Saturday, October 27, 2007
I've heard nothing but rave reviews about this movie: and not just from Catholics and other Christians. It was a winner at the Toronto Film Festival (People's Choice award). I won't tell you much more about it. Check out the official website for Bella and an article and review from Thomas Peters at the American Papist blog.
It's important to view the film now because that helps to determine if it will have a run for more than two weeks at theatres. Tell your friends and family. Spread the word . . .
Thursday, October 25, 2007
James White Readily Grants Possible Legitimacy to the Flimsiest "Evidence" That Padre Pio Faked His Stigmata
Reformed Baptist anti-Catholic apologist Bishop James White has reported on a Telegraph article alleging that St. Padre Pio faked his stigmata with carbolic acid. Of course he doesn't let his readers know that he would (I think it is safe to say) deny virtually any reported Catholic miracle (if not all of them) because he thinks the Catholic Church is a false church with a counterfeit gospel, led by the devil, leading people to hell (and -- I don't know; it wouldn't surprise me -- he may also be a cessationist regarding the continuing of miracles after the apostolic period). That's the presupposition he starts from, and that more than likely determines his public response to this article beforehand: before he even reads it or considers whatever "evidence" is offered.
After ridiculous comments about Catholic beliefs on saints and asking their intercession (including the potshot: "note the response to even daring to suggest that Padre Pio might just have been faking his alleged godliness"), White briefly presents the basis of the charge and then mocks supposed quick (and implied, improper or illegitimate) dismissal of Catholics of the charges:
[article] The new allegations were greeted with an instant dismissal from his supporters. The Catholic Anti-Defamation League said Mr Luzzatto was a liar and was "spreading anti-Catholic libels".Apparently it never occurred to him that the impulse behind such charges is probably much the same as the nefarious skeptical intention behind things such as the "Da Vinci Code": that he himself (along with at least two Catholic authors that I know of) has opposed. That's fine and dandy, on the principle of "my enemy's enemy is my friend." Never mind an examination of whether the charges have any substance: just accept it and assume the distinct possibility of guilt as charged because it is against the Catholic Church: that Beast that White despises. Here is the profound "proof" presented from a lady named Maria De Vito:
[White] That can't be how anyone would respond to such an allegation, is it? Surely not! I mean, we have documented repeatedly how fair and even handed Roman Catholic apologists are in responding to criticism and refutation, so this is truly amazing, isn't it? Excuse me while I extract my tongue from my cheek.
"Padre Pio called me to him in complete secrecy and telling me not to tell his fellow brothers, he gave me personally an empty bottle, and asked if I would act as a chauffeur to transport it back from Foggia to San Giovanni Rotondo with four grams of pure carbolic acid."He explained that the acid was for disinfecting syringes for injections. He also asked for other things, such as Valda pastilles."
It was examined by the Holy See during the beatification process of Padre Pio and apparently dismissed.Anyone who knows anything at all about the Catholic canonization process (as well as that regarding any miracle or apparition, etc.) knows how rigorous and exacting it is. In fact, this is the origin of the term "devil's advocate": the person in such procedures who is a sort of prosecutor against the cause of someone being considered for sainthood. Is White actually foolish and silly enough to think that the Church didn't examine this instance of the stigmata with the greatest care? I wouldn't put it past him, given his oft-shown profound ignorance of Catholic teaching and practice.
Another article in The Independent provides some further relevant information:
A doctor sent by the Vatican to examine them concluded that the wounds were probably caused and maintained artificially. To test the hypothesis he bound the wounds and sealed the bandage to prevent it being tampered with. But on examination a month later the doctor was nonplussed to find that the wounds had failed to heal.The article notes that Padre Pio had written: "I am in need of 200g or 300g of carbolic acid for sterilising. I pray you to send it to me on Sunday." And based on this compelling "evidence" some pharmacist concluded: "My thought was that the carbolic acid could be used by Padre Pio to procure or further irritate wounds on his hands."
What further proof is needed? Is that not compelling? It's not as if use of carbolic acid (aka phenol) for such purposes is immediately suspect. It was standard practice in those times (this was an incident from 1919). For example, note the article, "Antisepsis and Sterilization," from the online Encyclopedia of Public Health:
Joseph Lister (1827–1912) experimented with carbolic acid dressings and continuous carbolic acid sprays during surgical operations in the mid-1860s. He reported a reduced incidence of gangrene and mortality. He eventually abandoned carbolic acid around 1890 when Koch demonstrated heat to be more effective than chemicals for sterilizing instruments, and when Ernst von Bergmann (1836–1907) achieved better results through cleaning techniques for operating rooms, instruments, patients, and surgeons.
Another article on the history of antiseptic procedures notes:
Through his research, Lister had heard that 'carbolic acid,' a coal-tar derivative used to preserve railway tracks and ships' timbers, was effective in controlling typhoid, which was spread in sewage, and in curing cattle of parasites. By cleaning wounds and dressing his patients with carbolic acid, Lister was able to keep his hospital ward in Glasgow free of infection for nine months. Lister's cloud of carbolic spray drenched the whole area, surgeon and all, and so killed the bacteria before they had a chance to invade the wound.Much more fair-minded and reasonable than White's presuppositional-driven anti-Catholic knee-jerk bigotry is the outlook expressed by a woman, Chrissie, in a Physics Forum discussion thread on the stigmata:
Regarding Padre Pio, the saint from Italy (1912) whose bleeding from palms, etc is well documented. I don't deny his symptoms, at all. What does cause me to feel some skepitism, coming from a medical/nursing background, is that the areas where the bleeding occurs seems to be areas where blood vessels meet up in a network of capillaries to send the blood back up to the heart and lungs to be re-oxygenated. Because the actual blood flow has also been very well documented in this type of "stigmata", I wonder if there may be a physiological underpinning - a disease process that we just aren't familiar with at this time. Padre Pio, himself, describes feeling very tired prior to the onset of this bleeding, which is consistent with a decrease in oxygenated blood flow to the body and brain. That we don't know why it occurs does not give us the right to say that "it just doesn't occur", or "its impossible", or "he's lying". That is truly arrogant, is it not?Now, it's true that she is not seeming to accept the possibility of the miraculous, but this is an intermediate position that is far more charitable than immediate recourse to the charge of lying, based on altogether insufficient evidence, that is almost White's stock-in-trade these days.
The same thread directed readers towards a fascinating article, "An Unusual Case of Stigmatization," by Marco Margnelli, from Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1999, 461-482, which noted that the stigmata "in this century it has also appeared in Protestants . . . several cases" (p. 461) and "whereas in the past the phenomenon was observed only in Europe, in this century there have also been cases in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Africa and India" (p. 462) After describing general characteristics of the stigmata, the author concludes:
None of these characteristics (particularly the sudden appearance/disappearance and absence of suppurative phenomena) can be explained by the usual laws of general pathology and pathological anatomy . . . (p. 463)The Italian woman who is the main topic of this article, Anna Maria T., has been extensively studied under scientific conditions. For example:
From March 1995 until July 1995 Anna Maria was examined eight times: every first Friday of the five months (March 3, April 7, May 5, June 2, July 7), Good Friday (April 14) and twice in free periods when no stigmatic marks were visible (May 27 and June 16). Further observations were made on July 2 and 3, and on August 6 and 7, 1998. On each of these occasions :
(1) Color photographs of the stigmatic marks, normal close-ups and also
highly magnified close-ups were taken.
(2) Infrared photographs of the palms and the backs of the hands were
(3) Prints of the entire hands and detailed sets of fingerprints using triketohydrinden
hydrate were taken.
(4) The electrodermal activity of all the fingers of both hands was studied.
(5) A plethysmographic study of all the fingers of both hands was made.
In addition Anna Maria underwent a psycho-spiritual interview and the tests
of Rorschach and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. These examinations were recorded on video.
