January 27, 2021

Pope Benedict on “The Burning Question of Martin Luther”

On our iMonk Bulletin Board (in the right column) we recently posted news of historic meetings the Pope has been having with his Lutheran brethren in Germany.

In an article from the Catholic News Service, Rev. Nikolaus Schneider, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany introduced Pope Benedict XVI and noted his hopes for the visit. “It is time to heal the memories of the mutual injuries in the Reformation period and the subsequent history of our churches; it is time to take real steps for reconciliation. I would like to invite you to do so,” he told the pope. Catholic and Lutheran experts are working on a joint document that will assess ecumenical progress 500 years after the Reformation.

I found the Pope’s address to the Evangelical Church of Germany to be remarkable and hopeful. In essence, he called for a continuation of the spirit of the Reformation, saying, “The burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too.”

As the Bishop of Rome, it is deeply moving for me to be meeting representatives of Council of the Lutheran Church of Germany here in the ancient Augustinian convent in Erfurt. This is where Luther studied theology. This is where he was ordained a priest in 1507. Against his father’s wishes, he did not continue the study of Law, but instead he studied theology and set off on the path towards priesthood in the Order of Saint Augustine. On this path, he was not simply concerned with this or that. What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey. “How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For him theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.

“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching?

Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. Insofar as people today believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us?

I could go on. No, 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.

More on this profound, challenging message tomorrow.

You can read the entire address HERE.


  1. I confess to have read little Luther, although we toured all of the area inportant in his life while we lived in Germany. I did absorb that he did intend to reform his beloved Church, but that his very real complaints about church abuses were rejected, along with any chance of dialogue (then). Hence the schism…

    I find this speech from Pope Benedict hits the heart of where many of us are drifting, personally and as churches. Where did we get the idea that God only cares about the sins of the abortion providers, homosexuals, human traficers, and abusers of the poor and needy. Surely, THESE sinners are catching the concerned eye of God, and will certainly repent or burn.

    But me…..and that is the single and plural…..well, I go to church. I have never broken my marriage vows. I tithe, and serve lunch at the soup kitchen once a month. I don’t steal. I have never touched another human with violence. I have prayed at the altar and been saved. And I know as a fact that God wants us all to be in heavan with Him…..ain’t life grand, alleluia!

    Meanwhile, I stew in my resentments and angers. I gossip, spinning observations into hateful stories. I am checking out Facebook instead of working. I wish I had the money for a new SUV like the neighbors. I am thrilled when the rich or famous fall hard to the ground. I keep my mouth shut when I should speak up, and I chuckle along with joke or racial slur. I think I really deserve better than this.

    If it is true that the perfect is the enemy of the good, it is also true that the “better than THEM” mindset is the enemy of being perfect as our Father is perfect. Our lives are not going to be judged on a curve….

  2. This is great. Who could have imagined back in Luther’s time that a German pope would be standing in the same place Luther had lived and studied, praising Luther’s desire to know how we receive the grace of God? This was probably unthinkable even fifty years ago.

  3. I wrote a long piece about this, but it sounded so much like a Catholic Cheerleading session I started over.

    I’ll just say this, I’m very proud to call Benedict my Pope. He’s a deep theologian, a truly humble man, and is bringing to bear the fruit of ecumenical dialog started by Pope John XXIII at Vatican II.


    • I share your sentiments, Paul. I agree with those elsewhere who say Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

      In so many ways he has reached out to try to heal the schisms and divisions that have wounded, and continue to wound, the Body of Christ.

    • This isn’t merely a demonstration of good PR; rather, Benedict is displaying his brilliance by focusing on this foundational aspect of Luther: where can one find a gracious God? And he did it without stooping to therapeutic theology; rather, he makes it clear that even what we consider little sins are evil, which makes the grace of God that more profound. It seems clear from his words that unity is secondary to truth. In this age of the “epic fail”, the question of where to find grace is even more relevant.

  4. If the RC church wanted to move to greater unity (and I’m not suggesting they geniunely don’t) why do they not begin by recognizing the orders and ordinations of other bodies?

    Their answer to that seems to be that they crave unity as long as unity means us moving toward them and not them toward us.

    • I sympathize with what you are saying, Austin, and there certainly are some intractable issues from Rome’s side. But historically speaking, I’m not sure the Protestant churches have ever made a move as dramatic as Vatican II, which has opened all kinds of possibilities in the past fifty years.

