The historical Luther (trying to get the facts right)


Why are you protesting your Church’s current teachings on Luther?


Please find below the official English translation of the Pope’s remarks:

Greeting of His Holiness Pope Francis to participants in the Meeting promoted by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences: “Luther: 500 Years Later”

Clementine Hall, 31 March 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Ladies and Gentleman,

I am pleased to greet all of you and to offer you a warm welcome. I thank Father Bernard Ardura for his introduction, which summarizes the purpose of your meeting on Luther and his reform.

I confess that my first response to this praiseworthy initiative of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences was one of gratitude to God, together with a certain surprise, since not long ago a meeting like this would have been unthinkable. Catholics and Lutherans together, discussing Luther, at a meeting organized by an Office of the Holy See: truly we are experiencing the results of the working of the Holy Spirit, who overcomes every obstacle and turns conflicts into occasions for growth in communion. From Conflict to Communion is precisely the title of the document of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission prepared for our joint commemoration of the fifth centenary of the beginning of Luther’s reform.

I am particularly happy to know that this commemoration has offered scholars from various institutions an occasion to study those events together. Serious research into the figure of Luther and his critique of the Church of his time and the papacy certainly contributes to overcoming the atmosphere of mutual distrust and rivalry that for all too long marked relations between Catholics and Protestants. An attentive and rigorous study, free of prejudice and polemics, enables the churches, now in dialogue, to discern and receive all that was positive and legitimate in the Reformation, while distancing themselves from errors, extremes and failures, and acknowledging the sins that led to the division.

All of us are well aware that the past cannot be changed. Yet today, after fifty years of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants, it is possible to engage in a purification of memory. This is not to undertake an impracticable correction of all that happened five hundred years ago, but rather “to tell that history differently” (LUTHERAN-ROMAN CATHOLIC COMMISSION ON UNITY, From Conflict to Communion, 17 June 2013, 16), free of any lingering trace of the resentment over past injuries that has distorted our view of one another. Today, as Christians, all of us are called to put behind us all prejudice towards the faith that others profess with a different emphasis or language, to offer one another forgiveness for the sin committed by those who have gone before us, and together to implore from God the gift of reconciliation and unity.

I assure you of my prayers for your important historical research and I invoke upon all of you the blessing of God, who is almighty and rich in mercy. And I ask you, please, to pray for me. Thank you.‘grateful_to_god’_for_vatican_conference_on_luther/1302482


Pope Benedict in his visit to honour Martin Luther while in Germany in 2011:

As I begin to speak, I would like first of all to say how deeply grateful I am that we are able to come together. I am particularly grateful to you, my dear brother, Pastor Schneider, for receiving me and for the words with which you have welcomed me here among you. You have opened your heart and openly expressed a truly shared faith, a longing for unity. And we are also glad, for I believe that this session, our meetings here, are also being celebrated as the feast of our shared faith. Moreover, I would like to express my thanks to all of you for your gift in making it possible for us to speak with one another as Christians here, in this historic place.

As the Bishop of Rome, it is deeply moving for me to be meeting you here in the ancient Augustinian convent in Erfurt. As we have just heard, this is where Luther studied theology. This is where he celebrated his first Mass. /…/ What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey. “How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For Luther theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God

“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me /…/ The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – Luther’s burning question must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too, not an academic question, but a real one. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther /…/

[T]he first and most important thing for ecumenism is that we keep in view just how much we have in common /…/ It was the error of the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds. For me, the great ecumenical step forward of recent decades is that we have become aware of all this common ground, that we acknowledge it as we pray and sing together, as we make our joint commitment to the Christian ethos in our dealings with the world, as we bear common witness to the God of Jesus Christ in this world as our inalienable, shared foundation /…/

This is a key ecumenical task in which we have to help one another: developing a deeper and livelier faith./…/ As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted that great initial ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord. And we pray to him, asking that we may learn to live the faith anew, and that in this way we may then become one.


That’s beautiful! I agree with that completely! Notice that Pope Benedict says nothing about sweeping Luther’s errors under the rug.

We certainly have many things in common. Where does he say that we are supposed to ignore the errors? Where does he say that we are supposed to accept as Gospel, anything that Protestants teach?

He doesn’t.


I’m not. The Church is only in the business of infallibly Teaching one man’s biography. The God/man, Jesus Christ.

Any commentary that Catholics might make about Luther is simply that, commentary. We are free to disagree with Catholic theologians on matters that are not concerned with infallible Catholic Teaching.

But, if you can find the Catholic Teaching that says that the Church is now in the business of teaching history and Lutheran biography, let me know. I’m interested to learn about that.


The booklet talks about 5 NT instances that Luther mangled, with James being just one of the five (Ref pgs 21-22). So in your mind … because they did not quote Luther’s entire thesis on St. James in that section, that fact makes this text contrived and dishonest?

