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look upon as conclusive testimony of a soul "being in a state of

The advantage he perceives in his new ideas is precisely that
they keep man ever in a state of fear (" semper pavidus ").'■ That,
as Luther expressly says, " we can never know whether we are
justified and whether we believe, is owing to the fact that it is
hidden from us whether we live in every word of God."^ When
dealing with a ptissage, which he makes use of later in quite a
different sense (Rom. iii. 22, " the justice of God by faith of Jesus
Christ unto all and upon all"), he says : "We must fear and
tremble (' timent et pavent ') lest we please not God ; we must be
in fear and despair {' pavor et desperatio '), for such is God's own
work in us ; if this fear does not take the place of the customary
signs, then there is no hope possible ; and, in so far, fear alone is
a good sign."^ " Our life is in death [here speaks the mystic],
our salvation in destruction, our kingdom in banishment, our
heaven in heU."* " Away with all trust in righteousness." Arise
and " destroy all presumption in wholesome despair."

On this road of painful despair Luther fancies he discovers
the only really " good sign " of salvation, so far as any sign at all
can be said to exist : " On account of the confession of their sins
God accounts the saints as righteous."'

" Whoever renounces everything, even himself, is ready to
become nothing {volens it in nihilum), to go to death and to
damnation, whoever voluntarily confesses and is persuaded that he
deserves nothing good, such a one has done enough in God's sight
and is righteous. We must, beheving in the word of the cross, die
to ourselves and to everything ; then we shall live for God alone."
" The saints have their sins ever before them, they beg for
righteousness through the mercy of God and, for that very
reason, they are always accounted righteous by God ; in truth
they are sinners, though righteous by imputation ; unconsciously
righteous and consciously unrighteous, sinners in deed but
righteous in hope." " God's anger is great and wonderful ; He
accounts them at the sam^ time righteous and unrighteous,
removing sin and not removing it."* Here he exclaims patheti-
cally : " God is wonderful in His saints (Ps. Ixvii. 36), who are
at the same time righteous and unrighteous." Of the " self-
righteous" he immediately adds ironically: Wonderful is God
in the hypocrites, " who are at the same time unrighteous and
righteous ! " Without any suspicion of paradox, he concludes ;

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 221 ; see above, p. 211, note 4.

^ From passage cited above, p. 114, n. 1.

' " Schol. Rom.," 214. Cp. his explanation of the 4th Heidelberg
Thesis, that in a Christian " desperatio " (" mortificatio") and "vivi-
ficatio " are united; also Theses 18 and 24, that " conteri lege " is for
everyone a necessity of the spiritual life. " Werke," Weim. ed., 1,
p. 356 f., 361, 364.

« " Schol. Rom.," p. 219. * Ibid , p. 230.

= Ibid., p. 10.5.


" It is certain that God's elect will be saved, but no one is certain
that he is chosen."

Luther repeatedly represents the feeling of despair (under the
name of " humilitas ") as not merely a means of recognising the
imputation of God and therewith one's salvation, but even as in
itself the only means which can lead to salvation. He praises
" humility " in mystical language as something man must
struggle to attain and as the ideal of the devout. It occupies
almost the same place in his mind as the " sola fides " at a
later date.

That "humility" is to him the actual factor which obtains
the imputation of the merits of Christ and thus makes the soul
righteous and wins for it eternal salvation, is apparent not only
from the above, but also from the following utterances : " When
we are convinced that we are unrighteous and without the fear
of God, when, thus humbled, we acloiowledge ourselves to be
godless and foolish, then we deserve to be justified by Him."^
The fear of God works humility, but humility makes us fit for all
[salvation] ; we must merely resign ourselves to the admission
that " there is nothing so righteous that it is not unrighteous,
nothing so true that it is not a lie, nothing so pure that it is not
filthy and profane before God."^ " Let us be sinners in humility
and only desire to be justified by the mercy of God." He alone
who acknowledges his entire unrighteousness, who fears and
beseeches, he alone, " as an abiding sinner," opens for himself the
door to salvation.'

