Saturday, November 12, 2016

If Martin Luther Is a "Witness of the Gospel", Then What Are the Martyrs of Gorkum?

Recently, I came across a discussion on a Catholic forum that quickly changed topics to that of the recently passed Reformation Day. Of course, many of us are aware that Pope Francis traveled to help commemorate the anniversary in Sweden, leading several Internet pundits to believe that things such as open communion and the like were right around the corner. While that won't be happening, I was surprised to see the following statement from a priest in Europe on this forum, responding to an earlier comment:
" 'Yes, we agree. Luther was a heretic,' 
"No. What we would be in agreement on is exactly what was proclaimed by the Holy See in 1983: 
"Martin Luther is a 'Witness of Jesus Christ' and a "Witness of the Gospel" from the perspective and judgment of Rome in the 20th and the 21st century. 
"Since you are a faithful Catholic, I trust you are in complete and total to Pope Saint John Paul II on the conferral of those titles -- and that in all things you completely submit yourself to the superior knowledge and judgment of the Successor of Peter."

First off, I'm not surprised by the statement given by the Roman Catholic/Lutheran Joint Commission itself. This is where this priest is getting his "witness" terms from; a 1983 report from the international dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans. What I am surprised at, is that he would actually suggest that Catholics must "submit ourselves" to an opinion that was not given by the Successor of Peter with divine and Catholic faith. The main problem I have here is with calling Luther a Witness to the Gospel. I'll go much more in depth below, but first, a thought exercise. If Luther is a witness to the Gospel, then what does that make the saints the Catholic faith already recognizes? What does that make the Martyrs of Gorkum, for example. St. Leonard van Veghel and his 18 companions were martyred by Protestant Calvinists in 1572 in Holland. Their feast day is celebrated on July 9th.

I would argue that these men were witnesses to the Gospel, and much more so than Luther ever could have hoped to be. Why aren't people like the German bishops telling us more about the heroic witness to the Gospel of Jesus that these men gave in the same way we keep hearing platitudes heaped on Luther? St. Leonard and his companions were demanded to abandon their belief in papal supremacy. They did not waver in their Catholic Christian faith, even to the point of death. What amazing witnesses and intercessors we have for us in heaven! Intercessors I did not know about until researching more on this topic! Luther denied this belief that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. How can that be truly called a witness to the Gospel, when our Lord prays fervently in that same Gospel that we " may all be one, as you, Father, are in Me and I in You"? Luther may not have wanted division, but we have seen first hands the fruits of his reform. Yes, his actions led to the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent, but we can chalk that up to God bringing good out of a horrible situation. That situation being a fracturing in the Body of Christ that continues to break to this day. In paragraph 2473, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says:

"The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine."

We see Luther called the same thing a martyr is defined as, a witness to Christ. But these witnesses, St. Leonard and his companions, by being witnesses to Christ also bear witness to Christian doctrine, i.e. the papacy. Are we really ready to say that Luther and the Martyrs of Gorkum are both witnesses of Christ in the same way, and should be venerated as such, as this priest is suggesting?

Certainly not, especially as the actual quote from the 1983 statement reads, my bolding:

"We see on both sides a lessening of outdated, polemically colored images of Luther. He is beginning to be honored in common as a witness to the gospel, a teacher in the faith and a herald of spiritual renewal."

The Pope (or the Holy See) wasn't saying Luther was a witness to the Gospel. A few theologians are saying he is beginning to be honored as such. By whom, I cannot be sure. Certainly Lutherans, and I suppose not a few Catholics as well. But is it at the expense of forgetting those that were true witnesses to Christ? That same Christ who is inseparable from His Body, the Catholic Church? The Church which Luther and the other reformers eventually willingly separated from? I would much rather honor St. Leonard and his companions with that title. I pray for reconciliation always, just like our Lord did, but I feel that such a notion given by this priest is confused. Catholics do not have to believe that Luther was a witness to Christ when he denied the legitimacy of His Bride. Below is the rest of the conversation that was had between myself (in blue) and various others on this forum:

The Martyrs of Gorkum, St. Leonard and his Companions

Nicholas: Father, I am very confused by your last post. To me, and tell me if I am mistaken, you are glossing over how serious Martin Luther's errors were and still are today, as well as how acerbic and incendiary his polemics against the Catholic Church were in the 16th century. Are you honestly saying that Luther was never a heretic at any time in his life? An accurate definition of a heretic was given above, and Luther meets the bill as he rejected several teachings of the Church after his baptism. 

