I offer extensive Catholic replies to portions of the Lutheran Smalcald Articles (1537). It was written by Martin Luther and is part of the Lutheran Book of Concord: which is binding on all Lutherans who wish to follow their denomination’s historical doctrinal teaching. Luther’s words will be in blue.
I. Of Sin
1] Here we must confess, as Paul says in Rom. 5, 11, that sin originated [and entered the world] from one man Adam, by whose disobedience all men were made sinners, [and] subject to death and the devil. This is called original or capital sin.
2] The fruits of this sin are afterwards the evil deeds which are forbidden in the Ten Commandments, such as [distrust] unbelief, false faith, idolatry, to be without the fear of God, presumption [recklessness], despair, blindness [or complete loss of sight], and, in short not to know or regard God; furthermore to lie, to swear by [to abuse] God’s name [to swear falsely], not to pray, not to call upon God, not to regard [to despise or neglect] God’s Word, to be disobedient to parents, to murder, to be unchaste, to steal, to deceive, etc.
Catholics basically agree thus far.
3] This hereditary sin is so deep and [horrible] a corruption of nature that no reason can understand it, but it must be [learned and] believed from the revelation of Scriptures, Ps. 51, 5; Rom. 6, 12ff ; Ex. 33, 3; Gen. 3, 7ff.
Catholics believe that human nature is perverted, weakened, and warped, but not entirely perverse, corrupt, or depraved, as Protestants (especially Calvinists) teach.
Hence, it is nothing but error and blindness in regard to this article what the scholastic doctors have taught, namely:
Here are the obligatory digs at St. Thomas Aquinas and his followers, the Scholastics. Luther despised these men (or what he thought they taught, in many cases. It is known that Luther often equated the teachings of Aquinas with the nominalist corruptions of his teaching in the later Middle Ages. In other words, this was a straw man more often than not).
4] That since the fall of Adam the natural powers of man have remained entire and incorrupt, and that man by nature has a right reason and a good will; which things the philosophers teach.
If by this is meant that man can save himself through his own natural powers without the grace of God, we deny this, as that is Pelagianism: condemned by the Catholic Church at the 2nd Council of Orange in 529 and ever since, and opposed by Augustine over 100 years earlier. Recently, in two papers I think I have shown that Augustine’s teachings were much more in accordance with Catholicism than Protestantism.
But man can know there is a God by virtue of natural reason, according to Romans 1. Men can attain to the knowledge of God’s existence by the Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument and various other theistic proofs. I have always believed this, both as a Protestant and Catholic apologist. Luther placed reason in opposition to faith (“reason is the devil’s whore,” etc.). I think that is unbiblical and epistemologically (and evangelistically) suicidal.
5] Again, that man has a free will to do good and omit evil, and, conversely, to omit good and do evil.
We believe that man is a free agent; otherwise, is seems to me that Christian moral precepts become meaningless – as man is unable to abide by them: he either literally can’t be good, or is forced to do good like some sort of robot or puppet. But this is always by God’s enabling grace. If man cooperates with that grace, he may choose to do good. To that extent, to that degree, and in that sense (and no other), he “has a free will to do good and omit evil.”
6] Again, that man by his natural powers can observe and keep [do] all the commands of God.
This is not Catholic teaching. See the following response.
7] Again, that, by his natural powers, man can love God above all things and his neighbor as himself.
Absolutely not. So now Catholic teaching is being misrepresented in official Lutheran documents (which doesn’t surprise me). The Book of Concord was formulated between 1577 and 1580, and thus was later than the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which taught:
Canons on Justification
CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.
CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.
8] Again, if a man does as much as is in him, God certainly grants him His grace.
Grace never originates from man’s inherent goodness, but rather, from the free and unmerited decision of God, as seen above. This is Catholic dogma.
9] Again, if he wishes to go to the Sacrament, there is no need of a good intention to do good, but it is sufficient if he has not a wicked purpose to commit sin; so entirely good is his nature and so efficacious the Sacrament.
