Sunday, July 30, 2006

Catholic Opinions On Protestant "Heretics"

I’ve encountered various responses to the Catholic position on Protestant “heretics.” Are Protestants who deny key dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church their “brothers in Christ”? Or, are they “separated brethren”? Are they “outside the church and in need of salvation”? Below I’d like to outline three positions I’ve come across from Roman Catholics. Now, each of these positions differs, and they’ve all been given to me by Roman Catholics.


1. The Presuppositional/ fideism Answer: Blissful Ignorance Of The “Truth”

Some have simply told me the only way I could be deemed a “lost”heretic doomed to eternal hell was if I knew the Roman Catholic Church was the true church- and still I denied her truth. But since I remain convinced the Roman Catholic Church does not teach the truth and is a false church, i'm not a doomed heretic, but rather, “seperated brethren.” Since I don’t believe the Roman Catholic Church is the true church, my ignorance saves me.

I admit, it is a “clever” response, and has always facinated me because it is an example of Roman Catholic presuppositional apologetics. In presupositional apologetics, one admits upfront that all arguments begin with unproven truth claims. At some point way back in every argument, something is stated that is “faith” claim, but is presented as a “fact” claim.

The argument above assumes beforehand that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church. In other words, it is a beginning faith in an unproven truth claim, rather than the result of reason and evidence proving it as a truth claim. I doubt Catholics who have used this line of reasoning with me have ever realized they’re doing Presuppositional Catholic apologetics! There really is only one way to respond: by presenting evidence and reason that the faith placed in this presuppositional claim is faulty. One has to argue that the evidence of history and reason do not best fit the inital presupositonal claim. Of course, the Catholic laymen using this argument may simply resort to fideism. That is, evidence and facts don’t really matter: “I’m going to believe what I want to believe…don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Perhaps this approach is simply the uniformed opinion of Catholic laymen. Or, perhaps this is the next phase of development in the understanding of the salvation of those who are not in fellowship with Rome.

2. There Really Is “No Salvation Outside The Church”- A Classical Apologetics Approach (Traditionalist)

I don’t think the presuppositional approach has always been the Catholic position, and most Catholics champion the “facts” that their church is steeped in the “facts of history”. For instance, I picked up a 1938 copy of Fathers Rumble and Carty’s “Radio Replies” (vol. 1): 1538 Questions and Answers on Catholicism And Protestantism [St. Paul: Radio Replies Press]. The book claims to be “Invaluable for the uninformed Catholic- the educated and uneducated lapsed Catholic and prospective Convert.” Lets take a look at question #536.

536. Do you maintain that one is obliged to join your infallible, one, holy, catholic, apostolic, end indefectible Church, if he wishes to be saved?

If a man realizes that the Catholic Church is the true Church, he must join it if he wishes to save his soul. That is the normal law. But if he does not realize this obligation, is true to his conscience, even though it be erroneous, and dies repenting of any violations of his conscience, he will get to Heaven. In such a case, it would not have been his fault that he was a non-Catholic and God makes every allowance for good faith.


Elsewhere Rumble and Carty point out, “…[R]emember the conditions of salvation for a Protestant. If he has never suspected his obligation to join the Catholic Church, it is possible for him to be saved. But it is necessary to become a Catholic or be lost if one has the claims of the Catholic Church sufficiently put before him.” Now Carty and Rumble are saying that if one has been presented with the “claims of the Catholic Church” and rejects them, one may be lost. Rumble and Carty want one to look at the evidence for Roman Catholicism and then make a decision on whether or not to believe it. If one rejects it, one is probably doomed to hell.


3. Hybrid Presuppositionalism: Modern Ecumenical Catholicism:

Apolonio Latar commented on this blog recently, “Why do we call Protestants separated brothers? Because they are baptized and hence, in Christ in some way. Are they heretics? Materially, yes. Formally, I don't know--it depends on the person.”

Latar notes that I need to be baptized, and echoes the Catholic Catechism: “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter." Those "who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.”

In this third position, denial of Catholic dogma is an “imperfect communion with the Catholic Church”. Similar to the presuppositional/fideistic position, it begins with the presupposition that the Catholic Church teaches the “truth,” and denials of any of its dogmas is simply “imperfection.” So, my good fortune from this perspective is that I’m probably not doomed to hell, as long as I don’t in some way, become a formal heretic, and of course, I need to be baptized.

If Latar is right, the possibility exists that I, as a Protestant, could become a “formal” heretic. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes though “…a born Catholic may allow himself to drift into whirls of anti-Catholic thought from which no doctrinal authority can rescue him, and where his mind becomes incrusted with convictions, or considerations sufficiently powerful to overlay his Catholic conscience. It is not for man, but for Him who searcheth the reins and heart, to sit in judgment on the guilt which attaches to an heretical conscience.” For Latar’s position to have coherence, Protestants must be defined as “born Catholics”.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Mantra: Read The Article In The Catholic Encyclopedia

I’ve been in a lot of discussions in which I was told, “Read the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.” Granted, the Catholic Encyclopedia has some useful information. Because I use it frequently, I link to it off this blog in the sidebar. On the other hand, one must be careful when using the Catholic Encyclopedia. It is a collection of articles collected in the early 1900’s. It contains research that is almost 100 years old- and in some cases, the sources and facts it presents are much older.

It’s material on Martin Luther and the Reformation is severely flawed, as I detailed in my paper on Roman Catholic approaches to Luther. The writer of the Luther entry was George Ganns (1855-1912). He relied on heavily biased sources when he compiled his entry on Luther. When a new version of the Catholic Encyclopedia was published in 1967, Ganns’s entry was not used, nor cited, nor were the sources he utilized. The new entry actually corrected some of the mis-information put forth by Ganns.

While the general Catholic apologetics community is disowning the work of Robert Sungenis these days (remember when he was loved and adored?), Robert recently commented on the Catholic Encyclopedia in his Q & A section:

Catholic Encyclopedia Fails to Appreciate the Patristic Witness for a Universal Flood

"Dear Robert, May I ask you to reply to this question I have? The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia + other sources tend to believe that the biblical deluge was only local, not universal, that both biblical and scientific research point to this conclusion. Are there any MAGISTERIAL pronouncements on the scope of deluge? What can be said in defense of the universality of the flood?"

Sungenis: Michael, the article on Noah’s flood in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia is one of the most biased and inept scholarly treatises I have seen in quite a while. The author, A. J. Maas, tries his best to convince the reader that the flood was local not universal, but he utterly fails in this task. The fact that Maas uses the hermeneutic of the Protestant scholar Julius Wellhausen and his infamous JEPD theory shows his liberal bent, since JEPD is an unproven biblical hypothesis, and one that has strong evidence against it (besides the fact that it denies biblical inerrancy). Maas makes the claim that:

“Neither Sacred Scripture nor universal ecclesiastical tradition, nor again scientific considerations render it advisable to adhere to the opinion that the Flood covered the whole surface of the earth.”

Well, this is quite an assertion but none of it is provable, or even likely. Regarding Sacred Scripture, the account in Genesis 7-9 reads like a newspaper, telling us painstaking details of the Flood, which Maas himself admits was “written by an eye-witness.” In fact, except for genealogical records, I don’t know of anything in Scripture that is more detailed than the Flood account. Accordingly, nothing in the Genesis account says it was a local flood, and we have distinct indications that it had to be universal, since the text specifies that the highest mountain was covered by 23 feet of water (Genesis 7:19).

Now, I haven’t checked Sungenis’s claim that A.J. Mass was putting forth his view based on the JEDP theory, but, given the timeframe when the article was written, it is very likely Sungenis is correct. If anyone else has any other examples of error in Catholic Encyclopedia, i'd be interested in hearing about it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Who Has "The Gospel", And What Happens Without It?

In my review of the Gerry Matatics seminar, I mentioned “I couldn’t help but like Gerry, despite the fact that he denies the very Gospel I treasure.” This statement received a response in the blogback comments:

I am a Catholic convert who reads and enjoys your blog (even if I do disagree with you on many points). I am, however, troubled by this statement from your post: "despite the fact that he denies the very Gospel I treasure."Is this statement directed solely at Matatics or all Catholics? Surely, you don't believe that all Catholics are "gospel deniers." I mean, it's one thing to say that Catholics are mistaken in their interpretation of the Bible, and it's quite another to characterize that as denying the gospel. It just seems to me that with the culture rotting at its core, and Catholics and reformed protestants sharing much common ground, there ought to be a desire to use less hostile characterizations. I am not suggesting that we paper over our serious theological disagreements, but calling every Catholic a gospel denier seems a bit over the top.”

My comment was directed toward Gerry. During the seminar, Gerry repeatedly denied that justification is by faith alone. He made sure to emphasize this. I believe the Bible teaches Justification by faith alone (Romans 3-4). Thus, Gerry denies that which I treasure.

