By Dave Armstrong (11-20-07)
Pastor Larry A. Nichols (Lutheran - Missouri Synod, or "LCMS") is the author of several books, including Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions, and the Occult (Zondervan Publishing House, 1993, with George A. Mather & Alvin J. Schmidt), Masonic Lodge (Zondervan, 1995; with George A. Mather & Alan W. Gomes), Discovering the Plain Truth: How the Worldwide Church of God Encountered the Gospel of Grace (Intervarsity Press, 1997; co-author George A. Mather), and Encyclopedic Dictionary of World Religions (2006; with George A. Mather & Alvin J. Schmidt). He has also written many journal articles.
Pastor Nichols' words will be in blue.
* * * * *
At long last I find some time to write a response. I must say that with my current pastoral responsibilities, PhD work, and teaching responsibilities, that if it were not for Johnny Montalvo, I would not be engaging in this debate. It is not that I do not enjoy theological exchanges, but the demands on my time right now are enormous. I do, however, take my pastoral role with Johnny quite seriously as I would with any member of my congregation and therefore I will indeed, along with my colleague, Rev. Ben Maton, take time to see this through so as to do all I can to help answer his inquiries towards the end of ultimately hearing the Gospel in all of its purity. And my good friend and colleague, Pastor Maton, is not lazy at all, just quite humble about his busy-ness.
I appreciate your taking the time to engage in a fruitful, educational discussion, and I am sure Johnny does, too. Thank God for clergymen who are attentive to the needs of their flock.And I am interested in promulgating not only the Gospel in all of its purity (amen!) but also the fullness of the complete apostolic deposit, and all the Christian truth that God has for us.
First of all, I would like to state up front where we are coming from because I’m afraid that there has been a great misunderstanding. After addressing this, I will get to each of David’s arguments and point out where we believe that there are inconsistencies and misrepresentations concerning what we were arguing in response to Johnny’s question concerning the authority of “Luther to start his own church.”
I am sure that with more interaction we can understand each other's viewpoints better. That's the great thing about dialogue. I want to hear your opinions and learn more about Lutheranism, and am grateful for the opportunity to help explain Catholicism a bit, too.
First to the very issue of Lutheranism and the Reformation.
I would like to offer an analogy from Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten in his book Mother Church, 1998. Dr. Braaten is one of the most participatory theologians in the current ecumenical dialog between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. His views (mostly) represent my own. WithReformation Sunday having just taken place, I recently wrote an article reflecting upon whether we should continue as Lutherans to call the Reformation a “celebration.” Dr. Braaten, borrowing from Jaroslav Pelikan, (The Riddle of Roman Catholicism, (1959), calls it a “tragic necessity.” Dr. Braaten shares a modern day parable. In the first chapter of his book titled, The Tragedy of the Reformation and the Return to Catholicity, he writes:
In June of 1940 Adolf Hitler’s army invaded and conquered France. Marshall Petain became the head of the state under Hitler and formulated what was notoriously known as the Vichy Government. Petain acted as a puppet in Hitler’s occupation army. Many a loyal and patriotic Frenchmen, however, for the love of the true fatherland protested against the Vichy government. A man came forth – a kind of a savior figure for France at the crucial hour. He was General Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle raised the cross of Lorraine in Britain and became the rallying point for all free Frenchmen who joined with him in the fight to liberate their beloved country. Frenchmen became divided. Some were loyal to the Vichy government of Petain, and others joined the free French forces in exile. Their purpose in being outside of France was to preserve the glory of France, to protest against a false government, to struggle for the liberation of their homeland, and on V-Day be reunited with their fellow countrymen.What if those free Frenchmen had forgotten the reason for their exile, became accustomed to life outside of France, lost interest in returning, and began to think and act as if what was meant to be a temporary arrangement and provisional expedient in an emergency situation had actually become for them a permanent home and satisfying establishment? Suppose they had ignored the cause of liberation for which they rallied around de Gaulle and instead set up a new government in some other colony, calling it France, enjoying their newfound life so much that the very thought of ever going back to the land of their birth made them ill. Now if that had happened one would call it a tragedy – a tragedy very much like the tragedy of the Reformation.(Carl Braaten, Mother Church: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), pp. 11-12)
But I don't disagree, for the most part, with this analysis (I do to some extent, but not nearly as much as you may imagine). I can assure you and our readers that "great misunderstanding" is present on both sides, as will be clearer as I proceed.
First of all, I'm the very last person who would ever deny that the Catholic Church needed to be reformed in the 16th century. It needs to be reformed at all times. I would say, in agreement with you, that not only any "responsible" Catholic should think that, but indeed, any conscious or sane Catholic whatsoever. In fact, I've never met any Catholic who thinks and knows history at all, who would deny this. That isn't the issue at all. No one disagrees with it. Rather, the real issue, as a Catholic sees it, is what should have been done to reform the tragic corruptions and nonsense and nominalism that were going on at the time.
We strongly agree with you that reform was necessary. But we would deny that a split (schism) or what is known as the "Reformation" was necessary. That is where the difference lies, rather than the common Protestant caricature of one side acknowledging problems and doing something about it and the other denying the problem and putting their collective heads in the sand. The Catholic Church had its own reform shortly afterwards, in the form of the Council of Trent.
Just yesterday, in my response to Pastor Maton, I cited a Catholic, James McCue, fully acknowledging that Catholics were largely to blame for fostering Luther's antipathy to the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass:
Luther took Roman Catholic practice as a genuine incarnation of Roman Catholic doctrine: the meaning of the mass as "sacrifice" he read off from the lived piety of his day. In this he erred I think; but the way was prepared by the indifference of Roman Catholic theologians to the problem of the relation of theology to the concrete life of the Church. When theologians who defend the sacrificial concept of the mass seem not to be disturbed by the development of a sub-Christian understanding of sacrifice within Roman Catholic piety, then there is at least some justification for thinking that the piety does express the doctrine. It is a very natural assumption, though in a surprising number of cases it turns out to be false, that practice and doctrine will agree, and that the meaning of the latter is best understood by means of the former.
. . . the fact that Roman Catholic theologians -- both before Luther and after him -- did not think that it was an essential part of their theological responsibility to criticize the status quo in light of the Church's norm and ideal helped to create a situation in which such misconstruction was possible.
McCue is thus -- without forsaking any Catholic doctrine -- willing to blame the laxity of Catholic theologians for being the primary cause of one of the major disagreements between Catholics and Protestants. If they had been doing their job, perhaps things could have turned out differently (at least regarding that doctrine). He doesn't even blame Luther for misunderstanding our doctrine of the mass (and speculates that Luther even basically agreed with the true doctrine).
Nor is it some new thing for me to admit that Catholics bore a large share of the blame (if not the lion's share). I agree with this. You cite Catholic theologian Karl Adam later in your reply. I'm well familiar with him, having read his book, The Spirit of Catholicism in 1990 (I recommend it very highly as an introduction to Catholic thought). I cited him in a paper I wrote in 1991 about Martin Luther and the Protestant Revolt, that eventually became part of the first draft of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism.
