What Luther Can Teach Some Prelates

It is well known that numerous prelates, even high ranking ones, are promoting the idea that the Church should permit those who, although validly sacramentally married, nevertheless have divorced and remarried another spouse, to receive the Eucharist.

They claim that this is an act of mercy. They claim that these re-married persons should be considered to be worthy of receiving the Eucharist, to be no longer “living in sin”.

Ironically, some of these same prelates, even high ranking ones such as Cardinal Marx, contend that Martin Luther has something to teach Catholics: see here and here.

Indeed, Martin Luther does have something to teach some modern Catholics, esp. those such as Cardinal Marx.

What does Luther have to teach some modern Catholics, such as Cardinal Marx? That sin is sin!

Luther contends that there are three kinds of people: First, smug hypocrites who contend that they have no sin within them, who contend that what is in fact sin is not a sin, who proclaim themselves or others internally innocent. Second, there are those who face the true demands of the law and recognize that they are sinners. Third, there are those who, though they recognize they are sinners, nonetheless come to God in faith so as to receive his mercy and commit not to sin in the future.

Now, if we deny that we have sin within us, if we call what is sin “not a sin,” then we are in the first category. We are smug hypocrites and liars.

But Cardinal Marx and others contend that to live in an adulterous union is not to live in sin. They thus fall into the first category, or rather, their theory falls into the self-justification of those in the first category.

But such persons, those in the first category, are the farthest away from Gospel Peace! Why? They are self-righteous. So, they do not reach out towards God. They think their righteousness comes from themselves, not from God: “Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom 10:3).

Thus we have a number of ironies. First, whereas Marx contends that Luther can teach us, he ignores Luther’s very first lesson, the lesson without which all the labor of Luther is totally lost. Those who do not follow Luther on this point are guilty of making sin innocence, calling evil good, guilty of the most fundamental lie of the serpent, guilty of the fault of Adam and Eve, who took of the fruit and so called evil good.

Second, whereas Marx wants to lead people to Christ – and we can grant him this good intention – he nonetheless leads them straight away from Christ. For whoever would come to Christ rightly must recognize his own sin. Who would come to Christ proclaiming his own internal righteousness, when in fact he is a sinner, leaves the temple unjustified. He is the smug one. Since he has clung to himself, his righteousness must be his own work. And if he is faulty, his righteousness will be; hence, he leaves the temple unjustified. But on the contrary, it is he who beats his breast and begs, “Be merciful to me, O God, for I am a sinner,” – it is he who approaches Christ rightly.

Now, Marx and Luther do agree on one point. Both seem to agree that the most important thing one can obtain is freedom from punishment. Both seem to agree that the most important thing is not internal conversion to true charity towards God and neighbor.

How is this the case? Marx wants for those living in sin the fruition of the Eucharist but without the dispositions that allow the Eucharist truly to be fruitful for the individual. If spouses fight and are quite irritated with each other, they do not approach each other for the nuptial embrace. Or, if they do, they know deep down that this is deeply inappropriate. That they must first be reconciled. There would be deep dissatisfaction should they kiss but hate each other.

So, if the crucial interior conversion is not worked out, just what kind of dialogue, just what kind of relationship can the interiorly guilty, the interiorly un-converted have with God?

Similarly, Luther wants, most of all, to escape punishment and only secondly to escape interior corruption. He would, that is, rather be in heaven with a heart of hell, than in hell with a heart of heaven. He writes,

“We would perhaps have disregarded corruption [the inward evil] and been pleased with our evil unless this other evil, which is wrath [the outward evil], had refused to indulge our foolishness and had resisted it with terror and the danger of hell and death, so that we have but little peace in our wickedness. Plainly wrath is a greater evil for us than corruption, for we hate punishment more than guilt” (LW 32:224).

Again, Luther writes,

“Just as wrath is a greater evil than the corruption of sin, so grace is a greater good than that health of righteousness which we have said comes from faith. Everyone would prefer—if that were possible—to be without the health of righteousness [gift] rather than the grace of God, for peace and the remission of sins are properly attributed to the grace of God, while healing from corruption is ascribed to faith.” (LW 32:227)

But these sentiments are as far from sanctity as can be imagined. They are night, whereas sanctity is day. By contrast, there is St. John Chrysostom, who praised Paul for loving God more than loving himself:

“Paul] loved Christ not for the things of Christ, but for His sake and things that were His, and to Him alone he looked, and one thing he feared, and that was falling from his love for Him. For this thing was in itself more dreadful than hell, as to abide in it was more desirable than the kingdom” (Homily, Romans XV).

There is also the statement in the “O My God, I am heartily sorry…”: We state, “Most of all because they offend you.” So, if we love God for his own sake, we fear to offend him; we would rather not enjoy consolation, not enjoy pleasures, and yet still please him through love, still cleave to his goodness, than to enjoy pleasures and yet hate him. This is true sanctity, rightly ordered love.

Indeed, what is the status of one who has faith in Christ but does not love God more than man? It is a miserable state, as John implies:

“Nevertheless many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (Jn 12:42f).

So much for Scripture agreeing with Luther on justification by faith alone!

So, Marx is at one with Luther on the worst element in Luther’s thought, on the heresy of Luther, on the tragedy of Luther. But he is at odds with what is true in Luther, namely, that sin is sin.

Does Luther have something to teach Marx et alia? Yes, namely, that sin is sin. And, moreover, that if you don’t fight sin, if you don’t take up arms against sin, if you don’t try to escape sin, you are no true believer! These are what Marx should have taken from Luther, if he insisted on learning from him.

But Luther’s roadmap to heaven is a highway to hell. 

Therefore, in suggesting that we learn from Luther, Marx does us a great disservice. For the Council of Trent can teach us all of the above, with balance and clarity.

One thought on “What Luther Can Teach Some Prelates

Comments are closed.