The next response:

James-I respect your position. It's one that I once held. But opposition to sola fide is not peculiar to Gerry. Indeed, all orthodox Catholics would reject that doctrine. But it's one thing to say, "Catholics reject a biblical doctrine that I believe to be at the very heart of the gospel," and quite another to call someone who disagrees with sola fide a "gospel denier." I just think we, as brothers in Christ, ought to move beyond such rhetoric. I may think that your wrong about sola fide, but I certainly don't question your love/devotion to Jesus Christ.Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to promote some sort of "warm fuzzy," let's-pretend-we-don't-have-any-theological-differences dialogue. I am just suggesting that questioning whether the other side is even Christian strikes me as unproductive.”

At the seminar, Gerry Matatics used the old analogy that if one is suspending a heavy object in the air by a chain, if one link is weak or bad, the entire object will crash to the ground. I feel similarly about Rome’s denial of the heart of the gospel- sola fide. While Rome may say some nice things about the Gospel, it denies the very heart of the Gospel. Thus, the entire Gospel “falls” in official Roman Catholic declaration. If one link in the chain is bad, the entire chain is bad and will not support what it intends to.

Right before the seminar, my wife leaned over to me and asked, “Are these people here our brothers and sisters in Christ?” I whispered back, “No…and maybe.” I said this because my opinion is that Rome denies the heart of the Gospel and so therefore does not officially teach the “Gospel.” On the other hand, I don’t deny that there are some Roman Catholics that are my brothers and sisters in Christ- but this is despite Rome’s teaching, not because of it.

I know it must seem arrogant and foolish to believe that sola fide is the heart of the Gospel. But I believe the Bible teaches it, and also teaches that finding justification in any other way is a doomed endeavor. I will attempt to present this position with as much respect as I possibly can. I realize this is a harsh opinion to Roman Catholic ears- but this does not mean I “hate” Catholics or dislike them. You won’t find me calling Rome the “Whore of Babylon” or saying that the Pope is the antichrist.

Now, Gerry Matatics and I at least seem to agree on one thing: I do believe that doctrine is important- so did Gerry Matatics. I believe doctrine has eternal consequences- so did Gerry Matatics. I think Gerry would likewise say to me, “If you are outside the church you will not be saved” or “you cannot be saved if you believe the heresy of sola fide”.

Take a look at these quotes from Gerry’s website:


Catholic Faith: no salvation outside of

“This true Catholic Faith, outside of which none can be saved, which I now profess and truly hold …”

(Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council I, Session 2, Profession of Faith, 1870)



Church: no salvation outside of

“Whoever wishes to be saved, needs above all to hold the Catholic Faith; unless each one preserves this whole and inviolate, he will without a doubt perish in eternity … This is the Catholic Faith; unless each one believes this faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”

(Athanasian Creed; quoted and solemnly ratified ex cathedra by Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, session 8, November 22, 1439)

“There is indeed one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which nobody at all is saved, in which Jesus Christ is both priest and sacrifice.”

(Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, Constitution 1, 1215)

"The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes, and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church -- not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics -- cannot share in eternal life, and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Church before the end of their lives; [the Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes, and preaches] that the unity of this ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only those who abide in it do the Church's sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgivings and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia productive of eternal rewards; and [the Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes, and preaches] that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church."

(Ex cathedra solemn definition of Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence (Ecumenical Council), "Cantate Domino," 1441; Denzinger)

“It is impossible for the most true God, who is Truth itself, the best, the wisest Provider, and the Rewarder of good men, to approve all sects who profess false teachings which are often inconsistent with one another and contradictory, and to confer eternal rewards on their members ... By divine faith we hold one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and … this is why we profess that there is no salvation outside the Church.”

(Pope Leo XII, Ubi Primum, May 5, 1824; paragraph 14)

Church: only the baptized are members

"Only those are really to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith and who have not unhappily withdrawn from Body-unity or for grave faults have been excluded by legitimate authority."

(Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi)

Faith, Catholic: Necessary for salvation

Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the Catholic faith.For unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire he will undoubtedly be lost forever. This is what the Catholic faith teaches …

This, then, is what he who wishes to be saved must believe about the Trinity. It is also necessary for eternal salvation that he believes steadfastly in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ …This is the Catholic faith. Everyone must believe it, firmly and steadfastly; otherwise He cannot be saved.”

(Athanasian Creed)

Jews: forfeit covenant relationship with God due to unbelief

“… If you be Christ’s then you are the seed of Abraham” (Gal 3:29). If we because of our faith in Christ are deemed children of Abraham, the Jews therefore because of their perfidy [“deliberate breach of faith; calculated violation of trust; treachery” – American Heritage Dictionary, Second edition] have ceased to be His seed.”

(St. Gregory the Great, Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol. 1, p. 92)

Non-Catholics: are not Christians

“Even the heretics appear to have Christ, for none of them denies the name of Christ; yet, anyone who does not confess all that pertains to Christ does in fact deny Christ.”

(St. Ambrose (+389): cited in Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 163)

“Therefore the holy martyr Cyprian, writing about schism, denied to the pseudo-bishop Novatian even the title of Christian, on the grounds that he was cut off and separated from the Church of Christ. ‘Whoever he is,’ he says, ‘and whatever sort he is, he is not a Christian who is not in the Church of Christ.’ “

(Pope Pius IX, Etsi multa, November 21, 1873, paragraph 25)

Unevangelized peoples: faithless and in bondage to Satan

“We are thankful for the success of apostolic missions in America, the Indies, and other faithless lands…They search out those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death to summon them to the light and life of the Catholic religion… At length they snatch them from the devil’s rule by the bath of regeneration and promote them to the freedom of God’s adopted sons.”

(Pope Gregory XVI, Probe Nostis, Sept. 18, 1840; paragraph 6)


Now- the times have changed, and Protestants are not normally considered “heretics” by Roman Catholic apologists anymore. We are considered “separated brethren” or something to that effect. Gerry Matatics though would conclude differently. At least Gerry and I can agree truth is vital, and both agree Catholics and Protestants believe in two different Gospels. Both of us believe the other is eternally wrong.

During the Reformation period the new Protestants were popularly considered heretics. But since Protestants are supposedly not heretics anymore- I have to wonder why there is a need for most Roman Catholic apologetics. What’s the point? Why do Catholic apologetics? Why spend so much time writing against the Reformation or Protestants? It seems time could be spent better elsewhere.

I've been in more than a few discussion with Roman Catholics. Very few wish to call me a heretic. I tried one time to appeal to Galatians 1:6-9-

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!"

I've asked- Isn't Justification by faith alone considered "another gospel" to a Roman Catholic? Why not condemn me a heretic?

The answer:The only way I could be deemed a heretic was if I knew the Roman Catholic Church was the true church- and still I denied her truth. But since I remain convinced the Roman Catholic Church does not teach the truth and is a false church, i'm not a heretic, but rather, seperated brethren- due to my ignorance- even though I adhere to faith alone, and believe that it is the Gospel- and I condemn as anathema any system that would deny it.

Now apply Catholic apologist logic to the Scriptures, and church history. What happens? It's not possible to consistently apply this logic to the Scriptures and church history. It certainly doesn't seem to fit with Paul's emphatic plea in Galatians 1. It also doesn't seem to fit with what the Council of Trent declared:

Canon 9- "If Anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema."

Even the Catholic Encyclopedia grips it:

"The doctrine of justification by faith alone was considered by Luther and his followers as an incontrovertible dogma, as the foundation rock of the Reformation, as an "article by which the Church must stand or fall" (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesia), and which of itself would have been a sufficient cause for beginning the Reformation, as the Smalkaldic Articles emphatically declare. Thus we need not wonder when later on we see Lutheran theologians declaring that the Sola-Fides doctrine, as the principium materiale of Protestantism, deserves to be placed side by side with the doctrine of Sola-Scriptura ("Bible alone", with the exclusion of Tradition) as its principium formale -- two maxims in which the contrast between Protestant and Catholic teaching reaches its highest point. Since, however, neither maxim can be found in the Bible, every Catholic is forced to conclude that Protestantism from its very beginning and foundation is based on self-deception."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

16th Century Marian Piety Or Mariolatry?

My last blog entry Young Luther, Saints, And The Virgin Mary looked at Mariolatry in the 16th century and its influence on Luther. There were serious problems with Marian theology in the 16th Century, and these problems helped fuel the Reformation. I think its important to realize the lack of doctrinal standards of Marian piety in the Sixteenth Century. One cannot appeal to the latest version of the Catholic catechism as the doctrinal standard for Marian piety four hundred years ago, or for that matter the Second Vatican Council.

Max Thurian notes , “At the Reformation anything to do with Marian doctrine was considered as being part of free theological opinion, so that Orthodox Christology should not be comprised by this or that opinion” [Max Thurian, Mary Mother of the Lord Figure of the Church (London: the Faith Press, 1963), 23].

David Wright focuses the situation:

At the outset of the Reformation era, formally approved Church teaching about Mary encompassed only the virgin birth, her role as 'God-bearer' (theotokos) in the incarnation, and her perpetual virginity—and all of these were the legacy of the age of the Fathers. But since these early definitions theological speculation had steadily mounted. If there had so far been no further dogmatic deliverances, this was partly because on one or two issues different segments of the medieval Church were at loggerheads”[David Wright, Chosen By God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective,161-162].

