Why Aren’t Protestant Churches “churches”?


Q. Why did the pope say that all the Protestant Churches are not really Churches in the recent Vatican document? June 29, 2007

A. Because the definition that the Catholic Church has for “church” is very specific. This was not published as a put-down of the Protestant’s. It was a point of clarification about the definition that the Catholic Church has for the word “Church”. The Pope has a right to express what we believe. The Catholic Church sees herself as The Church founded by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. She does not see herself as just another denomination among many.

A body of Christians would be classified as a CHURCH if it has retained authentic sacraments even though the church itself is not in union with the Catholic Church. Thus, the Eastern Orthodox CHURCHES, although separated, have maintained true apostolic succession-the priesthood and the Eucharist.

However, the Protestant “churches” rejected physical apostolic succession, sacraments, and the Eucharist as celebrated in the Catholic Church, after the Reformation. Therefore, they do not possess apostolic succession, nor do they even claim that their ministers have all been ordained, in an unbroken, physical line back to the apostles, by the laying on of hands. And, except for Lutherans and Anglicans most do not believe they are receiving the real body and blood of Christ in communion. For this reason, we call them Ecclesial Communities. But as you will see from the quotes below, these communities are related to the Catholic Church and Christ.

In the document the Pope says

we affirm that the Church of Christ is present and operative in Churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in union with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.

It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance or importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church

Thus we say with sacred scripture,

There is ONE body and ONE Spirit—just as you were called to ONE hope when you were called— ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism; ONE God and Father of all..” Ephesians 4:5-6

This Document is only two pages long and easy to read. I would encourage you to read exactly what was said rather than rely on the media ( because they don’t understand the finer points of faith many times.)
For the actual document Click here.

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32 Responses to Why Aren’t Protestant Churches “churches”?

  1. John says:

    Anglicans claim to have the apostolic succession, and value it – indeed, it is listed in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as an essential element of the church. The Catholic Church believes that the Anglican line was broken in the 16th century. The lack of the historic succession in Lutheranism has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in Anglican-Lutheran dialogues, and intercommunion between the Episcopal Church in the US and the ELCA could not be implemented until the ELCA made clear its intent to restore the historic succession. Since the Catholic church does not, to my knowledge, question Old Catholic orders (perhaps this has changed now that the Utrecht Communion ordains women?) , and since an Old Catholic bishop often participates in Anglican episcopal consecrations, most Anglican bishops are now in the historic succession.

  2. John,

    Their (“Old Catholic” – which are neither old nor Catholic!) participation has not in any fashion appreciably changed the situation or the assesment of Rome.

    Why? Because as often as not (and I do believe their participation is somewhat exagerated) they showed up and took part in the consecrations that were taking part in Anglican rites. They very simply – along with a slew of other folks – would go up and lay hands on and say “recieve the Holy Spirit”…

    That ain’t enough to reconsider.

  3. Tito Edwards says:

    John,

    Sadly Anglicanism is moving further and further away from Christian theology where it is becoming indistinguishable from Wicca.

    I would love to have Anglicans and Catholics reunited, but it seems it will only happen by individuals, parishes, and dioceses, instead of the whole Anglican Communion.

  4. bfhu says:

    John,
    You are correct Anglican/Episcopalians had valid orders for a short time after King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and made himself pope of his own English Church. But then the Church of England/Anglican changed the rite of ordination. So, even though ordination of priests and bishops by a validly ordained Bishop was attempted it was just as invalid as female ordination by renegade Catholic priests/bishops in our times.

    Lutherans never had valid orders because Martin Luther, a priest and not a bishop could not validly ordain priests let alone, bishops. Therefore, ELCA cannot “restore historic succession” unless they reunite with the Catholic Church and are approved for ordination IN the Catholic Church.

  5. John says:

    asimplesinner — please be assured, I never expected to see Rome reconsider the question of Anglican orders. At least not in mylifetime (no matter how many bishops from the Communion of Utrecht participate in Anglican ordinations).

    Tito Edwards — you are, I think, correct, there will be no Anglican/Roman Catholic reunion, only absorption of individuals or Anglican-use parishes. (I fail to see how a diocese could be absorbed – we just saw how quickly the Ft. Worth trial balloon burst).

    bfhu — again, I never expect to see Rome recognize Anglican or Lutheran orders. But the point I attempted to make was that Anglicans, and some Lutherans, particularly in Scandinavia, **value what they believe to be the historic episcopate**, even if the Catholic church does not recognize that they have it. They do not reject it, they have simply not, in the eyes of the Catholic church, maintained it.