The same excerpt was posted on my website in early 1997 and has remained in my online set of apologetic papers ever since. So this is nothing new. It's been part of my apologetic writing for almost a generation. I'm not just pulling it out of a hat now. I wholeheartedly agree with the following remarks of Karl Adam, that I cite verbatim from my 1991 paper:
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 . . .He lamented the loss of the Luther that might have been:
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)
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 . . .Adam then gives his opinion of the origin of Luther's revolt:
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)
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)
In the paper where this citation is now found, "Was Corruption in the Medieval Papacy the Primary Cause of the Protestant Revolt?", I explore the issue of primary causes of the 16th-century schism. The actual causes, were, I think, far more complex (and interesting) than the standard popular-level explanations on both sides. Protestant historian Owen Chadwick, for example, denied that mere corruption was the main reason for the rise of Protestantism:
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.
(The Reformation [Pelican History of the Church, Volume 3], London: Penguin Books, revised version of 1972, 22, 24)Secular historian Preserved Smith largely agrees:
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.One of the finest and most respected Protestant Church historians of our time, Alister McGrath, agrees with this general analysis too, in his brand-new book:
. . . 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.
(Reformation in Europe, New York: Collier Books, 1962, from the 1920 original, 27, 31-32)
[R]ecent scholarship has moved decisively away from the earlier tendency . . . to underplay the social and economic aspects of the emergence of Protestantism in order to emphasize its religious and political elements . . . and has rightly cast doubt on any attempt to define the movement solely or chiefly in terms of the theological agendas of its leading figures. . . .Thus, Owen Chadwick in 1972 and Preserved Smith way back in 1920 remarkably anticipated "recent scholarship" on the origins of Protestantism. I knew this stuff myself as early as 1991 in my studies of Catholicism and the Protestant Revolt. German historian Johannes Janssen also made the same point in his 16-volume history of Germany, in the early part of the 20th century (that I studied in 1990-1991). Both sides need to get beyond the stereotypes. Most Catholics freely accept their share of the blame.
In the second place, the tidal wave of studies of local archives and private correspondence has confirmed the suspicions of an early generation of scholars - that it is unacceptable to determine the state of the pre-Reformation European church through the eyes of its leading critics, such as Luther and Calvin. It is increasingly clear that attempts to depict the late medieval church as morally and theologically corrupt, unpopular, and near-terminal decline cannot be sustained on the basis of the evidence available. As in every period, the church possessed strengths and weaknesses and sought to consolidate the former and address the latter. It is now clear that Catholic reforming movements were not a response to the criticisms of the Protestant reformers but were deeply enmeshed within the pre-Reformation church - where, paradoxically, they created an appetite for reform that laid the ground for Protestantism in some respects.
(Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution - A History From the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First, New York: HarperCollins, 2007; from Introduction, p. 8)
But how many Protestants are aware of this "cutting-edge" history, described by Dr. McGrath? I suspect, far fewer than should be . . . One must have a balanced view. Widespread corruption existed, but it was not quite as bad as Protestant partisan histories (for obvious reasons) have often made out, and it was probably not the primary -- let alone sole -- cause of the "Reformation." One need not take my word for that (the partisan Catholic apologist); one can go by folks like the Anglican scholar Alister McGrath.
Lastly, it isn't quite fair to me to characterize my response on the issue of indulgences, with one passing line ("Instead, in the response from Armstrong, we see an attempt to defend the practice of indulgences"), that implies that I have my own head in the sand. I was asked the question:
On the other hand, where is the sale of Indulgences for example, . . . anywhere a part of the apostolic tradition?And I replied:
I recently put together a paper on indulgences, derived from my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. The essence of the doctrine of indulgences is derived from explicit biblical proofs, as I contended in the book. The key notion is the power of the Church to bind and loose. "Binding" is penance, whereas "loosing" is an indulgence. Thus, when the fathers write about those issues or related ones, they are touching upon indulgences, insofar as penances are lifted.I carefully answered the question I was asked. If my paper referenced is seriously considered, then one will see that it delves into the question of medieval abuses at some length. But it does so with an eye to shooting down common exaggerations and misconceptions (much as McGrath's analysis above, does). Catholics fully agree that abuses took place, and they were dealt with in the 16th century. I noted how "The Council of Trent forbade the selling of indulgences." Now, if by "indulgences" one means only the corrupt practices of Luther's time that have long since been reformed, then most people (including Catholics) would agree that they were in need of reform. Everyone knows this.
Again, that is not at issue. But we did not throw the doctrine out altogether (just as Luther was content to toss out no less than 50 Catholic doctrines when he revolted against Catholic authority). I was asked where this was "anywhere a part of the apostolic tradition" and I replied by providing the biblical rationale, which is hardly even disputable. It is rooted in the notion of "binding and loosing": a quite explicit biblical concept. Protestants want doctrines to be grounded in Holy Scripture. I provided that grounding for indulgences, but my reply was ignored.
Instead, it was "answered" with a terse near-complaint that I would actually "defend" indulgences. Of course I would; I'm a Catholic, and this is Catholic doctrine! But if questions are asked without the slightest intention of discussing the matter asked about, how can dialogue progress? "Indulgence" is not an intrinsically "bad word" like "adultery" or "greed" or "cruelty" or suchlike. It is not the case that "everyone" knows it is wrong and ridiculous, by the mere mention of the word (though lots of Protestants would love for that to be the case). It has to be discussed. If I am asked about something, I'll answer to the best of my ability. I hope my reply can at least be noticed, if not (preferably) actually interacted with.
On the other hand, as Lutherans, we should not ever affix ourselves to the mindset that the Lutheran Reformation was, is, or should be a permanent state of affairs. We do not believe that the Lutheran church should remain in exile. But the only basis for meaningful dialog is that while Lutherans should agree that the Reformation was a “tragedy,” Roman Catholics should in kind agree that the Reformation was indeed a “necessity.” If both parties can concede to that point, then there is a basis for conversation and dialog. And indeed, credible people on both sides have indeed conceded that point.
Some, even many aspects of it were indeed on the right track, and needed, but, as Louis Bouyer argues in his seminal work, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, whatever emphases Protestantism got right were already part of authentic Catholic tradition that was simply poorly understood (for a variety of reasons) in the early 16th century (more on that later, since you cite Bouyer as part of your "case").
This is where modern ecumenical dialog is at right now. One of the problems I have with the various popular books listing the sundry conversion stories of those who have found their way “home to Rome” is that they tend to reflect a most antiquated apologetics that were being employed over a century ago when both sides were hurling insults and barbs at each other, motivated by the enthusiasm and conviction that “our side represents the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and our opponents are liars who are filled with the devil.”