Hhistorian Hilda Graef points out, “…the Mariology of pre-Reformation times had really in many cases become Mariolatry, and needed to be pruned from excesses which could only lead to a debased form of Christianity among the people who were encouraged to place the blessed Virgin beside or even above God” [Hilda Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion Vol. I (New York: Sheed and Ward) 318].

Perhaps this description from the Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue is adequate:

"Late medieval piety was marked by a great emphasis on the intercession of deceased saints and in particular by an intensification of confidence in the power of Mary. The steadily increasing number of saints invoked to remedy human needs and ills, and the long-accustomed role of Mary as mediator between the faithful and Christ, obscured the traditional theological distinction between adoration (latria) and veneration (dulia). In 1517, when Martin Luther called for an academic disputation on the use of indulgences and their relationship to the sacrament of penance, the cult of the saints and Mary became a related issue."[Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, 23]. (I would question on what basis one evaluates dulia and latria in the sixteenth century).

Some may think that 16th Century “theologically educated Catholics” were well aware of the basic truths of Marian doctrine and devotion, and it was only the back-woods' laymen who venerated Mary in excess . What one fails to question though is whether sixteenth century elite Catholics knew what excessive Marian devotion was, and by what standard they used. It seems apparent that many of the theologically educated of the sixteenth century participated in excessive Mariology and deviant piety. Sixteenth-century “theologically educated Catholics” did not understand Marian piety by standards that were created much later. I find it fascinating that the “theologically educated Catholics” who wrote the Confutation against the Augsburg Confession did not write against Mariolatry:

The Confutation thus defended both the veneration and the invocation of the saints. Asserting that Christ is the sole Mediator of redemption, it proposed Mary and the saints as mediators of intercession. It did not regard invocation as contrary to Scripture but as having a biblical basis. At the same time it did not criticize aberrations in this form of Christian piety. What the Confutation did was to call for trust in the church's understanding of itself as a body whose members (deceased as well as living) are empowered by Christ their head to help one another.”[ Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, 29].

Luther relates an interesting account of his dealings with “elite educated Catholics” in LW47: 45-46:

Furthermore, how will you endure their terrible idolatries [of the Papists]? It was not enough that they venerated the saints and praised God in them, but they actually made them into gods. They put that noble child, the mother Mary, right into the place of Christ. They fashioned Christ into a judge and thus devised a tyrant for anguished consciences, so that all comfort and confidence was transferred from Christ to Mary, and then everyone turned from Christ to his particular saint. Can anyone deny this? Is it not true? Did we not all, alas, at one time try this and experience it? Are not books extant—especially those of the shabby Barefoot Friars and of the Preaching Friars —which teem with idolatries, such as the Marialia, Stellaria, Rosaria, Coronaria , and they may as well be Diabolaria and Satanaria .  Still there is no sign of repentance or improvement, but they obstinately and impudently insist that all this must be defended, and they ask for your body and life for its protection.

Here I must call attention to an incident that occurred at the diet in Augsburg, to show what a precious reason they have for such holy idolatry. When the article regarding the invocation of the saints was being discussed in the committee, Dr. Eck cited the words found in Genesis 48 [: 16 ], where Jacob says of Ephraim and Manasseh, “And my name shall be invoked upon those children.”  When, after many words by Master Philip, John Brenz  said casually that nothing about calling on the saints could be found in Scripture, Dr. Cochlaeus,  to expedite matters, blurted out—profound thinker that he is—that the saints had not been invoked in the Old Testament because at the time they were not yet in heaven but in the anteroom of hell. Then my gracious lord, Duke John Frederick, duke of Saxony, etc., tightened the noose on both of them and said to Dr. Eck: “Dr. Eck, there you find the verse answered which you quoted from the Old Testament.” So sure are they of themselves, so nicely do they agree with one another—these precious writers of contradictions!  The one says that the saints were not invoked in the Old Testament, the other says that they were. They cite verses from the Old Testament, just as if we did not know that God performed all the great miracles in the Old Testament for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as he himself often declares, and that he did not perform one-half, indeed, not one-tenth, as many in the New Testament for the sake of any saint. Like fools, they spit out the first thing that comes into their mouth. Yet all this must be accounted true and be the basis of the articles of faith. All of this goes unrepented; moreover, it is defended. People are condemned and executed over it, and for this you are to war and fight, etc.”

Even the strict orders of monks were infected with Mariolatry:

The Augustinian Order which [Luther] joined paid high honour to Mary. He remembered being afraid of Christ and taking refuge with Mary and saints, as though they were the mediators and Christ the judge and executioner. 'We held Christ to be our angry judge, and Mary our mercy-seat, in whom alone was all our trust and refuge.”[David Wright, Chosen By God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective, 163].

Eric Gritsch likewise observes, “The young Luther was nurtured in a spiritual environment that stressed the cult of Mary either in personal piety or in liturgical celebration… Marian devotions were intense at the monastery of the Augustinian monks in Erfurt. Some of the theologians there whom Luther revered, such as John of Paltz, based the assertion that Mary was Christ's co-redemptrix on the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception.”(Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, 235-236).

William Cole comments, “As an Augustinian monk Luther found himself in a circle in which the Marian cult was very highly honored and practiced. In Mary's honor the Augustinians wore a white robe and scapular. A legend of the order recounted that St. Monica had received this habit from Mary herself. Everyday the Augustinians greeted Mary in the afternoon with a hymn and there even existed among them a fraternity of the Cincture of Our Lady. When Luther came to Wittenberg, he encountered the giant Catholic Church which supposedly contained among other things pieces of hair, the garments, the mantle of Our Lady, and even wax from the candle she held in her hand as she lay dying” (Marian Studies XXI, 114).

That both the laity and the clergy were in need of reformation is generally not disputed. When the early Reformers criticized the Catholic Church on deviant excess, some Catholic theologians responded: “We never taught such things!” The Reformers in unison replied, “But your people believed it, and you do nothing about it!” Historian Charles Guignebert explains their responsibility:

Certain Catholic writers of our own day confess that the condition of the clergy was degraded but think themselves to be justifying this state of affairs by saying that it corresponded to that of the laity at that time, on the principle that, in the main, people always get the religion and the church they deserve. This is so, and it cannot be denied that society in the fifteenth and at the beginning of the sixteenth centuries seems very corrupt, judging by its upper classes, and that the religion of the lower classes appears very uncouth. Nevertheless the conclusion indicated is that the Church is largely responsible for this depravity and superstition, upon ascertaining that the demand of the Inquisition for orthodoxy can be satisfied with its appearance only, and that crimes and sins are of little ecclesiastical importance save as they represent a fruitful source of revenue for the vendors of absolution.”[Charles Guignebert, Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity (New York: University Books, 1961) 386-387].

I am well aware though of the differentiation between popular belief (or “folk piety”) and elite belief in the medieval world. Elite theology formed by the elite class was Biblical thought placed in the context of Greek philosophical traditions. Scholasticism and Nominalism fed Marian excess. Recall that Luther’s spiritual grandfather, the great Nominalist theologian Gabriel Biel, had a strong excessive Marian piety, particularly in Mary’s role as mediator. Gritsch notes in Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, that Melancthon agreed with Luther’s Christocentric stance, particularly against the backdrop of Biel: “[Melancthon] had encountered liturgical practices, particularly in formulas of absolution, that were based on the view that the invocation of Mary and the saints is a divinely instituted order” (241). “Melanchthon's source was Gabriel Biel's Exposition of the Canon of the Mass as well as contemporary worship handbooks” (382).

"Elite belief" was also a channel that fed Marian devotion toward excess. That the theologically educated during the Reformation similarly added to Marian excess is usually not disputed. Owen Chadwick points out,

"The strong and popular devotion to the Virgin was accompanied by a marked growth in the cult of the saints and their relics, and of pilgrimage to their shrines. Ill-regulated fervour could be superstitious or even demonic... But superstition was no innovation. Since the darkest ages peasants had consumed the dust from saints' tombs or used the Host as an amulet or collected pretended relics or believed incredible and unedifying miracles or substituted the Virgin or a patron saint for the Savior. In 1500 they were ardently doing these things. What was new was not so much the practice as the way in which the leaders of opinion were beginning to regard it.”
[Owen Chadwick, The Reformation (London: Penguin Books, 1964), 23-24].

An interesting point is similarly raised by Jaroslav Pelikan in regard to modern elite Roman Catholic theologians: “The real evil is in the elevation of ... naive piety to the status of a system and in the use of advertising tricks to 'merchandise' the cult of Mary. The simple and unreflecting Ave Maria of a South American peon is one thing, and a multi-volume theological opus on 'the prerogatives of the Blessed Virgin Mary' is quite another thing. The theologians and bishops of the Church, who ought to watch and warn the faithful of the excesses in such piety, are actually the ones who encourage the excesses." [Jaroslav Pelikan The Riddle of Roman Catholicism (New York: Abingdon Press, 1959, 140.]