      • Michael Spencer had the same issue Austin, I remember him relating his frustration about the Church not recognizing his ordination when he wrote about Rome. But for Catholic’s it’s not as simple as it seems, this would be good topic for Martha to cover actually. It took some heavy reading on my part to finally figure out why the Church thinks this way.

        I will say that as a former protestant, we where warmly greeted by the Catholic church. There was no pressure to convert, only the offer to answer ANY questions we had, and as much time as we needed to make our decision. But once we converted, we apparently joined the zombie army of pope and idol worshipers according to our own family, to the point that my 16 year old daughter, who has not converted. Spent a summer defending the Catholic faith against my wife’s own mother. Our reception by other Christians has been just as uncharitable.

        So from a personal perspective, I have experienced this move to be more ecumenical and it has enriched my life, the Church is not perfect, but she is trying to unify our faiths.


        • If we in the Roman Catholic church need to grapple with Luther and the questions he raised – and I think we do – then I think, perhaps, this visit to Germany shows that the Lutherans (and others?) need to grapple with why there’s still a Roman Catholic church and a Pope.

          Why didn’t the Reformation sweep it away, as it looked fair to do in the early days when all the upheaval was happening and the ordinary folk who had the Sunday previously been kneeling before the statues of the saints in church the next week mobbed that church and pulled down and smashed those same statues?

          Why didn’t the Reformation make any headway with the Orthodox, either in the links that the early Reformers tried to establish, or in bringing about a like reformation within Orthodoxy?

          And why haven’t we adopted the same changes internally as pretty much all the mainstream Christian bodies have adapted? To pick one, women’s ordination or ministry? At the start, it would have seemed just as impossible to Luther that a woman should be an ordained minister as it is within Catholicism, yet they’ve gone from the attitude even as recently as that expressed by Dr. Johnson about a woman preaching (“”Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”) to having women bishops (and even, with the Episcopalians in the United States, a woman Presiding Bishop.

          These kinds of changes that swept through the Protestant churches – why didn’t we go along with them? And if “As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith”, then why hasn’t the Holy Spirit stirred up a correction to purify the Churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch as the Reformation did for the Church under Rome?

          This is not triumphalism or a declaration “Because we’re the One True Church!”. I think that, as we have to face the questions about the Reformation churches and theologies seriously, such questions – which I don’t think have even been raised – have likewise to be faced by the Reformation Churches. Why isn’t there a Greek Luther out of one of the monasteries there?

    • Steve Newell says

      To your point, would be Church in Rome be willing to accept the various Lutheran confessions (Book of Concord) as proper Christian doctrine? I doubt that.

  5. Later in the same speech, the Pope suggests that recognizing what we have in common is the first step toward unity: “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.”

  6. I have found profound respect for RC from reading this Bishop of Rome’s books. Even books written long before becoming Pope have made me believe that either I am heading towards RC, or he is heading towards traditional Reformed doctrine. I am almost persuaded…

  7. Maybe, hopefully, sometime in the future, by the Grace of God, we’ll be rid of religious sheep pens. This from Robert Capon;

    Even at its non-institutional beginning, the church had leaders — notably, the Apostles. But any movement that lasts for more than a generation inevitably busies itself with the job of providing for ongoing leadership: that is, of turning its original pattern of accepting whatever leaderly cream rose to the top into offices to be filled by officeholders. You can see this in the later writings of the New Testament itself, all of which were written after Paul. In the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy, for example), the titles that were soon to become the names of the various officers of the church (epískopoi, “overseers” — and later, “bishops”; diákonoi, “deacons”; and presbýteroi, “elders,” “presbyters” — and eventually, “priests”) are already spoken of as if they were definable offices to be filled by suitable candidates. Those offices, admittedly, were still very much in the process of definition (you cannot find the “finished” shape of the churches ministry in the writings of the New Testament, or even at the beginning of this period); but the commitment of the church to an office structure — and the inevitable institutionality that always comes along with such a structure — was firmly in place. And as early as Ignatius of Antioch (who died around 110 c.e.), you have the first appearance of the so-called monarchical episcopate, that is, of the bishop as the supreme officeholder of the church — as, in fact, a kind of churchly king.

    This was a period of extremely rapid development in the context of a rich secular environment from which the church freely borrowed. Please note once again that this borrowing was not necessarily a bad thing — not “secularism,” if you will. It was simply the inevitable working out of the process by which any group, at any time, defines itself: we can think about what we are only in terms of categories and institutions we already have in mind. Context — not just secular context, of course, but secular context with a vengeance nonetheless — is always in there pitching.

