Thursday, May 27, 2004

Was Corruption in the Medieval Papacy the Primary Cause of the Protestant Revolt?

http://us.st11.yimg.com/us.st.yimg.com/I/yhst-81483472662466_1934_17988351

What does the papacy have to do with the abolition of five of seven sacraments, the move to sola Scriptura as the rule of faith over against an authoritative Church and Councils and apostolic succession and episcopacy (and including a papacy as well), or the ending of the sacrifice of the mass, or the move away from transubstantiation, or the ditching of purgatory or the end of baptismal regeneration among many Protestants and even infant baptism in some camps? What does it have to do with the cessation of the notion of the communion of saints and intercession of saints, and much of Mariology, and forensic, imputed justification vs. infused?

What does it have to do with the removal of seven previously-accepted books from the Bible or the Lutheran and Calvinist drowning of Anabaptist heretics, or the mutual anathematizing of Luther and Zwingli over the issue of the Eucharist? What does the corruption of the medieval papacy have to do with Luther's adoption of double predestination and utter rejection of free will, or Calvinist iconoclasm or the suggestion from the highest Protestant quarters to Philip of Hesse that he lie about his bigamy? Or the widespread early Protestant antipathy to philosophy and science and art?

Etc., etc., etc.

To act as if the Protestant Revolt would not have happened but for medieval problems of schism and papal power is to ignore a host of other factors, as if they were non-contributors. It's historically ludicrous. No Catholic who knows history at all will deny that corruption of certain popes was a major factor, but to claim that some reforms of the papacy would have prevented the so-called "Reformation" is a position which is well-nigh unprovable, given all that occurred during that turbulent time, and how many traditional Christian doctrines were ditched by the Protestants. There was far more going on here than merely the usual intrigues of church politics and power plays.

What does getting rid of the papacy and episcopacy and apostolic succession have to do with a corrupt papacy? In other words, how does corruption lead to a conclusion of utter worthlessness, such that something can be discarded? Something is either intrinsically bad and evil or unbiblical or it is not. If it were intrinsically a bad thing, then it wouldn't take corruption to want to get rid of it (as an evil thing is already "corrupt" anyway). If it is not intrinsically bad, then the proper response is to reform it and get it back to where it should be, not banish and abolish it. Either way, it makes no sense. So why, then, was the papacy abolished in Protestantism? This is nonsensical, incoherent reasoning.

The "Reformation" was not that (it is a misnomer), but rather, a Revolution insofar as it departed from passed-down Christian Tradition, as I am demonstrating in a roundabout way. It was a Christian movement, but not a "reformation" of some so-called pure early church, because such an animal never existed (i.e., the early church did not remotely resemble any brand of Protestantism, which claimed to merely be restoring it -- the literal meaning of "Reformation"). One can't re-form something which never existed in any form.

The Catholic has as much right to call what happened a Revolt as the Protestant has to call it a Reformation. I don't choose terms of historical epochs based on partisan concerns. I would argue that "Revolt" is much more neutral, whereas "Reformation" presupposes in its very use and literal meaning a Protestant outlook. We deny that what Protestantism brought the world was a return to the early Church, so how can we use the term? It has become a standard term just as Enlightenment has, but note how the latter is also thoroughly biased. Protestants and Catholics can agree that what happened in the 18th century was no "enlightenment" -- a big light that went on in culture because Christian tenets were being rejected and the goddess of "reason" put in their place.

Many things could have been different if we had acted against various corruptions sooner. No one disputes that. Of course, I don't place the onus nearly as highly on papal corruption. I see infinitely more "tyranny" in Luther and his princes or stuff like the destruction of cathedrals and Christian art (due to iconoclasm), or the massacres of Henry VIII and wholesale theft of the monasteries in England. Few scholars will underestimate or dismiss those things, but plenty will assert that the Inquisition has been greatly exaggerated and distorted.

