Sunday, March 24, 2013

Roman Catholics Interested in Luther

For all the attention give to the now Emeritas Pope who is the first who has more than a slight interest in or knowledge of Luther and things Lutheran, I somehow missed this fascinating article on a Jesuit (yes, I know, that does not always mean something positive) with an interest in and a knowledge of Luther and things Lutheran.

HT to Pr Eric Brown

You can read the interview here...

In my read­ing of Luther I was quickly impressed by his con­cep­tion of the pen­i­ten­tial life as fun­da­men­tal in Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al­ity. Also, I had the good for­tune to dis­cover a text by Luther which sets forth an inge­nious the­ol­ogy of indul­gences, but which had been mis­tak­enly dated in the Weimar Edi­tion (in fact, it was from 1517 and sent in the packet to the Arch­bishop with the 95 The­ses). That text became a key to my dis­ser­ta­tion and I pub­lished it in Eng­lish with com­men­tary in The­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies at the time of the 1967 obser­vance of the 450th anniver­sary of the Reformation’s outbreak.


I agree with Ernst Bizer and Oswald Bayer that Luther, in early 1518, came to fea­ture a new aspect of the pen­i­ten­tial life, namely, the pow­er­ful, clear, and certain-making word of sacra­men­tal abso­lu­tion spo­ken to the pen­i­tent. I worked this out for a sem­i­nar at the Luther Research Con­gress in Erfurt in 1983 and brought it out the next year in Gre­go­ri­anum, the jour­nal of my uni­ver­sity in Rome, under the title, Fides sacramenti—fides spe­cialis (also in Luther’s Reform, an essay col­lec­tion, pub­lished in Mainz in 1992).

From this shift of 1518, the pen­i­ten­tial life con­tin­ues to unfold in daily self-denial, but Luther has it firmly anchored in God’s gra­cious word which applies Christ’s sav­ing grace in moments of clear, unam­bigu­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tion. From 1519 on, it is no acci­dent that Luther turned out engag­ing short pam­phlets on the sacra­ments, in which the certain-making word resounds in its vari­ant expres­sions. This had not been present in his works on pen­i­ten­tial liv­ing and prayer down through 1517.

When I worked out in 1983–84 this momen­tous shift in Luther’s teach­ing, I added a series of con­sid­er­a­tions in favor of a nuanced or even pos­i­tive Catholic assess­ment of Luther’s point. Luther did not fea­ture aspects ascribed to him by crit­ics like Car­di­nal Caje­tan (1518) and Paul Hacker (The Ego in Faith, 1970). He appealed to Bernard of Clair­vaux as hold­ing some­thing very similar—which gives us pause. We Catholics also take the sacra­ments very seri­ously and should rec­og­nize in Luther an ally against reli­giosi­ties of sub­jec­tive experience.

While surely not all or perhaps even many Lutherans agree with Jared Wicks (then, again, they often don't agree among themselves, either), the fact the Roman Catholics remain interested in Luther and contribute to the ongoing conversation about Luther is a good thing.  To be sure, Lutherans and those not Lutheran need to be reminded that Luther is neither cult leader for us or deceased pope who rules from the grave.  What bounds and binds us is nothing less and nothing more than the Book of Concord.  That said, Luther is always an interesting character and provocative subject for conversation.  I forget who once said that Luther is, after Jesus Christ, the single man with the greatest impact upon history.  He did not always mean in a positive light but that hardly matters.  To understand the world today requires an awareness if not appreciation for the monk who stepped reluctantly out of the shadows and into the world's spotlight.


Unknown said...

Ah those Jesuits! They’ll talk you into paying for the rope for your own hanging, and then they’ll convince you that it is a privilege. According to Luther, what is known as his “Tower Experience”, when he became fully aware of the meaning of God’s justice and how it is relates to faith, took place some time in 1519*. Therefore it is not surprising that Roman Catholics will praise him for what he wrote before then; as, for instance, The 95 Theses. At that point he is one of them. Only after he discovered the true meaning of the Gospel did they begin to hate him.

*An Excerpt From: Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther's Latin Works (1545) by Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546 Translated by Bro. Andrew Thornton, OSB from the "Vorrede zu Band I der Opera Latina der Wittenberger Ausgabe. 1545" in vol. 4 of _Luthers Werke in Auswahl_, ed. Otto Clemen, 6th ed., (Berlin: de Gruyter. 1967). pp. 421-428.
(c)1983 by Saint Anselm Abbey. This translation may be used freely with proper attribution. You may distribute, copy or print this text, providing you retain the author and copyright statements.

“Meanwhile in that same year, 1519, I had begun interpreting the Psalms once again. I felt confident that I was now more experienced, since I had dealt in university courses with St. Paul's Letters to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the Letter to the Hebrews. ….

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: "The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: 'The just person lives by faith.'" I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: "The just person lives by faith." All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates.”

The fact that there was a shift, in 1518, so that “the pen¬i¬ten¬tial life con¬tin¬ues to unfold in daily self-denial” only confirms that Luther was still struggling with his own justification. But from 1519 on, it is no acci¬dent that the “certain-making word resounds in its vari¬ant expres¬sions”. For Luther the entire life of the believer was no longer repentance (Thesis 1 of 95), but, Gal. 5:22, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

tubbs said...

Yes those very masters of deceit, the Jesuits!
We can only hope that the new bishop of Rome, now removed from under the chain of command of the Black Pope, will finally release Elvis from that underground bunker in Wernersville, Pa where the Jesuits have him hostage!

Nate said...

With the comment about St. Bernard, it almost sounds like he's echoing Franz Possett.