181. The most explicit discussion of purgatory in the Confessions comes in the 1537 Smalcald Articles, II, 2, which addressed the mass as sacrifice. Besides being itself a violation of the Gospel, the mass as sacrifice "has produced many noxious maggots and the excrement of various idolatries" (§11), the first of which is purgatory. Purgatory, "with all its pomp, requiem Masses, and transactions, is to be regarded as an apparition of the devil for it obscures the chief article..." (§12). Behind Luther's typically extreme language, however, a more nuanced understanding is elaborated. "Concerning the dead we have received neither command nor instruction. For these reasons, it may be best to abandon it [derhalben man es mocht wohl lassen], even if it were neither error nor idolatry" (§12). In a revised version of the article, Luther added a discussion of the authority of Augustine claimed for the doctrine. "When they have given up their purgatorial 'Mass fairs' (something Augustine never dreamed of), then we will discuss with them whether St. Augustine's word, lacking support from Scripture, may be tolerated and whether the dead may be commemorated at the sacrament. It will not do to formulate articles of faith on the basis of the holy Fathers' works or words" (§14f). The existence of purgatory is not dogmatically denied. Rather, 1) the existence of purgatory is not taught by Scripture and thus cannot be binding doctrine, and 2) belief in purgatory is now hopelessly bound up with unacceptable practices. A belief that could be discussed in principle is concretely objectionable because of its associations.This excerpt is fascinating because it argues Luther believed:
-Purgatory isn't taught in Scripture, but yet may exist.
-Purgatory is only to be avoided because of its associations with "unacceptable practices."
-If these practices were removed, a proper discussion on purgatory could occur.
According to this article here is Luther's view of purgatory: "A belief that could be discussed in principle is concretely objectionable because of its associations." In other words, purgatory, for Luther, was an open question. Get rid of the abuses attached to it, and then it could be discussed.
In regard to the Smalcald Articles, LW states, "Under these circumstances the elector of Saxony instructed Luther in a letter of Dec. 11, 1536, to prepare a statement indicating the articles of faith in which concessions might be made for the sake of peace and the articles in which no concessions could be made."
Here are the two statements from the Smalcald Articles alluded to above. Read them for yourself and see if Luther is willing to make a concession on purgatory for the sake of peace:
Luther states in Article 12:
12 The first is purgatory. They were so occupied with requiem Masses, with vigils, with the weekly, monthly, and yearly celebrations of requiems, with the common week, with All Souls’ Day, and with soul-baths that the Mass was used almost exclusively for the dead although Christ instituted the sacrament for the living alone. Consequently purgatory and all the pomp, services, and business transactions associated with it are to be regarded as nothing else than illusions of the devil, for purgatory, too, is contrary to the fundamental article that Christ alone, and not the work of man, can help souls. Besides, nothing has been commanded or enjoined upon us with reference to the dead. All this may consequently be discarded, apart entirely from the fact that it is error and idolatry.Luther states in Article 13:
13 The papists here adduce passages from Augustine and some of the Fathers who are said to have written about purgatory. They suppose that we do not understand for what purpose and to what end the authors wrote these passages. St. Augustine (tr-467) does not write that there is a purgatory, nor does he cite any passage of the Scriptures that would constrain him to adopt such an opinion. He leaves it undecided whether or not there is a purgatory and merely mentions that his mother asked that she be remembered at the altar or sacrament. Now, this is nothing but a human opinion of certain individuals and cannot establish an article of faith. That is the prerogative of God alone. 14 But our papists make use of such human opinions to make men believe their shameful, blasphemous, accursed traffic in Masses which are offered for souls in purgatory, etc. They can never demonstrate these things from Augustine. Only when they have abolished their traffic in purgatorial Masses (which St. Augustine never dreamed of) shall we be ready to discuss with them whether statements of St. Augustine are to be accepted when they are without the support of the Scriptures and whether the dead are to be commemorated in the sacrament. 15 It will not do to make articles of faith out of the holy Fathers’ words or works. Otherwise what they ate, how they dressed, and what kind of houses they lived in would have to become articles of faith — as has happened in the case of relics. This means that the Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel.The reading given to these statements by The Hope of Eternal Life downplays the first explicit rejection of purgatory, and sees the real Luther in his willingness to discuss what Augustine meant when "purgatorial masses" are abolished. The problem as I see it, is this reading of the Smalcald Articles isolates these statements from Luther's total written corpus, particularly any writings after the Smalcald Articles.
