There are few tenets of the Catholic Church so little understood, or so grossly misrepresented by her adversaries, as her doctrine regarding Justification or Sanctification. Many, outside the Church, make the mistake of supposing that the Catholic doctrine ascribes a justifying and saving efficacy to a mere intellectual submission to Church authority, and a mere external compliance with its precepts without reference to the interior disposition of the soul toward God, or recognition of the merits of Christ as the source of all the supernatural excellence and value of good works.
Most Protestants are under the impression that the Catholic substitutes the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the merits of the Saints, and his own merits, as an independent ground of justification, in lieu of the merits of Christ. They believe, moreover, that merit is ascribed to mere external works, such as fasting, assisting at mass, and performing ceremonial rites or penitential labors, on account of the mere physical nature, and extent of the works done, without reference to the motive from which they proceed. These, and other calumnies or rather blasphemies of a similar nature, are frequently and confidently repeated in popular sermons and controversial tracts until non-Catholics come to reject what they suppose to be Catholic doctrine, but which is frequently only a rejection of opinions attributed by mistake to the Catholic Church.
What our adversaries allege on the question of justification is not only a misapprehension, but a travesty on genuine Catholic teaching and the underlying purpose of the misrepresentations of the true doctrine of the Church is to prevent, if possible, all who are not of the household of faith from ascertaining with certainty the exact and complete sense of the doctrine Christ has commanded us to beheve and the law He has commanded us to keep under penalty of eternal condemnation. The sooner the opinions attributed by malice or by mistake to the Catholic Church are examined carefully and candidly in relationship with genuine Catholic doctrine, the better for the interests of souls who long for the truth and who earnestly desire the spread of the Kingdom of God on earth.
To all, who hold the views we have alluded to and who labor under a misapprehension of the Church’s teaching regarding the question of man’s justification, we wish to say, that so far from fathering the impious and absurd doctrines our adversaries allege we maintain, the Catholic Church rejects, condemns and anathematizes them.
It is, then, false, and notoriously false, that Catholics believe, or in any age did believe, that they could justify themselves by their own proper merits; or that they can do the least good in the order of salvation without the grace of God merited for them by Jesus Christ; or that we can deserve this grace by anything we have the natural power of doing; or that leave to commit sin, or even the pardon of any sin which has been committed, can be purchased of any person whomsoever; or that the essence of religion and our hopes of salvation consist in forms and ceremonies or in other exterior things. What the Catholic Church teaches and ever has taught her children is to trust for mercy, grace and salvation to the merits of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, she asserts that we have free-will, and that this being assisted by Divine grace can and must co-operate to our justification by faith, sorrow for our sins and other corresponding acts of virtue which God will not fail to develop in us if we do not throw obstacles in the way of them. Thus is all honor and merit ascribed to the Creator, and every defect and sin attributed to the creature.
The false views which have been circulated concerning man’s justification, and which have for the last four hundred years done service against truth, originated in the erratic brain of Martin Luther, whose career evidenced the cold fact that he was incapable either of hard reasoning or clear thinking. We do not wish by this remark to insinuate that the “Reformer” was not endowed with talent of a high order, but, as every student of his history knows, his thought on serious topics most frequently was strikingly confused. He was not an exact thinker, and being unable to analyze an idea into its constituents, as is necessary for one who will apprehend it correctly, he failed to grasp questions which by the general mass of the people were thoroughly and correctly understood. How he missed and confounded the consecrated teaching on man’s justification is a case in point. He allowed himself to cultivate an unnecessary antipathy to so-called “holiness by works” and this attitude, combined with his tendency to look at the worst side of things and his knowledge of some real abuses then prevalent in the practice of works, doubtless contributed to develop his dislike for good works in general and led him by degrees to strike at the very roots of the Catholic system of sacraments and grace, of penance and satisfaction, in fact, all the instruments or means instituted by God both for conferring and increasing His saving relationship with man. The extraordinary exaggerations of which he was guilty in this regard must be imputed, not to the Church’s teaching, but to the peculiar notions he formed of it in the confusion of his own thoughts — as we shall see later on.
The Catholic Church has always insisted upon the necessity of being “perfect even as Our Heavenly Father is perfect” by such an entire subjugation of our passions and a conformity of our will with that of God, that “our conversation," according to St. Paul, “may be in heaven” while we are yet living here on earth. This fundamental truth Luther knew well. Early in his career he ambitioned, as was right, to exemplify the teaching of the Church in his life. He desired to be perfect, to reach justification and to become a great saint. For a time he adopted the approved and necessary means whereby his heart’s desire for perfection might be realized. In an evil moment, however, he unfortunately allowed himself to forget the indispensable necessity of humility which is the groundwork of all the virtues, and by which, says St. Bernard, “from a thorough knowledge of ourselves we become little in our own estimation.” Although this lesson was strongly enforced by Christ and His disciples, yet he seemed to entirely overlook it, and gradually he became a prey to spiritual pride, the prolific source of all evil.
Dominated by this dangerous spirit, he grew careless in the use of the ordinary sane and prudent means sanctioned by all the masters of the spiritual life to acquire true peace of heart and perfect union with God. To the exclusion of all and every counsel of the experienced in the direction of souls, he, in a spirit of unbounded self-sufficiency, imagined he could acquire perfection by his own peculiar methods and exertions. As a result of his mistaken determination to reject every wise rule laid down for the acquirement of perfection, he went from one extreme to another until he exhausted himself vainly in fasts, prayers and mortifications. Moderation and common sense in his case seemed to have been unknown qualities. When at length the thought dawned on him that he had not been able in spite of all his singular, excessive, imprudent practices of piety to hide from himself the sinfulness of his nature and the continual violence of his passions, and that he had still to struggle with temptation, he was plunged more and more into sadness, desolation, and terror of God’s justice.
At this time he seemed to forget that if God’s justice avenged sin, it also rewarded true virtue. He should have known that the Catholic Church, of which he was a member, never expected any of her subjects to propitiate God with their own works exclusively. She always taught her children that over and above the performance of legitimate and approved works of piety, they were directed to put their trust for the mastery of the flesh in the infinite merits of the Redeemer and discharge their duties in full reliance on Divine grace which is ever freely bestowed on all who earnestly strive to do good and avoid evil. Confidence in God and diffidence in self enable the humble, no matter what form passion may assume, ever to say with St. Paul, “I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.” Had Luther remembered this teaching of the Church and been obedient to the directions of his spiritual guides, he would not have been carried away by his own whims and fancies to the loss of his peace of mind and to distress and anguish of soul.
In this state of inward depression, which often prostrated him with terror, he had the pity and kindly consideration of his friends. To console and afford him relief some of them recommended him to direct his attention in future more than he had in the past to greater confidence and reliance on God’s mercy which is infinite and ever ready to relieve sinners through the merits acquired by the death of Christ. The suggestion, which was not novel or unknown to him, inspired him for a time with new hope. It let a beam of sunlight into the darkness of his terror. This, however, was soon dispelled, for a reaction set in when he began to ponder over and put his own sense on the words of St. Paul: “The just man lives by faith.” By a process of reasoning peculiar to himself he construed the word “faith” to mean an assurance of personal salvation, and “justification” to mean, not an infusion of justice into the heart of the person justified, but a mere external imputation of it.
