What good is Luther?


#1

From some of the other threads I started, I realized that I don’t have many intellectual questions left about catholocism, but I did realize I have some psychological baggage.

So that leads me to this question: How does the Catholic church look at Luther? When I read about his life and some of the other ‘heretics’ of that age, I have a deep respect for them. To just dismiss them as heretics seems almost painful.

I have also seen some of the apologetics sites with articles connecting Luther to Hitler. I can’t think of a worse apologetic approach. No protestant is going to come to Rome by being attacked like that.

I know that the catechism accepts that protestant churches do have a measure of grace and that they do do a work for God in this world. I think that as we all look to Christ we will be united, and that may mean many Protestants coming to the catholic church, and the catholic church changing in some ways. (I’m not sayiing the RCC ought to change, only that as believers come to it, they will add to it) .

So now, if I became Catholic, would I have to stop liking M. Luther? That would be like moving to England and having to start thinking of George Washiington as a Traitor. Do you see the difficulty I’m having:ehh:

-Justin


#2

I don’t think you have to start hating Luther, and comparisons to Hitler are way off.

However, if you are to become Catholic you have to recognize that he made some errors in theology (salvation by faith alone, consubstantiation, declaring certain books non-canonical etc.)

I think you can view his intentions as being good, in wanting to reform the Church. But, he went too far, made theological errors, and got too caught up in the anti-Imperial politics of the Princes who protected him.

It is interesting to copmare him to Erasmus, who was very critical of the Church, but tried to reform it internally, and never separated.

Good Luck and God Bless on your journey.


#3

As with any religious historical figure and fellow child of God, you have the absolute right to have affection for Martin Luther for the good you see in him and the grace God bestowed on him during his life.

To disregard him or reject the very thought of him is not necessary for a Catholic. He is an important figure. He said some good things and was in error about others. It would be your responsibility as a Catholic to understand where Luther went wrong.

This is not unlike many Catholic converts who still hold a high regard for Billy Graham. He’s a great guy. Really he is. By God’s grace he has done many wonderful things for the kingdom and has brought a great many people to know Jesus Christ. One needn’t ignore the good he has accomplished in Christ.

My husband is a convert and still holds much admiration and even affection for several people who influenced his faith as a young man, while he was still a Protestant. A few of these people have disowned him as a fellow Christian since his conversion years ago, but in true charity and thanksgiving my husband still holds these people as valuable markers on his journey of faith. Without them, he would not be who he is or where he is today.

One word to the wise. . .if you find yourself drawn to read the writings of Luther, try to balance that influence with some sound Catholic writings as well! Emotional and psychological attachments are hard to break. It makes me think of Christ’s words in Luke 14: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

Even our deepest attachments should always be superceded by our attachment to Christ. If Christ is calling you to Catholicism, no appreciation of Martin Luther should pose an obstacle. God Bless!


#4

All historical figures from any particular period of history have elements both of good and of bad, and it’s generally possible from a historical distance to look at them objectively. Our constant temptation is to judge history in the light of our own times and our own experiences, rather than viewing them as figures reflecting the ideas of their own times.

No doubt if Luther were transported via time machine to the present age, he would have many criticisms of our own times, even of present day Lutherans, but judging us of course, from the perspective of his own times.

I’m not all that familiar with Luther; but I think the reformation in England, for example, worked itself out in some bad historical consequences, all resulting from the lusts of one man. Henry didn’t want a new church; he just wanted his own way. But don’t we all?

The Church is always in need of reformation, and God always sends reformers. The best ones, like Catherine of Siena or Francis of Assisi, (whose command from God was “rebuild my Church),” succeed not by starting new churches, but by rooting out corruption from within.


#5

Though I disagree strongly with Luther, I can understand (not excuse) his actions. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to call him a heretic. Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines the word:

Heretic
1 : a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially : a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth
2 : one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine

So, just calling somebody a “heretic” doesn’t necessary mean dismissing or calling the person “wicked devil”.


#6

Sex was an element, but many if not most Catholic kings had mistresses without starting up their own churches.

