Snippets from Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian Liberty

Years ago, I stumbled upon Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian LibertyI still turn to it often, marveling at the insights regarding the intersection of faith and works.  Here are just a few of my favorite passages.

“Since, therefore, this faith can rule only in the inward man, as Romans X says, With the heart we believe unto righteousness; and since faith alone justifies, it is clear that the inward man cannot be justified, made free and be saved by any outward work or dealing whatsoever.”

“Although it is good to preach and write about penitence, confession, and satisfaction, our teaching is unquestionably deceitful and diabolical if we stop with that and do not go on to teach about faith.” [Read more…]

1309-1417: Avignon and the Papal Schism


For two centuries before the official launch of the Protestant Reformation, corruption and strife in the papacy prompted calls for reform within the Catholic Church.  Back in the early 14th century, the Pope had fled Rome and set up the offices of the church in Avignon, France.  There, over the next 100 years, a series of Popes created ways to increase religious taxes and fiscal intakes, funding construction of a grand palace of opulence (pictured).  As one Italian poet described Avignon, it is “a receptacle of all that is most wicked and abominable…In this city there is no piety, no reverence or fear of God, no faith or charity, nothing that is holy, just, equitable, or humane.”

Two women, later canonized by the Catholic church, led the calls to repentance.  St. Bridget implored Pope Gregory XI to show humility — “Why in thy Court dost thou suffer unchecked the foulest pride, insatiable avarice, execrable wantonness, and all-devouring simony? … Arise and seek bravely to reform the Church which I have purchased with my blood, and it shall be restored to its former state, though now a brothel is more respected than it.”  [Read more…]

Not Even Close to 95 Mormon Theses for Reformation Day

martin-luther3It’s Reformation Day yet again, number 498 with 500 coming soon, and to commemorate it yet again Craig H. (a professor of Reformation history) delivered the DeLamar Jensen lecture at BYU on Thursday, on the twin themes of 1) how a Mormon farm-boy like DeLamar Jensen (or for that matter a Mormon suburb-boy like himself) ever in the world got interested in the Reformation, and 2) what the youngish sixteenth-century monk Martin Luther might possibly have to say to other Mormons too. Jason K. was in attendance, squished among the Axe-sprayed hordes (as certain BYU colleagues affectionately call them), and asked Craig whether he might publish excerpts at BCC, especially Craig’s assorted Luther-style theses on what an infusion of Luther-style grace into Mormonism might possibly look like. Though Craig is a (very occasional) blogger at T&S, he, in good ecumenical spirit, agreed. And though he has written mostly about the Reformation, Craig is also the author of a missionary memoir, Way Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled but Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionarywhich is exactly as amazing as that title makes it sound (see Russell Arben Fox’s review here). We’re glad to welcome Craig as a guest at BCC.

The body of the talk went something like this: most Mormons (like most people) don’t know much about Luther, but plenty still tend to think of him as a sort of forerunner of their own religion. Maybe. But his big main point, that justification comes by grace, through faith, isn’t exactly the dominant Mormon way of thinking about salvation.

In fact, despite some recent flashes of something close to Luther-style grace in Mormonism (coming from Stephen Robinson, Elder Uchtdorf, or Adam Miller), Mormons are still more likely to believe the version of salvation Luther was protesting against: justification by grace, through doing every dang thing you can possibly do to earn that grace. Or more formally, doing all that lies within you.

[Read more…]

Reformation Day

On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. The act itself was not terribly momentous, because this was a usual way of announcing an academic disputation. More conspicuous was the subject: the formal title of the theses was “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” signaling a challenge to Church doctrine and power. Print technology then facilitated the rapid spread of Luther’s words throughout Europe; within two months they were widely available on the Continent. From this apparently simple beginning ushered forth a world-changing series of events. [Read more…]