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Catholics, Lutherans look toward Christian unity in Reformation statement

October 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2017 / 10:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Reformation anniversary gives us a renewed impetus to work for reconciliation, said a statement released jointly Tuesday by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation.

“We recognize that while the past cannot be changed, its influence upon us today can be transformed to become a stimulus for growing communion, and a sign of hope for the world to overcome division and fragmentation,” it said Oct. 31.

“Again, it has become clear that what we have in common is far more than that which still divides us.”

The statement was released to mark the end of the year of common commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is the Roman Curia’s office for ecumenism, while the Lutheran World Federation is the largest communion of Lutheran ecclesial communities. In the US, the Lutheran World Federation includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but neither the Missouri nor Wisconsin Synods.

The common commemoration was opened last year with an ecumenical prayer service between Lutherans and Catholics at the Lutheran cathedral in Lund, Sweden during the Pope’s Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2016 visit.

During the service, Catholics and Lutherans read out five joint ecumenical commitments, including the commitment to always begin from a perspective of unity. Pope Francis and Munib Younan, then-president of the Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land, also signed a joint statement.

Quoting the 2016 declaration between Pope Francis and Younan, this year’s statement acknowledged the pain of disunity, particularly that caused by the inability to share in the Eucharist.

“We acknowledge our joint pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our people to be one in Christ. We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue,” the statement declared.

The new statement also emphasized the commitment to continue this journey toward unity “guided by God’s Spirit…according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

With God’s help, we hope to continue to seek “substantial consensus” on issues pertaining to the Church, Eucharist, and ministry, it said. “With deep joy and gratitude we trust ‘that He who has begun a good work in [us] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ’.”

They gave thanksgiving for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, as well as the need to ask forgiveness for failures and the ways in which “Christians have wounded the Body of Christ and offended each other” over the past 500 years.

One positive effect of the past year’s common commemoration has been viewing the Reformation with an ecumenical perspective for the first time, it concluded.

“In the face of so many blessings along the way, we raise our hearts in praise of the Triune God for the mercy we receive.”


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Spanish bishops call for peaceful resolution to Catalan independence crisis

October 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Madrid, Spain, Oct 31, 2017 / 06:01 am (ACI Prensa).- As the situation in Catalonia unfolds after the Spanish autonomous community declared independence, a move strongly opposed by the Spanish central government, local bishops are insisting on a peaceful resolution.

Cardinal Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona, the Catalan capital, said Oct. 27 that “as shepherd of Barcelona” he loves Catalonia and shares “the people’s pain and suffering,” and that his heart “weeps with them.”

Cardinal Omella was in Rome the day of the Catalan declaration of independence, and he asked God to “help us avoid confrontation and build a future in peace.”

“After my two years in the Diocese of Barcelona, I can say that I deeply love Barcelona and Catalonia. They are marvelous people,” the cardinal emphasized.

“And I also love Spain and I love the Europe we belong to, where I received my formation as a young man.”

Cardinal Omella was born in the Catalan-speaking region of Aragon, and first served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Zaragoza.

The Catalan crisis began with an Oct. 1 independence referendum, which had been declared unconstitutional and illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. Ignoring the court ruling, Catalonia’s separatist government proceeded with the referendum, setting the stage for sometimes violent clashes with voters as the Civil Guard and National Police attempted to stop the vote.

According to the Catalan government, 90 percent of those who voted – 43 percent of potential voters – supported independence from Spain.

The Catalan regional parliament then declared the community’s independence Oct. 27.

Spain’s central government responded by announcing the dissolution of the Catalan parliament and the suspension of Catalan autonomy. The Spanish president removed from office the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and other officials.

The Spanish government has called for regional elections in Catalonia to be held Dec. 21.

Cardinal Ricardo Blazquez Perez of Valladolid, president of the Spanish bishops’ conference, expressed Oct. 28 his “sadness over the declaration” of independence, and reiterated “his support for the constitutional order” and its “re-establishment.”  

“I am praying to God for the peaceful coexistence of all citizens,” he concluded.

Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid tweeted the same day: “Christ encourages us to not raise up walls, to engage one another in dialogue, and to work for social reconciliation. At this time in Spain with special urgency.”


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Memento mori – How religious orders remember death

October 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- There’s an old Latin phrase that’s suddenly new again – at least in the realm of Catholic Twitter™.

