Monday, May 03, 2004

Protest Against Anti-Protestantism

I believe that anti-Protestantism or anti-evangelicalism (like anti-Catholicism) is also a vast and disturbing social problem, coming largely from the left, the media, academia, and the entertainment industry, and including also the usual prevalent bias against "Southern conservative white guys" who are invariably stereotyped as troglodyte anti-intellectual fundamentalists -- the portrayal of the Scopes Trial, e.g., is a quintessential instance of this (and this itself is part of the common Northern bigotry against the South: and I say this as a Michigander, though one of my grandfathers was born in Alabama).

As to the relative prevalence of both, I don't have any particular strong opinion, nor do I think it matters much. The important thing is for conscientious Christians to condemn both.

That said, I would note that the official Catholic position is to acknowledge Protestants as Christian brothers, whereas many Protestant groups either are officially anti-Catholic or contain within themselves a strong legacy of anti-Catholicism which is then passed down almost unconsciously.

Therefore, I would suspect (though I don't assert) that anti-Catholicism is the more prevalent of the two, simply because it is fed from an important and influential sub-stream of Protestantism as well as from the secular and leftist worlds, which would seem to me to despise both of our camps alike.

Individuals, of course, might fall short of properly informed and charitable attitudes, just as they do concerning ethics or theology, generally-speaking. The difference with the Catholic, though, is that if he rails about Protestants being non-Christians, he is going against the express teaching of Vatican II, which is binding on all Catholics, whereas when Protestants do the reverse, they are in a quite respectable Protestant tradition which can easily be traced right to Luther and Calvin themselves.

So they are arguably in the mainstream of their tradition, whereas Catholics must violate their actual tradition to do the same thing. For example, Feeneyites may claim Protestants aren't Christians, but they have been condemned by the Church itself as an erroneous fringe group.

I suppose this is enough to arouse ire against me, but again, I reiterate that I think anti-Protestantism is an extremely serious social problem and acceptable prejudice as well. If anti-Catholicism is a greater problem, it is only because it is so often generated by fellow Christians and not simply secularists who are nominal concerning, or outside any brand of Christianity whatsoever.

I should clarify that secular anti-Catholicism and anti-Protestantism both are more in the nature of a "sociological derision" -- we are opposed because of our stands on traditional morality or because of political conservatism, or (above all) opposition to abortion and the Sexual Revolution, homosexuality and so forth.

The secularist doesn't care enough about doctrine for that to be any issue for them. They would acknowledge both camps as Christian: they simply don't like us (we're "lousy citizens" who aren't playing the game the way it should be played). It is all social issues for them and intolerance for the counter-cultural aspects of any form of solid, robust, life- and culture-transforming
Christianity.

One should note the different definition, then. My standard use and definition of "anti-Catholic" and "anti-Protestant" both, is the mistaken and self-defeating view that those groups are not Christians. The Protestant anti-Catholic may also despise some sociological or non-theological aspects of Catholicism, but that does not enter into my own use of the term, as I have stated many
times.

The secularist, on the other hand, is usually not concerned with theological categories or content. It is a more pure prejudice, based on mere disagreement and dislike, because many Christians are not good social liberals and cause too many problems and inconveniences.

At least the educated anti-Catholic Protestant usually has some principles of theology that he thinks (either rightly or oftentimes wrongly) that the Catholic Church opposes. They are right when they say we oppose sola fide and sola Scriptura; wrong when they claim that we oppose sola gratia. It is just as wrong, and it is just as wicked, but at least they think they are upholding some better good (true theology and the following of Christ), whereas the secularist has few noble motives at all in his anti-Catholicism or anti-Protestantism, whatever the case may be.

Catholic Initial Justification & Protestant Faith Alone: Significant Common Ground?

From my paper: Reflections on Faith and Works and Initial Justification:
---------------------
Initial justification is not at all by works in the sense that it is not the equivalent of Pelagianism, according to Trent's Decree on Justification, ch. 8. We can do nothing to earn it. And in initial justification, there is no time to do any work; it is a gift purely of grace, initiated by God. Works had nothing to do with it, as the Decree says.

Fernand Prat, S.J., a renowned biblical exegete and theologian, wrote:

Let us now return to Paul's own declarations. That of the Epistle to the Romans is the simplest: 'Man is justified by faith without the works of the Law.' The requirement of the argument as well as the order of the sentence makes the emphasis fall on the last words of the statement which resolves itself into two propositions: 'Man is justified without the works of the Law, independently of them' -- the principal proposition; 'Man is justified by faith' -- an incidental proposition. It will be remarked that the Apostle here is not concerned with the part which works play after justification. They they are then necessary appears from his system of morals, and that they increase the justice already acquired follows from his principles; but in the controversy with the Judaizers the debate turns chiefly on FIRST justification -- namely, on the passage from the state of sin to that of grace. The works of the Law are neither the cause nor the essential condition, nor even, in themselves, the occasion of it; and according to the most elementary principles of the Pauline theology one could say as much of natural works done before justification, and with more reason. But note well that St. Paul does not say that faith is the only disposition required, and we know by other passages that it must be accompanied by two complementary sentiments: repentance for the past and acceptance of the divine will for the future.

The second text is: 'Man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.' By making St. Paul say that man is not justified by works alone, but
by works joined to faith, we get a meaning diametrically opposed to his doctrine and exactly what he fought against in the case of the Judaizers. The essentially complex phrase must be resolved thus: 'Man is not justified by the works of the Law; he is justified only by the faith of Jesus Christ.' Whether the faith of Jesus Christ is the faith of which he is the author, or the faith of which he is the object -- faith in himself, his person, and his preaching -- matters little; in either case it is the sum total of the Christian revelation, the Gospel as opposed to the Mosaic Law. We remark as before, that it is a question of works anterior to justification, and that the absolute necessity of faith does not exclude the other dispositions required.

(The Theology of St. Paul, tr. by John L. Stoddard, Westminster, MD: The Newman Bookshop, 1952, vol. 1 of 2, 175-176, emphasis added in one place: "FIRST")


[Fernand Prat. S.J. was a Professor of Scripture. He was one of the first consultants to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and editor of the Etudes Bibliques. He helped to prepare many of the decisions regarding Modernism, leading up to its condemnation in 1907, and was involved in the planning of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome]

Note that his phrase "first justification" is precisely synonymous with "initial justification." Whatever phrase Protestants use, in my Roget's Thesaurus, "first" is listed as a synonym of "initial" and "initial" is listed as a synonym for "first." As long as Catholics explain what we mean by it, I don't see anything wrong with using the term "initial justification"

[I was getting criticism from a Catholic, to the effect that I was compromising Catholic doctrine and accepting aspects of a specifically Protestant faith alone viewpoint]

We're no more bound (i.e., not absolutely, with no exceptions whatever) to the exact terminology of Trent than we are bound to the exact terminology of Holy Scripture ("Trinity" and "Hypostatic Union" immediately come to mind). Both the words and the doctrines develop all the time, and the situations we find ourselves in demand fresh approaches, without yielding one bit on any point of orthodoxy. St. Paul said "I have become all things to all people, so that by any means I may save some."

St. Paul cited pagan poets and philosophers on Mars Hill, in Athens, in order to make a connection with his hearers. He took what they knew and proceeded to build upon the truth that was in them, up to Christian theology and the gospel. He even utilized an idol of sorts as an illustration of a point and a witnessing tool: the altar "to an unknown god." All this despite there being nothing in
the official decrees of the Council of Jerusalem just two chapters earlier giving Paul warrant to use such shocking language . . .

I submit that the same applies with Protestants. I grant that if the phrases "faith alone" and "grace alone" are used at all, that they must immediately be defined in a Catholic manner, with the contrast sharply emphasized. But the general principle of finding common ground in both doctrine and language, insofar as possible without any compromise, is a very biblical and conciliar one. E.g., the Decree on Ecumenism from Vatican II:

9. We must become familiar with the outlook of our separated brethren. Study is absolutely required for this, and it should be pursued in fidelity to the truth and with a spirit of good will . . . In this way, too, we will better understand the outlook of our separated brethren and more aptly PRESENT our own belief.

11. The MANNER and ORDER in which Catholic belief is EXPRESSED should in no way become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren. It is, of course, essential that the doctrine be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its genuine and certain meaning. At the same time, Catholic belief must be EXPLAINED more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such TERMS that our separated brethren can also really UNDERSTAND it.


Note that the Council didn't say,

The language of Catholic belief from the Council of Trent must be explained more profoundly and precisely, whether it is in terms our separated brethren can understand or not.


Likewise, in the statement in Lumen Gentium, 67, referring to Mariology:

Let them carefully refrain from whatever might by WORD or deed lead the separated brethren or any others whatsoever into error about the true doctrine of the Church.


I think it is wise to choose our words very carefully, depending on who we are talking to at the moment, and to exercise a considerable amount of flexibility, because people aren't simply walking dictionaries or lexicons, and 1563 (like 1611, or even 1870) is not 2002.

Protestants, of course, deny that justification is a process at all, so "initial justification" can hardly be a "Protestant term." And since it is a process in Catholicism, and can be repeated, applying "initial justification" as a description of the chronologically first instance (a non-technical term) not only should not be controversial; it is simply common sense, and not contrary to Trent at all, as far as I can see. Trent teaches the concept in the above sense; it just
doesn't have the exact term, which is no big deal. Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., uses similar terminology:

Adults are justified FOR THE FIRST TIME either by personal faith, sorrow for sin and baptism, or by the perfect love of God, which is at least an implicit baptism of desire.

