Rorate Caeli

The accomplishments of Martin Luther, prince of the heresiarchs -
Part Two: Luther's theology was "Solus Lutherus"

This is the second and last part in a special series for this month of the Protestant revolt based on a conference delivered by Don Pietro Leone Monselice* on the theological work of the man who caused so much hurt and pain to Holy Mother Church, the "prince of the heresiarchs", as Don Pietro appropriately calls him.


III The failure of Martin Luther’s theology

         We shall now show briefly how Luther’s theology fails.
        1.With  the  words “ Scripture alone” , he rejects the role of the Church regarding Holy Scripture, but in rejecting the role of the Church, he rejects Holy Scripture itself because the Church furnishes its true meaning.
        2.With the words “Sola Fides”, he rejects the role of good works, but in rejecting good works he also rejects the Faith, because Faith without works is dead. (St. James 2,17)
        3.With the words “Sola Gratia” he rejects the role of free-will, but in doing so he rejects Grace also, because sanctifying Grace (apart from the case of Infant Baptism) is essentially a collaboration with free-will.
        4.With the words “Solus Deus” he rejects the role of the Church, but in doing so he also rejects God, because the Church gives us access to God, and the Church is, in a certain sense God, in the form of the Mystical Body of Christ.
        In other words, in his search for the essence of Holy Scripture, of Faith, of Grace and of God, Luther, in effect severs them from other realities with which they are necessarily connected, that is the Teaching Church, works, free-will, and the Sanctifying Church; and in so doing he ends up by losing their essence.  
        In all of these four cases, Luther, rejecting elements of the Faith, loses understanding of the entire Revelation, as the Jews by rejecting the Messiah, lost the understanding of the entire Revelation, since the Messiah is the key for understanding it. Thus the words of Our Lord apply to Luther as they had to the Jews: 'From he that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.' (Mt. 13.12).
IV The essence of Luther’s theology

         If we wanted to summarize in one word  Martin Luther’s theology, it would be “subjectivism.” Rather than submit himself to the authority of the Church in order to know the Faith, to know the true interpretation of the Faith, and to accept the Faith, Luther prefers to establish himself the object of the Faith (that is the Holy Scripture) and its true interpretation, and substitutes the act of faith (which according to the Catholic Church consists, as said before, in accepting the whole corpus of objective Catholic Dogma) with a purely subjective state of mind adopted by the person in their individual relationship with God.  The psychological roots of this subjectivism would seem to be Luther’s profound sense of guilt that is also manifest in his doctrine that human nature is totally corrupt.
         Romano Amerio shows in “Iota Unum” that this subjectivism is expressed clearly in his Article 29: “The way is open for us to deprive Councils of their authority and to contradict their acts freely and to profess confidently whatever seems to us to be true.”  In this way the four doctrines mentioned above can be expressed more accurately as “Solus Martinus Lutherus”.

V The Patrimony of Martin Luther

         Luther’s patrimony subsists not only in the Protestant sects, but for the last fifty years also in the heart of the Catholic Church Herself and in the modern mentality in general.
         Among Catholics today we discern Luther’s patrimony (and that of Protestantism) in the doctrines, at times mixed up with Catholic doctrines, of the self- interpretation of Holy Scripture, of the Church as solely an institution of men and as sinful, and of the Holy Mass as “a commemorative meal” where the Priest acts merely as “president”.
        We discern it, moreover, in that radical subjectivism widely diffused amongst Catholics of to-day who seem incapable of understanding that the Faith is objectively true, which they must thus profess and teach as such; instead of seeking communion with other Confessions or religions in the name of an indefinite and vague ecumenism; a radical subjectivism in opposition to the concepts of dogma, heresy, and anathema; an individualism that seeks a direct relationship with God in all things, setting aside the Church, the priesthood or Sacraments, and in particular the Sunday Mass and Confession.
         Protestant elements are especially found in the charismatic movement inside the Catholic Church to the extent that this amounts to an abandonment of the Church, dogmas, and Sacraments, in favour of a direct relationship with God.
         These elements are most clearly present in the charismatic group known as the 'Neocatechumenate' (at least before its recent reform by the Vatican) which proclaims the radical sinfulness of man, denies the true nature of the Church, the sacramental priesthood, the sacrificial nature of the Holy Eucharist in favour of a conception of “supper” or feast, denies the Real Presence (at least in the fragments of the Most Blessed Sacrament), harbours doubts regarding Transubstantiation, plays down the Sacrament of Penance, and teaches the self- interpretation of Holy Scripture.
        Regarding  the relationship of Lutheranism and Protestantism with the modern mentality, they are part of, or promote, that great current of subjectivism that smoothed the way for Descartes, for idealism and for modern philosophy in general, which draws the world away from God, from the True, the Good and the Beautiful, towards atheism and nihilism.

         In the light of these considerations it is difficult to understand the reasons why a Catholic would wish to extol the achievements of Martin Luther.

VI Putative Merits of Martin Luther

        Some praise Martin Luther for his sincerity, for his trust in God, for the clarity on which he based his doctrines, and his conscientiousness, but such qualities have no value whatsoever if they do not relate to objective reality: objective Truth and objective Good.  Yet for Luther it was not so, because he substitutes objective truth with sincerity; he severs trust, clarity and conscientiousness from the objective criteria which give them value:  he severs trust from the authority of God and of the Church, he severs clarity from the intrinsic properties of truth, and he severs conscientiousness from the moral law to which it is ordained. It follows that sincerity, trust, clarity and conscientiousness become mere subjective mental states of the individual, and so, morally indifferent.  Thus, these elements represent only ulterior manifestations of his radical subjectivism.
       Others praise Martin Luther for having attacked the moral abuses of the Clergy and Hierarchy of his time, even if Luther certainly cannot be proposed as a model of Catholic morality, as a Catholic Augustinian priest “married” to a nun, a psychotic, an antisemite, and a blasphemer, who taught: “Pecca fortier, sed crede fortius” (Let your sins be strong but your faith even stronger).  
       At any rate, the damage created by certain Churchmen of his time was definitely less than that caused by Luther: not so much for the civil war that he sparked off in Germany and the religious division in the whole of Europe, but for the damage brought to innumerable immortal souls through his disfigurement of the Catholic Faith.
       No, the true good that sprang from Martin Luther’s Reform is that which God, in His infinite mercy, deigned to draw from so many and such great evils: namely the Holy Council of Trent, which codified and established forever the Old Roman Rite, and dogmatically defined Divine  and Catholic Faith on Holy Scripture, on Tradition, on Original Sin, on Justification through Faith and works, on merits, on the Seven Sacraments, on Purgatory, on Devotion to the Saints and on Indulgences; so that all Catholics in all successive generations could enjoy that inexhaustible fount of grace and holiness which is the Old Roman Rite, and that they could know these eternal Truths, accepting them in a spirit of devout submission and humility, and living according to them for the Glory of the One and Triune God and for the salvation of their souls. 



*Nom de plume of a Priest who celebrates the Traditional Mass exclusively within a diocese in Italy. Translation and contribution: Francesca Romana.