Martin Luther, [Heretical] “Father”
at of Vatican II
[Along with the other heretical “Father” of Vatican II, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., who also “inspired” its liturgical reform (see Teilhard de Chardin: Precursor of the Council and Its Liturgy) as well as Gaudium et Spes, its “Pastoral” Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (see Gaudium et Spes took its notion of Christianity from Teilhard de Chardin)]
JAN 18 ’16
Posted by Anthony Ruff, OSB
When I took my first theology class at St. John’s University, the professor (a Benedictine monk) stated that Martin Luther was, in a sense, a silent father at the Second Vatican Council. The statement must have made an impression on me, for I have thought about it often ever since.
At the beginning of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I’d like to make the case for Martin Luther, the great sixteenth-century reformer, as a father of the Second Vatican Council.
Both Luther and Vatican II saw something wrong with the church’s liturgical life and saw the need to reform it.
Both Luther and Vatican II saw liturgical reform, to a great extent, as going back to earlier times in the apostolic tradition and pruning away unfortunate accretions of later development.
Both Luther and Vatican II wanted to increase active, direct participation in the liturgy, and to that end advocated for vernacular worship.
Both Luther and Vatican II wanted increased emphasis on Scripture, with more Scripture readings and more Scripture-based preaching.
Both Luther and Vatican II wanted increased emphasis on the dignity of baptism (sometimes advanced as “the priesthood of all believers”), and wanted to put a check on clericalism that exalts clergy and puts down laity.
Both affirmed (at least implicitly) both Scripture and Tradition, slogans of Sola Scriptura notwithstanding. (I mean it as a compliment when I say that Lutherans have never really held to that slogan.) Both reaffirmed broad continuity with inherited liturgical tradition. As the Augsburg Confessions later put it: “We do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it…”
And so forth.
Here’s the point: The Second Vatican Council admitted, at least implicitly if not explicitly, that we (the Catholic Church) were wrong about some things, and Luther was right. Even in the most conservative reading of Vatican II, even in the most ideological “hermeneutic of continuity”-driven account of how Vatican II supposedly should have been implemented, there still remains a good bit of overlap between what Luther did 500 years ago and what the ol’ RCC did at the Council.
It is a sad reality that, 50 plus years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, some Catholics are so ambivalent about this. On the web you will find some of the vilest statements imaginable about Martin Luther written by Roman Catholics. Some people act as if we’re somehow stronger if we never admit fault and are always right.
But churches are like people. Do you know any people who are never wrong and never change? I think we all know that, behind their supposed strength, is some rather immature insecurity.
Rule of thumb: before you ever say “Luther taught…,” keep in mind that he might well have said something different on another day. The Luther who said that Communion four times a year is a good minimum also said that the papists celebrate Mass too much – and it shouldn’t be more than once a day! (And there are loads of Luther’s writings not yet translated into English, including some statements of his that don’t sound very Lutheran or sound rather Catholic.)
The credibility of our witness as Christians, I am convinced, is directly tied to our ability to move, as believers and as churches, from arrogance to humility. Plenty of skeptical young people see us religious types as arrogant and judgmental, and they want no part of it.
I teach theology to undergrads. I find them to be open-minded, interested in new ideas, and fascinated by what Christianity could be about – even if plenty of them are not church-goers. (But at a place like this, many of them are church goers, and most of them come from a church-going environment.) Near the end of last semester, after a section on liturgy and social justice, I asked the class whether they thought organized religion makes people more open and loving or more narrow-minded and arrogant. They seemed hesitant to speak up (there I am, in my monastic habit, looking very much like “organized religion” to them), so I asked for an easier and less threatening show of hands. How many vote for narrow-minded? Class of 24, about 20 hands go up. About 2 for the other (i.e. our) side. And these are the students at a Catholic university!
The credibility of Christianity has long since reached a state of crisis for young people. This year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which begins today, is an opportunity for all of us to become a bit more credible in our witness, and to move a bit closer to the Gospel we profess to believe in.
On the Catholic side, we can start by giving thanks for Martin Luther, father at the Second Vatican Council.