(Modern Catholic Dictionary, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1980, "Justification, Theology
of," 302, emphasis added)


Also, Vatican I would appear to refer to a justifying faith without works, in some fashion:

Wherefore faith itself, even when it does not work by charity [Gal 5:6], is in itself a gift of God, and the act of faith is a work pertaining to salvation, by which man yields voluntary obedience to God Himself, by assenting to and cooperating with His grace, which he is able to resist (can. v).

(Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, ch. III, "Of Faith")


Lastly, the article on the Councils of Orange in The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910), mentions "Operation of grace in initial justification or baptism." (vol. 11, 267)
-------------------------
Related ecumenical-type readings:

The Catholic Understanding of the Anathemas of Trent and Excommunication

Martin Luther's Doctrine Concerning Good Works: Have I Misrepresented It?

"Dialogue" With the Belgic Confession (1561) on Private Judgment & the Nature of the Church

From: Catholic vs. Protestant Conceptions of the Meaning and Consequences of Private Judgment.
-----------------------------------------
My comments will be in brackets ( [ ] ); Belgic Confession excerpts will be italicized.

Article 29: The Marks of the True Church

We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God,


[Who is to discern? The individual? Seems like it to me]

what is the true church-- for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of "the church."

[Okay, there is a true Church . . . good. Now let's see what it is, and how one finds it]

We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves "the church."

[So far so good, though there is much biblical indication that the wheat and tares grow up together in the one true Church. I'll let that slide for the moment]

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;

[What is the Gospel? What is pure preaching of it? How many errors are allowed? E.g., Luther's baptismal regeneration is anathema to the Reformed, so is his Gospel not a pure one; thus Lutherans - and many Anglicans and Methodists, etc. -- are not in the true Church; therefore not Christians? What about the Reformed Baptists who don't baptize infants -- some or many of whom would even deny that baptism is a sacrament at all? If the gospel is defined as TULIP or suchlike, then this is circular reasoning (the gospel is merely what these folks say it is, on the basis of their own unproven and unsupported axioms). The Bible, which is supposedly the criteria of truthfulness here, does no such thing. It defines the gospel as the birth (incarnation), life (with all its miracles and teaching), death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, not as some technical theory of soteriology and justification. One can certainly deduce some theory of soteriology from
it, but my point is that this is not what the Bible describes as "the gospel"]

it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;

[How did Christ institute them? We have seen the differences concerning baptism above. So are Lutherans and Reformed Baptists and other sorts of Baptists out of the fold? As to the Eucharist, similarly serious differences arise. Lutherans believe in consubstantiation; so their belief here is not "pure." And of course, if we look to the early Church Fathers, they unanimously accepted the
Real Presence, so that one must believe that the apostasy of the early Church on this score was well-nigh universal, and that only in the 16th century was true eucharistic belief restored, and even then not by Luther (or for that matter, Zwingli), but by Calvin. Now, what authority does he have? Certainly not apostolic authority, nor the prestige of passed-down apostolic Tradition, as his view is a novelty and an innovation. So there are a host of difficulties in almost every sentence here. They may sound great and highfalutin', but they conceal myriad historical and biblical problems and contradictions, as clearly seen in this merely brief, cursory treatment]

it practices church discipline for correcting faults.

[Sure, then when someone disagrees, he simply goes to another sect, on the basis of his own judgment as to what the pure church is, based on the Word of God (first sentence above). He applies the same criteria stated here to go somewhere else, because the final authority must
reside in the individual, due to unresolvable difficulties and contradictions among the various sects. These appeared at the beginning of the Protestant Revolt (inevitably) and will always remain, because of this flawed principle of how one determines theological truth. If in fact there had always been one Protestant Church and one only, then these axioms might hold at least some water, but as this has never been the case, the whole edifice collapses in a heap of self-contradictions and woeful inability to consistently apply these nebulous, ethereal standards
to the real world]

In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head.

[This all sounds fine and dandy, noble and glorious, etc., but it is not nearly this simple, because there were and are foundational differences on almost every issue where Protestantism is to be distinguished from Catholicism in the first place. Until these can be resolved, then such talk within the Protestant paradigm is a pipe-dream of the most illusory sort]

By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be separated from it.

[The only self-consistent, historically-demonstrable way to establish this is by apostolic succession and an examination of history (as the Fathers taught). No Protestant sect can pass this test. But even using their own stated criteria of authenticity above, no one can figure out which sect is the true one, because the doctrinal disagreements run too deep and are too serious]

As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith,

[What is faith? Protestants disagree on this, too. How does regeneration and election relate to personal faith? How is one assured of saving faith? Can one lose that and fall away?, etc.]

and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

[This sounds great, too, but it has never occurred in an entire group. Since sin is present in all professed Christian groups, the absence of it can hardly be the "proof" of the authenticity of one sect over another]

Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.

[Virtually all Christian groups would adhere to this notion, so it is of no help for our task, either]

As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God;

[And what would the Word of God teach about that, pray tell?]

it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ;

[What does this mean?]

it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases;

[The problems in this statement were already discussed. One can either appeal to the constant Tradition throughout the ages and apostolic succession, or else choose one of a host of Protestant options, all themselves ultimately arbitrary and man-centered and unable to be supported by Church history]

it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ;

[No Christian system is more man-centered than Protestantism, where a single man's word (Calvin,
Luther, Fox et al) has the greatest authority, far greater than any pope ever dreamt of. Any local pastor has far more influence or effect on the lives of his congregation than the pope has on a Catholic, in a practical, everyday sense. That's why Protestant congregations often split in two merely because a popular pastor felt called to move on to another assembly]

it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.

[We know what they are talking about, but the sin argument resolves nothing. Protestants were at least as intolerant in the 16th century as Catholics -- arguably far more, especially in light of their supposed principles of tolerance and supremacy of the individual conscience]

These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.

[Not quite. Protestants need to resolve the difficulties I raised above, and many more brought about by their utter inability to resolve their own internal squabbles. A bucket with 1000 holes in it cain't hold no water . . . ]

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Council of Constance (1414-1418): Triumph of Conciliarism or its Kiss of Death?

Did the popes in fact ratify, confirm, accept, approve the conciliarist decrees of the Council of Constance? They did not. Here is the Council of Constance’s decree Haec sancta (also known as Sacrosancta), promulgated on April 6, 1415:
This holy synod of Constance, forming a general council for the extirpation of the present schism and the union and reformation, in head and members, of the Church of God, legitimately assembled in the Holy Ghost, to the praise of Omnipotent God, in order that it may the more easily, safely, effectively and freely bring about the union and reformation of the church of God, hereby determines, decrees, ordains and declares what follows: - It first declares that this same council, legitimately assembled in the Holy Ghost, forming a general council and representing the Catholic Church militant, has its power immediately from Christ, and every one, whatever his state or position, even if it be the Papal dignity itself, is bound to obey it in all those things which pertain to the faith and the healing of the said schism, and to the general reformation of the Church of God, in bead and members. It further declares that any one, whatever his condition, station or rank, even if it be the Papal, who shall contumaciously refuse to obey the mandates, decrees, ordinances or instructions which have been, or shall be issued by this holy council, or by any other general council, legitimately summoned, which concern, or in any way relate to the above mentioned objects, shall, unless he repudiate his conduct, be subject to condign penance and be suitably punished, having recourse, if necessary, to the other resources of the law.

(translated by J.H. Robinson)


A pope can recognize a legitimate Ecumenical Council without accepting every particular in it. The most famous example is Pope St. Leo the Great, with regard to the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, having to do with the apostolic status of Constantinople (which he rejected). Historians and other scholars disagree that this council had papal approval in its entirety and also the view that these conciliar decrees on conciliarism were not "radical" but only "moderate".
Philip Hughes is one such prominent Church historian. In his book, The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870 (Garden City , NY: Doubleday / Hanover House, 1961), he writes, concerning the conciliar decree of Frequens, calling for very frequent Ecumenical Councils:
There is no need to explain what a revolution in the government of the Church was thus attempted. (p. 270)
Referring to seven decrees that didn't include Sacrosancta and Frequens, Hughes writes (italics his): "to which alone of the reforms of Constance the papal approval was given" (ibid., p. 271). He then reiterates that these attempted conciliarist reforms were not in accord with Sacred Tradition:
. . . things have been done and things said -- things impossible to harmonise with the tradition -- with all the apparent prestige of a General Council. (ibid., p. 273)
In another similar book, The General Councils of the Church (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1960), John L. Murphy states (emphasis mine):
Martin V, who was to emerge from the council as the next pope, approved most of the decrees of the Council. Thus it was a General Council of the universal Church, even though some of the decrees issued were out-and-out heresy; these decrees were rejected by later popes. In this, the gathering was not unlike some of the earlier Councils, which also got out of hand, and were approved only in part by the Roman Pontiff. But like them, this Council remained a General Council in the proper sense of the word in those matters which were approved by the head of the body of bishops.

. . . Pope Martin V approved the acts of the Council, with the exception of those which proposed Conciliarism.

(pp. 131-132, 137)
Murphy writes about the next pope, Eugene IV:
. . . the bishops who had gathered at Basel were angered when they heard that the Pope had dissolved the Council. They reissued the heretical decrees of Constance, stating once again that the General Council is superior to the Pope, and that he has no power to dissolve such a gathering . . . the Pope . . . refused to accept the decrees concerning the supremacy of a General Council. (pp. 139-140)
Eminent Church historian Warren H. Carroll fills in more details of this selective papal acceptance of the decrees of these Councils, in the third volume of his projected seven-volume A History of Christendom:
As he prepared his decree dissolving the Council, Pope Martin V faced an extraordinarily difficult and delicate decision: how much, and to what extent, to confirm its actions. Under canon law and the unbroken tradition of the Church, no action even of an ecumenical council is authoritative for the universal Church without the approval of the Pope. Clearly Pope Martin V did not and could not approve the decrees Sacrosancta and Frequens . . . But for Martin V openly to strike down these decrees, which had been overwhelmingly approved, could well resurrect the schism in a different and even more virulent form, Council against Pope.

