Martin Luther and William Tyndale on the State of
On December 19,
1513, in connection with the eighth session of the fifth Lateran Council, Pope
Leo X issued a Bull (Apostolici regimis)
declaring, "We do condemn and reprobate all who assert that the
intelligent soul is mortal" (Damnamus et reprobamus omnes assertentes
animam intellectivam mortalem esse). This was directed against the growing
"heresy" of those who denied the natural immortality of the soul,
and avowed the conditional immortality of man. The Bull also decreed that
"all who adhere to the like erroneous assertions shall be shunned and
punished as heretics." The decrees of this Council, it should be
noted, were all issued in the form of Bulls or constitutions (H. J. Schroeder,
Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils, 1937, pp. 483, 487).
In 1516 Pietro Pomponatius, of Mantua, noted Italian professor
and leader among the Averrorists (who denied the immortality of the soul),
issued a book in opposition to this
position called Treatise on the Immortality of the Soul. This was
widely read, especially in the Italian universities. As a result, he was haled
before the Inquisition, and his book publicly burned in Venice.
Then, on October 31, 1517, Luther posted his famous Theses on the
church door in Wittenberg. In his 1520 published Defence of 41 of his
propositions, Luther cited the pope's immortality declaration, as among
"those monstrous opinions to be found in the Roman dunghill of
decretals" (proposition 27). In the twenty-seventh proposition of his
Defence Luther said:
However, I permit the
Pope to establish articles of faith for himself and for his own faithful —
are: That the bread and wine are transubstantiated in the sacrament; that
the essence of God neither generates nor is generated; that the soul is the
substantial form of the human body that he [the pope] is emperor of the
world and king of heaven, and earthly god; that the soul is immortal;
and all these endless monstrosities in the Roman dunghill of decretals—in
order that such as his faith is, such may be his gospel, such also his
faithful, and such his church, and that the lips may have suitable lettuce
and the lid may be worthy of the dish.—Martin Luther, Assertio Omnium
Articulorum M. Lutheri per Bullam Leonis X. Novissimam Damnatorum
(Assertion of all the articles of M. Luther condemned by the latest Bull of
Leo X), article 27, Weimar edition of Luther's Works, vol. 7, pp. 131, 132
(a point-by-point exposition of his position, written Dec. 1, 1520, in
response to requests for a fuller treatment than that given in his Adversus
execrabilem Antichristi Bullam, and Wider die Bulle des Endchrists).
Archdeacon Francis Blackbume states
in his Short Historical View of the Controversy Concerning an Intermediate
State, of 1765:
Luther espoused the
doctrine of the sleep of the soul, upon a Scripture foundation, and then he
made use of it as a confutation of purgatory and saint
worship, and continued in that belief to the last moment of his life.—Page
In support, Blackburne has an
extended Appendix section dealing with Luther's teaching as set forth in his
writings, and discusses the charges and countercharges.1
Here follow certain of the leading witnesses of recent centuries,
with Luther and Tyndale in some detail.
MARTIN LUTHER (1493-1546), German
Reformer and Bible translator
'The immediate cause of
Luther's stand on the sleep of the soul was the issue of purgatory, with its
postulate of the conscious torment of anguished souls. While Luther is not
always consistent, the predominant note running all through his writings is
that souls sleep in peace, without consciousness or pain. The Christian dead
are not aware of anything—see not, feel not, understand not, and are not
conscious of passing events. Luther held and periodically stated that in the
sleep of death, as in normal physical sleep, there is complete unconsciousness
and unawareness of the condition of death or the passage of time.4
Death is a deep, sound, sweet sleep.2 And the
dead will remain asleep until the day of
resurrection embraces both body and soul, when both will come together again.5
Here are sample Luther citations. In the quaint 1573 English
translation we read:
Salomon judgeth that
the dead are a sleepe, and feele nothing at all. For the dead lye there
accompting neyther dayes nor yeares, but when are awaked, they shall seeme
to have slept scarce one minute.—An Exposition of Salomon's Booke,
called Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, 1553, folio 151v.
But we Christians, who have been redeemed from all this through
the precious blood of God's Son, should train and accustom ourselves in
faith to despise death and regard it as a deep, strong, sweet sleep; to
consider the coffin as nothing other than our Lord Jesus' bosom or Paradise,
the grave as nothing other than a soft couch of ease or rest. As verily,
before God, it truly is just this; for he testifies, John 11:11; Lazarus,
our friend sleeps; Matthew 9:24: The maiden is not dead, she sleeps. Thus,
too, St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, removes from sight all hateful aspects of
death as related to our mortal body and brings forward nothing but charming
and joyful aspects of the promised life. He says there [vv. 42ff]: It is
sown in corruption and will rise in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor
(that is, a hateful, shameful form) and will rise in glory; it is sown in
weakness and will rise in strength; it is sown in natural body and will rise
a spiritual body.—"Christian Song Latin and German, for Use at
Funerals," 1542, in Works of Luther (1932), vol. 6, pp.