In the sixteenth century governments acquired the ability to centralise their administrations, and kings became much more powerful than they had been. The Church was a competitor for political influence, and was eased out. In Germany this was accomplished by a theological revolution, in England by a grab for church wealth and a renaming, whilst leaving most of the doctrines intact, and in Spain by co-option of the Church to become almost an instrument of state power.

Men make history, but in circumstances not of their choosing.


#7

Hello Justin,

As a good Catholic or any good Christian, we need to love others. While I don’t like Luther’s ideas, I just need to pray for him and those follow his ideas.

So, If you became Catholic, I am sure you wanted to have faith in the Church and follow the Church’s teachings; I don’t think you would follow Luther’s (the wrong ones), but this doesn’t mean you have to stop liking/loving/praying for him - that’s is what Jesus taught - love your neighbor.


#8

Very well put…i actually admire most of the reformers for their individual courage , considering the fact that they were prepared to pay the ultimate price for what they believed. I often wonder if Luther isn’t in heaven right now…together with the few[thankfully] popes who led rather ‘interesting’ lives. Such a pity then that we catholics think that this courageous man erred in a number of his theological reforms. Had the church at the time been less powerful then Luther may have even died a catholic ?! Had he been alive today he would no doubt be extremely saddened to see the bizarre proliferation of thousands of different denominations world-wide:mad: :mad: :mad: …some who are starting to resemble cults ?! I will always pray that one day the mainstream churches will unite , and become one as we were in 1516.:slight_smile:


#9

I believe that Luther was called by God to bring attention to some of the abuses that were taking place within the Church. Unfortunately a couple of things happened.

First, those in power didn’t want to admit that abuse was taking place and second, Luther took the wrong approach (criticized indulgences instead of criticizing the selling of them, for example.)

It’s too bad all of the local politics, combined with Luther’s ego, got in the way and caused the split that neither Luther nor Rome wanted.

Eventually, the Council of Trent answered any of the legitimate charges Luther made and then reformed the Chruch from the inside.


#10

[quote=AlmostCatholic]From some of the other threads I started, I realized that I don’t have many intellectual questions left about catholocism, but I did realize I have some psychological baggage.
[/quote]

And hence you have zoned in on Luther who also had some psychological baggage? We know that he was brutally beaten by his father as a child and entered the monastery to – in his own words – save his life. He loved the monastery, felt safe there, even loved visiting the Vatican; he also became such a brilliant Biblical scholar that he rose rapidly in the ranks of the Church.

It is my perception:

a) that the Wittenburg Plague shocked him into a kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder relapse and he began a downward spiral of suspicion, alienation from community, and scrupulous self-mutilation. Oh, he had a majorly disordered trust, I think.

b) many non-Catholics do not reject the reasoning behind all Church teachings; they reject the reasoning behind teachings which point to trusting the Church.

I wonder if, for Luther, all his “Alone” theories could actually be summed up in “Trust Alone” as something he felt he could not or would not do.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]To just dismiss them as heretics seems almost painful.
[/quote]

The great heresies were profoundly instructive on what goes on in the human soul in the search for God. Understand the heretics, but also understand that their heresies are still profound errors.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]I have also seen some of the apologetics sites with articles connecting Luther to Hitler. I can’t think of a worse apologetic approach. No protestant is going to come to Rome by being attacked like that.
[/quote]

Um… Hitler’s philosophies were not exclusively about death camps, although the death camps were certainly morally repugnant. The comparison of Luther and Hitler is a questionable apologetic approach not because it lacks validity but because it attempts to tackle advanced questions without ensuring that a firm foundation in the basics is in place.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]So now, if I became Catholic, would I have to stop liking M. Luther?
[/quote]

Understand Luther. Understand the heresies. For that matter understand Hitler. And understand the destruction wrought to families of those lost as a result of Hitler’s disordered thinking.

That would be like moving to England and having to start thinking of George Washiington as a Traitor.

Not necessarily.

Do you see the difficulty I’m having.

Here’s what I see in others. You do the math.

It is extraordinarily difficult (humbling) to change focus from what one thinks are advanced discussions in order to learn the basics.

It is also extraordinarily difficult (humbling) to change focus from theorizing about religious questions in order to actually deal with one’s own personal darknesses and barriers against trust.

