Luther and Calvin learned much from Augustin, and esteemed him higher than any human teacher since the Apostles; but they had a different mission, and assumed a polemic attitude towards the traditional church. Augustin struggled from the Manichaean heresy into catholic orthodoxy, from the freedom of error into the authority of truth; the Reformers came out of the corruptions and tyranny of the papacy into the freedom of the gospel. Augustin put the church above the Word, and established the principle of catholic tradition; the Reformers put the Word above the church, and secured a progressive understanding of the Scriptures by the right of free investigation.
Luther and Calvin are confined in their influence to Protestantism, and can never be appreciated by the Roman Church; yet, by the law of re-action, they forced the papacy into a moral reform, which enabled it to recover its strength, and to enter upon a new career of conquest. Romanism has far more vitality and strength in Protestant than in papal countries, and owes a great debt of gratitude to the Reformation.
Of the two Reformers, Luther is the more original, forcible, genial, and popular; Calvin, the more theological, logical, and systematic, besides being an organizer and disciplinarian. Luther controls the Protestant churches of Germany and Scandinavia; Calvin’s genius shaped the confessions and constitutions of the Reformed churches in Switzerland, France, Holland, and Great Britain; he had a marked influence upon the development of civil liberty, and is still the chief molder of theological opinion in the Presbyterian and Congregational churches of Scotland and North America. Luther inspires by his genius, and attracts by his personality; Calvin commands admiration by his intellect and the force of moral self-government, which is the secret of true freedom in church and state.
Great and enduring are the merits of the three; but neither Augustin, nor Luther, nor Calvin has spoken the last word in Christendom. The best is yet to come.
Remarkable Judgments on Luther. Luther, like other great men, has been the subject of extravagant praise and equally extravagant censure.
We select a few impartial and weighty testimonies from four distinguished writers of very different character and position,—an Anglican divine, two secular poets, and a Catholic historian.
I. Archdeacon Charles Julius Hare (1795–1855) has written the best work in the English language in vindication of Luther. It appeared first as a note of 222 pages in the second volume of his The Mission of the Comforter, 1846 (3d ed. 1876), and afterwards as a separate book shortly before his death, 2d ed. 1855.
Luther has been assailed by English writers on literary, theological, and moral grounds: 1, for violence and coarseness in polemics (by Henry Hallam, the historian); 2, for unsoundness in the doctrine of justification, and disregard of church authority (by the Oxford Tractarians and Anglo-Catholics); 3, for lax views on monogamy in conniving at the bigamy of Philip of Hesse (by the same, and by Sir William Hamilton).
These charges are discussed, refuted, or reduced to a minimum, by Hare (who had the largest Luther library and the fullest Luther knowledge in England), with ample learning, marked ability, and in the best Christian spirit. He concludes his vindication with these words: —
"To some readers it may seem that I have spoken with exaggerated admiration of Luther. No man ever lived whose whole heart and soul and life have been laid bare as his have been to the eyes of mankind. Open as the sky, bold and fearless as the storm, he gave utterance to all his feelings, all his thoughts. He knew nothing of reserve; and the impression he produced on his hearers and friends was such, that they were anxious to treasure up every word that dropped from his pen or from his lips. No man, therefore, has ever been exposed to so severe a trial; perhaps no man was ever placed in such difficult circumstances, or assailed by such manifold temptations. And how has he come out of the trial? Through the power of faith, under the guardian care of his Heavenly Master, he was enabled to stand through life; and still he stands, and will continue to stand, firmly rooted in the love of all who really know him."