I do realize I can not know with certainty the state of his soul at his death, and if he rejected his errors, but can you not at least admit that at some point in his life, Luther espoused heretical teachings making him in fact, a heretic as according to the definition given by the Catholic Church?

If you would, Father, could you provide a link to this 1983 report? I believe that these titles of being a "witness" were indeed given to Luther... But is this an opinion or a binding judgement on the faithful akin to that of canonization? Because if it's the latter, and it is binding, then why not just canonize Luther as a saint since he was a "witness of the Gospel", just as men, for example, like St. Edmund Campion and St. John Fisher were?

I believe Luther was a "witness of Jesus Christ"... But was he a good one. I believe Luther was a "witness of the Gospel"... But was it the correct and true Gospel he was witnessing after 1517?

You mention, Father, that we should "submit yourself to the superior knowledge and judgment of the Successor of Peter." Does this apply only to 20th and 21st century Popes, or to all the successors of Peter? Does the "perspective and judgement" of the 20th and 21st centuries nullify the judgments given by the Holy See in prior centuries? There is a binding document by a 16th century Pope (as opposed to this 1983 document you speak of, which you haven't shown is binding on the faithful) that clearly calls Luther out as a heretic. This comes from the Papal Bull "Exsurge Domine", promulgated by Pope Leo X in 1520. Emphases mine:
"We beseech you also, Paul, to arise. It was you that enlightened and illuminated the Church by your doctrine and by a martyrdom like Peter's. For now a new Porphyry rises who, as the old once wrongfully assailed the holy apostles, now assails the holy pontiffs, our predecessors. 
"Rebuking them, in violation of your teaching, instead of imploring them, he is not ashamed to assail them, to tear at them, and when he despairs of his cause, to stoop to insults. He is like the heretics 'whose last defense,' as Jerome says, 'is to start spewing out a serpent's venom with their tongue when they see that their causes are about to be condemned, and spring to insults when they see they are vanquished.' For although you have said that there must be heresies to test the faithful, still they must be destroyed at their very birth by your intercession and help, so they do not grow or wax strong like your wolves.  
"Finally, let the whole church of the saints and the rest of the universal church arise. Some, putting aside her true interpretation of Sacred Scripture, are blinded in mind by the father of lies. Wise in their own eyes, according to the ancient practice of heretics, they interpret these same Scriptures otherwise than the Holy Spirit demands, inspired only by their own sense of ambition, and for the sake of popular acclaim, as the Apostle declares. In fact, they twist and adulterate the Scriptures. As a result, according to Jerome, 'It is no longer the Gospel of Christ, but a man's, or what is worse, the devil's.'
"As far as Martin himself is concerned, O good God, what have we overlooked or not done? What fatherly charity have we omitted that we might call him back from such errors? For after we had cited him, wishing to deal more kindly with him, we urged him through various conferences with our legate and through our personal letters to abandon his errors...  
"Therefore we can, without any further citation or delay, proceed against him to his condemnation and damnation as one whose faith is notoriously suspect and in fact a true heretic with the full severity of each and all of the above penalties and censures.
"Yet, with the advice of our brothers, imitating the mercy of almighty God who does not wish the death of a sinner but rather that he be converted and live, and forgetting all the injuries inflicted on us and the Apostolic See, we have decided to use all the compassion we are capable of. It is our hope, so far as in us lies, that he will experience a change of heart by taking the road of mildness we have proposed, return, and turn away from his errors. We will receive him kindly as the prodigal son returning to the embrace of the Church."

The Successor of Peter, Servant of the Servants of God, Pope Leo X has directly called Martin Luther a "true heretic". As you said, in "all things [do] you completely submit yourself to the superior knowledge and judgment of the Successor of Peter"? Because Pope Leo's words are clear here. Luther surely did some good things in his life, but are we really going to withhold from calling him a heretic and that he did not greatly damage the Church?
Pope Leo X

Peter: To deny that Martin Luther was a heretic is to deny a historical fact and a theological reality. Luther clearly held and promoted heretical positions. He was also a schismatic. He was excommunicated and never recanted any of his heretical positions and never sought to be reconciled with the Church. He died excommunicated from the Church. 

