Reformation Day 2013: The Most Love-Filled Sect I Have Ever Seen

Oct 31st, 2013 | By | Category: Blog Posts

We have come up on another October 31. Though Reformation Sunday has already passed, this date is the anniversary of the 95 theses, though of course it is difficult to separate fact from legend even in such an important thing as this. In any case, I recall that I used to celebrate this day, the day when all that was wrong with Western Christendom finally began to be purified. Now, I am choked with tears, because at the least, I did not understand the first thing about the Church I dared to rebuke.

St. Peter Preaching
Masolino da Panicale (1426-27)

At this point, you may say to yourself, “Of course he says that now,” you mentally note to yourself, “he’s Catholic.” I’m willing to accept that dismissal for the rest of my life, if the one who makes it is willing to listen to his or her conscience when it says the same words. How much do I really know about the traditions of those with whom I dialogue? We have been encouraged in this space to cultivate the virtues of true charity, and the skill of real dialogue. I tell you the truth, I have room to grow. Yet it wasn’t very long into dialogue with the Catholic Church and its teachings that I realized what little I really knew, and how little I had truly listened. To paraphrase Chesterton, to listen without pretense or pre-judgment to the Catholic Church invites one to fall in love with her. Perhaps that makes me a compromised witness, in a sense. On the other hand, the very treasure that partners in dialogue can appreciate is the treasure of Christ himself. Christ not only possesses that truth; He is Truth. Therefore, both aspects of appreciation and polemic find their ends in communion with Christ. Not only do we seek to bring others into deeper communion, but we hope that we do not disqualify ourselves in our zeal to find truth.

If the many elements of sanctification and truth that are found outside the visible structure of the Catholic Church really do impel toward catholic unity, we must expect to be drawn ever closer to the center of faith, to the Church, which is Home. What indeed are the obstacles, or the ideas that are nothing more than the fruit of bitterness? We know that irrational prejudice does not belong to Him who is Love itself. How could I have ever believed that I was standing for the good news of Christ while I either ignored or denied fellowship to 1 billion of my brothers and sisters? I recall also that along with those opinions that were contrary to the teaching of the Church, I believed by necessity that the gospel had been lost or hidden for many centuries until it was recovered by the Reformers in the 16th century. But I now must ask you the same question I asked myself: “Does this sound like the work of the Incarnate Word who is God with us? Is it fitting that the one who promised He would be with us even to the end of the age would allow His Church to be completely destroyed?” These were the questions that seemed flatly contrary to the intimacy and the faithfulness of God reflected in the Incarnation. Indeed, the motives of credibility completely depend upon the reality of the Incarnation.

I was honestly forced to ask if I would bow in adoration to an ethereal concept without form or substance. Was the household of God simply an object of eschatological hope? It did not seem at all proper that the unity of all Christians should be something confessed, but in no way realized. When we ask the questions about how we know what we know, we are really asking and hoping to find the means of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people and to the world. In short, we are looking for the visible Church. The Lord Jesus walked with His disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Saint Luke records, “and beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Every story of recognizing Jesus is a story of connecting the dots of continuity and faithfulness. When we courageously begin to investigate the history of Christianity, we are inviting our own moment of recognition to occur upon the road. We may not find Him where we thought, but we will find Him if we are persistent.

No one here at Called To Communion advocates unity for unity’s sake. We do not believe the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded simply because it is easier. Rather, we have all found that the true task of the theologian (and all Christians must be theologians in one sense or another) is to find the truth concerning God in Christ and bind it together like a rope composed of many threads. As we do this, we find our hearts burning within us, as those disciples did as they walked and talked with Jesus along the road. St. Peter preached to the gathered Jews at Pentecost, and though the people assembled there could not see and could not have anticipated the full picture of the truth as it unfolded before them, when St. Peter took the threads of truth from those various Scriptures and bound them together, their duty was clear.

