Usually, I don’t play God games (My God can beat your God), and I still don’t intend to do so. Still, this week’s incident of an Orthodox Priest calling the Pope a heretic raised an interesting issue for me, one that is not on my front burner but will cause the pot to burn if not addressed by me. The raised controversy caused me to check my YouTube and the words “pope is a heretic.” It seems the crazies have not lost their calumny and detraction for this perineal topic of hatred and jealousy against the Holy Father. Normally, I would expect the critics to be virulent anti-Catholic heretics themselves. Still, now I see some of our Faith are seduced by the fallacy of heresy and the authority of the Holy Father. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5b8wHC7qSo
In this sea of flotsam and jetsam of accusations and who is a heretic or not, my thoughts turned to my own faith home and how I see those over the ages who have crashed up against the Barq of Peter with waves of anger and misguided hatred. Such is the scene in Constantinople recently when the Holy Father went to have reconciliation with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church and say that we are sorry for the misconceptions on our part in the past and seek reconciliation. That second gesture of penitence on the Catholic Church is not an admission of weakness but rather seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness for the sins of the Church (individuals) in our past attempts to become One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism.
My thoughts went to Martin Luther and the other reformers of his time. These individuals took what they considered a politized Church and rejected what did not fit their notion of the Christian faith. The problem is that each person has an idea of what constitutes orthodoxy, so the heresy becomes not one of doctrine but of the individual’s heresy. The untended consequences of this approach, noble though it was intended, were to make each individual a pope, each person the arbiter of truth, the center of what is authentic from Christ, and sole spokesperson for Jesus. This phenomenon occurs both within and outside the Catholic Church with people who try to guard the orthodoxy of what Christ came to give us. That this is a sign of contradiction should not be surprising since, from the time of St. Peter, some say God is this or that and become the measuring stick for authentic observance.
Martin Luther is a character I know little about, other than he was a Catholic Augustinian monk who sought to reform the Church of the time to a more Christ-centered approach for the common people. How can that be wrong? In my thinking about the Church Universal, there have been many reform movements (John the Baptist, The monks of the desert, St. Benedict, all the martyrs of the early Church, St. Bruno, St. Dominic, St. Francis, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Theresa of Lisieux, St. John Vianney, St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta,) only to name a few. The Church has always raised up Saints for us to venerate (not pray to as an end in itself) as ways to keep us grounded in Faith and Reason through the practice of Faith (Matthew 25). Reform is normative, not an exception to the rule in the Church Universal. I count Martin Luther, Zwingli, John Knox as those who tried to wrest authority from what they perceived to be a corrupt Church politic and return it to its rightful place. I pray to these reformers to intercede for me before the throne of the Lamb and pray for God to be merciful to them as well as myself.
Heaven is God’s playground, and he looks into the depths of the human mind and heart to see our true selves. All of us, and that includes atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others, are redeemed by the blood of Christ on the cross. What I can do is have control over what I can control, which is my own mind, and even then, it goes tipsy turvey ever so often. St. Paul describes it as “sometimes I do the thing I don’t want to do, and other times I don’t do the things I should do.” I see that I share One Faith, One Lord, One Baptism with anyone who can call Jesus Lord and Savior. God reads the heart; I can only give thanks to the Father for counting me an adopted son and hope that all others are in that spirit of adoption, too. For me, calling the Pope a heretic, or for me to consign anyone to Hell because they don’t believe what I do, is heretical on my part. The Constitution of the Church, Gaudium et Spes, as is its custom, gives a balanced and sane approach to our relationship with those who don’t believe as we do, yet affirming our heritage and traditions strongly. https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html In the end, it comes down to loving others as Christ loved us.
THOUGHTS ABOUT WE HERETICS
Heresy is not at the center of my life. At the center is “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5). Heresy is a defined exception to the rule, not the rule itself.
The Church has the authority to define what is heretical. What is heretical must be against faith or morals.
Martin Luther made some good reforms, such as an emphasis on Scripture. I assume that he was a sincere person who wanted to have Christ Jesus’s mind in him.
At the same time, I reaffirm my faith in Christ, which is sometimes at odds with the reformers.
Reformation is the same as conversion. For a Lay Cistercian, it is 24/7 moving from my human self to my true self in, with, and through Christ Jesus.
The principle of diversity in belief has unintended consequences for those who hold it true. Martin Luther defined what it meant to be a Christian, which is good. It was at odds with the core of what is true for the Catholic Church. Others did not like what Martin Luther held, so they broke off a branch from the vine to start their own shoot. It grew because the shoot was no longer attached to the vine but possessed life from it. And shoots have been springing up ever since. I forget how many religions that one branch has created on its own. It is to the point that I contend every person is their own religion, their own pope, their own authority, and source of morality. So, who is to tell you you are wrong when you don’t accept that anyone can hold you accountable. G. K. Cheston is quoted: “I don’t want a Church to tell me what is bad that I know is bad; I want a Church to tell me what is bad that I think is good.”
Don’t call anyone a heretic unless you have the authorization from Christ to do so.
To answer the question I posed initially: Is Martin Luther in heaven? I hope and pray so and ask God to be merciful on all those gone before me who died in the sign of Faith.
QUOTES FROM MARTIN LUTHER
“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” ~ Martin Luther
“God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.” ~ Martin Luther
“The whole being of any Christian is faith and love. Faith brings the person to God, love brings the person to people.” ~ Martin Luther
“From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion.” ~ Martin Luther
That in all things, God be glorified. –St. Benedict