Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Luther Invented Justification by Faith Alone, Right?

Luther invented justification by faith alone, right? Sitting in his dark room at the Wartburg, an isolated and wanted man, for reasons found not in the Biblical text but deep within his own tortured psyche, he wantonly inserted "allein" (alone) into his German translation of Romans 3:28 without justification (sic!) and thus a heresy was born.

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 [1909], 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]).

See further:

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.


Lvka said...

deep within his own tortured psyche

Oh, sorry... I thought you were talking about me... :-)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Translation is good therapy, Lucian.
Takes you out of your self.
How's your Latin?
Can you translate the quote from Augustine? Seriously, what's the relation of Romanian to Latin?

Lvka said...

Seriously, what's the relation of Romanian to Latin?

It's the same as that of Eastern Orthodoxy to early Christianity. :)

Can you translate the quote from Augustine?

Not really, but Google can:


I only understand disparate words that bear an obscenely-close similarity to Romanian-Italian-Spanish:

"recte dici possit" = "[pe] drept [se] poate zice" = "it can rightly be said"

pertinere = apartine = (ap)pertains

non mortua = nu moarta = not dead

viva = vie = alive

intellegatur = intelegere = understanding

illa = ea / aia = she / that one

quae = care = which

per = pe / pentru = on / for

operatur = opereaza = operates

venire = venire = coming

debet = must? (Italian 'debere')

"illud in mentem, quod scriptum est" = "acela / ala in minte, care scris este" = "that one in mind, which is written"

cognoscimus = cunoastem = we know

ejus = ei = her(s)

servemus = serveste / servitor = serves / servant

Qui dicit = care zice = who / which says

Quia cognovi = care cunoaste = who / which knows

eum = eu = I / me

ejus non servat = ei nu-i serveste = does not serve her

"in.. veritas non est" = "in adevar nu este" = "is not in truth"

existimet = exista = exists

dicere = zicere = saying

nullus est = nul este = is null

"multitudine cogitationem spargerent" = "multime [de] cugetari sparge" = "many cogitations breaks / shatters"

"In illis duobus tota Lex.. et Prophetae" = "in alea doua toata legea si profetii" = "in those two all [the] law and prophets"

Joannes = Ion / Ioan = John

cum = cu = with

"credamus nomini Filii" = "credem [in] numele Fiului" = "we believe in [the] name [of the] Son"

Lvka said...

Seriously, what's the relation of Romanian to Latin?

Well... if you REALLY want to know... :-)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Well, it was always my understanding that Roman_ia was closely settled by Roman colonists in antiquity and this shaped the Romanian language with substantial input from Latin. So, I was wondering how close the two languages are.

Lvka said...

Over 90% of our base-vocabulary comes directly from Latin, as do our grammar and syntax.

Let's just say that, being a Romanian, one can understand Spanish and Italian completely and without having been previously taught either language..

Lvka said...

If you like Latin so much, here's something that might help you see the heart of the problem with the patristic quotes you provide: non idem est si duo dicunt idem.

Gary said...

Many Reformed Protestants, including Baptists and evangelicals, are under the impression that the Reformation began due to a dispute over the Doctrine of Salvation. They are wrong. The first episode of the Protestant Reformation...the LUTHERAN Reformation...was not about Salvation...it was about Satisfaction.

Let me explain.

The Catholic Church in the early 1500's was teaching that in order for a Christian to enter heaven, he had to be purified of the sins which he had committed after his salvation; and for the overwhelming majority of catholic Christians of that era, salvation had occurred in their infant Baptism. There were very few adult converts to Christianity in that time, as had been the case in the Early Church. All of Europe had been Christian for hundreds of years.

During the preceding centuries, the Church in Rome had come up with the false teaching that Christ did not make satisfaction for ALL of your sins when he died on the cross. Christ only made satisfaction for original sin, the sin you inherited from your Grandfather Adam. All sins committed after salvation were YOUR responsibility. You needed purification of these "post-salvation" sins in order to enter heaven as "perfect"...sinless. So, from a few vague passages of Scripture, the Church of Rome came up with the concept of Purgatory; a place for Christians, in which their souls are purified by fire: a place where Christian souls burn to pay for their "post-salvation" sins. Once you have spent an adequate amount of time paying for your sins in the flames of Purgatory, you then get released and allowed into heaven.