We may be in our own context a Pharisee of Pharisees, circumcised on the eighth day of the tribe of Benjamin, but like St. Paul, we must be ready to declare it all rubbish for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord, if indeed the Catholic Church is the story of Christ’s own faithfulness to His people and to the world.

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  1. I have been on the journey from Protestantism this year. Your essay here could be mine. It is a difficult and at the same time hopeful journey. Thank you for reminding me others have shared the experience – knowing that helps me continue with faith it is really OK to go there.

  2. Not to mention the earlier split when Rome and Orthodoxy schismed.

  3. “Is it fitting that the one who promised He would be with us even to the end of the age would allow His Church to be completely destroyed?”

    Not very convincing. Is it fitting that millions who devote their lives to studying the Word would be allowed to persist in error? Is it fitting the God would allow a holy Pope to essentially mislead by kissing the Koran or teaching an implicit universlism? No, but it happens. Regardless of whether Catholics or Protestants are right, God allows the divide to persist when he could intervene like he did at the Incarnation. He could make true doctrine crystal clear, but he doesn’t. Look at the liberal interpretations of the CCC that are only refuted by highly technical aoplogists, while never answered by parish priests! Is that fitting? God could step in… But he doesn’t. He allows others to err in good faith. Maybe Catholics need the Protestant corrective, even if they are the true Church. Perhaps while they have the technically correct doctrine, they screw up the preaching and need the outsider help. Peter Kreeft suggests as much in Foundations of the Faith. The new Pope is good friends with Luis Palau without trying to arm wrestle him to faith. And I know of few Protestants outside the hyper – Reformed that think Reformation Day was this gushing spring with no negative parts to it. It was revival amidst a corrupt Church, but so was the Jesuit movement. As Will Durant observed, “Ignatius of Loyola asks, ‘How can we escape the everlasting agony [of Hell]? Only through the redeeming sacrifice which God himself, as Christ, offered on the cross.’ Note that Luther went through the same fears of Hell, the same penitential austerities, the same release through faith in the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, that motivated the career of Ignatius (The Reformation, 909).” Whether one is in the Protestant or Catholic Church, one can have a growing, saving faith in Christ, which is the pivot point of life. Grace is the fire, the Church is the fireplace, but God obviously allows the fire to jump out.

  4. Hi, Joe,

    I think it worth a note that we need not believe that John Paul II did the right thing in the case you mention here. In fact, I agree with you. Nor does my essay here negate the work of grace in the lives of those Christians separated from the Catholic Church. Quite the contrary, in fact. So I’m really asking, just as it was in earlier times in redemptive history, is the work of the Spirit of Christ leading us all to “put 2 and 2 together” and return to the Catholic Church? I’m very passionate that the fact of the Incarnation eventually leads to reunion with the Catholic Church, not as a negation of what we learned apart, per se, but as the full realization of what we had sought. As Dr. Cross has said to me, “You can’t reform the Church from outside.” I realize that’s neither popular, nor an easy case to make, but it’s one that we are committed to making here. Thank you very much for the comment.

    In Christ,
    Jason Kettinger

  5. Marian,

    If this was a blessing to you, I am encouraged. Many of the men here did the same for me. Many blessings on your journey!

    Regards in Christ,
    Jason Kettinger

  6. Jason,

    I think this is an excellent and thought-provoking post. I was particularly taken with this,

    I recall also that along with those opinions that were contrary to the teaching of the Church, I believed by necessity that the gospel had been lost or hidden for many centuries until it was recovered by the Reformers in the 16th century. But I now must ask you the same question I asked myself: “Does this sound like the work of the Incarnate Word who is God with us? Is it fitting that the one who promised He would be with us even to the end of the age would allow His Church to be completely destroyed?”

