Saturday, March 29, 2008

One of the blogs I go to often is by a fellow from North Louisiana. It is Opinionated Catholic (OC). James (the writer of OC) wrote a response to a couple of my blogs (Luther and Rome and Erasmus and Folly) and titled it Martin Luther- Saint or Villian or a Bit of Both? -Intro. I think it is worth reading and I hope I can comment on it soon. I am also looking forward to the second installment.

OC is a Louisiana blog that is worth visiting often.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Luther and Erasmus


Erasmus was a strong and biting critic of the corruptions in the Western Church in the years prior to the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation. Erasmus was an a Monk and a priest, but most of his life was spent in academic study and translations. He did much to make the Greek New Testament available in the West.

Martin Luther certainly benefited from Erasmus, who did much to lay the groundwork for the coming reform. Luther's Ninety-five Theses touched on matters and corruptions that Erasmus had also written about. When the storm broke on Luther, Erasmus was sympathetic to Luther and what he was saying. In 1519 he wrote in a letter to Luther:

"My Dearest Brother in Christ, — Your letter in which you show no less your truly Christian spirit than your great abilities, was extremely acceptable to me. I have no words to tell you what a sensation your writings have caused here. It is impossible to eradicate from people's minds the utterly false suspicion that I have had a hand in them, and that I am the ringleader in this faction, as they call it. Some thought an opportunity had been given them of extinguishing literature, for which they cherish the most deadly hatred, because they are afraid it will cloud the majesty of their divinity, which many of them prize before Christianity. The evil weapons which they use are vociferation, rash assertion, tricks, detraction, and calumny. I have assured them I have never read your books, and that I therefore neither sanction nor condemn anything you have said. I have advised them not to bellow so fiercely in public before reading your books, especially when the author's life is universally well spoken of; but all to no purpose. You have friends in England, and among them men of the greatest eminence, who think most highly of your writings. Even here there are some who favor you. There is at Antwerp a prior of a monastery, a man of pure Christian life, who loves you immensely; he declares he was once a disciple of yours. He is almost the only one who preaches Christ; the rest generally preach either human fables or their own gain."

Time and again Erasmus defended Luther to high ranking officials in both Church and state, but he was always careful to keep himself outside of the tempest that raged around Luther. Let's look at some of Erasmus' early letters concerning Luther.

As early as December 1517 in a letter to Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII and also a Cardinal in the Church, he wrote "The life of this man is universally praised. Even his enemies find nothing to condemn..."

In 1519 he wrote to Cardinal Archbishop Albrecht, of Mainz: "I do not see that any honest man takes the least offense at his writings. I say not that everything is assented to, but that he is read in the same spirit with which we read Cyprian or Jerome; that is, taking much with indulgence. I neither condemn nor vindicate him. Even his enemies praise him as an upright man. Finally, I believe it is Christian to wish Luther well in his way, that if he is innocent he should not be put down by the rabbles of the bad; but if he errs he should be put right, not destroyed. For that is more in accord with the pattern of Christ, who, as the prophet says, will not break the broken reed. I wish that every breast in which there is a spark of evangelical doctrine be not crushed, but instructed, and brought back fully to proclaim the honor of Christ."

In a 1519 letter to Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s protegee, he wrote, “Everybody finds Luther's life blameless; concerning his doctrine there is a difference of opinion. While it becomes those learned in divine things to instruct, now it is quite otherwise; for they compel, they destroy, they wipe out. They wish that Luther be imprisoned and destroyed. They are more like hangmen than men instructed of God."

As time progressed, Luther responded to those who wished "that Luther be imprisoned and destroyed" with growing ferocity. Violent language flew from Catholics and Protestants alike and Luther was right there with them and at times leading the pack in vehemence. As time progressed Erasmus and Luther grew apart. The agreed on the corruptions of the Church at their time, but as the break became more and more apparent, Erasmus stood back from the fray.

