Reply to a “Reformation Day” Lutheran Sermon

Reply to a “Reformation Day” Lutheran Sermon October 31, 2023

vs. Nathan Rinne

Including St. Augustine’s View on the Rule of Faith & the Perspicuity of Scripture; Luther & Lutherans’ Belief in Falling Away

Nathan Rinne is a “Lutheran layman with a theology degree.” He knows enough theology to be able to preach a sermon (“Still Justified by Faith Alone, Apart from Works of the Law”), which he did at the Clam Falls Lutheran Church in Wisconsin on October 29, 2023, in celebration of the Protestant Revolt, or what Protestants call “Reformation Day” (October 31st, when Luther tacked up his 95 Theses in 1517). This congregation is a member of the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC), which is a breakaway traditional Lutheran denomination (since Lutheranism as a whole is largely theologically liberal today). It had 16,000 members as of 2008, and is in friendly fellowship with the much larger Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (1.8 million members). Nathan and I engaged in several substantive and cordial dialogues about a dozen years ago. His words will be in blue. I use RSV for Bible citations.


“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

– Romans 3:28

The phrase “works of the law” here (a technical phrase that St. Paul uses seven times) is not referring to all good works whatsoever (which is what most think it means), but rather, certain ceremonial Jewish laws. This is what is called the “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP): a Protestant scholarly movement that has a significant affinity with traditional Catholic doctrine in this respect. The Wikipedia article by this title provides a good summary:

The old Protestant perspective claims that Paul advocates justification through faith in Jesus Christ over justification through works of the Law. After the Reformation, this perspective was known as sola fide; this was traditionally understood as Paul arguing that Christians’ good works would not factor into their salvation – only their faith would count. In this perspective, first-century Second Temple Judaism is dismissed as sterile and legalistic.

According to [this view], Paul’s letters do not address general good works, but instead question observances such as circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath laws, which were the “boundary markers” that set the Jews apart from the other ethnic groups. . . . first-century Palestinian Judaism was not a “legalistic community,” nor was it oriented to “salvation by works.” . . .

The “new perspective” is an attempt to reanalyze Paul’s letters and interpret them based on an understanding of first-century Judaism, taken on its own terms. . . .

There are certain trends and commonalities within the movement, but what is held in common is the belief that the historic Lutheran and Reformed perspectives of Paul the Apostle and Judaism are fundamentally incorrect. . . .

The historic Protestant perspectives interpret this phrase [“works of the law”] as referring to human effort to do good works in order to meet God’s standards (Works Righteousness). . . . By contrast, new-perspective scholars see Paul as talking about “badges of covenant membership” or criticizing Gentile believers who had begun to rely on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship. . . .

“New-perspective” interpretations of Paul tend to result in Paul having nothing negative to say about the idea of human effort or good works, and saying many positive things about both. New-perspective scholars point to the many statements in Paul’s writings that specify the criteria of final judgment as being the works of the individual.

Final Judgment According to Works… was quite clear for Paul (as indeed for Jesus). Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works.

— N. T. Wright

. . . in the perspective of Luther and Calvin, God graciously empowers the individual to the faith which leads to salvation and also to good works, while in the “new” perspective God graciously empowers individuals to the faith (demonstrated in good works), which leads to salvation.

Catholics, who also believe in merit (a biblical concept itself, which Protestants, including NPP advocates, deny), hold that faith and works cannot be separated, and that the latter is an intrinsic part of the former, without which faith is “dead” (see James 2:17, 26).

Yes, the church had always had to deal with relatively small break-off groups…

And Lutheranism: concocted by Martin Luther in 1517 and especially in his writings in 1521, is one of these. But it was different in that it was still trinitarian and Christian, alongside its errors.

But for the most part, the church was one body, catholic, that is universal – being found across the nations. 

Yes, and it remains so today, and has been so since the time that Jesus Christ established it with St. Peter as the first leader (Mt 16:18-19).

Then there was the Eastern schism some 1000 years ago, when the Eastern churches split from Rome, the Western half of the church.

That’s exactly what happened, as opposed to the Catholic Church departing Orthodoxy, as if it were the one true Church by itself. Eastern Christianity had in fact split off of Rome at least five times before, and in every occurrence they were on the wrong side of the dispute, as Orthodox today concede:

1. The Arian schisms (343-98)
2. The controversy over St. John Chrysostom (404-415)
3. The Acacian schism (484-519)
4. Concerning Monothelitism (640-681)
5. Concerning Iconoclasm (726-87 and 815-43)

1054 was simply a larger and sadly lasting instance of the same schismatic, “contra-Catholic” mentality.