. . . The phraseology he found was masterful. He confirmed the work of the council, "all that here has been done, touching matters of faith, in a conciliar fashion, but not otherwise or after any other fashion." Unpacked, this meant that he confirmed everything the Council had decreed regarding doctrine and heresy, and everything else it had done in its proper role as a council, that is, not against the necessary authority of the Pope; but that he did not confirm anything it had done which was not proper for a council, that is, which did challenge the necessary authority of the Pope. Neither the Pope nor the Council wanted to say or ask what this convoluted formula precisely meant, though its meaning can hardly have been unclear to any well-educated canonist.

. . . Pope Martin's very carefully qualified endorsement of the Council's decrees did not confirm any action placing the Council's authority above the Pope's, which Frequens as well as Sacrosancta specifically stated.

. . . But the Pope [Eugenius IV] would not yield to their demands, and on July 29, 1433 he formally annulled all decrees of the Council [Basel] "contrary to the Holy See" (obviously including Sacrosancta).

. . . In December [1433], in a new version of the bull Dudum sacrum, Pope Eugenius IV restored recognition to the Council of Basel, withdrew his decree dissolving it, and authorized it to deal with heresy, war and peace, and reform, but without specifically confirming any of its acts, notably its reiteration of the heretical decree Sacrosancta.

(The Glory of Christendom, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1993, 502, 526, 530-531)
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) also elaborates upon the nullity of the radical conciliarism decrees:
[I]n a papal consistory (10 March, 1418), Martin V rejected any right of appeal from the Apostolic See to a future council, and asserted the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff as Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth in all questions of Catholic Faith (Nulli fas est a supremo judice, videlicet Apostolicâ sede seu Rom. Pontif. Jesu Christi vicario in terris appellare aut illius judicium in causis fidei, quæ tamquam majores ad ipsum et sedem Apostolicam deferendæ sunt, declinare, Mansi, Conc., XXVIII, 200). Von Funk has shown (op. cit., 489 sqq.), that the oft-maintained confirmation of the decrees of Constance by Martin V, in the last session of the council (omnia et singula determinata et decreta in materiis fldei per præsens concilium conciliariter et non aliter nec alio modo) must be understood only of a specific case (Falkenberg, see below), and not of any notable part of, much less of all, the decrees of Constance. It is true that in the Bull "Inter Cunctas", 22 Feb., 1418, apropos of the Wycliffites and Hussites, he calls for a formal approval of the decrees of Constance in favorem fidet a salutem animarum, but these words are easily understood of the council's action against the aforesaid heresies and its efforts to restore to the Church a certain head. In particular the famous five articles of the fifth session, establishing the supremacy of the council, never received papal confirmation (Hergenröther-Kirsch, II, 862, and Baudrillart, in Dict. de théol. cath., II, 1219-23). For a refutation of the Gallican claim that these decrees possess a dogmatic character, see GALLICANISM. Nevertheless, the Council of Constance is usually reckoned the Sixteenth General Council; some, as stated above, acknowledge it as such after the fourteenth session (reconvocation by Gregory XII); others again (Salembier) after the thirty-fifth session (adherence of the Spanish nation); Hefele only in the final sessions (forty-second to forty-fifth) under Martin V. No papal approbation of it was ever meant to confirm its anti-papal acts; thus Eugene IV (22 July, 1446) approved the council, with due reserve of the rights, dignity, and supremacy of the Apostolic See (absque tamen præjudicio juris dignitatis et præeminentiæ Sedis Apostolicæ).

(Vol. IV, 291, "Constance")

Well-known Protestant historian Phillip Schaff, whose work is widely-used, elaborates (emphasis added):
Its fourth and fifth sessions, beginning April 6, 1415, mark an epoch in the history of ecclesiastical statement. The council declared that, being assembled legitimately in the Holy Spirit, it was an oecumenical council and representing the whole Church, had its authority immediately from Christ, and that to it the pope and persons of every grade owed obedience in things pertaining to the faith and to the reformation of the Church in head and members. It was superior to all other ecclesiastical tribunals. This declaration, stated with more precision than the one of Pisa, meant a vast departure from the papal theory of Innocent III. and Boniface VIII.

. . . The conciliar declarations reaffirmed the principle laid down by Nieheim on the eve of the council in the tract entitled the Union of the Church and its Reformation, and by other writers . . .

These views were revolutionary, and show that Marsiglius of Padua, and other tractarians of the fourteenth century, had not spoken in vain.

(History of the Christian Church, vol. 6, chapter 2, § 16. The Council of Constance. 1414–1418)
Likewise, reputable Protestant Reformation historian A.G. Dickens, in his work, The Age of Humanism and Reformation (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972, 42), described the conciliarist declarations concerning the papacy as "revolutionary work," and the ideas of the Council of Basle (1431-1439) "even more radical."

I shall conclude with renowned Catholic historian Joseph Lortz (generally considered "fair" to Protestantism, conciliatory, and the very opposite of a so-called "triumphalist" historian, while remaining an orthodox Catholic). Note his descriptions of the conciliarism of Constance as a new innovation:
The council [of Constance] enumerated the doctrine of the supremacy of the universal council (conciliar theory) over the pope. It is true that the most influential leaders of the movement at the time were not extremists. They realized that the theory was novel but felt that the present exigency called for this new way. In fact they could find no other solution to the crisis. But even though viewed as a temporary expedient, the theory is false and contravenes the order established by Christ for the government of His Church. It was never approved by the pope -- in confirming the canons of the council Martin V rejected it.

(History of the Church, translated and adapted from the 5th and 6th German edition by Edwin G. Kaiser, Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1939, 268)

***

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Motown's James Jamerson: The Greatest Bass Guitarist of All Time

The documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which played in movie theaters a year or two ago and is available in video rental stores, presented the story of Motown's session players (known as "The Funk Brothers"), who were the unsung heroes of the Motown Sound, and (sadly) barely even known, until recent years.

When you are a native Detroiter (if you have any musical sense at all), Motown is a larger-than-life phenomenon. Everyone knows about the studio in the big house with the blue front and sign, "Hitsville U.S.A.", on West Grand Boulevard, not far from the old headquarters building for General Motors, and only a stone's throw from the center of the Riots in 1967 (12th Street). But, like so many who live near a famous landmark, I had never taken a tour of the studio until quite recently. I made a delivery there in the early-90s and stepped inside, but that was it. I read about the efforts to make it a first-class museum and waited until it was renovated to take a full tour. That was about four years ago. I went a second time two years ago.

It's difficult to describe the feeling of someone who grew up in Detroit in the 1960s -- as I did -- walking through this building, which has such a rich musical legacy. Entering the actual studio is almost like a religious pilgrimage: the "Holy of Holies" of 60s pop and R & B music, where Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Diana Ross and the Supremes cut all their records. The only thing that could approach it in the "local heritage" category was when my whole family got to walk onto the field of Tiger Stadium in 1999: the last year that old ballpark hosted major league baseball.

My late brother Gerry was in a "white soul"-type band in 1966-1968. They made a record and appeared on a local rock and roll TV show, called Swingin' Time (with host Robin Seymour). A few years later a "scout" from Motown actually came to the house to listen to him and a friend play and sing. Nothing came of it, of course, but it was great to even have that slight association with Motown.

The greatest and most influential individual talent in the "Funk Brothers" was the bass player, James Jamerson (1936-1983). I would like to cite three articles about this extraordinary musician, and then I'll provide a list of what I consider his greatest performances on record, and several related links. I'm proud to play some small part in making him more known to the public:

From the article: "Enigmatic bassist James Jamerson, anchor of the Motown sound, will get his due at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," by Brian McCollum, 2-27-00, in The Detroit Free Press:

. . . James Jamerson . . . dramatically, forever, altered the sound of contemporary music.

. . . Mysterious as his persona might have been, there was nothing vague about Jamerson's playing. As bassist for the fabled Funk Brothers, he was the bedrock of the Motown sound. When you dance to "Heat Wave," your hips aren't moving because of Martha or her Vandellas. They're being seduced into motion by Jamerson and his fat, vibrant grooves underneath.

Enigmatic in life, overlooked in death, Jamerson is about to get his due. On March 6, he'll be among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's first round of inductees for session musicians -- the unheralded players behind the scenes.

Like his bandmates in the Funk Brothers, the crack studio band that played on nearly every Motown hit that mattered, Jamerson was rarely credited in public for his prolific work. It wasn't until 1971, when he was acknowledged as "the incomparable James Jamerson" on the sleeve of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," that his name even showed up on a major Motown release.

His induction will be the first high-profile recognition of his vast body of work . . . In all, he performed on nearly 30 No. 1 pop hits -- toppling the record commonly attributed to the Beatles. On the R&B charts, nearly 70 of his performances went to the top.

. . . Today's bass players owe an overwhelming debt to his innovations in the tiny studio on West Grand.

. . . sometime in the late '50s, he made his first visit to Motown's Studio A. Somewhere amid it all, he picked up the electric bass. Legend says he mastered the instrument in two weeks.

By the early '60s, Motown's A-team of musicians had come together: Earl Van Dyke, Robert White, Benny Benjamin, Joe Messina and Jamerson. The Funk Brothers, as they came to be known, molded one of the most distinct sounds in pop music history. Under the leadership of Van Dyke, the group also became a fixture on Detroit's club scene.

Allan Slutsky, a Philadelphia musician and writer, became intrigued by Jamerson in the mid-'80s and dove into Motown's past for answers. The resulting book, Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson (Hal Leonard, $32.95), was published in 1989. This summer, Slutsky will head a crew to begin production on a $3-million documentary about the Funk Brothers.