The resurgence of the the Latin phrase “memento mori” (remember your death) is thanks in large part to tweeting nun Sr. Theresa Aletheia, a “media nun” with the Daughters of St. Paul, who has been recording, via tweets, what it’s like to have a (plastic) skull sitting on her desk:


Day 94 w ????on my desk:  

If we could taste the joys of heaven for even a moment, we would have no fear of death.#mementomori

— Sr. Theresa Aletheia (@pursuedbytruth) October 27, 2017



The phrase, and practice, has caught on, and a quick Twitter search of #mementomori now reveals hundreds of results.

But even before nuns and Catholic millennials were tweeting about the skulls on their desks, religious orders have been “memento mori”-ing for centuries. Here’s how various religious orders have kept their mortality in mind throughout the ages.

Origins of the phrase

According to legend, the phrase “memento mori” may have originated with the Roman empire. Allegedly, when victorious Roman generals returned from battle, in the midst of their festivities, a slave or another low-ranking citizen would follow them around and whisper “memento mori,” or some other reminder that their earthly glory was temporary.

Even before the Roman empire, meditation on death and the last things was a common practice of ancient philosophers like Plato, who once said that philosophy was “about nothing else but dying and being dead”.

The phrase and the practice was then incorporated into medieval Christianity – death was especially poignant as the plague spread throughout Europe and Asia, killing millions of people within the span of just a few years.

“Memento mori” was such a popular religious theme in this period that it inspired a genre of art, music and literature.

Memento mori myths and the Brothers of the Dead

One of the most common myths surrounding “memento mori” is that the phrase is used by monks, particularly the famously-ascetic Trappist monks, as a form of greeting among brothers.

Fr. Timothy Scott, a Trappist brother and priest, said that this myth originated with a now-obsolete order of French monks called “The Order of the Hermits of Saint Paul,” who came to be known as the “Brothers of the Dead.”

According to “La Sombre Trappe,” by Fr. M. Anselme Dimier, this order “pushed its tastes for the macabre to the extreme,” wearing scapulars with skulls and crossbones, and kissing a skull at the foot of the cross before each meal.

The words “Memento Mori” were found on the seal of the order alongside a skull and crossbones, and skulls were prominently displayed in most parts of the monastery, including in each brother’s cell.

The brothers of this order were also known for greeting each other with “Think of death, dear brother,” and rumors have spread that the Trappists adopted this tradition, even after the Brothers of the Dead were suppressed by Pope Urban VIII in 1633.

“In no period of the Order’s history, in no Trappist monastery, have these words been in usage; the brothers greet one another in silence, as in the early days of the Order of Citeaux,” Dimier wrote.

Fr. Scott confirmed that a silent greeting “is the constant tradition and practice of the Order.”

How Trappists “memento mori”

Trappists are a branch of Cistercian monks, a reformed branch of the Benedictines, who desired to live the Rule of St. Benedict more authentically.

But while Trappist brothers don’t use “memento mori” as a greeting, other reminders of death have been present in the Trappist order, particularly in older monasteries, Fr. Scott said.

In his book “A Time to Keep Silence”, Patrick Leigh Fermor recalls these symbols of death, particularly present in Trappist monasteries during the 18th and 19th century.

“Symbols of death and dissolution confronted the eye at every turn, and in the refectory the beckoning torso of a painted skeleton, equipped with an hourglass and a scythe, leant, with the terrifying archness of a forgotten guest, across the coping of a wall on which were inscribed the words: ‘Tonight perhaps?’”

Fr. Scott added that he has heard of several other monasteries with various “memento mori” traditions, such as the monastery of la Val Sainte in Switzerland, which kept a white-wood cross and a skull in the middle of the refectory, or dining hall. Another Trappist monastery in France had the words “Hodie mihi, cras tibi” (Today I die, tomorrow it will be you) written above the door leading to the cemetery.

These skulls, inscriptions, and the various prayers for the dead help the brothers “to keep in mind that our time on this earth is limited and what we do now matters for eternity,” Fr. Scott said.

“We will be accountable one day before God for all that we do. It makes no sense to waste the precious time that has been allotted to us. We must use it to do good and to love others now.”

