Saturday, November 05, 2016

Pope Francis and Martin Luther: What's Going On?

If there's one topic that demonstrates the disunity in Roman Catholicism, it's the topic of the Reformation.  Karl Keating over at Catholic Answers says the Reformation was a "revolt" that brought "brought more grief than good." He says there's "nothing to celebrate" about the Reformation, but it should rather be "commemorated" in the sense of remembering a tragedy like 9/11. Keating states,
I see nothing to celebrate in the Protestant Reformation. It was the greatest disaster the West suffered over the last millennium. It brought theological confusion, political turmoil, and decades of war. The religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries killed about three percent of the world’s population, the same proportion that died in World War II. The religious wars would not have occurred had the Reformation not occurred.
It's been interesting  to watch Roman Catholics like Mr. Keating formulate their opinions while Pope Francis stands next to the Vatican's statue of Martin Luther.  Now I'm not exactly sure which room this statue will eventually reside in, but I do not recall there being a Vatican hall of heretics. Also interesting is that some reports say the Pope received a jumbo edition of the 95 Theses. Here's the video of the event. Of the reports I've read, only one says both the statue and the book were gifts, almost of them say only the book was the gift and the statue was the property of the Vatican prepared for the event (any clarification would be helpful). Luther's statue appears to be holding the New Testament, and I've read the yellow scarf has the name of the Lutheran pilgrim group in the Pope's audience (the pope also put the scarf on).  In my next trip to Rome, I'll do a pilgrimage to the Vatican's Luther statue and perhaps visit Martin Luther square.

Of the Reformation, Roman Catholics can either follow Karl Keating or Pope Francis:
In the same vein, the Pope viewed what he saw as positive aspects of the Reformation, saying the 16th-century schism led Christians to realize that without Christ “we can do nothing,” and for helping to give “greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life.” He also said Martin Luther’s concept of justification by “grace alone” reminded us that God always takes the initiative, and asserted that both sides at the Reformation had a “sincere will” to “profess and uphold the true faith.” [link]
The exact words from Pope Francis (well, translated into English, that is) were:
Jesus reminds us: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (v. 5). He is the one who sustains us and spurs us on to find ways to make our unity ever more visible. Certainly, our separation has been an immense source of suffering and misunderstanding, yet it has also led us to recognize honestly that without him we can do nothing; in this way it has enabled us to understand better some aspects of our faith. With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life. Through shared hearing of the word of God in the Scriptures, important steps forward have been taken in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, whose fiftieth anniversary we are presently celebrating. Let us ask the Lord that his word may keep us united, for it is a source of nourishment and life; without its inspiration we can do nothing.
The spiritual experience of Martin Luther challenges us to remember that apart from God we can do nothing. “How can I get a propitious God?” This is the question that haunted Luther. In effect, the question of a just relationship with God is the decisive question for our lives. As we know, Luther encountered that propitious God in the Good News of Jesus, incarnate, dead and risen. With the concept “by grace alone”, he reminds us that God always takes the initiative, prior to any human response, even as he seeks to awaken that response. The doctrine of justification thus expresses the essence of human existence before God.
Jesus intercedes for us as our mediator before the Father; he asks him that his disciples may be one, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). This is what comforts us and inspires us to be one with Jesus, and thus to pray: “Grant us the gift of unity, so that the world may believe in the power of your mercy”. This is the testimony the world expects from us. We Christians will be credible witnesses of mercy to the extent that forgiveness, renewal and reconciliation are daily experienced in our midst. Together we can proclaim and manifest God’s mercy, concretely and joyfully, by upholding and promoting the dignity of every person. Without this service to the world and in the world, Christian faith is incomplete.
As Lutherans and Catholics, we pray together in this Cathedral, conscious that without God we can do nothing. We ask his help, so that we can be living members, abiding in him, ever in need of his grace, so that together we may bring his word to the world, which so greatly needs his tender love and mercy. [link]
For Mr. Keating, the Reformation appears to be all about ecclesiastical corruption and an abhorrence of papal power. Ironically the Pope though captured the essence of Luther's Reformation: the centrality of the Word of God and how one can stand before a holy God. In my opinion, Mr. Keating's essay demonstrates a profound difference between serious Protestants and Roman Catholics. From my perspective, if an emphasis on proclaiming the sole infallibility and centrality of Scripture and an emphasis on a right relationship with a Holy God caused wars and divisions, so be it. If it causes World War III, then so be it. From my perspective, "Reformation Day" is not about celebrating or commemorating a past event (though that is part of it), it's primarily about giving allegiance to the principles of sola scriptura and sola fide in the ongoing life of the catholic church.

