Was Luther Right on Sola Scriptura?
|REGARDING LUTHER'S 'SOLA SCRIPTURA'
When St. Peter (no accident) preaches the first Good News, the Jews are struck to the heart because they accept the truth of what he is proclaiming, i.e., they believe. But that is not enough; and they know it is not enough and ask, "what must we do?" Answer: "Convert and be baptized and you will receive the Holy Spirit (through Baptism!). Baptized into what? Into Christ and the Church at the same time. That is what makes them Christians, i.e., members of Christ. Individually they can lose whatever the Church has essential for her existence in Christ. So, whereas the individual can lose the truth on his own, or the fullness of it (e.g., Luther, etc.) the Church as a united organic whole can not. That's part of the original insight or understanding of the Church. None of the Apostolic Churches dispute this, neither Catholics, nor Orthodox, nor Oriental Orthodox. They dispute only the conditions or organs of its expression.
But 1500 years after Pentecost Luther (et alia) breaks with this understanding, owing to his private, i.e, individual judgment of the Church. He is right and the whole Church is wrong. Now, that is quite conceivable if the Church was just a human society (as among scientists, say) or even in the first Covenant, where the Holy Spirit, coming and going, positively inspires a prophet against the whole people. The Holy Spirit was not permanently joined to the people until the Incarnation and Pentecost.
At the time of Luther there was an obscuring of this reality (of the Holy Spirit's permanent union with the Church) by the sins of the members of the Church, head and members, but not a destruction of it (there could be none in the New and Eternal Covenant). The Church still had (as it does now) the means to state the truth and correct the situation, because it is the Church of Christ, Who is never separated from His Body. For an individual to come along who is not one of the divinely appointed pastors and usurp their authority and position to judge things and ordain things is wrong.
And to assert that text is the only infallible recipient of Revelation and not the Church is an impoverishment indeed, and nearly Koranic in its conception of revelation. Instead of the Holy Spirit of Truth indefectibly ensouling the visible Church (thus ensuring against the Church falling into error of faith or moral teaching), you have the situation of the Old Testament brought back, as if there had not been an Incarnation of God or a Pentecost. But St. Paul says the Church is the pillar of Truth; and St. Matthew has Our Lord say that if someone will not even listen to the Church, treat him as an unbeliever. Both authors know that Pentecost took place, extending the Incarnation of the Body of the Church Mutatis Mutandi.
God's message as written in the Bible never existed apart from the authorized People of God, which is a definite visible communion, called the Catholic Church. Therefore, understanding the Sacred Text apart from communion with the faith of that Church will automatically bring misunderstanding. For while it is possible up to a point to understand the message of each book, the unity of all of them will be missed. And the unity of all of them is the Master Plan of God for mankind found in the Church.
Luther assumed in his disagreement with the Catholic Church that his own understanding of Romans was infallibly true and the Church's understanding of those texts was wrong, because he was sure of his own interpretation of his spiritual experience of relief from guilt feelings. Since his understanding relieved him of subjective guilt feelings, he would still be stuck with that sense of guilt in his own mind if he believed the Church's interpretation of his own experience. He just assumed that his judgment was right, and whatever contradicted his judgment had to be wrong. And he didn't even qualify that by saying, e.g., "that it is right for me;" but more than his judgment saw that his understanding of his own relief from a sense of guilt was the understanding of not only Paul, but of all scripture for everybody!
Thus Luther assumed he was infallibly right that the Scriptures (which he had already been taught by the Church were divinely inspired) meant what he meant. It is either the Church which is infallible when it asserts the Scriptures are divinely inspired and what they mean, or we only have a moral certitude that these religious texts are inspired the way any great work of art or religion is inspired; Luther assumed he was infallibly right.
While it is true that Luther did not consciously think he was outside the Christian Tradition, and his objection to the abuses of indulgences at first did not reveal the principle of his rebellion, so that he did not know he was contradicting Catholic Tradition, as soon as he discovered that his own position contradicted the Tradition when pressed in debate, well, guess what he does to Tradition?! And he does the same with Scripture (which subsequent Protestants did not have the boldness - of course, who would? - to follow: get rid of the inspired text of James!).
The principle of his reformation was his own ego and psychology which he made the standard for all Christians, not Christ and His virtues; rather Luther's subjective solution to his personal hell (dread and anxiety of condemnation) becomes the standard. We know enough of his history to see that he was one, sick puppy.
