Monday, 28 November 2011

What's Really Behind the Euro Crisis?

What's really behind the Euro crisis? Why, it's about whether hard-working, frugal Lutherans will bail out profligate Latins, of course. The Reformation may be written off in some quarters as ancient history, but old habits born of religious sanction die hard, even in secular Europe. One financial journalist sees the crisis as essentially a religio-cultural one revolving around whether countries whose ethos was shaped by the Protestant work ethic will assume responsibility for the debts of societies who are historically less constrained by religious taboos on excessive consumption and spending. Read her opinion here. There's no detailed sociological analysis here, nor would we expect it in such a forum, and Ms Francis is painting with a broad brush (in what sense has the Netherlands been formed by a Lutheran ethos?) but it's heartening to see at least one journalist taking religion seriously as a significant motivator of human actions and shaper of cultural mores, even long after the vitality of those religious traditions has been weakened by decades of attack from both within and without.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Orthodoxy in the West: The Eastern-Rite Mainline?


According to Fr Gregory Jensen, an academic and priest of the 'Orthodox Church in America' (the denomination with Russian immigrant origins that former Lutheran scholar Jaroslav Pelikan joined) Eastern Orthodoxy in North America on the ground - as opposed to how it appears from behind the rose-coloured spectacles of prospective Protestant converts - is rapidly becoming as liberal as the Protestant mainline churches many of those converts are fleeing. So much so that he says the Orthodox Church in all its ethnic branches in the US looks increasingly like 'the Eastern-Rite Mainline'.*

How so? Support for abortion and gay marriage runs disturbingly high among the laity, politicians of Orthodox background publicly support positions which stand in stark contradiction to the Church's moral teaching and priests are 'not effectively communicating the [Christian] moral tradition', thus surrendering the laity to the forces of secularisation and cultural barbarism. Not to mention, and Fr Gregory doesn't, but anyone who keeps a 'weather eye' on the Orthodox Church will know, that the various sexual and financial scandals among the Orthodox hierarchy in the US have clearly demoralised many of the devout clergy and laity.**

Part of the solution, Fr Gregory avers, is for the Orthodox in the West to draw upon the riches of the Western Christian tradition, specifically the Catholic tradition's 'partnership of faith and reason, natural law, and the objective and universal character of Christian morality'. I think he's an insightful and brave man for saying this, because most articulate Orthodox - especially Western converts - that I have come across have a strong animus against the Christian West, with Augustine being their favourite whipping boy. In their eyes the great North African Father is to blame not only for Roman Catholicism but also, by way of reaction, for Luther and hence 'Protestantism' (and in speaking about 'Protestantism' the Orthodox tend to make no distinction between a snake-handling Pentecostal and a confessional Lutheran, thereby only displaying their ignorance of the heritage of the Christian West after the Reformation). But, surely, without a sympathetic Orthodox engagement with Augustine - and indeed with Luther - there is unlikely to be any significant rapprochement between Orthodoxy and the Christian West beyond the usual glad-handing at ecumenical gatherings.

I would also respectfully suggest to Fr Gregory that he not overlook what can be learned from the experience of those confessional churches of the Reformation which have taken a different path from their liberal Protestant cousins. A big part of Orthodoxy's problems, in my view, stem from the reality that it is not actually a 'confessional' church, but a 'big tent' church. The question for Orthodoxy now is just how big is its tent, given that they now have their own vocal and prominent proponents for recognition of the right to abortion, women's ordination and even revision of the church's teaching on homosexuality?

Finally, I think we are witnessing yet another confirmation of Dr Sasse's prescient observation of 50 or so years ago that in the modern world all the great Christian communions will face the same theological problems, without exception. The obvious moral for small 'o' orthodox Western Christians in all of this - especially Lutherans - who might think that Constantinople offers a safe haven from the destructive winds of modernism that have wrought such havoc in our own churches, is to look before you leap into the Bosphorus.

--+--

Fr Jensen's reflection can be found here

* For Australian readers, the Americans refer to the major historical Protestant denominations collectively as 'the Protestant Mainline' denominations, because they were once the numerically and culturally dominant forms of American Protestantism. Since succumbing to theological liberalism in the 20th C., the membership and influence of these denominations has declined significantly.

