Friendship Beyond Politics
I am profoundly grateful to Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., for his considered article discussing my book The Form of Politics: Aristotle and Plato on Friendship (Jan.-Feb.). Few are better suited to reflect on how, in friendship, human beings encounter the “fullness of reality,” and I am grateful for the way he thinks through the implications of my argument. It is an instance in which the reviewer seems to understand the author better than the author understands himself, in which the person behind the review greets the person behind the book.
Fr. Schall chose an ironic metaphor for the title of his article: “The Shadow Over All Politics.” It comes less from the shadows on Plato’s cave than from the “beyond politics” element of friendship, which is a moral and spiritual practice that points beyond the scope of the polis or state and to the ultimate ends for which human beings have been created. These days, relationships have become so politicized, which has rendered friendship difficult to practice. Normal conversation, the medium of friendship, is made difficult for fear of giving offense; the danger of betrayal closely lurks behind even our most “innocent” of conversations.
Fr. Schall’s reference to the “beyond politics” element of friendship is what I strove to capture with my title, The Form of Politics. Not only are our ultimate ends “beyond politics,” but our politics depends profoundly upon those practices that aim at our ultimate ends. A political society whose citizens are ill-equipped to practice friendships of the highest kinds will no longer be capable of practicing political friendship. A citizenry incapable of friendly conversation will be incapable of political deliberation.
This is the greatest line in Fr. Schall’s article: “In reading von Heyking’s remarkably insightful book, one has the impression that it is written by a happily married man.” I read Fr. Schall’s article on a Friday afternoon after studying Aquinas. I had been reading question 26, article 8, of the Secunda Secundæ of the Summa, which asks, “Whether one who, connected to us by carnal origin, should be loved most of all.” In the afterglow of my reading of Schall’s article, my six-year-old and eight-year-old barged into my home office and built a giant pile of pillows upon which, with much giggling and children’s “serious play,” they proceeded to launch themselves — full of hope the pile would hold. Plato could not have portrayed a more dramatic scene of the “shadow over politics.”
John von Heyking
Dept. of Political Science, University of Lethbridge
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Friendship Beyond the Comfort Zone
Anne M. Maloney has highlighted the essence of what Betty Hester was facing with her crosses and what Flannery O’Connor was offering with her friendship. Her article, “What Would Flannery O’Connor Say?” (Jan.-Feb.), not only describes the deep compassion Flannery had for a woman dealing with same-sex attraction in the mid-20th century, it also reflects the compassion and understanding Dr. Maloney has for people dealing with same-sex attraction today.
Upon discovering that Betty was a lesbian and that she had been dismissed from the Army due to her proclivity, Flannery wrote the following beautiful words to Betty: “I have a tendency myself to dismiss other people’s torments out of hand, but this one, being yours, will have to be partly mine too.” By going beyond the comfort zone of our normal tendencies and showing respect and love to our brothers and sisters, including those with same-sex attraction, we can become beacons of Christian hope for them, just as Flannery was for Betty.
Maloney writes that Flannery never urged Betty to cease being a lesbian. This is not surprising since asking someone to cease being a lesbian is like asking an alcoholic to cease being an alcoholic. The attraction rarely, if ever, entirely disappears. However, as Fr. John Harvey, the founder of Courage, an apostolate for Catholics with same-sex attraction, said, “We always have the chance to not give into the inclination.”
As a former advocate of the gay lifestyle who is now a faith-filled, chaste Catholic with same-sex attraction, I feel both morally and spiritually obligated to remind my brothers and sisters that we are so much more than the sum of our personal desires and sexual inclinations. If we sincerely want to help those with same-sex attraction who are seeking the Lord, we must certainly not embrace their “gayness,” but we must also not cause them to feel unloved. They desperately need to hear about His Truth, but they must also come to know His love.
Charleston, South Carolina
Ed. Note: Mr. Darrow is featured in Desire of the Everlasting Hills, a film about three Catholics who “try to navigate the waters of self-understanding, faith, and homosexuality.” The 60-minute documentary was produced by Courage International, a Catholic apostolate that embraces the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and her norms for pastoral care and ministry to those with same-sex attraction who strive to live chaste lives rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. Desire of the Everlasting Hills can be streamed free of charge at EverlastingHills.org. It is also available on DVD.
