Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Trajectory of Church History

The Catholics who often comment here ask the question, "where and when did the Roman Catholic Church got off the trail?"

That's a legitimate question. I've answered it to some degree, but there are no easy answers to that question. And over the 1500 years of history which get cited repeatedly, there are many points to discuss.

There are a few easy-to-define moments, such as the conversion of Constantine, and the moment, as Eamon Duffy put it, "Bishops all over the Roman world would now be expected to take on the role of judges, governors, great servants of state." ("Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes" New Haven: Yale Nota Bene Press, 1987, 2001, pg 37). During that era, the leadership of the church was incorporated into the imperial bureaucracy and effectively became a functionary of the imperial government. Shortly thereafter Constantine decamped and "the Church" was left as the only game in town. It was easy for them to write their own rules. And they did. Rules that were different from what the earlier church had practiced.

In that way, the flip side of that question is also legitimate. Contra Newman, who suggested that “the Christianity of the second, fourth, seventh, twelfth, sixteenth, and intermediate centuries is in its substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles taught in the first”, it is fair to say that the Roman church never was fully on the trail. Or rather, it was creating its own trail: one that did not have all of its roots in older Christianity.

I do think it is fair to say that, if early church history were to be studied in detail, no one group would be entirely happy with what was found. Yet that doesn't preclude any Protestant group from claiming the earlier church as part of its own heritage.

One individual who had a thorough knowledge of the Reformation was Jaroslav Pelikan. It was Pelikan who edited and catalogued Luther's Works in English. [And yes, I know that Pelikan converted to Eastern Orthodoxy at the end of his life. That will be another discussion.] Pelikan said: "Recent research on the Reformation entitles us to sharpen it and say that the Reformation began because the reformers were too catholic in the midst of a church that had forgotten its catholicity," said Jaroslav Pelikan, "The Riddle of Roman Catholicism," New York: Abingdon Press, 1959, pg 46. But he goes even further than this:
That generalization applies particularly to Luther and to some of the Anglican reformers somewhat less to Calvin, still less to Zwingli, least of all to the Anabaptists. But even Zwingli, who occupies the left wing among the classical reformers, retained a surprising amount of catholic substance in his thought, while the breadth and depth of Calvin's depth to the heritage of the catholic centuries is only now beginning to emerge.

It is important to make clear what we mean by "the heritage of the catholic centuries." The reformers were catholic because they were spokesmen for an evangelical tradition in medieval catholicism, what Luther called "the succession of the faithful." The fountainhead of that tradition was Augustine (d. 430). His complex and far-reaching system of thought incorporated the catholic ideal of identity plus universality, and by its emphasis upon sin and grace it became the ancestor of Reformation theology. … All the reformers relied heavily upon Augustine. They pitted his evangelical theology against the authority of later church fathers and scholastics, and they used him to prove that they were not introducing novelties into the church, but defending the true faith of the church.

Not only Augustine could serve to substantiate the claim of the reformers to be truly catholic. Throughout the centuries they found substantiation. Although they spoke of the "fall of the church" in the post-apostolic era, they seized upon individuals and groups in every epoch of Christian history who had opposed Roman domination or who had taught evangelical doctrine. (Pelikan, 46-47).
I think it's important to note at this point that "opposition to Roman domination" is as important as having "taught evangelical doctrine." There is a two-fold need: (a) kick the supports out from underneath the domineering Roman behemoth, and (b) understand evangelical -- Biblical -- doctrine as it appeared throughout the centuries. Continuing with Pelikan:
Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) was practically canonized by the reformers for his opposition to Rome. They also managed to find more obscure figures in medieval history. To prepare books like the Magdeburg Centuries they combed the libraries and came up with a remarkable catalogue of protesting catholics and evangelical catholics, all to lend support to the insistence that the Protestant position was, in the best sense, a catholic position.

Additional support for this insistence comes from the attitude of the reformers toward the creeds and dogmas of the ancient catholic church. The reformers retained and cherished the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the two natures in Christ which had developed in the first five centuries of the church….

If we keep in mind how variegated medieval catholicism was, the legitimacy of the reformers' claim to catholicity becomes clear. With men like Augustine and Bernard on their side, the reformers could well protest against the usurpation of the name "catholic church" by their opponents" (47-48)
Probably nowhere was this "claim to catholicity" more apparent than when the Reformers cited "the Gospel." This was not a new "Gospel," it is one that Christ and the Apostles preached. Based on work that I've cited from T.F. Torrance and others, the admixture of the necessity of "works" into the gospel was not biblical, but a later accretion. The truest conformity to the Apostolic preaching was held by the Reformers. "Substantiation for this understanding of the gospel came principally from the Scriptures, but whenever they could, the reformers also quoted the fathers of the catholic church. There was more to quote than their Roman opponents found comfortable" (Pelikan 48-49).

In the end, the Council of Trent ended up (in true Roman fashion) condemning the true heritage, and canonizing its own path. In its decrees, Trent "selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification [found] in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone -- a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers-- Rome reacted by canonizing one trend [the wrong one] in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had been previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned [the better part of] its own catholic tradition" (Pelikan 51-52, Pelikan's comments (in parentheses), my own comments in [square brackets]).

Lord willing we'll explore all of this in further detail.

Did Martin Luther believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary?

Did Martin Luther believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary? According to Rome's defenders Patrick Madrid and Taylor Marshall, he did. Madrid says this question will "likely raise a few eyebrows, pique a few sensitivities, and elicit a few comments around Christian blogdom, from both sides of the Tiber." It appears Madrid thinks Taylor Marshall posted some new controversial tidbit of historical research finally making its way to the Internet. Actually, Marshall's alleged information has been surfing around for over ten years, cut, pasted, and rehashed, taken from one specific defender of Rome with a blog.

Contrary to Marshall's blog entry, it is not a clear cut case as to what Luther's view was. Rome's defenders typically ignore anything about Mary that doesn't support Rome's Mariology. The same goes for Luther's Mariology: when Rome's defenders find a Luther tidbit about Mary seeming to support their version of Mary, they run with it, even if other evidence contradicts what they're using. So, here's a closer look at Taylor Marshall's facts about Luther and the Immaculate Conception.

1.The eminent Lutheran scholar Arthur Carl Piepkorn

The first tidbit used by Marshall is that "The eminent Lutheran scholar Arthur Carl Piepkorn (1907-73) has also confirmed that Luther believed in the Immaculate Conception even as a Protestant." No quote, research finding, or documentation from Piepkorn are presented by either Marshall or Madrid. That doesn't surprise me, because the only material from Piepkorn on this subject that I know of comes from The Church: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn, (New York: ALPB Books, 1993). This is typically the source Rome's defenders use.

Piepkorn makes a comment in passing on page 275, leaving the discussion at Luther “seems” to have had a lifelong belief in the Immaculate Conception. He neither discusses the content of Luther’s opinion, nor does he offer any indication if something similar to the 1854 dogma is in question. Then on page 289 Piepkorn states:
Yet three years before his death [Luther] was still affirming in print the opinion that he had worked out in detail with considerable theological ingenuity twenty five years earlier [#12], namely that through the merits of her Son -to-be the Blessed Virgin was marvelously preserved from the taint of sin from the first moment of her existence as a human being [#13].
footnote #12. Sermon on the Gospel for the Feast of the Conception of the B.V.M. (1517), Weimar edition 17/2, 288.
footnote #13. Vom Schem Hamphoras und vom Geschlect Christi, 1543, Weimar edition, 53,640. compare for the year 1553, 37, 231, where he describes the B.V.M. as an sund (i.e. ohne Sünde, "without sin").
Footnote #12 is actually an error. The sermon Piepkorn's referenced was published in 1527, so it was
preached some time before it was published, but not in 1517. Even the reference Piepkorn cites says 1527. The sermon begins on page 280 in WA 17.2 (here is page 288). This sermon will be discussed below in point #2, because later printed copies of the sermon (from Luther's lifetime) delete the sole passing comment to Mary's Immaculate Conception, and the editors of Luther's Works (LW) do not even believe Luther wrote the comment affirming the Immaculate Conception on page 288. The error makes Piepkorn's "twenty five year" comment inaccurate. That is, the sermon he based his comment on was probably preached nine or ten years later.

