Because of Martin Luther, the Council of Trent and My Husband

When my husband and I were engaged 18 years ago, we had a conversation about where we would marry. Both of us had been raised Catholic and had become inconsistent in our practice of the faith. “What about the Lutheran Church?” I asked Greg. “It’s exactly like Catholicism except women can be ministers and the ministers can marry.”

 My husband, whose father was raised Lutheran, then explained to me that all Martin Luther’s objections to the institutional problems in the Church had been answered. Besides which, he told me, only Catholics understand that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ.

After more discussion, we decided to marry in the Catholic Church. At the time, we had very few Catholic friends and so our wedding program included a guide to the liturgy so they could follow along. These days, friends of mine who are Protestant sometimes mention the Catholic Church’s centuries-old abuses, including the selling of indulgences, to justify their pursuit of a particular Protestant denomination. I shun religious debates, so I tend to keep my mouth shut.

But as my faith has grown through the years, I have come to understand the Church in all Her wisdom. Former Catholic priest and theologian Martin Luther objected publicly to institutional abuses within the Church, in particular the selling of indulgences by Dominican preacher Johann Tetzel. Luther appealed in 1518 for a general council. The Church finally responded with the ecumenical Council of Trent, held in 25 sessions between 1545 – the year before Luther died – and 1563.

“The Ecumenical Council of Trent has proved to be of the greatest importance for the development of the inner life of the Church. No council has ever had to accomplish its task under more serious difficulties, none has had so many questions of the greatest importance to decide. The assembly proved to the world that notwithstanding repeated apostasy in church life, there still existed in it an abundance of religious force and of loyal championship of the unchanging principles of Christianity.”

I consider Martin Luther a brave but misguided man who wasn’t patient enough to wait for the Church, through the Holy Spirit, to correct the errors of men. He inadvertently prompted the Counter-Reformation, an age which, The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, “was one of the greatest for theology the world has ever known.” Among the fruits of the Counter Reformation are the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis de Sales and the music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. And so I’m grateful to Martin Luther, the Council of Trent, and my wise husband, for my marriage in the Church 17 years ago and for keeping me connected to Christ.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post and a beautiful picture. I love to hear conversion stories…in this case from inconsistent practice of the Faith to a marvelous witness through your blog. Please continue your inspiring work. Thank you.

  • kkollwitz

    "a brave but misguided man who wasn't patient enough to wait for the Church"I'm reminded of Galileo.

  • practicalcatholic

    Great post, I love conversion stories and have recently been reading the council of Trent and thinking about the theology of Luther. He was a very Catholic theologian, but in the end he was impatient.In my conversion process (which I'm still in) I have seen Luther, and understand why he was wrong.All in all, thanks for sharing, I appreciate your posts and hope to keep reading.

  • Frank

    I too was married in the Church, and am so glad I married a Catholic girl, even if I was a stiff-necked non-Catholic Christian for over 18 years afterwards (before I finally saw the light).

  • Allison

    Thanks for reading, folks. I read someplace that lapsed Catholics are the second largest religious group in the U.S., after practicing Catholics. Don't know if that is true, but my own experience with friends bears that out.Blessings to all and thank you for stopping by!

  • Nauseated Catholic

    I don't understand why some people think this is a "great post." It gives an extremely superficial reading of the Reformation, and the author also fails in any way to explain why she finds Martin Luther to be misguided. Wasn't it the Roman church that was misguided? The fact that the church then did respond to Luther's critiques–and some of its responses have been as late as Vatican II–does not demonstrate that he was "impatient." Without him, these changes may have never come about. Read some history, and from an unbiased source.

  • Allison

    Dear Nauseated Catholic: Thanks for stopping by. I consider Martin Luther a misguided person for a number of reasons. Here are a few top reasons. 1/ his decision to lop off whole sections of the Bible. He wanted to lop off more than he did because the books did not fit his views. 2/ his virulent anti-Semitism "had a significant influence on German antisemitism by his harsh anti-Jewish statements and writings…In his later years, Luther became strongly anti-semitic, writing that Jewish homes should be destroyed, their synagogues burned, money confiscated and liberty curtailed." (wikipedia) 3/ his decision to supplant church authorities with German princes. 4/ His renunciation of the authority of the Church.No, the Church was not misguided; it is guided by the Holy Spirit. Some humans within the Church were misguided. Some continue to be. That does not repudiate the mystical Body of Christ.To be a Catholic is to take a long view. Luther did not. I am grateful he prompted the Council of Trent. I feel saddened we are not in full Communion with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.Peace to you.

