Category Archives: Luther / Lutheranism

From My Book on Lutheran – Catholic Notions of Justification

In my book Engrafted into Christ, I refute the notion that the Catholic Dogma and the official Lutheran notion of justification are compatible. There has to this date been no competent refutation of my refutation. One of the major issues is a question to Lutherans concerning God’s power and goodness. Is or is not God powerful enough to transform us now so that we may obey his laws? Clearly, he is powerful enough. Second, is or is not God willing to do so? Catholic dogma mandates: Indeed, he is. But the Lutheran answer implies that he is not. So, the questions that follow, from the end of Chapter 4 of my book, available on Amazon. I would note that although I cite Balthasar in this passage, I have come, each day more and more, to find grave fault with much of his work. Even his reading of Therese seems to me wanting. However, there is rhetorical usefulness in calling on the Balthasarians to assist in the now seemingly Herculean task of insisting on Catholic dogma:

Finally, I must ask the Finns a question that von Balthasar once posed to Karl Barth. If at the end of time those who truly believe in Christ are transformed into vessels fitted for God’s triune love, could not this transformation take place now, in a satisfactory albeit not yet eschatologically perfected manner?88 Granted that definitive peace shall dawn only after every just person has been raised and all tears have been washed away, granted too that before death even the greatest saint is able to sin (posse peccare) and does sin venially, still, must sinners await until death the reception of the grace that will cleanse them from the inner darkness of damnable sin and constitute them as living branches of the true vine? Must the earthly spouse remain a harlot her life long, chasing after foreign gods? If she with simplicity pines for her divine lover’s glance, can she be said truly to be an adulteress, even though she could await him more steadfastly and vigorously? If in the heavenly kingdom even the most righteous person could not think of boasting in inhering righteousness and if the guarantee of this proper humility is located not in the non-attainment or only partial attainment of righteousness but simply in trusting love of God, in humility, then why must all justified believers be sentenced to labor under the burden of still-remnant, damnable sin? Is it so inconceivable that a saintly person, washed with the blood of Christ, could dedicate herself wholly to God’s glory and, while not guilty of any mortal sin her entire life, could cry out, “It is not because God, in His anticipating Mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I go to Him with confidence and love”?89 And yet this same saint wished to “give the lie” to those who interpret Jesus’ saying “It is those who are forgiven much who can love much” (Lk 7:47) to mean that one must first sin much in order to love much. She writes, “I have heard it said that one cannot meet a pure soul who loves more than a repentant soul; ah! how I would wish to give the lie to this statement!”90 Hans Urs von Balthasar praised this humbly audacious saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, as the “Catholic answer” to the Lutheran question.91 His prognosis is well-taken, if one consider the genuine piety of Lutherans. Much of her life is readily imbibed by Lutherans. Still, a well-balanced assessment of her “little way” must include her distinctly Catholic exclamation: “Ah! Since the happy day, it seems to me that Love penetrates and surrounds me, that at each moment this Merciful Love renews me, purifying my soul and leaving no trace of sin within it, and I need have no fear of purgatory.”92 Thérèse recognizes her poverty and confesses that she cannot merit anything of herself without God; however, she does not let this inhibit a bold confession of the really efficacious power of God’s sanctifying love.


Peura is right to perceive that the Finnish reading of Luther invites Catholics and Lutherans closer together, but his vehement denial of the Catholic teaching on faith formed by charity exposes the remnant gulf between Catholic and Finnish-Lutheran thought on justification. The Finnish reading has not provided the fundamental breakthrough necessary for Catholics and Lutherans to achieve a consensus, even a legitimately differentiated consensus, in basic truths.

88    See Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth: Exposition and Interpretation, trans. John Drury (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), esp. pp. 271­76. See the discussion of this work in Hampson, Christian Contradictions, pp. 124­26. Hampson’s incisive critique of Catholic readings of Lutheran theology cannot be easily dismissed. I should like to note that the “already/not-yet” duality that requires the covering of the grace of Christ is not simply a Finnish misreading of Luther. Luther himself in his 1535 (1531) Lectures on Galatians defended the necessity of faith as trust because of which God does not impute still-present sin unto damnation. Luther claims that faith is necessary now because of this still-present sin but that faith will not be necessary in the heavenly kingdom because the saints shall love God purely and perfectly (Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians [1535]: Chapters 5­6, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol. 27, Luther’s Works, pp. 1­149, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963], p. 64 [LW 27: 64]; see also Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians [1519], trans. Richard Jungkuntz, vol. 27, Luther’s Works, pp. 151­410, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963], p. 363 [LW 27: 363]).

