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.
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