President & Managing Director, LifeSiteNews.com
ANNE M. MALONEY REPLIES:
I am grateful for Paul Darrow’s generous words about my article. I agree that Flannery O’Connor’s response to Betty Hester’s lesbianism is beautiful, because Flannery unconditionally loves Betty as a child of God. I also appreciate Mr. Darrow’s willingness to use his own experience to reflect on both the struggles and the joys that come when we find the grace to accept God’s plan for our lives. To have joyful lives, we must orient everything that we are — especially our sexuality — to God. Sexuality is properly ordered toward chastity and the creation of a family.
I do wonder, however, what Mr. Darrow means when he says, “If we sincerely want to help those with same-sex attraction who are seeking the Lord, we must certainly not embrace their ‘gayness,’ but we must also not cause them to feel unloved.” I am not sure what Mr. Darrow means by embrace their gayness. In Flannery’s short story “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” the hermaphrodite says that God made him “thisaway,” and that purity is somehow tied to his acceptance of that reality. At the end of the story, when the town’s Christian leaders run the carnival out of town because of the “freak show,” Flannery has the young protagonist reflect on what it all means. When the nun hugs the little girl and mashes the imprint of a crucifix into her face, Flannery is suggesting that the proper response to the freak was not to drive him from our midst. God made him “thisaway.” Grace perfects nature; it does not replace it.
Mr. Darrow makes an analogy to alcoholism. In recovery meetings, an alcoholic will sometimes introduce himself as a “grateful recovering alcoholic.” What is he grateful for? For his recovery? Yes, of course. But also for his alcoholism because he never would have discovered what he now has any other way. In order to recover, an alcoholic must surrender his will to God and lead a life of service and love. The grateful alcoholic knows that his life is better in recovery than it was, not only when he was drinking, but before he started drinking. Alcoholism is the path God chose for him to find his way back to Him. Accepted and trod rightly, it is his path to Heaven. In that sense, an alcoholic does, in fact, embrace his alcoholism. In that sense, I think that gay Catholics could say that they do embrace their gayness, not as an end in itself, but as the path chosen by God to lead them back to Him.
David F. DeLoera
The Exorcist: The Rest of the Story
I read with great interest all the reader feedback, published under the header “Scarier than Fiction” (letters, Jan.-Feb.), regarding Andrew M. Seddon’s article “Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Ghost Stories?” (Oct.). As both a fan and serious scholar of the works of the late William Peter Blatty, I was touched that the editor acknowledged his legendary masterpiece of horror literature The Exorcist (1973) as “standing out above the rest” in the “fiction department” of books on demonic possession.
It is crucial to note that Mr. Blatty never (even while writing it) considered his novel, or his Academy Award-winning screenplay, as “horror,” but rather as a “supernatural detective story” or “theological thriller.” To state that Blatty was a devout Catholic — from childhood to his Jesuit education at Georgetown University and until his recent death on January 12 — would be to state the obvious. However, again, in Blatty’s own words, he always considered The Exorcist to be the first part in what he labeled his “Trilogy of Faith” (sometimes referring to it as a “Mystery of Faith”) that continued with his novel Legion (1983) and concluded with Dimiter (2010).
The facts surrounding the actual exorcism that took place in 1949 — and which inspired Mr. Blatty as a junior at Georgetown — are now well known. However, I highly recommend to my fellow Catholics — especially those who are curious about the background of the 1949 case and are interested in Blatty’s personal account — his book If There Were Demons Then Perhaps There Were Angels: William Peter Blatty’s Own Story of The Exorcist (published as a standalone memoir in 1999). The entire story and history can be found in his nonfiction account, William Peter Blatty on The Exorcist: From Novel to Film (1974).
The Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
Pine Beach, New Jersey
A Flag of Warning
Thank you for your courage in writing and publishing “The Cult of Diversity at Providence College” (New Oxford Note, Jan.-Feb.). It is a singular flag of warning planted on the pinnacle of academe, which I am sure will never be noticed until it is too late. As the Orwellian thought police are knocking down the doors, perhaps some appeal will be made to the sanctity of such orthodox terms as freedom of speech. Nah!
