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Looking at Luther with fresh eyes

Cantankerous, pious, very funny, shockingly anti-Semitic, deeply insightful, and utterly exasperating, Martin Luther was one of the most beguiling personalities of his time.

With great profit and pleasure I’m currently reading Alec Ryrie’s new book Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World. Among the many texts appearing in this year of the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, Ryrie’s stands out for its verve, clarity, and historical sweep. In some ways, it is an answer to Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation, though it lacks the intellectual depth and thoroughness of Gregory’s magisterial study.

What has so far intrigued me most of all in Ryrie’s book is his portrait of the undisputed father of the Reformation, Martin Luther. I will confess to a certain fascination with Luther. I have been reading his books, speeches, and sermons for many years, and for about ten years, when I was professor of theology at Mundelein Seminary, I taught a graduate level course in the Christian theology of the sixteenth century, which included, naturally, lots of Luther. Cantankerous, pious, very funny, shockingly anti-Semitic, deeply insightful, and utterly exasperating, Luther was one of the most beguiling personalities of his time. And say what you want about his writings (I disagree with lots and lots of his ideas), they crackle with life and intensity, even in Latin! Though I’ve read and thought and talked about the founder of Protestantism for a long time, Ryrie has prompted me to squint at him in a fresh way.

It is obvious to everyone, Ryrie argues, that Luther was a fighter, taking on not only fellow intellectuals, but the curia, the Pope, and the Emperor himself. And it is equally clear that he bequeathed this feistiness to his followers over these past five centuries: Zwingli, Calvin, Wilberforce, Lloyd Garrison, Billy Sunday, Karl Barth, etc. There is always something protesting about Protestantism. But to see this dimension alone is to miss the heart of the matter. For at the core of Luther’s life and theology was an overwhelming experience of grace. After years of trying in vain to please God through heroic moral and spiritual effort, Luther realized that, despite his unworthiness, he was loved by a God who had died to save him. In the famous Turmerlebnis (Tower Experience) in the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, Luther felt justified through the sheer mercy of God. Though many others before him had sensed this amazing grace, Luther’s passion, in Ryrie’s words, “had a reckless extravagance that set it apart and which has echoed down Protestant history.” It is easy enough to see this ecstatic element in any number of prominent Protestant figures, from John Wesley to Friedrich Schleiermacher to John Newton. Luther was an ecstatic, and the religious movement he launched was “a love affair.”

This is why I say Ryrie has caused me to look at Luther in a new light. One of the standard matrices for understanding religion is the distinction between the mystical and the prophetic, or between the experiential and the rational. On the standard reading, Luther would fall clearly on the latter side of this divide. He is, it would seem, the theologian of the word par excellence. And indeed, we can find throughout his writings many critiques of priestcraft, sacramentalism, and what he called Schwarmerei or pious enthusiasm. Nevertheless, if Ryrie is right, this is to get only part, indeed a small part, of the story. At bottom, Luther was a mystic of grace, someone who had fallen completely in love—which helps enormously to explain what makes his theological ideas both so fascinating and so frustrating. People in love do and say extravagant things. So overwhelmed are they by the experience of the beloved that they are given to words such as “only” and “never” and “forever.” If you doubt me, read any of the great romantic poets, or for that matter, listen to a teenager speak about his first crush. After a lifetime of scrupulosity and interior struggle, Luther sensed the breakthrough of the divine grace through the mediation of the Bible. Hence, are we surprised that he would express his ecstasy in exaggerated, over the top language: “By grace alone! By faith alone! By the Scriptures alone!”

I think here of a distant spiritual descendent of Martin Luther, the Nobel laureate Bob Dylan. After his conversion to evangelical Christianity, Dylan wrote a lovely song called Saving Grace, which includes the lines, “I look around this old world/ And all that I’m finding/ Is the saving grace that’s over me.” Mind you, this is the same Dylan who, just a few years earlier, had sung of “guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children” and who had pulled the masks off of “masters of war” and who had complained of “Desolation Row.” But now—and this is the mark of the ecstatic—all that he sees is saving grace. In a more Catholic expression of the same experience, Georges Bernanos’s country priest could cry, “Toute est grace!” (Everything is grace!).

