Osiander: Never Heard of Him

This is part six of a series of twelve newsletter articles written by Rev. Neil L. Carlson for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Rev. Carlson is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and Zion Lutheran Church in Sidney and Chappell, Nebraska.

Andreas Osiander was the priest at St. Lorenz Church in Nuremberg and acted as though he was in favor of Luther and the reformation that was taking place.[1] He received this priestly appointment in 1522, the very same year that he started believing ideas about justification that were greatly different than Luther’s. Throughout Luther’s life, Osiander remained quiet and did not publicly teach contrary to Luther or the other reformers. However, after Luther’s death Osiander is credited with saying, “Now that the lion is dead, I shall easily dispose of the foxes and hares.”[2] What is meant by this is that Luther was more or less the glue that held The Reformation together and now that he was gone there was no one to stop all sorts of false doctrines from coming about. Luther himself sadly knew this would be the case when he said, “This doctrine [of justification] will be obscured again after my death.”[3] Osiander was one of the first to prove Luther right. As soon as Luther was in the grave Osiander began to deny forensic justification.

Luther and the other reformers called the doctrine of justification “the article on which the church stands or falls.” This article is the foundation upon which all Christian doctrine is based. Forensic is a legal term used in the court of law—in this case, the divine tribunal of God. Forensic justification is the act of man being declared just (or righteous) before God for the sake of Christ. Through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, the Law has been fulfilled and the debt of the sin of the world has been paid. Therefore, God speaks mankind just because of the work of Christ apart from anything man has done. Forensic justification is completely objective, based on facts that have occurred outside of man despite man’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, or ideas.

Denying forensic justification (the central doctrine that caused The Reformation), in 1537 Osiander began teaching justification by infusion. This was a tragic return to the teaching of Rome. The Church of Rome at the time and even today teaches infused grace. “The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the ‘one mediator between God and men.’ But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man (infused grace), ‘the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery’ is offered to all men”.[4]

Osiander’s version of infused grace isn’t exactly like that of the Church of Rome, but is very similar and completely denies forensic justification. He taught, “The Gospel has two parts; the first, that Christ has satisfied the justice of God; the other, that He has cleansed us from sin, and justifies us by dwelling in us.”[5] This means justification no longer takes place in God’s divine court but takes place inside of man. The grave danger is that justification is no longer objective (outside of man that can be believed because of the work and promises of Christ), but now is subjective and can only be believed by the life of the Christian. It takes faith away from Christ and places it on man and his works. According to Osiander, “Christ made satisfaction and acquired forgiveness for us, but He did not thereby affect our justification.”[6] Justification then supposedly happens by Christ renewing the man from the inside out, causing man to be justified through his own holy living.

This departure from the doctrine of The Reformation caused Osiander to confuse the two natures of Christ, dividing that which cannot be divided. He claimed only the divine nature dwells in man and that Christ is our righteousness only according to the divine nature. The Lutheran Church, however, has always believed, taught, and confessed the genus maiestaticum, which states: “the attributes of Christ’s divine nature are ascribed and communicated to the human nature.”[7] This is essential to Jesus’ death on the cross atoning for the sins of the world. If He died as a man only, there was no payment for sins. If He died as divine only, well that couldn’t happen because God is, by His very essence, life.

Francesco Stancarus subsequently taught that “Christ is our Righteousness only according to His human nature, and not according to His divine nature.”[8]  This teaching is also false, as explained above. “The Stancarian doctrine destroys both the unity of the person of Christ and the sufficiency of His atonement.”[9]

What do these two unknown men and their false doctrines have to do with the Church today or with the 500th anniversary of The Reformation? Justification by grace through faith for Christ’s sake is still and will always be the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls. The Lutheran Church cannot spend too much time teaching and discussing justification. Though we still have the teaching of Rome present among us, the danger the Lutheran Church in America currently faces is the ever-present influence of evangelicalism and the holiness churches who, in their own right, teach a form of justification by infusion. The false teaching of Osiander is very much alive in other denominations. The tree is known by its fruit, which means one can discern this infused grace in the preaching and teaching of the denomination.

This Reformation, let us look only to the cross to know we are justified by God, before God.

[1] F. Bente. Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions. St. Louis; Concordia Publishing House, 2005, 356.

[2] Bente, 356.

[3] Bente, 355.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Citta del Vaticano, 2010, 160.

[5] Bente, 357.

[6] Bente, 361.

[7] David P. Scaer. A Latin Ecclesiastical Glossary. David Scaer, 1978, 23.

[8] Bente, 371.

[9] Bente, 372.

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