II. Goethe, the greatest poet and literary genius of Germany, when he was eighty-two years of age, March 11, 1832 (a few days before his death), paid this tribute to Luther and the Reformation, as reported by Eckermann, in the third or supplemental volume of the Conversations of that extraordinary man: —
"We scarcely know what we owe to Luther, and the Reformation In general. We are freed from the fetters of spiritual narrow-mindedness; we have, in consequence of our increasing culture, become capable of turning back to the fountain-head, and of comprehending Christianity in its purity. We have again the courage to stand with firm feet upon God’s earth, and to feel ourselves in our divinely endowed human nature. Let mental culture go on advancing, let the natural sciences go on gaining in depth and breadth, and the human mind expand as it may, it will never go beyond the elevation and moral culture of Christianity, as it glistens and shines forth in the Gospels.
"But the better we Protestants advance in our noble development, so much the more rapidly will the Catholics follow us. As soon as they feel themselves caught up by the ever-extending enlightenment of the time, they must go on, do what they will, till at last the point is reached where all is but one."
III. Heinrich Heine, of Jewish descent, poet, critic, and humorist, the Franco-German Voltaire, who, like Voltaire, ridiculed with irreverent audacity the most sacred things, and yet, unlike him, could pass from smiles to tears, and appreciate the grandeur of Moses and the beauty of the Bible, pays this striking tribute to the Reformer: —
"Luther was not only the greatest, but also the most German man of our history; and in his character all the virtues and vices of the Germans are united in the grandest manner. He had also attributes which are rarely found together, and are usually regarded as hostile contradictions. He was at once a dreamy mystic, and a practical man of action. His thoughts had not only wings, but also hands; he spoke and he acted. He was not only the tongue, but also the sword of his age. He was both a cold scholastic stickler for words, and an inspired, divinely intoxicated prophet. After working his mind weary with his dogmatic distinctions during the day, he took his flute in the evening, looked up to the stars, and melted into melody and devotion. The same man who would scold like a fishwoman could also be as soft as a tender virgin. He was at times wild as the storm which uproots the oaks, and again as gentle as the zephyr which kisses the violets. He was full of the most awful fear of God, full of consecration to the Holy Spirit; he would be all absorbed in pure spirituality, and yet he knew very well the glories of the earth, and appreciated them, and from his mouth blossomed the famous motto: Who does not love wine, wife, and song, remains a fool his whole life long."1005 He was a complete man,—I might say, an absolute man,—in whom spirit and matter are not separated ....
"Honor to Luther! Eternal honor to the dear man, to whom we owe the recovery of our dearest rights, and by whose benefit we live to-day! It becomes us little to complain about the narrowness of his views. The dwarf who stands on the shoulders of the giant can indeed see farther than the giant himself, especially if he puts on spectacles; but for that lofty point of intuition we want the lofty feeling, the giant heart, which we cannot make our own. It becomes us still less to pass a harsh judgment upon his failings: these failings have been of more use to us than the virtues of a thousand others. The polish of Erasmus, the gentleness of Melanchthon, would never have brought us so far as the divine brutality of Brother Martin. From the imperial Diet, where Luther denied the authority of the Pope, and openly declared ’that his doctrine must be refuted by the authority of the Bible, or by the arguments of reason,’ new age has begun in Germany. The chain wherewith the holy Boniface bound the German church to Rome has been hewn asunder .... Through Luther we attained the greatest freedom of thought; but this Martin Luther gave us not only liberty to move, but also the means of moving, for to the spirit he gave also a body. He created the word for the thought,—he created the German language. He did this by his translation of the Bible. The Divine author of this book himself chose him his translator, and gave him the marvellous power to translate from a dead language which was already buried into another language which did not yet live. How Luther came to the language into which he translated the Bible I cannot conceive to this day .... This old book is a perennial fountain for the renewal of the German language."—Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland, 2nd ed. 1852, in Heine’s Sämmtl. Werke, vol. III. 29 sqq.
