Did Luther, Calvin, Reformers believe in possible salvation for non-Christians?

Did Luther, Calvin, Reformers believe in possible salvation for non-Christians? Such as with invincible ignorance or otherwise? Quotes from them appreciated.

I don’t think so. This issue wasn’t really flushed out even in Catholic thought until Catholic missionaries went to the new world. They found people who had absolutely no possible access to the Gospel for centuries and that lead to the development of how they might possibly be saved. The Reformers were very locally minded at that point and weren’t concerned with the Americas as far as I know.Likewise, since Calvin believed in limited atonement anyway and irresistable grace, etc., whole masses of people being damned who never heard the Gospel didn’t effect his theology. It was Catholic theology that salvation is offered to everyone that had to take them into account.

Luther certainly did not think so. I have heard the following quote from Luther before – I googled it and found it at cfpeople.org/Apologetics/page51a069.html

After three days of hotly debating with Martin Luther in Marburg the nature of the Eucharist, Huldreich Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, gripped Luther’s hands and said: “Here we’re fighting. Doctor Martinus, but, thank God, one nice day we both will be dead and then in Heaven we shall know the Truth, walking with the great sages, with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle . . .”

“Doctor Zwingli,” Luther interrupted him rudely, “They were pagans; they were not baptized; they are roasting in the everlasting fires of Hell.”

“But they were good men, were virtuous and followed their consciences.”

“If you talk like this, you’re not a Christian—and I regret to have wasted my time with you,” Luther snapped back.

I think Luther was a bit overboard on this as we do not and cannot, in this world, know the eternal fate of anyone. That is God’s prerogative alone. And, yet, scripture tells us that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved.”

Of course, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle lived long before Jesus commanded that people be baptized, so baptism wasn’t even an option for them just as it was not an option for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Zwingli did. Maybe Bucer. Luther hints at it in the Romans lectures but I think he abandoned the idea later. Calvin never endorsed the notion.

Here’s a passage from Zwingli’s *De Providentia Dei, *p. 370 (1545 ed.):

For it is not universal that whoever does not have faith will be damned; but the one who has heard the reason for faith expounded, and persists and dies in unbelief–this one perhaps we can cast away among the wretched. For many, such as Paul, believe not immediately when they have heard, but when eventually they are seized and drawn by the Spirit. . . . It is possible that God may have chosen some among the heathen who revere him, who heed him, and who after death are joined to him. For God’s election is free. I would certainly prefer, if I had the choice, to choose the lot of Socrates or Seneca, who recognized one divinity, and in purity of mind strove to merit well of that divinity, rather than [the lot of] the Roman Pontiff. . .
[insert standard Protestant polemic here!]

Edwin

Off-topic, but the more I learn about these Reformers, the more I realized that they traded 1 Pope for an infinity of Popes.

Thx, if you have a definitive reference, please share. That dialogue is uncited in that website. Interesting though!

After three days of hotly debating with Martin Luther in Marburg the nature of the Eucharist, Huldreich Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, gripped Luther’s hands and said: “Here we’re fighting. Doctor Martinus, but, thank God, one nice day we both will be dead and then in Heaven we shall know the Truth, walking with the great sages, with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle . . .”

“Doctor Zwingli,” Luther interrupted him rudely, “They were pagans; they were not baptized; they are roasting in the everlasting fires of Hell.”

“But they were good men, were virtuous and followed their consciences.”

“If you talk like this, you’re not a Christian—and I regret to have wasted my time with you,” Luther snapped back.

I am resurrecting this thread from the dead to ask if anyone has a solid reference to the aforementioned conversation between Luther and Zwingli. I told it to a Reformed Baptist, and they accused me of making it up. They don’t have the background to understand how it’s possible Zwingli would say that, so I need a good reference.

Luther hints at it in his very early (pre-95 Theses) lectures on Romans, but in his later work he seems insistent that the “external word” is necessary. Calvin certainly believed this. The most famous Reformer to teach that non-Christians could be saved was Zwingli, and Martin Bucer also taught this. I don’t know if others agreed. (Well, we could count Hans Denck, but everyone thought of him as a noxious heretic.)

