The Epistle of Straw

“St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.” — Martin Luther

That Martin Luther called the Epistle of St. James “an epistle of straw” is a well-known fact. Those just learning it should not be surprised when they read it, though. After all, in making up his new religion, Luther’s ultimate recourse was to his own intellect. About the nicest thing we can say of such a criterion for truth is that it was not given a divine promise of inerrancy.

Luther’s problems aside for the moment — we will return to them — the study of the Epistle and its inspired author would be well worth our attention even had they not been impugned by the apostate Augustinian Friar. We therefore set out to do three things in this article. The first is to give a brief introduction to St. James and his Epistle. Next, we explore why the reformer had problems with it. Third, we will use the Epistle’s contents to refute certain Protestant errors and defend certain Catholic truths.

“The Just One”

Though there are some who hold a different view, the common opinion among Catholics is that the author of this Epistle is the Apostle, James the Less, the “Brother of the Lord” who was also the first Bishop of Jerusalem. This view was universal in the West until modern scholars, with their historical-critical method, began to question everything. Some orthodox authors of the East, following Eusebius, held that the Apostle and the Bishop of Jerusalem were two different men (see sidebar, page 32).

St. James was murdered by the unbelieving Jews, as is related by both Eusebius of Caesarea and Josephus, the Jewish historian. Because of the growing number of Jewish converts to the Gospel, the Jews, who themselves called James “the Just One,” wished to get him to denounce Our Lord publicly. For some strange reason, they seemed to think he would actually do it. So, on the feast of Pentecost in the year 62, they gave him the “bully pulpit” of the pinnacle of the Temple, from which he could address the large number of Jews and Gentiles present for the holy day. He had agreed with the Jews ahead of time to “persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus,” a phrase which obviously meant different things to the agreeing parties. When St. James had taken his place on the pinnacle, the Scribes and Pharisees cried out to him, “Thou Just One, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.”

To this, St. James replied, “Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.” St. Hegesippus, the second-century Jewish convert from whose account we are drawing, goes on to relate that “when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, ‘We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.’ ”

After hurling him off the pinnacle of the temple, they began to stone his mangled yet still-alive body. Like Our Lord, he begged God to forgive his murderers, and some of them, upon learning this, ceased their violence. But the job was finished by a man who struck him on the head with a fuller’s club.

St. Hegesippus gives us a striking literary portrait of our subject: “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church [of Jerusalem] in conjunction with the Apostles. He has been called ‘the Just’ by all from the time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called ‘the Just,’ and Oblias , which signifies in Greek, Bulwark of the people85” (all citations from St. Hegesippus are as quoted in History of the Church by Eusebius of Caesarea II: 23).

Law and Order Man

St. Hegesippus’ description of St. James fits that of a Nazarite of the Old Testament, someone (such as Sampson and Samuel) specially consecrated to God by certain external signs and penitential practices. This picture of the aged Jewish ascetic takes on a more vivid color in the light of certain details from Acts of the Apostles. We know that St. James’ love of the Law of Moses and his zeal to maintain its practices were at the heart of a great controversy in the early Church. Even though “the end of the law is Christ” (Rom. 10:4) and “in Christ it is made void” (2 Cor. 3:14), St. James retained the observance of the Law and insisted that his Jewish converts, who were “zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20) should not be exposed to potential scandal by seeing the Apostles cast it aside. After all, the Law was holy, and men living during the time of this controversy would have known that Jesus and His family had observed it faithfully. For these converts, whose personal identity and ideals of holiness were steeped in Moses’ Law, the idea of parting with it was too much.

Rather than being “destroyed” by Christ, the Law was “fulfilled” in Him and given, as it were, an honorable burial. It was something holy but now surpassed by the great Reality it foreshadowed (cf. Mt. 5:17).* During that transitional period, when the Old and New Testaments were overlapping, the Law was, to borrow a famous expression of St. Augustine,86 “dead, but not deadly.” Therefore, the Apostles could still observe the Law, especially for the pastoral reason outlined above.

In this context, St. James’ role in the history of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) is more clearly understood. Aside from being the Bishop of Jerusalem and the oldest of the Apostles, which doubly entitled him to respect and, therefore, a place of honor at the council, St. James also had “a bit of explaining to do” as one known to be a zealous observer of the Mosaic Law, at a time when the Law’s observance was a bone of contention. It is thought by many, and reasonably so, that St. Paul and St. James represented two different parties in the dispute. Even though both sides submitted to the decision of the Council of Jerusalem — which clarified that Gentiles were not bound to the Law of Moses — there was still the touchy issue of whether or not the Jewish Christians should observe it. Two episodes illustrate how touchy the issue was, and St. James enters into both of them. The first is St. Paul’s famous rebuke “to the face” of Peter (Gal. 2:11 ff.), which St. Peter deserved for giving scandal. It was the arrival of some men “from James” which occasioned St. Peter’s withdrawing himself from the tables of the gentile converts so as to keep kosher with the Jews. The second episode is that of St. Paul having to prove his observance of the Law so as not to scandalize newly converted Jews (Acts 21:21 ff.). The Apostle to the Gentiles proved himself by going to the Temple to be ritually purified with four men who had taken a vow. His admirable obedience to St. James on this occasion led to his own arrest, as had been dramatically foretold by Agabus the Prophet (Acts 21:11).

To Whom, When, and Where?

The Epistle was sent to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (1:1), that is, to the Jews of the Diaspora, who were evidently suffering persecution or trials of various sorts, as we garner from the first few verses. The time of the writing is not certain, though it is generally agreed to have been between 45 and 62. Since St. James was bishop of Jerusalem, it is most likely that it was written from there.

