The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "Faith and Good Works":
"There is no scandal greater, more dangerous, more venomous, than a good outward life, manifested by good works and a pious mode of life. That is the grand portal, the highway that leads to damnation" [Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. II, pg. 128].
Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With this quote, they attempt to show Christ valued works as part of salvation, while Luther held leading a good life based on good works leads to damnation.
Luther Exposing the Myth cites "Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. II, pg. 128." I have a hard time believing Luther Exposing the Myth actually used this source. My speculation is that it used a source that quoted Denifle / Paquier. Luther Exposing the Myth cites Denifle / Paquier four times. Each citation and reference is also used in this book: Two Arguments for Catholicism (1928) by Antonin Eymieu. This particular quote can be found on page 46:
The great danger is the doing of good works. It is what the Papists call the practice of virtue. "There is no scandal greater, more dangerous, more venomous, than a good outward life, manifested by good works and a pious mode of life. That is the grand portal, the highway that leads to damnation [(Footnote 5) Dollinger III, 124].Luther Exposing the Myth does not mention or refer to Eymieu, but I would be surprised if Two arguments for Catholicism was not (ultimately) the source used for this quote. In fact, it becomes more probable when one notices that footnote four (documenting a quote previous to the one in question) in Eymieu refers to "Denifle II, 128." In other words, Luther, Exposing the Myth mis-documented the quote during its probable plagiarization of Eymieu (the quote was actually supposed to be documented with "Dollinger III, 124"). Luther et Lutheranisme II:128 can be found here. Checking page 128 of Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme II, one is hard pressed to discover exactly what's being cited, for it doesn't appear the quote is cited on the page. The quote does appear though on page 124 of the French edition of Dollinger's La réforme III (it is on page 128 in Dollinger's German). Here is what Dollinger says:
Here is the German:
In the French edition, Dollinger cites "L.c. XI, 349 et suiv" as his reference for this Luther quote. This refers to Walch vol. xi, p. 349 and what follows. This was a set of Luther's works published 1740-1753 by Johann Georg Walch. The set was revised from 1885-1910 and is also known as the St. Louis edition. Volume XI refers to Kirchen-Postille Evangelien-Predigten, or Luther's Church Postil. Here is page 349. These Postil sermons have a tedious and complicated legacy (see the introduction to LW 75). The text in question appears to be:
The text being cited is a section from Luther's sermon Am Sonntage nach dem Christtage (Luc. 2, 33-40). This sermon is available in English. It can be found in Lenker's Church Postil: Sunday After Christmas Sermon (Luke 2:33-40)., and it can be found in LW 52:102.
51. Finally Simeon says that all this will happen that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed. What a blessed and necessary fruit of this falling and speaking against! But in order to understand this we must notice that there are two different kinds of temptation among men. There is the temptation to gross sins, as for instance to be disobedient to parents, to kill, to be unchaste, to steal, to lie and blaspheme, etc., which are sins against the second table of the law. The people who do these things need not take offense at a sign which is spoken against; their thoughts are sufficiently revealed by their evil life. The Scriptures speak little of this temptation.
52. But the most dangerous temptation is prefigured by Cozbi the daughter of Zur, a prince of Midian, because of whom twenty-four thousand were slain in Israel, as Moses writes in Numbers 25, 15. This is the temptation through the bright and shining sins of good works and the service of God, which bring misfortune upon the whole world and against which nobody can guard sufficiently. These are the sins against the first table of the law, against faith, the honor of God and his works.
53.For a life of good works, blameless conduct and outward respectability is the greatest, most dangerous and destructive stumbling-block. The people leading such lives are so upright, reasonable, honorable and pious that scarcely a single soul could have been preserved or saved, if God had not set up a sign against which they might stumble and by which the thought of their hearts might be revealed. Thus we see their hearts behind their beautiful words and good works, and find that these great saints and wise men are pagans and fools; for they persecute the faith for the sake of their works and will not suffer their ways to be rebuked. Thus their thoughts are laid bare and they become manifested as trusting in their own works and themselves, sinning not only continually against the first commandments, but endeavoring also in their enmity against God to exterminate and destroy all that belongs to God, claiming to do this for the sake of God and to preserve the truth. Behold, such are the pope, the bishops and almost all the priests, who have filled the world with innumerable snares and stumbling-blocks by making an external glitter of the spiritual life. Among them there is no faith, but only works,the Gospel does not prevail, but only human laws.
