A Quick Summary of Exsurge Domine

On a now closed thread 7 Sorrows asked for a quick summary of the Papal Bull Exsurge Domine.

On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo issued the Bull Exsurge Domine, which condemned forty-one of Luther’s propositions. Unfortunately, this document was not well drafted. In censuring Luther’s statements, the Bull did not distinguish between heretical statements and those which were merely misleading. Even scholars could not understand why some of the statements had been included in the censure.

However, until the Council of Trent (1545-1547, 1551-1552, 1562-1563), Exsurge Domine was the only papal document concerning Lutheran teachings. The Bull did not excommunicate Luther, but rather gave him sixty days to recant. John Eck was asked to publicize the Bull in Germany, but had difficulty because of Luther’s popularity and the animosity towards Rome. At the urging of an advisor, Luther addressed the Pope in a letter in October 1520.

In this document, Luther tries to draw a distinction between Pope Leo and the Vatican bureaucracy. Still, there is an absolute refusal to recant or change his opinions. At the same time, Luther was authoring works vilifying the Bull Exsurge Domine and calling the Pope the Antichrist for issuing it. Luther argues that the Bull should be withdrawn, and if not withdrawn, then no Christian should heed Rome, the enemy of God!

With Luther’s refusal to recant, the Pope issued another document Decet Romanum Pontificem, on January 3, 1521, which excommunicated Luther.

Yes, accurately stated.

It is the Council of Trent that finally methodically answered Luther’s stand…the issue of justification, the sacraments, and hierarchical, universal administration vs that at the local level.

Luther burned Leo’s Bull ‘Exsurge’ as well as a copy of Canon Law with his students, this action symbolizing ‘the break with the papacy as well as the end of medieval Christiandom’, T. Nokenkotter, ‘A Concise History of the Catholic Church’. He was protected by the German government and spent the rest of his days composing the first bible written in German.

The Catholic Church did not print more bibles but instead printed copies of the Roman Missal, the Catholic place of gathering at the Mass, where then the Mass would be said the same universally throughout the Catholic Christian world.

Hi Tomster,
Thanks for this. Just wondering; is this your own summary, or do you have a source for it that you can link to?


Thanks for the additional information Kathleen. It’s also a very good thing for Catholics as well as for Lutherans who claim the title Catholic to review a basic outline regarding Trent’s findings concerning Lutheran doctrine.

(1) Original justice was connatural to Adam, like sight to the eyes.

(2) Original sin (loss of original justice) has, therefore, corrupted intrinsically human nature in such a way that man is longer capable of doing any good at all.

(3) By original sin human reason has degenerated and free will no longer exists.

(4) Therefore, man is no longer responsible for his acts, especially since he is tyrannically dominated by concupiscence, which is intrinsically sinful even in its instinctive movements.

(5) Man, fallen through original sin, is incurable, so deeply that not even God can heal him anymore. Therefore the Redemption is entirely a work extrinsic to us, a work done by Christ, who substitutes Himself for us in order to pay the penalty of our sins to the divine justice (penal substitution). Human justification is done extrinsically - in a negative way, i.e., by covering up sin (not by removing it), and in a positive way, i.e., by attributing (inputatio) to us the holiness and the merits of Christ.

(6) There is no habitual grace in us; actual grace is not a power or a quality of the soul, but it is God Himself working in us.

(7) The only good act man can do is the act of fiducial faith or abandonement of self to God, by which He confides in His mercy and trusts that his sins have been pardoned.

(8) Consequently, the sacraments have no longer any rasion d’ etre: Luther keeps baptism, penance (by which the remission of sins is declared but not effected), and the Supper (which is no longer the Mass). The bread and wine in the Eucharist remain as they are, but Christ makes Himself present in them (companation), not through consecration alone, but also by virtue of the faith of the faithful.

(9) The monarchical Church with its hierarchy is a human institution: there is no intermediary between the individual and God. The only source from which man and must draw divine truth is the Bible, interpreted individually under the illumination of God (free thought and inquiry). Tradition has only a human value. The true Church of Christ is the invisible Church (influence of Wycliffe and Huss).

(10) The denial of indulgences, of purgatory, of the invocation of saints, of prayers for the dead.

Lutheranism may be characterized as an individualistic pseudo- supernaturalism.



