The Errors of Luther and the Spirit of Today
Father Franz Schmidberger, Superior General, The Society of St. Pius X
Lecture given at Lanvallay (France), August 15, 1983; Essen (Germany), February 12, 1984; Vienna (Austria), March 31, 1984; and St. Nicholas du Chardonnet (Paris), April 12, 1984. English translation by Fr. Philip M. Stark.
TO GET A BETTER understanding of today's errors, especially what is going on within the Catholic Church, it seems to me indispensible to have a closer look at the position of Luther and his Protestant followers and to compare them with the Neo-Protestants and Neo-Modernists of our day. We can summarize the essential position of Luther in the classic four "soli" points:
1. sola scriptura (Scripture alone) i.e., excluding the living Tradition of the Church;
2. sola fides (faith alone), i.e., not works;
3. sola gratia (grace alone), i.e., no cooperation of man's free will;
4. solus Deus (God alone), i.e., no mediation of grace through the Church and no intercession of the saints.
These four points will be developed as follows:
1. Sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
A whole string of powerful objections can be brought against this tenet of Luther and the Protestants; above all, Holy Scripture itself can be called to witness.
a) In John 20.30-1, we read: "Many other signs did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book." And a little further on (John 21.25): "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."
Thus it is clearly stated that Holy Scripture presents only a portion of the world and deeds of Jesus; and it is not at all clear by what criterion the choice was made. It is therefore a wholly unjustified assumption that Holy Scripture alone contains the saving teachings of Christ and that what is left out consists only of unimportant details.
b) Actually the Lord instructed His disciples to go forth and teach. He gave them no commission to write a book. It is therefore the living teaching under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, which stands at the beginning of the life of the Church. This fact corresponds to an immediately obvious point: God the Creator of nature as well as of grace makes use of men as His tools, whereby a very special meaning comes to the spoken word in its transmission from person to person.
c) Only in later years was Holy Scripture first written down, after the Church had already existed for many years and had developed her life fully in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, the administration of the Sacraments and in the proclamation of the wonderful works of God. If Scripture had been the only definitive foundation of the Church, the Church would not have existed for the first few decades at all.
d) Whose authority is it to decide what belongs to Scripture? Or, to put it another way, what does the canon of Holy Writ contain? The criterion for this cannot be in the Bible itself, as the question can be asked only afterwards. There must therefore be a criterion outside Scripture which discerns and separates the authentically inspired writings from the apocryphal: this is the authority of Christ Himself, which carries a protection of faith under the guidance of the Holy Ghost intact through the storms of the ages.
e) Who interprets in doubtful cases and in disputes as they occur? The Holy Ghost Himself, say Luther and the Protestants. This opinion the Catholic can accept, provided he makes the restriction that the Holy Ghost must be expressed in an objective way by human standards, namely through the Magisterium of the Church, and that the guardianship of the treasury of the faith in every case of doubt be removed from all subjective association. The very number of self-contradictory Protestant sects shows clearly that God has entrusted the treasury of faith neither to private persons, nor to any and all rival groups for final decision.
Here as always, the Protestants have nothing positive with which to replace Catholic teaching. They live entirely and exclusively on criticism of our positions, and they claim that we Catholics are in principle no better than they, the Protestants; that they have Scripture as definitive source of faith, while we on our side have added yet another system of dogmas.
The answer to this argument is simple: the Catholic Church is neither a set of dogmas, nor a system of morality, but is above all, in its sacrifice in our midst, the powerfully living and powerfully working Emmanuel (Christ-with-us). The Church does not have a tradition; rather, the Church essentially is Tradition, more precisely, a prolongation of the Word-made-Flesh. Hence it is not the Church which offers sacrifice, it is not the Church which baptizes, and it is not the Church which teaches, but rather, properly and in the last analysis, it is Christ Who offers sacrifice, baptizes and teaches, and uses human priests and the Pope as Supreme Pontiff as His instruments in the mystery of mediating grace.