** While it's beyond our purview here, it should be noted that there have also been astonishing sexual and financial scandals involving Orthodox clergy and bishops in Greece, where the Church seems to have totally abdicated its moral authority (does this explain the present parlous state of Greek society or is it symptomatic of it?), and financial corruption has also been uncovered in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in matters pertaining to the unauthorised sale of church land to the state of Israel and the disappearance of the funds from these sales.

I tread carefully here, because there will always be 'bad apples' and hypocrites among the clergy, and no church body is immune from them, but when persistent patterns of aberrant behaviour become evident in a particular church culture, one is surely entitled to ask whether it is not just 'occasional sin' on the part of individuals but the 'systemic sin' of the institution that has been uncovered? Is there something about the administrative systems of such a church body itself, systems which inevitably reflect its official theology/ecclesiology, that fosters these particular sins?

--+--

And if the astute reader is wondering 'Is there a connection between this post and the last one on Edwin Muir's poem 'The Castle', the answer is yes - the enemy most to be feared is the one within the castle walls!

Monday, 21 November 2011

'Our Only Enemy Was Gold'




The Castle

All through that summer at ease we lay,
And daily from the turret wall
We watched the mowers in the hay
And the enemy half a mile away
They seemed no threat to us at all.

For what, we thought, had we to fear
With our arms and provender, load on load,
Our towering battlements, tier on tier,
And friendly allies drawing near
On every leafy summer road.

Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
So smooth and high, no man could win
A foothold there, no clever trick
Could take us, have us dead or quick.
Only a bird could have got in.

What could they offer us for bait?
Our captain was brave and we were true....
There was a little private gate,
A little wicked wicket gate.
The wizened warder let them through.

Oh then our maze of tunneled stone
Grew thin and treacherous as air.
The cause was lost without a groan,
The famous citadel overthrown,
And all its secret galleries bare.

How can this shameful tale be told?
I will maintain until my death
We could do nothing, being sold;
Our only enemy was gold,
And we had no arms to fight it with.

Edwin Muir (1887-1959)

I haven't posted any poetry for a while, and since I'm quite busy at the moment, this seems a good time. 'The Castle' by Edwin Muir is one of my favourites - I always think of it as summer comes on. Muir was a much under-rated Scottish poet of the 20th century (although not a Scottish nationalist). His simplicity is artful. As a young man (14 y.o. actually; boys became men much younger in previous generations - even my own father, born two generations after Muir, was working full time by 15) Muir emigrated from one of the most primitive rural societies in the Western world - the Orkney Islands - to one of its most industrialised cities - Glasgow, in search of employment, a move which profoundly shaped his life and poetry:

"I was born before the Industrial Revolution, and am now about two hundred years old. But I have skipped a hundred and fifty of them. I was really born in 1737, and till I was fourteen no time-accidents happened to me. Then in 1751 I set out from Orkney for Glasgow. When I arrived I found that it was not 1751, but 1901, and that a hundred and fifty years had been burned up in my two day's journey. But I myself was still in 1751, and remained there for a long time. All my life since I have been trying to overhaul that invisible leeway. No wonder I am obsessed with Time." (Extract from Diary 1937-39.)

Muir, an autodidact, did many of the first translations of Kafka into English with the assistance of his wife Willa; they were so good some of them are still in print. He also wrote fiction and non-fiction, managing to eke out an existence as a writer, which, however insecure it might have been, must have been infinitely preferable to the brutal existence of a factory worker in 20th C. Glasgow. Muir's contemporary, T.S. Eliot, thought highly enough of his work to edit a volume of his poems for Faber & Faber; if you can track down a copy it will repay your effort many times over.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Lutherans Can Be Funny

I know, your typical German or Scandinavian Lutherans aren't known for their sense of humour; just think of all those ponderous Bergman movies for instance. But Lutherans can be funny...even if in a characteristically understated way:



More scintillating 'Lutheran Satire' here

Monday, 14 November 2011

News Roundup 14.11.11

I just learned how to embed links in a post (fast learner, eh?!). Taking advantage of my new skill, here's a roundup of news items that have come across the wires to the old manse this past week (on this blog, I am my own sub-editor, i.e. I write the headlines, which may sometimes reflect my take on the item, ironic or otherwise; if you hover over the headline the real title of the story will be displayed, or at least it is on my screen, click to view the report [am I the only one who needs these instructions?]):

Ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόν ('Physician, heal thyself!')

Why Can't They All Just Get Along?

'May the God of Hope Fill You with All Joy'

'Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal Benefits Other Denominations' (duh!)

