Saturday, May 03, 2008

Sippo, Lortz, Ratzinger, and Luther

Catholic apologist Art Sippo continually slanders me using the word "Nazi" whenever I mention Catholic theologian Joseph Lortz. It wasn't very long ago when Dr. Sippo said, "But the legitimacy of all Protestant religions is threatened by the continued existence of Catholicism. That is why so many Protestants are anti-Catholic bigots including the pro-Nazi Mr. Swan." Of all the negative comments I've endured from the zealous defenders of Rome, this type of comment is probably one of the worst, if not the worst. Nazi? Using such a word flippantly is downright immoral, not only offending me, but also the memory of those whose lives were taken by the depraved evil perpetuated by the Nazi's.

Now many of you probably have no idea what this is all about. Why would mentioning Catholic theologian Joseph Lortz prompt Sippo to say such a thing? Well, a few years back Dr. Sippo and I discussed Catholic biographies of Martin Luther. I pointed out that up until the biography produced by Lortz, Catholic works toward Luther were typically vilifying, concentrating on Luther as an immoral heretic. Lortz was one of the first to approach Luther as an honest theologian. His work prompted an entire "reformation" in the Catholic understanding of Luther. Sippo responded that Lortz was a Nazi, and I was being charitable to a Nazi, therefore, according to Sippo, I must be "pro-Nazi." You can read my comments about Lortz here, in which I address the charges made by Sippo.

I mention all this because recently in a comment box, I was directed to a comment from Joseph Ratzinger on Luther's excommunication. I searched around for a larger context of the citation, and found a PDF file. I'm assuming that since the article refers to "Cardinal Ratzinger" it was written before he became Pope. Note below, Ratzinger's comments on Lortz, and how Ratzinger simply stated many of things I did about his scholarship :

Question: Where does Luther scholarship stand today? Have there been any attempts to research Luther's theology, beyond existing historical investigations?

Cardinal Ratzinger: Nobody can answer this question in a few sentences. Besides, it would require a special kind of knowledge which I do not possess. It might be helpful,however, briefly to mention a few names which represent the various stages and trends of Catholic Luther scholarship. At the beginning of the century we have the decidedly polemical work by the Dominican H. Denifle. He was responsible for placing Luther in the context of the Scholastic tradition, which Denifle knew better than anybody else because of his intimate knowledge of the manuscript materials. He is followed by the much more conciliatory Jesuit, Grisar, who, to be sure, encountered various criticisms because of the psychological patterns in which he sought to explain the problem of Luther. J. Lortz from Luxembourg became the father of modern Catholic Luther scholarship. He is still considered the turning-point in the struggle for an historically truthful and theologically adequate image of Luther. Against the background of the theological movement between the two world wars, Lortz could develop new ways of questioning which, subsequently, would lead to a new assessment of Luther. Meanwhile, the liturgical, biblical, and ecumenical movements on both sides have changed a lot of things. The Protestant side engaged in a renewed search for sacrament and church, that is for the Catholic Luther (K.A. Meissinger) Catholics strove for a new and more direct relationship with Scripture and, simultaneously, sought a piety which was shaped against the background of traditional liturgy. Much criticism was directed at many a religious form which had developed during the second millenium, especially during the nineteenth century. Such criticism discovered its kinship with Luther. It sought to emphasize the "Evangelical" in the Catholic. It was against this background that Lortz could describe the great religious impulses which stimulated the reformer and which generated theological understanding of Luther's own criticism that had its roots in the late medieval crises of church and theology. With this in mind, Lortz proposed the famous thesis for the period of the great change in the thinking of the reformer: "within himself Luther wrestled and overthrew a Catholicism that was not Catholic." Paradoxically, he could have based his thesis on Denifle who demonstrated that Luther's revolutionary interpretation of Romans 1:17, which Luther himself later interpreted as the actual turning-point of the Reformation, in reality corresponded to the line of arguments presented by the medieval exegetical tradition. Even concerning the period around 1525 during which, following Luther's excommunication and his polemics which were aimed at the center of Catholic doctrine, the contours of a new evangelical church organization became apparent, Lortz thought he could safely say that Luther was "not yet aware of the fact that he was outside the Church." Though Lortz did not minimize the deep rift which really began to take shape in the controversies of the Reformation, it seemed simple enough, following his work and by simplifying his statements, to develop the thesis that the separation of the churches was, really, the result of a misunderstanding and that it could have been prevented had the church been more vigilant."

