Rorate Caeli

The accomplishments of Martin Luther, prince of the heresiarchs -
Part One: Why Luther is the heresiarch par excellence

This is a special two-part series for this month of the Protestant revolt based on a conference delivered by Don Pietro Leone Monselice* on the theological work of the man who caused so much hurt and pain to Holy Mother Church, the "prince of the heresiarchs", as Don Pietro appropriately calls him.


In Nomine Patris et Filli et Spiritus Sancti. Amen

        In these times of great ignorance and radical confusion, and when even Catholics of the highest levels of the hierarchy are pleased to praise Martin Luther, we would like briefly to present and evaluate his theology.

I The theology of Martin Luther

        As Fr. Schmidberger of the SPPX points out in his article on the subject, the main features of Martin Luther’s theology may be summarized in his four doctrines: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fides, Sola Gratia, and Solus Deus.  Let us proceed to address these doctrines in the light of the Catholic Faith.
        1.Sola Scriptura
        The first doctrine, that of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), affirms that the Faith is based only on Holy Scripture and that it is Holy Scripture itself that interprets Holy Scripture. (which means, in effect, that the interpretation is left to the person reading it), while the Catholic Church, in a declaration from the Council of Trent (S.4, 1546), which was taken up again at the First Vatican Council (s.3c.2), teaches that the Faith is based on Divine Revelation (also called Depositum Fidei), and is comprised not only of Holy Scripture (the written part of Depositum Fidei), but also of “Tradition” (the oral part of Depositum Fidei).

         It is not the individual person that has authority over the Depositum Fidei, but the Church.  The Church has established which books belong to Holy Scripture, and the Church interprets these books and the data of oral Tradition to define the Dogmas of the Faith.  The Ascension is an example of a dogma defined by the Church on the basis of Holy Scripture;  the Assumption is an example of a dogma defined by the Church on the basis of oral Tradition.
        2.Sola Fides
         The second doctrine, Sola Fides ( Faith alone) affirms that in order to be saved  Faith alone is necessary, and not Faith and works as the Church teaches. In this connection, the sacred Council of Trent (s.6 c.10) cites the following words from the Epistle of St. James, 2,24 “Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only?”
         Therefore, both Faith and Charity (or works of Charity) are necessary for salvation, and while the false ecumenists act as if Charity alone were necessary, Martin Luther  claims that only Faith is. Luther’s response to the Epistle of St. James, which clearly expresses Catholic Doctrine, was that of cancelling it from his new canon of Holy Scripture defining it simply as a “an epistle of straw”. From this we can see how Luther was less motivated by the Holy Scripture than by his own subjectivist presuppositions.  The same goes for other parts of the Bible that were cancelled by him.
         Moreover, it is necessary to keep in mind that Luther understands Faith in a very different way from  Catholics.  According to Luther, Faith consists in trusting that God in His mercy will forgive man on account of Christ, while the Church teaches that the Faith consists in accepting Revelation on the authority of God Who reveals it.
         Luther anyway had already completely lost the Catholic Faith from the moment that he denied a single article of Faith, because he who denies even one article of Faith, denies the authority of God Who has revealed it.
        3.Sola Gratia
        In the third doctrine, Sola Gratia, ( Grace alone), Luther affirms that through Original Sin human nature was totally corrupted, so that man became incapable of knowing religious truth and of acting freely and morally, with the result that Grace could not heal man, but only cover his sinfulness.  Whereas the Church teaches that human nature is only fallen and wounded, and can be healed with Grace; man can know the truth and possesses free will by means of which he collaborates with Grace in order to act morally, even if this often requires a great struggle.
        4. Solus Deus
        The fourth doctrine, Solus Deus, (God alone), means that salvation comes directly from God and not through the Church, the Priesthood, the Sacraments, the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints.  Luther claims that there is direct access to God. He does not recognize the intimate union between God and the Church: God in His Divinity and God in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ+.
        a.God, in  actual fact, in virtue of His divine and sublime Majesty, has established a hierarchical order in all things, whether they be natural or supernatural, whether they be in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell; and He operates through this intermediary hierarchical order for His own ineffable purposes.
        As for the Redemption, He has acted through the “Fiat” of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, by means of the Incarnation, the Passion and Death of His Divine Son, and, with regard to the particular point under discussion, by means of the Holy Catholic Church and Her Sacraments.
        b.Moreover, God, in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ+ has prolonged His earthly life and works in His Church: His life on earth through the Church which is His Mystical Body, and in His works through the Sacraments where He  acts in Propria Persona.  The most sublime and glorious example of His work is undoubtedly the Holy Mass where He continues to offer and immolate Himself to the Father at every moment of the day and night, and will do so until the end of time.
        In fact Luther professes only two Sacraments: Baptism, and that which he was pleased to define as “the Supper” in substitution for the Holy Mass, the sacrificial nature of which he denied.