Historian Leopold von Ranke gives an interesting look at Sixteenth Century prayer books given to the people:

There are prayers to which an indulgence for 146 days, others to which one for 7000 or 8000 years are attached: one morning benediction of peculiar efficacy was sent by a pope to a king of Cyprus; whosoever repeats the prayer of the venerable Bede the requisite number of times, the Virgin Mary will be at hand to help him for thirty days before his death, and will not suffer him to depart unabsolved. The most extravagant expressions were uttered in praise of the Virgin: ‘The eternal Daughter of the eternal Father, the heart of the indivisible Trinity:’ it was said, ‘Glory be to the Virgin, to the Father, and to the Son.’” [Leopold von Ranke, History of the Reformation in Germany (volume 1), (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1966) 119-120].

These types of prayer books were condemned by Rome twenty-five years after Luther died. They had enjoyed a rich life as normal piety in the medieval Catholic Church:

The death knell to the traditional Roman prayer books was struck by a bull issued by Pius V on March 11, 1571. Influenced by the reforms of the Council of Trent, the pope placed under strict censorship the same prayer books Luther had named so contemptuously in an introductory letter to his own prayer book in 1522.”[Luther's works, vol. 43 : Devotional Writings II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (Philadelphia: Fortress Press), 10].

Friday, July 21, 2006

Young Luther, Saints, And The Virgin Mary

Young Luther was enveloped in a religious climate consisting of a host of saints and superstitions. All worked together in a grand scheme of relief from the ravages of medieval life, as well as appeasing the always-watching wrathful God. Perhaps a few thought they were fortunate enough to one day attain ultimate salvation. Most expected the dismal grind of medieval life to continue beyond into the bowels of Purgatory, or worse. It was a religious “survival of the fittest,” with saints beseeched for aid in enduring the grueling journey. Participating in the cults of sainthood with all the fervent zeal of the time, young Martin called on three saints at every Mass. He recalled selecting twenty-one saints, “Thus I came the round in a week.”[i]

In popular Luther biographies attention is drawn to his youthful devotion to Saint Anne, patron saint of miners. It was she to whom young Luther would cry when terror stricken by a severe thunderstorm, the experience propelling him to join the local Augustinian monastery. Luther recalls, “Saint Anne was my idol.”[ii] She invoked a fanatical devotion. The world of young Luther was filled with a rapid expansion of brotherhoods of laymen devoted to the cult of a specific saint, and Anne had gained in popularity. Toward the end of the Fifteenth Century, Anne as “saint” rose in great prominence due to an order of Franciscans, who had become champions of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. Luther recalls that the honor paid St. Anne rivaled, if it did not exceed, that shown to he Virgin herself.[iii]

But regardless of St. Anne’s increased followers in medieval Europe, the Blessed Virgin did indeed reign above her as a preeminent spiritual power. To her was bestowed the highest veneration. Historian Joseph Lortz explains,

"Everything was dedicated to her and bore her name – places, churches, alters, girls. The widespread custom of singing the Salve Regina on Saturday evenings arose as a means of extolling her fame. The devout soul of the people was as much expressed in fervent hymns to Mary and legends about her, as in the countless number of paintings and sculptures of the Madonna, some of them very beautiful. Many confraternities were formed in her honor, and many endowments made. In all of this period her praise was never silent." [iv]

While emphasis on Anne is usually explicit in Luther’s story, Mary’s impact on the young Luther is often overlooked. Historian Robert Fife attempted to paint a graspable image of Luther the child in the realm of saint and Mary veneration:

"The Virgin Mother and the saints greeted the eyes of a boy from alter and windows, and their glory became familiar in prayers and hymns. Here love and pity, protection and help came to him clothed in warm humanity. The Virgin, whose song, the Magnificat… was usually sung at vesper services. Her figure sank into his memory as she appears at the last judgement, showing to her Son the breasts that suckled Him and pleading for mercy on mankind. Singing the Litany and the Rogations in the choir he learned to know the saints, and these brief figures gave him protection against the severity of the Judge and the wiles of the demons. The shining form of the saints stamped themselves enduringly on the boy’s imagination." [v]

A recollection from Luther’s Table Talk verifies the impact medieval Mariolatry had on the young Martin Luther. Sometime in 1503, he unintentionally stabbed his shin on a short sword and cut an artery in his leg. Thinking himself near death from the wound, he cried out, “Mary, help!” Help indeed arrived, but in the form of a surgeon who dressed the wound. Later that evening, the wound broke open again. The same fear of death gripped him, and Mary was called upon once more to save his life. Had Mary saved Luther? The mature Luther looking back on this experience realized how far from the spiritual help of Christ he actually was: “I would have died with my trust in Mary.”[vi]

The thunderstorm of 1505 that had chased him to the cloister also accompanied him inside in the guise of fear and trepidation. This prevailing dread was none other than Christ as the severe judge. As Robert Fife explains,

"[Christ] became a great source of unhappiness in the cloister…he refers frequently to his conviction that Christ was indifferent to human woes and must be won over through the intercession of his mother, the Virgin. The picture of Christ sitting in judgement on the last day dwelt vividly in his mind, so that he could not shake off fears connected with it. [Luther said,] 'When I looked on Christ, I saw the Devil: so [I said], ‘Dear Mary, pray to your Son for me and still His anger.’"[vii]

In the Augustinian monastery, meditation on the blessed mother was also a unique channel to make the heart fertile for divine grace. Mary was crowned with a special degree of glory that surpassed others in the divine realm. Bernard of Clairvaux had popularized her through his sermons. He had expounded the degrees of salvation, with Mary at the highest point. Jarislov Pelikan points out, “She was at the same time the personal embodiment of the supreme virtues of which humanity was made capable through the gift of grace: in her, as Bernard said,is every goodness found in any creature.’”[viii]

Luther’s frequent mentioning of Saint Bernard speaks of his fondness and familiarity with his writings. Later recollecting Bernard’s influence on his own Mariolatry, Luther looked back on the years before his break with Rome and said,

"St. Bernard, who was a pious man otherwise, also said: ‘Behold how Christ chides, censures, and condemns the Pharisees so harshly throughout the Gospel, whereas the Virgin Mary is always kind and gentle and never utters an unfriendly word.’ From this he inferred: ‘Christ is given to scolding and punishing, but Mary has nothing but sweetness and love.’ Therefore Christ was generally feared; we fled from Him and took refuge with the saints, calling upon Mary and others to deliver us from our distress. We regarded them all as holier than Christ. Christ was only the executioner, while the saints were our mediators." [ix]

He also recollected, “Christ in His mercy was hidden from my eyes. I wanted to become justified before God through the merits of the saints. This gave rise to the petition for the intercession of the saints. On a portrait St. Bernard, too, is portrayed adoring the Virgin Mary as she directs her Son, Christ, to the breasts that suckled Oh, how many kisses we bestowed on Mary”![x] Luther concluded though, that even in St Bernard’s incessant praise of Mary as she directs the sinner toward Christ, Bernard left out Christ completely: “Bernard filled a whole sermon with praise of the Virgin Mary and in so doing forgot to mention what happened [the incarnation of Christ]; so highly did he… esteem Mary.” [xi] Thus, young Luther partook in Mariolatry, but the mature Luther looking back saw only the excesses of medieval devotion and teaching on Mary. He saw that she had been adorned with attributes that only belonged to Christ.

[i] Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Tischreden 1531 – 1546, IV No.4422, quoted in Robert Herndon Fife. The Revolt of Martin Luther (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957), 122.

[ii] Martin Luther, “Sermon of December 22, 1532,” WA XXXVI, 388, quoted in Robert Herndon Fife. The Revolt of Martin Luther, 122.

[iii] Martin Luther, D.Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abteilung Werke, I, 415, quoted in Robert Herndon Fife. The Revolt of Martin Luther, 13-14.

[iv] Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany, trans. Ronald Walls (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1968), 1:112.

[v] Robert Herndon Fife. The Revolt of Martin Luther (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957), 13-14.

[vi] Martin Luther, Luther's works, vol. 54, ed. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 14.

[vii] Robert Herndon Fife, The Revolt of Martin Luther (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957), 123. Luther’s quote is from, Martin Luther, “Sermon of May 21, 1537,” WA XLV, 86 quoted in Robert Herndon Fife, The Revolt of Martin Luther, 123.

[viii] Jaroslav Pelikan, Mary Through The Ages (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 144.

[ix] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 22: 377.

[x]Ibid., 22: 145.

[xi] Ibid., 54: 84.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

“I believe in Christianity because it’s absurd!” The Hidden God vs. The Revealed God

I believe in Christianity because it’s absurd!” Would you ever say such a thing to a non-believer? I doubt it. Most of us would be asking God’s forgiveness for even thinking it. The early church father Tertullian is said to have expressed his belief in Christ’s crucifixion with these words: “...it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.” He also said, “And He [Christ] was buried, and rose again, the fact is certain, because it is impossible”.* These statements sound preposterous. But Tertullian had something deeper in mind than nonsense. These assertions are more profound than the first glance reveals.

Look out your window. It may be a bright sunny day, with birds chirping and flowers blossoming. If it’s nighttime, perhaps you can look up into the sky and see the stars shining like diamonds against black velvet in a jeweler’s case. As Christians, we see the divine artist and His brilliant handiwork: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

But non-Christians also look out their windows. Scripture tells us they know God exists (Romans 1:18-23). They see the same profound beauty and wonder you do. But rather than praising the true God of the Bible, they create god as they imagine him to be. Seeing a sunny day, a man may realize he enjoys life. His god is probably the grandfatherly image of the ‘good guy’ with a long beard who sees that the good in his life outweighs the bad (or so he thinks). Through the window though he may see a torrential storm, thus his god may be powerful and angry. When things go wrong in his life, he wonders exactly what he did to deserve his fate from the hands of angered providence.