The Church is therefore the living Christ, established with a living authority, which is capable at any time of redefining truths (but not of inventing them!) to meet contemporary problems, to discern and sort out, to argue, to judge and to reject. "Whoever hears you, hears Me; whoever rejects you, rejects Me and rejects Him, Who sent Me," said the Lord to His apostles.
The Protestant position, in its one-sided emphasis on the Word, is nothing but cold rationalism. It does not want to acknowledge that the Word became Flesh and sacrificed Himself, that the Redemption is the great work of God in history. It pushes the altar aside and puts in its place the pulpit; the sermon and hymns stand in the center of things, no longer the tenting of God among men. So much the more painful must the reminders of the Reformation within the Church strike the Catholic of our day in light of the above: the rejection of Tradition, the pushing aside of mystery and the march to cold rationalism. As Stuttgart went over to Protestantism in the sixteenth century, the priests celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the last time on a prearranged day in the court chapel. Afterwards the prior took the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle; the eternal flame was put out; the building has remained standing to the present day; but He, Emmanuel, is gone.
2. Sola fides (faith alone, not works)
An important objection against this Protestant error can also be raised here, first of all from Scripture itself.
a) In the Epistle of St. James we read that faith without works is dead; in the Apocalypse the dead are praised, "for their works follow them." And in the Second Book of Maccabees we see the great hero Judas taking a collection for the fallen, that a sin-offering may be made; that it is a good and pious thought to pray for the dead.
b) Human nature itself reveals a connection between faith and works, as it consists of body and soul, whereby the soul is expressed in the body, the body is an instrument of the spiritual soul, and an exchange between body and soul cannot be denied. For example, if I make a genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament, I proclaim the faith of the Church, that Christ truly, really and powerfully, with His divinity and humanity, body and soul under the appearances of bread, is present among us. By the same token every outward gesture, every sign of the cross and every bow, helps us to strengthen our faith. The soul is inwardly nourished by these outward signs. In this connection it is not to be forgotten that the separation of body and soul in death is only a temporary arrangement until the last day, when body and soul will again find their unity, yet distinct from one another.
Exactly the same relationship holds between faith and works. Faith expresses itself in works, as works without faith are dead, like the body without the soul. At the same time works are a true prolongation of faith, reflect back upon it, strengthen it and shape it.
c) As works belong essentially to faith, a blinding flash of light occurs in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Godhead; God comes visibly among us; He walks around for thirty-three years in our earthly flesh, He performs miracles and makes use of outward elements as, for instance, a mud plaster in the healing of a blind man, His finger in the healing of a deaf-mute; He cries out and prays aloud for the apostles' sake in the raising of Lazarus.
And thus the Church is His visible Body; the Sacraments are visible signs, which contain and bestow an inner, invisible grace and mediate it through the work itself; works are faith made visible; our cathedrals and churches, processions and pilgrimages, our seminaries and convents, all proclaim the eternal, living Truth which has broken into time.
Because God became man, therefore we bend the knee; because He went down into the dust of the earth, we throw ourselves on the ground in holy fear. All of nature should proclaim His works, all art should be put at His service and sing the praise of the Eternal One.
When we reverence the relics of the saints, we are praying to that uncreated Love which took weak man to Itself, opened Its throne to them and surrounded them with Its grace.
Not to be overlooked in this regard, the Catholic priest binds himself to celibacy and wears the black cassock, in order to show himself to other men as a man chosen from among men, to make visible in the world the presence of God.
It is therefore clear that works are not only a short-term or a long-lasting consequence of faith; they are part of faith and thus also a part of justification. Because parts of Holy Scripture are a direct contradiction to the sola fides theory of Luther, he did away with the Epistle of St. James, calling it an epistle of straw, the Apocalypse of doubtful authenticity, and the Books of Maccabees as definitely apocryphal. He himself not only attacked celibacy, but did not hesitate as a monk with perpetual vows, to marry an ex-nun, and to proclaim up and down the land—quoting the Second Epistle of St. Peter—the general priesthood of the laity to the detriment of the structures which Christ had established with His own Blood.