89    St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, trans. John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996), p. 259. See also ibid., pp. 149­50, in which she relates her discovery that she had not committed any mortal sin her entire life.

90    St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, p. 84.

91    See Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Thérèse of Lisieux,” trans. Donald Nichols and Anne England Nash, in Two Sisters in the Spirit: Thérèse of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity, pp. 13­362 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992); see esp. pp. 256, 259, and 283­84.

92    St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, p. 181.

St. Alphonsus Liguori on Luther and his Marriage

The words of the man of God, Alphonsus:

“Luther was now quite taken with Catherine Bora, a lady of noble family, but poor, and who, forced by poverty, embraced a religious life, without any vocation for that state, in a Convent at Misnia, and finally became Abbess. Reading one of Luther’s works, she came across his treatise on the nullity of religious vows, and requested him to visit her. He called on her frequently, and finally induced her to leave her Convent, and come to Wittemberg with him, where, devoid of all shame, he married her with great solemnity, the Elector Frederic, who constantly opposed it, being now dead; and such was the force of his example and discourses, that he soon after induced the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order (6) to celebrate his sacrilegious nuptials, likewise. Those marriages provoked that witticism of Erasmus, who said that the heresies of his day all ended, like a comedy, in marriage” (Alphonsus Liguori, History of Heresies [Dublin, 1857], p. 267).


Luther and Catholic Faith in Contradiction?

Nowadays, nearly all are aware of numerous claims on sin and justification shared by Luther and Catholics.

Some Common Teachings on Sin and Justification

  • We cannot justify ourselves: neither cause ourselves to be just (efficiently) nor merit that we be justified
  • God is the author of justification, the efficient cause
  • That we be justified is merited by the labor of Christ, who suffered died and rose
  • This merit of Christ must be applied to the individual in order that the individual be justified.
  • Just because Christ died, the human race is not thereby justified. Individuals are, one at a time.
  • It is good to imitate Christ
  • Sanctification begins, with justification, in this life
  • In heaven, all are holy


 Sadly, some have forgotten crucial differences between Luther’s views and Catholic doctrine. These differences are so crucial that they even color the agreed points. For example: It is agreed that God is the author of justification. But if we diverge regarding what justification is, then our understanding of God’s causality in the first place is divergent. Below, I list some other teachings on sin and justification. In looking at just about any row in this list, one would be hard pressed not to find significant contradiction.

 Some Other Teachings on Sin and Justification

LUTHER’s POSITION                                            CATHOLIC DOCTRINE

Faith, Hope, Love are part of the natural good condition of man Faith, Hope, Love are supernatural gifts
Corrupt human nature is as such totally depraved Corrupt human nature is as such deprived of all graces but not totally depraved
Without grace, present man cannot know God Without grace, man can know the Creator Exists
Without grace, man cannot know the natural law Man can know the natural law without grace
Without grace, man cannot know the one true faith Natural reason can discern signs of the one true religion
All sins are damnable Venial sins are not damnable
Concupiscence (pre-freely chosen tendency to acts of sin) is a damnable sin Concupiscence is not even a venial sin
Concupiscence is the worst sin in us, worse than actual sins (such as adultery on Tuesday) Actual sins are the worst sins; concupiscence is not even a venial sin
Without grace, we sin in every work Without grace, non-sinful works are possible
Even with grace, we sin in every work With grace, non-sinful works are possible
Justification is by faith alone Justification is not by faith alone, but by faith animated by charity
Faith is firm trust in the promise that I am saved Faith is intellectual assent, at the command of the will, accepting as true all that God reveals
Since along with faith there is always charity, and since one can retain faith while committing an actual mortal sin, therefore one can have charity yet have just committed a mortal sin One who commits a mortal sin loses sanctifying grace and charity
It also follows that charity is compatible with the commission of mortal sin Charity is not compatible with the commission of mortal sin
Christ is not a Lawgiver Christ is a Lawgiver, the New Moses
Adequate obedience to the commandments is not possible Adequate obedience to the commandments is possible
Salvation does not require obedience to the commandments Salvation does require obedience to the commandments
God predestines some to hell, not in light of their foreseen sins but apart from them God predestines no one to hell except in light of their sins that he foresees
Because God has foreknowledge of our future acts, there is no free will God has foreknowledge of our future free acts, and these acts are indeed free
The justice by which we are just before God is extrinsic to us (God attributes it to us) The justice by which we are just before God inheres in us (God infuses it into us)
There is no increase in this justice: It is all or nothing There is an increase in this justice: It varies by degrees according to God’s will and our cooperation
The justified are internally worthy of hell The justified are internally worthy of heaven
Even the justified cannot merit heaven by any theological works they do The justified can truly merit heaven by the good works they do in grace