Sometimes that is true. I think it is far more true of former Catholics, however, than of former Protestants. Former Catholics tend to become anti-Catholics, whereas former Protestants generally do not trash Protestantism wholesale (we do critique its doctrines, of course). I'm regularly described as a liar, deceptive, apostate, insincere, motivated by unsavory goals, etc., by anti-Catholic Protestants on the Internet (recently, for example, one person compared me to Castro and the dictators of Iran and North Korea; then called me a schizophrenic). I never reciprocate those sorts of character assassinations. I even defend some of these severe critics of mine when they are trashed by others. I have never held that Martin Luther was an essentially evil man (as I have been falsely accused of doing).
For the last forty to fifty years, great Roman Catholic theologians have readily acknowledged the huge theological contributions of Luther and the theology of the Augsburg Confession to Western Christendom. And Lutherans, represented by people like Braaten are spending their careers in listening and dialoging with Rome. This is the level of discussion that needs to take place in a debate that is going to maintain integrity and respectability and an honest search for truth.
Consider some of the big Roman Catholic names and what they have been saying: Around 1940, the great Roman Catholic historian, Joseph Lortz, in his writings on the Reformation described the utter worldliness of the papacy, the abuses in church practice, superstitions in piety, and the decadence of late scholasticism. On the other hand he presented Luther as a pious monk posing the ultimate question of salvation.
That is correct and all well and good. I agree. But on the other hand, you are only presenting one side of Lortz's thought (this will be a problem with other Catholics you cite, too, as I will proceed to demonstrate, with documentation). I cited Lortz in my paper on medieval corruption and causes of the split. Readers who are interested can read his analysis there. But, to summarize briefly, Lortz doesn't regard the "Reformation" as fundamentally a movement within Catholicism, because he states: "The Reformation is above all the disavowal of Catholic dogmas." He also blames both Luther and his Catholic debate opponent Eck for being saddled with corrupt Ockhamistic nominalism:
[B]oth 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 . . .
In Lortz's book, How the Reformation Came (New York: Herder & Herder, 1964, translated by Otto M. Knab), indeed he takes great pains to be as fair towards our Protestant brethren as he can be (I think, admirably so), but he does not totally excuse Luther and the Protestants from blame, by any stretch of the imagination:
Imagine . . . Luther filled with the theology of Thomas or the Roman Missal instead of Ockhamist theology, and his reformist action simply could not have happened. (p. 33)
Ockhamism was no longer fully Catholic. The missal knows nothing of an arbitrary God, It knows nothing of a cruel, forever threatening judge . . .
Ockhamism teaches an arbitrary God instead of a Father-God, a God who "without objective reason" predestines one for heaven and another for hell, who only accidentally determined one thing to be good and another evil . .
The theological consequence has logically to be a belittling of grace which in turn could but end in a misconception of the very essence of Christianity . . .
The theological consequences of such thinking, in the direction of a radical ecclesiastical democracy, and the destruction of the properly understood mediative role of the priest, of logically followed through, are incalculable.
These consequences manifested themselves in Luther in various ways . . . in the modes of perception to which Luther constantly adhered (as exemplified in his attack on reason, in his imputation theory); they showed again in his assault on conservative Church theologians in questions of the Eucharist and the Mass.
Carl Braaten writes: “Against the nominalistic theology and indulgence piety of late medievalism, Luther placed his theology of the cross, his absolute trust in God’s grace, not in his own works; his reliance upon the Scriptures, not upon the opinions of the schoolmen, and his protest against superstition in low places and corruption in high places. Lortz said, the Roman Catholic Church must definitely be on the side of Luther.” [emphasis mine]
(Braaten, Mother Church p. 14-15)
In the Protestant camp Luther's view was Occamism grown religiously vital. Faith was pitted even more violently against "the harlot reason," but faith was mightily sure of itself. Melanchthon and Zwingli, while toning down Luther, still held to the essential irrationality of faith.So does Alister McGrath:
(Studies on the Reformation, Boston: Beacon Press, 1963, 131)
Luther's own theological development . . . can only be properly evaluated in light of the theological currents prevalent in the later Middle Ages. The tendency to regard the study of the theology of the later medieval period as serving as little more than a prologue to that of the Reformation has recently been reversed, with increasing emphasis being placed upon the importance of the later medieval period as a field of study in its own right. As a consequence, we . . . are thus in a favourable position to attempt an informed evaluation of Luther's initial relationship to this theology, and also the nature of his subsequent break with it.So does Louis Bouyer:
Luther was not a man without beginnings, a mysterious and lonely figure of destiny who arrived at Wittenberg already in possession of the vera theologia which would take the church by storm, and usher in a new era in its history. Although it is tempting to believe that Luther suffered a devastating moment of illumination, in which he suddenly became conscious of the vera theologia and of his own divine mission to reform the church on its basis, all the evidence which we possess points to Luther's theological insights arising over a prolonged period at Wittenberg, under the influence of three main currents of thought: humanism, the 'nominalism' of the via moderna, and the theology of his own Augustinian Order . . .
. . . between 1509 and early 1514, Luther's theology in general, and his theology of justification in particular, was typical of the later medieval period. This suggestion is not, of course, new. In his celebrated critique of the reformer, Heinrich Denifle argued that Luther's rejection of catholic theology was ultimately a reflection upon the particular type of 'catholic' theology with which Luther was familiar. For Denifle, Luther was only familiar with the 'unsound' theology of the later medieval period, such as that of Gabriel Biel, and not with the catholic theology of St Thomas Aquinas or Bonaventure. Perhaps surprisingly, modern Luther scholarship has tended to endorse Denifle's judgment: whereas Luther frequently demonstrates first-hand knowledge of the writings of the leading theologians of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, such as Pierre d'Ailly and Gabriel Biel, such knowledge is conspicuously absent in the case of earlier medieval theologians, such as St Thomas Aquinas. It must, of course, be pointed out that this is precisely what is to be expected, if Luther was educated within the via moderna, characterised by its logico-critical attitudes and an epistemological nominalism: the great theologians of the thirteenth century belonged to the via antiqua, characterised by an epistemological realism, from which Luther would have been taught to distance himself by his mentors at Erfurt . . .
Luther began his theological career at Wittenberg in 1512 steeped in both the methods and the presuppositions of late medieval theology . . . It must therefore be regarded as methodologically unacceptable to attempt to study Luther's theological development in isolation from, or with purely incidental reference to, this context . . .
. . . if Luther's difficulty [over justification] represented a problem which had been adequately discussed within the earlier western theological tradition, it remains to be explained why Luther appears to have been quite unaware if the established solutions to this problem. The answer given to this objection is substantially the same as that given to the charge of Heinrich Denifle -- that Luther had misrepresented the western theological tradition as a whole. According to Denifle, not a single writer in the western church, from Ambrosiaster to the time of Luther himself, understood iustitia Dei in the sense which Luther noted. Both objections are based upon the assumption that Luther was familiar with the earlier western theological tradition -- which, as we have emphasised earlier, appears not to have been the case. Luther is only familiar with the theology of the moderni, such as William of Ockham, Pierre d'Ailly and Gabriel Biel at first hand, and shows little familiarity with other theologians. Indeed, where such familiarity can be demonstrated, there are usually grounds for suspecting that he has encountered them indirectly, at second hand.