For instance, in his later sermons on Genesis, Luther states something with similar characteristics to the Smalcald articles. Note particularly the reference to Augustine:
The pope invents four separate places for the dead.The first is the hell of the damned. The second is purgatory, and Thomas Aquinas says that hell is the middle point, so to speak. It is surrounded by purgatory. But around this there is a third circle. It is for unbaptized infants. The fourth circle is the limbo of the fathers. Here the godly dwelt before the resurrection of Christ. These are nothing but dreams and human inventions. Peter and Paul state clearly that the demons move about in the air. With regard to what Paul says see Eph. 2:2, and in 2 Peter 2:4 it is stated that “God did not spare the angels when they sinned but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment.” With these statements I rest content, and I do not inquire into things higher than those handed down by the apostles. Of purgatory there is no mention in Holy Scripture; it is a lie of the devil, in order that the papists may have some market days and snares for catching money. The sophists agree with the pope because of Thomas. But Thomas does not concern us. Augustine makes mention of purgatory somewhere, but he speaks very obscurely. Therefore I do not believe that those four separate classes really exist; for Scripture does not speak this way but testifies that the dead saints are gathered to their people, or to those who believe in the Messiah and awaited His coming, just as Adam, together with all his descendants, died in faith in Christ. But how these saints are kept in definite places, we do not know. [Luther, M. (1999, c1966). Vol. 8: Luther's works, vol. 8 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 45-50 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (8:316). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House].Here again Luther explicitly denies purgatory, then mentions the obscurity of Augustine. He then goes on to deny that "four separate classes really exist." In the same volume, Luther refers to "Masses, purgatory, indulgences, and prayers to the dead" as false forms of worship (LW 8:230). Elsewhere in Luther's lectures on Genesis he states,
[P]urgatory is the greatest falsehood, because it is based on ungodliness and unbelief; for they deny that faith saves, and they maintain that satisfaction for sins is the cause of salvation. Therefore he who is in purgatory is in hell itself; for these are his thoughts: “I am a sinner and must render satisfaction for my sins; therefore I shall make a will and shall bequeath a definite amount of money for building churches and for buying prayers and sacrifices for the dead by the monks and priests.” Such people die in a faith in works and have no knowledge of Christ. Indeed, they hate Him. We die in faith in Christ, who died for our sins and rendered satisfaction for us. He is my Bosom, my Paradise, my Comfort, and my Hope. [Luther, M. (1999, c1964). Vol. 4: Luther's works, vol. 4 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 21-25 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (4:315). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House].And here:
The third sphere is that of purgatory, into which neither the damned nor infants enter; it is for those who, while they believe, yet have not rendered satisfaction for their sins. The souls of these are ransomed by means of indulgences. From this source comes the hogwash of indulgences and the entire papistic religion.The fourth place is the limbo of the fathers. They say that Christ descended to this place, broke it open, and set free—not from hell but from the limbo—the fathers who were troubled by the longing and waiting for Christ but were not enduring punishment or torments. With these silly ideas the papists have filled the church and the world. We have overturned all this completely and maintain that unbaptized infants do not have such a sphere. But in what state they are or what becomes of them we commend to the goodness of God. They do not have faith or Baptism; but whether God receives them in an extraordinary manner and gives them faith is not stated in the Word, and we dare not set down anything as certain. To be deprived of the vision of God is hell itself. They admit that they have will and intellect, especially concerning the vision of God and life; but these are falsehoods. And purgatory is the greatest falsehood, because it is based on ungodliness and unbelief; for they deny that faith saves, and they maintain that satisfaction for sins is the cause of salvation. Therefore he who is in purgatory is in hell itself; for these are his thoughts: “I am a sinner and must render satisfaction for my sins; therefore I shall make a will and shall bequeath a definite amount of money for building churches and for buying prayers and sacrifices for the dead by the monks and priests.” Such people die in a faith in works and have no knowledge of Christ. Indeed, they hate Him. We die in faith in Christ, who died for our sins and rendered satisfaction for us. He is my Bosom, my Paradise, my Comfort, and my Hope. [Luther, M. (1999, c1964). Vol. 4: Luther's works, vol. 4 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 21-25 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (4:315). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House].Comments from Luther similar to these could be greatly multiplied, which is why some Lutherans see any affirmation that Luther held purgatory was an "open question" as a lie of the Devil.