In the early 1500's, the Pope was building his grand, luxurious palace in Rome, St. Peter's Basilica. Someone came up with a brilliant idea: Let's sell indulgences! Let's tell the Christian people that they can give money to the Church in exchange for the forgiveness of the temporal punishment for post-salvation sins. Translation: Give money to the Pope, and he will reduce your time in Purgatory! The money started pouring in! If you had the money, you would have been foolish not to shell out some cash to the Church to cut down the number of years that you would be roasting in Purgatory on your own personal "Purgatory spit", right?
Continued here:

Mark Henderson said...

Thanks David.
Interesting blog.

Fr. Michael Shanbour said...

You are interested in Patristic quotes on Justification. I've provided many below. My name is Father Michael Shanbour, an Orthodox Christian priest. I have never heard of the Serbian author you quoted. The Orthodox do not believe in "salvation by works." We believe we are "saved by grace through faith." The difference is what we mean by grace and by faith.

It would be most accurate to say that everything that brings God's grace to us saves us. We believe salvation to be union with God...this can only happen by grace. Saint Seraphim of Sarov summarizes the Orthodox position: “The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.”

Keeping the commandments of God/Christ and good works (not works of the Law), inasmuch as they OPEN us to God's grace, assist in our salvation. This is the Orthodox view. And indeed, following the commandments of Christ (out of love for Him and with faith) absolutely brings God's grace to us. Either way, we are saved by grace.

At any rate, here is what the early Church Fathers said about justification (I was only able to give you a few due to the character limit. You can find them all here: http://www.wenorthodox.com/2013/12/justification-by-faith-quotes-from-the-early-church-fathers-on/

Quotes on Justification from the Early Church Fathers

For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he worked righteousness and truth through faith? St. Clement of Rome (30-96AD), 1.13. (according to early church historians he was disciple of St. Paul, and is the Clement mentioned in Phil. 4:3, his Epistle was considered as Scripture by many in the early Church):

Let us, then, not only call Him Lord, for that will not save us. For He says, “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will be saved, but he that works righteousness.” For that reason, brethren, let us confess Him by our works, by loving one another.” 2nd Epistle of Clement (c. 150), 7.518.

Therefore, brethren, by doing the will of the Father, and keeping the flesh holy, and observing the commandments of the Lord, we will obtain eternal life. 2nd Epistle of Clement (c. 150), 7.519.

Into this joy, many persons desire to enter. They know that “by grace you have been saved, not of works,” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ….But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise us also—if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness. St. Polycarp of Smynea (c. 135, E), 1.33 (martyred at age 96, directly taught as a disciple of the Apostle John).
He will bestow on them the blessing which He has promised them, with much glory and joy, if only they will keep the commandments of God, which they have received in great faith. The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.10.

‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin’ (Ps. 32:2). That is, having repented of his sins, he can receive remission of them from God. But this is not as you [Jews] deceive yourselves, and some others who resemble you in this. For they say, that even though they remain sinners, the Lord will not impute sin to them, because they know God. (St. Justin the Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.270)

If men by their works show themselves worthy of His design, they are deemed worthy of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering. This is what we have received [from the Apostles]….Those who choose what is pleasing to Him are, on account of their choice, deemed worthy of incorruption and of fellowship with Him. St. Justin the Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.165.

“For by grace we are saved”— but not, indeed, without good works. Rather, we must be saved by being molded for what is good, acquiring an inclination for it. And we must possess the healthy mind that is fixed on the pursuit of the good. For this, we have the greatest need of divine grace, of right teaching, of holy susceptibility, and of the drawing of the Father to Himself. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.445.

Acroamaticus said...

Thank you Fr Shanbour for your comment and your quotes. Yes, I suspect there is a difference between the Orthodox and the Lutherans in understanding the terms grace and faith. The question must then be which church understands those terms in the scriptural sense? Since the holy Apostle Paul excludes works from salvation (Galatians and Romans) which is given to us by grace alone received by faith alone through the merit of Christ alone, Lutherans find positions which subsume works into grace in the style of synergism to be non-scriptural. Good works are the fruit of faith and we should be diligently engaged in them. They will even receive a reward in heaven; but they cannot formally be said to contribute to our salvation, since that is received whole from Christ. Of course, that gift of salvation is to be "worked out" in our lives and to that end faith (and repentance) is to be exercised daily, but it is all of the grace of God without which we can do nothing. If there are Orthodox who understand the Christian life in that way then I rejoice with them!