Why?

The subject matter of the book is mostly moral , that is, it was written to address the behavior of the readers. Much of the letter is the Apostle’s reproof of their bad conduct, which included: contentions, animosities, ambitions, neglect of the poor, favoritism to the rich, impatience with one another, and various other sins against charity, especially sins of the tongue. Although he is teaching all throughout and, consequently, doctrine is present in the Epistle, it has nothing by way of weighty theological argumentation, such as we find in the Epistles of St. Paul. St. James’ letter is a beautiful treatise on virtue and vice that is clear, hard-hitting, and so transparent in its simplicity that there is no complexity for a heretic to hide behind.

Speak of the Devil

This brings us back to Luther. Since the reformer did not think virtue and vice had any role in man’s salvation, and since he had little of the former and much of the latter, the book was simply not to his heretical and immoral tastes. Certainly St. Paul enjoins virtue and good works — even stating that God “will render to every man according to his works” (Rom. 2:6), but there are so many wonderfully difficult places in St. Paul’s writings for the man of bad doctrine to twist up, that Luther somehow felt more at home there. Concerning St. Paul’s Epistles, St. Peter had warned that there are “certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet., 3:16). This is a brief and inspired verbal snapshot of Luther.

To give the reader an appreciation for the reformer’s audacity in judging the Bible, we present the context of Luther’s insult to the inspired word of God. It was in his Preface to the New Testament (1522; revised 1545): “In a word, St. John’s Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul’s Epistles, especially Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first Epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and good for you to know, even though you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to them; for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it. ( Works of Martin Luther , Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932, copyrighted by the United Lutheran Church in America, vol. 6. pp. 363 ff., tr. C.M. Jacobs pp. 443-444.)

Good Works

If there is one text that anyone, Catholic or Protestant, can quote from St. James’ Epistle, it is “faith without works is dead” (2:26). From verse 14 to the end, Chapter Two is a defense of the necessity of good works in man’s justification.

Here is the passage, from verse 14 to 26, which is the last of the Chapter: “What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself. But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith. Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled, saying: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and he was called the friend of God. Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only? And in like manner also Rahab the harlot, was not she justified by works, receiving the messengers, and sending them out another way? For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.

The translation we use here — the Catholic Douay Rheims — is in essential agreement with every Protestant translation consulted. The same holds true for all the passages cited in this article. Protestants are invited to pick up their own Bibles and “search the Scriptures” themselves.

What this passage shows is that the Biblical system of salvation is a Faith-works system, not a Faith-only system or a works-only system. Both must be present. Let’s begin with our Father Abraham.

Abraham was held up by St. Paul as a prototype of the justified soul. The two passages in which he did this — Romans four and Galatians three — show two things. First, the power of Faith to justify the soul “without the works of the Law,” that is, independent of the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, which didn’t come about until 430 years after Abraham. Second, St. Paul also teaches that no works of ours have any supernatural value in the sight of God without Faith in Christ.

What St. James adds to the testimony of St. Paul is that Abraham, in that same pre-Mosaic dispensation, was justified by his works done through Faith . St. Paul’s declaration that “we account a man to be justified by faith” (Rom. 3:28) is not contradicted by St. James’ statement that Abraham was justified by works. The two are no more contradictory than the two propositions: “my mother raised me to be a good boy” and “my father raised me to be a good boy.”

When St. James said “Was not Abraham our father justified by…?” he was not referring to the works of the Mosaic Law, so that is no issue here. He was speaking of “offering up Isaac his son upon the altar,” which brings us to a very important point all too often ignored in the Faith-works polemic: This justification of Abraham was not his leaving the state of Original Sin and entering the state of Justice; it was his increase in Justice, his growth in sanctifying grace. Why do I say that? Because the justifying work that St. James refers to — the offering of Isaac — happened years after Abraham “believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice.” Yet, St. James clearly shows that Abraham’s offering of Isaac “justified” him. That Abraham increased in righteousness, or became holier, gives us a key to this verse: “Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect?” This is nothing more or less than the Catholic concept of merit: our good works done in grace merit an increase of grace and store up for us treasures in Heaven. By them we cooperate with God; by them “faith,” to use St. James’ words, is “made perfect.” Thus, against the Protestants, the Council of Trent (Session 6, Canon 32) condemned the proposition that “the justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace.”

This teaching on merit flies in the face of Luther, who taught that “the just man sins in every good work” and “a good work, no matter how well performed, is a venial sin” (Condemned Propositions of Luther: Denz. 771); and Calvin, who called good works and defilements” ( Institutes of the Christian Religion , III, 12, 4).

Don’t Forget Rahab

Abraham wasn’t the only type of the justified soul that St. James makes reference to; he also points us to a prostitute of the Old Testament: “Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only? And in like manner also Rahab the harlot, was not she justified by works, receiving the messengers, and sending them out another way?” (2:24-25).

The story of Rahab the harlot is recorded in the Book of Josue (Prot.: Joshua). It begins in Chapter Two and picks up again in Chapter Six. This prostitute of Jericho believed that God was leading the conquering Israelites. She protected Josue’s spies and, as a reward, she and her family were spared the punishment meted out to the other inhabitants of the pagan city. Like Abraham, she believed first, for she made an act of Faith in the God of Israel. Like him, she did a good work: protecting the spies. And like him, she is rewarded: “But Josue saved Rahab the harlot and her father’s house, and all she had, and they dwelt in the midst of Israel until this present day: because she hid the messengers whom he had sent to spy out Jericho” (Josue 6:25). It should briefly be pointed out that Rahab is a type of the Gentile Church of the New Testament. She was “saved” by “Jesus,” for Josue is the holy name of Jesus.