Having managed to connect in his own mind, and afterwards in the minds of others, the word “faith” with this unnatural meaning, he could appeal to all the passages in St. Paul’s Epistles which assert that justification is by faith and claim them as so many proofs of his newly discovered doctrine. He thinks now that self-pacification is secured and that henceforward he can dispense with all and every other virtue enjoined in Scripture and work out his salvation through “faith alone without works.” How he came to hold this unwarranted position, he tells in the following words: "In such thoughts,“ referring to his ill-will and anger against God, "I passed day and night till by God’s grace, I remarked how the words hung together: to wit, ‘The justice of God is revealed in the Gospel,’ as it is written. The just man lives by his faith.’ Thence have I learned to know this same justice of God, in which the just man, through God’s grace and gift, lives by faith alone … I forthwith felt I was entirely born anew and that I found a wide and unbarred door by which to enter Paradise.
In this declaration of false security, we have the beginning of Luther’s new gospel, which, needless to say, is directly and openly opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a theologian, he should have realized that his notion of the absolute assurance of salvation imparted by Faith was as false as it was unsound, and as a professor of Scripture, he should have known that faith alone is barren and lifeless apart from the meritorious works which are necessarily connected with and founded on it. To hold and declare that men are justified by faith to the entire exclusion of other Divine virtues is nothing less than a perversion of the Bible, a falsification of the Word of God, and an injury to souls called to work out their salvation along the lines plainly designated by Jesus Christ.
But Luther’s self-esteem and self-conceit blinded him to the truth he once held in honor, and, instead of repelling and mastering his singular conception of salvation, as he was in duty bound to do, he held to it with unbending tenacity, developing it more and more until he finally declares in Cap. 2, ad. Gal. that "Faith alone is necessary for justification: all other things are completely optional being no longer either commanded or forbidden.“ It is this doctrine which he afterwards called the Articulus stantis vel cadentis Ecclesiae; and if we cannot quite accept this description of it, at least we can recognize that it is the corner-stone of the Lutheran and Calvinistic systems.
In Luther’s new program of salvation the living, vital, efficacious faith that manifests itself in good works, and, without which, it is impossible to please God, must no longer prevail in the minds of men. All the old teachings, practises and observances of piety, so useful and helpful for man’s justification and his deliverance from Divine vengeance, must now be forgotten and abandoned. The priesthood, sacraments, indulgences, intercessory prayer, fasts, pilgrimages, all spiritual works must be displaced to make way for his miserable, degrading, and colorless invention of faith without works. In his special system he wanted none of the old means for gaining eternal life. They were considered antiquated, unavailing and worthless. In his estimation it was not possible for man to perform any works which were really good and acceptable to God. Man was so depraved in consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve that he became totally corrupt, both in his intellect and his will, and was consequently incapable till regenerated of thinking, willing or doing any good thing. All his actions, therefore, even those which were most strictly accordant with the precepts of the natural and Divine law, were "evil and only evil and that continually.“
"Corruption hung over man forever and tainted everything he did. All the works of man before justification were damnable sins; and all the works of man after justification were so sinful in the sight of God that, if He were to judge them strictly, every one would be damned.“
In commenting on one of the Psalms, he makes this horrible statement: "Conceived in sorrow and corruption, the child sins even in his mother’s womb, when, as yet, a mere fetus, an impure mass of matter, before it becomes a human creature, it commits iniquity and incurs damnation. As he grows, the innate element of corruption develops. Man has said to sin, ‘Thou art my father,’ and every act he performs is an offense against God; and to the worms, ‘You are my brothers,’ and he crawls like them in mire and corruption. He is a bad tree and cannot produce good fruit; a dung-hill and can only exhale foul odors. He is so thoroughly corrupted that it is absolutely impossible for him to produce good actions. Sin is his nature; he cannot help committing it. Man may do his best to be good, still his every action is unavoidably bad; he commits a sin as often as he draws his breath.“ (Consult Wittenb. III. 518)
These were favorite sayings of Luther, and thus, if we are to believe him, every action of an unregenerate person, however just, generous or noble, is utterly perverse and corrupt. On the other hand, he maintained, "no action that was bad would bring the regenerate man under condemnation, because he was justified by faith; nor were his good actions, in even the slightest degree, meritorious, because they were done entirely through the grace given him by the Holy Ghost.“ He further states that "the nature of man is so corrupted that it can never be regenerated and sin will remain in the soul, even of the just, forever. God’s all powerful grace does not cleanse from sin. The Almighty does not regard the sins of men. He covers them over with the merits of Christ and does not impute them to the sinner whose faith in the sufferings of the Redeemer is made manifest.“ This is the effect of faith, which, he says, "tends to prevent our filth from stinking before God.“ (Walch XIII 1480)
Over and over again Luther asserted that man could not be just, but, in his desire of novelty, he thought there must be some way never known before whereby man could be made just, and so after a display of loose thinking, his wonderful ingenuity for mischief invented the theory of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ and not as heretofore by the communication of His justice. "Christ,“ he says, "has suffered for our sins and has fulfilled the law for us. We have only to believe in Him and by believing in Him, take hold, as it were, of His merits and put them on like a cloak. If we do that, although imperfect and unholy, we shall be saved and considered just, not for anything that God made us, not for regeneration, or transformation, or sanctification but for the righteousness of Christ, who in Himself was in finitely holy. All that man has to do is to remain passive; he must not attempt to do anything himself for his salvation. This would be presumption.“ He must remain with regard to all things, which pertain to the salvation of the soul, as he states in his comment on Genesis 19:26, "like the statue of salt into which the wife of Lot was changed; to the trunk of a tree or a stone, like a statue, lifeless and having no use of either eyes, mouth or other senses or of a heart.“
"To be a Christian means to have the Evangelium and to believe in Christ. This faith brings forgiveness of sins and Divine grace; it comes solely through the Holy Ghost, who works it through the word without any co-operation on our part. … Man remains passive and is acted upon by the Holy Ghost just as clay is shaped by the potter.“ (Tischr. II, C.15, §I)
This view of justification was forthwith made the fundamental dogma of the new religion Luther formulated for the world’s acceptance. From the time this false doctrine was first announced, his followers in heresy have been taught to believe that men are saved by faith alone and that good works are altogether unnecessary. "The Gospel,“ Luther falsely declares, "teaches nothing of the merits of works; he that says the Gospel requires works for salvation, I say, flat and plain, is a liar.“ (Table Talk, p. 137, Hazlitt.) If men beheve in Christ, they are told, and accept Him as their personal Saviour, His justice will be imputed to them and they will go straight to Heaven. It does not matter what evil they have done during their lives; it does not matter whether or not they repent of their sins; it does not matter whether or not, at the moment of death, they have compunction, contrition or attrition, or, are in a state of grace, if they have faith they will be saved.
Luther was the first in Christendom to proclaim to the world that man was “justified by faith alone.” The doctrine was novel and admirably suited to lull and tranquilize the misgivings of conscience. Although it opened the way to carelessness of behavior, as events proved, yet he felt sure of the correctness of his teaching and wanted no discussion thereon. Any one who would dare contradict him on the point and declare the Gospel required works for salvation was to be branded as a “liar.” This appellation is not a pleasant one, but, as a matter of fact, its author deserved it better than he knew, for his singular teaching was as false as it was pernicious, and being without warrant in the divine plan of salvation, it was utterly powerless to lead souls to everlasting Hfe.