"You have to remember the state of the electric bass at that time -- it had only been around since the early '50s," says Slutsky. "People didn't know what to do with it. Nobody blew you away. Then Jamerson comes along. He was the first virtuoso of the electric bass, the first to give the instrument a voice." In musical terms, what Jamerson introduced was syncopation. In layman's terms, just call it funk.

Rather than merely outlining a song's chords in primitive, arpeggio patterns like most pop and R&B bassists -- dum, dum, dum, dum -- Jamerson developed lines of increasing complexity. His jazz background allowed him to toy with unusual harmonic flourishes. He widened the palette.

Tales of Jamerson in the studio are legendary. He'd concoct his parts in mere seconds, they say, then fool around as the band rehearsed, stomping his foot in odd meters or humming an alternate melody to throw off the players.

. . . He was, by any definition, a genius. "Jamerson terrified bassists all over the world," says Slutsky. "Still does." With Motown archivist Harry Weinger, Slutsky got a chance to hear Jamerson parts isolated from the other tracks. It was a breathtaking event. "I was floored . . . It was the funkiest, grungiest thing I had ever heard in my life. It was like every single note was ready to explode."

But it was more than just the bass lines -- whether the familiar stutter of "Bernadette" or the one many call his best, Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her."

"The thing laymen have to understand is that music is built from the bottom up," says Slutsky. "James was the bottom. When he changed the way the bottom functioned and sounded, it changed everything up the line." "Play it like the guy from Motown" became a standard call from producers everywhere.

. . . Since childhood, James had revealed a two-pronged personality: angel and devil. He was a class clown and a loner. Gregarious and mean. Sweet and flammable. Like so many great artists, there was something in his personality that evoked traces of bipolar disorder.

"He wanted to live the good life, to be a religious, God-fearing guy," says Slutsky. "But he was the sheepish little good-kid-gone-bad. He had a lot of demons. It's a Vincent Van Gogh story."

. . . "In hindsight, 'What's Going On' was the swan song for Jamerson," says [Bob] Lee, the Los Angeles bassist. "He always thought that was his best work." Marvin Gaye's seminal 1971 record was among the last Motown albums recorded in Detroit.

. . . Since Slutsky's book was published, he's received more than 10,000 letters looking for insight into the mysterious legend. "If James knew the fuss, he'd be floored," says Slutsky. "This was a guy who died in agony. He figured he was forgotten."

. . . "Very few people have a chance to impact the world on a large scale. But that's what he did," says Slutsky. "People don't know him like they should. But when you think about it, the impact pop culture has had all over the world ...he's right there at the foundation."


From Marshall Crenshaw's article in Rolling Stone, 9-29-83:

James Jamerson, the pioneering Motown bassist who died of pneumonia in Los Angeles on August 2nd at the age of forty-five, was not famous like Sting of the Police, or John Entwistle of the Who. But Jamerson was one of the greatest and most influential musicians of our time, and it's safe to say that his sound and soul will always be with us, because the great Motown records of the Sixties will be listened to and appreciated for as long as there is a vibrant American musical culture.

Jamerson's bass playing almost defined the Motown sound. He was with the company from 1959 until 1973, and during the peak years of Motown's incredible golden era, from 1963 to 1966, he played on virtually every Motown, Tamla, Gordy, Soul and VIP release. On these records - backing the Supremes, Steve Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, the Miracles, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye and many others - Jamerson created a sound, a feel and an impact that make him one of the three or four most important innovators in the last twenty years of American music.

. . . It's hard for me to think of words to adequately describe his beautiful sound and the deftness and sensitivity of his playing. Fortunately most people have heard "Reach Out I'll Be There" and "Dancing in the Street" to cite only two of Jamerson's classic performances. But Jamerson also had a profound influence on the state of the recording art. During the Fifties, electric basses were not considered legitimate instruments by most producers and studio players; the most common approach was to record an acoustic bass to anchor the bottom of the sound, then have someone, usually a guitarist, add electric bass-string lines for percussive and melodic supplementation. When Jamerson came along, he totally blew away such prejudices - and by making the bottom jump and pop the way he did, he completely changed the way people heard and played R&B and rock & roll. He was the first electric bass player that you might call a virtuoso.


From: Chuck Rainey's Jamerson Page:

Ever wonder what the specific ingredient of a hit record was or is? If you are a producer, writer, arranger, artist, an avid fan of the artist or a listener - you might consider first - the groove, sound and feel of the bass instrument and who is playing it. True, The 4 Tops, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and Jr. Walker were indeed very special and talented artists, but consider three things; (1) all the songs were good songs, (2) all the horn and string arrangements were great and (3) all songs and arrangements were led by the bass part. All but a few bass parts were played by my hero James Jamerson.

. . . Once any bassist heard or hears Jamerson play the electric bass instrument, an immediate respect for him and the instrument occurs . . . Although James was an acoustic bass player first, he opened the career door for the rest of us electric players basically by being heard so many times on radio hits produced by Detroit Motown. When I heard Bernadette by the 4 Tops in the 60's, my heart throbbed for a week. I Was Made To Love Her by Stevie Wonder during that same time period caused another week of sheer electric bass ecstasy.


My Compilation of 32 of James Jamerson's Greatest Hits, on a 90-Minute Cassette

The songs were chosen for their inventiveness, originality, key role in the structure of the songs, and memorable nature. Reference is made to the date of release, and disk and number of selection on the disk, from the CD Box Set: Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection: 1959-1971. The songwriters will be indicated by a code, referring to the writers listed below.

Side A

Mickey's Monkey * (7/63 | I, 16), Miracles
Pride and Joy ^ (4/63 | I, 13), Marvin Gaye
How Sweet It Is * (11/64 | I, 28), Marvin Gaye
My Girl # (12/64 | II, 1), Temptations
This Old Heart of Mine * (1/66 | II, 17), Isley Brothers
You Can't Hurry Love * (7/66 | II, 25), Supremes
I Can't Help Myself * (4/65 | II, 8), Four Tops
Ain't no Mountain High Enough < (4/67 | III, 8), Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
I Heard it Through the Grapevine > (9/67 | III, 10), Gladys Knight & the Pips
Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing < (3/68 | III, 15), Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
My Whole World Ended ~ (1/69 | III, 22), David Ruffin
I Was Made to Love Her + (5/67), Stevie Wonder
Ain't Too Proud to Beg (*) (5/66 | II, 21), Temptations
You Keep me Hangin' On * (10/66), Supremes
It's the Same Old Song * (7/65 | II, 11), Four Tops
Ain't That Peculiar # (9/65), Marvin Gaye
I Know I'm Losing You (*) (11/66 | III, 2), Temptations

Side B

A Place in the Sun ::: (10/66), Stevie Wonder
Reach Out, I'll be There * (8/66 | III, 1), Four Tops
Reflections * (7/67), Supremes
What's Going On? = (1/71 | IV, 17), Marvin Gaye
I'm Gonna Make You Love Me & (11/68), Temptations & Supremes
Bernadette * (2/67), Four Tops
I'm Wondering + (9/67), Stevie Wonder
Cloud Nine > (10/68 | III, 18), Temptations
If I Were Your Woman % (10/70 | IV, 15), Gladys Knight & the Pips
Standing in the Shadows of Love * (11/66 | III, 3), Four Tops
For Once in My Life (::) (10/68 | III, 17), Stevie Wonder
The Happening * (3/67), Supremes
I Can't Get Next to You > (7/69 | III, 24), Temptations
Ain't No Mountain High Enough < (7/70 | IV, 10), Diana Ross
Higher and Higher, Jackie Wilson (not a Motown song, but the Funk Brothers played on it, helping to make it one of the all-time great R & B records)

Songwriter's code:

* Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, & Eddie Holland
(*) Eddie Holland, Norman Whitfield
# Smokey Robinson
+ Stevie Wonder, Sylvia Moy, & Henry Cosby
^ Norman Whitfield, Marvin Gaye, & William "Mickey" Stevenson
> Norman Whitfeld & Barrett Strong
< Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson
= Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye, & Renaldo Benson
~ Harvey Fuqua, Johnny Bristol. Pam Sawyer, & James Roach
::: Ron Miller & Bryan Wells
(::) Ron Miller & Orlando Murden
& Kenneth Gamble & Jerry Ross
% Laverne Ware, Pam Sawyer, & Clay McMurray

Further Reading about James Jamerson, Motown, and the Funk Brothers:
(Many thanks to Bob Lee: the first site below)

Bob Lee's loving tribute page, James Jamerson, Bassist (with a great photograph of Jamerson on top)

Detroit News article about the film, Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

Article on the Funk Brothers, "From Motown to our Town," by Jonathan Takiff (Philadephia Daily News, 4-11-03)

Dozens of articles about Motown in the online archives of The Detroit Free Press.

Funk Brothers interview on NPR radio

USA Today review of Standing in the Shadows of Motown (SITSOM)

Detroit Metro Times review of SITSOM

Fender tribute to Jamerson

Standing In The Shadows Of Motown.com

Who's Who of the Funk Brothers

List of some of Jamerson's greatest performances

Section on the Funk Brothers from The History of Rock and Roll site.

Soul Man (French site about Motown and the Funk Brothers)

Amazon.Com page for Standing In The Shadows Of Motown

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Diet of Regensburg (1541) & Colloquy of Poissy (1561): Protestant "Ecumenical" Efforts at Christian Unity?

