Saturday, October 31, 2015

Diplomacy with Lutherans

My friend John Bell, responding to a unanimous acclamation by an ebullient gaggle Lutheran college students that Martin Luther was the white knight in shining armor who brought the light of the Gospel into the gloomy world of benighted papists, once let loose a flurry of animated exchanges (I'm being diplomatic), by floating the proposal that, for all we know, Luther could be "playing checkers with Hitler in Hell."

I, on the other hand, the soul of diplomacy that I am, suggest the more "ecumenical" approach of announcing to your Lutheran friends that you'll be praying and sacrificing over the next few days with the intention of garnering an indulgence for poor Martin, generously assuming that he's at least among the poor souls in Purgatory (which, of course, requires the audacious assumption that St. Teresa of Avila isn't quite right about Luther, but that's a detail we shall overlook for the moment in the cause of diplomacy).

On that note, there's this lovely little Deformation Reformation Day reflection ("Reformation Day. Ecumenism. Lutherans. Hell.") from the irrepressible Amateur Brain Surgeon (October 31, 2015); or this no-less lovely reflection by the equally irrepressible John Vennari, "Catholics and Lutherans Prepare to Commemorate 2017" (CFN, November 4, 2013), with an eye to the ecumenical extravaganza planned for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Revolt, traditionally marked from the date Luther supposedly nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg in 1517.

Then of course, there's the world famous Catholic-Lutheran Beer Brawl (courtesy of Patrick Madrid).


Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Thanks for the boost, Doc.

O, and he never did nail those theses to the church door, but, that puissant myth matters little in the long run when one considers that Luther was a gnostic who thought Jesus was a composition of good and evil.

Leave it to Ecumenism (Universal Solvent of Tradition) to dissolve the facts so we can have an interstate group-hug with heretics rather than preach/work for their conversion as a necessary first step if they desire to attain unto Salvation.

You know, even the mild-mannered seminarian who operates the Shameless Popery Blog, has noted the myths of Luther, including the putative nailing of the theses

Anonymous said...

This made me laugh in a friendly manner. Ironically, in today's Church things are so confused even an unfriendly Protestant like John MacArthur sounds more Catholic on faith and works than the Pope, who sounds an awfully lot like extreme-Protestant Tullian Tchividjian. I won't pretend to untie any Lutheran knots, nor claim virtues for men I never met. But I will comment that for all his heresies and denials, I remain sympathetic to Luther as someone God used like he did the Babylonians, to jar and jolt the Church when it otherwise refused to budge. (Similarly, I see Evangelicals doing the biblical scholarship today that the Church refuses to successfully promote. God's provision maybe?) The shrill tenor of Trad critiques always strikes me as assuming Luther's influences can be characterized across the board as unilaterally anti-Christian; as someone who came to faith as a Protestant I argue that assumption is false. No, I am not pushing for a covert injection of Lutheranism! But as minor supplemental voices I'd also submit Peter Kreeft's (much maligned) comments in 'Fundamentals of the Faith,' and Jared Wicks several books and articles that appropriate or attempt to appropriate Lutheran insights in a Catholic manner. (and I'd avoid Paul Hacker's overwrought 'The Ego of Faith'). JM

Jacobi said...

The Catholic Church is deeply split at present. There are those who hold to Scripture, Revelation , Tradition as expressed in the Magisterium, and those who will Relativise.

Mark you, there seem to be a lot in the middle who either don't know or don't seem to care, but that is another discussion.

The post-Vatican II church, and Mass, has been effectively protestantised. Protestantism, of which Luther was an ardent adherent, is a sliding heresy, a stage on the way to Relativism and ultimately the denial of sin.

Any so-called Catholic who takes part in any acknowledge of this heresy should really consider whether he should call himself a Catholic.

ps Oh sorry. Forgot to be humorous. Did you hear the one about the Pearly Gates and the crowd of, no better not..............

Pertinacious Papist said...


