go so far as to ask whether the Catholic scholar might not be in a better position to understand Luther adequately than the Protestant researcher. First, we can take it for granted that we have abandoned the evaluative categories of a Cochlaeus, which dominated for over 400 years, and those of the great Denifle, and even those of Grisar (who was particularly well-versed in details). This assumption holds also for Italy, Spain, and Latin America. Gradually Catholics have come to recognize the Christian, and even Catholic, richness of Luther, and they are impressed. They now realize how great the Catholic guilt was that Luther was expelled from the Church to begin the division that burdens us so today--even in theology. Finally, we are anxious to draw Luther's richness back into the Church.”[47]



D. Lortz sees Erasmus as the Real Danger to the Church, not Luther

As with Kiefl above, Lortz sees Erasmus as the threat to the Church, not Luther. Lortz explains that this view is not new: during the sixteenth century the papal nuncio Aleander recognized it also:


“There was only one man on the Catholic side who in some measure recognized in time the danger embodied by Erasmus. This was the papal nuncio, Aleander, himself a humanist of some standing... [he said] ‘God forbid that we see fresh papal briefs to Erasmus couched in the same tone as that printed at the beginning of his New Testament and containing an approving explanation by the pope of a work in which he expresses views on confession, indulgences, divorce, papal authority, etc., which Luther has simply to take over. But the poison of Erasmus works even more dangerously…”


“Erasmus at length came into contact with Luther. But Catholics did not see the true Erasmus even in this controversy. They applauded his book on free will, because it contradicted Luther; but they failed to see that the primary aim of the book was to propose an optimistic morality that left little room for grace, sin and redemption.[48]



E. Lortz’s on Luther’s Doctrine of Justification

 “Thirty years ago, in The Reformation in Germany, I put forth the thesis with regard to the central Reformation article, justification by faith alone, that Luther here rediscovered an old Catholic doctrine, which though was new for him and seen onesidedly. In the meantime I have not abandoned this view. On the contrary, Luther is, in fact, more Catholic than I then realized.”[49]


“His revolution largely consisted in his discovering the ancient Catholic truth that man must believe in the forgiveness of sins as in salvation generally.”[50]


“It is not true that Luther’s interpretation of the righteousness of God as the grace by which we are justified was a completely new discovery. …All of the medieval exegetes had put forward this interpretation; and Luther must have read this the moment he began to study that passage in Romans, which so disturbed him. The trouble was that he had not really taken in what he had read.”[51]



F. Criticism of Luther by Lortz

 Lortz views Thomism as the only legitimate Catholic theology. Luther being trained in Occamism, was unable to fully understand the scriptures. When Luther attributed error to the Catholic Church, he attributed Occamist theology to her: “Luther rejected a Catholicism which was basically not Catholic.”[52]  Lortz’s second basic criticism is that of subjectivism.[53] In trying to fully understand salvation, Luther interpreted the Scriptures according to his own personal interpretation. James Atkinson has given an excellent summary of Lortz’s criticism of Luther:


“… Lortz presents some weighty criticism of Luther too. He tends to blame Luther for the schism. He refers frequently to Luther's subjectivism and individualism, his one-sidedness. Nevertheless, he does so without acrimony. Perhaps his most serious criticism is that although Luther wanted to base his theology on Scripture, he was selective: he not only neglected certain truths in his preaching and teaching, but actually simplified and reduced the Scriptural message, of which the Roman Church possessed the fullness. He attaches considerable importance to Luther's Nominalist education, which obviated his full appreciation of Thomism and rendered him insensitive to the fullness of the biblical revelation. What Luther rejected, he contends, was not true Catholicism, but rather Catholic argumentation: his intense individualism had betrayed him into a misunderstanding of true Catholicism.


Further, Lortz argues, it was Luther's radical subjectivity, his intense individualism, his awareness of being a prophet in isolation, that caused him to interpret biblical revelation in terms of his own personal needs, and thus prevented him from grasping the fullness of biblical truth. He truly sees that Luther's awareness of justification by faith did not arise from within himself, but had its objective reality in Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of his faith. Nevertheless, Lortz argues that objectivism, if it is to be truly authentic, implies an infallible Christ and an infallible Church; therefore, he sets aside Luther's genuine Christocentric faith and accuses him of subjectivism, of individualism. He was a prisoner of his own interpretations, and instead of reforming the Church, he tore it in two. This qualification—even though it may grant Luther's theological acumen, his deep spirituality and prayer life, and his powerful Christocentrism—robs all this percipient appreciation of any real significance, since Lortz comes down on the side of the accusers and opponents of Luther. His misunderstanding of Luther is in a sense insured by his presupposition that, as a good Roman Catholic, he must judge Luther solely in submission to the Church. Despite this crucial reservation, however, Lortz will ever be remembered as the man who created a scholarly basis for creative conversations between Roman Catholics and Protestants. In a sense he was a forerunner to Vatican II.”[54]


Fred Meuser comments:

“… [A]t some very crucial points Lortz is sharply critical of Luther without, however, impugning his integrity. In spite of his Christocentric faith and theology, Luther was too subjectivistic. This is Lortz's basic thesis, that "he took his own highly personal convictions, based on a very exceptional experience and perhaps valid for himself personally, and made them into a binding requirement for all."  Luther wanted to be faithful to Scripture, but because he always interpreted it in terms of his own personal needs he over-emphasized some aspects of it and neglected others. He was not really a fully attentive listener, a Vollhorer of the Word in its fullness because he allowed some aspects of Pauline thought to overshadow everything else.  He intended only to purify the church but his rejection of the church's necessary teaching authority brought a great schism. Even so, the actual schism was also partly the fault of the pope and others in authority who were not willing to take the evangelical concerns of Luther and his followers seriously.”[55]


Jared Wicks comments:


“[Lortz] pointed out extremes in Luther, such as a lack of restraint in fulminating against his opponents. Lortz found in Luther an extravagance ill-befitting a teacher submissive to the word of God. Impulsive in interpreting the Scriptures, Luther distorted the full message of the New Testament by subjective selectivity. But there is for Lortz a large reservoir of Catholic content in Luther, and not just in the young Luther. Even the elder Luther, often bitter and crude in attacking the priesthood and papacy, was a teacher of the sovereignty of God, a defender of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and an effective teacher of faith in Christ the Savior. Lortz's account of Luther was critical, but his criticism was penetrated by amazement over Luther's pulsating spiritual richness, the wide range of his talents, the vastness of his productive labor for the new community, and the concentration of all his thought on God's grace revealed in Christ and transmitted by the Gospel. Lortz gave Catholics an image of Luther marked by prophetic greatness.”[56]



Adolf Herte (1943)

 Adolf Herte was a German Catholic historian that did an in-depth study on Catholic approaches to Luther up until the Twentieth Century. In his work, he proved that all biographies of Luther (with very few exceptions) simply echoed the vilification of the Sixteenth Century Catholic author Cochlaeus. Herte went on to trace the influence of Cochlaeus on Denifle, Grisar, Cristiani, Paquier, and Maritan. After reading Herte’s work, the Roman Catholic review Theologie und Seelsorge stated, “One finishes reading these volumes with the discovery that the atmosphere of Reformation studies has changed.”[57]


An evaluation of Herte:

“Very different from Lortz but just as important in the changing attitude toward Luther was Adolf Herte's Das katholische Lutherbild im Bann der Luther-kommentare des Cochlaeus. Probably because of its great size-three large volumes-and technical scholarly character it has never been translated into English, a fact which also helps to explain the relative tardiness of the Luther re-evaluation among English-speaking Catholics. Herte's purpose was simple-to examine the influence of Cochlaeus on Catholic literature through the centuries and to evaluate Cochlaeus' portrayal. On the former point he showed that almost all Catholic biographies of Luther (including Denifle, Grisar, Maritain, and many others) leaned very heavily on Cochlaeus' evidence and interpretation. In regard to Cochlaeus' reliability he concluded that the whole portrayal was a caricature reflecting the author's own deep aversion to and hatred of Luther. Not that Cochlaeus was completely false. He knew the extant Luther literature as no one else of his time. He helped to preserve some valuable original materials. He admitted that Luther's New Testament translation stimulated the religious hunger for the Word of God among the people. Yet, the composite picture of Luther was thoroughly unreliable because of Cochlaeus' deep personal antipathy which predetermined what he could see in Luther.  Herte's careful scholarship has helped to free modern Catholic historians from bondage to the traditional picture and given great impetus to the modem search for a more accurate understanding of Luther. It will take considerable time, however, for Herte's influence to purge Catholic consciousness and literature of the assumptions that have been building up for centuries.”[58]



Johannes Hessen (1947)


A. Overview of J. Hessen’s Attitude toward Luther

 Johannes Hessen was a Catholic professor in philosophy of religion at Cologne. Perhaps the most startling observation put forth by Hessen is his denial of Luther’s ultimate subjectivity. As noted above, Joseph Lortz accuses Luther of subjectivism and individualism. Hessen rejects this:“[Luther’s] great experience was a meeting with God, with the God who encountered him in Christ and his Gospel. It means a complete attachment to God’s Word, which contains the witness about Christ and possesses for Luther the character of an unassailable, absolute norm.”[59]


Scholars explain Hessen’s denial of Luther’s subjectivism:


“[Luther’s] fundamental experience may have been subjective, but only formally; in content it was without doubt objective, for, by the mediation of Christ, it was a real meeting with God. Thus Luther was not an individualist. He was a reformer in the true sense of the word, that is, a restorer whose sole aim was to bring back the pure Gospel from which, in his eyes, the Church had strayed.”[60]


“[Luther’s] own agonizing struggle about a "gracious God" was the same path Paul had trod, and it brought Luther to the same childlike trust in the undeserved grace of God. Not pride or ego but God and his grace were the basic forces at work in Luther. His experiences, although subjective in form, were actually an objective confrontation with God, because Luther's faith was grounded so completely in Christ and grew so completely out of Word and Sacrament. Hessen disagrees thoroughly with Lortz's charge that Luther was subjectivistic to the core. He sees no similarity at all between Luther and modern subjectivism or individualism.”[61]


“Hessen contends that Luther was no individualist, but a reformer in the true sense of that word—that is to say, a restorer of the God-given Gospel from which the Church had strayed.”[62]



Hessen says that to really understand the greatness of Luther, one must see him as in the line of the Old Testament prophets.[63] This proposition had been disputed during the sixteenth century and into the seventeenth among Lutherans. Now, a few hundred years later, a Roman Catholic puts it forth.[64] Hessen also analyzed Luther’s doctrine of sola fide. He concluded that Luther’s experience of being justified by faith was not a break with Catholic dogma, but was actually brought forth by Luther’s concern for piety.[65] Hessen thus rejects any charge of antinomianism leveled at Luther.[66] Luther was not trying to eradicate morality, but only to heighten awareness that salvation is the complete work of God.[67] Hessen also contends that Luther cannot be charged with abandoning the sacraments as means of grace, since Luther defended and explained the importance of the Lord’s Supper and baptism:[68]


“On the sacraments [Hessen] sees the reason for Luther's attack to have been a virtual ignoring by Roman doctrine and practice of the need for a direct relationship between the individual and God. Luther's attack on the church's hierarchy and institutionalism meant to stress the same need for inner union with Christ rather than mere membership in an institution. On these and other points Hessen believes that Luther was affirming the true Catholic position, even though he often allowed the heat of the controversy to push him into extremes.”[69]


Hessen proclaims, “Luther’s principle justification in fighting against the apparent decline [of the Church] can therefore not be denied. His struggle to put the Gospel back on the lampstand, to make it again the throbbing heart of the Christian religion, was, in view of the contemporary state of Catholicism, only too justified.”[70]



B. Criticism of Luther by Hessen

Hessen outlines four negative tendencies of the Roman Church that were in need of reformation. In attacking these four tendencies though, Luther went too far:


“…Hessen thinks that Luther was opposing four tendencies in the Roman Church of his day which needed to be attacked as threatening to supplant the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These are intellectualism, moralism, sacramentalism and institutionalism. Intellectualism makes faith into a keeping of formulas rather than a living contact with revelation. Moralism subordinates the Gospel to the Law by putting man's works before God's mercy. Sacramentalism despises the inwardness in which true religion resides. And institutionalism thinks that belonging to the Church, even outwardly, is a source of salvation. Hessen thinks Luther was right in standing up against these four trends His only mistake was to go too far with criticisms which started quite properly. In order to remedy his "extremism", Protestantism today should reconsider the position it has inherited from Luther.”[71]


