Reformation Day and Schism

That’s the title of my latest column on the Catholic Thing. Here’s how it begins:

Sunday, October 31, is Reformation Day. It marks 493 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to that famous door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The Augustinian monk set in motion a sequence of events that reverberated through Western Christendom and continues to mark and separate us today.

Since returning to the Catholic Church in late April 2007,  Reformation Day has taken on a different meaning than it did when I stood on the other side of the Tiber. Nevertheless, even as a Protestant, my enthusiasm for October 31 never rose higher than modest appreciation for what I thought were Luther’s, and later Calvin’s, significant contributions in helping Western Christians to retrieve what had been lost. I say “modest appreciation,” since it always seemed to me rather unseemly to get too excited about schism and mutual charges of apostasy and heresy.   It would be like celebrating the 10th anniversary of your divorce.  You may think that the divorce was a good idea, but not because you think divorce itself is the proper end of a marriage.

Luther himself, though excommunicated by the Catholic Church, never saw his movement as anything more than a renewal movement within the Church.  We, of course, know now that the movement he started had a life of its own, resulting in scores of different and often conflicting understandings of Scripture, sacrament, and Church, and each finding something of Christianity’s traditions to challenge.

But in order to arrive at this present state of theological diversity and ecclesial fragmentation, you needed more Luthers, of which there has been an endless supply.  His success made Luther a towering example to emulate.  Combine that with an ever diminishing memory of a unified Western Christianity, along with the spirit of the Enlightenment—that detachment from familial, ecclesial, and cultural traditions is the beginning of reason—and schism then becomes a sort of secular sacrament. Although Luther argued that justification is by “faith alone,” it is clear that he did not anticipate or support the modern idea that Church is by “the faithful alone.”

Continue reading here.

  • joseph

    The tiresome attempts of claiming Roman Catholic supremacy as it is compared to the Protestant Reformation mostly lost on the sincere saints in the pew of either faith expression today. While it is interesting to those making reference to its historical details and/or significance, the underlying posturing of superiority runs counter to Jesus’ topsy-turvy admonition to His followers (Matt 20:24-26; Mark 10:41-43; Luke 22:24-26). And to claim that there were no un-Catholic true believers living out their faith during the first 1500 years of the Church simply untenable. The same holds true today. If the RCC can claim that God only grants grace, saving faith, revelation, insight, inspiration, direction, assurance, sanctification, anointing, sacraments, forgiveness, etc. to those that accept+practice RCC doctrine+worship expression, then I could understand their religious concern. However, if the RCC indeed recognizes God’s workings in those saints that do not believe & practice their Christian faith according to the RCC’s jot-and-tittle, then God must not be as concerned about any perceived schism. And really, how can the RCC quantify that they alone possess the ‘fullness’ of Christian faith & all related spiritual dynamics that are by definition incorporeal? It cannot. If dear saints that were never in Rome in the first place are living out their faith with God’s obvious blessings, why is there any need to make a move toward it now? Instead of making such attempts maybe the actual attitude of all Christians should be that of the Apostle Paul as recorded in his epistle 1Cor 1:30-31; It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Amen.

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