Catholic historian Warren Carroll writes:

Reform-minded Cardinal Contarini attended the Diet of Regensburg and its religious discussions. and managed to obtain agreement on both sides on a statement on justification, but only by using a new concept of "duplicate justice," which recognized that God gave justifying grace to men in baptism, but also stated that "a yet higher justice, that of Christ Himself, becomes necessary in order to attain a perfect renewal, this latter being given and imputed to men through faith." It seemed an inspired straddle, but the Council of Trent later repudiated it [Dave: Luther had refused to accept it also]. Jubilation over this paper harmonization . . . soon faded when the conferees took up theor differences on the Mass and the sacraments, which were absolutely irreconcilable. The Catholic Faith cannot be practiced without the Mass, and the Protestants had totally rejected the Mass. Just a week after the illusory agreement on justification, Cardinal Contarini wrote that he had been astonished to discover that the Protestants rejected both the Real Presence and veneration of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass. On May 16 Contarini wrote to Rome: . . . "strife proceeds neither from the Holy See nor from the Emperor, but from the obdurate adherence of the Protestants to their errors."

(The Cleaving of Christendom [A History of Christendom, vol. 4], Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 179)


Noted Protestant Church historian Roland Bainton wrote about the same diet:

Protestants and Catholics were in attendance and the purpose was to see whether accord could be achieved. There was some real hope because the leader of the Catholic side was Cardinal Contarini, one of the Italian liberals of the Erasmian brand, and the leader on the Protestant side was Martin Bucer of Strasbourg, noted for his mediatory role between the Swiss and the Lutherans. The cardinal doctrine of Luther, justification by faith, proved after all not to be an insuperable obstacle because Contarini was ready to accept it, though whether he meant by it precisely what the Lutherans did is another matter. But the Protestant rejection of transubstantiation was more serious and Bucer, unlike Melanchthon at Augsburg, was very insistent on the rejection of papal authority. Union failed . . .

(The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Boston: Beacon Press, 1952, 152)


So we see that the Catholic side was willing to "compromise" on the Protestants' leading ("cardinal") concern: justification, but the Protestants would not flinch on matters of supreme importance and "non-negotiability" for the Catholics: transubstantiation and papal authority. We see almost the same exact dynamic and Protestant inflexibility at the Colloquy of Poissy in 1561. Carroll describes that event:

A group of French Calvinists headed by Theodore Beza had been invited to present the case for their religion to the bishops assembled to prepare for the Council of Trent . . . the government made public a series of edicts drawn up three weeks earlier, which while continuing to forbid public Calvinist worship, allowed it in private homes, recommended that judges be more lenient with Calvinists, and granted a general amnesty to those in prison charged with heresy.

. . . The colloquy itself began September 9 with another speech by [Chancellor] l'Hopital urging religious unity and pledging that the government would no longer persecute the Calvinists. But . . . the Colloquy of Poissy was no exercise in "ecumenism." Even less than the Lutherans were the Calvinists interested in ecumenism, Like all revolutionaries, they would accept it only on their own terms. On this first day of discussion Beza threw down the gauntlet with the explicit and shocking denial of the Real Presence . . .:

If we regard the distance of things (as we must, when there is a question of His corporeal presence, and of His humanity considered separately), we say that His body is as far removed from the bread and wine as is heaven from earth. [September 9, 1561]


. . . The Real Presence, like the Incarnation, is a doctrine on which there can be no compromise for a serious Catholic . . . Still Catherine de Medici and l'Hopital set up a committee of twelve Catholics and twelve Calvinists to continue the discussions. In a meeting of this committee, Beza attacked the doctrine of papal primacy and papal succession from Peter, using the absurd fable of "Pope Joan" to support his argument, and denied that Scripture depended on the authority of the Church or that there was any infallible source of religious truth. Catholic theologian l'Espence responded by pointing out that the Calvinist ministers lacked any claim to authority whatsoever. By now the discussion had degenerated into a shouting match . . . Efforts to find a compromise formula of language for the Real Presence were torpedoed by Peter Martyr Vermigli, a radical Calvinist . . .

(Carroll, ibid., 281-283; Beza citation from p. 235)


Bainton practically agrees with Carroll's implication that any hope of conciliation was destroyed by Protestant intransigence:

Theodore Beza was given unrestricted opportunity to state the Protestant case. In so doing he not only failed to conciliate the Catholics but succeeded also in alienating the Lutherans by stating in the baldest terms the Calvinist doctrine of spiritual communion only in the Lord's Supper, seeing that the body of Christ is as far from the bread and wine as heaven from earth. Agreement on any such basis was of course out of the question.

(Bainton, ibid., 167-168)


A Protestant web page called Reformed Sovereign Grace (which includes in its repertoire, the interesting article, "Biblical Reasons for NOT seeing the 'Passion of the Christ' Movie"), stated in its biography of Beza:

In a confrontation with the cruel and bloodthirsty Duke of Guise, Beza made his memorable statement: "Sire, it belongs, in truth, to the church of God, in the name of which I address you, to suffer blows, not to strike them. But at the same time let it be your pleasure to remember that the Church is an anvil which has worn out many a hammer."


Noted Protestant historian Phillip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church (1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons, vol. 8, ch. 19, § 170. "Beza at the Colloquy of Poissy"), describes the scene:

He then addressed the assembly upon the points of agreement and of disagreement between them, and was quietly listened to until he made the assertion that the Body of Christ was as far removed from the bread of the Eucharist as the heavens are from the earth. Then the prelates broke out with the cry "Blasphemavit! blasphemavit!" ("he has blasphemed"), and for a while there was much confusion. Beza had followed the obnoxious expression with a remark which was intended to break its force, affirming the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist; but the noise had prevented its being heard. Instead, however, of yielding to the clamor the queen-mother insisted that Beza should be heard out, and he finished his speech.


The tragedy of these so-called "ecumenical" gatherings (at least from my admittedly biased Catholic perspective) is twofold. First of all, we observe Protestant utter intolerance of various Catholic doctrines, held for many hundreds of years and passed down in apostolic Tradition, so that compromise (or even agreement to disagree) is made impossible by definition right from the outset (Bucer and Beza).

Why, then, even attempt a dialogue, if the Protestants went into these meetings determined to not agree with or even allow any Catholic doctrine which they rejected? Reconciliation and whatever compromise is possible (without either party forsaking their own principles and deepest beliefs) is a two-way street, after all.

It may very well be (I suspect it probably was the case) that the Catholics were just as inflexible and stubborn, but certainly no more so than the Protestants. So any implication that the Protestants were all for freedom of religion and tolerance (either far more than the Catholics, or exclusively) is simply false to history.

Somewhat ironically, the second pronounced Protestant fault in these "ecumenical" gatherings was equivocation and astonishingly two-faced proclamations (such as those of Melanchthon at Augsburg -- see my paper, The Real Diet of Augsburg; Protestant Intolerance in 1530)

John Calvin wrote a fascinating letter which dealt with events shortly before the Diet of Regensburg and proves once again the first Protestant tendency mentioned above: equivocation in negotiations with Catholics (this time by both Bucer and Melanchthon). Phillip Schaff introduces it:

Calvin . . . gave a decided judgment in Latin against transubstantiation, which he rejected as a scholastic fiction, and against the adoration of the wafer which he declared to be idolatrous. He was displeased with the submissiveness of Melanchthon and Bucer, although he did not doubt the sincerity of their motives. He loved truth and consistency more than peace and unity. "Philip," he wrote to Farel (May 12, 1541), "and Bucer have drawn up ambiguous and varnished formulas concerning transubstantiation, to try whether they could satisfy the opposite party by giving them nothing [Schaff footnote: These formulas are printed in Melanchthon's Epistolae, IV. 262-264]. I cannot agree to this device, although they have reasonable grounds for doing so; for they hope that in a short time they would begin to see more clearly if the matter of doctrine be left open; therefore they rather wish to skip over it, and do not dread that equivocation (flexiloquation) than which nothing can be more hurtful. I can assure you, however, that both are animated with the best intentions, and have no other object in view than to promote the kingdom of Christ; only in their method of proceeding they accommodate themselves too much to the times .... These things I deplore in private to yourself, my dear Farel; see, therefore, that they are not made public. One thing I am thankful for, that there is no one who is fighting now more earnestly against the wafer-god [Schaff footnote: Or, in-breaded God, impanatus Deus], as he calls it, than Brentz."

(n Schaff, ibid., vol. 8, ch. 11, § 89; the entire letter is also published in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Letters, Part 1, 1528-1545, vol. 4 of 7; edited by Jules Bonnet, translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House (a Protestant publisher), 1983, 262-264; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, vol. 1 [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858] )


For any progress to have taken place, both parties needed to be straightforward and honest with each other. Equivocation was not the route to success, because it would only backfire later, when the true nature of Protestant beliefs became apparent. Nor is total inflexibility. Both sides were inflexible, granted, but a major difference between the two is the fact that the Catholic beliefs had been held for many centuries, whereas the Protestant beliefs on things like the Eucharist were new and novel.

Along these lines, the Protestant historian Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote, in a remarkable passage in one of his Critical and Historical Essays:

The immediate effect of the Reformation in England was by no means favourable to political liberty. The authority which had been exercised by the Popes was transferred almost entire to the King. Two formidable powers which had often served to check each other were united in a single despot. If the system on which the founders of the Church of England acted could have been permanent, the Reformation would have been, in a political sense, the greatest curse that ever fell on our country. But that system carried within it the seeds of its own death. It was possible to transfer the name of Head of the Church from Clement to Henry; but it was impossible to transfer to the new establishment the veneration which the old establishment had inspired. Mankind had not broken one yoke in pieces only in order to put on another. The supremacy of the Bishop of Rome had been for ages considered as a fundamental principle of Christianity. It had for it everything that could make a prejudice deep and strong, venerable antiquity, high authority, general consent. It had been taught in the first lessons of the nurse. It was taken for granted in all the exhortations of the priest. To remove it was to break innumerable associations, and to give a great and perilous shock to the principles. Yet this prejudice, strong as it was, could not stand in the great day of the deliverance of the human reason. And it was not to be expected that the public mind, just after freeing itself by an unexampled effort, from a bondage which it had endured for ages, would patiently submit to a tyranny which could plead no ancient title. Rome had at least prescription on its side. But Protestant intolerance, despotism in an upstart sect, infallibility claimed by guides who acknowledged that they had passed the greater part of their lives in error, restraints imposed on the liberty of private judgment at the pleasure of rulers who could vindicate their own proceedings only by asserting the liberty of private judgment, these things could not long be borne. Those who had pulled down the crucifix could not long continue to persecute for the surplice. It required no great sagacity to perceive the inconsistency and dishonesty of men who, dissenting from almost all Christendom, would suffer none to dissent from themselves, who demanded freedom of conscience, yet refused to grant it, who execrated persecution, yet persecuted, who urged reason against the authority of one opponent, and authority against the reasons of another. Bonner acted at least in accordance with his own principles. Cranmer could vindicate himself from the charge of being a heretic only by arguments which made him out to be a murderer.

