Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Luther Book Blasted For Being Far Too Kind and Charitable to Luther / Pre-Vatican II Popes' Use of the Description "Separated Brethren"


I got a kick out of this comment directed towards my book about Martin Luther, from an anonymous "traditionalist" Catholic because the usual (equally false) charge I hear is that I am a "Luther-hater" or Luther-basher or "anti-Protestant" and so forth. Here is an example of that:
I’ve talked to other Lutherans who’ve been to Dave Armstrong’s place, and they tell me it’s a mix of 1) stuff we’ve always known - nobody ever claimed Luther was a saint!, and 2) a fair bit of slander, some demonstrably false. I’ve had Armstrong’s site mentioned to me by another Lutheran as “prime example of how low RC’s will stoop in misrepresenting the facts to smear protestants” and “really blatant, hate-blinded animosity towards Luther”. I’ll see if the guy making those particular comments is available to stop by, since they’re his comments not mine, but they’re my previous semi-familiarity with Armstrong’s site.

(18 March 2007)
And here is the present criticism, from the other extreme:
I just noticed the book on his website written by Mr. Armstrong himself that both criticizes and praises the arch-heretic Martin Luther. I seem to recall another recent thread where the arch-heretic Cardinal Kasper takes the same view of Luther. Depending on which day of the week it is, one can find Luther being critiqued or praised by any number of Vatican officials. This strange new humanist assessment replaces the consideration of things as they are in their essence, as they are in their formality, thus the heretic is not considered formally in the relation of their error to divine truth, but in a multi-faceted, irenic biography. This effort ignores traditional wisdom which states that a man is nothing more or less than what he is before God. It prescinds from the horrific effect that heresy has in the damnation of souls because the starting point is not theological but humanistic pandering. Simple meditation on the pains of hell ought to be enough to make any man realize that, at best, any endeavor to "praise" heretics is a waste of time and at worst the material cause in furthering the confusion of souls, emboldening heretics in their errors and contemning the authority of the Church.

(comment #44)
The truth, of course, is that I vigorously criticize the man's theology where it is deemed wrong by the Catholic Church (hence the muddleheaded charges of "Luther-hater"), and I rejoice in those parts of his theology where Luther retained Catholic views or else views not all that different from ours (hence the present criticism). Both approaches are entirely Catholic. Thus, critics of both extreme positions are wrong. It is often the case when someone is speaking truth, that he will be attacked from both sides. I think it's a very good sign!

Truth is truth, wherever it is found. If Luther said "2+2=4" he was correct, and it is true, whether he was a non-Catholic heretic or a left-handed, green-eyed, red-haired Rastafarian. When Luther says that baptism regenerates, he is correct, and praise God for it. When he affirms the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her Immaculate Conception, he is profoundly correct. When he opposes contraception he is again on the side of the angels (and more right than the vast majority of Protestants today). When he urges good works as the necessary proof of an authentic faith, he is even close to the Catholic organic connection between faith and works (almost despite his sola fide error).

* * * * *

Pope Leo XIII used the term "separated brethren" in his 1896 encyclical Adiutricem:
No better way is afforded of proving a fraternal feeling toward their separated brethren than to aid them by every means within their power to recover this, the greatest of all gifts. (19)

For that reason We say that the Rosary is by far the best prayer by which to plead before her the cause of our separated brethren. (27)
. . . and again in his 1898 encyclical Caritatis Studium (On the Church in Scotland):
The ardent charity which renders Us solicitous of Our separated brethren, in no wise permits Us to cease Our efforts to bring back to the embrace of the Good Shepherd those whom manifold error causes to stand aloof from the one Fold of Christ. Day after day We deplore more deeply the unhappy lot of those who are deprived of the fullness of the Christian Faith.
Pope Pius XI also used the term in his 1926 encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae. In the same sentence he refers to Protestant "errors". Both/and . . . They are brothers in Christ by virtue of their baptism, but they lack fullness and teach many errors.

Pope Pius XII follows course in his 1939 encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, even while blasting liberal Protestants for denying the divinity of Christ. He used it again in another encyclical of the same year: Sertum Laetitiae.