I agree with Karl Adam's view about medieval Catholic corruption. The following is from the first draft of my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, written in 1991:

Catholics today (more so than formerly) freely admit that the Church in Luther's time sorely needed reforming. The eminent German Catholic theologian Karl Adam, in his book The Roots of the Reformation (translated by Cecily Hastings, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951 [portion of One and Holy, 1948] ), devotes nearly a third of its space to "weakness in the Church." He states that "the Renaissance Popes seem to have carried out in their own lives that cult of idolatrous humanism, demonic ambition and unrestrained sensuality" (p. 14). He quotes the words of Pope Adrian VI (1522-23), who in turn cited St. Bernard: "Vice has grown so much a matter of course that those who are stained with it are no longer aware of the stink of sin" (p. 20). He is quite frank and descriptive of other abuses:
The majority of this clerical proletariat had neither the intellectual nor the moral capacity to so much as guess the profundity of the questions raised by Luther . . . In this waste of clerical corruption it was impossible for the Spirit of our Lord to penetrate into the people

. . . There was no sacramental impulse towards an interiorizing and deepening of religion. So the attention of the faithful was directed towards externals . . . This hideous simoniacal abuse of indulgences corrupted true piety . . . indulgences were perverted to a blasphemous haggling with God. Night fell on the German Church . . . (pp. 22-26)

He lamented the loss of the Luther that might have been:
Had Martin Luther then arisen with his marvelous gifts of mind and heart, his warm penetration of the essence of Christianity, his passionate defiance or all unholiness and ungodliness, the elemental fury of his religious experience, his surging, soul-shattering power of speech, and not least that heroism in the face of death . . .- had he brought all these magnificent qualities to the removal of the abuses of the time . . . had he remained a faithful member of his Church, humble and simple, sincere and pure, then indeed we should today be his grateful debters. He would be forever our great Reformer . . . comparable to Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi. He would have been the greatest saint of the German people . . .

But -- and here lies the tragedy of the Reformation . . .- he let the warring spirits drive him to overthrow not merely the abuses in the Church, but the Church Herself . . . what St. Augustine calls the greatest sin . . . he set up altar against altar and tore in pieces the one
Body of Christ. (pp. 27-28)

Adam then gives his opinion of the origin of Luther's revolt:
The longer the strife continued . . . the confusion in his eyes between the abuses in the Church and the essence of the Church increased; his belief in himself and his mission deepened . . . The abuses . . . certainly unleashed Luther upon the path of revolution, and justified him in the eyes of the masses and in his own judgment. But they were not the actual ground, the decisive reason for Luther's falling away from the doctrine of the Church . . .:
[Luther]: I would have little against the Papists if they taught true doctrine. Their evil life would do no great harm.
It was not ecclesiastical abuses that made him the opponent of the Catholic Church, but the conviction that she was teaching falsely. And this conviction dates from long before the fatal 17th October, 1517. (pp. 34-35)
The Protestant still cannot, however, adequately account for why so many doctrines changed, if in fact, the impulse for reformation had primarily to do with abuses-in-practice. All the corruption did not change Catholic dogma in any appreciable way, whereas the Protestant Revolt did; therefore it is reasonable to contend that it must contain some tradition-rejecting or novelty-creating element not present in the earlier forces and movements of the medieval era. Some of us opine that this is the presence (to whatever degree --that itself can be argued) of heretical theology and a schismatic spirit.

Protestant Church historian Owen Chadwick, in his work, The Reformation (Pelican History of the Church, Volume 3, London: Penguin Books, revised version of 1972), states that "The feeling, diffused through Europe, that the Church must be reformed was as diversified as possible" (p. 12). He also minimizes the doctrinal aspects of the revolt:

When churchmen spoke of reformation, they were almost always thinking of administrative, legal, or moral reformation; hardly ever of doctrinal reformation. They did not suppose the Pope's doctrine to be erroneous. They supposed the legal system and the bureaucracy to breed inefficiency, graft, injustice, worldliness, and immorality . . . The first question, then, in the public mind was not the question: 'Is the teaching of the Catholic Church true?' That teaching was believed to be unaltered through the long centuries of the past, unalterable into the future to eternity.

(pp. 13-14)

A man like Erasmus would be a perfect example of this sort of person. Why, then, the massive doctrinal changes of the so-called "reformers"? -- especially of the radical reformers like the Anabaptists? From whence did they derive, if doctrine was not the issue in the public mind? What accounts for the sea-change in Luther's views, if not his personal theological beliefs and opinions on issues such as the primacy of conscience over against councils and all tradition if needs be, and sola Scriptura?