Uh, did you happen to notice that section was NOT on the meanings of the text themselves, but on the authority Luther assumed for himself to judge them? Maybe you missed that but the passage is titled," Luther’s Decree Concerning Whole Books of the Bible" … not “The Veracity of Luther’s Treatise on the Epistle of St. James.”

Luther decided that the book of St. James and the Revelation of St. John and the book of Hebrews were not “worthy” to be in his Bible …and then he manually manipulated the translation of a verse in Romans so it supported his doctrine of “faith alone”. (pgs 22-24 explains the german translation “mishap”)

Silly me… James and John walked with our Savior for 3 years-ish of their lives, they were in his inner circle… witnesses to his baptism, transfiguration, in the garden of Gethsamene during his passion, witnessed his Resurrection, walked with him and learned from him for 40 days after He was raised, and were filled with grace by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But Luther a monk who broke his solemn vows to God, preached division and heresy, and intentionally changed sacred scripture to better suit his “new” doctrine in a religion he named after himself is entitled to weigh the merits of the Apostle’s work and announces he finds them lacking? Not.


Very true… Dialogues for the purpose of guiding non-catholics to the truth of the Catholic faith are always encouraged and welcome. No one disputes that. But when dialogues went too far to the left (usually) and muddled the teachings of Magisterium.l, it is a big problem.

Let’s face it. Liberals in recent decades have used “ecumenical” dialogues as a tool to advance their sad spirit of the times agenda. They love to inject (spin) the teachings/thoughts of Popes John Paul and Benedict (to annoy Catholic faithfuls) wherever/whenever they fit their agenda, while ignoring the teachings of these two great popes wherever/whenever they don’t fit. They did the same for the teachings from the Council of Trent.


Exactly what I’m talking about. The one place where Luther talks about this is the first few lines of his commentary:

Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. However, to state my own opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone, I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle, and my reasons follow.

This is the authority he claims: his own opinion.
As reflected in this opening, he isn’t claiming any authority to change the canon. Does the polemical document you posted mention that fact? Does it mention that others even of his era held similar views? If not, then anyone can see the intent of the author; to provide a biased, and in some ways dishonest evaluation of Luther.
Is your Bible changed, Jaye? does it reflect Luther’s opinion. Then it is clear he had no authority to change the canon, only the liberty to hold an opinion about, just like others


That’s fine, De. I endeavor to be very respectful of Catholic teachings, even those I disagree with.
Take note, however, that I feel no more compulsion to be respectful of Catholic polemics than I do those from this side of the Tiber.


The title of the booklet is " Luther’s Own Statements Concerning His Teaching and It’s Results" in the introduction (pg 7) it plainly states … "My only and sole purpose is to inquire into the question whether, in any sense of the word, Luther can be looked upon as a Reformer commissioned by Almighty God. and continues … Whenever, therefore, we read in the Bible that either Prophets or Apostles act as the chose instruments of Heaven, we also find —
a. that the manner in which they teach is in accordance with the supreme Dignity of Him who sends them;
b. that the doctrines which they indicate are worthy of the God of all Truth; and,
c. that the results of their teaching are such as to entitle them to be revered as the messengers of a God of Infinite Holiness
If therefore, Luther’s character as a Reformer can stand this three-fold test, we must look upon him as a vessel of election chosen by God to do a great work in His Church. If, however, Luther’s teaching is not in accordance with this three-fold standard, we cannot reasonably admit his claims.

And the booklet steps through those premises step at a time looking at what Luther historically did and said and quoting his opinions and doctrine verbatim for people to evaluate.

The paragraph you highlight ."…and intentionally changed sacred scripture…etc. are MY words, and MY opinion having studied Luther and his words and his actions – and are not a part of the booklet or found anywhere in it. So here you are …wrong again.


The mistranslation of his German when he inserted the word “alone” into Romans is well documented. His explanation for doing so (in his own words) is on pgs 22-29… 7 pages patiently stepping through his words of explanation and refuting them…the grammar and syntax is not correct.

Here it is in the original German showing the manipulation.

Your statement is misleading. He excerpted James, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation and placed them in a separate appendix at the back of the Bible with a preface saying HE did not consider them to be on the same footing as the rest of the books of the Bible. He also extracted 7 books from the Old Testament called the Apocrypha (or also the Deuterocanon) and repositioned them between the Old and New Testatment, also with a preface he wrote giving his reason that they “contain nothing prophetic”. Which of course is wrong. The festival of Hannukah is only found in I and II Maccabees … books Luther repositioned between the OT and NT. The festival of Hannukah is considered a miracle of God and is still celebrated today; it is also typology for Christ. Luther’s assertion that “nothing prophetic” is contained in these books is …just wrong…they also have verses in them that conflict with his doctrine … (support for the doctrine of Purgatory is contained in Maccabees.) which the more likely reason he downplayed their canonicity


Luther was a virulent anti-Semite as well.