Incidentally, while Rahab lived during the period of the Mosaic Law, she is another example of one justified independently of the Law, since she was a Gentile and therefore not bound to it.

Rahab’s Faith was praised by St. Paul: “By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with the unbelievers, receiving the spies with peace” (Heb. 11:31). So, was Rahab saved by Faith? Yes. By works? Yes. Is there a contradiction? No. If there were, the Word of God would contradict itself.

The Mirror of the Gospel

Our Apostle compares the Gospel to a mirror in which we are to observe ourselves so as to become better. We must do what Our Lord enjoins and not just hear it. Of course, to do it presupposes to believe it , Faith being necessary for good works; yet the blessings of the Gospel — eternal beatitude — are reserved for those who are “doer[s] of the work.” Here are the words of the “Just One”: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was. But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed” (1:22-25).

Virtues Enjoined

How are we to be doers of the work and not only hearers? Once we have accepted the word, by Faith, we must practice virtue and avoid vice. Here are a few “virtue verses”:

Patience: In the very beginning (1:2-5), St. James tells his readers: “My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.” We are to rejoice in temptations because they try our Faith. Such trials make us patient, and patience perfects us. Thus, we become supernaturally perfected by such trials; by the grace of God, we grow in holiness.

Needless to say, if we aren’t patient, and we fail those trials, then perfection is not achieved. But if we win our trials, then something we do adds to our perfection in the sight of God. It’s very clear, and very anti-Luther.

We get a similar lesson a few lines down, in verse twelve: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive a crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him.” The crown of life, the supernatural reward promised by God, is given to him who endures. Now, “to endure” is plainly a work — something we do. Consequently, good works have a role in our salvation.

Meekness: “Wherefore casting away all uncleanness, and abundance of naughtiness, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (1:21).

Humility: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (4:6). This plainly indicates that the practice of a certain virtue, humility, disposes God to give a man grace. As all virtues are, humility is a “good habit,” that is, a habitual performance of certain good acts. Since these acts are “works,” this is another proof of good works giving us grace.

A little further down, the Apostle declares, “Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you” (4:10). It is another promise that God will give grace to someone who practices humility. In the previous verse, he tells us how to be humbled. It’s a little list of works: “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into sorrow” (4:9).

Actions Supernaturally Rewarded

Certain acts are shown to have supernatural rewards. Here is a small list:

Converting Sinners : “My brethren, if any of you err from the truth, and one convert him: He must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.” Here, we are told that we can save our souls from death by being instrumental in the conversion of our neighbor. What a tremendous promise!

Drawing Nigh to God: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (4:8).

Resisting the Devil: “Be subject therefore to God, but resist the devil, and he will fly from you” (4:7).

Prayer: “But if any of you want wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men abundantly, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (1:5-7). Wisdom, when it is held up as a good thing in the New Testament (and not mere human sophistry), is a supernatural gift of God. Jesus is Wisdom Incarnate (cf. 1 Cor. 1:24), therefore the wise man is more Christ-like. St. James himself tells us the qualities of the “wisdom that is from above” (3:17). The conclusion is that wisdom (a supernatural gift, that is, a grace ) can be merited by prayer (an act of Faith, that is, a work ).

Note that St. James is teaching believers how to obtain wisdom. Thus, one who already has Faith can be spiritually better than he was before. Grace, therefore, can be increased in us, and our act — prayer — has something to do with it.

Judgment

Since good works are a necessary part of our justification, they will certainly figure into our judgment after we die. It was the Savior of the world who said, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then will he render to every man according to his works ” (Mt. 16:27). St. James confirms this relation of our good works to a favorable judgment, and evil works to a negative one:

“But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, being reproved by the law as transgressors. And whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all. For he that said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, said also, Thou shalt not kill. Now if thou do not commit adultery, but shalt kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as being to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment without mercy to him that hath not done mercy. And mercy exalteth itself above judgment” (2:9-13).

Believers will be “judged by the law of liberty” — i.e., the Gospel. Those who show mercy will be judged mercifully, and those who fail to show mercy will be judged more severely. This is the same lesson taught in St. Matthew’s Gospel, both in the parable of the merciless servant (18:23-35) and in the Sermon on the Mount: “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences” (6:14-15). Now “showing mercy” is plainly a work. With it, we are judged favorably (i.e., saved ); without it, we are judged “without mercy” (i.e., damned ). This verse proves both the necessity of works and the subject of our next section, the fact that true believers can be lost.

Once Saved NOT Always Saved

The Just One sent his Epistle to believing Christians. This hardly needs proof, but such can be found in the many passages (e.g., 1:2) in which he refers to his readers as “brethren.” They had the Faith, but were they thereby assured of their salvation, as Calvin and modern “once saved always saved” adherents would advance? Certainly not!

What the Apostle says about temptation, sin, and spiritual death in this passage must apply to believers, else he would have wasted his time writing it to them: “But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured. Then when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. But sin, when it is completed, begetteth death” (1:14-15). Clearly, then, justified believers — who certainly fall into the category “every man” — can be tempted, can sin, and can spiritually die. Very clear, and very anti-Calvin.

One effect of Christian Justice is that it makes us friends of God. Here, the Brother of Our Lord shows how sin can make us His enemies: “Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God ? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God ” (4:4). Heaven is no place for God’s enemies.

In a passage I already cited, we are told of the rewards of one who converts a sinner. The reader should note that the erring sinner was a believing Christian, for St. James said, “My brethren if any of you err from the truth, and one convert him85” (5:19). This verse implies that a Christian believer can err from the truth of the Gospel and be in need of conversion. Believers, then, can lose the Faith, lose justice, and lose salvation.