What does Chadwick say about what caused this essential change from moral reform to doctrinal upheaval? He hints at a position somewhat like mine, in a sociological sense: "Widespread, popular, and unsatisfied demands for reform are usually, in the end, revolutionary" (p. 20). He then offers his own thesis:

. . . what was it that made the call to reformation more potent and more revolutionary in the early sixteenth century than a hundred years before? Was it simply that the abuses were worse? That corruption so rotted the carcass that the hollow body collapsed in the moment it was pushed? The evidence upon this point, though hard to judge, suggests not . . .

We must therefore seek other explanations than the simple theory that the Church was too bad to continue, and consider two special circumstances: the increased control of kings over their kingdoms, and the improved education of the intelligent minds of the western world.

(pp. 22, 24)

Chadwick thus opts for political power and education as primary causes. The papacy is not even included. This still does not account for doctrinal revolution. Preserved Smith, a secularist historian, in his Reformation in Europe (New York: Collier Books, 1962, from the 1920 original), observes in a section on "Causes of the Reformation":
In the eyes of the early Protestants the Reformation was a return to primitive Christianity and its principal cause was the corruption of the church. That there was great depravity in the church as elsewhere cannot be doubted, but there are several reasons for thinking that it could not have been an important cause for the loss of so many of her sons. In the first place, there is no good ground for believing that the moral condition of the priesthood was worse in 1500 than it had been for a long time; indeed, there is good evidence to the contrary, that things were tending to improve, if not at Rome yet in many parts of Christendom. If objectionable practices of the priests had been a sufficient cause for the secession of whole nations, the Reformation would have come long before it actually did. Again, there is good reason to doubt that the mere abuse of an institution has ever led to its complete overthrow; as long as the institution is regarded as necessary, it is rather mended than ended.

(p. 27)

Smith then gives something approaching his general thesis:
The Reformation, like most other revolutions, came not at the lowest ebb of abuse, but at a time when the tide had already begun to run, and to run strongly, in the direction of improvement . . . Had the forces already at work within the church been allowed to operate, probably much of the moral reform desired by the best Catholics would have been accomplished quietly without the violent rending of Christian unity that actually took place. But the fact is, that such reforms never would or could have satisfied the spirit of the age. Men were not only shocked by the abuses in the church, but they had outgrown some of her ideals . . . in certain respects they repudiated, not the abuse but the very principle on which the church acted.

(pp. 31-32)

Smith thus arrives at doctrinal causes of the "revolution" (a factor I emphasize). He goes on to mention four areas that were repudiated: 1) sacramentalism / sacerdotalism, 2) "ascetic other-worldliness," 3) the cultus of the saints, and 4) the temporal power of the popes. At least he mentions the papacy as one factor (though even then only the aspect of temporal power). And he was no Catholic.

Joseph Lortz is a Catholic historian who is widely-regarded as a fair, ecumenical historian by Protestants. I have a 1955 essay of his, entitled, "Why Did the Reformation Happen?," included in editor Lewis W. Spitz's work, The Reformation: Basic Interpretations (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath & Co., 2nd ed., 1972, pp. 119-138). He, too, opts for multiple causation:

. . . the Reformation arose out of the dissolution of the basic medieval principles. That appears to be banal. Correctly developed, however, this sentence shows the whole enormous abundance of elements which one can appeal to as causes of the Reformation.

(p. 121)

Lortz allows an important place for the issue of the papacy:
. . . an existence free of the pope seemed to them no longer impossible . . . Without the centuries-long preparation through the pre-reformation the Reformation could not have come . . . Out of the multiplicity of events we shall select three great complexes . . . 1. First of all, the medieval unity . . . this unity was already greatly weakened, its destruction decisively prepared-for . . .

For the development of the church the Western schism means an unheard of, and almost universal uncertainty . . . It was an experience of the whole West, an experience that could no longer disappear from the Western consciousness and actually for a century did no longer disappear. The importance for the effect of the Reformation doctrines is clear without further comment.

