The Theology of Martin Luther (Fr Konrad Loewenstein, FSSP)

Let us examine the four central doctrines of Luther’s theology in the light of the Faith: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fides, Sola Gratia, and Solus Deus.

1. Sola Scriptura

The doctrine Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), affirms that the Faith is based solely on Holy Scripture, and that Holy Scripture ‘interprets itself’. On the contrary, the Catholic Church, (Council of Trent s.4. 1546; Vatican Council I s.3 c.2), teaches that Faith is based on Divine Revelation, comprising not only Holy Scripture (the written part of Revelation), but also ‘Tradition’ (its oral part).

Moreover it is not the individual person that has authority over Revelation, but the Church: it is the Church that has established which books belong to Holy Scripture, and that interprets these books and the data of Oral Tradition in order to define the Dogmas of the Faith. The Ascension is an example of a Dogma defined on the basis of Holy Scripture; the Assumption is one defined on the basis of Oral Tradition.

2. Sola Fides

The doctrine Sola Fides (Faith alone) affirms that in order to be saved, Faith alone is necessary, and not Faith and works (of Charity), as the Church teaches. In this connection, the Council of Trent (s.6 c.10) cites the following words from the Epistle of St. James (2. 24): “Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only?”

Luther’s response to the Epistle of St. James was to dismiss it from his new canon of Holy Scripture, as a mere “Epistle of straw”. We note in addition that Luther understands Faith in a way different from Catholics. He understands it as trust that God in His mercy will forgive man on account of Christ, while the Church understands it as the acceptance of Revelation on the authority of God Who reveals it.

Luther anyway had already lost the Catholic Faith from the moment of his first heresy, because he who denies even one article of Faith, must perforce deny the authority of God Who has revealed it.

3. Sola Gratia

The doctrine Sola Gratia (Grace alone) affirms that through Original Sin human nature was totally corrupted, so that man became incapable of knowing religious truth and of acting freely and morally, while Grace could not heal him, but only cover his sinfulness. The Church teaches, by contrast, that human nature is only fallen and wounded, and can be healed by Grace; man can know the truth, and possesses free will by means of which he collaborates with Grace in order to act morally, even if this often involves a great struggle.

4. Solus Deus

The fourth doctrine, Solus Deus (God alone) means that man has direct access to God, in the sense that man receives salvation directly from Him and not through the Church, the Priesthood, the Sacraments, the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints.

In more detail we may say that there is an intimate and indissoluble union between the Church and God:

1) God in His Divinity; and
2) God in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

As to (1): God has, in actual fact, in virtue of His divine, sublime Majesty, established, and operates through, a hierarchical order in all things, whether they be natural or supernatural, whether they be in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell.

As for the Redemption, He acts through the Fiat of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, through the Incarnation, the Passion and Death of His Divine Son, and, with regard to the particular point under discussion, through the Holy Catholic Church and Her Sacraments.

As to (2): God, in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ has prolonged His earthly life and works in His Church: His life on earth through the Church which is His Mystical Body, and His works through the Sacraments where He acts in Propria Persona. The most glorious example of His works is undoubtedly the Holy Mass where He continues to offer and immolate Himself to the Father at every moment of the day and night, and will do so until the end of time.

In fact, Luther professes only two Sacraments: Baptism, and that which he was pleased to define as “the Supper” in substitution for the Holy Mass, the sacrificial nature of which he denied.

The vision expressed in these denials of Catholic dogma (that is to say heresies) is of a direct relationship with God without submitting to Church doctrine – or even to God, by Whom Luther expects to be welcomed unrepentant. In a word the vision may be expressed simply as ‘solus Martin Luther’.

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