Saturday, May 20, 2017

"What, then, remains of Luther?"

In the early part of the twentieth century there were prominent Protestant theologians like Reinhold Seeberg of Berlin and Wilhelm Braun of Heidelberg who lamented the bitter fruits of the Reformation. Fr. Joseph Husselein, S.J., writing in "What, Then, Remains of Luther?" in America, Vol. IX, No. 14 (July 12, 1913), p. 320, suggests that nowhere is this Protestant chagrin over the bitter fruit of the Reformation more faithfully reflected than in an article written by the Protestant theologian Braun for Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, March 30, 1913. Braun, upon reading the historical and theological exposés of Luther by Father Heinrich Denifle, O.P. [photo below left], in Luther und Luthertum and by Fr. Hartmann Grisar, S.J., in Luther, asked "What, then remains of Luther?" After candidly admitting the superior facilities possessed by the Dominican and Jesuit authors over Protestant theologians and historians in the field of Luther research (p. 169), Braun draws up the following remarkable summary of his impressions:
The reading of Grisar should afford food for reflection to us Evangelical theologians. With strips cut from our own skin the Catholic author has pieced together his 'Luther.' How small the Reformer has become according to the Luther studies of our own Protestant investigators! How his merits have shrivelled up! We believed that we owed to him the spirit of toleration and liberty of conscience. Not in the least! We recognized in his translation of the Bible a masterpiece stamped with the impress of originality -- we may be happy now if it is not plainly called a 'plagiarism'! ... Looking upon the 'results' of their work thus gathered together, we cannot help asking the question: What, then, remains of Luther?
Considering the bitter legacy of the Reformation -- a Christendom shattered into a thousand pieces -- these eminent Protestant scholars considered that it would be more appropriate for Protestants, rather than celebrate the fourth centenary of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, should do penance in sack-cloth and ashes. But then, that was a century ago.