 Addendum #1: Pope Francis on Luther (June 2016)

Fr. Lombardi: Thank you Holiness, and so now we give the word to Tilmann Kleinjung, who is from the ARD, from the national German radio and also I think this might be his last trip so we are happy to give him this possibility.

Kleinjung (ARD): Yes, also I am about to depart for Bavaria. Thanks for this question.

Pope Francis: Too much beer!

Kleinjung: Too much beer … Holy Father, I wanted to ask you a question. Today you spoke of the gifts of the shared Churches, of the gifts shared by the Churches together. Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also – this is a heretical question – perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you.

Pope Francis: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church, but then this medicine consolidated into a state of things, into a state of a discipline, into a way of believing, into a way of doing, into a liturgical way and he wasn’t alone; there was Zwingli, there was Calvin, each one of them different, and behind them were who? Principals! We must put ourselves in the story of that time. It’s a story that’s not easy to understand, not easy. Then things went forward, and today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, and these also depend on the Churches. In Buenos Aires there were two Lutheran churches, and one thought in one way and the other...even in the same Lutheran church there was no unity; but they respected each other, they loved each other, and the difference is perhaps what hurt all of us so badly and today we seek to take up the path of encountering each other after 500 years. I think that we have to pray together, pray. Prayer is important for this. Second, to work together for the poor, for the persecuted, for many people, for refugees, for the many who suffer; to work together and pray together and the theologians who study together try...but this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. - “when?” - “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know...the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together. Above all for the poor, for the people who suffer and for peace and many things...against the exploitation of people and many things in which they are jointly working together.

Addendum #2: Interview With Pope Francis 10/28/16

Father Ulf Jonsson: In ecumenical dialogue, the different communities should be mutually enriched with the best of their traditions. What could the Catholic Church learn from the Lutheran tradition?

Pope Francis: Two words come to my mind: «reform» and «Scripture». I will try to explain. The first is the word «reform». At the beginning, Luther’s was a gesture of reform in a difficult time for the Church. Luther wanted to remedy a complex situation. Then this gesture—also because of the political situations, we think also of the cuius regio eius religio (whose realm, his religion) —became a «state» of separation, and not a process of reform of the whole Church, which is fundamental, because the Church is semper reformanda (always reforming). The second word is «Scripture», the Word of God. Luther took a great step by putting the Word of God into the hands of the people. Reform and Scripture are two things that we can deepen by looking at the Lutheran tradition. The General Congregations before the Conclave comes to mind and how the request for a reform was alive in our discussions.


Arvinger said...

No, it does not show disunity withn the Church, you misrepresent what we mean by unity. We mean unity of doctrine - and that exists only in the dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church, it does not exit within fragmented Protestantism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Deviations of this or that Catholic from the teaching of the Church (even if he is a Pope, and Francis is probably not - although that is another long topic) do not impact the unchangeable doctrine of the Catholic Church. Due to lack of infallible Magisterium Protestantism does not have unchangeable doctrine, as complete collapse and 180 degree turn on the issue of contraception after 1930 Lambeth Conference and many other examples show. Every Protestant doctrine is merely a private interpretation of Scripture of this or that pastor or denomination, which ecclesiastically has no more authority than other interpretations. Even when you argue against the Unitarians, you do not have any authority that the Unitarian do not have - both your Trinitarian and their Unitarian view remain on the level of private interpretation which are not binding on anyone.

John Sellman said...

Arvinger - You are trying to argue the Roman position and reject the Pope at the same time? How do you do that?
Anyway, an infallable magisteriam is not needed to interpret the bible first, the bible is divine revelation, God very speaking. For God to reveal something he doesn't need men to put their imprimatur on it. God's speaking carries his own authority. He doesn't need the Pope's authority to make it binding on human beings.
Second, the gospel has God's inherant authority. Even if Paul the apostle preached a different gospel, a different message, he would be accursed, and the message is to be rejected even though he has the authority of an apostle. And Rome definitely has a different gospel than that of the new testament. I can know this as I can use my God given mind and see the obvious difference between the new testament and the Councils of Trent or Vatican I.

David Waltz said...

Hello John,

You wrote:

==Anyway, an infallable magisteriam is not needed to interpret the bible first, the bible is divine revelation, God very speaking. For God to reveal something he doesn't need men to put their imprimatur on it. God's speaking carries his own authority. He doesn't need the Pope's authority to make it binding on human beings.==

A few days ago, I published a post on Alister McGrath's, Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution (LINK).

In his book, Dr. McGrath raises a number of important questions, which include the following:

>>How could a text-based movement have a coherent inner identify when there was such a clear and fundamental disagreement on how that text was to be interpreted and applied on an issue of critical importance?

Who has the authority to define its faith?