As Anna Maria had stated, the shape, size, color and entity of the stigmatic
marks varied from one month to another. (pp. 470-471)
[physiological details are then provided by the author]
Another article (from Zenit) contains the scientific descriptions of Dr. Nicola Silvestri (I cite excerpts):
With regard to the possible productive mechanisms, an effort has been made, as is usual in these cases, to gather together the elements that exclude fraud and disease, and any possible ones that could indicate a psychosomatic nature of the marks. As has already been stated, the preliminary data seem to make it improbable that Anna Maria could cause the lesions herself. As far as the possibility of a psychosomatic genesis is concerned, the examinations carried out demonstrate sympathetic hyperactivity indexes only within the reddened areas themselves, while the sympathetic functions of the rest of the hands (sweating, symmetry of the electrodermal responses and vasoconstrictor reflexes) always appear within the norm. To complete the observations an hourly assessment of the microcirculatory activity needs to be made on the Thursday night preceding the first Friday of each month. As far as the hypothesis of a miracle is concerned, it is not within my competence to make any judgement.
From the medical point of view, the stigmata cannot be considered as wounds or sores, because they do not heal even when treated. They neither become infected nor do they decompose; they do not degenerate in necrosis, and do not exude a bad odor. They bleed and remain constant and unaltered for years, against all laws of nature.The author continues:
The Church is strict when it comes to these phenomena. It has pronounced itself in a rather limited number of cases only after rigorous studies and controls by doctors and theologians.
[A] multiplicity of theories have been proposed by different schools that attempt to deny the supernatural character of the stigmata. However, none of these hypotheses can stand up to objective and scientifically rigorous criticism. Neither medicine nor psychology, nor intransigent positivists like Jean-Baptiste Dumas, have been able to deny the reality of the phenomenon.
If the stigmata depended on natural forces, they would have appeared in all ages and the description would be found in medical literature. However, it was not until the 12th century, when they appeared in St. Francis' body, that there was reference to the stigmata.
By their internal and external characteristics, the real stigmata studied to date are outside all the laws that regulate physiopathology and must be considered as phenomena of a supernatural character.
The Church exacts certain conditions before recognizing the validity of stigmata. The wounds must all appear at the same time; they must cause considerable modification of the tissues; they must remain unaltered despite medical treatment; they must cause hemorrhages; and they must not result in infections or suppuration, or in instant and perfect healing.It so happens that I also recently saw an extraordinary movie about St. Padre Pio's life: Padre Pio: Miracle Man. I was profoundly moved by it, and consider it the best religious movie I have seen, second only to my perennial favorite, Jesus of Nazareth (that was a key factor used by God to help make me decide to seriously devote my life to Jesus as an evangelical Protestant in 1977). In the movie you see the persecution that the great man had to undergo: most of it from within the Church (as with almost all saints), including ludicrous charges that he was having sexual relations with several women. At one point his confessional was bugged. How sad. Even Pope John XXIII was a skeptic, so recent articles have stated.
There are at least 80 saints and blessed whose stigmata have been validly documented, the doctor said. Although the Church recognizes the phenomenon, it does not oblige the faithful to believe in it as a dogmatic or doctrinal fact.
This will probably become a big stink in the months to come. It appears to have been the successor in a propagandistic / sociologically anti-Catholic sense of the same mentality that went after Mother Teresa, because she experienced the dark night of the soul (as if that is unusual for saints and other holy people to experience: it is common knowledge). Entire books have been written about this phenomenon, such as the one by St. John of the Cross.
If people don't want to believe in some supernatural phenomenon, they will always find some "reason" not to do so, no matter how implausible and ridiculous. It's simply the human condition. It is one thing to be intelligently skeptical of any claim. The Church certainly does that, and I do myself (very much so); quite another to be prejudiced against the supernatural on philosophical or emotional grounds, and to thus automatically discount every alleged incident as a fraud, hallucination, or what-not.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Psalm 23 in the original 1611 Authorised Version ("King James")
Interesting stuff. I received an e-mail about the website Top Verses.com:
Sydney, Australia, October 22, 2007 - The most popular scriptures have been revealed after an internet survey of 37 million Bible references. The survey results rank every Bible verse by popularity . . .
Top Verses ran the survey in August 2007 by counting how often every Bible verse is
referenced in web pages across the internet. The 31,101 verses were ranked by the
results. As well as listing top verses overall, the site uses the results to rank Bible books
* * *
Top 10 Verses
Verses are taken from the NIV
1. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
2. John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
3. John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me".
4. Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
5. Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
6. Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
7. Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
8. Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
9. 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
10. Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Top 10 Books
_ 1 John
_ 2 Peter
_ 1 Peter
Top 10 Chapters
_ 2 Peter 1
_ Psalm 1
_ John 2
_ James 4
_ Romans 12
_ Isaiah 53
_ John 3
_ Romans 1
_ James 1
_ Acts 1
What are your favorites?
Church Fathers vs. the "Reformation Pillar" of Faith Alone (Sola Fide) [Including "Revised Protestant Standard" Variant Readings]
Short excerpts (except for the citations from Protestants) from the second chapter of my upcoming book, The Church Fathers Were Catholic, entitled, "Salvation, Justification, Penance, and Related Issues". "Revised Protestant Standard" ["RPS"] readings (with all abominable Catholic corruptions eliminated and biblical notions installed) -- also added presently -- will be in purple.
Justification, as thus defined, is therefore a declarative act, as distinguished from an efficient act; an act of God external to the sinner, as distinguished from an act within the sinner's nature and changing that nature; a judicial act, as distinguished from a sovereign act; an act based upon and logically presupposing the sinner's union with Christ, as distinguished from an act which causes and is followed by that union with Christ.For further definitions and analysis of these issues, from both Catholics and Protestants, see my paper, Reflections on Justification.
(Augustus Strong [Baptist], Systematic Theology, Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1967 -- originally 1907 -- p. 849)
(1) Justification is an instantaneous act and not, like sanctification, a continued and progressive work.
(2) Justification is an act of grace to the sinner, who in himself deserves condemnation.
(3) . . . It does not produce any subjective change in the person justified. It does not effect a change of character, making those good who were bad, those holy who were unholy. That is done in regeneration and sanctification . . . It is a forensic or judicial act . . . It is a declarative act in which God pronounces the sinner just or righteous . . .
(4) The meritorious ground of justification is not faith; we are not justified on account of our faith, considered as a virtuous or holy act or state of mind. Nor are our works of any kind the ground of justification . . . The ground of justification is the righteousness of Christ . . . including His perfect obedience to the law as a covenant and His enduring the penalty of the law in our stead and in our behalf.
(5) The righteousness of Christ is in justification imputed to the believer. That is, it is set to his account, so that he is entitled to plead it at the bar of God, as though it were personally and inherently his own."
(Charles Hodge [Presbyterian], Systematic Theology, abridged one-volume edition by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988 -- originally 1873, 3 volumes -- p. 454)
Grace and works are antithetical . . . Grace of necessity excludes works of every kind, and more especially those of the highest kind, which might have some show of merit. But merit of any degree is of necessity excluded if our salvation be by grace . . .
The sins which are pardoned in justification include all sins, past, present, and future. (Ibid., 458, 461)
Is the Catholic Church resting on the firm historical ground on which it claims to be resting? Contrary to some misleading quoting of church fathers and a lot of history revision on the part of Catholic apologists, the doctrines that are unique to the Roman Catholic Church not only contradict scripture, but also contradict what many of the early church fathers believed. The historical record is at odds with what the Catholic Church teaches. The Catholic Church doesn't represent historic Christianity, as instituted by Jesus and the apostles. Catholicism is a false religion that came into being centuries after the time of Christ and the apostles, and has only gotten more heretical with the passing of time.
When the beliefs of the earliest church fathers are examined, what's found is much closer to evangelical beliefs than Catholic beliefs. Even among the later church fathers, who might be considered closer to Catholicism, there are a lot of differences between what those church fathers believed and what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.