(pp. 122-124)

Lortz's second factor is "a most comprehensive dissatisfaction with conditions in the church" (p. 124). This is the area of moral reform, on which everyone agrees. Then he dares to assert that doctrine and theology, too, play an important role:
3. Finally, the most important thing. The Reformation is above all the disavowal of Catholic dogmas . . . Up until now this has been seen all too little. And yet it describes the cause which first made the Reformation possible. The foundation of the Reformation from which it rose up and a large part of the Reformation movement itself was formed not merely of religious, but of decisive theological factors . . .

(p. 125)

Lortz makes reference to "the Ockamism of the fifteenth century" which "included in its content as in its way of thinking propositions which, if consistently followed out, had to lead away from church doctrine" (p. 126). He continues:
Ockhamism is no longer fully Catholic. The missal knows nothing of an arbitrary God . . . Ockhamism teaches an arbitrary God instead of the father-God; a God who without an objective criterion destines the one for heaven, the other for hell, who only by chance has named the one good and the other bad, who likewise could have commanded what today is forbidden as evil or could have forbidden what today is praised as good.

. . . Ockhamism, which rejected the authority of Aristotle, is finally characterized by the tearing apart of nature and the supernatural, almost to the point of the proposition of the double truth. That is, it acknowledges the conception that something can be true theologically (because it is in revelation) and at the same time can be refuted philosophically or can be demonstrated to be impossible.

. . . This way of thinking from the superficial nominalistic was not adequate for supernatural realities. Its individualizing and atomizing thinking, which tore apart the elements of tension and made them too sharply one-sided, is in addition not capable of conceiving of the sacramental organism "Church" and its sacramental life and rendering them theologically understandable. "Church" is only the sum of individual believers . . . The theological consequences of this in the direction of a radical ecclesiastical democracy and of the destruction of the correctly understood intermediary role of the priest are completely incalculable -- if they are followed through consistently. These consequences became evident in Luther in many ways . . . His conflict with Eck reveals the tragedy of the situation: both are thinking in nominalistic terms. Luther proceeds from this way of thinking with due consistency to the denial of Catholic dogmas. Eck, proceeding from the same nominalistic thought, is unable to illuminate theologically even in a measure satisfactorily the Catholic theses to which he firmly holds . . .

Let us now summarize: at the end of the Middle Ages a dangerous lack of theological clarity existed. It was of such a kind that it was relatively easy for a theologically independent person to become a heretic . . .

(pp. 126-128)

Lortz's explanation of the influence of nominalism gives, I think, a plausible connection between the currents of late medieval theological upheaval and (from the Catholic perspective) the heterodoxy, heresies, and rebellious elements in Luther's thoughts. If Protestants can come up with a better alternative explanation for the origin of all the doctrinal change and novelty introduced by Protestantism, I'm all ears.

Dogmas and corruptions in practice are two different things. If indeed the papacy can be defended from the Bible alone, what effect does corruption fourteen centuries later have to do with that case? Even during the life of St. Paul, he was railing against the corrupt churches, yet still calling them (most interestingly) "churches." Jesus did the same at the beginning of the book of Revelation. Thus, such a thing as a papacy can exist and be defended from Scripture and theological reasoning, whether it is corrupt or not. Corruption does not render something non-existent. See my paper: Sins and Sinners in the Catholic Church (especially the final section, where I list dozens of biblical proofs for the notion of sinners in the Church).

St. Catherine of Siena railed against corrupt popes every bit as much as Luther did. But she did it with intelligence, sanctity, and lack of foul-mouthed vulgarities and widely-distributed woodcuts showing, e.g., the pope being expelled from the anus of a goat, etc. St. Catherine, after all, still believed in the papacy, whereas Luther had abandoned it because the Church was so brash and "closed-minded" as to refuse to adopt his heresies.

How about if I rush up to a Calvinist school (or Westminster Seminary or some place like that) and demand that they deny TULIP and if not, to show me from "Scripture and plain reason" how they can possibly defend their "clearly false" beliefs? Failing that, I will stomp my foot, cry "here I stand" and be carried out by you and other staunch defenders of Established Orthodoxy, perhaps fleeing to a present-day Wartburg Castle in the backwoods of Idaho, where I can come up with ideas for vulgar woodcuts of Calvin or R.C. Sproul being eliminated from the rear end of a Grizzly Bear. I'm sure I would be wildly popular in Calvinist circles, wouldn't I . . . ?