    Models of Greco-Roman institutional life incorporated into the office of bishop;
    Monarchial/kingly, demonstrated by the role of warrior, administrator, shepherd.
    collegium as a voluntary association of persons devoted to some specific end or activity. The collegia of those times were sufficiently like the church in their voluntary, obligational, and mortuary aspects for the church to take them as something of a model for its self-identification: it had all of those aspects, plus officers and functionaries, and so could easily see itself as a similar institution.
    • The other and more important model was the Roman familia. The noble family household of this period was not confined to parents and children. It was a thoroughly extended proposition, consisting of wife, children, grandparents, assorted hangers-on related by blood, tutors and high-ranking servants who were frequently slaves, and plenty of other slaves to do the menial work — all under the hopefully benevolent rule of the male head of the household, the paterfamilias. Needless to say, this particular institutional model suited the church to a T. It had long thought of itself in familial terms (witness its early habit of calling itself “the brethren”). It was not just a voluntary society but the result of forces beyond the will of the individual members: in the case of the Roman familia, the household was based on blood relationship and/or involuntary servitude, and in the case of the church, on divine election, not merely human choice — and in both it was meant to be a household that nurtured and provided for its members. But above all, the role of paterfamilias was eminently comfortable to the bishops as they increasingly fastened their grip on the church’s life. As they did with the role of king, they found the combination of authoritative rule and benevolent concern the very thing they were looking for.

    And so, as a result of borrowing from all these models, the church in short order became an institution. But if there was much that was either good or harmless in this development, there was still a very large aspect of it that introduced a danger into the church’s life. By now, its existence over a period of time as the same entity that had gotten rolling at Pentecost quite naturally led it to pattern itself after other institutions that endured despite the departure of some of their human components. But when it chose such institutional models, it chose entities that were seriously less than human — that were, for all the world, indistinguishable from angels. For institutions are precisely angelic. Corporations, kingships, courts, voluntary societies, and even families are not simply human beings doing x, y, or z; they are great, ethereal egos in their own right who are not only more important than the people under their patronage but who can also lead those who fall under their sway to do sometimes quite inhuman, not to mention un-Christian, things…

    All across the institutional board, the same angelic tyranny prevails. Children are disinherited by the angel of the Family, presidents are under judgment by the angel of the Presidency, romantic lovers who stray are condemned by the angel of Romance — and so on and on, into the dark night of angelic institutional perfection that makes mincemeat of flesh and blood. And nowhere is that night darker or more dangerous than in the institutional church. Nowhere is it more destructive of the people and purposes for which the institution supposedly exists. Our two-thousand-year love affair with excommunication — with the expulsion of sinners, heretics, and other troublemakers — has been a disaster for the Good News of free grace. I think the real reason why God saved the world by becoming human rather than sending some angel to do the job was that, as incarnate in our flesh, he could simply lay down his life for sinners, whereas any angel he might have sent, precisely because it couldn’t lay down its life for a soul, would never have shut up on the subject of sin.

    To hell with “institutions of faith”. Luther didn’t go nearly far enough. What he did was to prop up in place just another angelic entity.

    Ok, now I feel better. Hope i didn’t get any on you all…


  8. I’m not even close to being persuaded.

    So much talk of unity, etc….but in the end, someone’s view will prevail.

    The view that Rome has is one of a clergy club, wherein there is no grace (from God) without the Roman Church, the Pope, the cardinals, bishops and priests.

    And the Council of Trent has NEVER been undone.

    Rome says (in that Council) that anyone who believes that they are sved by grace alone apart from works is damned to hell.

    That (semi-Pelagian theology) is exactly what drove them to get rid of Luther to begin with.

    • Steve, I think it is unrealistic to think that we will all come to perfect agreement on all matters of doctrine and practice. I’d be happier, though, if (1) Christians would recognize one another as Christians even if we have profound disagreements, and (2) If we would develop ways of participating together in a spirit of “missional-ecumenism” (like John Armstrong writes about), in which we work with one another to relieve suffering, promote justice, and witness to the Christ we all agree upon in the Creeds.

      • Chaplain Mike,

        I’d be happier, too.

        They (Roman Catholics) can receive the body and blood of Christ at our altars. Try and receive it at most of theirs.

