Thursday, March 06, 2008

Pope to Declare Luther "Not a Heretic"?

Here's the article from the (London) Times Online.

It wouldn't surprise me, given Pope Benedict's past statements about his fellow German churchman Luther and his praise for the 16th century Augsburg Confession - the central confessional document of the Catholic movement that came to be known as Lutheranism.

If this does happen, there will be a lot to talk about.


Chris said...

If Pope Benedict actually looks at the dogmatic issues Luther brought up, this could be interesting...I just hope he doesn't do the ELCA approach to fellowship in order to "soften his image" as the article said.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

I believe the 'soften his image' language to be simply a reflection of the author of the article itself, rather than a window into the pope's motivations. Since his paper at Regensburg, anything 'positive' done by Pope Benedict XVI in particular will be interpreted by some as being an attempt to improve his image.

I urge, on the other hand, a more generous view of his motivations. His views on Luther, for example, predate Regensburg by decades. In Joseph Ratzinger we are dealing with a true, and sober minded, theologian, the likes of which are all too rare on either side of the Lutheran/Roman Catholic divide. He is able to quote Luther in his writings, often positively, to 'converse' with him, theologian to theolgian. I find this is a refreshing example for the Church.

Chris said...

True. If I recall correctly wasn't the first Lenten service done by Ratzinger include a hymn which Luther wrote the words to?

He has consistently spoken positively about Luther and I can't imagine he would view Lutherans that differently.

Father Hollywood said...

Hi Chris:

I'm inclined to agree with Latif. I would add that whenever the mainstream media report on anything Christian - especially traditionalist Christianity - they insert their own speculations and theories of ulterior motivation (since, as everyone knows, it can't be just that this is what Benedict ACTUALLY believes).

Pope Benedict has never been given a fair shake by the press - precisely because he is a traditionalist.

I don't know about the hymn you're referring to, but here in my town, the RC church a couple blocks from my house (and church) has a carillon that plays "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" during Lent - which was the first Lutheran hymn to be included in Roman Catholic hymnals.

I don't know if it is known publicly or not, but one of our prominent confessional Lutheran theologians has a letter in his possession praising one of his (very Lutheran) theological treatises written by a reader who was a fan of the book - a certain (then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Unlike the vast majority of Lutheran pastors in the U.S., Pope Benedict has actually read all of Luther's works - and can read them fluently in the two languages Dr. Luther wrote in (namely, German and Latin). Only about a third of Luther's works have been translated into English, and I wonder how many of us have actually read anywhere near all of those (I know I haven't come anywhere near to reading just that fraction of the Reformer's works).

Unfortunately, I don't expect a lot of our LCMS colleagues to consider the historic significance of Benedict's pronouncement (if it is indeed forthcoming). I suspect there will be lots of throwing around of the term "Antichrist," and demands (often laden with misspellings and grammatical errors) that Benedict either sign the Book of Concord and join the Visible Church on Earth(tm) or start getting ready for an eternity in hell - instead of responding with Christian charity and hopeful, heartfelt prayers for eventual true evangelical unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in response.

But then again, maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. After seeing the end of the USSR and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in my lifetime, I have learned not to be surprised to see "the impossible" happen.

Chris said...

Fr. Beane,

From what I have read, I do believe Benedict to be genuine in his's his cardinals I'm not sure about. If however he removes the status of "heretic" from St. Luther, you are correct I believe...we will have issues in our synod. I have already read several comments on other blogs discussing this that basically want him to sign off and accept the Smalcald Articles.

Actually I believe the hymn was indeed "O Sacred Head Now Wounded."

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chris:

As far as making further demands on the papacy and some Lutherans getting all hot and bothered that the pope isn't doing more, I think it's easy to forget that these things take centuries. It was only in the twentieth century that Joan of Arc (a convicted heretic who, of course, received the death penalty) was canonized after having her original conviction overturned.

It was only in the 1960s that the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch withdrew their mutual excommunications from the eleventh century (and yet, even 40 years later, they are not in full communion, and probably won't be for hundreds of years).

I think we should see the providential hand of God working slowly on the Church as a whole to draw her into closer fellowship between her members and a recovery of the Gospel where it had been obscured. Rome wasn't built in a day. ;-)

We take it for granted that we can travel to Roman Catholic countries and not worry about being burned at the stake. Hey, that's a big deal in my book (though I've never been to a Lutheran-burning country). Such things could not be taken for granted just 400 years ago!

And now, in our day and age, we have a Roman Cardinal saying "We have much to learn from Luther." Wow! Think of it in the grand scheme of things.