If we see work therefore as sign and fruit of Christian love, then the sola fides theory must become the gravedigger of that beautiful principle which, according to St. Paul, surpasses and survives faith and hope; and it alone remains, because it is eternal.
3. Sola gratia (grace alone)
This false teaching of Luther presupposes a false concept of original sin and its consequences; according to the reformer's view, human nature in original sin was not only gravely injured, as the Church teaches; it was almost completely destroyed, and with it free will almost completely abolished. So there remains in man altogether no receiving-set for the divine broadcast. Man is deaf to the call of God and fully outside the possibility of working in freedom with His grace for His healing, sanctification and salvation.
According to Luther justification is purely an outward process: God throws the mantle of Christ's Sacrifice over the sinner and declares him to be justified, while the sinner remains interiorly what he was all along, without the least change in his essential being.
From the denial of free will, it follows necessarily, for Luther, that every human initiative is useless, even insolent: consequently, the thanksgiving of a sin-offering is a contradiction to what Christ established, and a vicarious satisfaction of man and the Church means a substitution for the work of Christ and in the end an insult to God. Thus concepts like mortification, penance, self-denial, sacrifice lost their meaning for him and became in any event acknowledged only as more or less useless signs of faith, which have no share in the self-awareness of God, but rather a blind, irrational trust in the work of Christ, without any contribution of the individual.
In order to cloak their deviation from the eternally valid order set up by God, the Protestants replace the concept of truth with the concept of truthfulness. Dogma is not the decisive thing, they say, but rather honesty, with which man puts his trust in Christ, and thus they forget that honesty presupposes truth, if they are not to go from honesty into error.
From the denial of the personal freedom of man, two fundamental consequences flow: in the first place, every moral system breaks down, and in the second place, there can be no created grace in creation and therefore no saints. And herein lies the reason why Protestant morality is fundamentally different from the Catholic. You need only look at the birth statistics in Catholic and Protestant areas to convince yourself of this fact.
But the Protestant attitude means a strongly essential difference also in personal life. Statistics have shown, for example, that the life expectancy of the Catholic priest is ten years less than that of a Protestant pastor. Why? Because the Catholic priest offers himself daily in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a sin-offering and, as the good shepherd, lays down his life for his sheep. He dies of a broken heart—broken for love of God and for souls. On the other hand, the Protestant minister is president of the assembly, having all week to prepare his sermon and hymns, to organize his parish, and to celebrate the Lord's Supper from time to time in his community. He comes on Sunday to his church (an assembly hall rather than the house of the Living God), only to shut it up again, after an elaborate service, until the following Sunday.
The reformer Calvin took Luther's teaching on original sin and justification, as well as the denial of free will, to the logical conclusions: for him there is a predestination for heaven and a predestination for hell and man can in no way change his fate. And how does one know that he is predestined for heaven? Above all in the material blessings of God. Therefore it is important to increase one's possessions as much as possible, to show oneself blessed by heaven; and herein lies the reason that statistics on property possession among Catholics and Protestants, at least in the Federal Republic of Germany, show such marked differences.
And now a word on saints. It is not simply that there are none in Protestantism de facto; there are none de jure, i.e., there can be none. Because a saint is a person converted and newly created in the grace of God, who has moved from a state of sin to the state of justification, not on the strength of his deeds, but rather through the opening of his soul in the Blood of the crucified Lamb of God. To be a saint means to be a friend of God, to share in the inner life of God, to have fully developed the graces of one's baptism and confirmation and to have started out on the road of following the living Christ in a life of self-denial and of inward striving after the virtues. The saint is a living branch on the living vine, which is Christ. He is lifted far above his purely human strength; his conversation is in heaven.
Since Protestantism denies precisely this harmonious interplay between divine grace and human freedom-this inward transformation of the soul into Christ—it can point to great and virtuous men, but not saints.