Good Old Garrigou-Lagrange: Purgatory and the Meaning of Life

Purgatory tells us that iniquity is punished, that there is retributive justice, that one cannot simply stop sinning and everything is alright but that offenses must be expiated and forgiven.

Purgatory also tells us that our life gains great meaning from the seemingly senseless suffering we endure. Note that if we lack a rational explanation of our suffering, but we still suffer anyway, that we will grow very angry at the apparently meaningless suffering.

How many young people are very angry today! Why? Obviously for various reasons. I suggest that underlying the anger of many is a failure to understand the meaning of pain, the possibilities of suffering, the value of a redemptive acceptance of suffering.

And since our life is under the Cross — no matter what the trans-humanists hope for — we inevitably will have our share of suffering. Hence, everyone will be angry, unless he has an account.

Many ancient religions assigned an account: You have done the gods wrong! This is a good starting point, as JHNewman tells us (Grammar, chap. 10). It is a good start because it is correct. The gods do care, and we have done wrong. Recognizing that puts into wildly different perspective all the pain and suffering people endure. Imagine these race riots today illuminated by the insight: Each of us has done wrong, we have all gone astray.

Now, the classical Jewish and Christian approach to this is balanced. First, each approach is anchored in the Truth and in Right Moral Laws. Second, each holds out hope. Third, each offers concrete ways, given us by God, to achieve that hope.

What the angry person needs is a way forward. Fight the evil that can be justly fought and conquered; accept the evil that cannot be justly fought and conquered; hope one’s way forward with regard to both evils. This is the recipe for a brighter future, a future that uplifts.

Now, many will be the evils that must be endured, esp. as our society devolves into the most unnatural of evils. Hence, great must be our endurance. We can pick up the mantel of Christ, that is, his Cross. Our life does have meaning. Its meaning is largely, or to a large extent, acceptance of suffering. If you strip that from me, you really do reduce my meaning. Also, you tell me a lie. Because I cannot be having pleasure all the time. There is repetition, and sometimes that really does “drag one down” … unless one can see the point.

Where does Garrigou-Lagrange fit into all this? He stresses the importance, the meaningfulness, of a life of redemptive suffering. He also notes how sad, how tragic indeed, is the heretical doctrine that denies that meaning. He notes one Lutheran who saw through just how awful was Luther’s own idea:

“To deny the necessity of satisfaction in this world and and of satispassion in purgatory amounts to denying the value of a life of reparation. Such denial involves the Lutheran negation of the necessity of good works, as if faith without works could suffice for justification and salvation.

At the end of a conference which I gave in Geneva, a Protestant, intelligent and well-instructed, came to see me. I said to him, ‘How could Luther come to the conclusion that faith alone and the merits of Christ suffice for salvation: that it is not necessary to observe the precepts, not even the precepts of the love of God and neighbor?’ He answered me, ‘It is very simple.’ ‘How very simple?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it is diabolical.’ ‘I would not dare say that to you,’ I answered, ‘but how is it that you are a Lutheran?’ ‘My family,’ he answered, ‘has been Lutheran for generations, but in the near future I shall enter the Catholic Church.’