Beautiful? Poetically expressive? Spiritually evocative? Yes! But does it stand up to strict rational scrutiny? Of course not. What Ryrie’s characterization of Luther has helped me to see is how the great Solas of the Reformation can be both celebrated and legitimately criticized. Was Luther right to express his ecstatic experience of the divine love in just this distinctive way? And was, say, the Council of Trent right in offering a sharp theological corrective to Luther’s manner of formulating the relationship between faith and works and between the Bible and reason? I realize that it might annoy both my Catholic and Protestant friends even to pose the issue this way, but would answering “yes” to both those question perhaps show a way forward in the ecumenical conversation?

About Bishop Robert Barron 115 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

28 Comments

  1. Spare us another “what a great guy Luther was” articles please.

    Or another “how much we have to learn from him” Luther found reformation because he couldn’t come to terms with the fact the he personally couldn’t conquer sin. And a preacher of absolute pre-destination.

    Luther is a prime example of why there needs to be a general judgment at the end of time, his sin is still causing harm.

    • If this annoying new comments system allowed up votes, I would upvote your comment. He was an evil man, and as you say the results of his evil still continue. As far as “being in love with God” – why yes, if “being in love” means disobedience, attempts to destroy the Body of the one you allegedly love, and informing Him what He is and is not allowed to do.

      • I hate the new comment system too, and it looks like there aren’t many people bothering to use it, compared to earlier. Maybe that was their intention.

        • No, that was not our intention. Quite the opposite. Alas, there have been a number of technical problems with the comments section. Our apologies for the inconvenience! — Carl E. Olson, Editor, CWR

  2. It is as if the bishop doesn’t understand the big picture in what Luther unleashed….it goes way beyond simple errors of the Faith.

    This column is nothing more than a misguided apologetic. A false narrative.

    • It is telling, to say the least, that Catholic advocates of Luther skate very quickly over aspects of his life that do not agree with the new, “Luther is Kewl”, narrative in the Vatican. It is astounding that a Church that fights tooth and nail against the legalisation of gay marriage is softer than butter toward the defence by Luther of the bigamy and adultery of his patron Philip of Hesse. Luther overflowed with courage when condemning sins of Popes – faced with sins committed by a German Protestant prince rather closer to home, his fearless zeal against the sins of the mighty evaporated. How different from Blessed Columba of Rieti – she denounced Pope Alexander VI to his face; he admitted that her accusations were just.

      The Church cannot denounce one perversion of marriage, while praising Luther the defender of other perversions of marriage, and saying nothing about the perversion of marriage that is Muslim polygamy. It looks like relativism, and it also looks like cowardice. It is woefully inconsistent behaviour for the Church.

  3. It is little short of incredible that this sort of deviantly theological drivel could be written by what passes today for a Catholic bishop. The only “love affair” that Martin Luther had was with Satan as his monumentally immoral personal life, psychopathically deranged behavior, and vomit-inducing scatological writings make plain to anyone but “Bishop Robert Barron”. Only God knows the millions of souls who are in Hell for all eternity due to the moral corruption and dogmatic errors that Barron’s “mystic of grace” and the formal heretics who followed him have inflicted upon Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, over the past 500 years. To claim, as Barron does that “the great Solas of the Reformation can be . . . celebrated” is irrational and indeed perverse and even heretical, contradicting as it does the solemn and detailed anathemas of the Council of Trent. Finally, I must ask why The Catholic World Report offer such spiritual poison to its readers and why, above all, it would offer a platform to such a crypto-Protestant bishop.

  4. Luther wasn’t a jolly good fellow as characterized by well meaning Bishop Barron. We draw all sorts of views on Luther. Luther’s issue was justification. He had a deathly fear of condemnation that he sought resolve by placing primacy of faith over good works. Actually he was right. In this way Luther convinced himself that his faith was all that was required regardless of his actions. That was his Achilles heel. Never being able to reconcile his wandering thoughts and impulses he was more condemning of himself than God. A lack of trust in God’s goodness similar to Judas’ belief that his betrayal was unforgivable. During the many years of dialogue with Cajetan and other Vatican reps Luther seems to have been pushed into a corner in accord with extant works compiled in Kingston Siggins. It may be he could have reconciled and this is where I agree with the good hearted Bishop Barron. But then there was growing German nationalism and pressure from he German Princes who disdained papal interference in their political affairs. However schisms and turmoil in the Church are always the result of a general lack of faith and practice as is the situation today.