IV. J. Döllinger, the most learned Catholic historian of the nineteenth century, in his Lectures on the Reunion of Christendom (Ueber die Wiedervereinigung der christlichen Kirchen, Nördlingen, 1888, p. 53), makes the following incidental remark on Luther and the Reformation: —
"The force and strength of the Reformation was only in part due to the personality of the man who was its author and spokesman in Germany. It was indeed Luther’s overpowering mental greatness and wonderful manysidedness (überwältigende Geistesgrösse und wunderbare Vielseitigkeit) that made him the man of his age and his people. Nor was there ever a German who had such an intuitive knowledge of his countrymen, and was again so completely possessed, not to say absorbed, by the national sentiment, as the Augustinian monk of Wittenberg. The mind and spirit of the Germans was in his hand as the lyre is in the hand of a skillful musician. He had given them more than any man in Christian days ever gave his people,—language, Bible, church hymn. All his opponents could offer in place of it, and all the reply they could make to him, was insipid, colorless, and feeble, by the side of his transporting eloquence. They stammered, he spoke. He alone has impressed the indelible stamp of his mind on the German language and the German intellect; and even those among us who hold him in religious detestation, as the great heresiarch and seducer of the nation, are constrained, in spite of themselves, to speak with his words and think with his thoughts.
"And yet still more powerful than this Titan of the world of mind was the yearning of the German people for deliverance from the bonds of a corrupted church system. Had no Luther arisen, a reformation would still have come, and Germany would not have remained Catholic."
Dr. Döllinger delivered the lectures from which this extract is taken, after his quarrel with Vatican Romanism, in the museum at Munich, February, 1872. They were stenographically reported in the "Köllner-Zeitung," translated into English by Oxenham (London, 1872), and from English into French by Madame Hyacinthe-Loyson (La réunion des églises, Paris, 1880), and at last published by the author (1888).
This testimony is of special importance, owing to the acknowledged learning and ability of Döllinger as a Roman Catholic historian, and author of an elaborate work against the Reformation (1848, 3 vols.), consisting mostly of contemporaneous testimonies. He is thoroughly at home in the writings of the Reformers, and prepared a biographical sketch of Luther,1006 in which he severely criticises him for his opinions and conduct towards the Catholic Church, but does full justice to his intellectual greatness. He says, p. 51, "If we justly call him a great man, who, endowed with mighty powers and gifts, accomplishes great things, who, as a bold legislator in the realm of mind, makes millions subservient to his system, then the peasant’s son of Möhra must be counted among the great, yea, the greatest men. This also is true, that he was a sympathizing friend, free of avarice and love of money, and ready to help others."
Döllinger was excommunicated for his opposition to the Vatican decree of infallibility (1870), but still remains a Catholic, and could not become a Protestant without retracting his work on the Reformation. He would, however, write a very different work now, and present the Reformation as a blessing rather than a calamity to Germany, in the light of the events which have passed since 1870. In one of his Akademische Vorträge, the first volume of which has just reached me (Nördlingen, 1888, p. 76), he makes the significant confession, that for many years the events In Germany from 1517 to 1552 were to him an unsolved riddle, and an object of sorrow and grief, seeing then only the result of division of the church and the nation into hostile camps; but that a closer study of the mediaeval history of Rome and Germany, and the events of the last years, have given him a better understanding and more hopeful view of the renewed and reunited German nation as a noble instrument in the hands of Providence. This is as far as he can go from his standpoint.
§ 125. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. I conclude this volume with Luther’s immortal hymn, which is the best expression of his character, and reveals the secret of his strength as well as the moving power of the Reformation.1007 A tower of strength1008 our God is still,
A good defense1009 and weapon;
He helps us free from all the ill
That us hath overtaken.
Our old, mortal foe1010
Now aims his fell blow,
Great might and deep guile
His horrid coat-of-mail;1011
On earth is no one like him.1012 Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ein’ gute Wehr und Waffen.
Er hilft uns frei aus aller Noth,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt’ böse Feind,
Mit Ernst er’s jetzt meint;
Gross’ Macht und viel List,
Sein grausam Rüstung ist,
Auf Erd’ ist nicht sein’s Gleichen.