Thus after death the soul goes to its bedchamber and to its
peace, and while it is sleeping it does not realize its sleep, and God
preserves indeed the awakening soul. God is able to awake Elijah, Moses, and
others, and so control them, so that they will live. But how can that be?
That we do not know; we satisfy ourselves with the example of bodily sleep,
and with what God says: it is a sleep, a rest, and a peace. He who sleeps
naturally knows nothing of that which happens in his neighbor's house; and nevertheless, he still is living, even though, contrary to the nature of
life, he is unconscious in his sleep. Exactly the same will happen also in
that life, but in another and a better way.6 —"Auslegung des ersten
Buches Mose," in Schriften, vol. 1, cols. 1759, 1760.
Here is another sample:
We should learn to view our death in the right light, so
that we need not become alarmed on account of it, as unbelief does; because
in Christ it is indeed not death, but a fine, sweet and brief sleep, which
brings us release from this vale of tears, from sin and from the fear and
extremity of real death and from all the misfortunes of this life, and we
shall be secure and without care, rest sweetly and gently for a brief
moment, as on a sofa, until the time when he shall call and awaken us
together with all his dear children to his eternal glory and joy. For since
we call it a sleep, we know that we shall not remain in it, but be again
awakened and live, and that the time during which we sleep, shall seem no
longer than if we had just fallen asleep. Hence, we shall censure ourselves
that we were surprised or alarmed at such a sleep in the hour of death, and
suddenly come alive out of the grave and from decomposition, and entirely
well, fresh, with a pure, clear, glorified life, meet our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ in the clouds . . .
Scripture everywhere affords such consolation, which speaks of
the death of the saints, as if they fell asleep and were gathered to their
fathers, that is, had overcome death through this faith and comfort in
Christ, and awaited the resurrection, together with the saints who preceded
them in death.—A Compend of Luther's Theology, edited by Hugh
Thomson Ker, Jr., p. 242.
WILLIAM TYNDALE (1484-1536), English Bible translator and
In Britain William Tyndale, translator of the
Bible into English, came to the defense of the revived teaching of conditional immortality.
This, as well as other teachings, brought him into direct conflict with the
papal champion, Sir Thomas More, likewise of England. In 1529 More had
strongly objected to the "pestilential sect" represented by Tyndale
and Luther, because they held that "all souls lie and sleep till
doomsday." In 1530 Tyndale responded vigorously, declaring:
And ye, in putting them [the departed souls]
in heaven, hell, and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and
Paul prove the resurrection.... And again, if the souls be in heaven, tell
me why they be not in as good case as the angels be) And then what cause is
there of the resurrection?—William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas
More's Dialogue (Parker's 1850 reprint), bk. 4, ch. 4, pp. 180, 181.
Tyndale went to the
heart of the issue in pointing out the papacy's draft upon the teachings of
"heathen philosophers" in seeking to establish its contention of
The true faith putteth [setteth forth] the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour.
The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put [set forth] that the souls
did ever live. And the pope joineth the spiritual doctrine of Christ and the
fleshly doctrine of philosophers together; things so contrary that they
cannot agree, no more than the Spirit and the flesh do in a Christian man.
And because the fleshly-minded pope consenteth unto heathen doctrine,
therefore he corrupteth the Scripture to stablish it.—lbid., p. 180.
In yet another section
of the same treatise, dealing with the "invocation of saints,"
Tyndale uses the same reasoning, pointing out that the doctrine of departed
saints being in heaven had not yet been introduced in Christ's day:
And when he [More] proveth that the saints be in heaven in
glory with Christ already, saying, "If God be their God, they be in
heaven, for he is not the God of the dead;" there he stealeth away
Christ's argument, wherewith he proveth the resurrection: that Abraham and
all saints should rise again, and not that their souls were in heaven; which
doctrine was not yet in the world. And with that doctrine he taketh away the
resurrection quite, and maketh Christ's argument of none effect.—Ibid., p.
