Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Wrap Up- Obscure Luther Quotes from Protestantism: Critical Reflections of an Ecumenical Catholic

I have some closing comments as I wrap up this project. With the exception of a few quotes, I've provided contexts for obscure Martin Luther quotes as published in Roman Catholic apologist's book Protestantism: Critical Reflections of an Ecumenical Catholic (2007), Appendix Two, pp. 92-94. There is a particular irony to the subtitle of the book, "Critical Reflections of an Ecumenical Catholic" since more often than not the editorial comments made by the author are not supported by the Luther quotes being used.

The Non-Response
The Luther quotes used simply don't prove the editorial comments he put to them in his books or web pages: agony, sense of guilt and failure, the unpopularity of Protestantism, that the people didn't like Luther as a person or his doctrine, that true Protestant Christians were as morally bankrupt as Romanists, the general moral climate of the time became worse due to Lutheran doctrine, that Luther was not a champion of religious freedom, etc. These were all editorial comments the author attached to those quotes. One could argue perhaps that his editorial comments were too vague to scrutinize, but I had to consider how the average reader would see them. They would definitely be steered in the direction the author would want them to go. I would assume most of the author's supporters buying his book wouldn't have the access or the means to trace the quotes back by using the bibliographic information he provided. Those references were primarily to secondary sources, or German Luther texts. The quotes were thus isolated from scrutiny.

Along with these blog posts I've compiled, a discussion (or probably better... shouting match) also happened. So far, the author chose not to evaluate the contexts I provided: "If you have provided 'context' for 15 of my citations, why is there any remaining need for me to do so, anyway?" He did though put up a few blog posts as a response. Remember, a few months back he promised: "I have already stated that I'm leaving this place forever after this thread is done," "And I won't be reading [Beggars All: Reformation and Apologetics] anymore, either, after I leave this place." So, it appears he still does read this blog.

One blog entry in particular he claims is his knock out punch to the contexts I've compiled. He compiled a list of authors that likewise attribute Luther with a negative view of the church and the world toward the end of his life. It's quite true that Luther was despondent over the world and the church, I've never denied that. In fact, his entire life was plagued by depression and illness. This though is far more complicated than the author explains or argues. It wasn't simply a depression over the alleged failure of the Reformation, or that he mourned how God had let him down as a preacher.

The Roman Catholic Perspective: The Failure of the Reformation
The caricature that the author and many of the earlier pre-1930 Romanist controversialists put forth is that the Reformation was a failure: it didn't produce any real fruit, and Luther's own words and the state of Protestantism at the time prove it. The author isn't nearly as overt as say, someone like Denifle was. But the approach, though the author is tamer, is still the same: Protestantism isn't a movement of the church. It is the result of heresy, and heresy never leads anyone to true holiness.

It's one thing to argue Luther suffered from depression or had a despondency over the state of things, it's quite another to use his words to prove he had a sense of "failure and guilt" over the preaching of the Gospel, or that he was in agony over the Gospel going forth into the world and the trouble he admitted and expected it would cause. Luther wasn't postmillennial. While he was discouraged that world seemed to be getting worse, his eschatological expectation can be traced back even to the early days of his Reformation work. For Luther, it was the end of the world. Things were indeed going to get worse. The Gospel was going to be fought against by the Devil with all his might. The true church was a tiny flock in a battle against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. He hoped the people would improve with the preaching of the Gospel, he often admitted he knew things were going to get worse because of the Gospel.

If anyone is presenting shoddy review of history, it's the author and those like him. He simply regurgitates much of the work of these men on this subject in a more palatable form. One need only read those sources the author primarily relied on for the quotes I reviewed (Denifle and Janssen). Give a look over the chapters from Denifle and Janssen that the author took his quotes from. If the well is tainted, whatever water you pull up won't be good. Denifle and Janssen used the quotes they did for a purpose. As Jared Wicks (a Roman Catholic Luther scholar) points out, Janssen's Luther was "depicted as the destroyer of the true and good." Wicks says of Denifle, he "chose not to understand Luther but to demolish him."

This is what's lurking in the background, the big picture so to speak in a Romanist mind: the Reformation was a failure and was morally bankrupt. It didn't produce good fruit, nor were its result any better than those of the corrupt church Luther and the Reformers fought against. Luther knew this, and admitted it. He died despondent over the mess he created. Heretics never lead good lives, nor produce good fruit. Since Rome is the true church and the Reformation was a failure, we as separated brethren must reunite with her. Trent cleaned up the situation as well, so what are Protestants waiting for? It's only by being in the true church that someone can attain true holiness. Simply read through Janssen and Denifle. this sentiment jumps off every page.

I stand firmly committed to the Gospel, and I'm not in way motivated to ecumenical dialog with those who oppose it. Romanist apologists like the author have the goal of helping poor misguided sola fide Christians back into fellowship with Rome. They aren't looking for a compromise or true ecumenical dialog. The author actively argues against the Reformation precisely for the reason of helping misguided wayward sheep back to the true fold of Romanism. One should never lose sight of this. While Denifle and Janssen would beat you over the head with it, the author's poison is much more subtle. The goals though are very much the same.

Ecumenical Romanism? Not Really.
Questions to ask Romanists arguing against the Reformation in such a way are as follows: would it be true to say that their view of history is that the Reformation was not a good thing, it was not a movement of the Holy Spirit, it is the result of heresy, and heresy never leads anyone to true holiness? It didn't produce any real fruit, and Luther's own words and the state of Protestantism at the time prove it? Do Romanists using these quotes against Luther do so to expose the evils of the Reformation for the purpose of defending the "True" church? Would they say that such Luther quotes prove such an interpretation of history? If they don't why would someone cite from Janssen and Denifle, who did use the quotes in such a way? A Romanist like the author in question claims to be ecumenical, so these questions have to be pressed.

If an ecumenical Roman Catholic does use the quotes to prove the moral and spiritual failure and heresy of the Reformation, how do they explain any positive results of the Reformation (if indeed they think there were any)? How do they explain the facts that after the Reformation, there have been millions of people who have sought holiness while clinging to the distinctive doctrine of sola fide and sola scriptura? Or, would they say that it isn't true and pure holiness apart from communion with the Roman church? All sorts of books have been written documenting the good and bad that the Reformation produced. The use of fifteen context-less Luther quotes attempting to prove Luther's failure really only show one color of the spectrum.

Did The Reformation Fail?
Someone over on the author's blog commented that I defended Luther on this because I have a stake in this matter, even though I'm not a Lutheran. In a sense, that's entirely true. My Christian life and experience has a direct tie to the Reformation. My life has been changed because of what the Reformers did. It wasn't a failure, and I know a great number of people that similarly claim Reformation roots that live their lives soli deo gloria. True holiness apart from Romanism? Yes indeed: first an imputed pure holiness, and then a process of sanctification.

I took the time I did on these quotes not to simply attack the person of this Catholic author, but because of the Gospel. Luther and the Reformers did not fail. Perhaps the Reformation hasn't overcome society to a large extent, but like Luther, I don't really expect it to. I expect the great majority of people to consider the main ideas of the Reformation to be foolishness: sola fide and sola scriptura. I expect a great number of people to simply live their lives giving lip service to these doctrines, even some of those who claim to adhere to them. Does this mean the Gospel has failed? Not in the least.

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