What goes hand in hand with those difficulties is that Protestantism offers a kind of status based on the notion that the individual is the interpreter, the arbiter.

But that ‘power’ distracts from the powerlessness of unresolved trust issues.

Catholicism offers no status in the world nor any distraction from powerlessness in the world.

Even a solid knowledge of Scripture and of Holy Tradition and of Magisterial Teaching and Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic and Latin and so on gets you zero status and zero distraction from vulnerability in the Catholic Church.

Catholicism is truly a persecuted religion in our society. Moreover we have many rebels within the Church.

St Francis of Assisi said:

… [FONT=Arial]O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.[/FONT]

(emphasis mine) Being Catholic in many ways is the death of the ego (for some folks a very slow death). It is truly a humbling experience to be Catholic. But witness the utter humility demonstrated by Jesus in the Stations of the Cross. Compassion is our sharing – if you will – in the Passion of Jesus. Which means we get to be overlooked, misunderstood, misrepresented, and victimized with Him; hence the prefix ‘com’.

We get to suffer. No skipping right to the Glory part. Jesus didn’t skip to the Glory part. Jesus asks us to follow him. Not skip the Cross and meet him at the Glory part.


#11

Hi Almost__,

You can’t let go of your admiration for Luther, and I can’t let go of my repulsion. I can’t help thinking of him as a defrocked monk who ran off with a nun. My problem is real. Yours is fictional. If you admire in him the good things that he did, then I don’t see why you should stop admiring him. But from now on, you should try to feed on Catholic thought, like the writings of the Fathers and of the thousands of saints who never failed in their dedication to God.

Verbum


#12

Well, I am going to put myself out on a limb here. (not a very high one as it will probably be chopped off soon)

From what I have been reading about the life of Luther, in my non-professional opinion, it appears that he may have been bipolar.
It seems as though as a monk, he procrasticated in doing the writings that he had been commissioned to do, that he got very far behind in his work. He then went into his cell and worked for days on end fasting and flaggellating himself. It is also said that he had extreme scrupulosity and never could find peace in his soul.

Thoughts?


#13

Why have you touched on bipolar? Ah! Is it because he procrastinated and then had frenetic spells of manic activity?

But whether you think that he had bipolar disorder or PTSD, you are of the view that he had at least disordered thinking if not full-blown mental illness? Which to some extent determined his theories, his distancing from the Church, and his overtures to ambitious nationalist secular elements?

By the way, when I focus on the possible causes of Luther’s disordered thinking I genuinely do not mean to dismiss his theories merely on the basis of an ad hominem attack against his person. His theories can be proven to be disordered quite apart from whether or not he himself was suffering from mental illness.

The consideration of mental illness serves to deepen our understanding of where these theories came from. Let us remember that before his ‘decline’ into what we can all agree was at the very least scrupulosity, he was a brilliant Biblical scholar, a senior and very responsible cleric and, before the Wittenburg Plague quite extraordinarily happy in the Church.

Also, even if a change in belief were a natural flow from his former beliefs – and they were not, they were a break from his former beliefs – why was his new demeanor so agressive and offputting? I mean he even managed to offend Henry Tudor – a potentially powerful ally! Waddupwidat?


#14

That is very interesting. It may certainly be true and I would have no qulams about it. Many of histories big names seem to have bipolar symptoms, like Beethoven and Van Gogh and Meriwether Lewis from the Lewis and Clark expedition. It didn’t stop their greatness though.

I realize that all I know about Luther comes from Protestant teachers. So I don’t know what to trust in my knowledge. Does anyone know of some good resources that cover the history and the issues in a fair way?

I think the statements in here have been good. There is a struggle of God’s grace and Man’s willfullness in pretty much every interesting historical figure. I think it would be a mistake to just write him off as a lustful monk as much as it is a mistake to over-esteem him. There seems to be a tendency to try to group people in history as either good guys guys or bad guys, but it isn’t that straightforward. We are all a complex blend of the Divine and the Devil. (Granted that there are those who are much more one than the other.)