Another sin is grudging, which was apparently leading to serious breaches of charity among St. James’ readers. Here, he warns of the serious nature of such things: “Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door.” The King James Version has: “Grudge not against one another, brethren, lest ye be condemned .” Yes, the Christian “brethren” can be judged and condemned.

Other vices shown to mar our relationship with God are tongue wagging (1:26; 3:2 ff.), persecuting the poor (5:4), and pride (4:6).

Priesthood

After the passage in Chapter Two, about good works, probably the best known passage in the Epistle is the one on the priesthood, the sacrament of Extreme Unction, and Confession:

“Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much” (5:14-16).

We point out three things: 1) St. James taught that there was a rite using oil which had the power to cure and to forgive sins. 2) This rite is administered by priests. (Even the Protestant King James Version uses the word “priests” in the above passage.) 3) Christians are to confess their sins to each other.

Regarding point three, it would be ridiculous to confess your sins to someone who could do nothing about them. However, we know from St. John (20:21ff.) that there are men in the Church with power to forgive sins. These men are called “priests,” as St. James has named them in the above passage.

The Fathers of the Church witness to the traditional teaching concerning this passage:

Origen: “[T]he sinner85 does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine85 In this way there is fufilled that too, which the Apostle James says: ‘If then, there is anyone sick, let him call the presbyters of the Church, and let them impose hands upon him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.’ ” Homily on Leviticus , 2:4 (A.D. 244).

St. John Chrysostom: “For not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards also, they [priests] have authority to forgive sins. ‘Is any sick among you?’ it is said, ‘let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up: and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him.’ ” On the Priesthood , 3:6 (A.D. 386).

Caesarius of Arles: “[L]et him who is ill receive the Body and Blood of Christ; let him humbly and in faith ask the presbyters for blessed oil, to anoint his body, so that what was written may be fufilled in him: ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he be in sins, they will be forgiven him (James 5:14-15)” Sermons , 13 (265), 3 (ante A.D. 542).

Readers are referred to the “Did You Know85?” of the present issue, wherein is given the testimony of the (schismatic, non-Catholic) Greek Orthodox Church on the existence of seven sacraments. Their belief in the priesthood, extreme unction, and the sacrament of penance is identical to ours because it is based on the unanimous tradition of the Eastern Fathers and the first seven Ecumenical Counsels.

Gold, Not Straw

Luther’s attack on St. James’ Epistle was obviously in his “best” interest. When something contradicts you, the easiest (if not the most honest) way to deal with it, is to deny its validity. What surprises us more than his hatred of St. James’ Epistle is that Luther actually would accept the Gospels or any of the rest of the New Testament.

But that’s an issue for a future article.

  • Brother Andre,
    Good Morning,
    I came across your nearly 6 year-old posting about Luther’s understading of James as an Epistle of Straw in a google search. I’m making some preparations for Advent and Christmas and have always found Luther’s keen seperation of the straw of human good works from the Incarnate Word to be a blessing at Advent and Christmas. This is no insult to the Word, the Word upon whom Luther placed his total trust, rather it is an illumination of the Gospel at it’s core.
    Fathers and mothers see Luther’s point every day picking up young children just as Mary lifted Jesus up from straw of the manger. Pick up a child from a crib and see what Luther meant as plain as day. Our good works carry Jesus in the world just as the straw held our infant Lord in the manger. But human good works, as good as they might be, will never equal the saving work of Jesus innocent death and glorious resurrection.
    Look closely at the manger scene and see Luther’s point again. Who or or what in that wonderful cresh can save a sinner? The angles can’t, the awestruck shepherds can’t, Mary can’t, Joseph can’t, the animals, the manger itself, and the straw in it can’t save. Only the One asleep on the hay saves. Our good works are the straw that carries the Good News. Jesus is the central message of the church catholic and the central message of scripture. What Christians do everyday in their good works is carry Christ but that ought not be confused with the work that Jesus has done for us.
    Martin Luther brought many great blessings to the church catholic and this right and plain understanding of the gospel in its most elegent simplicity is just one of the many. Luther understood rightly that, at it’s core, scripture has a divine purpose: to deliver Jesus Christ. Luther never dismissed James from the cannon, hence he included it in his German translations.
    Please read what Luther said in his Preface to the New Testament
    I cannot include him among the chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him.
    Martin Luther, vol. 35, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther’s Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1960), Vol. 35, Page 397.

    James, at it’s core, doesn’t deliver the essential apostolic witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection and that is why Luthere didn’t view James as a central work in scripture.
    Pax, John

  • John,

    Thank you for your posting. I wonder if your mystical exegesis of Luther’s use of the word “straw” is exactly what Luther meant. I frankly doubt it. There was likely more than straw in and around that manger — elements less noble — yet I wouldn’t think it very holy or fitting to compare the inspired word of God to what the ox and ass deposited therein. But Luther, you may recall, compared the just man to exactly that: snow-covered dung. He was a scatalogical old boy!

    Luther was frankly confounded by Saint James’ assertion that “faith without works is dead,” and didn’t like it. He may have said something less offensive about it later, but the man was known to flip flop on key issues quite a bit. That’s what happens when you found a new religion and make it up as you go along.

    I contest your claim that “Martin Luther brought many great blessings to the church catholic and this right and plain understanding of the gospel in its most elegent simplicity is just one of the many.” Luther’s own “human works” of religious novelty were considerably less than straw. He divorced the scriptures from tradition and from the magisterium of the Church. He picked out which sacraments to throw based upon his own non-infallible human interpretation of the Scriptures. Morally, he was a mess: a ribald runaway friar who could not control his sexual passions, he married a debauched nun. Granted, the true Church has sinners and saints, wheat and chaff — and stories of wicked Catholic clergy and religious abound — but the Church of God does not hold these up as reformers. Luther also denied the free will and asserted that man had a “slave will.” How is any of this a blessing to God’s Church?

