Sunday, April 04, 2010

What Constitutes a Correct "Roman Catholic" View of Luther?


Heinrich Denifle was learned Roman Catholic scholar in the 1800's. The Catholic Encyclopedia states he was “beloved by Leo XIII and Pius X.” He was also an accomplished scholar, with groundbreaking work on the relationship between scholastic theology and medieval mysticism. When he began a work on Luther, Leo XIII opened the secret archives of the Vatican to scholars. Luther’s then-unknown Roman’s treatise was found, and Denifle working as an assistant archivist was able to utilize it. The announcement that Father Denifle was going to publish a biography including never before writings from Luther was highly anticipated in the academic world.

But Denifle's work on Luther has not stood the test of time as a valuable historical resource. Both Protestants and Roman Catholics scholars say the work is quite flawed. Even another Roman Catholic writer (Hartmann Grisar) from the same time period (and no friend to Luther) corrected and challenged points Denifle raised.

The following is an interesting point made by Grisar in his first volume on Luther as to how a Roman Catholic view on Luther should be constructed:

Does a Catholic opinion exist with regard to Luther's personal qualities and his fate? Does the much-discussed work of Denifle represent the "Catholic feeling"? That it does has frequently been asserted by those most strongly opposed to Denifle. Yet Denifle's manner of regarding Luther was, on the whole, by no means simply "Catholic," but largely biased by his individual opinion, as indeed has ever been the appreciation by Catholic authors of the different points of Luther's character. Only on those points could Denifle's opinion strictly be styled "Catholic" where he makes the direct acknowledgment of dogmas and the essential organisation of the Church the standard for Luther's views and reforms; and in this he certainly had on his side the repudiation of Luther by all Catholics. A "Catholic opinion," in any other sense than the above, is the sheerest nonsense, and the learned Dominican would certainly have been the last to make such a claim on his own behalf. [source]

I've argued this point for years with Roman Catholics, and it was refreshing to actually read it coming from a Roman Catholic source: "Only on those points could Denifle's opinion strictly be styled "Catholic" where he makes the direct acknowledgment of dogmas and the essential organisation of the Church the standard for Luther's views and reforms." I've taken this a step further and questioned whether or not later Roman Catholic dogmas after Luther's death can be applied posthumously.

Indeed, "A 'Catholic opinion,' in any other sense than the above, is the sheerest nonsense."

6 comments:

Matt said...

I heard from a seemingly reliable source that this book, while having a Catholic perspective, is very well-informed and fair-minded, even though it was first published in an era when such a thing wasn't all that common. I'm not sure if there is an English translation:

http://books.google.com/books?id=yYs-PwAACAAJ&dq=inauthor:%22Ricardo+Garc%C3%ADa+Villoslada%22&ei=PUm6S-vAHZWizASi0qQ2&hl=it&cd=1

Happy Easter.

Matt said...

Oh wait, it was *first published* not as long ago as I thought. But he was a rather old fellow, so...the point is not far off the mark.

James Swan said...

http://books.google.com/books?id=yYs-PwAACAAJ&dq=inauthor:%22Ricardo+Garc%C3%ADa+Villoslada%22&ei=PUm6S-vAHZWizASi0qQ2&hl=it&cd=1

I've not heard of Di Ricardo García Villoslada before, thanks.

Dozie said...

The correct Catholic view of Luther is that he was a heretic who was justly condemned for teaching abominable doctrines and for leading a great many people into schism.

EA said...

Dozie said: "The correct Catholic view of Luther is that he was a heretic who was justly condemned for teaching abominable doctrines and for leading a great many people into schism."


This, of course, is why Catholic theologians study and say complimentary things about Luther's theology, why his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God", is in the most widely used hymnal in the US, and why a quote from Luther was used as the "inspirational quote" in my local parishes' bulletin for Easter Sunday. Yup, that Catholic Church sure has purged itself of all of Luther's heresy.

James Swan said...

This, of course, is why Catholic theologians study and say complimentary things about Luther's theology, why his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God", is in the most widely used hymnal in the US, and why a quote from Luther was used as the "inspirational quote" in my local parishes' bulletin for Easter Sunday. Yup, that Catholic Church sure has purged itself of all of Luther's heresy.

LOL