“However, the theme of memento mori, remembrance of death, needs to be set within the larger theme of the memory or mindfulness of God,” he added. “The monastic life is oriented primarily toward cultivating a living relationship with the persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who have been revealed to us in the Son, Jesus Christ, and who, through his passion, death, and resurrection have called us to full communion and fellowship with them now and in eternity.”

The bone churches of Europe

Several orders of monks, including the Capuchins, Franciscans, and the Cistercians, are also known for having built churches or crypts decorated almost exclusively with the remains of their forebearers, a stark “memento mori” for any visitors to these sites.

One of the best-known such churches, sometimes called an Ossuary, is the Capuchin crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto in Rome, Italy, which includes six chapels, five of which are covered in the skeletal remains of Capuchin friars of yesteryear.

The crypt was built in the 1630s, when Pope Urban VIII ordered some Capuchin friars to set up residency at the Church, and asked that they bring the remains of their bygone brothers with them, so that they would not be abandoned.

In total, an estimated 4,000 skeletons, from friars deceased between the 1520s – 1870s, decorate the insides of the various chapels. The various crypts include a crypt of the resurrection, a crypt of skulls, a crypt of leg and thigh bones, and a crypt of pelvises. A plaque in on display in the crypt reads: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”  

Allegedly, this Roman ossuary inspired a similar “Bone Church” in Prague, in the Czech Republic. There, the Sedlec Ossuary, built by Cistercian monks, is decorated with the remains of an estimated 40,000 people.

The reason for the large number of remains dates back to the 1200s, when a Cistercian monk returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he brought back dirt from Golgatha, the hill where Christ was crucified, and sprinkled that dirt in the cemetery at the monastery.

As word of this holy dirt spread, the cemetery became a popular place in which to buried. By the time the plague hit, the number of people requesting burial in the cemetery became so great that the monks began exhuming the bones, storing them in the church, and using them for interior decoration.

The Church has been restored several times and is no longer in possession of the Cistercian order, but the popular site receives thousands of visitors annually.

A third popular “Bone Church” is the Capela dos Ossos, in Évora, Portugal, next to the Church of St. Francis.

Built by a Franciscan in the 16th century, the chapel has similar origins to the Czech Ossuary, in that it became a creative way to store the bones contained in cemeteries running out of room to house remains.

Reportedly, the monk also believed that the Church could be a force for the Counter-Reformation, and a good place for Catholics of the area to come and remember their mortality.

Like the Roman ossuary, the bone church in Portugal has several “memento mori” themed inscriptions, including Ecclesiastes 7:1 “A good name is better than good ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.”

Dominicans – the best order in which to die

For Dominican friars, their “memento mori” comes every day when they recite prayers for the dead, said Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, professor of moral theology for the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

The Dominicans pray for the dead so frequently that it’s become part of a joke, he told CNA.

“There are many reasons you want to live in the other orders – the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Jesuits – but out of all of them, you want to die with the Dominicans, because we constantly pray for the dead,” he said.  

Whenever a Dominican friar dies, all the priests in his province celebrate a Mass for him. The order also prays what is called the “De Profundis” – a daily prayer, typically before a main meal, that includes praying Psalm 130 in remembrance of all of the men of the province whose death anniversary is on that day.

Dominicans also celebrate an additional “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day” –  they celebrate these feasts with the Church on Nov. 1 and 2, but then they celebrate a second round of these feasts on Nov. 7 and 8, particularly praying for the Dominican saints and souls.

“In terms of praying daily for the dead, it is a constant reminder of our own mortality, that heaven and eternal life is the goal, and it’s also a reminder that death is something that we all face,” Guilbeau said.

“When we die, we go alone, there’s no one who accompanies us in that at that moment. But by praying for those who have gone before us in death, we get a sense of that union and community that endures into the next life, and insofar as we aid the dead by our prayers, they’re waiting for us and aiding us by their prayers. It’s a daily reminder of the common prayer that we have for each other.”

“In terms of…sleeping in our coffin or having skulls on the desk, we don’t do that,” Guilbeau said, but he added that the black cape that Dominicans wear is meant to serve as a physical “memento mori” for the order.  

The daily reminder of death isn’t something “macabre or depressing,” Guilbeau added, “but it’s something hopeful and joyful, that this veil of tears is not the end of our existence, it’s not the goal.”  