    • Please.
      Glad to know you were there.

      What we have actually have is Luther’s excellent commentary on Galatians, which actually reads more Catholic than not. And really more Catholic than Pope Francis, for that matter. See the books of Jared Wicke, SJ, if you can stand them.

      The sanctimonious breast beating about Luther grows old. He bested many Catholics of his day, and the tired condemnations of today make me understand why. He was concerned about his soul and sin and forgiveness. Not poverty or global warming or “the reform of the reform,” for pete’s sake. Makes you think. And appreciate the sobriety of thinkers like Peter Kreeft and Louis Boucher. But hey, haters gonna hate.

      A bishop’ column that for a change is spot on.

      • “Please.
        Glad to know you were there.”

        Were you there, Joe?

        “He bested many Catholics of his day.”

        I suppose if that’s what you want to hang your hat on, enjoy the shallow “victories” that Luther may have had against even weaker theologians than himself. The true theologian is not about besting others per se, but promoting and defending the truth, and in this regard, Luther lost the only battle worth winning, and that is defending the truth. As you know, the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, and Luther ignored Christ by failing to accept its rightful authority. Instead or repenting of his many sinful ways, he let his pride carry him forward into more self-inflicted errors the rest of his life.

        So I hope you will cease the sanctimonious ‘Luther was actually more Catholic’ than others nonsense, but this will require looking at Luther without your rose-colored glasses. It would also help if you ceased accusing fine people like Fr. Morello and perhaps others of making inaccurate historical claims by the glass house sarcastic comment “Glad to know you were there.”

        “But hey, haters gonna hate,” especially those who throw stones from glass houses.

      • Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (German: Wider die Mordischen und Reubischen Rotten der Bawren) is a piece written by Martin Luther, related to the German Peasants’ War. Beginning in 1524 and ending in 1526, the Peasants’ War was a result of a tumultuous collection of grievances in many different spheres: political, economic, social, and theological. Martin Luther is often considered to be the foundation for the Peasants’ Revolt; however, he maintained allegiance to the Princes against the violence of the rebels. Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants typifies Luther’s reaction to the Peasants’ War, and alludes to Luther’s concern that he might be seen to be responsible for their rebellion. Luther’s own words attest to his perfidious actions favoring the German Princes against the peasants. “The peasants have taken on themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man, by which they have abundantly merited death in body and soul”.

      • Thanks, Joe, for starting to move toward an accurate understanding of Luther. The prior posts revealed such misunderstanding and bias that they were creating a caricature that was totally unrecognizable! Indeed, his commentary on Galatians illuminates his spiritual journey out of the darkness of a works-oriented and corrupted religious system into the glorious light of the Gospel of grace.

        • Stanley you know well the standard Catholic response to your argument. Nonetheless it’s the best. James 18. “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works”. Luther former Augustinian and Catholic priest now apostate had no answer to the Apostle James. So he conveniently had James omitted from the Protestant bible. “The glorious light of the Gospel of grace” requires visible evidence that we love each other as Christ has loved us. Charity as The Apostle Paul cites the supreme theological virtue. Luther’s words concluding his treatise Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants ends with, “Therefore, dear lords stab, smite, slay, whoever can”. Enlightened by grace I presume. If Roman authority was repugnant to him the authority of the Princes v the common people certainly was not.

  5. In spite of supposed initial good intentions imputed to Luther by many Catholic clergy today, by 1537 it is clear that Luther had not only abandoned the Faith but actively detested it:

    “That the Mass in the Papacy must be the greatest and most horrible abomination, as it directly and powerfully conflicts with this chief article {viz. justification by faith alone}, and yet above and before all other popish idolatries it has been the chief and most specious. For it has been held that this sacrifice or work of the Mass, even though it be rendered by a wicked [and abandoned] scoundrel, frees men from sins, both in this life and also in purgatory, while only the Lamb of God shall and must do this, as has been said above. Of this article nothing is to be surrendered or conceded, because the first article {viz. justification by faith alone} does not allow it.” [The Smalcald Articles, Part II, Article II: Of the Mass]

    http://bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php

    So much for Luther’s “ecstatic experience of the divine love”.