If this teaching of Luther’s were true, it is apparent that Christ, instead of declaring that the first and great commandment was love, should have said that it was faith. But the Master did not believe that we were saved by faith alone, because when the rich young man went to Him and asked what he must do to gain Heaven our Lord answered: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the Commandments.” He did not say, “Believe in me. Accept me for your personal Saviour. Have faith in me.” No, but He did say: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the Commandments.” It is evident from this solemn declaration of Christ that He required in His followers the faith that manifests itself in such voluntary works and actions as are pleasing to Him and are performed out of Love for Him. That living faith, which the Master enjoins, is inseparable from charity or the love of God, and charity is not real unless it induces us to keep the Commandments and conform our lives not to some special injunction or virtue, but to all the requirements and truths of Divine revelation. This is the teaching which Christ constantly insisted upon, and this, and no other, was and is still the teaching which He communicated to His Church for the enlightenment and sanctification of the world until the end of time.
When Luther advanced his fanciful and mischievous conception of justification the Church, true to her mission of safeguarding the truths of her Divine Founder, had no difficulty in showing that fiduciary faith — a confidence or hope founded only on the merits of Jesus Christ — was an absolutely new invention and was not only worthless, but powerless to justify men. In her Council of Trent (1545-1563) she condemned, as was her right, the new-fangled teaching of Luther and warned her subjects against its entanglements and dangers. Then she proclaimed anew for the enlightenment of all the heavenly teaching committed to her keeping from the beginning and insisted that whilst faith is necessary to dispose the sinner to receive grace, it alone is not sufficient for justification. A living faith that embraces righteousness is what is required, and this manifests itself in acts of hope, of love, of sorrow and a purpose of amendment of life. It is only then that God finding the sinner disposed to believe all revealed truths, observe all the Commandments and receive the Sacraments He instituted, gives him gratuitously His grace or intrinsic justice which remits to him his sins and sanctifies him.
Faith alone has not the power of saving man for two reasons: first, that infants are capable of justification, which we suppose no one will deny, but are not capable of an act of faith; second, that faith is a temporary virtue ceasing in the beatified state, whereas the principle of justification is permanent and eternal.
In the process of justification, the first and foremost important place is taken by faith. More, however, is required for its development, completion and perfection. It should be remembered that when God created man, He placed him in a state of probation. He constituted him a rational being and imposed certain precepts which he was free to keep or violate as he may choose unto eternal happiness or eternal misery. Although God required the particular exercise of love which consists in a voluntary obedience to His precepts, yet He cannot dispense with love itself, which is the great and necessary requisite to a state of perfect justification. The attributes of God require Him to carry out the terms of probation to which He has subjected man. The acts which proceed from the principle of love, in order to bring the soul to God as its ultimate term, must, therefore, cover not a part, but the whole ground of the Divine law and include not one but all the Commandments.
Love then is the dominating principle in the union of the soul with God and the fashioning of it for an eternity of reward.
Faith alone, whether fiduciary or dogmatic, cannot then justify man. Since our Divine adoption and friendship with God is based on charity or perfect love of God, dead faith, faith devoid of charity, cannot possess any justifying power. Only such faith as is active in charity and good works can justify man and this even before the actual reception of Baptism or Penance, although not without the desire of the sacrament. The essence of active justification comprises not only forgiveness of sins, but also “Sanctification and renovation of the interior man by means of the voluntary acceptation of sanctifying grace and other supernatural gifts.”
Thus, we are justified by God’s justice, not that justice whereby He Himself is just, but that justice whereby He makes us just, in so far as He bestows upon us the gift of His grace which renovates the soul interiorly and adheres to it as the soul’s own holiness.
“Love,” as Mohler says, “must already vivify faith before the Catholic Church will say that through it man is truly pleasing to God. Faith in love and love in faith justify; they form here an indispensable unity. This justifying faith is not merely negative, but positive with all; not merely a confidence, that for Christ’s sake forgiveness of sins will be obtained, but a sanctified feeling, in itself agreeable to God. Charity is undoubtedly, according to Catholic doctrine, a fruit of faith. But Faith justifies only when it has already brought forth this fruit.”
This teaching of the Church on Justification was most distasteful to Luther and, as might be expected from a man of his rebellious nature, he opposed it with all the force at his command. In the Altenburg edition of his works we have a sample of his characteristic raving on the point at issue. "The Papists,“ he says, "contend that faith which is informed by charity, justifies. On this point we must contend and oppose with all our strength; here we must yield not a nail’s breadth to any; neither to the angels of Heaven, nor to the gates of Hell, nor to St. Paul, nor to an hundred Emperors, nor to a thousand Popes, nor to the whole world; and ‘this be my watchword and sign’: ‘tessera et symbolum’“ The consummate boldness of this call to incite rebellion against the express teaching of God regarding the salvation of man is most astonishing and scandalous.
In all the bitterness of his antagonism and opposition, he, after all, was something of a reasoner when he had an object to attain and when he wanted to make things square with his strange and novel views. He knew as well as any man of his day that the Church, to which he belonged from his youth to his excommunication, demanded from time immemorial faith and good works as essential requisites in the lives of all who were anxious to attain salvation. This time-honored doctrine, however, stood in the way and was in opposition to his heretofore unheard of system of salvation, and, as it could not be made to agree with his fanciful and eccentric speculations, he labored in season and out of season to dethrone the Church’s teaching in the minds and in the hearts of the faithful. In the execution of his mischievous work, he began to laugh and jeer at the idea of good works as necessary for justification. He denounced in unmeasured terms the works of supererogation or the counsels of perfection, and the vows by which priests, monks, and nuns consecrated themselves to the service of God. In his estimation, it was an idle thing, fondly invented, that man or woman should separate himself or herself from the world and be consecrated unreservedly to the service of the living God. And all following our Lord in the way of self-abnegation, in the way of self-denial, in the way of the crucifixion of self and of the flesh with all its unholy desires, he completely and totally denied, and not only denied but even derided.
The needlessness of all these and other consecrated means of attaining perfection hitherto in use, proclaimed by Luther, proved a new charter of liberty from bondage of every kind for himself, and in the end for multitudes of others. The experience of later years record the sad fact that the so-called message of emancipation left men, not better, but worse than it found them. The soothing but disastrous doctrine of faith without works could only lead to carelessness of life and open up the way to every species of unbridled lewdness and immorality. It did not bring; as was fondly contemplated, the peace and confidence and spiritual freedom expected. The very contrary results were everywhere noticeable, for all, from Luther down to the last of his misguided followers who denied the necessity of supernatural helps and earnest striving in the ways of perfection, were universally notable for such indecencies and horrible violations of God’s law as shock and scandalize every impartial reader of the history of the Reformation period.
The denial of the necessity of good works for justification was, however, only a part of Luther’s plan for the ruin and deception of the unwary. In order to give color to his “new experience of salvation,” as Leimbech calls it, he maintained in his Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians that "there is an irreconcilable opposition existing between the Law and the Gospel.” “The Law and the Gospel,“ he says, "are two contrary things which cannot be in harmony with each other,“ and, "no man on earth can properly distinguish between the Law and the Gospel.“ To lend weight to this bold and untenable claim, nothing daunted, he went so far as to say that "even the man Jesus Christ, when in the Garden of Gethsemane, suffered from such ignorance.“ (Tischr. I. C. 12. §19)
The imputation implied in this utterance is shocking, but we must pass it over for the moment. We feel, however, that Luther’s ignorance was more feigned than real because his earlier theological studies dealt exhaustively with the question of the Law and the Gospel, their nature, order and position in the Divine scheme of salvation. If he declared, as he did later, that he could not sufficiently realize the question, he should not, however, have brazenly stated that “no man on earth understood it,” for he confessed that his own pupils boasted they comprehended the doctrine thoroughly and had it “at their fingers’ ends.” He knew, too, that besides his own pupils there were thousands and thousands of the faithful in his day who realized that there was no contradiction between the Law and the Gospel and that the New or Evangelical Law was no other than the old moral law renewed, approved and perfected by Jesus Christ according to His own declaration: “Do not think that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
Luther, however, cared little about misrepresenting the belief of the neighbor when he wanted to gain a hearing for his own false conceptions. His viewpoint was in the circumstances paramount to all else and to advance it, he used all his energies regardless of consequences. In his scheme for the destruction of everything hitherto held as holy and sacred, it hardly suited him to acknowledge the harmony which existed between the Law and the Gospel, for he was gradually preparing the way for the violation, destruction and abandonment of the Decalogue. Having fallen away from his original fervor and having become a breaker and not an observer of the Commandments, he wanted to strike a blow at the source of all morality, and remove, if possible, the very foundation of all moral obligation. Despite all the teaching of Christ to the effect that the Law was for all men, for all time, and for all circumstances, he imagined that a declaration of freedom from the bondage thereof would make his position more tenable and his teaching more savory and acceptable to the crowd he desired to win to his cause.