. . . The church fathers often disagreed with one another, and some of them held views that were similar to what the Catholic Church teaches. But their views on some of the most controversial issues today (salvation, church government, Marian doctrine, etc.) were non-Catholic. It was only after centuries of gradual departure from what Jesus and the apostles taught that the Catholic Church came into being.
. . . The intent of this article isn't to suggest that the early church fathers are as authoritative as the Bible, but rather to demonstrate that even in the territory the Catholic Church claims as its stronghold (post-apostolic tradition), Catholicism fails to live up to its claims. Not only does the Bible stand in condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church, but the early church fathers do as well.
[ link ]
The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached . . . Augustine and Calvin, who in successive ages were the great exponents of the system of grace . . .
( "Dave Hunt vs. Charles Haddon Spurgeon" )
It does not seem that any discussion of ancient theology can be pursued without invoking the great name of Augustine. But surely by now Roman controversialists should be aware that Augustine is no friend of their cause.
( "Whitewashing the History of the Church" )
** the words following do not appear in all manuscripts; nevertheless the committee has decided upon this later manuscript tradition because they feel that it is a helpful clarification of the peculiar Protestant "alone but not alone" slogans and terminology]
[RPS: "Even though they be sinners, but know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them"]
[RPS: "Paul said it in order to teach that anyone who wished to could be justified simply by willing faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone by Scripture alone"]
But if someone already regenerate and justified should, of his own will, relapse into his evil life, certainly that man cannot say: “I have not received’; because he lost the grace he received from God and by his own free choice went to evil. (Admonition and Grace [c. 427], 6,9; Jurgens, III, 157)
[RPS: "Someone already regenerate and justified cannot possibly relapse into his evil life, because of the grace he received from God; therefore he has no free choice to return to evil and can only be saved"]
Now, if the wicked man were to be saved by fire on account of his faith only, . . . then faith without works would be sufficient to salvation. But then what the apostle James said would be false. (Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapter XVIII, paragraph 3; NPNF 1, Vol. III)
[RPS: "Now, the wicked man can only be saved on account of his faith only, . . . faith without works is sufficient to salvation, and what the apostle James said was false"]
Unintelligent persons, however, with regard to the apostle's statement: "We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law," have thought him to mean that faith suffices to a man, even if he lead a bad life, and has no good works. (A Treatise on Grace and Free Will; Chapters 18; NPNF 1, Vol. V)
[RPS: "Intelligent persons, with regard to the apostle's statement: "We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law," have thought him to mean that faith suffices to a man, even if he lead a bad life, and has no good works"]
[E]ven those good works of ours, which are recompensed with eternal life, belong to the grace of God, . . . the apostle himself, after saying, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast;" saw, of course, the possibility that men would think from this statement that good works are not necessary to those who believe, but that faith alone suffices for them . . . "Not of works" is spoken of the works which you suppose have their origin in yourself alone; but you have to think of works for which God has moulded (that is, has formed and created) you. . . . grace is for grace, as if remuneration for righteousness; in order that it may be true, because it is true, that God "shall reward every man according to his works." (A Treatise on Grace and Free Will; Chapter 20; NPNF 1, Vol. V)
[RPS: "Good works of ours are not recompensed with eternal life, and are opposed to the grace of God, . . . the apostle himself believed, of course, that good works are not necessary to those who believe, but that faith alone suffices for them . . . it is not true that God "shall reward every man according to his works"]
Wherefore, even eternal life itself, which is surely the reward of good works, the apostle calls the gift of God . . . We are to understand, then, that man’s good deserts are themselves the gift of God, so that when these obtain the recompense of eternal life, it is simply grace given for grace. Man, therefore, was thus made upright that, though unable to remain in his uprightness without divine help, he could of his own mere will depart from it. (Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love, chapter 107; NPNF 1, Vol. III)
[RPS: "Eternal life itself is surely not the reward of good works, the apostle calls the gift of God. We are to understand, then, that man’s good deserts are themselves the gift of God, and have nothing to do with the recompense of eternal life, because that would be contrary to grace and justification by faith alone. Man cannot of his own mere will depart from God's grace"]
This must not be understood in such a way as to say that a man who has received faith and continues to live is righteous, even though he leads a wicked life. (Questions 76.1; commenting on Romans 3:28; Bray, 105; Defferari, Vol. 70, 195)
[RPS: "This must be understood in such a way as to say that a man who has received faith and continues to live is righteous through imputed justification, even though he leads a wicked life"]
He who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but He does not justify you without your willing it. (Sermons, 169, 3; Jurgens, III, 29)
[RPS: "He who made you without your consent also justifies you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, and so justifies you without your willing it"]
Someone says to me: “Since we are acted upon, it is not we who act.” I answer, “No, you both act and are acted upon; and if you are acted upon by the good, you act properly. For the spirit of God who moves you, by so moving, is your Helper. The very term helper makes it clear that you yourself are doing something.” (Sermons 156, 11; Jurgens, III, 28)
[RPS: "Someone says to me: 'Since we are acted upon, it is not we who act.' This is correct, because one cannot both act and be acted upon (it must be one or the other); and if you are acted upon by the good, you act properly, by necessity, and cannot do otherwise (Martin Luther and John Calvin will also understand this very well 1100 years after I die). For the spirit of God who moves you, by so moving, is your Helper. The very term helper makes it clear that you yourself are not doing anything"]
[N]either is the law condemned by the apostle nor is free will taken away from man. (On Romans 13-18; commenting on Romans 3:20; Bray, 96; Landes, 5, 7)
[RPS: "The law is condemned by the apostle and free will is taken away from man"]
Well-doing is for a time, but the reward is eternal . . . Paul wanted to show that there are many rewards for those who are good. (Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans; commentary on Romans 2:7; Bray, 60; Migne PG 82 col. 69)
[RPS: "Well-doing is for a time, but only justification by faith alone receives the reward that is eternal . . . Paul wanted to show that there is an eternal reward of salvation for those who proclaim belief in justification by faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone, without any of the four 'alones' actually being alone, but only proclaimed as such and imputed to the believer alone by God alone through Christ alone . . ."]
Bray, Gerald, editor [Thomas C. Oden, general editor of series), Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VI: Romans, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Deferrari, R.J., editor, Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, 86 volumes, Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1947 --.
Jurgens, William A., editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, three volumes, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970 and 1979 (2nd and 3rd volumes).
Landes, P.F. editor, Augustine on Romans, Chico: California: Scholars Press, 1982.
Lightfoot, Joseph B. and J.R. Harmer, translators, The Apostolic Fathers, second edition; edited and revised by Michael W. Holmes, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989; first edition by Lightfoot originally published in 1891 (London: Macmillan and Co.).
Roberts, Alexander and Sir James Donaldson, editors, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (“ANF”), ten volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1867, available online.
Schaff, Philip, editor, Early Church Fathers: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series 1 (“NPNF 1”), 14 volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1889, available online.
Schaff, Philip and Henry Wace, editors, Early Church Fathers: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2 (“NPNF 2”), 14 volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1900, available online.
Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325 (“HCC 2”), Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976, from the revised fifth edition of 1910, available online.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Lutheran-Catholic Group Dialogue #2: The Nature of the True Church and Authoritative Christian Tradition / Questions on Institutional Separation
Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, with Luther's grave in the foreground
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 Benjamin O. Maton (Lutheran - Missouri Synod ["LCMS"] ) pastors two congregations: in Ashaway, Rhode Island and New London, Connecticut.
Throughout the dialogue, my words will be in plain black, Pastor Nichols' in blue, Pastor Maton's in green, their combined words in purple, and former Lutheran, now Catholic Johnny Montalvo's in orange.
Jesus taught concerning Church discipline that if a brother refuses to hear the Church’s verdict on a dispute, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Mathew 18:15-20. This is also taught in the Law of Moses. However, in Deuteronomy17: 8-13 the sentence is harsher. This binding and loosing Authority by the Church was given to her by God and should be taken very seriously. I would like to know by what authority did Luther have to start his own church after he was excommunicated for refusing to listen to the Church?
