A Dubia for Luther?

Original Article

Andrew Parrish

January 26th, 2017

Of the two great public controversies presently rocking the Church, one is unquestionably the Amoris Laetitia scandal, and the other is arguably the ongoing effort to salvage Martin Luther. The consistent praise emanating from the Vatican, even in the face of scholars’ reminders about the historical truth, has confused many. It seems, rather than encouraging the ecumenical progress that is its alleged goal, to be furthering a type of indifferent syncretism instead.

As we have been recently reminded: Martin Luther was, among other things, a legendarily bad-tempered and foul-mouthed man, a man who could never admit that he was in the wrong, a violent anti-Semite, self-appointed Biblical editor, a public denier of the authority of the Catholic Church, a renegade priest who abandoned Holy Orders in order to marry, and a preacher whose most famous statement was “Sin boldly”. It is hard to see, even in charity, what sort of Gospel he could possibly be a witness to.

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly… No sin will separate us from the Christ, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day.” (From Luther’s letter to Philip Melanchthon, August 1, 1521, LW Vol. 48, pp. 281-282)

Recently Pope Francis has stated that Luther was a “witness to the Gospel”. What, indeed, is a “witness to the gospel?” The Gospel is the revelatory disclosure of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and God Himself, a figure who by this position holds the ultimate moral authority and possesses the truth upon which the destiny of humanity is dependent. A witness to the Gospel is someone who testifies, by words and actions, to the truth of this revelation. The Catholic Church claims that part of this revelation of Christ, God, is the founding of that Catholic Church as the sole legitimate heir to the moral authority of the same God. How can someone who denies the authority given by the Gospel be a witness to that Gospel?

This is only the latest of many recent efforts to renovate Luther’s reputation. Consider the Jesuit retreat, starring Luther and Ignatius; Cd. Koch’s claim that Luther has already been “rehabilitated” by three popes; Pope Francis’ comments on the subject in Sweden; the infamous “chocolate Luther” at the Vatican; the Pontifical Council affirming Luther’s new exemplary status; and the decision by the Vatican Post Office to issue a commemorative Luther stamp. This recent treatment of Luther by the Church, culminating with the Pope’s recent statement, can be described as adulation, not excommunication.

Any faithful Catholic viewing this rehabilitation of Luther, in the face of the still-standing ban, is left to wonder. In the absence of a clear explanation, Luther’s treatment is scandalous and confusing – just like that other scandalous and confusing matter taking up so much headline space lately. Perhaps a dubia statement needs to be submitted to the Pope on this matter as well. As a first question, we would offer the following:

How can an excommunicated heretic be a Witness to the Gospel?


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