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A Response to “What Happened to the Reformation?”– The Conversation Continued

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July 9, 2012

Dear Mark,

Thank you so much for your response to my piece. When you learn more about the period in question, you’ll be more critical of my work. I’m really not quite the master of the material the way you take me to be. I have studied it a little, however.

That is quite an insight you have about the large institutions having corruption problems. Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It would have been good if the Catholic bishops had had an internal affairs committee to watch out over the bishops and how they were more concerned with their reputation than the victims of the priests who were into pedophilia and child abuse. That could have saved them all the trouble they are now in.

That you label Harm Klueting a bit radical, I think comes down to the tendency of converts to be more fervent than long standing adherents of a religion, St. Paul, for example. Thank you for pointing out the fact that Klueting was a Lutheran pastor before he converted, following his wife, who became a Carmelite nun. That is really significant!

It is very difficult to prove the existence of a historical figure. It seems a stretch to say that Jesus was a myth, when he has over two billion followers in the world today. Albert Schweitzer in his book, The Search for the Historical Jesus, refuted such nineteenth century arguments by David Friedrich Strauss and Bruno Bauer. And the Protestant Reformation was no myth: in the year 2000 it is estimated that there were 1 billion, 57 million Catholics in the world, 342 million Protestants, 386 million Independents, probably Pentecostals; 215 million Orthodox, and 79 million Anglicans – and 26 million other Christians. If you add the Protestants, the Pentecostals, and Anglicans, there are almost as many Christians influenced by the Reformation as in the Catholic Church.[1]

You picked up on an insight that Tom Brady and I had during a discussion: that catholic monastic orders took the Protestant form of transnational corporations. It follows from Max Weber’s theory of inner worldly asceticism stemming from the “priesthood of all believers.” Weber would develop his theory more from a rationalism of Calvinist tradition than from Luther, of course. But Calvin was very much influenced by Luther.

That the Roman Catholic Church became the first Western state is an insight from Harold Berman and very few scholars have taken Luther’s legal revolution into account that stripped the Church of its coercive power through the rule of law.[2] Luther pointed out that coercion and persuasion were obviously incompatible and that is one part of his two kingdom theory.

I like the way you notice that Harm Klueting is giving the culprit the credit for the Reformation. One can really speak of a tyranny of the Catholic Church as a quasi-state in those days that makes sense of Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” A line in a verse we usually do not sing goes “God’s Word forever will abide, no thanks to foes who fear it.” Klueting’s revision of history that exchanges the good guys for the bad guys is not cool.

When the French Catholics wiped out most of the Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the pope had a Te Deum sung in Rome. But we cannot be triumphalist, because Luther also sinned against the peasants and the Jews.

The early ecumenical movement began to notice that nationalism was problematic for Christianity. As I mentioned on the telephone, my father as a machine gunner in the First World War heard the Tommy lying out in the battle field screaming the name of Jesus before they died. Here he was a German drafted out of the seminary, a fervent Christian shooting other Christians just because he was German and the Tommy was British! What was wrong with this picture? Nationalism was stronger than our witness to Christ and our fervor for the kingdom of heaven.

I think the best metaphor for the Catholic Church burning heretics at the stake the way the Jewish High Priest had Jesus crucified, comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: if the salt has lost its saltiness, with what can it be salted? (Mat 5:13) When the Church is doing that it has lost its salt and it needs to be reformed. Luther did not consider himself to be the Reformer, but Christ himself. Christus Reformator, Christ himself is the Reformer of a church that needs continual reformation: Ecclesia semper reformanda!

You pick up the Harold Berman insight that the “Clergy was the first translocal, transtribal, transfeudal, and transnational class in Europe to achieve political and legal unity.” [3] And you point out, “How they did it to combat the Emperor.” Joseph Lortz another Catholic historian, whom I greatly admire, pointed out that when the papacy did-in the emperor, they took away the universalism of the papacy. The pope and the emperor were supposed to stand by each other. Suddenly the papacy was usurping the temporal power of the emperor and even becoming a territorial monarch among others, because of the slow and steady dissolution of the empire. In taking the side of the king of France against the emperor, the papacy went into the Avignon Captivity and became a French bishop for seventy years. Thereafter this captivity issued into the great Schism of Italian popes against the French popes. At the conclusion of the schism there were three popes excommunicating each other.

