Full Text for Church History 2- Volume 15 - Why Was Luther Willing to Defy Church Authorities? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CHURCH HISTORY 02 May 27, 2005 15 CH2 CAPTIONING PROVIDED BY: CAPTION FIRST, INC. P.O. BOX 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 1 800 825 7234 * * * * * This is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * * >> Now that I've studied the 95 Theses, I'm frankly surprised. The Theses don't really seem that far from what the church officially taught. Were there other issues Luther felt were important but which were not reflected in that particular text? Why was Luther willing to defy the church authorities? >> Well, you're right, Joshua. As we've seen, the 95 Theses aren't really dramatically different from what most people in the early 16th Century were saying about indulgences and papal power. The issue, though, for Luther, as I mentioned before, was one of pastoral care. And in this, as you recognize, is the issue lurking behind the text of the 95 Theses. Namely, what we would talk about today as justification. I mentioned already Luther's own anxiety over this and his desire to understand how God could save sinners. And so that's really the issue here. And it gets to what we normally talk about as the Gospel discovery. Luther talks about this himself in the preface to his Latin writings from 1545. I'd like to begin just by reading that, because it gives you his own account of what was going on at about this time. Luther writes, "I hated that word "righteousness of God," which according to the use and custom of all the teachers I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner. Though I loved as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly I was angry with God and said, "if indeed it is not enough that miserable sinners eternally lost by original sin are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God at pain to pain by the Gospel, and also by the Gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath," thus I raged with a troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, in it the righteousness of God is revealed as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.' There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: The righteousness of God is revealed by the Gospel. Namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith. As it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.' Here, I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There, a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy as the work of God; that is, what God does in us; the power of God with which he makes us strong; the wisdom of God with which he makes us wise; the strength of God; the salvation of God; the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word 'righteousness of God.'" There are a couple of points here that explain what Luther was going through at the time he wrote the Theses. First of all, you remember, he's struggling with the text of Scripture to find an answer to his question. He wasn't satisfied with the answers given by scholastic theology, but he wanted to find out what the Bible itself said. And he engaged this most as he lectured on Paul's Epistles, Romans and Galatians. And here he's talking about the verse Romans, chapter 1 versus 17, that talks about the righteousness of God. Now, note that even though Luther's going back to the Bible, he still has to struggle to cast off the way he's learned to read the Bible from scholastic theology. He can't get past this phrase, "the righteousness of God", because he has been taught to read that as God's own righteousness that requires him to be just, that requires him to punish sinners. Finally, as Luther himself says by the mercy of God, he was able to get past that definition; and, in fact, he diagnosed the problem of late Medieval theology as "a defective understanding of righteousness." That rather than recognizing that this righteousness was given to us by God because of what Christ did, the scholastic theologians constantly talked about righteousness as a standard that we had to meet, a standard that we had to meet not necessarily under our own power, but certainly cooperating with the grace of God and contributing our good works to finally being declared righteous. In addition to that issue of understanding what righteousness means, Luther also mentions here the problem with understanding law and Gospel. Here he mentions that scholastic theology taught that the Gospel, in a sense, was simply a new law. The Old Testament gives us Ten Commandments and then Christ in the New Testament gives us more commandments to live by. These were often called the so called Councils of Perfection. The sort of thing like "sell all you have and give to the poor" that motivated so many monks in the Middle Ages. So, scholastic theologians, Medieval people generally, think of the Gospel not necessarily as salvation through Christ, but as something that requires us to do works in order to gain that salvation. So Luther freed himself from these scholastic definitions and realized that the language of Scripture itself supported his new understanding of that phrase in Romans 1, "the righteousness of God", that Scripture often speaks in this way, as he mentions, the power of God is not only God's power, but also a power he works in us. So, too, the righteousness of God doesn't necessarily refer only to God's own righteousness, but can also and Luther believed in Romans does also refer to righteousness that is a gift of God to those who believe, as he says he paid attention to the context. The righteousness of God is revealed. "He who through faith is righteous shall live." That's what we normally talk about as the Gospel discovery. Now, as you may have noticed in other readings, there is an issue about when exactly that happened. There are those who would argue that what Luther describes as the Gospel discovery, sometimes it's called the tower experience because he says it happened in a tower in the Wittenberg cloister. Some people will say that happened much later than the 95 Theses, others will argue that it happened much earlier. In a sense, it doesn't make much difference when it happened. Luther is clearly in process of discovering this during the time he wrote the 95 Theses even if he hadn't really already connected all the dots or put all the pieces together. His concern for a proper understanding of what salvation is, what justification is, what righteousness is is clearly behind and motivates his writing of the Theses. And, again, remember this is an issue of pastoral care for Luther. He's very concerned that people understand this properly. And we'll have more to say about that later. * * * * * This is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * *