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Thursday, March 06, 2008



Only one source is quoted on the record by the Times.

And that's Cardinal Kasper.

And Cardinal Kasper is known for two relevant things: A true zeal for ecumenism, and a willingness to influence Vatican policy through the media.

The off the record sources would also like to see pro-Luther gesture - but they don't have the burreaucratic invulnerability of Kasper.

Certainly Luther will be discussed in depth at the Schulerkreis; and certainly the Pope (as he has in the past) will direct the discussion in ways that give a fair, even-handed appraisal of Luther. But there is simply no way the Church can accept his understanding of justification or ecclesiology - wishful thinking of some curial officials and theologians notwithstanding.

Brian Schuettler

I admire Luther for the same reasons as then Cardinal Ratzinger did i.e. the hymns and the liturgical reforms, etc. but it is impossible to ignore that he was a destroyer of the sacramental foundations of those same reforms and the agent of hierarchical deconstruction. You cannot read Luther's actual writings of the 1520s period without being struck by his frontal attack on the doctrinal underpinnings of the historical Church.


This rumour is clearly baseless. I would also suggest looking at the book "The Ego in Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion" (Chicago: Herald, 1970 by Paul Hacker. Hacker is a German Lutheran convert to Catholicism, who clearly exposes how the changed idea of the later Luther about what constituted the act of Faith, which Hacker calls a "reflexive faith", undermines the whole edifice of the dogma, the sacraments etc. (At the same time he explains that in the work of the pre-protestant Luther there is much of authentically Catholic theology which could be made fruitful). The preface to the book is by none other than Cardinal Ratzinger. In German, there was a new edition in 2001 or 2002, which again has Card. Ratzinger's foreword with his approval.


Hacker's book sounds like a good candidate for reprinting. IF anyone at Ignatius is reading, another good albeit unrelated reprint candidate is Sheed's Christ in Eclipse, which I just finished and found exhilirating.

Clare Krishan


Where are the pdf links for a more laity-friendly distillation of Ratzinger's scholarly opus? You can't be serious that you expect a journalist to enter into a discussion with a nerdy layman (he'd have to be to do what you suggest). There's a gaping chasm that lies between the Times and the Vatican and its not all the journalist and the Popes fault - why hasn't Catholic World Report penned an article?

The US Catholic press has a "touchy feely" wing heavy on social justice photojournalism of the suffering masses, but why no "mental-insight" wing heavy on magisterial interpretation of current affairs such as Italy's intellectual Christian Democrat magazine "30 days"?

Shame on you for calling the Brits out - we're no better this side of the pong. We've had eight years of elitist "First-Things" Acton "Power blog" jansenisms passed off as a pro-life crusade for liberty while the babies are still dying, the middle east is aflame in sectarian violence, and China and Russia remain as intractably tyrannical as ever.., talk about fiddling while Rome burns... Shame on you!

Clare Krishan

ooops that should be pond not "pong"

Carl Olson

Shame on you for calling the Brits out - we're no better this side of the pong. We've had eight years of elitist "First-Things" Acton "Power blog" jansenisms passed off as a pro-life crusade for liberty while the babies are still dying, the middle east is aflame in sectarian violence, and China and Russia remain as intractably tyrannical as ever.., talk about fiddling while Rome burns... Shame on you!

Say...what? Shame on me for...what? I suggest, Clare, that you spend a little more time on this blog and on Ignatius Insight before you go off half-cocked about such matters. Do you really mean to suggest (!) that somehow I am responsible for violence in the Middle East, tyranny in China/Russia, and the ongoing scourge of abortion in the U.S.? Wow.

Brian Day

You can't be serious that you expect a journalist to enter into a discussion with a nerdy layman (he'd have to be to do what you suggest)

Not speaking for Carl, but YES, why not? It's not like I'm too stoopid to figure this stuff out. I rather enjoy reading Ratzinger. His prose is very dense but readable, and very much worth the effort.


There is the Luther that we read about in Belloc and Maritain, and after reading those accounts for me it is hard to take any of his theology seriously. That being said, I recall reading that the Pope had read most of Luther's works when he was in the seminary, what an intellect!

On a positive note, at least Clare didn't blame Carl for global warming. :-)
Clare, you go green, girl!


*shakes head*

How on earth can you rehabilitate a man who called the letter of James an epistle of straw? Or who deliberately mistranslated the Bible and defended as "Tell them Doctor Martin Luther would have it so"?


Why would you have to "rehabilitate" a man who called the Epistle of James an Epistle of Straw? Jerome (St. Jerome to Roman Catholics) actually placed Marius Victorinus on his list of illustrious Christian writers, listing a work in which Victorinus called the teachings of James heretical for what they said about faith and works. The Epistle of James, unlike the majority of NT corpus, was still questioned as to the rightness of its teachings in the 300's because of what it said on faith and works.