Footnote #13 refers to one of Luther's later anti-Jewish writings, not a treatise on Mariology. Luther does not launch into any full discussion of Mary's Immaculate Conception. Luther does state, only in passing that it was necessary for Mary to be a young holy virgin freed of original sin and cleansed by the Holy Ghost to be the mother of Jesus Christ. This statement comes after argumentation for Mary's perpetual virginity. What the statement from Luther doesn't say, one way or the other, is if Mary lived a completely sinless life. I've documented a number of times in which Luther says the cleansing of Mary by the Holy Spirit happened at the conception of Christ, not at Mary's conception.

Piepkorn presents no argumentation or analysis. Why would Piepkorn takes vague statements and put forth strong conclusions? I can only speculate, but Piepkorn had interest in ecumenical dialog with Rome. He was involved for multiple years with Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. Roman scholar Raymond Brown praised Piepkorn and commented that it would be preposterous to doubt the validity of his priestly orders. Piepkorn's romance with Rome seems to have molded his interpretation of Luther's Mariology.

2. On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God, 1527
The next tidbit offered by Marshall is the following Luther quote:

"It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin" - Martin Luther's Sermon "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God," 1527.

This quote made its way into a cyber space when a defender of Rome about 10 years ago began posting it after he took it from Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar's book, Luther Vol. IV (St Louis: B. Herder, 1913). Grisar uses this quote, but what Rome's defenders typically leave out is Grisar's analysis:
The sermon was taken down in notes and published with Luther’s approval. The same statements concerning the Immaculate Conception still remain in a printed edition published in 1529, but in later editions which appeared during Luther’s lifetime they disappear (p.238)
The reason for their disappearance is that as Luther’s Christocentric theology developed, aspects of Luther’s Mariology were abandoned. Grisar also recognizes the development in Luther's theology. In regards to the Luther quote in question, Grisar also says:
As Luther’s intellectual and ethical development progressed we cannot naturally expect the sublime picture of the pure Mother of God, the type of virginity, of the spirit of sacrifice and of sanctity to furnish any great attraction for him, and as a matter of fact such statements as the above are no longer met with in his later works.
The most one can conclude from this Luther quote is that Luther held to some form of Mary's sinlessness in 1527. According to Grisar, the comment was stricken from the sermon, and Luther abandoned his earlier view. To read a detailed account of this quote, see my entry here.

3. Martin Luther's Little Prayer Book, 1522

Marshall then uses another Luther quote to prove his case:

She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin—something exceedingly great. For God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. - Martin Luther's Little Prayer Book, 1522

"Martin Luther's Little Prayer Book" refers to the Personal Prayer Book of 1522. Here Luther does treat the subject of Mary. He states, "In the first place, she is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin—something exceedingly great. For God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil" (LW 43:39).

This quote indeed appears to treat Mary as entirely sinless. This statement was made in 1522. If Grisar is correct, Luther's later view does not reflect such sentiment. Even in this early Reformation writing, Luther began changing the emphasis on Mary, and de-emphasizing the importance of her attributes:
“Take note of this: no one should put his trust or confidence in the Mother of God or in her merits, for such trust is worthy of God alone and is the lofty service due only to him. Rather praise and thank God through Mary and the grace given her. Laud and love her simply as the one who, without merit, obtained such blessings from God, sheerly out of his mercy, as she herself testifies in the Magnificat.” (LW 43:39)
“Therefore we should make the Hail Mary neither a prayer nor an invocation because it is improper to interpret the words beyond what they mean in themselves and beyond the meaning given them by the Holy Spirit.” (LW 43:39)
“…her giving birth is blessed in that it was spared the curse upon all children of Eve who are conceived in sin and born to deserve death and damnation. Only the fruit of her body is blessed, and through this birth we are all blessed.” (LW 43:40)
“…in the present no one speaks evil of this Mother and her Fruit as much as those who bless her with many rosaries and constantly mouth the Hail Mary. These, more than any others, speak evil against Christ’s word and faith in the worst way." (LW 43:40)
“Therefore, notice that this Mother and her Fruit are blessed in a twofold way—bodily and spiritually. Bodily with lips and the words of the Hail Mary; such persons blaspheme and speak evil of her most dangerously. And spiritually [one blesses her] in one’s heart by praise and benediction for her child, Christ—for all his words, deeds, and sufferings. And no one does this except he who has the true Christian faith because without such faith no heart is good but is by nature stuffed full of evil speech and blasphemy against God and all his saints.” (LW 43:40)
It makes sense that by 1530 or so, Luther's views on Mary would shift even more away from those espoused by the Roman church.

Luther's view?
Luther's later view appears to be that at Christ's conception the Holy Spirit sanctified Mary so that the child would be born with non-sinful flesh and blood. For an example of Luther's argumentation, see: Luther and the Immaculate Conception? The 1540 Disputation On the Divinity and Humanity of Christ. There are many other statements about Mary from Luther that Rome's defenders ignore. Most of these are post-1527. In this sermon Luther states, " although she had been sanctified by the Holy Spirit; yet he permitted her at times to err, even in the important matters of faith." He says elsewhere:
Be they called holy, learned, fathers, councils, or any other name, even though they were Mary, Joseph and all the saints it does not follow that they could not have erred and made mistakes. For here you learn that the mother of Christ though she possessed great intelligence and enlightenment, showed great ignorance in that she did not know where to find Christ, and in consequence was censured by him because she did not know what she should have known. If she failed and through her ignorance was brought to such anxiety and sorrow that she thought she had lost Christ, is it a wonder that other saints should often have erred and stumbled, when they followed their own notions, without the guidance of Scripture, or put their own notions into Scripture [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:2, p.48].
See also selections from this blog entry, documenting the same position from Luther. Rather than discussing Mary’s sinlessness, Luther's later writings insist Christ’s sinlessness was due entirely to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit during his conception. In 1532 he preached:
Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we. However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are…For in that moment when she conceived, she was a holy mother filled with the Holy Spirit and her fruit is a holy pure fruit, at once God and truly man, in one person [Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 3, ed. John Nicholas Lenker. ( Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 291].
In 1534 Luther explained that Christ was “born of a young maiden, as you and I are born of our mothers. The only difference is that the Holy Spirit engineered this conception and birth, while in contrast we mortals are conceived and born in sin.”[Ibid., 294.]. With the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, there is a clear change in Luther’s thought. The theologian, who had at one time praised both mother and child for their purity, now praised only the Son.

This is only a brief look at a subject I've spent considerable time on over the years. I would never be dogmatic (for lack of a better word), but I've never found any conclusive quotes from Luther (with a context!) after 1527 that reflect his earlier position on the Immaculate Conception.