    I wonder if from a cultural point of view it becomes easier to write off the Medieval period because we in the western 21-century world are so far removed from it chronologically, and the ability of our culture to consider our heritage and the lives of previous generations, as part of our own. As a culture, we seemed to be losing the ability to connect our lives/experiences with those even a couple generations removed from our own. It seems so different from the way God speaks in the OT when he speaks to the Jews, many hundreds of years removed from the patriarchs, as the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

    As a lover of history, I had found great comfort in a Reformed faith that had such a deep connection to centuries past, where people read theologians and pastors of ages past with reverence and respect, believing Dabney, Edwards, or even Calvin (wow, five centuries!) had something to say to us in the present. Yet now I see how my desires had not gone far enough, thinking that entire (or maybe, almost entire) generations of people claiming to be Christians at some arbitrary point in history had entirely lost the gospel. I pray today when we pray to God and ask Him to speak to us and call us to deeper communion, we pray to the God of Augustine, Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, and many others, and seek to unite our devotion to Christ not simply with those culturally or chronologically close to our time. in Christ, Casey

  7. Jason, your post, as with many others on CTC, begs all kinds of historical questions, unless one thinks theology can live only in a philosophy classroom and not be operationalized in the real world. Only in abstract theory (that is, theory without regard for historical reality) is it possible to conceptualize your romanticized view of what the church is. And only in abstract theory can you speculate on “Is it fitting that the one who promised He would be with us even to the end of the age would allow His Church to be completely destroyed?”

    You state ““I believed by necessity that the gospel had been lost or hidden for many centuries”. Can you elaborate on what historical facts persuaded you that you were wrong to think that? What do you mean by “by necessity”? The Bible itself is very transparent that (regrettably) there were many times that the people of God were faithless (cf Judges, et al). So it’s hardly a stretch to think that the gospel could get lost for a long period of time, and in fact, historical facts would support that.

    For instance, do you think Pope Leo X was a solid and credible advocate for the gospel? The guy was a lavish spendthrift and had to fund his ways by promulgating his distorted theology of indulgences. And, morally, he was a documented pervert that liked to have naked little boys jump out of birthday cakes.

    Meanwhile, Luther comes along, trying to reform the church, and it’s Luther that got excommunicated. If the church could have found him, it would have likely killed him. Go figure. When you say ”It did not seem at all proper that the unity of all Christians should be something confessed, but in no way realized.”, most protestants will eagerly agree with you. But, if you lived in Luther’s day, exactly how could you blame him for being schismatic? If you’re looking to achieve unity, shouldn’t the proper blame be laid at the feet of the institution of the RCC that burned John Hus and likely wanted to do the same to Luther?

    No protestant celebrates schism. We embrace your idyllic view of a unified church. We just think unity should be based in doctrinal purity and not based on the RCC wielding the power of the sword to coerce a false unity.

    Just realize that given a choice between Pope Leo X and Luther, that most of us feel duty bound to opt for Luther, and then say a thank-you prayer for Reformation day.

  8. Dear Pete/Corn,

    The problem with the Reformation is not the motive to desire purity, holiness, and truth; the problem is frankly that the children of the Reformation accept all the theological baggage of the Reformation under the guise of moral reformation. It happens to every person who studies the history, even slightly: “Could this be true, despite any number of failures to live out the gospel, even all the way to the top?” And of the Reformation: “Could these doctrines be false, even though these men are highly sympathetic in many respects?” Until that happens, a person really isn’t ready to engage the questions or the respective paradigms on the merits. I advise that we focus like a laser beam on those questions, and leave the emotional appeals in the trash.

  9. “We don’t believe that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded simply because it’s easier.” Jason, that is right, and I would take that further: My experience of being Catholic is that it’s harder. Embracing the truth is, in fact, hard, because it means giving up the self’s desire to embrace, not the truth, but whatever “seems that way to me.” As a Catholic, if something “seems that way to me” but it’s not what the Church teaches, my obligation is to solve my own error, not to form my own sect.