The sacrament is objectively efficacious; however, Catholic teaching also contains something known as “sacramental disposition.” Lacking that, the sacrament is not fruitful subjectively. Examples of such deficiencies, according to Fr. John A. Hardon, S .J., an eminent catechist, are a “lack of faith or sanctifying grace or . . . a right intention.” [Modern Catholic Dictionary, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980, 477] Trent dealt with this as well, particularly in its Decree on the Eucharist, Chapter VII, citing the appropriate biblical proof text of 1 Cor 11:29. This was also a great emphasis of Vatican II, but it was nothing new.
10] [Again,] that it is not founded upon Scripture that for a good work the Holy Ghost with His grace is necessary.
Another flat-out lie, condemned at Trent and at Orange 1000 years earlier.
11] Such and many similar things have arisen from want of understanding and ignorance as regards both this sin and Christ, our Savior and they are truly heathen dogmas, which we cannot endure. For if this teaching were right [approved], then Christ has died in vain, since there is in man no defect nor sin for which he should have died; or He would have died only for the body, not for the soul, inasmuch as the soul is [entirely] sound, and the body only is subject to death.
Indeed; that’s why these have never been Catholic doctrines. I don’t know who the authors had in mind here, but it is certainly not the Catholic Church, in reality. But it has always been an effective ploy to caricature one’s opponents in order to present a “superior” alternative.
I. Original Sin.
Solid Declaration/Book Of Concord
The Principal Question in This Controversy.
1] Whether original sin is properly and without any distinction man’s corrupt nature, substance, and essence, or at any rate the principal and best part of his essence [substance], namely, the rational soul itself in its highest state and powers; or whether, even after the Fall, there is a distinction between man’s substance, nature, essence, body, soul, and original sin, so that the nature [itself] is one thing, and original sin, which inheres in the corrupt nature and corrupts the nature, another.
Insofar as I correctly understand this, if this is denying that man’s nature is entirely corrupt: evil through and through, we agree. We assert that man is highly subject to concupiscence, the world, flesh, and the devil, but that he retains the capacity to do good, always with God’s preceding enabling grace. Perhaps that is common ground. It would not be common ground with the Calvinist position.
The Pure Doctrine, Faith, and Confession according to the Aforesaid Standard and Summary Declaration.
2] 1. We believe, teach, and confess that there is a distinction between man’s nature, not only as he was originally created by God pure and holy and without sin, but also as we have it [that nature] now after the Fall, namely, between the nature [itself], which even after the Fall is and remains a creature of God, and original sin, and that this distinction is as great as the distinction between a work of God and a work of the devil.
3] 2. We believe, teach, and confess also that this distinction should be maintained with the greatest care, because this doctrine, that no distinction is to be made between our corrupt human nature and original sin, conflicts with the chief articles of our Christian faith concerning creation, redemption, sanctification, and the resurrection of our body, and cannot coexist therewith.
4] For God created not only the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the Fall, but also our bodies and souls after the Fall, notwithstanding that they are corrupt, which God also still acknowledges as His work, as it is written Job 10, 8: Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about. Deut. 32, 18; Is. 45, 9ff; 54, 5; 64, 8; Acts 17, 28; Job 10, 8; Ps. 100, 3; 139, 14; Eccl. 12, 1.
5] Moreover, the Son of God has assumed this human nature, however, without sin, and therefore not a foreign, but our own flesh, into the unity of His person, and according to it is become our true Brother. Heb. 2, 14: Forasmuch, then, as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same. Again, 16; 4, 15: He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, yet without sin.
6] In like manner Christ has also redeemed it as His work, sanctifies it as His work, raises it from the dead, and gloriously adorns it as His work. But original sin He has not created, assumed, redeemed, sanctified; nor will He raise it, will neither adorn nor save it in the elect, but in the (blessed] resurrection it will be entirely destroyed.
7] Hence the distinction between the corrupt nature and the corruption which infects the nature and by which the nature became corrupt, can easily be discerned.
Again, if I understand this correctly. I think we agree with it.
