Luther Fights Then Compromises
MARTIN LUTHER is to be remembered not only as the man who first translated the Bible into German, but as the successful challenger who courageously defied the all-powerful domination of the popes of Rome. Unwittingly Luther lit the match that finally set off the powder barrel of mounting opposition to Catholicism.
Martin Luther was born in 1483 at Eisleben in Prussian Saxony. After a stormy religious career, untouched by the murderous hands of Rome’s agents, Luther died a natural death February 18, 1546. Born a miner’s son, he had had a stern upbringing. Luther’s father was able financially to send him to the well-known University of Erfurt in 1501; in 1505 he graduated with a Master of Arts degree. At the desire of his father, who was somewhat anticlerical, Luther entered Erfurt’s law school in May, 1505. Two months later he suddenly renounced the world and entered the monastery of the Augustinian convent at Erfurt.
In 1507 Luther was consecrated to the Roman Catholic priesthood and later became associated with the teaching staff of the University of Wittenberg. As an Augustinian monk and priest he made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1510. The corruption, irreligion and vice that Luther witnessed among the priests in Rome greatly disturbed him. Years later he said that he would not have missed “seeing Rome for a hundred thousand florins; for I might have felt some apprehension that I had done injustice to the Pope; but as we see, so we speak.”1
Returning from Rome to Germany he pursued his studies in the Latin Bible that was available to him and also continued to teach theology at Wittenberg University. By the winter of 1512-1513 his inner struggle of conscience became such that he began to make an independent study of basic Catholic teachings. Finally on October 31, 1517, enraged at the Catholic Church’s campaign of selling indulgences, which to him amounted to divine bribery, the selling of forgiveness of sins, Luther nailed his now-famous 95 protests on the church door of Wittenberg. This one act touched off what became known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s many delighted friends, eagerly employing the then very new art of printing, quickly reproduced and widely circulated this stirring protest so that within two weeks all Germany was informed and the righteous were moved to indignation and opposition. At last someone had come along with courage to “bell the cat,” that is, to expose publicly the prowling, dangerous catlike papal hierarchy.2
Shocked by this rebellion in Germany, the pope of Rome finally issued a bull of excommunication against Luther in 1520, dismissing him from the Catholic Church. Ignoring this action of the pope, Luther continued as a priest to preach and teach. On December 10, 1520, Luther, in public, spectacularly consigned this papal written decree to the flames. He also released for wide publication his great reform treatises, the Address to the German Nobility, The Babylonic Captivity of the Church and The Freedom of a Christian Man.3
The next year, 1521, Roman emperor Charles V called for an assembly at the city of Worms of high church dignitaries and German princes to hear Luther’s defense against the pope’s orders. After a two-hour defense spoken in German, repeated for two hours in Latin, Luther concluded: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by an evident reason—for I confide neither in the pope nor in a council alone, since it is certain that they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am held fast by the Scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s Word, and I neither can nor will revoke anything, seeing that it is not safe or right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.”4
Incidentally, in April, 1523, nine nuns escaped from the convent of Imptsch near Grimma, fled to Wittenberg and appealed to Luther for protection. Among them was nun Catharina von Bora, whom Luther married in 1525, in further defiance of the Catholic Church. In time they came to have six children, three sons and three daughters.5
LUTHER’S ORIGINAL DOCTRINAL VIEWS
During the years that followed Luther made the first translation of the entire Bible into German. He also made great progress in his Scriptural studies, coming to some very accurate glimpses of Bible truth. Note the following quotations from Luther’s early works, which were printed and widely distributed.
JEHOVAH: In an exposition of Jeremiah 23:1-8 Luther says: “ . . . but this name Jehovah belongs exclusively to the true God.”—From Ein Epistel aus dem Propheten Jeremia, von Christus reich und Christlichen freyheit, gepredigt durch Mar. Luther, Wittenberg, 1527.
SOUL MORTAL: “I permit the Pope to make articles of faith for himself and his faithful—such as ‘the soul is the substantial form of the human body,’ ‘that the soul is immortal,’ with all those monstrous opinions found in the Roman filth-pile of resolutions.”—From Assertio Omnium Articulorum M. Lutheri, per Bullam Leonis, X (Luther’s Works, Vol. 2, folio 107, Wittenberg, 1562), first published in 1520. Also Zion’s Watch Tower, 1905, p. 228.
DEATH DEFINED: “Therefore the Scripture calls death a sleep. For as one falls asleep, he, when he awakes in the morning, knows nothing about how the falling asleep happened, nor about the sleep itself, nor the awakening, so shall also we on the last day arise with haste and not know either how we came into death or through death.”—Kyrkopost, 1 band., no. 29, par. 9, sid. 259.6 See also Watch Tower Reprint, Vol. 1, p. 408.
RESURRECTION: “Hereof it must follow that they who lie in the graveyard and sleep under the ground do not sleep as profound as we do on our beds. For it may happen that your sleep is so profound that you must be called ten times before you hear once. But the dead will hear at the first calling of Christ, and awake, as we here see of this young man and of Lazarus.”—Evang. Luk. 7. 11-17, par. 8.6
STATE BETWEEN DEATH AND RESURRECTION: “Let this be unto you an excellent alchemy and a masterpiece that does not turn copper or lead into gold for you, but changes death into a sleep and your grave into a sweet room of rest, and all the time elapsing between Abel’s death and the last day into a short little while. The Scripture gives this consolation everywhere.”—Kyrkopost, 1: a band., no. 109, par. 39-47, sid. 434-436.6
TRUTH SACRIFICED FOR A COMPROMISE
Neither Luther nor his present-day admirers have held fast to these and many more original Scriptural teachings advocated by Luther. Regrettably, those admirers of his have followed a course of watering down and compromise.
For example, by 1530 Luther’s friend Melanchthon, who was a Greek scholar, had persuaded him to be party to a proposal now known as the Augsburg Confession. Melanchthon wrote up this creedlike document and presented it at Augsburg before the assembly of Emperor Charles V together with his princely and hierarchic corulers to effect a reconciliation between the vast number of followers of Luther and the Roman Catholic Church. In this way Melanchthon and Luther hoped to bring about an internal cleansing of the papal church by inducing her to reform some of her ways. But the assembly flatly rejected this proposal. Luther’s supporters were left holding the bag of compromise, which was full of half truths and repudiations of some of Luther’s earlier right views.
The Augsburg Confession, in part, says concerning the trinity and souls of the wicked suffering eternally: “Our churches, with common consent, do teach, that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true . . . of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost . . . that, at the Consummation of the world, Christ shall appear for judgment and shall raise up all the dead; He shall give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He shall condemn to be tormented without end.”—Articles I and XVII.7
Upon this sacrifice by compromise, the Augsburg Confession, many of the present-day separate Lutheran sects were founded. Thus Luther’s great fight for truth was largely marred by unscriptural compromises.
1 History of the Christian Church by Schaff, Vol. VI, pp. 105, 109, 111, 112, 125, 126, 130.
2 Ibid., pp. 135, 156.
3 Ibid., pp. 206, 213, 220, 227, 247.
4 Ibid., pp. 287, 305.
5 Ibid., pp. 456, 462.
6 Luther and The Final Reformation by J. Lee, pp. 30, 31.
7 The Making and Meaning of the Augsburg Confession by C. Bergendoff, 1930, pp. 33, 76.