  • Brother Andre,
    Many of your assertions about the bold reformer are true.
    Luther was a ribald man well known for passion and a fighting spirit. He acknowledged many sins and broken vows. Luther, the failed monk, became a faithful husband, father, pastor, and scholar whose translation of the Holy Scripture was a gift to the whole German people first and an inspiration for others who followed in his steps. Luther’s Small Catechism is a work of simple devotion meant for fathers to teach the faith their families that’s simply unequaled. However that’s all aside from the topic at hand: Luther’s separation of the straw from the Gospel.
    Among Luther’s gifts to the church catholic is setting Jesus’ cross and rising from the dead at the center of everything including Christian righteousness. The point is that justification comes before our good works. Luther argued boldly in his 1536 Disputation on Justification specifically in reguards to James 2:17 and James 2:26. He wrote,
    “We say that justification is effective without works, not that faith is without works. For that faith which lacks fruit is not an efficacious but a reigned faith. “Without works” is ambiguous, then. For that reason this argument settles nothing. It is one thing that faith justifies without works; it is another thing that faith exists without works.”
    Martin Luther, vol. 34, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34 : Career of the Reformer IV, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther’s Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1960), Vol. 34, Page 176.
    Please don’t dismiss this insight. Justification comes first and faith follows leading to good works. Jesus cross and rising are part of history. Luther never dismissed good works or denied their existence, rather he understood them as coming from the Chrsitian who is saved by grace through faith. Paul put it this way to the church is Ephesus
    “4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The Holy Bible : New International Version, (electronic ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984), Eph 2:4-10.
    Luther just like Paul before him knew by faith that Jesus’ work is all sufficient. Luther didn’t create a new doctrine of justification. No he reaffirmed what Paul had taught so boldly to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Philipians, Ephesians and others.
    “If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
    18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
    Romans 5:17-20 NRSV.
    This is the center of the Christian faith, the belief that Christ has died once for all who believe.
    A blessed Advent to you,
    Pax, John

  • John,

    Calling Luther bold is like calling Hitler highly motivated. It may be true, but it misses the point.

    There was no “insight” that Luther had of any worth that had not been made by either the inspired authors of Holy Scripture, or the Fathers or Doctors of the Catholic Church. And superadded to whatever he said that was good was a whole lot of heresy: including the denial of human free will, the denial of the capacity for the engraced soul to merit, and the heresy of sola scriptura. The Council of Trent, which authoritatively condemned Luther, gave the world a very cogent treatment of the doctrine of justification. Nobody has the right to claim that the Catholic Church teaches that human works are of any value unto salvation without God’s grace. Only crass ignorance of the Church’s doctrine and liturgy would allow someone to make the statement that Luther somehow revived the authentic Pauline doctrine on the necessity of divine grace.

    You speak of “the center of the Christian faith, the belief that Christ has died once for all who believe.” Is Christ’s divinity then an option? Can we throw out the Trinity? And did Christ only die for believers, or for all men? Your choice of the “center” of Christianity may sound reasonable to you — and to Luther, but you haven’t the authority to establish doctrine. Others may come along — and did — who put the center elsewhere. There are, for instance, those who believe in Christ’s redeeming death, but deny his divinity. Without a teaching authority given by God, you are left to “winging it,” which is why many demons came forth out of Luther’s Pandora’s box: Zwingli, Calvin, Arminius, Knox, Müntzer, etc. — a motley crew of heresiarchs with disparate heresies all of which followed on Luther’s rebellion, but none of which agreed with him.

    This man was not a blessing to the Church, as you assert. He was, rather, as Leo X called him, “one whose faith is notoriously suspect and in fact a true heretic.”

  • TIM

    Anyone who wishes to learn the truth about Luther must get the book, “The Facts About Luther” by Msgr. Patrick F. O’Hare, LL.D. Written in 1916, every important aspect of Luther’s life and work is examined. All is documented, much in Luther’s own words, those of his contemporary Protestant associates, or quoted from eminent Protestant historians. A must read for all who seek the truth about Luther!

  • Brother Andre,

    I fear that you and I could begin directing comments past each other right now. But that is not my desire. There are 2 points I would like to assert and I will gladly continue in dialogue if you will ascent to both,

    1) Lutherans don’t deny Christ’s divinity. We recognize the cross on which God the Son died to set us free as the very central act of the Triune God’s saving plan for His fallen creation. This is the heart of the Gospel, what we Lutherans call justification, for which I gladly give all, and I believe you gladly give all, too.

    2) The Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) created a healthy starting point for dialogue between Roman Catholic Christians and Christians of the Reformation Traditions (both Lutheran and Reformed)

    Let us follow the lead of those, whose cooperative work on the JDDJ has prepared a way for dialogue past centuries old condemnations. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html.

    In particular please consider the many substantial efforts, some are included in the 3rd paragraph of the JDDJ’s preamble, to create dialogue between us on matters of faith. There have been may other worthy efforts too.

    Clearly our churches are coming to be a better understanding of each other. There were real divisions in the past between us and still are. Sadly many on both sides failed to regard one another as brothers and sisters in Christ over the past half millenia.
    God have mercy on them and on all of us today. AMEN

    Divisions ought be dealt with in love today, rather than in vitriol on the internet, or in any other venue. Christ died for you and for whosoever believes in him. The Savior’s words in John 3 are sure and true and are not limited by our whims but by the soveriegn choice of almighty God, and Jesus has made it clear that he died for whosoever believes.
    For that Good News let all God’s people give thanks and praise. AMEN.

