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Over the internet I have come across posts like this that say

Luther stated that our sinful state is much like the piles of manure. It is ugly, repulsive and offensive. There is nothing in it that would commend it to anyone, especially God – but justification is like the first snowfall in winter. It covers the sight and smell of the manure piles with a blanket of pure white. The pile is still inherently a manure pile, but now it is covered.

And others variants of it e.g.

Martin Luther described God's forgiveness as Christ simply covering over our sinful souls, like a blanket of snow covering a manure heap. - cf. @Verbum's post in On Jesus' blood covering sins | Catholic Answers Forums and 2nd to last paragraph here.

Is there a reference that would show that Martin Luther did in fact state or teach this? If he didn't say this, what did he actually say that may have led to this re-stating?

If he did teach this, how does Lutheranism or those understanding or agreeing with this perspective reconcile this teaching with Scripture that God in his Christ does actually take way the sins of the world1 and not just cover them over (i.e. when we have been justified by Christ, God looking down sees only the white snow but not the dung underneath that still remains)?

1. John 1:29 (RSVCE), Heb 9:22-24 (RSVCE), etc.


Please see also Christians are doomed to hell? | C.SE. It turned out that what has been claimed that a community taught, has actually never been an official teaching of that community.

  • Thanks for the reference, but that quote isn't anywhere to be found on that page... – Flimzy Oct 11 '14 at 13:15
  • @Flimzy The user Verbum posted "You're right. This is Luther's expression. I think he said that Jesus covered our sins like snow covers a pile of manure. The intent is that we are incurably corrupt and can't even cooperate with the grace of God. But, might you ask, what about the manure that falls on the snow?" It appears that this is attributed to Luther but I am having a difficult time finding a reference that shows this. PS I have also added another link. – user13992 Oct 11 '14 at 14:58
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According to this article: Has Martin Luther's "Snow-Covered Dunghill" Mystery-Legend Been Solved?! the answer to the question is, "No, he did not say that, but it sounds like something he would have said."

Luther said:

Conceived in sorrow and corruption, the child sins in his mother’s womb. As he grows older, the innate element of corruption develops. Man has said to sin: ‘Thou art my father’—and every act he performs is an offense against God; and to the worms: ‘You are my brothers’—and he crawls like them in mire and corruption. He is a bad tree and cannot produce good fruit; a dunghill, and can only exhale foul odors. He is so thoroughly corrupted that it is absolutely impossible for him to produce good actions. Sin is his nature; he cannot help committing it. Man may do his best to be good, still his every action is unavoidably bad; he commits a sin as often as he draws his breath. (Werke, (Wittenberg Edition), Vol. III, p. 518.)

In Luther's commentary on Psalm 51:7, which refers to snow cleansing our sins:

"How can we become "purer than snow" even though the remnants of sin always cling to us? I answer: I have always said that man is divided into spirit and flesh. Therefore, as far as the total man is concerned, there remains remnants of sin or, as Paul calls them (2 Cor. 7:1), "defilements of body and spirit." . . . Still we have obtained Baptism, which is most pure; we have obtained the Word, which is most pure; and in the Word and Baptism we have by faith obtained the blood of Christ, which is surely most pure. According to this purity, which in spirit and faith we have from Christ and from the Sacraments that He instituted, the Christian is rightly said to be purer than snow . . . even though the defilements of spirit and flesh cling to him. These are concealed and covered by the cleanness and purity of Christ . . .

. . . if you look at a Christian without the righteousness and purity of Christ, as he is in himself, even though he be most holy, you will find not only no cleanness, but what I might call diabolical blackness. . . . Therefore if they ask: "Sin always clings to man; how, then, can he be washed so as to make him whiter than snow?" you reply: "We should look at a man, not as he is in himself, but as he is in Christ."

The linked article above provides many more words from Luther, and goes much deeper into detail about the question, and even quotes a "snow over refuse" analogy by Luther, but that analogy has more to do with his belief in sanctification. The conclusion in the article is that Luther did not exactly describe God's forgiveness as Christ simply covering over our sinful souls, like a blanket of snow covering a manure heap, but that this unofficial quote was constructed from many different things that Luther did say.

  • Sheesh. I guess the first quote this was what the Council of Trent was combatting when it said, "If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema." – Sola Gratia Oct 25 '18 at 17:05

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