Luther, however, scored many points. He pointed out that the Eastern Greek Church had never acknowledged the supremacy of the bishops of Rome. Yet, it was admitted by all, that the Eastern Church was Christian. The papacy faced a dilemma. How could the pope claim supremacy over all the churches, and yet a large part of the Church, recognized as Christian, not honor that claim? In addition, Luther noted that the great ecumenical councils of the early centuries did not teach the supremacy of the papacy.
Following the Leipzig debate, support of Luther solidified. His motive all along was to bring needed change to the Roman Catholic Church, not to leave it. But now Luther had publicly rejected the supremacy of the pope and the infallibility of the Church councils. The Leipzig debate crystallized the fact that irreconcilable differences existed between Luther and the Roman Catholic Church.
ExcommunicationOn June 15, 1520, Pope Leo ratified and signed the bull that officially excommunicated Luther. He also ordered that all of Luther’s writing be burned.
The papal bull had this preamble:
Arise, O Lord, plead Thine own cause; remember how the foolish man reproacheth Thee daily; the foxes are wasting Thy vineyard which Thou hast given to Thy Vicar Peter; the boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.
The bull went on to condemn forty-one propositions attributed to Luther. It was not his evangelical principles which were attacked but only his oppositions to the practices of the Roman Church. Finally, the bull ordered that all of Luther's writings be burned. One of the propositions of Luther which it condemned was Luther’s position that “certain articles of John Huss condemned at the Council of Constance are most Christian, true, and evangelical, which the universal Church cannot condemn.” Luther replied:
I was wrong. I retract the statement that certain articles of John Huss are evangelical. I say now, “Not some but all the articles of John Huss were condemned by Antichrist and his apostles in the synagogue of Satan.” And to your face, most holy Vicar of God, I say freely that all the condemned articles of John Huss are evangelical and Christian, and yours are downright impious and diabolical.
Publishing the papal bull in Germany became the responsibility of Luther’s nemesis, Eck. It turned out to be a difficult task. Very few places would publish it, and what copies that managed to get produced were often seized by students and destroyed.
Meanwhile, Luther busied himself with writing. As an immediate response, he published a tract: Against the Execrable Bull of Antichrist. This he followed with “The Three Great Reformation Treatises,” The first was To the Christian Nobility of Germany, which was a call to do away with Rome’s abuses. The second was The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in which Luther demonstrated the error in the notion that man could only be saved through a priest and the Roman sacramental system. The third, The Liberty of a Christian Man, was a short but influential book on Christian living.
Luther also decided to respond in kind to Rome’s order to burn his books. On December 10, 1520, a large crowd gathered outside the walls of Wittenberg. Under Luther’s direction they burned the books of canon law as well as the papal bull.
The Diet of WormsPope Leo had done all he could do. After excommunication, the Church had official played its best ecclesiastical hand. The only thing left is to turn to the secular arm, which meant to seek Luther’s execution.
Recall that the pope had hoped and lobbied for the election of Luther’s protector, Frederick the Wise, as Emperor. He failed (Frederick did not want to shoulder the expenses that came along with the imperial office.) Instead Frederick threw his support behind the Charles, King of Spain, who was elected and became known as Charles V. The pope requested, and Charles agreed, to summon Luther to the Diet of Worms.
Protected by an offer of safe-conduct, Luther left for Worms on April 2, 1521, convinced that he would never return. His journey was like a victory parade with crowds lining the street, waving and cheering as he passed by.
At four o’clock in the after noon on April 17, Luther appeared before the diet. Before the Emperor, noblemen, and the papal prosecutor stood a poor and powerless priest, the son of peasants. Charles V was twenty-one and dressed in splendor. Luther was thirty-seven, and wore the robes of an Augustinian monk.
An official asked Luther, pointing to a stack of books and pamphlets, “Are these your writings, and do you wish to retract them?” Luther spoke, first repeating the two questions. He answered yes to the first question, and asked to be given twenty-four hours to consider his answer to the second. Luther’s request for twenty-four hours was not a sign of wavering but a sly political move. The papal delegation wanted an immediate decision and tried to persuade Charles V to deny the request. Charles, on the other hand, did not want to appear as a papal puppet, so he granted Luther’s request. Luther, in effect, helped Charles to assert imperial authority over papal wishes.
