Luther’s Explanation to the Second Article

luther statue church

“He redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, bought and won me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil, not with silver and gold, but with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death, in order that I may be His, live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever. This is most certainly true.”
-Martin Luther, Explanation to The Creed, Second Article

Martin Luther: Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio


ORATIO, MEDITATIO, TENTATIO (Prayer, Meditation, Testing): Luther’s teaching on the relation of prayer to theology from the preface to his Psalms commentary

Luther’s “Right Way to Study Theology”

I will show you a right way to study theology, which I myself have practiced, and, if you adhere to it, you too shall be so learned that, if need should arise, you will be able to write books that are as good as those of the fathers and councils, just as I may make bold to boast in God, without pride or deceit, that I would not acknowledge that some of the fathers had much on me when it comes to writing books, though I am far from being able to boast the same of my life. It is the way that King David teaches in Psalm 119 and which was without a doubt adhered to by all the patriarchs and prophets. There you will find three rules which are abundantly set forth in the whole psalm: oratio, meditatio, tentatio.

First, you must know that the Holy Scriptures is a book that makes foolishness of the wisdom of all other books, because none of them teaches eternal life, only this one alone. Therefore you must straightway despair of your own mind and reason, for you will not attain it by these. On the contrary, with such presumption you will cast yourself, and others with you, from heaven into the abyss of hell, as did Lucifer. Rather kneel down in your closet and pray to God in true humility and earnestness that through his dear Son he may grant you his Holy Spirit to enlighten, guide and give you understanding. You see how David in the above-mentioned psalm prays again and again: Teach me! O Lord, instruct me! Show me! and many other expressions like them. Even though he knew well the text of Moses and other books and heard and read them daily, he still desires the real Master of the Scriptures himself in order that he may not tackle them with his reason and make himself the master. For this produces those sectarians who allow themselves to think that the Scriptures are subject to them and easily mastered with their own reason, as if they were the fables of Markolf or Aesop, which require neither the Holy Spirit nor prayer.

Second, you should meditate, not only in your heart but also outwardly, repeating and comparing the actual, literal words in the book, reading and rereading them with careful attention and thought as to what the Holy Spirit means by them. And guard against being satiated or thinking that when you have read, heard, or said it once or twice you understand it fully; for this will never make an excellent theologian; it will be like immature fruit that falls before it is half ripe.

This is why in the psalm you see David constantly exulting that he would do nothing else, day and night and always, but speak, write, utter, sing, hear, and read God’s Word and commandments. For God will not give you his Spirit apart from the external word. Be guided accordingly, for it was not for nothing that he commanded that his Word should be outwardly written, preached, read, sung, and spoken.

Thirdly, there is trial (tentatio). This is the touchstone that teaches you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting is God’s Word, wisdom above all wisdom. So you see why it is that David so often in this psalm laments concerning all the enemies, the wicked princes and tyrants, the lying and godless spirits, which he must suffer by reason of the very fact that he meditates, that he applies himself to God’s Word, as we have said. For as soon as God’s Word goes forth through you the devil will afflict you and make you a real doctor [of theology] and teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word. For I myself…must be very thankful to my papists for pummeling, pressing, and terrifying me; that is, for making me a fairly good theologian, for otherwise I would not have become one…

So there you have David’s rule. If you study well according to this example, you will also sing and praise with him in the words of the same psalm: “The law of thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” “Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep thy precepts.” And you will find how flat and moldy the books of the fathers will taste to you; you will not only despise the enemy’s books but the longer you go on the less will you be pleased with your own writing and teaching. When you have come to this point then you may confidently trust that you have begun to become a real theologian, who is able to teach not only young and imperfect Christians but also the advanced and mature; for Christ’s church has in it all kinds of Christians, young, old, weak, sick, sound, strong, fresh, lazy, simple, wise, etc.

Martin Luther, quoted in Minister’s Prayer Book, ed., by John W. Doberstein (pp. 287ff.)