Once Luther discovered and clung solely to justification by faith alone, he neglected the role of the Church: “According to Hessen, after Luther had discovered the Pauline doctrine of sola fides, he was preoccupied with stressing again the most intimate union between the believer and Christ and disregarded the important reality of the Church. This criticism seems to me to be not quite right. As Karl Holl has shown, Luther's concept of the invisible Church never aimed at breaking up the visible Church but only of furnishing it with a pattern.”[72]




Karl Adam (1947)


A. The Positive Qualities of Luther described by Karl Adam


The German Catholic theologian Karl Adam says many positive things about Luther:


“Adam is certainly sympathetic to Martin Luther. He frequently speaks of his "marvelous gifts" and "magnificent qualities". He credits Luther with "an original understanding of the essence of Christianity", a passionate desire to reject whatever is not holy or of God, a conviction fed by an irresistible religious experience, inspiring and exciting eloquence, an "heroism in the face of death" by which he defied the contemporary powers. He attributes to him "a robust vitality, an overflowing energy, an inexhaustible originality, an elemental power... far above the level of common humanity". He speaks of "the defiance of his passionate temperament, all the unrepressed impetuosity of his robust peasant nature, the rich endowment of his mind, his heroic readiness to commit himself to the full, his immense creative power in observation, thought and writing, and not least his wonderful power of speech, beating upon the hearer in climax after climax and 'fairly overwhelming him' (Lortz, I, 147)". Finally he stresses "his unfathomable reverence for the mystery of God; his tremendous consciousness of his own sin; the holy defiance with which, as God's warrior, he faced abuse and simony; the heroism with which he risked his life for Christ's cause; and not least the natural simplicity and child-like quality of his whole manner of life and his personal piety."[73]


B. The Negative Qualities of Luther described by Karl Adam


Adam balances his positive approach to Luther with some hefty criticism:


“…Adam puts a minus sign against all these virtues, in that they are not used in the service of the Church but have been used against her. And here I think he misunderstands Luther's primary aims. He calls him "a rebel" who since at least 1512, the year of the event in the tower, "separated, even without knowing or wishing it, from the Church's teaching."[74]


Adam sees Luther as an apostate a rebel, and an individualist. To explain this, Adam refers back to earlier Catholic approaches and sees psychological factors as a cause for Luther’s rebellion: “Brought up strictly by his father, Luther very soon lived "in a state of terror, in abnormal fear of sin and of the last judgment". Because of his "excitable feelings", of the religious sensitivity that naturally tended to anxiety, and "his terror of sin", Luther was intensely subjective (and here is a repetition of Lortz's criticism).[75] Adam also explains Luther’s doctrine of justification as the result of Occamist influence in regard to God’s sovereignty:


“By affirming that the righteousness of God assumes a passive sense in the Gospel, Luther was not saying anything new; following Denifle and Lortz, Adam believes that "practically all the medieval exegetes proposed the same meaning". The innovation, and at the same time the error, of Luther was to draw from the correct exegesis "the revolutionary conclusion" that "man is sin, nothing but sin". By refusing any justification by works and by keeping to grace alone, Luther got rid once for all of his scruples and distresses. In consequence of this "act of self-liberation", he condemned himself to read and interpret the Bible with his own intuition as guide, that is to say, in Lortz's words, to reduce the Scriptural revelation in a one-sided manner. In short, Luther, when he founded a Church, left to his disciples only a "foundation . . . too narrow and scanty" to satisfy their many and diverse religious needs.”[76]


“Adam fails to grant any theological value to Luther's message. He recognizes him as a man of faith, but not as a preacher of the Gospel—the only ground on which Luther would seek his own justification. Adam recognizes the moral scandal of the Church in the later Middle Ages (who could defend it?), but fails to see the deficiencies and weaknesses in its theology. Had Luther been content, he maintains, to cleanse the Church of the worst abuses and to remain a faithful member, Roman Catholics would have owed him a debt of gratitude. He might have been a second Boniface, the refounder of the Church in Germany, in the company of St. Francis and of Thomas Aquinas. But he spoiled all this by moving from the area of moral reform to that of doctrinal reform, arguing that the Church was in error largely owing to false doctrine. For Adam dogma is uncorruptible. Consequently, he considers Luther to be no more than a rebel, an unhappy and erroneous theologian.”[77]


Yves M.-J. Congar

 “Father Congar, writing on the causes of the Reformation, dismisses outright all talk of moral licentiousness as a motivation of the Reformers. He rejects the contention that moral abuses might be a cause as well, and instead goes to the root of the matter—deficiencies in medieval Roman Catholic theology. He sees the Reformation as a religious movement, an attempt to renew religion at its source. He considers Luther a profoundly religious man who had a deeply sensitive conscience and was obsessed by the longing to find peace of heart and a warm, living, consoling contact with God. Luther was the type who expressed the religious problem of so many of his contemporaries—how to get beyond all the human accretions of religion to the pure sources of religion, to find again peace with God. He presents Luther as a soul in quest of God who had to journey all the way back to the New Testament in his quest; the tragedy lay in the fact that he found himself in reaction to the Catholic system of the Christian life.”[78]


“In 1950 Yves M.-J. Congar expanded on these views. In his Vraie et fausse reforme dans I'Eglise (1950) he criticises Luther’s ecclesiology on the grounds of the intense dialectical opposition between the outward and visible and the inward and invisible. Luther, he argues, never appreciated the value of the external forms and visible activities of the institution, and laid too great a stress on the Word: he misunderstood church order. In fact,; he suggests, Protestantism since Luther has been unable to construct an ecclesiology. It is Congar, however, who has not understood Luther here. Luther’s emphasis was on the hidden Church known only to God, and he did not wish this to be identified with the institution. It was the hidden nature of the true Church, not its invisible nature, that he taught: he wanted the Church to be very visible! His emphasis on the sacraments, on preaching, and on the instruction of members in churchmanship and its responsibilities, as well as his reorganisation of parish life in Saxony all serve to refute this superficial charge and to show what a high doctrine of the Church Luther actually held.


In fact, Congar can be most reactionary (relative to Lortz and Hessen, for instance). He refers to Luther as impatient, passionate, irritable, violent, superficial, and boastful, a man incapable of grasping anything objectively—naive, unilateral, a revolutionary, an innovator. In his desire to return to the simple Gospel, Luther was no more than 'Galatian', Congar claims, a revolutionary heading a revolt rather than a reformer of the Church. (Congar is making an analogy with Paul's white-hot defence of the Gospel against Judaisers in the epistle to the Galatians.”[79]



Father Thomas Sartory (1961)


A. Overview of Sartory

 Father Sartory was from the Niederaltaich abbey in Bavaria. He gave an important series of lectures via radio on Luther that were subsequently reproduced in the article, Martin Luther in katholischer Sicht. Sartory takes a bold approach, exhorting Catholics to see the value of Luther. Sartory says,


“The Luther who speaks of man's Christian existence, who verbalizes his personal experience of God, who explains Scripture and proclaims the word with unprecedented power, who gives expression to his worship in his hymns—this Luther is the spiritual man, the pastor and preacher, whom we in the Catholic world do not want to miss out on. Down the centuries Roman Catholics have regarded Luther as simply a lapsed monk and the enemy of the Church. Down the centuries we Catholics have been indoctrinated against Luther, to our loss. We shall certainly not fall into the error of taking him more seriously than he wished to take himself or than the Lutherans themselves take him. Luther is not the Gospel, either for them or for us. Nevertheless, in spite of our reservations, in spite of the 'No' spoken against him by the Church, we Catholics wish to hear his word in so far as it is a witness to the Gospel, so that we too may be inflamed with the love of God which burns in him"[80]



Sartory finds “love” as that which inspired Luther:


Sartory says that it was love (in the sense of I Cor. 13) that inspired Luther. In spite of his mistakes and weaknesses, he was a homo religiosus, a genuine religious personality. If one judges Luther in the light of the same love, one cannot help seeing the truth that he stands for. Where is it situated? …with "the Luther who speaks of man's Christian existence, who expresses his personal experience of God, who explains Holy Scripture, who proclaims the Word with untiring voice, who expresses his adoration in his hymns. We in the Catholic world do not want to be without this spiritual man, this pastor and preacher". More explicitly still, he says that Luther's greatness consists in the fact that he never speaks of God in abstract philosophical terms, but always in reference to the history of salvation. This attitude should be a source of rich instruction for Roman Catholic theologians. Similarly, Luther can help Roman theology by the way that he assimilated the experiences of his spiritual life into his theology.”[81]


James Atkinson has given an excellent overview of Sartory:

“…Sartory maintains that Luther was a true religious personality, homo religiosus, and stresses the importance of seeing the religious truth he stood for. Here is a firm bridge to Catholicism. Like Brandenburg, he sees Luther as the man concerned above all else with man's Christian existence, a man who expresses powerfully his deep personal experience of God, who continually expounds holy Scripture, who proclaims the Word of God unceasingly, who expresses his adoration in the hymns he wrote and composed. The Catholic world, he suggests, should pay heed to such a pastor, such a teacher. Sartory notes, and rightly so, that when Luther speaks of God it is never in academic, abstract, philosophical terms, but always with reference to Gods saving work in history. Here, too, Catholic theology has much to learn from Luther. Sartory thinks that Luther can be of assistance in this regard by virtue of the way he integrates his spiritual experience into his theology. In this context Sartory gives warm praise to Luther, by whom he has been strongly influenced. He calls his Church to regard Luther no longer as the lapsed monk, the enemy and destroyer of the Church. He deplores the fact that for centuries the Roman Church has been indoctrinated against Luther, and suggests that his Church should listen to Luther the witness to the Gospel, so that it might be inflamed with the love of God that burns in him.”[82]



B. The Cause of the Reformation According to Sartory

Sartory admits theological confusion plagued the Medieval Church, and this confusion was instrumental in provoking the Reformation: “Sartory mentions the importance of Occamism, which provoked the Reformation attack on meritorious works by over-emphasizing man's power. But Occamism was not its only source. Sartory, under Lortz's continual influence, marks the confusion of the theological debate in the sixteenth century and does not hesitate to make the Roman Church partially responsible for the events from 1517 onwards.”[83]



C. Luther, Subjectivism and Psychology According to Sartory

 Sartory then denies that Luther stood for subjectivism in one’s relationship with God: “Luther would very likely turn in his grave if he should hear that he was a defender of a subjectivism or a religion of conscience in which man is morally autonomous, free from all bonds to a superior reality.”[84]He says also:


“For anyone who like Luther has experienced in his own life the reality of the angry and the merciful God, it is no wonder if the tiny human vessel develops cracks and leaks, or even if it breaks apart. One can analyze the phenomenon of Angst in Luther's life psychologically and yet know very little about it, unless one also takes into account the God of wrath and man in the totality of his sin. But what wrath of God and sin really are, neither psychology nor medicine can tell us.”[85]


Stauffer explains Sartory on this point:


“Like Newman, [Luther] was interested only in the living God and man concretely face to face with him. Such an attitude implies many subjective traits, but, says Sartory, "Luther would indeed turn in his grave if he heard himself described as a defender of subjectivism or of "a religion of the conscience" in which "morally autonomous man is free from all bonds to a superior force". Luther did not fail to link human conscience with the Word of God; he held that conscience was bound to the Word. In distinction to Newman, who believed that the Church was the authoritative interpreter of Scripture, he attributed the final authority to the Bible alone, or more precisely, to the Gospel that he found in the Bible, that is, to the doctrine of the justification of the sinner by grace alone.”[86]


Along with denying subjectivism, Sartory rejects all attempts at earlier psychological evaluations of Luther as a means of understanding the Reformation, and paints a favorable picture of Luther “the person”:


“Sartory refuses to consider Luther as an arrogant rebel. Following Lortz, he speaks of his humility; even more, he accepts the seriousness of his protest. He does not think that the Reformation happened because of sensual dissoluteness, or ethical laxity, or ambition, or hypocrisy. The Christian liberty that Luther exalted was not related to license. But Sartory goes further. He turns his attention to the works of Reiter and Erikson, who make Luther a maniac depressive. Without denying that Luther might appear as a psychopath to the doctors, he rightly thinks that psychology and psycho-analysis cannot plumb the depths of the divine wrath and mercy that overthrew and disordered his life. Rather than trying to resolve the enigma of his personality, it is more profitable to ask whether he had not a God-given mission for his time.”[87]


“[Sartory] turns away from Denifle and Grisar. He looks at Reiter and Erikson who make Luther a manic depressive, but he cannot accept their diagnoses. If we are to understand Luther, he suggests, the religious and theological categories must take precedence over the psychological. He then turns to deal with the matter in historical categories. He deplores the influence of Cochlaeus down the centuries, but approves of the work of Herte, as well as that of Merkle and Lortz, who had rediscovered Luther s religious personality and had also sought a theological explanation of his work.”[88]



