Luther was truly an enemy of the grace of Christ, in spite of pretending to honor Him. That which separates us from him is therefore more important than that which could unite us to him. That is why no Catholic conscious of what he owes to Christ and the Church could ever praise or honor Luther.
2017 will see the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting 95 theses, on a Wittenberg church, which in particular condemned the use of indulgences, but also other issues which touch the Faith such as Purgatory.
This public act is usually considered as the beginning of what is commonly but falsely called the Reformation, when it fact it was a revolution, a destruction of the true faith, an apostasy and a revolt against God and Our Lord. In reality, from 1517 onwards, and regardless of the following twists and turns, Martin Luther’s mind broke with the Church of Christ, and henceforth would only follow his own personal and diabolical erroneous views.
Notwithstanding, Martin Luther was previously a pious and zealous monk. Born in 1483 of a good Christian family, Martin was very early on drawn to religion, to a relationship with God, and later to theology. In spite of the fact that his father had wanted him to become a lawyer, he decided to become an Augustinian monk, joining the order in 1505. Ordained priest in 1507 (he already had a degree in philosophy), he received his doctorate in theology in 1512. From this date onward his life would be one of teaching and preaching.
Luther had received a fairly advanced formation, and he was certainly influenced on the intellectual level by reading several great authors, whether it be Aristotle, William of Ockham, or Gabriel Biel. But it is clear that Luther received these influences according to his own temperament, which was very set, as his future career would show. Hence it is improbable that the contact with these writers had really been determining in his development.
In reality, it is with regard to himself, and the basis of his interior personal life, of his intimate spiritual experience, that Luther would construct a new religious system, with no bearing upon the Church’s teaching, or the truth of Christianity.
Luther was endowed with a rich and passionate temperament, which may make great men of those who possess it and who accept to place it at the service of the truth and of the good. But the down-side of such a temperament is its propensity to strong temptations. Luther was the object of such temptations, doubtless those regarding temptations against chastity, an attraction for the good life, a propensity for anger, a spirit of independence, a leaning towards pride. When one faces these temptations with the grace of Christ, not only do they not cause a fall, but the combat gains merit, and the power of mastered passion comes to give energy to man. It is in this sense that the word of Hegel is based, “Nothing great is done without passion.”
But Luther suffered from the assault of these temptations, even if he rejected them. He wanted, like Saint Peter at the Transfiguration, to have reached the celestial life, having “put on Christ,” and to already be in the state of perfect righteousness, something which does not belong to this earthly life, except in very rare cases. A certain obsession with salvation took hold of him, more precisely an obsession with the certitude of his own salvation; and because the temptations continued to disturb him, creating in him a feeling of culpability, he ended up despairing in a certain sense of the Christian life, of the efficacy of grace and of the ordinary means of receiving and of preserving it (prayer, sacraments, fasting etc.).
In 1515, he began, in the context of his teaching, to give commentaries on the Epistles of Saint Paul and notably on the first of these as found in Holy Scripture, the Epistle to the Romans, which itself is of an immense richness and of an incredible power, but also of a considerable difficulty to understand. From what he thought he understood of this text, taken entirely in its literal sense and without any reference to ecclesiastical tradition, and with regard to his own interior dilemma (“can I be saved even though still subject to temptations?”), Martin Luther developed a new kind of Christian theology, which, from then onwards, is radically incompatible with that of the Catholic Church, even if the exterior and public rupture with the Church would take some time.
Indeed, according to Catholic doctrine, owing to Christ`s merits, the man who accepts divine revelation by Faith and who, moved by hope in divine salvation, and who wants to repent of his sins and turn towards God, obtains through grace the remission of sin and the regeneration and sanctification of his soul, in such a way that he becomes, according to the words of Saint Peter, “a sharer in the divine nature” (II Pet. 1 ,4). The Christian who lives in charity is thus, as Saint Paul says often, “a saint”, because he has been purified, transformed, interiorly sanctified, and has truly become a friend of God, by means of an effective and stable likeness. And, being the friend of God, he spontaneously performs the works of God, good works of virtue, which merit for him, by the grace of Christ present in him, the salvation of Paradise.
Luther rejected this truth. For him, according to his psychological feeling, the fact of having embraced the faith and the Christian life does not free the soul from sin [in reality it is a matter of temptation, which is not sinful if one does not consent to it]. For Luther, a Christian remains in fact a sinner and an enemy of God, and his soul remains totally corrupted. But as Christ merited by the sacrifice of the cross salvation for men, if by “faith” (which consists according to Luther in a confidence in this salvation obtained by Christ), I believe firmly that I am saved, then the cloak of the merits of Christ hide the wounds of my soul, and the Father, seeing this garment on me (thanks to “faith-confidence”), marks me for paradise.
Such is the heart of what Luther called “the truth of the Gospel.” From this flows naturally all the rest of his system, and above all his revision of an institutional Church. Luther states that this latter is not divine, in the first place because she pretends that man can be saved by good works, whereas, as Luther had made the disappointing experience of the monastic life, these good works are incapable of wiping away sin [in reality, let us say again, it is a question of temptation, which is not sin in so far as one does not consent]; in the second place because she has abandoned the “truth of the Gospel,” namely salvation by “faith-confidence” alone.
