Luther’s Program and Justification by Faith

A.G. Dickens provides an excellent summary of “Luther’s programme”:

Between 1517, when he denounced indulgences in his ninety-five theses, and 1520, when he pulbished his three revolutionary manifestoes, Luther formulated both his doctrinal and his practical programmes. He summoned the German princes to undertake the reform of the Church, to abolish papal taxation, to dissolve the religious orders, to abrogate pilgrimages, clerical celibacy and masses for the dead. He also denied the doctrine of transubstantiation …. He limited the sacraments to the scriptural two, baptism and the eucharist, while to the laity he assigned communion of both kinds. But the keystone of his doctrine, one unparalleleled in Wycliffism, was the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, or solifidianism. This he based in the main upon the teaching of St. Paul, though he found for it a considerable measure of support in the anti-Pelagian writings of St. Augustine and in his favorite fourteenth-century German mystics, Johann Tauler and the anonymous author of the Theologia Germanica. Moreover, he stated this doctrine with all the fervour of a liberated soul, for it had proved his own way of escape from an intolerable predicament of the spirit. Whatever its merits, we gravely underestimate this doctrine if we think of it as yet one more theological proposition added to the multitude. Once understood it developed an intimate power to alter both the inner lives and the religious habits of the millions who came to accept its message. Justification by Faith can best be understood by re-reading that early masterpiece of Christian theology the Epistle to the Romans, followed by Tyndale’s Prologue to Romans, which is a translation from one of Luther’s own commentaries. This Prologue acquires all the more interest when recognized as the actual vehicle which brought Luther’s salient doctrine to the first generation of English Protestants. (A.G. Dickens, The English Reformation, pgs 82-83)

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