I don’t know how viable the setup would have been if the popes and emperors had held together. It would still have been an earthly arrangement that would ultimately have been accountable to Christ and the judgment of the kingdom of heaven. No earthly arrangement can make claims to ultimacy.

The class of clergy described by Berman was organized by the revolution that Hildebrand, that is, Pope Gregory VII put into place in the eleventh century. He setup the episcopal courts under the canon law and enforced clerical celibacy. For the investiture controversy, he also made sure that no temporal king could place a bishop into office over a province. Kings and princes liked to do that, because then, like the pope, they did not have to worry about a son trying to be the successor of the father in that office. If the ruler was a bishop, then every son was illegitimate. But if the king placed a prince over a province, then that prince would want his son to follow him and the king would lose control of the succession. So kings wanted the right to call bishops. While they had that long controversy, the church won that exclusive right. But then the church had Prince-bishops that were placed by the pope and that had temporal rule, that is, just like the secular rulers. That way the church gained against the temporal rulers both in temporal rule and in owning ever more productive property. That is where Berman’s class of priests gets the better of the secular rulers and the shot goes over the bow of the clericalist ship of state, when Luther proclaims “the priesthood of all believers.” Luther was overturning Gregory’s revolution, like a second Hildebrand undoing the problematic legal and temporal implications of the revolution of the first.

You have many wonderful insights from pages 11 to 15 that are a real contribution. In terms of Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII declaring themselves “Prisoners of the Vatican,” I used to think it was only a matter of the popes sulking about their loss of the Papal States and Rome to the nation of Italy. Now I realize they always depended on Catholic nations to send in armies to conquer the Papal States and Rome for the papacy again. After 1870 no Catholic nation would comply again, so their loss became permanent. My hypothesis is that the papacy was the reason for the belated nationhood of Germany as well as Italy and I realize that I am inconsistent about my position on the progress of nationhood, when I call nations false ultimates. But I believe that if a papacy wants to have sovereignty over a state it stands in a greater contradiction to the Lord Christ and the kingdom of heaven, because of the use of military power in making the conquest and coercive maintenance of power thereafter, than when secular rulers do that and have it. They could not do that in the name of God.

On the freedom of the will, I have a question. If a person can’t receive credit for the good things they’ve done, can they be blamed for the evil things, for crimes that they’ve committed? Even though this is inconsistent, I believe that such a person can be blamed. (Luther really believed in double predestination as well, but not our Lutheran confessions.) The Formula of Concord, for example, was inconsistent as well when it held that God did elect believers for eternal life, but did not elect unbelievers for eternal damnation. Calvin also believed in double predestination, while Lutherans do not. Luther held that things could not be understood in the light of nature that could be understood in the light of grace and those things that could not be understood in the light of grace could be understood in the light of glory. Why a person who commits a crime can be blamed cannot be understood in the light of grace, (Luther argued) but could be understood in the light of glory. (He writes about these three levels of life and thought at the end of his Bondage of the Will.

You are broaching some difficult territory in your free will discussion. The glory of God is that God changes the evil that we do into blessings. Think of Joseph’s brothers, who almost kill him and then sell Joseph into the living death of slavery. It is the glory of God that changed that crime into an important milestone on God’s way of salvation – to save the chosen people from starvation in the great famine and the greater miracle of turning around the hardened hearts of his brothers by forgiving them. It also, of course, set the stage for the Exodus with Moses. Joseph is also like a pre-figuration of Christ, especially in his tough love and his heart-rending forgiveness of his brothers. But they had to live a lie for 22 years before they had to face up to their lie and they were exposed openly for it.

So somehow, it is not evil per se, but only that evil that God can change into a blessing. But God is omnipotent and sometimes I say, omnipotent in love, meaning that God’s omnipotence should not be understood in the sense of science or Greek natural philosophy. I’m not sure of myself here. I want to limit science and Greek philosophy here rather than God. The important thing is to remain under that heaven of grace that Luther writes about.