(Luther's Theology of the Cross, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1985, 25, 72-73, 103-104)
All the 'heresies' Protestantism may have fostered, far from being its creations . . . appear already to be taking shape in the nominalist thinkers before the Reformation. Whether we take the theory of extrinsic justification, or the completely subjectivist view of faith . . . or a conception of the Word of God that . . . opposes it to any ecclesiastical institution and makes it incomprehensible, and even incapable of formulation -- none of this is a Protestant innovation . . .Catholic theology did not teach Pelagianism (needless to say), nor did it denigrate Scripture, as if "the schoolmen" were placed higher than Holy Writ.
In such a system, God is only God in so far as he is beyond the true and the false, good and evil. Truth, falsehood, good, evil, are no more than hypotheses he has actually adopted; there is no reason why he should not have taken them in the contrary sense . . .
Our conclusion from this chapter is that the negative, 'heretical' aspect of the Reformation neither follows from its positive principles, nor is it a necessary consequence of their development or vindication, but appears simply as a survival, within Protestantism, of what was most vitiated and corrupt in the Catholic thought of the close of the Middle Ages . . .
This latter point, the utter corruption of Christian thought in nominalist theology, quite uncritically retained and applied by all the 'orthodox' Protestant thinkers, should by now be thoroughly clear.
(The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, translated by A.V. Littledale, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1955, 161-164)
Dr. Braaten seems to be expressing (surporisingly, given his profound ecumenism) at least some aspects of the populist historical myths about late medieval Catholicism (things noted and decried by no less than Alister McGrath). Many Protestant scholars would disagree that the Catholic Church denigrated Scripture, over against the Bible-soaked early Protestants:
There was never a time in the history of the western Church during the 'Dark' or 'Middle' Ages when the Scriptures were officially demoted. On the contrary, they were considered infallible and inerrant, and were held in the highest honour.
(Peter Toon, Protestants and Catholics, Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1983, 39)
The view expressed by Augustine was the view the Roman Catholic Church believed, taught, and propagated through the centuries . . . It can be said that the Roman church for more than a thousand years accepted the doctrine of infallibility of all Scripture . . . The church has always (via Fathers, theologians, and popes) taught biblical inerrancy . . . The Roman church held to a view of Scripture that was no different from that held by the Reformers.
(The Battle For the Bible, Harold Lindsell, former editor of Christianity Today, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976, 54-56; after quoting 19 eminent Church fathers to the effect that Scripture is infallible and held in the highest regard)
You cite Louis Bouyer (quite selectively) in your favor below. Here is what he writes about medieval Catholic love for the Bible:
In the same way that Popes, Councils, theologians, always resorted to the scriptural argument as the really fundamental one, the practice of the great spiritual writers of every epoch attests the fully traditional character of a devotion based on the Bible . . . The same is true of the great teachers of the Middle Ages . . . Not only did they know the Bible and make abundant use of it, but they moved in it as in a spiritual world that formed the habitual universe of all their thoughts and sentiments. For them, it was not simply one source among others, but the source par excellence, in a sense the only one . . .In a review of the book by Carl Braaten that you cite above, by Michael Kinnamon (Christian Century, Feb. 3, 1999), the writer states:
What in fact was for so many monks the most important of their religious practices, the one which virtually contained all the others? It was what the Benedictine rule, which only codified in this the practice of the sixth century, called the 'lectio divina.' This 'lectio,'. . . was nourished exclusively on the Bible . . .
Not only with the approval of the hierarchy but by the positive and emphatic insistence of the Pope himself, there has come about a general return to the close study of Scripture, which has been restored, not only as the base, but as the source, of all teaching of theology.
(Bouyer, ibid., 133-134)
Braaten encourages Lutherans (and other Protestants) to recognize that the reunited church of the future should include both bishops in apostolic succession and the papacy. These offices, he argues, can give visible expression to unity and serve as signs of continuity in the faith. Not all Lutherans will be pleased with this conclusion.
These were hardly characteristic traits of early Lutheranism (nor of LCMS). They specifically sent the bishops packing, by stealing their churches and monasteries, and opting for princes to rule the Church instead. The pope was regarded as anti-Christ (as both you and Pastor Maton have reiterated in your responses). Popes and bishops alike were subjected to vulgar woodcuts; some depicted bishops being hanged and their tongues torn out. Apostolic succession, as previously known from the beginning of the Church, was ditched.
Braaten includes other Catholic voices. I list them briefly:
Johannes Hessen – “the message of the Reformation must still be heard today.”
Karl Adam – “all who are serious about ecumenical dialog must go back to Luther himself. The gulf can be bridged only after we retrace our steps and gain a real understanding on where both sides went wrong. [emphasis mine]
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. . . . The longer the strife continued . . . the confusion in his eyes between the abuses in the Church and the essence of the Church increased; . . . 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.
Yves Congar – “Luther must be seen in one long line of Reformers in the Church.”
I'd have to see the context of these remarks to comment further. There is a sense in which Luther was in a long line of reformers. Adam acknowledges that, but he condemns the radical solution of schism that Luther adopted. According to Adam, the theological differences didn't simply come about in the heat of battle, but were present before Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Many Protestant try to deny this, but I think the facts contradict them. One can study, for example, Luther's early commentaries on Romans and Galatians, and see his Protestant theology developing clearly.
Father Louis Bouyer even more emphatically than any of the others, proposed the thesis that the positive principles of the Reformation were not an attack upon Catholic faith and doctrine but were truly at home in the Catholic Church. (emphasis added).
That's right. But in his book, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (translated by A.V. Littledale, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1955), -- I read it in 1990 and was profoundly influenced by it --, Bouyer devotes 17 pages to a chapter entitled "The Positive Principles of the Reformation." In the middle chapters he mostly shows how these positive principles are reiterations of previous Catholic tradition and dogmatic theology. But from pages 136 to 177 he writes about "The Negative Elements of the Reformation" and "The Decay of the Positive Principles of the Reformation." Braaten mentions this other aspect:
Bouyer saw the Reformation as particularly tragic because, to the extent that the Protestants drew false and heretical inferences from those positive principles, the Catholics were driven to oppose the principles, and thereby, lost much of the good with the bad.Here is a sampling of Bouyer's thought:
(Mother Church, 16)
[T]he Lutheran sola gratia . . . this assertion . . . is a genuinely Christian one, and fully in accord, of course, with Catholic tradition properly understood . . . Luther's basic intuition, on which Protestantism continuously draws for its abiding vitality, so far from being hard to reconcile with Catholic tradition, or inconsistent with the teaching of the Apostles, was a return to the clearest elements of their teaching, and is in the most direct line of that tradition . . .Does Bouyer give the Protestants a pass in terms of responsibility and blame for schism? Hardly. Let's observe some more of his words:
. . . . by the very logic of its nature, it should have initiated in the Church itself a powerful movement of regeneration . . . Unfortunately, that is not what happened, though the blame, in any case, does not lie exclusively with the basic principle of the Reformation. Considered in itself, and in the natural course of its development, it does not lead to division and error. These are only the accidental results of the Reformation . . . the schisms and heresies of the sixteenth century resulted, not from its initial impulse, but from external and adventitious factors which disturbed its development.. . . the negative, 'heretical' aspect of the Reformation neither follows from its positive principles, nor is it a necessary consequence of their development or vindication, but appears simply as a survival, within Protestantism, of what was most vitiated and corrupt in the Catholic thought of the close of the Middle Ages . . . What the Reformation took over from the Middle Ages was just what it should have criticised and rejected; in fact it led the positive principles the Reformers had brought to light to assume a negative and polemical aspect . . .