Thus the system on which the English Princes acted with respect to ecclesiastical affairs for some time after the Reformation was a system too obviously unreasonable to be lasting.

("John Hampden," December 1831)


In other words, it was far more objectionable for the Protestants to be totally dogmatic about their "new stuff" than for Catholics to be totally dogmatic about their "old stuff."

Luther Was Not a Revolutionary?! Huh?!

Many Protestants have argued that Martin Luther never intended to start a "new religion" or denomination, or to split Christianity; in fact that he never intended to leave the Catholic Church. One can quibble about when and why he intended on starting a new version of Christianity, but the fact remains that he did. It is foolish to think that the Catholic Church was supposed to simply bow to Luther's novel ideas, rather than assert its own received Tradition and demand a retraction on his part.

Luther refused to retract his revolutionary opinions, so unless one thinks that any Christian communion is obliged to bend its doctrines and beliefs to the whims of one dissenting person, then there is a sense in which Luther "intended to start his own religion" (I myself wouldn't say it is a new religion, because it is still Christianity; I prefer the terminology of a revolt against the Catholic Church and the beginning of a new denomination or form of Christianity).

It is also said that Luther's case against indulgences was clear-cut and unambiguous: that the Catholic Church was in the wrong, through and through. There were indeed abuses, and the Church dealt strongly with them -- to that extent we might be grateful to Luther, I suppose. But he wasn't content to deal just with abuses -- as true Catholic reformers all through the centuries had done. He had to "throw the baby out with the bath water," and so rejected indulgences altogether, along with many other received doctrines too numerous to mention.

One Protestant who wrote to me stated: "the Church's marketing strategy was 'as the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.' " But this is untrue. This was neither a "marketing strategy" nor does this characterization present a totally accurate assessment of Johann Tetzel's actual views: the famous figure who often represents in the mind of the non-Catholic all that is excessive, foolish, and evil in the Catholic Tradition. Luther lied when he said of Tetzel in a 1541 pamphlet: "He sold grace for money at the highest price." Tetzel's teaching was erroneous in some respects, according to Catholic dogma. But it was not identical to the silly stereotype. What have most anti-Catholics, or even non-Catholics ever read about indulgences from a Catholic perspective? If they had read much at all, they would not repeat the tired slanders against both the Church and Tetzel. But such is the way of cultural mythology and fables -- passed down for generations.

Luther (not immune to slander when it suited his polemical purposes) wrote of Tetzel:

He wrote that an Indulgence is a reconciliation between God and man and takes effect even though a man performs no penance, and manifests neither contrition nor sorrow.


In point of fact, Tetzel's teaching, which we have in written form in his Vorlegung, states precisely the opposite:

The Indulgence remits only the pain [i.e., the penalty] of sins which have been repented of and confessed . . . No one merits an Indulgence unless he is in a truly contrite state.


He did indeed exaggerate the monetary aspect of the indulgence, but not according to Church teaching. Even the silly saying about the "coffer" cannot be traced to Tetzel with any certainty. He did teach a version of what the saying conveys, but it was -- again -- not the official teaching of the Church, as is often ignorantly and slanderously implied. The view was not supported by the Papal Bulls of Indulgence, and the pope had not taught this, as Luther falsely charged.

(Background Source: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, S.J., translated by E.M. Lamond, edited by Luigi Cappadelta, London: 1914-1915, 6 volumes; taken from vol. 1: 342-344)

As for the relative "case" and justifiability of the actions of Martin Luther and that of the Catholic Church, particularly between 31 October, 1517 (95 Theses) and 3 January 1521 (Luther's excommunication), one might do well to ponder the following facts:

By that time he had written at least three scathing denunciations of the Catholic Church (all in 1520). I shall comment on two of them:

The first is To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. In this work, he invited the German princes to take the reform of the Church into their own hands. He wrote:

When necessity demands it, and the pope is an offense to Christendom, the first man who is able should, as a true member of the whole body, do what he can to bring about a truly free council. No one can do this as well as the temporal authorities . . .

(in Three Treatises, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, revised edition, 1970, 23)


This is a complete rejection of traditional Catholic authority, and a direct attempt to set up a State Church, which in fact occurred after Lutheranism became established. It is quite questionable, to put it mildly, that secular princes can do a better job at Christianity than bishops and popes. In fact, Luther and his right-hand man Philip Melanchthon admitted many years later that the jurisdiction of bishops was superior to the jurisdiction of politically- and economically-motivated princes.

So the Catholic Church is supposed to merrily accept this, as if it is not fatal to its ongoing structure? Just bow to all of Luther's demands? Of course this is absurd. No institution can operate in such a ludicrous fashion. That would change the Church into a dictatorship -- much as many Protestant denominations and split-off cults in fact become. Popes never even dreamt of the power and self-granted infallibility that Luther claimed in his own created church.

In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther called for the even more revolutionary notion of abolition of five of the seven Catholic sacraments, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. So, again, the Catholic Church was supposed to just go along with Luther's radical program of "reform," rather than excommunicate a son who was clearly obstinate and no longer a faithful Catholic? I would contend that the honest thing for Luther to have done would have been to leave the Catholic Church, since he no longer accepted its doctrines -- rather than create a spectacle and a schism that had repercussions we still live with today. Surely he must have known that the revolutionary rhetoric of his treatises of 1520 would have the effect they did. If not, then he had to be one of the most naive persons who ever lived.

Yet commonly Protestants tell us that Luther only wished to reform, not revolutionize the Church. This makes no sense, once all the historical facts are taken into account. To ditch dozens of beliefs and practices of any institution, and revise it almost entirely is
not reform, but rather transformation, evolution, or revolution. I have outlined above what Luther was calling for in 1520 -- before he was excommunicated. The Church had previously operated on the principle of preserving its Tradition, received in an unbroken line from the apostles. Neither the pope, Luther, nor any other self-anointed "reformer" is at liberty to change apostolic doctrine at their whim and fancy. Luther even approached biblical books cavalierly, thinking that they were legitimate or not based on his personal opinion alone, as I demonstrated -- from his own words -- in my paper on that topic (Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible).

How in the world anyone can maintain that Luther was not a heretic (in those areas where he diverged from Catholicism), by the criteria of Catholic dogma, is beyond me. Obviously, he is not by Lutheran criteria, but if one wishes to blame the Catholic Church for excommunicating him, then they must explain how his views were not heretical by Catholic standards. This simply cannot be done; it is impossible.

As for not wanting to start his own church, I think this desire is implicit in his radical rejection of the Catholic Church. After Luther asserted in 1520 that the temporal princes ought to overthrow the rule of bishops and popes, is it reasonable to maintain that Luther thought he would play no central role in such a "counter-church"? That makes less than no sense to me.

The standard Protestant party line (which I myself used to enthusiastically embrace) is that Luther's stance in support of Faith Alone and in opposition to indulgences was heroic and altogether necessary. But I say his position on these points was folly, because the former was based on a gross misunderstanding of Catholic soteriology (that it was somehow Pelagian and rejected not only Faith Alone, but also Grace Alone), and a novel exegesis of Scripture, which many Protestant scholars and exegetes have rejected. His polemic against indulgences was also based (arguably in large part) on misunderstanding, caricature, and slander, as I have partially demonstrated above.

Another constant theme we hear from Protestants about Luther is that he was "not perfect." Of course he wasn't (who is?). My point, however, about him has been that founders of Christian churches ought to be subjected to a higher standard than the rest of us (to vastly understate it), as the Bible teaches about Christian elders, etc. The fact that Luther had many glaring and serious faults (all freely acknowledged and discussed by Protestant historians) does not bode well for the truth of his claims against the Catholic Church, in my humble opinion. True reformers are pretty holy people. A St. Bernard, a St. Francis, a St. Catherine of Siena, or a St. Ignatius Loyola immediately come to mind.

It is said that Pope Leo X was just as imperfect. This may be granted by a Catholic. But he didn't deign to create a new sect of Christianity. His imperfections had few lasting repercussions. One might argue (I think falsely) that his intransigence caused Luther to be cast out, and that therefore he started the schism (or was more to blame for it than Luther was), but I think the facts of the matter show quite otherwise. Luther had already become a heretic (by the received criteria of what constituted heresy and departure from Catholic, apostolic Tradition) before he was excommunicated.

Every Christian group has a perfect right to determine who is faithful to its theology and doctrine and who is not. Therefore, the action of the Catholic Church in excommunicating Luther is not one whit any essentially different from the Dutch Reformed Calvinists determining that the Arminians were no longer "orthodox" by their standards and separating from them, in the Synod of Dort (1618-1619).

Among the decrees made was a sentencing of the prominent Dutch jurist and theologian, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) to life imprisonment (he escaped and settled in Paris in 1621. Louis XIII provided him with a pension, but he didn't convert to Catholicism). 200 Arminian clergy were deprived of their ordination privileges, and one J. van Oldenbarnevelt was "beheaded on a false charge of high treason."

