This little controversy of sorts came up again after I posted my paper, “The Strong Enthusiasm For Astrology of Early Lutheran Leader Philip Melanchthon”. Though I have written about this time and again, every once in a while it is good to reiterate my reasonings and motivation in such papers.
A traditional Anglican, “St. Worm” (not an anti-Catholic himself) asked me some questions and I answered in the comments section of my blog. His words will be in blue. The first part of my response is directly related to the Melanchthon paper; then I deal more generally with the topic.
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Sehr interessant! Ich das nicht gekannt! [“Very interesting! I didn’t know that!”]
I think it’s a relatively minor offense given that the Middle Ages was no stranger to superstition. Man, only if my vices could rise to the dignity of such fluff as astrology interpreted through the lens of divine providence!
I find it fascinating that astrology is interpreted as being “okay” and fine and dandy (either completely or relatively) by some Protestants if the word “Providence” is simply attached to it (making it supposedly “Christian astrology”). It’s either wrong or it isn’t. I would say that it is condemned by the Bible along with all the other occult so-called “sciences.” Period. It’s inconsistent with biblical Christianity: with both Protestantism and Catholicism.
Yet when it comes to something like the Mass and transubstantiation (here I go with one of my typical analogies that came to mind) the same Protestants will condemn that absolutely as idolatry when it clearly is not: the Catholic is worshiping Jesus Christ our great God and Savior. He is not worshiping a piece of bread. Worship is an interior thing; it has to do with what one believes in one’s heart.
Idolatry is the same. Even (hypothetically) if the consecrated bread remains bread and transubstantiation is a bunch of hooey, it’s still not idolatry because the Catholic is not deliberately intending to worship bread and pretending that is a god other than the one God. The very word transubstantiation means “change of substance” so obviously we no longer believe bread and wine are there: they have transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
I don’t know why that is so hard for some Protestants to comprehend. Apparently they have not thought much about what idolatry is, and what the Bible teaches about it.
Yet when it comes to something like Melanchthon’s espousal of a thing roundly condemned by the Bible and the Fathers; regarded by Luther as idolatry and by Calvin as “satanic delusion,” that’s fine, because, you see, it is “Christian” astrology, making it kosher.
And, by the way, I am not responding to Worm in particular (though it may be that he falls into some of this same thinking); I’m making general observations based on what I have seen.
As for Melanchthon’s “complexity”: yes, he sure was: a mild-mannered humanist who was too much of a wimp to even stand up to his friend Luther, yet who was in favor of killing peaceful Anabaptists, those who rejected the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (the very belief that he himself later came to hold!), and those who held that some heathen might be saved. He described the Calvin-instigated burning of Michael Servetus as “‘a pious and memorable example to all posterity.”
A very complex man indeed: and typical of the first generation of Protestants: not exactly renowned for their exceptional holiness, doctrinal orthodoxy or religious toleration . . .
Hey; all I’m trying to do is to show the true nature of these “reformer’s” beliefs, in all of their flying colors. Truth is always more interesting than pseudo-hagiography and myths of origins.
Just for the record, I object to astrology on biblical principles, I only meant to say that such vices were relatively benign compared to other things I believe were noteworthy of condemnation, whether in them or in myself.
I’m not suggesting we adopt their practices at all . . . just wondering how we handle the fact of Christians doing such things.
I don’t take so strong an exception against the men of the Middle Ages. I truly believe they thought it was biblically permissible to look to the stars as indicators of what God was about to do.
Genesis 1 mentions God made the stars for “signs and for seasons,” perhaps they felt that there’s legitimacy and biblical warrant for looking to things in nature to discern what God was about to do.
Again, the Magi come to mind. Not an airtight case for the Middle Ages use of astrology, but certainly an understandable goof.
To what end do we use such knowledge about Melanchthon?
The end of fuller, more complete information about the so-called “reformers.” I want them to be known and understood as they really were, not through the lens of agenda-driven biased Protestant pseudo-hagiography (especially if it is anti-Catholic). You’ll note that I made no editorial comment at all in the post itself. That only came in the comments. I think most people read the posts only and probably don’t get into the comments, after it leaves the front page of my blog.
