Saturday, November 06, 2010

Who Split the Church?

I ran across the following blog from Gene Veith, and could not let it go without comment...
I’ve been reading some Reformation Day reflections by Roman Catholics, some of whom have expressed a little grudging appreciation for Luther, while blaming him for splitting the Church. (You can find some here.)
The only thing I am thankful for what Luther did was to end the abuse of indulgences from folks like Tetzel.  Aside from that, there is nothing else I appreciate Luther for nor the heresy he committed and even encouraged others into.  I also see him as little more than a willing pawn in the hands of the German princes.
But Luther was excommunicated. Why? Because he criticized the sale of indulgences. In the case that precipitated his nailing the theses to the door, a salesman named Tetzel was participating in a manifestly corrupt venture–having to do ecclesiastical bribery and simony–that was theologically untenable.
I have already expressed my displeasure with Tetzel.  He abused the concept of indulgences through the "sale" of them.  Such abuses have been ended, but to the point here - Luther was NOT excommunicated because he criticized the sale of indulgences!  That was the START of Luther's protest, but it was not what he was ultimately excommunicated for!   The list of errors are contained in Exsurge Domine and then the excommunication comes in Decet Romanum Pontificem, so Mr. Veith doesn't have all his facts straight here.  While it is true that the nailing of the 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517 got things rolling, it was not until 1518 at the Diet of Worms where Luther declared the papacy was not biblical and set himself up against the pope himself.  On June 15, 1520 Exsurge Domine was published, giving Luther 60 days to recant several matters - SOME of which were PART of the 95 Theses.  On December 10, 1520 Luther publicly burned the bull at Wittenberg and on January 3, 1521 Decet Romanum Pontificem was published - excommunicating him and any who followed him.
Here is an excerpt from Tetzel’s sermon “On Indulgences” (1517):
Consider that for each and every mortal sin it is necessary to undergo seven years of penitence after confession and contrition, either in this life or in Purgatory. How many mortal sins are committed in a day, how many in a week, how many in a month, how many in a year, how many in the whole extent of life! They are nearly numberless, and those that commit them must suffer endless punishment in the burning pains of Purgatory. (via Primary Sources.)
Again, I will make no defense for Tetzel and his sermons - he was wrong.
This was no Purgatory as “taking a shower” before entering Heaven, as in some contemporary Catholic apologetics. Nor was it ascending Dante’s mountain. It was penal fire that people were taught might last hundreds, even thousands of years. (7 years per sin; do the math.) And this was for sins that were forgiven! Sins that were repented, confessed, and absolved STILL had to be punished.
And we must emphasize that Mr. Veith is relying upon Tetzel's interpretation here.  The fact of the matter is that there is no precise formula for time spent in Purgatory.  It may only be moments; it may be only moments which FEELS like thousands of years (for what is "time" anyway to an eternal being - which EVERY SOUL IN PURGATORY IS!).  Whatever this "time" is - we KNOW it MUST EXIST for NOTHING IMPURE CAN ENTER HEAVEN (Rev. 21:27).  We KNOW that our WORKS will be TESTED AS BY FIRE and for those which are BURNED UP we shall SUFFER LOSS, but for those which REMAIN we shall be REWARDED (1 Cor. 3:15).  Keep in mind, 1 Cor. 3 is speaking of those who ARE SAVED ALREADY, and yet they will "SUFFER LOSS" - so let the Protestant explain "suffering" which happens AFTER THE JUDGMENT!
Luther believed this teaching and this practice obscured the Gospel. He just wanted to debate it! His attempts at reform were repudiated.
It was a bit more than that, and anyone who has objectively looked at the situation and actually read some of Luther's "replies" to Rome and his insubordinate attitude - KNOWS THIS.
The Church of Rome, meanwhile, upped the ante. Luther said that these teachings could not be supported by Scripture. The reply was that they rested on the authority of the Church and of the Pope, which, in practice, trumped Scripture. Luther, still thinking of the obvious distortions in the indulgence traffic, could not accept that.
The authority of the Church and the Pope do not "trump Scripture," for that authority is given to the Church and the Pope BY JESUS and is recorded IN Scripture!  (Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18, for starters).   Regardless, Mr. Veith here is over-simplifying what REALLY transpired between Rome and Germany.  Luther actually became a willing pawn in the hands of the German princes to raid Catholic Church property.   These German princes were quite opportunistic seizing upon Luther's rebellion.  Then, the "church" which replaced Catholicism became a state run totalitarian anti-Semitic system which was also embraced by none other than Adolf Hitler, but I digress.
So Luther was cast out of the Church, which refused to even consider his concerns, and things escalated after that.
This is not really true either, for the abuse of indulgences ended about the same time.  IF that were TRULY the factor for Luther separating himself from the Catholic Church, then when this abuse was rectified - why did Lutheranism stay in schism?  Simple, the German princes were not about to give back the property and authority they stole from Catholicism.
Luther was given a death sentence, and many who agreed with Luther were burned at the stake.
Since Lutherans were protected by the German state, I find this hard to believe.  I am aware of some Lutherans being burned in Spain, but none in Germany.  
Then new ecclesiastical orders were set up, now that Rome cut the ties.
Let's be clear here - LUTHER "cut the ties" when he rejected the authority of the Church as established by Jesus Christ.
(The Church, in effect, later conceded many of Luther’s points. Exchanging indulgences for money was later forbidden.
Right, so why did the Lutheran Church remain in schism?
The duration of Purgatorial punishment has since been softened, saying that no one knows how long it will last and that time doesn’t exist in the afterlife as it does on earth. The number of years each indulgence remits–some were for tens of thousands or even millions of years–has been reinterpreted to mean that it is the equivalent of that period of time devoted to earthly penance.
Again, right, and precisely what I said earlier.

