Luther’s Appalling Instabilities & Contradictions
Fr. Leonel Franca, S.J.
Seeing the despotism exercised by the head of the Reformation in imposing his
one might imagine that nothing should be more soundly and painstakingly
elaborated than his new doctrine. Such conclusion is completely
The false divine messenger, who ‘modestly’ preferred himself to all the
Doctors of the Church and pretended to be inspired by the Holy Ghost
since he received ‘his dogmas from heaven,’ in reality is insecure,
regretful about his early teachings, contradictory and arbitrary.
Whether he established dogmas or destroyed them, he was motivated by
trivialities and personal prejudices. He changed his opinions like an
actor changing his costumes. Here are some examples:
His doctrine, dictated by personal whims and prejudices
Conditional baptism - On May 12, 1531 Luther wrote to
Wenzel Link about conditional baptism, affirming that “after careful
consideration we have defined that it must simply be eliminated from the
Church.” The next day, he changed his mind. Again ‘inspired,’ he wrote
to Ossiandro: “I cannot condemn conditional baptism being given to
children whose first baptism is doubtful” (1)
Power of the Catholic Church - In 1519 he wrote: “I fully
confess the supreme power of the Roman Church; after Jesus Christ Our
Lord, she should be preferred to everything on earth and heaven.” (2)
This Church “is the one chosen by God; there can be no reason for anyone
to break away from her and, entering into schism, separate himself from
her unity.” (3) In 1520, in his Lutheran Epistle, he strongly praised
Pope Leo X, saying that his courageous life placed him above any attack.
However, in that same year Leo X would become the Antichrist and the
Roman Church “a licentious den of thieves, the most depraved brothel,
the kingdom of sin, death and hell.” (5)
Saints, purgatory, prayer for the dead - In 1519, two
years after he publicly started to preach his Reformation, while
defending himself from adversaries, he taught the cult of the saints,
the existence of purgatory, praying for the deceased, the practice of
fasting etc. (6) Some years later, he rejected all these doctrines as
idolatry, superstition and fanaticism.
Indulgences - In 1541 he swore in Christ’s name that when
he began to preach against Dominican Johann Tetzel, accusing him of
selling indulgences, he did not even know what the word indulgence
meant! (7) Notwithstanding, his criticism against those same indulgences
- about which he knew nothing - had served as a pretext for him to
attack Rome, disseminate his errors and preach the revolt! (8)
Luther’s own mission - Regarding the origin and
‘legitimacy’ of his mission, in a little more than 15 years Luther
changed his views at least 14 times (9). Opportunism dictated his
choices. To combat Catholics he would say one thing; to defend himself
before his Protestant colleagues he would affirm another; he had yet
other arguments to calm the turbulence in the new reformed communities.
The actor had a well-stocked wardrobe, with costumes for a multitude of
It would not be difficult to continue this list of contradictions. There
is almost no important dogma about which Luther did not completely
change his views from time to time.
Changes motivated by irrational hatred
To understand Luther’s psychology, one must examine the motivation for
his constant vacillations. Writing about Communion under one of two
species in his liturgical essay called Formula Missae, he stated:
“If a council would mandate or allow two species, to show our scorn we
would receive only one or neither one
A 15th-century English manuscript with Bible verses on Purgatory, which Luther eliminated on a whim
nor the other, and we would
anathematize those who, following that mandate, would receive both”
On another occasion, he declared that he had decided to do away with the
elevation of the host at mass just to show his contempt for the Papacy
and that he had conserved the custom up until then just to scorn Andreas
Karlstadt [another more radical Protestant who had already abandoned
this practice] (11).
With similar vileness he wrote in 1523: “If it should happen that one,
two, or a thousand and more councils would decide that ecclesiastics
should marry, I, trusting in divine grace, would rather forgive the one
who has two or three harlots throughout his life than the one who,
following that conciliar decision, would take one legitimate wife
A cartoon spoofs Luther's changing nature, showing him with seven different heads
The same psychological bias against the hated papists appeared when he
wrote: “Since they [the papists] think they are triumphing over one of
my heresies, then let me propose another” (13).
What a mixture of vulgarity, licentiousness and duplicity in the supposed “evangelic reformer”!
One other fact should not be forgotten. It is the famous sacramental
dispute that divided the innovators Martin Luther and Andreas Karlstadt
into two irremediably separated camps, which started with this tavern
scene. After a harangue by Luther, the two reformers entered Black Bear
Inn in Jura, where Karlstadt declared he could no longer tolerate
Luther’s opinion on the real presence. Luther scornfully challenged him
to refute his position in writing and promised him a florin if he would
do it. He took a coin from his pocket and Karlstadt accepted it.
