Luther and Contemporary Protestants


Can anyone please tell me of any good literature/internet sites that list:

  1. Doctrines and/or disciplines that contemporary Protestants hold, but Luther did not even after the “reformation”.

  2. Catholic doctrines and/or disciplines that Luther agreed with (post-“reformation”) which Protestants currently complain about.

Has anyone else used the tactic of pointing out to Protestants the inconsistencies between the views of contemporary Protestants and those of Luther?

Thank you and God bless


[quote=Hans A.]Can anyone please tell me of any good literature/internet sites that list:

  1. Doctrines and/or disciplines that contemporary Protestants hold, but Luther did not even after the “reformation”.

  2. Catholic doctrines and/or disciplines that Luther agreed with (post-“reformation”) which Protestants currently complain about.

Has anyone else used the tactic of pointing out to Protestants the inconsistencies between the views of contemporary Protestants and those of Luther?

Thank you and God bless

In regards to quesion 1, the reformation is a continuous process that is still happening today. Martin Luther himself would be appalled at what he started.

  1. Martin Luther believed in Baptism and the doctrine of Mary as Catholics do. Furthermore, for all his polemics, Martin Luther believed in a unified church, kind of ironic for all of his pontificating against, well the Pontiff himself. Martin Luther’s principle railings initially were against a corrupt clergy, and rightfully so. However, political pundits of his day took his work to the next level, breaking with the authority of the church. It is interesting to see how far this “Reformation” would have gone if the Church, and indeed all of Europe wasn’t in the midst of trying to save itself from being overrun by the Ottoman Turks, who Vienna, Austria in 1983 but were stopped by the very Catholic King John III Sobieski of Poland. Germany should have thanked the the Catholics for saving it from becoming a territory of the Muslims, but that is a different story.



Your question is rather baffling because it presupposes that there is a unified Protestantism that has departed from Luther’s views. I am continually amused by Catholics who make a lot of noise about how disunified Protestants are and then try to treat us as if we were marching in lock-step to a Baptist drum.

Lutherans would, of course, claim to be essentially faithful to Luther’s teaching, although their authoritative texts (next to the Bible and the Creeds) are not Luther’s writings per se but the Confessions. One could argue over whether (and which) contemporary Lutherans in fact teach basically what Luther taught, but I don’t think that was your question.

On the other hand, you have Anglicans such as myself who differ from Luther mostly in the direction of being more Catholic, even though we are historically Protestant; and you have many other Protestants (Methodists, Wesleyan/Holiness people, Pentecostals, Anabaptists) who hold views on free will and sanctification far closer to Catholicism than what Luther taught.

I think you have in mind Protestants of a Reformed or Baptist or non-denominational stamp who reject many of Luther’s more “Catholic” teachings. Or am I wrong?

In Christ,



I don’t know whether this is the place to ask, or whether I should open a separate thread, but my Q is, do many Lutherans (and other Protestants) read Luther in his own words, or genuine histories of Luther, or do they read about Luther, which – in my experience – presents the goodly, courageous man valiantly fighting against an oppressive, monolithic Church. You know, the Great Reformer image --the image that is portrayed in recent films about him.

This is not exactly the truth about Luther. He was a tortured soul and a scoundrel. For example, he “could find no Scriptural justification” for forbidding plural wives, and approved the bigamous marriage of Philip, Landgreave of Hess, both in writing and by sending his sidekick, Melanchthon, and another to act as witnesses to the “marriage.” His bitter, ugly anti-semitism made him the hero of the Nazi party, which culminated in the holocaust. And so on.

Yes, I know, there’s plenty of dirt to be distributed on both sides of the Catholic-Protestant divide. But Luther’s warts are obscured by heavy applications of whitewash.

No offense intended, but I’m wondering why one never hears about these (and other) facts. Luther must have a good press agent.:slight_smile:

Jay (ex-Southern Baptist, ex-agnostic, ex-atheist, “ex-static” to be Catholic!)


The hero-worship directed toward Luther and the venomous vilification of him by Catholics are about equal, IMHO. Of course both are silly, but that’s what happens to anyone who has a huge influence on history.

I think that there is a lot of idealization of Luther by Lutherans, and even scholarly biographies of him such as Brecht’s 3-volume magnum opus fall into this trap in spite of their close attention to detail and their willingness to admit his faults in many places. The idealization of Luther by non-Lutherans tends to be a lot more ignorant and generalized–for instance, Baptists exalt him as the hero of “sola fide” without realizing that Luther’s conception of salvation was drastically different from theirs. There are other Protestants, however, who vilify Luther almost as much as you do, and rely on the same unjust stereotypes.

I strongly differ from your judgment that Luther was a scoundrel, but I would respect your view if I had reason to believe that you have read Luther’s writings extensively and are not relying primarily on polemical Catholic writings. I’m not saying that you haven’t, only that when I’ve heard such statements in the past they generally came from out-of-context quotations derived from old-fashioned polemical secondary sources.

