Was Martin Luther a “Super-Pope”? (“De Facto” Infallibility)

Was Martin Luther a “Super-Pope”? (“De Facto” Infallibility) October 6, 2015
* * * With Extensive Documentation From Luther’s Own Words * * *
Statue of Martin Luther [public domain / Pixabay]
[originally uploaded on 13 November 2002 and revised on 15 May 2003 and 18 June 2006]
All words below are Luther’s except for bibliographical information and sources, or otherwise indicated. All emphases (in the color red) are my own.
* * * * *

We hear much incessant moaning and groaning amongst Protestant apologists about the excessive, intolerably autocratic authority of the papacy, yet papal proclamations are not even in the same universe as several from the Founder of Protestantism. Protestants ignore or minimize and dismiss the de facto infallibility of the early Protestant leaders. A guy like Martin Luther didn’t need trifles as insignificant as the decree of an ecumenical council to justify his pretensions. He simply assumed his self-anointing and proceeded on, undaunted by precedent at all, if it went against his “judgment,” which, of course, also was “God’s” and not his own. Luther’s “certain” claims are in fact (however he or his followers may characterize it) far more “infallibilist” than any Catholic claims, and less based on precedent. This is a common theme in Luther, not a rarity or one-time event:


Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope and the Bishops Falsely So-Called
(July 1522)

From: Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) and Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (vols. 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (vols. 31-55), 1955. This work from Vol. 39: Church and Ministry I (edited by J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann); pages 239-299; translated by Eric W. and Ruth C. Gritsch. Page numbers from Luther’s Works will be indicated in brackets ( [ ] ). Footnotes are omitted, but I have a photocopy in my possession.

[247] Jesus

Martin Luther, ecclesiastic in Wittenberg by the grace of God: To the papal bishops (I offer) my service and self-understanding in Christ.

Although I might be regarded as a fool by you, dear lords, because of the haughty title I call myself, an ecclesiastic by the grace of God, you should know that I am not at all surprised by this. You curse, slander, condemn, persecute, and possibly even burn me as a heretic for the sake of a high and noble cause. In this you act as you please, according to the pleasure of your idol. As a result of God’s disfavor you have the virtue that you do not want to listen. Neither do you want to give an answer. Instead, like the hardened Jews you blasphemously and stubbornly want to condemn me without a hearing, without investigating the cause, without overcoming me. You are not even ashamed of letting a man defy you so frequently with such good reason. Very well then, since it is a question of lowering the horns and acting with brute force, I too have to lower my horns and risk my head for my Lord. In order to get things started, I call myself an ecclesiastic by the grace of God in defiance of you and the devil, although you call me a heretic with an abundance of slander. And even if I called myself an evangelist by the grace of God, I would still be more confident of proving it than that any one of you could prove his episcopal title or name. I am certain [248] that Christ himself, who is the master of my teaching, gives me this title and regards me as one. Moreover, he will be my witness on the Last Day that it is not my pure gospel but hisThus your raging and raving is not going to help you at all. Rather, the more you rage and rave, the haughtier we shall be toward you, with God’s help, and shall despise your disgrace. Even though you might take my life, since you are murderers, you will annihilate neither my name nor my teaching. For you too will have to die at last and put an end to murder.

Now that I am deprived of my titles through papal and imperial disfavor and my bestial character is washed away with so many bulls that I need never be called either Doctor of Holy Scripture or some kind of papal creature, I am almost as shocked as an ass who has lost its bag. For these masks were my greatest shame before God. I too was once in error (which I learned from your crowd at great price and with great effort), a liar, a cheater, a seducer, and a blasphemer against God’s pure teaching, as you are now. But the Father of all mercy did not look at my vice, blasphemy, and my very sinful, evil life; instead, out of the infinite richness of his grace, he permitted me to know his Son, Jesus Christ, and to teach to others, until we were certain of his truth. However, I need not have any title and name to praise highly the word, office, and work which I have from God and which you blind blasphemers defile and persecute beyond measure. I trust my praise will overcome your defiling, just as my justice will overcome your injustice. It does not matter if, with your blasphemy, you are on top for the moment.