Here is our response to your first question. We collaborated on the answer.
This lead question in our debate contains false assumptions which, if they were not challenged, would immediately concede the very thing that we are attempting to debate in the first place, namely, the nature of the Church, where is the one true Church?
The above question would have made sense neither to Luther nor to his 16th century papal opponents. It seems it is asked from the (unfortunate) perspective of the fractured denominationalism of post-reformation Christendom -- a time when disgruntled pastors and laity up and desert their communion for whatever reason and “start their own Church” in a space rented from the local Elks’ Club. Whether such a state of affairs is to blame on Lutheran ecclesiology, we can debate somewhere down the road.
For now, let it suffice to say that from the perspective of the 16th century combatants it was not a matter of being in this Church or that Church. It was a matter of being the Church or not the Church (or perhaps Church or anti-Church or Church or the “devil’s Church” as Luther would say in good 16th century polemical fashion). Since the Church is the product of the Gospel and the outcome of the evangelical mission of the Triune God, one could (or can) as little “start a new Church” as one could gin up a new gospel (“let him be anathema!”) or alter God ( “who changest not”). The question in not then, “by what authority did Luther (or whoever, whenever) start his own Church.” The question is “who is the Church.” On that Luther and the Lutheran reformers could not be clearer.
Johnny’s question assumes that Luther was convinced that he suddenly, or perhaps gradually, found himself in a false Church or that somehow or other, the Church that used to be the true Church at some point became a false one to which he now needed to step outside of and start a new one.
We cannot read anywhere in Luther or in the Confessions where the Reformer(s) ever came to this conclusion. In the Preface to the Augsburg Confession, one reads where the Lutherans refer to their adversaries as “papists” or “the papacy” or “Romanists,” or “our party” verses “their party,” etc. But one does not find references to we, the true Church, addressing the Roman Catholic Church as the false Church. This was simply not part of the consciousness of the day and to conclude so would be anachronistic, at best. Luther did, however, eventually reach the conclusion that the papacy was the antichrist foisted upon the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of which she need rid herself of.
When the Lutherans (excluding Luther himself), made the presentation of the Augsburg Confession in 1530 to the Emperor, at the Emperor’s request, they were not doing so because they now wanted to start a new Church. Not at all! This was never their understanding nor was it their intention. They wanted rather, to present a confession of the truth and point out where the Papacy had erred and veered off the path from the apostolic tradition and the rule of faith. We in turn pose the question in reverse of Johnny’s question: “By what authority did the Papists jettison the teaching of the apostles and start a new Church?” This is the underlying question that was being presented at Augsburg in 1530.
At the conclusion of the both part of their foundational confession before the emperor at Augsburg in 1530 the Evangelical princes affirmed that there was nothing in their confession “that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic faith.” The confession is replete with such language.
Seven years later as it was becoming increasingly clear that the pope would never call a truly free universal council of the Church to which the Lutherans would be invited as full participants to debate on the basis of Scripture rather than as heretics prostrate before the pope, Luther penned his Smalcald Articles where he says plainly, “We do not concede to them that they are the Church, and frankly they are not the Church.”
Earlier in those same articles Luther rejects the pope’s excommunication both theologically -- the pope’s excommunication counts for nothing because in forbidding the gospel to be freely preached he is not a true bishop, and jurisdictionally -- at most the pope is the bishop of the Church at Rome and those who willingly attach themselves to him and so has no authority to excommunicate someone from the universal Church.
The Augsburg Confession is not a document that signaled the beginning of a “new Church” with a cornerstone marked “1530.” It is a glorious statement of true catholic and apostolic teaching. Where are the words of the AC 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.
If we have written clearly, we are left now to discuss the nature of the true Church.This was the complete joint reply of Pastors Nichols and Maton. I thank my esteemed brothers in Christ for the succinct statement and the opportunity to interact with it. I'm afraid that it is impossible to respond with similar brevity, from a Catholic perspective, because we also believe that a number of assumptions made here are by no means self-evident. Part of the difficulty in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue is that words and concepts are often defined differently. We can only try to do our best to clarify and make the proper distinctions.
What strikes me above all in this reply is a seeming contradiction (perhaps, however, I have misunderstood some finer nuances). On the one hand, it is stated:
one could (or can) as little “start a new Church” as one could gin up a new gospel . . . or alter God . . .How is the preceding statement (and Luther's common rhetoric of the "devil's Church" etc.) not in contradiction to the following cited statement from the Smalcald Articles?:
Johnny’s question assumes that Luther was convinced that he suddenly, or perhaps gradually, found himself in a false Church or that somehow or other, the Church that used to be the true Church at some point became a false one to which he now needed to step outside of and start a new one.
But one does not find references to we, the true Church, addressing the Roman Catholic Church as the false Church.
We do not concede to them that they are the Church, and frankly they are not the Church.The Smalcald Articles (XII: Of the Church) continues:
. . . nor will we listen to those things which, under the name of Church, they enjoin or forbid. 2] For, thank God, [to-day] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.What is this, if not a claim that what was known as the Catholic Church was indeed not the true Church? Even a child knows what the Church is, so Luther informs us (and it is defined in an invisible sense). Luther, in fact (I must respectfully disagree) made many such statements (that I have compiled elsewhere) "addressing the Roman Catholic Church as the false Church". Here are just a few clear examples of a "true church vs. false church" scenario (with some additional words of Luther not included in my previous paper):
From: Wider Hans Wurst, or Against Jack Sausage (1541), translated into English in Luther's Works, 55 volumes, Philadelphia: Fortress Press (also Concordia Publishing House), 1955 -, General editors: Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) / Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55). This was a polemical piece against the Catholic (and corrupt) Duke Heinrich (or Henry) of Braunschweig / Wolfenbuttel. It is reprinted in Volume 41 of Luther's Works, pp. 179-256; translated by Eric W. Gritsch:But Luther seems to contradict himself. He will make these sorts of statements, but then qualify them with others:
[T]hey allege that we have fallen away from the holy church and set up a new church. This then is the answer: since they themselves boast that they are the church, it is for them to prove that they are. If they can prove it with a single reason (I don't ask for more), then we shall give ourselves up as prisoners, willingly saying, "We have sinned, have mercy upon us." But if they cannot prove it, they must confess (whether they like it or not) that they are not the church and that we cannot be heretics since we have fallen away from what is not the true church. Indeed, since there is nothing in-between, we must be the church of Christ and they the devil's church, or vice versa. Therefore it all turns on proving which is the true church.
"But what if I prove that we have remained faithful to the true, ancient church, indeed, that we are the true ancient church and that you have fallen away from us, that is, the ancient church, and have set up a new church against the ancient one?" Let us hear that!
We have proved that we are the true, ancient church . . . Now you, too, papists, prove that you are the true church or are like it. You cannot do it. But I will prove that you are the new false church, which is in everything apostate, separated from the true, ancient church, thus becoming Satan's synagogue.
. . . yet you still want to be honored as the church. Besides, the private mass is one of the worst abominations, whose harm and trouble can neither be measured nor fathomed. With it you have built the devil a new church and worshiped him, thereby turning into murderers of souls, just like Moloch, the devourer of children.
We are certainly the true, ancient church, without any whoredom or innovation.
If they are not the church but the devil's whore that has not remained faithful to Christ, then it is irrefutably and thoroughly established that they should not possess church property.
We acknowledge not only that you have, with us, come from the true church and been washed and made clean in baptism . . . but also that you are in the church and remain in it.He may have in mind the distinction between the visible and invisible church, but that can't totally reconcile the extremity of his statements.
It is true that the true ancient church with its baptism and the work of God still remains with you, and your god, the devil, has not been able to obliterate it entirely.
