The real Staupitz?: were Staupitz and Luther really on the same page?

12 Nov
See intriguing reviews of this book here, here, and here

See intriguing reviews of this book by Posset here, here, and here

I am asking this question of Issues ETC and others because I can’t get it out of my mind after listening to this otherwise informative interview with the Roman Catholic scholar Dr. Franz Posset of Luther Digest. In it they discussed Johann von Staupitz, Luther’s mentor, spiritual father, treasured father-confessor, fellow church reformer, etc…

Now it is no doubt true that Luther wrote a dedicatory letter to Staupitz in the Resolutions on Indulgences of 1518, where he basically attributes the reformation breakthrough to him.  Dr. Franz Posset goes further than this though, and the impression given by his short interview is that Staupitz supported Luther wholeheartedly.  In other words, Luther’s reformation was basically Staupitz’s as well – or was Staupitz’s reformation Luther’s? (see the title of Posset’s new book below)

The problem with this is that I am aware that Staupitz – who I really do think was as Christ and grace-filled as a pre-Council of Trent Roman Catholic was allowed to be (note his view of original sin was basically Luther’s as well) – wrote words later in his life that specifically countered Luther.  In my own personal research I have discovered that even some respected Lutheran historians seem unaware of this fact.

Posset's new book

Posset’s new book

Hear the great Philip Schaff:

His last book, published after his death (1525) under the title, “Of the holy true Christian Faith,” is a virtual protest against Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone and a plea for a practical Christianity which shows itself in good works. He contrasts the two doctrines in these words: “The fools say, he who believes in Christ needs no works; the Truth says, whosoever will be my disciple, let him follow Me; and whosoever will follow Me, let him deny himself and carry my cross day by day; and whosoever loves Me, keeps my commandments …. The evil spirit suggests to carnal Christians the doctrine that man is justified without works, and appeals to Paul. But Paul only excluded works of the law which proceed from fear and selfishness, while in all his epistles he commends as necessary to salvation such works as are done in obedience to God’s commandments, in faith and love. Christ fulfilled the law, the fools would abolish the law; Paul praises the law as holy and good, the fools scold and abuse it as evil because they walk according to the flesh and have not the mind of the Spirit.”135

Staupitz withdrew from the conflict, resigned his position, 1520, left his order by papal dispensation, became abbot of the Benedictine Convent of St. Peter in Salzburg and died Dec. 28, 1524) in the bosom of the Catholic church which he never intended to leave.136 He was evangelical, without being a Protestant.137 He cared little for Romanism, less for Lutheranism, all for practical Christianity. His relation to the Reformation resembles that of Erasmus with this difference, that he helped to prepare the way for it in the sphere of discipline and piety, Erasmus in the sphere of scholarship and illumination. Both were men of mediation and transition; they beheld from afar the land of promise, but did not enter it. (see here for more context)

Philip Schaff

Philip Schaff

That’s not really what I want to hear as a Lutheran.

Nevertheless, this resonates with that most authoritative of sources, Mr. Wikipedia, whose short article says:

“Staupitz was no Lutheran but thoroughly Catholic in matters of faith (especially as regards the freedom of the will, the meritoriousness of good works, and justification). This has been established by Paulus from the writings of Staupitz. Luther perceived this as a betrayal. In his last letter to Luther (1524) Staupitz made clear he was bitter about the direction the Protestant Reformation and its seemingly willful destruction of the unity of the Christian Church” (note: Mr. Wikipedia says that a citation is needed, so if you know, be a “Wikipedia Good Samaritan”)*

Another Augustinian fellow claims:

Everything that Staupitz is recorded as having said to comfort Luther in his anguish over predestination and his torments of conscience was fully Catholic teaching. The teaching of Staupitz on justification was also Catholic. Justification takes place through faith, operating in love. He rejected Luther’s teaching on “fiducal faith.”  He also was totally Catholic in his teaching on human free will and the uncertainty of salvation, as well as in his devotion to Mary and love for the Church.   (from here)

"Staupitz 'motto verse' from the Scriptures was Psalm 'I am yours, save me.' (Psalm 119:94), a text he shared and pressed on Luther when the young monk was despairing of God’s grace." (from here)

“Staupitz ‘motto verse’ from the Scriptures was Psalm ‘I am yours, save me.’ (Psalm 119:94), a text he shared and pressed on Luther when the young monk was despairing of God’s grace.” (from here)

I would like it better if Staupitz had not written what he did.  I would like it better if what Posset says was true without any qualifications.  But this does not appear to be the case – more research is needed!

Lutherans value history and the truths that we can readily discern from history.  Do you know any Lutherans who have ever read Staupitz’s works?  Staupitz did not write much**, and I have a hard time imagining that there are not papers examining his theology after his break with Luther.  I understand that we cover the nakedness – the errors – of our fathers graciously, but that said, we should also not mislead.

I would much rather we Lutherans keep one another accountable – instead of those who fight against or at least mitigate the pure Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I am sure that Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwartz of Issues ETC. would agree.  I hope that if they have Dr. Posset on again, they will ask him about these things.

All this said – there is indeed no better show that you can be listening to than Issues ETC.  Don’t doubt that for a minute.  There is no perfect Christian radio program, but Issues comes very close.


* Also in the Wikipedia article: “Von Staupitz wrote theological books on the topics of predestination, faith, and love. In 1559, Pope Paul IV put these texts on the Index of Prohibited Books as perhaps compromised by Staupitz friendly relations with the early Luther.”

This seems to be where Paul McCain gets the info here:

** More of Staupitz’s works:–+d.+1524.&qt=results_page

Issues ETC pic: ; Staupitz and Schaff: Wikipedia

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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Uncategorized


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