Of the two examples you give, Luther’s anti-semitism was no greater than that of many of his contemporaries, and for Catholics to hold it against him reflects a double standard only redeemed from hypocrisy by the excuse of ignorance. Prominent Catholic theologians of Luther’s day, such as John Eck, continued to teach that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood in the Passover ritual–something Luther never claims. Because Luther is so famous (and because he had such a gift for polemical rhetoric) his views get cited as if they were unique, when they were anything but.

It’s true that Luther thought that plural marriage might be legitimate in certain very restricted circumstances, and his attitude toward Philip of Hesse’s bigamy can’t be defended. But no one who studies Luther’s writings seriously and fairly could come to the conclusion that he favored a lax sexual morality. He was trying to come up with a replacement for medieval canon-law ethics, which he saw as legalistic and hence not genuinely promoting sexual morality.That charge had some weight then, and it has some weight still. For instance, I know a woman who lives a celibate life but has been told by priests that she can’t receive absolution for her two divorces (both from alcoholic husbands–and yes, she clearly had plenty of issues of her own, which she would admit) until she gets her marriages annulled, while a number of other people are able to annul their marriages based on a technicality and happly contract new marriages without any stigma from the Church. I’m not saying that Luther’s approach–or the approach of liberals today–is a good substitute, only that there are serious problems with the way the Catholic Church tends to approach these issues and Luther was clearly not promoting sexual license even if his approach was a bit too situational.

In Christ,



In all the years I’ve studied the Catholic Church, I’ve never read a single word that the Church has ever said about Luther. I have read a couple of histories of Luther as well as many of his own works. Luther merits the mild criticism “scoundrel,” on his support of plural marriage alone, in my opinion. He’s a hero to his followers, the “Great Reformer,” yet he taught against the sanctity of true marriage, as God intended. “And the two shall be one flesh.” Few of us know that about Luther – and other salient facts – because it has been suppressed. ‘Scoundrel’ is my assessment and no one else’s.

A recent film on Luther’s life was shown on PBS. It was an unbalanced portrayal, as is usual in portrayals of Luther, that whitewashed the man and trashed the Church. Not a word was said about Luther’s cuts to the Bible, his writings against the Jews, his approval of polygyny, his innovations to Christian doctrine, his condemnation of the Anabaptists to death, etc. It was Luther the Hero vs. the Big Bad Church.

I don’t want to offend anyone, but that’s my honest observation. I was once a Southern Baptist and Luther was my hero. But I knew none of these facts about his life. It’s in his own writings, but those who know, don’t tell.

I was just commenting on how selective filmmakers and biographers have been. They’re careful not to tarnish Luther’s image with the truth.

From the official WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) Q&A website:

Q:I was told that Martin Luther approved of bigamous marriages. Could you please inlighten me of these facts.
A:It would be advisable to draw a distinction between what Luther taught as a general principle and to what he in an unusual circumstance grudgingly gave approval.

Luther believed in monogamous relationships, since Scripture clearly points out that a man should be the husband of one wife.

[Insert: There’s no evidence of Luther’s belief in monogamy, since he’s on record as saying that he “could find no Scriptural basis” for forbidding a man to take two or more wives simultaneously. The (66-book) Bible was his only basis for faith and morals.]

Luther also was opposed to divorce. There were two instances where Luther suggested that bigamy was preferable to divorce. In the first case Henry VIII, the king of England, was looking for a reason to divorce his wife so that he could remarry and have a wife who could provide him with a male heir to the throne. Luther suggested that a lesser evil than divorce would be bigamy.

A more famous incident involved the Landgrave of Hesse, Philip, one of the secular leaders of the Reformation. In 1523 at the age of 19 Philip of Hesse, after a promiscuous period as a teenager, entered into a politically advantageous marriage with Katherine of Saxony, the daughter of Duke George. It was not a marriage made in heaven. Of her Philip said, “She drinks, she stinks, she shows me no affection.”

With problems at home, Philip began to turn to his attention elsewhere. Philip was unfaithful to his wife, but this so troubled his conscience that he communed only rarely. In addition to pangs of conscience about his lifestyle, he also had an acute attack of syphillis in 1539, which was endemic in Europe. In 1539 Philip discussed his situation with Martin Bucer, who in turn discussed it with Luther.

In the late summer of 1539 the situation became more serious when Philip met the 17-year-old Margaret von der Saale, a Saxon noblewoman. Her mother, Anna, would consent to her daughter’s relationship with Philip only if it were legitimized as a second marriage. Genuine second marriages, however, were prohibited by church law and by imperial law.

With a long list of specific instructions from Philip of Hesse, Bucer discussed the issue with Luther on December 9-10, 1539. Luther thought the solution to the situation might be bigamy. Luther believed that “divorce is much worse Scripturally than bigamy.” The theologians clearly indicated that they could give him nothing but extraordinary, pastoral advice in his predicament of conscience, and in no way was it to be made public.