What happens when we find Roman Catholic figures of prominence practicing certain evils through shades of ignorance?
We condemn them just as vigorously, just as I did the fools who made the Galileo sentence. We should exercise charity as much as possible, too; I agree.
Can’t it be legitimately said that maybe Scripture, which has astrologers from the east coming to worship Christ, might have been interpreted wrongly but with good intentions?
Of course. But then, what about my point in my analogy, that Catholics who believe in transubstantiation with the best of intentions (the furthest thing from idolatry) nevertheless get accused of the latter by Protestants who are intent on reading Catholics out of the Christian faith anyway they can?
It’s the double standard that I object to. Something like this with Melanchthon gets a big pass and Calvin and Luther don’t seem to think they aren’t Christians when they adopt rank idolatry and occultic practice. Why the difference?
Also, of course, those who condemned Galileo were just as sincere and were interpreting Scripture wrongly. But we will hear about that till Kingdom come, while the astrology of Melanchthon is, of course, relatively unknown; meanwhile, millions of Lutherans abide by the Confessions that he played a major role in drafting.
How does charity cover their faults in this, or place the best construction on things, or does it?
I’m happy to do that as much as possible. As usual, my purpose is to point out the double standard. It is within the context of the abominable treatment that Catholics receive (esp. from anti-Catholics) and the endless trumpeting of all of the faults of Catholic history, that I bring these things up.
My point is: if you (Protestants) insist on misrepresenting our beliefs and practices and grossly overemphasizing the things we actually have done wrong in the past, then at least have the intellectual consistency and fairness of mind to also be upfront and honest about the skeletons in your closet. And explain why the double standards are applied.
But beyond that apologetic/polemical purpose, it is also true that I simply like to examine things in history that don’t “fit into the accepted grid,” so to speak.
It’s similar to how Rush Limbaugh talks about his show: the culture, academia, the entertainment industry, the media, etc. are overwhelmingly liberal, so he comes along (back in 1988) and gives a politically conservative presentation and it is Chicken Little. But then he notes how he is one relatively lone voice, so why the big fuss?
It was because his position was not supposed to be heard at all. It was held down because of prejudice and misinformation and the assumption that liberalism is the only “respectable” position, the only one worthy to be heard and promulgated on a mass scale.
Well, it is like that with many Protestants. Their version of Christian history gets broadcast in Christian circles, while ours is pilloried and mocked and presented only in the most jaded, distorted terms.
So a guy like me comes around and “turns the tables” by not only giving our side of famous issues that we are looked down for (Galileo, Crusades, Inquisition, Honorius, the excommunication of Luther, etc.), but also examining some of the scarcely-known “skeletons in the closet” of Protestants, such as the present topic, Luther’s espousal of the death penalty, Calvin’s distortions of the very teachings of Trent in his effort to “refute” them, Zwingli’s secret concubine, the widespread theft of Church property, sanctioned by anti-Catholicism, etc.
I should think all of this is obvious (i.e., why I would do this at all), but I suppose it is worthwhile for me to explain where I am coming from in these matters once in a while.
Okay, I can see the usefulness of such a design. I’m not one of those anti-catholic loons, you should know. Whatever disagreements I have about Romanism per se, I assure you, are undergirded with a profound respect for her antiquity and importance. Of course I’m an Anglican so I’ll have certain gripes, but I promise to try and avoid cheap shots at Rome.
Yep; you’re not the type of person I am trying to jolt into a realization of double standards and certain historical realities. You can see this material and accept it for the (as you said) historical “trivia” and “anomaly” that it is.
It’s the anti-Catholics who need to be confronted with their “historical hypocrisy” and highly selective, warped presentations of Church history.
They can do with this material what they will. It’s out there now (all I did was collect stuff from the Internet and a little bit from books not online), and I believe the more facts we know about anything, the better we are informed, in order to take an educated, intelligent position, whichever way we come down on things.
Photo credit: [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]