The Father William Most Collection
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
In 1530 the Emperor asked the Lutherans to prepare a statement of their beliefs for comparison with Roman Catholic Teachings. It was given to the Emperor at Augsburg, not accepted by the Catholic Church. At least many Lutherans still accept it. (Hereinafter = AC)
In many respects is sounds like a Catholic creed. But there are two great reasons why it is unacceptable to the Catholic Church.
1. Faith: The idea of faith at Augsburg is still the same as that of Luther. AC in 20.23: "Faith does not mean knowledge of an event... it means faith which believes... also in the effect of an event, namely, the remission of sins, e.g., that we have, through Christ, grace, righteousness and remission of sins."
No, St. Paul has a different definition of faith. It includes three things. The third, and most vital, is omitted in the AC. For St. Paul requires 1) We believe what God says. AC would not disagree. 2) we have confidence in His promises. AC hardly would disagree. 3) The "obedience of faith" - from Romans 1.5. A standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, says in its 1976 Supplement volume, p.333, in the article on faith, in the section on St. Paul: "Paul uses pistis/pisteuein [Greek words for faith and believe] to mean, above all, belief in the Christ kerygma [proclamation or preaching], knowledge, obedience, trust in the Lord Jesus. Commenting on Rom 1.5 the same article says: that we must respond, "by the 'obedience of faith', (Rom 1:5), hypakoe pisteos 'the obedience which faith is'". Notice that it is not said merely that faith produces obedience. Rather, it speaks of the obedience that faith IS.
Here Luther contradicted most strongly. In his Epistle of August 1, 1521 to Melanchthon (This translation is taken from the official Lutheran American Edition of his complete works, vol. 42, pp. 281-82: "If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true [p. 282] and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.... as long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin.... No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day." So if a man after a sex orgy would go out and kill a thousand people with an automatic rifle, and then kill himself, he would go instantly to the eternal embrace of God. Yet In Malachi 3:2: "Who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire." That fire would have to burn all that rot out of him. If there would be anything left, He might finally reach heaven. If not, it would mean the fire would keep on burning him forever.
So, sadly, we have to say: Luther did not really know what St. Paul meant by faith. Yet he built his whole system on that error. In his Exposition on Psalm 130.4, speaking of justification by faith, he wrote: "If this article stands, the church stands; if it falls, the church falls". He also wiped out the Holiness of God, of which Isaiah speaks over and over, the attribute by which God loves all that is good, and hates all sin. Luther thinks a thousand fornications and murder per day leave a man still right with God.
He said the same thing in his Epistle 501 to Melanchthon.
He also said, as cited by the noted Lutheran scholar, De Wette (4.188): "We must remove the Decalogue [ten commandments] out of sight and heart."
He also said in Table Talk (cited in P. F. O'Hare, The Facts About Luther, Tan, Rockford, Il., 1987, p. 315: "I sit here in idleness and pray, alas, little, and sigh not for the Church of God. Much more am I consumed by the fires of my unbridled flesh. In a word, I who should burn of the spirit, am consumed by the flesh, and by lasciviousness."
Lutherans would like to believe the Catholic Church taught the wrong way to salvation for most of 15 centuries, and that then God sent so grossly immoral a man to rectify it, a man who did not bother to read St. Paul carefully to see what St. Paul meant by faith. He just jumped to a conclusion. But: What would become of the promises of Christ if they had failed for so many centuries?
2. The principle of teaching authority makes an impassible gap. The Protestants make two mistakes here: 1) They think Scripture is clear and easy on the essential things. Justification by faith is of course most essential. But was not clear as we have seen. Luther did not know what the word faith meant in St. Paul. Nor did he understand the word justification. He thought it meant something merely extrinsic and legalistic: it left the soul corrupt. In thinking the essentials are clear, he contradicted 2 Peter 3.6 which said that in St. Paul, "There are many things hard to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable twist, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction".
2) Still worse, Luther had no right to appeal to Scripture at all, for he did not know of any way to determine on his own which books are inspired and part of Scripture. In 1910 a Baptist theology Professor from the University of Chicago, Gerald Birney Smith, gave a paper at the national Baptist convention. In it he went over every means he could think of to prove which books are inspired. He said none of them was any good. He also said the method Luther tried to use was no good. Luther thought if a book preaches justification by faith strongly it is inspired. How foolish! Most books of Scripture do not even mention the subject! But that Professor did say that if there were a providentially protected teaching authority, that would settle it. He did not believe there is such a thing. We know there is, as our apologetics shows easily. So the Professor concluded his paper saying no wonder we do not hear the word infallible much today: we cannot be sure if Scripture is Scripture. A sad case of that emerged in a book by Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical Critical Method, published by the great Lutheran house at Concordia, in 1974. In it, on pp,.61 and 63,he said: "Only Scripture can say in a binding way what authority it claims and has.... Scripture considers itself as revelation." This is a shocker, a perfect case of lifting self by the shoelaces. Scripture cannot prove Scripture is inspired until we know Scripture is itself inspired. And it definitely does not say it is inspired. Nor does it say Scripture is the only way in which God communicates to us. It is as if he said: Scripture is Scripture, because Scripture says Scripture is Scripture. The article just mentioned was published in The Biblical World 37,pp.19-29.
Further, all Protestantism assumes Christ told the Apostles: Write some books - pass them out- tell people to figure them out for themselves. Books were too expensive at the start, so many were illiterate, and as we said, this notion contradicts 2 Peter 3.16 saying St. Paul is not clear. Christ did not say such a foolish thing. He told the Apostles to teach, and promised: "He who hears you, hears me."
Even worse, most Lutherans have no notion of what Luther really taught. He himself considered his book, The Bondage of the Will as his chief work. Here are references from it (in a Lutheran edition, translated by James J. B. Packer and O. R. Johnston, F. H. Revell Co., Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1957). On p. 273 he insists strongly there is no such a thing as free will. On pp.103-04: "Man's will is like a beast... if God rides, it wills and goes where God wills.... If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run...." Therefore a man has nothing to say whether he goes to heaven or hell, he cannot choose the rider. Yet on p.101: "He saves so few and damns so many." And on p.314 those who are damned are "undeserving."