Pope John XXIII wrote in his 1959 Christmas message:
Nor do We wish to forget Our separated brethren for whom Our prayers rise unceasingly to Heaven so that the promise of Christ may be fulfilled: one Shepherd and one flock.
There had long been a less strict interpretation of salvation outside the Church (along the same ecumenical lines later developed by Vatican II), taught by St. Augustine (hence his view that Donatist schismatics need not be re-baptized), St. Thomas Aquinas, and many others. See my papers:

Brief Overview of the Vexed "No Salvation Outside the Church" Issue

Dialogue on "Salvation Outside the Church" and Alleged Catholic Magisterial Contradictions (Particularly in the Middle Ages; With Emphasis on St. Thomas Aquinas's Views)

Dialogue: Does "Salvation Outside the Church" Disprove Catholic Claims (By Internal Contradiction)?

The Catholic Church's View of Non-Catholic Christians (Karl Adam)

On Salvation Outside the Catholic Church (+ Discussion) (Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.)

* * * * *

The person continued his criticisms (in blue, with my replies in black):

Why does he posit a middle position between two supposed "extremes" regarding a position on Luther?

Because, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn noted, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.

That makes no sense at all and he didn't comprehend my point.

That works both ways.

According to his new ecumenical, humanist approach, we should not condemn him with his errors,

Who ever said that, for heaven's sake? Two-thirds of the book is devoted to doing precisely this, in a vigorous manner unlike any other Catholic book on the topic in memory. I have the most extensive web page devoted to critiquing Luther from an orthodox Catholic perspective online today (I've never seen anything else remotely like it, speaking strictly in terms of its scope and comprehensiveness, from an apologetic Catholic perspective). It's easy to pillory straw men, but it would be nice if this person could portray my own opinions accurately. I doubt if he's even read the book (very few have!), but yet here he is blasting it without even knowing what he is talking about, or my long history of being condemned by anti-Catholic Protestants, Lutherans, and others, for being anti-Luther, not pro-Luther. Both positions are inaccurate, as explained.

expel him for his obstinate evil,

I don't think he was an evil man through and through, but a very flawed, mistaken, confused, sincere, passionate man. Yes, he was stubborn (like most of us), but whether this was outright obstinacy against what he knew to be true, no one can know for sure but God. I prefer to exercise the judgment of charity.

and hold him in universal contempt because he got some other things right.

Truth is truth, and insofar as non-Catholic Christians hold many Catholic truths, we should rejoice. Jesus was very happy with the Roman centurion, who wasn't even a practicing Jew, let alone a Christian. He said of him that He hadn't seen such faith in all of Israel.

Does he not see the psychological effect of his humanism?

I am no humanist, in the present-day definition. There is an acceptable historic Christian definition, applied to men like Erasmus and St. Thomas More. I would proudly accept that association.

We cannot say "he is an heretic, reject him, turn him over to Satan, cut off all communication" any longer,

He certainly was a heretic in any area where he disagreed with the Church. He was a heresiarch as well. I do my best to convince Lutherans and all other Protestants that they are in error and need to become Catholics, so as to have the fullness of truth and all the spiritual and theological benefits accruing from membership in the One True Church. I spend my time doing that virtually every day, as an apologist. I don't spend my time running down the Church and making out Protestants (or at least Martin Luther) to be evil, wicked, despicable creatures, fit only for destruction.

I can't please these "traditionalists" no matter what I do. They want to oppose the errors of Protestantism? Good heavens; arguably I do that as vigorously as any Catholic apologist alive today. I may not do a very good job, but at least I am out here giving it the old college try. I certainly have the "battle scars" to prove it! They will complain that someone needs to do that, yet they would much rather (if we observe how they choose to spend their time) bash the Catholic Church day in and day out. They won't (for the most part) engage in constructive Catholic apologetics and critique of non-Catholic belief-systems, and bash me when I do so, simply because I am also ecumenical, as all Christians ought to be. So I can't win for losing. I do far more than most of these people do, by way of defending Holy Mother Church; they won't do that; yet I get criticized.