Brian Schuettler

On the canonicity of James, Luther was eventually able to reconcile the message of the book with others in the Bible, and he ultimately did not seek to remove it from the canon. It is possible Luther may have considered the canon an open question, as he did dispute such things as the authenticity of Jude and the authorship of Hebrews. (LW 35:397, n. 54-55)

Luther's other writings show that he clearly gave complete deference to the canon. He acknowledged the canon as he knew it as complete. In his lectures on Ecclesiastes, Luther said:

"Thus there were many authors who wrote bibles, but out of all these books some were received and approved, which we today call the Bible. Therefore he says: ‘See to it therefore, my son, that you cling to those books which have been received. But despise the others, because they have been despised by these wise men.’"(LW 15:184)


Thanks for the link to the interview with Cardinal Ratzinger. Very interesting.


Martin Luther was not writing in the 300s.


It was not Luther's place to "reconcile the message of the book with others in the Bible". It was Luther's place to reconcile his interpretation of other books in the Bible to the letter.

Jeff Grace

I'm not sure why such news should come as a surprise, nor why it should cause such a panic! If everyone would exercise their memories a tad, they might recall that the Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed a little thing called the Joint Declaration on Justification a while back...

In this declaration you will find the historic statement:

41.Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration.
***end quote***

Also, it's not a new idea that Martin Luther had no intention of splitting the Church. It's well known and uncontroverted that he was seeking to reform the Catholic Church, which, quite frankly, was in dire need of reform.

I for one am looking forward to hearing what Benedict XVI has to say on this matter. The Joint Declaration was near and dear to his heart. Without him, we might not have seen it come to completion in it's final days.

Carl Olson

I'm not sure why such news should come as a surprise, nor why it should cause such a panic!

I just checked with myself, Jeff, and I, for one, am not panicking. The main issue of this post was to note that some in the MSM are misrepresenting what is really going on. I, too, look forward to hearing what Benedict has too say about Mr. Luther...

Jeff Grace

I dunno, Carl... your eyes looked pretty wild. :)

Mark Brumley

Whatever Luther's original intent, he wound up a "heretic". His positions have often been misunderstood by Catholics. A better understanding of Luther can help reduce or eliminate unnecessary problems in the Catholc-Protestant dialogue. Indeed, because some Catholics have gone so far off the deep end, Luther can actually help them move closer to Catholicism, if they bother to understand the real Luther.

However, no amount of better understanding will make Luther a Catholic.

The Reformation was not, as Jaroslav Pelikan once said (in his Protestant days) a tragic necessity. It was tragic in that it was not necessary. Which is not to say that genuine reform was not necessary; it was. But Protestantism involved more than simple reform; it involved a radical and novel understanding of key aspects of Christianity. Those aspects, as Bouyer points out, framed positively--the gratuitousness of salvation and the supreme authority of the Word of God--were integral to Catholicism. However, Protestantism went well beyond the mere affirmation of those points to maintain the doctrine of forensic justification, a defective undertsanding of sola fide, and a problematic view of sola scriptura--to mention only a few major problems.

To be sure, Catholics contributed their own share to the problem by living sinful lives, by poor understanding of their own tradition, and by any number of other objectively sinful actions in the dispute with Protestants. None of that, however, can alter the problematic understanding of Christianity espoused by the Protestant Reformers, nor should anyone naively expect that dialogue will magically make everyone able to agree about everything.

The 16th century was a long time ago. In some ways, Catholics and Protestants are closer than ever. In some instances, we are further apart than were our ancestors. (Imagine what Luther or Calvin would say about Bishop Spong or many oldline Protestants who purport to operate out of a theological tradition reflective of Luther or Calvin's views.)

It's great that B-16 is taking up Luther in the Schuelerkreis meeting. I am sure the result will be a good discussion, one that provides a fuller, more accurate picture of Luther than one finds in certain Catholic apologetical and polemical literature. We need to help Catholics avoid the mistake of caricaturing Luther (and the other Protestant Reformers) on the one hand, and canonizing him (and the Protestant leaders) on the other. There is more to be said for Luther than many Catholic apologists and polemicists are willing to admit. There is much less to be said for him than many liberal Catholics and ecumenists insist on saying. Reality is somewhere in the middle. Not exactly a fact that lends itself to fruitful discussion on many blogs. I hope Ignatius Insight will be different.

Not that bloggers are the only problm. Many in the MSM are simply misreporting this story. (Shock.) Can we all agree not to take what is "reported" there at face value and wait to get the facts?

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