There's one defender of Rome who thinks simply doing a scholarly head count on this issue (which scholars think Luther believed in the immaculate Conception, and which do not) is the means of determining Luther's view. This isn't my way of determining truth. I like to look at quotes and look up contexts, especially on an issue that has some uncertainty about it. Simply consider the errors I located in Piepkorn's view detailed here, and also in this previous entry. Those who think simply counting heads determines truth are typically those who really don't care about the truth. It's probable Patrick Madrid could care less about the nuts and bolts of Luther's view. I don't know anything about Taylor Marshall. Perhaps he's a guy interested in history and truth and will revise his blog entry. Marshall concludes his article stating,
Far be it from me to approve of Luther. I only list these quotes to show how far Protestantism has come from it's quasi-Catholic origin. If only Lutherans would return to this single doctrine of their founder; how quickly our Lady would turn them into true Catholics! Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us!
Even if Martin Luther believed in Mary's Immaculate Conception, the Reformation does not suffer loss. Neither myself nor the Lutheran church considers Luther to be an infallible source of either interpretation or revelation. However, the defenders of Rome need to do a little better at proving Luther believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Faith that was Once for All Delivered to the Saints, Roman Style

In an earlier version of this post, I mis-attributed this chart. It originally appeared, in various forms, in James McCarthy's "The Gospel According to Rome," Eugene Oregon: Harvest House Publishing (c)1995. One of the elders in my church reproduced this chart for an educational seminar he was giving on the need for the Reformation. In an earlier version of this post, I mis-attributed it to him. I apologize for reporting the genesis of this chart incorrectly. I have re-drawn the chart on my own system, and I've made some small changes to the text which I think help it to better reflect actual Roman Catholic doctrines.

I've noticed that more than a few Protestants don't quite understand what the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification is all about. Well, here it is folks, "the fullness of the faith," or rather, the full process of the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification, "once for all delivered to the saints."

This graphical representation of Roman teaching will, I think, be very helpful to Protestants in understanding how justification (and the whole process of salvation) works in the Roman Catholic system. My hope, over time, Lord willing, is to use the various graphical portions of this chart and talk about the history of the various components of this doctrine.

Effectively, given that Rome has officially defined justification this way, by this process, you can rest assured that every portion of this is to be found, implicitly or explicitly, within the pages of the Holy ["properly interpreted"] Scriptures. Because this is the way that it works: Rome's authority right now is what assures us that this is what the church has always believed about justification. (It's just been believed in "seed form" or some other nonsense like that.)

While I may be joking about this, it is a very good picture of the official doctrine. It gives a picture of what I've called "the Sacramental Treadmill." We can go into more detail about this at a future time, but I wanted to post this now so that we can refer back to it on future occasions.

[Click on the image to bring up a larger, printable chart].

I want to point out something again:
"The Reformers' forensic understanding of justification ... the idea of an immediate divine imputation [of righteousness] renders superfluous the entire Catholic system of the priestly mediation of grace by the Church." (Bruce McCormack,What's at Stake in the Current Debates over Justification, from Husbands and Treier's Justification, pg 82.)
When McCormack notes that "the entire Catholic system of the priestly mediation of grace by the Church" is rendered "superfluous" by forensic justification, it's this entire contraption that is made "superfluous".

(This is one main reason why the "infusion vs imputation" discussion is not mundane, but it is vitally important. The "infusion" keeps this alive; "imputation" gets rid of this monstrosity.)

Luther: Good works are bad and are sin like the rest

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "Faith and Good Works":

"Good works are bad and are sin like the rest" [Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. III, pg. 47].

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With this quote, they attempt to show Christ valued works as part of salvation, while Luther said "Good works are bad and are sin like the rest."

Luther Exposing the Myth cites "Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. III, pg. 47." I have a hard time believing Luther Exposing the Myth actually used this source. My speculation is that it used a source that quoted Denifle / Paquier. Luther Exposing the Myth cites Denifle / Paquier four times. Each citation and reference is also used in the book, Two Arguments for Catholicism (1928) by Antonin Eymieu. Eymieu in describing Luther's view states:
In the first place, there are no good works. Everything that comes from us is sin, and "the good works are bad and are sin like the rest" (p. 46).
The quote is documented as "Denifle III, 47." The actual form of the footnote used by Luther, Exposing the Myth is found on page 34 of Eymieu's book: "Quoted in Denifle's  Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. III...Luther Exposing the Myth does not mention or refer to Eymieu, but this is telling evidence that this was the source used.

In regard to Denifle, Paquier's French translation amended the text of Denifle's German attacking Luther even more than Denifle is famous for. In another work, Paquier went on to envision Luther as the Muhammad of the West, deforming true Christianity (Sobolewski, p. 28-29). Here is Luther et Lutheranisme III. Page 47 can be found here. The section in question appears to be the following:

The last sentence says something like, "Good works themselves are unjust: they are sins." The statement is actually a summary by Denifle. Footnote 3 refers to this page from this source. This source is Johannes Ficker's publication of Luther's Lectures on Romans. The text reads as follows:

Luther's work on Romans has been translated into English. It can be found in LW 25. This Latin text above from Ficker's can be found at LW 25:275.

From all of this it is obvious that there is no sin which is venial according to its substance and its nature, but also no merit. For even the good works which are done while the tinder of sin and sensuality are fighting against them are not of such intensity and purity as the Law requires, since they are not done with all of our strength, but only with the spiritual powers which struggle against the powers of the flesh. Thus we sin even when we do good, unless God through Christ covers this imperfection and does not impute it to us. Thus it becomes a venial sin through the mercy of God, who does not impute it for the sake of faith and the plea in behalf of this imperfection for the sake of Christ. Therefore, he who thinks that he ought to be regarded as righteous because of his works is very foolish, since if they were offered as a sacrifice to the judgment of God, they still would be found to be sins. As Ps. 36:2 says, “For he has acted deceitfully in His sight, so that his iniquity is found to be for wrath,” that is, before God and within his own spirit there was deceit and not the truth of righteousness, even though before men he makes a display of righteousness in his works. For he could not be righteous within himself without the mercy of God, since he is corrupt because of the tinder of sin. Therefore iniquity will be found in his righteousness, that is, even his good works will be unrighteous and sinful. This iniquity will not be found in believers and those who cry to Him, because Christ has brought them aid from the fullness of his purity and has hidden this imperfection of theirs. For they seek also this and hope for it from Him, but the others do not seek it but presumptuously think they have it.[LW 25:275].

The quote in question was actually Luther's view summarized by Denifle, then Denifle was used by Antonin Eymieu, and then Luther, Exposing the Myth took the quote. I enjoy looking up these quotes because one never knows what one will find. This comment comes from Luther's pre-Reformation writing. Luther says, "we sin even when we do good, unless God through Christ covers this imperfection and does not impute it to us." It then becomes a "venial sin" "through the mercy of God, who does not impute it for the sake of faith and the plea in behalf of this imperfection for the sake of Christ." Someone who claimed to be righteous because of his works fails. That is, no one can be righteous without Christ. Later in his early Reformation career,  Luther says in his treatise Against Latomus (1521)
I have taught that our good works are of such sort that they cannot bear the judgment of God, as is said in Ps. 101 [Ps. 143:2], “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for no man living is righteous before thee.” Since, however, His judgment is true and just, He does not condemn works which are wholly blameless. He wrongs no one, but as it is written, “He will render to every man according to his works” [Rom. 2:6]. It follows, therefore, that our good works are not good unless His forgiving mercy reigns over us. Our good works are evil, if the judgment of Him who renders to every man threatens us. This is the way to teach the fear of God and hope in him. Yet in accordance with Latomus’ rantings, my calumniators condemn this godly wisdom, extol their works, deprive men of fear and hope in God, make them proud with their pestilent doctrines, and invent a good work which is worthy of praise, glory, and reward [LW 32:171].
In volume one of Luther and Lutherdom, Denifle says, "It was [Luther's] teaching that good works, even at their best, are sins, and even that a just man sins in all good works." Above though Luther explains, "It follows, therefore, that our good works are not good unless His forgiving mercy reigns over us. Our good works are evil, if the judgment of Him who renders to every man threatens us. This is the way to teach the fear of God and hope in him." Luther actually wrote an entire treatise addressing the value and need of good works: Treatise on Good Works. Those using the information from Luther Exposing the Myth would do well to review it.

