January 2017 - The Protestant Revolution (Part 1)
Many throughout the world will celebrate 2017 as marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant “Reformation.” For Catholics, however, it is beneficial to investigate and reflect upon the motivations and vicious spirit of this deadly revolution. In doing so, we will not only better understand the serious errors which seduced a large part of Christendom, but we will also understand the same spirit of rebellion that permeates our modern world.
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
Holding our weapons – our rosary and our sacrifices – in hand and timidly following in the footsteps of the children of Fatima, so confident in the role of prayer and so attracted to sacrifice, we prepare to celebrate the centenary of the Fatima apparitions. Eager to profit from this anniversary, we remember the warnings of Our Lady, her urgent call to prayer and penance; without which the salvation of both men and society is impossible.
But 2017 is also the occasion to highlight other anniversaries. Of course, what first comes to mind is the fateful Russian October Revolution, which has enslaved so many souls and whose ideology has spread throughout the whole world, as Our Lady had predicted it would if her maternal call was not heeded – which, indeed, it has not been.
But this bloody revolution could not have happened if, three centuries before, another revolution had not been born. It is the Protestant Revolution, mother and mistress of all the revolutions which were thereafter stirred up in the world.
Let us not be under the illusion that Protestantism is a religion. It does not have any of the true marks of religion. It is impossible to find at its center an altar, a priesthood or a specific sacrifice. These elements are essential for any religion, independently of its truth, however false, harmful or dangerous it may be.
Protestantism is satisfied with simply remembering an event of the past, eminently saving but not actively present. Protestantism is a system: a system of thought, incarnated in a very specific political system – modern democracy – which is, in the end, only a permanent and institutionalized revolution.
To discern what the essence of Protestantism is, it is necessary to consider the personality of its founder, Martin Luther.
Monk and Catholic priest, Luther did not want to recognize himself as a sinner and refused the combat which is, however, our daily lot since original sin, because although baptism removes the original stain in the soul, it does not remove the wounds which result from it.
In His infinite mercy, God leaves us these wounds. The fight against them allows us, indeed, to join in the combat He undertook for our sakes and completed by the victory of the Cross. Wounded in our intelligence, in our will, in our aptitude to fight and in our senses, we need to join in this combat with the weapons of the Cross, which are the sacraments, prayer and penance, and, by the grace of Our Lord, to win the palm of victory.
To recognize that Christ is our Savior is to recognize that we need to be saved. In other words, we must accept our condition of sinners, miserable creatures rising against our Creator and Redeemer, even after the saving death of Our Lord on the cross and our baptism. This rebellion of our nature is a fact of experience and to deny it is madness.
To accept our fundamental condition as sinners is, certainly, a real humiliation. How is it possible that, confronted by such a saving love, we can still doubt reality and prefer our own views, so petty and insulting to God, who by pure love has delivered up His Only Son for us? And yet, who can claim to have spent even one hour without having to fight to keep the heritage of Christ? The law of sin is a deadly law at work in our souls. The victory of Life will take place only if we join with strength and determination in this daily battle fought in our soul.
To refuse this combat, to deny this condition of our nature, is an act of proud madness.
It was the act of Luther.
Unfortunately, this proud madness found in the soul of this Augustinian monk a fertile ground, because he was endowed with a great sensitivity and handled words with great ease, impressing people and enticing crowds.
Instead of humbly subjecting himself by recognizing that he had received, as everyone else, a ravaged human nature and had to accept its laws and fight against the attacks of the world, the flesh and the devil with humility, confidence, vigilance and perseverance, Luther rebelled against the designs of God.
Then he turned his personal problem into a false universal solution.
Isn’t this refusal of Luther the founding act of modernity, the satanic Non Serviam, “I will not serve,” of our times? It is at least the soul of modernity. The revolutions that have bloodied many countries these last centuries – and which now disfigure the Holy Church – find their initial inspiration in this revolt of Luther. We propose to expand on this in our next Letters.
In Christo sacerdote et Maria.
Fr. le Roux
In the 16th century, a German Augustinian friar, Martin Luther, became the prophet of a new age. The very real distress caused by his moral weaknesses and spiritual disorders prompted him to seek reassurance and justification in a distortion of Catholic doctrine – a distortion that brought to a head doctrinal drift of the Late Middle Ages, steadily moving away from the sound foundation consolidated and proposed by St. Thomas Aquinas. Luther’s distortions, through successive revolutions, were transmuted into the basic and unchallenged assumptions underpinning the social, political and even domestic life of our modern world.