My opponent referred to "pious, orthodox, God-fearing, unity-loving Churchmen like Jean Gerson and Nicholas of Cusa" who opposed in an "intensely conservative" fashion the "increasingly tyrannical strict-Papalist form of government."

First of all, nominalism was shot-through with Pelagianism. Heiko Oberman, in his work, The Harvest of Medieval Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, revised ed., 1967), refers on page 427 of that work to his "conclusion that nominalism has not been able to avoid a Pelagian position." Oberman states even of Gabriel Biel that (in all italics), "It is therefore evident that Biel's doctrine of justification is essentially Pelagian" (p. 177).

Secondly, Jean Gerson (1363-1429), had an unorthodox view of moral theology and sin, according to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd ed., edited by F.L. Cross & E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, 561):

In moral theology he accepted the extreme Nominalist doctrine, then generally taught in the schools, acc. to which nothing was sinful in itself but the sinfulness or goodness of an act depended solely on the Will of God.
This is not orthodox Catholicism, and the fact that it was widely taught at that time only shows how widespread the corruption in theology had become. But the Church itself has never sanctioned such a view in its authoritative decrees.

As for Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), it is indeed quite strange that someone would cite him as an advocate of conciliarism and opposer of "an increasingly tyrannical strict-Papalist form of government," seeing that the same Protestant reference work states about him:

Though he originally favoured the Conciliar Movement, the revolutionary proceedings of the Council and its failure to bring about a union with the Greeks estranged him from the majority of its supporters. From 1437 he devoted himself entirely to the cause of the Pope.

(p. 971)

Corruption existed, and Protestant theology was in many respects a revolt against Catholic theology. One can simultaneously analyze the 16th century events from historical and theological perspectives. Catholics are quite familiar with conciliarism. We simply disagree that its mere existence somehow is an immediate proof that it is as valid of a viewpoint as the papacy, as historically-understood by Catholics. Since Protestants ultimately have no standard of orthodoxy, they can only appeal to the bald facts of history, so it stands to reason that they would "reason" from what is, to what should be.

My opponent railed against the "utter wickedness of the indulgence traffic," which he says "initially set the profoundly pastoral Luther off" (as opposed to "some crass spirit of rebellion"). This is also quite arguably untrue, as elements of Luther's soteriology were heretical as early as 1515 and his Commentary on Romans (1515-1516). According to Luther biographer Hartmann Grisar:

The Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans really represents the first taking shape of Luther's heretical views. From the very beginning he expresses some of them without concealment . . .

Luther endeavours to show how imputed righteousness is the principle doctrine advocated by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans . . .

Luther cannot assure us sufficiently often that man is nothing but sin, and sins in everything. His reason is that concupiscence remains in man after baptism . . . Original sin is not removed by baptism, remains obdurate to all subsequent justifying grace, and, until death, can, at the utmost, only be diminished. He says expressly, quite against the Church's teaching, that original sin is only covered over in baptism, and he tries to support this by a misunderstood text from Augustine and by misrepresenting Scholasticism.

Augustine teaches with clearness and precision in many passages that original sin is blotted out by baptism and entirely remitted; Luther, however, quotes him to the opposite effect . . .

[Luther]: 'As we cannot keep God's commandments we are really always in unrighteousness, and therefore there remains nothing for us but to fear and to beg for remission of the unrighteousness, or rather that it may not be imputed, for it is never altogether remitted, but remains and requires the act of non-imputation . . .'

He says that the philosophers of olden time had to be damned, although they may have been virtuous from their very inmost soul, because they had at least experienced some self-satisfaction in their virtue, and, in consequence of the sinfulness of nature, must necessarily have succumbed to sinful love of self . . .

But what place is given to the virtues of the righteous in Christianity? . . . Even when we `do good, we sin' ('bene operando peccamus'), so runs his paradoxical thesis; 'but Christ covers over what is wanting and does not impute it.' And why do we always sin in doing good? 'Because owing to concupiscence and sensuality we do not perform the good with the intensity and purity of intention which the law demands, i.e., not with all our might (Lk 10:27), the desires of the flesh being too strong.' The Church, on the other hand, teaches that good works done in the state of sanctifying grace are pleasing to God in spite of concupiscence, which, it is true, remains after baptism and after the blotting out of original sin which ensued, but which is not sinful so long as there is no consent to its enticements . . .

