Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Luther: Good works are bad and are sin like the rest


The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "Faith and Good Works":

"Good works are bad and are sin like the rest" [Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. III, pg. 47].

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 said "Good works are bad and are sin like the rest."

Documentation
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. III, pg. 47." 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 the book, Two Arguments for Catholicism (1928) by Antonin Eymieu. Eymieu in describing Luther's view states:
In the first place, there are no good works. Everything that comes from us is sin, and "the good works are bad and are sin like the rest" (p. 46).
The quote is documented as "Denifle III, 47." The actual form of the footnote used by Luther, Exposing the Myth is found on page 34 of Eymieu's book: "Quoted in Denifle's  Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. III...Luther Exposing the Myth does not mention or refer to Eymieu, but this is telling evidence that this was the source used.

In regard to Denifle, Paquier's French translation amended the text of Denifle's German attacking Luther even more than Denifle is famous for. In another work, Paquier went on to envision Luther as the Muhammad of the West, deforming true Christianity (Sobolewski, p. 28-29). Here is Luther et Lutheranisme III. Page 47 can be found here. The section in question appears to be the following:



The last sentence says something like, "Good works themselves are unjust: they are sins." The statement is actually a summary by Denifle. Footnote 3 refers to this page from this source. This source is Johannes Ficker's publication of Luther's Lectures on Romans. The text reads as follows:


Luther's work on Romans has been translated into English. It can be found in LW 25. This Latin text above from Ficker's can be found at LW 25:275.

Context
From all of this it is obvious that there is no sin which is venial according to its substance and its nature, but also no merit. For even the good works which are done while the tinder of sin and sensuality are fighting against them are not of such intensity and purity as the Law requires, since they are not done with all of our strength, but only with the spiritual powers which struggle against the powers of the flesh. Thus we sin even when we do good, unless God through Christ covers this imperfection and does not impute it to us. Thus it becomes a venial sin through the mercy of God, who does not impute it for the sake of faith and the plea in behalf of this imperfection for the sake of Christ. Therefore, he who thinks that he ought to be regarded as righteous because of his works is very foolish, since if they were offered as a sacrifice to the judgment of God, they still would be found to be sins. As Ps. 36:2 says, “For he has acted deceitfully in His sight, so that his iniquity is found to be for wrath,” that is, before God and within his own spirit there was deceit and not the truth of righteousness, even though before men he makes a display of righteousness in his works. For he could not be righteous within himself without the mercy of God, since he is corrupt because of the tinder of sin. Therefore iniquity will be found in his righteousness, that is, even his good works will be unrighteous and sinful. This iniquity will not be found in believers and those who cry to Him, because Christ has brought them aid from the fullness of his purity and has hidden this imperfection of theirs. For they seek also this and hope for it from Him, but the others do not seek it but presumptuously think they have it.[LW 25:275].

Conclusion
The quote in question was actually Luther's view summarized by Denifle, then Denifle was used by Antonin Eymieu, and then Luther, Exposing the Myth took the quote. I enjoy looking up these quotes because one never knows what one will find. This comment comes from Luther's pre-Reformation writing. Luther says, "we sin even when we do good, unless God through Christ covers this imperfection and does not impute it to us." It then becomes a "venial sin" "through the mercy of God, who does not impute it for the sake of faith and the plea in behalf of this imperfection for the sake of Christ." Someone who claimed to be righteous because of his works fails. That is, no one can be righteous without Christ. Later in his early Reformation career,  Luther says in his treatise Against Latomus (1521)
I have taught that our good works are of such sort that they cannot bear the judgment of God, as is said in Ps. 101 [Ps. 143:2], “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for no man living is righteous before thee.” Since, however, His judgment is true and just, He does not condemn works which are wholly blameless. He wrongs no one, but as it is written, “He will render to every man according to his works” [Rom. 2:6]. It follows, therefore, that our good works are not good unless His forgiving mercy reigns over us. Our good works are evil, if the judgment of Him who renders to every man threatens us. This is the way to teach the fear of God and hope in him. Yet in accordance with Latomus’ rantings, my calumniators condemn this godly wisdom, extol their works, deprive men of fear and hope in God, make them proud with their pestilent doctrines, and invent a good work which is worthy of praise, glory, and reward [LW 32:171].
In volume one of Luther and Lutherdom, Denifle says, "It was [Luther's] teaching that good works, even at their best, are sins, and even that a just man sins in all good works." Above though Luther explains, "It follows, therefore, that our good works are not good unless His forgiving mercy reigns over us. Our good works are evil, if the judgment of Him who renders to every man threatens us. This is the way to teach the fear of God and hope in him." Luther actually wrote an entire treatise addressing the value and need of good works: Treatise on Good Works. Those using the information from Luther Exposing the Myth would do well to review it.

Addendum (2016)
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.

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