(pp. 43-44, 164, 166)
[H]ow could a movement, starting from such principles, create a schism, turn aside form the Catholic tradition, set up over against the Church a multiplicity of 'Churches', very often as hostile to one another as to Catholicism? . . . to set up a Christianity disrupted from tradition, and to injure and attack of set purpose the Church it had wished to renew?Bouyer notes, for example, the radical dichotomy involved in sola Scriptura:
. . . with these [positive] principles were associated others that the Church could not accept . . .
[W]e notice, at the very outset of Protestantism, the tendency to equate it [supreme authority of Scripture] with an absolute denial of the authority of the Church, whether manifested in tradition or in particular decisions of her magisterium.He makes a host of scathing criticisms of Protestantism throughout the book:
In point of fact, the Reformers, though desirous of accentuating the divine, transcendent, aspect of Christianity, promoted more than anyone else the development of humanism and, in particular, the religious individualism of modern times. (p. 97)
Three different possibilities were open to Protestant organisations, once the rupture with the Church of tradition was accomplished. Either, as with the Anabaptists at first, or later with the Quakers, the rejection of all visible authority, resulting in an absolute, anarchical individualism; or else, as in the Lutheran reaction, the handing over to the civil authority of the organisation and direction of the Church; or, as in Calvinism and the sects following and opposed to it, the artificial construction of a new Church, created in all its elements by the genius (or fantasy) of an individual . . . In the three cases, the result was the same; in the place of divine authority in the Church Protestantism set up purely human ones, with the inevitable consequence of an enslavement of man to man, stifling the idea of personal religion and Christian liberty. (p. 212)
The final result is that the Protestant who seeks, in his Church, food for his faith finds it only in the form of a total subjection to all the peculiarities, the momentary idiosyncrasies, of his minister's personal devotion. (p. 216)
From the moment of their creation, the Protestant Churches were merely the works of man. In so far as they manage to attain any authority at all, it is always the authority of a man, either of a founder or organiser or of a simple minister, and, if that fails, they break up into fragments, to the sole profit of the authority of each individual, his private views, tendencies or experiences. (p. 218)
I probably should include an obscure name like (then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who nearly 50 years ago reflected the same spirit as some of these other voices. He wrote these words:
“There is no appropriate category in Catholic thought for the phenomenon of Protestantism today (one could say the same of the separated churches of the East). It is obvious that the old category of “heresy” is no longer of any value. Heresy, for Scripture and the early church, includes the idea of a personal decision against the early church, and heresy’s characteristic is pertinacia, the obstinacy of the one who persists in his or her own private way. This, however, cannot be regarded as an appropriate description of the Protestant Christian. In the course of a now centuries old history, Protestantism has made an important contribution to the realization of Christian faith, fulfilling a positive development of the Christian message, and above all, often giving rise to a sincere and profound faith in the individual non-Catholic Christian.”One only wonders whether Pope Benedict still maintains these sentiments and whether he realizes that Luther resisted the errors of his day as a loyal son of the Church.
(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Meaning of the Christian Brotherhood, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 87-88)
Yes, of course he does. This is standard Vatican II ecumenism. Pope Benedict XVI is no different from Pope John Paul II. They are both eminently men of that council, and committed ecumenists. I'm very fond of it also. I have cited Pope Benedict, for example, saying that the Tridentine anathemas do not apply to present-day Protestants in many cases.
This is a small sampling of Roman Catholic theologians and leaders who are interested in digging into the deeper heart of the Reformation. I believe this presents a spirit of honesty and integrity in a debate that has been and should be held in earnest.
I'm all in favor of open and honest and congenial discussion. I think even heartfelt differences can be discussed in such a manner, and constructively so. I hope and pray that I am doing that right now. Honest discussion doesn't sweep things under the rug simply because they are controversial. If we all truly respect each other as brothers and sisters in Christ (and especially in the context of warm personal friendship), we ought to be able to frankly discuss any theological topic, and to be able to take criticism without becoming angry, defensive, or insecure.
However, there is a tendency in the contemporary conversion books where Protestants of different stripes talk about “coming home” to present Lutheranism in the worst possible light while they present their own position in the best. One is certainly free to do this, of course, but it does not lead to honest and balanced discussion which leads to truth.
I think that tendency can be there, yes, in any kind of conversion story. It is human nature, unfortunately, to exaggerate the deficiencies of the belief-system we have left and to build up the positive attributes of our newfound belief. I do my best to be as fair as I can to both Lutherans and Martin Luther (and have defended Luther against some common misconceptions, many times; also John Calvin). This is precisely why I seek to dialogue with passionate proponents of other Christian traditions, so that I can hear their case, rather than a second-hand, biased presentation from a critic. And so I gratefully thank you and Pastor Maton again for this wonderful opportunity to dialogue and better understand and appreciate each other.
It has this air of “win the argument at any cost.” The example that David uses was Luther’s letter to Hans Wurst. This was a prime example of using a highly eclectic method of selecting quotes that represent a one sided view of what Luther actually said and seemingly avoiding what he said in context. (Pastor Maton will address this in his contribution to the dialog)
The point of this opening set of remarks is to simply point out that Lutherans who are in earnest join readily with Roman Catholics who are doing the same in appreciating deeply each other’s raison de tre if you will. In so doing, the most sublime discussions are being conducted at a level of looking most favorably towards the very obvious progress that is being made by theologians in both camps.
I have no problem with that at all. In fact, I think I was very much along this line of thought in the latter part of my previous response, where I sought common ground in the area of the Eucharist and sacrifice of the mass.
The position of “we are the one true church on earth and all other communions are wrong” is just not helpful to this progress. I’m sure that our opponents are going to point out that this is exactly what Pope Benedict said this past summer. But again, Lutherans view themselves as catholic in the very best sense.
Well, then, we ought to agree that if there truly is one true Church (the catholic or Catholic Church), and Lutherans and Catholics both claim to be the best embodiment of that Church, then it is not arrogant for someone to simply have an ecclesiology whereby there is one Church and one Church only. That's part of honest, open discussion. We all have to decide the nature of said Church and where it can be found in a concrete, historical, institutional sense. We Catholics don't speak in terms of "all other communions are wrong." We speak in terms of "we rejoice in truth wherever it is found, and it can be found in great quantity in Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and also in non-Christian religions."