Luther, of course, wanted the Law announced. He preached and taught it; he inserted it in his catechism and he exhorted his followers to recite it daily. Nevertheless, he, at the same time, warned against allowing the Law to have any influence on the conscience, for then it would become, as he said, "a sink of heresies and blasphemies.“ (Wittenb. V. 272 b) He considered the advocacy of the Law merely useful "to show to man that he is a sinner, to terrify him in that way and make him throw himself upon Christ.“ (De Wette, III, 307) To crush the "horrible monster and stiffnecked brute" of pride in man who is ever inclined to think much of himself and of his works, "God wants,“ he says, "a great and strong hammer, that is, the Law, for it reveals to man his absolute inability to keep it. The laws have been given only, that man should see in them the impossibility of doing good and that he should learn to despair of himself. … As soon as man begins to learn and to feel, from the laws of God his own incapacity … he becomes thoroughly humbled and annihilated in his own eyes.“ (Walch, XIX, 1212)
Although Luther advocated the Law and wished it known by all, he, at the same time, declared that "the moral duties it enjoined were impossible of fulfillment and incited not love, but hatred of God.” “Lex summum odium Dei affert.“ In this favorite declaration he gives a new proof of the contradictory character of his mind and advances a teaching which is directly opposed to that of faith and experience. To claim that the fulfillment of the Law is impossible is as impious as it is blasphemous, inasmuch as it imputes to God the injustice of commanding us to do something above our strength. How could God, who is infinitely wise and good, command His creatures to do anything impossible to them?
If the accomplishment of the Law seems to be above the powers of nature, do we not know, and have we not been assured that God is careful to offer all His Divine helps to enable the will of man not only to fulfill all the duties imposed by the Law, but also to make him experience pleasure and happiness in their observance? Does not the Holy Ghost declare by the mouth of the Psalmist, “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord. He shall delight exceedingly in His Commandments”? The example of the Saints of all ages, conditions and climes furnish unanswerable proof of this truth. God’s grace is ever ready to help men of good will. He will no more fail us than He failed the saints. The same faith, the same hope, the same love, the same sacraments, the same Gospel they had will assuredly help us, as they helped them, to subdue passion and attain to holiness of behavior. With all the Divine helps God has placed at man’s disposal, is it not easier to fulfill the Law than to break it? Besides, is it not more honorable to obey God than passion? Is it not sweeter to have the soul filled with peace by repressing passion than gnawed with remorse through the gratification of irregular inclinations ?
The impiety and blasphemy of Luther is all the more remarkable when after stating the impossibility of fulfilling the Law, he unblushingly declares that "the Law incites not love but hatred of God.“ Every reader of the Scripture knows how false and unfounded this statement is. The Law of God is the law of love. It can never inspire hatred in the mind or heart of men of good will towards its Framer. Christ’s words prove this to a certainty. He says: “If any one love Me, he will keep My word and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and will make our abode with him.” St. Paul expresses the same teaching when he says that the “fulfilling of the law is love.” St. John also confirms this truth in the memorable words: “We have known and have believed the charity which God hath to us. God is charity, and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God and God in him.” Thus faith and experience unite in proclaiming that not only is the observance of the Commandments possible, but their fulfillment incites not hatred but love of God.
Luther at one time knew all this, but later on his anxiety to place opposition between the Law and the Gospel, and to define the place the Law occupies in the religion of Christ and the purpose for which it exists, warped his judgment and blinded his intellect regarding the true state of the question. All his efforts to explain the necessity of the Decalogue, inasmuch as he admits it at all, are not too clear, and the line he draws between the Law and the Gospel is not only unsatisfactory, but most disappointing. Here are his own words. "The Law,“ he says, "points out what man has to do, whereas the Gospel unfolds the gifts God is willing to confer on man. The former we cannot observe, the latter we receive and apprehend by faith.“ (Tischr. I C. 12 §7)
"The Gospel,“ he would have us believe, "does not announce what we must do or omit … but bids us open our hands to receive gifts, and says, Behold, dear man, this is what God has done for you: for your sake He made His Son assume human nature. This believe and accept, and you shall be saved. The Gospel only shows us the gifts of God, not what we have to give to God or to do for Him as is the wont of the Law.“ (Walch, III, 4.)
Luther was right in saying that the Gospel unfolds the gifts of God to mankind, but he erred grievously in declaring that it did not announce “what we must do or omit.” Every reader of the Gospel knows that Christ, who was sent by His Father to instruct and guide us to perfection, not only promulgated the law anew, but ever and always insisted on its observance. When the young man asked Christ the question, “What shall I do to be saved?” He clearly answered: “If thou wilt enter into life keep the Commandments.” Now, the Decalogue, which is the application of the great precept of the love of God and one’s neighbor, enjoins two kinds of precepts: some positive, commanding certain things to be done; others negative, forbidding certain things to be done; all having for their end to teach us the acts by which we should exercise our charity and protect this virtue from injury and even destruction.
The law of God is the law of charity, and charity is active in doing good and avoiding evil. It manifests itself not merely by words, but by works; the works prescribed in the Commandments. To produce the works of charity is a duty not to be shirked. It binds at all times and under all circumstances if we would secure happiness in this world and in the next. Moreover, the observance of the Commandments shows God that He is always Our Lord and Master having the power and the right to rule over and command His servants and children. It is from this point of view that we must contemplate the Decalogue, if we would understand the profound meaning of the Saviour’s numerous words regarding the sweetness of the Divine law. To select one out of many we find Him saying: “Take up My yoke upon you and learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is sweet and My burden light,” which is the same as to say, “My yoke is love,” the only end of all my precepts is to preserve love; preserve it “and you shall find rest to your souls.”
It is in Charity, then, that all the Christian religion consists. It is that which distinguishes the true Christian; it is that which makes him really a child of God, a member of the mystical body of Christ, the living temple of the Holy Ghost, an heir and citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. Without charity all is useless and profits nothing to salvation. Neither faith nor miracles, nor the most exalted gifts, nor the most generous alms, nor even martyrdom in the midst of flames can profit us anything toward salvation without charity or the love of God. “If I have not charity,” St. Paul says, “I am nothing and it profiteth one nothing.”
