Friday, June 08, 2007

A Catholic Scholar Speaks on Luther

This out of print book has some interesting articles by both Catholic and Protestant scholars on Luther. Here is an interesting quote from John T. McDonough's (Roman Catholic) chapter, "The Essential Luther". I've chosen this because it is refreshing to read a catholic perspective on Luther that avoids the typical hostile polemic so frequent in cyber space.

"FROM THE OUTSET I would like to state that a phenomenon as widespread and as powerful as the Reformation cannot be attributed to sin and error alone. The Reformation transformed the structures of the world, and thereby the very conditions in which millions of men had to work out their salvation. Could such a phenomenon occur without being part of God's design, without contributing something positive to our salvation? After all. God is Master of History, at least for the Christian.

One beneficial effect is now acknowledged by Catholic scholars:
Luther forced the Church to take hold of herself and to reform herself, an action which is still going on today. And in this respect, it is true to say that Luther is partly responsible for saving the Church.

Moreover, because of him the Council of Trent undertook the great task of clearing the air, of dispelling the theological confusion of the sixteenth century. The conciliar Fathers formulated Catholic doctrine according to Holy Scripture. They avoided the language of the schools; they maintained a strict independence with respect to any scholastic conceptualization. Even today, the decrees of Trent can serve as a basis for fruitful dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. We owe this to Luther.

For this reason there is a growing consensus among Catholic scholars that Martin Luther, on the fundamental issue of the Reformation, was absolutely right. This issue was not politics, or economics, or indulgences, or papal authority, or even protest. It was simply the sovereignty of God. On this basic issue, Luther, in volumes of writings and thousands of sermons, preached to his contemporraries an entirely orthodox and truly Catholic doctrine: namely, that God alone—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems and sanctifies man.

If he divers from other Christian leaders on this issue, it is not so much in doctrinal innovation as in style and emphasis. And it is precisely here where I find the essential Luther—Luther the

Everything he writes, preaches, experiences, is marked by and permeated with a vital awareness of the strength, the might, the overwhelming power of God's Word to make, remake and perfect man. And this I say, despite what we know to be his errors, his failings, his violence and rages and hatreds. He is so preoccupied—indeed so overcome—by the problem of man's salvation that he reads the Bible in a new way: as though the totality of his experience and the totality of his life were caused directly by his personal contact with the Word of God.

When studying Luther we should focus our eyes on this aspect of his person—that is, upon Luther as preacher of the Word. For, if we allow ourselves to be distracted by other aspects of his life and thought, we may be confused by the complexity of his personality and the massiveness of his statements, and even tempted to disparage the enduring value of his basic convictions."

Source: John C. Olin, James D. Smart,Robert E. McNally, S.J. ed, Luther, Erasmus, and the Reformation (New York: Fordham University Press, 1969), p.59-60.

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