Therefore, I now let you know that from now on I shall no longer do you the honor of allowing you – or even an angel from heaven – to judge my teaching or to examine it. For there has been enough foolish humility now for the third time at Worms, and it has not helped. Instead, I shall let myself be heard and, as St. Peter [249] teaches, give an explanation and defense of my teaching to all the world – I Pet. 3:15. I shall not have it judged by any man, not even by any angel. For since I am certain of it, I shall be your judge and even the angels’ judge through this teaching(as St. Paul says [I Cor. 6:3 ]) so that whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved – for it is God’s and not mine. Therefore, my judgment is also not mine but God’s.

Finally, dear lords, let this be the conclusion: If I live you shall have no peace from me, and if you kill me you shall have ten times less peace, for I shall be, as Hosea says, a bear on the road and a lion in the street [Hos. 13:8]. No matter how you handle me, you shall not have your will until your iron head and stiff neck are broken with either grace or disgrace. If you do not improve as I would like to see you do, then it is agreed that you threaten with hostility and I do not care. May God grant that you know yourselves. Amen.


So that some well-meaning hearts do not get the impression that I go too far when I attack the great lords or that I might create rebellion and unrest, as the tyrants themselves interpret it – I must first present defense and explanation with scriptural proof that it is not only right but also
necessary to reprove the high officials.

The pope, to be sure, in his canon law forbade punishing the prelates. These dear squires and painted bishops count on it. They do not study, they know nothing, they are not engaged in any bishop’s work, and they enjoy peaceful, quiet, and good days. Yet they act as though they were bishops while in reality they are nothing but carnival masks and dummies who ruin the whole world in the name of bishop. But let us hear what God says about it . . .

[252] . . . Thus we should punish bishops and spiritual dominion harder and more severely than worldly dominion for two reasons: first, because this spiritual dominion does not derive from God, for God does not know these masked people and St. Nicholas bishops, because they neither teach nor perform any episcopal duties. Nor did they derive from men. They have imposed themselves on others and placed themselves into this rule against God and men, as is the custom of tyrants who rule only out of God’s wrath. Worldly dominion derives from God’s gracious order to suppress the evil and protect the godly, Romans 13[:4] . Second, worldly rule, even though it commits violence and injustice, hurts only the body and property. But spiritual dominion, whenever it is unholy and does not support God’s word, is like a wolf and murderer of the soul, and it is just as though the devil himself were ruling there. That is why one should beware as much of the bishop who does not teach God’s word as of the devil himself. For wherever God’s word is missing, there we certainly find only the devil’s teaching and the murder of souls. For without God’s word the soul can neither live nor be delivered from the devil.

But if they say that one should beware of rebelling against spiritual authority, I answer: Should God’s word be dispensed with and the whole world perish? Is it right that all souls should be [253] killed eternally so that the temporal show of these masks is left in peace? It would be better to kill all bishops and to annihilate all religious foundations and monasteries than to let a single soul perish, not to mention losing all souls for the sake of these useless dummies and idols. What good are they, except to live in lust from the sweat and labor of others and to impede the word of God? They are afraid of physical rebellion and do not care about spiritual destruction. Are they not intelligent, honest people! If they accepted God’s word and sought the life of the soul, God would be with them, since he is a God of peace. Then there would be no fear of rebellion. But if they refuse to hear God’s word and rather rage and rave with banning, burning, killing, and all evil, what could be better for them than to encounter a strong rebellion which exterminates them from the world? One could only laugh if it did happenas the divine wisdom says, Proverbs 1[:25-27], “You have hated my punishment and misused my teaching; therefore I will laugh at your calamity and I will mock you when disaster strikes you.”