I have another question to the historians out there. I have seen a general consensus of catholics say that Luther was right in that the church at the time needed to be reformed. But they say that he should not have done so by leaving the church. Now, what I’m wondering is, could he have done any different in that time period?
He was told to recant his works and he refused to. He said, he could not do otherwise. he was excommunicated for not recanting, and he had to go into hididng to avoid the burning that many other heretics faced. How could Luther have reformed the church in this kind of obstinant domination? The church did change after that, but arguably that was a response to the thousands of people leaving the church to the reformed churches. It seems like the split was needed at that time period. God does sometimes preserve his people through disunity, such as the split of Israel and Judea.

I think an important issue to note though, is that if we as protestants and as catholics are searching for Christ we will reunite. Peter Kreeft talked about this in a podcast on Ecumenism which I would highly recomend. You can download it at Peterkreeft.com. When protestants realize how Christocentric the catholic church is, we will return to it.

-Justin


#15
 Because I am a nurse, I am always looking for clues to what is really going on with a patient. I cannot make a medical diagnosis but can make a nursing diagnosis which leads us to try to meet the physical and emotional needs of patients.

 So when I was trying to figure out why Luther did not accept all the books of the Bible, I began to read a bit about him. It immediately struck me that at times he was hostile, arogant, and displayed some passive-aggressive behavior. And then at times, he was introspective,self-hating and manic in his behavior. So, "bipolar" was what immediately came to mind. But  PTSD is certainly a possibility.
Like I said, I cannot make a medical diagnosis, but I think some medication and some TLC and history might have been different!

#16

A few hundred years and what we learned from Nam might certainly have steered history clear of the Reformation.

Are you aware that Luther entered the monastery in his own words to save his life? He had been brutally beaten by his father. Luther liked the monastery. Felt safe, happy. In that environment he excelled, became a brilliant Biblical scholar, and soon fast-tracked up the Church hierarchy. He even visited the Vatican and reported no grudges at that time.

After the Wittenburg Plague, however, his behaviour changed dramatically. I believe he had a relapse brought on by a disordered sense of responsibility (disfunctional adaptive child) learned at the hands of a violent and manipulative father. He literally could not distinguish between then (pre-monastery) and now (Wittenburg).

The Church became a symbol for the father’s hand reaching across the long years of Luther’s maturation and annihilating the freedom he had experienced during those years. Benign authority (the Church) became confused with maligant power (the father).


#17

[quote=AlmostCatholic]Does anyone know of some good resources that cover the history and the issues in a fair way?
[/quote]

New Advent. It’s on line.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]I think it would be a mistake to just write him off as a lustful monk as much as it is a mistake to over-esteem him.
[/quote]

I agree.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]We are all a complex blend of the Divine and the Devil.
[/quote]

That internal conflict certainly seems exacerbated in great men and women.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]I have another question to the historians out there. I have seen a general consensus of catholics say that Luther was right in that the church at the time needed to be reformed.
[/quote]

As was Erasmus, a far weaker man. But God uses weak men, prefers them to the powerful which Luther certainly was.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]But they say that he should not have done so by leaving the church.
[/quote]

Exactly. That was the root error. Going it alone. Giving in to scrupolosity. Turning to himself for counsel.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]Now, what I’m wondering is, could he have done any different in that time period?
[/quote]

With his family history and the lack of knowledge about PTSD, very unlikely. But you never know.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]He was told to recant his works and he refused to. He said, he could not do otherwise. he was excommunicated for not recanting, and he had to go into hididng to avoid the burning that many other heretics faced.
[/quote]

Um… no. He didn’t go into hiding. He partied with nationalistic knight/princes.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]How could Luther have reformed the church in this kind of obstinant domination?
[/quote]

By having some manners to start. His manners were atrocious.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]The church did change after that, but arguably that was a response to the thousands of people leaving the church to the reformed churches.
[/quote]

Could be that Erasmus had something to say about that.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]It seems like the split was needed at that time period.
[/quote]

The split was a battle casualty.

[quote=AlmostCatholic]God does sometimes preserve his people through disunity, such as the split of Israel and Judea.
[/quote]

God uses what is there. That is why we must be careful about what we put there. Why did Moses take 40 years to get to the Land of Milk and Honey and then never get to enter? What he put there for God to work with.

The Reformation happened. Luther did that. God didn’t. God worked with what Luther – a senior Catholic cleric – put there.


#18

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