Who has the right to interpret its fundamental document, the Bible?>>

He also writes:

>>Since every Protestant has the right to interpret the Bible, a wide range of interpretations cannot be avoided. And since there is no centralized authority within Protestantism, this proliferation of options cannot be controlled. Who has the right to decide what is orthodox and what is heretical?>> [See original post for page numbers.]

Dr. McGrath, has provided his readers—yet once again—with some important and provocative reflections and questions. A must read IMO...

Grace and peace,


Pedro Gaião said...

I wanna discuss a few points raised in the comments:

Since you have pointed out that Catholic Unity remains douctrinary matters, which any could argue that protestants and orthodox doesn't have. Before anything else, I have to ask: what's your stand in Corredemption? I mean, although the Pope declined the overrall demand for it in late 20th century (according to NY Times, 4 millions of catholics alongside 500 bishops, 42 cardinais, which includes Madre Teresa of Calcuta, John O’Connor of New York and the polish Joseph Glemp), many theologians and laicy still defends such douctrine, and that douctrinary heterodoxy is only the beginning. In History, we see plenty of douctrinary disputes lasting for centuries: the Immaculate Conception, for example, was the very reason of hostilities between Franciscans and Dominicans back from the Middle Ages, which even resulted in phyisical agression, falsifications of Marian Aparations and, of course, sectarism (that's the exact term a franciscan preacher used in a sermon at Frankfurt in early 16th century to refer to Dominicans, "a sect"); the dispute was resolved several centuries after by Pius IX's unorthodox religious policy. If the Magisterium is Divine Guided and all could be resolved by simply doing it, why the Magisterium did nothing? We heard of extensive defense it, but Magisterium often avoid major difficult theologicals questions either because Rome didn't have the theological knowledge to assert the discussion or because it's a way simpler to let it roll up to next centuries until it fades out (like it happened to a medieval franciscan controversy on Jesus Blood) or one of the sides gets the stronger and obvious arguement than the other (then the Magisterium shows up and say: now that's truth of faith, always believed by the Holy Church). Deprive the Magisterium of all it's metaphysical claimed properties and all that rest is nothing more than a group of theologians and eligibles trying to assert questions in way like orthodox and protestant synods do. The Council of Constance subordinated Pope's authority to the Council, that was Magisterium; then Pope Pius IX managed to bribe or threaten Vatican I's elegibles so they might vote for his agenda; less than half of the original elegibles were at the final election of the Council due to Pope's dirty political maneuvers. Then, you have an official interpration, resulted from such democratic votings to define if something is an eternal truth or not. Tell me how that's better than the Ecummenical Council at Trullo which stated that Pope wasn't the only primus inter pares of Church (indirectly rejecting what Pope saw as "primacy") or latter Eastern Councils that condemned Pope's heresies? For Eastern Bishops and Churches (whom were just as historically old and apostolic as you are), the Council is the real Magisterium, and Papacy, although choose just the councils that wasn't against their douctrines, officially agreed on that until Vatican I. That said, you should consider if Magisterium is indeed what Pope say it is and why it isn't the Councils of Pre-Schimatic Catholic Church. After that, consider the contradictions made by Roman Magisteriums

Pedro Gaião said...

Catholicism says Orthodox Traditions are fallible and often corrupted, such as their "Magisterium". The same could be said about the opposite. Since you has plenary conviction that Pope represents the Head of these Magisterium, then you should expect that popes don't contradict themselves, just in the way as post-Vatican II's Pope lifted the Syllabus Errorum Teachings (that were almost the same of Mirari Vos) as outdated and now defends Freedom of Consciousness, Religion et coetera. You actually have breaks from Mainstream Catholicism arguing that Church corrupted its teachings, but the clergymen will be satisfied with the laymen are unware of those, knowledge of such divisions aren't good of all the unity stuff.

Magisterium indeed guides Roman Church to somewhere, but you must see if it isn't leading you to an abyss. Perhaps protestantism doesn't have the magisterium that Rome had due to our understanding of tolerance of different lines in theology, like Early Church Fathers understood: they diverged, they debated, they remained in Christ. They discerned what was acceptable and what was an heresy, like arianism or gnosticism. Roman Catholicism however, usually opposes to discussion,] or does allow it if the final result is the acceptance of Rome's point of view. Not every case of course, specially in the first centuries. However, that reminds me when Pope Victor II couldn't convince other bishops that his oral apostolic tradition was the right one, them he simply excommunicated everyone who disagreed with him.