In the 1520's he and Luther finally crossed swords on the doctrine of predestination and free will. In 1524 Erasmus wrote De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio (Freedom of the Will or The Diatribe). Luther responed with the great work from the period on the doctrine of Predestination titled, The Bondage of the Will.

In 1526 Erasmus reponded to Luther. In the doctrinal debate I agree with Luther on this issue, but I also believe that Erasmus is correct in his response when he wrote, "Your bitterness in writing, your itch for calumniation, your biting jokes and mockeries against all who do not receive your dogmas, make us to miss in you the Spirit of Christ." In this criticism of Luther, Erasmus is correct. Luther, by the tone and anger in his writtings, did much to damage the good that he sought to accomplish.

Luther was not the only one guilty of having an ungodly and violent tone in his writings, such was the case for many of the "Christians" on all sides. The tone of the polemicists then did much to damage the cause of Christ at the time. The same is no less true today!

We have far less of an excuss when we are ugly to others when we're engaged in doctrinal "discussions" with those who disagree with us. We MUST be longsuffering with those within the Church with whom we disagree. Doctrinal dissagreement is a very poor reason to attack a brother or sister in Christ, not to mention an unbeliever in need of Christ's salvation.

Coram Deo,

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Erasmus and Folly

Erasmus of Rotterdam was the great Christian Humanist prior to the start of the Reformation. He was a brilliant scholar and linguist. He was also one of the most influential critics of the corruptions of the Western Church and though he remained in the Catholic Church, his writings certainly laid the ground work for the coming divide.

Erasmus' most famous work, The Praise of Folly was written partly on his travel from Rome to England and finished while he was staying with his friend Thomas More (later to be saint). It was written in 1509 and published in 1511, six years before Luther's 95 Theses.

Folly is personified in the book. Here is a quote from Folly about the leaders of the Church. In the quote Folly takes some strong swipes at the then Pope, Julius II.

"If the cardinals claim to be successors to the apostles, they should consider that the same things are required of them as their predecessors. So if the popes, being the vicars of Christ, endeavored to emulate His life, His labors, His teachings, His cross, His contempt of the world ; if they thought of their name of pope, that is father, and their title Most Holy, — what more afflicted beings would there be on earth? Who, in that case, would purchase the post with all his fortune, and when purchased keep it with his sword, with poison, and with violence [a dig at Julius II and other popes of the time] ?

If wisdom stepped in, what abasement would be theirs! Wisdom, did I say? Nay, one grain of that salt of which Christ speaks. Their wealth, their honors, their riches, and their pleasures would all be gone, and in their place would be studies, sermons, prayers, tears, vigils, fastings, and a thousand miserable labors of the same kind. Neither should we forget what would follow: a whole host of clerks, notaries, advocates, secretaries, of muleteers, grooms, and serving-men (I might add other words which would shock modest ears) would be reduced to famine.

The princes of the Church would be reduced to scrip and staff! Thanks to my [Folly's] influence, there is scarcely any kind of people who live more at their ease than do these successors of the apostles; thinking that Christ is quite satisfied if, in a mysterious theatrical costume, with their ceremonies and titles of Beatitude, Reverence, Holiness, with their blessings — and their curses — they play the part of bishops. Miracles are out of date ; teaching is laborious ; explaining the Scriptures is the employment of the schools; praying is idle ; weeping is wretched and womanly; poverty is sordid ; to be conquered in battle is unworthy of one who scarcely admits the highest kings to kiss his blessed feet ; to die is disagreeable, to be crucified is ignominious.

There remain only arms and those fair speeches of which Paul makes mention (Romans xvi, 18), and of those they are liberal enough ; to wit, interdictions, suspensions, anathemas, and that terrific thunder whereby, with a single nod, they send men's souls to farthest Tartarus.