Here’s a link to Exsurge Domine:

What a complicated bunch of issues. I just don’t know what compelled Martin to dive into all these issues. He seems to make statements which he doesn’t really understand.:shrug:, yet is confident to the point of putting so many Teachings under condemnation.

I agree that every Protestant should be aware of these documents. Not that they have to agree with everything Martin says. But at least be familiar with these records of communication and accusations which the Church was expected to deal with.

I think there is too much of an assumption that all these protestors were never given a charitable opportunity to discuss and present their issues, yet the protestors themselves leveled harsh judgments on Teachings.

Thanks, Tomster!

I am caring for 3 in my family plus a relative who needed a place…so when I read something that is in points like yours, I can follow and comprehend so much better.

Yes, for those who are seeking understanding of Catholicism and in how we all split up, it is imperative we go back to the roots of the issues at hand, reflect on them and pray for guidance.

One Bread, One Body!!

THanks, RCWitness for link to the document.

Likewise in my studies, read that there were also miscommunications, lapses, and the theologian who had jurisdiction over Luther refused to even meet with him. If he had done so, that is in the nature of the Church itself, to study new practices and concerns, Luther was put out of the process of discerning the Holy Spirit in maintaining unity and reform.

Be a bit careful there - historically there were many attempts are dialog, but certainly in the latter years before Trent it was the Roman Catholic side that backed away.

It’s a shame that those attempts never came to fruition as I think there could have been a better understanding between each side.

The Church, in the Catechism, recognizes there were Catholic clergy too who were responsible for the problem.

But maybe if the reformers themselves were in mutual understanding and of one mind and faith, you would have more credit in expecting some sort of better outcome. The fact is, is that division began during Luther’s time and continues still. But the Catholic Church has always made certain efforts in every age to address doctrinal differences. Remember that in Luther’s own lifetime, there were 40 divisions within the reformers who broke from the Eucharist.

You do realize that there were 22 different translations of the Bible in German before Luther started working on his? And that they were much more accessible to the laity (If they were literate) than many people would have you believe?

Here is a link to a long but interesting article on those German bibles.


Yikes. If that’s truly how Trent understands Lutheranism, then the Catholic Church had never had a clear understanding of what we Lutherans believe. Tomster, is this your writing, or are you pulling from a source?

I certainly don’t recognize Tomster’s (or perhaps Trent’s?) assertions on Lutheran theology.

I’ve never been truly hostile to Trent, recognizing it as a reactionary council. But if this supremely odd view of Lutheran theology comes from it, then perhaps I should explore it more carefully.

I agree a cause of Trent was reactionary… But not just on account of division, but abuse from within the Church. I think the extremely long duration of Trent was more due to internal abuses than defining doctrine.

Also, is it the responsibility of the Church to fully understand Luther and each reformers theology and articulate it, or every one of us to try to understand the Churches official, universal Teaching?

I have a hard time believing that Martin approached the Church with a desire to truly seek the official Teaching wheather it had been formally defined to the extant of Trent or not. In the end, were not the Lutheran, and hundreds of variations of communion’s concerns addressed and given the Churches possition regarding them? So the Church cannot be continuously expected to understand and articulate an ever dividing and adopting communion which is at odds with itself.

Bear in mind that this is Tomster’s summary of Trent’s teachings. Perhaps you could list which of them you find inaccurate and Tomster could actually provide links to the Council’s decrees rather than just paraphrasing them.


Giving Trent a run-down again, it’s not bad considering the time it took place and the pressures of the church. We Lutherans can’t complain too loudly about Trent, as both it and our Confessions were reactions to some rather odd things in Christianity at the time,

Thanks, Edwin. I think that’d be helpful. I know I’d be interested in discussing primary sources, and Tomster - if you can share where your summary is from, that’d be swell too.

Right. So if we could go canon by canon, that’d be great. “basic outlines” and ‘cliffnotes’ just omit too much necessary info. Can you reference Trent for us on the points below?

Can you explain what you mean here? If God created everything and it was “good,” then this doesn’t sound off at all.

I’m not sure Original Sin is merely the loss of original justice (though I need that term defined before I can discuss it). But yes, Man is incapable of doing good on his own. Lutherans understand the Fall to have made us Totally Depraved.