The problem is that some catholics had the bad addiction of misunderstanding what is Free Exam and what is Free Interpretation. Protestantism is based in the first one, and if you disagree with that, then you might have problems with St. Paul praising Berea's church for doing exactly that: they examinated the Scriptures everytime, to check if what was teached didn't contradicted the Bible. Laymen, doing that! But hey, they shouldn't do that, they should trust everything a preacher or bishop was telling to them, afterall! Of course, that doesn't meant you are right just because you think the preacher is wrong. Simply do that: once you notice what seens to be a contradicton, you ask about it, debate it. That proposal is a way more honest than simply say your Church agree in everything when its clearly not the case. Heresy is a reality, although I may look in equal terms to an Arian or Gnostic Theology's defender, I may count with God's help to show him the truth. Otherwise, I maybe locked in an circular arguement like: "This interpretation is right because Church supported it; Church is right because this interpretation supported it; and so on".

For the matters of biblical interpretation: exegesis might help a lot. And, in case you don't know, Protestants actually have a criteria to consider what is in it and what it isn't. He have a common creed over more than the 40 fundamental points in Christian Theology. A guy who simple say Christ isn't God is not one of us.

Arvinger said...

John Sellman, you said:

"Anyway, an infallable magisteriam is not needed to interpret the bible first, the bible is divine revelation, God very speaking. For God to reveal something he doesn't need men to put their imprimatur on it. God's speaking carries his own authority. He doesn't need the Pope's authority to make it binding on human beings."

It is not about "imprimatur", but about correct interpretation of Divine Revelation. Without infallible Magisterium any interpretation of the Bible is just fallible opinion of man. Your interpretation does not have any other authority than interpretation of a Protestant who disagrees with you on certain issue. If you argue against a Unitarian or against Matthew Vines then your Trinitarian belief and opposition to homosexuality are nothing more than private, fallible interpretations of Scripture without any authority that Unitarian's of Vines' interpretation oes not have. Even when you are right, truth and error are on the same level of private, fallible interpretation.

"Second, the gospel has God's inherant authority. Even if Paul the apostle preached a different gospel, a different message, he would be accursed, and the message is to be rejected even though he has the authority of an apostle."

How do you define what the Gospel is? All you have is your private interpretation of Scripture.

"I can know this as I can use my God given mind and see the obvious difference between the new testament and the Councils of Trent or Vatican I."

I use my God given mind as well and I see a perfect unity between Trent and the New Testament. So if there is no infallible authority it is merely mine vs. your opinion, without any authority able to verify who is right.

Arvinger said...

Pedro Gaiao,

Co-Redemptrix remains an open question - John Paul II (who might not even have been a valid Pope, but that is a different matter) merely asked comision of theologians about that title, they unanimously said it is not appropriate. That does not mean that the John Paul II rejected the title of Co-Redemptrix for Our Lady or condemned it as a heresy, he never did such a thing. Untill the Magisterium makes an infallible pronouncement on this matter Catholic are free to accept or reject Co-Redemptrix. Yes, the Immaculate Conception was a debated issue, St. Thomas Aquinas himself denied it in Summa Theologica. Till the time of Church's infallible definition on this issue it was permissible to hold both positions without commiting a sin. So is the case with Co-Redemptrix now.

Regarding Council of Constance, it deposed two Anti-Popes (John XXIII and Benedict XIII) who were not Popes to begin with, and teaching on conciliarism was not ratified by Pope Martin V - in fact conciliarism was condemned later by Lateran V, long before Vatican I. Your view of the Magisterium seems to assume that we believe that the Pope an bishops are somehow puppets programmed by the Holy Spirit so no doctrinal problems or discussions can occur on the way. Of course they can, outside the scope of infallibility as define by Vatican I different sort of errors occured, but the infallible teachings in the history of the Church never contradicted each other through 2000 year - which is a remarkable evidence of God's protection over His Church.

Your comments on Protestants interpreting Scripture are not helpful at all. You claim someone who doesn't believe in a Trinity is not a Christian. I agree, but what basis do you have to say that? They disagree with this or that Protestant Creed or Confession of Faith? Both are fallible. Disagrees with your private interpretation of Scripture? Your interpretation is fallible as well. In other words, a Unitarian can make exact same claims as you did, and you have no authority that he does not have. In the end, it is yours vs. his opinion. A result is hundreds of sects which can't agree on meaning of Eucharist, infant baptism, Lordship salvation vs. no-Lordship salvation, imputation of righteousness etc. Your advice "exegete and debate" simply does not work.

Arvinger said...

Oh, and regarding the question how can I argue for Catholicism and reject the Pope - long story short, a formal heretic (which Popes after Vatican II are likely to have been, and Francis very likely is) cannot be a valid Pope and cannot excercise any authority in the Church. I cannot prove it (Church declaration would be neeed to establish formal heresy of Francis), but it is possible that the Chair of Peter is vacant since 1958.