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A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Category: Lutheranism

Was Luther an Antichrist? The Bible suggests yes.

Today’s link is from David Murray’s blog.  He identifies as a pastor, professor, and author, so even though it is a blog post rather than news, it is be respectable.  In his post he discusses some marks he sees as indicating antichrists.  Let’s look at each point and see whom it may identify, as is subsequent post points whom he thinks is the antichrist.  In this post I’ll look at what his points tell me about whom an antichrist might have been.

Point 1: Lawless

Mr. Murray searches Scripture and finds that the antichrist is one who disregards God’s law.  Let’s look at part of God’s law of the new covenant — the use of Sacraments.  The Catholic Church has 7 Sacraments, but many have disregarded some of the sacraments.  Anglicans and the Reformed, for instance, have only 2 sacraments — Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Lutherans have 3 (the Anglican two plus Absolution).  Quakers have none.  Or, looking at law more strictly speaking, who has kept the command of Jesus that divorce is against the law of God?  Only Catholics don’t allow divorce (for you who might chime in that annulment is Catholic divorce; an annulment is actually a claim of a marriage never existing, not the dissolution of a marriage).  This rejection of the law of God is a good argument for the founders of Protestantism to be considered antichrists.

Point 2: Destroyer

This point is that the antichrist is a destroyer.  Well, the destruction of the unity of the Christian Church, which is something Jesus himself prayed would be kept intact (“that they may be one“), was again brought about by the founders of Protestantism.  Protestants now aren’t responsible for this, they aren’t antichrists, but those founders of Protestantism who split the Church seem to fit the bill so far.  And in the bloody split of the church, people on all sides were destroyed physically by death.  One such famous priest killed was Cuthbert Mayne, who became a priest in France and went to Anglican England to die for his faith.

Cutherbert Mayne, Catholic Martyr

Cuthbert Mayne, Catholic Martyr

Point 3: Opposition to God

The first step in understanding this is to know that Christ and his Church are mysteriously one entity.  St. Augustine says, “Marvel and rejoice, we have become Christ”.  Pope St. Gregory says, “Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church”.  St. Tomas Aquinas states, “Head and members [Christ and Church] form as it were one and the same mystical person”.  Joan of Arc concludes, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing”. (For citations see CCC 795).  This oneness is why Paul talks about Christ being formed in us (Galatians 4:19).  As Colossians puts it, Jesus is, “head of the body, the Church”.

Therefore one who is in opposition to the Church is one who is in opposition with Jesus.  Again the Protestant Reformers come to mind.  Their opposition to the Church created a replacement for it, and now people might go to various denominations instead of directly to the Body of Christ.  Which brings us to the fourth point of Mr. Murray.

Point 4: Substitution

The antichrist tries to substitute himself for God.  Mr. Murray says this point is that the antichrist, “is not necessarily an enemy from outside the church, but from inside it. He opposes Christ by replacing him, by taking Christ’s titles, worship, and roles.”  This is exactly what the Protestant founders did with the Church, the Body of Jesus.  They replaced the worship of Jesus passed down from Jesus himself with worship of a Jesus created more after their own thoughts and desires.  It is easy to look at the insecurities of say, Luther, and see why that would psychologically drive any logical person to say we don’t need to cooperate with the mercies of God for our salvation.  Cooperation for such an insecure person means too great a risk of losing God.  Psychologically speaking, Luther makes excellent points.  Luther created a very psychologically fulfilling vision of God, the only problem is that it is a replacement of the truth, which Mr. Murray says is a sign of the antichrist.

Point 5: Deceiver

These Protestant founders then used this psychologically fulfilling vision of God to deceive people away from the fullness of the truth.  By their preaching and actions they deceived people into the substitute Church, the various Protestant denominations.  With admittedly humanly wise words they brought people out of the fullness of truth.  They did not come expressly to destroy the Church, but under the deception of “reform” brought about that effect.

Point 6: Heretic

This obviously tie ins with previous points.  Mr. Murray says, “THE ultimate Antichrist will not deny everything about Christ, but just enough to undermine the power of Christ’s gracious salvation.”  The Protestant denominations still have large swaths of truth — most of the books for the Bible, Baptism, Marriage, the necessity of Grace, even various aspects of predestination and so forth.  In doing so they undermine the power of Christ’s salvation through the fullness of all the Sacraments he gave us and in the fullness of the Truth passed down to us from generation to generation.

Point 7: Politics

Any student of the Reformation can tell you that things got very politically messy.  The German princes used Luther to advance their independence.  Henry VIII used the Reformation to get a politically expedient divorce.  If not for the political involvement to advance their temporal power, the Reformation would have been much more unlikely to get off the ground.  It is not coincidence that religious maps of Europe coincide with political boundaries.