Tyndale presses his contention still further by showing the
conflict of papal teaching with St. Paul, as he says in slightly sarcastic
"Nay, Paul, thou art unlearned; go to Master More, and
learn a new way. We be not most miserable, though we rise not again; for our
souls go to heaven as soon as we be dead, and are there in as great joy as
Christ that is risen again." And I marvel that Paul had not comforted
the Thessalonians with that doctrine, if he had wist [known] it, that the
souls of their dead had been in joy; as he did with the resurrection, that
their dead should rise again. If the souls be in heaven, in as great glory
as the angels, after your doctrine, shew me what cause should be of the
JOHN FRITH (1503-33), associate of Tyndale and fellow martyr
A Disputacyon of Purgatorie ... divided into three Bokes,
An Answer to John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester
Notwithstanding, let me grant it him that some are already
in hell and some in heaven, which thing he shall never be able to prove by
the Scriptures, yea, and which plainly destroy the resurrection, and taketh
away the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul do prove that we shall rise;...
and as touching this point where they rest, I dare be bold to say that they
are in the hand of God.—An Answer to John Fisher.
Source: Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on
Doctrine, copyright 1957 by the Review and Herald Publishing Association,
LATERAN COUNCIL V 1512--1517
Ecumenical XVIII (The Reform of the
The Human Soul (against the Neo-Aristotelians)7
[From the Bull "Apostolici Regiminis" (Session VIII), Dec. 19, 1513]
Since in our days (and we painfully bring
this up) the sower of cockle, ancient enemy of the human race, has dared to
disseminate and advance in the field of the Lord a number of pernicious
errors, always rejected by the faithful, especially concerning the nature of
the rational soul, namely, that it is mortal, or one in all men, and some
rashly philosophizing affirmed that this is true at least according to
philosophy, in our desire to offer suitable remedies against a plague of
this kind, with the approval of this holy Council, we condemn and reject all
who assert that the intellectual soul is mortal, or is one in all men, and
those who cast doubt on these truths, since it [the soul] is not only truly
in itself and essentially the form of the human body, as was defined in the
canon of Pope CLEMENT V our predecessor of happy memory published in the
(general) Council of VIENNE but it is also multiple according to the
multitude of bodies into which it is infused, multiplied, and to be
multiplied. And since truth never contradicts truth, we declare every
assertion contrary to the truth of illumined faith to be altogether false;
and, that it may not be permitted to dogmatize otherwise, we strictly forbid
it, and we decree that all who adhere to errors of this kind are to be
shunned and to be punished as detestable and abominable infidels who
disseminate most damnable heresies and who weaken the Catholic faith.
Source: The Sources of Catholic Dogma, Translated by
Roy J. Deferrari, from the Thirtieth Edition of Henry Denzinger's Enchiridion
Symbolorum, published by B. Herder Book Co., Copyright 1957, pages 237,
1. The Lutheran
scholar Dr. T. A. Kantonen (The Christian Hope, 1594, p. 37),
likewise referred to Luther's position in these words:
"Luther, with a greater emphasis on the resurrection,
preferred to concentrate on the scriptural metaphor of sleep. For just as
one who falls asleep and reaches morning unexpectedly when he awakes,
without knowing what has happened to him " we shall suddenly rise on
the last day without knowing how we have come into death and through death.
''We shall sleep, until He comes and knocks on the little grave and says,
"Doctor Martin, get up! Then I shall rise in a moment, and be with him
2. "Catechetische Schriften"
(1542), In Schriften, vol. 11, pp. 287, 288.
3. "Auslegungen uber die
Psalmen " in 1533 in Schriften, vol. 4, pp. 323, 324.
4. See "Auslegung des
ersten Buches Mose" (1544), in Schriften, vol. 1, col. 1756;
"Kirchen-Postille" (1528), in Schriften, vol. 11, col.
1143; Schriften, vol. 2, col. 1069; Deutsche Schriften (Erlangen
ed.), vol. 11, p. 142ff.; vol. 41 (1525), p. 373.
5. "Am Zweiten Sonntage nach Trinitatis," "Haus-Postille." in Schriften, vol.
13, col. 2153; "Predigt uber 1 Cor. 15: (54-57)," (1533),
"Auslegung des neuen Testament," in Schriften, vol. 8, col.
6. In his Master of Arts thesis (1946), "A Study of Martin
Luther's Teaching Concerning the State of the Dead," T. N. Ketola,
tabulating Luther's references to death as a sleep—as found in Luther's Sammtliche
Schriften, Walsh's Concordia, 1904 ed.—lists 125 specific Luther
references to death as a sleep. Ketola cites another smaller group of
references showing Luther believed in the periodic consciousness of some. But
the main point is that, while the dead live, they are unconscious—which is
stated some seven times.
7. Msi XXXII 842 A; Hrd IX 1719 C f.; BR(T) 5, 601 b f.; MBR 1,
542 a f·; Bar(Th) ad 1513 n. 92 (31, 40 a f.);cf. Hfl VIII 585 f.