(See: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, 421, 604)

How is this different in principle from Luther's excommunication (except that Luther was allowed to keep his head)? If the Catholic Church is deemed more (or solely) guilty of the Protestant-Catholic schism because of its supposed "intransigence and inflexibility and dogmatism," then why are the Dutch Calvinists not equally accused with regard to the Calvinist-Arminian schism?

Didn't they know that the Arminians possessed many truths that they were duty-bound to accept, in order to reform themselves and avoid a tragic schism? Don't they know it was all their fault, because of their 100-year process of corruption and dogmatic, self-righteous tyranny over the consciences of their subjects, and hardly at all the fault of the sincere, Bible-loving, freedom-loving Arminian "reformers" who dissented on things like God's predestination of sinners to hell apart from their free will and consent to reject God?

Erasmus on Luther & Protestantism, & Luther on Erasmus

Appendix Four of my book: Protestantism: Critical Reflections of an Ecumenical Catholic.

Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1469-1536), Greek scholar and Christian humanist, is widely regarded as the greatest man of letters and intellect of the 16th century. He was highly critical of corruption in the Church and was initially somewhat favorable to the Protestant cause, but soon (after 1521 or so) turned against it after he saw the direction it was going, and remained a lifelong Catholic. He engaged in a famous written debate with Luther on the issue of free will. These are some of his words about the early Protestants and Martin Luther himself:

Nothing was ever seen more licentious, and, withal, more seditious; nothing, in a word, less evangelical than these pretended evangelists. . . All is carried to extremes in this new Reformation. They root up what ought to be pruned; they set fire to the house in order to cleanse it. Morals are neglected; luxury, debauchery, adulteries, increase more than ever; there is no order, no discipline among them . . . I find more piety in one good Catholic bishop than in all these new evangelists.

(in Bishop James Bossuet, History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, 2 volumes, translated from the French, New York: D. & J. Sadler, 1885 [orig. 1688], vol. 1, 155-156)

What can be more ruinous than to let such words as the following come to the people's ears? -- 'The Pope is Antichrist; Bishops and priests are mere grubs; man-made laws are heretical; confession is pernicious; works, merits and endeavors are heretical words; there is no free will; everything happens by necessity' . . . I see, under the pretext of the Gospel, a new, bold, shameless and ungovernable race growing up -- in a word, such a one as will be unendurable to Luther himself.

(in John L. Stoddard, Rebuilding a Lost Faith, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1922, 97)

The Reformation seems to have had no other purpose than to turn monks and nuns into bridegrooms and brides.

(In Stoddard, ibid., 92)

Luther has covered us and good learning with hatred. Everyone knows that the Church is overburdened with abuse of authority and ceremonies and man-made decrees for the purpose of gain. Many people are now wishing for a remedy, but often an imprudent attempt at a cure makes things worse. I wish that man had either been more moderate or else left things alone!

What a mass of hatred Luther is bringing down on good learning and Christendom!

(in Margaret Phillips, Erasmus and the Northern Renaissance, New York: Collier Books, 1965, 171. From the year 1521)

I greatly wonder, my dear Jonas, what god has stirred up the heart of Luther, in so far as he assails with such license of pen the Roman pontiff, all the universities, philosophy, and the mendicant orders . . .

Perhaps there were some who out of honest zeal favored calling the orders and princes of the Church to better things. But I do not know if they are those who under this pretext covet the wealth of the churchmen. I judge nothing to be more wicked and destructive of public tranquility than this . . . This certainly is a fine turn of affairs, if property is wickedly taken away from priests so that soldiers may make use of it in worse fashion; and the latter squander their own wealth, and sometimes that of others, so that no one benefits.

I do not even agree with those men, my dear Jonas, who say that Luther, provoked by the intoerable shamelessness of his adversaries, could not maintain a Christian moderation. Regardless of how others conduct themselves, he who had undertaken such a role ought to be faithful to himself and disregard all other matters. Finally, a way out should have been provided before he descended into that pit . . . We see the affair brought to that point that I reasonably see no good outcome, unless Christ through His own skill turn the rashness of these men into a public good . . .

How great a swarm of evils this foolhardiness now yields! And ill will greatly weighs down the study of letters as well as many good men who in the beginning were not particularly hostile to Luther, either because they hoped he would handle the matter differently or on account of the enemies they had in common . . .

And here, my dear Jonas, I have been forced at times to wish for evidence of the evangelical spirit when I saw Luther, but especially his supporters, strive with skill, as it were, to involve others in a hateful and dangerous affair.

. . . So far am I from ever having wished to be involved in a faction as dangerous as this! . . . Moreover, I am desperately afraid lest among the other nations this affair bring a great disgrace to our Germany, as the great mass of men are accustomed to impute the foolishness of a few to the entire nation.

What else has been accomplished, therefore I ask, by so many harsh little books, by so much foolish talk, by so many formidable threats, and by so much bombast . . . ? . . . Luther could have taught the evangelical philosophy with great profit to the Christian flock, he could have benefited the world by bringing forth books, if he had restrained from those things which could only end in disturbance.

. . . Above all, I am of the opinion that discord, ruinous for all, must be avoided. And that thus by what I might call a holy artfulness the needs of the time must be served, that by no means the treasury of the Gospel truth be betrayed, whence can come the reformation of corrupt public morals. Perhaps someone will ask whether I have another mind regarding Luther than I had formerly. No, indeed, I have the same mind. I have always wished that, with changes made of certain things which were displeasing to me, he discuss purely the Gospel philosophy, from which the morals of our age have departed, alas, too far. I have always preferred that he be corrected rather than suppressed. I desired him to carry on the work of Christ in such a way that the leaders of the Church either approved or certainly not disapproved . . .

(in Christian Humanism and the Reformation, [selections from Erasmus], edited and translated by John C. Olin, New York: Harper & Row, 1965, 152, 157-159, 161-163; Letter to Jodocus Jonas, from Louvain, May 10, 1521)

Wherever Lutheranism prevails, learning and liberal culture go to the ground.

(in Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumes, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910; orig. 1891, vol. 3, 355; Letter to Pirkheimer)

The study of tongues and the love of fine literature is everywhere growing cold. Luther has heaped insufferable odium on it.

(in Hartmann Grisar, Luther, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1917, vol. 6, 32)

All this laziness came in with the new Evangel.

(in Grisar, ibid., vol. 6, 32; regarding the downfall of the schools of Nuremburg)

When I admonished Zwingli in a friendly way he wrote back disdainfully:

What you know is of no use to us; what we know is not for you.


As if he had been caught up like Paul to the third heaven and learnt some mystery which was hidden to us earthly creatures!

(in Phillips, ibid., 195; Zwingli was a Protestant founder who had previously – like Luther – admired Erasmus)

Sound human reason teaches me that a man cannot honestly further the cause of God, who excites so great an uproar in the world, and finds delight in abuse and sarcasm, and cannot have enough of them. Such an amount of arrogance, as we have never seen surpassed, cannot possibly be without some folly, and such a boisterous individual is not at all in harmony with the apostolic spirit.

(in Stoddard, ibid., 97)

All good people lament and groan over the fatal schism with which you shake the world by your arrogant, unbridled and seditious spirit.

(in Archbishop Martin J. Spalding, The History of the Protestant Reformation, 2 volumes, Baltimore: John Murphy, 1876, vol. 1, 464)

I shall show everybody what a master you are in the art of misrepresentation, defamation, calumny and exaggeration . . . In your sly way you contrive to twist even what is absolutely true, whenever it is to your interest to do so. You know how to turn black into white and to make light out of darkness.

(in Grisar, ibid., vol. 4, 100-101. From Erasmus’ work Hyperaspistes, [1526], I, 9, col. 1043)

. . . The whole world knows your nature, according to which you have guided your pen against no one more bitterly and, what is more detestable, more maliciously than against me . . . The same admirable ferocity which you formerly used against Fisher and against Cochlaeus, who provoked it by reviling you, you now use against my book in spite of its courtesy. How do your dcurrilous charges that I am an atheist, an Epicurean, and a sceptic, help the argument? . . . It terribly pains me, as it must all good men, that your arrogant, insolent, rebellious nature has set the world in arms . . . You treat the Evangelic cause so as to confound together all things sacred and profane, as if it were your chief aim to prevent the tempest from ever becoming calm, while it is my greatest desire that it should die down . . .

(Letter from Erasmus at Basel to Martin Luther at Wittenberg, April 11, 1526; in Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1911, 209)

It is part of my unhappy fate, that my old age has fallen on these evil times when quarrels and riots prevail everywhere.

(in Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church, Volume VII: History of Modern Christianity, Chapter IV, section 71, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910)

This new gospel is producing a new set of men so impudent, hypocritical, and abusive, such liars and sycophants, who agree neither with one another nor with anybody else, so universally offensive and seditious, such madmen and ranters, and in short so utterly distasteful to me that if I knew of any city in which I should be free from them, I would remove there at once.

(Ibid.)

By the bitterness of the Lutherans, and the stupidity of some who show more zeal than wisdom in their endeavors to heal the present disorders, things have been brought to such a pass, that I, for one, can see no issue but in the turning upside down of the whole world. What evil spirit can have sown this poisonous seed in human affairs? When I was at Cologne, I made every effort that Luther might have the glory of obedience and the Pope of clemency, and some of the sovereigns approved of this advice. But, lo and behold! the burning of the Decretals, the 'Babylonish Captivity,' those propositions of Luther, so much stronger than they need be, have made the evil, it seems, incurable ... . The only thing that remains to us, my dear Berus, is to pray that Christ, supreme in goodness and in power, may turn all to good; for he alone can do so.

