This was Luther’s criticism of the Church, and this was the basis for the break with the Church. The basis for this break was not that he taught another theology, but the break was that the Pope did not admit criticism because he claimed to be cf Divine right in everything he does and thinks, officially.
One of the main things which Luther himself experienced was the importance of monasticism in the Roman church – he himself was a monk. Out of the monastic attitude of the Roman church a double morals followed, the morals of counsels, advices for higher goodness, greater nearness to God, namely the monastic attitude; and then the rules which are valid for everybody and which everybody has to fulfill.
The higher counsels for the monks, such as fasting, discipline, humility, celibacy, etc., make the monks something ontologically higher than the ordinary man. He has higher substantial graces, whatever he may be personally.
Now this was demanded by the historical situation when the Church became larger and larger and the masses of the people couldn’t take upon themselves, as it was said, the whole yoke of Christ; they couldn’t because it was too heavy for them. So a special group did it, and this group follows the special advices for higher morality and piety. They were the religiosi, those who are religious in their whole attitude, who are not religious as everybody has to be, but who make religion, so to speak, their “vocation.” Now the double morals are the main point of Luther’s attack. The Divine demand is absolute and unconditional. It refers to everybody. This absolute demand destroys the whole system of religion. There is no status of perfection, as the Catholics ascribed to the monks. Everybody has to be perfect and nobody is able to be perfect.
Not man’s power is able to give one the graces to do the right thing; but not a special endeavor, as the monks have it. Decisive in all cases is the intention: the good will, not the magic habit of which the Catholic Church spoke. And this intention, this good will, is right even if its content is wrong. But the valuation of a personality is dependent on the inner intention of a person towards the good. Luther took this very seriously. For him it is not enough if you will to do the good, the will of God, but you must will what God wills joyfully, with your voluntary participation. And if you fulfill the whole law but you don’t do it joyfully – because you are allowed to do it, because you are a child and the image of God – then it is worth nothing. The obedience of the servant is not the fulfillment of Christian ethics. Only he who loves, and joyfully loves, God and man is able to fulfill the law. But this is what is expected from everybody.
This means Luther turns religion and ethics around. We cannot fulfill the will of God without being united with Him. And this is impossible without forgiveness of sins. Even the best people have elements of despair, and aggressiveness and indifference and self-contradiction. Only on the basis of Divine forgiveness can the full yoke of Christ be imposed on everybody. This is completely different from a moralistic interpretation of Christianity. The moral is that which follows – it might or might not follow; it should follow, essentially; sometimes it does not – but the prius of it is the participation in the Divine grace in His forgiveness and in His power of being.