        It is a serious difference when they say that if you believe in grace through faith, ALONE…that you are destined for hell.

        They talk a good game but when push comes to shove, they say you must conform to Rome’s view.

        • Steve, flip it around. It’s not saying that if you believe in grace, you’re gonna burn. It’s saying if you deny works a place as the fruit of faith AFTER grace has been at work in you, then you are denying what the Apostle James taught (for one) and therefore your doctrine is blitzed.

          “Let him be anathema” does not necessarily mean “Let him burn in hell”, it means “Let him be separated from the body of the brethren; let him be cast out from the assembly of the church”. False doctrine does not save, as even Luther would have pointed out – or what do you think he thought the ultimate fate of those without a saving faith – let it be a faith by grace alone with no shadow of works – would be?

        • “They (Roman Catholics) can receive the body and blood of Christ at our altars. Try and receive it at most of theirs.”

          Firstly, we’re not supposed to receive at your altars because secondly, do you all agree that it is the body and blood of Christ? Or does A think it is the Real Presence in a literal manner, such that the bread is no longer bread but flesh, B thinks it is a spiritual Presence, C thinks it is a blessing if received with faith, D thinks it is purely symbolic, E thinks it is an ordinance, F thinks it is a love-feast along the lines of a birthday party, and G thinks that you can’t define what it is, so any or all of the above may be true?

          • But, Martha, whatever we think about the “mechanics” of what happens at the Table, we all agree that we are being obedient to Christ by doing this in remembrance of him.

          • Also remember that Catholics are not alone in practicing closed communion. Communion in the Catholic faith is also open to the Eastern churches (eastern Orthodox) not under Rome.

            Some Baptist sects also practice closed communion for entirely different reasons.

            Eastern Orthodox practice closed communion for the same reasons Catholics do (except Catholics are excluded also)

      • Chaplain Mike, I don’t see Steve arguing for agreement on all aspects of doctrine and practice. I would agree with Steve, we should see absolute agreement on the one doctrine, faith alone.

        • Rob and Steve, I know what you guys are saying, and as a Lutheran myself, this doctrine is one primary reason I could never become Roman Catholic. However, I for one am convinced that I should view my RC friends as brethren even if I view them as seriously mistaken here. It is Christ who saves, not correct doctrine. As for the Lord’s Supper, it was in a Roman missal that I read a lament for the divided nature of the church and a prayer that we will all day be able to eat together at the table, along with an invitation to come forward and receive a blessing even if one could not partake of the elements. I’ve not seen such gracious hospitality toward Catholics in most evangelical churches.

          • Chaplain Mike. “It is Christ who saves, not correct doctrine.” The central doctrine of faith alone cannot be separated from saving grace of Christ. What is being saved by Christ mean if we do not trust His promise that he will rescue us unilaterally? Proper doctrine should create certainty and comfort in Christ’s promises (Luther 101).

            “I’ve not seen such gracious hospitality toward Catholics in most evangelical churches.” While that may be true, that is not what Steve or myself are critiquing.

            • Here is the statement from the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church (1999):

              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.

          • It is a very standard prayer at many parishes…..ours usually includes it during the Prayer of the Faithfull (Prayer of Intercession) after the Liturgy of the Word (two bible readings and a Gospel plus the Homily (preaching) and just before the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist (communion prep and distribution).

            It really is true that the Catholic Church has a strong and real focus on healing what divides us as Christians……certainly the opposite of one denomination declaring that another is “not even christian” and on the fast track to Hell.

            The message I received as a child 40 years ago about the fate of non-Catholics has really done a 180 degree change. I am humbled to be part of a faith organization that isn’t afraid to say “We are deeply sorry….we were wrong. How can we ask for your forgiveness and help heal?”

          • I love Roman Catholics and view them as brothers and sisters in Christ. As I have said, our communion railing is open to them, while their’s is closed to us.

            It’s not the people in the pews that are the problem, they only know what they are taught and they have it drummed into their heads from the start that the Catholic Church is the only true church.

            The problem is with those that run that Papal system. But they will never let of it and relinquish all that power over people.

            It’s a real shame.

          • “It’s not the people in the pews that are the problem, they only know what they are taught and they have it drummed into their heads from the start that the Catholic Church is the only true church.”

            That seems a bit condescending, Steve. I expect I’m not the only one who thinks so.

            And by the way, my family and were denied communion at a Lutheran church a few years ago. We respected their reasons.