  • Anonymous

    I enjoyed reading your article, but are you not somewhat misleading when you say that "…he objected to the selling of indulgences by…Johann Tetzel." Luther publically debated with Tetzel on the practice of selling indulgences, but it was not only Tetzel who sold indulgences. It was a common practice throughout Catholic communities, encouraged by Rome herself in order to raise money for the glory of the Church. Luther did not really want to leave the Church. He only wanted the Church to see some of the problems within, that others, such as Erasmus, saw. He saw that the Church had become more and more political, but he was not willing to work within the framework of the Church to effect needed change. Instead, he charged forward demanding immediate change, and the result was the Protestant Reformation, which had already been agitating in the decades before Luther.Peace!

  • Judith

    Friend, it bothers me that someone who obviously has not read Luther, only about him, from some unknown source(s), dismisses him so blithely. His original intention was not to divide the church but to reform it in accordance with Scripture. It was not his impatience but the refusal of the Curia to abide criticism at the time that led to his excommunication and the split. But much has changed since then, especially in this past century.Did you know that the Lutherans and Roman Catholics signed an agreement 10 years ago on Justification that details how the Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic churches agree on the basics of our faith? Yes, OUR faith. Pope John Paul II, in honor of the occasion, preached in a Lutheran church in Rome.I am a Lutheran pastor, married to a Roman Catholic husband and am active in his parish. Our churches' teachings are not as far apart as you indicate.

  • Howard

    I am by no means so enamored of Luther. Even while I was still a Protestant, I wondering both how Martin Luther thought that *HE* had the authority to determine which books belong in the canon of Scripture and also why Protestants accept his decisions, not merely without question, but without thought. I did not at the time accept the argument for the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, but at least it was an ARGUMENT, not merely an arrogant assumption. This pride caused Luther to make other theological mistakes, notably in his sacramental theology. In the end, it caused him to die outside the Church.Luther was not a faithful but prophetic Catholic, he was a heretic.

  • Frank

    Keep in mind that this post is Allison's personal story. All of the minute details that she has omitted need not be cause for concern. As the words of Blessed John Henry Newman (on our sidebar) calmly state,“I mean to be simply personal and historical: I am not expounding Catholic doctrine, I am doing no more than explaining myself, and my opinions and actions.” (John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua).What cannot be denied in Luther's case is his wholesale chucking of books out of the Bible. Can you even imagine taking a sissors to the Bible today, or anytime for that matter? This is Allison's personal story, and it will differ from yours or mine. The salient point, to me anyway, is that Allison, and her husband, stayed on the boat…Martin Luther didn't.For heavy-duty apologetics on Luther and his reforms, head on over to Catholic Answers, or research the volumes available on our YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

  • Jacob S

    "His original intention was not to divide the church but to reform it in accordance with Scripture." Perhaps, but look at history man. His intentions changed.I've read both what he's written and what's been written about him, and I have to admit that he had some good ideas. But he also had some rather bad ones, such as cutting out sections of the bible, rejecting the authority of the Church, and inventing sola fide and, in the process, taking his own personal interpretation of scripture above that of the universal Church. There was bad crap going on, yes. Luther saw the bad crap, but rather than simply trying to fight the bad practices of men, he attacked the Truth revealed by the Holy Spirit and began the process that shattered Christian unity into 30,000 odd pieces (up from, say, two.) Not. Cool.

  • Howard

    I'll concede that Luther was a much better hymn-writer than the typical Catholics of the past 40 years.

  • Frank

    Where St. Alfonso Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church, writes of Martin Luther,Come and see.