This is not Lutheran belief. Lutherans understand Man to have free will but,* on our own and apart from the Holy Spirit*, our free will always chooses evil due to our fallen nature. While the distinction can be confusing, be careful not to conflate Lutheran belief with Calvinism.

How are we somehow not responsible for our sins? Romans 6:23 is quite clear about what we deserve for our actions.

Whoa. Surely you mean, “so deeply that ***only ***God can heal him.”

Yes, Christ’s death is what saves us; and this is not of works, that no man may glory (Eph. 2:9). What’s the alternative?That humans can save themselves? Thanks, but my eternal soul is better off in Christ’s hands, not mine.

I’ve never liked the analogy of “covering up” sin as “snow over ****” - I mean, it’s fine for explaining that my works are useless apart from the Holy Spirit, but it doesn’t do justice to the redemptive transformation that the Holy Spirit begins in the regenerate, first in Baptism and continued in Holy Communion and the preaching of the Word. But it is true that as this transformation happens, it is no longer the believer who lives, but Christ who lives in him (Gal. 2-19-21).

There is no such thing as habitual grace apart from the Holy Spirit. Whoever says they have a “power or quality of the soul” and can -on their own- avoid sin deceives himself and the truth is not in him (John 1:8). That’s why we confess our sins. And God, Who is Faithful and Just, forgives our sins because of Christ’s work for us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Even then, this cannot happen without the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Christ.

Ummm… what? How do you go from saying that Lutherans depend entirely on God reaching out to them and somehow come to the conclusion that the sacraments are somehow rendered pointless?:whacky: The sacraments have Christ’s command and promise, forgive our sins and have us grow in grace.



Yes and no. The Church was clearly established by Christ at Pentecost - that’s more than just a human institution. The inventions and exact procedures that we humans use to govern it (presbyters of the early church, synods and councils, monarchical bishops of the medieval era, democratic conferences of modern times, etc.), though some are rooted in Scripture, are still effected by humans. That’s why we sin. That’s why we splinter. But we have hope that Christ heals all wounds. He has promised that the Gates of Hell will not prevail (that’s future-tense) against the church, and they have not.

How do you mean, ‘intermediary?’

This is not Lutheran teaching, but this is the over-simplified polemic typically hurled at us.

No. This is a misunderstanding of Lutheran teaching. The church is certainly visible, wherever the Word is preached and Sacraments rightly administered to the local congregation of believers (Articles VII & VIII, Confessio Augustana).

Denial of the sale of salvation? Yes. Denial of purgatory as ‘place?’ Yes. Caution that Scripture and the Apostles never speak of whether the Saints hear our prayers as they constantly pray for us? Caution that too strong a devotion to those who have gone before us can, without proper temperance, be used by the Enemy to distract our gaze from Christ? Yes.

Now this is something. You’ll need to explain how you come to that conclusion. And what you mean by it. I’m picturing something odd an pagan. :jrbirdman:

Here’s the issue at stake here: in the Catholic tradition (particularly in Augustine and Aquinas) even Adam and Eve before the fall needed grace. Grace is something that “elevates” nature to make it capable of participation in God. Mere human nature, by itself, even apart from sin, cannot merit anything from God. In that sense, the Catholic doctrine of human dependence on grace is more radical than the Protestant, and some Catholics have, for instance, accused Calvin of Pelagianism (Calvin is particularly insistent on the “wholeness” of human nature before the fall).

I’m not sure Original Sin is merely the loss of original justice (though I need that term defined before I can discuss it).

This is a basic, traditional Catholic way of speaking of original sin, though many medieval theologians found it inadequate on its own. Luther was very much in agreement with those who wanted a stronger way to talk about original sin, of course.

This is not Lutheran belief. Lutherans understand Man to have free will but,* on our own and apart from the Holy Spirit*, our free will always chooses evil due to our fallen nature. While the distinction can be confusing, be careful not to conflate Lutheran belief with Calvinism.

Be careful not to caricature Calvinism. Calvinists would generally put it exactly the same way you do. However, to an Arminian and generally speaking also to a Catholic this sounds like a denial of free will.

Whoa. Surely you mean, “so deeply that ***only ***God can heal him.”

The argument is: if you deny that inherent righteousness, given to human beings by grace and worked in them by the Holy Spirit, makes people deserving of eternal life, then you deny that God can heal people. If you say that good works after regeneration are filthy rags, then you deny that God can heal people.

