Wrong, as we shall see. That's certainly the picture that is painted by many Eastern Orthodox and some Roman Catholic apologists. But it's telling that professional RC theologians at least tend to be much more circumspect about making such claims these days. This is a direct result of the quantity and quality of Luther and Patristics studies that Roman Catholics engaged in during the 20th C., which revealed to them a somewhat different picture to the caricature contained in my opening paragraph.
But some myths are a long time dying, particularly when first order doctrines of salvation are concerned - as has often been said, truth is the the first victim of polemics. Some of Luther's critics inclined to the ad hominem method of debate have explained the genesis of Luther's heresy as residing in his alleged shortcomings as a monk, variously supposed to be a struggle with lust, drunkenness, or depression. For whatever reason, it is conjectured, Luther couldn't cut it as a monk - contrary to the reports of his superior, Staupitz, btw - and the psychological pressure of this realization caused him to interpolate "alone" into Romans, thus providing the "escape valve" of psychological assurance of salvation apart from a life of Christian piety and obedience lived in the fellowship of the church.
Here's an example, sans ad hominem, from a book by a Serbian Orthodox theologian:
“As a matter of fact, Luther argued, and other Protestants also affirmed, that a man is justified before God only through faith in Christ and the redemption that Christ brought to suffering humanity. This is called a material principle of the Reformation. Good works are not necessary for salvation... It is interesting to study the process how Luther translated the Holy Scriptures into the German language. In Romans 3:28, the verse reads: ‘We believe, namely, that a man is justified by faith independent of the works of the Law.’ Luther added to the translation an extra word: ‘alone.’ That word corrupted the Holy Scriptures to say what Luther declared as a material principle of the Reformation: ‘Man is saved by faith alone.’ Regardless of the fact that such teaching is illogical and contrary to the Bible, it has infiltrated the entirety of Protestantism in all its forms.” Lazar Milin, A Systematic Apologetic of Religions, Cults, and Sects, 52
The Eastern Orthodox critique usually continues to opine that Luther was but the inevitable result of the overly juridical (i.e. law based) Western soteriology which ultimately derives from Augustine - as if the Bible itself knows nothing of forensic/juridical language for salvation! But being at the end of the line doesn't absolve Luther from responsibility - as we see from the quote above, Luther is regarded as the father of the Protestant heresy (Luther himself would surely "protest" against being labelled the father of anything but the church which bears his name, and even then...but that's another issue) and the arch corrupter of Holy Scripture with his illogical and unBiblical teaching of justification by faith alone.
Quite a charge! The problem is that it doesn't stand up to the historical evidence. Books have been written on this subject, so a mere blog post can't possibly hope to cover the evidence adequately, but a helpful quote from an eminent Roman Catholic authority on Pauls' Letter to the Romans goes some way towards suggesting the folly of labelling Luther's discovery of justification by faith alone in Romans an ahistorical and untraditional novum:
"At 3:28 Luther introduced the adv. “only” into his translation of Romans (1522), “alleyn durch den Glauben” (WAusg 7.38); cf. Aus der Bibel 1546, “alleine durch den Glauben” (WAusg, DB 7.39); also 7.3-27 (Pref. to the Epistle). See further his Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, of 8 Sept. 1530 (WAusg 30.2 , 627-49; “On Translating: An Open Letter” [LuthW 35.175-202]). Although “alleyn/alleine” finds no corresponding adverb in the Greek text, two of the points that Luther made in his defense of the added adverb were that it was demanded by the context and that sola was used in the theological tradition before him.
Robert Bellarmine listed eight earlier authors who used sola (Disputatio de controversiis: De justificatione 1.25 [Naples: G. Giuliano, 1856], 4.501-3):
Origen, Commentarius in Ep. ad Romanos, cap. 3 (PG 14.952).
Hilary, Commentarius in Matthaeum 8:6 (PL 9.961).
Basil, Hom. de humilitate 20.3 (PG 31.529C).
Ambrosiaster, In Ep. ad Romanos 3.24 (CSEL 81.1.119): “sola fide justificati sunt dono Dei,” through faith alone they have been justified by a gift of God; 4.5 (CSEL 81.1.130).
John Chrysostom, Hom. in Ep. ad Titum 3.3 (PG 62.679 [not in Greek text]).
Cyril of Alexandria, In Joannis Evangelium 10.15.7 (PG 74.368 [but alludes to Jas 2:19]).
Bernard, In Canticum serm. 22.8 (PL 183.881): “solam justificatur per fidem,” is justified by faith alone.
Theophylact, Expositio in ep. ad Galatas 3.12-13 (PG 124.988).
To these eight Lyonnet added two others (Quaestiones, 114-18):
Theodoret, Affectionum curatio 7 (PG 93.100; ed. J. Raeder [Teubner], 189.20-24).
Thomas Aquinas, Expositio in Ep. I ad Timotheum cap. 1, lect. 3 (Parma ed., 13.588): “Non est ergo in eis [moralibus et caeremonialibus legis] spes iustificationis, sed in sola fide, Rom. 3:28: Arbitramur justificari hominem per fidem, sine operibus legis” (Therefore the hope of justification is not found in them [the moral and ceremonial requirements of the law], but in faith alone, Rom 3:28: We consider a human being to be justified by faith, without the works of the law). Cf. In ep. ad Romanos 4.1 (Parma ed., 13.42a): “reputabitur fides eius, scilicet sola sine operibus exterioribus, ad iustitiam”; In ep. ad Galatas 2.4 (Parma ed., 13.397b): “solum ex fide Christi” [Opera 20.437, b41]).
Theodore of Mopsuestia, In ep. ad Galatas (ed. H. B. Swete), 1.31.15.
Marius Victorinus (ep. Pauli ad Galatas (ed. A. Locher), ad 2.15-16: “Ipsa enim fides sola iustificationem dat-et sanctificationem” (For faith itself alone gives justification and sanctification); In ep. Pauli Ephesios (ed. A. Locher), ad 2.15: “Sed sola fides in Christum nobis salus est” (But only faith in Christ is salvation for us).
Augustine, De fide et operibus, 22.40 (CSEL 41.84-85): “licet recte dici possit ad solam fidem pertinere dei mandata, si non mortua, sed viva illa intellegatur fides, quae per dilectionem operatur” (Although it can be said that God’s commandments pertain to faith alone, if it is not dead [faith], but rather understood as that live faith, which works through love”). Migne Latin Text: Venire quippe debet etiam illud in mentem, quod scriptum est, In hoc cognoscimus eum, si mandata ejus servemus. Qui dicit, Quia cognovi eum, et mandata ejus non servat, mendax est, et in hoc veritas non est (I Joan. II, 3, 4). Et ne quisquam existimet mandata ejus ad solam fidem pertinere: quanquam dicere hoc nullus est ausus, praesertim quia mandata dixit, quae ne multitudine cogitationem spargerent [Note: [Col. 0223] Sic Mss. Editi vero, cogitationes parerent.], In illis duobus tota Lex pendet et Prophetae (Matth. XXII, 40): licet recte dici possit ad solam fidem pertinere Dei mandata, si non mortua, sed viva illa intelligatur fides, quae per dilectionem operatur; tamen postea Joannes ipse aperuit quid diceret, cum ait: Hoc est mandatum ejus, ut credamus nomini Filii ejus Jesu Christi, et diligamns invicem (I Joan. III, 23) See De fide et operibus, Cap. XXII, §40, PL 40:223."
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, 1993, 360-361.
Readers may find some more patristic quotes germane to this subject here
I will be adding to these as time permits over the coming year.
Pic: Luther's room in the Wartburg Castle where he translated the New Testament.