  6. Luther may well have been all that this article says about him but the fact remains that he and his early followers, especially the German princelings, caused incalculable damage to the Christian world. My own father, who was a very conservative Lutheran, carried many of his more unsavory beliefs to the end of his life because of this man. It affected his life and how he dealt with others in a very negative way. That Luther was a force can not be denied; that he did much of anything beneficial, can be.

  7. Luther was simply a man who gave up the fight against sin (as some men do), but wished none the less to be reconciled. At least he had the integrity not to simply say that his sins weren’t sins (as some of our own prelates do today), but he had to invent a whole new religion in order to do so. In order to support this religion he had to deny that there was any assurance on earth of religious truth. The scripture alone being inerrant, but the interpretation of them of course being subject to error (but he could not accept that he was subject to error) In effect he became the pope of his own church, deciding what scripture was canonical, adding words, interpreting etc.

    His actions lead to the destruction of Christian Europe, the loss of Christian unity, destruction of social order and culture and brought about laissez-faire economy, secular politics where even ‘Catholic’ politicians can be pro-abortion and same-sex marriage, and individualism which we seem to lament so much these days.

    It is disingenuous sophistry and or self-serving wickedness to wrap Luther in the blanket of respectability. “What a holy man he was” “the pope at the time was a bum”…etc. Mussolini got the trains to run on time, and Hitler sponsored art and research projects… But, we don’t waste our time reminding people of how great they were.

  8. Docent, no, I was not there, which is why I don’t impute motives and demonize. Luther could very easily have been quite well-intentioned, and used by God. And I will go as far as admitting the same could be true of our present nut job Pope! But even an evil Luther is hardly worse a character than the Renaissance popes. ibdobt think the column that sparked all this suggested Luther was noble, just not sinister. I still concur.

    • Hilarious, Joe. Your snarky comments directed at Fr. Morello et al. were indeed a demonization of him and his scholarship, plus it imputes his motives for ‘daring to so criticize’ simply because he wasn’t there. Based on this “principle,” let’s give Hitler a pass, too, if we weren’t there to really understand what a noble fellow he really was. Let’s give Muhammad a pass as well since he was really a noble fellow despite the barbarisms and cruelty he unleashed on the world. We weren’t there, so such things were probably okay, right? In fact, Muslims believe he was more than just noble. They refer to him as God’s ultimate prophet and the ideal human being, and who are we to really know since we weren’t there? Here’s an irony for you: You could express your view like this: “Who are we to judge?”

      Oh yes. Luther was the fellow who convinced a nun to give up her vows to enjoy sexual intimacy with him, undoubtedly based on his “noble” thoughts about sin and being granted everlasting life with God even when in defiance of God’s laws. Such nobility indeed.

      By the way, how do you characterize your reference to “our present nut job Pope”? Seems like a demonization to me, but you claim you don’t do such things, so was it a compliment?

      Your still flinging stones at others from inside your faux holier-than-thou glass house, Joe. Time to give it up in realization of the truth concerning the real Luther and the damage he did to our Lord and His One True Church. Like Satan, Luther’s battle cry that he never renounced was “Non Serviam”! There is nothing noble in refusing to serve God and His Church in a humble manner.

  9. These comments… I confess they are as annoying to me as those of Trads like the very smart Chris Ferarra. Luther: DERANGED! Charismatics: UNHINGED! Blah blah blah.

    Even my favorite blogger bashed Luther…

    http://pblosser.blogspot.com/2017/0

    Nevertheless, I continue to find traditionalist excoriation of him too knee jerk. Especially when popes like John Paul II and Francis — and perhaps Benedict XVI, though he is apparently so smart I can hardly tell at times what he is really getting at — depart from orthodoxy on strategic points while insisting on institutional fidelity. These men have digital libraries, centuries of definitions, and the hall of mirrors which is Vatican II … Luther on the other hand did not.