“If we live in the love of Jesus Christ and we live in the light of the Holy Spirit, there’s constant preparation  and help and grace and strength for that moment when we pass from this life to the next,” he said.

Therefore, for the saint, death isn’t something to be feared, but welcomed and embraced like a sibling, Guilbeau said, recalling the words of St. Francis who once wrote in his “Canticle of the Sun”: “Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.”



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What caused the Reformation? A Catholic explainer

October 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2017 / 04:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One fated Halloween, 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle in a dramatic act of defiance against the Catholic Church.

Or, he may have just hung it on the doorknob. Or mailed out copies.

Or, if he did nail it, the act of the nailing itself would not have been all that significant, because the door may have been used as a bulletin board where everyone was nailing announcements.

And he probably wasn’t all that defiant; he likely had the attitude of a scholar trying to raise questions and concerns. At that point, Luther didn’t know how defiant he would eventually become, or that his act, and his subsequent theological work, would lead to one of the greatest disruptions of unity in the Church’s history.

“This was not a declaration of war against the Catholic Church, nor was it a break,” Dr. Alan Schreck with Franciscan University of Steubenville told CNA.

“It was a concerned, Augustinian monk and biblical scholar correcting an abuse, and it was really a call for a dialogue.”

However, it took fewer than five years for this call for dialogue to transform into schism, rejection of the authority of the Church’s tradition and bishops and most of the sacraments, and a growing number of Protestant communities, united only by their rejection of the Catholic Church.

While historians debate just how dramatic was the actual posting of the 95 theses, its anniversary is an occasion to look back at what the role of the most popular Protestant was in the movement that ultimately split Western Christendom in two.

Who was Martin Luther?

Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, the oldest son of Hans and Margarethe Luther. His father, a successful business and civic leader, had grand visions for his eldest son’s life and sent him to school with the hopes he would become a lawyer.

While Luther completed his bachelor’s and master’s degree according to his father’s plan, he dropped out of law school, finding himself increasingly drawn to the subjects of philosophy and theology.

Soon after leaving law school, Luther entered an Augustinian monastery, a decision he would later attribute to a vow he made during a precarious horseback ride, when he was nearly struck by lightning in the midst of a storm. Terrified that he was about to die, the 21-year-old Luther cried out to St. Anne, promising that he would become a monk if he survived. He felt it was a vow he could not break; his father felt it was a waste of his education.

By all accounts, Luther was a Catholic success story before he became the leading figure of the Reformation. He joined the monastery in 1505, and by 1507 he was ordained a priest. He became a renowned theologian and biblical scholar within the order, as well as a powerful and popular preacher and lecturer at the University of Wittenberg in Germany.

During his years of study and growing popularity, Luther began developing the groundwork of his theology on salvation and scripture that would ultimately become deal-breakers in his relationship with the Catholic Church.

The offense of selling indulgences

But it wasn’t strictly theological ideas that first drove Luther to the ranks of reformation ringleader – it was his critique of the practice of selling indulgences, the central subject of his 95 theses, that catapulted him into the limelight.

According to Catholic teaching, an indulgence is the remission of all or part of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven, and can be applied either to the person performing the prescribed act or to a soul in Purgatory.

To obtain an indulgence, one must complete certain spiritual requirements, such as going to the sacraments of Confession and Communion, in addition to some other act or good work, such as making a pilgrimage or doing a work of mercy.

But even years before Martin Luther, abuses of indulgences were rampant in the Church.

Instead of prescribing an act of prayer or a work of mercy as a way to obtain an indulgence, clerics began also authorizing a “donation” to the Church as a good work needed to remit the temporal punishment due to sin.

Increasingly, people grew critical of the sale of indulgences, as they watched money gleaned from people’s afterlife anxiety go to fund the extravagant lives of some of the clergy. The money was also often used to buy clerical offices, the sin of simony.

During Martin Luther’s time, in northern Germany, the young and ambitious prince-Archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg was offered the position of the Archbishop of Mainz, but was unwilling to relinquish any of his previously-held power.

Meanwhile in Rome, Pope Leo X was demanding a considerable fee from Albrecht for his new position, as well as from the people of his dioceses for the fund to build St. Peter’s Basilica. Albrecht took out a loan and promised Rome 50 percent of the funds extracted from – as critics would describe it – preying on people’s fear of Purgatory.