Luther endeavored with all his power to draw a distinction between Christ and His promulgation of the law. He wanted to have it appear that the Saviour of men should be recognized for His quality of mercy and not for His justice. The thought of Christ as a judge angered by sin was abhorrent to him. All his special pleading in this direction could not, however, still the behests of conscience which ever and always bears witness to the law and testifies to its binding force. The precepts of the Decalogue are so fixedly impressed on the heart of man that it is impossible to violate these without feeling that the Almighty, who is set at defiance by the sinner, will surely avenge all and every transgression if not atoned for. Man, Luther admitted, bears within his heart this voice, which reproaches him with a badly spent life and which threatens him with God’s judgment; but, he calls "this voice the voice of the devil,” “who tries to cheat man,“ and "who comes under the appearance of Christ and transforms himself into an angel of light,” “to frighten us with the Law.“ (Wittenb. V. 321, 321 B. Cfr. 382.)
This fanciful notion, confounding the voice of conscience with the voice of man’s enemy, brought neither peace nor consolation to his hearers. The better informed realized, in spite of all his strange advice, that the voice of conscience still asserted itself and bore indubitable witness to sin and the fear of its punishment. Conscience can never be dethroned and man cannot help realizing the presence of sin and being terrified at the thought of hell and eternal death. Luther knew all this, but he persisted in his dogged opposition until we find him in the agony of despair declaring with the uttermost boldness that "Man must persuade himself that he has nothing to do with the law and that no sins can condemn him; nay, let him, so to say, boast of his sinfulness and thus take the weapon out of the devil’s hand. When the devil rushes at you and tries to drown you in the flood and the deluge of your sins … say to him, ‘Why do you wish to make a saint of me, why do you expect to find justice in me, who has nothing but sins and most grievous ones?'“ (Wittenb. V. 281 B.)
"In fact, what would be the use of Christ, if the law and our transgressions of the law could still annoy and terrify us?“ Therefore, he says, "when the conscience is terror-stricken on account of the law and struggles with the thought of God’s judgment, do not consult reason or the law … act exactly as if you had never heard of the law of God.“ (Wittenb. V. 303 B.) "Answer: There is a time to live and a time to die; there is a time to hear the law and a time to despise the law … Let the law be off and let the Gospel reign.“ (Wittenb. V. 304 B.) "The body with its members,“ he says, "has to be subject to the law, it has to carry its burden like a donkey, but leave the donkey with its burden in the valley when you ascend the mountain. For the conscience has nothing to do with law, works, earthly justice. We want indeed ‘the light of the Evangelium’ to understand this, and in this light the meaning is: ‘Keep the law, by all means; but if you do not, you need not be troubled in your conscience, for the transgression of the law cannot possibly condemn you.'“ (Wittenb. V. 304)
Some of Luther’s admirers imagine that under the Church’s teaching the people did not understand the Ten Commandments and they claim forthwith that their hero came and brought back the true consciousness of them and that whatever he said about them is to be understood as an antithesis between grace and law in the life of the Christian. If this be so, then it behooves his admirers to tell us in what possible connection is it permissible for a Christian gentleman to say, "if we allow them (the Ten Commandments) any influence in our conscience, they become the cloak of all evil, heresies, and blasphemies?“ Is this the “antithesis between grace and law?” Does not Luther make it plain enough when he says, "The Catholic theologians are asses who do not know what they maintain, when they say that Christ has only abrogated the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, and not also the Ten Commandments?“ (Epistle to the Galatians.) Is the abrogation of the Ten Commandments an “antithesis?” "That shall serve you as a true rule that wherever the Scriptures orders and commands to do good works, you must so understand it that the Scriptures forbid good works.“ (Wittenb. ed. 2, 171. 6) "If you should not sin against the Gospel, then be on your guard against good works; avoid them as one avoids a pest.“ (Jena. ed. i. 318 b)
In what connection is it compatible with a Christian character to counsel against good works as against a “pest” and make it an “antithesis to grace?” Or, under what circumstances is it allowable for a “man of God” and a “Reformer” to say of Moses, God’s chosen servant, that he should be looked upon "with suspicion as the worst heretic, as a damned and excommunicated person; yea, worse than the Pope and the Devil?“ (Jena. 4, 98. 6.) "A pure heart enlightened by God must not dirty, soil itself with the law. Thus let the Christian understand that it matters not whether he keeps it or not; yea, he may do what is forbidden and leave undone what is commanded, for neither is a sin.“ (W. XI. 447)
Does this indicate a very reverential spirit toward the law of God and was this intended to mean that the law was to be a guide for the life of regenerates? Is it thus that “Luther came and brought back the true consciousness of them (the Ten Commandments) to the people?” If this be so, then the “moral life and progress,” his friends claim for his doctrine, has its root in the worst days of paganism, and not in the teachings of Jesus Christ and of His Church.
As might be expected from one who strove to minimize the importance and influence of the Law in the lives of men, Luther had scant respect for him whom God selected to proclaim His will to the peoples and the nations from Sion’s Mount. This mouthpiece of God became the special subject of his untiring and ceaseless abuse and vituperation. He not only acknowledges his opposition to Moses, but he urges it with all the vehemence he is master of. He went so far in his antagonism that he proclaimed the Law-giver a most dangerous man and the embodiment of everything that can torment the soul. His hatred of the Prophet was so deep-rooted that on one occasion he cried out: "To the gallows with Moses.“ He disliked him because he thought that he insisted too strongly on the Law and its observance. In order to minimize his mission and destroy his influence he boldly and untruthfully asserted that Moses "was sent to the Jewish people only and had nothing whatever to do with Gentiles and Christians.“ His advice to all who bothered themselves with the Law-giver was to "chase that stammering and stuttering Moses,“ as he called him, "with his law to the Jews and not allow his terrible threats to intimidate them.” “Moses must ever be looked upon,“ he says, "with suspicion, even as upon a heretic, excommunicated, damned, worse than the Pope and the Devil.“
(Comment, in Gal.) The scurrilous language applied to God’s messenger reaches its depths of infamy when he says further: "I will not have Moses with his law, for he is the enemy of the Lord Christ … we must put away thoughts and disputes about the law, whenever the conscience becomes terrified and feels God’s anger against sin. Instead of that it will be better to sing, to eat, to drink, to sleep, to be merry in spite of the devil.“ (Tischr. L. C. 12. §17) "No greater insult can be offered to Christ than to suppose that He has come to give commandments, to make a sort of Moses of him.“ (Tischr. S. 66). “Only the mad and blind Papists do such a thing.“ (Wittenb. V. 292 B) "Christ’s work consists in this: to fulfill the law for us, not to give laws to us and to redeem us.“ (Ibid.) "The devil makes of Christ a mere Moses.“ (Walch, VIII. 58.)
Luther evidently was not any more an admirer of Moses than he was, at times, of the Decalogue. His personal hatred for the great advocate of the law was roused because of his zeal in enforcing the obligation of keeping the Commandments. The ridicule he heaped on Moses passed to the masses and not a criminal from that time on that has not wished that the Law-giver and the Commandments he proclaimed had never existed. To displace in men’s minds and hearts the wise and beneficent code of morality God gave to mankind id nothing less than criminal. There is not one of our interests that the Decalogue does not surround with the most sacred barriers. Upon its observance depend the glory, tranquillity and prosperity of mankind in this world and their felicitv in the next. To trifle with Heaven-given law and weaken its importance is a scandal and can only result in complete disrespect and disregard for all legitimate authority, a curse which is unfortunately not unknown in the world of today. In the presence of the general depravity of the hour, it is high time to proclaim from the house-tops that the sweet and gentle Gospel of the Saviour of men still exists in all its pristine beauty and force, that it tells plainly and clearly what all must do or omit, and that it is only by following its sublime injunctions that men can be freed from the error, impiety, libertinism, hatred, discord and all the other evils which makes life in the world today a long and bitter torment.