    And yet it is Luther who is responsible for our modern woes since he singlehandedly cracked the Church and advocated free thought… or something like that. As long as our own Catholic ID card is in our wallet, though, we are OK… OK, a caricature, but trying to make my point that it was against institutional identification versus a personal and living faith that Luther raised his voice in the first place.

    And if Luther is responsible for all the free thought poison in the west, as Belloc would also have us believe, how does that explain the kindness the official Roman Church itself now extends to what would once have been quickly recognized as dissent? So, I think of Peter Kreeft’s words, that I think also apply to Luther…

    “Catholicism and Protestantism do not essentially define our identity, as Christ does. If I should die and find out that Christ is not my Savior, I could not be me, I could not exist in such a world. Christ is essential to my very self: ‘For me to live is Christ.’ The Church is like my family: very close to me, loyal to the death — but not my essence [or with these various weird encyclicals and campaigns we are in trouble.] . Saint Paul did not say: ‘For me to live is Catholicism.’ He did not say: ‘I live, nevertheless not I but Protestantism lives in me.’ The only absolute certainty we have is Christ. … The agreements between orthodox Protestants and orthodox Catholics are more important than the agreements between orthodox Catholics and liberal, or Modernist, or demythologized Catholics … The following questions do not divide Protestants and Catholics—and they are the most important questions of all—but they do divide the orthodox from the Modernist in both churches:

    Does God forgive my sins through Christ? Or is sin an outdated concept? In other words, is Christ a mere human example or a Savior from sin?
    Is Christ divine, eternal, from the beginning? Or is he only divine “as all men are divine”?
    Did he physically rise from the dead? Or is the Resurrection only a myth, a beautiful symbol?
    Must we be born again from above to be saved, to have God as our Father? Or is everyone saved automatically? Does everyone have God as Father simply by being born as a human being, or by being reasonably nice during life?
    Is Scripture God’s word to us? Or is it human words about God? Does it have divine or human authority behind it? And can an ordinary Christian understand its true meaning without reading German theologians?
    Most important of all, can I really meet God in Christ? If I ask him to be my Lord, the Lord of my life, will he really do it? Or is this just a “religious experience”? This question is really one with the question: Did Christ really rise from the dead? That is, is he alive now? Can I say: “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!”?

    Affirmative answers to these questions constitute the most important kind of unity already: not unity of thought but unity of being, the new being, being “in Christ”.The evangelical resurgence, the charismatic movement, and the born-again phenomenon are all indications that God is working in our time at precisely this center, this place of unity. [Despite abuses and charismatic inanities!]”
    [Kreeft Off…]

    In many ways Luther for me suggests a medieval, religious version of Donald Trump. Rough around the edges, crass, but also reflecting a degree of common sense that resonated with people. And reflecting an attitude that says if the Church has become a mess, God might just start drawing straight with crooked Lutheran lines. I know if I want someone to hear a basic gospel message, I am inclined to send them to an evangelical church before I’d send them to a Catholic parish, even if Christ truly is physically present at the Catholic building as Eucharistic theology specifies!

    Does that make sense? I don’t know. But I do know Frank Sheed nailed the spirit and cadence of the Catholic world that gave birth to Luther, one suggesting Protestantism might just have begun as a positive corrective judgement as much as any sort of damning schism:

    “The fifteenth century saw the Curia at its worst. The Franciscan Pope, Sixtus IV, made six near-relations cardinals. To one of them he gave eight bishoprics and their revenues. This one was to become Pope as Julius II. In between, he helped to secure the papacy for Innocent VIII, the first Pope publicly to acknowledge the illegitimate children he already had and raise them to, or marry them into, princedoms. A child of one of these marriages became a cardinal at the age of thirteen, and in due course (if due be the word) Pope as Leo X. On his election he is said to have said, “God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” Part of the enjoyment was Martin Luther.”

