Catholic Saints vs. Protestant Reformers

A problem for Protestants, especially those who call themselves Reformed Protestants and attempt to closely associate themselves with the magisterial Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, is the need to defend these two men at any cost.

martin-luther-bibleIn particular, Martin Luther said some really ugly things during his life, especially about Jews.  His views on Jewish people seemed to have changed over his life from tolerance and a desire for them to come to know Christ, to all-out hatred and a desire for them to be murdered.

You then have to defend his derogatory remarks about the the book of James, Revelation, and the other New Testament books whose canonicity he doubted.  Read all of his attacks on these books here in his preface to the these books, which he relegated to the end of his Bible.  Excerpt on Revelation:

About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment. I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic.

For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Esdras; 8 I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.

Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly — indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important — and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep.

For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do; as Christ says in Acts 1, “You shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely. (emphasis mine)

It is argued that Luther eventually removed this preface and so (presumably) changed his mind about these books’ canonicity, but that does not mean we should ignore his words here; rather, they give us a better understanding at this time of Luther’s disposition toward the Church and the Bible (would you dare to pass judgment on one of St. John the Beloved Disciple’s inspired works?)

After that, his statements about the sacraments (more Catholic than you think! (these are written by an Anglican professor)) have to be ignored or explained away, as do his (dangerously Catholic) beliefs on Mary’s perpetual virginity and other Marian doctrines (can anyone say, “Mother of God”?), and finally his support of polygamy.

If you are a Protestant who reveres Luther, these facts (especially on Jews) present a difficult problem, and the best solution seems to be to ignore this particular dark side of his heart, but that is a hard to do when you hold him up to be the brilliant reformer of the corrupt Church, a man allegedly extremely faithful to Christ, but Christ taught us to love our neighbors (including Jews).

Why should we look to him and his teachings as being those of Christ when he himself spewed such hateful venom at the Jewish people?

This is the problem with putting so much stock into one person (other than Jesus Christ).  Catholics would apparently have the same problem with their Saints, but in actuality we do not because, though a saint might have exhibited heroic virtue in his or her life, all of our important doctrines and teachings and practice of the faith do not depend upon any one or two people, as Protestants have to depend on Luther and Calvin.

So it might be that St. Augustine had some inaccurate ideas at one time on some issues, but what St. Augustine says is not necessarily what Christ’s Church discerned to be truth.  The same for St. Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas, and so on.  All of our key doctrines are not pinned on any one of these saints, even though they all contributed important ideas to the truth of God discerned within the Church.

But Luther and Calvin, in schisming from the Church, pitted themselves against the Church and all of her Fathers, Doctors, and great saints, male and female.  Luther’s judgments, condemnations, and corrections of the great Fathers of the Church are well-documented (see here and here for some of his statements).

The Saints were declared saints because they humbled themselves within Christ’s Church and persevered to the end of their lives in submitting their own insights, thoughts, and teachings to Her, whom Christ promised to defend against all enemies.

Martin Luther was not a demon from Hell sent to ruin us all.  He was a man.  Like me, like you, with faults and virtues, sometimes a weak faith and sometimes a strong one, with doubts and hopes and dreams and disappointments.  I think the truth of him is somewhere between the hagiographies and the demonizations.  The Catholic Encyclopedia has what seems to me to be a fairly objective description of the important events of his life and the actions he took.  Also, I have heard good things from my friend Phil about Alister McGrath’s book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution, so I recommend that (though it covers much more than just Luther).  McGrath is an Anglican.

I end by encouraging you, whether Protestant or Catholic (or other), to learn for yourself about Luther and Calvin and consider the weight that they must bear under Protestantism.

14 thoughts on “Catholic Saints vs. Protestant Reformers”

  1. Hi Devman!
    I’m Garret, a reformed (Baptist) Christian. I found you through Journey to Rome, and in fact responded very recently there to one of your comments, and lo and behold, here I am. Please feel free to stop by my blog too!

    You said
    all of our important doctrines and teachings and practice of the faith do not depend upon any one or two people, as Protestants have to depend on Luther and Calvin.

    Protestants, many of them, barely know Luther and Calvin. There have been many more since then! I do study John Calvin, in fact I am reading through his Institutes slowly. I have read quotes of Luther, good and bad. His 95 theses are hard to get into! I hold to the 5 points of Calvinism, but have studied them through other sources, and referenced them carefully through Bible study.
    Protestants don’t have to depend on these men. The reformers have launched a movement which is self sustaining through the grace of God.