    I have known Lutheran clergy, already working for a restoration of a three-fold ministry in the Lutheran church, who were not enthusiastic about the Episcopal/ELCA agreements, preferring to wait until they could receive the *authentic* succession from a reunion with Rome. They are, of course, a minority within their denomination, and they are likely to have a very long wait.

    FWIW, as a non-Catholic, I was in no way offended by the Vatican document referenced above. It was carefully argued, nuanced, and offered an appropriate definition of what Roman Catholics consider to be “church.”

  6. ultraguy says:

    John wrote: “as a non-Catholic, I was in no way offended by the Vatican document referenced above. It was carefully argued, nuanced, and offered an appropriate definition”

    That would make (at least) two of us (though I might go further and change ‘not offended’ to ‘downright impressed’. And pf course that is not the only wisdom to come from the Vatican (and the Church generally) to share these fine attributes. (For example, I just got reading PBXVI’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and was deeply impressed by how deeply he expounded on core truths of the faith.)

    One of these days, the neighbors are going to realize that the sprinkler systems keeping their metaphorical Christian lawns green and watered and the electrical systems keeping their Christian lights burning bright are all tapped into this one big house where the Catholics live via a maze of hoses and extension cords (respectively and metaphorically) .

    Thanks for sharing guys! Even if the homeowners don’t acknowledge their debt to you, we lowly gardeners and light-bulb changers know the real score!

  7. Oh, goody, another discussion of Anglican orders.

    The original post is good.

    A question that comes up is where does one draw the line between church and Protestant sect? The Dutch touch of Old Catholic orders is a good example, now that the Old Catholics ordain women and the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America can claim that line of succession through the Anglicans. Then there are the little ‘independent Catholic’ groups, usually liberal, who make much of their ‘lines’ – the big apostolic churches like Rome and the Orthodox don’t because they don’t have to. Succession isn’t enough – Leo XIII’s point on Anglican orders. The context of the body that claims it is what matters.

    Rome’s criteria for validity/churchness are not only that claim to unbroken succession but basic credal orthodoxy (so basic the so-called Nestorians pass muster) and unbroken Catholic teaching about the Eucharist which doesn’t have to be expressed as transubstantiation (so the Eastern churches are in).

    The Anglicans made mistakes early on after Henry VIII died, claiming in the Articles of Religion that the church is fallible and that the Eucharist is a less than complete change of the elements into Christ. Which are not Catholic.

    Some Lutherans – the Swedes – did claim apostolic succession but they don’t claim it’s essential for the church, just something nice to have, which is why they’re in communion with Lutherans who don’t claim it. Historically the Anglicans did claim it was necessary (the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral) like the apostolic churches do.

    Henry VIII didn’t make himself pope of England. He never claimed to be a bishop. He wasn’t a Protestant either – he took the state control over the church (being its lay Supreme Governor) in some European countries one step further into schism. It turned Protestant after he died.

  8. John says:

    To The young fogey – thank you for your post.

    Some random comments: the “independent [Old] Catholic groups” (though they are not in communion with Utrecht) are, from what I’ve seen, just as likely to be ultra-conservative as ultra-liberal. Some ordain women, some do not, some welcome gays, some do not, some are more interested in being Celtic than Catholic. Some are disaffected conservative Anglicans, some are disaffected liberal Roman Catholics. I think the bottom line on these groups is that they lack any plan for sustainability — how will they train their clergy, how will their small parishes survive two generations hence? Your point about Leo XIII is pertinent — the context of the body that claims the historic succession matters (and I think Anglicans and Lutherans would agree).

    I wish I could claim to have met, ever, a single Anglican who wasn’t utterly embarrassed by the Thirty-Nine Articles. And yet, GAFCON, the folks who are sending missionary bishops to the US and Canada, made a big point of the Articles, and the 1662 BCP (a horrendously Prot book) at their summer confab.

    Your mention of the Swedes is interesting — C of E and the Swedish Church have had intercommunion since the 1920s. In their dialogue, C of E always noted their concerns about the historic episcopate, the Swedes noted “Yes, we think we have it, but please don’t enter into intercommunion with us on that basis, doctrinal continuity is more important to us than the tactile laying on of of hands.” And the Anglicans proceeded to enter into intercommunion largely on the basis of the Swedes having maintained (in their opinion) the historic episcopate. Ecumenical dialogues are always interesting for what they do not say.