          • Damaris,

            I used to volunteer at the Shroud Center of Southern California. I did so, primarily, to have a chance to share the gospel with people. I can’t tell you how many times people (Catholics), upon finding out that I wasn’t a Catholic, told me that I was “going to hell”.

            I know this didn’t come anywhere else than from what they have been taught by their priests and nuns. Rome is the “only true Church”.

            Yes, Missouri will deny people the Sacrament. Sometimes I think they’s make the good Lord Himself take a test to qualify. 😀

            All baptized Christians who believe Christ to be present in the meal are welcome at our railing.

    • I agree Steve. Focusing on “what we have in common” but negating differences in the central issue of faith alone is not helpful in the end. Same argument my evangelical family has with Lutheran understanding of the bound will, sacraments. “Those are side issues.” Its just confusing, and in the end it removes the certainty in Gods promises. After reading the Defense of the Augsburg Confession (on Justification, and Of Love and Fulfilling of the Law), the central issue is all the more clear. Add to it the bound will and the distance is great.

      • Thanks, Rob.

        I’m all FOR unity.

        But NEVER at the expense of the gospel.

      • Jonathan Bass says

        Why don’t you read the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification?

        • That’s meaningless pap.

          What counts is what they do. Their altars are closed to communion for those outside of Rome and they have yet to reverse the Council of Trent.

          It’s a clergy club and they believe that they have something ‘different’ (special) because they believe that Jesus meant that He would build His Church on Peter. We believe that He builds His Church on Peter’s confession of faith, and not the sinner. So if your pastor hasn’t been ordained in the historic succession of Peter, then your sacraments are invalid and all you are doing is playing church.

          And that flat out works against the gospel.

          • Steve, I have come close to Michael Spencer’s position on this one:

            “I saw the hierarchy of the church not just as a chain of authority by-passing the Bible, but as pastoral leaders, teaching and shepherding the flock. I was confirmed in my disagreements with Catholic beliefs in many places, but I came to see that Catholics who believed their faith did, along with their errors, believe that Jesus Christ was the only savior, mediator and Lord, and that faith in that Christ was the essence of Christianity. I could say the Apostle’s Creed with my Catholic friends with confidence that we were part of one and the same church. While we would never agree on the precise understanding of justification, we believed that God was just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

            How I Made My Peace with the Roman Catholic Church

          • “Peter’s confession of faith, and not the sinner”

            But how do you separate the two? How can a confession of faith stand apart from the man who made it? When we try that, we become hypocrites: mouthing words we don’t live in our flesh. Peter was a sinner, but you can’t snatch a word out of the air and say “That is the real thing, the body over there is nothing”.

            In other words, for the confession of faith to be made, there had to be someone standing there confessing it.

          • Your pain and anger shine through your words, Steve. I hope you find some room in your heart for a bit of peace and understanding. I hear you berating what you THINK the Catholic Church believes and stands for, and it makes me sad.

          • I’m not angry. I feel terribly frustrated that so many are kept from the true freedom of the gospel by so few.

            Catholics are great! Those that keep them in a religious spiritual ascent project are doing them a huge disfavor because there is no peace, no rest, and no assurance…unless you do it…and do it their way.

            This is what set Martin Luther on his path to try and free the Catholic Church from all of the nonsense that obscures the true gospel and freedom that is to be in Christ and Him alone.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            What “true freedom of the Gospel”?

            The ever-lengthening list of “Thou Shalt Not”s and “It’s All Gonna Burn”s?

            Everything except SCRIPTURE (TM) and WITNESSING(TM) being Forbidden and all that was not Forbidden being Compulsory?

            The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay, The Gospel According to Thieme, The Gospel According to Calvary Chapel, The Gospel According to Pat Robertson, The Gospel According to James Dobson, The Gospel According to Koinonia House Christian Fellowship, The Gospel According to this week’s Rapture Scare, The Gospel of Nuclear War as God’s Punishment?

            After the Evangelical Wilderness and the Post-Evangelical Wilderness, swimming the Tiber was like going over the Berlin Wall into the freedom of the West.

    • Steve, you charge the Catholic Church with semi-Pelagianism. What do you mean by semi-Pelagianism, please?

      • In essence, semi-Pelagianism says that man can cooperate with God for his/her salvation/justification.

        While officially condemned in the Council of Orange, it is in fact fully practiced.

        It’s Christ (+), stuff.