    Corn-Czar (#7), If I say that adultery is a sin, and then go out a week later and commit adultery, that only means that I am a sinner. It doesn’t mean that my teaching was false. If someone rebukes me, he’s rebuking my sin, not my teaching. (In fact, if my teaching was false, he could hardly rebuke me at all.) When the Scripture says that all men are sinners, that includes church leaders, and that’s true whether those leaders are Protestant or Catholic. It is important to differentiate between the truth of the teaching and the sin of the actions. I have been Catholic for three years now, and I’ve met no one who goes around with a “romanticized” notion of a church of Perfect People and Perfect Priests and Perfect Popes. We are Catholic because we believe that what the Church teaches is true, not because we believe that everyone somehow lives it perfectly. That doesn’t happen in your church; it doesn’t happen in ours.

    And anyone who had such a view coming into RCIA would surely lose it before RCIA was over, or if not by then certainly very quickly thereafter. When I was a Protestant, I saw people church-hopping all the time. But my experience as a Catholic is that, when people convert to the Church, they generally stay put. They would not stay put if they were laboring under the burden of any romantic notions of what the Church is.

  10. All/Corn-Czar,

    Worth a note that “by necessity” refers to ecclesial deism, which elaborates on the theme of discontinuity.

  11. Re: #8. Jason, you wrote your post with specific reference to Reformation Day, which is rooted in an historical event. And you specifically stated ““I believed by necessity that the gospel had been lost or hidden for many centuries”. This statement, too, is one that references history. So, it seems fair for me to ask if you would be willing to elaborate on what historical facts persuaded you that you were wrong to think that? And, what do you mean by “by necessity”?

    Further, you express passion about your having dared to rebuke the church, with specific reference to Reformation Day. So, may I ask, if you were a close friend to dear Martin Luther, exactly what would you have counseled him to do under his circumstances? Or, put another way, if you were a close friend of Pope Leo X, what kind of counsel would you have given him? Would you applaud his excommunication of Luther? Would you have wished to have had Luther burned? Or, would you have joined with Luther in attempting to reform the Church? Or?

    Re: #9. Scott, we are in perfect agreement that all men are sinners and that the manifestation of sin within a church does not, of necessity, negate the truth of the teachings of the church, be it RCC or any other. I appreciate that you are willing to see the moral flaws in the church. What reforms, if any, would you have advocated for if you lived in the year 1517 AD?

  12. “CC”, (#11)

    It’s a humble point, really: The Reformers rejected the ecclesiastical authority of the Catholic Church because they believed that said authority no longer legitimately promulgated the gospel, nor could bind the conscience of a Christian. Is that fair to say? We’re simply putting those claims in the dock. How would we know if those claims were true? How would we know if those claims were false? Immorality or morality is something of a red herring, because we know that we’re all sinners. The fact that a general or a president is wicked does not vitiate his jurisdiction, unless he is lawfully relieved for that very cause, to use an ordinary example. So, if we are to reject the jurisdiction and the doctrine of the Catholic Church in favor of another, their authority to bind the conscience is precisely at issue. And yes, that is very much a question of history, I agree.

  13. Here is perhaps a helpful analogy addressing one of the concerns raised by Corn-Czar: judging the Catholic Church’s claims as false because of the moral errors some of her members. It is an excerpt from Frank Sheed’s book, The Church and I.

    “In the eyes of the onlooker, the Church is to be judged not by the sinners, not even by the average, but by the saints. That may seem like loading the dice, but it is not…A medicine, I said, is to be judged by those who take it, not by those who throw it down the sink: the Church is to be judged by those who know its teachings, obey its laws, receive its sacraments. The saints have done all these things with all their heart: those of us who have done them partially or not at all are less useful as evidence of their value.”

  14. Again, there is no disagreement that moral failure in and of itself disproves any particular RCC doctrine. (I hope you would agree that moral failure certainly diminishes the credibility of any church, however. )

    But, to the extent your post was a reflection on Reformation Day, it seems fair to ask 2 questions:

    1. Living in the moment of 1517 AD, what should a conscientious believer/follower of Christ have done to attempt to reform the church, since presumably you don’t like how Luther attempted to do so. (Or, would you argue that the church did not need any reform? Or, would you argue that the risk of attempting reform is so great that it should not even be attempted, because, it might play out the way the Reformation played out?)