We must believe everything that is of Christ, he says, and
only he does this who humbly bewails his own utter unrighteous-
ness.* The mystic star of "humility" which has arisen to him
he even describes as the " vera fides," and makes the following
inference : "As this is so, we must humble ourselves beyond
bounds." " When we have humbled ourselves wholly before
God, then we have fulfilled righteousness, wholly and entirely
(' totam perfectamque iustitiam ') ; for what else does all Scripture
teach but humility ? "'

Luther ascribes to "humility" all that he later ascribes to
faith ; " all Scripture," which now teaches hijmility, will later
teach that faith is the only power which saves. In that very
Epistle to the Romans, which at a later date was to be the
bulwark of his " sola fides," he can as yet, in 1515 and 1516, find
only " sola humilitas." His frequent exhortations to self-
annihilation and despair of one's own efforts, exhortations taking
the form of fulsome praise of one particular kind of humiUty,
must be traced back to mystical influence and to his irritation
against the " proud self-righteous."

It is true that Luther had, from the very beginning of
his exposition, as the editor of the Commentary justly
points out, " taken his stand against the scholastic [rather

1 " Sohol. Rom.," p. 84. ^ Ibid., p. 83. ^ Ibid., p. 89.
i Ibid., p. 86 f. 6 Ibid., p. 39. Cp. " Ev. Kirchenztng.," 1911,
32, 506.


the Church's] doctrine of salvation ; it is apparent at the
very outset of the lectures that the separation has already
taken place." It could not be otherwise, as at the com-
mencement of the Commentary he already denies the power
of man to do what is good. Ficker also says with truth :
" Luther again and again comes back to his oldest and
deepest torment, viz. the struggle against free will and
man's individual powers ";i his study of St. Paul confirms
his views, which now take clearer shape, until finally " he
incontinently identifies his opponents with the Pelagians."^
With regard to Luther's tenets on faith in the matter
of salvation he has so far not departed in any essential from
the accepted olden doctrine that faith is the commence-
ment, root and foundation of salvation.

The editor of the Commentary also admits, though with
limitations, the very remarkable fact that faith does not yet
occupy in the Commentary on Romans the position which
Luther assigns to it later : " the ' fides,' which Luther explains
with the help of a number of terms borrowed from his lectures on
the Psalms, in the exposition of the Pauline Epistle does not as
yet appear in its entire fulness and depth, as the expression of
the relation of man to the eternal, at least not to the same extent
as it does later ; frequently we have a mere reproduction of
the Pauline phraseology ; there is no lack of reminiscences of
Augustine, and the results of an Occamist training are also

We certainly cannot say that at the very beginning of the
Commentary,* faith or even "sola fides " is conceded the high
place which it is afterwards to occupy in his system ; the ex-
pression " sola fides " occurs there by pure accident and does not
bear its later meaning ; it is only intended to elucidate a sentence
which in itself is correct : " iustitia Dei est carisa salutis," By
this is meant that " fides evangelii " to which, as Luther says,
Augustine ascribes justification, but which the latter, according
to Luther's own admission, did not intend to take in the sense
of the later Lutheran " sola fides." Above all, as already pointed
out, faith, in the Commentary on Romans, lacks its chief
characteristic and does not of itself alone produce an absolute
assurance of the state of grace. It was only in 1518 that Luther
arrived at his peculiar behef in justification by virtue of a con-
fident faith in Christ (eissurance of salvation).*

In the Commentary on Romans Luther understands by faith,
first the general submission of the mind to Divine revelation, a

1 Ficker refers to " Schol. Rom.," p. 23 ff., p. 108 ff.. Ill seq., 114
167, 185, 187, 199, 2U, 283, 287, 322 i.

2 " Schol. Rom.," p. 322. ' Jbid., p. Ixxvi.

* Ibid., p. 14. * See below, chapter x.


faith which he here, as also later, in agreement with the Church's
teaching, accounts as the first prehminary for the state of grace.
His opposition to works and self-righteousness frequently urges
him to praise the high value of the faith which comes from God,
whilst his mysticism likewise makes him accentuate the im-
portance of trust and blind submission. " Credite, confidite " he
cries in his exposition of the Psalms — of which the standpoint is
still entirely that of the Church — also fervently recommending to
his hearers the " fiducia gratice Dei."^ All that can be complained
of is that there, as in the Commentary on the Psalms, he seizes
every occasion to speak in favour of the advantages which
faith possesses over works.

