Tuesday, October 30

Do You Know What Tomorrow Is?

(UPDATE: Blockquotes fixed. Some of Joel's words looked like they were my own comments. Sorry, Joel!)

Joel has a phenominal post at On the Other Foot about Reformation Day. Best summary of it I've seen, as well as a superb evaluation of how Catholics should view the anniversary of Martin Luther officially splitting from the Church and forming his own.

I have to say, though, before you go off to read the whole thing (please do!!) that this part rings quite true:

No event in the history of western Christendom gets people as worked up as the Protestant Reformation. Catholics think of it as a tragedy, when whole countries departed the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church into schism, if not outright apostasy. Protestants treat it almost as the real founding of Christianity, as seminal as the First Vision is to Mormons. Both of them make a bigger deal out of it, I think, than is necessary.

I have seen this myself. Not much, mind you, but it really ranks up there for some people. Think of how Catholics view Pentecost (birthday of the Church) if you aren't sure what I mean. Again, not everyone treats it as such, but I have seen it. Some of the threads of conversation at Francis Beckwith's posts on his return to the Catholic Church certainly had more than a few who seemed to view it in this manner.

But don't take this as the only tone of Joel's post, please. Indulge me a bit as I give you another sampling:

But the main difference is that the Protestant Reformation wasn't all about doctrine. Yes, that's right. It was less doctrinal than any other schism had been except the East-West split in 1054. The Reformation was as much a political struggle as a religious one, and really, I don't think doctrine would have entered into it had Luther's attempted reforms been more quickly implemented. Trouble was, nobody listened to him. It didn't help that the pope was attempting to unite European leaders to fend off Muslim armies, which took a lot of precedence over some German backwater. But because he went unheard, Luther had to get louder and more offensive, claiming that the Church didn't have any real authority over him anyway. If one of his assertions was shown to be contrary to scripture, he simply edited scripture. The Council of Trent eventually vindicated him on a lot of things, but by that time the damage was done.

It's hard to blame Luther. Simony and political intrigue were as much a part of Church life in his part of Germany as the sacraments. Priests were ill-trained, bishoprics were bought and sold, and the piety and gullibility of ordinary people were being played on by sharks like Tetzel. Luther was, I think, an honest man who really grieved for the Church he loved, as children will grieve for an alcoholic mother. If you look at his writings, he started out expressing devotion to the Church and to the pope; it was only as his cries for reform went unheeded that he headed off into heresy and eventual schism.

I rather believe that had the Church done the necessary housecleaning in Saxony, today St. Martin of Wittenberg would be called a Doctor of the Church and ranked alongside Aquinas and Augustine. (If nothing else, his hymns should have gotten him canonized.) Since it didn't happen that way, we have his legacy to deal with, and it's a dilly.

Like I said, this is one worth reading in its entirety. Go let Joel know what you think!


Joel said...

Thanks! I was afraid it would come out sounding to Catholics like I was selling my own church down the river. If you didn't get that sense, maybe others won't either. :)

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

I can't agree that it's hard to blame Luther. Sure, things were bad and corrupt in his time.

Things are bad and corrupt in our time, too, as I and many others are documenting on our blogs, but I'm not founding any new Church.

Joel said...

I don't think Luther set out to, either, but his ego and the political maneuverings of the German princes kind of ran away with him. Then, too, we've seen what comes of reform by the Luther method; he didn't have the benefit of hindsight. Nor was he especially overburdened with prudence. :)

All in all, I find it hard to judge Luther's actions and attitudes according to the end results.

Who are your heros?


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