    2. Living in the moment of 2013 AD, what reform agenda (if any) would you propose today for the RCC?

    These are sincere questions. To the extent you advocate for reform, you may be surprised to see how that might positively resonate with protestants, and further your goal of unity.

  15. Corn-Czar,

    Your question presupposes that Luther wanted to reform the Church. That may have been true at one point. But to take one example, to deny the efficacy of the Mass as a sacrifice has no moral component. The only way you can make that case is to suppose that the Church’s theology caused the moral degradation, which is only supposed by those who have innovated, and then entered into schism to justify it. If it’s honestly an open question, I don’t need a new doctrine of the Eucharist or Holy Orders to call for moral reform. Think it through logically with me: If the Church’s doctrine is wrong, no amount of piety would make it correct. Conversely, if the Church’s doctrine is correct, (and comes from Christ) no amount of impiety would make it false, though I agree that sin makes the Church into a “counter-sign” for those who would believe.

    To the second question, we pray continually for our own deeper conversion to Christ, and for those who lead us. We also may ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, so that they make whatever changes in structures or policies serve the cause of Christ. But we cannot change the fundamental posture of a believer toward divine revelation: that of a receiver. If I had to write one sentence as to why I am no longer a Protestant, it would be this: “One cannot be both the arbiter of divine revelation, and a humble receiver of it at the same time.” If you read some of the articles here, especially regarding interpretive paradigms, you’ll begin to understand what I mean by that.

    Blessings In Christ,

  16. Corn-czar,
    Should be noted that Luther’s excommunication happened three years after the theses. This was not some rash impulsive decision by the RCC and he was given opportunities to recant or follow other avenues of reform. But of course digging one’s heels in and denying core tenets (not *abuses* or *practices*) as he began to do over those 3 years leads inexorably to disciplinary measures – if someone was denying core tenets of your church, I would assume you would approve of them being excommunicated if they refused to change (or indeed intensified their opposition as Luther did).

    Now there is something to be said that not everything Trent defined and which Luther opposed had yet been defined as dogma. So for example you have RCs like Contarini and Pole who tried to reach compromise with Protestants on sola fide and had interesting approaches to justification (their duplex model). But their case lost out at Regensburg and then at Trent. Pole in fact had much anguish (he was involved in the sessions at Trent on justification) over the final canons, but eventually *submitted* (the same thing happened during Vatican 1 and infalliblity with people like Hefele). But again, during his and Contarini’s conversations with Protestant leaders, he remained faithful to the Church’s authority even when his convictions leaned towards Protestant sensibilities. That is how change/reform is to be done in the RC view – under the aegis of the Church’s authority. Reformers like Francis of Assisi and Catherine and Bernardino of Siena and withstood certain aspects of this authority (including the Pope himself) but yet did not simply disregard its authority – they worked within its confines to bring about change. Some advocating change were indeed unjustly sanctioned or had their works censored/forbidden and not vindicated until decades later or even posthumously, but yet they still humbled themselves to the obedience of authority and virtue of patience rather than rebel and leave.

  17. CC (#14

    Your question was to Jason, of course, but I hope you don’t mind my butting in briefly to say that it depends on what you mean by reform – and I think there is where the problem lies.

    No one denies that sins ought to be repented of and righteous acts put in their place. In the modern situation, the sexual sins of some clergy must be abjured and the guilty dealt with, the victims aided. In Luther’s time, supposing there were abuses of the doctrine of indulgences – stipulate it; I do not know personally enough of the history to know – then those abuses must be corrected.