D. Criticism of Luther by Sartory

 Sartory criticizes Luther for seeing Justification as the central biblical theme:


The force which must control conscience is not, however, the church but the Bible, specifically the Bible's Gospel of salvation by grace alone. Sartory's most pointed challenge to Luther (and to Lutheran theology) is to ask Lortz's question at this point—whether Justification really is the center from which all the rest of Scripture is to be understood. Sartory believes that it does not take seriously enough the resurrection, the lordship of Christ, and their significance for the New Testament church.”[89]


. Having thus compared Newman and Luther, Sartory points out the importance for present-day Roman Catholicism of the concept of the Word of God, and goes on to ask whether, by viewing justification as the core of Scripture, Luther understood the Bible in all its fullness. Justification may put the death of Jesus in the first: place, but does it give due weight to His resurrection? This question, with all its ecclesiastical implications, sums up for Sartory the problem that Roman Catholicism has to face when it takes Luther's theology seriously.”[90]


George Tavard

 Tavard wrote The Catholic Approach to Protestantism[91] and Holy Writ or Holy Church: The Crisis of the Protestant Reformation.[92] Patrick Carey says of him:  Tavard had a first-hand acquaintance with Luther's texts and quoted from them consistently to argue his points, interpreting them within the larger historical framework of a developing theological tradition. In this, Tavard was a very rare phenomenon in American Catholicism. His attitudes toward Luther and the Protestant Reformation, moreover, do not appear to have been shaped in his early education by the works of Denifle and Grisar. He inherited a French post-World War openness to Protestantism that was not always appreciated by his fellow American Catholics, especially by those like Hanahoe with some claim to interest in the Catholic ecumenical movement of the 1950s.”[93] Similar to other Twentieth Century Catholic scholars, Tavard finds that some of the blame for the Reformation must be placed on the Catholic Church:


“…[Tavard]… indicates that the issues Luther was trying to raise for the whole Church were legitimate issues that the Church's leadership failed to acknowledge. Luther was not an isolated phenomenon in the sixteenth century and had the Church responded to him more effectively Luther's lack of moderation might have been curtailed by the faith of the universal Church… Tavard maintained that one could understand [Luther’s] case with sympathy because he suffered the "tragic fare" of living in a period of theological confusion and in a Church that needed reform.”[94]


Tavard’s view of Luther:


“[Tavard shows] a portrait of Luther which is more true to life than the caricatures of the past. We are shown Luther as a man who, torn between temptation and the need for perfection, embodied "the religious disquiet of many of his contemporaries", as a man who suffered from "a degenerate state of Church life in general and of theology in particular". When he had discovered what he believed to be the truth, he showed a praise-worthy "sincerity" and "courage" in defending his ideal. He was "logical enough to see a misunderstood principle carried to its end". He was not afraid to face the fear of death in obedience to his conscience.”[95]



Tavard went to the heart of the matter in the Luther issue. He took up the question of the legitimacy of justification by faith alone. In his earlier works, Tavard finds that Luther’s doctrine of justification was a direct result of an overwhelming semi-Pelagianism within the Sixteenth Century Church:


“…Georges Tavard states that there is no real contradiction between Roman Catholic theology and Luther's gospel; he refers to the eclipse of the gospel in Luther's day, and asserts that Luther's doctrine of justification is compatible with Catholicism. Kung's researches show that McSorley, van de Pol, Bouyer, and Tavard are essentially right in arguing that the rampant semi-Pelagianism of Luther's day was also condemned by the Catholic Church.”[96]


Tavard though finds that Luther had reduced the Bible to being simply about Justification:


“While sympathetic to Luther, Tavard nevertheless accuses him of a lack of moderation and of having reduced the content of the Bible to the one doctrine of justification by faith. It is true that this doctrine can be understood in a Catholic sense, says Tavard, but "whether it is correct or not, it cannot account for the whole of Scripture". In this criticism Father Tavard is, of course, joining forces (although he does not seem to know it) with Lortz and his dictum that Luther was not a Vollhorer but only grasped one aspect of the Biblical revelation.”[97]


In later years, Tavard revised this assessment:

In subsequent years, Tavard developed a much more appreciative attitude toward Luther than was manifested in his 1959 works. He declared in 1983, for example, that Luther was "right" on the doctrine of justification, a doctrine which in Holy Writ Tavard considered dangerously narrow when used as an exclusive interpretive principle of the Bible. Luther's understanding of that doctrine was a legitimate interpretation of the Catholic tradition and a key to the ecumenical movement.”[98]



Father Thomas M. McDonough (1963)


A. An Overview of McDonough’s approach To Luther

Father McDonough wrote The Law and the Gospel in Luther.  McDonough separates himself far from earlier Luther-vilifying Catholic scholarship:


With the utmost distinctness he dissociates himself from Denifle, Grisar and Maritain. While agreeing that most of the medieval exegetes saw the iustitia dei of Rom. i: 17 as "the mercy by which God justifies", he blames Denifle for denying the reality of the "experience in the tower" and for considering Luther's anguish as the product of a slavery to sex. McDonough complains that Grisar reduces Luther's crisis of conscience to the level of pathology and that Maritain makes him into a proud and bitter man who, because he failed to attain the heights of sanctity, sank into a "moral defeatism"”.[99]


McDonough’s evaluation of Luther “the person”:


McDonough thinks that "Luther may not have experienced temptations of the flesh beyond the ordinary, if measured by a saner and more wholesome theology than Nominalism". Moreover, he sees in the future Reformer a "highly strung" monk, "afflicted with a sensitive and scrupulous conscience", who "felt more deeply than others his own lowliness before God and who suffered intensely from the semi-Pelagian aberrations of his Nominalist masters". The anxieties to which Luther was prey bore in him a burning desire for justification. He was asking for St. Paul's meaning "as a drowning man cries for help". And finally, he passed through a "volcanic" experience, in which he learned that God alone can pardon man and save him from eternal damnation.”[100]


“[McDonough] considers Luther's anxiety to be not pathological, but born of a desire to be at peace with God, and his struggle with the Pauline justification by faith to be but the cry of a drowning man for somebody to save him. He concedes Luther's volcanic experience to be an experience with God, who, of his grace and mercy alone, rescued him from being totally lost- he suggests that this should not be dismissed as an anthropocentric concern, but seen as a genuine discovery of a theocentric experience. Here was no subjectivism: his experience was the effect and Fruit of God's objective, external Word.”[101]


McDonough rejects the charge of “subjectivism” against Luther:


Having recognized both the reality and the depth of Luther's experience, McDonough can study his thought properly, in spite of some difficulties with it. Thus, at the end of his book he admits that "if we find that his description of moral despair caused by the Law is anthropocentric, we cannot help observing that his faith in the work of the Gospel, paradoxically, makes it theocentric". Since this is so, the Reformer can defend himself against those who attack the subjectivity of his personal experience and reply: "this experience is itself the effect and fruit of God's objective external Word". Father McDonough does justice in regard to the accusation of "subjectivism" that Lortz brings against Luther.”[102]


B. Interesting Quotes on Luther from McDonough

Luther forced the Church to take hold of herself and to reform herself, an action which is still going on today. And in this respect, it is true to say that Luther is partly responsible for saving the Church.”[103]


“…[T]here is a growing consensus among Catholic scholars that Martin Luther, on the fundamental issue of the Reformation, was absolutely right. This issue was not politics, or economics, or indulgences, or papal authority, or even protest. It was simply the sovereignty of God. On this basic issue, Luther, in volumes of writings and thousands of sermons, preached to his contemporaries an entirely orthodox and truly Catholic doctrine: namely, that God alone—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems and sanctifies man.”[104]



Leonard Swidler (1964 – 1966)

Leonard Swidler is another Catholic scholar that spoke against the Luther-vilifying tendency of earlier Catholic scholars:“[Swidler] summarizes the history of Catholic research on Luther, and admits the historical need for the Reformation. He questions the long-standing attitude or Roman Catholic historians to be always careful to defend the Church at all costs, whether right or wrong, and thereby makes a fine plea for freedom both to seek the truth and to speak it.”[105]  Swidler traces Catholic polemic against Luther back to Cochlaeus:


“Since the time of Johannes Cochlaeus in the sixteenth century, Catholic Reformation scholarship has not been disposed to look upon the Reformation in a very favorable light. Johannes Cochlaeus (1479-1552), one of the bitterest and, in the long run, most influential opponents of Luther’s acts and writings. His Commentaria  de Actis et Scriptis Martini Lutheri Saxonis came out in 1549, three years after Luther’s death. Cochlaeus did not go about his difficult work with the coolness and detachment of a non-partisan historian, nor did he think it a fault not to do so. He felt his readers should not only be informed about Lutheranism, but also made fully aware that Luther had devastated the Church and brought unutterable misery to his German homeland. Every deprecation, slander and evil legend was snatched up by the author. He asserted, for example, that Luther entered into the indulgence battle against Tetzel because, as an Augustinian, he was jealous of the lucrative indulgence trade enjoyed by Tetzel and the Dominicans. Another story had it that Luther, already as a fifteen year old lad, was indulging in immoral relations with his benefactress, Frau Cotta zu Eisenach; that he lived a riotous student life in Erfurt; and that during his first period in the cloister, Luther lived in concubinage with three nuns, from which experience he contracted venereal disease. Some of the stories about Luther, because they are handed on in all seriousness, take on an air of humor. For example, when Luther wanted to emphasize a statement he might say, “I am not drunk now—I know what I am saying,” which was immediately taken by his calumniators as an admission that he often was drunk and did not know what he was saying.  Only the completely baseless legend of Luther’s suicide, which Paul Majunke revived as late as 1890, is missing in Cochlaeus. Any really first-hand reports coming from Protestants, especially Luther’s close companions Melanchthon and Mathesius, are conspicuously absent, since they would be favorably to Luther.”[106]



Swidler notes that , “…Catholics, in a searching reappraisal of Luther and the Reformation, have attained a much more sympathetic view of Protestantism.”[107]  Following in the path of Lortz, Swidler sees a strong historical case for the need of a Reformation:


The kindred temptation for the catholic historian is, after having found unpleasant facts in the history of the Church, to attempt to explain them away with specious, post-factum arguments; to maintain that the actions taken were necessary, were the best possible at the time and under those circumstances, and that if those measures had not been taken, matters would have been worse. Sometimes, this will be true. But to assume that it is always true is to canonize the past merely because it is past, a slightly paraphrased version of Hegel’s dictum ‘Whatever is, is right.’”[108]


Swidler sees that the Reformation provoked the Catholic Church to at first limit Bible use by laymen, but later approved it:


“From the time of Reformation, the Catholic Church, in its effort to combat the Protestant stress on the free interpretation of the Bible by every layman, had felt itself forced into placing stringent Limitations on the reading of the Bible. Conditions had so changed, however, that by the time of Leo XIII there was an increasing emphasis on the use of the Bible. In his Encyclical Providentissiums Deus of 1893, Leo XIII encouraged Catholic biblical scholarship, insisted on a strengthening of the biblical training of the clergy, and granted an indulgence for regular reading of Scriptures.”[109]



John M. Todd

John Todd was formally an agnostic who converted to Catholicism. His major works on Luther are Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,[110] and Luther: A Life.[111] Todd’s books are a well-balanced approach to Luther: one senses neither a lurking negative polemic or an obvious adulation. Todd says in the introduction to Martin Luther: A Biographical Study: “If the author were compelled at the point of a gun to express his opinion of the results of Luther’s life, whether they were good or bad according to his Christian scale of values, the answer would still be variegated, that some were good and some were bad. He might even murmur that Luther was Justus et peccator [Justified by God, but still a sinful human].[112]  Todd concludes in his later book, Luther: A Life:


My principal image [of Luther] is of a man driven, driven by a passion for the Divine, driven too, by a horror of evil; convinced of its eventual futility, he was ever conscious of its threat, and his life was one of prayer … Under the rumbustious lover of life lay sensitivity, intelligence and imagination, and a failure to come to terms with a world which was never good enough, a failure he found confirmed in the crucifix.”[113]


Todd is acutely aware of the previous vilification of Luther by previous Roman Catholic historians, as well as the limitations of recent Catholic evaluations:


 “It is only quite recently that passions have really begun to cool within the Protestant and Catholic traditions over Luther’s life and works…The beliefs of authors in the past made it almost inevitable that Luther would be treated either as a hero or a villain. More recently this has been mitigated a little, but, even so, authors who are themselves in the Catholic tradition, if they have not ‘exposed’, have tended to ‘explain’ or perhaps apologize or patronize Luther.”[114]