8] 3. But, on the other hand, we believe, teach, and confess that original sin is not a slight, but so deep a corruption of human nature that nothing healthy or uncorrupt has remained in man’s body or soul, in his inner or outward powers, but, as the Church sings:
Through Adam’s fall is all corrupt,
Nature and essence human.
9] This damage is unspeakable, and cannot be discerned by reason, but only from God’s Word.
10] And [we affirm] that no one but God alone can separate from one another the nature and this corruption of the nature, which willfully come to pass through death, in the [blessed] resurrection, where our nature which we now bear will rise and live eternally without original sin and separated and sundered from it, as it is written Job 19, 26: I shall be compassed again with this my skin, and in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold.
This goes too far. Catholics believe that the primary effect of the fall is concupiscence, which Fr. Hardon defines as follows:
Insubordination of man’s desires to the dictates of reason, and the propensity of human nature to sin as a result of original sin. More commonly, it refers to the spontaneous movement of the sensitive appetites toward whatever the imagination portrays as pleasant and away from whatever it portrays as painful. However, concupiscence also includes the unruly desires of the will, such as pride, ambition, and envy. (Ibid., p. 120)
Baptismal regeneration, in Catholic theology (even Protestant and Orthodox baptism), produces a number of wonderful effects:
1) Removal of all guilt due to sin, original and personal;
2) Removal of all punishment due to sin, temporal and eternal;
3) Infusion of sanctifying grace;
4) Infusion of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity;
5) Infusion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
6) Incorporation into Christ;
7) Entrance into the Mystical Body, which is the Catholic Church;
8) Imprinting of the baptismal character, which enables one to receive the
sacraments, participate in the liturgy, and grow in the likeness of Christ through
The only thing it does not remove is concupiscence and bodily mortality.
Rejection of the False Opposite Dogmas.
11] 1. Therefore we reject and condemn the teaching that original sin is only a reatus or debt on account of what has been committed by another [diverted to us] without any corruption of our nature.
The question at hand is: “how corrupt is ‘corrupt’?”
12] 2. Also, that evil lusts are not sin, but con-created, essential properties of the nature, or, as though the above-mentioned defect and damage were not truly sin, because of which man without Christ [not ingrafted into Christ] would be a child of wrath.
I don’t know who teaches that, though Luther himself seemed to at times, with some of his outrageous statements about women and sex.
13] 3. We likewise reject the Pelagian error, by which it is alleged that man’s nature even after the Fall is incorrupt, and especially with respect to spiritual things has remained entirely good and pure in naturalibus, i.e., in its natural powers.
As do we.
14] 4. Also, that original sin is only a slight, insignificant spot on the outside, dashed upon the nature, or a blemish that has been blown upon it, beneath which [nevertheless] the nature has retained its good powers even in spiritual things.
I think the Catholic view is the “golden mean.”
15] 5. Also, that original sin is only an external impediment to the good spiritual powers, and not a despoliation or want of the same, as when a magnet is smeared with garlic-juice, its natural power is not thereby removed, but only impeded; or that this stain can be easily wiped away like a spot from the face or pigment from the wall.
Again, it is a question of the power of regeneration, and of God’s grace, especially through the sacraments.
16] 6. Also, that in man the human nature and essence are not entirely corrupt, but that man still has something good in him, even in spiritual things, namely, capacity, skill, aptness, or ability in spiritual things to begin, to work, or to help working for something [good].
We deny that man’s nature is entirely corrupt. We agree with this insofar as it again condemns Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism.
So Lutheranism moves at least one step away from Calvinist supralapsarianism.
19] 9. We reject and condemn also as a Manichean error the doctrine that original sin is properly and without any distinction the substance, nature, and essence itself of the corrupt man, so that a distinction between the corrupt nature, as such, after the Fall and original sin should not even be conceived of, nor that they could be distinguished from one another [even] in thought.
Good as far as it goes (I think).
We look at it more a a propensity to sin; concupiscence; not total depravity.