Following this, about 500 years ago, the Protestant Reformation occurred, with Rome expelling Martin Luther and then other Protestants for their perceived rebellion. 

Let no one fool themselves: this was undeniably a schism, just as the Orthodox departure was. Nathan calls that split a “schism” but is reluctant to call the Protestant Revolt the same thing. But what is the essential difference? There is none. He even uses the qualifying term “perceived” in referring to Luther’s rebellion, implying that it wasn’t that, and is wrongly thought to be so by Catholics. It certainly was a revolt or rebellion. In fact, Luther departed from Catholic teaching in at least fifty ways before he was ever excommunicated, as I documented over 17 years ago. I commented upon this, after listing the fifty items:

So that is 50 ways in which Luther was a heretic, heterodox, a schismatic, or believed things which were clearly contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching or practice, up to and including truly radical departures (even societally radical in some cases). Is that enough to justify his excommunication from Catholic ranks? Or was the Church supposed to say, “yeah, Luther, you know, you’re right about these fifty issues. You know better than the entire Church, the entire history of the Church, and all the wisdom of the saints in past ages who have believed these things. So we will bow to your heaven-sent wisdom, change all fifty beliefs or practices, so we can proceed in a godly direction. Thanks so much! We are forever indebted to you for having informed us of all these errors!!”

Is that not patently ridiculous? What Church would change 50 things in its doctrines because one person feels himself to be some sort of oracle from God or pseudo-prophet: God’s man for the age? Yet we are led to believe that it is self-evident that Luther was a good, obedient Catholic who only wanted to reform the Church, not overturn or leave it, let alone start a new sect. He may have been naive or silly enough to believe that himself, but objectively speaking, it is clear and plain to one and all that what he offered – even prior to 1520 – was a radical program; a revolution. This is not reform. And the so-called “Protestant Reformation” was not that, either (considered as a whole). It was a Revolt or a Revolution. I have just shown why that is.

No sane, conscious person who had read any of his three radical treatises of 1520 could doubt that he had already ceased to be an orthodox Catholic. He did not reluctantly become so because he was unfairly kicked out of the Church by men who would not listen to manifest Scripture and reason (as the Protestant myth and perpetual propaganda would have it) but because he had chosen himself to accept heretical teachings, by the standard of Catholic orthodoxy, and had become a radical, intent also on spreading his (sincerely and passionately held) errors across the land with slanderous, mocking, propagandistic tracts and even vulgar woodcuts, if needs be.

Therefore, the Church was entirely sensible, reasonable, within her rights, logical, self-consistent, and not hypocritical or “threatened” in the slightest to simply demand Luther’s recantation of his errors at the Diet of Worms in 1521, and to refuse to argue with him (having already tried on several occasions, anyway), because to do so would have granted his ridiculous presumption that he was in a position to singlehandedly dispute and debate what had been the accumulated doctrinal and theological wisdom of the Church for almost 1500 years.

No doubt such an argument sounds “harsh” and utterly unacceptable to Lutheran and other Protestant ears, but it’s nothing personal, and hey, their endless oppositional rhetoric against Catholicism (usually filled with caricatures and historical whoppers; even theological inaccuracies) also sounds quite harsh to us, too. It works both ways. The Catholic must respond — and cannot be faulted for responding — to the basic Protestant critique of us, just as Nathan is attempting to do in this sermon. Protestants have a well-honed perspective, but rest assured that we have ours, too, and it is at least as reasonable as theirs. Protestants are so used to no or feeble defenses of the Catholic Church over against “Reformation” rhetoric that they think their view of the Protestant Revolt is the only possible one available. I used to be of the same mind myself, until I actually read both sides. There are always two sides to every human conflict, and both need to be fairly considered.

Was the Reformation necessary? 

If it was a necessity – even one that God deemed necessary – was it a tragic necessity? 

No. What was necessary was a reform within the existing Catholic Church (which is always necessary at any given time, as we say: human beings being the sinners that we are).

Or, should we, perhaps feeling some blame for causing a rupture in the body, feel some shame for being Lutherans?

