"During the summer of 1520 he delivered to the printer a sheaf of tracts which are still often referred to as his primary works: The Sermon on Good Works in May, The Papacy at Rome in June, and The Address to the German Nobility in August, The Babylonian Captivity in September, and The Freedom of the Christian Man in November. [p137] The latter three pertain more immediately to the controversy and will alone engage us for the moment.
"The most radical of them all in the eyes of contemporaries was the one dealing with the sacraments, entitled The Babylonian Captivity, with reference to the enslavement of the sacraments by the Church. This assault on Catholic teaching was more devastating than anything that had preceded; and when Erasmus read the tract, he ejaculated, 'The breach is irreparable.' The reason was that the pretensions of the Roman Catholic Church rest so completely upon the sacraments as the exclusive channels of grace and upon the prerogatives of the clergy, by whom the sacraments are exclusively administered. If sacramentalism is undercut, then sacerdotalism is bound to fall. Luther with one stroke reduced the number of the sacraments from seven to two. Confirmation, marriage, ordination, penance, and extreme unction were eliminated. The Lord's Supper and baptism alone remained. The principle which dictated this reduction was that a sacrament must have been directly instituted by Christ and must be distinctively Christian.
"The removal of confirmation and extreme unction was not of tremendous import save that it diminished the control of the Church over youth and death. The elimination of penance was much more serious because this is the rite of the forgiveness of sins. Luther in this instance did not abolish it utterly. Of the three ingredients of penance he recognized of course the need for contrition and looked upon confession as useful, provided it was not institutionalized. The drastic point was with regard to absolution, which he said is only a declaration by man of what God has decreed in heaven and not a ratification by God of what man has ruled on earth."
(Chapter VIII, Wild Boar in the Vineyard, pp. 136-137, boldface added)
To be continued . . .
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