Father Monsabré wrote the following words: ‘Its principles regarding justification led Protestantism to deny the dogma of purgatory. Man, saved by faith alone, by the merits of Christ, without relation to his own deeds, need fear nothing from divine justice. Divine justice must acknowledge his audacious and imperturbable conscience in the redemptive virtue of Him whose merits he exploits, even though he himself may have violated all the commandments. The negation which follows from these principles, invented to shield the wicked, is as odious as it is absurd. It is unintelligent and barbarous, for nothing is more conformable to reason than the doctrine of the Church on purgatory, and nothing is more consoling for the heart. Protestant, at the last hour, faces the terrible perspective: everything or nothing. How count on heaven when a man looks back on a life of sin, sees that he is offering to God only a late repentance, without reparation for so many offenses? Hence there remains only the perspective of malediction” (Garrigou-Lagrange, Life Everlasting, pp. 161f).

Now, GL indeed notes that death bed conversions are possible. They even happen. But they are not frequent. Indeed, they are very difficult. Devotion to sin, devotion to neglect, failure to repent, repeated sin, etc…. All this hardens the heart and makes it less likely that one will achieve salvation. Conversion at the last second is possible, but let us not presume on God’s mercy, while he is right now calling us to conversion.


Apology of the Augsburg Confession John Paul II and TRENT
“If the promise required the law and condition of our merits, it would follow that the promise is useless since we never keep the law.”


Melanchthon’s implication is clear: Therefore, the promise does not require obedience to the law as condition of final salvation.

In this way, a close connection is made between eternal life and obedience to God’s commandments: God’s commandments show man the path of life and they lead to it. From the very lips of Jesus, the new Moses, man is once again given the commandments of the Decalogue. Jesus himself definitively confirms them and proposes them to us as the way and condition of salvation. The commandments are linked to a promise. – From Veritatis splendor, art. 12.


Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called. Jesus points out to the young man that the commandments are the first and indispensable condition for having eternal life, art. 17


The performance of good acts, commanded by the One who “alone is good”, constitutes the indispensable condition of and path to eternal blessedness: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17). Jesus’ answer and his reference to the commandments also make it clear that the path to that end is marked by respect for the divine laws which safeguard human good.Only the act in conformity with the good can be a path that leads to life, art. 72.


Keeping God’s law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. This is the constant teaching of the Church’s tradition, and was expressed by the Council of Trent: “But no one, however much justified, ought to consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments, nor should he employ that rash statement, forbidden by the Fathers under anathema, that the commandments of God are impossible of observance by one who is justified. For God does not command the impossible, but in commanding he admonishes you to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and he gives his aid to enable you. His commandments are not burdensome (cf. 1 Jn 5:3); his yoke is easy and his burden light (cf. Mt 11:30)”, art. 102.

Lutheran “APOLOGY OF AUGSBURG CONFESSION” versus Trent and Augustine

Apology of the Augsburg Confession:


Cites Romans 7:7, 7:23, etc. All on Paul’s use of “sin” for the justified. Comments: “These testimonies cannot be overthrown by sophistry. For clearly they call concupiscence sin, which nevertheless is not reckoned to those who are in Christ even though it is by nature worthy of death where it is not forgiven. This is undoubtedly what the Fathers thought.

AUGUSTINE: … Baptism gives remission of all sins, and takes away guilt, and does not shave them off; and that the roots of all sins are not retained in the evil flesh, as if of shaved hair on the head, whence the sins may grow to be cut down again….


Concerning that concupiscence:… But although this is called sin, it is certainly so called not because it is sin, but because it is made by sin, as a writing is said to be some one’s hand because the hand has written it. But they are sins which are unlawfully done, spoken, thought, according to the lust of the flesh, or to ignorance— things which, once done, keep their doers guilty if they are not forgiven (Augustine, Against Two Epistles of the Pelagians, Chap. 13 or 27, depending on the numbering).

TRENT / DOGMA: If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only shaved off [analogy to shaving hair, which still has its roots in place] or not imputed; let him be anathema. For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, There is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made inno-[Page 24]cent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven. But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin); which, whereas it is left for our exercise, cannot injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin. TRENT, SESSION V, CANON 5.

Official Lutheran Document vs. Trent, Part 1

Sigrid Undset is said to have defended her conversion from Lutheranism to Catholicism simply by translating Luther for her fellow citizens. By reading what Luther actually had to say, some were amply convinced that she made the right move.