Luther, as we learn from the evidence presented, held very singular views regarding sin and its commission. We do not wish to insinuate that he actually taught and approved sin, for we know that he did as a rule instruct men to avoid violations of the law and repress the concupiscence leading thereto. But we do hold that his whole theory of justification by faith alone and his denial of moral freedom, making “God the author of what is evil in us,” necessarily broke down the usual barriers against sin, and that his moral recommendations very often in the plainest of language did actually and openly encourage sin. His consuming thought is to “believe.” "No other sin,“ he says, "exists in the world save unbelief. All others are mere trifles. … All sins shall be forgiven if we only believe in Christ.“ This thought of the all-forgiving nature of faith so dominated his mind that it excluded the notion of contrition, penance, good works or effort on the part of the believer and thus his teaching destroyed root and branch, the whole idea of human culpability and responsibility for the breaking of the Command ments.
Now, let us see the teaching of Luther in its practical working. He was frequently asked for advice on moral questions by his friends who were grievously troubled on account of certain temptations and who desired to know the best means to be used to overcome the affliction of their souls. One of these was Jerome Weller, a former pupil of Luther’s and one of the table companions who took notes for the “Table-Talk.” This young man was long and grievously tormented with anxiety of mind and was unable to quiet, by means of the new Evangel, the scruples of conscience which were driving him to despair. When he asked for advice in his sad state of soul Luther sent him the followmg strange reply: "Poor Jerome Weller, you have temptations; they must be overcome. When the devil comes to tempt and harass you with thoughts of the kind you allude to, have recourse at once to conversation, drink more freely, be jocose and playful and even indulge some sin in hatred of the evil spirit and to torment him, to leave him no room to make us over-zealous about the merest trifles; otherwise we are beaten if we are too nervously sensitive about guarding against sin. If the devil says to you, ‘Will you not stop drinking, answer him: I will drink all the more because you forbid it; I will drink great draughts in the name and to the honor of Jesus Christ.’ Imitate me. I never drink so well, I never eat so much, I never enjoy myself so well at table as when I am vexing the devil who is prepared to mock and harass me. Oh, that I could paint sin in a fair light, so as to mock at the devil and make him see that I acknowledge no sin and am not conscious of having committed any! I tell you, we must put all the Ten Commandments, with which the devil tempts and plagues us so greatly, out of sight and out of mind. If the devil upbraids us with our sins and declares us to be deserving of death and hell, then we must say: ‘I confess that I have merited death and hell,’ but what then? Are you for that reason to be damned eternally? By no means. I know One Who suffered and made satisfaction for me, viz., Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where He is, there also I shall be.“ (De Wette, I V. i88.)
Here we have a characteristic sample of Luther’s strange asceticism and astounding liberalism. How different all this is from what Christ and His Church propound for the expiation of sin committed and the prevention of its recurrence. According to these, we are under the obligation to resist the irregular tendencies of the heart and to crucify it with its immoderate desires. If Luther had been a real friend of Welter’s and a true master of the spiritual life, why did he not counsel him to avoid sin and cultivate a more intimate union with God through prayer, penance, and the reception of the sacraments? Surely he must have known that there is a certain demon, according to the words of Jesus Christ, which can be conquered only by fasting and prayer. But the salutary remedies of the Master did not appeal to this strange man who thought that faith in Christ alone washes all sin away. He preferred, as he said, “to leave these fine recipes to the stupid Papists.” Abhorring the thought of penance and mortification and denying the necessity of good works, nothing, however, more efficacious might be expected than the vile and pernicious prescription he gave to Weller. The true spiritual director was never known to advise more “liberal potations,” “to seek company,” and “to indulge in jest and play” in order to foil the devil. Like the blind leader of the blind, he wanted something unheard of before, something novel, something startling to put the devil to flight and that, in his estimation, was always when troubled with scruples of conscience to be heedless of sin and indulge even in more frivolity than Satan suggested. Thus with a boldness that was never equalled, he unblushingly recommended remedies, which to say the least, were most dangerous to weak and afflicted souls and calculated to undermine the binding force of the Decalogue in the eyes and thoughts of men. Only one mentally unbalanced and spiritually deranged could advance such a rule of conduct in defiance of all the proprieties prescribed and sanctioned by law and order.
The unholy counsels which Luther gave to Weller, to despise sin and to meet temptation by frivolitv, are explained in greater fulness in the “Table-Talk,” a work which was compiled by his pupils and in which his teaching is recorded in most disgusting detail. "How often,“ he says, "have I taken with my wife those lierties which nature permits merely in order to get rid of Satan’s temptations. Yet all to no purpose, for he refused to depart: for Satan, as the author of death, has depraved our nature to such an extent that we will not admit any consolation. Hence I advise every one who is able to drive away these Satanic thoughts by diverting his mind, to do so, for instance, by thinking of a pretty girl, of money-making, or of drink, or, in fine, by means of some other vivid emotion.“ (Colloq. ed. Bindsell, 2 p. 299.) "Let us fix our mind on other thoughts" he had also said to Schlaginhaufen, "on thoughts of dancing, or of a pretty girl, that also is good.“ Such, according to his own confession, were the means he employed himself and advised others to use to get rid of the disquieting tinges of conscience. Had he desired to recall the teaching and practise of the Catholic Church how vastly different would have been his advice to the sorely tried in their moments of temptations when prayer for God’s help, true humility and earnest striving after a change of heart are alone efficacious.
Luther’s fullest contempt for violations of the Decalogue are found in the famous letter he addressed from the Wartburg under date of August 1st, 1521, to his most intimate friend, Melanchthon, to encourage him with regard to possible sins of the past and prepare him to meet temptations in the future. The reader who is anxious to see the letter in its entirety can find it in Grisar, Volume III, page 106. His advice is couched in the following words: "Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but believe more boldly still. … We must sin as long as we are what we are … sin shall not drag us away from Him (Christ) even should we commit fornication or murder, thousands and thousands of times a day" provided the sinner only believed. Thus he repeats, against the traditional view of sin and grace, his teaching of justification by faith alone.
In his estimation sin now must be regarded as something harmless in view of the satisfying redemption of Christ by faith. This is the culmination of all his practical ideas of religion. "Be a sinner,“ he says, "sin boldly and fearlessly.“ The command embodied in the unauspicious words sets at naught all the laws of morality and gives wide scope to human freedom and to disorder. The thought of the degrading recommendation makes the blood run cold in the veins of decent, law-abiding people. In the face of the infamous suggestion, it is difficult to conceive how men with any pretentions to reverence for the Decalogue can be found to designate one, who so unblushingly urges its violation, as a “dear man of God.” If the author of such an infamous suggestion, as is involved in the words, “sin boldly,” was not a child of Satan none ever labored so strenuously in advancing his soul-destroying principles.
The defenders of Luther do not deny the recommendation he addressed to Melanchthon, To hide its grossness, however, they, in the blasphemy of despair, have edited and interpreted the recommendation so as to give it a turn and a meaning altogether unwarranted and untenable. Luther said: "Be a sinner and sin boldly.“ His supporters, to hoodwink and deceive their followers, claim that the imperative mood used by Luther is not here to be read imperatively and according to them, “Be a sinner and sin boldly” means “even supposing thou art a sinner and dost sin boldly.” This interpretation is ingenious, but like all their methods of defense to escape from the infamy of Luther’s teaching, as Anderdon remarks, “the deploying of imperatives into subjunctives, suppositions, exaggerations, reductions ad absurdum, will never make the imperative mood read otherwise than as a clear, distinct injunction. Until some more formidable line of defense be invented, we must take Luther’s words to mean, as they manifestly indicate, a recommendation, an exhortation and an injunction to mutiny, rebellion and disobedience to the Supreme Law-giver who directed all to observe and not disrespect His Commandments.”