Not God’s word but stubborn disobedience [to God’s word] creates rebellion. Whoever rebels against it shall get his due reward. Whoever accepts God’s word does not start unrest, although he is no longer afraid of the masks and does not worship the dummies . . .

[262] . . . Moses shows, first of all, that all this refers to the miserable plague of human teaching which God inflicts on the world today through pope and bishops. When he commanded, Deuteronomy 4[:2] , that they should neither add to his commandments nor take anything from them but instead obey them, he continued immediately and said, “For your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, and how he destroyed all those who worshiped it,” etc. [Deut. 4:3]. Why should Moses make such an example of Baal-Peor – that they should neither add nor take anything from God’s commandments – if he did not want to show that this idol is human teaching? Human teaching always takes away from God’s commandments and adds its own commandments – just as the pope has now taken away all of God’s commandments and substituted his own. As one can hear, the papists teach that it is not necessary to love God with all one’s heart, and so the first commandment is taken away. Again, that faith is not necessary for justification and that works save, and so the second and third commandments are struck down. Again, they teach children to be disobedient to their parents, just as they themselves are, as was said above, and so the fourth commandment is struck down. Again, they teach that it is not necessary to love one’s enemy, and so they teach one to hold on to one’s wrath, contrary to the fifth commandment. Again, he has many ways to break up marriages and to make them, and so the sixth commandment is taken away. Again, they teach one how to attain and keep ill-gotten goods, usury, and interest, contrary to the seventh commandment. Again, all their teaching is false witness, which is contrary to the eighth commandment. Thus under the pope there are no divine commandments any longer; they have all been taken awayOn the other hand, he adds some on how one can serve God and do good works through tonsures, cowls, orders, fasting, begging, eating milk, eggs, meat, butter, singing, organs, censing, bell-ringing, celebrating, buying indulgences, and [263] the like, all of which God does not know. That is why his teaching is the true Baal-Peor . . .

[268] . . . It is enough for the time being to have these two apostles, Peter and Paul, on our side. They show us the papists with their un-Christian and pernicious spiritual nature and teaching. [They [269] also show us] that with all their pretensions they are accursed children and should be avoided. We shall save what Christ, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets say about it until the pope, the bishops, and their followers get angry at this booklet and blow the fire
into a full flame . . .

[273] . . . Tell me, pope, from where do you have the power to claim ill-gotten goods? God himself, the creator of everything, will neither accept nor approve this. And you, God’s greatest slanderer, want to be more than God. You assume a higher power than God himself. You teach the people to destroy God’s commandment and to engage in theft, robbery, usury, and all unnatural works . . .

[278] . . . Doctor Luther’s Bull and Reformation

All those who work toward this end and who risk body, property, and honor that the bishoprics may be destroyed and the episcopal government rooted out are God’s dear children and true Christians. They keep God’s commandment and fight against the devil’s order. Or, if they cannot do this, at least they condemn and avoid such a government. On the other hand,all those who obey the government of the bishops and subject themselves to it in willing obedience are the devil’s own servants and fight against God’s order and law.

I shall prove this thoroughly and surely as follows: St. Paul said to Titus that he should appoint a married and blameless bishop in every town [Titus 1:5-7]. That is undoubtedly God’s order, will, and opinion. Our papal bishops fight against this; they removed the bishops from every town and made themselves bishops over many towns. But St. Paul stands here – indeed, the Holy Spirit stands here firmly and strongly – saying that every town should have a bishop and that they must all be equals. St. Paul speaks of every town and considers all bishops to be equal. Well, come on, you masks! Be cheerful and brave! Here you stand against St. Paul, against the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit stands against youWhat will you say now? Or have you become dumb? Here you have your verdict: all the world must destroy you and your government. Whoever stands on your side falls under God’s disfavor; whoever destroys you stands in God’s favor.

By no means do I want such destruction and extinction to be understood in the sense of using the fist and the sword, for they are not worthy of such punishment – and nothing is achieved in this [279] way. Rather, as Daniel 8[:25] teaches, “by no human hand” shall the Antichrist be destroyed. Everyone should speak, teach, and stand against him with God’s word until he is put to shame and collapses, completely alone and even despising himself. This is true Christian destruction and every effort should be made to this end . . .