    On Luther-
    Why should we look to him and his teachings as being those of Christ when he himself spewed such hateful venom at the Jewish people?

    Because bad people can believe right things and discover truths. Its the claims they make that have to be dealt with, not the flawed personalities. He is not his teachings, his teachings are not him. I seem to recall that a few Popes may have burned some of my beloved Protestant forebears. Have you carefully parsed your readings to make sure that you aren’t agreeing with anything they might have said or believed? How could holy, Christian men do those things?

    But Luther and Calvin, in schisming from the Church, pitted themselves against the Church and all of her Fathers, Doctors, and great saints, male and female.

    Not on everything! Not on key basic doctrines of the faith which lead to salvation.
    Biblical realignment may very well have been necessary. That has to be the very basis of the Reformation- a seeking of a return to the Biblical understandings of reality, over and above the highly interesting, highly complex structure created over time, aka the modern RCC. Keep in mind, you assume, as a Catholic, that the Reformation angers God. But you might be on the wrong side of that fence. For instance, where are the indicators in the writings of the Apostles that you should attempt to communicate with dead men, that God is okay with that? The prayerful appeal to the intercession of deceased saints on your behalf via prayers- this might offend God. Paul didn’t like the Judaizers, he proclaimed them anethema. What would Paul say if he entered a RCC and saw candles burning to statues of Mary, and people appealing to her passionately with flowery word of praise and adoration? We could only guess, but I say the smart money says he would be horrified, I know I am. This is why I could only endorse a prayer directly to God and God alone- the Jesus model, if you will.

    Thank you, and may God richly bless you!

  2. Dear Garret G,

    Please allow me to congratulate you on your respectful, polite, and reasoned analysis of Devin’s post. I like your style! You are welcome to comment on our blog anytime you’d like. Nice to “meet” you.

    I will allow Devin to now offer his rebuttal, which I’m sure will be brilliant.

  3. Garret,

    I also thank you for so tactfully expressing your ideas on our blog–we would make much further progress toward unity in the truth if all ecumenical dialogue were as respectful. I don’t think I had seen that you had responded to me on Kevin’s blog, so I will try to go back and check that out.

    My wife is overly kind toward me (a good quality in a spouse) in saying my response will be brilliant.

    I think you bring up good points and understand how you could reasonably accept the positions you mention given your disposition toward Reformed Protestantism.

    You wrote that Protestants don’t have to depend on these men.

    I would argue that they do have to depend upon them to a significant degree, and I think you offer evidence for that in mentioning that you are working through Calvin’s Institutes and have read Luther’s theses.

    I would also (on a practical level) point out that you have a nice logo on your site with a picture that says “I’m a Calvinist” (that goes to another Reformed blog). You mentioned your conjecture that Paul would be uncomfortable with reverence being made to the Virgin Mary–I would counter by conjecturing that both Luther and Calvin are horrified that Christians actually call themselves “Lutherans” and “Calvinists”. Can you imagine after your death millions of people who go to your denomination’s churches and who follow your interpretation of the Bible calling themselves “Garretans”?

    1 Corinthians 1 comes to mind: “I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

    (I am not saying you are doing the same thing as the Corinthians were doing but that calling yourself a Lutheran or a Calvinist seems to strike close to this passage.)

    You then wrote that The reformers have launched a movement which is self sustaining through the grace of God.

    Just as you challenged me to consider that I might be on the wrong side of the fence, I would turn it around and mention that, though everyone would agree that the Protestant “movement” (I would say “schisms”) has sustained itself for over 400 years, whether that is by the grace of God or by the will and pride of men is another question. Islam has flourished for 1400 years and has over 1 billion believers, but is that by the grace of God? Buddha started a movement which seems self-sustaining, but that is of God’s will? Or Hinduism, and so on.

    That being said, I do believe that, in your valid baptisms, the Protestant Ecclesial Communities’ members have the Holy Spirit within them and His gifts, which is why I gladly call you my Christian brother, although we are not (yet) in full communion.

    You wrote He is not his teachings, his teachings are not him. I seem to recall that a few Popes may have burned some of my beloved Protestant forebears. Have you carefully parsed your readings to make sure that you aren’t agreeing with anything they might have said or believed? How could holy, Christian men do those things?