I guess it is always the case that there will be many armchair quarterbacks, sitting on their butt criticizing what others are doing, while doing nothing or very little themselves, towards the end of persuading Protestants to become Catholics. If this person is doing so, I will take back these words, as related to him. He can easily direct me to some evidences that he is doing this. But as it is, I don't even know his name or anything about him (typical of the inane anonymous Internet culture that is rampant today).

we must carefully weigh both the good and the bad and come to a softer conclusion,

Just as our Lord Jesus did with the Roman centurion, St. Peter with the Gentile Cornelius, and St. Paul of unbelievers generally, in Romans 2 . . .

then suddenly his errors are held in a sort of equilibrium with his orthodox statements resulting in a much different psychological posture.

All I've said was that the man was sincere; he wasn't a self-consciously evil monster, and that he continued to hold many Catholic beliefs, or beliefs closely approaching same. But of course, he was heretical in many others, as I have documented and strongly critiqued: a thousand times more than this critic of mine will ever do in his entire lifetime. Several Lutherans have actually become Catholics, partially as a result of my work in this regard, so how far off can it be? How many Lutherans has this guy helped to convert?

If we were to take any arch-heretic from history and see how the Church reacted against them, since She considers the nature and essence of a thing, not merely it's accidental qualities, we will be implicitly informed as to how we should think. Take the example of the holy and ancient Fathers and their treatment of formal heretics. You won't find Mr. Armstrong's contrived "middle-of-the-road" position.

It's true that they were much harsher. But who's to say that the Church cannot understand a lot more in 15 more centuries about human motivations and psychology? Besides, the early heretics were not Christians. Protestants are a different story, because they are baptized, trinitarian Christians who share many things in common with us. So the analogy won't be perfect, when we are talking about Gnostics, Manichaeans, Arians, Monophysites, Sabellians, Nestorians, Monothelites, Marcionites, Montanists, etc.

And that is part of the problem today, the theoretical or speculative truth is assented to in the mind, but the praxis that flows from such knowledge is not also imitated.

I appeal to my apologetic career, as above. Who is this person to talk about Catholic behavior in terms of outreach to Protestants? I've done that consistently for 17 years: twelve of them online. I can point to hundreds of conversions, that give as part of their reason, my work. Where is his fruit? Yet he wants to judge me, with my record of vigilant apologetics, and being despised by all the active anti-Catholic apologists online as a "thanks" for my work? One can't help but see a great deal of humor in this.

The comment about Augustine's supposed "less strict" interpretation of EENS because he held that re-baptism was not necessary leaves me speechless.

He should go on to be "written-wordless" too; then he will have a better argument than he is presenting . . .

From the fact that re-baptism is not necessary it does not at all follow that salvation is found outside the Church.

I didn't say that salvation is found outside the Church. Of course it is not. I never claimed that it was. I've often affirmed this truth. It is a matter of how strictly one interprets the truth, which is what I stated, in the present context.

The issue of re-baptizing is not the result of a mere interpretation, admitting of lesser or greater degrees, but touches upon the nature of things as such and is universal dogmatic truth. The inference is also ignorant because he does not seem to be aware of Augustine's doctrine relating to the deprivation of sanctifying grace in sacraments administered outside the fold of the Church.

It was a limited analogy; I never claimed that St. Augustine would have held exactly the position of an ecumenist today. But it was a direction that was developed by other fathers and St. Thomas Aquinas. Karl Adam (in a portion of his writing I have on my site, listed above), took virtually the same position I espouse in 1924, in his wonderful book, The Spirit of Catholicism. This is not modernism, but solid Catholic teaching. But perhaps in my critic's eyes, Adam was a flaming liberal modernist, just as he (probably) thinks Pope John Paul the Great was, and as he seems to think I am.

All of this should provoke huge chuckles of glee and astonished guffaws in my many Protestant critics. I do enjoy the irony very much. I'm supposedly an "ultra-conservative, intolerant" old-fashioned, ultramontanist "Roman" Catholic and "liberal humanist, neo-Catholic" at the same time. I think it's marvelous. Opponents of the Catholic Church often simultaneously paint her in two contradictory, polar-opposite ways (as G. K. Chesterton noted at length in one of his books: Orthodoxy, if I'm not mistaken). I couldn't be more delighted that I am now subject to the same analysis.