It should also be noted that the declarations and anathemas of the Council of Trent have never been revoked. The decrees of the Council of Trent are confirmed by both the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992).

Tom: Why is there so much hatred and venom toward Luther on this forum? It is something I have seen in multiple threads. The Church is ready to move on, heal and work toward common purposes. Why do some Catholics insist on clinging to hard feelings instead?

Harry: Hard feelings? How about a clear and concise distinction between Truth and falsehood? Everything is so PC these days, it's difficult to tell where the Truth ends and a lie begins. I'm all for embracing Lutherans - however, why not clearly state where the various Lutheran positions (there are multiple Lutheran groups that disagree on essential issues) fall short of Catholic truth?

Therese: If Luther were in heaven right now he would admit he was a staunch heretic and that his actions lead to countless division. He would want all his followers to become Catholics as soon as possible. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. To play Luther and the heretics(Arius, Jansen, ex.) as heroes is scandal and to "celebrate" their heretical actions is even worse.

It's good to have dialogue with Protestants, come together to work for a common good (ex.against abortion & same sex marriage), and work for unity, but sometimes I think people cross the line.

Nicholas: I agree. Dialogue is a wonderful thing, and I've done so with some of my Lutheran brothers and sisters. It's always been amicable. That's why I'm curious were all this "hate" and "venom" that's going Luther's way is supposedly coming from. At least for me, I don't hate Luther, but I hate the division in the Body of Christ that has occurred as a result of his choices. 

While we should value dialogue, we should realize that this dialogue must eventually lead to action. And that action is a return to full communion with the Church established by Jesus; the Church that proclaims the Gospel. St. Paul is pretty clear in Galatians:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-9).

There are more than a few things Luther said that don't square up with the Gospel, I.e. The papacy. Let's pray for healing of all divisions for sure.

Father: ...In summary answer to other points posed to me in a thread that seems now to be going a little bit of everywhere: a Catholic may not simply look to some statement of the past and say "I am following this" when, in fact, other dispositions now govern and which are to be given assent...whether we are talking about the PCTL or CDWDS or CIVCSVA or PCPCU...or, indeed, the Holy Father speaking himself and not through one of his dicasteries.
(note: I did not reply back to Father as I began talking more with Tom. However, I would like to note that he is doing exactly the same thing he is denouncing; taking the statement of one Pope and putting it against another. Or in this case, taking the statement of a joint theological commission, and pitting it against the Vicar of Christ, Pope Leo X. I feel that doing so is not the best way to look at this issue. We should not be so casually disregarding the judgement of those that were directly dealing with the Reformation. Either what Leo X said was true or it was not true. Where does it say that the disposition of the Joint Theological Commission governs what a Catholic must believe with divine and Catholic faith? I would think Leo X's words carry more weight and "governance" than a 1983 theological commission's disposition.)

Emblem of the Papacy
Peter: While there is obviously a "new" tenor to the way the Church interacts with non-Catholics, it seems to me that the use of words/phrases such as "proclaimed by the Holy See", "judgment of Rome", "conferral of those titles" overstates things. That 1983 document is not quite that authoritative.

I don't see why we can't have a both/and perspective here, instead of an either/or. Luther was wrong about some things and Catholics were wrong about some things. Luther was right about some things and Catholics were right about some things.

Even in the documents of the Council of Trent, this realization can be seen (even though words such as "Luther is right in that..." won't be found).

...Anyway, in general, I think it is worthwhile to maintain distinctions between what a Pope says and what a dicastery says, what a commission says, what a prefect says, etc... 

I'd always want to maintain a distinction between, for example, a Pope declaring doctors of the Church and the title or subtitle of a document of a Lutheran/Catholic commission, and commentary therein. In so doing, I think I can still have an appropriate orientation.

