By Plinio Correa de Oliveira
I do not understand how men of the Church today, including some of the most cultured, learned, and illustrious, mythicise the figure of Luther, the heresiarch, in their zeal to favour an ecumenical rapprochement directly with Protestantism and indirectly with all the religions, schools of philosophy, and so forth.
Do they not perceive the danger that is lying in wait for all of us at the end of this road, that is, the formation on a world-wide scale of a sinister supermarket of religions, philosophies, and systems of all sorts, in which truth and error will be broken up in pieces, mixed together in a cacophonous confusion? The only thing missing from the world would be — if we could reach such a point – the whole truth, that is, the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Faith, with neither spot nor wrinkle.
Today I present some facts about Luther that clearly point up the odour that his revolted figure would spread in that supermarket, or rather, that morgue of religions, of philosophies, and of human thought itself. To him belongs, from a certain point of view, the role of being the point of departure in this march toward total confusion.
I have drawn these passages from the magnificent work of Fr Leonel Franca, S.J., A Igreja, a Reforma, e a Civilização [The Church, the Reformation, and Civilisation] (Rio de Janeiro, 1934).
A uniquely characteristic element of Luther’s teaching is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Put more simply, this means that the superabundant merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ, alone and by themselves, without our cooperation, assure the eternal salvation of man, so that one may lead a life of sin in this world with neither remorse of conscience nor fear of God’s justice.
For Luther, the voice of conscience was not that of grace, but rather that of the Devil!
For this reason, he wrote to a friend that a man vexed by the Devil should occasionally “drink more abundantly, gamble, entertain himself, and even commit some sin out of hatred and spite for the Devil so that we may not give him an opportunity to disturb our consciences with trifles. The whole Decalogue should be erased from our eyes and our souls, from us who are so persecuted and molested by the Devil”.
Along the same line he also wrote: “God only obliges you to believe and to confess (the faith). In all other things He leaves you free, lord and master to do whatever you will without any danger to your conscience; on the contrary, it is certain that, as far as He is concerned, it makes no difference whether you leave your wife, flee from your lord, or are unfaithful to every obligation. What is it to Him if you do or do not do such things?”
The incitement to sin given in a letter to Melanchton on August 1, 1521, is perhaps even more categorical: “Be a sinner, and sin strongly (esto peccator et pecca fortiter), but believe and rejoice even more firmly in Christ, the conqueror of sin, of death, and of the world. During this life, we have to sin. It is sufficient that, by the mercy of God, we know the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Sin will not separate us from Him, even though we were to commit a thousand murders and a thousand adulteries per day”.
This doctrine is so bizarre that even Luther himself could scarcely manage to believe in it: “There is no religion in the whole world that teaches this doctrine of justification; I myself, even though I teach it publicly, have a great difficulty in believing it privately”.
Luther himself recognised the devastating effects of his admittedly insincere preaching: “The Gospel today finds adherents who are convinced that it is nothing but a doctrine that serves to fill their bellies and give free reign to all their impulses”.
And Luther added, regarding his evangelical henchmen, that “they are seven times worse than they were before. After the preaching of our doctrine men have given themselves up to robbery, lying, imposture, debauchery, drunkenness, and every kind of vice. We have expelled one devil (the papacy), and seven worse ones have come in”.
“After we understood that good works are not necessary for justification, I became much more remiss and cold in doing good...and if we could return now to the old state of things and if the doctrine of the necessity of good works to be holy could be revived, our alacrity and promptness in doing good would be different”.
All these insanities make it understandable how Luther reached a frenzy of satanic pride, saying of himself: “Does this Luther not appear to you to be excentric? As far as I am concerned, I think he is God. Otherwise, how could his writings or his name have the power to transform beggars into lords, asses into doctors (of learning), falsifiers into saints, slime into pearls!”
At other times, Luther’s opinion of himself was much more objective: “I am a man exposed to and involved in society, debauchery, carnal movements, in negligence and other disturbances, to which are added those of my own office”.
Excommunicated in Worms in 1521, Luther gave himself up to idleness and sloth. On July 13 of that year he wrote to Melanchton: “I find myself here insensate and hardened, established in idleness. Oh, woe! Praying little, and ceasing to moan for the Church of God, because my untamed flesh burns in great flames. In short, I, who ought to have the fervour of the spirit, have the fervour of the flesh, of licentiousness, sloth, idleness, and somnolence”.
In a sermon preached in 1532: “As for me I confess, and many others could undoubtedly make an equal confession, that I am careless of discipline and zeal. I am much more negligent now than under the papacy; no one has ardour for the Gospel now like that you used to see”.
What, then, can be found in common between this morality and that of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church?
This article was originally published in the Folha de S.Paulo, on January 10, 1984.
1. M. Luther, Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, Ed. DeWette [Berlin, 1825-1828]; Franca, pp. 199-200
2. Werke, Weimar ed., XII, pp. 131 ff.; Franca, p. 446
3. Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, II, p. 37; Franca, p. 439
4. Werke, XXV, p. 330; Franca, p. 158
5. Werke, XXXIII, p. 2; Franca, p. 440
6. Werke, XXVIII, p. 763; Franca, p. 441
7. Werke, XXVII, p. 443; Franca, p. 443
8. Werke, Ed. Wittenberg, 1551, IV, pp. 378; Franca, p. 190
9. Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, I, p. 232; Franca, p. 232
10. Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, II, p. 22; Franca, p. 198
11. Saemtiliche Werke, XVII , p. 353; Franca, p. 441