Let's Hope They Don't Mess Up

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A Gem From Luther

OK - on to something altogether more wholesome and edifying. Here's a gem of a quote from Luther which a colleague pastor, Vernon Kleinig, alerted me to:

'The Word of God comes, whenever it comes, in a form that is contrary to our own thinking. ... Unless one becomes acquainted with it through practical experience, he will never understand it. And certainly, if practical experience is necessary in law which teaches a shadowy righteousness, how much more necessary it is in theology.' From Luther: Lectures on Romans (Library of Christian Classics), ed. Wilhelm Pauck (Westminster Press, 1961), 327-8.

Much depth to plumb there!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Catholic Church One of Germany's Largest Purveyors of Pornography

OK - with that post title you're probably thinking my anti-Roman Catholicism has strayed from the territory of principled doctrinal objection into the shadowy world of conspiracy theory fueled religious bigotry, right? Read on...

Germany's largest book publisher, 'Weltbild Verlag' (annual turnover US$1.7 billion), carries 2500 porn titles in its inventory, including the usual pictorial magazines featuring explicit nudity and 'erotic' novels. No surprises there, as pornography has become increasingly 'mainstream' over the last 20 or so years, poisoning millions of hearts and souls in the process. This news is a surprise, though: 'Weltbild' is owned in toto by the Catholic Church in Germany, with ownership divided between the German Bishops’ Conference (24%), the Archdiocese of Munchen and Freising (13%), the diocese of Augsburg (13%) and 11 other dioceses with percentage ownerships ranging from two to seven percent.

Not surprisingly, the German Catholic faithful, alerted to this sordid trade by the cover story of the current issue of a leading, lay-published Catholic magazine named 'PUR Magazin' (subsequently picked up by the secular press) are scandalised. 'PUR' titled its cover article for the November issue (pictured) 'Bischoefe als Porno-Produzenten?' ('Bishops as Porn Producers?'), and asks 'Was zählt mehr: Geld oder Moral?' (What is more important: Money or Morality?). You'd think the Catholic bishops would act swiftly on the 'Weltbild' scandal, yes? Perhaps order their company to withdraw all offending books and magazines from sale? Er...not quite; actually, to add insult to injury, 'Weltbild Verlag' has threatened to sue 'PUR' because, under German law, its publications are not legally categorised as 'Pornography' but as the less objectionable 'Erotica' (the infamous 'Jesuitical casuistry' lives!).

'But surely', you may ask, 'the bishops - the moral arbiters for the Catholic faithful- were ignorant of this aspect of their company's business?' Not so, I'm afraid - the owner of 'PUR' and other lay activists have, by their own account, privately been trying to get action from the bishops on this matter for ten years, and the diocesan bishops concerned were all sent a 70 page dossier outlining the objectionable material published by 'Weltbild', which also publishes books promoting Satanism, the occult and atheism. It was only when they received no response from the bishops after ten years of persistence - no response apart from arrogant dismissal of their concerns, that is - that they felt they had no option left to them but to go public. It will be interesting to see if the Catholic Church in Germany, already reeling from the priestly paedophilia scandal, will survive this public disgrace foisted upon it by its own bishops, the 'successors to the holy Apostles'.

Even more disturbing is the report by American Catholic journalist Steve Jalsevac, in an op-ed piece at 'Life Site News' linking the latest German revelations with his own long-standing observations of a deep vein of sexual perversion that runs through the ostensibly celibate Roman Catholic priesthood: 'the German porn situation, from all the evidence I have seen over the years, was likely allowed to continue because a fair number of influential German clergy at all levels...have no problem with this kind of porn and may use it themselves. Such is the degree of moral corruption that appears to exist in some parts of the Church, especially in the affluent, very comfortable and increasingly faithless West' (http://www.lifesitenews.com/home/print_article/news/32189/).

Click on the post title to go to the 'PUR Magazin' website (the usual disclaimer applies - caveat lector).

Monday, 7 November 2011

Will the Last Priest to Leave Please Blow Out the Sanctuary Lamp

Speaking of Episcopalians (see recent post on 'Sydney Anglicans'; for Australian readers 'Episcopalians' are American Anglicans), this report recently appeared in the 'Church of England Newspaper', further chronicling the numerical decline of the denomination as it has embraced liberal theology:

'The US Episcopal Church reports that attendance has fallen 16 per cent over the past five years with the number of Episcopalians dropping below two million.