This latter point gets back to the original point in our first letter. Luther nor his opponents would have recognized Johnny’s question. This was not addressed in Dave Armstrong’s response. To repeat, the both parties saw total continuity with the Apostolic and Patristic periods. There was no “protestant consciousness” of breaking away from, or concluding that Rome was a false church.
Well, there wasn't at first, but it soon (sadly) developed. I agree with Louis Bouyer's and Karl Adam's and Joseph Lortz's analyses. Moreover, much of Lutheranism today (as you must know) is plagued by a denominationalism that has not the slightest desire to ever unite with Rome.
Now to David’s point of recalling Luther stating in the Smalcald Articles that “we do not concede to them that they are the Church, and frankly, they are not the Church.” When one looks in context, the emphasis is in the wrong place. It is not upon the noun, but upon the pronoun. It is not on the “Church” but upon the “they!” And the “they” in question is the papacy.
Looking over the section of the Smalcald Articles in question, and the context, I don't see how you deduce that Luther is talking about the papacy. In trying to determine by prior paragraphs to whom he is referring as "they", I couldn't find direct mention of the papacy. What is mentioned (in X, 1-2) is "bishops" so that Luther's "they" afterwards seems to refer to them.
So if bishops aren't essential to the Church (and we know that Luther got rid of them: which even Melanchthon later bitterly regretted; and you have none in the LCMS, unless I am mistaken), why does Carl Braaten think that they are, along with apostolic succession, and even the papacy? If he is advocating a true Lutheran catholicism or Catholic Lutheranism, and those things are part and parcel to it, then obviously Luther forsook them early on, and half of my point about his rejecting the traditional doctrine of the Church is established.
To David’s point that Luther made “many such statements” is about as unfair as one can get. Luther said of the Church such things of the church as “I embrace the church, the communion of saints, as my holy mother, and in a conscious act of faith, I make my own all the spiritual blessings that the church represents.” I will not tire out the reader by listing all of the high regard Luther has for the Church. The reader is urged instead to take glimpse at the volume What Luther Says under the heading “Church.” This would be a fair approach and our case is firmly established.
He did say those things (I haven't denied this; indeed, I have cited similar things myself, in the past), but I am still not convinced that he didn't contradict himself. If the numerous comments in Wider Hans Wurst are all taken out of context by myself and misunderstood, then what about On the Councils and the Church: a 170-page treatise in my old 1931 Philadelphia edition of Luther's Works? Is that also a false representation of Luther's beliefs, from 1539, seven years before his death?
Translator Charles M. Jacobs states in his introduction: "All the hopes for a reformation of the Church, such as he had envisioned in 1520, have disappeared." Of course, he can simply redefine the Church as Lutheranism in some sense, over against the existing Catholic institution. But then he has separated himself from historical Christianity if he does that, which amounts to an Anabaptist position.
You and Pastor Maton argue that he is mainly or only referring to the papacy. But Luther wrote:
Thus the pope, with his followers, refuses to hold a council and will neither reform the Church nor contribute advice or assistance to a reformation, but would defend his tyranny by force, and let the Church be destroyed. Therefore we, whom the pope has so sadly deserted, can do nothing else than go elsewhere for advice and help, and begin by seeking and praying for a reformation from our Lord Christ. For because of these abandoned tyrants, who compel us to despair of a council and a reformation, we must not despair of Christ, or leave the Church without advice or help; but we must do what we can, and let them go to the devil, as they desire. (pp. 133-134)I continue to believe that Luther's position on this is internally inconsistent and incoherent, but on the other hand, I accept whatever little "good news" can be had from Luther experts. In the end, I think Luther biographer Martin Brecht expresses well Luther's highly ambivalent attitude towards the historic Catholic Church:
But the pope and his followers now declare that the Church must go to death for them, so that they may continue in their tyranny, idolatry, knavery, and all rascality . . . Now who could guess that these lords had such great power that the Church and Christ and God Himself must so easily go down before their threats? (p. 134)
The pope . . . he and his will let the Church be destroyed. Thus he has turned himself out of the Church . . . we are the Church, or in the Church, which the papists would let go to destruction in order that they may remain. But we, too, would like to remain and do not intend to go down so miserably, with our Lord Christ and His Father, the God of us all, before the defiance of the papists. (pp. 135-136)
One who heard the words "Christian, holy people" would have been able to decide off-hand, "The pope is not a people, still less a holy Christian people." So, too, the bishops, priests, and monks are not a holy Christian people, for they do not believe in Christ, do not lead holy lives, and are the devil's wicked, shameful people. He who does not rightly believe in Christ, is not Christian or a Christian, and he who has not the Holy Ghost to resist sin, is not holy. Therefore they cannot be a Christian, holy people, that is sancta et catholica ecclesia. (p. 265)
Luther did not dispute at all that the true marks of the church were also to be found among the Catholics and that the evangelicals had received them from the Catholics, but he accused the papists of having apostatized. The bride of Christ, like the old Israel, had become a whore. Nevertheless, God had preserved a remnant as his people. The leadership of the church had turned into the Antichrist that presumed to set up new regulations.Needless to say, it is not particularly comforting to a Catholic to learn that our Church is a "whore" etc., while Luther is gracious enough to allow us to retain the marks of the Church.
(Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church: 1532-1546, translated by James L. Schaaf, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993; paperback edition of 1999, 220)
The key (and we concede that we could have been much clearer), is to argue that the papacy, NOT the Church was what Luther attacked in his day.
I think that is a bit simplistic, based on the material I have produced. It's true that Luther doesn't often single out Joe Q. Papist, but he certainly condemns bishops, monks, nuns, priests en masse and often speaks in plural terms, not just of the pope or office of the papacy. What does "papists" mean, anyway? It means "one who is a Catholic," and that includes laypeople. Furthermore, if the Catholic Church supposedly apostatized (as Brecht says Luther thought), and an individual Catholic like myself agrees with all that it teaches, then it follows inexorably that I must partake of the very same apostatizing error.
Therefore, all consistent Catholics have apostatized along with the wicked antichrist popes. I don't see how the contrary is even arguable. Hence, we commonly hear Protestants say that if a Catholic is saved, it will be in spite of what the Catholic Church teaches, not because of it. In other words, to be a good Christian, one has to be a "bad [i.e., inconsistent, pick-and-choose] Catholic", and to be a good, orthodox, faithful Catholic is inevitably to be a bad Christian, or none at all. That's not a particularly ecumenical attitude, is it?
And for a Roman Catholic to disagree with this, they would have to first take on some fellow Roman Catholics of some pretty sizable stature before they take on us, as I have mentioned a few of these names above.
And I have shown that in many of those cases where I had read their works, the entire truth of what they believed is far more complex and nuanced.