To me, it is a strong confirmation that I am doing something right, that my critics so massively contradict each other. It's like those Three Stooges routines where the two bad guys are running around (with one arm absurdly in a suit coat or something) and keep butting heads and cancelling each other out. You gotta have some fun doing apologetics . . .

* * * * *

One of the owners of the board has made some marvelous comments over there, criticizing objectionable elements in a fellow "traditionalist's" (my critic's) ideas and approach (comment #69). This can only be a wonderful thing. Internal policing is what is gravely needed in these circles. Now, this person is someone I'd love to meet and have a beer with, and discuss important issues with, intelligently and cordially! Bravo! This makes my day:

His approach isn't "new," "ecumenical," or "humanist" in any bad sense of the word; it is Christian. We don't condemn people, we condemn error. We have no right to hold a person in "universal contempt," to pretend that a person is all bad or that we are all good, to act as Pharisees, and to disregard Truth simply because someone who's erred in other areas (as most of us do) speaks it.

We can definitely say someone is a manifest heretic (or a formal one, if he's been judged to be so by the Church), and we can protect ourselves from someone's evils, but we can't "turn him over to Satan," stop loving him, stop praying for him, and set ourselves as the all-good judgers of souls. It is precisely that sort of thing that some trads do that gives all trads a bad name.

Acknowledging any Truths Luther might have spoken doesn't necessarily lead to okaying worshiping in Lutheran "churches." And you will find "middle of the road" examples among the Fathers if, by "middle of the road" you mean recognizing Truth where it is spoken, no matter who speaks it.

* * * * *

Dave Armstrong simply adores anyone who agrees with him.

Note the sweeping intent of the characterization, implied in the present tense form and the use of "anyone." This is sheer nonsense. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite: I admire the person who can disagree constructive yet cordially (which is why I love true dialogues so much, as a socratic in methodology). I also admire one who has the courage to go against a person generally in or of his own party (like, e.g., they say about John McCain during this election season), for the sake of truth and what is right, and for the good of the other person as well. It is the nonconformity for the sake of truth, whatever the personal cost might be, that is admirable. That is what "made my day," not mere agreement, which would be a childish, egotistical thing. But I wouldn't have expected my critic to understand this; indeed, he did not in fact.

This comment reveals a stated prejudice against traditional catholics.

I don't see how, as it is quite common among "traditionalists" in my experience, to lament about the state of affairs in their own ranks (several statements along those lines were present in the very thread where my critic is writing). I'm only repeating what they themselves say. All it "reveals" is that I discovered a conscientious, "normal" "traditionalist" who doesn't have to engage in insult and knee-jerk thinking. All communities are in need of this kind of thing. It's only a matter of degree. I'd say the same about the apologetic sub-community. It needs policing and oversight, and I have done some of that myself.

Vox keeps a tight lid on those "objectionable elements" among that strange herd of people by "internal policing."

Sure didn't seem very tight in a recent scandalous incident . . .

He just can't seem to keep to the facts.

Of course.

If Vox and Dave can cite one work from any Father, Doctor or approved theologian that actually praises a formal heretic, then I'll concede the effort.

It's not required for me to prove my point, since I was only utilizing a loose, indirect analogy at best, not a perfect one. I could, however, easily produce many statements from the present Holy Father and the previous one, praising various Protestants (and I dare say that they are both "approved theologians": especially Pope Benedict XVI). That's so obvious that I don't even feel any particular need to take more of my time demonstrating it. Thus, by this fact, my opponent (if he admits the obvious) has conceded his point. Great. Now I can get back to my latest book and other pressing projects.

As it stands, since the object or end of such an endeavor is not really defined and I simply fail to see any possible good fruits that can come from such an endeavor, I'll stick to my opinions.

I think I'll faint with shock that my critic is unmoved.