Current-day Lutherans are not to blame for the sin of schism, as the Catholic Church made clear at Vatican II, but Luther and the original Lutheran — and larger Protestant — movement were responsible for that sin. Lutheranism contains a great deal of truth, as all Protestant denominations do, and that is a very good thing. I thank God and am very grateful for what I learned when I was an evangelical, from 1977-1990.

Catholics contend that Catholicism is the fullness of theological and spiritual truth. It doesn’t have to run down Protestants as wicked and evil (as the tiny anti-Catholic wing of Protestants think of us). Rather, it is a “very good” and “best” scenario, as we see it, rather than “good vs. evil” or “light vs. darkness.” We’re not the ones making the accusation of “antichrists” and mass apostasy from Christianity itself, and supposed idolatry and blasphemy and all the rest. We would say, “we have much more to offer to you, our esteemed separate brethren, that can benefit you in your Christian walk with Jesus.” Its somewhat like the “pearl of great price” in the Bible.

Martin Luther also said some very good and “traditional-sounding” words about the Catholic Church, as I have documented. These came mostly after he was shocked by the further (and I would say, inevitable) inter-Protestant schisms of the Anabaptists, Zwingli, Carlstadt, iconoclasts, and others; as well as the Peasants’ Revolt of 1524-1525. Luther utterly detested these splits, saying that “there are as many sects as there are heads.” His rhetoric was much less fiery and volatile and “anti-traditional” after that; at least some of the time. But he refused to ever admit that he started all of this with his own schism and the new and false premises and presuppositions entailed (such as sola Scriptura and private judgment). How blind we all are to our own faults! When Zwingli was killed in battle, Luther wrote:

And recently God has notably punished the poor people of Switzerland, Zwingli and his followers, for they were hardened and perverted, condemned of themselves, as St. Paul says. They will all experience the same.

Although neither Munzerites nor Zwinglians will admit that they are punished by God, but give out that they are martyrs, nevertheless we, who know that they have gravely erred in the sacrament and other articles, recognize God’s punishment and beware of it ourselves. (Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Luther, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911, 291-292; letter from Wittenberg, “February or beginning of March, 1532)

In the same letter Luther decried the notion that anyone would “teach against the long and unanimously held doctrine of the Church” and stated that “we must not trifle with the articles of faith so long and unanimously held by Christendom.” In his mind, Catholicism was superior to the Protestants who deemed fit to split off against his own movement (using the same justification that he used to depart from Catholicism).

You see, even admirable men like Sir Thomas More (see the excellent movie A Man for All Seasons!) said that since the church basically owned the Bible they could decide how it was to be used and interpreted!

This needs to be documented, so one can consult the context. I just wrote yesterday about the Catholic Church and the interpretation of Scripture, knocking down the usual numerous myths But even if St. Thomas More — great as he was, as a saint and martyr — is shown to have expressed something contrary to official Church doctrine, he had no authority anyway, compared to the magisterium. Lutherans, in fact, argue the same way. Many times if I cite Luther, they will note that it’s not his view that counts, but rather that of the Book of Concord (and I understand this; I usually cite Luther in the historical sense, of how the early Protestants developed; as I have done in this article). Likewise, with us. Protestant critics need to properly consult ecumenical councils or papal encyclicals if they wish to critique our view, not individual scholars or theologians.

Some of Rome’s highest-ranking theologians, like the Court theologian Prier[i]as for example, even claimed the authority of the Gospel existed because of the Pope’s authority. He stated: 

“In its irrefragable and divine judgment the church’s authority is greater than the authority of Scripture…the authority of the Roman Pontiff…is greater than the authority of the Gospel, since because of it we believe in the Gospels.”)” (see Tavard’s Holy Writ on Holy Church)…

Again, one theologian doesn’t speak for the whole Church (and shouldn’t be presented as supposedly having done so). Not even any given Church father — including the great Augustine — can do so. The authoritative magisterium of the Church in harmonious conjunction with sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture determines these matters. An individual (and not a bishop) is cited, even though he has no binding authority in Catholicism. This is not the way to disprove anything in Catholicism.