Now, when I cite Luther, Lutherans will invariably "inform" me of something I already know: that Luther is not the norm of Lutheran theology, but rather, the confessions in the Book of Concord comprise that rule. But we don't find much better rhetoric there, either. For example, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession rather absurdly compares the Catholic mass to the worship of Baal:
Carnal men cannot stand it when only the sacrifice of Christ is honored as a propitiation. For they do not understand thew righteousness of faith but give equal honor to other sacrifices and services. A false idea clung to the wicked priests in Judah, and in Israel the worship of Baal continued; yet the church of God was there, condemning wicked services. So in the papal realm the worship of Baal clings -- namely, the abuse of the Mass . . . And it seems that this worship of Baal will endure together with the papal realm until Christ comes to judge and by the glory of his coming destroys the kingdom of Antichrist. Meanwhile all those who truly believe the Gospel should reject those wicked services invented against God's command to obscure the glory of Christ and the righteousness of faith.Martin Luther, in the Smalcald Articles (part of the Book of Concord), states:
(Article XXIV: "The Mass," in The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore Tappert, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House / Muhlenberg Press, 1959, 268)
Besides, this dragon's tail -- that is, the Mass -- has brought forth a brood of vermin and the poison of manifold idolatries.And in the same section, Luther rails:
(Part II, Article II: "The Mass," in Tappert, ibid., 294)
The Mass in the papacy must be regarded as the greatest and most horrible abomination because it runs into direct and violent conflict with this fundamental article. Yet, above and beyond all others, it has been the supreme and most precious of the papal idolatries . . .The Mass is again called an "abomination" in the Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration, Article VII: "Lord's Supper"; Tappert, ibid., 588). The implications of this jaded view are wide-ranging, as I've stated:
. . . Will the Mass not then collapse of itself -- not only for the rude rabble, but also for all godly, Christian, sensible, God-fearing people -- especially if they hear that it is a dangerous thing which was fabricated and invented without God's Word and will?
[Y]ou [i.e., Lutherans] would be in the incoherent, odd position of agreeing that Catholicism is Christian, despite the fact that its central rite is utterly non-Christian (and, far beyond that, anti-Christian, as it is idolatry, blasphemy, etc.).The difficulty for Lutherans on this point is the fact of widespread patristic belief in eucharistic sacrifice (i.e., the Mass). Lutheran historian Jaroslav Pelikan, in his study of patristic doctrinal development, concluded:
By the date of the Didache [anywhere from about 60 to 160, depending on the scholar]. . . the application of the term 'sacrifice' to the Eucharist seems to have been quite natural, together with the identification of the Christian Eucharist as the 'pure offering' commanded in Malachi 1:11 . . .Protestant historian Philip Schaff concurs:
The Christian liturgies were already using similar language about the offering of the prayers, the gifts, and the lives of the worshipers, and probably also about the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, so that the sacrificial interpretation of the death of Christ never lacked a liturgical frame of reference . . .
. . . As Irenaeus's reference to the Eucharist as "not common bread" indicates, however, this doctrine of the real presence believed by the church and affirmed by its liturgy was closely tied to the idea of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. Many of the passages we have already cited concerning the recollection and the real presence spoke also of the sacrifice, . . . One of the most ample and least ambiguous statements of the sacrificial interpretation of the Eucharist in any ante-Nicene theologian was that of Cyprian . . . "the passion of the Lord is the sacrifice that we offer" [Ep. 63.17]
. . . Liturgical evidence suggests an understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, whose relation to the sacrifices of the Old Testament was one of archetype to type, and whose relation to the sacrifice of Calvary was one of "re-presentation," just as the bread of the Eucharist "re-presented" the body of Christ.
(The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), University of Chicago Press: 1971, 146-147, 168-170)
In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim.Likewise, the same description of patristic belief in this regard is made by another prominent Protestant reference:
. . . The Catholic church, both Greek and Latin, sees in the Eucharist not only a sacramentum, in which God communicates a grace to believers, but at the same time, and in fact mainly, a sacrificium, in which believers really offer to God that which is represented by the sensible elements. For this view also the church fathers laid the foundation, and it must be conceded they stand in general far more on the Greek and Roman Catholic than on the Protestant side of this question.
. . . In this view certainly, in a deep symbolical and ethical sense, Christ is offered to God the Father in every believing prayer, and above all in the holy Supper; i.e. as the sole ground of our reconciliation and acceptance . . .
. . . We pass now to the more particular history. The ante-Nicene fathers uniformly conceived the Eucharist as a thank-offering of the church; the congregation offering the consecrated elements of bread and wine, and in them itself, to God. This view is in itself perfectly innocent, but readily leads to the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass, as soon as the elements become identified with the body and blood of Christ, and the presence of the body comes to be materialistically taken. The germs of the Roman doctrine appear in Cyprian about the middle of the third century, in connection with his high-churchly doctrine of the clerical priesthood. Sacerdotium and sacrificium are with him correlative ideas,
. . . The doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass is much further developed in the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, though amidst many obscurities and rhetorical extravagances, and with much wavering between symbolical and grossly realistic conceptions, until in all essential points it is brought to its settlement by Gregory the Great at the close of the sixth century.
. . . 2. It is not a new sacrifice added to that of the cross, but a daily, unbloody repetition and perpetual application of that one only sacrifice. Augustine represents it, on the one hand, as a sacramentum memoriae, a symbolical commemoration of the sacrificial death of Christ; to which of course there is no objection. But, on the other hand, he calls the celebration of the communion verissimum sacrificium of the body of Christ. The church, he says, offers (immolat) to God the sacrifice of thanks in the body of Christ, from the days of the apostles through the sure succession of the bishops down to our time. But the church at the same time offers, with Christ, herself, as the body of Christ, to God. As all are one body, so also all are together the same sacrifice. According to Chrysostom the same Christ, and the whole Christ, is everywhere offered. It is not a different sacrifice from that which the High Priest formerly offered, but we offer always the same sacrifice, or rather, we perform a memorial of this sacrifice. This last clause would decidedly favor a symbolical conception, if Chrysostom in other places had not used such strong expressions as this: "When thou seest the Lord slain, and lying there, and the priest standing at the sacrifice," or: "Christ lies slain upon the altar."
3. The sacrifice is the anti-type of the Mosaic sacrifice, and is related to it as substance to typical shadows. It is also especially foreshadowed by Melchizedek’s unbloody offering of bread and wine. The sacrifice of Melchizedek is therefore made of great account by Hilary, Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom, and other church fathers, on the strength of the well-known parallel in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
. . . Cyril of Jerusalem, in his fifth and last mystagogic Catechesis, which is devoted to the consideration of the eucharistic sacrifice and the liturgical service of God, gives the following description of the eucharistic intercessions for the departed:When the spiritual sacrifice, the unbloody service of God, is performed, we pray to God over this atoning sacrifice for the universal peace of the church, for the welfare of the world, for the emperor, for soldiers and prisoners, for the sick and afflicted, for all the poor and needy. Then we commemorate also those who sleep, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, that God through their prayers and their intercessions may receive our prayer; and in general we pray for all who have gone from us, since we believe that it is of the greatest help to those souls for whom the prayer is offered, while the holy sacrifice, exciting a holy awe, lies before us.This is clearly an approach to the later idea of purgatory in the Latin church. Even St. Augustine, with Tertullian, teaches plainly, as an old tradition, that the eucharistic sacrifice, the intercessions or suffragia and alms, of the living are of benefit to the departed believers, so that the Lord deals more mercifully with them than their sins deserve.
