The great principles
Luther’s theology was expressed in all his writings. The Augsburg Confession written by Melanchthon in 1530 was inspired from Luther, and presents a good synthesis.
Entirely based on the Bible, Luther’s theology rejected what was not in the Bible. Based on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans it distanced itself from catholic theology, mainly on the themes of God’s grace and of deeds.
After Luther the main themes of protestant theology were summed up in several Latin expressions, with the word sola (sola gratia, sola fide, or soli deo Gloria). Only those specific to Luther are listed hereafter.
Jesus-Christ alone: Solus Christus
Jesus-Christ is the image of God’s love for us. Calling upon the saints or begging for their help must not be done “Because there is only one peacemaker and intermediary between God and man: Jesus-Christ is the only Saviour, the only Sovereign-Sacrificer, Propitiatory and Intercessor with God.”
Scriptures are the only authority for a Christian: Sola
God’s Word brought by the Scriptures, i.e. the Bible, precedes all declarations of the Church, be it proclaimed by a Pope or a council, which means that the Bible alone should be followed and listened to. The Word, within everyone’s reach, can prompt faith in man. It cannot be confiscated or controlled by clerics.
Grace alone: Sola gratia
Man is radically a sinner and cannot save himself through his own strength, through praiseworthy deeds, or through mortification. He is pardoned, thus saved through God’s grace, because Christ was crucified -see the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. Grace frees man from a pointless search for his salvation through his efforts and merits.
Faith alone: Sola fide
Faith is a gift of God. It is the acceptance of God’s love, and it gives access to God. It justifies man and leads him to doing good: “like an iron heated by fire” he who “understands the eternal presence of God in a secured faith, gets imbibed, absorbed, bathed in light and virtue.” He who lives by faith accomplishes deeds and admits God’s love: “In the life of a man of faith, good deeds are not ours but are accomplished by divine energy through us.”
Universal priesthood of all the baptised: “We are all priests.”
This principle should not be misunderstood, it only means that there is no difference in dignity, no hierarchy between clerics and laymen, as they all have the same access to God.
But there are different functions among Christians because they practise different trades -in German the word Beruf means occupation and calling- “prince or cobbler or pastor, all at one another’s service, like the parts of the same body with Christ as its only head.”
They are the visible signs of God’s grace instituted by Christ. This definition borrowed from saint Augustin leads Luther to maintaining only two sacraments: Baptism and Eucharist, but not penance, confirmation, marriage, ordination, extreme unction. So that the sacrament is seen as a promise of grace received through faith, and not as an act inducing salvation by itself.
This understanding of the sacrament upsets the doctrine and the traditional practice of the Eucharist:
- It excludes any notion of the “mass” considered as the renewed sacrifice offered by priests for the salvation of the living and the dead, because the sacrifice on the cross was executed once and forever,
- if the promise of grace granted through faith is part of the sacrament, communion should be preceded and accompanied by the Word, thus it must be clearly heard by all the people: the “mass” or service ought to be in the common language understood by worshippers and not in Latin,
- the reference to the sacrament of the words that Christ used “Drink from it, all of you”, leads to offering the elements to all the people, and not only to the priests, communion under both kinds: bread and wine.
The Augsburg confession (1530)
This confession of faith was written by Philipp Melanchton for the diet in Augsburg in 1530 and was meant as a unifying text. It was based on the Scriptures and on the first centuries of Church tradition, but also expressed Luther’s theological views. It was to become the lutheran confession of faith as soon as 1555.
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Martin Luther’s theology is based on the Bible and not on dogmas. Referring to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he claims that salvation is given through God’s grace and not through deeds. It was adopted by Lutheran Churches, and also by the other Reformed Churches, in principle.
Martin Luther and public life
Luther’s teaching, writings and sermons were widely distributed. After his 95 theses had been posted, and he was condemned by the Pope as a theologian, many of his fellow citizens decided to follow him: knights, peasants or bourgeois. These first Lutherans saw him as a prophesying individual, and looked for his support in their various conflicts.
Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation
Martin Luther, a german augustin monk, questioned the dogma of salvation through deeds. He was condemned by Pope Leon X, and started the extensive movement of religious reform of the 16th century in which Protestantism originated.
Martin Luther and Erasmus
The relationship between Luther and Erasmus was rich but stormy. The theologian and the humanist had very close understandings in their translations of the Bible. But they had different points of view on what could save individuals from sin and lead them on the path to salvation. For Erasmus it was provided by good deeds. For Luther, salvation only came from God’s grace. The debate reached its peak in the famous controversy about free will between 1524 and 1526.
Martin Luther and music
Martin Luther (1483-1548) was not only a theologian and a reformer, he was also a musician and a composer.
In the reform of the liturgy, he gave community singing a renewed role. He composed about thirty chorales, and, with other musicians, a hymn book. He asked that singing be taught in schools.
The role Luther wanted music to have contributed to the incredible development of this art in German speaking countries.
Martin Luther, his written works
Martin Luther was the author of substantial body of written works at the service of the Reformation. All his life Luther published theological writings. His commitment also induced him to write political and polemical texts. His works in Latin and in German widely spread thanks to printing.
Martin Luther, translator of the Bible
As early as 1517 Martin Luther started translating the Psalms into German. In 1521, when he was imprisoned in Wartburg, he set about translating the New Testament. This great undertaking was an immediate success. Martin Luther continued with his translation of the books of the Old Testament. The translation of the whole Bible was completed in 1534. This version, though it has been revised, is still used in German speaking countries.
500 years ago… Luther posted his 95 theses!
According to tradition, in 1517, Martin Luther displayed 95 theses on the doors of the chapel of the castle of Wittenberg. The idea was to start a theological controversy on the legitimacy of the trade of “indulgences”, then very active as money had to be found to build the dome of Saint Peter Cathedral in Rome. The impact was far greater than anticipated. The posting of the these became the founding event of the Protestant Reformation the 50th anniversary of which is celebrated in 2017.