"By worshiping the sun and the moon--which they considered the true worship of
God--the heathen have committed what is by far the greatest of their sins. This is why man-made godliness is sheer blasphemy of God and the greatest of all the sins a man commits."
"The heathen recognized that being mighty, invisible, just, immortal, and good are characteristics of divinity or of the Being who is God. Therefore they recognized God's invisible Being, His eternal power and Godhead. This major premise of the practical syllogism, this inborn theological sense of what is right (synderesis theologica), cannot be obscured in any people. But they erred in the minor premise when they said and maintained: Here, this Jupiter or someone else, represented by this likeness, possesses these characteristics. Here the error began, and idolatry was committed, everyone wanting to subsume according to his inclination."
"Such monstrous infamies were actually considered religion and righteousness among the heathen; for there really is nothing so ridiculous, so foolish, so obscene, so foreign to all decency, that men who lack the Word of God cannot be talked into it (bereden) as religious worship at its best."
"The heathen, who do not have the Word, never correctly understood these matters even though evils engulfed them; for they held that death is a natural necessity, not a penalty for sin. So they cannot judge the whole nature of man, since they do not know the spring whence these calamities came upon the human race."
"Therefore whoever wants to learn and become wise in secular government, let him read the heathen books and writings. They have truly painted it and portrayed it quite beautifully and generously, with both verses and pictures, with teachings and examples; and they became the source for the ancient imperial laws. I am convinced that God gave and preserved such heathen books, as those of the poets and the histories, like Homer, Virgil, Demosthenes, Cicero, Livy, and afterwards the fine old jurists--as He has also given and preserved other temporal goods among the heathen and godless of all times--that the heathen and godless, too, might have their prophets, apostles, and theologians or preachers for the secular government. In this sense St. Paul also calls the Cretan poet Epimenides "their prophet"; and Matthew calls the three holy kings "Magi" because of the fact that they were the priests, prophets, or teachers of the Arabs. Thus they had their Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Ulpian, and others, even as they people of God had their Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and others; and their emperors, kings, and princes, like Alexander Augustus, etc., where their Davids and Solomons."
"According to their own testimony, whatever the Romans did in the matter of virtue they did from a burning desire for glory. So also the Greeks, so also the Jews, so also the entire human race. But though this may be worthy of honor before men, nothing is more dishonorable before God; nay, it is most godless and the height of sacrilege, because there people did not act for the glory of God or in order to praise God. On the contrary, robbing God of His glory by the most impious of thefts and taking it to themselves, they were never more dishonorable and base than when they were shining in their most exalted virtues. But how could they act for the glory of God when they know neither God nor His glory?"
(All from "What Luther Says" pp. 616-618; one of my favorite books and a great introduction to Luther.)
13 hours ago