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Charism, Clarified
Pursuant to the NOR’s ongoing discussion about the “charism of infallibility” (letters, Jan.-Feb.), permit me to try to make yet another distinction.
Vatican I (and Vatican II, citing its predecessor) is very precise. It does not say that the bishop of Rome possesses the charism of infallibility; rather, it says that the Church possesses the charism and that, under certain conditions, the pope may exercise that charism. In other words, infallibility is not a personal attribute of the reigning pontiff; it belongs to the Church as a whole, of which he is the visible head.
Hence, the popular saying that “the pope is infallible under certain clearly defined conditions” is actually theologically inaccurate. We should say that “under certain clearly defined conditions, the pope can exercise the Church’s charism of infallibility.”
The Rev. Jonathan T. Ford Sr.
Estes Park, Colorado
Pope Francis: A Great Danger to the Faith?
When I first wrote my dispatch from Rome for LifeSiteNews.com (cited in your New Oxford Note “A ‘Climate of Fear’ in the Vatican?” Jan.-Feb.), I would not have believed the extent to which it would be proved right by the many subsequent, vindictive actions of Pope Francis and his key supporters. The Church is currently in an historically great crisis that appears to be worsening every day. It is building toward a climax of some kind. I am beginning to see defensive actions growing against the perversions of the faith and many unjust actions by this papacy. Many are waking up from their papologistic slumber and realizing that this Pope is a great danger to the faith.
We are in for interesting times in the near future. It does make me wonder if prophecy is now finally being fulfilled about an anti-pope and an anti-Christ.
Richard M. Dell'Orfano
San Marcos, California
The Pope's Public & Private Personas
The difference between Pope Francis’s public and private personas calls to mind the sixth-century Pastoral Rule, which Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote to provide guidance for his clergy. In chapter nine he says, “The ruler should realize well that vices often masquerade as virtues.” Gregory observed that “it is necessary that the ruler of souls discern with care and vigilance virtues from vices, lest niggardliness take possession of his heart while he exults in appearing frugal in his outlays, or when prodigally wasteful, he boasts of his liberality as if it were compassion, or by passing over what should be castigated, he drag his subjects to eternal punishment, or when he mercilessly smites offenses, he himself offend more grievously, or when his action could have been performed with rectitude and gravity, it become spoiled by unreasonable anticipation, or by deferring a good and meritorious act, it become an evil one.”
More simply put, often behind every public virtue is a contrary vice. To wit: mercy in public and vindictiveness in private.
F. Douglas Kneibert
Praying for Pope Francis… To Be Removed!
I suspected early on that Pope Francis is a far-left liberal. Having ignored the Jesuit tradition to avoid hierarchical posts, he showed his ambitious greed for power and glory by accepting the role of supreme pontiff while wearing a mask of humility.
I, for one, have begun to pray that Our Father remove Francis from office as quickly as possible. I’m sure that many others are petitioning for a similar coup de grâce. We men of prayer are like the adopted sons of a King who is in protracted absence; we are vested with full authority to do what’s best to preserve and safeguard His realm.
Reynaldo O. Yana
North Mariana Islands
A Transfer of Title?
If there is a man for this troubled hour in Church history, it is Bl. John Henry Newman. He waged a lifelong battle against religious liberalism, recognizing that it wasn’t merely another way of living out the faith, but a deadly enemy of it. Writing a few years after his conversion in 1845, Newman came to believe that even the Catholic Church was not immune to the liberal influences that had made inroads in Anglicanism: “It is not that you will at once reject Catholicism, but you will measure and proportion it by an earthly standard. You will throw its highest and most momentous disclosures into the background, you will deny its principles, explain away its doctrines [and] rearrange its precepts.”
What Newman foresaw nearly 170 years ago is happening today in the Catholic Church, where a new crisis has arisen — a crisis of fidelity.
Normally, when a problem arises — what the Catechism calls “deviations and departures” from sound doctrine (no. 890) — the faithful look to Rome to correct it. But what does one do when Rome isn’t the solution to the problem but the cause of it?