22] 12. Thus there is also to be noted well the diverse signification of the word nature, whereby the Manicheans cover their error and lead astray many simple men. For sometimes it means the essence [the very substance] of man, as when it is said: God created human nature. But at other times it means the disposition and the vicious quality [disposition, condition, defect, or vice] of a thing, which inheres in the nature or essence, as when it is said: The nature of the serpent is to bite, and the nature and disposition of man is to sin, and is sin; here the word nature does not mean the substance of man, but something that inheres in the nature or substance.
So what: neither are Trinity and consubstantiation. This is always a shallow argument.
Also a non sequitur.
Much better to be taught, than to assume that “uninstructed” people could never comprehend these terms and ideas. Lutherans think nothing of teaching highly abstract concepts of imputed justification.
24] But in the schools, among the learned, these words are rightly retained in disputations concerning original sin, because they are well known and used without any misunderstanding, to distinguish exactly between the essence of a thing and what attaches to it in an accidental way.
Elitism . . .
II. Free Will.STATUS CONTROVERSIAE.
The Principal Question in This Controversy.
1] Since the will of man is found in four unlike states, namely: 1. before the Fall; 2. since the Fall; 3. after regeneration; 4. after the resurrection of the body, the chief question is only concerning the will and ability of man in the second state, namely, what powers in spiritual things he has of himself after the fall of our first parents and before regeneration,
I think I have answered that by citing what graces we believe regeneration confers.
He is definitely not, in Catholic theology.
If one is in mortal sin, he condemns himself anew by partaking of sacraments.
Affirmative Theses.The Pure Doctrine concerning This Article, according to God’s Word.
2] 1. Concerning this subject, our doctrine, faith, and confession is, that in spiritual things the understanding and reason of man are [altogether] blind, and by their own powers understand nothing, as it is written 1 Cor. 2, 14: The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them when he is examined concerning spiritual things.
We agree to this, pre-baptism.
This only denies free will insofar as it cannot produce good apart from God’s grace; we agree wholeheartedly with that.
Contrary False Doctrine.
7] Accordingly, we reject and condemn all the following errors as contrary to the standard of God’s Word:
8] 1. The delirium [insane dogma] of philosophers who are called Stoics, as also of the Manicheans, who taught that everything that happens must so happen, and cannot happen otherwise, and that everything that man does, even in outward things, he does by compulsion, and that he is coerced to evil works and deeds, as inchastity, robbery, murder, theft, and the like.
We agree. Luther seems to disagree, in his Bondage of the Will, but the Lutherans wisened up, 30 years after his death.
Amen. We Catholics beat the Lutherans by over 1000 years in condemning this foul error. :-)
As do we.
Man can do nothing of the sort from his own “natural powers,” but he can cooperate with God’s grace, “working out his salvation,” and suchlike.
No one ever has except for the Blessed Virgin Mary, although it might be said to be theoretically possible.*
13] 6. Also, we reject and condemn the error of the Enthusiasts, who imagine that God without means, without the hearing of God’s Word, also without the use of the holy Sacraments, draws men to Himself, and enlightens, justifies, and saves them. (Enthusiasts we call those who expect the heavenly illumination of the Spirit [celestial revelations] without the preaching of God’s Word.)
I would be quite reluctant to restrict the ways in which God can save . . .
14] 7. Also, that in conversion and regeneration God entirely exterminates the substance and essence of the old Adam, and especially the rational soul, and in conversion and regeneration creates a new essence of the soul out of nothing.
Quite a bit occurs at regeneration, if the Catholic Church is to be believed on this point.
15] 8. Also, when the following expressions are employed without explanation, namely, that the will of man before, in, and after conversion resists the Holy Ghost, and that the Holy Ghost is given to those who resist Him intentionally and persistently; for, as Augustine says, in conversion God makes willing persons out of the unwilling and dwells in the willing.
16] As to the expressions of ancient and modern teachers of the Church, when it is said: Deus trahit, sed volentem trahit, i. e., God draws, but He draws the willing; likewise, Hominis voluntas in conversione non est otiosa, sed agit aliquid, i. e., In conversion the will of man is not idle, but also effects something, we maintain that, inasmuch as these expressions have been introduced for confirming [the false opinion concerning] the powers of the natural free will in man’s conversion, against the doctrine of God’s grace, they do not conform to the form of sound doctrine, and therefore, when we speak of conversion to God, justly ought to be avoided.