Political and Religious Borders

Simplified Political and Religious Borders

Presbyterianism was founded in Scotland.  Anglicanism was founded in England.  Lutheranism was founded in Germany, and adopted by Scandinavian princes. An authentic reformation should have effected the whole Catholic world, but instead it remained tied to principalities.  Political expediency drove the Reformation forward, which again is a sign that the founders were antichrists.

Now, in turning the page to Mr. Murray’s next blog post, he surprises by saying it is the Pope who is the antichrist.  This is the opposite of what I took his post to be implying, but it is also an old claim (after all, no news is new!).  While there are older claims (see Mr. Murray’s post), none have been so influential as Mr. Alexander Hislop’s work, “The Two Babylons: Papal worship Proved to be the worship of Nimrod and His wife.”  This book was first published in 1853, and is known to be abundant with inaccuracies.  It compiles a lot of the earlier claims about the papacy as a form of antichrist.

The point is that this is an old claim, but when brought up can cut both ways.  It can easily turn into a he said/she said sort of discussion.  Mr. Murray can look at the Bible, and his take-away is that the Pope may be an antichrist.  I can look at the same passages and even the same understanding of the passages and my take-away might be that Luther was an antichrist.

I think this is why Mr. Murray’s point that,

“I don’t believe this should be a prominent part of any Christian’s ministry. Yes, we should outline the Antichrist’s characteristics and call people to look out for this threat, even in the mini-antichrist’s of our own day. But it’s not a huge theme in the Bible and it certainly doesn’t specify the individual.”

is so important.  To fixate upon antichrists takes our attention off of God and our neighbour, which is where our attention should be.  Even putting this post as kindly as I know how, and even recognizing that Mr. Murray did the same, name calling doesn’t help to grow Christian union and doesn’t help ease people’s journey of faith; however that journey may be progressing.  It is an interesting exercise to examine these things (hence my own posting about it), but it should never take our eyes off the prize of communion.


Pope Francis Lays Down the Law

The Pope recently said this: “A commandment is valid if it comes from Jesus: I do this because the Lord wants me to do this. But if I am a Christian without Christ, I do this and I don’t know why I have to do it”.  This quote is further illuminated by another quote from him about how some people “make so many commandments the center of their religiosity”.  Together these form an argument against Luther, who saw commandments as external and arbitrary.

In the nominalist view of Luther and others, God issues forth commandments that are external to us.  In the Catholic view, commandments are those rules by which we can become more human, more authentically ourselves.  Christ is the center of those commands because in Christ we find communion with both God and neighbor, and communion is the fullest understanding of what it means to be human.  The more we further authentic communion, the more we follow Christ.

This contrasts with the nominalists, who say there is no “ideal humanity” to configure ourselves to so that we may become more authentically ourselves.  In this view, God’s law is laid down arbitrarily so that following the law can become and end into itself.  Since the law is arbitrary, following it doesn’t necessarily lead to communion.  Therefore following the law can be seen as an obstacle to following Jesus.

Sam Harris is right (but I wish he wasn’t)

I read The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris a while back.  While I would enjoy the cash from refuting his argument, I would despise what I would become in that refutation: a heretic.

The core of his argument is that a reasoned understanding of experiences can help us determine what is good and what is bad.  This, regrettably for my wallet, is the Catholic position on reason and science.  While acknowledging the difficulties in practice, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining … the natural [moral] law written in our hearts”.  Further, “religious and moral truths .. are not beyond the grasp of human reason”.  In addition, it is the heresy of Ontologism (popular in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds) that teaches we attain knowledge of God separate from the created world rather than mediated by the world.  This means rather than just reason alone, we need reason interacting with the world, which is nearly the perfect definition of science and precisely what Sam Harris is arguing for.

Why such a well known atheist would hold such a Catholic view might be because Christianity in America is strongly shaped by the heretical view held by Luther that “Reason is directly opposed to faith, and one ought to let it be; in believers it should be killed and buried.”

Poor Ms. Reason, looks like Luther got to her.

This comes out of Luther’s idea that God is nearly entirely transcendent when it comes to morals.  God’s law, for Luther, was arbitrary and external to humanity rather than an expression of the fullness of humanity.  For Luther, this was largely because of his nominalist tendencies.

However, Luther was hardly the first to espouse the idea that God is so transcendent that his law is beyond reason.  Perhaps the most well known body of believers who espouse this idea are some denominations of Islam.  Their understanding is that God is so transcendent that he doesn’t need reasons for his law (the Akhbari and Ash’arite schools).  While this may be the perceived common view, it isn’t the only view that could be held by Muslims.  The Mu’tazila and Usuli schools of thought teach more of what Catholic teaching is: that we can learn about God’s law through reason.