The head of the Catholic Church is not the pope, but Jesus Christ. The pope works for Him. Francis, however, seems to think it’s the other way around. How else can one explain his actions? No pope in history ever did what Francis has done: Set aside Jesus’s clear teaching on a given topic and replace it with his own version. The subject, of course, is divorce and “remarriage.” Jesus spoke very clearly about that. It is a hard saying, yes, but divine teaching nonetheless. The Pope’s permissive substitute bears scant resemblance to what the Lord actually said, which is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels.
We’re told that “mercy” demands such an unprecedented step as Francis has taken. Mercy is an important virtue, but it can never contradict the Word of God. The pope is the servant of God’s Word, not its reviser.
Pope Francis seems to have an affinity for ambiguity, and Amoris Laetitia reflects that. It doesn’t actually say that the rules for Communion regarding irregular marriages have been changed, but it strongly implies that they should be. That may be a moot point, however, since Francis is simply allowing the change to happen — sometimes with his specific approval, as when he praised the Argentine bishops for interpreting Amoris Laetitia as allowing divorced-and-remarried Catholics “access” to Holy Communion in certain “complex” cases.
Other bishops, by contrast, who adhere to the Church’s traditional teaching, are consequently being passed over for red hats, while liberal bishops are showered with honors. Doctrinal chaos and confusion are spreading, and the unity of the faith, for which Jesus prayed so devoutly, is being steadily undermined.
Francis has dismissed as “fundamentalists” those who have raised questions about changing the Communion rules for irregular marriages, accusing them of having a “nasty spirit” and even being “heretical,” to mention only a few of his uncharitable slurs. When faithfulness to Jesus’s teachings is called fundamentalism, the Barque of Peter has slipped its moorings, and anything is possible.
Taking their cues from Rome, liberal prelates around the world are falling over each other to put into effect Francis’s fast-track return of divorced-and-remarried Catholics to the Communion table. In dioceses with traditional bishops, couples in irregular marriages are still going through the annulment process as the Church has always required. What we have now is a Catholic version of Protestant congregationalism — a staggering blow to the unity that has always been a distinct feature of the Church. In the Nicene Creed, we confess at every Sunday Mass a Church that is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” That oneness is now under assault.
One benefit of this alarming situation is that the progressives’ mask has slipped, revealing their true agenda: a makeover of the teachings of the Catholic Church in their own image. And don’t expect them to stop here. They have a long list of things they would like to change about the Church.
The question is nothing less than this: Is the Catholic Church still the Church Jesus Christ founded, or are we witnessing a transfer of title?
Charles J. Marlowe
Modern Martin Luthers
Your New Oxford Note “A ‘Climate of Fear’ in the Vatican?” makes me believe that the Blessed Mother’s messages to Sr. Agnes Sasagawa, Maximin Giraud, Mother Elena Leonardi, and others are beginning to come true.
On October 13, 1973, the Blessed Mother said to Sr. Agnes of Akita, Japan: “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against other bishops…. The Church will be full of those who accept compromises, and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.”
She said the same thing to Maximin Giraud of La Salette, France, on September 19, 1846: “Great disorders will arrive in the Church, and everywhere. Then, after, our Holy Father the Pope will be persecuted.”
To Mother Elena Leonardi of Italy, the Blessed Mother said on March 26, 1978: “The time of the great trial will come also for the Church; cardinals will oppose cardinals, bishops against bishops. Satan marches triumphantly in the minds of their ranks due to their hubris and lack of charity.”
The four modern Martin Luthers — Cardinals Burke, Caffarra, Brandmüller, and Meisner who signed the dubia — want to make mountains out of molehills by criticizing Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which really has no significance as far as the Catholic faith is concerned. What really counts is what a pope commands the bishops to teach. The ambiguous statements in Amoris Laetitia count for nothing because there has been no papal order to teach it to the members of the Church. Thus, picking a fight over the trivial, ambiguous statements is a telltale sign of the rebellious character of the modern Martin Luthers.
It is clear from the messages of the Blessed Mother that there will be a great schism — even greater than the Protestant Reformation. You call it a “revolution,” and a revolution it will be. And it all starts with the modern Martin Luthers.
