Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Catholic Perspective on the English Reformation: Part I

Contrary to popular opinion, Martin Luther was not a pious reformer who embarked upon a crusade to rid the Church of corruption and return Her to a fondly imagined pristine state. Whilst he might have commenced his public career under the guise of a reformer, he ended up a rebel who set into motion a social and religious revolution which rent the Catholic world permanently asunder.

Luther began his revolution in October 1517 by defiantly nailing 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg, one of his main grievances being the practice of selling Indulgences. The Church already knew that the unfettered commerce in Indulgences was sacrilegious, and as such She had never once given her assent to the unfortunate practice. Remarkably, Luther later feigned complete ignorance, saying ‘As truly as Our Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed me I did not know what an Indulgence was.’ (O’Hare, Patrick, The Facts About Luther, p. 77)

Instead of suggesting any practical solutions on how to reform the Church, Luther offered a collection of fantastical ideas which he attempted to pass off as being theologically sound. For example, in No. 24 he writes that ‘Christians must be taught to cherish excommunications rather than fear them’ whilst in No. 25, he states that ‘the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, is not the vicar of Christ over all the churches of the entire world, instituted by Christ Himself in blessed Peter.’ Luther proposes in theses 31 and 32 that ‘in every good work the just mans sins’ and ‘a good work done very well is a venial sin’. Finally, he proposes in No. 38 that ‘the souls in purgatory are not sure of their salvation, at least not all…’ These theses were sent to a board of distinguished professors, who Luther called ‘buffoons and earthworms. In short, 41 of the 95 were condemned as heretical by Pope Leo X in the Bull ‘Exsurge Domine’ on the June 15th 1520.

This was however, too little too late. Luther appeared at time when the Church was in desperate need of genuine reform. Many of the higher clergy were more interested in holding onto political power and things of this world than exercising their pastoral duties. The souls of the Faithful were being neglected. Bishops and Abbots were comporting themselves more like princes than priests. The Faithful had become superstitious, immoral or indifferent. The Papacy had lost its authority, and Rome had become infected by the spirit of paganism. Princes and governments had set themselves up against the Church.

This was a revolution waiting to happen. Indeed, Luther’s doctrines spread with greater rapidity than Christ’s own. When the last of the Apostles died, Christians were still hiding in the catacombs in fear of their lives. When Luther died, Protestantism in its many forms had spread like wildfire from Germany to Switzerland, up to Norway and Denmark and Sweden, down to France, Hungary, Poland and the Netherlands, and finally to England. God, it appears, in His Infinite Wisdom, had allowed this revolution to happen. The question is this: Would we have had the true and Catholic reformation, long desired but delayed by so many difficulties, taken up and accomplished by the Council of Trent between 1545 and 1563 if Luther had been motivated by a genuine desire to see the Church reformed?

Author's Biography: This is a guest post written by Dr. Bella d'Abrera.  Bella Wyborn d’Abrera, who is based in London, is a graduate of Monash University in Melbourne. She completed her Masters degree at the University of St. Andrews, and was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy by the University of Cambridge in 2003. She is also the author of  ‘A King with a Pope in His Belly’ and ‘Papists, Spaniards & Other Strangers.’

1 comment(s):

del_button November 4, 2012 at 10:08 AM
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