You write, “On that note of God using our sins and death as a way of bringing life, I’ll end this response to your wonderful book.” You are really down deep with your insight there, which nearly takes my breath away. You realize that with Christ in us, that as his death became our life, so our deaths become the lives of others. Like I realized that with Christ in us, we also become Words of God like Christ is the Word of God. I used to say that we are little christs, but I was corrected by Timothy Wengert, a colleague of Philip’s in Philadelphia, who showed me that in the “Freedom of a Christian” Luther said we become Christs to others, not little ones.

But let me add another insight that I had preaching about on 1 Corinthians 13 to our family congregation one time in Wilmington. We can bear all things, believe, hope, and endure all things, so long as we are in the hand of God. It does not apply outside God’s hand. For us, however, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God: neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, powers or principalities, etc. (Romans 8:37-38) or take us out of the hand of God, because we are more than conquerors through him who loved us!

Mark, your response meant so much to me and I am so grateful to you for it.

lovejoypeace,

pop

 

July11, 2012

Hey Pop,

I enjoyed your response to my response

I agree with you that converts can be more zealous then those who have been practicing for a long time. Take Cat Stevens for instance and the whole Salman Rushdie Scandal.

It was really fascinating to me that you look at Saint Paul in that way and I think that is a very valuable take on scripture because it gives more of a understanding of Paul’s narrow point of view, what with homosexuality and all. That’s pretty enlightening! Thanks Dad

I think it’s cool that Luther saw himself as Christ because it gives further weight to how we are all Christs as you say and we are all the light of the world for that matter. Luther was a real light back in his period of history I would say, with the exception as you mentioned his “smite stab and slay” remarks. We all fall short of course.

I feel that whether a person takes blame for the horrible things they’ve done or not, the world will most certainly give them what is due. But the world’s good vs. bad detector, in many ways, is far more black and white than grey in my opinion. Also, unfortunately because of Money and Power a lot of Bad can go unnoticed in the world. It’s still the big mystery to me, I suppose but I really can understand Luther’s comment about Glory vs. Grace.

Surely there is no Glory in committing Evil, perhaps in ancient times warfare was glorified, but there was something else to that, it wasn’t only the bloodshed, it was also the valor, running headlong into death and not thinking twice about it. There was something really admirable about it and I think that was a big part in what made war glorious and added to the blood shed as a glorious thing.

But I can imagine there is no glory to be had in these multimillion dollar companies opening sweat shops in other countries. Any person who would find some kind of pride evoking glory for themselves through these actions is someone who is quite disillusioned and when the clarity of mind and truth arrives at their door, they’ll be in for a real shocker.

But one thing that I always think about is how God’s will is not carried out in a glorious way. I mean God’s ultimate salvation to mankind was one of Grace, but Christ’s royal march to his throne was more of a brutal torturous hike to a horrendous humiliating death. And yet I look upon the scene of his march to Golgotha and his being lifted up on the cross as one of the highest glories a human can achieve. Thus, to me, he is God.

I agree that what is most important is staying under the heaven of God’s grace, although I have no guarantee that I will not fall under the spell of sin and wind up feeling like a slave to sin and socially dead as well. But even in such a condition I suppose it’s necessary to still believe I’m under the heaven of God’s grace and God will get me out of it and bring some good from it.

I agree with you too that nothing can take us out of God’s Hand. We are utterly his forever

I’m looking forward to seeing you guys on the 17th! I’ll be at the film set on the 14th and 15th, this weekend, so I don’t know I’ll be able to call you guys before then, but I’ll definitely see you on the 17th!

Love
Mark

 

July 12, 2012

dear Mark,
I was still thinking about your statements about whatever God did through you whether good or evil, God would somehow use it to God’s purposes. While reading today, a thought came in edgewise. You should not have a sense of divine fatalism, like you had to be resigned to whatever fate God ascribed to you. First I thought we who follow Christ, participate in Divine creativity. Then I thought, we share God’s Will, when we are one with God. Thus we even participate in the freedom of God’s Will, especially when we have died to ourselves and come alive to God in Christ. So it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Especially if we have come to understand that we too are therefore Words of God and Lights of the World.

