Sunday, May 04, 2008

What Next?

From the Times of London

Richard Owen in Rome

Pope Benedict XVI is to rehabilitate Martin Luther, arguing that he did not intend to split Christianity but only to purge the Church of corrupt practices.

Pope Benedict will issue his findings on Luther (1483-1546) in September after discussing him at his annual seminar of 40 fellow theologians — known as the Ratzinger Schülerkreis — at Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence. According to Vatican insiders the Pope will argue that Luther, who was excommunicated and condemned for heresy, was not a heretic.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the head of the pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the move would help to promote ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. It is also designed to counteract the impact of July's papal statement describing the Protestant and Orthodox faiths as defective and “not proper Churches”.

The move to re-evaluate Luther is part of a drive to soften Pope Benedict's image as an arch conservative hardliner as he approaches the third anniversary of his election next month. This week it emerged that the Vatican is planning to erect a statue of Galileo, who also faced a heresy trial, to mark the 400th anniversary next year of his discovery of the telescope.
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The Pope has also reached out to the Muslim world to mend fences after his 2006 speech at Regensburg University in which he appeared to describe Islam as inherently violent and irrational. This week Muslim scholars and Vatican officials met at the pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue in Rome to begin laying the groundwork for a meeting between the Pope and leading Muslims, also expected to be held at Castelgandolfo.

Cardinal Kasper said: “We have much to learn from Luther, beginning with the importance he attached to the word of God.” It was time for a “more positive” view of Luther, whose reforms had aroused papal ire at the time but could now be seen as having “anticipated aspects of reform which the Church has adopted over time”.

The Castelgandolfo seminar will in part focus on the question of apostolic succession, through which the apostles passed on the authority they received from Jesus to the first bishops. After the Reformation Protestants took the view that “succession” referred only to God's Word and not to church hierarchies but some German scholars have suggested Luther himself did not intend this.

Luther challenged the authority of the papacy by holding that the Bible is the sole source of religious authority and made it accessible to ordinary people by translating it into the vernacular. He became convinced that the Church had lost sight of the “central truths of Christianity”, and was appalled on a visit to Rome in 1510 by the power, wealth and corruption of the papacy.

In 1517 he protested publicly against the sale of papal indulgences for the remission of sins in his “95 Theses”, nailing a copy to the door of a Wittenberg church. Some theologians argue that Luther did not intend to confront the papacy “in a doctrinaire way” but only to raise legitimate questions - a view Pope Benedict apparently shares.

Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X, who dismissed him initially as “a drunken German who will change his mind when sober”.

9 comments:

Sean said...

Untrue according to a variety of sources. See Get Religion blog which covered this back in march. http://www.getreligion.org/wp-trackback.php?p=3267

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I think it unlikely that the Times of London would report a story, complete with quotations from Rome's number 1 ecumenical Cardinal, if it has no substance. Where does "Get Religion" suggest that Cardinal Kapser's quotations come from? I find the denial highly dubious, to say the least.

I agree, however, that the line about a drive to soften the pope's image is hogwash.

Sean said...

I don't know what substantial means to you and I don't think it is substantial, but I said it was untrue, not unsubstantial and since you won't click on over i will quote the meaty part:

"So how did this happen? Reuters Philip Pullella — whose work I praised in the deadly sins debacle — laid out the sequence of events. It’s instructive:

It all appears to have started on March 2, when ApCom, an Italian news agency, ran a three paragraph article, here in Italian, merely saying that the pope and some of his former PhD students (the so-called Ratzinger- Schlerkreis), would discuss Luther during their yearly summer encounter in August at the papal summer villa at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

APcom said the seminar would discuss whether Luther “wanted a rupture . . . or intended to reform the Church but without traumas”.

On March 5, two days after the APcom report, the Turin newspaper La Stampa ran a story with the headline “Ratzinger reforms Luther. ‘He had many Catholic ideas. The theologian pope summons his students for a seminar of study on the heretic.” The article, seen here in Italian, quoted Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as saying the choice of topics was meant “to favour a climate of encounter with Protestants.”

The day after the article in La Stampa, the Times of London reported that “Pope BenedictXVI is set to rehabilitate Martin Luther, arguing that he did not intend to split Christianity, but only to purge the church of corrupt practices.”

From there, the story took off, was repeated by some news organisations around the world, was the buzz on the blogs, and even prompted an editorial critical of the pope by the Financial Times, called “Papal Indulgence - Cosmetic changes cannot hide Benedict’s dogmatism”."

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I did bother, as a matter of fact. The "meaty part" does not actually contradict the content of the Times story. It only tells a related story with a chronology. Besides, there is no reason for anybody to get flustered over this. Don't you remember what John Paul II said about Luther and the Reformation back in 1991?

poetreader said...

As a former Lutheran who has looked very closely at the life and teaching of Luther, I have always been convinced that he was falsely excommunicated on charges trumped up by a corrupt and political papacy. His writing at that time was perhaps different in many ways from the majority of Catholics, but was well within what had received at least tacit acceptance as allowable opinion. There wasn't anything original in what he taught at that time, and for him to recant would have been for him to condemn earlier teachers who had not been condemned by Rome.

Thus his excommunication was unjust and should probably be considered illegal and ineffectual.