Amidst all this complexity then, Sam Harris hold quite orthodox religious views upon reason and science helping one understand how to apply God’s law to their lives.  Rather than encourageing atheism, his book could be seen as a call to return to a Catholic life for Christians and a call for Muslims to return to the Mu’tazila and Usuli schools of thought.

A Nominal Right to Sex

What caught my eye about this article was near the end, when I read, “Since Kaitlyn’s arrest, the case has garnered national attention for what some say is a gay rights issue”.  It is considered a “right” to have sexual pleasure with someone too young to offer consent.

This comes from a mistaken notion of rights that arose out of a heretical notion of sin.  Originally this mistaken notion came from Ockham (of Ockham’s Razor fame) but was picked up and made more famous by Luther.

The Catholic understanding is that morality is found in our relationship with God and our neighbor — that our human nature is that of communion.  In our creation God made us in his image.  Therefore the more communion we have with God the more we live up to our nature, and more moral we are.  The life we live is a moral life because God is good, and our communion with him means we take on this goodness.  As St. Augustine said:

“Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ.”

What a thing to rejoice over!  We become Christ so we share in the goodness of God.  The more we live out that communion and share in that union through acts which encourage communion and union, the more moral we become.  This is not because the acts are morally good, but because we live up to our nature and partake in God’s goodness — our being becomes good.

This contrasts greatly with Ockham’s and Luther’s nominalism, the rejection of universals.  In their nominalism there is no universal call to communion to live a moral life, but rather morality is found in following a particular set of rules laid down by God.  Goodness isn’t found in being in communion, but in the actions one does.

Let’s see how Catholicism and Nominalism play out in the above article.  In Catholicism rights are those freedoms necessary to living out our lives in conformity with our nature.  We have to have the freedom to accept communion with God and neighbor and the freedom to live out that communion.  Ms. Hunt is in trouble for hurting another (a breakdown of communion).  To be sexually active with someone too young to be capable of consent harms our neighborly relationship.  Further, by misunderstanding male and female, Ms. Hunt further ruptured proper communion by being sexual with a girl.

In contrast, Nominalism requires the freedom to live in accord with an abstract set of laws.  A right is that which guarantees this freedom.  Culture and interpretation can change what that set of laws includes.  Certainly Luther had a different abstract set of laws than some of the other Protestant reformers, as can be seen in the fact that Zwingli and Calvin both had differing ideas about the law of God in regards to the Eucharist.  What this means is that as society shifts, so too does our rights so that our rights can keep up with societies norms.  Our society has sexualized young children and in large part approves of homosexuality.  Hence the ACLU thinks Ms. Hunt would have a right to be sexually active with a female minor.  There is no communion she is required to live up to, but rather only the specifics of how she feels towards the minor child.

Luther to Modernism is new?

Without trying to, the above article does a nice job of linking Modernist thought, which updates morality to keep pace with “the people of our time” (in contrast with the Catholic belief about morality having certain degrees of certainty) with it’s roots in Lutheranism.

Luther desired to place all his religious trust in the Scriptures.  The belief was, “Sola Scriptura”, meaning Scripture Alone, was to be the source of Church authority.  Because he didn’t want Germany and all Christendom to become a mad house with multiple versions of Christianity, the secondary authority was the State (mainly the local princes) to enforce this version of Christianity.

Sola Scriptura’s sole trust in the Bible means that Papal and even Church Council authority was undermined.  If these sources of authority couldn’t prove their points by Scripture, than they shouldn’t be listened to.  This logically proceeds to the idea that every preacher might be ignored if the right contrarian Bible verse is found.  Originally this meant teaching authority was based upon scholarly research, so Protestant preachers like John Knox switched from Religious garb to Scholarly garb:

However, another seed was planted by Luther to undermine this Scholarly Authority, and it was his distrust of reason.  He once said, “Reason is directly opposed to faith, and one ought to let it be; in believers it should be killed and buried” (Jacques Maritain’s Three Reformers).  This is in opposition to the Christian tradition of using reason to enlighten our faith.

Combining both a distrust of reason and a trust only in the Scriptures means any unschooled individual has a just as valid an interpretation of Scripture as any schooled preacher might have.  Just the other day I heard Alistair Begg on the radio telling his congregation just that: preachers are simply guys without authority but with knowledge.  His point was that preachers can be trusted to have done research but they could be very, very wrong and so there is an obligation to figure it all out on one’s own.

This leads directly to Modernism.  The people decide what is right and wrong.  Truth is held only in our hearts, and isn’t external to us.  To find truth the learned must therefore look to the hearts of the unlearned.  As the article says, “the Church needs to conform to the opinions of ‘the people of our time.'”

The logical out growth of Lutheranism’s rejection of various authorities is into Modernism.  This connection shows some parts of Modernism are the flowering of ideas at least 500 years old.