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Doctrinal causes of the Reformation

In the past, I've cited Paul Johnson to the effect that 1/3 to 1/2 of all priests had concubines and illegitimate children, a system which perpetuated itself (Paul Johnson, "History of Christianity"). As bad as that was, it wasn't the cause for the Reformation.

Heiko Oberman, "Harvest of Medieval Theology," noted that
there is much to warrant the thesis that the later Middle Ages were born in Avignon and were shaped by the uncertainty and hierarchical confusion due to the Babylonian Captivity of the papacy (1309-1377) and the succeeding period of the Schism (1378-1415). The impact of this event can scarcely be overestimated, so much that we are inclined to advocate the terms "preschismatic" and "schismatic" Middle Ages to replace the traditional terms "early" and "later" Middle Ages. (323)
Avignon was the era when the papacy moved to southern France; the "Schism" was a time when there were two and even three popes excommunicating each other and their followers. But as bad and as fundamental as that was, it wasn't the cause of the Reformation.

Oberman continued to discuss "the extent to which hierarchy, Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are understood to have exchanged poverty for greed." (324) But even on top of all of these evils, it wasn't the worst thing, and it wasn't the cause for the Reformation.

All of these characterized the state of the church at the time of the Reformation. And we all need to be reminded of such things -- the evils present within the Western church, the church at Rome, at the time of the Reformation.

But there was a greater evil than all of these, and it was the doctrinal mess that was passed off as "the one true faith."

Of course, at the doctrinal heart of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification, how exactly God saved men.

In his Iustitia Dei, "A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification" (Third Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) Alister McGrath noted that "the medieval period saw the the justification of the sinner firmly linked to the sacramental life of the church" (126), notably, the sacraments of baptism as an entree and confession as a "second plank" (initially a one-time saving plank after a "shipwreck," but by this time available over and over again)."

It was this that prompted Martin Luther to comment:
Life is bad among us as among the papists. Hence, we do not fight and damn them because of their bad lives …. I do not consider myself to be pious. But when it comes to whether one teaches correctly about the word of God, there I take my stand and fight. That is my calling. To contest doctrine has never happened until now. Others have fought over life; but to take on doctrine—that is to grab the goose by the neck! … When the word of God remains pure, even if the quality of life fails us, life is placed in a position to become what it ought. That is why everything hinges on the purity of the Word. I have succeeded only if I have taught correctly. (Cited by Steven Ozment, "The Age of Reform, 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe" (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1980), pgs 315-316 (emphasis added).
It may have seemed a bit out of place to be talking about the earliest church at Rome on a site that's devoted to the Reformation. But the Reformation was, among other things, a discussion about authority as well as a discussion about doctrine. Rome claimed its own authority as the reason why it was able to stress doctrines (such as the sacramental system alluded to above).

That's why I want to take a little bit of time to discuss the "doctrinal system" that was in place at the time of the Reformation, and how truly far it had moved from its supposedly Biblical moorings.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Acolyte of Demagoguery

To: James Swan
From: The House of Demagogues
Re: Warning signs of a diabolical spirit...

Your scrupulous adherence to the black arts of the late Reformers and assiduous neglect of Holy Mary have not gone unnoticed. You are to be awarded abilities commensurate with your current progress in diabolical fanaticism; you are now an Acolyte of Demagoguery. Expect your next visitation with the Institutes to produce an incantation by which you may change into your new form:

Warning signs of a diabolical spirit and how to recognize them...from a Roman Catholic Perspective

Here's a recent tidbit from Patrick Madrid's blog: Warning signs of a diabolical spirit and how to recognize them. Some of the list makes sense, here though are two to ponder:

14. Lack of deep devotion to Jesus and Mary.

15. Scrupulous adherence to the letter of the law and fanatical zeal in promoting a cause. This characteristic readily opens the door to diabolical influence in reformers and demagogues.

OK, let's see, I'm not really devoted to Mary, and I enjoy the writings of certain reformers.... But then again, this isn't an official infallible list, but rather "the teaching on this subject by the late Dominican theologian, Fr. Jordan Aumann, O.P." Never mind.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Alert the Police: Protestants Have Hijacked Augustine

The following was posted here.

St. Augustine: Scripture Is Not the Only Source By Which God speaks to Man
Posted by cathmom5 at 9/20/2010 08:34:00 PM

ACTS/CathApol recently hosted a debate on "Sola Scriptura" I thought this passage from St. Augustine might be appropriate. With so many protestants trying to rewrite the Church Fathers, I thought I'd share some thoughts on one of the leading Catholic Doctors hijacked by protestants today.

One way God has spoken to His people over the course of time is through prophets. Many of the prophecies were written down, many were incorporated in the signs and symbols of our worship (latreia) of Our Lord and Savior. God's word continues to be read and expressed in His Church today.

32. The mystery of Christ's redemption was not absent in any previous era, but it was made known under different symbols

This mystery of eternal life has been made known by the ministry of angels from the beginning of the human race. It was revealed to those who were fit to receive the knowledge by means of signs and symbols appropriate to the times. Later, the Hebrew people was gathered and united in a kind of community designed to perform this sacred function of revelation. In that people the future course of events, from the coming of Christ to the present day, and even beyond, was prophesied through the agency of some who realized, and some who did not realize, what they were doing. In the course of time, this people was scattered among the nations to bear witness to the Scriptures, which foretold the coming salvation of Christ. For not only all the prophesies contained in words, not only all the precepts for the conduct of life which shape men's character and their piety and are contained in the Scriptures, but also the ceremonies, the sacred rites, the festal days, and everything which concerned with the homage due to God (the Greeks call it latreia) - all these were symbols and predictions that find their fulfilment in Christ, so as to give eternal life to those who believe. We believe that they have been fulfilled; we observe that they are being fulfilled; we are convinced that they will go on being fulfilled.
(St. Augustine, "City of God," Book VII)

I posted this in its entirety to show how some Romanists understand sola scriptura, or rather, don't understand sola scriptura. If someone can read a quote like this and think it speaks against sola scriptura, they are simply clueless.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Update on the New York Catechism as Cited by Boettner

A few months back I posted a blog entry on Lorraine Boettner's use of the New York Catechism in his book on Roman Catholicism. This book came under scrutiny in an entire section of Karl Keating's book Catholicism and Fundamentalism. On page 127 of Roman Catholicism Boettner states,

The New York Catechism says:
"The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth.... By divine right, the Pope has supreme and full power in faith and morals over each and every pastor and his flock. He is the true Vicar of Christ, the Head of the entire Church, the father and teacher of all Christians. He is the infallible ruler, the founder of dogmas, the author of and the judge of councils, the universal ruler of truth, the arbiter of the world, the supreme judge of heaven and earth, the judge of all, being judged by no one, God Himself on earth."

This quote has been scrutinized, and some have even wondered if Boettner made it up. A Catholic Answers participant though claims to have the New York Catechism:

I didn't realize people were looking for this. I have it. It's called "Catholic Catechism" published in New York by Pietro Cardinal Gasparri. There is a good deal of liberty taken in the so-called quotations, but it is a compilation of statements and phrases scattered from pages 97 onward, including the footnotes.

Several statements come from page 98:

"head of the church"
"Christ on earth"
"power by divine right"
"full power in faith and morals"
"over each and every pastor in his flock" etc...etc...

I'll type some of this out for all of you:

Page 98
(129) Why is the Roman Pontiff called the visible head of the Church and the Vicar of Christ on earth?
The Roman Pontiff is called the visible head of the Church and the Vicar of Christ on earth because, since a visible society needs a visible head, Jesus Christ made Peter, and each successor of his, to the end of the world, the visible head and the vicegerent of His own power.