With the failure of the concept and of the reality of the sin-offering and of the vicarious satisfaction, an essential element is lacking, I would even say, the heart and soul of the Christian life, namely, oneness with the divine Victim on our altars. The life of Catholics is a lived Mass: a confession of sins, a constant offertory, a consecration and communion, i.e., a becoming one with the divine Savior.
In this connection stands the reality of our life as a spiritual warfare, a constant struggle, an exertion, a growing and maturing, until the mortal shell falls away and the light of eternity breaks through. And this fire, which we Catholics are privileged to take into our own hearts every day in the Holy Sacrifice and in Holy Communion, breaks through into the missionary spirit, into joyful cooperation in Christ's work of redemption and into the building up of His kingdom on earth. To open the treasury of the grace of our religion to others and to bring them to participate in His joy and happiness, is the greatest consolation of every true Catholic.
What pain for him to think that Neo-Protestantism today is creeping into the inner sanctum of the Church, to see how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass more and more is changing into a mere commemorative meal, the priest taking the place of the president of the assembly or moderator of the liturgy, the altars turning into tables and the Sacrament giving way to the Word, churches becoming cold, bare, empty meeting halls and the accustomed sanctuary lamp, which shows to the world the presence of its God on this earth, no longer burning in its midst.
The objective law is being replaced by freedom of conscience.
Submission, obedience and quiet service weaken the freedom of the Christian person, of emancipation or even of human rights. The genuflection is abolished; man of the twentieth century now no longer needs to cast himself down before his Creator, his Redeemer and Last End. He has come of age and for that reason has no need to wait for instructions for a Magisterium in Rome. He no longer wants to receive Communion on the tongue, as a little child is fed. No, he is now grown up; he can look after himself.
And obviously he demands, with lordly arrogance, to understand the liturgy; mystery is a long-outdated business of the Middle Ages.
It is not difficult to see the difference between the mentality of Catholicism on the one hand and Protestantism on the other—or the Neo-Protestantism of our day. To be a Catholic means to be humble, to receive the revelation of God, like His grace and His apostolic assignments, in humble glad-heartedness and to rejoice that we are permitted to live in Our Father's house. The foundation of Protestantism and its more recent appearances is the old slogan from the Garden of Eden: "You will be like God, independent and free, if only you know how to demand your rights with unwavering insistence."
The true Catholic, on the other hand, knows that he is united to Christ and to His law, to the Church and her mysteries, and thus achieves the highest inner freedom. The Protestant cannot humble himself (which is why he will not genuflect) and thus becomes a slave to his own ego.
4. Solus Deus (God alone)
If the Catholic claims that salvation has a twofold source, namely the Church and her priesthood, the saints and their intercession, mediated above all through the Ever Virgin Mary, so the Protestant claims that God gives salvation directly, in such a way that the Sacraments are no longer primarily a channel of grace, but rather symbols of the community.
First of all, it must be said that God Himself has willed and established the order of things whereby salvation is mediated (through creatures), and this is immediately obvious in the mystery of the Incarnation and in the prolonged Incarnation, which is the Church with the Eucharist and the Papacy. We cannot separate God from Christ from Church. "As the Father has sent Me, so I send you," says the Lord to His apostles, i.e., with the same mission, the same authority, and the same power. "Whoever rejects you, rejects Me; and whoever rejects Me, rejects Him Who sent Me."
And to these apostles the Lord entrusted His treasury of faith, the depositum fidei, and His treasury of grace, the depositum gratiae, whereby the Sacraments shine out as the prolonged Incarnation of Christ, His divinity becomes visible, so the Sacraments serve as visible signs of the graces of the Triune God.
In many ways the Lord commissioned His apostles for the continuation of His own mission. "Do this in memory of Me." "Go forth into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." In the holy Apostle James we had already learned of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
So the Church becomes the way to God, as Christ is the sole mediator between heaven and earth, between God and man. Thus He grants to men to share in His work of salvation: in the office of priests, in the charism of the saints and of Christians in general. St. Paul speaks of this when he says that he has filled up in his own body what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the Church. Not that in any absolute sense the salvation of man is not sufficiently covered by the grace of Christ; but rather that He calls for helpers in His work of salvation in His Church and in His saints, not because He had to, but out of His pure goodness and overreaching mercy. And herein lies our value as Christians; to work with Him in the mystery of salvation, to offer with Him, to suffer with Him, to love with Him.