The following day, April 18, Luther returned. He spoke at length, after which the Emperor demanded a plain, straightforward answer to whether Luther would recant. To this Luther gave his famous response:
If the Emperor desires a plain answer, I will give it to him. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. God help me. I cannot do otherwise.The Emperor gave a sign that the meeting was over. Luther turned and left the tribunal. A few days later, Luther was ordered to leave Worms and return to Wittenberg. The plan was, after the promise of safe conduct was nominally provided, that Luther would be seized and put to death as a heretic.
There is a small gate in the wall of Worms. By that gate, Luther left worms on the night of April 26. The gate is now known as Luther’s gate.
Luther traveled toward home, at times stopping to preach (which he had been forbidden to do.) On May 4, after preaching and enjoying dinner, he set out on the road. In the forest, five masked riders kidnapped him from his carriage and took him to Eisenach. This was done on the order of Frederick the Wise, who knew Luther would be seized when his safe conduct expired. Luther stayed in Frederick’s protection for ten months, before returning to Wittenberg to deal with excesses in reformational behavior.
Luther had transformed the world by holding fast to a doctrine known as Justification by Faith Alone, or sola fide. It is useful to look at this in detail.
By Imputation or Infusion?The great mystery of salvation is justification. How are we made acceptable to a Holy and perfect God who demands an unattainable perfect compliance with His law? Clearly we can never, on our own, meet such a demand.
The problem is not that our sins are not forgiven. The problem is that the price of admission to heaven is an unblemished record. And once one has sinned, the record can never be expunged. Christ said “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13). The (mythical) righteous man has no need of justification.
Justification is like being acquitted of a crime, though not because the accused is innocent, but because an innocent third party (Christ) has made a satisfactory restitution to the offended (God). We get off on some clever legal maneuvering.
So exactly how does this happen? There is a substantive difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Reformed view.
More than a quibble over the word “alone”The difference between the Roman Catholic view of Justification is sometimes cast as the “mere” addition of the word alone:
RCC: Justification is by faith.
Reformers: Justification is by faith alone.
However, there is another big question here, above and beyond the nontrivial insistence on the word alone. To wit, how does justification happen? And here we find another substantive difference between the RCC and the Reformers. It is not “just” the “aloneness” of justification, but also that way it happens.
The question is whether we can actually become righteousness (and are therefore acceptable to God) or whether God treats us as if we were righteous. The former is the view of the RCC, the latter of the Reformers.
Neither side holds the position that any sort of justification can occur apart from Grace (that is the heresy of Pelagianism). Both the RCC and Reformed position is that grace is necessary for justification. There is a difference as to whether it is sufficient.
Calvin wrote, summarizing the reformer’s view:
Thus we simply interpret justification as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favour as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.Calvin also writes that the justified is “deemed righteous” and “regarded not as a sinner.”
This makes it clear that the Reformed view is that man himself does not have inherent righteousness even after justification. The righteousness with which we present ourselves to a Holy God is by imputation; it is not inherent or infused into us. It is symmetric with the view that our sins were imputed to Christ on the cross and he was punished as if they were His own even though they were not.
Contrast Calvin’s view with what Rome declared at the Council of Trent:
… the instrumental cause [of justification] is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which no man was ever justified finally, the single formal cause is the justice of God, not that by which He Himself is just, but that by which He makes us just, that, namely, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and not only are we reputed but we are truly called and are just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to everyone as He wills, and according to each one's disposition and cooperation.We see here a very different view from Calvin’s. The RCC view is that we are justified not by an imputation but by an infusion. We acquire inherent righteousness, initially from the instrumental cause: baptism. Justification also requires cooperation. Furthermore, the state of being justified can be lost through the commission of sin and must be restored by another sacrament: penance. This is turns leads to the idea of congruous merit that is so alien to the reformed view and that Luther so despised.
The RCC disputes the Reformed view of Justification and holds that if we must be righteous before God then we must have a true, internal righteousness which, though accomplished through grace, is nevertheless “ours”.