(130) What power, then, has the Roman Pontiff over the Church?
By divine right the Roman Pontiff has over the Church a primacy not only of honour but of jurisdiction, and this both in things concerning faith and morals and in discipline and government.

(131) What kind of power has the Roman Pontiff?
The Roman Pontiff has supreme, full, ordinary, and immediate power both over each and every Church, and over each and every Pastor and his flock.

(132) Who are the lawful successors of the Apostles?
The lawful successors of the Apostles are, by divine institution, the Bishops; they are set over particular churches by the Roman Pontiff, and govern them by their own proper power under his authority.

(133) What, then, is the Church founded by Jesus Christ?
The Church founded by Jesus Christ is the visible society of people who are baptized, and who joined together by professing the same faith and by a mutual fellowship strive to attain the same spiritual end under the guiding authority of the Roman Pontiff and of the Bishops in communion with him.

The phrase "Teacher of all Christians", as well as the essence of "infallible ruler", "author and judge of councils" is on page 103. The "founder of dogma" comes from page 107.

Page 102
(145) Whose peculiar function is it to pronounce a solemn judgment of this kind?
To pronounce a solemn judgment of this kind is the peculiar function of the Roman Pontiff, and of the Bishops together with the Roman Pontiff, especially when assembled in an OEcumenical Council.

Page 103
(146) What is an OEcumenical Council?
An OEcumenical or General Council is an assembly of the Bishops of the entire Catholic Church called together by the Roman Pontiff; over such an assembly he himself presides either personally or by his legates, and it belongs to him authoritatively to confirm the Deacons of such a Council

(147) When does the Roman Pontiff exercise his prerogative of personal infallibility?
The Roman Pontiff exercises his prerogative of personal infallibility when he speaks ex cathedra -- that is, when, in the exercise of his office as Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.

Page 105
(154) What does the power of jurisdiction in the Church mean?
The power of jurisdiction in the church means that the Roman Pontiff in respect of the whole Church, and the Bishops in respect of their dioceses, have the power of governing -- that is, they have legislative, judicial, administrative and punitive power, whereby to secure the Church's attainment of the objects for which she was founded.


Boettner doesn't get everything wrong in his book, but he presents enough problems that I would not recommend it. In this case, if this is the source, it appears he put forth a quote compiled from numerous pages. While the sentiment of the quote compiled by Boettner isn't wrong (that is, according to Romanism), he makes checking his sources troublesome.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Enjoy Your Catechisms, Heretics

My church uses the Heidelberg Catechism. Recently I came across the following from The preface to The Catechism of the Council of Trent:

The Heretics have chiefly made use of Catechisms to corrupt the Minds of Christians.

For those who proposed to themselves to corrupt the minds of the faithful, aware that it was impossible that they could hold immediate personal intercourse with all, and thus pour into their ears their poisoned doctrines, by adopting a different plan with the same intent, disseminated error and impiety much more easily and extensively. For besides those voluminous works, by which they sought to overthrow the Catholic faith (to guard against which, however, containing as they did open heresy, required perhaps little labour or diligence), they also composed innumerable smaller treatises, which, carrying a semblance of piety on their surface, deceived the simple and the incautious with incredible facility.

Well, that warmed my heart! Reformation theology spread partly because of such documents like the Heidelberg Catechism. Wear your heretic badge proudly.

Servetus, Calvin, etc.

Amazon sends me advertisements based on my purchases. A few days ago they sent me a notification for the following:

Thirty Letters to Calvin, Preacher to the Genevans: And Sixty Signs of the Kingdom of the Antichrist and His Revelation Which Is Now at Hand [Hardcover]Michael Servetus (Author), Christopher A. Hoffman (Translator), Marian Hillar (Translator) $109.95 & this item ships for FREE with Super Saver Shipping. Details Pre-order Price Guarantee. Learn more. This title has not yet been released.You may pre-order it now and we will deliver it to you when it arrives.Ships from and sold by Gift-wrap available.

Wow, only $109.95 to read the letters of a heretic. If it were cheaper, I'd probably pick it up.

Various web pages note Servetus sent Calvin around thirty letters. One thing the book doesn't appear to do is include any letters written from Calvin back to Servetus. That would be quite interesting, to see the exchanges between the two. The author has written others books on Servetus.

The last book on Servetus I purchased was entitled, Out of the Flames by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. This book is much cheaper, you can probably find used copies of it for under twenty bucks. I read the book a few years ago, and I recall it being sympathetic to Servetus and less than charitable to Calvin. Chapter 11 documents some of their exchanges. Overall, the book does provide a helpful popular account and biography of Servetus.

Servetus also now has his own fan club: The Servetus International Society. I haven't checked to see if he's got a Face book page. It's an interesting webpage- including conferences, a newsletter, excerpts from his writings, and even a discussion board. Their goal is to "foster the spirit of Humanism, tolerance of ideas and respect for the rights of the individual by promoting and preserving the Servetus Heritage as intellectual giant, model of integrity and standard-bearer in the struggle for freedom of conscience."

Recently I've begun reading Calvin again. I pulled out my old copy of John Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians. Say what you want to about Calvin, the man was indeed brilliant. Calvin spent an incredible amount of time preaching. His sermons are quite readable. It's obvious he had the ability to communicate clearly to his congregation. Calvin is said to have preached without notes or written record. It was only after some of the Genevans realized this that they began to take notes and transcribe his sermons. Calvin reviewed many of them, but never revised them. All together, there were forty-eight bound volumes of Calvin's sermons. The Library of Geneva had them, but slowly lost track of some of them. By 1805, what volumes they had were said to be taking up too much room and were sold to local booksellers.

As far as I can tell, most of these sermons grom the Ephesians volume are not on-line. However, a few from this volume are:

(1) Ephesians 1:1–3
(2) Ephesians 1:3, 4
(3) Ephesians 1:4–6
(4) Ephesians 1:7–10
(5) Ephesians 1:13, 14
(6) Ephesians 1:15–18
(7) Ephesians 1:17, 18
(8) Ephesians 1:19–23

Here's a section from what I read last night.

The second point is the assurance of our salvation. The papists say that we must doubt it and that we can come to God only with a hope that he will receive us; but to assure ourselves of it—that we ought not to do, for that would be too great a presumption. But when we pray to God, we must call him Father, at least if we are the scholars of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he has taught us to do so.

Now, is it at a venture that we call him Father, or are we sure of it in ourselves that he is our Father If not, then there would be nothing but hypocrisy in our prayers, and the first word that we utter would be a lie. The papists then never know what it is to pray to God, seeing that they cannot be assured of their salvation. But (as we shall see in the third chapter especially) the Scripture shows that to pray to God rightly, we must have belief in Jesus Christ, which gives us confidence, and upon that confidence we by and by conceive boldness. Be that as it may, we must not be hesitant nor yet doubt, but we must be thoroughly resolved and persuaded in ourselves that God counts us as his children. And how may that be but by embracing his mercy through faith, as he offers it to us in his gospel, and by assuring ourselves also that we are grounded in his eternal election? For if our faith should depend upon ourselves, surely it would soon slip from us; and it might be shaken off, if it were not maintained from above. And although we are kept or preserved by faith, as St. Peter says [I Pet. 1:5], yet it is God who keeps us. If, then, our faith were not grounded in God’s eternal election, it is certain that Satan might pluck it from us every minute. Though today we were the most steadfast in the world, yet we might fail tomorrow. But our Lord Jesus shows us the remedy to strengthen us against all temptations in that he says: You do not come to me of yourselves, but the heavenly Father brings you to me; and since I have taken you into my keeping, be no more afraid, for I acknowledge you as the inheritance of God my Father, and he that has given me charge of you and put you into my hand is stronger than all [Jn. 10:28—29]. We see, then, that besides setting forth God’s glory, our salvation also is assured by God’s eternal predestination, which ought to be sufficient reason to move us to consider what St. Paul says of it in this place.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Divine Nature of Scripture and the Magisterium