  • minionofthepope

    Love this post! Re-verts are so much different than converts. They don't seem to have so much of an urge to argue! I should know. I am a convert, somewhat prone to stating my case with italics.tom in ohio

  • Allison

    @minionofthepope: (Love your "handle") Thanks for stopping by and commenting. We enjoy our lively conversations here….

  • SolarWinds63

    I will try and look at Martin Luther in a psycho analytical way. I am not a trained psychoanalysis but have had extended psychology courses while in college. 1: It is known Luther was a battered child bu his mother and most likely his father.2: His father was not happy with him.3: He was startled by a storm and could have become paranoid.4: He sought forgiveness and could not seem to find it.5: He was obsessive.6: He became a well versed author.7: He became hate full and avenge full. 8: He not only attacked the Mother Church but the German peasantry.9: He earned money and fame from his writings and received favor from rich barons.10: He created from his protest his own religious doctrine, and became famous at the expense of the RCC and Christianity as a whole. As you can see where his own personal destructiveness derived from. His child hood from beatings to the deaths of his siblings to the dissaproval of his father. His ever seeking forgiveness that he could not get from his parents or GOD as he thought. His attention and hatred of his new family grew and grew towards the RCC. As a rebellious young boy at the dissisfactory of the actions of the RCC. Not understanding the reasons and visions the people of the 15th century had as to selling indulgences. As some do today. People purchased indulgenced because it was hope for them and thats why the purchased them. The money did go to the Church and the Church used the money to sustain its high expenses. They were food, building, teachings, coal, gold, repairs, etc. I'm sure it's very expensive to maintain a church and keep the people coming.Luther knew the one thing that would hurt the church and thats in the collection of donations, by indulgences. Even today people accuse the RCC as being the richest entity on earth. With out the RCC wealth and power would Christianity be as reverent as it is today?As Luther accused the Church he gained fame and wealth by his letters and writings of the bad things the Church was doing. Why not go against the land owners keeping millions of people in poverty?His protectors and persistence got him a meeting at Trent.Not only was he mad at life, GOD, the church, Bible. He was mad at the world. Because he must have known the consequences and the fallout he was causing. Even 80 years later the Muslims almost conquered Europe 9/11 1638 where the Pope at that time had to beg for help and raise an army to defeat and push back the Turks, 150,000 +/- strong.Not only did he try and shred the RCC but succeed in shredding the Holy Bible, and destroying RCC churches all around Europe. Going against the peasantry that led to thousands of deaths, that they had supported him.As the King of england defected from the Church for personnel reasons, like divorce and not donating to the RCC. Luther in his depression attack the good RCC Church as well.I cant see people following his ideology. He was hate full, resentful, and verbally abusive as many RCC protesters, reformers, accusers, etc. are today. GOD Bless you.

  • Allison

    @John: I appreciate your reading and taking the time to respond to my post. I am not a student of church history, so I cannot confirm what you are saying here. Do any other readers have background in this? You certainly have given us something to think about.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Allison -I do indeed salute your zeal – and I admire your heart's inclination to follow the Holy Spirit. That is an admirable openness to your conscience.But shall we give Luther his due? He did not separate from the church. It was the church who excommunicated him because he refused to recant. In that refusal he was later vindicated on many matters which later Trent reversed.So what? Would you have him defer to the Holy Curia to the damage of his own conscience? (and parenthetically, a conscience which had the agreement of 100's of the best then-living scholars) How many Roman Catholics have just signed the Manhattan declaration?Judgment may perhaps need to be deferred until That Day.Best Regards.Henry

  • Allison

    @Henry: Actually, the Church does not follow Luther's lead in throwing out whole books of the Bible. And the Church dogma is that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ Himself. I had never heard of the Manhattan Declaration since you mentioned it and I did google it. It is hard to tell from your post if you like or don't like the Manhattan Declaration. This blog doesn't "do"politics and, as you can see from my ignorance about the Manhattan Declaration, I certainly don't.This post was about some personal insights and decisions my husband and I had before we were married. I am not a scholar or a politician. God be with you.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful story! God Bless!

  • Allison

    It's our story and I am glad you find it wonderful. We have been married 17 years now.

  • Anonymous

    I love your story. It's very touching! I have recently made the decision the convert. It's a very exciting time in my life. God bless you!