The RCC and the Reformed views on justification are very different-- different enough to be the primary cause of the Reformation. It is very important to appreciate that these differences are not superficial (some have said that the only difference is the Reformers and the RCC interchange the meanings of Justification and Sanctification). There are additional ramifications when it comes to other doctrines such as predestination, perseverance, the atonement, original sin, types of merit, purgatory, and virtually all other salvation related topics. Whether or not these differences are substantive enough in our eyes to warrant the greatest schism in the history of Christianity, they were without question considered very important to both the Reformers and Rome.
Sola FideThe doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is often attacked on two fronts. The first is the fact that the phrase never appears in scripture, except in the epistle of James, in which it appears to be refuted, which is the second and more difficult front of the attack.
When Paul talks about justification, primarily in the book of Romans, he never states explicitly that justification is by faith alone. However, what is not explicit is nevertheless abundantly clear.
When we say justification is by faith alone, it is understood that the faith itself is by grace. So grace is not excluded, obviously, from the restriction: faith alone.
That leaves only one other thing that could possibly contribute to justification: keeping the law, or works. Thus we have three possibilities:
- Justification is by works alone.
- Justification is by faith and works.
- Justification is by faith alone, sola fide.
So if Paul wants to teach sola fide he has two possible basic strategies at his disposal: He could affirm it explicitly, or he could eliminate option 2, justification by faith and works, so that only sola fide remains as a possibility.
That is exactly what Paul does. He eliminates works as a contributing factor. If works do not contribute to justification, then the only thing left is faith, and faith alone.
26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.In light of these passages (and the book of Romans as a whole) one sees how weak the argument is that Paul does not teach sola fide simply because he never names the doctrine that he so clearly espouses.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Rom. 3: 36-28)
If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. (Rom. 4:2)
know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)
The James ProblemThis refers to the often quoted apparent refutation ofsola fide:
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:21:24)Here is the dilemma in a nutshell:
- Paul teaches that justification is by faith alone.
- Paul teaches that Abraham was justified by faith (Rom. 4:2). So does Moses (Gen. 15:6).
- James seemingly denies sola fide, especially in James 2:24.
- James teaches that Abraham was considered righteous for offering Isaac (James 2:21).
There are really only three possibilities.
- James is wrong.
- Paul is wrong.
- James and Paul are talking about different things.
In discussing this, it is vital to remember the context in which Paul and James speak of justification. Paul is laying out a treatise of the forensic view of justification, forensic because we are declared "legally" righteous before God by claiming Christ's perfect righteousness as our own. Paul is always discussing the theological ground for justification, which is faith and faith alone.
James' epistle is a much more practical, down-to-earth, in-your-face exhortation. James is addressing a dead orthodoxy and its cousin, antinomianism. James, unlike Paul, is not teaching first principle apologetics on the theological ground of justification, but its practical and inevitable manifestation.
This is most clear in the conflicting discussions of father Abraham. Paul refers to Gen. 15:6, where Abraham is made (credited) with righteousness because he believed. James refers to an event much later, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac.
The fact that Paul and James refer to Abraham's justification as occurring at different times, and as the result of different events, either worsens the dilemma or, as I believe, is additional evidence that Paul and James are talking about different things.
Note further what James wrote: Abraham was considered righteous (NIV) for offering Isaac. Considered by whom? God does not consider, God knows a man’s state. God knew Abraham was righteous because He made him (credited him) righteous earlier in his life. Abraham’s obedience made his justification manifest to himself, to Isaac, and most importantly to all of us. That is what James meant. For further evidence (and not dependent on the use of considered in the NIV) we note that James clearly views it as a display of righteousness (or justification), not the actual act of being justified, by also referring, in James 2:23, to Abraham’s ground for justification: faith.
In this view, James' teaching is clearly understood and in no way in conflict with Paul’s teaching of sola fide. James is telling us that if there is no fruit (works), then we are not justified, because justification (though by faith alone) always bears fruit. Both Paul and Jesus agree, teaching that, for example, a good tree is known by its good fruit (Matt. 12:33). God already knows which tree is good. Man does not know, except by the fruit, which then glorifies God.