(History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, A.D. 311-600, rev. 5th ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rep. 1974, orig, 1910, 492, 503-504, 506-510; see further primary documentation by visiting the link provided)
It was also widely held from the first that the Eucharist is in some sense a sacrifice, though here again definition was gradual . . . In early post-NT times the constant repudiation of carnal sacrifice and emphasis on life and prayer at Christian worship did not hinder the Eucharist from being described as a sacrifice from the first . . .Patristic historian J.N.D. Kelly argues essentially the same thing also, citing Justin Martyr, the Didache, and Irenaeus. For Kelly's citation and further evidences and related links, see Part III of my dialogue with a Lutheran historian on this very question. I have digressed a bit to examine the question of the Sacrifice of the Mass to make a very important point. Lutherans are simply incorrect about the history of this matter. The contradiction can be logically stated as follows:
From early times the Eucharistic offering was called a sacrifice in virtue of its immediate relation to the sacrifice of Christ.
(The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd edition, 1983, 476, 1221)
1. Lutherans claim to be the ancient Church, and to adhere to and preserve ancient precedent, as represented by the 16th century Lutheran "reform".This contradiction that we see in Luther (Catholics and Catholicism are and aren't truly Christian), also runs through the Book of Concord. I do completely agree that both sides thought there could only be one true Church. It was not like today, where "Church" has had to necessarily become a far more abstract concept because of the scandalous multiplicity of denominations and sects (Luther, of course, despised sectarianism as much as anyone).
2. Lutherans (following Luther) assert that the Catholic Church headed by the pope in Rome is not the ancient Church and has departed from ancient precedent.
3. Lutherans (following Luther) argue that one prime example of this departure is the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass, which is (so they allege) an invention of men, idolatry, blasphemy, and an abomination (hence, the widespread prohibition of the mass in Lutheran territories early on, and the self-serving justification for theft of Catholic church properties).
4. Lutherans argue that the Church fathers did not hold to this doctrine; therefore they reject it as an innovative corruption.
5. But in fact, the Church fathers did hold this doctrine, quite widely, according to non-Catholic historians, Pelikan, Schaff, Kelly, and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.
6. Therefore, these facts support the Catholic position on the Sacrifice of the Mass, rather than the Lutheran denial of it (and considerable biblical indication can also be brought to bear).
7. I assert, furthermore, that this is but one example of many where the Church fathers are strong witnesses for the claim that the Catholic Church is indeed the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
8. Conclusion: John Henry Cardinal Newman: "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant."
In practical terms, however, it is pretty much a distinction without a difference, because competing claims of being the one "Church" create a state of affairs in which ecclesial oneness becomes impossible. Both sides claim superiority, but both cannot be right. Thus, in my opinion, the truly fundamental and crucial question reduces to:
"Which side: the Catholics, or the Lutherans, has a more reasonable, plausible, biblical, historically defensible claim to being the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church? They can't both be right, where they contradict, so how does one choose between the two, and on what basis?"From the Catholic perspective, it is necessarily the case that if Catholic theology and ecclesiology is correct, Lutheranism is a competing ecclesiological claim; in effect, a claimed "new Church" (and as we have seen, Lutherans return the favor and charge of someone coming up with a "new Church"). We understand that Lutherans perceive themselves as reforming the one historic Church and not radically departing from it. But we must respectfully reject that contention, under the weight of scrutiny.
That gets to the heart of Johnny's (I think, extremely relevant) question. Sure, he is assuming Catholic ecclesiology in his question, but how could he do otherwise (Lutherans assume theirs, too)? Our position is that these things were understood -- as we understand them -- prior to Luther's time. Luther was the one who wanted to change the definitions, or change horses in midstream, so to speak. Therefore, it is incumbent upon him and upon Lutherans to prove that their new conceptions of ecclesiology are more defensible than the traditional Catholic outlook.
Luther and the early Lutherans couldn't merely assert previously unacceptable notions. All of this has to be argued. Both sides claim to be going back to the patristic heritage of the early Church, as I stated last time. That is always what this discussion comes down to. We contend that Lutherans cannot (consistently and comprehensively) do this, and Lutherans say the same of us. Both sides recognize the high importance of precedent. For example, Luther wrote:
This testimony of the universal holy Christian Church, even if we had nothing else, would be a sufficient warrant for holding this article [on the sacrament] and refusing to suffer or listen to a sectary, for it is dangerous and fearful to hear or believe anything against the unanimous testimony, belief, and teaching of the universal holy Christian churches, unanimously held in all the world from the beginning until now over fifteen hundred years.I would contend at length that Luther radically contradicted himself on this score, because he cannot demonstrate that all the Lutheran distinctives were in line with this "unanimous testimony." This is rather easily shown. I managed to identify (in a paper of mine) no less then fifty areas where Luther departed from received Christian tradition and doctrine in his three treatises of 1520 alone, all prior to the great confrontation of the Diet of Worms in 1521. Brief allusion was made to "heretics prostrate before the pope." Yet I ask readers to stop for a moment and ponder just what the Catholic Church of that time was asked to accept in the face of Luther's challenge (Protestants rarely consider this). I wrote in that paper:
(Martin Luther, in the year 1532; from Roland H. Bainton, Studies on the Reformation [Boston: Beacon Press, 1963], p. 26; primary source: WA [Werke, Weimar edition in German], XXX, 552)
I have summarized how he was heterodox by 1520, . . . this is not a discussion of whether Catholic teaching is right or wrong, but rather, whether Luther was "heterodox" or "heretical" by that same teaching (i.e., whether the Church was at least self-consistent in excommunicating him, or whether it was a power play unrelated to truth or Luther's actual - or falsely-imagined - heresy).That is the Catholic perspective, and it is rarely heard or discussed in these terms, because most such discussions are conducted with Protestant starting assumptions granted beforehand, without argument or examination. But from this perspective, by what authority did Luther make his claims? He had none. He was simply an Augustinian monk. One has to virtually agree with Luther's own self-perception as a sort of prophet who has an absolutely unique message to bring to the Church. But why should anyone do that? Because he cites Scripture? Obviously, Catholics could do that, too (though, granted, the Catholics in his time were not particularly known for their piety or biblical acumen; that would come later in the century after a revival took place).
It is absolutely evident that Luther was heretical and that the Church was under no obligation to even contend with him at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Since it was obvious that he was teaching heresy, it was equally obvious that the Church should demand that he recant, renounce, and cease doing so. He refused, because he knew more than the Church (as he in effect implied, many times). But no Protestant body would have acted any differently, then or now, in the face of dozens of rejections of its own stated dogmas.
. . . Is that enough [the 50 departures, just listed] to justify his excommunication from Catholic ranks? Or was the Church supposed to say, "yeah, Luther, you know, you're right about these fifty issues. You know better than the entire Church, the entire history of the Church, and all the wisdom of the saints in past ages who have believed these things. So we will bow to your heaven-sent wisdom, change all fifty beliefs or practices, so we can proceed in a godly direction. Thanks so much! We are forever indebted to you for having informed us of all these errors!!"
Is that not patently ridiculous? What Church would change 50 things in its doctrines because one person feels himself to be some sort of oracle from God or pseudo-prophet: God's man for the age? . . .
No sane, conscious person who had read any of his three radical treatises of 1520 could doubt that he had already ceased to be an orthodox Catholic. He did not reluctantly become so because he was unfairly kicked out of the Church by men who would not listen to manifest Scripture and reason . . .
Therefore, the Church was entirely sensible, reasonable, within her rights, logical, self-consistent, and not hypocritical or "threatened" in the slightest to simply demand Luther's recantation of his errors at the Diet of Worms in 1521, and to refuse to argue with him (having already tried on several occasions, anyway), because to do so would have granted his ridiculous presumption that he was in a position to singlehandedly dispute and debate what had been the accumulated doctrinal and theological wisdom of the Church for almost 1500 years.
Everyone cites Scripture for their side. How does one decide who is right when they disagree? This is one of the truly insuperable difficulties that all Protestants have. It's not just the Catholic-Protestant divide. Luther soon found himself in vigorous, passionate disagreement with the Anabaptists and the sacramentarians: all of whom cited Scripture just as he did. Lutherans disagreed with the Calvinists on free will issues and the nature of the Eucharist and baptism. All appealed to Scripture. Calvin was every bit as confident and supposedly "unanswerable" in his Institutes as Luther had been in his many treatises. Who decides who is right?
