Luther: Justification is a Stand-or-Fall Article of the Christian Faith

David Waltz has sparked my interest afresh in the quotation allegedly from Luther that Justification is a doctrine upon which the church stands or falls (link to Waltz’s article). I agree that the expression may not be Luther but is easily derivable from Luther’s teachings.

Waltz has traced it back to Valentin E. Löscher in 1718, but — with some help from Eberhard Jüngel (link) — I have traced it back a bit further to my own favorite Theologian, Francis Turretin, who stated, in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology at Tomus II, Locus 16, Question 1, Section 1:

“Luthero dicitur Articulas stantis et cadentis Ecclesiœ

You can see for yourself:

Text not available

The image above is from the 1819 printing of Turretin’s work, but (of course) Turretin’s first edition is much older. The second volume of Turretin’s work was published in 1682, which would beat out Löscher. Turretin (at least in the editions I can find) doesn’t provide any citation, and it is not clear to me whether Turretin had intended to quote or paraphrase Luther.

I don’t have access, at the moment, to a first edition of Turretin’s Institutes to verify that the quotation appeared in the original edition. Both Waltz and Jüngel (linked above) provide some interesting bases for the pseudo-quotation or paraphrase. Jüngel notes that previous attempts to definitively track down the quotations origin have proved fruitless.

On the other hand, the Smalcald Articles do suggest that Luther viewed the issue as being a stand-or-fall principle, and so do many other of Luther’s writings. The Smalcald Articles provide a good basis for the quotation as a paraphrase when they state:

5] Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.



P.S. Luthero dicitur means “It was said by Luther.”
P.P.S. See p. 633 of Volume 2 of Turretin’s Institutes in the Giger-Dennison edition, if you wish to see how Giger-Dennison handled this.

6 Responses to “Luther: Justification is a Stand-or-Fall Article of the Christian Faith”

  1. James Swan Says:

    On the other hand, the Smalcald Articles do suggest that Luther viewed the issue as being a stand-or-fall principle, and so do many other of Luther’s writingsGreat work Tur8.I do admit, the research you’ve uncovered is very interesting… but not interesting enough for me to dig into, precisely for the very reason you mention above. I vaguely recall when Mr. Waltz began writing about this quote, but I do recall more fully thinking at the time, “um…and?”It’s the quotes which misrepresent Luther that most intrigue me. If Waltz could show that this quote misrepresents Luther, I would find it far more interesting. Yes, I do admit, if the quote turns out to not be from Luther at all, shame on whoever “got the ball rolling” so to speak. At least in this instance, we can probably safley let Cochlaeus rest in peace!I’m currently working on a few Luther quotes, off and on. They’ve been in blogger draft, waiting for time to dig into them. Again though, excellent research, very interesting!blessings, James

  2. Turretinfan Says:

    Thanks James!

  3. John Bugay Says:

    TF: Scott Clark has a discussion of it that provides a similar, earlieer statement by J. H. Alsted: J. H. ALSTED (1588″“1638), A REFORMED THEOLOGIAN said virtually the same thing. This is not a Lutheran distinctive. He said “articulus iustificationis dicitur articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae” (the article of justification is said to be the article of the standing or falling of the church) See McGrath, preface to Iustitia Dei (vol 1?), p. 7Quote:For the sense and origins of this celebrated phrase, see F. Loofs, “˜Der articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae´. It is necessary to challenge Loofs upon several points, particularly his suggestion that the phrase is first used in the eighteenth century by the Lutheran theologian Valentin L¨oscher in his famous anti-Pietist diatribe Vollst¨andiger Timotheus Verinus oder Darlegung der Wahrheit und des Friedens in denen bisherigen Pietistischen Streitigkeiten (1718″“21), and is restricted to the Lutheran constituency within Protestantism. This is clearly incorrect. The Reformed theologian Johann Heinrich Alsted uses the phrase a century earlier, opening his discussion of the justification of humanity coram Deo as follows: “˜articulus iustificationis dicitur articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae´ (Theologia scholastica didacta (Hanover, 1618), 711). Precursors of the phrase may, of course, be found in the writings of Luther himself ““ e.g., WA 40/3.352.3: “˜quia isto articulo stante stat Ecclesia, ruente ruit Ecclesia´. For more recent reflection, see Schwarz, “˜Luthers Rechtfertigungslehre als Eckstein der christlichen Theologie und Kirche´.

  4. Turretinfan Says:

    Assuming McGrath’s footnote (also available here) is correct, that would seem to be the “best” source in Luther that I’ve seen to date, with Turretin providing only a very minor gloss on Luther’s words.

  5. David Waltz Says:

    Hi John,Thank you (and Dr.Clark), for the info on Alsted. As I mentioned a bit earlier on Beggar’s All, the reference to Alsted is also in the first edition (2.193 – footnote 3). I actually had the footnote highlighted; though in my defense, I had done so back in the late 90s.TF,The English edition of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology in 2.633 has the reference you mentioned (English and Latin)…Grace and peace,David

  6. Turretinfan Says:

    Yes, David – that’s what my second postscript was aiming at.

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