If someone said to me at this point, “Previously you have rejected the pope; will you now also reject bishops and the spiritual estate? Is everything to be turned around?” my answer would be: [280] Judge for yourself and decide whether I turn things around by preferring divine word and order, or whether they turn things around by preferring their order and destroying God’s. Tell me, which is right: for them to turn God’s order around, or for me to turn their blasphemous devil’s order around? Do not look at the work itself but at the basis and reason for the work. Nobody should look at that which opposes God’s word, nor should one care what the consequences may or may not be. Instead, one should look at God’s word alone and not worry – even if angels were involved – about who will get hurt, what will happen, or what the result
will be . . .

[283] . . . Since it is clear, then, from these three passages that the bishops are not only masks and idols but also an accursed people before God – rising up against God’s order to destroy the gospel and ruin souls – every Christian should help with his body and property to put an end to their tyranny. One should cheerfully do everything possible against them, just as though they were the devil himselfOne should trample obedience to them just as though it were obedience to the devil; and one should see to it that one or more devout married men become pastors or bishops in every town. Moreover, those who are pastors now should recant such obedience, because with their promises of chastity they were obedient to the devil and not to God. They should do so in the same way someone recants his allegiance to the devil. They should marry in defiance of the devil and for the sake of hurting these “bishop gods,” so that the divine order instituted by St. Paul against these accursed masks might be re-established. Let this be Dr. Luther’s bull which grants God’s grace as a reward to all who heed it and obey it. Amen . . .

Against Henry VIII, King of England 

Through me Christ has commenced His revelations concerning the abominations in the holy place.

I am certain that I have my dogmas from heaven,

. . . but the devil tries to deceive me through Henry.

God blinds the devil, that his mendacity is made manifest through me.

(From: Martin Luther: His Life and Work, Hartmann Grisar, Adapted from the 2nd German ed. by Frank J. Eble, edited by Arthur Preuss, Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1950 [orig. 1930], 261 / from Werke [Weimar], Vol X, II, pp. 180 sqq., 227 sq. Opp. Lat. Var., pp. 385 sqq., and Werke, Erlangen ed., Vol. XXVIII, pp. 343 sqq.)

Against all the sayings of the Fathers, against all the arts and words of angels, men and devils I set the Scriptures and the Gospel . . . Here I stand and here I defy them . . . The Word of God I count above all else and the Divine Majesty supports me; hence I should not turn a hair were a thousand Augustines against me, and am certain that the true Church adheres with me to God’s Word.

(From: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 vols., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1915; volume 4, 391 / from Werke [Weimar], Vol X, II, p. 256 f.)

My doctrines will stand, and the Pope will fall.

(From: Henry O’Connor, Luther’s Own Statements, New York: Benziger Bros., 3rd ed., 1884, 19-20)

Whoever teaches differently from what I have taught herein, or condemns me for it, he condemns God, and must be a child of Hell.

(From: Henry O’Connor, Luther’s Own Statements, New York: Benziger Bros., 3rd ed., 1884, 15)

Elsewhere, in the same year, Luther wrote:

Each man must believe solely because it is the word of God and because he feels within that it is true, even though an angel from heaven and all the world should preach against it.

(From: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 vols., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1915; volume 4, 391 / from Werke [Weimar], Vol X, II, p. 90; Von Menschen leren tzu meyden, 1522)

St. Thomas More wrote Response to Luther in 1523, in reaction to Luther’s tract against Henry VIII. He makes some very interesting arguments against Luther’s new principle of sola Scriptura:

. . . if as you consistently affirm, all extrascriptural matter is to be maintained only freely and none of it held fast by faith, what is the meaning of this Apostolic admonition: “Stand and hold fast the traditions which you have learned through our word and letter”? [2 Thess 2:15] The preservation of both word and letter is equally charged by the Apostle. Extrascriptural matter was thus handed down, and on a binding, not a take-it-or-leave-it basis! What do you say to that, Luther? And to this: “Many things were done which are not written in this book,” a passage of the Evangelist’s? [John 20:30] These things which you have remarked as absent from the other scriptural books also, and of which John says that the whole world cannot contain them – aren’t they to be regarded as miracles at least? Wouldn’t you also find that an ignorance of many of them would jeopardize faith? . . .