For the St. Peter’s fund, the Pope had employed Dominican friar Johann Tetzel to be the Grand Commissioner for Indulgences for the country of Germany.

According to historians, Tetzel liberally preached the indulgence, over-promising remission of sins, extending it to include even future sins one might commit, rather than sins that had already been repented of and confessed. He even allegedly coined the gimmicky indulgence phrase:  “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from Purgatory springs.”

It was Tetzel’s activities that ultimately pushed Luther to protest by publishing his 95 theses.

The 95 theses and the seeds of reform

“When he posted the 95 theses, he wasn’t a Lutheran yet,” said Michael Root, professor of systematic theology at The Catholic University of America.

“In some ways they get things rolling, but what’s important is what happens after the 95 theses when Luther gets pushed into a more radical position.”

Regardless of how dramatically they were posted to the door of Wittenberg Castle on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed not only his theses but the feelings of many faithful at the time who were also frustrated with the corruption and abuse they saw in the Church.

Christian humanists such as Erasmus and St. Thomas More were contemporaries of Luther who also objected to abuses within Church while not breaking from it.

Meanwhile, Luther’s already-established reputation as a respected professor, as well as access to the printing press, allowed his theses and ideas to spread at a rate previously unmatched by previous reformers who had similar critiques of the Church.

“Clearly there was a kind of symbiosis between Luther and the development of the printing press,” Root said. “What he was writing was able to engage lots of people. Many of them were short pamphlets that could be printed up quickly, they sold well…so he was on the cutting edge of technology and he fit what the technology needed – short, energetic things people wanted to read.”

Most historians agree that Luther’s original intent was not to start a new ecclesial community – that idea would have been “unthinkable at the time,” Root noted. ??“So that’s too much to say; however, it’s too little to say all he want to do was reform abuses.”

By 1518, his theses spread throughout Germany and intellectual Europe. Luther also continued writing prolifically, engaging in disputes with Tetzel and other Catholic critics and further developing his own ideas.

For its part, the Church did not issue an official response for several years, while attempts at discussions dissolved into defensive disputations rather than constructive dialogue. As a result, early opportunities to engage Luther’s criticisms on indulgences instead turned into arguments about Church authority as a whole.

Swatting flies with a sledgehammer – Luther becomes a Lutheran

One of Luther’s most well-known critics was Catholic theologian Johann Eck, who declared Luther’s theses heretical and ordered them to be burned in public.

In 1519, the two sparred in a disputation that pushed Luther to his more extreme view that scripture was the only valid Christian authority, rather than tradition and the bishops.

“The Catholic critics quickly changed the subject from indulgences to the question of the Church’s authority in relation to indulgences, which was a more dangerous issue,” Root said. “Now you’re getting onto a touchy subject. But there was also an internal dynamic of Luther’s own thought,” that can be seen in his subsequent writings.

In 1520, Luther published three of his most renowned treatises: The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, On the Freedom of a Christian Man, and To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.

By that time, it was clear that what Luther thought was wrong in the Church was not just the abuse of indulgences, but the understanding of the message of Christianity on some basic levels. Besides denouncing the Pope as a legitimate authority, Luther also declared that faith alone, sola fide, was all that was necessary for salvation, rather than faith and good works.

“Luther was definitely trying to fix what was a legitimate problem, which was pelagian tendencies, or people trying to work their way into heaven,” said Dr. Paul Hilliard, Assistant Professor and Chair of Church History at Mundelein Seminary. It had created a “mercantile attitude” in some people at the time of Luther – “if I do this, God will do this.”

“So Luther was trying to correct these things, but the phrase I sometimes say is that Luther swatted the fly of pelagianism with a sledgehammer. In order to keep any trace of humans earning salvation out of the system, he changed the system.”

Luther’s distrust of human beings did not particularly spring from his criticisms of indulgences and the subsequent pushback from the Church – it was in line with most anthropological thought at the time, which tended toward a very negative view of human nature. Therefore, in his Protestant views, he sought to get rid of any human involvement wherever possible – particularly when it came to interpreting scripture and salvation.

“On the scale of beasts to angels, most people (at the time) would have us a lot closer to beasts,” Hilliard noted.