        Jesus + your serious efforts. Jesus + your good works. Jesus + the Pope. Jesus + your decision to accept Him. etc.

        Jesus + anything = semi-Pelagianism

        Many Protestants are semi-Pelagian, as well.

        • Jonathan Bass says

          Or Jesus + intense anti-Catholicism.

          • Actually I am not intensly anti-Catholic. Just about my entire family are Catholics and I was raised a Catholic.

            I’m not one of those Christians who says that Catholics are not Christians. But the Papal system does keep in place doctrines and practices that tend to obscure the gospel and put into place spiritual religious ladder climbing projects such as the one that Martin Luther was on, until the gospel grabbed a hold of him and liberated him.

        • Not to get off track, but can you point me to a good book/commentary on Pelagius, please? What I’ve been reading disputes the idea that Pelagius said we could ‘save ourselves’, but rather disagreed with Augustine that we were ‘sinful beings’ as opposed to ‘being that sin’ – never disputing the concept that ‘all fall short of the glory of God’ but discounting the idea of transmission of the state of sin through the sexual activity of our parents. Original sin vs fall from original glory.

        • Steve, it’s funny you should deny “that man can cooperate with God for his/her salvation/justification,” calling this notion semi-Pelagianism, ’cause the Council of Orange sounds awfully cap-C Catholic to me.

          “According to the catholic faith we also believe that *after grace has been received* through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform *with the aid and cooperation of Christ* what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul” (emphases added).

          Anyway, with flatrocker (2:51 am) I’d prefer to get back to the substance of the Pope’s most remarkable and irenic speech, but for anyone seriously interested in this tangent I offer an analysis better informed than my own.

    • If adherence to the Council of Trent is the mark of a good and faithful Roman Catholic, then Steve, my dear, you are a much better one than I am.

      I’ve never read the proceedings of the Council, nor do I know any Catholic that has – Headless? JoanieD? What about yiz?

      Damaris, you went through RCIA relatively recently – tell us all about it! You’re among friends, you can reveal that they set you to read a chapter of the Council’s Catechism a week and there was a question-and-answer session on last week’s chapter and you had to do homework projects like the best way to build a pyre when burning heretics at the stake and all the women got sewing patterns to make the sanbenitos for heretics (“a penitential garment, especially during the Spanish Inquisition, similar to a scapular either yellow with red St. Andrew’s crosses for penitent heretics or black and decorated with friars, dragons and devils for impenitent heretics to wear at an auto da fé”).


      All of which reminds me of the old joke:

      Two men considering a religious vocation were having a conversation. “What is similar about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders? ” the one asked.

      The second replied, “Well, they were both founded by Spaniards — St. Dominic for the Dominicans, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits. They were also both founded to combat heresy — the Dominicans to fight the Albigensians, and the Jesuits to fight the Protestants.”

      “What is different about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?”

      “Met any Albigensians lately?”

      • Actually, Martha, I’m not sure our RCIA leader knew what the Council of Trent was and probably would have been surprised at its contents. She’s very sweet . . .

        • Too late, Damaris, we can no longer hide the dreadful truth about things like the Council of Trent! And it only took 450 years for it to get out!


  9. Interesting how this post was initiaited with a rather remarkable address given by a German Pope in a very Lutheran setting. The theology and conciliatory nature of the language gives great pause and hope to the centuries old debate.

    However, the tone of the comment thread pushes us back into our predictable and comfortable tribal ghettoes. It would be so much easier if he would just stay in Rome where he belongs.

    So much for dialog. Nothing to see here. Just move along and round up the usual suspects.

    • Like I say, platitudes are nice but carry no frieght.

      They want us to return to Rome. Period.

      No thanks.

      Once you have tasted the freedom (the true freedom of having to add NOTHING to His saving work for sinners)..”.then you will never return again to a yoke of slavery.”

      • If only he’d stay on his side of the Tiber and leave Christianity to the real Christians.

        All this dialog stuff just gets in the way of our freedom don’t ya think?

        It’s much cleaner when we stay with our own.

      • Steve,

        I tend to stay out of theological discussions because I frequently fail to see the point. But coming from a strong evangelical background and crossing the Tiber on my own, I’ve noticed some things. You talk about the freedom that grace gives you, and I believe in that completely. I find evangelical churches extremely easy to join, but once inside, you find more and more restrictions. I found the Catholic Church harder and longer to join, but it was like going through a dark tunnel into a remarkable, vast garden with riches unknown.