Tom: I am not sure I believe that our principles lead in such different directions. But even if they did, how do we even discuss those issues in an atmosphere of hostility that begins with calling Luther a heretic? We can build on commonalities and see where that gets us. So many on this forum seem to want to attack and name call, instead of working together in a Christian manner. I don't see that behavior in the real world, BTW, thanks be.

Nicholas: What is this "atmosphere of hostility"? I ask seriously. This isn't the first time you've accused people on this forum of doing so. I can't speak for other people on other threads, but where have you seen hatred, venom, or hostility on this thread. Quote a section of you must, but I see none. The word "heretic" seems to have a dirty connotation to many people's ears today, but the word isn't hostile in itself, and I don't understand why we have to tiptoe around and not say this word. Popes have used this word for centuries, from Leo X all the way up to popes in the 20th and 21st centuries. Here is the definition of heresy from the CCC:

"Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; "

This is pretty straightforward. Where is the hostility? I, for one, used the word "heretic" in its proper context. I shouldn't have to break it down, but I will for clarity's sake.

1. Martin Luther denied the authority of the papacy, denied certain books of Holy Scripture were divinely inspired, did not believe that good works along with faith and God's grace saves us, and also denied other Church teachings.

2. The above examples that Luther denied are truths which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.

3. Luther obstinately denied these truths of the Church following his baptism, nor did he have faith in these teachings.

4. Therefore, by definition, the denial of these truths made Luther guilty of heresy, and in fact, a heretic for denying these divinely revealed truths.

No hostility there. Just facts. Because he's been called a heretic doesn't mean he's being insulted. If you read the last paragraph I quoted if Leo X's bull, you'll see that he is in complete harmony with what Pope Francis is doing; extending the olive branch to dialogue and healing.

I don't know what religion you are Tom, but there are important parts of the Christian faith that Luther denied. This is not negligible. It's great that we can discuss commonalities and use that as a bridge... But we can't stop there. Painful divisions separate us, and souls do hang in the balance. Both Lutherans and Catholics can theoretically be wrong in their theology, but both are not right. One of these faith traditions is a lie, and we all know how the "father of all lies" is.

We've been building on our commonalities a lot in the recent decades, and we can clearly see where that has gotten us... Presently, we are not in communion. We can't gloss over the differences and focus only on the commonalities, and we can't dwell only on the differences and forget we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. There has to be a middle ground that takes the differences and commonalities into account without ignoring either. Until Protestants come back into communion with the Catholic Church, all Catholics should rightly be pained and pray fervently for that reunion."

Tom: I was referring to many threads discussing Luther on this forum, not just this one. But this post is not a bad example. You repeatedly called Luther a heretic and suggest he is in league with Satan (the father of lies). Then you say with a straight face that is not meant as an insult. Of course the clear implication is that those that follow the heretic who is supposedly working with (or inspired by) Satan are also heretics that are (knowingly or not) working for Satan. Hard to build unity on that foundation.

The Pope and the Church are seeking to build something positive with the Lutherans, and the reaction of some here is decidedly hostile to the Pope's efforts. That leads me to wonder why?

Jesus Teaching His Disciples 
Nicholas: You keep throwing that word around, "hostile" and I'm doing nothing if the sort, honestly. I would hope you wouldn't take offense to Christ's words in the Gospels, or Paul's words in his letters. Jesus said it's better that a person tie around a millstone around his neck and jump in a lake than to lead others astray from Him. That sounds pretty harsh... But if we believe that Christ founded one Church, then we can't say that all Christian churches share the fullness of that truth.

I've talked with several Lutherans and Protestants about our differences and commonalities, and it's always cordial. Pope Francis is doing some great work in reaching out to our Protestant brethren. But differences remain. Like I said, in this case either the Catholics are right or the Lutherans are. True unity comes from realizing our errors and reconciling. If the Catholic Church is wrong, I would want to know! I'd renounce it and enter into full communion with the Lutherans if that's the case! Jesus is the Truth the Way and the Life. Not plural. I won't buy into any "I'll follow my own path to God, and you follow yours" stuff. There's only one Gospel; any deviation from it is a lie. That's not an insult, just the truth. If my Catholic Faith is wrong, then I'd want to be told and convinced so I could be in full communion with Christ again.