With regard to his teaching on faith in the Commentary on
Romans, Denifle complains of " Luther's want of clearness in
respect of justifying faith," of his exaggerations and indistinct-
ness, of "his absolute ignorance of wholesome theology." ^
" The medium in this doctrine of justification," he says, " is
really not faith at all, but the confession that we are always
under the works of the law, always unrighteous, always sinners " ;
" he never, even later, arrived at a correct or uniform idea of
faith. . . . Luther's assertion of the bondage of the wiU (com-
plete passivity) renders faith in the process of justification, a
mere monstrosity."^

Here we are not as yet concerned with the qualities of faith in
the Lutheran process of justification, but it must be pointed out,
that the acceptance of complete passivity in justification is a
necessary corollary of the aboveideas of " humilitas." " Whereas
the Christian," Denifle says, following the Catholic teaching,
" moved and inspired by the grace of God repents of his sins, and,
with a trusting faith, turns to God and implores their pardon,
Luther excludes from justification aU acts whether inward or
outward on the part of the sinner ; for God could not conae into
our possession or be attained to without the suppression of every-
thing that is positive. Our works must cease and we ourselves
must remain passive in God's hands."* In the Commentary on
Romans ptissivity in the work of justification is certainly insisted
on. Luther does not take the trouble to reconcile this with the
activity which man is to exert in steeping himself in humihty in
order, by his prayers and supphcations, to gain salvation. ° He
says of passivity : " God cannot be possessed or touched except
by the negation of everything that is in us." ^ " Then only are we

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 3, p. 651 ; 4, p. 228.

2 Denifle, fi, p. 444.

^ Ibid., p. 605 ff., with his testimonies. * Ibid., p. 599.

^ Cp.above,p. 218,and "Schol.Rom.,"p. 105fi. ; " (sancti) iusiiiiam
a Deo secundum misericordiam ipsius implorant, eo ipso semper quoque
iusti a Deo reputantur."

^ " Schol. Rom.," p. 219. This remarkable passage, which is a
proof of his pseudo-mysticism, runs : " Omnis nostra affirmatio boni
cuiuscunque sub negatione eiusdem [abscondita es(] ut fides locum habeat
m Deo, qui est negativa essentia [!] et bonitas et sapientia et iustitia nea
potest possideri aut attingi nisi negatis omnibus affirmativis nostris."


capable of receiving God's works and plans, when our planning
and our works cease ; when we are altogether passive with
regard to God interiorly as well as exteriorly." "• In the Com-
mentary on Galatians, not long after, he calls Christian righteous-
ness a " passive righteousness," because we " there do nothing,
and give God nothing."^

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 206 Cp. Denifle, 1', p. 600.

2 In Gal., 1, p. 14. We can understand that Protestant theo-
logians should wish to find in Luther's Commentary on Romans the
foundation of the later so-called " Reformed Confession." O. Scheel,
the first among them to treat in a detailed manner of the Com-
mentary edited by Ficker ("Die Entwicklung Luthers" ["Schriften
des Vereins fiir Reformationsgesch., No. 100"], p. 174 ft.), has brought
together a number of passages from this work concerning the doctrine
of justification, which do not quite agree with the purely outward
character of justification according to Luther, dwelt upon above, and
which appear to presuppose an inward renewal. In the Commentary
assertions are not wanting which contradict the ideas we have pointed
out as running through the work ; this is due to the fact that the author
repeatedly reverts either to true Catholic views or to nominalistic
ideas. It is not surprising that contradictions should occur very
frequently at the commencement of his career, and that they also do
so at a later period is undeniable. (Cp. O. Scheel's samples of Luther's
Bible-teaching in our volume iv., xxviii., 1 and 2.)

Scheel himself says with reference to the doctrine of justification in
the Commentary : " Luther was unable to give to his new conception
of Christianity any thorough dogmatic sequence (p. 182) ; " these
statements (on Rom. iii.) are devoid of doctrinal clearness " (p. 183).
According to him it cannot be said '" that Luther has arrived at any
clear presentment of his reforming ideas in his Commentary on Romans"
(p. 186). In the teaching of the Commentary re Concupiscence Scheel
claims, it is true, to find " that deeply religious and moral conception of
a reformed Christianity which is peculiar to Luther" (p. 188), but,
nevertheless, remarks that Luther has not found " a quite uniform
definition " for " the mieaning which he connects with Concupiscence.
Even the suppression of the guilt and the non-imputing of original sin
might, in view of Luther's new religious and voluntarist views, be
regarded as insufficient ; for insufficient importance attributed to the
connection between sin and guilt leads finally to an impersonal estimate
of sin " (pp. 188, 189). He stopped short at a definition " in which we
miss the severely voluntarist connection between sin and guilt " (p. 190),
The author therefore speaks of Luther's view of sin as " insufficient "
(p. 191).