        • Anna A.,

          I agree with you, Anna. The true freedom that is in Christ is very difficult to find these days.

          Our small Lutheran congregation lives up to the promises of God by not placing shackles of any kind on the gospel. Absolutely no add-on’s to Jesus.

          I know we are not the only ones…but I do know places like that are becoming hard to find.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Once you have tasted the freedom (the true freedom of having to add NOTHING to His saving work for sinners)..”.then you will never return again to a yoke of slavery.”

        Oh, yes. I tasted that True Freedom of Born-Again Bible-Believers. The True Freedom of doubleplusgoodthink SCRIPTURE, doubleplusbellyfeel SCRIPTURE, doubleplusduckspeak SCRIPTURE.

        Like I said above, swimming the Tiber was like going over the Berlin Wall into the West.

  10. 1. No matter what anybody says or agrees on, Lutheranism is not going to merge with Catholicism.

    2. On the other hand, sure–relations between Lutherans and Catholics are as good as can be expected from any two religions. (Not least because of secularism and religious freedom.)

    3. Interfaith dialogue goes in all different directions, not just through Rome.

    4. The Catholic church is never going to recognize Lutheran priestly orders as valid or licit, any more than they are going to recognize Buddhism as an equal path to Christianity. (And why should they? Why would anyone want them to?)

    So, remind me again what the point of all these fancy speeches is…?

    • Ummm….a reminder that we are all following Yeshsua ben Joseph to the very best of our own understanding?

    • And that we can stop rending the seamless garment any worse than it already is by tugging on frayed seams. We acknowledge that “heretics” is not the correct term for you Protestants but rather “fellow-Christians” (really, I’ve had to be dragged kicking and screaming along this path myself, and you can thank the work of the Popes for that) and you lot maybe come to understand that we don’t spend quite every minute of our time idol-worshipping and bricking up women alive in convent basements?

      • Really, you guys do whatever you want. It won’t bother me either way. (But I guess it could matter to mixed families.)

    • Great points, Abigail.

      You are right as rain.

    • Abigail, I would also hope that such “fancy speeches” would lead to more participation together in what John Armstrong calls, “missional-ecumenism” — working together and side by side to show the love of Christ to a broken world. That C.S. Lewis’s vision of the Great Hall and the rooms might be the way Christianity looks and functions in the world. That we might be able to humbly learn from one another to strengthen our own traditions.

      That we might realize that disunity is one of the worst and most destructive sins we can perpetuate. It goes against everything Jesus prayed for in John 17. It goes against everything Paul wrote to the churches about “considering one another better than yourselves” (Philippians 2).

      The world has every right to call our “Gospel” into question and to turn away from the God of love we proclaim if we live in disunity.

      Folks, we don’t take this seriously enough. Never have.

      • What does that even mean? Joint charity work? The Catholics have great charities, and I’m sure they’d cooperate with whoever if it served their mission. Cooperating in order to convert non-Christians? Too awkward for the most part, though they kind of did this when the different denominations divided up Alaska (in order to fight off Orthodox influence). I think a lot of this talk is more philosophical than practical, and won’t make a bit of difference “on the ground.”

    • Just FYI, there is a group called the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church that has petitioned Rome to join as part of the Anglican Ordinariate or in a similar capacity.
      So, yeah, some Lutherans have a desire to come to Peter as well.
      BTW the Catholic Church does not comment on other’s ordination except to say it is not the Catholic priesthood.

      • I’m not surprised. I mean, we have almost every other possible combination, why not Catholic +Lutheran? Well, if that’s what they want, then great. But good luck in getting say, the Missouri Synod to follow suit.

  11. Haven’t read thru all the comments but thanks for sharing this. Like so much of what I’ve read from this Pope, this piece was at once eloquent and humble while getting to the heart of the issue in a way that speaks to us all. We desperately need more of that from people, especially leaders, in all of Christendom. Not only because it is good in itself as a step toward answering Jesus’ desire for our unity, but because the act of setting aside differences and coming together in a humble, confessional manner is a powerful witness to the world.

  12. I think CM hit the main point, the Ecumenical dialogue is not about one side winning the discussion, or the Catholic Church suddenly saying “Yep, your right protestants, we got it wrong all this time”. It’s about agreeing where we can, agreeing to disagree where we can’t, and being united in the concept of a world that sorely needs the Gospel, and they need to see the actual love of Christ expressed even if we don’t agree.