    For the first statement you make, I think the answer is yes and no: Yes, we must examine his teachings, as Christ’s Church did with men who proposed questionable doctrines for centuries leading up to the Reformation, but we must also look at his life because, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” and “from a good tree comes good fruit”; if Luther did not live a virtuous life in one or more areas, those faults could be very important because they undermine his teachings.

    As for the Popes, there have been some who were not virtuous men and who did evil things; miraculously these men never changed the doctrine of the Church; usually because of their viciousness they were not tremendously concerned about the Church’s teachings but much more about gaining wealth, power, and worldly honor.

    My lunch hour is over so I need to get back to work. Perhaps I can respond more later but if not, I welcome any responses you have.

  4. Thank you Devman.
    Good points for me to consider. If you could kindly refrain from making good points in the future, that would make you much easier to defeat, and thus, insure my happiness. Thanks!

    I would counter by conjecturing that both Luther and Calvin are horrified that Christians actually call themselves “Lutherans” and “Calvinists”.

    That is probably especially true of Calvin, who insisted on being buried in an unmarked grave. I don’t pray to Calvin though. The very substance of my objection has been, to this point, ignored. It was about prayer to dead humans. I do need to consider that I should not be quick to call myself ‘of Calvin’, and have. In that passage, however, Paul points out that it is one and the same gospel preached by all the people mentioned. I cannot say that about Protestantism and Rome- they are vastly different theologically, and hence, are far from being the same teachings on the level of the differences between Paul and Apollos, which he states are not different at all.

    On to your point on the Protestant movement being of God or of the will of man and the other religions out there. I understand the point you are trying to make. I would not submit however that other religions are being guided by the Holy Spirit. The reason I would claim that about Protestantism however is that it is based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ (those who are orthodox in doctrine). This renders the possibility of it being by the Holy Spirit. It would then be an abandonment of a Church that has drifted too far, and lost her blessing. This can’t properly be said of those outside the gate of Christian orthodoxy.

    if Luther did not live a virtuous life in one or more areas, those faults could be very important because they undermine his teachings.

    He hated the Jews as Christ rejecters and went way too far with all of that nonsense. If the Protestant Reformation was a movement of God, then Luther bore more good fruit that all of the people I could ever know, combined. But that is the question here, isn’t it?

    Thank you, and God bless you and yours!

  5. Regarding prayer to “dead” humans, I would make the distinction that when a person dies, his body does go to corruption but his soul is alive and faces God’s judgment (called a person’s “particular” judgment to differentiate it from the judgment at the end of time of all people).

    The souls of the just are with God in Heaven (or in Purgatory), and so, in the communion of saints, God makes it possible for us to have communion with them, including asking them for their prayers, which only God can make possible for them to hear us and then only He makes possible that He hears their prayers for us and answers them.

    Christ speaks in Luke’s Gospel of God being the God of the living, not of the dead, for to him, all are alive. So the only question is whether we can ask saints in Heaven to pray for us and also whether we can pray for a loved one (or someone else) who has died.

    The communion of saints is a big topic; I would encourage you to read my recent interchange with (a fellow Reformed Baptist) apologist James White on this doctrine:

    The communion of saints is a bit off-topic for this post, so feel free to respond to that other one if you want to discuss it more.

    Thanks Garret!

  6. Ahhh thank you, I knew I had heard you name, you are the Devman I read about over on his blog. I have many a James White book, I am a fan. i wondered where I had heard your name!
    Thanks, I ‘ll look there too.
    God bless,

  7. People who defend Luther have generally not read a lot of his writing. The comments he made about Jews are truly vile. In fact, they make the reader question Luther’s sanity. However, those weren’t the only writings that had that crazed, bloodthirsty tone.

    To me, and to his contemporaries, what stands out most in his writing is the heartless anger and prideful self-righteousness. He was known for it. Perhaps the best example of this is his urging the German princes to destroy the power of the pope, and to confiscate for their own use all ecclesiastical property. He wrote about this in several of his writings.

    In one writing, “Against the murderous and robbing rabble of Peasants,” he went so far as to promise the princes that it would not offend any religious scruple for them to kill vast amounts of peasants. This was a way of kissing up to the princes, because Luther knew that they wanted to steal the monasteries and other buildings and lands of the Church.