Prierias died in 1523, 22 years before the Council of Trent began. Theologians are not even part of the magisterium (it is popes and bishops together in ecumenical councils in harmony with popes). He was simply wrong. The Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures, from the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent in 1546 (the year of Luther’s death), doesn’t approach Holy Scripture like Prierias did:

. . . keeping this always in view, that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline . . . (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both . . . as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. (my italics)

The Catholic Church “receives” and “preserves” and “venerates” the Bible. It doesn’t claim authority over the Bible or the gospel. It’s two different concepts. One statement by one non-authoritative theologian doesn’t change this fact. Vatican I (1870) and Vatican II (1962-1965) elaborated upon this understanding and made it even more crystal clear that the Catholic Church doesn’t consider itself superior to or “over” the Bible:

These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical; not because, having been carefully composed by mere human industry, they were afterward approved by her authority; not because they contain revelation, with no admixture of error; but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself. (Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter II; emphasis added)

The divinely-revealed realities which are contained and presented in the text of sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 3:15-16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation [Dei Verbum], Chapter III, 11; emphasis added)

Nathan himself stated later on, that “the Church, in it’s truly God-given authority, had recognized, and zealously guarded and passed down its primary tradition, the Holy Scriptures. Exactly! This is precisely what Vatican I and Vatican II clarified.    Likewise, Lutheran Carl E. Braaten wrote eloquently about the relationship of the Bible and the Church: thoughts that Catholics can wholeheartedly accept:

Scripture principle exists only on account of the church and for the sake of the church…The Scripture principle of Reformation theology and its hermeneutical principles make sense only in and with the church . . . The authority of Scripture functions not in separation from the church but only in conjunction with the Spirit-generated fruits in the life of the church, its apostolic confession of faith and its life-giving sacraments of baptism, absolution and the Lord’s Supper. (“The Problem of Authority in the Church,” in: Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, editors, The Catholicity of the Reformation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1996, 61-62)

This, to say the least, is a far cry from what Augustine meant. 

He, for one – like many others before and after him – also said things like, “Let us… yield ourselves and bow to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, which can neither err nor deceive…”

A citation would be nice for this one, too (many people online also cite it without documentation). But there is nothing contrary to Catholicism in these words, even without consultation of context. Every Christian ought to do so. Since we’re now gonna engage in the rather common exercise of “competing” St. Augustine citations, I’m more than happy to cull from the book that I edited, The Quotable Augustine (2012). It devotes six-and-a-half pages to the question of thoroughly Catholic Augustine‘s view of the rule of faith. Here are some of his words:

There is a third class of objectors who either really do understand Scripture well, or think they do, and who, because they know (or imagine) that they have attained a certain power of interpreting the sacred books without reading any directions of the kind that I propose to lay down here, will cry out that such rules are not necessary for any one, but that everything rightly done towards clearing up the obscurities of Scripture could be better done by the unassisted grace of God. . . . No, no; rather let us put away false pride and learn whatever can be learned from man; . . . lest, being ensnared by such wiles of the enemy and by our own perversity, we may even refuse to go to the churches to hear the gospel itself, or to read a book, or to listen to another reading or preaching, . . . Cornelius the centurion, although an angel announced to him that his prayers were heard and his alms had in remembrance, was yet handed over to Peter for instruction, and not only received the sacraments from the apostle’s hands, but was also instructed by him as to the proper objects of faith, hope, and love. [Acts x] And without doubt it was possible to have done everything through the instrumentality of angels, but the condition of our race would have been much more degraded if God had not chosen to make use of men as the ministers of His word to their fellow-men. For how could that be true which is written, “The temple of God is holy, which temple you are,” [1 Corinthians 3:17] if God gave forth no oracles from His human temple, but communicated everything that He wished to be taught to men by voices from heaven, or through the ministration of angels? Moreover, love itself, which binds men together in the bond of unity, would have no means of pouring soul into soul, and, as it were, mingling them one with another, if men never learned anything from their fellow-men. (On Christian Doctrine, Preface, 2, 5-6)

The authority of our books, which is confirmed by the agreement of so many nations, supported by a succession of apostles, bishops, and councils, is against you. (Against Faustus the Manichee, xiii, 5; cf. xi, 5; xiii, 16; xxxiii, 9)

[W]e hold most firmly, concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, what may be called the canonical rule, as it is both disseminated through the Scriptures, and has been demonstrated by learned and Catholic handlers of the same Scriptures . . . (On the Trinity, ii, 1, 2)