The series of quotes that Armstrong makes only proves this point as the “they” that Luther writes about are continuously the “papists,” not the rank and file in Catholic Christendom.
Dave Armstrong makes the rather clever move of trying to demonstrate that if this distinction were true, why did Lutherans attack the “sacrifice of the Mass?” The rationale here is that Lutherans cannot seriously say that they are only attacking the papacy, but the very core of what it means to be Roman Catholic. We will respond to the Mass issue in due time, but we are starting to accumulate too many things at once.
Good. I look forward to that. I think I made a very ecumenical, conciliatory beginning for that topic in my last paper.
An important discussion needs to take place regarding the Church Fathers. Lutherans regard the Fathers of the Church very highly. A mistake, however, is to assume that the Fathers carry the weight of the Apostles. When we asked the question, “At what point is the Augsburg Confession not catholic or Apostolic?” we received the response that “it [The Augsburg Confession] wasn’t a true presentation of catholic patristic doctrine concerning the sacrifice of the mass….”
Fair enough. I may not have properly answered that particular question, but recourse to the fathers was still relevant in the larger discussion because Lutheranism claims to have a closer relation to patristic consensus than Catholicism does. However, there was ambiguity in the question itself (and your present interpretation of it), because it wasn't just asking for apostolicity, but also catholicity, and it seems to me that that element of "universal" requires delving into the fathers (which is why I did so). In fact, it necessarily does, because catholicity could not have yet been present in the apostles. There wasn't enough time for Christianity to have spread; to have any chance of yet being "catholic."
Armstrong successfully shows where the AC is not in agreement with various fathers of the church in sundry places. Perhaps this point needs to be cleared up. Because a Church Father says something in the third century, does not make his statement, orthodox, correct, or even worthy of consideration.
No one is claiming that it does, in and of itself. The Church fathers are important only insofar as they reflect (and that, en masse, not individually) the consensus of the early Church on doctrine. The consensus and the creeds and councils are what is important, and both sides agree on that (at least for the earliest councils, up to Chalcedon in 451, at the very least). The Councils and the Apostolic See in Rome reign supreme in matters of determining early orthodoxy, not individual fathers.
The real question is this. Does the recorded sayings, teachings, or writings of the Church fathers square with the Apostolic witness? The answer to that question is - yes, sometimes, and perhaps many times. But certainly not at all times!
We agree, if it is put in those terms. Yet there is a consensus and an orthodoxy among fathers and even among the laypeople of the Church as a whole (sensus fidelium), that is, we believe in faith, guaranteed by God.
The Church fathers were not the eyewitnesses inspired by the Holy Spirit to bring forth the continued revelation of sacred Scripture in the New Testament. (II Peter 1:21) as the prophets did in the Old Testament.
The usual accusation here from Roman Catholics is that Lutherans conveniently agree with the Fathers when it suits their purposes to do so and disavow them when it is not so convenient. No, there is no issue of “convenience” here at all. It is a matter of methodology based upon consistency and the very witness of the Apostles themselves. (I Thessalonians 2:13). When Paul distinguishes between the Word of God and the words of men, he certainly presumes that his hearers are capable of realizing that there is indeed a difference between the two.
And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church in the true and sound understanding of the Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church.
(Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I, translated by Fred Kramer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971, 208-209)
[W]e love and value greatly the true and sound interpretations which agree with the rules which we have quoted from the fathers.
It is undeniably the truest of axioms that that alone is the true doctrine which the apostles transmitted and which the primitive church professed as received from the apostles.
Now granted, many Protestants falsely draw a wedge between the Apostolic and Patristic eras. The cults and sects disavow the legitimacy of anything patristic, including the ecumenical creeds. Lutherans who understand what true catholicity is, would never make that move.
Yes. Thanks, too, for bolstering a point I made above: that when you referred to "catholic" (as well as apostolic) indications, you were referring to the fathers.
What we do say, however, is this. Where the Church Fathers adhered to the Apostolic witness and rule of faith, particularly in the Ecumenical Councils, and particularly in the emerging ecumenical creeds, then the Church fathers should be admired, heard, quoted, believed, and regarded as confessors and teachers of the truth etc.
St. Athanasius on the doctrine of the Trinity is completely and wonderfully orthodox. Irenaeus in his battles against Gnosticism was most completely orthodox. St. Ambrose, St. Augustine. Cyprian, Jerome, etc. all had marvelous and gifted insights and should be read voraciously. The ecumenical creeds themselves were based squarely on the criteria of apostolicity. The criteria for the Church’s assembly of the canon was based squarely upon the criteria of apostolicity. Even the earliest of documents like the Didache could declare “We are in communion with the apostolic churches. There is no difference of doctrine…”
However when the fathers for example, moralize about how Christians should adorn themselves, issue rules about jewelry, or instructions about how Christians are to conduct themselves in the bath houses of Ephesus, or when Tertullian, for example, teaches chiliasm, and glossolalia, or when Eusebius presents a somewhat hagiographic account of the deeds of the saints in his Ecclesiastical History, we are not to regard any of this binding upon the conscience or things that must be adhered to in the interest of the tradition of the church. Because they were not apostles, these writings should not be binding to anyone’s conscience.
Amen! That's what we believe, too.
To say that the Church Fathers should never be questioned or that they were never wrong is ludicrous.
Indeed it is.
I should think so. I'd like to see you produce even one reputable (orthodox) Catholic theologian, pope, bishop, apologist, scholar who would state such a ridiculous thing.
But from what we have been hearing thus far from both Johnny and David is that the Church Fathers should be regarded with equal weight as the Apostles?
Who ever stated that? Certainly not I.
We may be wrong in this assertion. But so far the debate has been one of “The fathers said this or that!” In some instances - great! In others, no! By no means!”
Where are the words of the AC [Augsburg Confession, for our readers] not catholic or apostolic? On the other hand, where is the sale of Indulgences for example, or the popular practice of the day to gaze at relics anywhere a part of the apostolic tradition? Where do we see any support for Indulgences among the writings of the Church Fathers, even those most sympathetic to legitimizing the papacy? Clearly, the AC is a true presentation of the doctrine of the blessed apostles.As explained above, the word "catholic" necessarily implies an examination of the fathers' views. You asked about where it wasn't apostolic and "catholic". And so I delved into that issue, using the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass as a counter-example of the alleged "catholicity" of AC, because I have several times before with Lutherans and had the material ready at hand. I was simply responding to your challenge, but now you act as if I have been guilty of going off-subject. Well, if answering direct questions means "off-topic" then I am guilty as charged (though rather proudly so!). I have a bad habit of responding to challenges. I'll try to refrain from doing so in the future if you don't care for that. :-)
You asked specifically about patristic support for Indulgences and I did ya one better: going right to the Bible (i.e., apostolic support). Now, it is true that I gave patristic support for relics (and Augustine is very explicit about that in The City of God), when you asked specifically for apostolic support. Mea culpa. But I provided the latter, too, by referring you to my biblical paper on that issue. So I have provided answers for your challenges all down the line, whereas you have often passed over mine without comment.