    On the question of Luther scholarship, I would also add that Jared Wicks, SJ, is an orthodox Catholic priest who has spent a lifetime of scholarship saying positive things about Luther. Back to the beginning blog link on Luther studies, Wicks writes,

    “Catholic university men in Germany were reserved about Denifle’s bombshell from Rome. Some coolly pointed out that someone as depraved as the Luther depicted by Denifle could not possibly have produced the literature that in fact changed the course of Christian history. It was lamented that the new documents presented by Denifle would never lead to corrections …. since the Dominican had clothed his work in a vitriolic rhetoric… There were hopes that another account would soon rectify the common image of Luther among Catholics…. Then Hartman Grisar brought out three massive volumes totaling nearly 2600 pages that collected all his investigations into Luther’s life…. Grisar refrained from accusing Luther in the insulting manner of Denifle and proved untenable numerous anecdotes about Luther’s personal life…. At the age of 81 Grisar prepared a one-volume condensation… The basic aim dominating the work is to reject all that Luther stood for and to undercut any tendency to dwell on good points in Luther… Denifle and Grisar left deep marks… but the vehemence of Denifle and the blanket rejection of Grisar stir reactions… One came from Sebastian Markle, who objecting to tone and method, asserted that denying Luther historical justice was no service to the church of truth. …Merkle had to defend his critical stand against suspicions of his fidelity as a Catholic, but he stood firm… Merkle underscored the religious depth evident in the young Luther, his struggle with temptation to despair, and the low state of the church on the eve of the Reformation. It was no mystery why many did follow Luther ou of the Church in order to seek a more authentic faith. And it is no credit to Catholicism, according to Merkle, that many try to show their loyalty to the church by reviling Luther. It was becoming clear that Denifle and Grisar did not exhaust the possibilities on the Catholic side for forming an image of Luther.”

    I know, I could easily sound like von Balthasar here! But interestingly, preemptively addressing “suspicions of his fidelity as a Catholic,” Wicks himself is a mentor of Christian Washburne, who encouraged the younger author as he collected his anthology on the traditionalist Joseph Fenton (!) [… even if one of his books does have a foreword by George Lindbeck (!!)]. So all may not be as cut-and-dried as the last century’s historians suggest. Wicks has qualifying words about Grisar and Hacker that sound convincing to me.

    The fact last century’s more liberal Protestants also find the German pitbull indefensible no more sways me than do the revulsions of the east coast Republican establishment over Trump, if I can engage in some wild conflations of category. Invoking Kreeft one more time, “Whatever theological mistakes Luther made, whatever indispensable truths about the Church he denied, here is an indispensable truth he affirmed — indispensable to union between all sinners and God and union between God’s separated Catholic and Protestant children. Much of the Catholic Church has not yet caught up with Luther; and for that matter, much of Protestantism has regressed from him. The churches are often found preaching one of two “other gospels”: the gospel of old-fashion legalism or the gospel of new-fangled humanism. The first means making points with God and earning your way into heaven, the second means being nice to everybody so that God will be nice to you. The churches, Protestant and Catholic, may also preach the true Christian gospel, but not often enough and not clearly enough and often watered down and mixed with one of these two other gospels. And the trouble with “other gospels” is simply that they are not true: they don’t work, they don’t unite man with God, they don’t justify.”

    So, Luther as unmitigated villain, and the Reformation as the original well from which toxic water flows? Come on. To whomever insists so, all I can do is laughingly type SAD! God draws straight with crooked lines, and may also use bulls to break hardened china hearts. He certainly did in the Old Testament. And though the world of Luther may have been one of few right angles, it also was not essentially one of cultish poisoned wells compared to today’s postmodernists swamps. At least from my perspective and perch.

    For a bit of an irenic counterpoint I recommend Louis Bouyer’s “Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.”

    http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/feat

    • Actually Joe although I wasn’t there if you read Luther’s extant writings which are contained in Kingston Siggins it’s clear he was a profound thinker. It’s difficult to offer an in depth analysis of Martin Luther in a commentary. Much of what you say is correct. The judgment on whether good or evil is the result of Luther’s protests cannot be definitively stated. The reason is it is both. From one perspective it certainly awakened a required Counter Reformation in the Church. It also brought about a destructive defensive posture inhibiting often prohibiting open inquiry and the reading of scripture. Luther’s main point on Justification that Faith has priority over works is correct and several Pontiff’s have admitted to that. Initially Luther did not deny the need for good works. What appears to have transpired during the discussions with Rome was polarization. The same sin that drives so many of us apart on today’s issue regarding mercy and justice, as if the two are incompatible.