According to statistics released last week, the number of Episcopalians fell from 2,006,343 in 2009 to 1,951,907 in 2010. Over the last 10 years the Church lost 16 per cent of its members, while the rate of decline for the past five years was 11 per cent.

After holding steady in the 1990s membership and attendance began to drop in the wake of the controversies surrounding the consecration of the Church’s first gay bishop. Over the last 10 years attendance has fallen by 23 per cent to 657,831.

Declines are reported across the whole church. Fifty-four per cent of all congregations suffered a decline in attendance last year, while only 24 per cent saw a rise.

The national Church’s statistical office also reported a sharp disconnect between the leadership of the Church and people in the pews. While the national leadership is overwhelmingly very liberal in its views, the denomination’s members are equally divided between liberals and conservatives.

Only five per cent of congregations categorised themselves as very liberal, 24 per cent as somewhat liberal, 41 per cent as moderate, 23 per cent as somewhat conservative, and seven per cent as very conservative.

The ordination of gay and lesbian clergy had led to internal conflict amongst almost two-thirds of congregations (62 per cent), while financial worries afflicted 54 per cent.

The denomination, which once claimed over 3.5 million members as recently as the mid-1960s, has lost over 40 per cent of membership over the last 40 years while the US population grew by over 50 per cent during the same period.'


Commentary - There's nothing surprising in the continuing downward trend of Episcopalian membership, which, as the report says, has been going on for decades. What is interesting is the self-identification of Episcopalians as '41 per cent...moderate, 23 per cent ...somewhat conservative, and seven per cent ...very conservative.' Admittedly, 'one man's moderate can be another man's liberal', but these figures do imply that 71% of Episcopalians probably have serious concerns about the 'very liberal' direction of the church leadership, which would seem to be reflected in the report that ordination of gay and lesbian clergy caused conflict in 62% of congregations.

What the report doesn't mention is how many congregations - and in at least one case an entire diocese - have left the Episcopal Church altogether, often at the cost of the loss of their church property after the denominational leadership have fought aggressively in the secular courts to retain title to it (even when there is no continuing congregation to use it, often resulting in the sale of the property).

If present trends continue, how long can the Episcopal Church in the USA survive?

Will the last priest to leave please blow out the sanctuary lamp...

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Ireland Closes Vatican Embassy as GFC and Priestly Paedophilia Crises Collide

It strikes me that this, from the UK's Guardian newspaper, is a story that deserves more coverage than it is getting:
'The leader of Ireland's Catholics has criticised the republic's government for closing its embassy to Vatican City. Cardinal Sean Brady expressed his "profound disappointment" over the move, which comes after diplomatic clashes this year between the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and the Holy See over the Vatican's handling of the clerical child sex abuse scandals in Ireland.'
[click on post title to go to the full article in 'The Guardian'.]

The official explanation is that Ireland's acceptance of an IMF funded rescue package in the wake of the GFC of 2008 has necessitated cuts including the closure of several embassies which provided 'no financial return', for a saving of c. AUS$2 million. However the 'background' to the story includes a parliamentary speech in which the Irish Prime Minister (the Taoiseach) Enda Kenny strongly criticised the Vatican for 'downplaying the rape of children in order to protect its power and reputation'. At the time, Kenny received strong support for his statement from the Irish people, and even the Archbishop of Dublin called his comments a 'wake-up call for the church'. The Vatican's response, however, was to recall its ambassador (the papal nuncio) to Rome.

Kenny's party, the Fine Gael, has traditionally been an upholder of the traditional role of the Roman Catholic church in Irish life, and the Irish embassy in the Vatican (pictured) is one of Ireland's oldest diplomatic missions. Given this history, and the highly symbolic value attached to the closing of an embassy for whatever reason, particularly in these circumstances, and it's difficult not to see a sub-text here to the effect that the Roman Catholic church will no longer have the central role in Irish life that it once did. Anyone who understands what that role has traditionally been will also understand how astounding this shift is.