Our will to seek after God is put there by God Himself. Afterwards we can choose to freely cooperate with God and His precepts.
17] But, on the other hand, it is correctly said that in conversion God, through the drawing of the Holy Ghost, makes out of stubborn and unwilling men willing ones, and that after such conversion in the daily exercise of repentance the regenerate will of man is not idle, but also cooperates in all the works of the Holy Ghost, which He performs through us.
18] 9. Also what Dr. Luther has written, namely, that man’s will in his conversion is pure passive, that is, that it does nothing whatever, is to be understood respectu divinae gratiae in accendendis novis motibus, that is, when God’s Spirit, through the Word heard or the use of the holy Sacraments, lays hold upon man’s will, and works [in man] the new birth and conversion. For when [after] the Holy Ghost has wrought and accomplished this, and man’s will has been changed and renewed by His divine power and working alone, then the new will of man is an instrument and organ of God the Holy Ghost, so that he not only accepts grace, but also cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the works which follow.
Man’s will cooperates with God in accordance with grace. Molinists (which I am) believe that God takes into account what He knows about how a given person will respond to His offered grace, in deciding to give Him the grace in the first place. This is Middle Knowledege, or Scientia Media.
19] Therefore, before the conversion of man there are only two efficient causes, namely, the Holy Ghost and the Word of God, as the instrument of the Holy Ghost, by which He works conversion. This Word man is [indeed] to hear; however, it is not by his own powers, but only through the grace and working of the Holy Ghost that he can yield faith to it and accept it.
Amen.My main point in this response to the Book of Concord was to show that I think we agree on more than many Lutherans might suspect, and that the understanding of Catholicism in the Book of Concord leaves much to be desired.
The Catholic doctrine of merit is often misunderstood. It must be understood in the context of the Catholic theology of grace (particularly in its Augustinian roots), which is simply not semi-Pelagian, as is often charged. Catholic theology has to be regarded as a whole, and understood as such. We offer back to God (and “cooperate with”) what He has already given us as a pure gift, as Augustine says. Paul repeatedly emphasizes this theme: e.g., Rom 2:5-13, 1 Cor 3:8-9, 15:10, Phil 2:12-13, Titus 3:5-8, and many other passages. In the biblical view man cooperates with God, according to the grace He gives us, “to will and to do” and to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling,” etc.
My Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church tells me that the Book of Concord was adopted in 1580 as the “definitive statement of Lutheran orthodoxy.” Presumably, portions of it that had preceded Trent could easily have been revised in order to correctly critique the latter from a Lutheran perspective (in my opinion, the Catholic soteriological view could have been understood prior to Trent as well, though no doubt it wasn’t quite as clear). The retention of straw men does not impress one as to the objectivity or fairness of Lutheran scholars, vis-a-vis Catholicism, during that period.
Both Protestantism and Catholicism require grace alone, and the presence of good works following regeneration and justification. The difference is that Protestants formally separate sanctification from justification, while acknowledging that it ought to be present in time in all actual justification. The actual difference in practice is not any difference at all, as far as I can see. Splitting philosophical and theological hairs and dealing in pure abstractions is not a biblical epistemology, but a pagan Greek one. I say the Catholic position is far more biblical.
Both sides agree that one must be completely holy to enter heaven (really, actually, no longer simply imputed). So Protestants think that we are “zapped” in an instant upon entering heaven, to remove all sin. Catholics think it is a bit longer of a process, which begins all through this life as well. So we are agreed, at least as to the final state in heaven. Therefore, the difference over purgatory is merely a quantitative one, not qualitative or essential.
Catholics believe in varying degrees of merit or culpability, with regard to good works and sin, respectively. One can do the right thing with the wrong motives, etc. We speak of the objective and subjective elements of both sin and good works. That’s one reason why we accept mortal and venial sins (along with biblical evidence). It is largely a matter of the knowledge and inner attitude of the person (subjective element). To sin mortally one must have sufficient knowledge and full consent of the will (subjective and “personal” elements) with regard to a grave matter (the objective element).