Luther’s pronouncement, "Be a sinner and sin boldly,“ has only one meaning, namely, a command to transgress the Divine law, insult God and open up the way to the commission of crime and iniquity. If Luther knew his Bible as thoroughly as his advocates suppose, how could he, unless he was devoid of the elementary instinct of common propriety, advise his friend Melanchthon to provoke the divine justice by the commission of sin and expose him thereby to the wilful risk of eternal chastisement? Had Luther been a true friend to Melanchthon and a trusted spiritual guide, he would have counselled him to cease to “sin,” and not “to have strong sins,” for only then faith in Christ brings consolation, joy and peace. Had he not been dominated by his unbounded self-sufficiency, he might have recalled with profit the Divine warning so often repeated in Scripture: “Flee from sins as from the face of a serpent; for if thou comest near them, they will take hold of thee. The teeth thereof are the teeth of a lion, killing the souls of men. All iniquity is like a two-edged sword; there is no remedy for the wound thereof.” (Ecclesiasticus 21, 1,3) To recall these or other words of Scripture to Melanchthon would have been a kindness, but this was not Luther’s way once his mind was made up to minimize, if possible, the influence of the Commandments in the lives of men.
When we consider his own behavior and the dangerous advice he gave his friends, we are led to believe that only one devoid of his senses or one morally weak could condone, palliate and defend sin, which is always contemptible both from a natural and a supernatural point of view, and is ever a base act of cowards who are too indifferent to conform their lives to the Divine code of morality. Account as we may for Luther’s suggestion to Melanchthon, the fact remains that he brazenly trifled with the soul-destroying principle of sin to spread corruption from that day to this in the body politic. The debasing teaching he shamefully advanced struck a mighty blow at the foundation on which all laws repose, and, as might be expected, a deplorable relaxation of principle among the deluded came along, as a matter of course, to curse the earth from that day to this. Following the example of Luther, many ever since have been loud in their praise of sin, and at times the more revolting it is the greater are the encomiums of it.
It cannot be denied that Luther taught that "good works are useless,“ that "they are sin,“ and, in fact, "impossible.“ In his “Babylonian Captivity” (Chap, de Bapt.) he says, "The way to heaven is narrow; if you wish to pass through it, throw away your good works.” “Those pious souls,“ he says further, "who do good to gain the kingdom of heaven, not only will never succeed, but they must even be reckoned among the impious; and it is more important to guard them against good works than against sin.“ (Wittenb. VI. 160.) Thus, good works, the practise of piety, and the observance of the Divine commandments, the only way, according to Jesus Christ, which leads to eternal life, are in his estimation troublesome superfluities, of which Christian liberty must rid us. Rather, according to this false teacher, they are invincible obstacles to salvation, if one places the least reliance upon them. "Faith alone,“ said he, "is necessary for Justification: nothing else is commanded or forbidden.” “Believe, and henceforth you are as holy as St. Peter.“
To bring these horrible doctrines, which sought to take from the sacraments their efficacy and saving grace into disrepute was his avoved object. The utility and importance of the sacramental system of the Church once destroyed, it may easily be imagined what scope would be given to the passions and how the greatest excesses were likely to be committed. The influence exerted by the doctrine we have just mentioned immediately produced a great and widespread deterioration of morals, both public and private. Of this the writings of Luther’s age and of that immediately following furnish incontestable proof. Out of many unsuspected Lutheran authorities we take one who was Luther’s pupil and a boarder in his house, namely, John Mathesins. He complains of the spread of immorality, infidelity and oppression brought about through the introduction of the Reformation and states the cause of it all in these words: “Many false brethren, who flatter the people and ascribe all to the justification by faith, do not wish to hear anything of good works, but say openly: only have faith and do as you please, good or evil, it will not harm you as long as you are predestinated to be saved.” The same notorious fact concerning the deterioration of morals is referred to in the sermons, correspondence, and other writings of the “Reformers,” and those of the Humanists, who, like Erasmus, at that time sided decidedly neither with the Reformers nor with the Church. So, too, do Hume, Robertson, Macauley, and Lecky, even while they, each in his own way, endeavor to disparage the Catholic religion.
Immediately on the preaching of this doctrine, crimes increased in number and enormity. In all classes frivolity and every kind of vice, sin and disgrace were much greater than formerly. Men quickly learned the lessons taught them both by the precepts and the example of their master. Setting up the rule unfolded to them for their guidance they scoffed at and defied authority, secular and spiritual. In the name of “justification by faith alone,” they dispensed themselves from performing good works and without activity in the cause of goodness, they gradually fell into serious breaches of the Divine law. A rigid Pharisaical severity on certain points was united with utter license as regards many of the plainest obligations of religion and morality. The statute books of the several principalities of which Germany was then composed, of Belgium and the Netherlands, of France and Switzerland, and of England, the severe measures resorted to by the magistrates to repress general lawlessness, of which they complain in their official reports and declare themselves unable to check, furnish indisputable evidence directly to the point.
But it is needless to multiply proofs. We call Luther himself as witness and give his own declaration as to the effects produced upon morality and religion by the new gospel of “faith without works.”
"I would not be astonished" he says, "if God should open the gates and windows of hell, and snow or rain down devils, or rain down on our heads fire and brimstone, or bury us in a fiery abyss as he did Sodom and Gomorrah. Had Sodom and Gomorrah received the gifts that have been granted to us, had they seen our visions and received our instructions, they would yet be standing. They were a thousand times less culpable than Germany, for they had not received the Word of God from their preachers. … If Germany will act thus, I am ashamed to be one of her children or speak her language; and if I were permitted to impose silence on my conscience, I would call in the Pope and assist him and his minions to forge new chains for us. Formerly, when we were the slaves of Satan, when we profaned the name of God … money could be procured for endowing churches, for raising seminaries, for maintaining superstition. Now that we know the Divine word, that we have learned to honor the blood of our Martyr-God, no one wishes to give anything. The children are neglected, and no one teaches them to serve God.“
"Since the downfall of Popery, and the cessations of excommunications and spiritual penalties, the people have learned to despise the word of God. They care no longer for the churches; they have ceased to fear and honor God. … I would wish if it were possible to leave these men without preacher or pastor, and let them live like swine. There is no longer any fear or love of God among them. After throwing off the yoke of the Pope every one wishes to live as he pleases.“
This declaration of Luther is significant, and testimonies from almost every writer of eminence, who touches upon the state of society as regards religion and morals in every country where Protestantism had a foothold in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, might be adduced in confirmation of it. So notorious was the debauchery of the followers of Luther that it became a common saying when persons proposed to engage in drunkenness and revelry: “We will spend the day like Lutherans.”
The new Gospel did not even make Luther himself better. He said: "I confess … that I am more negligent than I was under the Pope and there is now nowhere such an amount of earnestness under the Gospel, as was formerly seen among monks and priests.“ (Walch, IX. 1311) "If God,“ he says, "had not closed my eyes and if I had foreseen these scandals, I would never have begun to teach the Gospel.“ (Walch, VI, 920)
“But it is not necessary,” as a writer in the American Catholic Quarterly Review says, “to go back to past ages of the so-called Reformation to decide whether it has produced a real reformation as regards morality. It is only necessary to look upon facts existing all around us to-day. Protestantism has existed now for nearly four hundred years and has had ample time to show what improvement it can effect or has effected as regards morality. Yet, notwithstanding all the efforts still made, here and there, to perpetuate the old traditional falsehood of the superiority of Protestantism over the Catholic religion in promoting morality, the most thoughtful and candid even of Protestants award the palm to Catholicity; and the general verdict of public opinion is fast confirming this decision. It is not necessary to refer to official statistics of crime and social immorality, which have been published and republished, analyzed, and exhaustively discussed by such non-Catholic writers as Laing, Mayhew, Wolsey, Bayard Taylor, Dr. Bellows, and many others, to prove that Protestant countries are not in advance of those where Catholicity predominates as respects morality.”