How odd, Cardinal Ratzinger verified some of the points I made when dialoging with Sippo. There was the "polemical work by the Dominican H. Denifle" that I've mentioned often. There was Grisar's "psychological patterns in which he sought to explain the problem of Luther." And then, there was Lortz who was "the father of modern Catholic Luther scholarship. He is still considered the turning-point in the struggle for an historically truthful and theologically adequate image of Luther." What does all this mean? It should settle the case even for Roman Catholics that Dr. Sippo doesn't know what he's talking about when he throws the word "Nazi" around. Ratzinger simply said the same thing I did. I don't even agree with all the conclusions of Lortz (as I explain here), but I do recognize his importance in the Catholic understanding of Luther.


Alex said...

Oh, the pathetic reductio ad Hitlerum. Dr. Sippo's attempt to demonize you by calling you a Nazi is truly deplorable and disruptive. The only brownie points he is earning with this type of rhetoric is with the ameners in his own audience. I wouldn't allow him to live this down until he publically apologizes; and all this coming from a Roman Catholic.

Alex said...

Dr Sippo: "You know, come to think of it, If Mr. Swan rally thinks that being a Nazi doesn't disqualify Fr. Lortz as a Luther expert, why doesn't he go right to the top and advocate the opinions of Adolph Hitler himself!"

Me: ???

I have not read up on Fr. Lortz, nor have I done much reading on Luther; however, I don't care if Fr. Lortz was Hitler's right-hand man, you can't simply discredit his writings on Luther because of "relationship" with Hitler. That doesn't make any sense. You keep what is good and true, while you throw out what is factually incorrect and bad. Doesn't Dr. Sippo keep what is good and true from St. John Crysostom, while rejecting his rhetoric towards the Jews? You can't have it both ways.

Saint and Sinner said...

Yep. Sippo uses the annoying genetic fallacy. Of course, Dave Hunt uses that fallacy plenty...especially against Roman Catholicism.

Saint and Sinner said...

"Doesn't Dr. Sippo keep what is good and true from St. John Crysostom, while rejecting his rhetoric towards the Jews?"

If Sippo's attitude toward Protestants is indicative of his view of adherents of any non-Catholic religious group, then he probably views Jews the same way.

Alex said...

"If Sippo's attitude toward Protestants is indicative of his view of adherents of any non-Catholic religious group, then he probably views Jews the same way."

Supprisingly I don't think he does.

James Swan said...

I recognize that with blogging, the Internet, and discourse between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, there will always be an unavoidable level of rhetoric and ad hominem from both sides. I think though Sippo has gone beyond any acceptable level with this. We here over on this side of the Tiber know that Sippo does more harm to Roman Catholic apologetics than help.

What has always amazed many of us is that Sippo still finds acceptance among his peers. For instance, Patrick Madrid booted me off his Surprised By Truth forums, which is fine- I was actually quite "surprised" he let me stay as long as he did. I was booted for linking to one of Dr. White's articles, or posting one of them. On the other hand, Sippo posts quite often on the same forum, is allowed to call people "Nazi's," and post other derogatory comments. A few years back I tried to dialog with one of the Catholic Legate guys, and he said something to the effect that Sippo uses "a different method" in his apologetic approach, but never condemned it.

I would not have brought this up, but when reading Ratzinger's comments on Lortz, I was reminded of Sippo's vitriol, and also of the number of Jewish friends I have who may at some point stop by my blog or Google-search my name. Normally I find slander against me either sad or humorous, but Sippo's throwing the term "Nazi" around deeply offends me. I grew up in an area that was predominantly Jewish, and I work in an area that is predominantly Jewish. I know at least one holocaust survivor. I have many Jewish friends and acquaintances. I find Sippo's comments deeply slanderous, and indeed, to do the right thing he should take down his blog pages in which he links me with Nazi's.

At least he should recognize that I didn't say anything much different than Cardinal Ratzinger. Perhaps though, Mr. Sippo likewise thinks the latest Pope is "pro-Nazi" as well.