Because human creatures want to make it on our own, because we ultimately want to feel responsible for our ultimate well being, the gods we fashion demand performance and accomplishment. The fallen creature cannot even imagine what God is really like, so his god is largely a reflection of his feelings, failings, and fears. This is the god that makes ‘sense’ to fallen humanity. Martin Luther called this humanly fashioned deity the “hidden god.” This is the god that sinners can’t see; yet they know he’s there. It’s easy for them to believe in this god, in fact it’s ‘logical’.

Tertullian’s words should be coming a little more into focus. If one were to ask you what is the best description of God you could come up with, what would it be? How has God most clearly revealed Himself? The answer should be obvious: God has revealed Himself to us most clearly in Jesus Christ. But think about the “revealed God” for a moment. How was he first revealed? He came to us as a baby in a manger. God almighty, creator of the universe revealed Himself as a weak, fragile infant. Then the infant grew, and took on a vocation: carpentry. God almighty, creator of the universe revealed Himself as a hard working “blue collar” guy, a man without the financial strength and greatness of kingly riches. Where do we find God a few years later? We find him beaten and bruised, dying in weakness on a cross, abandoned by friends and followers: a succinct picture of helplessness.

Paul brings Tertullian’s words sharply into focus. In 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:9. Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” Indeed, the Gospel message must seem utter foolishness to non-believers. In Christ’s weakness on the cross, one actually finds the God of the universe. And how is it that mankind can know God almighty? “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” The “foolishness” of preaching becomes the highest wisdom!

Paul expresses these paradoxes succinctly: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.” And whom does God choose to enjoy the riches of His wisdom and strength? Paul explains: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” God primarily chose fishermen and tentmakers to spread His Gospel. Likewise, you Christian, feeling insignificant and inconsequential by the world’s standards, bear the power of God contained in the Gospel. However weak you may feel, our Lord states in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that His “strength is made perfect in weakness.”

You will probably never explain to a non-Christian that you believe in Jesus because it’s absurd. But maybe you’ve been embarrassed or ashamed in front of the world because of your Christianity, and haven’t been able to understand why. The reason is quite simple. You have probably been evaluating the Gospel with the wrong worldview. Maybe, like all of us, remnants of the hidden god (the god that makes “sense”) clouds your understanding of the revealed God. Paul explains that in weakness, he was strong (2 Cor. 12:10). It is only by embracing God as he has most clearly revealed Himself: “in the crib” and “on the cross”, will you be strong, in actuality. Don’t be afraid of your weakness, boast in it, that the power of Christ may rest upon you (2 Cor.12:9).

*Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, 5 as cited in Geisler, N. L. (1999). Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Baker reference library (Page 721). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. Geisler points out that Tertullian probably used the word "foolish" rather than "absurd."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gerry Matatics: Catholic Apologist For The "Last Days"

On July 15, 2006 I went to see Catholic apologist Gerry Matatics. Some of you probably remember Gerry from his many debates with James White. Some of you (both protestants and Catholics) probably wonder what’s happened to Gerry since he “…[F]ully embraced the traditional Catholic Faith, rejecting as constituting a counterfeit Catholicism all the doctrinal, liturgical, and moral novelties of the last forty years -- and those who have sought to impose them (John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I & II, and Benedict XVI)-- and attending exclusively the Traditional Latin Mass offered by validly-ordained Catholic priests”[source]. Gerry’s new position has deemed him somewhat of an anathema with most of the other popular Catholic apologists, as well the great majority of Roman Catholic laymen.

Gerry came to the Holiday Inn in Totowa New Jersey to give “…a brand-new, exciting, eye-opening seminar entitled ‘Counterfeit Catholicism and the Fulfillment of Prophecy: Ten Troubling Facts No One Can Deny.’” The seminar was to be 4 hours long. I got there about 15 minutes early, Gerry got there about 20 minutes late, and by the time he set up, the seminar kicked off about 45 minutes late. There were probably around 30 or so people in attendance. Gerry’s is like a whirlwind, running in with multiple boxes of books and notes, setting up a large table of notes, notebooks and books, scattered haphazardly across a table, talking and apologizing for being late.

I was only able to stay for the first presentation of the multiple talks Gerry gave, but I did introduce myself to him on the way out, and explained to him I went to a Reformed church, and took classes via Westminster Seminary. I think it really charged him up knowing a Protestant came to hear him, and he generously offered to send me the tapes for the entire seminar. I couldn’t help but like Gerry, despite the fact that he denies the very Gospel I treasure. Perhaps he thought I was on a journey on my way “home to Rome”. This is hardly the case. Rather, my interest in my own studies of the Reformation and Catholicism prompted me to hear his perspective. Gerry represents a new group of “reformers”. I wanted to hear for myself what his “95 Theses” are.

The seminar began with prayer. I hadn’t felt uncomfortable until this happened. The entire room rose to their feet, except a few of us. Gerry began praying- including a prayer to Mary, as well as asking a number of saints to “pray for us”. The flyer for the seminar did say, “People of all faiths (or none) are warmly welcome!” I didn’t feel at all comfortable at this point, and Gerry’s opening comments explaining that he “renounced Protestantism” and rejected “faith alone and Scripture alone” didn’t at all make me feel welcome. However, Gerry’s a likeable guy, so I was determined to hear at least some of his presentation.

Gerry’s new position is somewhat “eschatological.” He emphasized more than once that the church is in a “last days” crisis. Thus, the entire undercurrent of his talk had a sense of urgency; reminiscent of those dispensational evangelical church services I grew up in where the rapture was going to happen at any moment. The signs of the times proved this to be the case. Gerry began by saying that this is an “age of apostasy”. He appealed to 2 Thessalonians 2 that in the last days there would be a “great falling away” and a “great deception.” While the church has experienced great crises over her 2000-year history piecemeal, in the last 40 years she is experiencing them all at once. Gerry holds the great majority of Catholics have been swept away by great deceptions in last 40 years, particularly ecumenism. Not only the Bible predicts this, but also various “approved” sightings of Mary throughout history have similarly confirmed the great falling away of the church in the last days. Mary said in 1846 that the church in the last days would be in “eclipse”- that is, hidden by darkness and difficult to see.

Gerry noted that Jesus asked at his return whether he would even be able to find the church at his return. In other words, the Bible predicts the “true” church will not be so visible in the end times. The church is to end as it began in the 1st century- underground. Likewise, there have been periods during church history in which only a “remnant” has remained. Those of you who have heard Gerry debate with James White, may recall that White brings up how Athanasius stood almost alone against the majority of the Church. Matatics likewise brought up the same point. During the Arian crisis 97-99% of all the bishops were “heretics”. It was Athanasius who stood alone against heresy.

An interesting point Gerry raised is how the “Church” has responded to heresy in the past, and how it is to respond to it now during these “last days.” Gerry noted there is a common misconception that those in authority of the Church have their finger on the pulse of all heresies, and are busily combating them. In other words, Catholic laymen think they shouldn’t be involved in combating heresy, but should rather leave it in the hands of the Magisterium. Gerry says this shouldn’t be, and hasn’t been the case during the history of the church. For instance, during the Nestorian heresy, the laypeople raised their voices against Nestorius as a heretic. It was the laypeople that preserved the faith, and for this were subsequently praised by later popes and councils. Gerry declared: when the shepherd becomes a wolf, the flock must defend itself! The “true” children of the Holy Church do not simply wait for Rome to declare error and truth. Gerry’s exhorted Catholics to know their beliefs in order to combat heresy within the church. It’s up to Catholic layman and lay-groups to preserve the “true” Catholic faith handed down from the apostles.

After listening to Matatics for an hour or so, I couldn’t help but conclude Gerry’s in the same boat as the Protestant Reformers. Gerry vigorously distances himself from them, but in essence, he’s engaging a similar battle. He’s taking on “sola ecclesia”. He’s taking on an authority structure that does not admit error- for to admit error would devastate its hold on its people. The Reformers likewise at first attempted to cry out against abuse and heresy within the Church. They were not listened to. Maybe Gerry realizes that Rome will never hear him- which is why his latest lectures emphasized that these are the “last days”. Perhaps Gerry doesn’t expect the Magisterium to listen to him- as Gerry and his small group of Catholics represent the “true” church, holding on till the end. It's Gerry and The Late Great Catholic Church.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Zwingli's Denial Of original Sin

I meant to get to this a while back- the shocking information brought forth by a Roman Catholic apologist that the Protestant Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli appears to have denied the doctrine of “original sin”. Doing any sort of research into the writings of Zwingli is difficult, simply because only a small portion of his writings are available- probably because Zwingli simply wasn’t as popular, nor as good of a writer (or theologian) as Luther and the other Reformers.

