Saturday, March 6, 2010

Commentary On The Alleged Imperial Edict (1531)

The fourth article in the edict concerns the chief article of Christian faith, namely, that faith alone, without works, makes a man righteous. Concerning this, here is what they spit out in the edict, “And according to the fact that it is evident from Holy Scriptures, that mere faith alone, without love and good works, does not save, and also because God demands good works at many places in the Scriptures, the article that faith alone saves and that good works are rejected shall not be preached or taught,” etc.

 What they say here about not rejecting good works is said, as usual, with blind words, maliciously, to disparage us as those who reject good works, although they indeed know better.

We lay more emphasis on good works than the whole papacy has ever done, for it has never understood any good work, as I have sufficiently proved elsewhere. They simply cannot give up their venomous lying and slandering. And, in brief, there is not a word in this edict that does not contain its interpretation in itself, which is, “Clerics have never been good.” That saying clarifies every letter in this edict.

And how can these swinish fellows be expected to understand the value of this high, holy article, when they cannot even tolerate the minor articles, such as these, that a man may marry a wife, a woman may marry a husband, a man may eat and drink what God gives and provides for him, a Christian may partake of the sacrament in both kinds, and many other similar things? It would be a shame if these mad beasts and filthy swine should even smell this nutmeg, to say nothing of eating and partaking of it.

Let them rather teach and believe such things as these: it is a mortal sin to pass wind while wearing a surplice; and, whoever passes wind at the altar is damned; or (to include their high articles as well) whoever rinses his mouth with water and swallows a drop may not keep the mass that day; and, whoever forgetfully leaves his mouth open so that a gnat flies down his throat may not receive the sacrament that day; and similar, innumerable, splendid, excellent, high articles, on which their pigs’ church is founded. Those are articles worth talking about! Therefore, why should they pay much attention to faith and good works, such minor, simple, silly things?

But since I see that the devil persists in blaspheming this chief article through the mouths of his swinish teachers, and is unable to rest or cease, I, Dr. Martinus Luther, unworthy evangelist of our Lord Jesus Christ, I say that this article (faith alone, without any and all works, makes one righteous before God) shall be allowed to stand and to remain by the Roman emperor, the Turkish emperor, the Persian emperor, the pope, all cardinals, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, kings, princes, lords, all the world, together with all devils, whether they want to or not, and they shall have hell-fire on their heads besides. Let that be my, Dr. Luther’s, inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the real holy gospel.

For this is the very article which the children pray, “I believe in Jesus Christ, crucified, dead,” etc. No one has died for our sins except only Jesus Christ, God’s Son—only Jesus, God’s Son. And once again I say, Jesus, God’s Son, alone, has redeemed us from sin. That is certainly true and is the whole of Scriptures, and even if all the world and the devils should tear themselves and burst, it is still true. If, however, it is he alone who takes away our sin, then it cannot be we with our works.

It is indeed impossible for me to grasp and attain to this one and only Redeemer from sin, Jesus, except through faith. He is and remains beyond the grasp of works. Since faith alone, before any works follow it, can lay hold of this Redeemer, so it must be true that only faith, before and without works, grasps hold of this redemption, which means nothing else but becoming righteous.

For to have been redeemed from sin or to have sin forgiven must be the same as being or becoming righteous, etc. Good works, however, follow such faith or redemption or forgiveness of sin or righteousness, as the fruit of this faith. That is our teaching, as it is taught by the Holy Spirit and all of holy Christendom, and with this we remain in God’s name, Amen


Luther, M. (1999, c1960). Vol. 34: Luther's works, vol. 34 : Career of the Reformer IV (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Vol. 34, Page 90-91). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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