onsdag 4 oktober 2017

What Luther Got Wrong More (pt 2 of series)

Today, on St Francis' day, I will link to Russell Grigg's article, because I answer more fully.

Martin Luther: the monk who shook the world
by Russell Grigg, Published: 3 October 2017 (GMT+10)

Now, to some passages, which I will answer. Here is first a jumble of good and bad, from Russell Grigg:

"The Church of that day taught that good works were a necessary part of salvation. This involved people participating in sacraments, doing penance, praying to deceased saints and/or worshipping their relics, going on pilgrimages to holy places, buying indulgences, and (most effective of all) withdrawing from the world to the ascetic life of a monastery to escape the sins of the world."

And, this jumble needs breaking down and detailed answers.

"The Church of that day taught that good works were a necessary part of salvation."

Yes. So does the Church now, so did Our Lord and St James.

"This involved people participating in sacraments,"

Which were instituted by Christ. Note John 3 for necessity of Baptism. Proof texts for all sacraments in Gospels, Acts and Epistles.

"doing penance,"

Which is recommended all over the Bible.

"praying to deceased saints and/or worshipping their relics,"

Honouring, not worshipping. Relics are recommended in the Bible, e g body of Elisaeus and handkerchiefs having touched the clothes of Sts Paul and Barnabas (I think the other one was). The garment of Our Lord is of course also a relic, it cured one woman who had faith - in relics.

The rich man prayed to a deceased saint. The reasons he was not granted either request had nothing to do with the saint not being able to intercede for anyone, but the rich man was already damned (the gulf between Hell proper and Bosom of Abraham or limbus Patrum in Sheol - those souls being now in Heaven), and his brothers were already impenitent, on their way to damnation : they correspond extremely well to the general description of Pharisees (having Moses and the Prophets and not believing them, hence not going to believe if a dead man rose from Sheol and the grave either), and if the poor Lazarus was the same as the four days dead one, this was a very exact prediction of how Pharisees behaved when he was himself raised for the conforting of his sister.

The relics we do worship are those of Our Lord : cross, crown of thorns, lance, shroud, shirt.

"going on pilgrimages to holy places,"

Yes, recommended in the Bible, like the pilgrimage made by the wise men to Bethlehem, by Naaman to Jordan and to Elisaeus, and every year up to year 70, most famously Holy Family when Our Lord was twelve years, and many of the Jews converting on Pentecost day, to the Temple in Jerusalem. Not to mention that God made Abraham a pilgrim, as well as making the people of Israel such for forty years between Egypt and Holy Land.

"buying indulgences,"

False. Indulgences are not bought or sold. One can speak improperly of buying an indulgence, as one can speak of buying a pearl of great price. But indulgences are for :

  • acts of prayer
  • acts of fasting (a pilgrimage counts as prayer and fasting in combination)
  • acts of almsgiving (recommended as indulgenced acts in the case of feeding poor on the funeral of someone, in order to win an indulgence for him, in the book of Tobit).

It was one specific form of almsgiving which was misnamed "buying indulgences".

"and (most effective of all) withdrawing from the world to the ascetic life of a monastery to escape the sins of the world."

It is most effective, but it is not needed for everyone - only that those who do so persist. As mentioned yesterday, I am not under such a vow, and I don't think I need to make one either to be saved.

For some, making such a vow is indeed the last chance to escape damnation, for many more it is more simply the call of a loving father : yesterday I mentioned St Therese "of Lisieux" or "of the Child Jesus" (her locality of Carmel, her "title of nobility" within Carmel). Today we celebrate St Francis of Assisi.

"All this caused Martin to despair of ever being able to do enough to satisfy God, and to fear God’s future judgment."

Was it that, or keeping commandments, like the specifications given in Matthew 5? Was he even, documentedly, in despair about his salvation all through his youth?

"However, that year a lightning bolt struck near him during a fierce storm. In dread of sudden death and the imminent prospect of divine judgment, he cried out in terror to his father’s saint, Saint Anna, promising to become a monk if he survived."

Note very well that good Catholic theologians told him he did not owe the Grandmother of God to become a monk if he did not feel inclined. It was his personal bent of a certain exactitude perhaps, or perhaps overestimation of his responsibility in that moment (that would be a very common opinion among Catholic clergy today), which drove him to the monastery. NOT Catholic Church men telling him he absolutely had to after doing such a promise.

"Here he engaged in long hours of prayer, fasting, whipping himself, and prolonged daily confessions of sin, but none of this brought him the peace with God he was seeking."

Long hours of prayer and fasting are part of what monasticism is about. Like vigils. St Jerome had something to say about one Vigilantius who was not a friend of vigils (and St Jerome nicknamed him "dormitantius" : sleepy instead of wakeful). He probably quoted St Peter's wake and pray (I have not read St Jerome's contra Vigilantium, I only looked it up when a "Berean Beacon" apostate Irish priest considered Vigilantius as part of the "Apostolic succession" - in reality non-extant, at least in documented reality - from "Ambrose" to Valdensians), and he probably mentioned something about the disciples of Gethsemane.