Like the other Reformers, Zwingli staunchly proclaimed God’s grace. Zwingli proclaimed that salvation is the consequence of God’s election, and that election is “in Christ”. In other words, Christ’s life and death secured the salvation of His people.

Zwingli was similar to Luther in that he strongly opposed free will. His writing against free will actually appeared before Luther’s magnum opus, Bondage Of The Will. Opposing the Latin Vulgate translation of Genesis 8:21, Zwingli stated that the thoughts of the heart are evil- not that they tend toward evil. By “tending”some extracted the notion of “free will” from the text. Zwingli definitely saw man as enslaved to sin, being able to do nothing to achieve salvation.

Zwingli held the descendants of Adam are born spiritually dead because of Adam’s disobedience. Because of spiritual death, all the sons of Adam are powerless to do good any works. In order to do any good works, God’s gift of faith must first be given to a person. Zwingli says, “The source of works must be faith. If faith is present, the work is acceptable to God. If not, then whatever we do is full of perfidity and not only not acceptable to God but an abomination to Him” [Zwingli, An Exposition of The Faith, found in: Zwingli and Bullinger: The Library of Christian Classics, Volume XXIV (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953), 270]. Zwingli is not saying that works done in a state of grace merit salvation. Rather, those who are saved by Christ’s righteousness imputed to them are those who demonstrate their faith by good works.

He also held to the traditional distinction between original sin and actual sin. Zwingli held that the disease in us as a result of Adam’s sin can be described as spiritual death, powerlessness to secure salvation, and self love. The actual sin that flows from this are the actual transgressions men do.

Zwingli was an ardent supporter of infant baptism, but not the Roman Catholic doctrine of infant baptism. He argued infant baptism must be understood as a “covenant sign,” not the cleansing away of original sin. Then came the Anabaptists who denied infant baptism, so when he debated them, he argued for the covenant sign and not that baptism washes away original sin.

In his argumentation, he explained original sin “...is a defect which of itself is not sinful in the one who has it” and “it cannot damn him, whatever the theologians say, until out of this defect he does something against the law of God. But he does not do anything against the law, until he knows the law” [Zwingli cited by W.P. Stephens, Zwingli: An Introduction To His Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 74]. In other words, infant baptism has no effect on original sin. While it is present in infants, baptism does nothing to erase it, simply because it doesn’t damn the child until that child actually does something sinful.

Melanchthon and Luther saw Zwingli’s view as a Pelagian for espousing this- and for actually allowing the possibility of that which he so vigorously opposed, free will. Zwingli thus got himself into a theological jam. Stephens notes that Zwingli struggled to provide a coherent answer:

“[Zwingli] gave a varied response to the question whether original sin damns us. We are sinners as we are descendants of a sinner. However, if we are sinners, we are enemies of God and therefore damned. But Zwingli qualifies this apparently clear statement by reference to Jacob who was beloved of God before he was born, so that original sin could not have damned him. He supports this with reference to the covenant with Abraham’s seed in Gen. 17:7, which includes the children of Christian parents. ‘If therefore, he promises that he will be a god to Abraham’s seed, that seed cannot have been damned because of original guilt.’ Besides these arguments which relate to election Zwingli also developed an argument relating to Christ’s work as making good the evil done by Adam, a point made in relation to Rom. 5:19-21. Zwingli applied this to the children of Christian parents, but held back from applying it to the whole human race” [Ibid, 74].

Stephens goes on to point out that Zwingli’s “mature position” was that original sin can do nothing but lead to actual sin. Only those who trust in Christ will not be damned. In other words, original sin will do nothing but eventually damn.

So what can be concluded of Zwingli’s “denial of original sin”? Technically, Zwingli did not deny original sin, but actually at points in his writing denied that the guilt of original sin could damn without an action. In other words, Zwingli held a contradiction, that is mankind is born with original sin, but that sin doesn’t damn until it surfaces and commits an infraction. Also it can be said that Zwingli vacillated on this point as his biographer above points out: “[Zwingli] gave a varied response to the question whether original sin damns us. We are sinners as we are descendants of a sinner. However, if we are sinners, we are enemies of God and therefore damned.” But even while at times affirming that original sin damns, his assertions lead to even more troubling theological points- that the elect are free from the damnation of original sin (even though he does admit that until the gift of faith is given, men remain in sin).

His biographer Rev. G.W. Bromiley points out, “…Zwingli failed to work out any fully developed or coherent theology of baptism. But with his definition of baptism as a covenant sign he did indicate the lines along which much profitable work was to be done by the later Reformed theologians” [Zwingli and Bullinger: The Library of Christian Classics, Volume XXIV, 270]. My own opinion would be that Luther and Melanchthon were correct in finding some Pelagianism in Zwingli’s working out original sin and actual sin. On the other hand, Zwingli’s denial of the Roman Catholic use of baptism to wash away original sin was a worthy endeavor, as was his work on linking baptism and covenant.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Kimberly says: Who Cares About Luther?

I sometimes get new responses from older blog entries. Comments from “Kimberly” were offered to the entry A “Roman Catholic” Martin Luther Quiz (originally posted February 11, 2006). This blog entry was one of my favorites, as it covered a wide range of the usual Catholic opinions and misinformation on Martin Luther.

Kimberly responded to the link by saying:

Why is there an argument about what Martin Luther believed. Who cares what Martin Luther thought?!!!!!! Our only concern is what the Bible teaches. He is dead. He is not God! He has done what God has told him to do. He was a faithful servant to the end. This is why he didn't what a church to be name after him because people seemed to be concerned about what he did and said rather than what God said. If Luther were alive today, he would have a fit because people are spending most of their time arguing and dividing themselves even more about his words. He said himself, Who is Luther? I have not died for anyone. The word is not his, but God's. Christ is the only one who deserves praise and recognition. He died for your sins. Luther is only a faithful servant of God. The only thing we should be doing is modeling our Christian walk after him and doing what Jesus told us to do, which is to love and serve others. Something everyone suppose to be doing anyway, Catholic or Protestant, not picking out the differences of each demonation, and certain not arguing about the beliefs of a dead theologian who has already completed his course and receiving his just reward.

I'm not saying that Luther's works are not important. I came to know the Lord through reading his work, but I did not consume myself with comparing his beliefs with other denominations. I took what I learned from him and applied to MY Christian walk in order to become closer to God just as he was.When will Christians learn to come together and do what Christ commanded us to do instead finding fault with other Christians? I believe when Christianity finally wakes up and does what Jesus said, Jesus will finally a unified Church to be proud of.”

There’s a certain ambiguity to Kimberly’s comments. Is she chastising Roman Catholics for focusing on Luther? Is she chastising me for responding to Roman Catholics? Is she chastising both Roman Catholic polemics against Luther, and my responses? I suspect it’s the last of the three choices.

In one important way, I completely agree with Kimberly: Who cares about Luther? He was just a man. He is not to be worshipped. He was not a “Protestant Pope.” He was not infallible. I feel the same about Calvin, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Beza, or whomever. If I rest my faith in any man other than Jesus, I am lost. Guest blogger Frank Marron provided some insight on this as well, found here:

Guest Blog: The Word Of The Lord Endures forever, Not The words Of Martin Luther!

I think if Kimberly takes the time to read through this blog, she will probably come to understand why I write about the Reformation. There is a tendency to vilify Luther and the Reformation from Roman Catholics. They use him as a polemical tool against sola fide and sola scriptura. Now, many capable and godly men defend the real issue of sola fide and sola scriptura. I applaud my fellow Protestants for spending the majority of their time defending the Bible rather than the man, Luther. This is indeed the main battlefield. On the other hand, I think it necessary to at least provide historical answers to the Reformation when they arise. In this, I think Protestant apologetic sites could do much more.

My work on the Reformation grows out of a frustration with knowing that cogent answers have existed for quite a long time- but have not been disseminated down from the ivory towers of academia. Catholic apologists do a much better job of putting forth mis-information about the Reformation than Protestants do in responding to it. I see the same questions and comments from Catholic laymen over and over again- but just try going to some of the more popular Protestant apologetic sites to find responses about the charges against Luther. It is not an easy task to find answers.

So, one of my “hobbies” has been trying to fill a need, so to speak, in cyber-space. I’ve tried to pick out those aspects of Luther brought up by Catholics, and present the other side of the story: the side that great Lutheran writers had presented decades ago.

I say its a "hobby" because I don't think its as important as other things worthy of discussion- like "faith alone" or sola scriptura. Unfortunately, when one engages Roman Catholics on these subjects, a digression is sometimes put in play that seeks to link Luther's life with these subjects. It is sometimes argued: "Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura cannot be what the Bible teaches, because Luther's personal life was so sinful."If by some chance, any of my research can put a discussion of these important subjects back on track, I will feel as if i've done some good.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Fathers Did Not Profess To Be The Standard Of Truth



Martin Luther on the Church Fathers:

"The fathers did not want to have anyone believe them if they did not adduce clear Scripture; and the papists do an injustice to the fathers by wanting people to observe all their statements. Nor are they thereby seeking the honor of the fathers, but their own tyranny, that they may lead us out of Scripture, obscure faith, hatch out their own ideas, and become our idols. We should note this rule well.