    John

  9. Russ says:

    I agree – “as a non-Catholic, I was in no way offended by the Vatican document referenced above. It was carefully argued, nuanced, and offered an appropriate definition”

    However, are not the words of the Pope in the document referenced above in conflict official church teaching on the subject?

    SIXTH SESSION, CANONS CONCERNING JUSTIFICATION: “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA” (Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 12).

    ANATHEMA

    1. a person or thing detested or loathed
    2. a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation or destruction.
    3. a formal ecclesiastical curse involving excommunication.
    4. any imprecation of divine punishment.
    5. a curse; execration.

    Origin: 1520–30; < L < Gk: a thing accursed, devoted to evil

    Are there not many ecclesial communities that fall directly into this category, including mine?

    If this teaching of the church has officially been retracted I would be very encouraged and blessed and I would be interested in where I could read about it in official church teachings. If this is the case, I apologize for my comment and ask your forgiveness.

  10. bfhu says:

    Russ,
    The anathema you quote is from the Council of Trentand is directed at the Protest-ants led by Luther. They applied to those Catholics who left the Church and embraced all or some of the various teachings of the Reformation.

    It was a clear condemnation of heresies spawned by this movement. The anathema does not apply to present day Protestants who are completly innocent of rebellion against the beliefs of the Catholic Church. Today we would say that the false teachings are anathema but those who hold them are NOT anathema.

    Are there not many ecclesial communities that fall directly into this category, including mine?

    NO. I do not know myself where to find the view I stated above in official Church Documents, except that in the Documents of Vatican II the Protestants are called our Separated Brethren.

  11. Russ says:

    But I am a former Catholic who has, “left the Church and embraced all or some of the various teachings of the Reformation.” I prefer to call them the teachings of the Bible not the teachings of the Reformation but to a large extent they are one and the same.

    If you were to come to my church on a Sunday morning and ask, “how many here left the Catholic Church?” you would see hundreds of hands go up.

    I find your explanation of my apparent damnation by the official teachings of your church weak. You can say that the intent is no longer applicable today but that is not how the document reads nor do I believe that that was the intention of those who authored it. They meant it for all time which is why it was formulated at an historic council and not just mealy an unofficial utterance of the Pope.

    Even if Trent no longer applies today, I take great offense that your church would damn to hell for eternity great men and women who in faith and in the midst of great danger embraced the truth of the Bible and stood against the corruption in the church of that day.

    How wonderful it would be if your church would officially admit the errors of the council of Trent. If there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents, imagine the joy in heaven if the entire Catholic Church officially admitted her great mistake and how much God be glorified by such an act repentance from His church.

  12. John says:

    Russ, I would encourage you to learn about the Bridgefolk dialogue, between peace-loving Roman Catholics, and sacramentally-minded Mennonites. This is the only substantive dialogue that I am aware of between Catholic Christians, and Christians of the Anabaptist tradition.
    Yes, the progress of ecumenical dialogues can be painstakingly slow. And, just as in a family, we have all said or proclaimed things that perhaps, upon reflection, we wish we hadn’t. But a divided church will never fully witness, to a secular world, to the crucified and risen Christ. No matter how hard it is, the dialogue, the conversations, the learning from each other, must continue.

  13. Russ says:

    The council of Trent infallibly declares that the sacrament of baptism is necessary for salvation. Trent infallibly excludes not only those who were Catholic and protested against the church from eternal life, but also those who in ignorance remain outside of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. It condemns every non-catholic and can never be changed because it is an infallible decree of the church.

    Trent also infallibly damns all infants to hell – even aborted infants and those who die before birth. This is a sick doctrine that the church must continue to uphold due to the church’s false teaching of the infallibility of the church councils.

    Not only does this mean that every word of the Pope that was published on this post is a lie but also your response to me saying that Trent does not apply to Protestants that remain Protestants in ignorance is a lie as well.

    Here is one result of these sick doctrines. This prayer of SAINT John Eudes was taken from a Catholic website:

    “O my God, I give Thee infinite thanks on behalf of myself, all creatures, and especially my particular friends, for the gift of life, and the capacity to know and love Thee. I thank Thee for having preserved our existence and allowed us to be born alive to receive Holy Baptism. If we had died before being delivered from Original Sin by the grace of Holy Baptism, which has been the misfortune of many souls, we would never have seen Thy divine face, and we would have been deprived of Thy holy love forever. May the angels and saints bless Thee forever for this most special favor Thou hast accorded us!” — St. John Eudes

    http://www.catholicism.org/unbaptized-infants-malone.html

  14. Russ, Russ, Russ!

    I would have responded sooner were it not for the 65 hour work weeks around here lately.