Here’s a passage from Zwingli’s treatise On Providence ( Sermonis De Providentia Dei Anamnema (1530; cited from the 1545 ed.), p. 370). Unfortunately I don’t think an English translation is on the web, and I don’t have time to translate the whole relevant section (or to go to the library and find an English hard copy and transcribe it):

Cum quod Paulus praeputium, si legem faciat, circumcisionem fore promittat, legem enim dei ostendat scriptam in corde: Tum quod Abraham, Isaac & Iaacob, deipara virgo, Petrus, Paulus electi dei erant cum adhuc infantes essent, imò ante conditum mundum, & fidem non haberent. Non est igitur universale quod qui fidem non habeat, damnetur, sed qui fidei rationem exponi audivit, & in perfidia perstat ac moritur, hunc possumus fortasse inter miseros abiicere. Nam & multi non protinus ut audiverunt, credunt, sed tunc tandem cum spiritu capiuntur & attrahuntur, quomodo Paulus. Idcirco de his tantum licet pronuntiare qui in perfidia perstant usque ad mortem. Quantumvis quidam aperta signa dent, sive crudelitate sive libidine, quòd repudiati sint à deo: adhuc tamen, cum toties redierint pessimi homines in viam, non debemus ante finem sive obitum (ut Poëta ait) quenquam damnare. Et hoc modo conciliantur hi duo loci: Qui non credit, iam damnatus est. Et, Si praeputium legis iusta faciat, iam praeputium illius vertitur in circumcisionem, &c. Et, Cum enim Gentes, quae legem non habent, natura quae legis sunt faciunt, iam sibi ipsis lex sunt, quantumvis legem non habeant, ostendunt enim opus legis cordibus suis inscriptum esse, &c. Nihil enim vetat quo minus inter gentes quoque deus sibi deligat, qui sese revereantur, qui observent, & post fata illi iungantur. Libera est enim electio eius. Ego certe malim si optio detur, Socratis aut Senecae sortem eligere, qui ut numen unum agnoverunt, ita mentis puritate sategerunt illud demereri, quàm aut Pontificis Romani, qui tamen se deum vel ipse indicaret, si licitator adsit: aut cuiusquam regis, imperatoris, ac principis, qui hunc ficulnum deum tuetur. Illi enim ut religionem ad verbum & quod ad Sacramenta pertinet, non agnoverint, attamen quod ad rem ipsam, aio religiosiores ac sanctiores fuisse quàm omnes unquam Dominicastri & Franciscani.

For those of you who don’t know Latin, his basic argument is that salvation comes directly from God’s election of certain people. Election always manifests itself through moral behavior, and when the elect hear the Gospel they believe it. But if they never hear the Gospel in this life (because they die in infancy or because they live in a place where the Gospel has not been preached) they are saved anyway. The key passage “ending with a nice anti-Catholic flourish” reads like this:

Nothing forbids that among the Gentiles God should choose for Himself certain people, who worship Him, who obey Him, and who after death are united to Him. For His election is free. Indeed, if I had the choice, I would choose the lot of Socrates or Seneca . . .rather than. . . that of the Roman Pontiff!

Edwin

I don’t know where the earlier poster got that lively paraphrase of the conversation. In fact, I’m not at all sure that this issue came up at Marburg. It may have, but I don’t remember for sure (I’ve read several accounts of the conversation, but it was a while ago). I think it’s a fictionalized account.

However, the passage I cited from Zwingli’s De Providentia is authentic. I would refer your friend to the English translation of the treatise, available here.

I came across this in the course of working on a paper on the origins of the doctrine of eternal security. It’s striking to me that this doctrine originally seems to have developed out of Zwingli’s prioritizing of election over faith. This is indeed disturbing to Calvinists–which frankly is one of the reasons I’m interested in the subject. I’m all about disturbing Calvinists!

Edwin

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