Note - 30% of Australians claim Irish ancestry and the Roman Catholic church is the largest church body in this country. In 2008 Australia appointed its first resident ambassador to the Vatican.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

'Out of Love for the Truth and Desire to Bring it to Light'

To mark Reformation Day, Dr Michael Jensen, a lecturer in theology at Moore College, the theological college of the Sydney Archdiocese of the Anglican Church of Australia and the largest theological college in Australia (note for American readers - these are not your typical liberal, high church Episcopalians; Sydney Anglicans take their Reformation heritage seriously and have led the response in the Anglican Communion to the recent heretical innovations of The Episcopal Church in the USA)) has posted 20 Theses on the subject 'Why the Reformation Is Not Over' (my post title links to his post at the Sydney Anglican website - if you click on it, the usual disclaimer applies: you are leaving this site, etc).

20 These on Why the Reformation is Not Over by Dr Michael Jensen
Whereas: -
1. Continued division between Christians who hold to the orthodox faith is deplorable and regrettable and we should work to heal it;
2. Insisting on division based on mere prejudice against Roman Catholics, or cultural snobbery, or ethnicity, or sectarianism is deplorable and should be repented of;
3. Hyped-up and largely loveless Protestant rhetoric and sabre-rattling for the love of mere aggression must be eschewed;
4. It is a matter of great rejoicing that Roman Catholic priests and lay people have discovered the Scriptures anew in recent years;
5. A person is not saved by assenting to justification by grace through faith alone;
6. Evangelical Christians have much to learn from the tradition of the Christian church over two millennia (as the Reformers themselves taught);
7. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI are in many respects admirable, even extraordinary men;
8. We are increasingly needing to stand together with Roman Catholics on issues of social justice and religious freedom;
9. We have common cause with Roman Catholics against the New Atheism and the other forms of intellectual secularism;
10. I rejoice in a number of Christian friendships with Roman Catholics whom I happy to call brothers in Christ and from whom I have learnt much;


it is still the case that: -
11. The Roman Catholic Church still insists that the authority of Scripture is subject to the interpretation of the Church, and indeed is a creation of the Church;
12. The Roman Catholic Church still asserts the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome in the Church – however carefully this is nuanced – and his infallibility in matters of faith;
13. The Roman Catholic Church, despite lengthy and peaceful deliberations with Lutherans and Anglicans on the matter, still holds a semi-Pelagian view on the doctrine of justification – that is, the believer in whatever small way, still is able to co-operate with the grace of God and earn the rewards of heaven;
14. Roman Catholics still determine to define faith as ‘assenting to doctrines’ rather than ‘personal trust’, and therefore put the emphasis on love;
15. Justification by grace alone is in practice denied by a view of the sacraments as the operative vehicles of God’s grace;
16. Despite modifications to Roman Catholic teaching on the afterlife in recent years, purgatory is still an official teaching of the Church;
17. The Roman Catholic Church still affirms as dogmas several non-Scriptural (and I would argue, contra-Scriptural) teachings: namely, the perpetual virginity of the Mary, her immaculate conception and her assumption;
18. Devotion to and prayer to the saints is still very much part of Roman Catholic spirituality and teaching;
19. The Roman Catholic Church maintains that Christians who are not members of the Church of Rome are at best ‘separated brethren’ and are not admitted to the Lord’s Table;


And thus:
20. There is still need to maintain a separation between the Church of Rome and the churches of the Reformation.


What do you think, readers?

I post my own '5 Theses' in response to Michael:

5 Theses on Evangelical Lutheran-Evangelical Anglican Relations

Whereas
1. Evangelical Anglicans are orthodox Christians who confess the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds
2. Evangelical Anglicans believe and teach that we are justified on account of Christ through faith ('propter Christum per fidem') to the exclusion of works
3. Evangelical Anglicans believe and teach that scripture alone is the rule and norm according to which doctrine and teachers must be judged
4. The English Reformation, to which Evangelical Anglicans are heirs, advanced in its early years through constructive dialogue with the Lutheran Reformers in Wittenberg

This Evangelical Lutheran rejoices in our common Reformation heritage and wishes that the mutual conversation which existed in the days of Dr Sasse and Sir Marcus Loane could be restored.

However, as
4. Evangelical Anglicans deny that grace is truly offered trough Holy Baptism and also deny that in the Lord's Supper communicants receive the true body and blood of Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins, and continue to teach against these wholesome scriptural doctrines which are full of evangelical comfort for repentant sinners

This Evangelical Lutheran, out of love for the truth and desire to bring it to light, declares
5. There is still a need to maintain a separation at altar and pulpit between Evangelical Lutherans and Evangelical Anglicans.