    You need to do a little more due dilligence and understand who you are quoting. In the case of the website you offer as being authentic Catholic teaching, you will in fact find (if you bother to do any research, don’t just proof text!) that the group that maintains that website are feeneyites. They are in fact NOT Catholic, NOT in good standing with the Church, and are espousing material heresy – that of super-cyprianism.

    Unbaptized babies that die: Five Theories would likely be a far better starting point.

    I am sorry that you find the explination of the Tridentine anathemas “weak” – what would satisfy you that the condemnations were excplicitly on those who were presenting themselves as Catholic or starting schisms? Methinks.

    That your church is full of ex-Catholics is no surprise to me. As a group, “ex-Catholics” who practice no faith or have become active in other ecclesial communities make a community larger than any Protestant denomination. If ex-Catholic were a denom, it would be the largest in the US.

    Why is that?

    Well, I happen to believe that a good and valid explination of this could easily be that there are so darn many of us to begin with. Given the cohesive nature of the Catholic Faith and how very united it is credally, it can be organized into large parishes (actually, Trent started the canonical situation of geographical parishes) and the teachings of Holy Mother Church are not up for debate, vote, or comittee revision in a way that leads to the constant reorganizing and fracture of Protestant ecclesial communities.

    But Russ I beg and plead with you, don’t play the emotive card in this discussion… I am confident you would reject out of hand non-Christian and pagan objections to Christianity from persons who simply found them to be “sick”… Likely, given what I know of your style and thought, truth trumps emotive reaction.

    Incidentally, what does your community teach about those who die without having accepted Jesus?

  15. Russ says:

    Are the official councils of the Catholic Church, Vatican I, Vatican II, Trent, etc, considered infallible by the church? If the counsels of the church are not reliable, how do you know which parts of each are true and which parts are false? Everything I found while searching this question indicated that the councils of the church are considered infallible by the church.

    If the counsels are not considered infallible, what then constitutes “sacred tradition”? If sacred tradition is to be considered on par with scripture, please define what sacred tradition is and what it is not.

    Is there a place that I can study sacred tradition? I know what the word of God consists of, Genesis – Revelation, so I know what to study. How does one study sacred tradition? Where is it defined?

  16. Anonymous says:

    The Catholic Church does not pronounce damnation upon anyone nor condemn anyone to Hell. Only God does that. The Church simply warns of the dangers in order to give souls sound direction to Heaven.

  17. Everything I found while searching this question indicated that the councils of the church are considered infallible by the church.

    That is accurate.

    If the counsels [sic] are not considered infallible,

    They are. Did someone here offer that they (the councils) were not? Or did they offer that your thinking on what the councils said was in error? It rather seems the latter.

    what then constitutes “sacred tradition”? If sacred tradition is to be considered on par with scripture, please define what sacred tradition is and what it is not.

    Is there a place that I can study sacred tradition? I know what the word of God consists of, Genesis – Revelation, so I know what to study. How does one study sacred tradition? Where is it defined?

    Geta copy of the Catechism, it is a good starting point… That is, if you are serious.

  18. Russ says:

    My point is that the kind and gracious words toward “ecclesial communities” by the current Pope…

    “…we affirm that the Church of Christ is present and operative in Churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in union with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. “

    It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance or importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church”

    …do not extend to the protestant churches in America and abroad because his statements are severely hindered if not completely nullified by the infallible decrees of Trent:

    SIXTH SESSION, CANONS CONCERNING JUSTIFICATION: “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA” (Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 12).

    SIXTH SESSION, CANONS CONCERNING JUSTIFICATION: “If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA” (Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 24).

    The Pope’s kind words above do not include my church nor most if not all protestant churches. He is indeed being gracious to someone but those “someones” do not include me or any other protestant churches.

    So the answer to the initial question of the Post: “Q. Why did the pope say that all the Protestant Churches are not really Churches in the recent Vatican document?”

    Is not correct. The answer should instead read something like this: “A. Because the Catholic Church has infallible condemned all those who hold to justification by faith alone.”

  19. Michael says:

    RUSS, I don’t think that anyone believes in justification by faith alone.

