RIGHTEOUSNESS IN FAITH
THE DOCTRINE of justification1 is not simply one doctrine among others but—as Luther declares—the basic and chief article of faith with which the church stands or falls, and on which its entire doctrine depends. The doctrine of justification is “the summary of Christian doctrine,” “the sun which illuminates God's holy church.” It is the unique possession of Christianity and “distinguishes our religion from all others.” The doctrine of justification preserves the church. If we lose this doctrine, we also lose Christ and the church; for then no Christian understanding remains. What is at stake in this doctrine is the decisive question as to how man can continue to stand before God. This doctrine “consoles our conscience before God.” Luther repeatedly expresses this in the strongest terms, as though he were under oath.2 “Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised, even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed… on this article rests all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world. Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubts about it. Otherwise all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all our adversaries will gain the victory.” That is how Luther expresses it in the Smalcald Articles.3 In the same year, 1537, Luther admonishes his pupils in the introduction to a disputation: We cannot emphatically and often enough sharpen our thinking on this doctrine. We must devote ourselves to it with the greatest theological diligence and seriousness. For neither reason nor Satan is so opposed to anything else as they are to this. No other article of faith is so threatened by the danger of false
1 Rudolph Hermann, Luthers These Gerecht und Sünder zugleich (1st ed.,
1930; 2nd ed., 1960; Gütersloh: Mohn) and Hans Joachim IWAnd, Glaubens-
gerechtigkeit nach Luthers Lehre (3rd ed.; Munich: Kaiser, 1959).
2WA 40III, 335, 352. Cf. WA 39I, 205. WA 25, 330.
3WA 50, 199; BC, 292.