My opinion therefore is, that wherever it is possible, all those things should be abolished without hesitation, which neither have warrant in Holy Scripture, nor are found to have been appointed by councils of bishops, nor are confirmed by the practice of the universal Church, . . . (Epistle 55 [19, 35] to Januarius [400] )

St. Augustine also wrote about the perspicuity (clearness) of Scripture:

[L]et the reader consult the rule of faith which he has gathered from the plainer passages of Scripture, and from the authority of the Church, . . . (On Christian Doctrine, 3, 2, 2)

For many meanings of the holy Scriptures are concealed, and are known only to a few of singular intelligence . . . (Explanations of the Psalms, 68:30 [68, 36] )

For him, the authority of the church was embodied in the living tradition, admittedly spearheaded by the Pope, and that was because the Scriptures were also the ultimate wellspring of that authority, the sum and substance of that authority. 

The Catholic Church wholeheartedly agrees, in affirming that the Catholic “teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit . . .” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, ch. II, 10).

The same document stated that “Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful” (ch. 6, 22); “the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology” (ch. 6, 24); “all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study . . . The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the ‘excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3:8); “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” (ch. 6, 25); “we may hope for a new stimulus for the life of the Spirit from a growing reverence for the word of God, which ‘lasts forever’ (Is. 40:8; see 1 Peter 1:23-25).” (ch. 6, 26); “the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.” (ch. 6, 21)

And the church in Luther’s day was failing, to say the least. In his day, the Pope was going so far as to say things like “since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” 

How is this inconsistent with what St. Paul wrote: “let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him” (1 Cor 7:17)? Is the pope supposed to go around with a long face, and not “enjoy” his work? It’s a mere drudgery? Paul asserted that God “richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). Yet somehow the office of the papacy is to be devoid of such joy? Biblically, this makes no sense. “Joy” is mentioned 60 times in the NT. The disciples were “filled with joy” (Acts 13:52; cf. Rom 14:17; 15:13; 2 Cor 2:3; Gal 5:22; Phil 1:25; Col 1:11; 1 Thess 1:6; 1 Pet 1:8). This should be the case even when we “meet various trials” (Jas 1:2). James says to “Count it all joy.”

Clearly, here was a leader of God’s church who – so taken up with worldly power – was culpably ignorant of not understanding what God really intended for him to do. 

How does this follow from the words cited? Nathan attempts to judge a man’s heart, and for no sufficient reason: a thing which we ought never do. If these words (assuming they are authentic) indeed carry some nefarious or sinister meaning, then we would have to have some context, to judge that. Prima facie, I see nothing wrong or unbiblical about them. But whatever the man’s real faults, we point out that impeccability is not the same as papal infallibility. There were a few “bad popes.” Just as sinners wrote the inspired revelation of the Bible, so can sinners make infallible pronouncements. Most popes, however, have been good, pious Christians and holy men.

Luther . . . brought nothing new.

To the contrary, as I have documented, he brought at least fifty novel, new things into Christian theology: and all before he was ever excommunicated.

We can therefore never emphasize enough that Luther and the “Lutherans” – Rome’s term of abuse – never intended to leave the Roman Catholic Church but were ejected by them.

If “Lutherans” is a “term of abuse” then why was it retained by the denomination [s] that continued Luther’s split? Lutherans free to reject the term, just as we are to reject “papism” or “Romanism,” etc. Until they do, the above objection is a non sequitur.

The intention to leave is clearly latent in the fact that Luther came to espouse fifty things contrary to existing Catholic tradition, which showed his spirit of rebellion and arrogance (thinking he knew better than the Church and all of Church history and doctrinal precedent), just as lust in the heart precedes actual physical adultery. He spread these radical ideas far and wide, with the help of the printing press. It’s how every radical movement has functioned ever since: start promulgating ideas, to get people to believe them, and then appeal to the fact that they have (the ad populum fallacy).

And then, over and against their Roman Catholic opponents, the claim of these “first evangelicals” who agreed with Luther was not that they were doing anything new, but that their teachings truly were “holy, catholic and apostolic…” 

This claim is a demonstrable falsehood. Many things remained the same (thank God), but there were also many novel innovations and inventions, and no one who knows the facts of the matter can possibly deny that. It was a “mixed bag” from the Catholic perspective.

“The churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith,” they insisted. 

Right. And what would they call Luther’s fifty dissenting opinions, that Lutheranism largely followed? Permissible variations?