“It is acknowledged by almost all who have any real knowledge of the subject that in point of purity of morals Catholic Spain and the really Catholic part of the people of France and Italy are immeasurably above the people of Protestant Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway; and that judged by every test applicable to morality — female chastity, integrity and sobriety — Catholic Ireland is far in advance of Protestant Scotland. The inhabitants of Tyrol — during past centuries and today the most staunch and exclusive Catholic population in Europe — beyond all denial, stand above the people of Protestant Switzerland with regard to morality. The lazzaroni of Naples, for years the standing gibe and jest of Protestant travelers, are immeasurably less debased as regards morality than persons on the same social plane in England. Coming nearer home — for every act of brigandage, murder, or robbery in Italy and Spain, there might be truthfully recounted ten in the United States.”
“This brings us still closer to our point. Compare the virtue and integrity here, in our country, and in England, of the persons who are under the respective influences of the Catholic religion and of Protestantism, and the general public voice ascribes superiority to the former. Where is the boasted morality of New England, the cradle and home of Puritanism? How stand, as regards social morals or honesty, the descendants of the ‘Pilgrim Fathers?’ And what are the moral consequences of their principles as they have permeated the public mind outside of persons who believe in and practise the Catholic religion? Witness the countless prosecutions for bigamy, for the violations of the obligation of the marriage relation, for adultery and seduction; the applications for divorces, and the scandals, frauds, etc. which crowd the records of our courts and the reportorial columns of the newspapers.”
“It seems that God, in His justice, had determined summarily and at once to dispel the traditional delusion of the superiority of Protestantism over the Catholic religion in point of morals, and to refute once and forever the false charge, so long and persistently brought against the latter, by compelling people to open their eyes and look at the facts staring them in the face.”
It is not a pleasant task to tell the story of hideous crime, no matter by whom committed. We would that there were no sin in the world to record. If we allude to the gross immoralities that followed everywhere among the peoples that adopted the soul-destroying principles announced by Luther, we do so with feelings of shame, and in self-defense against the gratuitous allegations of our adversaries. We certainly do not wish to prove that all Catholics avail themselves of the means their Church provides for attaining to sanctity of life, nor do we wish to excuse or palliate the corruption of morals sometimes found in their behavior. We cannot close our eyes to the painful fact that too many professing Catholics, far from living up to the teachings of their Church, are sources of melancholy scandal. “It must, however, be that scandals come,” but their occasional occurrence among the members of the Church do not invalidate or impair the sacred and efficacious means she furnishes for holiness of life. We know that some Catholics are a disgrace to their religion and that they ought to be much better than they are considering the potent means ever at their call. Yet, with Cardinal Gibbons, we will add, quoting his words in the Catholic World: “If we are not very much better than our neighbors, we are not any worse; and are not to be hounded down with the cry of vice and immorality by a set of Pharisees who are constantly lauding their own superiority, and thanking God they are so much better than we poor Catholics.”
We have been careful in this paper to furnish the reader with Luther’s own words describing his teaching on the absolute uselessness of all the hitherto, and even now generally accepted means for avoiding sin and helpful for attaining sanctification. A cursory examination of the system he fathered shows it, as Fr. Johnston points out, to be absolutely “at variance with all Christian ideas on the subject both before his age and even now. Even a modern Protestant by his devotion to prayer and penance and good works practically repudiates this system of morality of a man whom he otherwise so blindly and inconsistently venerates as a great ‘Reformer.’ In fact, such a system is contradictory to even the most elementary psychology and every day experience. It is at variance with the idea of penance and sin held by even the non-Christian religions such as Buddhism and Brahminism — as such it is about the lowest and the most hedonistic in the whole history of religions. In a word it is unique. There is nothing in Christianity, ancient, medieval or modern, like it — nor in any other religion. Followed out to its logical conclusion, it can end only in unrestricted moral license. The reason that it is not followed out by Protestants is partly because they practically deny in practise the Lutheran faith they hold in theory, partly because they are, as a class, densely ignorant of the real crass Luther and Lutheranism; partly because their very common sense and sense of decency and weekday psychology save them from their own faith.”
From Luther’s own words we learn the distinctly heretical and truth destroying character of his teaching which struck at the roots of man’s relation with God. Faith with him, as Anderdon remarks, “was no longer what it had been through all previous Christianity, the supernatural grace, the gift from Heaven, by which man is enabled to accept and to retain a Revelation external to himself and in its fullness. It became simply a strong persuasion of one’s individual acceptance with God. Faith as propounded by the Church contemplates God, and what He has said and done, warned and promised; faith as propounded by Luther, regards the individual, who takes hold upon and appropriates to himself the results of what God has done. The essence of Catholic faith lies in God’s Catholic or universal truthfulness, projected in outline upon His mystical Body, through all place and time. It is independent of individual minds and as high above ‘religious opinions’ as the heavens are above the earth. The Lutheran faith, so called, is a mongrel thing, partly personal belief, partly hope of acceptance, except that it rests on a personal assurance, and so is allied to presumption. Catholic faith is the mainspring of active obedience, ‘working one’s salvation’; the Lutheran substitute is a principle of a dreamy acquiescence, that contemplates “a finished work” on the part of the Savior.
Again the Church teaches, that faith, on the one hand, and on the other hand love or the state of grace, though they have great mutual relations, are distinct gifts. The former may exist without the other, as in the case of every bad Catholic, who will be lost, without true repentance for his personal sins, in spite of his baptism and of the most unclouded faith. With Luther, faith does not imply distinct dogmatic truth; its creed is summed up in this, “I am a justified man; therefore I cannot lose my faith and fall from acceptance therefore sin in me is not imputed as sin.” This is Luther’s teaching, novel, soothing, agreeable to human nature, if you will, but it is not Christ’s nor that of His Church which is His organ of communicating supernatural truth and the means of acquiring sanctification.
Luther’s teaching may appeal to such as decline to look things in the face and want the subjective in religion, in lieu of the objective dogmatic truth; but it can never appeal to the enlightened of God who know that His will is their sanctification, and, that they must labor in this life by good works, by prayer, by the observance of the Commandments, and the reception of the Sacraments, to make their calling and election sure. Faith and good works are the only terms on which men can purchase happiness here and hereafter; every other scheme is a deceit of Lucifer to draw souls away from the love and service of God.
This statement is not made without foundation. Read Luther’s work against “The Mass and the Ordination of Priests,” where he tells of his famous disputation with the “father of lies” who accosted him “at midnight” and spoke to him with “a deep, powerful voice,” causing “the sweat to break forth” from his brow and his “heart to tremble and beat.” In that celebrated conference, of which he was an unexceptional witness and about which he never entertained the slightest doubt, he says plainly and unmistakingly that "the devil spoke against the Mass, and Mary and the Saints" and that, moreover, "Satan gave him the most unqualified approval of his doctrine of justification by faith alone.“ Who now, we ask in all sincerity, can be found, except those appallingly blind to truth, to accept such a man, approved by the enemy of souls, as a spiritual teacher and entrust to his guidance their eternal welfare?