Luther’s Boundless Pride & Tyranny

Fr. Leonel Franca, S.J.

In addition to the lack of physical miracles and prophecies in Luther’s mission, another important item was missing. Normally a miracle-worker or prophet confirms his works and words by his example. The holiness of his life is another moral miracle that corroborates his exterior wonders. He can challenge his enemies by saying: Qui ex vobis arguet me de peccato? [Who among you can accuse me of sin?]

He is a man whose veracity is unquestionable and over whom not the least suspicion of imposture hovers. Only such a man is worthy of trust. In this human grandeur, which transcends human frailty, we trust God above the person. In due proportion, what we say of Christ may be said of a man with a divine mission in History.

Katharina von Bora & Martin Luther

The apostate priest married an apostate nun, Katharina Bora
Thus we can ask: Did the first Protestant reformers give edifying examples of sanctity? The answer is indisputable: No! How useful it would be for Protestantism to erase the stains that besmirch its shameful origin! But History cannot be erased and truth is the beneficiary of its indelible lessons.

Despite extraordinary difficulties, the veil that has covered the turpitude and incoherence of these dishonorable lives is gradually been lifted, and today we see the ignominious heresiarchs of Protestantism for what they were. My intention, however, is not to humiliate Protestants, but rather to enlighten them.

Luther inaugurated his mission with the gravest sins of perjury, sacrilege and apostasy. As a young man he was free to choose the path he would follow in life. Attracted by the evangelical ideal of perfection and desiring to follow Christ more closely, he freely chose to turn his back on the world and to pronounce the religious vows of poverty, obedience and chastity and entered an Augustinian friary in Erfurt in 1505.

Two years later, the day of his ordination dawned and he again renewed his religious consecration. Later, how did Luther treat those solemn vows made under the inviolable sanctity of the oath? He broke his solemn word, tore up his vows, threw his religious cassock in the garbage and soiled his priestly stole in the mire of a sacrilegious marriage.

Pride made the apostate priest; pride also blinded the doctor. He forgot not only evangelical humility but the most elementary modesty. He pretended that until the appearance of his gospel, no one knew anything about Christ, the sacraments, faith, God and the Church (1). According to him, the Apostles, the Popes, the Councils, the entire Church had erred! His doctrine was the only true doctrine.

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A group of reformers, soon fighting among themselves over interpretation of Scripture
Indeed, he stated: “Even if the Church, Augustine, the doctors Peter and Paul and even an Angel of heaven should teach the opposite, my doctrine alone exalts the grace and glory of God and condemns human justice in its wisdom” (2). He pretended that any of his followers, even children, who studied his teachings knew more about religion and Christianity than all the Prelates of the past and all the Catholic teaching institutions (3). What a delirium of pride!

Even more vivid examples of his frenetic state of mind are these words, unparalleled in the records of despotism and pride: “Whoever does not believe as I do is destined to hell. My doctrine and God’s doctrine are the same. My judgment is God’s judgment” (4). “I am sure that my dogmas come from heaven … They shall prevail and the Pope shall fall, despite the gates of hell or the powers of the air, earth and sea” (5).

“We should not yield anything to the impious papists … Our pride against the Pope is imperative. … We shall give in to nobody, not to all the Angels of heaven, not to Peter or Paul, not to one hundred emperors, not to a thousand Popes, not to the whole world … I cede nothing to no one” (6). “Does this Luther appear to you an extravagant man? I believe he is God. Otherwise, how could his writings and his name have the power to transform beggars into lords, donkeys into doctors, criminals into saints, and mud into pearls?” (7)

Is this a wild display of satanic pride or an extreme case of mental pathology?

An insupportable tyrant

It is not surprising that a man so infatuated with his own science, after denying the Pope’s infallibility and proclaiming free examination of Scriptures, would pretend to be the inerrant source of faith and constrain his followers to bend their wills before his non-appealable and infallible decisions.

Protestant mob destroy statue

A Dutch Protestant mob destroying a statue
It is difficult to find a more unbearable tyranny or a more impetuous arrogance than that of the preacher of free examination. Even his co-reformers groaned under his iron yoke. Münzen used to say: “There are two popes, the one in Rome and Luther, and the latter is harder to bear.” Calvin wrote to Bullinger, his confidante: “It is no longer possible to bear the impulsiveness of Luther; his self-love has blinded him to such an extreme that he does not see his own defects and tolerates no contradiction.”

Writing to Melanchton, Calvin commented: “How rashly your Pericles fulminates! What a singular example we will leave for posterity by choosing to give up our liberty in order not to irritate one single man! It is said that he has a passionate and impetuous temperament, but it only gets worse by pleasing him in everything. Let us at least dare to freely release a sigh” (8).

For his part, Melanchton complained: “I live in slavery as in the cavern of Cyclops” (9).

Andreas Karlstadt, Luther’s old teacher, arrived at conclusions in the new doctrine that went further than his former student wanted to go. So Luther turned on him and had him exiled from Saxony by Frederick the Wise and George, Duke of Saxony. He was later allowed to return under the promise “not to defend publicly – either in speech or writing – his opinions opposed to Luther’s” (10).

For a similar reason he denied Münzer liberty of speech, despite his thesis that verbum Dei non est alligatum [the word of God is not bound], an argument he had used countless times against the Catholic Church.

This, then, was how Luther understood free examination.

1. M. Luther, Werke, Weimar: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 1883-1914, vol. XXX, p. 3, Alteilung 317;
2. Ibid, vol. XL, p. 1, Abteitung 132;
3. W.M.L. De Wette, Briefe, Sendshcreiben und Bedenken, Berlin, 1825-1828, vol. IV, p. 21;
4. Weimar, vol. X, p. 2, Abteitung 107;
5. Ibid, Abteitung 184;
6. Ibid, vol. XV, p. 1, Abteitung 180-181;
7. Ed. Wittemb. 1551, vol. IV, p. 378;
8. J. Calvini, Opera omnia, ed. by G. Braun, E. Cunitz and E. Reuss, Brunsvigae 1863-1900, vol. XII, p. 99;
9. Cfr. J. B. Bossuet, Histoire des variations des églises protestantes, Charpentier, 1844 l. 5, nn. 15, 16;
10. Weimar, vol. XVIII, p. 86-87.

Summarized and translated by the Tradition in action from Leonel Franca,
A Igreja, a Reforma e a Civilização, Rio: Livraria Catholica, 1928, pp. 188-191