Monday, March 24, 2008

Martin Luther- Saint or Villian or a Bit of Both? -Intro

  • Cajun Huguenot had a post I have wanted to comment on all week. That is his post Luther and Rome where he talks about Martin Luther and the movie Luther. I am glad I waited because he has put up a related post in some ways at Erasmus and Folly. I intended to bring up what Erasmus had to say about the Church and Luther before he posted it. So it is indeed Blog Providence I was delayed in responding!!!!! In fact I am going to break this up into two posts
    Cajun is a very fun and very well informed blogger that also likes the Church Fathers and history so I enjoy his posts a good bit. I lean a good bit from them. It is hard to tell what people are like through their blogs but going by this past post Different Thoughts ,I think we share alot of the same common interest that are not always perhaps shared by our mutual peer groups. I suspect we would disagree on aspects of politics relating to secession and things like that more than religion.

    I have actually seen the movie Luther and liked parts of it very much. At Cajun's post Luther and Rome he says in part:

    Luther was a very interesting man. He was a man of great courage and conviction. He was, I believe, greatly used by God to accomplish much good. He was also a man with many faults, and those faults did much to damage and divide the same faith that he desired to see reformed.

    Luther was a brilliant man and a passionate man. Much in what he wrote is wonderful to read and uplifting to the soul, but some of what he wrote is shameful and has done a great deal to blemished His name and work.I know some Roman Catholics who despise him and count him among the worst of criminals. They see the Western Church divided into so many sects and blame Luther for those divisions. I think those who think that way have it backwards. Luther did not divide the Church and he did not bring about its division. The Church was divided by the acts of Rome.Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses against the abuses then common in the sale of indulgences.

    The paper was not written against the Pope or Rome, in fact Luther was surprised to learn that the Pope was against what he had written. Pope Leo X was more disturbed by the loss of revenue that followed the publication of Luther’s Theses than he was by the doctrines in them. Pope Leo was using monies raised by the sale of indulgences (much of it coming from Germany) to build St. Peter’s Basilica. After Luther attacked the despicable practice of indulgences (forgiveness of sin and salvation were commodity offered by the Church for cash money) the money coming into Rome through the selling indulgences in Germany dropped off substantially.

    Rome, Pope Leo, caused the breach. He, not Luther is more responsible for the initial division in the Western Church. Leo, like so many of the Renaissance Popes before him, was a corrupt man of the world who cared little for spiritual matters. Had there been a godly man seated in the Chair of St. Peter the Church would not have been torn apart..........

    Luther’s actions and the actions of others were in response to the wrongful response of Rome. Every person will stand before God and answer for his/her sins. Luther was a man with many faults and when he sinned he did so passionately, but he was also a man of faith who repented passionately as well. Christ’s blood covers the sins of all of us who repent (truly) and I believe Luther was such a man. I do not believe Pope Leo X was such a man. I don’t believe he will reside eternally in the same place as Luther and I believe Luther will be resurrected, even with his many failings, to eternal live in Jesus Christ.

    Now go read his entire post. Cajun Huguenot as it points out is not one of these anti Catholic ranters. There is truth in his posts and I also think some misunderstandings. More of which I will get into part II

    First a few things. The movie is very good he references but sadly has some huge faults. David Armstrong has done what I think is a very fair and good post on this subject at A Catholic response to the Movie Luther. Also see another review that points out the good, the bad, factual, the nonfactual and yes even the whitewashing from the Protestant side at Here I Stand: The Good and Bad in Eric Till’s Luther By Steven D. Greydanus .

    I will be quoting David and many of his articles on his great Luther page because Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation is a big part of his apologetic work. Growing up Southern Baptist, Luther and Calvin and generally the reformation was not a big study for me. It was not part of Sunday school really or for that matter Southern Baptist sermons. Which is kinda of odd when you think of it. So it was not until I was investigating Catholicism that I became familiar with Luther and various parts of the reformation in much more detail.

    I think David in his post A Catholic Response to the Movie Luther pretty much sums up my thoughts on the movie, Luther, and the Reformation aspect as it relates to Luther. In fact if you happened to watch the History Channel's flawed show on the Protestant Reformation(it had no Catholic counter response in it even though The Catholic Church was at the heart of "the matter") last Holy Saturday night( I saw it when it replayed at 2 am) then David's post is a good thing to read after viewing it.

    Does the the Church Hierarchy at that time bear the main responsibility for the break? I would say yes. No doubt!!!! In fact I would go back farther. I think the pride of Church leaders hundreds of years earlier in the East and West that caused the great Schism played a part. I am more convinced that if the wisdom and spirituality of the of East had been available that perhaps Luther's problems might have found a solution. There are reasons why the Reformation and those ideas did not gain major ground in what we call now Orthodox lands. The Catholic Church cut off from the "second lung" of the Church I do believe caused many of the problems of the reformation in many ways. However the Church of Rome was found to be weak in that era and their responsibility cannot be whitewashed. In fact Catholics now and at the time were not whitewashing it either as Cajun's post Erasmus and Folly (more on him in post II) points out.

    However it was one thing to call attention to the responsibly of the Catholic Church and to then proclaim that Martin Luther was doing God's work in all things or perhaps was right in all or in fact right in most. or in fact right in 50.1 percent. I am not so sure of that at all. There are reasons that Catholics often called this the Protestant Revolt than just the reformation. The Catholic Church has had "Reformers" that have risen up throughout her history to purge the corruption and evil. This is nothing new.