Just for the record, my paternal grandfather (who died when I was only two) was chairman of a Sydney Anglican congregation in the early 1960s and I am grateful for having first learned the evangelical doctrines of grace and scripture through the Anglican '39 Articles of Faith' and Evangelical Anglican authors - foreign readers should note that the Lutheran Church does not have a high profile in Australia outside of a few rural enclaves where Lutherans first settled; 1 in 4 Australians is Anglican, barely 2 in a 100 are Lutheran.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Reform, Not Revolt

I was somewhat taken aback to read this on Wikipedia, in the entry on ‘The Protestant Reformation’: ‘The Protestant Reformation, also known as the Protestant Revolt, was a 16th century split within Western Christianity, and was initiated by Martin Luther’ [italics mine].

The Protestant Revolt? I have to say I’ve never seen the Reformation referred to as a ‘Revolt’ in modern scholarly literature, certainly not the Lutheran Reformation, which was marked by its conservatism (the best defences of the conservative nature of the Lutheran Reformation is Charles Porterfield Krauth's 'The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology' (1871), available in reprint through Concordia Publishing House). I suspect what we have here is an attempt by a zealous Roman Catholic editor to revive the tone of the anti-Luther Roman polemics of a previous era (imagine that, polemics on the internet!). Given that Wiki is probably the most consulted reference work on this or any topic today (especially by lazy students and bloggers!) the sympathetic reader will understand my consternation at this grievous misrepresentation.

It was the leading 20th century Roman Catholic historian on Luther and the Reformation, Joseph Lortz, who largely overcame the completely negative (and slanderous) view of Luther that had pertained under the papacy since the Reformation. While critical in his overall judgment of Luther, Lortz acknowledged that Luther was a devout Christian and that many of his concerns were valid even from a Roman Catholic viewpoint. Lortz also pointed out how many of Luther’s major exegetical and theological insights were consistent with the medieval tradition. We’ll come back to Lortz in a moment; before we do, here are some modern Roman Catholic appraisals of Luther:

‘The Roman Catholic Church today accepts that there was the need of reform most obvious in the exaggerated practice of indulgences [which] by the Middle Ages ... had been vulgarized to include remission of punishment in purgatory and even remission of sins themselves.’ Michael Glazier and Monika K. Hellwig, eds. The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2004), p. 506.

‘We have much to learn from Luther beginning with the importance he attached to the word of God…In the light of Christ the Catholic will no longer wish to regard Luther as an apostate monk who broke faith with his Church. He will recognize the many lights in his character....the holy defiance with which, as God's warrior, he faced abuse and simony; the heroism with which he risked his life for Christ's cause; and not least the natural simplicity and child-like quality of his whole manner of life and personal piety.’ Cardinal Walter Kasper

‘It is widely recognized that Luther was justified in attempting to reform the theology and abuses in the Church of his time and that his fundamental belief - justification given to us by Christ without any merit on our part - does not in any way contradict genuine Catholic tradition, such as is found for example, in St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.’ Karl Adam

‘Today many Catholic scholars think Luther was right in his central doctrine of justification by faith and the [sixteenth century Catholic] church was blind to the point he was making...Both Lutherans and Catholics agree that good works by Christian believers are the result of their faith and the working of divine grace in them, not their personal contributions to their own salvation. Christ is the only Savior. One does not save oneself... Luther's doctrine of justification by faith needs to be recognized and endorsed as an expression of the perennial Catholic tradition.’ George Tavard

‘Although the Reformation ended up causing a tragic split in Western Christendom, such a development was neither intended nor desired by Luther. His emphasis on justification by faith alone, the total dependence of each human being on the grace of God in order to attain salvation, and the central role of the Bible in Christian belief and practice, all had a transforming impact on Protestant -- and ultimately on Catholic -- orthodoxy and orthopraxy.’ Rev. Robert Scully, SJ, assistant professor of history at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York

‘Oddly enough, Luther was a Roman Catholic when the Reformation began and he had every intention of staying one. He wanted to reform the church to which he belonged….Luther insisted upon the importance of Scripture and its central place in Christian life, a point not recognized by the Council of Trent but accepted by Vatican II…Luther encouraged Bible reading by the laity, as did Vatican II. He also insisted that Protestant clergy be educated, and the Council of Trent recognized the importance of this by establishing the seminary system in 1563, only after educated Western Europeans noticed how well-trained the Protestants were.’ Joseph F. Kelly, professor of religious studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.


