15 Times Martin Luther Sounded Surprisingly Catholic When Talking About Suffering

“Through the suffering of Christ,” said Luther, “the suffering of all his saints has become utterly holy, for it has been touched with Christ’s suffering.”

Lucas Cranach the Elder, “Portrait of Martin Luther,” 1529
Lucas Cranach the Elder, “Portrait of Martin Luther,” 1529 (photo: Public Domain)

The founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, shows himself remarkably “Catholic” when discussing Lent, mortification and suffering (as he does in many others).


Fasting and Abstinence

1. “After this comes the discipline of the flesh, to kill its gross, evil lust, to give it rest and relief. This we must kill and quiet with fasting, watching and labor, and from this we learn how much and why we shall fast, watch and labor.” (Treatise on Good Works, March 1520)

2. “It is not wrong to fast in honor of the name of an apostle, or to confess during Lent.” (Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent; Romans 15:4-13, 1521)

3. “Fasting, praying, going to church are good works, if they are done in the right spirit. ... If you desire to fast and pray like Anna, well and good. But take good care that first of all you imitate her character, and then her works.” (Sermon for the Sunday After Christmas; Luke 2:33-40; 1522)


Bodily Mortification

4. “There is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.” (The 95 Theses, #3; 31 October 1517)

5. “All mortifications which the conscience-stricken man brings upon himself are the fruit of inner penance, whether they be vigils, work, privation, study, prayers, abstinence from sex and pleasures, insofar as they minister to the spirit.” (Explanations of the Ninety-Five Theses, Aug. 1518)

6. “After St. Paul has taught the Romans faith, he begins in Romans 12:1 to teach them many good works, exhorting them to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which would be their spiritual service. This is rendered to God in that the body is mortified by fasting, watching and labors, which is done by Anna. All the saints of old have done this, for fasting means all chastisement and discipline of the body. Although the soul is just and holy by faith, the body is not yet entirely free from sin and carnal appetites, wherefore it must be subdued and disciplined and made subject to the soul, as St. Paul says of himself in 1 Corinthians 9:27: ‘But I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected. We also read in 1 Peter 2:5 that we should offer up spiritual sacrifices, that is to say not sheep nor calves, as under the law of Moses, but our own body and ourselves, by the mortification of sin in our flesh and the discipline of the body. No one can do this who does not first believe.” (Sermon for the Sunday After Christmas; Luke 2:33-40; 1522)

7. “No one can mortify the flesh, bear the cross, and follow the example of Christ before he is a Christian ... Then you proceed to the mortification and the cross and the works of love.” (Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, Jan. 1525)

8. “The apostle considers first the discipline of the body — the mortification of evil lusts. He handles the subject here in a manner wholly unlike his method in other epistles. In Galatians he speaks of crucifying the flesh with its lusts; in Hebrews and Colossians, of putting off the old man and mortifying the members on earth. Here he mentions presenting the body as a sacrifice; ...” (Sermon for the First Sunday After Epiphany; Romans 12:1-6, 1525)

9. “This is the head and foundation of my doctrine, on which I build and teach love of one’s neighbor, obedience to the civil magistrates and mortification and crucifixion of the body of sin, as the Christian faith prescribes.” (Letter to King Henry VIII, 1 Sep. 1525)

10. “‘Mortification of the flesh’ is also, properly, penance.” (Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony, Jan. 1528) 

Sharing the Sufferings of Christ

11. “Punishments, crosses, and death are the most precious treasury of all and the most sacred relics which the Lord of this theology himself has consecrated and blessed, not alone by the touch of his most holy flesh but also by the embrace of his exceedingly holy and divine will, and he has left these relics here to be kissed, sought after, and embraced. ... As St. James says, ‘Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials’ [James 1:2]. For not all have this grace and glory to receive these treasures, but only the most elect of the children of God.” (Explanations of the Ninety-Five Theses, Aug. 1518)

12. “And this is the true foundation, thoroughly to know Christ’s passion, when we not only understand and lay hold of Christ’s sufferings, but also of his heart and will in those sufferings, ...” (Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday; Luke 18:31-43, 1525)

13. “If we really wish to be Christians and have eternal life yonder, we can have no better way than the way our Lord Himself had and all the saints, . ... Christ must always bear the Cross; the world will not bear it, but lays it upon Him, and we Christians, too, must bear it so that it may never be empty.” (Letter to the Elector John of Saxony, Nov. 18, 1529)

14. “Christ by his suffering not only saved us from the devil, death, and sin, but also that his suffering is an example, which we are to follow . . . we should suffer after Christ, that we may be conformed to him. For God has appointed that we should not only believe in the crucified Christ, but also be crucified with him, . . . each one must bear a part of the holy cross; nor can it be otherwise. St. Paul too says, ‘In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’ [Col. 1:24].” (Sermon at Coburg on Cross and Suffering, 16 April 1530)

15. “Through the suffering of Christ, the suffering of all his saints has become utterly holy, for it has been touched with Christ’s suffering.” (Ibid.)