In addition to the nonsense about the role the Scriptures played in the church,

What’s “nonsense” is this accusation against the Catholic Church, as I thoroughly explained above.

the Pope had insisted he had full authority over temporal political matters and one had to believe this to be saved.

This was a widespread medieval understanding, and not exclusive to Catholicism. Luther thought that the Anabaptists were “seditious” and subverted not only the theological and ecclesial, but also civil order. He thought the same about the violent hordes of the Peasants’ Revolt, and Carlstadt and his image-smashers, Zwingli’s shocking rejection of the eucharistic Real Presence, etc. The medieval mind didn’t make much of a separation between the realms of Church and state.

In fact, Luther — along with Butcher Henry VIII — brought in the Church state, so that people were required in Germany to be a Lutheran simply by being born in a Lutheran-controlled territory of Germany. He treated princes as if they had authority in the Church, as if they were bishops (the old error of caesaropapism to some degree). How is that not meddling in temporal affairs? Yet Protestant polemicists so often have tunnel vision and a double standard, contending that only the Catholic Church had all these (real or merely imagined) problems, while ignoring the myriad of scandals and problems and endless sectarianism and radical mentalities and doctrinal errors / contradictions of many in the young Protestant movement and ever since.

Priests were forbidden to marry, in direct contradiction to Scripture.

This is not unscriptural at all. The Catholic Church was following St. Paul’s express recommendations for achieving an “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor 7:35) by celibate individuals (cf. “he who refrains from marriage will do better”: 1 Cor 7:38). Jesus said, “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:12). I guess Protestants can’t “receive” it.  They’re picking and choosing again, what will be accepted in the Bible, and what will be rejected. Priestly celibacy is a good thing, not a bad thing. We simply follow Jesus’ and Paul’s advice to a greater extent than Protestants do. But — here’s the thing — it’s difficult to be celibate, so Protestants throw it out, contrary to Scripture, which doesn’t do so, simply because something is difficult.  The Bible teaches that “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). I add that priests are allowed to marry in the eastern rites of the Catholic Church, because this is a “disciplinary” or pastoral matter, not a doctrinal or dogmatic one.

In conjunction with secular authorities, the offices of the bishops were often given to the highest bidders. 

Yes; that was scandalous; so were Lutherans and other Protestants pretending that secular bishops (many of whom cared not a whit about Christianity or morals in general) were quasi-bishops. There is enough sin and corruption and ignoring of the Bible to go around.

People became monks specifically because the Roman church taught and promised it was the surest way to achieve salvation by their increased merit. 

Heroic, exceptionally sacrificial sanctity or what is called the “evangelical counsels” is indeed one way to be more sure that we will attain heaven. See the many Bible passages about merit and sanctification tied directly to justification.

Laypersons were told that they could eliminate thousands of years of painful purging fire for their ancestors by “prayerfully” providing donations to the church.

The Papacy had recently expanded indulgences to include the claim of granting forgiveness itself… 

The Catholic Church — in the Catholic Reformation — reformed the practice of indulgences (which is itself a notion taught in the Bible). See my article, Myths and Facts Regarding Tetzel and Indulgences (11-25-16; published in Catholic Herald).

Also, men and women were given the body of Christ, but not the blood, which was reserved for the clergy. 

There was no theological / spiritual reason to receive both. There were considerations of the sacred blood possibly dripping, etc. But Christ can’t be divided, and is fully present in both the consecrated hosts and the chalice. I myself always receive only the consecrated host. See my article, The Host and Chalice Both Contain Christ’s Body and Blood (National Catholic Register, 12-10-19). Of course, we now allow both. It’s another pastoral / disciplinary matter, which can change according to place and circumstance; not doctrine.

In the Mass itself, the priests spoke of re-sacrificing Christ, and achieving salvation through this and other merits…

It’s not a “re-sacrifice” but rather, the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross supernaturally made present again.

But, above all, people were told that they could not be certain that they would even be saved… even make it to purgatory (for note that if you got to purgatory, you’d eventually get to heaven…). 

No one can be absolutely certain of what the future holds, because we are in time and simply can’t know that information. That includes the question of our own eternal destiny. Even John Calvin stated that no one but God can know who is of the elect. It’s folly and unbiblical (as well as irrational) to pretend otherwise.  We know that people fall away from the faith. We can’t be certain that we won’t. Catholics believe in what we call a “moral assurance of salvation.” I’ve always said that I am just as confident of my salvation (without being certain) as a Catholic, as I was when I was a Protestant. Catholics examine their consciences to make sure they are not in a state of mortal sin, that separates them from God and could possibly lead to damnation, if not repented of and absolved.