By denying the Magisterium of the Church and the priestly ministry as mediator of salvation, Protestantism is life with only a subjective feeling of the individual believer as court of last appeal in questions of faith. The desire for forgiveness of sins and for salvation are wrongly taken for reality. From now on every Christian is his own pope, his own church, his own priest.
Protestants apparently wish to be obedient to God, but they will not put their foot on the path, which He Himself laid out and pointed out in His Incarnation. They acknowledge in the Ever Virgin Mary more or less a means to the Incarnation, but not her spiritual greatness or her role as mediator of salvation by the side of her Son.
This denial of created grace and of office-holders holding their place as instruments in the plan of salvation leads inexorably to the era of pentecostalism and the charismatics; everyone now receives the Holy Ghost directly. And why should this sending of the Spirit not be accompanied by extraordinary signs and wonders? They speak now of a new age, where there is need neither of Church nor of her priesthood, nor of the Sacraments. The Holy Ghost now leads every individual directly.
No doubt the introduction of the widespread notion of "the people of God" is a preliminary step to this tremendously powerful heresy, which is, by the way, a thoroughly biblical notion, from the Old Testament, something the hierarchy has embraced, under the inspiration of Protestantism, but calculated to destroy the hierarchical structure of the Church and of her priesthood.
And for this reason Canon 204 of the New Code of Canon Law is, under these conditions, absolutely to be rejected, viz., where it is said that every believer has a direct share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly nature of Jesus Christ. This is equivalent to saying, in today's context, simply that the ministerial priesthood is destroyed.
With his four soli Luther destroys Christian morality, Christian civilization and the work of the Holy Ghost in souls:
1. Christian morality is destroyed because without free will every moral system is struck a mortal blow in its most central nerve. A reflection of the fruits of such thinking is seen in the saying of Luther: "Sin boldly, but believe more boldly."
2. Christian civilization: Built on the harmonious cooperation between freedom and grace, God and man; resting on the irruption of eternity into time and consisting of everything that Christ established in His redeeming Blood and left behind: the Sacrament of marriage, the cloisters, the convents and seminaries, the Catholic schools and the Catholic state, where the ruler shares in the authority of God by virtue of his office.
It is that unique symphony, in which man as the speaking reed of assembled creation, with body and soul, in action and contemplation, in work and prayer, in waking and resting, gives praise to the Triune God, although he suffers along with the rest of creation under the curse of Adam and sighs and longs for salvation. It is in its hierarchical structure a reflection of the heavenly court, a visible illustration of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Luther for his part explains that marriage is a purely worldly matter; the vows of religion are not divine but of human origin and therefore a serious abuse; because of his revolt against the Church and emperor he cannot be absolved of the name of revolutionary. When he saw his power waning, he called the princes in and placed the Church into the hands of the politicians, making it the toy of worldly interests.
3. The most beautiful fruits of the work of the Holy Ghost in souls are the saints, who for this reason are dismissed by Luther, who himself during his own lifetime inconsistently maintained a certain devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Whoever rejects the priesthood, to him are the fountains of grace shut off; whoever rejects the Mass, from him the crucified and exalted Lord turns away.
It is the furthest thing from my intention to make a personal attack on non-Catholic Christians with my remarks, or to question their sincerity. Purely for the love of the Crucified Lord do we wish to ask them to reconsider their self-chosen misery in wandering so far from their Father's house, and to return to the one sheepfold and to the one Shepherd and, together with us, with the motherly care of Our Lady and all the saints, to build the kingdom of the Divine Heart on this earth and in forgetfulness of self, to serve His holy Church, which He founded on Peter.