Luther’s letter to his senior, Johann von Staupitz, on why he wrote the 95 Theses

Tranformation (metanoia), in Luther’s own words, was at the heart of what was wrong with indulgences. As we know, he made repentance the basis for the Christian life, that is, the Christian’s daily conversion, in the 1st thesis: 

Dominus et magister noster Iesus Christus dicendo, ‘Penitentiam agite etc.’ omnem vitam fidelium penitentiam esse voluit                                                                                                                  (When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance).

Since indulgences led to an improper understanding of repentance, Luther said they had absolutely no value.

Luther’s letter to von Staupitz on why he wrote the 95 Theses:

“Poenitentia (or metanoia), therefore, means coming to one’s right mind and a comprehension of one’s own evil after one has accepted the damage and recognized the error. This is impossible without a change in one’s disposition and [the object of one’s] love. All these definitions agree so well with Pauline theology that, at least in my opinion, almost nothing could illustrate Paul’s theology better than the way they do.
Then I progressed further and saw that metanoia could be understood as a composite not only of “afterward” and “mind,” but also of the [prefix] “trans” and “mind” (although this may of course be a forced interpretation), so that metanoia could mean the transformation of one’s mind and disposition. Yet it seemed to express not only the actual change of disposition but also the way by which this change is accomplished, that is, the grace of God. Such transition of the mind, that is, the most true poenitentia, is found very frequently in Holy Scripture: the old Passover foreshadowed it, and Christ made it a reality…
Continuing this line of reasoning, I became so bold as to believe that they were wrong who attributed so much to penitential works that they left us hardly anything of poenitentia, except some trivial satisfactions on the one hand and a most laborious confession on the other. It is evident that they were misled by the Latin term, because the expression poenitentiam agere suggests more an action than a change in disposition; and in no way does this do justice to the Greek metanoein.
While this thought was still agitating me, behold, suddenly around us the new war trumpets of indulgences and the bugles of pardon started to sound, even to blast, but they failed to evoke in us any prompt zeal for the battle. In short, while the doctrine of the true poenitentia was neglected, they even dared to magnify not poenitentia—not even its least important part, which is called satisfaction —but only the remission of this least important part, so that one has never heard of a similar “glorification” of poenitentia. Finally they taught impious, false, and heretical things with so much authority—temerity, I wanted to say—that if anyone muttered anything in protest he was immediately a heretic destined for the stake and guilty of eternal damnation.
Since I was not able to counteract the furor of these men, I determined modestly to take issue with them and to pronounce their teachings as open to doubt. I relied on the judgment of all the doctors and of the whole church that it is better to perform the satisfactions than to have them remitted by buying indulgences. There is no one who has ever taught differently. This is why I entered the disputation; that is, I have provoked all the people, the great, the average, the mediocre, to hate me thoroughly, at least as much as could be engineered and accomplished by these men who have such great zeal for money (oh, no, I should have said for souls!). Since these “lovely” people cannot refute what I have said, they arm themselves with the greatest cunning and pretend that I violated papal authority by my theses.
This is the reason, Reverend Father, why I now, unfortunately, step out into public view. I have always loved privacy and would much prefer to watch the splendid performance of the gifted people of our age than become a part of the show and be ridiculed…
And so I am asking you to receive this poor writing of mine and to forward it with whatever speed is available to you to our excellent Pope Leo X, so that it may serve me there as an advocate, so to speak, in the face of the contrivings of the evilminded. I ask this not because I want to get you involved in my danger; I prefer to take all the risk myself. Christ will know whether my words are his or my own. Without Christ’s command not even a pope can speak, nor is the heart of a king in his own hand. This Christ is the judge whose verdict I am awaiting through the Roman See…It is enough for me to have the dear Savior and Redeemer, my Lord Jesus Christ. I shall sing praise to him as long as I live. What do I care if someone does not want to join me in this hymn of praise? He may howl, even all by himself, if he wishes to do so.