But it’s not quite Roman bouquets all round for Luther; the present Pope is on the record as saying - when he was Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and thus responsible for disciplining erring theologians - that Luther’s ecclesiology in particular would be cause for investigation by his office today. Bear in mind that Luther’s ecclesiology is intimately related to the doctrines of justification and scripture and we realise that, despite the advances made in the 20th century towards a more sympathetic understanding of Luther and the Reformation on the part of Roman Catholic scholars, officially Luther is still very much ‘outside the camp’. Which is where he is likely to remain, given the problematic state of world Lutheranism and the shift of Rome’s ecumenical focus towards dialogue with the Eastern churches. As this shift is consolidated, I expect we'll see a decreased openness on the part of Rome to Luther's evangelical critique and a consequent winding back of some of the better reforms of Vatican II, which could arguably be traced to an attentive listening to Luther's voice. Personally, I've never been overly optimistic about the possibilities of ecumenical rapprochement with Rome, but for anyone who considered that at least some of what happened in Rome during and after Vatican II was the result of the impact of the Gospel via Luther, this is not a happy development. But it is not all bad - I expect it will also strengthen the witness of confessional Lutheranism and disabuse some on the ecumenical wing of Lutheranism of the notion that Rome can fundamentally change.

Before concluding this reflection, I can’t avoid addressing the oft-repeated claim that Luther destroyed the unity of the Western church, which is still heaped with opprobrium upon Lutheran heads today. That charge is based on two assumptions: 1) a historical assumption that the church was unified prior to the Reformation, and 2) a theological assumption that the church’s unity can in fact be broken. We’ll leave the latter assumption for another post, but here’s one point of objection to the first assumption from the above-mentioned Roman Catholic scholar Joseph Lortz, who wrote this about the state of the church in the centuries prior to Luther:
‘The real significance of the Western Schism [i.e. a period of c. 40 years in the late 14th and early 15th centuries when there were two rival claimants to the papal throne - MH) rests in the fact that for decades there was an almost universal uncertainty about where the true pope and the true Church were to be found. For several decades, both popes had excommunicated each other and his followers; thus all Christendom found itself under sentence of excommunication by at least one of the contenders. Both popes referred to their rival claimant as the Antichrist, and to the Masses celebrated by them as idolatry. It seemed impossible to do anything about this scandalous situation, despite sharp protests from all sides, and despite the radical impossibility of having two valid popes at the same time. Time and time again, the petty selfishness of the contenders blocked any solution.
The split caused by the Western Schism was far from being merely the concern of theologians; no area of public or private life remained untouched; even the economic sphere was affected, mainly because of disputes in regard to the possession of benefices. Provinces of the Church, religious orders, universities, even individual monasteries and parish houses were divided. For decades, all experienced this profound division in all sectors of daily life. Good people on both sides, even saints, were not only unable to bring about unity, but in their allegiance to one or the other of the contenders they themselves were in sharp opposition. We find, for example, St. Catherine of Siena on the Roman side and St. Vincent Ferrer on that of Avignon. Furthermore, the settlement of the Schism at the Council of Constance did not really solve the problem. The triumph of the Conciliar Theory at Constance, and even more at Basel, extended the life span of the Schism from 1378 to 1448, when it finally came to an end in the person of the Antipope Felix V. The confusion and uncertainty about the valid pope and the true Church is manifest in the amazing twists in the allegiance of Nicolaus of Cusa and Aeneas Silvio dei Piccolomini, later to become Pius II, both of whom had begun by defending the Conciliar Theory in its most radical form.
This was an experience shared by the entire West — one which would leave its imprint in Western consciousness for a long time to come. The memory of this experience was still fresh a century later. It is not too difficult to see the effects of the Western Schism in preparing the way for the doctrines of the Reformation. When Luther asserted that the pope of Rome was not the true successor of Saint Peter and that the Church could do without the Papacy, in his mind and in their essence these were new doctrines, but the distinctive element in them was not new and thus they struck a sympathetic resonance in the minds of many. Long before the Reformation itself, the unity of the Christian Church in the West had been severely undermined.’

Joseph Lortz, The Reformation, A Problem for Today (The Newman Press, Maryland, 1964) pp. 35-37.


The Eastern schism of 1054 surely also had a deep effect on the psyche of Western Christendom. It's noteworthy that the Lutheran confessors make several references to the practices of the 'Greek Church' to bolster their own criticisms of the Roman Mass.