He already denies the merit of good works. 'It is clear,' he writes, 'that according to substance and nature venial sin does not exist, and that there is no such thing as merit.' All sins, in his opinion, are mortal, because even the smallest contains the deadly poison of concupiscence. With regard to merit, according to him, even 'the saints have no merit of their own, but only Christ's merits . . . If it might be done unpunished and there were no expectation of reward, then even the good man would omit the good and do evil like the bad.' . . .

All the new doctrines we have passed in review may be regarded as forerunners of the great revolution soon to come . . .

The views formerly current with regard to the origin of Luther's struggle against the old Church were due to an insufficient knowledge of history . . . It was said that the Church's teaching on Indulgences, and the practices of the . . . Indulgence-preachers first brought Luther into antagonism with the Church authorities and then gradually entangled him more and more in the great struggle regarding other erroneous teachings and usages. As a matter of fact, the question of Indulgences was raised only subsequent to Luther's first great departures from the Church's doctrine.

Then it was said that the far-seeing teacher of Wittenberg had from the very first directed his attention to the reformation of the whole Church, which he found sunk in abuses, and had therefore commenced with a doctrinal reform as a necessary preliminary . . . but the Doctor of Holy Scripture was, as a matter of fact, far more preoccupied with the question of the theology of Paul and Augustine than with the abuses in the Church and outer world, which were, to tell the truth, very remote from the Monk's cell and lecture-room . . .

Luther's new opinions on doctrine . . . originated quite apart from any attempt at external reform of the Church, and were equally remote from the idea of breaking away from the Pope or of proclaiming freedom of belief or unbelief, though many have fancied that these were Luther's first aims . . .

(Luther, translated by E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1917, vol. 1: 94, 98, 100-102, 104-106)

Grisar continues:
He was to say to Melanchthon in 1536: 'Born of God and at the same time a sinner: this is a contradiction; but in the things of God we must not hearken to reason' (Table Talk, ed. K.E. Forstemann, Leipzig: 1848, vol. 2, 148). His Commentary on Romans prepares us for his later assertions: 'The gospel is a teaching having no connection whatever with reason, whereas the teaching of the law can be understood by reason . . . reason cannot grasp an extraneous righteousness' (Exegetical Works in Latin, Erlangen: 1829, vol. 23, 160) . . . 'The enduring sin is admitted by God as non-existent; one and the same act may be accepted before God and not accepted, be good and not good . . . Whoever terms this mere cavilling is desirous of measuring the Divine by purblind human reason and understands nothing of Holy Scripture' (Werke -- Works --, Weimar: 1883, vol. 2, 420; from the year 1519).
. . .

'God cannot be possessed or touched except by the negation of everything that is in us. Then only are we capable of receiving God's works and plans, when our planning and our works cease; when we are altogether passive with regard to God interiorly as well as exteriorly.' . . .

'If men willed what God wills, even though He should will to damn and reject them, they would see no evil in that [in the predestination to hell which he teaches]; for, as they will what God wills, they have, owing to their resignation, the will of God in them.' Does he mean by this that they should resign themselves to hating God for all eternity? Luther does not seem to notice that hatred of God is an essential part of the condition of those who are damned . . .

He even dares to say to those who are affrighted by predestination to hell, that resignation to eternal punishment is, for the truly wise, a source of 'ineffable joy' . . . . .

According to Luther, even Christ offered Himself for hell whole and entire . . . 'He actually and in truth offered Himself to the eternal Father to be consigned to eternal damnation for us. His human nature did not behave differently from that of a man who is to be condemned eternally to hell. On account of this love of God, God at once raised Him from death and hell, and so He overcame hell.