For Luther there is only one way to contact God: fiducial faith. There is no contact with God through love or charity; that is only for one's neighbor as a consequence that does not justify anyway since it is a work. In this he does not even understand the Old Testament: "Hear O Israel..., thou shalt love the Lord you God with your whole mind, heart, soul, strength,"..and Jesus adds...""your neighbor as yourself." Justification is really through Divine love poured out in the soul through baptism that results from the actual Presence in the soul of the Holy Spirit and God Who is Love. Though based on faith and involving hope, both of these virtues are filled with a real grace of love that is Divine, which can be lost if never put into use.
It occurred to me many years ago that Luther was obsessively concerned with "What's going to happen to me?" and "How do I escape horrible condemnation by this All-Powerful Judge called Christ?" The Apostles asked the same question of Our Lord in their infancy stage of spirituality before the Passion and the Mystery of the Resurrection: "We have left all things to follow you, what do we get in return?"
With Luther it was not only self-centered like that concern, but worse: "How do I avoid certain condemnation from an angry God; from Christ who hates me? Since placating Him with all sort of my works just doesn't cut the mustard with Him, there's gotta be a way to avoid certain eternal condemnation." Hence faith alone.
Now read the life of any saint, e.g., contemporaries of Luther, or of any time or place East or West, and what do you see? Divine Love everywhere in their lives: Love which restrains passions, inspires zeal for the worship and honor of God and help of neighbor, deep mystical union of Love, understanding of humanity in love. God is not only contacted by a love which comes from Himself, but this love establishes a mutuality of deep friendship and cooperation such that the Holy Spirit, the Person of Love, really runs their lives and they cooperate with Him (rather than the earlier stages of this love wherein the believer calls the shots to a point, and God cooperates with the believer who follows the commandments until he learns to give up his self-will enough for the Holy Spirit to begin to take over).
Luther drives out Charity or love of God from its primary place as the Queen of the spiritual life in the Christian. But faith is the starting point; faith as the acceptance of what comes from God even though we don't understand it. (We can only understand partially.) God gives more than faith. He pours his Love into our hearts, and He is that love Itself.
Luther understood none of this; but the saints do. The experience of this was Pentecost. Luther did not start there. He started with himself, and in his distorted psychology made himself the pattern of belief. Teutonic Europe was twisted away over 400 years from the love of God and the results have not been thousands of saints burning with the love of God with deep compassionate understanding of the humanity thirsting for the Savior's Heart.
The immediate results were tragic division of Christianity, lowering of spiritual and moral standards; a cruel puritanism born of a self-righteous spirit to counteract the immorality unleashed by the destruction of the medieval faith. Later, a scholasticism infinitely more sterile than the most decadent Catholic variety; modern skepticism, because everyone could now be his own judge according to his own lights; and a marked rejection of the feminine side of Revelation and humanity: in liturgy, devotion, and the mind, to say nothing of the destruction of the contemplative life and missionary work to the pagans; and the wars of religion.
If a saint or even an ordinary Christian is shown that he mistakenly departs from the Church's teaching he will give up his own interpretation and accept the Church's since he knows (through faith) that he receives Divine Life and faith itself through the Church, to which the revelation is made and in which the reality of the revelation is dwelling permanently so as not be be lost; whereas if he is not humble of mind and will he can lose not only the faith or truth, but the very reality of the Indwelling Trinity Itself, and thus not have the needed arsenal of virtues and gifts that will allow him (by grace) to conquer sin in his life. The Lutheran denomination can not thus be the true Church, since its understanding of the faith departs from the Catholic tradition in a radical way, which has not yet been overcome. This the Orthodox have also seen, i.e., that Lutheran & Protestant teaching is radically incomplete and erroneous on many points by denial of many Truths of the Public Revelation made to the Church and maintained through Sacred Tradition (which includes Scripture).
The problem with the Protestant reformers is that they mixed doctrinal heresy with change of discipline, such that the change of discipline practically threatened the divinely revealed truths of the faith. E.G., Wycliff's translation of the bible into English (on the whole a fair translation in itself) was prefaced with heretical doctrines so that the English bishops were forced to reject it. (Luther added the word "alone" to the German translation of all those passages on faith, which of course the original does not have - the only phrase where faith alone occurs is James' famous text that concludes the opposite of Luther.) For nearly 150 yrs before Luther, reform movements were calling for vernacular liturgies, but the Church was forced to reject that at Trent as a result of the savaging of the texts by the ecclesiastical "vigilanteeism", as it were, which completely destroyed the traditional understanding of the Eucharist and other sacraments. The work of the enemy (Satan) does just what the Reformers came up with: 80% truth and 20% error, but that 20% unravels the whole thing eventually! That is because the Revelation is one; you can not subtract from it, and development of the understanding or application of it to new circumstances must maintain the same principles that are contained in the Apostolic Tradition overseen by the Holy Spirit.