By might of ours can naught be done:1013
Our fate were soon decided.
But for us fights the champion,1014
By God himself provided.
Who Is this, ask ye?
Jesus Christ! ÕTis he!
Lord of Sabaoth,
True God and Saviour both,
Omnipotent in battle.1015 Mit unsrer Macht ist nichts gethan,
Das Feld muss Er behalten.
Did devils fill the earth and air,1016
All eager to devour us,
Our steadfast hearts need feel no care,
Lest they should overpower us.
The grim Prince of hell,
With rage though he swell,
Hurts us not a whit,
Because his doom is writ:
A little word can rout1017 him.
Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär’
Und wollt uns gar verschlingen,
So fürchten wir uns nicht zu sehr,
Es soll uns doch gelingen.
Der Fürst dieser Welt,
Wie sau’r er sich stellt,
Thut er uns doch nichts;
Das macht, er ist gericht’t;
Ein Wörtlein kann ihn fällen.
The word of God will never yield
To any creature living;
He stands with us upon the field,
His grace and Spirit giving.
Take they child and wife,
Goods, name, fame, and life,
Though all this be done,
Yet have they nothing won:
The kingdom still remaineth.
Das Wort sie sollen lassen stan1018
Und keinÕn Dank dazu haben.
Er ist bei uns wohl auf dem Plan1019
Mit seinem Geist und Gaben.
Nehmen sie den Leib,
Gut, Ehr, Kind und Weib;
Lass fahren dahin,
Sie haben’s kein’n Gewinn;
Das Reich muss uns doch bleiben
* Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended (according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons) by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998.
1 We say "one flock" (miva poivmnh) not "one fold" (which would require miva aujlhv). The latter is a strange mistranslation which has passed from the Latin version (ovile) into King James’s version, and has often been abused as an argument for the papacy and ecclesiastical uniformity. It is corrected in the Revision. The two flocks, Jews and Gentiles, became one flock in the one Shepherd (poivmhn), not by entrance into the aujlhv of the Jews. There may be one flock in many folds or ecclesiastical organizations. The prophecy was no doubt already fulfilled in the Apostolic Church (Eph. 2:11-22), but awaits a higher fulfillment when "the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in, and all Israel shall be saved." Rom. 11:25, 26.
3 So Bellarmine and Bossuet. Möhler also (in his Kirchengesch. III. 99) says: "We do not believe that the period before the Reformation was a flourishing period of church history, for we hear from it a thousand voices for a reformation in the head and members (wir hören aus derselben den tausendstimmigen Ruf nach einer Verbesserung anHaupt und Gliedern uns entgegentönen)" Even Janssen, the eulogist of mediaeval Germany, devotes the concluding section of the first volume of his Geschichte des deutschen Volkes (p. 594-613) to a consideration of some of the crying evils of those times.
4 Sess. I. (held Dec. 13, 1545): "ad extirpationem haeresium , ad pacem et unionem ecclessiae, ad reformationem cleri et populi Christiani." See Smets, Concilii Trident. Canones et Decreta, p.10.
5 "Ad plurimas et perniciosissimas haereses extirpandas, ad corrigendos mores, et restituendam ecclesiasticam disciplinam" etc. See Smets, l.c. 209.
6 What Dr. Baur, the critical Tübingen historian, says of Luther, is equally applicable to all the other Reformers: "Dass für Luther die Reformation zur eigensten Sache seines Herzens geworden war, dass er sie in ihrem reinsten religiösen Interesse auffasste, getrennt von allen ihr fremdartigen blos äusserlichen Motiven, dass es ihm um nichts anderes zu thun war, alsum die Sache des Evangeliums und seinerseligmachenden Kraft, wie er sie an sich selbst in seinem innern Kampf um die Gewissheit der Sündenvergebung erfahren hatte, diess ist es, was ihn zum Reformator machte."Gesch. der Christl. Kirche, vol. IV. 5 (ed. by his son, 1863). Froude says of Luther: "He revived and maintained the spirit of piety and reverence in which, and by which alone, real progress is possible."Luther, Preface, p. vi.