    Looking at the world and my congregation today I believe that the people of God in our day have no desire to fight with one another any longer; rather they seek out mutual understanding. There is a better way to be a servants to the One who saves sinners at the cost of His own life.

    Peace and Advent Blessings to You
    Pastor John B. Heille
    Grace Lutheran Church, Fairmont MN

  • Pastor Heille,

    I ascent to the fact that Lutherans do not deny the divinity of Christ. I did not say that they did so. My questions touching upon where you put the “center” of the Gospel were intended to illustrate that belief in the atoning death of Christ is neither the only Christian dogma necessary for salvation, nor an impenetrable barrier to heresy on other points.

    Your second assertion, that “The Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) created a healthy starting point for dialogue between Roman Catholic Christians and Christians of the Reformation Traditions (both Lutheran and Reformed)” is not something I would assent to. This is because the document, like so many in the ecumenical genre, sidesteps the real issues. Neither does it fully and adequately represent the authoritative and binding dogmatic interventions of the Council of Trent.

    You are dealing with a “traditionalist,” here, Pastor Heille, and we lament the departure in recent years from the wisdom of Pope Pius XI, who summarized all tradition on the point when he wrote this in Mortalium Animos: “The unity of Christians cannot be otherwise obtained than by securing the return of the separated to the one true Church of Christ from which they once unhappily withdrew. To the one true Church of Christ, We say, that stands forth before all, and that by the will of its Founder will remain forever the same as when He Himself established it for the salvation of all mankind.” http://catholicism.org/mortalium-animos.html

    For all that, I do believe that divisions ought to be handled with love, as you say. Evangelical charity demands truth — even the hard truths of the Gospel — and it also demands “doing the truth in charity” (Ephesians 4:15). (One of those good works!)

    But these are perennial truths, not time conditioned. The Catholic saints, like Saint Peter Canisius or Saint Francis de Sales, who worked for the conversion of Protestants back to the Faith of their fathers, were men of profound charity.

    So, when I tell you that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church and that you need to be in communion with the Holy Father in order to be saved, it is an act of charity, not of hatred.

    This Christmas, may the Divine Babe of Bethlehem bring you to cleave to His Mystical Body, the Catholic Church!

  • Brother Andre
    thanks’s for the sincerity of your answers. I am glad to get to meet you and learn a bit more about your faith and the way you as a person think. As I said in my opening post to you I only came across your blog searching on Google to see how others understood Luther’s separation of the straw from the Gospel in scripture. I appreciate that you hold your views firmly although I don’t understand all of you explanations.
    Reading your replies and your pray for me at the end I remember that you are a brother sinner for whom Christ has died and risen. And for your life both here, and in the world to come, I give thanks to God.
    One thing that I’m really puzzled by are you change stance in one moment endorsing a part of Roman Catholic teaching (Trent) as true doctrine and then quickly moving to dismiss another part of the churches teaching (JDDJ). I realize that JDDJ is not binding on you as a matter of faith but it is part of the teaching of the church today: correct?.
    I believed, much like you did when JDDJ was drafted that it was a congenial whitewash of major unresolved issues. In the years past I have seen it’s wisdom and in our conversations, as clear as you have been in defining your understanding of Roman doctrine, I see that wisdom even more clearly. There is no whitewash here. There is in contrast a look after nearly 500 years of bloodshed and shameful conduct by both Rome and the Reformers a fresh look not only at the conflict but also at each other as children of God and at God’s Word about Christ’s death and resurrection.
    I encourage you to read JDDJ closely. I believe that many of the question you raise about Luther and others in the Refomation Tradition have been answered well in the work of the post-Vatican II ecumenical dialogues culminating in JDDJ.
    Perhaps then you will begin to see anew all the gifts of the Reformers for the Church Catholic. I look forward to the day we can meet either here on earth on the great and glorious day of Jesus’ second coming.
    May the joy of Advent and the blessings of Christ’s Christmas coming be upon you and yours.
    Pastot John

  • Pastor Heille,

    JDDJ is not Church teaching. Trent is. Therein lies the difference. And how few today know the difference between binding dogma and documents of lesser authority.

    What the Council of Trent says about the “gifts of the Reformers” is what I hold!

    Nos, cum prole pia, benedicat Virgo Maria!

  • Brother Andre,
    It’s time to step into the light of the most recent years good will between Lutherans and Catholics. Reasses the church and the differences between us.

    If the words of the JDDJ are not truthful why would you find them on the Vatican’s own website?
    If the words do not represent the current teaching of the church then who’s words are they?
    The JDDJ may not be authoritative to you; but it speaks volumes of the true Spirit blowing free in the church catholic today.
    Do you believe that JDDJ was drafted by both Roman Catholics and Christians of the Reformation Tradition not acting in good faith?

    Consider Section 3 of the JDDJ
    3. The Common Understanding of Justification

    14.The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church have together listened to the good news proclaimed in Holy Scripture. This common listening, together with the theological conversations of recent years, has led to a shared understanding of justification. This encompasses a consensus in the basic truths; the differing explications in particular statements are compatible with it.

    15.In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.

    16.All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God’s gift through the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.