For thus says St. Augustine, lib. 3. Trin. in prologo: I want to have such readers for my books as I am when I read the books of others: free and unfettered. Again he says, Epist. 8. ad Hieronymum: I do not suppose that you want people to consider your books as books of the prophets and apostles, for I believe that only Holy Scripture does not err. When I read the other books, I do not believe anything to be true just because they have said so; I believe it only if they prove it with clear reasons or from Holy Scripture. Look! Note this well: Augustine wants Scripture in his own and all other books.

Likewise, when St. Jerome relates the opinion of many of his predecessors, he passes this judgment: This is, however, not grounded in Scripture; therefore it is spurned just as readily as it is accepted. Look! Let whoever he may be say what he pleases; if he does not produce proof from Scripture, then you should say: It is spurned just as readily as it is accepted.

St. Hilary says likewise, lib. 2. Trin.: He is the best teacher who does not bring his opinion into the Scripture but brings it out of the Scripture. Likewise at another place: It is not fair to teach anything beyond the limits set by Scripture. Whoever presumes to do so certainly does not understand what he is teaching; or those who hear him do not understand it
."

Source: Luther's comments on Psalm 37:40 (W 8, 238 f—E 39, 134f—SL 5, 336 f) from Ewald Plass (ed.), What Luther Says Vol. 1 (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 311.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Response To Catholic Apologist Bob Klaus on Luther and Romans 3:28 (Part 1)

Romans 3:28 says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (NKJV). When Martin Luther translated the book of Romans from the Greek into German, he rendered it, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the deeds of the law.”

Catholic apologist Bob Klaus from the Catholic Legate website recently commented on my link, *Luther Added The Word "Alone" To Romans 3:28?* . Bob contends that I miscited Catholic writer Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s book Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, [The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993)].

If you scroll through my link, you’ll notice that I cite Fitzmyer on various theologians previous to Luther who recognized the implied meaning “alone” in Romans 3:28. In other words, Luther wasn’t the first to read Romans 3:28, and see the force of the passage strongly implied the adverb “alone.”

Klaus’s allows for the possibility that I may have unknowingly mis-cited Fitzmyer. That’s good- it’s always best to allow for the benefit of the doubt. I’m not beyond making errors, nor am I above correction. In fact, I appreciate it [Interestingly, Fitzmyer made an error as well in one of his bibliographic references].

Bob says he strongly suspects I may have taken Fitzmyer somewhat out of context. Let’s take a closer look at Bob’s concerns, to see if I’ve done some mis-citing “somewhat”. Also, i'm going to take a look at some of the other issues Bob raised.


#1. Luther Did Not Mistranslate Romans 3:28, And I did not Mis-Cite Joseph Fitzmyer

Bob Klaus Says:

“…[N]one of the sources listed intended to convey a sola Fide soteriology in their writings...which is precisely the theological message Luther sought to convey when he inserted the word "only" in his Biblical translation. None of the above fathers who used the phrase "faith alone" meant it in the same way that Luther meant it.”

Fitzmyer did not say that Luther's justification was based on a correct understanding of the CONTEXT of the patristic writings.”

So what Luther wound up doing is inserting a word in his translation that is clearly absent in the original Greek text, and then justifying it by citing patristic sources out of context. What Luther meant by "faith alone" and what the Church fathers meant by "faith alone" are two entirely different things.”

One has to first recall the usual Roman Catholic argument against Luther: that is, Luther mistranslated Romans 3:28 by inserting a word. What we’re talking about here is translation. What we’re not talking about is usage. Klaus is arguing about usage, when I’m presenting arguments about translation. In other words, how certain church fathers understood the nature of faith is not the issue- indeed many of them do not agree with each other.

The issue is, do the words used by Paul in Romans 3:28 imply “alone”? Others previous to Luther noted that “alone” was implied in the verse- Fitzmyer proves this. Fitzmyer lists others previous to Luther who likewise translated Romans 3:28 (and Galatians 2:15-16) by adding “alone” (See my link, *Luther Added The Word "Alone" To Romans 3:28?*).

Bob Klaus went on to provide more citations from Fitzmyer’s book in his attempt to prove “the entire context of Fitzmyer's book actually paints a very different picture than what the smaller excerpt, when considered of and by itself, from Swan's blog might lead one to conclude.” Read through Bob’s quotes from Fitzmyer for yourself. Ask the following question: Does Fitzmyer say anything about Luther mistranslating Romans 3:28 in the extended context Bob provides? No, he doesn’t.

In my essay *Luther Added The Word "Alone" To Romans 3:28?* , one of my points was show that Luther’s translation of Romans 3:28 was based on an exegetical reading of the text. The text infers “alone” and other besides, and previous to, Luther saw this as well. Since my point was about translation and not usage, I did not mis-cite Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s book Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary. I used Fitzmyer to show that others, who probably had different motivations than Luther, likewise saw the text inferred "alone".

2. Luther’s “Biased” Translation

Bob Klaus says,

Ah! But, the fact that [Luther] made a biased translation of Romans for his followers, and so tampered with the words of Scripture itself shows that Luther was NOT merely offering an opinion, but was stacking the deck and eliminating any competing opinion. In other words, by changing the words OF SCRIPTURE ITSELF (something no father or doctor ever did), Luther was forcing Christians to adopt his interpretation ALONE --- that is, he was robbing Christians of the freedom to interpret Romans 3:28 in any other way, and so taking a mere theolegoumenon (theological opinion) - a novel and unprecedented one at that (his "faith alone" theory) - and making it MORE than a theolegoumenon. Luther was unilaterally proclaming his theolegoumenon to be a DOGMA --to be the Word of God itself! Yet, Luther had no magisterial authority to do such a thing, but was forcing his own opinion on the rest of the Church. And THIS is why we rightly criticize his action.”

We’ve already pointed out that Luther’s translation of Romans 3:28 is within the realm of reason. In order for Bob’s point to have weight, he should at least look at Luther’s translation of all the verses that are relevant to this discussion. Luther did not add the word “alone” to Galatians 2:16, nor did he remove “alone” from James 2. Also of note, is that Luther did a revision of the Latin Vulgate. The editors of Luther's Works point out: "In Jerome’s Vulgate the Latin actually was: per fidem sine operibus legis. Luther retained this reading unembellished in his 1529 revision of the Vulgate. WA, DB 5, 636" [LW 35:182]. In other words, Luther was not presenting a twisted translation. Bob is seeking to distort Luther’s work based on one verse, and that one verse, can be rightly rendered using the word “alone”.

Klaus goes on to say,

And, if you have any question about Luther's self-righteous opinion about this, consider his own testimony on the matter: "Because I am certain of my teaching, with it I will judge over the angels, so that whoever does not accept my teaching cannot attain heaven, because it is God's, not mine." (Luther, WA 10II, 107, 9). ...and .... "....I am not put off at all by passages of Scripture, even if you were to produce six hundred in support of the righteousness of works and against the righteousness of faith, and if you were to scream that Scripture contradicts itself." (Luther, LW 54, 20). ...and .... "If the Papist make much fuss about the word sola (alone), tell him at once: 'Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,' and says, 'Papist and donkey are one thing ...For we do not want to be pupils and followers of the Papists, but their masters and judges." (Luther, LW 13, 66;54, 74). Real open-minded guy, wasn't he? He continues, mimicing the style of St. Paul ...."Are they doctors? So am I. Are they learned? So am I. Are they preachers? So am I. Are they disputators? So am I. Are they philosophers? So am I. Are they writers of books. So am I? And I shall further boast: I can expound Psalms and Prophets; which they cannot. ....Therefore, the word "alone" shall remain in my New Testament, and though all the Pope-donkeys should get furious and foolish, they shall not take it out." (Ibid). "

I expected more from Bob at this point, as he did have access to my link which puts these quotes in a historical context. The first section of the treatise is actually fairly angry, sarcastic, and humorous. Luther is fed up with his Papal critics. His anger was fueled against them for an ironic reason- they rallied against his translation, while at the same time utilizing it for their own new translations. A strong Papal critic of Luther (Emser) did just that. Schaff points out,

“…And yet even in the same chapter [Romans 3] and throughout the whole Epistle to the Romans, Emser copies verbatim Luther’s version for whole verses and sections; and where he departs from his language, it is generally for the worse.” Source

Bob Klaus went on to say,

It is true that Luther wrote those words in anger against certain Catholic critics (whether or not his anger was justified in some cases is up for debate since some of the very people who criticized Luther's actions also took his translation and used it as their own -- with a few modifications of course...such a striking out the word "alone" in Rom 3:28).”

There isn’t any debate. Luther’s anger against his critics was justified. I suggest Bob does some study on Emser, Eck, and Cochlaeus and gets a taste for the written nonsense Luther endured from these men. Next, Klaus can look past Luther’s anger and rhetoric, and concentrate on the reasons Luther gave for translating Romans 3:28 the way he did.

Klaus says,

However, the bottom line here, aside from any bombastic rhetoric by Luther, is that he pointed to himself as the authority on the issue above and beyond whatever magisterial and historical opinion had to say on the matter. Simply stated, he inserted the word "alone" into the biblical text NOT because the German language demanded it, but rather because promotion of the novel doctrine of sola Fide, an invention of Luther's alone, was aided by the insertion of the word.”