What is scary about the messages is that Satan would influence cardinals to rebel against the Pope. I would not be surprised if Francis’s statement about these rebellious cardinals being influenced by demons turns out to be right. If the Blessed Mother prophesied it to be so, it must be so.
The mere fact that members of the Curia are scared of being fired is nothing unusual. In every administration, especially in federal and state governments, people who are hired are expected to follow and enforce the policies of the heads of government. If they don’t, they are fired. Members of the Curia started being rebellious during the papacy of St. John Paul II. On May 13, 1991, the Blessed Mother said to Fr. Stefano Gobbi, “My Immaculate Heart is wounded in seeing how, all about him [John Paul II], there is an expanding emptiness and indifference, contestations on the part of some of my poor children — bishops, priests, religious and faithful; haughty opposition to his Magisterium.”
Therefore, I say that in 2020 the great schism will become a reality, and the Antichrist will rule the Church. At that time, Pope Francis will be ousted.
THE EDITOR COMMENTS:
A few points:
1. A pope issues an apostolic exhortation in order to encourage the faithful to live in a particular manner or undertake a particular activity. It is, therefore, intended as a teaching document. Amoris Laetitia is no different. To say that it “has no significance as far as the Catholic faith is concerned” because it was not accompanied by a “papal order to teach it to members of the Church” is not only to misunderstand the function of an apostolic exhortation but to diminish the very teaching office of the papacy.
2. We did not say that the “rebellion” (not our word) of the four cardinals represents a “revolution.” We quoted Vatican correspondent Edward Pentin, who said that Francis has “privately voiced his wish for his legacy of radical change to continue after he is no longer Pope…. Some would say it shows a revolution in full swing.” To clarify: It is the actions of Pope Francis, not the four cardinals, that some observers, including Bishop Athanasius Schneider (whom we also quoted), have likened to a revolution. It would be more proper, therefore, to call the response of the four cardinals reactionary rather than revolutionary.
3. A word of caution is in order whenever apparitions are submitted as proof of some future catastrophe. The visitations of Mary purportedly experienced by Mother Elena, Sr. Agnes, and Fr. Gobbi have not been officially approved by the Vatican. Even the quote provided by Mr. Yana of the alleged words of Mary to Maximin Giraud is not necessarily approved since it was attributed to Mary only after the Vatican rendered its positive judgment of the apparitions. La Salette has been shrouded in controversy since day one, and however much credence one chooses to put in the visions and “warnings” of this or any apparition, we are not bound to them by the theological virtue of faith. Even if approved, as La Salette is, their content is not guaranteed by the Church to be infallibly (there’s that word again!) true. As Pope Benedict XIV stated, private revelations, like La Salette and other Marian apparitions, can elicit from us only human faith.
4. For our part, we don’t subscribe to apocalypticism — of the variety mentioned by Mr. Yana or Messrs. Jalsevac and Kneibert. Things might seem bad right now in the Church, but things have been worse — much worse. The Church has endured corrupt popes, incompetent popes, anti-popes (and no, Francis is not an anti-pope; he was legitimately elected to the Chair of Peter), dual claims to the papacy (also not in play today, given that Pope Benedict XVI legitimately renounced the papacy), an empty throne, and popes in exile. The Church didn’t collapse under those historical circumstances (or lose her “title”), and she isn’t likely to now. Yes, a schism is possible at this juncture — but schism is possible at virtually every historical juncture, and minor, personal schisms probably occur on a daily basis as people with “itching ears” drift away from the Church or allow themselves to be led astray by the siren songs of false teachers. Our job as Catholics is to make sure we ourselves don’t fall into schism — by breaking unity with the Pope. We don’t have to like or even agree with everything Francis says or does, but we must submit to him in matters of faith and morals. For better or worse, Francis is the Supreme Pontiff right now; there’s nothing we can do about it.