Circuitously this rejection of the Church would come to ‘justify’ the Lutheran position, which is itself to be reproached with inventing a new gospel according to its own spirit, and hence meeting the definition of heretical. Since Luther believed that the Church herself had betrayed “the truth of the Gospel,” it was logical and necessary that he, by his “free examination” of Scripture, re-discover this truth and transmit it to the people of God who had been led astray by an illegitimate hierarchy. “Unless a person convinces me of my error by the proofs of Scripture or by self-evident reasoning – as I believe neither in the pope nor in the councils themselves as it is clear that they have often been mistaken and contradicted – I am bound by the texts of the Scriptures which I have quoted, and my conscience is beholden to the Word of God; I cannot nor will not retract anything” (declaration of 1521 enforce the Diet of Worms presided by Charles V).
According to Luther, given that the soul of the Christian is not transformed by grace, the sacraments do not work anything real in it, and hence the classical adage, “the sacraments work that which they signify,” loses all of its meaning. In truth, the sacraments merely signify the “faith-confidence” and serve to maintain this. Consequently only those sacraments are to be preserved which produce this psychological effect.
For the same reason, the Mass, the un-bloody renewal of Christ’s sacrifice, which daily applies to us to merits, loses all its significance. A mere memorial of the Last Supper will be kept, so as to help us remember Christ’s unique sacrifice on the cross and whilst reanimating out faith-confidence in His redemption.
Nevertheless, Luther was not satisfied with putting the Mass to one side. As a forsworn priest, and as monk unfaithful to his vows, he developed a truly pathological hatred towards the Holy Sacrifice. His words in this regard are frightful, and result in making us believe that he was possessed by the devil. “The Mass,” he declared in 1521, is the greatest and most horrible of the papist abominations, the dragon’s tail of the Apocalypse; it has covered the Church with nameless impurities and filth. And in 1524 he repeated: “Yes I say again, all the brotheld, which God has however severely condemned, all the murders, thefts and adulteries are less damaging than the abomination of the papist Mass.” And with great clarity of vision, he concluded, “If the Mass falls, the papacy collapses.”
Since the Church as an institution (which Luther calls with disdain “the papacy”), no longer exists as the prolongation of Christ, the believer (by means of faith-confidence) finds himself alone before God. He is enlightened from the outside by the Bible (which he must obviously read personally, hence the necessity of bibles in the vernacular), and from the inside by the Holy Ghost who enables him to discern in the Bible that which pertains to his Christian life. As Boileau pertinently wrote, “every Protestant was a pope, with a bible in hand.”
As the “hierarchy,” whose etymology means “sacred power,” of the Church was abolished by Luther, his successors would progressively call into question the other human powers. Hence Protestantism is essentially revolutionary. Also, as each individual is left to his own interior life, without ecclesial mediation, then it is logical to radically separate religious life from political life, by means of secularism. So it is not surprising that that in the establishment of the secular Republic in France, in the setting up of Godless schools, in the advance of anti-clericalism, and finally in in the bringing about of radical separation of the Church and State, Protestants would be found in the first places, not least Ferdinand Buisson, the principal collaborator to Jules Ferry.
Good works, notably monastic vows, being useless and deceitful, Luther returned to the lay-state, and, as of 1525, married an ex-nun, Catherine de Bora, with whom he would have six children. In general terms, the essential thing was not to avoid sin, to combat temptations (as Luther tried during his Catholic period, but, in his own estimation, wrongly and in vain), as man in any event remains interiorly sinful. What counts is to cling to the mantle of Christ’s merits so as be wrapped in it and to thus escape from the divine anger, whilst still being an enemy of God, for He sees rather the merits of His well-beloved Son. Indeed this is the meaning of Luther’s maxim given to his biographer Philip Melanchthon in a letter dated 1st August 1521: Pecca fortiter, sed fortis crede (sin much, but believe still more).
The Catholic Church for its part, was in the eyes of Luther, “the great harlot of Babylon,” and it must be attacked and annihilated by all means possible. Hence Luther would multiply his filthy pamphlets, and his disciples would systematically destroy Catholic monuments, torturing and killing bishops, priests, religious and very numerous faithful, without counting the atrocious wars which they would provoke.
When Luther died on 18th February 1546 Europe endured fire and sword for long years, all due to him. Millions of souls fell away from the Catholic Faith and left the way of salvation due to his false doctrines and his pernicious example.
Even if the Church did experience in the following years a magnificent renewal of grace with a plethora of saints and a great movement of renewal of which the Council of Trent is symbolic; and even if immense numbers did join the Church thanks to a splendid missionary movement; unfortunately, entire nations followed blindly the errors and lies of the former Augustinian monk and did not return to the salutary truth.
Hence Luther was truly an enemy of the grace of Christ, in spite of pretending to honor Him. That which separates us from him is therefore more important than that which could unite us to him. That is why no Catholic conscious of what he owes to Christ and the Church could ever praise or honor Luther.
Father Gregoire CELIER, SSPX
Translated from his article on ‘La Porte Latine’ website, 25th October 2016