Whitaker comes to the defense of four arguments from Calvin, which Stapleton attempts to refute, the first of which is (in the words of Calvin, not the summary Whitaker provides) as follows (emphasis mine):

A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed; viz.,that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon. Thus profane men, seeking, under the pretext of the Church, to introduce unbridled tyranny, care not in what absurdities they entangle themselves and others, provided they extort from the simple this one acknowledgement, viz., that there is nothing which the Church cannot do. But what is to become of miserable consciences in quest of some solid assurance of eternal life, if all the promises with regard to it have no better support than man's judgement? On being told so, will they cease to doubt and tremble? On the other hand, to what jeers of the wicked is our faith subjected - into how great suspicion is it brought with all, if believed to have only a precarious authority lent to it by the goodwill of men?1

Yet what is Stapleton's reply? He claims that the Magisterium's judgment is not merely human, but really is both divine and infallible, therefore Calvin's argument fails to be of relevance.

Here Whitaker raises a point I would raise as well, one that is equally relevant today: "But what is the meaning of this assertion, that the church's judgment is not merely human? Be it so. But is it merely divine? For surely it is requisite that the truth of the promises of eternal life should be propped and supported by a testimony purely divine."2

What, exactly, is meant by saying that the nature by which the Magisterium has come to identify the canon for us is not just human opinion, but is divine and infallible, yet not totally divine and infallible? Scripture, we would say, has been inspired by God in a completely and totally divine manner, therefore it is binding and authoritative. The Holy Spirit superintended the writing of the Scriptures such that in no way did any of it originate or arise through human wisdom, creation, thought or contribution (even if human means--learning, intelligence, writing ability, etc.--were still used). It is completely and totally the intentions, thoughts, words, etc. of God toward humanity, therefore we should respect it as if God himself were speaking directly and presently to us.

But does the Magisterium, in its judgment that Scripture is really the Word of God, claim to be inspired, superintended, etc. by the same process as that which the Holy Spirit used to write inspired Scripture? I don't see how that's the case. Consider CCC #66 where the revealing of revelation proper is considered to have ended in the Apostolic era:
The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And since the infallible identification of the canon within Roman Catholicism first occurred at Trent, it cannot be said that this proclamation was purely divine. And if it is not purely divine, why is it ultimately binding?

Only the thoughts of God are infallible. These can be expressed through various means (the burning bush, dreams, written Scripture, etc.), yet all are categorized as revelation. If Roman Catholicism denies that the Magisterium has received additional revelation by which to identify the canon for believers, it is difficult to see how the pronouncements of Trent would be authoritatively binding in any real sense. Where in Scripture are the words of the uninspired ever held to the same authoritative standard as those who said or wrote inspired material? For Scripture there are two categories: inspired and uninspired. By placing itself in the latter camp, the Magisterium has denied itself access to binding, infallible authority.

But, returning to the line of argumentation provided by Whitaker, let us suppose it is divinely inspired in the same manner Scripture is divinely inspired. If it is divine, then it carries the same nature and authority as Scripture. But if that is the case, why do we need the former to know the latter? Cannot the divine nature of Scripture speak to us directly, just as the divine nature of the pronouncements of the Magisterium speaks to us directly? What is preventing us from accessing the authoritative of Words of God in Scripture directly?


1. Henry Beveridge, trans., Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.7.1.

2. William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1894; reprint, Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2005), 340.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saint Newman? Gay Saints?

Here's a probable infuriating tidbit on John Henry Newman I heard via NPR on Friday.

"It's not unreasonable to think he might have been homosexual," says the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of My Life with the Saints. "His letters and his comments on the death of one of his close friends are quite provocative."

Yes,there's nothing like a Jesuit investigation. I think if this Jesuit actually had something of substance, the story would've been out years ago, or at least two years ago. Frankly, I haven't done much reading about Newman, and the whole thing seemed a bit vague.

The whole notion of declaring someone a "saint" is more upsetting to me.

From the same broadcast comes the following as well, perhaps some of our Roman Catholic friends can unpack this one:

"Martin has no doubt that there are plenty of gay saints, which is acceptable under church doctrine. "It is church teaching that a gay person can be holy, and a gay person can be a saint," he says. "And it's only a matter of time before the church recognizes one publicly."

On the other hand, yes I do listen to NPR occasionally. Here's my favorite NPR show "New Sounds"  which I believe only broadcasts out of New York.

Luther: It is more important to guard against good works than against sin

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "Faith and Good Works":

“It is more important to guard against good works than against sin” [Trischreden, Wittenberg Edition, Vol. VI., p. 160].

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With this quote, they attempt to show Christ valued works as part of salvation, while Luther said "It is more important to guard against good works than against sin."

Luther Exposing the Myth cites "Trischreden, Wittenberg Edition, Vol. VI., p. 160." There is no such thing as "Trischreden," it's Tischreden. The Tischreden is Luther's Table Talk, a collection of second hand comments written down by Luther's friends, published after his death. The Wittenberg Edition is an early collection of Luther's works. It contains 12 German and 8 Latin volumes. The material was topical, at the request of Luther. This volume contains some of the writings of Luther's opponents as well. LW 54 points out though, "Early editions of the works of Martin Luther did not include the Table Talk. It was with some misgivings that Johann Georg Walch finally decided to incorporate the Table Talk in his edition, which was published in twenty-four volumes in Halle between 1739 and 1753." Therefore, the documentation is questionable. The Wittenberg Edition did not include the Table Talk. We'll see below that there's been a murkiness about this documentation going back quite a long way.

What are the possibilities that the author of Luther Exposing the Myth actually had access to the Wittenberg Edition to extract this quote? Slim, if not nil. The quote was probably taken from this source:

If the reference really is to the Wittenberg Edition vol. VI, so far I've been able to locate the 1561 Latin edition (and some others). There is no such quote on page 160.  It may be possible that an earlier edition contains the quote,  or it may be that the quote is from the German volume 6 in the same set. I base this on a number of early similar English citations:

This quote in this form with this documentation is also found in Patrick O'Hare's Facts About Luther(1916). O'Hare cites the Wittenberg edition as well. O'Hare states,
"Those pious souls," he says further, "who do good to gain the kingdom of heaven, not only will never succeed, but they must even be reckoned among the impious; and it is more important to guard them against good works than against sin." (Wittenb. VI. 160.)
 Here's something interesting from a source from 1827:
One more citation from his works will perhaps suffice: “Those pious souls," says this pious divine, “who do good in order to obtain the kingdom of Heaven, will not only never obtain it, but are to be accounted among the reproved; for it is far more necessary to guard against good works, than against sin." (2)
The reference (2) points to "Id. tom. vii.54," but interestingly the previous reference (1), to a completely different quote, points to "Opp. Wittemb. tom. vi. fol. 160." But then a source from 1854 states,
Works occasioned him such dread, that he sought to turn from them all whom he called Christians. "Pious souls," says he, "who do good to obtain the kingdom of heaven, will never reach it; I consider them as impious: it is more cogent to fortify oneself against works than against sin." (3) Op. Lutheri: Witt. tom. vi. fol. 160. Moehler, Symbol. vol. i. p. 229 Robertson's Trans.
There is also this variation from 1903:
"There is no more dangerous, more pernicious scandal than a good life exteriorly manifested by good works. Pious souls who do good to gain the kingdom of heaven not only will never reach it, but will be counted among the damned." (Works of Luther, vol. vi.)
The only similar quote I was able to locate is found in Eyn Sermon von dem newen testament, das ist Von der heyligen Messe  (WA 6, 353–378), or Sermon on the Mass, in English found in LW 35 as "A Treatise on the New Testament, That is, The Holy Mass"(1520). LW 35 points out, "By 1524, fourteen editions had appeared in various cities. Because of its fundamental importance this treatise has found a place in all major collections of Luther’s works." It could be an earlier edition of Wittenberg VI has this treatise.

