Full Text for Church History 2- Volume 8 - How Did Luther Come to Preach Against Indulgences? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED TEXT CHURCH HISTORY 02 May 27, 2005 08-CH2 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> DAVID: If the whole church was teaching that indulgences were genuine and other theologians defended them, how did Luther come to be so critical of them? >> DR. PAUL ROBINSON: Well, David, part of the answer to that is what I've already mentioned in terms of Luther's personal struggle. We use a German term very often to talk about this. We talk about Luther's *Anfectungen. That just means his deep sorrow over the fact that he couldn't believe God would forgive him. He just didn't trust that God could be gracious enough to just forgive his sins. And because Luther had these doubts, because he doubted that God was that gracious and loving, he simply could not accept the easy solution that indulgences offer. And there were many other people at the time like Luther who simply felt that on one level, things couldn't be that easy, that it wasn't just a matter of paying money for forgiveness or even doing good works to balance off the evil works you had done. On the other hand, Luther discovered that it maybe was even easier than that in a way, that God really does just forgive us. But we'll get to that in another lecture. That's part of the answer. Luther's personal struggle led him to really doubt the solution that indulgences offered. But as far as disagreeing with other theologians, that gets to another issue we need to talk about. And that is a new method of reading the Bible and thinking about theology that Luther got largely from the humanist movement at his time. Now, here we need to be careful when we use this term humanism to understand what exactly we're talking about because you hear a lot today about secular humanism. And that's not what we're talking about in the 16th century. 16th century humanism, Renaissance humanism, is simply a focus on the so-called humane studies. The humanists wanted to reintroduce the study of good Latin and the study of Greek, the study of literature and history and moral philosophy and other topics that had really been neglected in the universities. So as part of that movement and building on that movement, Luther began to read the Bible in the original language of Greek for the New Testament. And he began to think about theology as a matter of what the Bible says based on the original Greek, rather than as a matter of what the theologians said or merely what the church fathers or councils said. So this whole idea of going back to the original text, looking at original languages and not worrying about what the medieval theologians had to say about it, really opened up Luther's understanding and opened his mind to question what was being taught in indulgences and not simply to point out that the church wasn't even preaching what it officially taught but led him to question the whole foundation of what indulgences were. If you look at the first of the 95 Theses, you have a very good example of the kind of thing Luther learned from his study of the New Testament in Greek. He writes in Thesis 1, "When our lord and master, Jesus Christ, said repent, he called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence." Now, that doesn't sound very radical or even very Greek-based to us until you understand in the footnotes of this edition points this out that Luther is challenging the way the Latin New Testament translated the word repent. Where you have repents in Greek *mettanoyita; in Latin you have *penetentium agite which can be translated repent or do penance. And so Luther begins with this quotation pointing out that the Greek text bears a different meaning from what most people were getting from the Latin translation. So it's not a matter of doing penance. It's not a matter of these penances that indulgences claim to take away. It's a matter of a change of heart and mind in response to Jesus Christ and the good news of salvation in him.