I have been bringing forward words from Luther. Not isolated ones. Key ones. Pivotal ones. Ones that exhibit the very structure of his view.

But someone will object: Luther is not ‘the authority’. Rather, insofar as there is any authority outside of Scripture, the ‘reference point’ for a Lutheran is the Book of Concord. Some Lutherans demand adherence to all the Book of Concord. Some not. With regard to the former, I will present some very clear teachings from the Solid Declaration. These are in contrast to Trent.

I begin today:

Lutheran Solid Declaration COUNCIL OF TRENT
“It is correct to say that in this life believers who have become righteous through faith in Christ have first of all the righteousness of faith that is reckoned to them and then thereafter the righteousness of new obedience or good works that are begun in them. But these two kinds of righteousness dare not be mixed with each other or simultaneously introduced into the article on justification by faith before God. For because this righteousness that is begun in us­—this renewal—is imperfect and impure in this life because of our flesh, a person cannot use it in any way to stand before God’s judgment throne. Instead, only the righteousness of the obedience, suffering, and death of Christ, which is reckoned to faith, can stand before God’s tribunal.” III:32


“The only function or characteristic of faith remains that it alone and absolutely nothing else is the means or instrument by and through which God’s grace and the merit of Christ promised in the gospel are received, laid hold of, accepted, applied to us, and appropriated. Love and all other virtues or works must be excluded from the functions and characteristics of this application and appropriation of the promise.” III:38


“Neither renewal, sanctification, virtues, nor good works are to be viewed or presented either as the form or as a part or as a cause of justification.” III:39


If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only brushed over or not imputed; let him be anathema. For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, There is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven. TRENT, SESSION V, CANON 5.

Thus, not only are we considered just, but we are truly called just and are just, each one receiving within himself his own justice…. Trent Session VI, chap. 7.


Therefore, we must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified for them to be regarded as having entirely fulfilled the divine law in their present condition by the works they have done in the sight of God. Trent VI, chap. 16.


If anyone says that men are justified without the justice of Christ, by which he merited [justification] for us, or that they are formally just by that very justice: let him be anathema. Trent VI, canon 10


If anyone says that men are justified either by the imputation of the justice of Christ alone or by the remission of sins alone, to the exclusion of grace and charity which are poured forth through the Holy Spirit into their hearts and which inhere in them, or even that the grace by which we are justified is only the favor of God, let him be anathema. Trent VI, canon 11.




Trent vs. Luther

Sin is really sin, regardless of whether you commit it before or after you have come to know Christ. And God hates the sin; in fact, so far as the substance of the deed is concerned, every sin is mortal. It is not mortal for the believer; but this is on account of Christ the Propitiator, who expiated it by His death. As for the person who does not believe in Christ, not only are all his sins mortal, but even his good works are sins, in accordance with the statement (Rom 14:23): ‘Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.’ Therefore it is a pernicious error when the sophists distinguish among sins on the basis of the substance of the deed rather than on the basis of the persons. A believer’s sin is the same sin and sin just as great as that of the unbeliever. To the believer, however, it is forgiven and not imputed, while to the unbeliever it is retained and imputed. To the former it is venial; to the latter mortal. This is not because of a difference between the sins, as though the believer’s sin were smaller and the unbeliever’s larger, but because of a difference between the persons. For the believer knows that his sin is forgiven him on account of Christ, who expiated it by His death. Even though he has sin and commits sin, he remains godly. On the other hand, when the unbeliever commits sin, he remains ungodly. This is the wisdom and the comfort of those who are truly godly, that even if they have sins and commit sins, they know that because of their faith in Christ these are not imputed to them.[1]

Thus we abide in a humility that is not fictitious or monastic but authentic, because of the filth and the faults that cling to our flesh; if God wanted to judge severely, we would deserve eternal punishment on account of these.[2]

If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema. For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, There is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven. But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin); which, whereas it is left for our exercise, cannot injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin. TRENT, SESSION V, CANON 5.

