Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Early American Roman Catholic Interpreters of Luther

I came across an article in my library by Patrick W. Carey entitled, "Luther in an American Catholic Context." It can be found in the book ad fontes Lutheri: Toward the Recovery of the Real Luther: Essay's in Honor of Kenneth Hagen's Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2001). Carey presents some interesting facts on early Catholic American interpreters of Luther. Below are my notes some of those mentioned in the article.

1. John Carroll- (Late 18th Century)
John Carroll quoted Luther to prove Protestants departed not only from Roman Catholicism, but from distinctively Roman Catholic doctrines that Luther held. Carroll quotes Luther as an authority that Protestants should trust. Carroll quotes Luther saying the Scriptures were insufficient and obscure, not as perspicuous as Protestants believe they are. He quotes Luther's Preface to the Psalms: "It is a most audacious presumption in any one to say, that he understands every part even of one book of scripture" (This quote is found in WA 5:23, Luther's preface to his Operationes in Psalmos). Here is a biography on John Carroll. On the other hand, Carroll also uses Luther to prove that certain things in Scripture are quite clear: the Eucharist. Carroll says Luther was correct that "this is my body" should be taken literally.

2. Peter Henry Lemcke, O.S.B. (early 19th Century)
Lemcke was pastor of the German Catholic parish of Holy Trinity in Philadelphia. His claim to fame is delivering a scathing Reformation Sunday sermon against Luther and Lutherans. Lemcke was asked by the Church to leave, as the leadership sought to live in harmony with the Lutheran majority, who took great offense to the sermon.

3. John England (early 19th Century)
England argued against those who felt Luther was a champion of religious freedom, as an apologetic against those who claimed Roman Catholics were principally intolerant. He cites Luther as showing the spirit of intolerance when he called the Pope a "wolf" and "possessed by an evil spirit." He also lays the blame of the Peasant's War on Luther. On the other hand, he used Luther to argue that Luther's understanding of the Eucharist was closer to Roman Catholicism than general Protestantism. His works can be read here:

The works of the Right Reverend John England Volume 1

The works of the Right Reverend John England Volume 2

The works of the Right Reverend John England Volume 3

The works of the Right Reverend John England Volume 4

4. Orestes A. Brownson (1803-76)
He was a convert to Romanism from Unitarianism. He viewed Luther as a revolutionary who unjustifiably sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was propagandist, not willing to be subject to church authority. Rather, he used the populace to gain support. He saw Luther's sola fide teaching as a rejection of dogmatic accepted theology. Luther didn't create Protestantism, it was simply another example of heresies that spring up in church history. In the mid-1850's (during the civil war), Brownson changed gears and concentrated on the positive aspects of Luther. He states, "Luther was a man terribly in earnest, a genuine man, and no sham, as Carlyle would say" (Works 9:219-220). He likewise argued in 1862 that Luther had "an honest disgust of the abuses" encountered in Rome during his early visit. Luther's beginning Reform movement was "moved by a sincere Christian spirit, an earnest love of truth, and an honest desire to advance the real interests of religion." Patrick Carey explains Brownson felt Luther "would not have resorted to separation from the Catholic Church had he been properly appreciated by the Roman court and the leaders in the Church" (p.43). Thus, partial blame for Luther's fall from the Church is the Church. After the Civil War, Brownson reverted back to a negative view toward Luther. Only one volume of his thirty or more volumes appears to be present on Google Books.

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