Todd’s books have been called a  sensitive and moving biography by a Catholic layman who has done his homework on Luther very well.”[115] Todd avoids vilifying Luther: “At points where Todd might have been sharply critical of Luther he desists. Luther's temper, his attitude to monasticism and marriage, his role in the Peasants' War and in the Philip of Hesse affair cannot be ignored, but Todd has no intention of using these to build some kind of case for serious spiritual or mental deficiency in Luther.”[116] Todd also avoids using Luther’s Table Talk utterances against him (as is a common practice of Luther detractors: “…[C]are has to be exercised in using the Table Talk. It is quite easy to make a selection of passages, combine these with excerpts from the work of admitted enemies and produce a lurid picture of a coarse blasphemer. Such a picture does not tally with the evidence as a whole and cannot be taken seriously.”[117]


A. Todd’s View of The Indulgence Controversy

Todd gives a general overview of the religious piety of Luther’s time. He finds the “daily life of piety had much superstition about it[118] in which pagan beliefs and “an attitude to the sacramental and devotional life…tended to be mechanical, even ‘commercial’, to use Luther’s own later description.”[119]The sacramental and devotional life…was treated in fact, sometimes, as though it were magic, and this again ties back to a pagan past.”[120] Todd finds that abuse was not uncommon throughout the western church: “…[I]t was often said and written that a specified number of Masses would achieve some object, usually the release of some soul from purgatory. This of course was severely denounced at the Council of Trent- but not of course till it had been going on virtually unchecked for centuries.”[121]Indulgences were similarly abused.”[122] “…[B] that the abuses were widely tolerated in practice is not in doubt, and the people were in no position to distinguish between what was ‘tolerated’, happening day in and day out, and what was formally taught.”[123]We have a picture then, of Christian life and prayer deeply permeating every part of life, and abuses quite widely corrupting it, and mixed with it many pagan habits of thought and action.”[124]


Todd is critical of the Roman Church that condemned Luther: “Rome is frankly criticized for its whole approach to Luther. Instead of taking his concerns seriously it opted for the "easier" route, ecclesiastical pressure to silence him. The curia was blind to the theological issues, unable to believe that a critical German was really trying to work for the good of the church.”[125] 

“Moreover, with a praiseworthy frankness, Todd describes again Rome's attitude in the conflict following on the affair of the indulgences. Imbued with a sense of her own power, caught up by all sorts of political demands, the Papacy was incapable of taking Luther seriously, incapable of conducting a careful examination of the Ninety-five Theses and their manifold theological implications. To the appeals for reform addressed to her from Germany, she replied "in the form of a personal and canonical attack". When he was accused of heresy and excommunicated by the Bull, Exsurge Domine, Luther began to doubt Papal authority. And when he had broken his ties with Rome by burning the code of the Canon Law, opposition to the Pope became a "psychological necessity" to him. Yet even when he was convinced that the Papacy was the Antichrist, he never set out to create a new institution; he still continued "to see himself simply as a ‘reformer’ of the Church".[126]


Todd notes, “Pope Julius II issued the bull Liquet omnibus in 1510 establishing an indulgence the income from which would help pay for the building of St. Peter’s.”[127] The bull had a “deliberately financial nature[128] and said, "Moreover all Christians of either sex, secular as well as regular... who shall effectively place a pious alms in the chest for the above-mentioned building [St. Peter's], may gain the fullest remission of their sins..." Todd notes the bull "seems deliberately loose in places"[129] that would lead one to believe that sins are forgiven by an indulgence. Todd uncovers the fact that the money collected from the St. Peter’s indulgence campaign did not go directly to Rome. No less than half of the money collected went to German bankers, because the Archbishop of Mainz had "bargained with Rome to be allowed to keep half what was contributed for the indulgence..."[130] which he owed to the German bankers. Todd also notes that Tetzel's pay for his preaching work was a "princely sum".[131]. Todd explains that when Tetzel got a copy of Luther's 95 Theses, Tetzel said " The heretic would be in the flames within three weeks."[132] Tetzel was a Dominican, and the Dominicans directed the Inquisition. The request to charge Luther for heresy did come, because Luther attacked not only indulgences, but a Dominican as well: “Many must have realized that in attacking Tetzel Luther had engaged Goliath. Tetzel was a Dominican. The Dominicans, who directed the Inquisition, were all-powerful in the Curia at Rome, and again in Saxony.”[133]The Dominican chapter had sent a denunciation of Luther to Rome for suspicion of heresy.”[134]


Todd argues that Rome was not able to address Luther constructively or helpfully on the 95 Theses. The Church was mired in abuse, and its theologians had no desire to hear from one its biblical theologians. Todd says,

“Luther’s opponents were unable to take him seriously because for them the Church was simply ‘God’s Church’ possessing an authority almost identical with that of God himself, and the Bible something secondary, a mine of texts, which could be taken directly or allegorically, or in any way that would harmonize with the Church’s traditional practice; a practice must be defensible, indeed must be in a sense divine, if the Church had sanctioned it, and the Church’s actions ipso facto received God’s approbation.”[135]


In other words, Todd argues that the sixteenth century Roman Catholic Church functioned by sola ecclesia, and whatever it did, was right. A Church that functions this way can never take any opposition seriously. If it did, it would mean it’s demise because it would admit it is in error. To admit an infallible Church is in error is to admit it is not an infallible Church.



B. An overview of Todd’s approach to Luther:

Overall, Todd treats Luther as an honest theologian, with important insights: “Luther's message was not solely the rather austere theology of justification but a return to the New Testament themes of the Fatherhood of God, the sending of the Son, and the Son's message of forgiveness and love for all men. Beneath the polemics and the theology lay this concern for man, the personal appeal. He spoke of Christ the man who had suffered for them, and had taken on the bitter life of the world. Luther himself lived out his life as one who shared all things with others, an ordinary honest man.”[136]


“In Todd's eyes, Luther is a serious student, a pious and intelligent monk,[137] sensible and brave,[138] well thought of by his superiors[139] and unwittingly possessing all the qualities of a leader.[140] Because of the emotional tension that marked his relationship with his father, he had a tender spot in regard to the question of authority and was more conscious than the most of men of his sin before the righteousness of God.[141] Although Todd thinks that Luther's experience was not without certain psychological sources—he speaks in this context of "nervous anxiety" and of a tendency to a "certain morbidity"[142]—he still emphasizes that Luther was not "unbalanced”.[143] Moreover, following on excellent passages on the Anfechtung and the tentatio tristitiae, he says that if one wants to understand Luther, one must not isolate the religious factor in him. It was because the theology of merits which was dominant at the outset of the sixteenth century did not give an answer to the question set to Luther by the separation of man from God that he found the solution to the problem in the doctrine of justification by faith.”[144]


“…Todd thinks that the doctrine of justification by faith is not contrary to Roman Catholic dogma. He rightly points out that, even if Luther attacked scholasticism,[145] he is nonetheless one of the heirs of medieval theology[146]; he did not want to destroy everything that had gone before,[147] but to cause to shine out in the heart of the Church the teaching which he found in Scripture and which, because it had calmed his own fears, seemed to him necessary for man.[148] We must note in this connection that, concerned as Luther was with the individual as such,[149] he was nevertheless not an individualist.[150] His theology is in no sense anthropocentric. It does not start out from man by way of some self-styled particular revelation—contrary to what Ronald Knox imagines when he makes Luther an "enthusiast"[151]; it stands on the authority of Scripture.[152] It does not turn man in on himself but conducts him to the merciful God who in the person of his Son justifies the sinner.[153] Todd emphasizes again that Luther is not antinomian; the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer is not only the cloak veiling his unworthiness, but also the power which allows the justified man to live a new life.[154][155]


Todd summarized Luther in 1982 by saying:


Of Luther himself it is impossible to speak summarily. The complex and remarkable story of his life, the tally of his works, and the witness of a great number of friends, acquaintances and enemies are there. Many loved him, many revered him, some were frightened of him, a few resentful. No one accused him, with any semblance of justification, of double dealing, or of cowardice. My principal image is of a man driven, driven by a passion for the Divine, driven, too, by a horror of evil; convinced of its eventual futility, he was ever conscious of its threat, and his life was one of prayer. His friends remembered him standing by the window of his room praying, often aloud. Under the rumbustious lover of life lay sensitivity, intelligence and imagination, and a failure to come to terms with a world which was never good enough, a failure he found confirmed in the crucifix, but glorified in what followed. At the Wartburg he wrote: ‘They threaten us with death. They would do better to threaten us with life.’”[156]



C. Criticism of Luther by Todd

 “…Todd puts forward some criticisms, but always with the greatest friendliness. He blames him for having denied the Sacrifice of the Mass, for having deprived the sacraments of their objective character by repudiating the concept of the opus operatum, for having drawn from his doctrine of original sin, catholic in essence, a distinction without Scriptural foundation, for having approved the rise of an irrational fideism, and finally for having rejected the authority of Pope and Councils. On this last point, which played a large part in Luther's condemnation of Rome, Todd is careful to draw our attention to the pertinent fact that Catholicism held a different position in the sixteenth century from today; the authority of the Pope was not then regarded as necessarily instituted by God, and his relations with councils was still under discussion.”[157]


“[Todd] does full justice to Luther's innermost religious and theological intentions, while at the same time criticizing him for having denied the sacrifice of the mass, for having repudiated the objective nature of the sacraments, for having drawn non-biblical conclusions in his doctrine of original sin, for inaugurating a kind of irrational fideism, and for having rejected the authority of popes and councils. There is little in the book not already found elsewhere (in Rupp, for example, and in Lortz); nevertheless it is a valuable book to have at the present, issuing as it does from the pen of a sensitive and fair-minded lay historian of the Roman Catholic Church.”[158]


Harry J. McSorley

 “The work of Harry J. McSorley requires specific notice, not only for his numerous articles and contribution in journals and papers, but for his fine doctoral dissertation on Luther's Bondage of the Will. The book is a scholarly and competent effort to come to grips with the heart of Luther's Reformation protest against the Church of Rome on the basis of his debate with Erasmus. He suggests that Luther's protest was not directed against the well-known abuses and laxity in the late medieval Church, but against what Luther judged to be the false doctrine taught by that Church and by its chief human pastor, the Bishop of Rome. To the question of whether Luther’s central reformation protest was one such as to divide Catholic and Protestant Christianity irrevocably, McSorley answers a resounding 'No!'. All this is most encouraging.”[159]



Jared Wicks

 A few years ago I grabbed a book off the shelf of a College library entitled, Catholic Scholars Dialogue With Luther. Being only familiar with the vilifying types of arguments against Luther from Catholics, I expected this book to be filled with attacks. I was totally mistaken. The book was the work of Jared Wicks, who put together a selection of contemporary Catholic scholars evaluating certain aspects of Luther. The book was an eye-opener, and my studies on Luther were greatly enriched by this book. Johann Heinz offers this review of the book:


“A further volume of interest in the emerging new evaluation of Luther on the part of Catholic scholars is that of Jared Wicks, comp.. Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther (Chicago, 1970). In this volume are presented chapters by Joseph Lortz, Erwin Iserloh, Otto H. Pesch, Paul Hacker, Harry J. McSorley, and Peter Manns. These chapters take the form of genuinely dialogical studies that endeavor to see Luther in his own setting. As Warren A. Quanbeck states in an "Afterward": "Roman Catholic Luther scholarship is quite clearly no longer a branch of theological polemics, but is historically informed, theologically sensitive, and possesses a genuine interest in the message of the Reformer". This statement describes not only the volume itself but the general trend that has been occurring in Catholic discussions of Luther. Two monographs by Wicks also deserve mention for their sympathetic approach to the Protestant Reformer: Man Yearning for Grace: Luther's Early Spiritual Teaching (Washington and Cleveland: Corpus Books, 1968); and Luther and His Spiritual Legacy (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1983).”[160]


Some Interesting insights from Wicks:


Luther can be a forceful teacher of lived religion. He can be a resource for the enrichment of personal spirituality for members of all Christian confessions. In many of Luther's works, one does not have to read far before touching on the subject of conversion from proud self-reliance to trusting acceptance of God's grace. Luther's accounts of conversion bear numerous marks of their own time, as accounts written between 1509 and 1546…. One thinks here of Luther's The Freedom of a Christian, of his exposition of the Miserere (Psalm 51), and of his preface to the Epistle to the Romans.”[161]


Luther can lead the spiritually dedicated person to the retrieval of easily forgotten central truths. Like Ignatius, Luther is skeptical about enthusiastic claims of having the Spirit. Luther leads the believer back to the word of Scripture, to baptism, and to the words of absolution and eucharistic institution. There faith can take hold of reliable communications from God. Above all, Luther sought to help people be struck personally by the word and work of Christ. Both Ignatius and Luther teach that Christmas is a time to marvel that God became man for me and for my salvation.”[162]