And around and around we go. Luther says the German language called for it it, Bob says it doesn’t. Bob uses the standard Catholic apologetics 101 approach: pick out those sections from Luther that paint him as an outrageous heretic and ignore all the sections from Luther’s Open Letter On Translating that are reasonable and relevant to truth.

3. The Tangent of Usage

In regard to “usage” I recently looked at this in my response to Robert Sungenis: A Response To Robert Sungenis On Church History, Luther, and the Doctrine of Justification. It is entirely possible that Luther misunderstood Augustine, Ambrose, or whomever, on what they meant by “faith alone.” Luther though honestly pointed out in 1527, “In Augustine there is little of faith; In Jerome, nothing. Not one of the ancient teachers is pure in the sense that he teaches pure faith.”[Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, entry 1501]. Note, Luther said these words 3 years before he penned his Open Letter On Translating. Bob Klaus needs to remember the context of Luther’s Open Letter deals specifically with Romans 3:28 and translating. When Luther says, “Moreover I am not the only one, or even the first, to say that faith alone justifies. Ambrose said it before me, and Augustine and many others”; he was referring to translation, and not usage. Hence, Klaus’s excursion into what Augustine meant by “faith alone” really isn’t relevant.

Bob Klaus says,

"There is a sense of malevolence that polemicists on the Catholic side often attribute to Luther's motivations that may not be quite fair. It is entirely possible that Luther believed that Augustine and Ambrose taught a primitive form of sola Fide. I don't doubt that inserted "alone" into the text because that is what he thought Paul meant to convey to his readers. Regardless of his motivation, the end-result is the same: a corruption of the text itself. "

One needs to weigh Bob’s criticism above to see if he deals fairly with Fitzmyer’s research. Fitzmyer provides a plentiful list of those previous to Luther who saw Paul’s intent to be “faith alone” in Romans 3:28. Do these men also stand accused by Bob of corrupting the text? Bob seems to imply that only Luther stands accused. By what standard does Bob determine who stands condmened for corrupting the text?

I have found most Roman Catholics very misinformed as to what Luther meant by “faith alone”. As the editors of Luther’s Works point out, “[Luther] never intended to say that true faith is, or ever could be—much less should be—without good works. His point was not that faith is ever “alone,” but that “only” faith without works—hence the term “faith alone”—is necessary for justification before God"[LW 35:195, footnote 63; See also my paper, *Did Luther Say: Be A Sinner And Sin Boldly?* ]. The justifying faith that Luther spoke of was a living faith. “Faith,” wrote Luther, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.” Luther says, “Accordingly, if good works do not follow, it is certain that this faith in Christ does not dwell in our heart, but dead faith…”

4. Bible Translations Previous To Luther’s New Testament

Bob Klaus says,

Also notice that Luther was citing patristic writings...he did not cite any previous Bible translations. Luther's point would have had more weight had previous Bible translations inserted the adverb in question.”

“…[H]ere it must be pointed out that Luther did not follow a tradition of Catholic "translators," but rather Church Fathers and theologians. Prior to Luther, Romans 3:28 was never translated with the adverb "alone" inserted...and, contrary to popular opinion, there were several translations of the Bible into the vernacular German prior to Luther's translation (although Luther decided to translate his from the original languages instead of translating the Latin Vulgate into German).”

Please consider that Luther's was NOT the first German translation of the Bible (merely the first to be translated from the Greek). In none of those other German translations did the word "alone" appear. Therefore all other translators "took exception" to Luther's addition of a word that did not exist in the original text.”

Klaus has to realize Luther had a limited selection of sources, and he should know that the Vulgate was the primary translation used during the 16th Century. In other words, Luther may not have had access to a large corpus of Biblical translations when doing his research. Had he had more sources, he probably would have noted that Catholic translations prior to Luther used the terminology of faith alone with respect to Romans 3:28. The Nuremberg Bible of 1483 had "allein durch den glauben," while the Italian Bibles of Geneva in 1476 and even 1538 had "per sola fide."

Commenting on Paul’s argument in Romans 3, The great Reformed theologian Charles Hodge points out: “If by faith, it is not of works; and if not of works, there can be no room for boasting, for boasting is the assertion of personal merit. From the nature of the case, if justification is by faith, it must be by faith alone. Luther’s version, therefore, ‘allein durch den glauben,’ is fully justified by the context.”[Source: Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans, rev. ed. (1909; reprint, London: Banner of Truth, 1972), p. 100]. Hodge also points out that despite Catholics continually balking at Luther’s translation, Catholic versions of the New Testament also translated Romans 3:28 as did Luther: “So in the Nuremberg Bible (1483), ‘Nur durch den glauben.’ And the Italian Bibles of Geneva (1476) and of Venice (1538), ‘per sola fede’”[Source: Ibid]. Hodge wrote in 1909. The evidence Bob is requesting has been around a long time. Will it change Bob’s mind? I doubt it.

5. Just What Was The Catholic Dogma Of Justification During Luther’s Time?

Bob Klaus says:

“[Luther’s] approach was fundamentally flawed in that he placed his own personal opinion above and against (perhaps due to his arrogance and ego) the Sacred Traditions of the Church that had NEVER interpreted Romans 3:28 in a manner that would convey Luther's novelty known as sola Fide. Thus, he was guilty of privately interpreting Scripture APART from the Church...something which is condemned by Scripture itself (2 Peter 1:20).”

There are two things going on here with Bob’s point: what he’s saying, and what he’s not saying. True, as Bob says, Luther’s particular understanding of Justification finds a lack of support in the generations that preceded him. One can find nuances of Luther’s view, but not a perfect correspondence.

But then again, what exactly what the Roman Catholic view of justification previous to Luther? Bob probably can’t tell you for one very devastating reason: there wasn’t a defined position on Justification previous to Luther.

The medieval period had witnessed the emergence of a number of quite distinct schools of thought on justification, clearly incompatible at points, all of which could lay claim to represent the teaching of the Catholic church." [Source: Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (New York: Cambridge University Press, 259)].

Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a 'nude imputation' that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification.”[ Jaraslov Pelikan, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 51-52].

I’ve heard from at least three or four Catholic apologists that previous to dogmatic definition, there is room for debate and discussion. When it comes to Luther though, modern day Roman Catholics have no problem with forgetting this- Luther is viewed as following his own interpretation, rather than the tradition of the church. But, as Pelikan and McGrath note, there was not “one” tradition. Luther was really guilty of one thing, being a 16th Century Roman Catholic theologian, and doing what 16th Century Roman Catholic theologians do: theology.

Bob Klaus says,

It is quite true that before the Council of Trent a wide range of opinions existed in Catholicism on the issue of justification. This is true, but only insofar as all binding dogmas (e.g. the authoritative decision of Trent) develop from competing theolegoumena (theological opinions), and so of course undeveloped theolegoumena existed in the Church before the dogmatic proclamation ended the debate. Yet, what is all-telling here is that NOT ONE of the pre-Tridentine theolegoumena on justification reflects the "faith alone" novelty of Luther! ...and this only hammers home the reality that NO ONE in the Church read Romans 3:28 as he did --ergo, no one shared his particular interpretation of Rom 3:28 or perceived the "implication" that Luther did. Luther introduced something that had never existed before; and an honest analysis of this history must recognize this.”

The irony is that even if one could come up with a list of Church Fathers who had a similar take on sola fide as Luther, it still would not silence Catholic apologetics against it. Klaus’s words are of course an example of the Roman Catholic double standard that I’ve written about before. Klaus is arguing Luther invented “justification by faith alone”. It didn’t exist until Luther. It can’t be verified in church history. It can’t be true. On the other hand, when the same historical standard is applied to certain Roman Catholic dogmas, like Mary’s Bodily Assumption, Purgatory, Indulgences, etc., this same historical standard is swept under the rug and hidden. One has to seriously question why a standard that Catholic apologists hold Protestants to is not likewise applied to their own beliefs. Wade through the corridors of church history and search for the threads of all Roman Catholic dogma. One falls flat of linking many of them back to the early church, or in some instances, even the Bible. At some point in history, many current Catholic beliefs did not exist. Protestants live by the principle, sola scriptura. In other words, history doesn’t prove what is true and what is not, the Bible does.

-continued-

For those of you looking for a quick synopsis. Brent (aka "Oddball Pastor") succinctly summed up four of my arguments:

1) Klaus misrepresents the argument. No one has claimed Fitzmyer was saying the ECFs espoused protestant soteriology, only that the RC accusation that the insertion of “allein” was a novelty is false. That fact remains regardless of what the ECFs may have meant.

2) Klaus wants to play the conspiracy card while ignoring the fact that the evidence (ie, no adding “allein” in Gal or removing it in James) is such that no conspiracy exists.

3) Klaus baldly denies that "allein" is justified despite the insertion of the word “allein” in translations prior to Luther and in other languages. Regardless of what those other translators thought the implication of sola or alone or “allein” might be theologically, they agreed with Luther as a matter of translation.

5) Klaus wants to use one standard on sola fide and another on other Catholic doctrines.