Obviously, I believe the Church to be true. I had a great conversation at my house over three days with a Jehovah's Witness couple. At the end of our cordial discussion, we agreed that one of us was wrong (or both). Both our interpretations of the Gospel could not and are not correct. But we both left with great respect for each other. We were both uncompromising in what was true.

When you said that the foundation that I was starting from was that non-Catholic Christians were (knowingly or unknowingly) working for Satan, all I could do was shake my head. That is not the foundation I'm working from, and you've characterized me unfairly and erroneously. The foundation I start from is our common baptism, and with JWs, the foundation is our mutual love for God. Another mistake you made is you calling all present day Lutherans heretics. I don't believe that at all. A heretic has to first be Catholic. All these descendants never made a post-baptismal denial because they weren't baptized Catholic! 

Furthermore, their culpability may be diminished as pointed out in Lumen Genitum from the Second Vatican Council. I'm not condemning anybody because I'm not God, I can only entrust those outside of the Church to God's mercy with my prayers, and on my part, continue to dialogue. But in that dialogue, I will speak the hard truths and not compromise in my belief that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus. I'm with Him. We were warned not to follow different Gospels from Paul. I will follow the Gospel that has the fullness of the Truth, and I can only pray that all come into full communion with they body of Christ..

Tom: How can you call someone a heretic and suggest they are working with Satan and not call that hostile? is that not condemning language? I can tell you a charge of heresy is not generally received positively. You now say you did not try to connect Luther with Satan, but that is exactly what you did. You said that Lutheranism was based on lies, and said we should remember who is the father of lies. What else does that mean? Perhaps you now regret doing so, but those were your words, not mine.

Now you seem to be retreating to a more ecumenical position, in part by invoking the teachings and statements of the Church, but it is the Church that is seeking closer relations with Lutherans (which has been criticized in this thread and elsewhere). It is also the Church that has named Luther "Witness of Jesus Christ." Do you think the Pope has forgotten the "hard truths," as you put it?

At the end of the day, we can focus on negativity, differences, and 500 year old grievances. Or we can do what the Pope is doing and focus on commonalities and working together. My point is that we should join the Pope in doing the second, and let the first go.

Lamentation Over the Body of Christ- Dosso Dossi
Nicholas: There's no back tracking going on here. I don't regret saying anything. This issue of the one true Church of Christ has several facets. I'm an actual person at the other end of your computer screen, and we've only interacted with each other in a few posts. I'm being completely honest and not "backtracking". I'm invoking the statements and teachings of the Church, because... "I'm a son of the Church"! Just like Pope Francis is! I can love my separated brothers and sisters in Christ, and still hope for them to return to, or be received for the first time, into the Catholic Church.

I'm not using condemning language, and neither did the Popes and bishops that have used the term "heretic" throughout the centuries. I gave the definition. Luther fits the bill. Lutherans born and raised in their faith do not. Division comes from the devil. The Catholic Church and the Lutherans are divided today. The "condemning language" you say I've used comes from the Gospels and Paul's letters, so you'd have to accuse them of the same as well. Read Mark 8, specifically verse 44 to see what our Lord says about falsehood. Either Christ's Church was built on Peter or it wasn't. We are saved by grace through faith and good works or we are not. One is true, the other is false.

You say: "My point is that we should join the Pope in doing the second, and let the first go." Really? We should gloss over our differences when souls hang in the balance? Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't we do both; focus on the commonalities and the differences? I'd like to know what you think the ultimate, end goal of ecumenism is. The answer should be complete reunion with one of the two sides. See the Anglican Ordinate within the Catholic Church for ecumenism fully realized. Again, focusing solely on the commonalities, as you would like, or focusing solely on the differences (as you have inaccurately characterized me as doing) are wrong headed in ecumenism. It leads to a sort of quasi-universalism. We need to remember both when having dialogue, and work to make action that results in a full reunion and communion of both sides.

I'm done here in this thread. If you want to continue the conversation, Tom, feel free to message me so we can learn more about each other and our faith traditions, as I don't know what yours even is, and it's hard to tell where you're coming from. I'm always open to dialogue, and just like Pope Francis, I will not have forgotten the hard truths. There are sad divisions in the Body of Christ that keep us all from full communion, but they shouldn't stop the proclamation of the Truth and a resolve to heal those wounds.

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