Right around the same time that Luther nailed the 95 theses to the Church doors in Wittenberg, the theologian Johann Altenstaig (in his Vocabularius theologiae, Hagenau 1517) was saying that the devil led people astray by making them think there was good evidence for their being saved. 

“No one, no matter how righteous he may be”, Altenstaig said, “can know with certainty that he is in the state of grace, except by a revelation”.

We can believe there is good evidence that we will be saved if we die in the next minute, through the examination of our consciences and confession if necessary (moral assurance) and the absence of subjective mortal sin, but it’s not certainty. He’s correct. Anyone who thinks they are absolutely certain of this is deluding themselves, short of an extraordinary revelation, just as he says. St. Paul argues the same way many times. He doesn’t assume he is saved once and for all time. That’s just Protestant man-made tradition. Martin Luther agrees with us: “one cannot say with certainty who will be [called] in the future or who will finally endure . . .” (Sermon on John 17; Luther’s Works, Vol 69:50-51). All agree that the elect will be saved and cannot not be saved, because God predestined it (yes, we believe in the predestination of the elect, too). But we can’t know with certainty who is in their number. That’s the problem.

In like fashion, one of the most important movers and shakers in the church, Cardinal Cajetan, wrote a few weeks before confronting Luther at Augsburg, wrote that “Clearly almost all come to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist in reverent fear of the Lord and uncertain of being in grace. In fact theologians praise their continuing uncertainty and ordinarily attribute its opposite to presumption or ignorance” (both quotes from Cajetan Responds, a footnote from p. 269 and p. 66).

Once again, one Cardinal is cited; nothing from Trent or earlier ecumenical councils or papal encyclicals (which constitute the magisterium). So it carries no weight. I won’t bother checking context (I appreciate the documentation), but it looks to me like he is referring to a specific situation: the penitent approaching confession, which means they are conscious of some sin, and possibly mortal sin. I could see that they might have some uncertainty until they are absolved, at which point they are restored back to grace, and have a reasonable and fairly “high” moral assurance of salvation, were they to die on the way home, etc.

I don’t know why Nathan makes this a Catholic-Protestant issue, since Lutherans agree with us that a person can fall away from the faith and grace. One Lutheran, Joseph Klotz, in a helpful article entitled, “Three Examples of How Lutherans Deny Justification by Faith Alone: A Response – Part Two of Two” (6-29-15, observed:

The fact that confessional Lutherans teach that believers can fall away from the faith, while at the same time teaching that God earnestly desires all men to be saved shows that confessional Lutherans confess what the Bible teaches, . . .

This very issue comes into play when St. Paul discusses with Timothy the case of Hymenaeus and Alexander.

This charge [Timothy’s duty to order certain teachers not stray from pure doctrinal teaching] I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:18-20).

St. Paul is not saying here that Hymenaeus and Alexander will be judged in the temporal realm, by dying or some such thing, and suffer a loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ on the Last Day, but still march into the New Heavens and New Earth, “as through fire.” He is saying that the very thing through which they would be saved, their faith, has been “shipwrecked.” It has been destroyed. The faith, which they once had as members of the Ephesian congregation, is no more. They have passed from life to death, so to speak. . . .

St. Paul similarly warns the Corinthians not to fall away from their faith into idolatry. . . .

It is revealing that St. Paul [in 1 Cor 10:6-11] uses the words “fell” and “destroyed” when describing what happened to those who continued in their unbelief. Again, he is not describing merely a temporal consequence of sin. Scripture tells us that these people, who were graciously delivered from bondage, persisted in unbelief. They resisted the working of God the Holy Spirit and eventually fell from the faith they had been given and were destroyed. Why does St. Paul recount this to the Corinthians? It is to be an example to them so that they do not similarly fall into sin, away from God, and be destroyed.

James Swan, a Reformed defender of Martin Luther (hundreds of articles) documented Luther’s belief in apostasy:

Through baptism these people threw out unbelief, had their unclean way of life washed away, and entered into a pure life of faith and love. Now they fall away into unbelief (Commentary on 2 Peter 2:22).