These thunders are most eagerly launched by the Most Holy Fathers in Christ upon those who, by the instigation of the devil, endeavor to diminish the patrimony of Peter. But what says Peter in the Gospel? 'Lord, we have left all, and followed thee.' And yet they give the name of his patrimony to provinces and cities for which they fight with fire and sword; as though there were more pernicious enemies of the Church than impious pontiffs, who, by neglect of teaching, allow Christ to be forgotten, who bind by laws made for profit, adulterate by forced interpretations, and slay by a pestilent life.

And whereas war is a thing so fierce and cruel as to be more suitable to men so impious that it can not at all be reconciled with Christianity, nevertheless this is the one business to which they give their attention. Among them you will see decrepit old men [like Julius II] display the energy of a youthful spirit, deterred by no cost, fatigued by no labors, if so they can turn religion, laws, peace, and all human affairs upside down. Nor are there wanting learned flatterers who to this plain insanity give the name of zeal, of piety, and fortitude, having devised a way in which a man may draw his sword and sheath it in his brother's body, without any violation of Christ's charity."

I added the paragraph breaks. Erasmus was a fair critic of the church in his day. He was himself and ordained priest and remained such.

Coram Deo,

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Iraq and Moral Responsibility

In the pasts several months I've had discussions with three close friends in which they have told me that five years ago they were mistaken and I was correct about the then just beginning war in Iraq. These three friends were each pro-invasion. I was opposed to America's invasion of Iraq.

They, like most Americans then, believed it would be a intense but quick war and American troops would be victorious and come home. I believed that it would be a quick, perhaps blood war, but we, as I said then, would be bringing young Americans home in body-bags for the next fifty years. I still believe that this will be the case.

As bad as that is, I do believe, now that the die is cast, that the worst thing that we could do is just pickup and leave the Iraqis to their fate. By invading Iraq we have stirred up a hornets nest. The nest that we have irritated was there for everyone to see. I am certain the people in the State Department who knew Iraq's history plus ethnic and religious demographics of the country must have foreseen what is now reality there. Put the President would not listen to such people, he had made up his mind and would not be persuaded by the facts.

I saw some of it and I am certainly no expert. However, I did serve in the military and I had a fair understanding of what things were like over there. I had this understanding because of a secret briefing that I received in 1980, because I was a Navy Aircrew man, before I went on deployment to the Gulf of Oman, near the Straits of Hormuz. I remembered that briefing and had read more about Iraq, it's history and peoples since then, this gave me insights that most Americans did not have.

If I could see what would happen certainly many others in the military and State Department must have foreseen it, but those who saw the clearly were ignored and now we have been fighting brush-fires in Iraq for five years, 4,ooo American service men and women are dead and Iraq is in tatters.

The Democratic Candidates for president promise to "bring the troops home." OK. The American people "want the troops home." I believe that such a move would lead to civil war and a far greater blood bath in Iraq. An American pull out at this time would lead to a holocaust. I could also pour over Iraq's borders and destabilise other (somewhat pro-American) nations in the region.

We toppled the de facto government in Iraq and blinded by our on democratic mythology, tried to establish democracy in a land and culture unprepared for democracy. We NOW have a moral obligation to see this thing through to the end. We started it by invading the country and toppling its two-bit thug dictator.

Saddam was a murderous thug, but it is not our duty to remove thugs from power in other countries, but now that we have done the deed it would be cowardly to shrink from the obligations that we have brought on ourselves by our own free choice. It would be more immoral for us to simply up and leave Iraq now, than it is to continue there until a stable (which will not be a democracy) is established, even though it means that we will, for the foreseeable future, have to bring a handful of brave young Americans home in body-bags, as we are now doing.

We made a very bad decision. The question is do we have the moral courage and intestinal fortitude to live up to the obligations that that bad decision has put on our shoulders?

Coram Deo,

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Luther and Rome

Tonight I once again watched the movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes. This is a great movie and I recommend it to everyone. With that said I do have to add that it is a movie and therefore it is not to be taken has a total history of Luther or his times. But it is, I believe, a fairly accurate account of those parts of history that it touches.