The Catholic Church officially condemned Luther’s theses in a papal bull, Exsurge Domine, promulgated in June 1520, and in part authored by Eck. The declaration afforded Luther a 60-day window to recant his positions, lest he be excommunicated.

But by the time the papal bull was issued, Luther had not only denounced the authority of the Pope, but had declared him an anti-Christ. The window for reconciling views was all but closed.

The popular and political reforms

Despite Luther’s increasingly radical claims against the Pope and the Church, his popularity spread, due to his compelling and prolific writings and, to Luther’s dismay, his populist appeal.

Luther popularized the idea of a “priesthood of all believers” to the exclusion of an ordained, ministerial priesthood. Rather than bearing an indelible mark on their soul, in Luther’s view ministerial priests did not differ from the “priesthood of believers” except in office and work. This, along with his personality and background, appealed to the poor and working class of the time who were frustrated with the lavish lives of Church hierarchy, which typically came at the expense of the poor in rural areas.

“Luther was very much a populist, he was a man of the people, he was scruff, he came from sort of peasant stock, he spoke the language of the people, so I think a lot of the common people identified with him,” Shreck said.

“He was one of them, he wasn’t far away in Rome or a seemingly wealthy bishop or archbishop…so he appealed particularly to Germans because he wanted a German liturgy and a German bible, and the people said, ‘we want a faith that is close to us and accessible’.”

But Luther balked when his religious ideals spurred the Peasant’s War of 1525, as peasants in rural areas of German revolted, motivated by Luther’s religious language of equality. The year or so of subsequent bloody war seemed to justify those who dismissed Luther as nothing more than a social movement rather than a serious religious reformer.

In order to maintain the esteem of those higher up, Luther disavowed the unruly peasants as not part of the official reform movement, laying the groundwork for the Anabaptists to fill in the religious gaps for the peasants in the future.

However, the Peasant’s War wasn’t the only time the Reformation got political – or lethal. Because of the vacuum of authority that now existed in Luther’s pope-less, emerging ecclesial community, authority was handed over to the local princes, who took advantage of the reformation to break from the fee-demanding Pope.

Much of Germany had embraced Lutheranism by the mid 1500s, though some parts, such as Bavaria, retained their Catholic faith.

For his part, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V officially condemned Luther’s theology at the 1521 Diet of Worms, a meeting of German princes, during which Luther famously refused to recant his position with the words: “Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.”

Despite Charles V’s opposition to Luther’s views, he allowed for Luther’s safe passage from the diet, rather than enforcing the customary execution of heretics, and thus forfeited his best chance for stomping out the Reformation at its roots.

Historians speculate that while Charles V personally opposed Luther’s views, he let him live because he also saw the decentralizing of power from the Vatican as something of which he could take political advantage.

Reformation fever was also catching throughout Europe, and soon Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and England were all following Germany’s example of breaking from the Catholic Church and establishing state-run, Protestant ecclesial communities.

“I like to think of the story with the little Dutch boy with his the finger in the dyke,” Shreck said. “Once the breach was made, others follows his example. Once Luther did it, it was like the domino effect.”

“In a book by Owen Chadwick, he said the Reformation came not because Europe was irreligious, but because it was fervently religious,” Shreck added. “This was after the black death and a lot of social turmoil – people really wanted to turn to God and seek solace in faith.”

But the reformers were not all agreed on their beliefs, which led to the rise of numerous sects of Protestantism, including Calvinism, Anglicanism, and Anabaptism.

“Protestantism became very divided, though they all claimed to be doing the right thing because they believed they were maintaining the purity of the faith,” Schreck said.

Root noted that once the Protestant-Catholic divide “got embedded in political differences, between southern Europe and northern Europe, between Spain and England, and so the religious differences also became national differences, that just made matters far worse.”

“Once you have the wars of religion in 1546, then attitudes become very harsh. Once you start killing each other, it’s hard to sit down and talk,” he added.

The wars over religion would become especially pronounced in the 30 Years War of the 1600s, though at that point, religion had become more of a political tool for the state, Hilliard said.

“The 30 Years War is a really good indication that while religion was important, it was not the most important thing – it was a war between different competing princes to gain greater control of territories, during which religion was thrown into the mix,” Hilliard noted.