With regard to grace, he continues : " Luther's statements as to
grace are also not altogether without ambiguity " (ibid.), " he employs
the customary designations for the action of grace, without reflecting
that they do not correspond with his ethical and psychological views
of grace " (p. 192). " Man's passivity in the process of salvation which
he vindicates, and which, according to the Reformed Confession, was
surely to be taken religiously, being only intended to deny the existence
of any claim to merit, he defends so ponderously that all the psycho-
logical spontaneity of his voluntarism disappears and Quiotist mysticism
has to supply him with the colours necessary for depicting the appro-
priation of grace" {ibid.).

Concerning the question of assurance of salvation in the Commentary
on Romans, Scheel, indeed, admits that " Luther had not yet arrived


8. Subjectivism and Church Authority. Storm and Stress

Subjectivism plays an important part in the exposition
of the Epistle to the Romans.

It makes itself felt not merely in Luther's treatment of
the Doctors and the prevalent theological opinions, but also
in his ideas concerning the Church and her authority. We
cannot fail to see that the Church is beginning to take the
second place in his mind. Notwithstanding the numerous
long-decided controversial questions raised in the Com-
mentary, there is hardly any mention of the teaching ofRce
of the Church, and the reader is not made aware that with
regard to these questions there existed in the Church a fixed
body of faith, established either by actual definition or by
generally accepted theological opinion. The doctrine of
absolute predestination to hell, for instance, had long before
been authoritatively repudiated in the decisions against
Gottschalk, but is nevertheless treated by Luther as an
open question, or rather as though it had been decided in
the affirmative, thus making of God a cruel avenger of
involuntary guilt.

The impetuous author, following his mistaken tendency
to independence, disdains to be guided by the heritage of
ecclesiastical and theological truth, as the Catholic professor
is wont to be in his researches in theology and in his ex-
planations of Holy Scripture. Luther, though by no means
devoid of faith in the Church, and in the existence in her of
the living Spirit of God, lacks that ecclesiastical feeling which
inspired so many of his contemporaries in their speculations,
both theological and philosophical ; we need only recall
his own professor, Johann Paltz, and Gabriel Biel to whom
he owed so much. Impelled by his subjectivism, and careless

at any definite certainty of salvation " (p, 195), and that his statements
are not " in touch with the saving faith of the Reformation " (ibid.) ; he
finds, however, in the fear which Luther demands, " an element for
overcoming the uncertainty with regard to salvation " (p. 198),
indeed, he even thinks (p. 199) that "he had practically arrived at a
certainty of salvation." So much may be admitted, that the incom-
pleteness of the system contained in the Commentary led Luther at a
later period to add to his numerous other errors, that of absolute
certainty of salvation by " faith alone." With this our position is
made clear with regard to Holl's article " Heilsgewissheit im Romer-
briefkommentar," in the " Zeitschr. f. Theol. und Kirehe," 20, 1910,
p. 245 ff., where the doctrine of assurance is dated as far back as 1516
(p. 290).


of the teaching of preceding ages, he usually flies straight
to his own " profounder theology " for new solutions. Here
the habits engendered by the then customary debates in
the schools exercise a detrimental effect on him. He is
heedless of the fact that his hasty and bold assertions may
undermine the foundations which form the learned support
to the Church's dogmas. Important and assured truths
become to him, according to this superficial method, mere
" soap bubbles " which his breath can burst, " chimeras
of fancy " which will melt away in the mist. This is the
case, for instance, with the traditional doctrines of saving
grace, of the distinction between original and actual sin,
and of meritorious good works. Whoever does not agree
with his terrible doctrine of predestination is simply reckoned
among the subtle theologians, who are desirous of saving
everything with their vain distinctions.^ We cannot, of
course, measure Luther by the standard of the Tridentine
decrees, which embodied these and other questions in
distinct formularies of which the Church in his time had
not yet the advantage. Yet the principal points which
Luther began to agitate at this time were, if not already
actual dogmas, yet sufficiently expressed in the body of
the Church's teaching and illuminated by ecclesiastical

That he still adheres in the Commentary to the principle of
the hierarchy is apparent from the fact that he declares its
office to be sublime, and loudly bewails the fact that so many
unworthy individuals had forced themselves at that time into
its ranks ; he says in his curious language : " It is horrifjdng
and the greatest of all perils that there can be in this world or
the next ; it is simply the one biggest danger of all."^ In the
hierarchy, he says, God condescended to our weakness by choos-
ing to speak to us and come to our assistance through the medium
of men, and not directly, in His unapproachable and terrible

He also recognises the various grades of the hierarchy, priestly

1 " Schol. Rom.," p. 209 f. : " Nostri theologi velut acululi," etc.
" Hmc tantum vacua verba sunt" etc. " Est ridicula addiiio si dicas,"
etc. " Torquent intelligeiitiam," etc. Thu.s he arrives at his " im-
mutabilis praideslinatio." " Prcecipit Deus ut irretiantur reprobi, ut
ostendat iram suam," with the pains of hell which they are absolutely
powerless to escape (p. 213). See also above, p. 189 fi.