As one reads the Gospels and prays over them along lines suggested by Luther, a leitmotif will inevitably be the line, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:13). Luther is a dedicated foe of any proud satisfaction over having arrived spiritually at a point of rest. Penance for him is a lifelong concern, which is as well the message of the annual observance of Lent in the church year.”[163]


“…[C]ertain concerns of contemporary theology especially in Catholic circles, suggest that Luther can provide enrichment. For instance, he insisted on occasion on integrating experience into his interpretation of Scripture and his teaching of Christian truth. This gave many of his expositions, especially on sin and grace, a tone of profound, even anguished, feeling. For him, sin and guilt were terrifying, grace and union with Christ liberating and filled with delight. Faith, for Luther, brings an experience of strength and courage become imperturbable and of trust and joy deep in the heart. In Luther's day, academic theology in the universities had long been divorced from the Christian insights of the monastic and mystical traditions. Luther was one who brought the academic, that is, systematic and exegetical, concerns into renewed connection with Christian experience.”[164]


Christology is clearly the place of the central theological ferment of our day. Catholic theologians are producing a host of new presentations of the person, message, and meaning of Christ the Lord. Luther can serve here as a forceful reminder that soteriology, the doctrine of Christ's saving work, is the center of all Christian words and teaching. Faith, for Luther, focuses sharply on the redemptive mystery, on Jesus' life and death for us and for our salvation…. For Luther, the cross of Christ is the most illuminating revelation of God. The heart of the Father is shown us in his Son, and faith in the Father is always through the Son. Focused as he is on salvation, Luther stresses how Christ brings grace and forgiveness to the fearful and saddened hearts of sinners. Luther does offer a relational Christology closely based on Scripture.”[165]


“Another concern of contemporary theology is biblical hermeneutics. One senses an increasing dissatisfaction with contributions to theological work by the practice of the critical-historical method on Scripture. Biblical scholarship at times uses methods that atomize the texts into tiny particles. Other analyses so stress the special individuality of a particular biblical author as to leave us no single message from the New Testament. Another kind of interpretation seems needed, that goes beyond the initial phase of work with the text. Above all, a method is needed which does not lose sight of the perspective arising from the faith which prompts us to pick up the Bible in the first place. Now Luther did practice theological and religious interpretation of Scripture. Taking his stand on Paul's form of the Gospel of grace, Luther moved out confidently to point out what was going on in the prayers, narratives, and sermons recorded throughout the Bible. His Old Testament interpretations focus on faith and the trials besetting the lives of God's servants. Luther explains the Psalms as Christian prayer. He comes to the gospel narratives quite aware of the mission of Christ to bring salvation to sinners. Thus Luther provides a model of interpretation of the biblical text that is focused on the religious core of revelation.”[166]


Some “negatives” from Wicks:


“Luther's doctrine of conversion did resolutely exclude the free assent of compliance by which the human person ratifies and appropriates the grace of God. This assent, the Catholic tradition rightly holds, could be dissent or refusal in a given case. A mystery of freedom, human freedom, penetrates conversion under grace. But Luther projected a mystical passivity into this area.”[167]


“…[T]here are Luther's polemics against the sacrifice of the mass. History shows the many reasons why a reform movement had to take up the mass in the sixteenth century. Protestant reformers did do away with abuses connected with stipends, the vast number of masses without the people, lay passivity or attention to other devotions during mass, withholding the chalice, celebration in a tongue alien to many, and neglect of preaching at mass. But Luther went on to teach a purely receptive posture of faith in the central moment of worship. Receptivity is right, but Luther's exclusion is not right. Eucharist is a prayer of praise and dedication addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit. It is intrinsic to the action to give all honor and glory to the Father through, with, and in Christ. A sacrificial movement of self-offering by the church is essential here. Luther's passion to display the grace of God in the Supper led to an exclusion of this movement toward God by the community united with  Christ.”[168]




 With the rise of the Internet, discussions between Protestants and Catholics have moved into a new realm. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that a large contingent of cyber-space Catholics have never heard of the scholars reviewed in this paper. Arguments similar to those put forth by Grisar, Denifle, and O’Hare are more common; perhaps because it’s easier to attack Luther’s character than it is to read, understand, and digest his theology.[169] As John Todd so aptly said, “No political, economic, social or psychological interpretation [of Luther’s theology] can replace or cancel [Luther’s] essentially spiritual and theological nature.”[170] Reading Luther in context is work. Often times, a surface reading of Luther’s polemical works can lead one to unwarranted conclusions. Over thirty years ago, Fred Meuser asserted in his book, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy:


“The traditional attitude to Luther has by no means disappeared; in fact, in some segments of Catholicism it has not even been tempered. For too long Luther was belabored as a demon to be exorcised from the body of the church for any modified spirit to gain a quick hearing. The destructive attack that simply damned Luther on the basis of the inherited prejudices has not disappeared from seminary instruction, parochial schools, or tract literature, anymore than has the adulatory naivete of some followers of Luther.”[171]


Perhaps another reason Catholics have difficulty understanding Luther is they fail to keep in mind that Luther lived in the sixteenth century. One cannot apply Twenty-First Century standards to medieval people. Countless arguments indicting Luther can be dismissed with this realization. This is not to excuse Luther’s words or behavior, but only to suggest that Luther was not a speech-sensitive democratic American with a bent towards some poorly defined notion of “tolerance.” For example, to dismiss Luther’s theology for his comments on the Peasant’s war is an example of this historical anachronism. Luther’s attitude toward the peasants demonstrates that he was a medieval man. It does not demonstrate his theology was somehow responsible for civil unrest, the blueprint for anarchy, or demonstrative of a sub-Christian morality.


Even though disagreeing with many of the criticisms put forth by the above Catholic scholars, it is refreshing to read these Catholics evaluate Luther. To put our theological differences into the realm of scholarly discussion, rather than vilifying ad hominem, is the only way any constructive dialogue can occur. Father Yves M.-J. Congar has said, “I know that nothing really worth-while with regard to Protestantism will be achieved so long as we take no steps truly to understand Luther, instead of simply condemning him, and to do him historical justice.”[172] Congar has spoken wisely, and one hopes that Roman Catholics will follow his advice.





[1] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, (Virginia: John Knox Press, 1967), 7. “… Roman Catholic attention to Martin Luther has gone almost full circle. Following the lead of Luther's Catholic contemporary Johann Cochlaeus in his extremely derogatory biography, Roman Catholics for centuries took a comparably negative attitude toward the Protestant Reformer. Fairly detailed treatments by Heinrich Denifle and Hartmann Grisar during the first two decades of the present century prolonged the myth (in spite of certain valuable contributions which these Catholic scholars made). Their unjustly rabid or cynical attitude toward Luther was carried forward by other Catholic researchers and biographers with varying degrees of intensity” [Kenneth A. Strand, “Current Issues and Trends in Luther Studies,” Andrews University Seminary Studies, Spring 1984, Vol. 22, No. 1, 150].


[2] Marc Lienhard has commented that earlier Catholic approaches to Luther concentrated heavily on Luther “the person” as a means of evaluating the validity of his theology: “In Roman Catholicism they continue to give great importance to the person of Luther as an aspect of the Reformation…The interpretation of the Reformation and judgment on Luther’s person are closely connected…”(Marc Lienhard, La place de Luther dans le dialogue protestant-catholique actuel, Positions lutheriennes, Paris, 1965, pp. 69). My citation of this quote comes from Luther As Seen By Catholics, 7. 

[3] One will note my frequent citation of Richard Stauffer’s book, Luther as Seen By Catholics. I highly recommend this little book. Though out of print, it is a valuable reference to Luther studies. I have at least ten studies on this subject from various authors all referencing and following Stauffer. His book is the definitive study on Catholic approaches to Luther in English.

Stauffer’s book was part of the “ecumenical studies in history” series. Their goal: “The purpose of this series is to examine afresh problems of Church History and to do this for the sake of Church Unity. The subjects are drawn from many periods, places and communions. Their unity lies not in a common outlook of the writers, nor in a common method of treatment. It lies solely in the aim of, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, furthering the unity of the Church. The contributors are no less diverse than the subjects, and represent many Churches, nations and races.” While perhaps both Protestants and Catholics alike will look suspiciously at ecumenical books, I have found that Stauffer’s conclusions on Catholic approaches to Luther are equally shared by authors less ecumenical.

 Also, since I do not read German or French, many of the reviews of German and French Catholic scholars covered in this paper were taken from reliable Protestant and Catholic secondary sources. The Lutheran scholar J.M. Reu once commented in his research,  “though it is a fundamental principle of all scientific work, not to quote anything which has not been personally examined, the wealth of the literary material in question and the remoteness of the author’s place of residence from many of the literary treasures, precluded the possibility of applying this principle in each and every instance, a fact which is very much regretted” [J.M. Reu, Thirty-Five Years of Luther Research (New York: AMS Press, 1970 reprint of the original 1917 edition), unnumbered forward].  I echo this frustration with many of the authors covered here. I’ve included many German Catholic scholars simply because they were years ahead of their English counterparts. It was because of their work that any reevaluations of Luther could take place, in any country.


[4] Kiefl’s article first appeared in the monthly journal, Monatschrift fur alle Gebiete des Wissens. It also can be found in the Catholic review Hochland . The article can be found reprinted in Kiefl: Katholische Weltanschauung und modernes Denken, Ratisbon, 1923, pp. 17-38. To my knowledge, the article has not been translated into English.


[5] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 38. This is Stauffer’s summary of Kiefl. Fred Meuser concurs: “Kiefl respects Luther's genuine piety, his literary genius, and his profound understanding of much of the Christian faith” (Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969) 46.


[6] James Atkinson comments, “Kiefl broke with Denifle and Grisar, arguing that Luther’s protest can be explained and understood only by theological causes. In that single statement he drew all the poison out of the wound, for nothing has done more to poison confessional differences than a certain obstinate denial of any religious motives to the Reformers” [James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic (Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), 21].


[7] Swidler comments can be found at:


[8] Stauffer explains Kiefl:“…Denifle was at fault in seeing in Luther’s protest a libertine revolt against the Church and in regarding his theology as an excuse to condone his behavior”(A summary of Kiefl from page 17 of Martin Luthers religiose Psyche put forth by Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 37.) Atkinson comments, “Kiefl contradicted Denifle, maintaining that Luther’s doctrine of justification implied works as a fruit of justification, and that Luther was no libertine seeking excuses for low morality. He made the important point that Luther never sought to replace dogma by religious feeling” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 21]. Sadly, many internet-savvy Roman Catholics unknowingly still follow Denifle’s argument, and frequently misuse Luther’s “sin boldly” statement, attempting to portray Luther as a gross antinomian. A simple reading of Luther’s context for this statement, as well as explaining Luther’s fundamental distinction between law and gospel, usually silences the argument. The Catholic scholar Jared Wicks has correctly pointed out, “One needs to be on the lookout for Luther's rhetorical flights, and to be judicious in discriminating between the substance of his message and the linguistic extremes with which he sometimes made his points” [Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, (Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983), 29].


[9] F.X. Kiefl, Martin Luthers religiose Psyche, 9 cited in:  Luther As Seen By Catholics, 54-55. Atkinson notes, “[Kiefl] even conceded that in his debate with Erasmus, Luther showed a far deeper understanding of Christianity than his opponent” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 21].


[10] Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 21.


[11] Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 21. Meuser agrees: “At the heart of Luther's thought [Kiefl] finds a deep appreciation for the sovereign grace of God, but [Kiefl] concludes that an overemphasis on this truth led Luther astray on depravity, free will, imputed righteousness, and the church's role in mediating salvation” [Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969). 46].Stauffer also agrees: ““Luther was seized by the Biblical concept of the almightiness of God. But he made this almightiness unilateral. Thinking that God alone acts in redemption, he was led to deny free-will, to affirm man’s total depravity, to hold to the doctrine of imputed righteousness, and finally to reject a Church which mediated salvation” [Luther As Seen By Catholics, 37].


[12] Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 21.


[13] A comment from Strohl  from L’evolution relig. De Luther, p.31, cited in: Luther As Seen By Catholics, 54. 