God willed to involve man as an intrinsically inferior agent or conduit of grace at every step of the way. He did this in line with the Incarnation. God became man. That act itself raised man up to previously untold heights. God can use us to convey His grace, just as He does with our prayers. Why involve man in prayer? God could simply make happen whatever He wants to happen (being omnipotent). But He wants us to be involved in the whole process, because we have this incredible dignity and honor, having been made in His image, and He having become one of us.
Saints are like the moon; they reflect the sun’s rays. The sun (God) creates the light, as the source; the moon (a saint, or any Christian in good graces) reflects it. Or we are like the painter’s masterpiece. When we praise the Mona Lisa, we are praising da Vinci, aren’t we? When we marvel at the statue David, are we not praising Michelangelo? Or are we adoring hewn marble, as if there was no “higher power” who made it into the glorious shape it now has? Here again, you are unnecessarily confined by this “either/or” mentality which is rampant in Protestantism. It is neither biblical nor logical.
Abraham had to demonstrate his faith by being willing to sacrifice Isaac. That was what proved that he feared God (Gen 22:12). And God’s promise to Abraham of many descendants and possession of the land was conditional upon this work (Gen 22:16-18, . . . because you have done this . . . I will indeed bless you . . . ), even though this had been promised to Abraham much earlier (Gen 12:1-3), before he was supposedly justified in a one-time event, according to Protestant theology, and informed again of his many descendants also (Gen 15:5-6).
Likewise Hebrews 11, about the heroes of faith, when it refers to Abraham, always connects his faith with some work or other: he “obeyed” when he left his home (Hebrews 11:8), he “stayed” in the holy land (11:9), he procreated (11:11) – some “work,” huh?, and he offered up Isaac (11:17).
Others are spoken of similarly. Abel offered a sacrifice (11:4): Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts . . . (11:4; NRSV). Noah built an ark (11:7). Isaac and Jacob blessed their sons (11:20-21). Moses chose to suffer with the Hebrew slaves (11:24-26), left Egypt (11:27), and kept the Passover (11:28), all “by faith.” Etc., etc. Nothing is more foreign to these texts than Luther’s invention of pure “faith alone” as a justifier, to the exclusion of all works, which can only be applied to a sanctification supposedly separate from justification.
Our goal is sanctification and fitness for heaven. However many works it takes to purify us for that end, is how many it takes. We can remain in the state of grace as long as we are obedient, but we can fall from this state if we are disobedient and become slaves to sin. After initial justification we maintain our salvation, or “work it out,” as Paul says. We run the race and vigilantly watch after our souls so as not to become disqualified in the end (Paul: 1 Cor 9:27, 10:12, Gal 5:1,4, Phil 3:11-14, 1 Tim 4:1).
In Romans 3:28 St. Paul separates faith from works of the law, which is different from works per se. Paul was saying that the Jews were not saved by the OT Law, but by faith all along. But that does not mean the Law is of no effect, or therefore null and void, as he points out in 3:31 (cf. Jesus’ statement in Matt 5:17-20). Likewise, when he goes on to contrast Abraham’s faith and “works” in chapter 4, he continues to refer to the OT Law, not works in general (see, e.g., 4:10,13-16).
Elsewhere, Paul explicitly ties together works (in the sense of human meritorious acts) and faith (Rom 2:5-13, 1 Cor 3:8-13, 4:5, 15:10, 2 Cor 5:10, Gal 6:7-9, Eph 2:8-10, Phil 2:12-13, Col 3:23-25), and he often refers to “obeying the gospel” or the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5, 6:17, 10:16, 15:18-19, 16:25-26, 2 Thess 1:8; cf. Heb 11:8). So one must interpret Paul in light of all his teaching, not just the pet verses of Protestant tradition (Luther added “alone” to the text of Romans 3:28, but it is not present in the Greek manuscript).
Photo credit: Luther Making Music in the Circle of His Family (c. 1875), by Gustav Spangenberg (1828-1891) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]