    In “Against the murderous and robbing rabble of Peasants,” Luther calls upon the princes to “slaughter the offending peasants like mad dogs, to stab, strangle and slay as best one can,” and holds out as a reward the promise of heaven. His advice was literally followed. The process of repression was frightful. The encounters were more in the character of massacres than battles. The undisciplined peasants with their rude farming implements as weapons, were slaughtered like cattle in the shambles. More than 1000 monasteries and castles were leveled to the ground, hundreds of villages were laid in ashes, the harvests of the nation were destroyed, and 100,000 killed. The fact that one commander alone boasted that “he hanged 40 evangelical preachers and executed 11,000 revolutionists and heretics.”

    Some Luther apologists say, “Well, he later issued a sort of apology and kind of a retraction.” Jolly good, then.

    P.S. Here’s another greatest hit from Luther:

    “But they say that there is fear that a rebellion may arise against the spiritual Estate. Then the reply is ‘Is it just that souls are slaughtered eternally?’ It were better that all bishops should be murdered, and all religious foundations and monasteries razed to the ground, than that one soul should perish, not to speak of all the souls ruined by these blockheads and manikins.”

    And then there’s his marriage:

    While Germany was drenched in blood, its people paralyzed with horror, the cry of the widow and wail of the orphan throughout the land, Luther then in his forty-second year was spending his honeymoon with Catherine von Bora, then twenty-six (married 13 June, 1525), a poor, fugitive Bernardine nun who had abandoned her convent. He was regaling his friends with some coldblooded witticisms about the horrible catastrophe and giving circumstantial details of his connubial bliss, irreproducible in English. Melancthon’s famous Greek letter to his bosom friend Camerarius, 16 June, 1525 on the subject, reflected his personal feelings, which no doubt were shared by most of the bridegroom’s friends. He and his wife lived together in the old Augustinian convent, which was now empty.

  8. Luther also said that reason and intellect were enemies of faith, which had to be utterly crushed and destroyed. Odd, considering that intellect and reason were both instrumental in bringing the Reformation about. Reason and intellect are as much gifts from God as is faith. Faith without them is all too often blind faith or even superstition. Protestants used “reason and intellect” to come to a different understanding of Scripture, which, for centuries, had been used to justify or explain the Papacy, veneration of the Virgin and saints, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, sacramental penance, clerical celibacy, etc. All this was swept away by many reformers, who then declared that the reformed church was based on Scripture, which could not be altered or interpreted differently!

  9. Just a few minor points … and, by the way, this is an excellent discussion!

    First, Luther did not form a “schism” from the Roman church. He never wanted to leave the church, but wanted rather to bring about reform within the church. He was excommunicated by (corrupt, in my humble opinion) leaders who did not want to hear what he had to say … at a period (also in my humble opinion) in which Roman church was reminiscent of the Pharasees at the time of Christ (ie, so enamoured with power and wealth that they lost sight of God).

    Secondly, the notion of killing “non-believers” was hardly new to Luther, the Roman church or anyone else in the 16th century. We sometimes forget how extreme the enforcement of belief structures were in those times. We’re only talking a few hundred years after the crusades, and there were plentiful examples of such both then and later.

    Third… There is no human who has a monopoly on theological perfection, human perfection or any other perfection, save for Jesus Christ. He alone is the the model by which all others must be compared… and all others will, in some way, fall short. We are all called to compare everything we read or hear to the whole of Scripture as our only authority, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    Fourth… While I consider myself a five-point Calvinist theologically, I do so only through my understanding of Scripture, not because of who Calvin was… and I agree, Calvin would not approve of the term Calvinist… he was a humble man. Of course, I don’t think the apostles would approve of the term Catholic either. Since their mission was to point the world to Christ, they would more likely prefer the word Christian, which would, by the way, convey that there is one universal (catholic) body of believers who follow Christ.

    One final note… Was David a man of God? If you answer yes, are you willing to hold him to the same scrutiny you are holding Luther? I would further observe that one of the great comforts of the Bible is that we find hundreds of stories about sinners (some pretty egregious) who are not ony saved by God, but used by God for His purposes. If Scripture only gave us stories about perfect people, it would be darned depressing! I thank God every day that He paid the price to save screw ups like me.

    Blessings to all,

  10. Hi Curt,

    Thanks for commenting! I don’t have time to reply to everything you said, but I would just point out regarding your fourth point that St. Ignatius, the contemporary of the Apostles and bishop of Antioch, used the word “catholic” to describe the Church as early as 107 AD, so it is an old, apostolic term.

Comments are closed.