[14] Alfred von Martin’s Luther in okumenischer Sicht.  Father Swidler explains the book: “The editing of Luther in ökumenischer Sicht in 1929 by Alfred von Martin was among other things an extraordinary attempt to foster among Catholics a new attitude toward Luther and the Reformation. The book originally was to be a supplement to the fourth volume of the periodical Una Sancta, edited by von Martin with both Protestants and Catholic contributors, but because of difficulties with Rome it did not appear as a part of the Una Sancta. Von Martin said, “What is presented here is no longer an ‘Una Sancta’ periodical. It forgoes for the time the attempt to find a united objective ground on which the Christians of the separated confessions can meet each other.” Rather, the book is a series of individual essays by both Catholics and Protestants which can claim only the individual conviction and responsibility of the several authors. Nevertheless, von Martin maintained that there was a certain perceptible unity within the volume and that the book would serve as a step toward reconciliation [Leonard Swidler, “The Ecumenical Vanguard: The History of the Una Sancta Movement” located at:].


Swidler also explains, “In 1929 Alfred von Martin, then Lutheran, said that any inter-confessional agreement on the religious significance of Luther still lay in the distant future, but that there were hopeful signs of at least the beginnings of a rapprochement over Luther. Johannes Albani, a Catholic convert, declared "that a decontamination of the inter-confessional atmosphere ... can be hoped for only if and when the person and works of Luther are given their just due." Max Pribilla, S.J., wrote in 1929 that the sixteenth century Reformation never would have taken place if the church and her representatives had been living up to their mission. "Protestants and Catholics—both bear the guilt for the present circumstances and neither has the right to raise himself above the other." The professor of Catholic theology Paul Simon expressed the same idea: "the split would never have come if at the time of the Reformation the burning questions had been handled as religious questions from religious men" (Leonard Swidler, “Catholic Reformation Scholarship in Germany,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 2, 1965. 192].


[15] Luther As Seen By Catholics, 38.  Atkinson says similarly, ““The historian Sebastian Merkle courageously declared that historians must refrain from belittling and detracting from Luther, and instead must recognize him as a religious man concerned about Christian theology, see the plain evidence that he was no revolutionary or radical freethinker, and concede that he was genuinely concerned only about spiritual things” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 22], as does Meuser: ““Sebastian Merkle's "Gutes an Luther und Ubies an seinen Tadlem" sketched some guidelines for Catholic historians of the Reformation: They must recognize the basically spiritual character of the Reformation; they should recognize Luther's religious motives, stop belittling and detracting from him, and perceive that he was in no sense a modern free-thinker or revolutionary” [Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969). 45.




[17] Leonard Swidler, “Catholic Reformation Scholarship in Germany,” 191-192.


[18] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, (Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983), 19-20


[19] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 38-39. James Atkinson similarly states: “Anton Fischer, drew attention to Luther's spirituality by describing him as a man of prayer, and showed that this is a matter of some ecumenical significance: The praying Luther belongs to us all. He is a truly ecumenical man. He has something to say and to give to all Christian communities. Luther's first emphasis on prayer was to meet God in his Word by the operation of the Holy Spirit, and this is common to us all, Fischer argues. He even goes on to say that the Pater Noster is at the heart of our prayer life, and that if we could use Christ's own words of prayer in the spirit of such great masters of prayer as St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and Martin Luther, the Lords Prayer could bridge the gap that separates Roman Catholics and Protestants. That Fischer would put Luther in the company of Augustine and Francis is indicative of progress indeed” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 22].


[20] Swidler:


[21]Anton Fischer, “Was der betende Luther der ganzen Christenheit zu sagen hat,” from the book, Luther in okumenischer Sicht, 187, cited in:  Luther As Seen By Catholics, 55.


[22] Luther in okumenischer Sicht, 187-188, cited in: Luther As Seen By Catholics, 55.


[23]  For example Jedin says, “Luther is incontestably a world-historical personality. His religious disposition and the depth of his character, his lofty endowments and eloquence and his superhuman industry, have for four hundred years won for him a profound effect on men, but certainly also the division of the Church. The shadow sides of his dynamic personality are plain: his uncontrolled anger and polemic, above all against the Papacy, his lack of humility and love, which is explained but not excused by his consciousness of mission” (Hubert Jedin, Luther in Lexicon fur Theologie und Kirche (Freibourg-im-Breisgau, 1961, 2nd ed. Vol. VI, col. 1228-1229) cited in Luther As Seen By Catholics, 55).


[24] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 39. Fred Meuser notes, “Of similar spirit in the 1930's was the young historian Hubert

Jedin, now well known through his writings on the ecumenical councils of the Roman Church. His Die Erforschung der kirchUchen Reformationsgeschichte seit 1876 and a series of lectures in Berlin in 1938 (the manuscript of which was destroyed in the Russian invasion of Berlin) tried to counteract the influence of Denifle and Grisar and to do justice to the religious concerns of Luther as reflected in his early writings” [Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, 46].


[25] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 30. Catholic theologian Karl Rahner has said, “…Catholicism may reject a certain aspect of Luther's teaching, but that Roman Catholic theology has much to learn from him today nonetheless” (Atkinson, 30).


[26] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 3.


[27] Ulrich Kremer comments from the book,“ Seven Headed LutherOxford Press, 1983, 207. In the same book, Gotthelf Wiedermann agrees:   “It was only in the twentieth century that Cochlaeus’s hold on the Catholic image of Luther was gradually broken [because of Lortz], 204.


[28] “Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther”(Jared Wicks, S.J, Editor. 1970, Loyola University Press), 1


[29] Eric W. Gritsch, Martin Luther-God’s Court Jester, Luther in Retrospect ( Fortress press, 1983), 146. Johann Heinz points out, “Lortz tried seriously to understand Luther and the Reformation. In one stroke he abandoned, once and for all, the polemical approach, denying, for example, the legend of Luther's immorality. Lortz declares that "Luther was not motivated by low inclinations and desires when he broke with the church . . . this ought to be understood by everyone." The Reformation was inevitable, Lortz suggests, with the Catholic Church having been guilty of corrupting the life and thought of medieval Christianity” [Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and his Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II,” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, 1988, Vol. 26, No. 3), 256].


[30] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 23.


[31] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 40-41.


[32] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 41.


[33] Gordon Rupp, The Righteousness of God, 27.


[34] Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther(Jared Wicks, S.J, Editor. 1970, Loyola University Press) 4.


[35]  Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther,  5-6.


[36] Joseph Lortz cited in: Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 56.


[37] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 56


[38] Catholic Scholars Dialog with Luther, 8.


[39] Catholic Scholars Dialog With Luther , 9.


[40] Catholic Scholars Dialog With Luther , 10.


[41] Catholic Scholars Dialog With Luther , 12.


[42] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 56. Stauffer says also, “[The Church] needed to be reformed, [Lortz] affirms. Moreover, if Luther attacked and repudiated the Church of his day it was because he did not find true faith in her. Following Newman, Lortz thinks that the Romanists were also to be blamed for the sixteenth-century schism. But he does not stop at admitting the need for a reformation. Anticipating Congar, he laments the fact that protest and reform have not a free course in his Church, for, he writes, "the possibility of a true protest" which is neither a movement of insubordination nor a renunciation of unity "is necessary to the full development of any organism” (p.40). Atkinson agrees: “[Lortz] conceded that the Church of the sixteenth century needed reformation, and granted the validity of Luther's attack on it, granting him the status of historical necessity. He deplores the fact that protest and reform have no free course in the Roman Catholic Church even today, and argues the possibility of a true protest being neither an act of insubordination nor a destruction of unity. Luther was in fact a creative genius, so complex that after four hundred years scholars are still unable to arrive at any common general assessment of his real significance [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 22-23].


[43] Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany  Vol. 1 (London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1968) 156. “It is interesting to notice that Lortz still considered Luther a "heretic." He explained Luther psychologically: In spite of Luther's many wonderful sides, Luther was an "Erregungstyp" ("emotional character"). Luther formed his theology out of his own experience and therefore was unable to integrate other theological aspects which were contrary to his inner life and thoughts” [Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and His Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II,” 147-148].


[44] Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany  Vol. 1 (London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1968) 156.


[45] Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany  Vol. 1 , 157.


[46] Joseph Lortz quoted in, Gordon Rupp, The Righteousness of God (Great Brittan: Hodder and Stoughton Publishing, 1953), 27.


[47] Catholic Scholars Dialog With Luther, 6-7.


[48] Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany  Vol. 1 , 155.


[49] Catholic Scholars Dialog With Luther 7.


[50] Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany  Vol. 1 , 201.


[51] Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany  Vol. 1 , 207-208.

[52] Stauffer’s assessment of Lortz, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 42. Johann Heinz points out, “But, says Lortz, Luther did not fight real Catholicism. Catholicism as Luther understood it was the prevailing Scholasticism of the late Middle Ages, the so-called "Occamism" in which Luther had been brought up—a position the Reformer finally rejected as a new kind of Pelagianism because theologians such as William of Occam and Gabriel Biel had made man's will and work precede God's grace according to the famous sentence, "Si homo facit, quod in se est, deus dat ei gratiam." Thus Luther, who probably was not very well acquainted with High Scholasticism and especially not with Thomas Aquinas, fought only a decadent form of Catholic theology, while the real Catholicism (which was mainly Thomism) remained untouched” [Johann Heinz, “Martin Luther and his Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II,” 256-257].


[53] Johann Heinz though points out, “Lortz clearly points out in his Reformation in Deutschland that Luther was no modern subjectivist (subjectivism was rather anticipated by Erasmus), but rather a Christ-centered thinker with enormous and deep strength of faith, influencing generations of Christians; if it were not so, Protestant Christianity would have disappeared a long time ago. In a letter to some German soldiers during World War II, Lortz was even more positive, stating that Luther was a man of secular significance, an inexhaustible ocean of religious strength. He was a real "homo religiosus," not a shallow kind of Christian, but a confessor of "theologia crucis." He was an evangelist of Jesus Christ and of Christ's gospel of redemption and grace. Luther's earnestness as a monk, his love for the Scriptures, his belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, his life of prayer and piety—all of these point to the "homo catholicus" in this "heretic” (Martin Luther and his Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II,” 257).


[54] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 22.


[55] Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 46-47.


[56] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 21.


[57] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 58. Atkinson concurs: “In 1945 Adolf Herte published his great work, Das Katholische Lutherbild in Bann der Lutherkommentare des Cochlaeus, a book that makes a more important contribution towards confessional unity than even Lortz’s. Herte shows that, with few exceptions, all the Catholic biographies of Luther predating the twentieth century derive from the work of Cochlaeus. His intent is to search for the meaning of the Reformation, to calm the confessional atmosphere, and to bring healing to old wounds” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 24].


[58] Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 47-48.


[59] J. Hessen, quoted by Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 58. Atkinson notes, “[Hessen] rejected outright Lortz’s theory that Luther’s error sprang from subjectivism. It is true, he suggests, that Luther emphasized the pro nobis or pro me, by which he meant that every individual believer as an involved or committed believer appropriates the work of Christ and experiences it in his or her own heart and mind, but, at the same time, the content of the experience is wholly of God by the mediation of Christ and therefore completely objective: Luther was talking of a confrontation by God, rather than of some inner, subjective experience” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 24]. Johann Heinz notes, “Hessen has pointed out that Lortz's psychological explanation is unsatisfying—that the difference between Catholicism and Luther is not a psychological one, but a theological one. Luther had a real and justified theological burden. Thus, Hessen has given one of the most enthusiastic Catholic appreciations of Luther that appeared before Vatican II” [“Martin Luther and his Theology in German Catholic Interpretation Before and After Vatican II,” 258].


[60] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 44. Hessen is building on the explanation by the Roman Catholic J. Albani. Stauffer explains, “Albani, a Protestant convert to the Roman Church, shows…that one cannot accuse Luther of subjectivism, for his faith never had any other object than Jesus Christ.  If one is determined to speak of subjectivism in reference to Luther, one must, according to Albani, at least call it a ‘christocentric subjectivism.’” (Stauffer, 58).


[61] Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 49.


[62] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 24 -25.


[63] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 44. “ To Hessen, Luther stands in the line of the Old Testament prophets, a man with a divine mission to overcome a great falling away from the Gospel and to restore the Gospel to its proper place in the church” [Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 49].


[64] Hessen did indeed meet severe criticism for this view from Roman Catholic scholars. For an excellent overview of Luther being seen as a prophet by early Lutherans, see Robert Kolb, Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher, and Hero (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999).


[65] Atkinson explains, “Hessen argued that Luther's fundamental experience did not imply any break with Catholic dogma; such would be the case only if Catholic dogma were to be understood in terms of only the patristic and early medieval tradition. Luther certainly broke away from the contemporary Catholic dogma, much of which he described as novel innovation, and he certainly wanted to reform the Church's teaching of his day, as all his contemporaries saw. But in fact it could be reasonably argued that Luther's main concern was with doctrine rather than with practice or scandals” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 25].