That is, of course, the prerogative of the Church (1 Timothy 3:15; the Jerusalem Council in the book of Acts). But if one redefines the Church to simply one's own set of assumptions, without reference to established precedent (read, Christian or apostolic "tradition") then it is logically circular. This is what heretics had done all through history. Precisely for that reason, the Church Fathers always appealed, not just to Scripture (and they certainly did that) but to apostolic succession and the authority of the Church.
Tradition (always in harmony with Scripture) was the final arbiter as to who was heretical and who was orthodox. And so it was in Luther's day as well. That is why the Catholics appealed to past precedent and the authority of the Church, based on apostolic succession. That was the patristic and the Catholic method of determining truth. We followed ancient precedent; Luther wanted to change that by adopting (almost by default, because he really had no other option) the method and rule of faith of sola Scriptura, that had always been the method of the heretics (Arians, for example, appealed to plenty of Scripture and were countered with Scripture and the ongoing tradition of the Church that Jesus was God, not a creature).
Finally, it was claimed by Pastors Nichols and Maton that the Lutheran Augsburg Confession of 1530 was "a glorious statement of true catholic and apostolic teaching. Where are the words of the AC not catholic or apostolic?", and that it was "a true presentation of the doctrine of the blessed apostles." Well, it certainly wasn't a true presentation of catholic, patristic doctrine concerning the sacrifice of the mass, as we have seen above (and that is one answer to their question that I have already provided in detail).
Nor could even Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon come to full agreement on matters connected with the Augsburg Confession, as indicated by a series of letters between them at the time of the Diet of Augsburg. Melanchthon, true to his more conciliatory, mild character, took a much different approach than Luther:
He sweated over every portion of the Apology, for he wanted to state the core of evangelical doctrine without alienating the Roman Catholics.The nature of the Mass was a dividing point all along, and indicates the contradictory nature of the Lutheran position, that was claiming to be a continuation of "catholic history" but in fact was an innovation, if it didn't even retain the central act of Christian worship, according to all those centuries from the time of Christ to 1517. Melanchthon biographer Manschreck subtly notes this disconnect:
(Melanchthon: The Quiet Reformer, Clyde Leonard Manschreck, New York: Abingdon Press, 1958, 182)
Melanchthon's letters that Sunday afternoon, June 19, to Myconius, Luther, and Camerarius show that he thought the entire dispute might be settled by correcting abuses. Melanchthon believed that the evangelical movement in Germany was a product of the vital spirit of the old Latin church, that the fundamental doctrines of justification by faith were not anything new but a reassertion of the heart of the Christian gospel, which in the centuries of church development had become obscured by ecclesiastical observances. In casting these aside Melanchthon believed the evangelicals were adhering to the pristine practices of the church, as reflected in Scripture and the early fathers, particularly Augustine. To Valdes he was trying to show that the reformation practices were in accord with the old canonical rules and compliant with genuine catholic Christianity, and ought, therefore, to be tolerated and encouraged by the Emperor.Luther (as we would fully expect) was far less conciliatory than Melanchthon. He wrote to the latter on 28 or 29 June 1530:
But something happened. Although the evangelicals attended the early morning mass, June 20, as requested . . . not a single evangelical representative participated in the ancient, mysterious rites. Charles showed his displeasure, but the Protestants seemed to have determined upon another course of action.
(Manschreck, ibid., 190)
I have received your Apology, and I am wondering what you mean when you say you desire to know what and how much we may yield to the Papists? According to my opinion, too much is already conceded to them in the Apology . . . I am ready, as I have always written to you, to yield up everything to them, if they will only leave the Gospel free.Luther seems to have thought (far differently than Melanchthon) that reconciliation with the Catholics was impossible. Indeed, Manschreck noted that "Historians writing on the Augsburg Confession usually criticize Melanchthon as childish if not traitorous for his activity during this period" (p. 204). He contends that Luther himself would not agree with such an assessment of his friend and successor, but clearly saw "that the basic difference was one of authority" (p. 205).
Catholic historian Warren Carroll presents a synopsis of these events:
Early in July the bishops presented their complaints to the Diet of the plundering and destruction of churches, seizure of monasteries and hospitals, prohibition of Masses, and attacks on religious processions by the Protestants. When Charles called upon the Protestants to restore the property they had seized, they said that to do so would be against their consciences. Charles responded crushingly: "The Word of God, the Gospel, and every law civil and canonical, forbid a man to appropriate to himself the property of another." He said that as Emperor he had the duty of guarding the rights of all, especially those Catholics unwilling to accept Protestantism or go into exile, who should at least be allowed to remain in their homes and practice their ancestral faith, specifically the Mass; the Protestants replied that they would not tolerate the Mass . . .The very notion that the Augsburg Confession was in entire agreement with prior Catholic history is quite debatable. Catholic Luther biographer Hartmann Grisar wrote:
By July it was clear that on matters of doctrine the Lutherans at Augsburg were dissimulating, concealing their real beliefs in the hope of avoiding a final breach without making genuine concessions. On July 6 Melanchthon made the incredible statement:We have no dogmas which differ from the Roman Church . . . We reverence the authority of the Pope of Rome, and are prepared to remain in allegiance to the Church if only the Pope does not repudiate us.As it happened, on the very same day Luther, in an exposition on the Second Psalm addressed to Archbishop Albert of Mainz, declared:Remember that you are not dealing with human beings when you have affairs with the Pope and his crew, but with veritable devils! . . .On the 13th [of July] Luther announced from Coburg that the Protestants would never tolerate the Mass, which he called blasphemous, and said of the Emperor:We know that he is in error and that he is striving against the Gospel . . . He does not conform to God's Word and we do . . .Luther stated in a letter to Melanchthon August 26 [cited by Manschreck, p. 204]:This talk of compromise . . . is a scandal to God . . . I am thoroughly displeased with this negotiating concerning union in doctrine, since it is utterly impossible unless the Pope wishes to take away his power.In subsequent letters he declared that no religious settlement was possible as long as the Pope remained and the Mass was unchanged . . .
Luther prepared the final Protestant answer:The Augsburg Confession must endure, as the true and unadulterated Word of God, until the great Judgment Day . . . Not even an angel from Heaven could alter a syllable of it, and any angel who dared to do so must be accursed and damned . . . The stipulations made that monks and nuns still dwelling in their cloisters should not be expelled, and that the Mass should not be abolished, could not be accepted; for whoever acts against his conscience simply paves his way to Hell. The monastic life and the Mass covered with infamous ignominy the merit and suffering of Christ. Of all the horrors and abominations that could be mentioned, the Mass was the greatest.. . . no Catholic of spirit and courage could be expected, let alone morally required, to give up all his religious rights without a struggle; and few Protestants, at this point, would allow Catholics to exercise those rights if the Protestants were strong enough to deny them. These were the irreconcilable positions taken by the two sides at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, which made those long and bloody years of conflict inevitable.
(The Cleaving of Christendom; from the series, A History of Christendom, Volume IV, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 103-107)
In fact, the first official edition of the "Confession," printed in 1530, contained the deceptive declaration (which was subsequently altered) that the impugned doctrines meant no deviation from the Scriptures or the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, in as far as that teaching could be ascertained from Catholic authors.Grisar says of Melanchthon that "His depressed condition of mind is the only thing that helps him over the charge of conscious deception" (p. 377). He implies that Luther (in his letter of August 26th, 1530, partially cited above) was aware of a certain "vacillation" -- or at least likely perceptions of same -- from the Protestants in the negotiations of Augsburg:
. . . the Catholic theologians . . . noted the absence of any declaration relative to the pope, whom the Lutherans had come to regard as Antichrist. The declaration was silent about the universal priesthood of all the faithful in place of the clergy, the incapacity of the human will to do good, and absolute predestination, the very pillars of the doctrinal system of Lutheranism. The antitheses between the two religions on the subject of indulgences and Purgatory were likewise hushed up, and the differences in the veneration of the saints had also vanished.