54. The whole Scriptures speak of this stumbling-block,and God with all his prophets and saints contends against it.This is the true gate of hell and the broad highway to eternal damnation, wherefore this harlot is well called Cozbi, "mendacium meum," my lie. Everything that glitters lies and deceives, but her beautiful ornaments and embellishments deceive even the princes of Israel, and so she is not merely called "mendacium," but "meum mendacium," my lie, because with her deception she attracts and tempts almost everybody. (Lenker, 277-278).LW 52:
For there is no bigger, more dangerous, more poisonous stumbling block than the external good life lived in good works and blameless conduct. The people living such lives are such upright, sensible, honorable, pious people, that not a single soul could be saved or remain unseduced, if God had not set up his sign and target, over which they stumbled and revealed the thoughts of their hearts. Through their beautiful words and good works we see into their hearts and discover that these eminent saints and wise men are heathen and fools; for they persecute the faith for the sake of their works and they want to be unpunished in their conduct. Thus their thoughts are discovered and become visible, showing how they trust in their works and in themselves and how they not only sin unnecessarily against the first commandments, but also, full of hatred, strive to blot out and to destroy everything pertaining to faith and to God. They always behave as if they were doing so for the sake of God and in order to preserve the truth. The pope, the bishops, and almost all the clergy are of this disposition; they have filled the world with their snares and offenses by turning the spiritual life into external glitter. And yet there is no faith, but only works; the gospel does not rule here, but only human laws.
All of Scripture speaks of this offense and God fights against it with all his prophets and saints. This is the true gate to hell and the broad highway leading to damnation. Thus, this harlot is aptly named Cozbi, mendacium meum, “my lie.” Everything that glitters is falsehood and deception, but her beautiful adornment and jewels deceive even the rulers of Israel. She is named not only mendacium, but meum mendacium, “my lie,” because her deception entices and tempts everybody [LW 52:120-121].
This quote has some history. It was reviewed by in the 1800's in Luther Vindicated. Charles Hastings Collette examined the quote being used out of context by Reverend S. Baring-Gould:
Having examined a passage from which the rev. gentleman has dropped two words from Luther's text, and thereby made it appear that he preached adultery, I now will note a deliberate shifting of a couple of words, by which an equally atrocious sentiment is attempted to be fixed on the Great Reformer.
In page 15, n. 44, we are referred to vol. xi., col. 346, Walch edition of Luther's works, the correct column is 349. Here Luther not only exposed the heresy of advancing good works as a meritorious cause of justification; but, like Paul, he warns us against those who have "a form of godliness," and by an outward life and show,—in fact, what he called " coloured hypocrisy,"—deceive others as well as themselves. This deceit, he tells us, is still more destructive to the soul. Luther's words are :—
"There is no scandal greater, nor more dangerous, nor more venomous than the outward good life in good works and holy conversation. That is clear, the very gate and the broad highway which leads to destruction. Oh, what a horrid abomination of unbelief and ungodliness underlies this fine life, a wolf in sheep's clothing, a harlot underneath the bridal garland !"
The reader will be somewhat surprised to find what the rev. gentleman has been enabled to make of this by a skillful shifting of the position of words which I have placed in italics, making the "good life manifested externally by good works," to be condemned by Luther, instead of the sham or pretence and hypocrisy veiled by a show of good works. The Rev. S. Baring-Gould says were most dangerous, as they prevented man from a total surrender of himself to God to do with him as He saw fit. And he laid down that it is far more dangerous for a man to remain till death in a state of grace and good living than to be plunged in profligacy and stained in innumerable crimes. 'There is no scandal greater,' says he, ' nor more dangerous, nor more venomous, than a good life manifested exteriorly by good works and a pious conduct. It is the carriage-gate to damnation.'" "Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." The rev. gentleman, however, seems to take a special delight in attributing iniquity to Luther, and this at the expense of truth [source].The context clearly shows those whom Luther was talking about: "trusting in their own works and themselves, sinning not only continually against the first commandments, but endeavoring also in their enmity against God to exterminate and destroy all that belongs to God, claiming to do this for the sake of God and to preserve the truth." These are the people Luther had in mind who are on "the highway that leads to damnation" with their pious works.
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.