My digression into the issue of the sacrifice of the mass may have been unduly long (because I have this odd habit of liking to properly document facts), but it was not off-topic, because I was challenged to produce a counter-example and I did so. Now your burden is to defend the AC and Lutheranism on that score. I say you cannot. You have to maintain that patristic consensus was wildly and almost universally wrong and that Lutheranism is right, and that is neither plausible under Christian historical assumptions, or Lutheranism's own claims regarding extraordinary patristic support over against Catholicism.
I see this issue also in a manner that history has almost repeated itself in the heilsgeschischte of the Biblical narrative from Old Testament to New. God gave Moses what we have come to call the “Ten Commandments.” These were one of the great hallmarks of God’s revelation to Israel. During the intertestamental period, there was a tremendous development of oral tradition and interpretation developed in the rabbinic schools and eventually codified in the Talmud. By the time we get to the first century, we note that the oral tradition dominated the theological landscape. It was this that Jesus opposes rather harshly. One New Testament scholar, William Lane writes in his commentary on Mark 7:1-10: “Theoretically, the oral law was a fence which safeguarded the people from infringing the [Mosaic] law."
[William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), pp. 248-9]
In other words it was thought that if the people observed the oral law, they would be fenced in adequately so as to not break the Law of Moses. As benevolent a motive as that might have been, the point was that the oral tradition actually replaced the Law of Moses. It is to this that Jesus says “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9).
I would say you have it exactly backwards. The oral tradition was acknowledged by Jesus and the apostles and was the belief of the most orthodox Jewish party (the Pharisees) from which Christianity developed. It was the "liberal" Sadducees who denounced oral tradition (along with other doctrines such as the resurrection), and seemed to hold to "Bible alone". But they are never called Christians in Scripture, whereas the Pharisees are (Paul called himself one, and Jesus observed many Pharisaical customs). The Jews in the Old Testament, of course, accepted oral tradition as part and parcel of the Mosaic Law, and did not believe in any form of sola Scriptura. I argued this at length, with many biblical examples, in my (now archived) paper, "Dialogue: The Old Testament, the Jews, and Sola Scriptura."
I see the same exact parallel in the development of scholastic theology over the centuries. By the time we get to the thirteenth century, the accretions to the liturgy, the almost exclusive concern for what the fathers of the church were saying etc. almost rendered the apostolic rule of faith null and void. By the time of the Reformation, we see a rediscovery of that rule of faith, a rediscovery of the Gospel, and a renewal, as my colleague, Pastor Maton will remind us in these debates, of preaching of the Gospel of Christ.
I think this is a caricature of the methods of the Scholastics (especially the early and best ones like St. Thomas Aquinas: his writings are soaked in Scripture). You seem to have picked up Luther's antipathy to Scholasticism. But he didn't even understand them, as McGrath noted above ("whereas Luther frequently demonstrates first-hand knowledge of the writings of the leading theologians of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, such as Pierre d'Ailly and Gabriel Biel, such knowledge is conspicuously absent in the case of earlier medieval theologians, such as St Thomas Aquinas").
So if we were to draw an analogy to early and late Judaism, to the Law of Moses and the oral tradition, then we would note that early (Apostolic) Christianity gave way to later accretions and the development of an “oral tradition” of its own that honored the church fathers to the exclusion (almost) of the Apostles, the Gospel, and the Scriptures. This is no doubt overstating the case a bit. But it makes the overall point that Luther had a high regard for tradition except when it stepped in the way of the Gospel as the oral law did with the law of Moses.
I think further discussion of this is better left for future discussions, as it is a huge topic. I've written more on the Bible and its relationship to tradition and Church than on any other topic, and am more than adequately equipped to take on that topic at any time. Suffice it to say that this is standard boilerplate Protestant polemics against Catholicism, that leaves much to be desired. In the movie Luther, for example, which I critiqued at length, it was implied that German Bible translations was some new idea that originated with Luther. In fact, there had been fourteen German versions from the time of the advent of the printing press till Luther's time.
Must we always agree with all of the Fathers of the church? If the answer is “yes,” then by what criteria?
The answer is "no." We must agree with the magisterial pronouncements and unbroken apostolic tradition of the Church (as Luther himself asserts) and with the Bible.
We must respectfully disagree that Tradition and Scripture are never in opposition as Armstrong tries to insist.
Where, pray tell, do I ever assert this? It is the exact opposite of what I believe, which is that any valid, legitimate, apostolic tradition must be in harmony with Holy Scripture, and indeed, could not fail to be.
Even the Apostles themselves were not immune from scrutiny. St. Paul himself was regarded as one whose authority could be tested. (Acts 17:11). Are we to presume that the Bereans were out of order for checking out Paul’s teachings with the Scriptures? Do not misunderstand. We do not believe that Paul’s writings could have been found to be in error. But that does not preclude the possibility of verification. If so with Paul – certainly so with the Fathers.
Certainly. For this reason, the Catholic Church has held that St. Augustine was wrong on some predestination issues. We even say that our foremost theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, was wrong concerning the Immaculate Conception. No one or no thing is infallible except for Scripture, popes in limited conditions, and ecumenical councils in agreement with popes.
In all of this, I have not even brought up the fact that the theological differences between the Fathers themselves resulted in disagreements over what was orthodox teachings on certain matters. Take the filioque debate for example. East and West still to this very day disagree on this article of faith in the articulation of the Nicene Creed.
Yes, but what gets neglected is that what became Orthodox belief was based largely on later speculations postdating the fathers (e.g., "innovative" the pneumatology of Photius in the 9th century). The leading eastern fathers did not contradict the current western understanding of filioque: e.g., Athanasius, Epiphanius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa and John Damascene. This was not a patristic difference at all. It only became a big issue after the time of Photius.
Oh, and that slight matter of a certain schism in 1054 A.D. I know that both sides East and West were certain that they had the truth with regards to the doctrine of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. But even to say this makes our point, namely that tradition must be subsumed to the authority of the Apostolic witness.
Besides, "playing the Orthodox card" does the Lutheran case no good whatsoever. It must stand on its own. The Orthodox are far closer to us than to you, and in high level talks have, apparently, just accepted the notion of the primacy of the pope in the early centuries. Now, fine points of that are another question, but they wouldn't even admit that much until now. We continue to argue what we always have: that papal primacy is rather obvious in the early centuries.
I bring my contribution #2 to a close and defer to Pastor Maton to make his several points in response to Armstrong’s response #1. In conclusion, we do not see Luther as having broken from what he perceived to be a false church. He was a loyal son of the Church and wished for his reforms to take place. The Augsburg Confession is Apostolic, and proffers the first definition of the Church (Article VII), since the Fathers confessed the Church as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”
Thank you very much for your time. I look forward, as always, to future installments. God bless both you and Pastor Maton in your ministry and service to God and your flocks.