Good points. "Shrillness" of tenor, or course, is always somewhat relative to the ear of the listener. Many here won't like my saying that there is much good in Lutheranism: I speak of the ethos into which many generations have now been born through no fault of their own, and very often raised in a form of Christianity, which, if somewhat distal from Catholic Faith, has many of its virtues. I spent several years boarding in a Lutheran home in my junior-high years in Japan; and it was there that I saw crucifixes for the first time, listened to Bach's Mass in Be Minor, as well as his Passions (of St. Matthew and St. John), and learned that one could pray, not just to "God" in Jesus' name, but to Jesus Himself as a distinct Person of the Holy Trinity. I also learned there, more through the modeling provided by my host family than by instruction, the importance of living a life of holiness -- admittedly a bit tricky to reconcile with Luther's theology that forswears "works" as having no role in salvation.

It was there, too, that I was first exposed to the 1953 black-and-white film biography of Martin Luther directed by Irving Pichel, starring Niall MacGinnis as Luther. It was "black-and-white" in more ways than one, portraying Luther unambiguously as heroic, and the Catholic figures as superstitious and corrupt. At the time I had no reason not to buy fully into it.

Only much later did I learn that not all of Luther's collected works in German were translated into English, and that very likely had to do with the embarrassing anti-semitism, sometimes vile scatological humor, and several other features upsetting to the knight in shining armour image.

There is so much wrong with that image, as one learns if he really begins digging into the matter, that its almost embarrassing to share the details -- from Zwingli's accusations against Luther that his celebrated translation of the Bible was largely cribbed from the existing 24 Catholic German translations of the entire Bible antedating it, to the fact that he excluded four books of the New Testament from his list of canonical Scripture because they didn't "agree" with his exegesis of faith the Book of Romans, to his celebrated marriage, which involved both on his part and that of his wife, the former nun Katarina von Bora, a flagrant renunciation of their religious vows before God and the Church.

Ach, there is so much more, but my point here would be that none of the good Lutherans that you or I may know are personally culpable for any of this to the extent they're ignorant of it or its import.

At the same time, I think one of the best ploys to awaken a good Lutheran from his "dogmatic slumbers" (to quote Kant) is a bit of playful provocation. One of the best starting points, given the prevailing Lutheran allergic reaction to the term "indulgences," is (a) to tell them (as noted above) that you're praying for an indulgence to get Martin Luther out of Purgatory, or (b) to ask a Lutheran critic of indulgences to define "indulgence" (they almost never have any idea what the word means), or (c) to point out that Luther, in his "95 Theses" actually defended indulgences but only protested their abuse.

Anyway, it's all meant in fraternal good will, of course; just like the gift some Catholics have received from their Lutheran brethren of a shipment of "Sin Boldly Lager."

Anonymous said...

We should remember that the heroic depiction of Luther that we knew in the 20th Century was a combination of a post-Kantian and a Romantic nationalist "rediscovery" of the young Luther. This was in distinct contrast to the Luther of Protestant Scholasticism.

Ironically, the branch of American Lutheranism that has official ecumenical relations with Rome produced the interpretation of the Gospel that is represented by Tullian Tchividjian. (See how often he quotes Dr. Gerhard Forde of Luther Seminary, St. Paul.) On the other hand, the LCMS which is wary of ecumenism, is closer to Rome on matters of women priests, morality, the Eucharist, etc...

Dr. William Rusch, a well known Lutheran ecumenist, has lamented the missed opportunity of the Papacy of Benedict XVI. Probably no Pope in the Protestant era has had more knowledge of and appreciation for Lutheranism than the German Augustinian who became Pope in 2005. The liberal Lutheran churches squandered this opportunity by voting to ordain homosexuals and support same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the conservative Lutherans were not ready to trust the Catholic Church, still debating whether the Pope is the anti-Christ or not.

Lepanto said...

Blessed Sister Seraphina Micheli (beatified as recently as 2011) said that she was shown a vision of Luther in hell by her guardian angel. He was eternally kneeling while a great nail was forever being beaten into his head. Such being the punishment for his gross pride. No doubt preparations are in hand for the 'celebration' of his life by clerics claiming to be Catholic.