(This and other quotes from Luther, Commentary on Romans: 1515-16, from ed. J. Ficker, Leipzig: 1908 / This quote: 218 ff)

(Grisar, Luther, ibid., vol. 1: 216-217, 221-222, 238-240)

Grisar then writes about Luther's developing heretical theology in his Commentary on Galatians (1516-17):
He continued to rifle St. Augustine's writings for passages which were apparently favourable to his views . . . He certainly did not allow himself sufficient time to appreciate properly the profound teachings of this, the greatest Father of the Church, and best authority on grace and justification. Even Protestant theologians now admit that he quoted Augustine where the latter by no means agrees with him. His own friends and contemporaries, such as Melanchthon, for instance, admitted the contradiction existing between Luther's ideas and those of St. Augustine on the most vital points; it was, however, essential that this Father of the Church, so Melanchthon writes to one of his confidantes, should be cited as in 'entire agreement' on account of the high esteem in which he was generally held.

(Letter of Melanchthon to Brenz, May 1531; Luther's Correspondence, ed. L. Enders, Frankfurt: 1907, vol. 9, 18 ff.)

Luther himself was, consciously or unconsciously, in favour of these tactics; he tampered audaciously with the text of the Doctor of the Church in order to extract from his writings proofs favourable to his own doctrine; or at the very least, trusting to his memory, he made erroneous citations, when it would have been easy for him to verify the quotations at their source . . .

In his expositions of the Epistle to the Galatians, Luther's antagonism to the Catholic doctrine of Works, Justification and Original Sin is carried further than in any other of his exegetical writings, until, indeed, it verges on the paradoxical . . .

He goes so far in speaking of faith and grace . . . as to brand the most sublime and holy works, namely, prayer and meditation, as 'idolatry' unless performed in accordance with the only true principle of faith, viz. with his doctrine regarding justification by faith alone.

(Ibid., vol. 1: 305-307, 309)

So much for the many historical myths rampant in Protestant analysis of its own origin. It is beyond dispute that these early views of Luther were heretical by the standards of Catholic orthodoxy (even if not yet defined at the highest levels), and it is equally clear that nominalistic thought had a great influence on Luther.

Orthodox doctrinal development and corruption and the various currents of theology throughout history are also separable ideas. They are not mutually-exclusive. Tradition does not reduce to mere history; that is a rationalistic tenet. The Christian has faith, and will view Church history accordingly. It is not contrary to historiography but goes beyond it, just as faith in biblical inspiration is not contrary to archaeological evidences of biblical accuracy, but goes beyond it, introducing the supernatural.

What is truly "un-catholic" are utterances of Martin Luther, the Super-Duper Deluxe-Pope:

I need not have any title and name to praise highly the word, office, and work which I have from God and which you blind blasphemers defile and persecute beyond measure. I trust my praise will overcome your defiling, just as my justice will overcome your injustice. It does not matter if, with your blasphemy, you are on top for the moment.

Therefore, I now let you know that from now on I shall no longer do you the honor of allowing you—or even an angel from heaven—to judge my teaching or to examine it. For there has been enough foolish humility now for the third time at Worms, and it has not helped. Instead, I shall let myself be heard and, as St. Peter teaches, give an explanation and defense of my teaching to all the world -- I Pet. 3:15. I shall not have it judged by any man, not even by any angel. For since I am certain of it, I shall be your judge and even the angels’ judge through this teaching (as St. Paul says [I Cor. 6:3 ]) so that whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved — for it is God’s and not mine. Therefore, my judgment is also not mine but God’s.

(From: Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope and the Bishops Falsely So-Called, July 1522. Martin Luther, Luther's Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (volumes 1-30) and Helmut T. Lehmann (volumes 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (volumes 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (volumes 31-55), 1955. This work from Volume 39: Church and Ministry I (edited by J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann); pages 239-299; translated by Eric W. and Ruth C. Gritsch; excerpt from 248-249)

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 2 June 2003. Revised on 20 January 2004.

2 comments:

Javier R. said...

Excellent piece. I would add that Patrick O' Hare, in his The Facts about Luther (which I know you dont think too highly of)rightly dismisses, I believe, Luther's claims that when he visited Rome for the first time on official business for his Order he was shocked at the utter corrruption he saw.

He argues that this was part of Luther's later polemics read back into his past history. O'Hare doesnt deny the idea that there was corruption in Rome at the time of course but not on the scale Luther writes about in his Table Talk.

7kids6dice1gamerdad said...

I agree with Javier. This was a good piece of work.