7 German writers distinguish usually two principles of the Reformation, the authority of the Scriptures, and justification by faith, and call the first the formal principle (or Erkenntnissprincip, principium cognoscendi), the second the material principle (principium essendi); the third they omit, except Kahnis, who finds a third principle in the idea of the invisible church, and calls this the Kirchenprincip. The Lutheran Church gives to the doctrine of justification by faith the first place; and the Formula of Concord calls it "articulus praecipuus in tota doctrina Christiana." But the Reformed confessions give the first place to the doctrine of the normative authority of Scripture, from which alone all articles of faith are to be derived, and they substitute for the doctrine of justification by faith the ulterior and wider doctrine of election and salvation by free grace through faith. The difference is characteristic, but does not affect the essential agreement.
8 Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, II. 218; Köllner, Symbolik II. 351, sqq.; Hase, Handbuch der Protestant. Polemik, fourth ed., 1878, p. 68 sqq. There were indeed vernacular translations of the Bible long before the Reformation; but it is a most astounding exaggeration when Perrone, as quoted by Hase, asserts (Praelect. Theol. III. § 317): "Per idem tempus 800plus minus editiones Bibliorum aut N. T. ante Reformationem prodierant, ac per universam Europam catholicam circumferebantur, antequam vel protestantis nomen agnosceretur. Et ex his 200 versiones in linguis vernaculis diversarum gentium omnium manibus libere versabantur."
9 See L. Van Ess,Auszüge über das nothwendige und nützliche Bibellesen aus den Kirchenvätern und anderen kathol. Schriften, second ed., 1816; also the preface to his translation of the New Testament.
010 Only in this sense can it be called Augustinian; for otherwise Augustin’s conception of justificatio is catholic, and he identifies it with sanctificatio. Moreover he widely differs from the Protestant conception of the church and its authority. Luther felt the difference in his later years.
11 Articuli Smalcaldici, p. 305 (ed. Rechenb., or 310 ed. Müller): "De hoc articulo [solam fidem nos justificare] cedere or aliquid contra illum largiri aut permittere nemo piorum potest etiamsi coelum et terra et omnia corruant. (Acts 4:12; Isa. 53:3). Et in hoc articulo sita sunt et consistunt omnia, quae contra papam, diabolum et universum mundum in vita nostra docemus, testamur et agimus. Quare opportet nos de hac doctrina esse certos, et minime dubitare, alioquin actum est prorsus, et papa et diabolus et omnia adversa jus et victoriam contra nos obtinent." Luther inserted in his translation of Rom. 3:28, the word allein (sola fide, hence the term solifidianism), and the revised Probebibel of 1883 retained it. On the exegetical questions involved, see my annotations to Lange on Romans 3:28.
212 The weight of Döllinger’s three volumes on the Reformation (1848) consists in the collection of such unfavorable testimonies from the writings of Erasmus, Wizel, Haner, Wildenauer, Crotus Rubeanus, Biblicanus, Staupitz, Amerpach, Pirkheimer, Zasius, Frank, Denk, Hetzer, Schwenkfeld, Luther, Melanchthon, Spalatin, Bugenhagen, and others. They give, indeed, a very gloomy, but a very one-sided picture of the times. Janssen makes good use of these testimonies. But both these Catholic historians whose eminent learning is undeniable, wrote with a polemic aim, and make the very truth lie by omitting the bright side of the Reformation. Comp. on this subject the controversial writings of Köstlin and Ebrard against Janssen, and Janssen’s replies, An meine Kritiker, Freiburg i. B. 1883 (Zehntes Tausend, 227 pages), and Ein zweites Wort an meine Kritiker, Freib. 1883 (Zwölftes Tausend, 144 pages).