II The heretical nature of Luther’s theology

         So here we have a brief synthesis of Martin Luther’s doctrine contained  in the forty-one Articles condemned by Pope Leo X with the “Damnatio in globo” in the Bull “Exsurge Domine” 1520, “ heretical, false, scandalous, or offensive to pious ears, as seductive of simple minds, originating with false exponents of the faith who in their proud curiosity yearn for the world’s glory, and contrary to the Apostle’s teaching, wish to be wiser than they should be.”
         Now, according to the Code of Canon Law (CIC 1983 Can.751) “ heresy is the obstinate denial, after having received Baptism, of any truth to be believed by Divine and Catholic faith, or obstinate doubt regarding it…” Having denied the truth of the Faith, Martin Luther is heretical, that is a formal heretic. Indeed, in virtue of the quantity of heresies that he conceived and taught, the number of protestant sects that he generated, and the consequent damage he wrought for the Catholic Church, he merits the name of heresiarch, or prince of the heresiarchs, or the heresiarch par excellence.


*Nom-de-plume of a Priest who celebrates the Traditional Mass exclusively within a diocese in Italy. Translation and contribution: Francesca Romana.


  1. M. A.1:20 PM

    "...even Catholics of the highest levels of the hierarchy are pleased to praise Martin Luther..."

    Incredible indictment, and it's not coming from a Rorate reader!

  2. "As Fr. Schmidberger of the SPPX points out in his article on the subject"

    Does anyone know what article he's referring to? (Is it this lecture?)

  3. Anonymous3:47 PM

    Get "The Facts About Luther" by Msgr. Patrick O'Hare. Luther is condemned out of his own filthy mouth! A Loyal Reader

  4. Picard4:22 PM

    Off topic but seems very important:

    Alcuin Reid: NOM seems to be a rupture and not in continuity with the past /former liturgy!!

    see: German fsspx-site, citing/quoting the German Cath. Newspaper Die Tagespost:

  5. Anonymous4:22 PM

    I have no tolerance for Luther, his heresies or what he did to the unity of the Church. But did the Church's abuses at the time help create Luther? I mean Trent even addressed the abuses. Some could argue that Trent would not have happened without Luther. I guess my question is what role did Church corruption play in creating the Protestant Revolt. To me, this is an important question for our day as it seems liberal heresies and abuses will inevitable lead to schisms and perhaps even heresy as well.

  6. Gregg the Obscure4:58 PM

    An excellent set of observations, but one minor quibble. Luther and his followers are more prone to say "Solus Christus" than "Solus Deus". I say this from experience. I was raised Lutheran, attended Lutheran schools through a BA degree and was a Lutheran "commissioned minister" from 1987-1989. By the Grace of God I was granted knowledge of the truth and entered the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church in 2001. I look forward to the continuance of this series.

  7. Anonymous5:51 PM

    Speaking of Lutheranism, was J.S. Bach in fact a closet Catholic? Go to this page and search for the word Bach to find the article:

  8. Regarding the role of corruption/abuses in the Protestant revolt is it not the case that Luther’s revolt was originally based on his own struggle with his scruples and his misreading of the Bible rather than on any abuses within the Church? Once he got the idea that the Church was ‘wrong’ he then expanded his list of grievances. That the Lutheran revolt was so successful in many areas was probably due, in part, to people’s criticisms of the abuses within the Church. As to Trent being in some way due to Luther there may be some truth in that but there were many people within the Catholic Church who were attempting to reform the Church long before Luther came on the scene.

    ‘The Catholic Reformation’ by Pierre Janelle gives a lot of information about the moves to reform the Church prior to the Protestant Revolt. It is available from Amazon.

  9. Anonymous6:19 PM

    It seems to me the biggest impact he had was that his doctrines were the seeds and saplings which have led to religion being considered so subjective and "personal" among large swaths of the population in the West (and now elsewhere too) and even truth in general becoming as such.

  10. An enlightening analysis of Luther's path to heresy and schism can be found in Fr M-J Lagrange's Luther on the Eve of his Revolt. It's well worth a read.

  11. John McFarland9:08 PM

    Obviously, the scandalous abuses in the Church in Germany and Rome made it easy for Luther to attack the Church as not merely corrupt, but irredemably corrupt.

    But as Mike observes, Luther's scruplosity (or is it his property guilty conscience?) is the basis of it all. No less an authority than Luther himself makes this pretty clear.

    It should also be noted that the statements of the conciliar authorities, up to and including the current Holy Father, regarding Luther are scandalous beyond words. Luther's drivel (an absurb reading of some scraps of Romans and Galaticans trumping everything else in scripture) is transmogrified into serious theology to be taken seriously, and a mendacious bum into at least a semi-hero.

  12. To Anonymous concerning J. S. Bach.
    It is difficult to say, however, his High Mass in b-minor is a magnificent and truly catholic work. Moreover, he used to write it for the last two or even three decades of his own life. He began with intention to present it as coronation Mass, however, he ended with much higher intentions. As American conductor John Nelson has noted, he received not a penny for this immense composition. Thus, it could really be considered as his Confiteor and Credo in unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.

  13. Tradfly11:21 PM

    At least Luther's was a 'Hermeneutic of Rupture'

  14. \\ But did the Church's abuses at the time help create Luther?....\\

    Et reliqua.

    I see exactly what you're getting at.

    Someone once called cults (and the same can be said about heresies) "the unpaid bills of the church." And it's not for nothing that heresy has been defined as "truth in isolation."

    But I would not call Luther "prince of heresiarchs". Whatever false doctrines he promulgated, he was not, as far as I can tell, a Christological heretic as were Arius, Nestorius, and Eutyches. (In any case, I have better things to read than Luther.)

    About Johann Sebastian Bach being a closet Catholic, this is not what I was taught in music history. Rather, he was a pietist Lutheran (or Evangelical, as they called themselves at this period).

    The site referenced to prove this is frequently inaccurate.

    But does this matter?

    Most holy Theotokos, save us.

  15. A note about historical Lutheran worship:

    Lutherans have more or less retained a lot of Latin. Luther himself wanted it to be the only liturgical langauge, and composed his German Mass only under pressure.

    An acquaintance of mine was organist in a large Swedish Lutheran church in the midwest. Christmas and Easter services were high masses in Latin; the early Sunday service was always a recited mass in Latin.

    Keep in mind I'm using the term "mass" because he used it. I don't know the details of their liturgy.

    But I've seen Castillophone Lutheran churches in my city who refer to their service as "Misa en Español."

    So Bach's composing Latin liturgical texts is no indication of his own religious convictions.

    Most holy Theotokos save us.

  16. Gratias2:11 AM

    Thank you for this illuminating (for me) post. Solus Deus by Martin Luther explains why the Virgin Mary Mother of God has been eliminated from postconciliar Catholicism, and why the Novus Ordo Mass I must submit to twice a month represents a supper.

