Lesson 3: The First Article of the Apostles’ Creed in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

The Small CatchismLuther’s explanation of the Creed’s first article is another classic. He uses everyday language to interpret creation as God’s ongoing action to provide for all our needs, protect us from all dangers, and preserve us through all changes. This is far from the deism most of our contemporaries associate with creation in which God sets up an orderly universe and then stands back to watch things unfold. God is active in every moment of life. Luther’s words are almost poetic.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

Obviously, Luther believes God gives us all we have. His list goes on and on including everything from wives to animals to shoes. I can’t read it without remembering one of God’s gifts in his Large Catechism is a mother’s breasts that supply milk for her infant.

Luther also is meticulous in describing God caring for everyone equally. There is no hint that the divine offers favored treatment for those who worship him. Jesus claimed God sends sun and rain on both the good and evil in the Sermon in the Mount. Now Luther declares, “God acts out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in me.” The only difference between Christians and others is that believers are aware of God’s love.

Even here Luther’s radical understanding of grace is apparent. Faith simply responds to God’s gifts with thanks and praise, service and obedience. His explanation in the Large Catechism  clearly acknowledges faith’s role.

We are to trust God alone, and turn to him, expecting from him only good things; for it is he who gives us body, life, food, drink, nourishment, health, protection, peace, and all temporal and eternal blessings. It is he who protects us from evil, he who saves and delivers us when any evil befalls. It is God alone, I have often enough repeated, from whom we receive all that is good and by whom we are delivered from all evil…Athough much that is good comes to us from men we receive it all from God through his command and ordinance. Our parents and all authorities—in short, all people placed in the position of neighbors—have received the command to do us all kinds of good. So we receive our blessings not from them, but from God through them. Creatures are only the hands, channels, and means through which God bestows all blessings. For example, he gives to the mother breasts and milk for her infant, and he gives grain and all kinds of fruits from the earth for man’s nourishment—things that no creature could produce by himself.

A natural response to this picture of God as completely motivated by steadfast love and knowing what we need before we ask is to wonder why bother then to pray? Luther addresses that in his interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kerry Walters says:

    One of the many, many, MANY things I know little about is the Lutheran tradition. So i’m finding this new series really informative. Thanks, Fritz!

  2. Carl H says:

    One of the challenges associated with using the explanation in Luther’s Small Catechism is that it depicts a level of health, prosperity and domestic fulfillment that many people do not enjoy and God has not generally promised. Here’s an unpublished alternative explanation that attempts to foster gratitude about God’s gifts independent of one’s material circumstances:

    I believe that God made the entire universe of which I am a part,
    and that he has given me my body and soul and all my abilities.
    Because God loves me and has power over all that he has made,
    I can always to look to him to provide food, clothing and shelter,
    people who care about me, strength to endure illness and injury,
    and everything else that I need to support this body and life.

    Whatever I have that is of genuine benefit God has supplied
    not because of any merit or worthiness in me
    but because of his own divine goodness and mercy,
    So however little or much I possess according to his purposes,
    I can best respond with sincere gratitude —
    thanking and praising God, obeying him,
    and using his gifts to help other people.

    In the end, God will establish a new heaven and a new earth
    and give me a perfect new body that will never die.
    With all hardships ended and every need fully satisfied
    I will dwell in the presence of his glory and majesty forever.

    This is most certainly true.


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