2 Ibid., p. 6. Against the " mercenarii." In Ficker's text it
reads : " qualium hodie in ecclesia solu^ est numerus." In place of
"solus " read " tanius " or some other such word.

3 Ibid., p. 7.


and episcopal Orders. " The Church is a general hospital for
healing those who are spiritually sick " ;^ the rules which she
gives to the clergy, the recital of the Divine Ofifice for instance,
must be obediently carried out.^ She has a right to temporal
possessions, only " at the present day almost all declare these
to be spiritual things ; they, the clergy, are masters in this
' spiritual ' domain and are more careful about it than about
their real spiritualities, or about their use of thunderbolts
[excommunications] in the sentences pronounced by the Church. ' ' '
According to him, the prelates and the Church have a perfect
right to condemn false teachers however much the latter may
" utter their foolish cry of ' we have the truth, we believe, we
hear, we call upon God.' " " Just as though they must be of
God because they seem to themselves to be of God. No, we have
an authority which has been implanted in the Church, and the
Roman Church has this authority in her hands. Therefore the
preachers of the Church, unless they fall into error, preach with
assurance [on account of their commission]. But fake teachers
are pleased with their own words, because they are according to
their own ideas. They appear to demand the greatest piety, but
are themselves governed by their own opinion, and their seK-
wiU."* " Whoever declares that he is sent by God must either
give proof of his nussion by wonders and heavenly testimony,
as the Apostles did, or he must be recognised and commissioned by
an authority confirmed by Heaven. In the latter case, he must
stand and teach in humble subjection to such authority, ever
ready to submit to its judgment ; he must speak what he is
commissioned to speak and not what his own taste leads him to
invent. . . . Anathema is the weapon," he exclaims — vm-~
conscious of his own future — " which lays low the heretics."*

' "Schol. Rom.," p, 111. 2 xiid^^ p. 290. Cp. p. 317.

= Ibid., p. 294 f. * Ibid., p. 248 f.

' Ibid. Of the true preacher he says : " Sub humili subiectione
eiusdem auctoritatis prcedicet, semper stare iudicio illiiis paratus ac,
quae mandata ei sunt, loqui, non qucB placita sunt sibi ac inventa."' The
punishment threatened by Zach. xiii. 3 against false prophets
(" configent eum "), was to be applied to those who teach subversive
doctrines on their own authority, being the anathema of their ecclesias-
tical superiors. "Hoc est telum fortissimum, quo percutiuntur hceretici,
quia sine testimonio Dei vel authoritas a Deo confirmatce, sed propria
motu, specie pietatis erecti, prcedicant, ut ler. xxiii. (v. 21) : Ipsi currebant
et ego non mittebam eos. Et tamen audent dicere : Nos salvabimur . . .
>ios credimus . . . prcedicamus. Sed hoc dicere non possunt : Nos
prcedicamus, quia misai siXmus. Hie, hie iacent ! Et hie est lota vis et
salus, sine quo cetera jalsa sunt, licet an falsa sint non cogitent." The
Church preaches an authentic gospel, which, according to Romans i. 2,
was introduced into the world with solemn sanction and according to
prophecy. But the gospel of the heretic ? " Monstret, uhi ait ante
promissum et a quo." Where is its attestation ? " Sed horum illi nihil
solliciti atulte dicunt : Nos veritatem habemus. . . . Quasi hoc satis sit
ex Deo esse, quia ipsia ita ex Deo videatur esse. . . . Sic ergo authoritas
ecclesicB instituta, ut nunc adhuo Bomana tenet ecclesia." The heretics,
it is true, assert that they are in possession of the really wholesome

I.— Q


Whenever he gets the chance he magnifies the corruption
of the Church so much that his expressions might lead one

Online LibraryHartmann GrisarLuther → online text (page 27 of 47)