While an impending large-scale schism is debatable, more and more faithful Catholics are coming to realize that the Church presently is in crisis. Phil Lawler, a respected Catholic journalist with over 30 years of experience — and someone not given to exaggeration, alarmism, or rash thinking — recently called Francis’s papacy “disastrous” (CatholicCulture.org, Mar. 1). After reading the transcript of the Pope’s controversial February 24 homily (in which the Holy Father erroneously claimed that Jesus “does not answer whether it is lawful or not lawful” for a husband to put away his wife), Lawler lamented that he “could no longer pretend that Pope Francis is merely offering a novel interpretation of Catholic doctrine. No; it is more than that. He is engaged in a deliberate effort to change what the Church teaches.” Francis, according to Lawler, “used the day’s Gospel reading as one more opportunity to promote his own view on divorce and remarriage.” Has there ever been a Pope, Lawler asks, “who showed such disdain for what the Church has always taught and believed and practiced — on such bedrock issues as the nature of marriage and of the Eucharist”?
Confirming the various reports we commented on in our New Oxford Note “A ‘Climate of Fear’ in the Vatican?” (Jan.-Feb.), Lawler notes that, over the past several months, the controversies sparked by Pope Francis have become so “intense,” the resultant confusion among the faithful so “widespread,” administration at the Vatican so “arbitrary,” and the Pope’s “diatribes” against his foes, real or imagined, so “manic” that he can only conclude that Francis’s “leadership” has become “a danger to the faith.”
Lawler concludes: “If I am right — as I surely am — that confusion about fundamental Church teachings has become widespread, then the bishops, as primary teachers of the faith, cannot neglect their duty to intervene.”
Of course, that tactic has been tried — by Mr. Yana’s “modern Martin Luthers,” the four cardinals who presented the Pope with five dubia, or questions, regarding Amoris Laetitia. And that tactic has, thus far, failed, as Francis hasn’t deigned to offer a response either privately or publicly. Instead he seems to be digging in his heels and intensifying his efforts to force a change in the Church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage — a teaching based squarely on the words of Our Lord in response to the doctors of the law: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk. 10:11-12).
In the meantime, all we laymen can do is pray. We understand the temptation to pray, as Mr. Dell’Orfano does, for Pope Francis’s removal. But the Lord will take care of that in His good time, as He will with all of us. Rather, we should pray that Francis be faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ and find a way to lead the Church with clarity of purpose, clarity of thought, and clarity of speech.
Martin Luther: No Schism Intended
I very much disagree with the editor’s statement that Pope Francis has done a “serious injustice to world history” by portraying Martin Luther as a “well-intentioned reformer” (letters, Dec.). From what I remember hearing and from what I have read, I do not believe that Fr. Luther’s intention was to create a schism. He nailed his “95 theses” on the door of the church in Wittenberg as a protest against Church teachings and practices in an effort to promote discussion about them and hopefully bring about a reform in the Church that, as I understand it, was badly needed.
I think Fr. Luther was seen as a hothead and just a lowly Augustinian friar who didn’t know what he was talking about and was therefore dismissed as a heretic. However, his ideas must have had a certain amount of credibility since they spread like wildfire across Europe. The Council of Trent was made necessary by the popularity of the ideas of the reformers and the need to stem the flow of those leaving the Roman Church for what became the Protestant churches. Had there been no Reformation, there would have been no Council of Trent. Some type of reform movement would have eventually occurred within the structure of the Church herself, but who knows how long that would have taken?
To admit that one might have been wrong is not a very easy thing to do. But to bring about reconciliation, pride must be swallowed, truth must be faced, and progress must be allowed to continue.
As an “orthodox” Catholic publication, you need not be so critical of Pope Francis, the Church’s legitimate leader. Let him lead and you follow, for that was the Lord’s intention when He created the position.
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
We always find it amusing when people give the benefit of the doubt to famous people — world leaders, historical figures, et al. — but not to their fellow believers. As Mr. Marlowe would have it, Martin Luther’s 95 theses were merely an attempt at “dialogue,” and Luther himself was misunderstood. Never mind that Luther rejected ecclesiastical authority at every level, as well as the priesthood, religious vows, five of the seven sacraments, the Mass, and much else, thereby advancing the most destructive schism in the history of Christianity. He just wanted to help out! Ah, but the NOR editors must pipe down and get in line lest we interfere with what Jesus intended when He created the papacy. Sheesh!
