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2.11 Martin Luther

Martin Luther (Eisleben, Germany, 1483-1546) took his inspiration from the philosophy of William of Ockham and later became the founder of those who today are called “Protestants”, or “Evangelicals”, or “Lutherans”. The name “Protestants” derives from the claim of religious freedom, which the German Lutheran princes presented in 1529, at the Diet (= Assembly) of Speyer, in Germany.
A fundamental principle of Luther was that salvation is obtained through faith and not through deeds; among the excluded deeds we must also consider the payment of masses and prayers for the dead, able to obtain “indulgences”. This dialectic between faith and works was actually present already in the Bible, but Luther took only what favored faith. The Church reacted to the Lutheran Reformation with the “Counter-Reformation”, represented by the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The Council reaffirmed, in addition to the importance of deeds and the value of indulgences, also that the Magisterium of the Church is a source of Revelation, together with Sacred Scripture; the latter for Luther was instead to be considered as an exclusive source. An example of this are the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption (1950): according to Protestants they cannot be affirmed, because the Bible says nothing about them; the Catholic Church declared them because, according to her, the Magisterium, as a source of revelation, can also afford to establish truths not contained in the Bible.
The theology of salvation by faith is accompanied in Luther by the denial of free will: according to Luther there is no human freedom, since God is first of all, he alone possesses perfection in total measure, while man, being a slave of original sin, can only do evil and never good; to be slaves of sin implies necessarily absence of freedom of choice. Moreover, if God knows everything, he also knows our future and therefore our existence obeys to predestination. For this reason, according to Luther salvation is an absolute initiative of God, who gives man the way of faith; if man was able to do good, in any measure, even the smallest one, he would become, at least in part, a savior of himself, and this would affect the idea of God as the only savior.
Actually, in my opinion, these ideas, as well as that of “sola Scriptura”, are due to a metaphysical mentality, which, in our case, thinks to be able to precisely define the boundaries of Revelation and human possibilities; the Church’s response, if considered from a functional point of view, turns out to be less metaphysical, because it contains a relativization of Scripture and of the pervasive absoluteness of God; this anti-metaphysical evaluation cannot obviously be accepted by those Catholics who take metaphysics as universal rationality; in this sense the Catholic response was actually a metaphysical response as much as Luther’s theology.

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