In looking further at the "reform" of Luther, one sees some heresies which arose in the early Church reemerging:
Donatism was the heresy in North Africa of thinking that the efficacy of the sacraments depended on the holiness of the person ministering them. This controversy and bitter schism followed the mid-third century persecutions which after nearly fifty years of relative quite suddenly and viciously (systematic searching-out) surprised the more comfortable members of the Church who caved in out of fear and offered sacrifice or handed-over books.
Later, after the trial, those who capitulated sought reconciliation. Rome supported the view that this was possible with penance. The clergy among those who had lapsed and sought forgiveness (through the Sacrament of Penance) were reinstated after suitable penance. The Donatist party (named after the bishop who supported the stringent view) claimed that all the ordinations, baptisms, Eucharists of these clergy were invalid; since they had lost the Holy Spirit, so the sacraments given by them had to be without the Holy Spirit.
It is the Protestant view of the Church which believes just that about the Church as a whole: it lost the Holy Spirit of the Apostolic Church because of its compromises with the world and thus can not be Holy. Secondly, the puritanical strain inherent in Protestant rigorism has a Donatist tendency to be overly scandalized in finding imperfection in the Church: they are like teenagers who discover their parents are not perfect and overreact by denying listening to their advice because they now distrust these imperfect parents and blame them for destroying their childish idealisms. So we find writhing Protestantism anger at and criticism of the Church for betraying them by not being perfect as she was supposed to be.
But just as back then in the third century, and later in the 16th, so now it is Rome that understands her own humanity and God's Humanity better than those disappointed perfectionists, and can see both the Holiness of Christ her Spouse, as well as her own sinful members in one vision: Just as Christ did not feel ashamed to consort with sinners to save them, neither does He separated from His Spouse the Church on earth made up of sinners in order to save them.
There are not two Churches, one visible and one invisible; there is only one Church or Communion with visible and invisible elements. There is one Church in different states or conditions: the Church imperfect on earth, with members being purified after death, and members perfected in Heaven. All three sets of members form one Body of Christ: among the visible members on earth some are dead members, but we can not always tell which; and some are of the souls of the Church outside the visible Body, and we can not tell. That does not make more than one Church or Communion.
This split between the visible and invisible assumed in Protestant thinking is a de-Incarnating of Christ partially. It is a semi-Nestorianism applied to the Church. Nestorianism is a _separating_ of the Divine from the Human in Christ such that there are _two Christs_ not one (like the two Churches, not one!). Semi-Nestorianism would say there is only one Christ but the two Natures in Him are kept separate and don't influence one another; there is no "communicatio idomatum", no sharing in characteristics of each Nature: You can neither say "Divine blood of God" nor "the Humanity of God"; you can't say "human Mother of God", but only "human mother of the Human Part".
It is an overly logical imposition on a Divine Revelation that far exceeds human categories or imagination. So this is applied to the Church, separating her from her Head. The visible and invisible are not only distinct, so goes this error of applied semi-Nestorianism, but two Churches, one visible and another invisible, one imperfect, another perfect. Thus there are systematic splits or separations where two different aspects of Revelation are actually made separate; faith and works are separated and one denied, instead of seeing both under grace. Word and _sacrament_ are separated, and the latter downplayed. The individual and the community of the Church are separated and the latter downplayed. Faith and reason are paradoxically separated and overemphasized! Faith and Charity are separated and Charity vastly underrated. The Saint and the sinner are separated and the former of no use for the latter's salvation. Sign and reality are separated and both are minimalized and reduced to a message. Where there is more conservatism here the visible sign is gutted of Reality and becomes mere symbol, incapable of bearing the Reality. The local congregation is separated from the Universal Visible Communion, and the separation of the clergy from the laity is attained by denying the former, making it into a special type of the latter not essentially different in kind. In short, the Incarnation of God leaves only a trace on earth until the Second Coming.
The verdict is unmistakable: the Protestant view of the Church is applied semi-Nestorianism. No wonder the human element in the Church scandalizes the semi-Nestorians. They want things separated, not united. The Groom and the Bride are thus separated and can not be understood as sharing one another's lives. But the moment one sees the real marriage of Christ with one Bride, the Church, the earthly state of the Church can be seen as _already_ having in an imperfect way what the same Church has in a perfected way.
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