But the question is: Was Luther “well intentioned”? Many in-depth studies have been conducted of Luther’s personal problems — his severe scrupulosity, his narcissism, his fits of rage — that helped shape his theological outlook. Historian James Hitchcock characterizes him thus: “Luther was…paralyzed by the conviction that, despite his best efforts, he was damned, that he was hateful in the sight of God, who saw his every sin and did not forgive him” (History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium, 2012). Luther was beset by “an acute sense of God as remote, all-powerful, angry, and condemnatory. Since the will of God was both supreme and inscrutable, men could not ask why they were slaves to sin but simply had to accept the promise of salvation…. The Law was given by God not for man to fulfill, or even to approximate, but in order to show him his utter inability to overcome his sinfulness. For Luther, the Church had failed in her most basic task. She could not offer people a sure road to salvation, because she gave them a false sense of their own goodness, based on a concept of natural virtue and on pious practices (‘good works’).”
Really, how good and pure could his intentions have been?
Even Luther’s decision to enter the Augustinian order has been subject to debate: Some historians claim he did it to fulfill a vow he made during a violent storm. “Save me, St. Anna, and I shall become a monk!” he is alleged to have said. Others say that it was occasioned by the deaths of two close friends. And still others say that he entered the religious life to escape his stern and abusive parents. “It was the harshness and severity of the life I led with them that forced me subsequently to run away to a monastery and become a monk,” Luther reportedly said (Tischreden, 1566). In explaining his decision to leave the Catholic Church, Luther wrote in a letter to his father, “I did not fondly nor willingly become a monk…but when I was suddenly surrounded by the terrors and fears of death, I took a reluctant oath, and made a forced vow” (Life of Martin Luther, 1841).
Well intentioned? It certainly doesn’t seem so.
When he was formally excommunicated by Pope Leo X, Luther responded by publicly burning the papal bull and the Code of Canon Law. After being condemned at the Diet of Worms, “Father” Luther abandoned the monastic life and went into hiding. He eventually married one of the many nuns who had left their congregations because of his exhortations. Although he was at first reluctant to wed, he decided that “his marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep” (Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk, 2017). Luther and his wife and children lived out the remainder of their days in what had previously been his Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, which had been abandoned during the Peasants’ War, which, incidentally, some historians claim was launched to carry out Luther’s own teachings (though Luther eventually encouraged the German sovereigns to crush the rebellion).
Do these sound like the actions of a man who was well intentioned and sought only to “promote discussion”?
They more closely resemble those of a “wild boar from the forest” who is “seeking to destroy the vineyard” of the Lord, as Pope Leo X put it in Exsurge Domine (1520). Leo likened Luther to “a new Porphyry” who “is not ashamed to assail them [‘the holy pontiffs, our predecessors’ — the popes always speak of themselves in the plural sense], to tear at them, and when he despairs of his cause, to stoop to insults. He is like the heretics ‘whose last defense,’ as Jerome says, ‘is to start spewing out a serpent’s venom with their tongue when they see that their causes are about to be condemned, and spring to insults when they see they are vanquished.'”
In this quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation, let us not forget that Francis’s predecessor described the “errors” of the so-called reformers as “destructive,” “pernicious,” “heretical,” “false,” “scandalous,” “offensive to pious ears,” and “seductive of simple minds” (ibid.), and the reformers themselves (Luther, and the followers of Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, and Jerome of Prague) as “false exponents of the faith who in their proud curiosity yearn for the world’s glory.”
Martin Luther’s ideas did indeed “spread like wildfire across Europe.” Mr. Marlowe says that therefore they “must have had a certain amount of credibility.” Does popularity equal credibility? Perhaps in a modern democratic setting, but not necessarily in matters religious, and certainly not from the Catholic perspective. We’ll stick with Leo X, who declared that Luther’s ideas are “against the doctrine and tradition of the Catholic Church, and against the true interpretation of the sacred Scriptures received from the Church” — i.e., not credible! For this reason, Leo forbade “each and every one of the faithful of either sex, in virtue of holy obedience and under the above penalties [excommunication] to be incurred automatically, to read, assert, preach, praise, print, publish, or defend them.”
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