A protestant friend says this:


I’d like suggestions on how I should respond to my friend’s email on Luther.

Here is his email:

When Luther changed everything he literally freed the people from a Catholic church that had its hands tied to political power and the
quest for power over people. Now, of course times have changed but atthe time, historically, the catholic church in Europe was moving inthe wrong direction. Luther’s brilliant and God ordained mission tobring scripture to everyone was a major liberating factor in thegrowth of Christ’s message in his era. If he would not have done it,someone would have eventually because it was againstscripture to keeppeople in the dark, in bondage…however Luther was bold enough tostep up and say hey…I think we’ve really got this wrong. What Ithink needs to be clear at this point is this: Luther never meant to
start a new church! This point is huge! Luther did not want to totallybreak off from his tradition…he simply wanted to change its
direction by admitting things were off. When Catholics view Luther asa rebel who broke off and changed everything they have got theirhistory all wrong. Luther tried to remain and bring change from withinbut when he was silenced and threatened from within the church herealized that the change that needed to happen was not going to happenfrom within from some time.

I feel that this is honestly somewhat of a microcosm for what still
goes on today. The papacy is wildly threatened by anyone who wouldspeak out and take the church as a whole in a new direction…even ifits the right direction. Example: Liberation theology. This is abeautiful view of the poor (which I believe Jesus brought) which wasactually started by Catholics and then frowned upon and discontinuedbecause it gave way too much power and freedom to the lay person.Liberation Theology asserts that Christ brought an intellectualmessage of salvation but he also brought a message of actual, literalfreedom from the bondage of poverty, slavery and other sinfulentaglements. Anyway, you can go down the list of movements that havebeen snuffed or quieted by the hiearchy within the Catholic churchwhen those movements become to powerful or grant too much decision
making to the local leaders.


Your friend has a romantic and overly simplistic notion of Luther, and a mistaken understanding of Liberation Theology.

Luther’s problem was not in “bringing the Bible to the people” but in rejecting many doctrinal truths, and introducing new understandings. Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide and a rejection of the proper understanding of transubstantiation are just a few simple examples.

As with Liberation Theology, it was not “discontinued.” It was criticized and corrected. One of the points of criticism was Liberation Theology’s uncritical reliance on Marxist ideas such as class struggle. Some good ideas from Liberation Theology were actually adopted by the Church such as the “preferential option for the poor.” Liberation Theology, largely corrected of this problem is still going strong.

Your friend seems to be quite a romantic. God bless him for it, the world needs a few of those. But if he were to rid himself of his apparent bias against the Church and look at the totality of both of those issues from an unbiased point of view, he would see his mistake.


Ask your friend what he thinks about the fact that Luther wanted to remove certain books from the Bible because he didn’t agree with them. They were a little too Catholic for him.
**Calling the Epistle of James, “the Epistle of straw” because of its admonition that faith without works is dead, he tried to remove it. Only after friends and contemporaries objected did he reluctantly change his mind. **
This was a man of great spiritual pride - not a hero of the faith.


Your friend has some valid points, but that does not make his thesis correct.

Were there some changes needed? Sure. The Church will always have room to improve, and we should always look for ways to make things better. But the changes have to be done from within.

Luther, IMO, was swept up in the same scenario as Cindy Sheehan in our recent times. Cindy was a war protester with a gripe. The anti-war people took her and propped her up and made her a symbol for their cause, using her to further their agenda, even when the two agendas diverged.

In Luther’s case, a lot of noblemen saw a way to free up some church-owned land. They propped up Luther and helped him to break off from the Church. And I agree with your Protestant friend. I don’t think Luther wanted to break away from the Church, but his allies certainly did. I’m also confident that there were other groups that saw a chance to use Luther to further their agenda, and did so.

Was Luther completely innocent? Of course not. I think he let his pride get in the way. He also felt that he could not refrain from sinning, and this influenced his thoughts on Salvation.


I agree with the above poster. Mostly Luther was a pawn of a greedy and selfish ruling class. Things got worse from there.

I suggest reading How The Reformation Happened by Hilaire Belloc.




I very much appreciate your reponse. I would be interested in hearing many more.

  1. Luther didn’t bring Scripture to the masses, a Catholic named Gutenburg did nearly a half century prior with his printing press, upon which was printed the Catholic bible.

  2. Luther arbitrarily altered Scripture to suit his biases. He lobbied for getting rid of James and its inconvenient (for sola fide) line “faith without works is dead.”