What force has this pronouncement of Christ’s: “The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, when He comes, will guide you into all truth”? [John 16:13] He doesn’t say that the Spirit will “write” to you or whisper in your ear, but he will lead you, will form oyu interiorly, and with His breath will show your hearts the way to all truth. Was it the Apostles, here addressed by Christ, to whom the way was to be shown? Were they alone told, “I am with you to the consummation of the world”? [Matt 28:20] Who can question the direction of this message to the Church? Will not the Holy Spirit show her the way to all truth? Was she not told, “Go, preach the Gospel to every creature”? [Matt 28:19] Did they read the Gospel or preach it? And did Christ cast the new law in bronze or strike it on stone tablets, commanding that everything else be considered valueless and caast out?

Can God’s own word as set down by the Apostle leave Luther untouched, “I will put my laws in their hearts; I shall inscribe them on their minds”? [Heb 8:10, 10:16] He makes no mention of stone or wood, for as the old law was stamped by Him upon external stone, so will the new be inscribed with His own finger in the book of the heart; that which existed so briefly upon the hardest material will be made to last forever on the softest. So it has pleased God to show His power. Though the old stone tablets were quickly shattered, the new remain. The word of God will remain forever uneffaced in the heart of man. The heart, the Church of Christ, will forever contain the true Gospel of Christ, written there before any of the Evangelical books. However ingenious the apparent scriptural evidence heretics may bring against the true faith, God has engraved His law in such a way that it is impervious to their guile. The strength of this spring has preserved the faith of Christ against assaults upon both His mother and Himself from their respective enemies, Helvidius and Arius . . . it is certain that Christ would not disappoint His Church on the essentials of her faith.

But if you continue dully to insist upon the written as the only valid form of transmission, and doggedly persist in ignoring the scriptural evidence from the king’s book, at least clear up the enigma posed by these facts: the Father is never, at any place in all of Scripture, called “uncreated,” the Son is never called “consubstantial,” and the Holy Spirit never clearly described as “proceeding from the Father and Son.” . . . Would you have, then, each individual man, freely and without spiritual hazard, decide for himself whether or not to believe in the Father as uncreated, the Son as consubstantial, and the Holy Spirit as proceeding from both?

(From: The Essential Thomas More, selected and edited by James J. Greene and John P. Dolan, in modern translation, New York: New American Library, Mentor-Omega, 1967, 115-117)

An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull

. . . They accuse me of setting myself up all alone to be everybody’s teacher. I answer, I have not set myself up, but have preferred at all times to creep into a corner. It is they who have drawn me out by wile and force, that they might win glory and honor at my expense. Now that the game is going against them, they think me guilty of vainglory. And even if it were true that I had set myself up all alone, that would be no excuse for their conduct. Who knows but that God has called me and raised me up? They ought to fear lest they despise God in me.

Do we not read in the Old Testament that God commonly raised up only one prophet at a time?Moses was alone in the Exodus, Elijah was alone in King Ahab’s day, Elisha, after him, was alone, Isaiah was alone in Jerusalem, Hosea alone in Israel, Jeremiah alone in Judaea, Ezekiel alone in Babylon, and so forth. Even though they had many disciples, called “children of the prophets,” God never allowed more than one man alone to preach and rebuke the people.

Moreover, God never once made prophets out of the high-priests or others of lofty station; but usually He raised up lowly and despised persons, even at last the shepherd Amos. King David was an exception, but even he came up from lowly rank. Therefore the saints have always had to preach against those in high places – kings, princes, priests, doctors – to rebuke them, to risk their own lives, and sometimes to lose them . . .