In the later part of this treatise, Luther explains his rejection of the Roman teaching on the mass as a sacrifice and good work. For Luther, the mass expressed God's words of promise to be grasped by faith. Luther says,
It must necessarily follow where faith and the word or promise of God decline or are neglected, that in their place there arise works and a false, presumptuous trust in them. For where there is no promise of God there is no faith. Where there is no faith, there everyone presumptuously undertakes to better himself and make himself well pleasing to God by means of works. Where this happens, false security and presumption arise, as though man were pleasing to God because of his own works. Where it does not happen, the conscience has no rest and knows not what to do in order to become well pleasing to God.
So too, I fear that many have made the mass into a good work, whereby they have thought to do a great service to Almighty God. Now if we have properly understood what has been said above, namely, that the mass is nothing else than a testament and sacrament in which God makes a pledge to us and gives us grace and mercy, I think it is not fitting that we should make a good work or merit out of it. For a testament is not beneficium acceptum, sed datum; it does not take benefit from us, but brings benefit to us. Who has ever heard that he who receives an inheritance has done a good work? He simply takes for himself a benefit. Likewise in the mass we give nothing to Christ, but only receive from him; unless they are willing to call this a good work, that a person sits still and permits himself to be benefited, given food and drink, clothed and healed, helped and redeemed. Just as in baptism, in which there is also a divine testament and sacrament, no one gives God anything or does him a service, but instead takes something, so it is in all other sacraments and in the sermon as well. For if one sacrament cannot be a meritorious good work, then no other can be a work either, since the sacraments are all of one kind, and it is the nature of a sacrament or testament that it is not a work but only an exercise of faith [LW 35:92-93].
Luther goes on to discuss the abuse of works in regard to the mass. He concludes the entire treatise by stating (perhaps!) the quote in question:

Therefore let us beware of sins, but much more of laws and good works, giving heed only to the divine promise and to faith. Then all good works will come of themselves. To this may God help us. Amen [LW 35:111].

If this is the context, Luther exhorts his readers to beware of sin, but to guard against negating God's promises by seeking to be justified by works. If one embraces Christ by faith (a saving faith), Luther concludes, " Then all good works will come of themselves." Indeed, in context one should guard against good works as a means of justification. For Luther, good works have their place and value.

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

Friday, September 17, 2010

To be Deep In Medieval History is to Remain Protestant

"C.S. Lewis once quipped that the more medieval he became in his outlook, the farther from Roman Catholicism he seemed to grow." Douglas M. Jones III, Foreword to Keith Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Moscow, ID: Canon Press), 11.

"What I meant was that if I replied to your original question (why I am not a member of the Roman Church) I shd. have to write a v. long letter." C.S. Lewis, Letter to Sister Mary Rose, January 1950, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950 - 1963, Ed. Walter Hooper, (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 8.

"The question for me (naturally) is not 'Why should I not be a Roman Catholic?' but 'Why should I?' But I don't like discussing such matters, because it emphasises differences and endangers charity. By the time I had really explained my objection to certain doctrines which differentiate you from us (and also in my opinion from the Apostolic and even the Medieval Church), you would like me less." Letter to Mrs. Halmbacher, March 1951, Ibid., 106.

"It is a little difficult to explain how I feel that tho' you have taken a way [conversion to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism] which is not for me I nevertheless congratulate you..." Letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, November 10, 1952, Ibid., 248-249.

Michael Edwards, commenting on a reply to a letter he received from Lewis on November 2, 1959, states:

"This was in response to a request for a personal meeting to help me sort out two different problem areas, (1) which Christian denomination I should settle on...I never felt happy as an Evangelical. I was seriously considering becoming a Roman Catholic...I was vexed about the problem of papal infallibility and Lewis recommended I should read "The Infallibility of the Church" [1888] by [George] Salmon. This in fact did hep me settle the question." Ibid., 1133.

A very fine Protestant ecclesiology

I am thoroughly enjoying this discussion, and I am thoroughly edified by Peter Escalante's explanations surrounding the Protestant definition of the word "church" here. I believe this goes a long way toward defining a Protestant ecclesiology that makes sense of the Reformation history as well as giving us a way to understand "the Protestant Church" moving forward in our own era.
To get straight to it: the corpus christianum on earth is a multitude, not a single political unity. This is why it can be genuinely transnational without being a multinational corporation or empire, and why it can be the principle of many commonwealths. The visible worship assemblies are actions of the corpus christianum, whereby the heavenly reality of that earthly corpus christianum becomes more iconically focused, so to speak. But as I said, a believer is not “more” in the mystical body on Sunday than on Friday.

As Steven has said, I think the idea you’re getting at is actually the corpus christianum. The important thing to note is that the c.c. as such is temporally a multitude, not a politically or para-politically incorporated institution. It underlies household, State, ministerium and worship assembly, and other civic and social forms.

* * *

Protestantism: of course there many movements in the 16th century, but most historians of the time have little trouble in clearly identifying a Magisterial Reformation, and can do so because it enjoyed a remarkable consensus on the crucial points. “Semper reformanda” does not primarily refer to doctrinal revision- the phrase isn’t doctrina semper reformanda- but rather, means that the Christians can always do more to get their act together. It cannot serve as warrant for ever more speculative theology, or for rejection of classic truths. It’s one thing to say that evangelical doctrine is wrong, but quite another to appeal to the Reformation example as warrant for departing from its principles…

* * *

You say “the institution which we call the Church”. Well, with the Reformers, I would say the Church is primarily the union of believers with Christ, a name for the relation of the Person to the many persons (and as Steven noted, this is straight Luther). The visible assemblies are indispensable, but derivative. The visible worship assembly is not an interposed mediator between a believer and the true Mediator. It is rather birds of a feather flocking together, fixed on the Sun of the Word, and winging on the air of the Spirit. You say you can’t square the Protestant conception with the Biblical metaphors; but you then admit that it probably does square with the evangelical doctrine of the mystical body. What you object to is the evangelical distinction between that one Body, and the many visible assemblies, because, it seems, you wish to entirely conflate them. Such a conflation leads of necessity, by the way, to ecclesiologies such as those of Rome, or Witness Lee. And missing in all your explanations of your position is the classic idea of the corpus christianum…

* * *

On alternatives: I think that there really aren’t that many alternatives, and the clearer one is about principles and the more coherent one’s thought becomes, the more one will find himself tracking with one of the handful of possibilities. I am not speaking of airtight systems; I am speaking of basic configurations of first principle, and there really is a phenomenological typology of these. Anabaptism and Rome really do both conflate the visible assemblies and the mystical body, and thus both, predictably, destroy the corpus christianum; and so on. There is a sort of science of these things.

On conflation: I do know you want to make a distinction. It would be helpful were you to recognize that we do not at all radically separate the visible earthly assemblies and the mystical Body of Christ: they share an identical center, the Word, and they are connected in living persons. The crucial difference, I think, is that we think that the way in the which the mystical Body most basically presents itself in the world is as the corpus christianum, which is a multitude; and that c.c. staffs, as it were, the household, the visible assemblies, and the civic orders and offices. It is not itself a polis; it is rather the principle of many commonwealths.

The Mystery of Missing Blogger Comments... Solved!