    But ‘reform’ does not usually mean this, and ultimately, if not proximally, did not mean this to Luther. To Luther it meant doctrinal reform. And if your question about what modern reforms are needed means that doctrines like indulgences should be denied, then there can be no question about the answer: no reform of doctrine can be seen as needed unless the Church itself is not what it claims. For if it is what it claims, then its doctrine – its dogmatic teachings that are to be held by the faithful with divine faith – cannot be wrong and there can be no question of reform. If, on the other hand, the Church is not what it claims, then there is no point in talking of reform; the Church in that case is an abomination (because it does claim to be Christ’s presence in the world in a unique sense) and must be rejected.


  18. Corn Czar (#11),
    The Council of Trent made quite a lot of reforms that had to do with proper catechesis in the faith. Because the faith was understood poorly, it was lived poorly and taught poorly. I doubt I could improve on Trent, but if you are looking for something specific, I agree with reforms that were made (to name one example) in how indulgences were granted–namely, that no indulgence was to be granted based on a monetary transaction. The teaching on indulgences is correct, but the application in that particular case was in error, or at best open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

    Reform is one thing, and often needed. Schism is another, and never justified.

  19. Regardless of whether Catholics or Protestants are right, God allows the divide to persist when he could intervene like he did at the Incarnation. He could make true doctrine crystal clear, but he doesn’t.

    I suppose then that you think the Arians and the Donatists were not heretics, because doctrines were misunderstood and not crystal clear to them, so therefore their seperation from the Church was acceptable. Christ said “he who hears you hears me”, not “he who clearly understands you and it makes sense to them and they decide to believe you hears me”.
    Jesus also said “take it to the Church” when there is a problem. In the Protestant paradigm this make utterly no sense. When I took my issues to my elders in my Protestant church, they told me to search the scriptures and follow my conscience. Yet as everyone knows from first hand experience, our judgement about the scripture can be horibly wrong… which is why Jesus gave us the Church in the first place. Not to make things clear for us, but to preach the truth to us so we can obey Christ. (and the truth is clear in itself, whatever we see it as does not matter)

    liberal interpretations of the CCC that are only refuted by highly technical aoplogists, while never answered by parish priests!

    This is false. Every priest I have known since my conversion (around a dozen, 4 of which were my own parish priests) can simply and untechnically answer liberals. It is easy, because liberals themselves very rarely bother to even use the CCC, and when they do it is they who seek a highly technical interpretation with which to wiggle out of things. Please email either of my current priests from my tri-church parish and ask them anything you want. You will find them knowledable and unapologetically orthodox.

    Father Corey Belden
    Father John Gallas

    But if they werent, and if they were heretics, I still dont see what that shows about the Catholic Church. If leaving the Church through schism meant her claim to unity were falsified, then there could not be such a thing as schism. If mutually exclusive theologies can both exist under the umbrella of “Church”, as is claimed in Protestantism, then the truth can never be known, and the Church can never be obeyed, and there can be no unity of “one” Church we profess in the creed.

    By the way, I am an electronic technician, not a highly technical appologist. Just a layman with no training in theology, and I get this stuff just fine. Things are actually much simpler and easier to understand now as a Catholic than when I had to make it up for myself as a Protestant. (my personal experience of the matter… no offense intended)

    -David Meyer

  20. I forgot to address my comment to Joe.

  21. Actually, I think I can agree for the sake of debate a Protestant is a heretic, because a heretic is a Christian who denies a doctrine of the faith or distorts it, correct? I simply think one can believe the Church is true and correct, and also believe that the Gospel is being propagated by Protestants. It is a mystery to me why God allows sincere people to remain “in the dark’ at various levels, but he does, unless you want to revert to a sort of Reformed idea that the elect always “get” it. And even in the Church, depending on where you enter it, it sounds like it can be hard to ascertain official teaching. But on the essential points of repent, believe and be baptized, there seems to me wide agreement that is the core of what is at stake. The secondary points ARE important, I will agree, but not decisive. Christians are made children of God by faith and baptism so they share a pedigree non-believers do not.

  22. if indeed the Catholic Church is the story of …

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