Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Did you know that October was Reformation Month in the Protestant world? I never knew that growing up Protestant. I think this is a wonderful time for everyone to brush up on his Church history.

I am constantly amazed by what I am learning that I learned incorrectly in school. Columbus did not think the earth was flat (most everyone that could look at the horizon knew it was not flat). Galileo was not condemned by the Church because he believed the solar system was heliocentric (but because he said the Bible was fallible). Newton did not say if you drop two items of different weights, they will land at the same time (he said that would happen in a vacuum where air pressure would not be a factor).

My point is that history comes to us through the filter of the prevailing culture. Just as the ancient Egyptians never lost a battle, (they just kept winning them closer to home ;) ), we cannot always trust Known Facts. ( I had a friend in high school and college who always supported her gossip with, "It's a known fact." Love you, Jen!). I listened to a broadcast this morning about the Reformation. I turned it off when my stomach started to turn. My stomach turned when I heard the words "the reformers dusted off the Bible."

Most of my friends are Baptists. Do you know we almost never disagree when we discuss religion? And we discuss religion everyday! They think the priest-thing and the Real Presence are a bit odd, but they are always willing to listen and discuss (And they do tell me when they think Catholics are just plain wrong. Love you K and E!) My friend K looked at our worship service and exclaimed, "It's all from the Bible!" Yes. It is. At least 90% is straight from scripture. And we use an English translation of the Latin Mass.

My main problem is the prevailing perception of Martin Luther. If you look closely at history, you will see that many of the things he claims cannot be trusted. For instance, his claim, which was echoed in the broadcast I listened to, that he never had contact with Scripture in the monastery. Well. That is not supported by any facts. There are different rules in monasteries, but I am betting if ML paid attention he would have heard the Bible read throughout the day.

The idea that the Church tried to keep the Bible out of the hands of the people, is a half truth. Yes, the Church did not view with joy the idea that the Bible would be translated by anyone and interpreted by personal filters throughout the world. The Church believes in a three-fold authority. The Holy Ghost leads the Church. We have God-given reason, we have the Bible and we have Holy Tradition. And by tradition I do not mean eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I mean looking back and seeing "what has been believed in all times, by all people, in all places." This shows with clarity where the winds of false doctrine blew, and what is orthodox. Yes, the Bible is infallible. But the way an individual interprets Scripture is most certainly fallible. That is why the Church gives us a huge body of Tradition to measure our interpretation against. So we don't spend our lives squabbling about post- or pre- millienial rapture. Lean not on your own understanding indeed. The Church is the Custodian and Defender of the Scriptures. She preserves, interprets correctly and yes, proclaims them. You could not be a catholic in the pre-reformation period and have no contact with the Bible. Those stained glass windows which some railed against - those presented Bible stories and Scriptural Truth for the illiterate - which was most people! Add illiteracy to the fact that modern languages were only recently come into definite forms. During the Middle Ages it would not have been much use to try to translate Scripture into the many local dialects. The Mass itself is Scripture readings, psalms and songs from Scripture, prayers straight from scripture and inspired by Scripture, sermons carefully monitored to make sure they are based on Scripture. And most important, The Word of God comes into the body and soul of believers during the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Faith comes by hearing....not necessarily by reading someone's unauthorized version of the Bible (like Martin Luther's in which he shuffled some God-inspired books to the back, and you know what he said about the Book of James.) And then interpreting it through the earnest, yet compromised filter of your own desires and biases. No, I argue, you cannot say the Church tried to keep the Scriptures away from the Body of Christ. Rather, the Church was trying to preserve the Scriptures for the people and protect the Bible from personal distortion.

Sure the Holy Spirit speaks directly to people. But people mistake what they hear. He is not telling us all different things. And when you look at the whole counsel of Scripture - how do you know you are seeing that correctly? Lean not on your own understanding.

So I love my protestant friends and family members, but no more untruths about Church history, okay? It's difficult to separate fact from fiction, but we can try. Martin Luther was an amazingly complex individual. How could the same man who wrote A Mighty Fortress, be so coarse and foul-mouthed, calling fellow Protestants "mouthpieces of the Devil" when they disagreed with him? Maybe because he was fallible like you and I are. Putting him on a pedastle does him a disservice. It makes him an idol for some and a demon for others.

The Church is always in need of Reform, and there have been some mighty and holy reformers. But they were not the ones who shouted the loudest, used the foulest language and had the worst tempers. St Theresa of Avila, born two years before the events of 1517, effected great reform in the monasteries of her day. Yet she never abandoned the Catholic Faith deposited by the Church Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils. Sacred Tradition is what has been believed in all places, in all times, by all people. Many of the problems in the late Medieval Church in Europe do not measure up well to Sacred Tradition. The true holy reformers highlighted those problems and changed practices without changing the Faith.

And John Tetzel, look past the fiction and see what kind of man he really was.


1 comment:

cathmom (Jeanne) said...

Great post!