* * * * *

Fish Eaters site owner "QuisUtDeus" produced an excellent patristic citation from St. Jerome that fufills what my critic was asking for, to the tee:
2. You tell me that many have been deceived by the mistaken teaching of Origen, and that that saintly man, my son Oceanus, is doing battle with their madness. I grieve to think that simple folk have been thrown off their balance, but I am rejoiced to know that one so learned as Oceanus is doing his best to set them right again. Moreover you ask me, insignificant though I am, for an opinion as to the advisability of reading Origen's works. Are we, you say, to reject him altogether with our brother Faustinus, or are we, as others tell us, to read him in part? My opinion is that we should sometimes read him for his learning just as we read Tertullian, Novatus, Arnobius, Apollinarius and some other church writers both Greek and Latin, and that we should select what is good and avoid what is bad in their writings according to the words of the Apostle, Prove all things: hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Those, however, who are led by some perversity in their dispositions to conceive for him too much fondness or too much aversion seem to me to lie under the curse of the Prophet:Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 For while the ability of his teaching must not lead us to embrace his wrong opinions, the wrongness of his opinions should not cause us altogether to reject the useful commentaries which he has published on the holy scriptures. But if his admirers and his detractors are bent on having a tug of war one against the other, and if, seeking no mean and observing no moderation, they must either approve or disapprove his works indiscriminately, I would choose rather to be a pious boor than a learned blasphemer. Our reverend brother, Tatian the deacon, heartily salutes you.

(Letter 62 to Tranquillinus; my emphases)
Quis observes (comment #75), contra my critic "Caminus":

I answered a specific question Caminus asked: "cite one work from any Father, Doctor or approved theologian that actually praises a formal heretic" . . .

Sounds like "middle-of-the-road" to me. St. Jerome was a Saint, a Doctor of the Church, and an expert (to say the least) on Scripture. Yet here he is saying there may be something profitable from reading heretics.

What about Plato and Aristotle? They were pagans. Should we hold them in universal contempt? St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas didn't think so.

Here's the deal - just because someone sins or does bad things doesn't mean they are incapable of the truth or should be ignored completely. What they say and write should be taken for what they say and write - some will be good, some will be evil.

Luther was clearly the scum of the earth. If anyone is to read anything by him, they should surely be cautious in the manner St. Jerome describes. But to say that Luther should be dismissed out-of-hand because he was a formal heretic is Caminus' opinion and is certainly not the way the Doctors of the Church and the historical Church operates.

Caminus, undaunted and unaware that his challenge was abundantly met, continues on:

. . . there is no parity between Origen who was actually a learned man who gave a great many good commentaries and Luther who was a festering heretic who simply affirmed some things that were already a doctrine of the Church. Writing a book to praise a formally condemned heretic is a far different scenario than the wise St. Jerome using the works of Origen to further understand the Scriptures.

Of course, I didn't write my book solely or even primarily "to praise a formally condemned heretic." What I did was devote the first two-thirds of it to a blistering critique, and the last third to an ecumenical acknowledgment of some common ground between Luther, Lutherans, and Catholics. What's true is true (it can't be stated often enough). Claiming something isn't true or less true depending on who states it is the genetic fallacy.

Anyone at Fish Eaters who wants to read my book and see for themselves whether I soft-pedalled Luther's many heresies can have it for free in Word or PDF format. All they need to do is write to me and I'll send them a copy. Or they can simply read some of my many critical papers on my Luther and Lutheranism web page.

* * * * *

Quis continues (comment #84):

You asked for an example of a Doctor of the Church praising a formal heretic, and I gave you one. Are you going to qualify it now because someone came up with one?

Well, here is a problem with the way you frame that. St. Jerome despised Origen as a heretic and wrote tons against him; so the scenario isn't all that different. Yet St. Jerome still says that we shouldn't throw away Origen on account of his errors. [cites St. Jerome's Letter 84 to Pammachius and Oceanus]

I don't know what Armstrong has in that book, and I really doubt I would agree with it, but your argument is more alarming to me especially when you use the Fathers and the Doctors to make your point even though they have said the opposite of what you propose.

The Fathers and Doctors, being of good-will, education, piety, and a desire for the truth didn't throw away someone's writings wholesale, nor the writer, even though they vehemently disagreed with them. You suggest they threw every heretic and every heretical writing to the fires of hell without compromise or admitting the heretics had qualities, but that isn't the case at all.

No comments: