Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Waltz on Luther - "articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae"

David Waltz, a Catholic (I think), poster with whom I've crossed swords a few times, has posted a recent blog article in which he identifies a quotation that he believes has been misattributed to Martin Luther. (link to post)

First of all, thanks to David for his post. It is always good to clear the historical record, and it seems that David has put some real time and effort into this.

Leaving aside a rhetorical matter for another time, a couple of notes on the substance of the research:

1) The Latin phrase should be, I think, "articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae" not "articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae" ;

2) It it is interesting to note that in addition to the non-Catholics that David identified, Cardinal Newman also seemingly attributes the expression to Luther (see here);

3) Wesley claims that he held Justification by faith to be articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae as early as 1738, (see here), and as well attributes the quotation to Luther but perhaps his memory is faulty (of course the 1738 date would not be inconsistent with the 1718 coining that David asserts) (After Wesley, we often see the quotation attributed to Luther in Methodist circles, which tends to suggest that Wesley would be responsible for the propagation of that particular myth, if indeed it is a myth.);

4) David may want to check up on the loose end frayed by these footnotes
- (a) (here), which seems to hint that the phrase may be Lutheran in its origin;
- (b) (here), which cites to Luther's commentary on the Psalms of Degrees;
- (c) (here), wherein a counter-article in Bellarmine's writings is described in the same words, though I could not find such a description in my edition of Bellarmine's works.

5) Like David, I am unable to find any actual instance where Luther used the phrase.

The doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is certainly a litmus test for evangelical orthodoxy. Given Luther's heavy emphasis on justification by faith alone, Luther probably would have agreed with such a statement, whether or not he himself originated the catchy Latin phrasing of the matter. For it is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, that men are saved from the guilt of their sins and made partakers of eternal life.


1 comment:

Kevin McGrane said...

The exact expression is found in Balthasar Meisner in 1618, as one already in common use, and attributed to Luther, orally if not in writing:

“Adeo verissimum est illud Lutheri proverbium, quo saepius fuit usus: Iustificatio est articulus stantis & cadentis Ecclesiae. ”

Anthropologias Sacrae, Disputatio XXIV, Thesis I, III, (Wittenberg: Johannes Gormannus, 1618).