[66] Atkinson explains, “Hessen rightly argued that Luther was no antinomian. He rejected the scholastic idea that faith had to be marked by works (fides caritate formata) understood as a kind of contribution man puts into the bargain in justification before God, but he did so only in order to emphasize the fact that the work of salvation is all of God. He did not thereby reject good works or a high Christian morality, but taught that all good works are a fruit of faith” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 25].


[67] Meuser explains, “Hessen also makes every effort to understand and appreciate Luther-ideas which even his objective colleagues had attacked. For example, in the area of free will, depravity, and good works, Hessen sees that Luther's invective against human works and merit is not philosophic determinism but a way to emphasize man's absolute dependence upon God and to eliminate the possibility of any pride on man's part” [Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 50].


[68] Atkinson explains, “On the matter of the sacraments, Hessen rightly argues that Luther did not reject the sacraments as means of grace. Luther staunchly maintained the objectivity of both Baptism and the Eucharist, and all his life stressed their role and significance in the life of the Christian” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 25].


[69] Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 50.


[70] Hessen cited by Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 59.


[71] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 45.


[72] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 45. Karl Holl notes, “[Luther’s] concept of the invisible church was not an image drawn in the air, nor was it aimed at destroying the visible Church, but an already existing reality, which he felt to be present, a criterion which he only held up before the Church around him to help it to a right judgment on itself” (cited by Stauffer, 59).  Atkinson concurs: “According to Hessen, after Luther discovered the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone, he moved on to the Johannine doctrine of union with Christ. This is true in that Luther found that the Pauline emphasis yields an experience of God in Christ that is fully expressible in the Johannine idiom of the Father and the Son making their abode in the believer. When Hessen goes on to say that this caused Luther to disregard the important reality of the Church, however, he is in error. Luther's doctrine of the hidden church is certainly devastatingly critical of the institution as such, but he had as high a doctrine of the people of God as Christ held” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 25-26].


[73] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 46.


[74] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 46-47.


[75] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 47.


[76] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 47. Stauffer evaluates Adam: “Adam's decidedly represents a step backwards in the understanding of Luther. And this is because he refuses to give the least theological value to Luther's message. He recognizes him as a man and a believer, but not as a preacher of the Gospel. It is, however, only as a preacher of the Gospel that Luther wants to be heard. Adam fails to do so because in the first part of his work he does not examine sufficiently the ills of Christianity in the centuries before the Reformation.” (Stauffer, 48).


[77] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 27.


[78] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 34.


[79] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 34-35.


[80] Father Sartory, “Martin Luther in katholischer Sicht” in Una sancta (Meitingen-bei-Augsburg, 1961), 54, cited from: Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 53 and Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 51-52.


[81] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 52-53.


[82] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 29-30.


[83] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 52. Atkinson concurs: “He speaks of the theological confusion of the sixteenth century, and makes the Roman Catholic Church partially responsible for the events from 1517 onwards. Significantly, he emphasizes Jedin’s point, namely, that by failing to condemn the Reformers by name (in accordance with conciliar practice), the fathers at Trent had never finally closed the door on the Protestants” (Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 29).


[84] Father Sartory, “Martin Luther in katholischer Sict” Una Sancta: Zeitschrift fur Interkonfessionelle Begegnung, 16 (Mar. 1961), 48; cited from Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 51. Meuser comments, “Theologically Sartory sees Luther's one great concern as the living God and the individual face to face with him. Luther, therefore, could not think of God abstractly but only in terms of his relationship to man, to Luther” (p. 51).


[85] Father Sartory, “Martin Luther in katholischer Sict,” 42, cited in Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 50-51.


[86] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 52. Atkinson agrees: “As far as the theology of Luther is concerned, Sartory sees Luther as a kerygmatic rather than a systematic theologian, as interested only in the living God, and man face to face with him. There was nothing subjective about Luther, he suggests, for he bound conscience to the Word of God. He compares him in this respect to Newman: whereas Newman believed that the Church was the authoritative interpreter of Scripture, Luther granted final authority to the Bible alone, and more specifically to the Gospel he found in the Bible, namely, justification of the sinner by grace in Christ only. Sartory stresses the importance for Catholicism of the doctrine of the Word of God. He does question (with Lortz) whether Luther in his emphasis on justification had not thereby lost the fullness of the biblical revelation—whether, for instance, in his stress on the death of Jesus he had given full weight to the Resurrection” (Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 29).


[87] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 51.


[88] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 28-29. Meuser says, “In the psychological section [Sartory] examines and rejects as completely inadequate the approaches of Cochlaeus, Denine, Grisar, and Weijenborg. The more recent psychoanalytic interpretations of Luther are not rejected out of hand but are put into perspective: ‘For anyone who like Luther has experienced in his own life the reality of the angry and the merciful God, it is no wonder if the tiny human vessel develops cracks and leaks, or even if it breaks apart. One can analyze the phenomenon of Angst in Luther's life psychologically and yet know very little about it, unless one also takes into account the God of wrath and man in the totality of his sin. But what wrath of God and sin really are, neither psychology nor medicine can tell us” [Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 50-51].


[89] Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 51.


[90] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 52.


[91] George Tavard,  The Catholic Approach to Protestantism (New York, 1955)


[92] George Tavard, Holy Writ or Holy Church: The Crisis of the Protestant Reformation (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959). Chapter six was specifically on Luther: “The Glad Tidings of Dr. Luther.”


[93] Patrick W. Carey, “Luther in an American Catholic Context.” From, Timothy Maschke, Franz Posset, and Joan Skocir, Ad fonts Lutheri: Toward the Recovery of the Real Luther: Essays in Honor of Kenneth Hagen’s Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Milwaukee: Marquette Press, 2001), 52.


[94] Patrick W. Carey, “Luther in an American Catholic Context.” From, Timothy Maschke, Franz Posset, and Joan Skocir, Ad fonts Lutheri: Toward the Recovery of the Real Luther: Essays in Honor of Kenneth Hagen’s Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Milwaukee: Marquette Press, 2001), 51.


[95] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 63.


[96] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 139.


[97] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 63.


[98] Patrick W. Carey, “Luther in an American Catholic Context,” 51-52.


[99] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 64.


[100] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 64.


[101] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 31 – 32.


[102] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 64.


[103] The Essential Luther, 59.


[104] The Essential Luther, 59-60.


[105] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 32.


[106] Leonard J. Swidler, The Ecumenical Vanguard:  The History of the Una Sancta Movement .


[107] Leonard J. Swidler, The Ecumenical Vanguard:  The History of the Una Sancta Movement .


[108] Leonard Swidler,  The Uses and Abuses of History: Reappraising the Reformation,” The Commonwealth, Vol. 81, No. 6, 1964, 156; Cited in Luther As Seen By Catholics, 69.


[109] Leonard J. Swidler, The Ecumenical Vanguard:  The History of the Una Sancta Movement


[110] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study (New York: Paulist Press, 1964).


[111] John M. Todd, Luther: A Life (Great Britain: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1982). Two chapters from this book are available on-line: Chapter 7: Crisis and  Appendix: Indulgences.  The Journal of the Evangelical Society says of this book:  “The author attempts to give a balanced picture of the great Reformer as a “man of gigantic accomplishment, a man, however, who was rather less than the hero and rather more than the mere villain of some older biographies” (p. xix) [The Journal of the Evangelical Society, vol. 27:237]


[112] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, xvi.


[113] John M. Todd, Luther: A Life, 373.


[114] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, xv.


[115] Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 52. He says further, “[Todd’s] purpose—"to take advantage of the recent cooling of temperatures [between the confessions] to give a brief record of his life . . . doing justice to the central religious issues, without being merely dissectionist on the one hand or partisan on the other" —is achieved to a remarkable degree. He leaves one with the impression that he has not merely met and analyzed Luther but has also lived and struggled with him, e.g., on Luther's turmoil, his terrible sense of "coram Deo," his irritation with the medieval system, his struggle to grasp the promises of God, his trouble with authority, his tendency to depression, his physical ills, his occasional extremes in language” (p. 52).


[116] Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 52.


[117] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 8 (footnote 1).


[118] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 8.


[119] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 8.


[120] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 9.


[121] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 12-13.


[122] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 13.


[123] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 13.


[124] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 13.


[125] Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 52. Meuser notes also, “Todd is not on a pro-Luther crusade. He is as fair with Luther's opponents, e.g. Cajetan, as with the Reformer.” Todd is also critical of other scholars: “Though Todd does not claim to be a technical Luther scholar he does not hesitate to criticize the scholars, both Catholic and Protestant. Ronald Knox's evidence to prove that Luther was an "enthusiast" is worthless. Louis Bouyer is criticized for charging that Luther teaches a salvation which does not draw man out of sin at all. Philip Watson and Heinrich Boehmer are charged with failing to investigate Catholic teaching adequately and, therefore, with seeing tension between Luther and the Catholic Church where there really was none” (52). Says Todd of Roland Bainton: “Roland Bainton in Here I Stand (Mentor Books, 1959) speaks wrongly of some bulls of indulgence actually forgiving sin, not merely abrogating punishment” [John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, xv].  Todd says of Erik Erikson: “Young Man Luther  (London, 1959), which in spite of close acquaintance with some of Luther’s works contains elementary errors of historical fact” [John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 5]. Boehmer’s Road to Reformation [Meridian Books, 1957), 15] is criticized by Todd for not finding any value in sixteenth century piety: “Boehmer seems to be contrasting the daily life of the Catholic world of Luther’s yuth with the ‘true’ life of faith, but it is misleading to label the former wholly superstitious, and leads to a falsely idealistic emphasis in the subsequent understanding of the Reform” [John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 13].


[126] Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 68.


[127] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 114. It is possible John Todd is in error, as the editors of Luther’s Works state the indulgence was announced for the year 1510 (meaning it may have been pronounced earlier, say for instance, 1506): “The indulgence with which Luther came into direct contact through his parishioners was the jubilee indulgence announced by Pope Julius II for the year 1510, the proceeds of which were to be used in building the new basilica of St. Peter in Rome. After the death of Julius II in 1513, Leo X revived this indulgence” [LW 31:21].


[128] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 114.


[129] “The whole text does not permit one to suppose that sins are forgiven by an indulgence. But the wording seems deliberately loose in places. The preachers commonly referred to the ease of rescuing a soul from purgatory, by transferring the indulgence, if one wished, to such a soul” [John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 114].


[130] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 117.


[131] “Pricely sums were also paid to Tetzel himself and his servant- the latter’s pay was higher than that paid to the chief official of the town of Leipzig [John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 117].


[132] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 125. 


[133] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 125.


[134] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 129.


[135] Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 128.


[136] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 276. 


[137] “Luther was possibly exceptional in the particular seriousness with which he approached the priesthood. He certainly earned the respect of his superiors during his novitiate. The year and a half before ordination seems to have turned his being wholeheartedly in the religious direction to which it had probably been tending for some years, perhaps since the school days at Eisenach. It seems pretty certain that Luther took his training with exemplary conscientiousness, and indeed that his behaviour in the priory subsequently was equally correct, even scrupulous. There is not a great deal of evidence, but it all tends to support this hypothesis, and there is no evidence or valid argument to support any other” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 34).


[138]  “It is not, I think, too much to see here a glimmer of Luther’s unusual gifts peculiarly adapted to historical achievements. Possessing the interior sensitivity, imagination, and intelligence necessary to form careful and confident judgments, he can also summon movements of the will, and determination, and he has practical judgment and the ability to put all to precise and organized action. One must add the quality which eventually was among his greatest, a courage that enabled him to do what he saw to be right, regardless of all other considerations” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 31-32).


[139] “ He certainly earned the respect of his superiors during his novitiate” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  34).


[140] “Here was a man to follow- a leader who did not realize he was a leader, a master who had a vivid sense of service” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  97).


[141]Luther returns to the subject of works and justification in a massive way towards the end, commenting on St Paul's words: 'Behold, I Paul say unto you that if you be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing'.? I quote at length here because the passage displays Luther's bedrock conviction of the universality and comprehensive nature of God's power in the world and in man, his specifically Christian idea of the grace of Christ and the work of the Trinity, together with his burning concern about those who deny this teaching, indignation expressed in emotional terms. This indignation involved an overt recapitulation of his own personal past, his own anguish, an anguish which had its roots in his own special individual experience, including his relationship with his father. It was also a powerful symbol for others of the psychological attraction of release from the legalism of the Roman Catholic structure. Luther is expounding a set theme, which whilst wide open to criticism in various particulars, has now become for him, his followers, and for German Protestants, parishes and dioceses a typical form of the Word of God, possessing, in this quasi-sacramental way, an ability to convince and inspire others” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 263).