  20. Michael says:

    RUSS, if you do, what do you mean by “justification”, what by “faith”, and what by “alone”.

  21. Russ says:

    It really does not matter how I define those things. Trent is much more specific then that. It says, “If anyone SAYS…” This is not a matter of how I live out my faith. It is only a matter of what I “say” with my mouth and has nothing to do with my actions or even what I might truly believe. It only pertains to what I say, what I confess with my mouth.

    For example, this is taken directly from the “what we believe” section on my church’s website:

    We believe that salvation is by grace, through faith alone in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

    We are SAYing that there is no work that any man can do that can be added to or in any way sustain, complete or improve upon the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
    What we are SAYing places us directly in the crosshairs of those who are condemned by Trent.

  22. It really does not matter how I define those things. Trent is much more specific then that. It says, “If anyone SAYS…”

    It doesn’t matter how you define these things, but by your definitions and thinking it is problematic?

  23. Michael says:

    RUSS, I am not asking you to tell me what Trent means by the terms you use but what you mean by them. It is your claim, not Trent’s, that you believe in justification by faith alone. If you don’t know what you mean by the words you use in your own statement, you can’t believe what your statement is supposed to mean either, because one believes only what he can somehow grasp, and one can’t grasp any proposition without knowing the meaning of the words he uses in that proposition.

    So, if you are not able to define the meaning of the words you use, you don’t know what you are talking about, and thus confirm implicitly what I said earlier: “I don’t think that anyone believes in justification by faith alone.”

  24. Russ says:

    Justification = declared righteous
    Faith = confidence
    Alone = nothing else

    I am justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
    I am declared righteous because of my confidence in Jesus Christ and nothing else.

  25. happy says:

    This is off the subject but I am curious, where do most of these posts originate? United States?
    Thank You.

  26. Michael says:

    RUSS, thank you, but:

    “declared righteous”, by whom “declared”? And how does one verify this declaration?

    And what does it mean? A guilty man with a help of an eloquent barrister can be declared innocent, but he remains guilty, doesn’t he? If an evil man is “declared righteous”, does he cease to be evil? Or the declaration is only a cover-up, as the non-guilty verdict on a guilty man is a cover-up?

    And the “confidence in Jesus” makes no sense without qualification. We say that a manager has a confidence in a player if he expects that the latter will play well. Or a patient has a confidence in his doctor if he expects that the latter will help him in trouble. But to have merely a “confidence” that refers to nothing makes no sense.

    And to put it more puzzling you add “and nothing else”. Imagine a patient having only a confidence in his doctor and not (i.e.“nothing else”) that the doctor will help him. Likewise, the football manager: just confidence, while expecting nothing of the player. He would be sucked, wouldn’t he?

  27. Russ says:

    First, tell me what the writers of Trent meant by, “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA”

    What did they mean by “alone”? What did they mean by, “confidence in divine mercy”? What did they mean by, “remits sins” or “justifies”? Why is it that you require me to explain clear language? Why is it you cannot understand my speech?

    I am declared righteous by God solely based upon my confidence in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for me. I am justified by faith alone.

    If a guilty man is declared innocent he goes free. Being declared righteous does not mean I am not guilty, it means that regardless of the fact that I am guilty, I still go free.

    This confidence is based on the past not the future so your example of a manager having confidence in a player’s future performance is not applicable. All of your examples of confidence do not apply because all of the examples refer to confidence in a future event, not an event in the past.

    If a judge pronounced me “not guilty” yesterday, it is perfectly normal to have confidence in his verdict today.

  28. This is off the subject but I am curious, where do most of these posts originate? United States?
    Thank You.

    Yes, the United States… Although some come from Lebanon, and some in the future will be coming from England.

  29. Michael says:

    RUSS, I am trying to find out what you mean by the words and statements you use before venturing comments. However much what you say appears clear to you, it isn’t clear to me. I have read several times the document on Justification produced by a group of Lutheran and Catholic theologians, as well as the Decree of Trent; and find it all difficult to understand. My “gut feeling” is that a different meanings attached to the same terms by the two parties might be the main problem. So, I am trying to avoid that trap. And you seem to think that I am setting it for you.

    We would not gain anything from traps, or misunderstandings caused by carelessness in precision. So, if you don’t mind I’ll continue along the same lines as long as I consider it necessary. But if you object, I’ll cease.