Could the Reformation have been avoided?

The million-dollar question at the center of Reformation history is whether the Reformation and the splitting of Western Christendom could have been avoided.

“Some would say by two years into the Reformation, the theological differences already ran very deep and there was no way you were going to get reconciliation,” Root said.

“But there are others who would argue that as late as the 1540s it was still possible that perhaps the right set of historical circumstances could have brought people together, and there’s no way of knowing, because you can’t run history again and change the variables.”

“Whether one could have settled it all then short of war, there were missed opportunities for reconciliation, that’s clear,” he added.

Luther’s fiery and rebellious personality, matched with the defiant and defensive stance that the Catholic Church took in response to his ideas, created a perfect storm that cemented the Protestant-Catholic divide.

Much of Luther’s thinking remained Catholic throughout his life, Schreck noted, including his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“I think if there had been a sincere effort on the part of the Catholic hierarchy that his concerns were legitimate, history might have gone in a different direction.” 

It wasn’t until Pope Paul III (1534–1549), 17 years after the fated theses first made their rounds, that the Catholic Church as a whole took a serious and official look at its own need for reform, and its need to respond to the Protestant Reformation.

This is Part 1 in a three-part series on the Reformation. Part 2 will discuss the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation. Part 3 will discuss ecumenism today.


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How can you tell if someone is demon-possessed?

October 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Rome, Italy, Oct 30, 2017 / 11:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Recognizing the difference between a person who is possessed and a person struggling with a mental illness or other infirmity is a vital part of the ministry of exorcism, according to a long-time exorcist and priest.

Father Cipriano de Meo, who has been an exorcist since 1952, told CNA’s Italian agency ACI Stampa that typically, a person is not possessed but is struggling with some other illness.

The key to telling the difference, he said, is through discernment in prayer on the part of the exorcist and the possessed – and in the potentially possessed person’s reaction to the exorcist himself and the prayers being said.

The exorcist will typically say “(a) prolonged prayer to the point where if the Adversary is present, there’s a reaction,” he said.

“A possessed person has various general attitudes towards an exorcist, who is seen by the Adversary as an enemy ready to fight him.”

Fr. de Meo described the unsettling reaction that a possessed person usually has, detailing a common response to the exorcist’s prayer.  

“There’s no lack of frightening facial expressions, threatening words or gestures and other things,” he said, “but especially blasphemies against God and Our Lady.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between demonic activity and mental illness. From paragraph 1673: “Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.”

In April of 2015, the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy and the Sacerdos Institute hosted a seminar at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University, specifically aimed at training priests and lay people in spotting the differences between psychological problems and demonic possession.

The conference included interventions from a wide range of experts in the field of exorcism, including practicing exorcists, medical professionals, psychologists, lawyers, and theologians.

Fr. de Meo also emphasized that not all cases of possession are going to look the same, which is why it is so important for exorcists to go through rigorous training.

“It’s up to the priest serving in this ministry to know how to deal with the case, by the will of God, with love and humility,” he said.

“For this reason, with my bishop’s authorization, for 13 years, I’ve led a school for exorcists. I’ve tried to especially prepare those who are beginning this ministry,” he said.

However, even though cases of demonic possession are not as common as cases of psychological illness, most people are too unaware and unfamiliar with spiritual realities, he said.

In 2014, the International Association of Exorcists (AIE) called the rise of occult activity a “pastoral emergency.”

“It usually starts out of ignorance, superficiality, stupidity or proselytizing, actively participating or just watching,” AIE spokesperson Dr. Valter Cascioli told CNA at the time.

“The consequences are always disastrous.”

Father de Meo said that people often turn to “the chatter of magicians and Illusionists” for answers, rather than “the weapons the Lord has put at our disposal.”

While people often seek radical answers or signs, the best defense against demonic possession is a simple and sacramental life of prayer, the priest said.

“It’s absolutely fundamental to get rid of sin and live in the grace of God,” he said.

“The Church in fact, wants a life of prayer, Not just on the part of the priest but also the (member of) the faithful asking for the intervention of the exorcist, who benefits from the help of family members as well,” the exorcist explained.

The Catechism offers further guidance on how to avoid demonic activity: anything that involves recourse to Satan or demons, or that attempts to conjure the dead or reveal future events, is to be rejected.