If anyone says that in every good work the just man sins at least venially,[126] or, what is more intolerable, mortally, and hence merits eternal punishment, and that he is not damned for this reason only, because God does not impute these works into damnation, let him be anathema. TRENT SESSION 6, CANON 25


[1] LW 27:76.

[2] LW 27:86.

Luther and the Saints

What Luther Says What Saints Say
“We would perhaps have disregarded corruption [i.e., our own sin] and been pleased with our evil unless this other evil, which is wrath [i.e., the punishment threatened by divine anger], had refused to indulge our foolishness and had resisted it with terror and the danger of hell and death, so that we have but little peace in our wickedness. Plainly wrath is a greater evil for us than corruption, for we hate punishment more than guilt.”[1] “It is characteristic of the virtuous to flee from moral wrong because of its very nature and not because of threatened punishment. But it is characteristic of the wicked to flee from moral wrong because of threatened punishment.” Thomas Aquinas, On Evil, 1.5, ad 11
“Hence, just as wrath is a greater evil than the corruption of sin, so grace is a greater good than that health of righteousness which we have said comes from faith. Everyone would prefer – if that were possible – to be without the health of righteousness [internal holiness, truly loving God] rather than [without] the grace of God [i.e., the favor whereby he does not punish the guilty], for peace and the remission of sins are properly attributed to the grace of God, while healing from corruption is ascribed to faith.”[2]


“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 Jn 4:18).

[1] Martin Luther, Against Latomus (LW 32:224 [WA 8.104.17–21]). See the whole discussion (LW 32:223–27 [WA 8.103.35–106.28]).

[2] Martin Luther, Against Latomus (LW 32:227 [WA 8.106.4–20]).

Should Any Catholic Praise Luther?

We praise someone who fundamentally deserves praise. No one is without fault, and no one without some merit. But only those are worthy of praise who fundamentally deserve praise, whose pith and marrow is good.

Now, Luther certainly saw some things in the Church as evil that were evil. No one can say that his vision was totally corrupted. But was his vision fundamentally worthy of praise? We must, of course, distinguish contemporary Lutherans from Luther. Here, we are interested in the founder, in the foundation he laid.

What should be the matter upon which we judge this case? Luther’s own texts, of course.

So, in this post, we will cite Luther at length in one of his key contributions. Granted, this key contribution he did not continue explicitly to lay out. However, he never retracted it. In another post, we can lay out the theses he continued explicitly to hold.

In reading the below, ask yourself these questions: Could a saint utter the words below? Could a holy man write the following? Could a true lover of God, one in the state of grace, write the following?

First Thesis of Luther. For Luther, Divine Foreknowledge means that there is No Contingency, and that means that there is No Freedom. This thesis he lays down, so he asserts, to protect God’s foreknowledge so as to protect his promise so as to protect our confidence in salvation by faith alone. Indeed, here we see the connection between this foundation and the explicit teaching of his that endures and which will be treated in a future post. The connection: If future events are contingent, God’s promise is not as trustworthy as we need it to be. Hence, future events are not contingent.

For Luther, there is either grace or freedom (Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, from Luther’s Works vol. 33, p. 126; hereafter, LW 33:126). There is either freedom or Christ (LW 33:279).

(Regarding Pharaoh), Luther writes: “If there had been any flexibility or freedom of choice in Pharaoh, which could have turned either way, God would not have been able so certainly to predict his hardening. Since, however, the Giver of the promise is one who can neither be mistaken nor tell a lie, it was necessarily and most certainly bound to come about that Pharaoh should be hardened; which would not be the case unless the hardening were entirely beyond the capacity of man and within the power of God alone” (LW 33:183).


If God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas necessarily became a traitor, and it was not in the power of Judas or ay creature to do differently or to change his will, though he did what he did willingly and not under compulsion, but that act of will was a work of God, which he set in motion by his omnipotence, like everything else” (LW 33:185).



It is not in our power to change, much less to resist, his will, which wants us hardened and by which we are forced to be hardened, whether we like it or not” (LW 33:187).


