Luther’s Lack of Credibility
Fr. Leonel Franca, S.J.
Luther began by denying. He denied authority; he denied tradition; he
denied the Church Magisterium; he denied the organic, visible and hierarchical
Church. What gave him the right to do so? What were his titles that authorized
him to perform such a task? Hadn’t Christianity already existed for 15
centuries? Hadn’t the priests, Bishops and Popes come down to us in
uninterrupted succession from the Apostles and Christ Himself?
According to Luther, the Church had lost her early spirit, adulterated the
teachings of the Gospel, laden herself with a mass of superstitions, and
prostituted herself with the idolatry of Babylon.
Luther's revolt began with denial
How did he know this? Where was his proof? Hadn’t Christ promised His infallible
assistance to the Church? Hadn’t He assured her that He would be with her always
until the end of time?
But Luther did not care about answering these questions. He entrenched himself
behind the Bible. Scripture should shield him from all adversaries. But who
interprets the Bible?
Wasn’t it interpreted in the past by the Catholic Church, as it continues to be
until today? Wasn’t Scripture read by all the Church Fathers and Doctors? Wasn’t
it known by the Councils? Wasn’t it preached and spread by all the authentic
Saints who reformed the Church? Why had it never occurred to them to start a
reform by destroying the Church in the name of Scripture, of using the Bible as
a banner of revolt against the authority established by Christ?
It was Luther alone who discovered the special secret of exegesis, unknown to
all the Church Fathers until then. He, the brazen friar, established himself at
the prophetic heights as a new evangelist who received enlightenment straight
from the Holy Ghost and entered into communion with the inner life of the
Trinity. (1) From this inaccessible pinnacle he claimed to bring the world the
gift of a sacred hermeneutics that would establish a whole new Christianity.
Thus, taking one step after another, Friar Martin Luther felt himself obliged to
assume a divine mission, to assign to himself a special religious undertaking.
What were his credentials for this extraordinary embassy? Without hard, solid
proof, no one can rise up from the multitude and affirm that he is a special
envoy of the Almighty. Without first indisputably demonstrating the authenticity
of his plenipotentiary mission, no man can pretend to know the divine oracles
and dictate a religion for mankind. God alone can impose religion upon man.
To teach religious truths that should be believed and precepts that should be
practiced without divine credentials is a fraud, an imposture, a deception. Our
dignity as rational beings rebels against such exploiters of the public naïveté.
O Prophet of Wittenberg, where are the credentials for your divine mission?
No miracles as a sign of his divine mission
The guarantee we have of the divine origin of a doctrine relies on its
proponent’s authority received from on high. God attests to the authority of His
envoys by means of miracles. Such physical miracles reflect the divine envoy’s
irreprehensible sanctity, which is also a moral miracle. Only miracles,
extraordinary interventions of divine omnipotence, can authenticate missions
With miracles Jesus proved He was the Messiah (2); with miracles God confirmed
the mission of the Apostles (3). Through miracles Christian apologetics, based
on reason and the teachings of the inspired Books, recognized the inimitable
signature of the Divine Author in His extraordinary manifestations to mankind.
Not one single miracle could be claimed by Luther or the circle of
Luther himself recognized the need for this heavenly authentication. In 1524,
trying to prevent Thomas Münzer (another Protestant who took the side of the
Anabaptists) from preaching in Mulhouse, he wrote to the city magistrates and
insisted they should not receive this turbulent innovator unless he could not
prove his mission with extraordinary works: “If he says that God and His Spirit
are sending him as they did the Apostles, let him prove it with prodigies and
miracles; if not, forbid him to preach.” (4)
When another German Protestant, Andreas Karlstadt, contradicted him, appealing
to divine enlightenment, Luther challenged him to demonstrate his vocation with
miracles: “God must show that He revokes His ancient precepts with miraculous
works.” (5) On another occasion he affirmed: “Anyone who presents novelties or
teaches different doctrines must be called by God and confirm his vocation with
truly prodigious works. If he cannot, let him give up his endeavor and go be
hanged [et in malam rem abeat]” (6).
If this is the criterion, then we ask, what miracles did Luther work? Where are
the miracles of those first pseudo-reformers that attest to the divine character
of their missions? Erasmus laughed at them, saying that thus far not one of them
had managed to cure even a single crippled horse.
Luther ended by realizing this lacuna in his mission. But, as an accomplished
sophist, he then declared miracles to be useless, exclaiming, “They shall not
see us making miracles!” He went on to explain that if, indeed, they would work
miracles the world would attribute them to the Devil! (7)
What about prophecies? One frequently found in the writings of the first pseudo-
reformers is that of the imminent destruction of the Papacy.
This was a favorite expression of Luther:: “Living, I have been your plague;
dying, I shall be your death, o Pope.” [pestis eram vivens, moriens tua mors
ero, Papa]. In 1527 he wrote it in a letter; later he wrote it with a piece
of chalk on a wall in the place where, some hours afterward, he would be
surprised by death.
According to Luther Rome would burn soon...
More than four centuries after, we can say that the events of history have not
substantiated that pretentious prediction of the Saxon poet.
Other Protestants who came after Luther also compromised their credibility in
the same risky task of predicting the future.
This was confirmed by Joseph de Maistre: “It is well known that one of the first
infirmities of Protestantism was a mania for predicting the fall of the papal
power. Nothing – not its errors, its enormous gaffes nor the most sober ridicule
– could correct it. This sickness always returns affirming the same thing.” (8)
1. “It is certain that I received my dogmas from heaven” [certus sum dogmata me
habere de caelo], Weimar, X, 2 Abt. P. 184.
2. John 5:36; 10:37-38; 15: 22; Matt 12:39-40.
3. 2 Pet 1:18; 2 Cor 12:12; Mk 12:39-40.
4. Martin Luther, Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken vollstaendig
gesammelt von W.M.L. de Wette, Berlin, 1825-1828, vol. II, p. 538; M. Luther,
Werke, Weimar: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 1883-1914, vol. XV, p. 240.
5. M. Luther, Briefe, vol. XVIII, pp. 96-97.
6. M. Luther, Briefe, vol. XX, p. 724.
7. Martin Luther, Saemtliche Werke, Erlangern, vol. XII, pp. 218-221;
vol. XLVI, p. 205.
8. Joseph de Maistre, Du Pape, Conclusion, Paris-Lyon, p. 669
Summarized and translated by the
Tradition in action desk from Leonel Franca,
A Igreja, a Reforma e a Civilização, Rio: Livraria Catholica, 1928, pp.