So we might as well begin at the beginning: what are my personal views about Reformation Day? As a Catholic, I naturally won’t be baking a cake to celebrate the division of Christendom, but I will grant that some good things came about a result of the turmoil. Martin Luther, initially, had some valid points with regards to corruption in the Church and the sale of indulgences. He might even have become a great reforming saint had he remained an obedient son of the Church instead of taking off to start his own. But, as I see it, the gentleman was a little manic about seeing himself as “unworthy” and therefore felt it necessary to rewrite doctrines as he saw fitting and proper. Two prime examples are Sola Fides and Sola Scriptura.
As it is, regarding “Faith Alone”, Catholicism teaches, and has always taught, that we could never “earn” our salvation without the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, whom we must accept as our Lord and Savior. However, we must continue to work out our salvation day by day, through our actions as well as our words. The greatest of the theological virtues is love, and we must show that through our deeds, or otherwise our faith is really dead. Luther could not bring himself to believe that anything he did could be worth anything at all, and therefore he believed that the human race was totally depraved. Our only hope for salvation was to have our sins covered over, like a dung heap covered with snow. This is in conflict with the Catholic belief that human beings can be transformed through the grace of Christ and our works do have value. The result was that he had a hard time getting his Lutheran followers to continue with their good works at various intervals.
As for “Scripture Alone”, Luther was, ironically, advocating an idea that is nowhere stated in the scriptures. Again, Catholicism has always placed great importance on the Scriptures. Catholics were the ones who comprised the canon of Scripture, and the Liturgy of the Word takes us through the Biblical journey every Sunday at mass. However, the Church also emphasizes the belief in Sacred Tradition, the truths that have been passed down to us outside the written word, and the format in which the Scriptures were preserved before they were written down. In my opinion, there are any number of things Luther could have done to be helpful without ever having to break away from the Church, including advocating higher literacy levels in Europe, emphasizing the need to make full use of the printing industry, and encouraging accurate translations of the Bible by going through the right channels.
None of these efforts at improvement would have required dismembering Christendom and starting a chain reaction of bloodshed and persecutions of which both sides were guilty. Even Martin Luther seemed to be a bit disillusioned with some of his own “extra curricula activity” towards the end of his life. Nevertheless, there were several positive notes of which Reformation (even though I hesitate to call it a “Reformation” since it actually shattered the structure instead of reformed it!) set into play:
1. The Catholic Church was forced to face up to its own faults and corruption, as well as going the extra mile to better explain doctrines formerly taken for granted, culminating in the Council of Trent.
2. Catholics and Protestants alike gained many martyrs who showed an example of Christian fearlessness in the face of death for their beliefs, from the Catholic 40 Martyrs of England and Wales to the Presbyterian Wigtown Martyrs of Scotland.
3. The different Protestant denominations developed their own distinct traditions, customs, and contributions, ranging from hymnody to garmentry to literature, a special dedication to the written word and a lively expression of religion.
4. Without the Reformation, the misplaced Protestants dissenters of England would never have felt the need to make the long ocean voyage to establish many of the 13 American Colonies in hopes of attaining religious freedom for themselves, serving as a type of genesis for the USA.
5. Religious diversity meant that religious toleration was bound to come about sooner or later and that people had to learn how to walk the thin line of respecting another person’s beliefs without abandoning their own.
So, for better or for worse, Reformation Day is a day that has unquestionably affected the world. Of course, I personally hope that, generations down the line, Christians will have cause to celebrate “Reunification Day”, when we all are able to iron out our differences and unite as a formidable force in an increasingly irreligious world. And yes, I do hope it will be with the Pope as shepherd of the flock and keeper of the keys, just as I believe that this way Christ intended it when made Peter head of the apostles. Until then, let’s hope we can unify through out commonalities and respect our differences on Reformation Day and all others.
|A perfectly good door!|