*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 19th of July. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Adam Francisco in for Dan van Voorhis.

Today on Christian History Almanac, we will look at Martin Luther and the doctrine of sola scriptura. Why on this day instead of, for example, April 17th when he made his famous “here I stand I can do no other” speech?

Well, it was on this day in 1519—two years prior to the Diet of Worms—that Luther arrived back to the town of Wittenberg after he had spent several days debating the learned inquisitor of the church of Rome, John Eck, in the city of Leipzig. And it was during the course of their debate that Luther began to assert the formal principle of the Lutheran reformation: that only the teachings of scripture could and should bind a Christian’s conscience. Scripture alone or sola scriptura was the only reliable source and final arbiter for Christian doctrine. And it alone—and no pope or church council—was by nature-inspired and infallible.

This was a significant moment in the history of Christianity, for declaring such things, in one way or another, went against established tradition. While scripture played a large role in shaping the doctrine of the church over the centuries, from day one really, its relationship to other lesser authorities had gotten convoluted.

All in all, it seems that through most of the middle ages, it was assumed that the pope and holy writ did or could not contradict each other. There was a co-inherence between the two and two streams of equally binding revelation that came from each.

This was and is odd, given that there is no reason to think God reveals himself outside the incarnate and inspired written word. But things were even more lopsided in Luther’s day and age. As he was preparing for his debate, he learned of a work entitled A Dialogue concerning the Power of the Pope, written by the pope’s theological advisor, Sylvester Prierias, and published as an official statement of the church. It insisted that the pope was infallible (long before the First Vatican Council reasserted it, again, in the 19th century) and, perhaps even more strikingly, that the scriptures derive their authority from the church.

This was the position Luther faced when he stood before John Eck in Leipzig in 1519 and would continue to debate after his return to Wittenberg on July 19th. It was also the position that would lead the papacy to excommunicate the man who had begun to challenge its practice of selling indulgences two years prior. Luther’s ex-communication, nevertheless, freed Luther and others across the European continent to pursue, in Luther’s words, “a reformation according to holy scripture.”

And now, a word from scripture.

Psalm 119:17-32

17 Deal bountifully with your servant,
that I may live and keep your word.
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
19 I am a sojourner on the earth;
hide not your commandments from me!
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules[a] at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments.
22 Take away from me scorn and contempt,
for I have kept your testimonies.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.

25 My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word!
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word!
29 Put false ways far from me
and graciously teach me your law!
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your rules before me.
31 I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame!
32 I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart!

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of July brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by Christoper Gillespie and written by Adam Francisco.

You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. In the end, everything is going to be ok.