Friday, March 3, 2017

Declarations Regarding Luther's "Witness" Are Not Teachings of the Magisterium

A few months ago, I had a somewhat disturbing conversation with someone regarding Martin Luther. This Catholic man could not agree to the simple fact that, by definition, Luther was a heretic. He couldn't confirm that that was a true statement. That interaction, and the conversation that ensued with someone else following it, can be found on this blog here. This bothered me for quite a while. Even though I already knew how to respond, it didn't sit right with me so I asked for the opinion of some other people. Apologist Dave Armstrong answered me on his Facebook, after I commented on a post of his regarding Luther. Our short exchange follows and validates what I had written in the post I linked to above. My words are in blue, and Dave's in red:
Pope Leo X
Dave: "What torments me, and any decent person with me, is that because of that arrogant, insolent, seditious temperament of yours you throw the whole world into deadly hostile camps; you make good men and lovers of the humanities vulnerable to certain raving Pharisees; you arm wicked men and those eager for revolt; in short, you treat the cause of the gospel in such a way as to reduce everything, holy or unholy, to utter confusion, as if you deliberately intended that this storm should never reach a pleasant outcome, which is the goal at which I have always aimed. . . . It is the public calamity that torments me and the total and inextricable confusion which derives solely from your uncontrollable personality."
(Erasmus to Luther, March 1527, in Peter Macardle and Clarence H. Miller, translators, Charles Trinkhaus, editor, Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 76: Controversies: De Libero Arbitrio / Hyperaspistes I, Univ. of Toronto Press, 1999, lxxix)

Nicholas: I may have to use this quote in the future. I look forward to your paper.

I do have a question though on how we as Catholics should view Luther. If you wouldn't mind, I'd love your opinion on this Dave...

Following the Pope's attendance of the Reformation commemoration in Sweden last fall, I got into a conversation with an older priest. I eventually commented that we could agree that Luther was a heretic, in the dictionary definition of the word; a post-baptismal denial of some doctrine or important aspect of the faith. This was his response:
"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 (sic) 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 can't find any record of St. John Paul declaring or teaching this. I believe this priest was referring to a a 1983 report from the international dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans. Found here. That report said: "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."

Unless you know of another instance where St. John Paul called Luther such titles in 1983... Do we as Catholics have to believe with divine and Catholic faith that Luther is a "witness to the Gospel" or a "witness to Christ", as this report declares?

Second, let's say the pope DID confer upon Luther these titles; would Catholics have to "completely submit [themselves] to the superior knowledge and judgment of the Successor of Peter", as I was told in this exchange?

I would think that to call Luther by these titles whitewashes the fact that Luther's bad attitude and "seditious temperament" (as Erasmus describes) led to a lot of division within the Body of Christ.

Dave: Luther is a mixed bag. He held to some heresies and he strongly upheld many traditional Catholic teachings (I compiled an entire book of those). We can gladly rejoice that the latter is true and commend him for it. We cannot sanction the former.

Recent popes are being diplomatic about Luther, in an ecumenical effort at as much unity as we are able to enjoy with our Protestant brethren. I wouldn't make too much of that. We're not bound to their ecumenical statements. That's not the ordinary magisterium.

Today, ecumenism is very fashionable, while contra-Luther and contra-"Reformation" apologetics of the sort that I do is very unpopular, and considered divisive.

I reply to that: "facts is facts. I didn't make them what they are, and it's always good to know and understand history, and learn from what it teaches us."

But I am very ecumenical, too, in the right, orthodox way. The two aren't mutually exclusive. 

Nicholas: Thanks for the links. I've read a couple of these, and I've always appreciated what you've done: ecumenism in the right way. Sometimes people get so caught up in ecumenism, it leads to some kind of universalism; religious distinctions aren't that important. 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the main goal of ecumenism is to bring people into the Catholic Church. The Anglican Ordinate would be an excellent example of ecumenism fully realized. We can praise the good things that men like Luther did, and I love how you've collected those instances. But I won't commend Luther as a true "witness" as that priest suggested to me. I disliked how he magnanimously asserted that I had to accept that title as if it was an act of the Magisterium. Those two titles are ways that the CCC describes martyrs. I can't do the same for Luther.

Dave: Nicholas, agreed on both points. We can praise him where he was right, but not considered as a whole. Lutherans do the exact same thing with us.

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