“I admit that the question is difficult, and indeed impossible, if you wish to maintain at the same time both God’s foreknowledge and man’s freedom. What could be more difficult, nay more impossible, than to insist that contradictories or contraries are not opposed, or to find a number that was at the same time both ten and nine?…. Paul is thus putting a check on the ungodly, who are offended by this very plain speaking when they gather from it that the divine will is fulfilled by necessity on our part, and that very definitely nothing of freedom or free choice remains for them, but everything depends on the will of God alone…. Not that any injustice is done to us, since God owes us nothing, has received nothing from us, and has promised us nothing but what suits his will and pleasure” (LW 33:188).


“God’s foreknowledge and omnipotence are diametrically opposed to our free choice” (LW 33:189).


“Here, then, is something fundamentally necessary and salutary for a Christian, to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that he foresees and purposes and does all things by his immutable, eternal, and infallible will. Here is a thunderbolt by which free choice is completely prostrated and shattered…” (Bondage [LW 33:37]).

Luther presents as his evidence that God is unchanging. So, he concludes, is God’s will. So far, so good. But from these he deduces that therefore, nothing is contingent. Again,

“From this it follows irrefutably that everything we do, everything that happens, even if it seems to us to happen mutably and contingently, happens in fact nonetheless necessarily and immutably, if you have regard to the will of God” (Bondage [LW 33:37f]).

What have real saints said about this thesis? Well, St. Thomas More labelled Luther’s thesis on absolute determination to be:


AMEN to St. Thomas More. How can we contradict St. Thomas More here? Should we, out of human respect and errant versions of ecumenism, lose our theological heads, not in service of martyrdom, but rather in praise of such execrable doctrine? 

Let us continue the citations.

For Luther, the thesis of absolute determinism is necessary in order to Protect Faith’s Certainty. No faith is possible unless one already “knows” that because God wills all things, nothing is contingent (LW 33:42).

“For if you doubt or disdain to know that God foreknows all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe his promises and place a sure trust and reliance on them? For when he promises anything, you ought to be certain that he knows and is able and willing to perform what he promises; otherwise, you will regard him as neither truthful nor faithful, and that is impiety and a denial of the Most High God. But how will you be certain and sure unless you know that he knows and wills and will do what he promises, certainly, infallibly, immutably, and necessarily?” (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, LW 33:42)

Now, this reason for humility is utterly false, since it contradicts Catholic Dogma. But St. Bernard said that giving false reasons for humility is in fact pride. Hence, Luther also takes one of the steps of pride in contending that this thesis Benefits Humility.

Luther recognizes that the notion of absolute determinism seems to make God utterly evil and perverse. Instead, then, of rejecting it as blasphemous and fideistic, he embraces it as lifting up Faith and Revelation, since it is so contrary to all reason:

“This is the highest degree of faith, to believe him merciful when he saves so few and damns so many, and to believe him righteous when by his own will he makes us necessarily damnable, so that he seems, according to Erasmus, to delight in the torments of the wretched and to be worthy of hatred rather than of love” (LW 33:62f).

Luther’s own words are the evidence. This is the testimony of his own mouth. Let the honest and decent reader judge the case.

Before the bar of every rational and decent person, does Luther not convict himself of utter inhumanity?

Before the bar of all that is reasonable in moral exhortation – from parental to educational to civil and criminal, does he not convict himself of a crime against all law? Is he, therefore, anarchical?

Before the bar of Catholic Dogma, supreme criterion on earth of what we know is and is not part of and/or in harmony with the Deposit of Faith, does he not convict himself of heresy?

Before the God whom we ought to honor, to whom we ought to ascribe only what is good and true and fitting, does he not convict himself of great blasphemies, greater even than the Gnostics who first attempted to ruin the Church? For the Gnostics distinguished two gods, one good and one evil. Does not Luther add to the evil by subtracting from the number of Gods, folding that Evil, which all right reason and right faith and common decency vomit out as execrable, into the one God?

Indeed, DOES NOT ALL OF MODERN THOUGHT — which, incidentally, is not entirely corrupt, though it is by and large no friend of Christ — REJECT SUCH VILE THOUGHT? If we, then, accept what is good and decent in Modernity – as it rebels against fideism and voluntaristic notions of God and absurd notions of justification and divine predetermination and the destruction of all legitimate autonomy of man – must we not therefore reject this foundational thesis of Luther? Finally, does this predetermination to evil harmonize with the errant notion of a mercy shorn of justice, so popular these days?