Yes, we are agreed he had NO AUTHORITY to change the canon of the Bible. Unfortunately, you are neglecting to mention how he repositioned the 7 books called the Apocrypha from the OT to newly reside between the OT and NT with a preface he wrote saying he believed they are not prophetic so HE is repositioning the order of them (extracting them from the traditional positioning they’d had for over 1500 years. He also excerpted James, Jude, Hebrews and Revelations and placed them in an appendix at the back of the Bible.

Is your Bible changed, Jaaye? Yes… due to his repositioning of both OT and NT books and the preface he wrote introducing them, these books over time have been dropped from many Bibles. Generally speaking, the “protestant” Bible in many cases no longer even contains the Deuterocanon … 7 Books that were considered inspired by God all the way to Luther … and on his opinion, on his advisement … they were downgraded and then redacted from subsequent printings… around 400 years of salvation history, the inspired word of God lost … because of Luther’s opinion? Yes. I think that counts as a “change”.


This is a booklet both Catholics and Protestants should read. It’s purpose is to investigate whether Luther is a Reformer commissioned by God.

For Catholics you will see the fundamentals of your faith outlined – and some of the parts Luther tweaked or changed. For Protestants you will see the objections of many Catholics carefully laid out, you may not agree, but it may help you understand the nature of Catholic objections to Luther and his espoused doctrines.

After beginning with the premise above and its 3-step evaluation … it walks through those 3 steps one by one … seeking affirmation or refutation from the historical record and Luther’s published words.
[Continued on Part II]


Part II
Catholics were not the only ones is opposition to Luther and his works; many protestants assailed his doctrines and old friendships were shattered. Carlstadt, once a confidant, often found himself on the outside of Luther’s inner circle; the break in their friendship resulted in Luther speaking out against Carlstadt: pg 61

Luther referred to him as a “pretended” reformer and refused to believe he had the sanction of heaven … and wrote of him:

__"…God does not break up the old order for a new one without working great signs. Therefore we cannot believe a person, who appeals to his own spirit and to his inward feeling, and rushes head-long against the usual order of God, unless he also performs miracles."_

It seems Luther fails his own test, but I’m certainly interested to hear of any miracles attributed to him.

I’m also interested to hear an alternate explanation of any of the behaviors /occurrences presented in the booklet that someone believes to be false … If what is presented is wrong or misleading, give me the facts, help me change my mind on…

  • his 20+ page conversation with the devil resulting in the devil giving his stamp of approval on Luther’s doctrine of faith alone, getting rid of private masses, and eliminating devotion to Mary and the saints; [see pgs 13-19]

  • his part in the German Peasant’s War having published a treatise on how the peasants should be hunted down and killed by the nobles without mercy, (which they were). [“Against the Murderous, Thieving, Hordes of Peasants”] [pg 41-50]

  • his views on marriage and adultery including his advisement to a German prince to commit bigamy, but to lie about it [pg 29-34]

  • Or any of his statements that seem to sound like “regrets” where he notices the outcome of his Reformation has bitter fruit: contempt for the word of God, little esteem for the Eucharist, lack of charitable contributions, lessened contributions to the church, neglect of the poor and sick, and a reported increase in drunkeness, suicides and immorality? [pgs 50-57]

Asking if Luther was a reformer sent by God is a fair question. The answers I’ve gotten to that question so far mostly appear to point to “No”. If you have facts / substance that point to “Yes” being the answer to that question … this would be the opportunity to share that knowledge, supported by facts, examples, etc.


delete to make it a reply to jon.


Jon, I’m not sure I’m really hearing any substantive evidence for your position. Did or did not Luther say he had a conversation with the devil which resulted in Luther and the devil agreeing that we’re saved by faith alone, that we shouldn’t have private masses, and that there should be no devotion to Mary and the saints?


5 million left during the protestant reformation. 9 million souls joined when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared.


“Tischreden” (translated as “Table Talk”) is a compilation of remarks others heard and attributed to Luther as having said. So … no… I don’t care to use any quotes from Tischreden because the content was not written by him and he was frequently described as being “in his cups” at the time he was making some of the remarks. So when you encounter Luther “quotes” check to make sure it is not this source.

He was a wildly popular “celebrity” of his time particularly among students, Wittenberg was a university town and he was a professor there. He hosted and/or was invited to many, many dinners where he would make remarks and others would scribble notes; or accompany him on walks and excursions and scribble notes on his remarks as they went along.

Many of the most outrageous remarks (ie. Christ was a fornicator) are usually attributed to his aforementioned proclivity of being in his cups or dismissed by many as Oh gee it was just Luther-being-Luther … playing to his audience, intentionally making outrageous and coarse comments to gain notoriety, attention and amusement.


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