    So in Post II while not white washing the Catholic Church's role, I intend to try to show that Luther was not just an innocent victim in all this and perhaps he too went off the reservation. There are reformers and then there are revolutionaries. There are Revolutions and then there are Revolutions. We do not cast blameless the Communist Revolution of Russia and it errors because the Czars brought it on. We do not lay Castro blameless because of the abuses of Batista. We do not give the Mullahs in Iran a pass because the regime of the Shah perhaps brought it on himself. I suppose my main contention with the movie and in parts with Cajuns Huguenots post is when he says: "Luther did not divide the Church and he did not bring about its division. The Church was divided by the acts of Rome."

    As David Armstrong says in his post Was Corruption in the Medieval Papacy the Primary Cause of the Protestant Revolt? :
    What does the papacy have to do with the abolition of five of seven sacraments, the move to sola Scriptura as the rule of faith over against an authoritative Church and Councils and apostolic succession and episcopacy (and including a papacy as well), or the ending of the sacrifice of the mass, or the move away from transubstantiation, or the ditching of purgatory or the end of baptismal regeneration among many Protestants and even infant baptism in some camps? What does it have to do with the cessation of the notion of the communion of saints and intercession of saints, and much of Mariology, and forensic, imputed justification vs. infused?
    What does it have to do with the removal of seven previously-accepted books from the Bible or the Lutheran and Calvinist drowning of Anabaptist heretics, or the mutual anathematizing of Luther and Zwingli over the issue of the Eucharist? What does the corruption of the medieval papacy have to do with Luther's adoption of double predestination and utter rejection of free will, or Calvinist iconoclasm or the suggestion from the highest Protestant quarters to Philip of Hesse that he lie about his bigamy? Or the widespread early Protestant antipathy to philosophy and science and art? ...........What does getting rid of the papacy and episcopacy and apostolic succession have to do with a corrupt papacy? In other words, how does corruption lead to a conclusion of utter worthlessness, such that something can be discarded? Something is either intrinsically bad and evil or unbiblical or it is not. If it were intrinsically a bad thing, then it wouldn't take corruption to want to get rid of it (as an evil thing is already "corrupt" anyway). If it is not intrinsically bad, then the proper response is to reform it and get it back to where it should be, not banish and abolish it. Either way, it makes no sense

    Good Question. I hope to show that there were signs and allies of reform that Luther Could have taken heart in and joined. I suppose the question is this as to Luther and his responsibility. Let us say that we could have back in time and replaced the Roman Catholic Church officials at the Diet of Worms with Cardinal Ratzinger and the other that were involved in this groundbreaking document Common declaration on the Doctrine of Justification issued by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation [31 October 1999]. A declaration that was later signed on to by a major Methodist body. See Address of Cardinal Walter Kasper at the signing ceremony of the Methodist Association with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (July 23, 2006)

    Would have Luther had signed on too it? Or would the result be the same and as Karl Adams point out:
    Had Martin Luther then arisen with his marvelous gifts of mind and heart, his warm penetration of the essence of Christianity, his passionate defiance or all unholiness and ungodliness, the elemental fury of his religious experience, his surging, soul-shattering power of speech, and not least that heroism in the face of death . . .- had he brought all these magnificent qualities to the removal of the abuses of the time . . . had he remained a faithful member of his Church, humble and simple, sincere and pure, then indeed we should today be his grateful debters. He would be forever our great Reformer . . . comparable to Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi. He would have been the greatest saint of the German people . . .
    But -- and here lies the tragedy of the Reformation . . .- he let the warring spirits drive him to overthrow not merely the abuses in the Church, but the Church Herself . . . what St. Augustine calls the greatest sin . . . he set up altar against altar and tore in pieces the one Body of Christ. (pp. 27-28)The Roots of the Reformation


Anonymous said...

Wow, perfect timing! I just watched Luther on DVD over the weekend. Found it to be a very interesting movie. I'm no expert on Luther since I too grew up in a Southern Baptist & Independent Christian church traditions. I'll be reading the other posts you refer to to gain various perspectives on Martin L. I've often wondered if Luther ever intended to see division come into the Roman church or was mostly wanting to see reform happen? Would he be appalled today at the thousands of denominations who give Luther credit for their existence?


James H said...

Hopefully I will get part II up today. Luther is indeed an interesting character. I also sometimes wonder if there is a cultural aspect to Luther. IE a German or Northern Europe culutural thing I am not getting.

Compared to Calvinism for what ever reason it appears that Luther appeal was limited in some degree

Cajun Huguenot said...


I enjoyed your post.

I agree with most of it including the criticisms of Luther. The movie does a good job in doing what the folks who made it intended for it to do.

They only hinted at Luther's great faults. Luther, when attacked was like a man possessed. His polimical writings are often shameful and do great damage to the cause of Christ.

I look forward to you second part to this blog. Please send me a link to it so I can check it out.

In Christ,
Ps. You may find my latest post on Luther and Erasmus interesting.

gallicman said...

Great comments. I feel you are right. Had Luther taken the course of St. Francis he could have taught with charity that then Church structure needed reformation. In stead, Luther took a combative role and as discussed in the original posting substantially changed Christian practice and religion in Germany. I would argue that essentially Luther broke away from Apostolic Christianity and created a "new” religion.