These notes, taken by Fr. Juan Carlos Iscara from Alfred Baudrillart: The Catholic Church, the Renaissance and Protestantism (New York, Benziger, 1908), Jacques Maritain: Three Reformers (London, Sheed & Ward, 1928) and Roland Dalbiez: L’angoisse de Luther (Paris, Tequi, 1962), elaborate upon Luther’s disorders as source of his doctrinal deviations, and are also a brief reminder of why Catholics should not join in the choir of praises that will be heaped upon Luther, even by the Catholic hierarchy, in this year, the 500th anniversary of his rebellion at Wittenberg, the beginning of the so-called Protestant “reformation.”
Martin Luther was born at Eisleben (Saxony) on November 10, 1483. His parents did not spare the rod, but their puritanical cruelty antagonized the son:
One day my father beat me so mercilessly that I was frightened and ran away from home. I was so embittered against him that he had to win me to himself again. And once my mother, on account of an insignificant nut, beat me till the blood ran.
His mother was pious, but with a gloomy and upsetting piety:
We grew pale at the mere thought of Christ, for He was represented to us as a terrible and angry judge.
Martin’s early training in the schools was a repetition of his home discipline. About his fourteenth year he received some instruction from the Brethren of the Common Life at Magdeburg, where for a time he begged bread by singing from door to door. A year later he went to Eisenach for Latin studies, and was befriended by a charitable woman. By 1501, his father’s circumstances had so far improved that Martin was sent to the University of Erfurt to study the arts and law. The environment was immoral; whether Luther shared in this depravity is not certainly known, though once he seemed to admit as much.
At twenty Luther fell ill from excessive study, and during his convalescence got tangled in his sword, nearly killing himself. He attributed his escape to the Blessed Virgin. Then a friend’s death in a duel shocked him, and while still in this mood was terrified by a severe storm. When a bolt of lightning struck nearby, he reported that he vowed to become a monk. In the preface to one of his works, Luther affirmed that on July 2, 1502, during a severe storm, frightened, in terror and anxiety, he made a forced vow, not free. In 1539 still insisted on this, that he made the vow to be saved from the storm. Against his father’s doubts as to the genuine nature of his vocation, Luther fulfilled his pledge on July 17, 1505, by entering the Erfurt convent of the Augustinian order. A year later he made his vows. As he had already received a master’s degree, was rapidly advanced and on April 3, 1507 he was ordained to the priesthood, although he had scarcely begun theology. Overwhelmed by fear of rubrical error, he delayed his first Mass a month, and then had to be restrained from leaving the altar. His father, grudgingly present, again voiced his opinion that Martin’s monastic vocation was a delusion.
After some eighteen months of theological study, Luther was sent to the University of Wittenberg to study Scripture and to lecture on philosophy. In 1509 he received a bachelor’s degree in Scripture and commenced lectures on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Finally, in 1512, he was accorded a doctorate in theology and assigned to teach Scripture at Wittenberg in succession to his provincial, Johann von Staupitz, at the beginning of the following year.
A French psychologist, Roland Dalbiez, thus describes Luther’s character:
Martin Luther, strong summoner of the great undefined powers which lie dormant in the heart of the creature of flesh, was gifted with a nature at once realistic and lyrical, powerful, impulsive, brave and sad, sentimental and morbidly sensitive. Vehement as he was, there yet was in him kindness, generosity, tenderness, and, with all, unbroken pride and peevish vanity. What was lacking in him was force of intellect. If by intelligence we mean capacity to grasp the universal, to discern the essential, to follow with docility the wanderings and refinements of reality, Luther was not intelligent, but limited - stubborn, specially. But he had the understanding of the particular and practical to an amazing degree, and an astute and lively ingenuity, skill to detect evil in others, the art of finding a thousand ways out of a difficulty and crushing his opponent – in short, all the resources of what philosophers call the ‘cogitative’, the ‘particular reason’.