On March 4, 1540, the second marriage took place at Rotenburg on the Fulda River. Witnesses included Bucer and Melanchthon, who had been summoned from the assembly in Smalcald without explanation. The matter was to be kept secret, but unfortunately it did not remain one for long. Margaret’s mother let the world know. [unquote]

[Red for emphasis mine]

page 8 WELS Q&A


“For instance, I know a woman who lives a celibate life but has been told by priests that she can’t receive absolution for her two divorces (both from alcoholic husbands-- . . .”

There has to be more to this story. It is not the two divorces that would prevent a person from receiving absolution and Holy Communion – it is remarriage. Unless the party has remarried, without receiving a declaration of nullity for previous marriage(s), and is living a celibate life, there’s no reason for her to be refused.


I made a mistake interjecting criticism of Luther into this thread. I’ve moved my two posts (cut and paste) to a separate thread called “The Real Luther.” I can’t edit them at this point. I’m sorry.

Peace be to all who post at Catholic Answers. Jay


[quote=Hans A.]Can anyone please tell me of any good literature/internet sites that list:

  1. Doctrines and/or disciplines that contemporary Protestants hold, but Luther did not even after the “reformation”.

  2. Catholic doctrines and/or disciplines that Luther agreed with (post-“reformation”) which Protestants currently complain about.

Has anyone else used the tactic of pointing out to Protestants the inconsistencies between the views of contemporary Protestants and those of Luther?

Thank you and God bless

As a Reformed Christian, I don’t think that either of those lines of argument would be very compelling. Protestants don’t believe in an infallible magisterium. So if you pointed out a difference between a modern Protestant’s doctrine and one of Luther’s doctrines, the modern Protestant is likely to respond with a shrug and say: “well he was wrong.” The same goes if you point out where Luther agreed with Catholics, but modern Protestants don’t. If the Protestant you were speaking with didn’t like the Catholic doctrine, he would simply say “Luther was wrong.”

A couple of things to keep in mind: 1) there was not one Reformation but dozens of reformations, 2) Protestant doctrine continues to evolve and change even today, 3) the average Protestant has little or no knowledge of Church history, 4) the ultimate authority of a Protestant (if he is honest) is his own conscience and individual reason.

I recently argued with my brother (who is a Protestant pastor) that the early Church was hierarchical. He dismissed my claims and said “that means they were corrupted.” He thinks every parish is free to govern its own affairs. I think local parishes should submit themselves to higher authorities. I think my theology is closer to traditional Christian doctrine and practice and he simply disagrees. His authority is his own conscience and reason. As a Protestant I have no grounds to condemn his opinions, I can only try to convince him to change his mind.

And you wonder why there are 50,000 Protestant denominations?

So, anyway, in answer to your question. I don’t know of any websites but off the top of my head:

1) Differences between contemporary Protestants and Luther

  • Nature of the Sacraments
    (Does baptism save? Should infants be baptized? What happens to the bread and wine at the Eucharist? Ordinances versus sacraments?)

  • Number of the Sacraments
    (0?,2?, 3?, 7?)

  • Organization of the Church
    (Episcopal - w/ bishops?, Presbyterian - federal system, elected bodies as bishops?, Congregational - every man for himself!?)

  • Creeds
    (Which creeds – if any – have authority? Are Creeds inerrant?)

  • How doctrine is formed
    (Role of Church history? Fathers? Scripture?)

  • How “officers” are elected/selected
    (Women priests? Deaconesses? Elected presbyters? Church constitutions?)

  • The Eschaton!!!
    (Left Behind? Does Daniel predict the European Union? Who gets saved? Rapture?)

  • Old Testament
    (Church versus Israel? Should Christians follow Mosaic law?)

  • Glossolalia and other “Gifts of the Spirit”
    (Should we speak in tongues? Has prophecy ceased? Is dispensationalism true?)

2) Similarities in Lutheran theology and Catholic theology

  • Trinitarian
    (Sadly many Protestants are weak in this area)

  • Real presence in the Eucharist
    (95% of Protestants disagree)

  • ONEChurch
    (Protestants like to call their parish buildings “churches”)

Hope this helps. Like I said though I think the average Protestant won’t respond to this line of reasoning. Get us to accept tradition first and the rest is easy.




I’m puzzled by this situation too. The woman in question is to the best of my judgment a humble, devout person who still loves the Catholic faith although she has been given to understand that without obtaining an annulment she is not part of the Church. I knew her because she was a member of my Episcopal parish in North Carolina, but she was clearly Catholic in most if not all of her beliefs–she was one of the leading organizers of a Rosary group in my parish. She had converted to Catholicism in college and had experienced a lot of opposition from friends and family (I believe she came from a Baptist background). I honestly don’t know if she understood incorrectly (or perhaps the priest thought she was still living with her second husband?) or if the priest told her the wrong thing, or if there is some nuance of canon law that you and I don’t understand.

In Christ,



Good to see a fellow traveller here.


[quote=drstevej]Good to see a fellow traveller here.

Father Neuhaus writes that he became Catholic in order to become more fully Lutheran (

Maybe becoming Catholic can make someone more fully Reformed?


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