There is no such thing as habitual grace apart from the Holy Spirit.

Of course. Habitual grace is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Whoever says they have a “power or quality of the soul” and can -on their own- avoid sin deceives himself and the truth is not in him (John 1:8). That’s why we confess our sins.

You misunderstand Catholic doctrine pretty radically here. At no point is this about what humans can do “on their own.” That’s not where the disagreement lies.

On the other hand, Tomster caricatures the Lutheran position out of all recognition with regard to the sacraments. I agree with you entirely there.

In fact this is pretty typical of the Protestant/Catholic debate.

Protestants think the fundamental issue is grace and justification, and unfairly reduce Catholicism to a Pelagian trust in one’s own righteousness.

Catholics think that the fundamental issue is sacramental, and unfairly reduce Protestantism to a rationalistic/Gnostic denial of sacramental grace.


I am acquainted with Augustine’s explanation of why humanity would still have needed Grace, even had the Fall never occurred (admittedly, I haven’t read much Aquinas…:o). I’ve never understood that to be necessarily at odds with Lutheran views of the created nature once had by Man. Adam and Eve received Grace from God when they were made in His Image and given the Breath of Life – then, as the old phrase goes, fell from Grace (or rejected the gift) when they sinned. :shrug: I’ve never grasped why any pre-Fall distinction matters - whatever the case, Grace is still offered by God and never withheld. Help me understand the distinction I’m missing here…

Sorry. I know better. Sometimes, I anticipate the imminent accusations of Calvinist double-predestination and the not-Calvinist Determinism or Fatalism that usually follow on internet forums. It seemed like that’s where the questioning was headed. As for Arminians and Catholics, I hope they’ll understand the Lutheran aversion to anything that even faintly resembles Pelagianism.

I know, I know. The Catholic position doesn’t teach that Man can attain salvation for himself. I wish Catholicism were more clear about that fact (Benedict and, to some small extent, the JDDJ have given me hope that Lutherans and Catholics can find common language regarding Justification). Yet ‘cooperation’ is only barely distinguishable from “…and I helped!” But enough of my feisty Lutheran ranting.

In regard to the OP, it seems that Trent misunderstood Lutheran positions, and Lutherans misunderstood Roman positions, and Pope Leo X did nothing to help the situation by issuing a blanket condemnation. What might have transpired had Martin and Leo sat down to discuss the points where they agreed?

Hi Ben,

You state that it was the Roman Catholic side which backed away from dialogue prior to Trent. This statement must be refuted, with facts that I have never read in any Protestant account. They are, nonetheless – facts.

“In 1536 [Pope Paul III] issued a call for a general council to meet at Mantua on May 23, 1537, and he invited the Protestants to attend. He assumed that all parties in attendance would accept the conclusions of the conference; but the Protestants, who would be in the minority there, could hardly accept such an oblication. Luther advised against attending, and the congress of Protestants at Schmalkalden returned the Pope’s invitation unopened. The Emperor still insisted that the council should meet on German soil, on Italian soil, he argued, it would be crowded with Italian bishops and become a puppet of the Pope. After many negotiations and delays Paul agreed to have the council meet at Trent, which though predominately Italian, was in Imperial territory and subject to Charles. The council was summoned to meet there on November 1, 1542.” Will Durant, “The Reformation”, pg. 927

Pope Julius III “summoned the Council to meet again at Trent in May 1551, and agreed that the Lutherans should be given a fair hearing………On January 24, 1552, the Protestant deputies addressed the assembly. They proposed the decrees of the Councils of Constance and Basel on the superior authority of councils over the popes should be confirmed; that the present; that the members of the present body should be released from their vows of fealty to Julius III, that all decisions hitherto reached by the Council should be annulled; and that fresh discussions of the issues should be held by an enlarged synod in which the Protestants would be adequately represented. Julius III forbade consideration of these proposals. The Council voted to postpone action till March 19, when additional Protestant delegates were expected. During this delay military developments supervened upon theology. In January 1552, the King of France signed an alliance with the German Protestants; in March Maruice of Saxony advanced towards Innsbruck; Charles fled, and no force could prevent Maurice, if he wished, from capturing Trent and swallowing the Council. The bishops disappeared one by one, and on April 28 the Council was formally suspended.” Durant, pg. 930-1

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