    To change the subject, I came into this Post later; but having briefly gone over the previous comments, it seems to me that you misunderstand the way how the Catholic doctrine develops, which is understandable with one who had never “had it in his blood”. We would get nowhere if fighting windmills.

  30. Russ says:

    Happy reformation day!

    In the little town of Wittenberg, Germany,on this day, October 31, 1517, a priest nailed a challenge to debate on the church door. No one may have noticed then, but within the week, copies of his theses would be discussed throughout the surrounding regions; and within a decade, Europe itself was shaken by his simple act. Later generations would mark martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses on the church door as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, but what did Luther think he was doing at the time? To answer this question, we need to understand a little about Luther’s own spiritual journey.

    As a young man in Germany at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Luther was studying law at the university. One day he was caught in a storm and was almost killed by lightening. He cried out to St. Anne and promised God he would become a monk. In 1505, Luther entered the Augustinian monastery, and in 1507 became a priest. His monastic leaders sent him to Rome in 1510, but Luther was disenchanted with the ritualism and dead faith he found in the papal city. There was nothing in Rome to mend his despairing spirit or settle his restless soul. He seemed so cut off from God, and nowhere could he find a cure for his malady.

    Martin Luther was bright, and his superiors soon had him teaching theology in the university. In 1515, he began teaching Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Slowly, Paul’s words in Romans began to break through the gloom of Luther’s soul. Luther wrote

    My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning…This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.

    The more Luther’s eyes were opened by his study of Romans, the more he saw the corruption of the church in his day. The glorious truth of justification by faith alone had become buried under a mound of greed, corruption, and false teaching. Most galling was the practice of indulgences — the certificates the church provided, for a fee, supposedly to shorten one’s stay in Purgatory. The pope was encouraging the sale of indulgences. He planned to use the money to help pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

    Johann Tetzel was one of the indulgence sellers in Luther’s vicinity. He used little advertising jingles to encourage people to buy his wares: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Once Luther realized the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice alone for our sins, he found such practices revolting. The more he studied the Scriptures, the more he saw the need of showing the church how it had strayed from the truth.

    So, on this day, October 31, 1517, he posted a list of 95 propositions on the church door in Wittenberg. In his day, this was the means of inviting scholars to debate important issues. No one took up Luther’s challenge to debate at that time, but once news of his proposals became known, many began to discuss the issue Luther raised that salvation was by faith in Christ’s work alone. Luther apparently at first expected the pope to agree with his position, since it was based on Scripture; but in 1520, the Pope issued a decree condemning Luther’s views. Luther publicly burned the papal decree. With that act, he also burned his bridges behind him.

  31. Michael says:

    He was certainly capable man, but has failed to distinguish between the Church as a Mystical Body of Christ, and the churchmen of his time. Had he realized the difference, he would have been able to help as many holy men and women did; instead, he opted for a rebellion, for creation of a sect which ended nowhere; “better”: ended in some five hundred sects of similar kind – all claiming to be the true heritage of Christ, while hostile to one another: the scandal to the non-Christian and non-believing world, an obstacle to spreading the Gospel.

    His: sola scriptura did not help him. He learned nothing from His prayer that all His disciples be one. Likewise, from the fact that at the Foot only one bishop, a bishop nevertheless, stood with Our Lady and a few women. One sold Him, the first Pope denied Him, other bishops run away. Yet, on this fragile batch He built His Church which, with all sinners in her bosom, marches to meet Him in eternity, and invites others to join. Who hears you, hears me; I am with you until the end of the world. I will send you the Paraclete.

    When I was about 7, living in a house just opposite to the parish church, practically living with what was going on in and around the church, deeply impressed by its liturgy and endless other services…But there was a dark side: endless conflicts among the clergy within the parish, as well as with a Dominican community, technically in the parish, but actually, the church within the church. And endless gossip about it, and about various aspects of the clergy’s private lives.

    The people knew it, but it was a simple, healthy sensus fidelium that enabled them to distinguish the priests as fragile human beings and the priests as consecrated persons who were trying to dedicate their lives to service of the community. And the people were overwhelmingly – uneducated, and overwhelmingly co-operative.

    My late aunt too. And I well remember when on one occasion, while listening to the gossip and disturbed by what I have heard, I asked her to the effect: why are they doing all that, they are supposed to live a holy life. And she – please, compare with Luther – replied: Michael, there is so much of it with priests, but the fact that they themselves did not manage to destroy the Church is the best proof that she is the Church of God.

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