I figured out why some of the comments have either disappeared, or not posted.

Blogger added a new feature that is supposed to filter spam comments posted to blogs. It was their attempt to filter out the Asian porn comments that were being spammed across blogger:

"Blogger now filters comments that are likely spam comments to a Spam Inbox, much like the spam folder in your email. When someone leaves a comment on your blog, it will be reviewed against our spam detector, and comments that are identified as possible spam will be sent to your blog’s Spam Inbox, found at Comments Spam. "

As far as I can tell, it can't be turned off. I have all the missing comments in my blogger comment box, a feature I didn't even know I had.

Until this bug gets worked out, when posting your comment, take a look at it and ask yourself if anything in it would look like spam to a filter. If you leave an http link or URL without it being formatted as a hyper link, that may trigger it. If you misspell a word for dramatic effect, like "whaaaaaat", that might do it as well.

I'm going to empty the spam box, and check it every day. Sorry for the trouble. The only other option would be to moderate all the comments by having them reviewed before posting, which is not something I plan on doing.

I restored many of the missing comments. I don't check the blogger settings often, and it looks like none of you do either! I assume some of you are having the same problem on your own blogs. Well, I solved your problem. No charge.

If you post a comment and it vanishes, here's what you should do. Re-post it, but try and change it to bypass the spam filter. For instance: don't use all caps, spell words as correctly as possible, avoid http links that are unformatted. If this doesn't work, I'll be checking the Blogger spam box each day. Hopefully, by marking certain users comments as "not spam" Blogger adds you to a safe list.

Sorry for the inconvenience. On the other hand, if Blogger ever adds a feature that allows me to block certain commenters, watch out.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy - Introduction

I want to return to a work that I've described earlier, "The Heresy of Orthodoxy," by Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010). Kostenberger is author of A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God, and also the commentary on the Gospel of John from the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. Dr. Michael Kruger is Associate Professor of New Testament and Academic Dean at RTS and author or co-author of a couple of scholarly works from Brill and Oxford that I won't be able to afford for a long time.

"The Heresy of Orthodoxy" is an affordable little book that should be snapped up and devoured by anyone who cares about an accurate and easy-to-understand history of both the history and the doctrines of the New Testament Church. It's important to note here that the New Testament provides not only "history" and "doctrine," but it is also foundational if we are to understand "the history of doctrines". All three of these are separate though related elements, and this work takes each of these seriously. I'd go so far as to say that what Jaroslav Pelikan is to "The History of the Development of Doctrine," this little work could be to "The History of the Foundations of Doctrine."

The subtitle of this Introduction is "The Contemporary Battle to Recast the Origins of the New Testament and Early Church" and this is where the authors lay out the topics to be discussed. I've gone into that in some detail in a previous post, and so I won't go into that here, except to say that I have always believed that an understanding of the earliest church was a key to understanding what genuine Christianity was all about. This book gives a remarkable picture of the earliest church, right from the pages of the New Testament and the period immediately following.

Of course we want to believe what's true. And we believe that the word "truth" describes, to the best of our ability, "what actually happened." The authors work with the understanding that the New Testament is, among other things, a true and accurate record of the history of that time period. Others have argued the point, too. For example, Paul Barnett says that "Jesus and the first Christians are genuine figures of history and that they are faithfully and truthfully written about in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. These documents were written close in time to the events. They are historical and geographical in character." (Paul Barnett, "Is the New Testament Reliable? Downer's Grove: Inter varsity Press ©2003).

Barnett presents a quotation from the second century (A.D.) historian Lucian, who described the task of the historian in his day:
Facts must not be carelessly put together, but the historian must work with great labour and often at great trouble to make inquiry preferably being present and an eyewitness; failing that he must rely on those who are incorruptible, and have no bias from passion, nor add or dimish anything (pg 13, citing Lucian, Quomodo 47).
Barnett goes on to analyze the historical value of the various New Testament witnesses as historians: Luke, John, Peter, Mark, Matthew. He compares the chronologies of Paul's letters with Acts and also compares and cross-checks New Testament events with extrabiblical mentions of those same events. His conclusion is that "we have not one but several independent sources, not all of them sympathetic to Jesus. If we accept the historicity of the Jewish War on the grounds of independent sources that are able to be crosschecked, it is inconsistent to doubt the essential historicity of Jesus and the early church."

The New Testament is not only history, but it is normative of doctrine and practice
But it is also true that we must put history in its proper perspective. Steve Hays has also helpfully recommended an article by Richard Bauckham, The New Testament and the Episcopacy, which discusses not only the value of the New Testament as "evidence for historical reconstruction", but also its foundational value for establishing a Scriptural norm for the church. In fact, Bauckham notes that at times, "the use of New Testament writings as evidence for historical development ('what actually happened') is being confused with the function of Scripture as theological norm."
If Scripture is to function as Scripture, i.e. as norm for the church's belief and practice, then what matters is not what historians can reconstruct behind and around the texts, but what the texts present as normative to their readers. This requires a canonical rather than a historicist reading of the texts. It must take seriously the whole canon, not a canon within the canon, and must avoid confusing date with value. Chronology will matter only if and in the way that the texts themselves give it significance. Such an approach does not make all historical considerations irrelevant, nor does it solve all problems, but it avoids making highly debatable historical reconstructions, of which the church until modern times had no inkling, necessary to the New Testament’s functioning as normative Scripture.
So what we see is that Scripture, and Scripture alone, has a normative role in determining the doctrine and practice of the church. Later writings are not normative in the way that the Scripture is normative. While we know that "traditions" show divergence from these Scriptural norms -- and we can sometimes value these traditions -- we must question those "traditions" that seemingly contradict what is written in the Scriptures. (For example, I've cited Clement's misunderstanding of New Testament "grace," and also his virtual contradiction of Hebrews 10. The rise of the papacy in the 4th century is also a "tradition" that (a) has no basis in Scripture and (b) actually conflicts with it.)

Bauer's foundational presupposition is, "Must not the historian, like the judge, preside over the parties and maintain as a primary principle the dictum audiatur et altera pars [let the other side also be heard]? When one side cannot, because of anxiety, confusion, or clumsiness, gain proper recognition, is it not the obligation of the judge–and, mutatis mutandis of the historian–to assist it, as best he can, to unfold its case instead ofsimply submitting to the mental agility and firmness, the sagacity and loquacity of the other?" (Bauer, Intriduction, xxi).

He concludes "we can determine adequately the significance the "heretics" possessed for nascent and developing Christianity only when we, insofar as it is possible, place ourselves back into the period in which they went about their business, and without hesitation cast all our preconceived ideas aside."

This is the "diversity" issue that the authors discuss. The notion that every idea, no matter its source, no matter how far-fetched it is, must be given not only a fair hearing, but the presumption of equality with every other text, no matter how legitimate and widely accepted they are. Thus, as the authors state the Bauer/Ehrman thesis:
In the first century, claim Bauer, Ehrman, and other adherence to the "diversity" doctrine, there was no such thing as "Christianity" in the singular), but only Christianities (in the plural), different versions of belief, all of which claimed to be Christian" with equal legitimacy. The traditional version of Christianity that later came to be known as orthodoxy is but the form of Christianity espoused by the church in Rome, which emerged as the ecclesiastical victor in the power struggles waged during the second through the fourth centuries. (16)
What Kostenberger and Kruger work to show is not that there were "Christianities," but indeed, there was one New Testament church, with a definite structure and practice. [And I will say it, yes, this New Testament church of history looks nothing like the reconstruction offered by those Roman Catholics who like to project the structure of today's Roman church back onto the earliest church.]

So, while the authors work from a presupposition that the New Testament is an accurate and reliable record of history, they also work from the presupposition that it is normative for the doctrine and practice of the church.