Verse 4, “Ye are fallen from grace.” That means you are no longer in the kingdom or condition of grace. When a person on board ship falls into the sea and is drowned it makes no difference from which end or side of the ship he falls into the water. Those who fall from grace perish no matter how they go about it. … The words, “Ye are fallen from grace,” must not be taken lightly. They are important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by His death and resurrection. To lose the grace of God means to gain the wrath and judgment of God, death, the bondage of the devil, and everlasting condemnation. (Commentary on Galatians, 5:4; Luther’s Works, Vol. 27).

These words, “You have fallen away from grace,” should not be looked at in a cool and careless way; for they are very emphatic. Whoever falls away from grace simply loses the propitiation, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, freedom, life, etc., which Christ earned for us by His death and resurrection; and in place of these he acquires the wrath and judgment of God, sin, death, slavery to the devil, and eternal damnation. (Ibid.)

Cajetan incidently – like all of Rome’s “court theologians” – also placed the authority of the pope above that of a council, Scripture, and everything in the church… 

He is above a council and the Church, but not above Scripture. This is Catholic teaching. So even if good ol’ Cardinal Cajetan and all these “court theologians” were wrong, it wouldn’t hurt our viewpoint in the slightest. They have no binding authority. It’s just non-magisterial opinions. We don’t determine truth by the majority vote of a bunch of pointy-head theologians, as so many Protestants in effect do. When we do count heads and take votes (such as in ecumenical councils and papal elections), it’s from the bishops, who have biblically sanctioned authority in the Church.

Luther . . . was not about to give up the teaching about confession and absolution that his spiritual father, John Staupitz, had modeled for him and shared with him – and that Luther said had made him a Christian! 

But he modified an essential aspect of them, so in fact he did give them up.  Luther appears to apply the function of hearing a confession and giving absolution to all Christians, not solely to ordained Lutheran pastors: “. . . confession, privately before any brother, . . .” (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520, in Three Treatises, 214). The Apology for the Augsburg Confession, written by Luther’s close friend Philip Melanchthon in 1531, and binding on Lutherans, describes absolution as a sacrament.

For Paul, clearly, says that we are justified by faith in many places, without mentioning anything else.

That doesn’t logically rule out a role for works, as part and parcel of faith. Initial justification by faith is a thing we agree on. Justification by faith alone all through one’s life is where we have an honest disagreement. I have compiled fifty Bible passages that teach that works play a central role at the time of the judgment and in determining who will enter heaven (as the Lutheran Braaten noted above). Faith is only mentioned once in all of them (yes, once!), alongside works. I didn’t make this up. It’s in the Bible: fifty times! I’ve also collected 150 more passages that contradict “faith alone” and connect sanctification with justification in a way that Protestantism rejects, and that teach the doctrine of merit as well.

Nathan ends by citing Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), and thinks he supported faith alone. I congratulation him for finally citing a magisterial source, right before he concluded. But even this may be from the time before he was pope (hence, not magisterial, if so). He provides no documentation, so we don’t know what it’s from, but I’ll have to take his word for its accuracy. The words as he presents them, however, do not support faith alone; quite the contrary. The pope writes:

Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life [which entails works, which he equates with faith]. And the form, the life of Christ, is love [love involves works and action as well]; hence to believe is to conform to Christ [works] and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5:14). [exactly; the Catholic position, and not harmonious with Protestant soteriology! Works cannot be formally separated from the overall equation] [my bracketed comments]

Related Reading 

William of Ockham, Nominalism, Luther, & Early Protestant Thought [10-3-02; abridged on 10-10-17]

Medieval Catholic Corruption: Main Cause of Protestant Revolt? [6-2-03; revised slightly: 1-20-04; 10-10-17]
Luther Film (2003): Detailed Catholic Critique [10-28-03; abridged with revised links on 3-6-17]
Critique of Ten Exaggerated Claims of the “Reformation” [10-31-17; its 500th anniversary date]
Papal Infallibility Doctrine: History (Including Luther’s Dissent at the Leipzig Disputation in 1519) (Related also to the particular circumstances of the origins of sola Scriptura) [10-8-07]



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Photo credit: Portrait of Martin Luther (1528), by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: I take on a sermon about the essential points of the Protestant so-called “Reformation”, by Nathan Rinne, and show that Catholicism is more biblical & historical.


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