Contrary to Luther’s misconception (see Part 1 ), humility is in reality wise, while pride is foolish. St Alphonsus tells us that “no fool esteems himself foolish, but his folly consists in being a fool without knowing it.” Luther was so foolish that his own pride appeared to him as wisdom. Luther seemed to go all the way from torturous doubt (as a monk) to unmitigated arrogance (as founder of his own religion) in order to deal with the doubt. The proper way of dealing with his doubt would have been to practice humble obedience to his lawful superiors. This is in fact what the saints did in order to overcome their nagging doubts and gain peace of mind.
St Philip Neri (1515-1595) encouraged the scrupulous soul to “Have confidence in your confessor, for the Lord will not allow him to err; there is no surer way of cutting the snares of the devil than to do the will of another, and there is nothing more dangerous than to be directed by one’s own opinion.” The founder of the Oratorians also says that “Before a man chooses his confessor, he ought to think well about it, and pray about it also; but once he has chosen, he ought not to change, except for the most urgent reasons, but put the utmost confidence in [him].”
In Luke 10:16 Our Lord tells his disciples “He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me; and he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me.“ It is easy therefore to see how St Philip can say that “He who always acts under obedience, may rest assured that he will not have to give an account of his actions to God.” St Alphonsus advised the scrupulous to “ask this grace of God: that He may make you practice obedience to your director…do not doubt that if you practice it you will be saved and become a saint.”
However, humble obedience was not something that appealed to Luther, as seen above.
This is clearly because he thought of himself as being above judgment and actually in a position to judge the teaching of Our Lord’s Church as handed down through the centuries. Luther‘s own words are unambiguous: “I shall not have [my teaching]judged by any man, not even by any angel. For since I am certain of it, I shall be your judge…”
One way in which Luther sat in judgment of Church teaching is in reference to the Bible. What does one to do he comes across books of the Bible which do not correspond with his own opinion? If you’re Martin Luther, you simply toss them out! Luther audaciously removed seven books of the Old Testament, books which were declared canonical at Church councils in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, and again at the Council of Florence in 1442, long before Luther was born.
In fact, what many people do not realize is that Luther even wanted to remove books from the New Testament, only to change his mind later on. Luther was no fan of the Epistle of James or the Book of Revelation. In his 1522 Preface to the New Testament he stated that “St James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.” Moreover, in his 1522 Preface to the Revelation of St John, Luther opines:
About this book of the Revelation of John…I miss more than one thing in [it], and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic…I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced [it]…there are many far better books available for us to keep…My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book.
Take note of the fact that Luther does not want to base canonicity on any objective standard , but on his own personal opinion . This is most certainly not the way to determine which books belong in the Bible and which do not, as we might have as many Bibles as we do people if this operating principle were universally used.
Contrary to the view of many, Luther was a friend of the Bible only when the Bible fit in with his own views. This is totally unacceptable, as selective obedience to Church teaching is no obedience at all, but proud dissent colored with shades of false humility. If one person can refuse to follow teaching A, then another person can refuse to follow teaching B, and a third person can refuse to follow teaching C. This would go on and on until the reality of an organized Church no longer exists.
The truth is that Lutheroristy or Lutheranism, was Martin Luther’s way of dealing with scrupulosity. It was the removal from the Deposit of the Faith of whatever Luther did not understand or like. Many books of the Bible were removed, along with the Mass and later on Confession, the two outward activities that are the occasion of the most trouble for the scrupulous. Instead of adapting himself to reality, Luther demanded that reality be adapted to him.
You will likely be shocked at reading the following quotation from Luther on a warped conscience, but not so much by the actual description itself. The shock will come from the fact that Luther apparently did not realize that he himself fit into this category of people he so adeptly describes in his Table Talk :
It is a fearful thing when Satan torments the sorrowful conscience with melancholy; then the wicked villain masterfully disguises himself in the person of Christ, so that it is impossible for a poor creature, whose conscience is troubled, to discover the knavery. Hence many of those that neither know nor understand the same, run headlong into despair and make away with themselves; for they are blinded and deceived so powerfully by him that they are fully persuaded it is not the devil, but Christ himself, that thus vexes and torments them.
How remarkable! Is there a better description of Luther’s own problems? Maybe he did in fact realize that he had been tormented by the devil, but did not realize that the devil had actually succeeded in deceiving him as well. It is one thing to recognize a strategy of the enemy, and another thing to realize that one has been conquered through this enemy‘s strategy. Luther was clearly deficient in grasping the latter aspect.
Luther had been deceived by the devil and consequently refused to obey lawful Church authority. St Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) says that “When someone places confidence in his own prudence, knowledge, and intelligence, God…withdraws from him His help and leaves him to work by himself.” This is what happened with Luther, who went from scrupulosity to Lutherosity . Luther did not see things clearly, but instead of humbly recognizing this and deferring judgment to his lawful superiors, he proudly trusted in his own opinions, refused to obey, and brought about unprecedented division in Christianity.
What is even more tragic is that his Lutherosity had such an effect on so many people other than himself. Many unsuspecting souls have been taught that Lutherosity is the truth, but it is actually Christianity as seen and mutilated by a scrupulous man who would not admit his need for help. In fact, the original religion that Luther invented soon became the occasion of more invention. There are literally thousands of doctrinally conflicting denominations today, a sad reality which was made possible in large measure due to Martin Luther. As St Alphonsus wisely said,
[T]ake away the authority of the Church, and neither Divine Revelation nor natural reason itself is of any use, for each of them may be interpreted by every individual according to his own caprice…if you take away obedience to the Church, there is no error which will not be embraced.
If only Luther had acted like the many saints who were troubled by scruples — that is, if only he had humbly obeyed his lawful superiors — he would have saved himself and the world from so much confusion and misery. This is a huge incentive for the scrupulous Catholic to humbly admit the need for help, prayerfully look for an orthodox and kind spiritual director (they are out there), and obey him for the sake of pleasing God (and gaining peace of mind). “He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me; and he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me.”
(Adapted from the original article that appeared in Catholic Men’s Quarterly)
(© Trent Beattie)