Luther was a very interesting man. He was a man of great courage and conviction. He was, I believe, greatly used by God to accomplish much good. He was also a man with many faults, and those faults did much to damage and divide the same faith that he desired to see reformed.

Luther was a brilliant man and a passionate man. Much in what he wrote is wonderful to read and uplifting to the soul, but some of what he wrote is shameful and has done a great deal to blemished His name and work.

I know some Roman Catholics who despise him and count him among the worst of criminals. They see the Western Church divided into so many sects and blame Luther for those divisions. I think those who think that way have it backwards. Luther did not divide the Church and he did not bring about its division. The Church was divided by the acts of Rome.

Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses against the abuses then common in the sale of indulgences. The paper was not written against the Pope or Rome, in fact Luther was surprised to learn that the Pope was against what he had written. Pope Leo X was more disturbed by the loss of revenue that followed the publication of Luther’s Theses than he was by the doctrines in them. Pope Leo was using monies raised by the sale of indulgences (much of it coming from Germany) to build St. Peter’s Basilica. After Luther attacked the despicable practice of indulgences (forgiveness of sin and salvation were commodity offered by the Church for cash money) the money coming into Rome through the selling indulgences in Germany dropped off substantially.

Rome, Pope Leo, caused the breach. He, not Luther is more responsible for the initial division in the Western Church. Leo, like so many of the Renaissance Popes before him, was a corrupt man of the world who cared little for spiritual matters. Had there been a godly man seated in the Chair of St. Peter the Church would not have been torn apart.

Luther’s actions and the actions of others were in response to the wrongful response of Rome. Every person will stand before God and answer for his/her sins. Luther was a man with many faults and when he sinned he did so passionately, but he was also a man of faith who repented passionately as well. Christ’s blood covers the sins of all of us who repent (truly) and I believe Luther was such a man. I do not believe Pope Leo X was such a man. I don’t believe he will reside eternally in the same place as Luther and I believe Luther will be resurrected, even with his many failings, to eternal live in Jesus Christ.

This is not written as an anti-Roman Catholic rant. There is much about the Roman Catholic Church that I love and respect. There have even been times when I have wished that I could return to Rome (but it is not possible). I also desire to see Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Christians come together and work toward Christian unity as the Scripture teach. I also believe we must call a spade a spade, but we should do so in a loving, and when possible, diplomatic way. It does none of us any good when we call the other guy’s spade a “damned shovel.”

Coram Deo,

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The internet is a great tool and I use it often. There are so many useful tools on it for study and research. When I discovered Google Book Search, I was like a child in a candy store. I love old books and they have countless numbers of old books that have been scanned and placed there to be read or downloaded and best off all is these old Public Domain books are FREE.

I’ve already downloaded dozens of books onto a flash drive so I can carry them with me anywhere and everywhere. The last latest book, downloaded from Google Books, that I’ve read was written by Henry Caswell, an Anglican minister. Caswell’s book was published in 1843 and has the lengthy title. It is The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century: or, the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints, to Which is Appended an Analysis of the Book of Mormon. The book is a bit dated, but it also has some interesting insights.

It was an interesting book. Rev. Caswell actually visited with Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois before he wrote the book. I am still reading Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith. I’m well past half way through the book. I’ve been working a lot (more than 90 hours last week), and I was working a working a unit shutdown. Caswell book is interesting and I learned some important things from it.

Reading Caswell and Bushman, as well as many other items about the Mormonism it is clear that the church is based on some very serous heretical teachings. They do use a lot of biblical language and speak of Jesus, salvation and countless other things associated with the Christian Faith, but they made a major break with the historic faith of Christianity. The Mormon Church is very much not a Christian religion. Joseph Smith invented his own religion and gave it a veneer that can be used to trick people into believing he was leading a Christian revival, when he was actually inventing a religion that was and remains opposed to true Christianity.

Coram Deo,
Ps: I'm only supposed to work 72 hours this week.