 

That is a far cry from a fatalism, when we actually participate in the freedom of God’s will – that is something far greater freedom than mere human free will.
I wonder if those thoughts are helpful?
lovejoypeace,
Pop

 

 

Another response

To: Peter Krey

Hey Dad,
Thanks for your thoughts. I think I have been dealing with a kind of divine fatalism lately. Through your e-mail you expressed an idea I never really understood till now. I’d heard you speak of how God makes us a part of God’s continuous creation.
So from the e-mail you sent I now understand it. As members of the body of Christ, we all, together, create the body of Christ, God himself, who is always acting and always active building on his creation. God works with us through our will and adds to his creation. Thus when we create something to bring it into the world, it is actually God working through us bringing a new thing into the creation. Thus we are all gods or as you’ve said little Christs that, added together, create a complete Christ that is using all of our wills to push forth his will of continuous creation that is actually our will as well. Basically our will and dreams and hopes are important to God in that they are also God’s will and dreams and hopes because we are all the members of Christ that make up the body of Christ.
I never really understood that until now; until you e-mailed me. When I was speaking of my own will and neither being responsible for the good or the bad that I would do, I wasn’t taking into consideration my own creativity. I think, though a lot of times I don’t notice it, my creativity is a kind of free will I wouldn’t be able to live without. It’s a freeing and beautiful idea to think I am acting with God when I wish to bring something beautiful into existence. That it is God working through me to make his creation more beautiful.

I’m looking forward to seeing You, Mom and Josh and having an adventure on the east coast! See you tomorrow morning!

Love
Mark

 

August 6, 2012

 

Hi Peter, and Hi Mark,

First, I’d like to thank Peter for inviting me to join the conversation. I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about Luther or the history of the Reformation, since my knowledge of them is not very great. However, I do have some thoughts about the issues of free will and moral responsibility, which Mark brought up.

In philosophy there are two related questions one can ask about free will: (a) what is it?, and (b) do we (or: to what extent do we) have it? I’m confident that we do have free will, at least to a great extent, so I’ll concentrate on question (a). There are two philosophical positions on what free will is, or requires. Roughly, incompatibilists think that free will is incompatible with determinism, the belief that one’s actions are caused or determined by prior events. Compatibilists believe that one can have free will, or at least be responsible for one’s actions, even if they were caused by prior events. Though compatibilists think that you are caused to act as you do, they don’t think that all of your actions are involuntary, that you are forced to act without or even against your will. You are free to do what you want; it’s just that you’re caused to want to do certain things. Incompatibilists agree that determined actions can be voluntary; but they think that more is required for free will: In order to choose freely, and/or to be truly responsible for your choices, it has to be true that in those very same circumstances you could have chosen to do  something other than what you actually did.

Now, if compatibilism is true, God could have set things up so that everyone was determined to always choose to do what’s right. The problem is that people just don’t always do the right thing, and the fact that they don’t  is probably one of the few things that Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians, as well as theists and atheists of every stripe, can all agree on. Why, then, didn’t God do so? Maybe it was necessary that  people sometimes fail to do the right thing in order to bring about a greater good, but how plausible is it that the full extent of all the evil in the world could be explained in that way? I think it’s much more likely that if God allows there to be so much evil in the world, it is because God gave people free will in the incompatibilist sense. If God did give people that kind of free will He couldn’t determine them to choose to do certain things without annulling that very gift in the process.

Does this mean that we could act independently of God? I think the answer is “no”. Even if God leaves some things “unsettled”—He doesn’t will them to happen, nor does He will them not to happen—it’s still true that nothing could happen without God’s allowing it to happen. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that we alone deserve credit for our good deeds: Doing the right thing would require God’s grace, and there is nothing that we could do to earn God’s grace. But I think God could still allow us to freely accept or reject His grace. God’s offer can be resisted, but only because (a) God allows us to resist it, and (b) having the ability to freely accept or reject God’s offer is itself a further grace that God gives us. If we accept God’s gracious offer and do the right thing, God deserves credit, but we do too—however, we can only deserve credit because that itself is something that God wants, and it is still true that it is impossible for us to deserve credit for our good deeds without God’s deserving it. So I would say that God is indeed responsible for our good deeds, but we are too.

 

Best,

 

Jason

 


[1] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), page 61.

[2] Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: the Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 29-31.

[3] Ibid., p. 108.

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