  17. Anonymous3:11 AM

    Actually the corruption inside the Church was not the main ingredient in the success of Luther. That was a catalyst to the movement but the main reason originated in the political opportunity that the German princes saw of disengaging from Rome and taking possession of the Church's properties. As a consequence they supported Luther stongly, granted him protection and established Lutheranism as a mandatory religion in their estates. They also persecuted Catholicism and rooted out whatever vestiges that ramained in their territories.

  18. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Gratias, Our Lady is not in Lutheranism, or any of the sects, for the simple reason that Jesus is not there. A Loyal Reader

  19. J. G. Ratkaj3:18 PM

    Indeed some remarkable excerpts concerning Lutheran error. But Pius X' brilliant unmasking of the so called reformators as "enemies of the cross of Christ" in his commemorable encyclical letter EDITAE SAEPE (1910) is of course above reach:

    "Then those proud and rebellious men came on the scene who are "enemies of the cross of Christ . . .Their god is the belly...they mind the things of earth."[18] These men were not concerned with correcting morals, but only with denying dogmas."

  20. \\Solus Deus by Martin Luther explains why the Virgin Mary Mother of God has been eliminated from postconciliar Catholicism,\\

    I don't know what you mean by the Virgin being eliminated from postconciliar Catholicism, and I don't think you are either, but it cannot be blamed on Luther.

    He himself was very devoted to the Virgin, and believed and preached the customary Marian doctrines, including the Assumption, Perpetual Virginity, and Immaculate Conception.

    As he put it, "Veneration for the Virgin is written on the deepest recesses of the Christian's heart."

    Most holy Theotokos, save us.

  21. Anonymous3:56 PM

    Good point anon. While Luther's work was laughable drivel, it provided a nice excuse to seize the Church's property in Germany and elsewhere.

    They'll have fun giving all that property back too after the great chastisement ahead and the global conversion to Catholicism.

  22. Anonymous4:15 PM

    Jack said:

    "He himself was very devoted to the Virgin, and believed and preached the customary Marian doctrines, including the Assumption, Perpetual Virginity, and Immaculate Conception."

    Strange this, as we know that Our Lady is the "destroyer" of all heresies....

    Just saying, Jack.


  23. John McFarland5:16 PM


    The relative conservatism of the Lutherans, and particularly the Swedish Lutherans is true enough. I think that "misa" is in fact the standard terms in Swedish for their services. They left the Church because in those days they always did what the Germans did. The Germans were the cool kids of Northern Europe, if you will.

    But be that as it may, they don't have the faith, and they don't have the Mass. Whether or not a ship has smokestacks doesn't mean much if it doesn't have an engine.

  24. Anonymous12:55 PM

    As others have mentioned, the causes of the Reformation and its ability to "stick" are more complex than just a reaction to the commonly mentioned abuses at the time. As has others have already said, there was a strong political element to it too.

    Going back further, during the Great Western schism, and more importantly during the Concilliarist heresy/schism (an often forgotten rotten fruit of the Council of Constance--as Modernism is to Vatican II and its post-concilliar period and hermeneutic, Concilliarism is to Constance and its post-concilliar period and hermeneutic), many countries took at best, a neutral stance, toward Rome. The papacies immediately after Constance followed the Concilliarist model and it wasn't until Eugenius IV and the split between the papalists and concilliarists at the Council of Basel (the papalists moving to Florence) that the Church started getting back on track. For example, the Germans took this neutral stance once the lines were drawn during the Concilliarist schism and simply waited for the victor. The result of this mix of concilliarism and neutrality was over a generation of Catholics, with Germans at the forefront, with no real relationship or loyalty to Rome right up to the eve of the Reformation.

  25. That the Swedes "left the Church because the Germans did" can surely not be sustained (nor, indeed can "that the Germans did"). Scandinavian politics and the will of a king were surely the main factors.


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