    Brother Andre there’s no need to stand behind the battlements of Trent any longer. No Lutheran is attacking you. You are my brother in Christ and I reach out to you as sinner saved by grace too to share in conversation about the Good News with you. In my home state, Minnesota, Lutheran and Catholic bishops meet anually for retreat just as they have since 1977. Check out this article: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/133047168.html?page=all&prepage=1&c=y

    Brother Andre if you are ever in Minnesota I would be delighted to study scripture and pray with you. In my town a group of pastors of 5 different denominations meet every week on Tuesday at 9:30. If you are here I’d be glad to pour you a cup of coffee and offer you a fistfull of peanuts. Heck if you stuck arround long enough I’d buy you lunch.

    I am reminded of Luther’s wisdom. “…thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” Martin Luther, The Smalcald Articles: 3, XII, 2-3. Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ( Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959)

    Advent Blessings to you and yours, your Brother in Christ.
    John

  • I am not “behind the battlements of Trent,” as if under siege. The authentic Catholic spirit of Trent is missionary. If you insist on martial metaphors, then it is this: we are fighting an offensive battle as well as a defensive one. That is the spirit of Trent.

    By the grace of God, I shall never see any wisdom in Martin Luther, with this one qualification: As I already said, whatever he said that was true was already there in the Scriptures, the Fathers, the Doctors; all he added was heresy and debauchery.

    The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth. His grace leads to Catholic Unity, a unity I hope you embrace before you meet Jesus Christ the Just Judge.

  • Brother Andre,
    Please consider the 3 questions I asked you. I would like to hear how you as an individual respond. I will not ask you to speak for the church on such matters here, but I am curious how you think.
    1) If the words of the JDDJ are not truthful why would you find them on the Vatican’s own website?
    2 If the words of JDDJ do not represent the current teaching of the church then who’s words are they?
    3) Do you believe that JDDJ was drafted by both Roman Catholics and Christians of the Reformation Tradition not acting in good faith?

    These questions are offered in all seriousness. I have appreciated your sincerity and look forward with all hope in Christ Jesus, and in Him alone, to meet you either here on earth or in the world to come.

    Here is the point where in all fraternal love I must begin to correct your mistaken reading of God’s gracious. Please accept these as fraternal corrections. Please consider first Paul’s teaching to the Ephesian Church.

    “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:8-10 NRSV.

    My Wife and I named our older girls, twins, now 8, Faith and Gracia, as a reminder of Saint Paul’s wisdom and Christ’s great gift each day.

    Reading the apostle’s words and then your own it is clear that you you have simply confused membership in a particular denomination with membership in Christ’s body. Paul spoke distinctly to this same mindset when he asked the Corinthians to see past the distinctions and divisions of individual history and focus purely on Christ. Paul wrote,
    “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas a”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
    13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into b the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. ” 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 NIV.

    Saddly I believe you are confused and that your chief mistanke is confusing the good work of denomational affiliation with a meritorious good work.

    Luther’s friend and co-worker in the reformation Philip Melancthon wrote in the Augsburg Confession.
    “We begin by teaching that our works cannot reconcile us with God or obtain grace for us, for this happens only through faith, that is, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who alone is the mediator who reconciles the Father. 10 Whoever (tr-55) imagines that he can accomplish this by works, or that he can merit grace, despises Christ and seeks his own way to God, contrary to the Gospel.
    “This teaching about faith is plainly and clearly treated by Paul in many passages, especially in Eph. 2:8, 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast,” etc.
    “That no new interpretation is here introduced can be demonstrated from Augustine, who discusses this question thoroughly and teaches the same thing, namely, that we obtain grace and are justified before God through faith in Christ and not through works. His whole book, De spiritu et litera, proves this.
    “Although this teaching is held in great contempt among untried people, yet it is a matter of experience that weak and terrified consciences find it most comforting and salutary. The conscience cannot come to rest and peace through works, but only through faith, that is, when it is assured and knows that for Christ’s sake it has a gracious God, 16 as Paul says in Rom. 5:1, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.”” Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ( Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959), The Confession of Faith: 2, XX, 9-16.

    If you won’t take comfort in Melancthon or Luther’s proclamation of the very center point of God’s most Holy Word then how about Augustine. A good translation of his book De spiritu et litera is found at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1502.htm

    “I am quite certain that, as nothing is impossible with God Luke 1:37 so also there is no iniquity with Him. Romans 9:14 Equally sure am I that He resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. James 4:6 I know also that to him who had a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure, it was said, when he besought God for its removal once, twice, nay thrice: “My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 There is, therefore, in the hidden depths of God’s judgments, a certain reason why every mouth even of the righteous should be shut in its own praise, and only opened for the praise of God. But what this certain reason is, who can search, who investigate, who know? So “unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Or who has first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36 ”

    To limit salvation to members of one human expression of the church is to limit the power of God Almighty. Please again I urge you to correct your errors and be guided by the wisdom of your own communion and mine made evident in JDDJ Section 4.6 Assurance of Salvation

    “We confess together that the faithful can rely on the mercy and promises of God. In spite of their own weakness and the manifold threats to their faith, on the strength of Christ’s death and resurrection they can build on the effective promise of God’s grace in Word and Sacrament and so be sure of this grace. ”

    Here I come full circle with you back to my comments about your post concerning Luther’s understanding of St. James’ Epistle. See again the mystery of our faith. The Word found in the straw of our lives. See it again, the mystery of the Virgin giving birth to the Son of God who gave his life freely as ransom for all who believe.

  • “1) If the words of the JDDJ are not truthful why would you find them on the Vatican’s own website?”

    The Vatican’s web site is not infallible. There is very much on it that hasn’t the authority of a Papal definition or that of an Ecumenical Council. To reply to your question, the document is there, presumably, because someone in authority thought it a good idea to post it there. That does not mean that the document is 1) free from all doctrinal error, or 2) a clear expression of Catholic teaching.

