Friday, January 26, 2007

The 97 Theses

I found Luther's 97 theses by accident on the web at Contend Earnestly: Luther's 97 Theses: Disputation Against Scholastic Theology. What I found in this early writing of Luther's (actually, a series of propositions to be debated) were gems like these:

35. It is not true that an invincible ignorance excuses one completely (all scholastics notwithstanding);

"Invincible Ignorance" is one way some RC apologists avoid the necessary conclusion that e.g. Lutherans will all go to hell, because we believe things in direct contradiction to the canons of the Council of Trent. it means that we so sincerely believe our erroneous doctrines that we cannot be turned toward the truth, and so God forgives this error. I was not aware the idea was so old!

68. Therefore it is impossible to fulfill the law in any way without the grace of God.

While I agree with this, some may say "grace" is given before Baptism, a grace by which we seek God because he preserved that ability from the fall. Needless to say, we believe this makes hash out of much of the Holy Scriptures.

84. The good law and that in which one lives is the love of God, spread abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

One thing I love about our catholic heritage is the belief that we are totally helpless before God, and we even depend on his grace for our believing in him. Hence, we cannot really obey the law without God--even if we seem more righteous externally. Think of the pharisee and the tax collector. Our eyes would of course be drawn to the pharisee because of his obedience to the law--and his obedience is to be commended. However, his obedience did not justify him because he exulted in his own obedience instead of in the grace of God; even going so far as to point at another as a foil to show his own righteousness. (This parable is often taken to be against "externals", but it is really for "internals", the indwelling of Christ which we receive through faith, and from that faith all sorts of good works will follow.)

87. Since the law is good, the will, which is hostile to it, cannot be good.
88. And from this it is clear that everyone’s natural will is iniquitous and bad.

If these are true (and I believe they are), it becomes impossible to say we have a little spark in us which seeks God--except perhaps to bend him to our will. As the good Fr. Luther says, if the law is good, and we are opposed to the law, then our will is bad.

90. The grace of God is given for the purpose of directing the will, lest it err even in loving God. In opposition to Gabriel.

This would put "justification" in a category besides solely a "forensic" mode. Now, this is early Luther, but I think that for us "justification" means more than merely a "not guilty" verdict.

Anyway, an interesting read.


Seth McBee said...

very few know of this theses; yet Luther was pretty upset that it didn't have the same "uproar" as his 95 theses...pretty interesting.

Edward Reiss said...

It also seems to be a more "mature" representation of Luther's theology.

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