Scrupulosity was his first marked trait. His vocation seems to have been somehow superstitious, and once a monk, Luther remained scrupulous over his confessions, repeating them continually. Recurring terrors seized him. Besides the incident of his first Mass, it is alleged that during a reading of the Gospel of the man possessed, he fell on the floor, exclaiming: It is not I; it is not I. There was in him a morbid anxiety caused by a sense of guilt: Luther was intimately convinced of being inexcusably guilty, by the sole fact that he had experienced his own concupiscence and suffered temptations. This feeling was greatly due to the education received at home and in his early school years, but it was unfortunately reinforced by the theological teaching on the culpability of temptations, taught without any critical discernment in the universities of his time. Scrupulosity reappeared in his concern for emotional assurance of salvation.
But it would be erroneous to consider Luther as ever beset with scruples, for he seems to have left his worries behind him whenever he plunged into active work. By reaction his conscience became, if anything, lax.
Egotism was deeply rooted. From the first he was a caustic lecturer, given to bitter attacks upon others, infallibly interpreting their motives, seeking laughs from vulgar or obscene jokes. Later he poured forth unrestrained abuse, obscenity and filth against anyone who opposed him. He wrote or spoke hastily, on the spur of the moment or in the grasp of passion. Vain and jealous, he easily yielded to flattery. When he avowed faults, it might be accompanied with comparisons to those of the Saints.
Lying is manifest before and after his break with the Church. Though some of his lies may have been the consequence of gradual self-deception, many more were clearly deliberate. He forged papal documents and misrepresented Catholic doctrine. Luther was an expansive and voluble speaker who often used hyperbole and exaggeration, yet convicted to his face of falsehood on several occasions, he merely poured forth loud torrents of abuse. He scrupled not to give contradictory advice, and then later denied responsibility, as in the case of Philip of Hesse’s “dispensation” for bigamy.
In general, judged by his own words alone, Luther’s character left much to be desired. When one has enumerated his generosity that endeared him to the common people, his hearty good-fellowship, his rough good humor when not vexed, his good qualities are nearly exhausted.
Intellectually, he was brilliant but superficial: a frenzied student, he later abandoned profound study and coasted easily on ready eloquence. He was a man of little prayer, and that without resignation to the divine will. He preached mortification, but did not practice it after his break with the Church. As a monk, his self-deception of excessive penances is contradicted by the testimony of fellow monks. Luther seems externally to have been an average monk, neither the saint of his own imaginings, nor the demon of contemporary Catholic controversialists. It is to be feared that he silenced his conscience in 1521-22, 1527-28 and 1537. At these times he fought what he described as ‘temptations’, which he says were violent at first and in later years ebbed away, leaving a recurrent melancholy.
The Source of Lutheran Doctrine
According to Dalbiez, the principal theses of Luther’s doctrine are tied with his psychological profile.
For him, there is a necessary culpability arising from the notion of our radical corruption: Man is always guilty, and even not taking pleasure in his disordered appetites, the very temptation makes him guilty. For one who is scrupulous and prone to anguish, this conviction is already an excessive burden. Luther says:
Before God and the things regarding his salvation or damnation, man has no freedom. He is a captive, subject and slave of the will either of God or of Satan.
According to Luther, if this is so, we can be saved only because the Sacrifice of Christ has paid completely for our guilt. Extrinsic justification is the logical consequence of guilt necessary and personally inexpiable. Luther affirms that any good human action, done with the best of intentions, is a venial sin according to divine mercy, but a mortal sin in the judgment of God. Luther was terrorized by a guilt which could not be appeased by any personal action:
When I was a monk, I felt lost every time that I experienced the concupiscence of the flesh, an evil movement: sexuality, anger, hatred, envy, etc... I tried to fight against it by any means. I confessed daily. But I didn’t obtain any result. The concupiscence of the flesh always reappeared, and I couldn’t find peace. I was continually tortured by thoughts like these: You have committed this sin, and also that one, you are devoured by envy, by impatience. Your entry in religion is useless, all your efforts are useless...
To escape this nightmare, Luther “discovered” what he called “special faith.” In so far as one believes the dogmas contained in revelation, that faith is common or general, because it is objectively determined by propositions imposed on all the believers. But when one firmly believes in one’s own, personal salvation, because of the merits of Christ, then one has that special faith which is, at the same time, hope and certitude. Justification exists, for Luther, from the very moment in which one truly believes to be justified. Luther explained:
Nobody can be justified unless it is by faith. That is to say that it is necessary to believe with firm faith that one is justified, and to doubt not that in this way grace is obtained. If there is any doubt or lack of certainty, justification is not obtained, and grace is thrown up.
There is, in a nutshell, the poisoned source of sola fides, sola gratia, sola Scriptura…