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Friday, October 30, 2009

Reformation Day

Tomorrow, October 31, marks the 492nd anniversary of Martin Luther's posting his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Church in Germany in 1517. These theses were a reaction against what he saw as abuses of the Roman Catholic Church against Christianity, and were the catalyst that sparked the Protestant Reformation.

Most famously, Luther objected to the idea of selling indulgences -- defined by Wikipedia HERE:

"An indulgence, in Catholic Theology, is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. The indulgence is granted by the church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution. The belief is that indulgences draw on the storehouse of merit acquired by Jesus' sacrifice and the virtues and penances of the saints.
They are granted for specific good works and prayers.

Indulgences replaced the severe penances of the early church. More exactly, they replaced the shortening of those penances that was allowed at the intercession of those imprisoned and those awaiting martyrdom for the faith."

Basically (as far as my understanding goes), the Catholic Church teaches that indulgences impart borrowed grace and therefore lessen the time that a person remains in Purgatory before being able to enter into Heaven. During the time of Luther, the Church sold these indulgences for money.

Luther promoted the idea of "Sola Scriptura," literally "only Scripture," the only basis by which we may understand God. He translated the Bible into German so that it would be accessible to everyone, not just clergy, since he considered all baptised Christians to be part of the holy priesthood. He taught that salvation is not from good works, but a free gift of God, received only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer. His teachings challenged the Church's authority, and he was excommunicated in 1521.

Today Protestants do not believe in Purgatory, but that Christians at death enter directly into Heaven since sin was effectively and completely remitted at the cross. Protestants also do not accept the infallibility of the Pope as God's representative on Earth, nor the role of Mary as Co-Mediatrix.

Even so, there are many areas of theological agreement between Catholics and Protestants, most importantly regarding the centrality of Christ's death and resurrection as THE means of a person's redemption. These issues are important and well worth discussion, hopefully without the bloodshed and turmoil that characterized the fallout from the Reformation.


I have a Catholic friend, Philangelus, who was kind enough to read this post last night. You can read her blog HERE, and I imagine she may be posting something on this topic today. She writes:

Defining an Indulgence:

If you break my window, you may come to me and apologize, and I may tell you that it's fine, and you'll still be my friend (that's the spiritual aspect of sin/reconciliation) but the window is still broken (that's the temporal aspect of sin.) Jesus's sacrifice enables us to be forgiven in all senses, of course. But there's still the temporal effects of sin on our souls that needs to be worked off, and that final purification takes place before we're allowed into the presence of God. That's what Purgatory is. An indulgence supposedly removes that or makes it happen eaiser or something. I don't quite get it myself.

On Selling Indulgences:

Indulgences were granted on the basis of certain prayers and good works (and one of the conditions, by the way, was being free of any attachment to sin!) Giving alms is a good deed, of course, and someone got the brilliant idea to attach an indulgence to it. You can see where someone who was unscrupulous would suddenly realize, "Hey! Gold mine! Er...*I* am a charity!" I can't imagine God is very pleased with that kind of garbage. :-b

On Salvation:

Catholicism also teaches that salvation is not from good works but a free gift of God. :-)

On Mary as Co-Mediatrix:

Martin Luther accepted the role of Mary. Sorry about that -- you may want to remove that part. (You want a link?)

NOTE: actually, I'd find this link interesting, since I have not heard this before and find it difficult to believe. Be that as it may, no matter what Luther or anyone else might have believed, I do not accept Mary as co-mediatrix based on my reading of the Word. Sorry, Philangelus.

Papal Infallibility:

Infallibility as a doctrine didn't exist for another few centuries.

And discussion between Protestants and Catholics:

It would be nice if we could have some actual dialogue between Protestantism and Catholicism. There's an awesome discussion going on over at one weblog I read yesterday, which ended up with one guy finally yielding in his fight and saying "Sola scriptura is now dead to me. I have no idea where that leaves me." Scary for him, I bet. :-( (That discussion is HERE,btw. There are a million comments, but they're amazing.)

I agree with Philangelus that we need discussion, not torpedoes. These are difficult issues, and important to sort out.

I'm afraid with this entry that I've opened a can of worms; once again, I'm rushing into a hard issue. Comments are gratefully appreciated, but please don't turn this into a firing ground. Truly, I wanted to just remember an important event that occurred on All Hallow's Eve.


Jane Lebak said...

The Martin Luther/Mary document is here:

Mostly direct quotes from his sermons, so it's not conjecture.

I guess my problem is that while selling indulgences was wrong and corrupt, he rejected Purgatory on the grounds of a corrupt practice. That's like saying "Children cheat on their homework, so we'll stop teaching them to read."

I understand he was in a difficult position. But I can't agree with his tactics. I did reply on my weblog (which I now realize has mostly non-Catholic readers, so I'm probably going to get roasted in my combox. Oh well.)

Thanks for opening dialogue! May it create unity and not anger.

KM Wilsher said...

Nice post, Amy. Truly interested!