Still, the doctrine of Purgatory remains, along with the need to be punished for each forgiven transgression, as does the doctrine of Indulgences, including the notion of the Treasury of Merits, that the Church administers all of the surplus good works of the saints, which can be credited to the account of those in Purgatory. Also, much of Roman Catholic devotional practice–such as the repetition of specific prayers, each of which earns an indulgence–is tied to this theology.)
Yes, and Purgatory can't go away - it is scriptural!  That being said, Purgatory is not so much "punishment" as it is "purging" of any stain of sin which may remain.  Also, it is not "for each forgiven transgression," as if one makes a valid confession, sincerely repenting of their sin(s) and demonstrates their sorrow for committing the sin(s) there may be nothing left to be purged.   As Mr. Veith points out, Indulgences are still out there - thus there may be no Purgatory "time" left for one based on this as well.  So his point that there is a "need to be punished for each forgiven transgression" is proven false on several counts - of his own testimony!
At any rate, isn’t it clear that the Church of Rome at that time, in the way it handled the controversy, split the Church? Not Luther, who never intended such a thing, though his protest was certainly a catalyst for what happened? And since, for Roman Catholics, the church doesn’t err, shouldn’t they consider Protestantism one of its good creations?
So now we get to Mr. Veith's thesis - and a rather ludicrous one at that.   Luther's insubordinate statements, especially declaring that the papacy itself was not scriptural is clear testimony that Luther wanted nothing to do with the Catholic Church and did whatever he could (probably at the prompting of the German princes who empowered him by promising him safety) to separate himself AND the Church of Germany from the Catholic Church.  



  1. So Luther was cast out of the Church, which refused to even consider his concerns, and things escalated after that.

    This is not really true either, for the abuse of indulgences ended about the same time.

    Hi Scott-

    What sort of documentation do you have for this? This isn't a trick question, I'm genuinely curious. If possible, provide the "cast out" date and the "same time" date.

  2. First off, not "the same time" but "about the same time." The excommunication date, as posted in the original article, was January 3, 1521 via Decet Romanum Pontificem. The official end to any "sale" of Indulgences was at the Council of Trent, in the final session, December 4, 1563. That being said, Luther's chief irritant, Johann Tetzel, died August 11, 1519 - more than two years before Luther was excommunicated.

    My point in that comment to Mr. Veith was if this sale of Indulgences was THE cause of the Protestant revolt, then why did it not end when Trent abolished the sale? If Mr. Veith's premise were accurate, then logic would demand that in 1563 the Lutherans would have returned to the Catholic Church. However, Luther's poison was much deeper than merely the sale of Indulgences - which, Mr. Swan, I'm sure you would agree with. Luther wanted NOTHING to do with the Catholic Church or the Papacy. He sought refuge in the arms of the German princes who protected him, and he, in turn, promoted their tyranny over the Peasant Revolt and the creation of the Church State of Lutheranism in Germany.


  3. As a former Lutheran, I'm appalled at the ignorance of some in the apologetics community about Luther's actual behavior during the early years of the Protestant revolt. His life long behaviour is one of stirring up trouble, going out of his way to insult and defame people, blaspheming the sacred truth of the Christian faith, destroying marriage as a permanent bond between a man and a woman, etc. Some or even many on the Catholic side had their faults, but hardly any of them were trying to divide the Chrch. Those that were became Protestants.

  4. January 3, 1521 via Decet Romanum Pontificem. The official end to any "sale" of Indulgences was at the Council of Trent, in the final session, December 4, 1563

    Thank you for the clarification. In regard to the indulgence issue, Veith is correct that that the Roman church wasn't interested in hearing what he had to say. Had they been, they perhaps would have dealt with the abuse of indulgences, Luther's original concern, during Luther's lifetime. True, though Scott, as you point out, Luther's official split with the church was concerned with more issues than indulgences.

  5. Well, James, speaking as a former Lutheran myself, I do wish Rome had been more responsive to Luther's complaints in during his lifetime - and perhaps they were moreso than we're led to believe. They did summon him to Rome, but he refused (claiming fear of his life). IF he had gone to Rome and pleaded his case in a scholarly manner, things may have been different - but who knows, that part is pure speculation. My point to Veith remains though, IF the sale of indulgences were the main issue of the schism, then when that was officially ended, so should have the schism! No, Luther didn't want anything to do with the Catholic Church anymore and statements that he never wanted to schism are patently false. He flatly refused and denied the papacy and even put his insubordination up in public demonstration (like burning the papal bull, Exsurge Domine in front of the Catholic Church at Wittenberg). I thank you for supporting me in that.



Keep in mind while posting:
1) Please respond ON TOPIC to the article at hand.
2) Posts more than 4 weeks old are set to automatically save new comments for moderation - so your comment may not show up immediately if you're responding to an older post.
3) The "Spam Filter" is on - and randomly messages get caught in that filter. I have no control over which messages get caught in the spam filter and those that do must wait for me to mark them as "not spam." A message caught by the spam filter may show up for a moment, making you think it posted, and then disappear. Do not assume I have deleted your comment, it's probably just the spam filter and it will show up.