  10. What is at the root of this modern desire to rehabilitate Luther? Well, clearly the Catholic equivalent of “white guilt” might be part of it. Look, see, the church was full of bad people, no wonder Luther did what he did. Lame, but compelling to too many.

    Luther did not draw his doctrine from the scripture. He invented his doctrine and then read the scripture in a way to conform to it, just as the church reads the scripture in a way to conform with the body of the Faith. He even used his doctrine as a test for what would be considered scripture.

    There are 2 movements in the church of the last 50 or so years (and even more so since the election of the current pope) that are furthered by our new found respect for Luther. The first is the ecumenical idea that most of it really doesn’t matter. Sacraments, virtues, assumptions or prayers for the dead are just fluff that it’s not worth talking about. All that matters is that we all agree that God is cool. The next is the idea that we cannot know any of that fluff with certainty anyway. So who knows who’s right. Praying for the dead and not praying for the dead are equally valid since it’s all just opinion.

    But, yes I do agree that the church today is in some ways more lost than Luther ever was. At least he cared about right and wrong. Not much evidence of that in much of the bishops of today.

  11. Pat Carl Olson reprinted a previously written article on the Holy Eucharist that so far does not have a comment option. He spoke of his conversion beginning with the stark words of Christ on the Eucharist. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you. For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink. Corpus Christi. We celebrate tomorrow the very center of our faith and means of salvation. Martin Luther repudiated the Real Presence saying the bread doesn’t actually become the Body, nor the wine actually the Blood. I recall reading he believed Christ was present ‘under’ the bread and wine. That is more a kind of blessing. The real presence means the bread and wine become the body and blood. And Christ is present to us in the most intimate manner possible. He becomes part of us and we of Him. Once Luther broke off discussions with Rome he wandered into several heresies this among the more damaging to the salvation of souls. Many don’t realize the immense importance of receiving the Holy Eucharist. Worthily. The power of the Real Presence in us heals, purifies, transforms into his likeness. We literally become what we consume.

    • Well, let’s get down to the real problem though, and that which makes Luther attractive to the modern classes. His ideas on justification. No matter how piously we wrap them up in nice sounding phrases dripping with flowery devotion they are pernicious, yet out of a desire to be seen as ‘above it all’ or tolerant or even modern, some have adopted the “what a great guy Luther was” persona, while others actually believe that they have to at least say he was on to something. or they really believe it. (all of the rest of his wanderings have their origin in his idea of justification)

      Now, simply speaking, Luther came to the conclusion that there was no relation between the life you lead and where you spent eternity. And this is the Protestant line today. Whether it is by predestination or by getting ‘saved’ or ‘born again’ (another reason the Charismatic movement is bad) the fact is once saved – you can sin and sin mightily and not have to worry about salvation. As counter intuitive and bad as this idea is, it is catching on with too many Catholics. Luther actually gave up the battle against sin, but then came up with a way of saying that he shouldn’t have been fighting it anyway. Sounds and awful lot like some of the stuff coming out of the church today.

      Is there a Catholic way to understand some of what Luther said? probably.
      Is there a Catholic way to be Protestant? no.

  12. I find this appalling. Will we hear about Henry VIII’s love for the Church next and see his defense of the faith used to prove it? Luther was vicious. To make him appear as a mystic of grace with an “extravagant love” is sickening unless it means the selfish and arrogant love he had for himself.

  13. Luther did not crack the Church. He left it, and the gap he left closed up again, with him outside. The Church is always unbrokenly one, despite all schisms. Schismatics are like vomit – they came from the Body, but are no longer part of it. And it is healthier for their leaving. They harm themselves, and those they lead astray.

  14. I grew up Lutheran, but have not been back to a Lutheran Church since I left for college. “By grace alone! By faith alone! By the Scriptures alone!”is simply useless rhetoric to me. It never made any sense, and for the most part I feel like Lutheran theology just made the churchgoers in my town complacent and lazy. “God does everything for me. I don’t need to do anything.” I’m much more interested in cultivating spiritual depth through study, meditation, contemplation, and actively cultivating my morality, ethics, and sense of empathy through introspection, none of which the Lutheran Church talked about.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. How to Think About Luther? - Crisis Magazine
  2. How to Think About Luther? - Catholic Daily

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