  3. Far from pulling the church out of politics, Luther in fact encouraged the German princes to take over Catholic churches. He helped augment the power of the secular authorities at the expense of religious authorities, and made the church subordinate to the state.

  4. Moreover, Luther weakened Christendom at the very moment Muslims were ascendant. Constatinople fell in 1453, Luther 50 years later destroyed Christian unity. It is a pure miracle that the Mohammedans didn’t sweep Western Europe in the 16th century.

  5. Luther’s church and its children were more corrupt than the Catholic Church ever has been. Once apostolic succession was no longer necessary, Luther and his henchmen raided church property, enriched the secular aristocracy, wounded Christian unity, and unleashed wave after wave of violence and revolution. If you think “the masses” benefitted from this nonstop turmoil, you simply do not understand anything about history.



I would suggest taking a look at the book Where We Got the Bible, by Henry G. Graham. It’s a hundred years old, but still useful. I am only aware of one inaccuracy, and that (I think; I can’t actually remember what it was) is minor.

It’s available online. I particularly recommend chapters 9, 11, and 12.

As for Hilaire Belloc, be careful. He is very combative. Some say he is for Catholics what Douglas Wilson is for Protestants. I would recommend The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism by Louis Bouyer.

The other responses are good. Mostly your friend just needs to read some scholarly works on the history of the Reformation, and take a look at it in works from both sides. That should give him a much better idea of the forces at work.



Thanks Teflon, that is helpful. Something tells me your not to fond of him…


Actually, I have a soft spot for the ol’ bugger. You cannot read some of his correspondence without laughing. Google “scatalogical Luther” and you should find a fine sampling. :wink:

I think he is a classic example of what happens when pride exceeds prudence though, and surely wish he had not taken the path he did.


Bring scripture to the people? Scripture is read and recited at each and every Catholic Mass (much more scripture than in a Protestant service - many converts have testified to this). Scripture is portrayed in every piece of Catholic artwork (all those fabulous stained-glass windows are just scriptures-in-pictures). Countless monks spent their lives copying out new bibles by hand - why, because there was no demand for them, and the Church wanted to ignore them? Heck, in that case they should have been in the fields growing more food instead. :slight_smile:


That’s a point worth pondering today. It was Catholic armies and navies that kept Islam out of (most of) Europe. The Protestants at the time couldn’t bring themselves to ally with the Catholics to fight the invading Muslims, and the Catholics ended up having to do the job alone. And a close-run thing it was.


Absolutely. Had we not successfully defended Vienna in 1529, Christianity may not have survived in Europe.


And where would Luther’s reform agenda have gone then?


No matter how hard Luther tried, he could not overcome some of his vices (this is what I recall reading, and I do not wish to go into the specifics).

This caused him to shape his theology around this weakness. No need for confessions - Christ forgave it all on the Cross. Faith alone saves you - therefore, your (mis)-actions can’t hurt you.


The folks interested in this thread should try to see a show that I saw last weekend on PBS of all places called Martin Luther. It bears out a lot of what the Catholic posters here have said. While I think the show came across as somewhat anti-Catholic in my view, especially wtih regard to Pope Leo X, it made a lot of things come clear for me. And it reasserted my conviction to convert tot he Catholic Church.

I think what was most surprising to me was the fact that it is likely, as others have posted here, that Martin Luther had no intention of changing the world, or even leaving the Catholic Church. Even his method of posting his 95 Theses indicates this. They were written in technical Latin and posted to the Church door, which was the customary way of bringing up issues for scholarly theological discussion. What I think is one of the greatest things that this show implied through the “dramatization” is that Luther was seldom without his Rosary. He ven died with it in his hands. Like I said, this “fact” was never said in the show, but it was implied in the videography. I gotta find out if this was true!




Luther gave one more excuse for politicians to meddle with religion. The opportunity to control local Bishops, seize Church property, keep charitable donations within local boundaries was a very strong temptation and set many princes over to the other side. Henry VIII is a classic example of this.
It is no coincidence that the age of absolutism followed the Reformation. (My Priest says that to a Catholic calling the Reformation a reformation is akin to how a southerner feels when calling it the Civil War rather than the War Between the States.)

So if times have changed does that mean your friend is ready to come back to Rome? :wink:

Luther was a brilliant and complex man. He was dead on with some of his theses but he was dead wrong on others. His hubris and inability to recognize the difference split Western Christendom and lead to centuries of warfare.


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