Hence, honest candor, the preliminary condition of reunion, was missing.
(Martin Luther: His Life and Work, translated by Frank J. Eble, edited by Arthur Preuss, Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1950, 376)
. . . we shall be charged with perfidy and vacillation. But what will the consequence be? Matters may easily be remedied by the steadfastness and the truth of our cause. True, I do not wish that it should so happen; but speak in such wise that, if it should happen, despondency do not ensue. For, once we shall have attained peace and escaped violence, we shall easily make amends for our tricks . . and failings, because God's mercy rules over us.To briefly illustrate again my contention that Lutheranism cannot lay claim to being the historic Christian Church of the ages (i.e., uniquely apostolic), based on a harmony with patristic theology and practice, it is interesting to see how Luther treats the doctrine of intercession of the saints, in a little appendix of his work On Translating: An Open Letter, completed by 12 September 1530, shortly after the Diet of Augsburg:
(Ibid., p. 388)
"Nay," say they, "that way you condemn the whole Church, which has hitherto observed this practice everywhere." I reply: I know full well that the priests and monks seek this cloak for their abominations and want to put off on the Church the damage that they have done by their own neglect, so that if we say, "The Church does not err," we will be saying at the same time that they do not err, and thus they may not be accused of any lies or errors, since that is what the Church holds . . . They inject this foreign question in order to lead us away from our case. We are now discussing God's word; what the Church is or does belongs elsewhere; the question here is, what is or is not God's Word; what is not God's word does not make a Church.Note how Luther doesn't even attempt to show that the history of this doctrine throughout Christian history is more in accord with Lutheran belief than Catholic. He seems to concede the point without argument. But this doesn't go along with his stated beliefs concerning, for example, the Real presence in the Eucharist. When dealing with that (especially when confronting Protestant sacramentarians, Zwingli, etc.), Luther vehemently appeals to the unbroken tradition of the Church, as in the citation from 1532, above. But here, all of a sudden, he becomes radically ahistorical, and the same history is irrelevant, since all we need is God's word to settle any question.
(from Works of Martin Luther, Volume V, Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Co. & The Castle Press, 1931; translated by C.M. Jacobs, 25)
The Lutheran co-opting of St. Augustine is another case in point of the weakness of their polemical historical argumentation. I looked up every single reference to St. Augustine in my copy of the Book of Concord (the doctrinal standard for Lutheranism). Without exception it claims that Augustine is in full agreement with Lutheran doctrine. Furthermore, it makes outright false factual claims, such as that Augustine denied ex opere operato (the notion that the sacraments have inherent power apart from the dispenser or recipient) and purgatory. These are erroneous judgments. As for purgatory, Augustine wrote:
The man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment.In a paper on Lutherans and St. Augustine, I stated:
(Genesis Defended Against the Manicheans, 2, 20, 30. From Jurgens, William A., editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. III, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1979, 38)
Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment.
(City of God, 21, 13. From Jurgens, ibid., 105)
The prayer . . . is heard on behalf of certain of the dead; but it is heard for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not for the rest of their life in the body do such wickedness that they might be judged unworthy of such mercy, nor who yet lived so well that it might be supposed they have no need of such mercy.
(City of God, 21, 24, 2. From Jurgens, ibid., 106)
That there should be some such fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, - through a certain purgatorial fire.
(Enchiridion of Faith, Hope and Love, 18,69, Jurgens, ibid., 149. See also -- in the same work -- 29,109-110; The Care That Should be Taken of the Dead, 1,3)
Does this mean that the Book of Concord and Philip Melanchthon (its primary author) were deliberately dishonest, and rascally scoundrels? I would not make that claim, and I don't think so. Much more likely is that their Protestant and anti-Roman biases simply blinded them to certain facts and thus led to inaccuracies. Or they did inadequate research . . .In any event, this sort of tension with the facts of history and selective espousal and appeal to it when it is an advantage to do so, and ignoring or downplaying it it when it is not, runs rampant through confessional Lutheranism, and Lutheran apologetics (insofar as the latter exists at all). And I respectfully submit that all of this is an indication of the superiority of the Catholic historical case and harmony with the patristic consensus in theology. In turn, that is a major reason why we view ourselves as the one true Church: apostolic and historically continuous, uniquely preserving true (developed) Christian doctrine in its fullness and specially guided by the Holy Spirit, Who grants the gift of infallibility in order to protect the Church from error.
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?
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. See, e.g., a collection of Church fathers' beliefs regarding confession, and also Jimmy Akin's article, What's Wrong with a Little Indulgence? For instance, St. Ambrose states:
For those to whom [the right of binding and loosing] has been given, it is plain that either both are allowed, or it is clear that neither is allowed. Both are allowed to the Church, neither is allowed to heresy. For this right has been granted to priests only.Relics have explicit biblical support as well (most notably, Elisha's bones bringing a man back to life). An article from Catholic Answers on relics provides the following illuminating information:
(Penance 1:1 [A.D. 388])
Philip Schaff acknowledged the prevalence of the belief in relics in the early Church, amounting to an "avalanche" (p. 450) in a section of his History of the Church, Vol. 3, 449-460 (see further source data for this volume above). He stated that biblical miracles such as Elisha's bones, the shadow of Peter, and handkerchiefs of Paul were cited as evidence for relics by "Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and other fathers" (p. 453). He mentions the advocacy of Tertullian, Epiphanius, Jerome (p. 452), St. Cyprian (p. 454), and St. Augustine (pp. 459-460), and the preservation and veneration of St. Ignatius of Antioch's and St. Polycarp's bones (p. 453). He concludes:
Relics in Early ChristianityThe veneration of relics is seen explicitly as early as the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom written by the Smyrnaeans in A.D. 156. In it, the Christians describe the events following his burning at the stake: "We took up his bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom."
In speaking of the veneration of relics in the early Church, the anti-Catholic historian Adolph Harnack writes, ". . . [N]o Church doctor of repute restricted it. All of them rather, even the Cappadocians, countenanced it. The numerous miracles which were wrought by bones and relics seemed to confirm their worship. The Church therefore would not give up the practice, although a violent attack was made upon it by a few cultured heathens and besides by the Manichaeans" (Harnack, History of Dogma, tr., IV, 313).
In the fourth century the great biblical scholar, Jerome, declared, "We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are" (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907). `
The most and the best of the church teachers of our period, Hilary, the two Gregories, Basil, Chrysostom, Isidore of Pelusium, Theodoret, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Leo . . . gave the weight of their countenance to the worship of relics.
(p. 456; Schaff means by "worship" the same thing that Catholics would classify as a sub-worship "veneration")
Be forewarned that it required extensive historical analysis and documentation because that was necessary in order to counter the claims made and to show exactly how and why Catholics disagree with them. It's easy to claim continuity with the fathers; another thing to demonstrate it. So in opposing this particular Lutheran claim, I had to use a lot of "ink." I enjoyed the discussion and look forward to future topics as we move along.
Thanks for your timely and thorough reply. Larry and I have both had a chance to read through it and will be forthcoming with a response. A couple of the many points you make are well taken, but several others require proper contextualization, clarification, correction, and indeed, rebuttal. We ask your patient indulgence (not the RC kind!) in awaiting our reply. Unlike you clearly do, neither Larry nor I have on hand previous work and ready responses from conversations like these from which to draw. We are starting from scratch, so to say. And as the blessed work of tending souls and forgiving sins (not to mention caring for wives and children) which our Lord has granted to us as parish pastors takes up much of our time, it might be a while before you receive our response. Should our Lord delay his return a couple more weeks (Come, Lord Jesus!), be assured the response will come.
Peace in Jesus,