The wine flowed; the contenders shook hands and drank to each other’s
health. This was their declaration of war on August 22, 1523. Karlstadt,
bidding Luther farewell, said: “I hope you will be smashed by a
roller!” Returning the amiability, Luther replied: “May a thousand
lighting bolts strike you before you leave town!”
From this episode Bossuet concluded: “This is the new gospel, these are the acts of the new apostles…” (14)
Changes inspired by the Devil
His reason for suppressing the mass appears to be more ‘supernatural.’
It was the victory of the Devil in a terrible dispute into which Luther
had entered with him. Luther himself narrated the episode in detail and
“This [surrender] should surprise no one since the logic of the Devil
was delivered in such a blood-curdling voice that it nearly froze the
blood in my veins. I understood then why some persons die in the night:
It is because the Devil can kill and suffocate men, and even if he does
not take those extremes, he can entangle them in his disputes with so
many obstacles they can cause death: I have experienced this many times”
Was Luther lying when he described this episode or was he telling the
truth? If the latter is the case, what reliance can be put on a man
whose teacher was the Father of Lies? Let the admirers of the reformer
try to find a resolution for this dilemma…
Luther throwing an inkstand at the devil at Wartburg castle
The episode above is indicative of the important role the Devil played
in the interior life of the heresiarch. Indeed, Satan never leaves him
alone a moment. He follows him day and night, into both the church and
the tavern. More than once Luther stated that his life was “a series of
duels” with Satan. He slept with the Devil more often than with his
He saw the Devil everywhere: in the cloud that passed, in the lightning
that struck, in the thunder that roared, in the forests, waters,
deserts, infesting the air and the fields. He saw devils hidden in
serpents and lizards, monkeys and parrots, in the fly that rested on his
book, even in the walnuts sent by an admirer. The Evil Spirit was the
one who routinely resolved every difficult problem for him. To the
Devil’s malefic action Luther attributed the moral disorders and social
calamities unchained by his subversive doctrines (16).
This diabolic obsession that tortured the soul of the unfortunate
renegade can be seen in all of Luther’s writings. Devils dominate in his
style; one would say that some of his pages were written in Hell. In
the essay against Duke Henry of Brunswick, the Devil is honored by being
named 146 times; in the book on the councils he mentioned the Devil 15
times in four lines (17). He accused the adversaries of the Reformation
of having “a satanist, super-satanist and hyper-satanist heart.” To
Luther must be attributed the initiative of making a new genre of
writing fashionable, one dominated by the Devil, whose tune all the
other reformers would follow and sing.
Are these uncertainties, doctrinal contradictions, superficiality in
inventing and destroying dogmas, and satanic arrogance and language
befitting a messenger who proposes to restore Christianity?
1. Martin Luther, Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken vollstaendig gesammelt von W.M.L. de Wette, Berlin, 1825-1828, vol. IV, pp. 254, 256.
2. Ibid., vol. I, p. 234.
3. M. Luther, Werke, Weimar: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 1883-1914, vol. II, p. 72.
4. De Wette, vol. I, p. 498.
5. Ibid., vol. I, pp. 522, 500; Weimar, vol. VII, p. 44.
6. Weimar, vol. II, pp. 69-71.
7. Martin Luther, Saemtliche Werke, Erlangern, vol. XXVI, pp. 50-52. In this case, Luther lied, as he often did. At any rate, his character is revealed.
8. We say ‘pretext’ because before 1517, in his commentary on the
Epistle to the Romans, Luther had already moved away from the Catholic
tradition and was teaching bold errors about concupiscence, original
sin, justification, free will and grace. From 1515 on, he was already
ripe for apostasy. The preaching of Tetzel only served to trigger that
9. Döllinger, Die Reformation, vol III, pp. 205-207.
10. Cfr. J. B. Bossuet, Histoire des variations des églises protestantes, Charpentier, 1844, I, 2, n.10.
11. Erlangern, vol. XXXII, pp. 420, 422.
12. Weimar, vol. XII, p. 237.
13. Ibid., vol. VI, p. 501.
14. Bossuet, I, II, n. 11; Grisar, Luther, vol. II, p. 321; Weimar, vol. XV, p. 340.
15. De abrogatione missae privatae (Von der Winkelmesse), in Weimar, vol. XXXVIII, p. 198.
16. On Luther’s obsession with demons, see Grisar, Luther, vol. III, pp. 231-257.
17. Erlangern, vol. XXXII, p. 89.
Summarized and translated by
Tradition in Action from Leonel Franca,
A Igreja, a Reforma e a Civilização,
Rio: Livraria Catholica, 1928, pp. 188-191.