From CCC paragraph 2116: “Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.”

As for the exorcists themselves, it is important to remain humble and to remember that their power comes from Christ, Father de Meo added.

“Regarding spiritual preparation, humility and the conviction that we exorcists aren’t the ones who are going to cast out the demon that’s fighting Christ. We’re called to fight on behalf of Christ.”

This article was originally published on CNA March 17, 2016.


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Was the last ‘witch’ of Boston actually a Catholic martyr?

October 29, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Boston, Mass., Oct 29, 2017 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The last person hanged for witchcraft in Boston could be considered a Catholic martyr.

In the 1650s, Ann Glover and her family, along with some 50,000 other native Irish people, were enslaved by Englishman Oliver Cromwell during the occupation of Ireland and shipped to the island of Barbados, where they were sold as indentured servants.

What is known of her history is sporadic at best, though she was definitely Irish and definitely Catholic. According to an article in the Boston Globe, even Ann’s real name remains a mystery, as indentured servants were often forced to take the names of their masters.

While in Barbados, Ann’s husband was reportedly killed for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. By 1680, Ann and her daughter had moved to Boston where Ann worked as a “goodwife” (a housekeeper and nanny) for the John Goodwin family.

Father Robert O’Grady, director of the Boston Catholic Directory for the Archdiocese of Boston, said that after working for the Goodwins for a few years, Ann Glover became sick, and the illness spread to four of the five Goodwin children.

“She was, unsurprisingly, not well-educated, and in working with the family, apparently she got sick at some point and the kids for whom she was primarily responsible caught whatever it was,” Fr. O’Grady told CNA.

A doctor allegedly concluded that “nothing but a hellish Witchcraft could be the origin of these maladies,” and one of the daughters confirmed the claim, saying she fell ill after an argument with Ann.

The infamous Reverend Cotton Mather, a Harvard graduate and one of the main perpetrators of witch trial hysteria at the time, insisted Ann Glover was a witch and brought her to what would be the last witch trial in Boston in 1688.

In the courtroom, Ann refused to speak English and instead answered questions in her native Irish Gaelic. In order to prove she was not a witch, Mather asked Ann to recite the Our Father, which she did, in a mix of Irish Gaelic and Latin because of her lack of education.

“Cotton Mather would have recognized some of it, because of course that would have been part of your studies in those days, you studied classical languages when you were preparing to be a minister, especially Latin and Greek,” Father O’Grady said.

“But because it was kind of mixed in with Irish Gaelic, it was then considered proof that she was possessed because she was mangling the Latin.”

Allegedly, Boston merchant Robert Calef, who knew Ann when she was alive, said she “was a despised, crazy, poor old woman, an Irish Catholic who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behavior at her trial was like that of one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholic.”

Mather convicted Ann of being an “idolatrous Roman Catholick” and a witch, and she hung on Boston Common on November 16, 1688. Today, just a 15 minute walk away, the parish of Our Lady of Victories holds a plaque commemorating her martyrdom, which reads:

“Not far from here on 16 November 1688, Goodwife Ann Glover an elderly Irish widow, was hanged as a witch because she had refused to renounce her Catholic faith. Having been deported from her native Ireland to the Barbados with her husband, who died there because of his own loyalty to the Catholic faith, she came to Boston where she was living for at least six years before she was unjustly condemned to death. This memorial is erected to commemorate “Goody” Glover as the first Catholic martyr in Massachusetts.”

The plaque was placed at the Church on the tercentennial anniversary of her death in 1988 by the Order of Alhambra, a Catholic fraternity whose mission includes commemorating Catholic historical persons, places and events. The Boston City Council also declared November 16 as “Goody Glover Day,” in order to condemn the injustice brought against her.  

Ann Glover has not yet been officially declared a martyr by a pope, nor has her cause for canonization been opened to date, partly because her story has faded into obscurity over time, Fr. O’Grady said.

“Part of the dilemma here (too) is that when she was hanged, Catholics were a tiny, minuscule, minority in Boston, so picking up her ‘cause’ was not easy or ‘on top of the list’,” he said.

Ann Glover’s trial also set the tone for the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692, during which 19 men and women were hanged for witchcraft, and in which Reverend Cotton Mather and his anti-Catholic prejudices played a major role.


This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 31, 2014.