(in Schaff, ibid., Chapter IV, section 72; letter to a friend in Basel, Louis Berus, dated Louvain, May 14, 1521)


An iconoclastic riot took place in Oecolampadius' Basle, Switzerland, on February 9, 1528. Erasmus was an eyewitness of this event, and described it in a letter to his friend Pirckheimer:

Not a statue has been left, in the churches . . . or in the monasteries; all the frescoes have been whitewashed over. Everything which would burn has been set on fire, everything else hacked into little pieces. Neither value nor artistry prevailed to save anything.

(in Phillips, ibid., 197)


One cannot help but be greatly disturbed by this vivid image of crazed mobs dashing through sublimely beautiful churches, with self-righteous fury, slashing to bits handcarved crucifixes representing our Lord's death on our behalf, on grounds that all such works of art were idolatrous. Erasmus, fearing that "the reign of the Pharisees will be followed by that of the pagans" (Phillips, ibid., 198), left Basle on April 13th, despite the pleas of his friend Oecolampadius. Blessedly, the later Protestants softened their hatred of art, and Martin Luther had always strongly opposed iconoclasm, and promoted art and music (hence the magnificent Bach was to emerge from the Lutheran milieu). Luther, of course, had plenty to say about Erasmus in return:

Erasmus of Rotterdam is the vilest miscreant that ever disgraced the earth . . . He is a very Caiaphas.

(Table-Talk, translated by William Hazlitt, Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society: n.d., #667, 350-351)

Shame upon thee, accursed wretch! . . . Whenever I pray, I pray a curse upon Erasmus.

(Ibid., #668, 351)

Erasmus was poisoned at Rome and at Venice with epicurean doctrines. He extols the Arians more highly than the Papists . . . he died like an epicurean, without any one comfort of God.

(Ibid., #675, 355)

This I do leave behind me as my will and testament . . . I hold Erasmus of Rotterdam to be Christ's most bitter enemy . . . the enemy to true religion, the open adversary of Christ, the complete and faithful picture and image of Epicurus and of Lucian.

(Ibid., #676, 355)

Erasmus writes nothing in which he does not show the impotence of his mind or rather the pains of the wounds he has received. I despise him, nor shall I honor the fellow by arguing with him any more . . . In future I shall only refer to him as some alien, rather condemning than refuting his ideas. He is a light-minded man, mocking all religion as his dear Lucian does, and serious about nothing but calumny and slander.

(Letter to Montanus About Erasmus, May 28, 1529; from Preserved Smith, ibid., 211)

I thank you, my excellent friend, that you give me so candidly your opinion on my book. I care not at all that the Papists are offended: I did not write on their account, for they are not worth my writing or speaking in Consideration of them any more. God has given them up to a reprobate mind; so that they even fight against that, which they know to be the truth.

My cause was heard at Augsburg, before the emperor Charles, and the whole world, and found to be irreprehensible, and to contain sound doctrine. Moreover, my Confession and Apology are made public, and set in the open light throughout the world. By these, I have answered an infinity of my adversaries' books, and all the lies of the Papists past, present and to come!

I have confessed Christ before this wicked and adulterous generation, and I doubt not but that He will also confess me before His Father, and the holy angels. My light is set on a candlestick! - Let him that seeth it, see it more clearly still; let him that is blind, be blinder still; let him that is just, be juster still; let him that is filthy, be filthier still; - their blood be upon themselves; - I am clean from their blood! I have declared to the unrighteous his unrighteousness, and he will not be converted; - let him therefore die in his sins; - I have saved my own soul! There is no need, therefore, that I should write, or care to write on their account, any farther.

. . . Your judgment of Erasmus I much admire: wherein you say plainly, that he has no other basis wherein to build his doctrine but the favour of men; and attribute to him, moreover, ignorance and malice. And if you could but convey this judgment of yours with conviction to the minds of men in general, you would in truth, like another stripling David, by this one blow, lay our boasting Goliath
prostrate, and at the same time, eradicate the whole of his sect. For what is more vain, more fallacious, in all things, than the applause of men, especially in things spiritual! For, as the Psalms testify, "There is no help in them:" again, "All men are liars."

. . . I at one time attributed to him a singular kind of inconsistency and vain-talking, for he seemed to treat on sacred and serious things with the greatest unconcern; and on the contrary, to pursue baubles, vanities, and things laughable and ridiculous with the utmost avidity; though an old man, and a theologian; and that, in an age, the most industrious and laborious. So that I really thought, that what I had heard many men of wisdom and gravity say, was true - that Erasmus was actually mad.

When I first wrote against his Diatribe, and was compelled to weigh his words, (as John says "try the Spirits,") being disgusted at his inconsiderateness in a subject of so much importance; in order that I might rouse up the cold and doltish disputer, I goaded him as if in a snoring sleep; calling him a disciple, at one time, of Epicurus, at another, of Lucian, and then again, declaring him to be of the opinion of the sceptics; supposing, that by these means he might, perhaps, be roused up to enter upon the subject with more feeling. But all was in vain. I only irritated the viper, . . .

. . . But the truth is, he hates all the doctrines together. Nay, there can be no doubt in the mind of a true believer, who has the Spirit in his nostrils, that his mind is alienated from, and utterly hates all religion together; and especially, the religion of Christ. Many proofs of this are scattered here and there . . .

. . . He published lately, among his other works, his Catechism, a production evidently of Satanic subtlety. For, with a purpose full of craft, he designs to take children and youths at the outset, and to infect them with his poisons, that they might not afterwards be eradicated from them; just as he himself, in Italy and at Rome, so sucked in his doctrines of sorcerers and of devils that now all remedy is too late . . .

. . . he does nothing but set before them those heresies and offences of opinions, by which the Church has been troubled from the beginning. So that in fact, he would make it appear, that there has been nothing certain in the Christian religion . . .

. . . I began to suspect him of being a plain Democritus or Epicurus, and a crafty derider of Christ: for he every where intimates to his fellow Epicureans, his hatred against Christ: though he does it in words so figurative and insidious, . . .

. . . This observation fixes in me a determination (let others do as they please) not to believe Erasmus, even if he should openly confess in plain words, - that Christ is God. But I would address to him that sophistical saying of Chrysippus, 'If you lie, you lie even when you speak the truth.'

. . . Our king of ambiguity, however, sits upon his ambiguous throne in security, and destroys us stupid Christians with a double destruction. First, it is his will, and it is a great pleasure to him, to offend us by his ambiguous words: and indeed he would not like it, if we stupid blocks were not offended. And next, when he sees that we are offended, and have run against his insidious figures of speech, and begin to exclaim against him, he then begins to triumph and rejoice that the desired prey has been caught in his snares. For now, having found an opportunity of displaying his rhetoric, he rushes upon us with all his powers and all his noise, tearing us, flogging us, crucifying us, and sending us farther than hell itself; saying, that we have understood his words calumniously, virulently, satanically; (using the worst terms he can find;) whereas, he never meant them to be so understood . . . . .

(Letter to Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Concerning Erasmus, from the web page of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Covenanted – no date for the letter indicated)


Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff paints quite a different picture of Erasmus, strikingly contradictory to that of Luther:

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) was the king among scholars in the early part of the sixteenth century. He combined native genius, classical and biblical learning, lively imagination, keen wit, and refined taste. He was the most cultivated man of his age, and the admired leader of scholastic Europe from Germany to Italy and Spain, from England to Hungary . . . No man before or since acquired such undisputed sovereignty in the republic of letters . . . Erasmus shines in the front rank of the humanists and forerunners of the Reformation, on the dividing line between the middle ages and modern times. His great mission was to revive the spirit of classical and Christian antiquity, and to make it a reforming power within the church. He cleared the way for a work of construction which required stronger hands than his . . . He did more than any of his contemporaries to prepare the church for the Reformation by the impulse he gave to classical, biblical, and patristic studies, and by his satirical exposures of ecclesiastical abuses and monastic ignorance and bigotry.

. . . Protestants should never forget the immense debt of gratitude which they owe to the first editor of the Greek Testament who enabled Luther and Tyndale to make their translations of the word of life from the original, and to lead men to the very fountain of all that is most valuable and permanent in the Reformation . . . His exegetical opinions still receive and deserve the attention of commentators. To him we owe also the first scholarly editions of the Fathers, especially of Jerome, with whom he was most in sympathy . . . he cannot be charged with apostasy or even with inconsistency. He never was a Protestant, and never meant to be one.

. . . Erasmus was, like most of the German and English humanists, a sincere and enlightened believer in Christianity, and differed in this respect from the frivolous and infidel humanists of France and Italy . . . He devoted his brilliant genius and classical lore to the service of religion. He revered the Bible as a divine revelation, and zealously promoted its study. He anticipated Luther in the supreme estimate of the word of God as the true source of theology and piety . . . He had a sharp eye to the abuses of the Church, and endeavored to reform them in a peaceful way. He wished to lead theology back from the unfruitful speculations and frivolous subtleties of scholasticism to Scriptural simplicity, and to promote an inward, spiritual piety. He keenly ridiculed the foolish and frivolous discussions of the schoolmen about formalities and quiddities, . . .

(Schaff, ibid., Chapter IV, section 71)


Schaff renders his own judgment as to the personal conflict between the two men:

Luther abandoned Erasmus, and abused him as the vainest creature in the world, as an enraged viper, a refined Epicurean, a modern Lucian, a scoffer, a disguised atheist, and enemy of all religion. We gladly return from this gross injustice to his earlier estimate, expressed in his letter to Erasmus as late as April, 1524:

The whole world must bear witness to your successful cultivation of that literature by which we arrive at a true understanding of the Scriptures; and this gift of God has been magnificently and wonderfully displayed in you, calling for our thanks.


(Schaff, ibid., Chapter IV, section 73)