I’ve often heard it attributed to Martin Luther that he said something to the extent of the Reformation, from his point of view, hanging or falling on his theology of justification by faith alone. Does anyone actually have a source for this supposed quote or is it just an urban legend? Thanks.
It would fall more in line with being an apocryphal statement of Luther. There is no primary source for this quote and seems to be more along the lines of a summary of his view (at best). The closest that can be found to the actual saying comes from his commentary on Psalm 117:
“My main reason for doing this is to move and instruct all who need it, to search out and deal with the core of our Christian doctrine, wherever it may be found throughout the Bible. And the core is this: that without any merit, as a gift of God’s pure grace in Christ, we attain righteousness, life, and salvation, and that there is no other way or path, no other means or effort, that can help us to attain it. Every day I experience only too well how insistently the devil assails this core in an effort to wipe it out. And although tired “saints” consider it unnecessary to keep at this matter—they imagine that they know it inside out and have learned all there is to know— still I know how wrong they are, and that they know absolutely nothing about the importance of this point. If this one teaching stands in its purity, then Christendom will also remain pure and good, undivided and unseparated; for this alone, and nothing else, makes and maintains Christendom. Everything else may be brilliantly counterfeited by false Christians and hypocrites; but where this falls, it is impossible to ward off any error or sectarian spirit. This I know indeed, and I have experienced it so often that without this teaching I could never refute what either the Turks or the Jews believe.”
'Twas as I suspected then. You can only come across a “quote” (always without a source) so many times before you start to suspect it is no quote at all. Thanks, friend.
I can find a closer candidate from one his commentary on Psalm 130. He says that it is the doctrine with which the Church stands or falls. There appear to be two different texts, one labeled “Hs” and another “Dr.” I’m not sure what they mean, but Hs appears to be from a series of lectures perhaps while Dr is an uninterrupted work. Perhaps one of our Lutheran friends or someone familiar with Luther’s writings can explain. The following quotes can be found on WA 40, III, p. 351, line 34 and p. 352, line 3 respectively.
Hs] ‘Ut timearis’: Sic audivistis heri, quod iste versus sit Summa doctrinae Christianae et ille sol, qui illuminat Sanctam ecclesiam dei, quia isto articulo stante stat Ecclesia, ruente ruit Ecclesia. ‘That thou mayest be feared’: So you heard yesterday, because that verse is sum of Christian doctrine and the sun which illuminates the Holy Church of God, because when this article stands, the Church stands, and when it falls, the Church falls.]
Dr] Stante enim hac doctrina stat Ecclesia, ruente autem ruit ispa quoque. [If this doctrine stands, the Church stands, but if it falls, the Church also falls.]
Another example of a like-minded quote, if not as close in particular words, is from the Smalcald Articles.
**Part II, Article I: The first and chief article.
4] Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3:28: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. Likewise 3:26: That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ.
5] Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.
No helpful sources here, but the sentiment certainly aligns with everything I’ve ever learned about Luther. Most biographies of his pre-protest life strongly suggest that the man suffered severely from the problem of scrupulosity and never got decent spiritual direction to help him with it. The whole idea of Sola Fide as Luther describes it is almost tailor made for someone with scrupulosity. (And my opinion is that an emphasis somewhat like that is what a scrupulous person needs to hear to address his problem). IMO, it’s rather telling that Sola Scriptura seems to have developed later when the church hierarchy identified significant problems with Sola Fide and attempted to correct him on it. Since Luther already considered Sola Fide THE most important doctrine of Christianity, the authority of the church had to be eliminated if they were opposed to it. Thus, Sola Scriptura (If the church isn’t the authority, then a suitable substitute had to be found…)
I should, however note that I have no credentials for armchair psychologizing Luther. It just happens to be the most likely theory I’ve heard that explains how someone so obviously sincere could outright invent doctrine like that without malicious intent.