Luther On “Saints,” Monks, And Sola Scriptura

In the papacy there is a book containing the legends or accounts of the saints. I hate it intensely, solely for the reason that it tells of revolting forms of worship and silly miracles performed by idle people. These legends and accounts actually accomplish only one thing: they increase contempt of the government and of the household, yes, even almost of the church itself. Therefore such tales should be shunned and utterly rejected, for the chief thing of Christian doctrine is faith. About this the entire book does not mention a single word anywhere. It is occupied solely with praising monasticism and monkish works, which are altogether at variance with the customary ways of people.

Similarly, the papists today bestow exaggerated praise on the originators of monasticism and say that they were saintly men. But what concern is this of ours? We are not debating whether Augustine and others were saintly. But if there is to be a discussion about saintliness in general, is not Paul saintlier? Indeed, is not Christ saintlier? Why, then, do we not follow these? Why do we not embrace their canons or doctrine, since we are sure that if we hear and follow Christ, we are pleasing God?

This saintliness should be enough for us. We should seek no other saintliness through extraordinary works outside our calling. The Carthusians eat no meat throughout their entire life. Why? A saintly man has so decreed. But is it sufficient to give this answer? How much more correctly the very wise man Augustine answered! Above others he had the illumination which caused him to say that he reads the writings of the earlier fathers in such a way that he does not believe them—no matter how great their influence may be because of their saintliness and learning—unless they are in agreement with the Scripture. Both saintliness and learning are splendid and very high distinctions; but they are not sufficient for faith, which must rely on the Word of God alone. This statement of Augustine sets forth a very fine judgment against all human traditions. If you adopt it, you will say: “No matter how great the influence of the pope may be because of his erudition, instruction, saintliness, wealth, and power, let him go where he wants with his sanctimony, instruction, and the rest of his gifts; we shall not listen to him unless he produces Holy Scripture.”
We need this caution, for our gentlemen jurists are not yet ceasing to praise their silly and ungodly canons and to protect and defend the authority of the popes.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 3.325–26.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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