Whipping oneself is a somewhat harsh, but a sometimes effective way of dealing with temptations of the flesh. St Francis used it, I think - he certainly used a hair shirt, like St John the Baptist.

Prolonged daily confession of sins? My experience with confession is, a father confessor considers a prolonged confession even if once a week or rarer a nighmare : confession is not to raise unnecessary doubts, is not to tell stories, but to tell succinctly how one has sinned, especially mortally, and in cases one has avoided mortal sins since last confession, one must either be careful to really repent of a venial one, or one must confess an older mortal one which one truly repents of.

But someone who shilly shallies over whether he really has the good intention or not, and whether last confession was valid or a sacrilege, well, that is a real nightmare to a priest. If he put someone through that on a daily basis, perhaps that priest actually did in his heart hope for his damnation rather than more and more and more of this nightmare.

"He later remarked: 'If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them. … I lost hold of Christ the Saviour and comforter and made of him a stock-master and hangman over my poor soul.' "

While Our Lord is not exactly hangman, He is judge. And losing hold of Christ as Saviour is not the least commendable for someone trying to save one's soul in any way, whether as monk or as married man or as single in the world.

He judges with mildness in the confessional, through the priest who has, through REAL apostolic succession (not the faked one of Valdensians or Albigensians) inherited the power of forgiveness Christ on the even of Easter Sunday gave His eleven Apostles. One day, He will judge otherwise, for those voluntarily not availing themselves of confession. But for now, confession is there:

John 20:[21] He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. [22] When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. [23] Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

John twenty, twenty-one, -two, -three. Is the reference simple enough? I quoted from a Douay Rheims with Challoner comments, and there is one to verse 23:

[23] "Whose sins": See here the commission, stamped by the broad seal of heaven, by virtue of which the pastors of Christ's church absolve repenting sinners upon their confession.

A very broad seal indeed. Here is Exsurge Domine, last words of introduction, followed by first error of Luther:

"In virtue of our pastoral office committed to us by the divine favor we can under no circumstances tolerate or overlook any longer the pernicious poison of the above errors without disgrace to the Christian religion and injury to orthodox faith. Some of these errors we have decided to include in the present document; their substance is as follows:

"1. It is a heretical opinion, but a common one, that the sacraments of the New Law give pardoning grace to those who do not set up an obstacle."

Well, if perhaps daily prolonged confessions were not winning Luther pardoning grace, perhaps it is because he set up an obstacle?

"8. By no means may you presume to confess venial sins, nor even all mortal sins, because it is impossible that you know all mortal sins. Hence in the primitive Church only manifest mortal sins were confessed."

Well, not only was Luther wrong (both on history and on the principle), but one can nearly hear the confessor he had been going to shouting to him "YOU (brother Martin) stop confessing venial sins NOW!" And Luther missing the personal part, and erecting it to a common and general principle. One can of course ask, if he had pestered his father confessor so much as to make him useless and pernicious, was he STILL obliged to confess to him? Especially if my imagination is wrong, if the father confessor actually misinformed him so as to be spared some of the prolonged confessions. But a man being for such reasons absolved from the common duty of confessing of course does not mean everyone else is.

"9. As long as we wish to confess all sins without exception, we are doing nothing else than to wish to leave nothing to God’s mercy for pardon."

One can consider it could have been a very true remark of a father confessor to him to tell him "as long as YOU want to" etc. But there are clearly other situations, and a generous will to confess all sins without exception, either effectually, or, conditionally if it were possible, is something which the Pope had to safeguard against Luther's turning the very personal and rare admonitions of his father confessor (as I suppose he did) into a general principle.

It is not something to be thrown out along with Luther's prolonged daily confessions.

"10. Sins are not forgiven to anyone, unless when the priest forgives them he believes they are forgiven; on the contrary the sin would remain unless he believed it was forgiven; for indeed the remission of sin and the granting of grace does not suffice, but it is necessary also to believe that there has been forgiveness."

On the second one, I imagine his father confessor misinformed him, on occasion, so as to be spared being asked next day "was my sin really forgiven yesterday?!" Or, rereading, on the whole. What I was thinking of was another error. Or, if he was not misinformed, the priest might have tried to explain something which he misunderstood.

"12. If through an impossibility he who confessed was not contrite, or the priest did not absolve seriously, but in a jocose manner, if nevertheless he believes that he has been absolved, he is most truly absolved."

Do we overhear Luther conforting himself against the fear he had so pestered the father confessor that this father confessor had no real wish left to save his soul by absolution?

Do we, for the first part, overhear a confessor telling him "if, by an impossibility, you were not contrite, if you believe you were absolved, you were"? There are some confessors who will find it impossible that a man so anxious for his soul was not contrite. Hence someone might have begun a consolation of The Hysteric in the Augustinian Convent with "if, by an impossibility, you were not contrite". And the other part would obviously fit the desire for some peace and quiet of a confessor. Hence, I think it is possible to overhear this. Or, more seriously and less "thought reading", to probably interpret this.

"14. No one ought to answer a priest that he is contrite, nor should the priest inquire."