    On that we should be united in one Voice.

    We have taken our eyes off the prize, and the world is paying the price for our stubbornness, bickering and name calling. Honestly this site is a microcosm of different beliefs, the fact that we can discuss the reformed AND the Catholic view on the same site, is a flipping miracle. Most Catholics I know, don’t know a thing about protestant churches, and I would argue that most protestants don’t know a thing about Catholics either (I can vouch neither my wife or I did).

    But unless one side attempts to bridge the divide that Martin Luther started (and I’m not saying he was wrong by the way, like Martha said, we have to consider his reasoning), we will continue to miss the mark.

    As I stated before, one of the Goals starting with Vatican II was to start healing the schisms in the body, mistakes have been made on all sides. Trent constantly gets tossed around, whenever this come up. It’s easy to be critical 500 years later, after the killings and wars have ceased to wreak havoc. Contextually it was a different time, and different needs drove the decisions made there, That has been acknowledged before, but starting with Vatican II we have begun the process of refining the language to try and find common ground.

    As a former Protestant, I disagreed with Luther, I disagreed more with Calvin, and don’t get me started on the SBC :). But that does not give me the right to treat my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ any less than I would my fellow Catholics. To do so is a sin, on all sides.


    • Why don’t we get this worked up about McDonalds and Burger King being two different chains? Can’t their leaders buy each other out or something? Or at least acknowledge that a Big Mac is pretty much the same as a Whopper, and that Coke is the same as Pepsi? I mean, how much difference does flame-broiling really make, or the fact that they’ve got that clown as mascot? Let’s build bridges.

  13. I think the Pope has taken a positive step and should be commended.
    Heck, I’d love to see some of the pastors, preachers, and ministers in my own little corner of the Bible Belt do something similar — cross that street and have a civil, open hearted conversation with people in the competing church on the other side — rather than just talking bad about their leaders and trying to swipe their sheep out from under them.
    I think we’d all come to a better understanding of God’s grace — be we Protestants or Catholics or whatever — by showing more grace in how we act, talk, and think about each other.
    Regardless of who is on the right side of all these age-old theological, ecclesiastical, and liturgical differences and disputes, it is in the arena of love and grace and forgiveness that we Christians have most often failed our Lord.
    At least that’s how I see it.

  14. If I may interject, could I get some prayers from the I-Monk community for my sister Mary? She is suddenly in ICU, the prognosis is grim, and I am pretty sure she has not yet reconciled with the Lord of our abusive childhood. Thank you and sorry if this is out of line.

  15. The irony in all of this is that those who are being intractable are the ones calling for unity.

    “It’s our ball, it’s our court, they are our rules. If you don’t like it you can go stright to the nether regions. But we’d really love for you to see things our way and we can all be lovie-dovie.”

    Over 500 years now, and what have they actually done to bring us together? They do desire unity, but they will not budge one iota from their doctrines that are in fact anithetical to the true freedom in Christ and His gospel.

    They are very patient. They will just wait you out and bring in all those who go wobbly.

    • Steve, with respect may I say that your posts at least have served the purpose of sparking some thoughtful and interesting rejoinders from Martha, The Sheepcat, and others, which I’ve very much enjoyed reading. Thank you.

      • Pilar,

        I know that these are great issues and they can be very emotionally charged. My goal is not to convince anyone, but just to bring to light facets that some may not have noticed before.

        Thank you, my friend.

  16. My pastor mentions the Pope’s visit to Luther-land, and speaks to the great issues surrounding those historic events (not directly, but indirectly), in his sermon titled, ‘Knowing God’s will’.


    It’s worth a listen, just for clarity’s sake…if nothing else.


  17. There is only place where we can claim any manner of valuable role, authority, mission or ‘infallibility’ (if we must use such a term) as Christians (the church), and that is in our calling to hold out to others the word of life – the person and work of Jesus Christ, a saviour who unconditionally justifies the wicked, takes away the sins of the world, and brings peace with God through Himself, the one mediator and priest of the holiest of holies. Any form of religion that removes us from ‘looking unto Jesus’ as the author and finisher of our faith is sinking sand. Luther came to see that those who are truly made right before God trust solely upon His work, His mercy, His love, for their salvation. Any ‘adding’ or subtracting to this is to don ourselves in filthy rags, and seek merit other than that given in Christ Jesus. That is the faith which sustains us – God forbid that we should seek to know or fellowship upon anything else.

Speak Your Mind