Did he eventually become a heretic? That can be argued. Once excommunicate, he did evolve in some of his views, but not to the extent that many of his followers did. But it must be noted that most of his differences with Rome were actually over his teaching things that had been taught, and were sometimes approved by notable scholars. Very little indeed of his teaching, even later on, was, whether accurate or inaccurate, outside the limits of what the scholarly community conisdered acceptable.

True, the Council of Trent did specifically condemn several of his assertions, but this, even if one accepts (as I do not) the authority of that council, did not come during his life and ministry.

I have no way of judging whether Benedict's actions and statements are properly reported, but I rather hope they are.

ed

The Auld MacLaren said...

I'm skeptical....

Moving laterally --- In studying the PB I've discoverd, somewhat to my surprize, that Martin Luther had a direct and significant influcene on AB Cranmer. In the Litany, for example, there are many items lifted directly from ML!

Anselm Lewis said...

That Luther was a heretic at least after his excommunication is of no doubt to anyone who has read his sermons. to say that one can fornicate and murder 10,000 times in a day and still not loose ones salvation is heresy. Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura are heresy, however Luther did not mean Sola Sola Scriptura and he did not believe that the average man could determine the meaning of scripture. I do agree that much of what Luther believed is not what is taught by many protestants even lutherans today or even directly after luther. Luther for example seems to be divided over sacramental confession he also gives the Blessed Mother a high place of honour. His 95 thesis however is very very Catholic. which is ironic considering that many point to that as the start of the protestant deformation.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The Auld MacLaren
Moving laterally --- In studying the PB I've discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that Martin Luther had a direct and significant influence on AB Cranmer.

It would be interesting to know exactly which quotations you attribute to Luther. Many of the things that are assumed to be original in Cranmer actually come from older Latin Missals. It may be that what appears to be original with Luther, used by Cranmer, is in reality also from something older and in Latin, either used by each of them coincidentally, or suggested to Cranmer as he saw what Luther had produced.

Related to this is another fact: The original English Ordinal makes use of the pattern Bucer produced for the German Evangelical (i.e. Lutheran) Ordinal. Paul Bradshaw (in The Anglican Ordinal) made a very important point about that. It is obvious that Bucer's pattern was used, but this makes the differences between the Lutheran and the Anglican Ordinals far more significant than their similarities. The differences show where the doctrinal line was drawn between Anglicanism and Lutheranism.

In other words, things are not always what they appear to be, and closer examination sheds light that drives away initial impressions.

Anselm lewis wrote:
Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura are heresy, however Luther did not mean Sola Sola Scriptura and he did not believe that the average man could determine the meaning of scripture.

As they were understood in those days both were within the realm of well accepted ideas among Catholic scholars. The problem is not these phrases, but what they mean to modern ears, as opposed to what they meant then. These two solas can be heresy, or they can be completely Catholic and Patristic in meaning. It all depends on who uses them, and how they are defined.

poetreader said...

readerAnselm, I'm afraid that, in the following quote, you've fallen into a rather common trap in interpreting Luther:

That Luther was a heretic at least after his excommunication is of no doubt to anyone who has read his sermons. to say that one can fornicate and murder 10,000 times in a day and still not loose ones salvation is heresy.

Those, Lutheran or otherwise, who quote Luther literalistically have demonstrated a lack of understanding of the man. One of his favorite (and not always successful) rhetorical devices was hyperbole. He very frequently deliberately overstated himself for emphasis. as is clearly the case in your quote. Luther was incensed, as am I, and as are many very reputable RC theologians with the prevailing teaching of terror and uncertainty, with the attempt to make poor Christians constantly worry about the grace of God. He was not advocating sin or minimizing its dreadfulness, but attempting to drive home the fact that God does not wish any to be lost and exerts enormous energy in drawing sinners to salvation. Luther, indeed, did hold to a predestinarian view that I find a bit excessive, but it was not an uncommon view in the medieval church, stemming directly from St. Augustine.

At any rate, to try to convict Luther of heresy on the grounds of small quotations is simply to prove that one is not familiar with Luther, his thinking, and his rhetoric. One needs to examine the totality of his work, something few RCs have done, and certainly not his main detractors.

Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura are heresy, however Luther did not mean Sola Sola Scriptura and he did not believe that the average man could determine the meaning of scripture. I do agree that much of what Luther believed is not what is taught by many protestants even lutherans today or even directly after luther. Luther for example seems to be divided over sacramental confession,

He wasn't the least bit divided, except perhaps in whether to use the word 'sacrament'. His view of the Office of the Keys (as he prefered to call it) cannot be distinguished from that of Rome, and he was a strong advocate of proivate confession.

he also gives the Blessed Mother a high place of honour. His 95 thesis however is very very Catholic.

That is true, and a considerable embarrassment to the more Protestant of moder Lutherans.

My point is that Luther, at the time of his unjust excommunication, was not a heretic, but a victim of Vatican politics. Afterwards? Well, having been set adrift, and already called a heretic, there was a great deal of temptation to stray from the Catholic faith, which I believe he did in many ways. Insofar as that is true, I lay it directly at the papal see that nonspiritual and arguably sinful actions served to encourage the growth of heterodox notions and the fragmantation of the church. Without the actions of the Pope and other political clerics, it is quite possible that the reformation might never have happened.

ed