St Matthew and Zacchaeus answered Christ, they were contrite of the economic fraud, which was arguably a mortal sin. Sorry, checked, Saint Zacchaeus : Apostle Zacchaeus? For the moment, I find no Catholic source. In the Latin rite, he is not April 20. Either way, both answered Our Lord that they were contrite. As did the peintent woman, usually identified with St Mary Magdalene.

"In 1510, Luther visited Rome. Here, in the Church of St John Lateran, there is a 28-step marble staircase that Jesus allegedly climbed at the palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem.5 According to Roman Catholic teaching (then and now), pilgrims ascending these ‘holy stairs’ (scala sancta) in an appropriate manner procure an indulgence for themselves or for some deceased person(s) to reduce the time their souls spend in purgatory6 after death as punishment for their sins.7

"Luther climbed the stairs to obtain this benefit for his dead grandfather. Two memoirs survive concerning this event:

  • 1.At the top he is reputed to have said to himself, “Who knows if it is really true?”,8 a concern which became the basis for his future evaluation of church doctrine.
  • 2.Many years later, Luther’s son, Paul, reported that in 1544 his father told him that as he climbed the stairs the Bible verse flashed into his mind: “The just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

"Luther was aware of Psalm 22, and that Christ on the Cross had quoted v. 1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” As he pondered why Christ felt this, Luther realized that it was because Christ was bearing his—Luther’s own—sin on the Cross. And he came to see that God gives forgiveness to those who repent of their sins, because Christ, the Perfect Substitute, paid the full penalty for sin by dying on the Cross and rising again."

It is very possible, that realisation was a first fruit of the indulgence he had won.

And the just living by his faith has some implication for the scala sancta:

  • It is likely - despite Valla drawing much into doubt - that the Church was perfectly right about St Helen bringing the Holy Stairs to Rome. We ought not gratuitously to doubt this.
  • It is also likely, if by any chance the Church had been wrong in so considering the stairs in question, that by the indulgence granted by the Church nevertheless the full indulgence is given, for the pious attempt, even if it had been misplaced (I don't think it was) to walk on the stairs where God had walked before the unjust Pilate.

"Likewise, he came to see that God gives righteousness to believers by imputing (crediting) the perfect righteousness of His own Son, Jesus Christ, to them (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9).11 Faith involves trusting solely in the promises of God and the finished work of Christ (Romans 4:16; Hebrews 11:6)."

God gives righteousness. Sure. But as a legal only imputation, or as a life principle? Would the proof texts here really prove a legal only imputation?

II Corinthians 5:

19 For God indeed was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing to them their sins, and he hath placed in us the word of reconciliation.

20 We are, therefore, ambassadors for Christ, God as it were exhorting by us. For Christ, we beseech you, be ye reconciled to God.

21 Him, who knew no sin, he hath made sin for us, that we might be made the justice of God in him.

Haydock comment:

Ver. 19. Not imputing, i.e. truly taking away our sins, blotting out the handwriting of the decree which was against us,...fastening it to the cross, as it is said, Colossians ii. 14. And to us, who are his apostles and the ministers of his gospel, he hath imparted and committed this word of reconciliation, by the preaching of his doctrine, and the administration of his sacraments, &c. In these functions we act and we speak to you as the ambassadors of Christ; we speak to you in his name, we represent his person, when we exhort you to be reconciled to God. "He that heareth you, heareth me." (Luke x. 16.) (Witham)

Ver. 20. Be not deaf to this voice, harden not your hearts, suffer yourselves to be moved to the charity of God: it is immense, it is infinite. (Bible de Vence)

Ver. 21. Him (Christ) who knew no sin, (who had never sinned, nor was capable of sinning) he (God) hath made [4] sin for us. I had translated, with some French translators, he hath made a sacrifice for sin, as it is expounded by St. Augustine and many others, and grounded upon the authority of the Scriptures, in which the sacrifices for sins are divers times called sins, as Osee iv. 8. and in several places in Leviticus, by the Hebrew word Chattat, which signifies a sin, and is translated a victim for sin. But as this is not the only interpretation, and that my design is always a literal translation of the text, not a paraphrase, upon second thoughts I judged it better to follow the very words of the Greek, as well as of the Latin text. For besides the exposition already mentioned, others expound these words, him he hath made sin for us, to signify that he made Christ like unto sinners, a mortal man, with the similitude of sin. Others that he made he reputed a sinner; with the wicked was he reputed; (Mark xv. 28.) God having laid upon him all our iniquities. (Isaias liii. 6.) --- That we might be made the justice of God in him; that is, that we might be justified and sanctified by God's sanctifying grace, and the justice we receive from him. (Witham) --- Sin for us. That is, to be a sin-offering, a victim for sin. (Challoner)

Own comment : there is a difference between our past sin no longer being imputed legally and our new justice (or that of those of us who are saved, for instance after a good confession) only being an imputed one. To Luther, this seems to have been obscured by his incapacity of seing sins as past. Or obsession of seeing sin as an allengulfing and never ending human condition.

Tomorrow, this may be continued, for now, I wish a blessed day of St Francis!

Hans Georg Lundahl
Paris III
St Francis of Assisi

Continue to: Was the Bible For or Against Luther's Work? (part 3 of series)

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