“Then look to Christ”: Johann Von Staupitz and Martin Luther



staupitz and luther


The Vicar of the Augustinian order to which Martin Luther belonged, Johann von Staupitz, acted as Luther’s confessor. Luther said that had it not been for von Staupitz, “I should have sunk to hell.”  Indeed, had it not been for the intervention of his confessor, von Staupitz, we would perhaps not have known the spirituality of Martin Luther at all.  He would not have been a famous reformer, but instead an embittered monk with a completely unremarkable life. 


“You know, in two years I’ve never heard you confess anything remotely interesting.”          

“I live in terror of judgment.”

“And you think self-hatred will save you?”  

“Have you ever dared to think that God is not just? He has us born tainted by sin, then He’s angry with us all our lives for our faults, this righteous Judge…who damns us…threatening us with the fires of hell. I know, I know. I’m evil to think it.”      

“You’re not evil. You just don’t see it. God isn’t angry with you, Martin. It’s you that is angry. You are angry with God.”          

“I wish there were no God!”                

“Martin, what is it you seek?”             

“A merciful God. A God whom I can love. A God who loves.”         

“Then look to Christ. Bind yourself to Christ, and you will know God’s love. Say to Him, ‘I am yours. Save me.”              

“I am yours? Save me?”

“I am yours. Save me.”             

“I am yours. Save me.”


The above is for educational purposes only.

Martin Luther’s ‘Tower Experience’

I saw the whole

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: “The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: ‘The just person lives by faith.'” I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just person lives by faith.” All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.

Martin Luther, an excerpt from the Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Works (1545), his explanation of his ‘discovery’ of justification by grace through faith (which is referred to as his “Tower Experience”).

Pray without Ceasing

prayingPray without Ceasing
Johann Christoph Blumhardt
The words “pray without ceasing” are not to be understood in the way we usually think of prayer. For this would mean that we should incessantly be on our knees before God, addressing him with prayerful words. Then the statement would be in direct contradiction to the Lord’s command not to use many words when we pray.
This simply cannot be applied to the way we usually pray. For “pray without ceasing ” is too strong an expression to be translated by words like “pray frequently and diligently” or “pray as often as you possibly can.”
“Without ceasing” implies something more? It can only be understood as the turning of the human spirit toward God in prayer.
Here one can say that what should be present without ceasing is a prayerful and beseeching, supplicating attitude; one might say that there should not be a single moment when God does not find us praying to him as if we stood physically in his presence.
There is a different kind of prayer without ceasing; it is longing. Whatever you may be doing, if you long for the day of everlasting rest, do not cease praying. If you do not wish to cease praying, then do not cease your longing. Your persistent longing is your persistent voice. When love grows cold, the heart grows silent. Burning love is the outcry of the heart! If you are filled with longing all the time, you will keep crying out, and if your love perseveres, your cry will be heard without fail.”
David expresses this same thing: “To thee I lift up my eyes, O thou who art enthroned in the heavens” (Ps.123:1). Here also, he compares this raising of the eyes to the Lord our God with the way servants watch the hands of their masters and maids the hands of their mistresses, without a word being said.
This looking upward can be present in every activity and wherever we are, even in the midst of conversation, and even when our mind is occupied with the practical task of the moment. If we undertake or perform a task which separates us from God and prevents us from raising our eyes to him, we can easily lose our bearings.
Only think of the many wrong emotions – so much anger, rage, vanity, envy, pride, greediness, touchiness, as well as unnecessary worry – which would not be there if our souls were directed toward God instead of being concerned with all these things.
Indeed, there is no other rule which costs so little and needs so little effort, but which has such a significant effect on a person’s nature; “pray without ceasing!” is to be understood in the sense of good advice rather than as a veto.
How much protection and safekeeping, how much deliverance from the snares of darkness, how much redemption and response to our need could we experience as a matter of course, with no exertion on our part, if we were to stand before the Lord in prayer in every situation?
Used with permission.

Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther


“Thus from faith flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a cheerful, willing, free spirit, disposed to serve our neighbour voluntarily, without taking any account of gratitude or ingratitude, praise or blame, gain or loss. Its object is not to lay men under obligations, nor does it distinguish between friends and enemies, or look to gratitude or ingratitude, but most freely and willingly spends itself and its goods, whether it loses them through ingratitude, or gains goodwill. For thus did its Father, distributing all things to all men abundantly and freely, making His sun to rise upon the just and the unjust. Thus, too, the child does and endures nothing except from the free joy with which it delights through Christ in God, the Giver of such great gifts.”

-Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty

Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing by Sören Kierkegaard

one thing smaller


Father in Heaven! What is a man without Thee! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! What is all his striving, could it even encompass the world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all! So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. Oh, Thou that giveth both the beginning and the completion, may Thou early, at the dawn of day, give to the young man the resolution to will one thing. As the day wanes, may Thou give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution, that the first may be like the last, the last like the first, in possession of a life that has willed only one thing. Alas, but this has indeed not come to pass. Something has come in between. The separation of sin lies in between. Each day, and day after day something is being placed in between: delay, blockage, interruption, delusion, corruption. So in this time of repentance may Thou give the courage once again to will one thing. True, it is an interruption of our daily tasks; we do lay down our work as though it were a day of rest, when the penitent (and it is only in a time of repentance that the heavy-laden worker may be quiet in the confession of sin) is alone before Thee in self-accusation. This is indeed an interruption. But it is an interruption that searches back into its very beginnings that it might bind up anew that which sin has separated, that in its grief it might atone for lost time, that in its anxiety it might bring to completion that which lies before it. Oh, Thou that givest both the beginning and the completion, give Thou victory in the day of need so that what neither a man’s burning wish nor his determined resolution may attain to, may be granted unto him in the sorrowing of repentance: to will only one thing.


What is True Prayer? Pray on Purpose!

Lutherrose746What is True Prayer? Pray on Purpose!

Martin Luther wrote instructions on prayer in general in his Large Catechism concerning the Lord’s Prayer. It is good to take a moment to reflect on this wisdom when it comes time to pray. His word’s are true no matter where you are or whatever you are doing.

When reading Luther we notice that Jesus is always there and so is the Father.  This is true whether we are reading Luther’s commentaries, letters, apologetics or catechisms.

Luther holds up the Lord’s Prayer as a model prayer containing the range of our needs. We commend this whole section of the Large Catechism to you, especially if you haven’t read it recently, and we take this opportunity to highlight one thing: Real prayer is really praying for what we really need.

Luther notes that God wishes to draw us to Himself so we can humble ourselves before Him, lament our misery and pray for grace and help. God does not regard prayer on account of the person who is praying, but rather on account of His own Word. Therefore God hears all of our prayers the same as if St. Paul himself is praying. What matters is that we trust God’s Word that commands us to pray for what we truly need and also that we trust He is listening. When we trust God for our needs, we begin to humbly share with our families and the world what we know they need.

Luther gives an example: He asks us would we would think if the Emperor told a beggar he would give him whatever he asked for and the beggar answered by merely asking for a bowl of broth. Not only would we think the beggar to be a fool, but we would come to the conclusion that he was actually showing disrespect to his lord. Luther goes on to say the following about how we should pray:  “Where there is true prayer there must be earnestness, we must feel our need, the distress that impels and drives us to cry out. Then prayer will come spontaneously, as it should, and we will not need to be taught how to prepare for it or how to generate devotion.”

Luther reminds us that just as Jesus came to forgive real sin, so we should also offer real prayer. Give your laments to God – all of them – and give Him all your praise.  Our need has often been great, but so has been our Lord’s supply.  In our prayers we thank God for people like you who not only listen to God’s Word, but who also share your blessings with us and with others.