[142]Horror of some sort of sexual impurity, common in Catholic moral tradition, led to a common opinion in medieval times that a priest should generally refrain from offering Mass on a morning after he had experienced a seminal emission during sleep described, then as now, precisely as 'pollution'. In Luther's sensitive mind, always inclined to a certain morbidity, this sort of emphasis on the gross sinfulness or impurity of involuntary acts led to a fear of being in a state of sin which became a permanent dread, weighing him down. The Gospel became a 'law' condemning him to death. 'I said Mass with great dread'” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  74).


[143] “The incidents of the ordination did not, so far as we know, make any great impression on Luther's superior or brethren. His life continued without special incident for some years. His subsequent promotion at an early age to teaching posts, and then to other responsibilities, seems to imply that he was not considered unbalanced, but rather the opposite, a young friar of unusual promise” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  42). “At no time did his contemporaries provide any respectable evidence that Luther was unbalanced. The authority and status given to him at an early age seems to indicate on the contrary a special respect for his sensitivity and conscientiousness. And Staupitz, his Superior, was no ‘enthusiast’ and no fool” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  73). “Luther said that he knew from his own personal contact with people as a confessor that inner penitence was only marginally present and that the virtue of religion, a fully willed assent to the Christ-life, was practically absent for all the effect that it could be seen to have in their lives, for all the spiritual or moral improvement to be seen. He found, many a time apparently, little intention m a penitent of avoiding a sinful life in the future. Sometimes he had people coming to confession who believed that a confessor must grant them absolution unconditionally, regardless of their intentions, because they had an indulgence along with its accompanying letter of confession. His conscience impelled him to speak, and it was not the outburst of a lone neurotic individual. He had, immediately, the congratulations and assent of others who had felt the same way about indulgences but had seen no way of making a protest that would lead anywhere except to their own defeat” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  116).


[144] Luther As Seen By Catholics, 66-67. “We may see in Luther's situation a number of elements. We may see him, as his contemporaries did and Luther himself sometimes did, as a 'scrupulant'—he seems to have caught the spiritual disease of scruples, one of the occupational diseases of religious, an obsession with the possible moral failing of one's every action, with degrees of unworthy motivation and intention, with the minutiae of ethics in the minute to minute daily life. We may see him as having an inherent tendency towards depressions, a tendency which may have some physiological basis. We may see him as having a certain neurosis in relation to authority, wanting to please his father, and acting towards God in the same way, frightened of him, and never successful in his attempts to please, committed to a certain degree of revolt, and still trying to please. Luther's attitude to God, in common with most of the rest of mankind, is clearly analogical with his attitude to his parents. All these factors no doubt contributed to, and were also themselves enflamed by, the specifically spiritual and religious elements which lie at the heart of Luther's struggle—the fact of man's separation from God and the inadequate solution provided by the merit-theology” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 50). “Luther’s new insights drew their force ultimately from his own personal anguish and from the solvent of them which he found, through the Bible, in the person of Christ The starting-point is the force with which Luther experienced the threatening face of Christ, the angry God ready to punish, the just Lord who was bound, so it seemed to him, to take vengeance on man in his inadequacy and futility, always failing, always less than the Christian man that he was called to be. The anguish arose from a fundamental religious weakness of the time, a widespread malaise. Historians have waxed eloquent about the birth-pangs of the new age and so forth. Man and woman could no longer bear to be permanently relegated to a position of childish inferiority. The Christian and the citizen were no longer satisfied with a sometimes pious, but often impious paternalism; they were in revolt against both the threatening and the paternal side of the autocratic coin” (Todd, 71).         


[145]Luther was certainly impatient with the late medieval reliance on ‘reason’ for the exposition of religious truth, and with the, at one time Thomist, attempt to integrate all things within a single system. His impatience embraced also the late medieval Nominalist reaction to this Thomist attempt. Luther dismissed 'Thomism' and natural theology as irrelevant and inadequate, defining his objection as an objection on principle to the use of Aristotelian categories for expounding Scripture. For instance he wrote: 'The distinction between "person" and "essence" in "god" is a frivolous and useless confection of philosophy'. He disliked both the Thomist attempt, so far as he knew it, and the Nominalist reaction to it. It is clear from his marginal notes that Luther had already reached a stage of intense irritation with the whole medieval system which his teachers and the great majority of lecturers and professors used. He was already calling Aristotle 'that rancid philosopher' and his and his followers' methods the 'rancid rules of the logicians'. This is what he wrote in the margins and it is clear that his mind was already working furiously in the direction of a return to sources in the hope of uncovering the truth, the Word of God, by removing, as Vignaux says, the 'envelope of philosophy'” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 51-52).


[146] “ It is important at this point to have some idea of the immense wealth, depth and breadth of traditional Catholic theology. Luther was an inheritor of it and in one sense remained always simply a very great mediaeval theologian” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 81).


[147] “Luther did not want to sweep away all the traditional and conventional practice of the Church, but to purge it” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  187)


[148]The battle was resolved into a purely personal affair, spiritual and theological. There was no question, no inkling of a possibility in Luther's mind, of any revolt or defection from the Church, or from the principles and conventions in which he had been educated as man and as friar. It was purely a matter of finding a meaning in Scripture, in theology, which was acceptable, which fitted man's condition, in other words, Martin Luther's condition, spiritually and intellectually” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  78).


[149] “His theology is concerned with the individual. And to the solution of the individual's problem he brought impatience and courage, a somewhat unusual combination in the theological world” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 58). “There was a previous occasion when some free time brought depression to a head—after Luther had taken his degree as a graduate at Erfurt. That time it led to Luther's entry into religion. This time it was followed eventually by Luther's lectures, as doctor of theology, in the university at Wittenberg, in which he unfolded a series of theological insights that were gradually to excite the support first of others in the Faculty there, and eventually to form the basis of Protestant theology. These insights, from a strictly dogmatic point of view, were not absolutely novel, but the young doctor propounded them in such an individual and personal way, gradually making of them a practically complete corpus of theology, that this was in effect a new thing, something of the new era, the era of the self-conscious individual, and sharply differentiated from all the existing schools of theology, in content, method and temper. The germ of them we have already glimpsed in the marginal comments on Peter Lombard and Augustine” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 67).


[150] “He did not believe in a private revelation to himself, or in the arrival of some special dispensation, over and above what is to be expected at all times throughout the life of the Church. He believed in the Gospel and all the articles of the early creeds, and in a covenant between man and God, which had a personal relevance for every man. He had reformulated this relevance in Pauline terms. In many ways the picture remains traditionally Catholic—public liturgy, sacraments, a common life in Christian parishes under an ordained priest or pastor. Luther was no mere brooding individualist. He pined in his loneliness for the Christian communities at Wittenberg, the Priory, the University, the town parish, and his intimate friends” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 204).


[151] “Luther never became anything like an 'enthusiast' (and the evidence produced by Ronald Knox in his Enthusiasm is as worthless as that which he brings forward against Wesley, stray quotations unrelated to any attempt to understand their whole doctrines”(Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 204).


[152] “Although St Paul's Epistle to the Romans was the primary  scriptural source of Luther's doctrine of justification, his favourite epistle was that to the Galatians… Luther lectured three times on this epistle at Wittenberg… Luther's mind was …full of the opposition he must show to both his enemies, on the one hand, to the followers of ‘Enthusiasmus’, as he sometimes called those who looked first to inner inspiration as superior to all objective norms, the 'Schwarmerei', who included followers of Miinzer, and, earlier, of Carlstadt, also the Anabaptists, and the 'prophets of Zwickau', and on the other hand, to the papists” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 259). “Luther's life up to the time of the Diet of Worms was a gradual and personal development, his writings and his action proceeding, not according to some plan of his own from which everything could be easily deduced, nor as an inevitable unfolding of a predestined pattern, inherent in his own teaching or temperament. His theology has been shown to be based on certain simple and fundamental aspects of the teaching of the New Testament. This theology led him to make stringent criticisms of current Christian practice. This criticism—in effect criticism of established Catholic practices and institutions and of persons currently in authority—was undertaken from within the Church and was projected with the clear purpose of reform, similar in intention to that of many other criticisms made at the time” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 282). “In rejecting the authority of the papacy and of General Councils, Luther was turning not simply from an objective institutional authority to a subjective personal authority. He was turning from a belief that the authority of the Word was mediated through the papacy and Councils, Catholic tradition and Scripture, to a belief that omitted the papacy and the Councils and raised Scripture to the first place in tills mediation. Scripture as understood by the faithful. As far as immediate executive authority was concerned Luther was openly searching at first. To the problems which began to confront him as a public figure he gave empirical decisions, and gradually worked out new theories in order to justify particular authorities. In turning away from the papacy and the Councils, as he knew them, he was turning away from an exercise of authority which did often act as though it considered itself to be divine, and left little place for the analogical description of it to which we have referred, or for the human failings of those who hold office…. Luther did not simply set up subjective interior, mysterious and personal criteria. Having been convinced that the papacy and the Councils were not valid Christian authorities he had to hammer out a development of his theology of the 'Word' which provided new day-to-day authorities. He was faced, ad hoc, by numerous practical problems. His answers were practical, workable solutions, implying approval of various institutions as integral parts of Christian society, and setting a plan (though he hardly realized this) for the growth of the Lutheran churches”  (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  287).


[153]Simply seen as an isolated dogma, Luther's proposition [of justification]is identical, not only in principle, but in detail, in relation to the particular matter of the exposition o£ justitia, with the teaching of the Catholic Church, as St Augustine had expounded it, and as many others had done so subsequently. But Luther had been taught a retributive conception o£ justitia in Biel. On rediscovering the proper interpretation of it, Luther gives it a new context, in fact he makes this the leading theme and the context for the whole of the Christian revelation. He makes of this revelation a doctrine of the pure generosity of God, a statement of the total acceptance of man by God, a justification of man by God's act of redemption, by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. All man has to do is to believe, to receive the gift. From this will flow a life in which good works will come naturally and are in a sense even obligatory; but they are subsequent and never prior to the gift of God, which cannot be earned, and is never due to any merit on man's part. Man has been redeemed, righteousness has been given, and by this alone, by the faith which receives it, man is saved. It is not a purely spiritual (in the sense of being intangible) affair. God has left us his Word. His Word is Christ, once on earth and now speaking to us in Scripture. Through Scripture we know of and receive God's gift” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 79).


[154] “For a year he proceeded to expound in detail his conception of the whole man, sinful, unable of himself to do good, completely dependent on God, on God's grace, and then bound by faith in Christ. Man is always in need of justification, and always destined to justification in Christ. Good works, righteousness, are not something of concern in relation to man, but in relation to God. In all his denunciation of 'good works’ and his insistence on the unavoidably sinful nature of man (sinful tendencies, egoistic tendencies always menacing) Luther was not envisaging the modem problem of the good pagan but the problem of the complacent hypocritical Christian. 'Faith is life and the living word abbreviated', 'Unless faith illumines and love frees, no man is able to will or possess, or work, anything good'” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study,  91). “Luther's doctrine of the sin which remains in man throughout his life is stated towards the end of the commentary. This doctrine has often been misunderstood to mean that justification is something purely exterior in Luther's teaching, 'extrinsic' justification. But this has been shown conclusively to be incorrect on the basis of Luther's own work. Luther's most cogent Catholic interpreter of modern times is in agreement. Luther is not denying the efficacy of the sacraments, or proposing any sort of Manicheism. He is doing no more than state that there is a flaw in man, that there is always a tendency, remaining until death, towards actions which a man himself believes to be wrong, m principle he is teaching the Catholic doctrine of original sin” (Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, 268).

[155] Luther As Seen By Catholics, 67. Meuser though points out, “Yet the best even Todd can say about the key issue of the Reformation, the centrality of justification, is that history is today showing that the essential Lutheran insights and expositions are ultimately able to be integrated into the Catholic tradition; the Catholic tradition is sufficiently flexible to be able to be modified and enlivened by Lutheran theology [Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy 53-54].


[156] John M. Todd, Luther: A Life, 373.


[157] Luther As Seen By Catholics, 67-68.


[158] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 33.


[159] James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 33-34.


[160] Kenneth A. Strand, “Issues and Trends in Luther Studies,” 147-148.


[161] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 26.


[162] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 26.


[163] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 26.


[164] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 26.


[165] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 27-28.


[166] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 28-29.


[167] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 29.


[168] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, 29-30.


[169] I have a strong suspicion many Catholics who vilify Luther aren’t even aware of the history of Luther vilification as well.


[170] John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study, xviii. 


[171] Fred W. Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969). 40.


[172]  Yves M.-J Congar, “Ecumenical Experience and Conversion” in R.C. Mackie and C.C. West (eds.), The Sufficiency of God (London, 1963), 74.