I say not that I am a prophet, but I do say that the more they despise me and esteem themselves, the more reason they have to fear that I may be a prophet . . . If I am not a prophet, yet for my own self I am certain that the Word of God is with me and not with them, for I have the Scriptures on my side, and they have only their own doctrine. This gives me courage, so that the more they despise and persecute me, the less I fear them. There were many asses in the world in the days of Balaam, but God spake by none of them save only by Balaam’s ass . . .

The lie has always had the majority, the truth the minority on its side. Nay, if it were only a few insignificant men who were attacking me, I should know that what I wrote and taught was not yet of God. St Paul raised much disturbance with his doctrine, as we read in Acts; but that did not prove the falsity of his doctrine. Truth has always caused an uproar; false teachers have always said, “Peace, peace,” as Isaiah and Jeremiah tell us.

(From: Works of Martin Luther, Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Co. and the Castle Press, 1930; rep. by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1982 , Volume 3, 12-14,17; translated by C.M. Jacobs)

Reply to the Answer of the Leipzig Goat 

. . . My great and joyful courage hurts you to your very heart. But in spite of you and Eck, the pope and your whole crew, yea, in spite of the devil too, I am, and please God, will remain in a constant, fearless, proud state of mind, defying and despising you all as fools and blind men and malignant liars. I would, indeed, that your hate-filled eyes could see my joyful spirit day by day, although the mere hearing about it causes you grief enough. All your envy, pain, rage, and whatever evil thing you may do shall help you not one whit. You call me proud because I will not humble myself before such furious, bloodthirsty tyrants and do not accept your lies and your poison. In the same way, even Christ and John were accused by the Jews of having a devil.

But if I knew that my teaching brought injury to one simple-minded man — which cannot be, sinceit is the Gospel itself – I would rather suffer ten deaths than allow such a teaching to spread or go unrecanted . . .

I have said repeatedly: Assail my person if you will, and in any way you will; I do not claim to be an angel. But I will allow no one to assail my teaching with impunity, since I know that it is not mine, but God’sFor on this depends my neighbor’s salvation and my own, to God’s praise and honor.

(From: Works of Martin Luther, Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Co. and the Castle Press, 1930; rep. by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1982 , Volume 3, 293-294; translated by A. Steimle)

Other Similar “Infallibilist Remarks”

All who shun us and attack us secretly have departed from the faith . . . Just like Zwingli . . . It pains me that Zwingli and his followers take offence at my saying that‘what I write must be true.’

(From: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 vols., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1915; volume 4, 309)

Heresiarchs [referring to fellow Protestants] . . . remain obdurate in their own conceit. They allow none to find fault with them and brook no opposition. This is the sin against the Holy Ghost for which there is no forgiveness.

(From: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 vols., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1915; volume 6, 282 / Werke, Weimar ed., 19, 609 ff.)

Those are heretics and apostates [referring to fellow Protestants] who follow their own ideas rather than the common tradition of Christendom, who . . . out of pure wantonness, invent new ways and methods.

(From: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 vols., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1915; volume 6, 282-283 / Werke, Weimar ed., 7, 394)

We must needs decry the fanatics as damned . . . They actually dare to pick holes in our doctrine; ah, the scoundrelly rabble do a great injury to our Evangel.

(From: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 vols., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1915; volume 6, 289 / Werke, Erlangen ed., 1868, 61, 8 ff.)

Not only the spiritual but also the secular power must yield to the Evangel, whether cheerfully or otherwise.

(From: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 vols., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1915; volume 6, 245)

Men despise the Evangel and insist on being compelled by the law and the sword.

(From: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 vols., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1915; volume 6, 262 / Werke, Erlangen ed., vol. 3, 39 / Letter to Georg Spalatin in 1527)

Browse Our Archives