    For the record, Mortalium Animos is on the Vatican’s web site — http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19280106_mortalium-animos_en.html . That’s the document I quoted earlier:

    “So, Venerable Brethren, it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it.”

    “2 If the words of JDDJ do not represent the current teaching of the church then who’s words are they?”

    They are the opinions of the Catholics and Lutherans who were engaged in the dialogue. It was a “joint declaration” between them.

    “3) Do you believe that JDDJ was drafted by both Roman Catholics and Christians of the Reformation Tradition not acting in good faith?”

    I have no idea of their good faith or not. It is frankly irrelevant to my opinion of the document. One can, in good faith, make lots of errors. In the realm of doctrine, objective criteria are what matter.

    I reject your correction of my theology. The Catholic Church is not a “denomination,” like the various Protestant denominations. It is the Mystical Body of Christ. That is why there is no salvation outside her.

    Again, Martin Luther has nothing to teach me, a loyal son of Christ’s Church. Citing Augustine as a witness for Luther is an attempt at squaring a circle. Melancthon accused Luther of “Manichean delirium,” and Luther’s own editions of Augustine were marked up with the Revolutionary’s negative criticisms of the Doctor of Grace. Further, Augustine believed in free will, whereas Luther rejected it. Augustine also believed in the authority of the Catholic Church — not the nebulous “church catholic” to which you have referred several times.

  • Brother Andre,
    Again it’s good to write to you and I pray that you are well.
    Considering your worlds and the words of the pope I’m just befuddled.
    It appears that if anyone takes a very strict reading of these words you have cited from Pope Pius XI Mortalium Animos — that the current pope himself is in violation of Pius XI’s direction. Is this exactly what you mean to say?

    If it isn’t then please listen to the words that Pope Benedict spoke in Erfurt, in the Augustinian Cloister to a gathering of German Catholics and Lutherans in September 2011. Consider how he understands and contemplate’s Luther’s thought.

    Please consider Pope Benedict’s own words now and not mine,

    “…evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

    “Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

    “Now perhaps you will say: all well and good, but what has this to do with our ecumenical situation? Could this just be an attempt to talk our way past the urgent problems that are still waiting for practical progress, for concrete results? I would respond by saying that the first and most important thing for ecumenism is that we keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularization – everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task. It was the error of the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds. The great ecumenical step forward of recent decades is that we have become aware of all this common ground and that we acknowledge it as we pray and sing together, as we make our joint commitment to the Christian ethos in our dealings with the world, as we bear common witness to the God of Jesus Christ in this world as our undying foundation.

    The pope concluded with these well stated remarks.

    “Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.” http://www.romereports.com/palio/popes-speech-in-lutheran-church-salvation-comes-with-a-faith-thats-lived-out-english-4974.html

    These are the words of the pope. Are you in union with him or not?

    Brother Andre again I reach out to you as a brother in Christ. It would be my honor to meet with you, just as the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Bishops of Minnesota do annually. I would gladly pray with you and study God’s Word with you. The invitation stands. If you ever happen to be in Minnesota it would be good to meet you.

    It would be an honor for me, if you like, to introduce you to some Lutherans in New England or New York who could meet with you and share in the study of God’s Holy Word and prayer with you.

    Please keep in mind that in my state Roman Catholic and Lutheran bishops have met in retreat annually for 34 years. This years retreat was hosted by the Bendectines at St John’s Abby in Collegville, MN. Now I know that it appears to one who takes a strict reading of Mortalium Animos that every Roman Catholic Bishop in the State of Minnesota is in error.
    Is this exactly what you mean to say?

    Brother Andre I have no doubt you are ernest in your faith and in your desire to both honor your church and Jesus Christ our Lord.

    please understand that my questions are meant to better understand your faith and the faith of the Catholic Church today.

    Advent Blessings to you. Your’s in Christ, John

  • TIM
  • TIM
  • Pastor Heille,

    Laudetur Iesus Christus! It strikes me that our dialogue is going around in circles. For this reason, I shall make this the last comment in the exchange.

    Right now, there is a raging debate in Catholic circles concerning whether and to what degree the Vatican II and post-Vatican II changes stand in continuity with tradition. The different participants in this debate are not only “liberals” and “conservatives.” Although there are liberals and conservatives in the discussion, the various positions represented are more subtlety distinguished than that.

    I don’t care to attempt to explain that debate here; I only reference it in order to tell you that the things you are asking about touch upon an in-house discussion going on in the Catholic Church. We here at Saint Benedict Center believe that the profound confusion that is universally acknowledged in the Catholic Church today has its root in a betrayal of tradition, a rejection of dogma, as well as a substantial alteration of praxis that has robbed Catholics of their age-old certitudes. How much of all this can be blamed on the work of the non-infallible documents of Vatican II and subsequent Roman interventions is being debated.

    Most specifically, the defined and therefore unalterable dogma that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church has been betrayed in the name of ecumenism. That is a problem for Catholics, who are confused about their faith; but it is also a problem for non-Catholics, who are getting an awful lot of vague pseudo-charity from Catholics, but not the strong truths of the Catholic Church.

    The bottom line is that dogma does not change. Therefore, we can’t throw Trent out in the name of Vatican II. I’m not interested in commenting on the activities of the Bishops of Minnesota. I know little of them. I do know that many of the things done in the name of ecumenism have given people the impression that the Church has changed her perennial, infallible, and binding teaching that comes to her from the Holy Ghost. That itself constitutes scandal, and it is evidenced by the fact that you seem to think that Catholics are free to abandon the “bastions of Trent.”

    May the Advent of Our Lord Jesus Christ bring you many graces, so that you may embrace his true religion.