Tag Archives: excommunication

The Excommunication of Martin Luther and the Journey of Padre Steve

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Leo X’s Papal Bull Exsurge Domine

“We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on…” Martin Luther

On the 3rd of January 1521 Pope Leo X issued his Papal Bull of Excommunication Decet Romanum Pontificem against Martin Luther. The excommunication followed Luther’s publication of his three masterful works published in 1520 To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church and On the Freedom of a Christian.

The excommunication was the second act of a three part drama. The first part began with Luther’s publication of the 95 Theses on October 31st 1517. That launched a series of actions by the Papacy in which various representatives were sent to bring Luther back into line. Failing this the last of the inquisitors, Johann Eck became Luther’s and other Reformer’s constant nemesis for the next 25 years.

In the summer of 1520 Eck brought back to Germany Leo X’s Papal Bull Exsurge Domine which attacked and condemned Luther’s writings, a prequel to the formal excommunication. Eck was not well received and Luther’s movement began to gain more traction especially among much of the nobility and among other theologians.

The message of the Bull was clear, Luther, his works and those who supported him or published his works were condemned. In part it read:

“…we likewise condemn, reprobate, and reject completely the books and all the writings and sermons of the said Martin, whether in Latin or any other language, containing the said errors or any one of them; and we wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and rejected. We forbid each and every one of the faithful of either sex, in virtue of holy obedience and under the above penalties to be incurred automatically, to read, assert, preach, praise, print, publish, or defend them. … Indeed immediately after the publication of this letter these works, wherever they may be, shall be sought out carefully by the ordinaries and others [ecclesiastics and regulars], and under each and every one of the above penalties shall be burned publicly and solemnly in the presence of the clerics and people.” 

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Luther burning the Bull

Luther who received a copy in October of 1520 reacted in kind noting: “Since they have burned my books, I burn theirs. The canon law was included because it makes the pope a god on earth. So far I have merely fooled with this business of the pope.”

Neither the Bull dealt with the substance of Luther’s teachings, instead they were both heavy handed missives of Papal primacy and punishment on those that disobeyed. The Bull of excommunication read in part:

Nevertheless Martin himself—and it gives us grievous sorrow and perplexity to say this—the slave of a depraved mind, has scorned to revoke his errors within the prescribed interval and to send us word of such revocation, or to come to us himself; nay, like a stone of stumbling, he has feared not to write and preach worse things than before against us and this Holy See and the Catholic faith, and to lead others on to do the same.

He has now been declared a heretic; and so also others, whatever their authority and rank, who have cared nought of their own salvation but publicly and in all men’s eyes become followers of Martin’s pernicious and heretical sect, and given him openly and publicly their help, counsel and favour, encouraging him in their midst in his disobedience and obstinacy, or hindering the publication of our said missive: such men have incurred the punishments set out in that missive, and are to be treated rightfully as heretics and avoided by all faithful Christians, as the Apostle says (Titus iii. 10-11).

III. Our purpose is that such men should rightfully be ranked with Martin and other accursed heretics and excommunicates, and that even as they have ranged themselves with the obstinacy in sinning of the said Martin, they shall likewise share his punishments and his name, by bearing with them everywhere the title “Lutheran” and the punishments it incurs.

Our previous instructions were so clear and so effectively publicised and we shall adhere so strictly to our present decrees and declarations, that they will lack no proof, warning or citation.

Our decrees which follow are passed against Martin and others who follow him in the obstinacy of his depraved and damnable purpose, as also against those who defend and protect him with a military bodyguard, and do not fear to support him with their own resources or in any other way, and have and do presume to offer and afford help, counsel and favour toward him. All their names, surnames and rank—however lofty and dazzling their dignity may be—we wish to be taken as included in these decrees with the same effect as if they were individually listed and could be so listed in their publication, which must be furthered with an energy to match their contents.

On all these we decree the sentences of excommunication, of anathema, of our perpetual condemnation and interdict; of privation of dignities, honours and property on them and their descendants, and of declared unfitness for such possessions; of the confiscation of their goods and of the crime of treason; and these and the other sentences, censures and punishments which are inflicted by canon law on heretics and are set out in our aforesaid missive, we decree to have fallen on all these men to their damnation.”

It was an extraordinary and misguided document which failed to understand the significance of what was happening in the Church and in Europe. It was a document that echoes what every authoritarian structure does when challenged, it ignored the causes, it ignored the issues and simply condemned those involved. Instead of dialogue it chose retribution and destroyed the unity of the Western Church. Phillip Schaff, one of the great Church historians wrote about the Bull: “The bull of excommunication is the papal counter-manifesto to Luther’s Theses, and condemns in him the whole cause of the Protestant Reformation. Therein lies its historical significance. It was the last bull addressed to Latin Christendom as an undivided whole, and the first which was disobeyed by a large part of it.”

After his excommunication Luther appealed to Emperor Charles V who initially rejected it outright but reconsidered in light of the danger that the Empire faced if German states revolted. Charles invited Luther to the Diet promising him safe passage. The fact that Luther was able to appear at the council safely was in large part because of Elector Friedrich the Wise, his protector insisting that Luther not be imprisoned or outlawed without a hearing. Along the way Luther was greeted as a hero by townspeople, it was something like a victory parade.

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When the hearings began the Archbishop of Trier asked Luther if he would recant his writings. Luther asked for time to consider and at 4 PM the following day was called back to the Diet, where before the Emperor and the Princes of Germany he stood alone.

The Archbishop demanded: “Explain yourself now. Will you defend all your writings, or disavow some of them?” 

Luther provided a rather long answer regarding his writings, categorizing them and explaining them. Eventually the exasperated Archbishop asked: “Martin–answer candidly and without horns–do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?”

Luther then gave the answer in German rather than Latin, which has reverberated nearly half a millennium:

“Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Friedrich the Wise spirited Luther away in a staged “kidnapping” to the Wartburg Castle, allowing him to evade those that sought his life and to stabilize the Reformation in Germany.

I have always felt a closeness to Luther. He is one of my heroes. I recognize that he was neither perfect, nor do I agree with everything that he wrote or some of the things that he did. That being said, this very imperfect and often impetuous Monk, Priest and Professor is close to me. His “Theology of the Cross” makes more sense than others I have read, and his defense of the Eucharist was instrumental in my faith journey.

Luther, despite many in the Catholic Church who fight for him has not been “rehabilitated” nor the bans of excommunication removed. He has been called by some a “reluctant revolutionary.” I hope that Pope Francis will lift the excommunication despite the Roman tradition of not lifting such bans on those who have passed away.

Luther, like me was somewhat blunt, earthy and liked beer. In fact after Worms he wrote:

“I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.  And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip [Melanchthon] and my Amsdorf [Nicholaus von], the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it.  I did nothing.  The Word did it all.” 

In seminary Luther, his writings and theology were instrumental in coming to a catholic understanding of the the Christian faith. Now that understanding was much more interpreted in light of the Second Vatican Council and more progressive theologians such as Hans Kung, Bernard Haring and Yves Congar, but it was still catholic and a clean break from my Evangelical Protestant background and education.

Likewise, when I was ordained as a Priest in a more conservative Anglo-Catholic denomination in the mid 1990s I never dreamed that I would face a time where my writings would mark me as a “heretic” in the eyes of some in that church. Nor did I think that I would be told that I was “too liberal” and needed to leave that church. Before that I had been censured and forbidden from writing because I was “too Catholic” by another bishop. Like Luther I assumed that what I wrote and said were readily apparent. Since I have written extensively about that situation and don’t feel the need to go into detail here.

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In 1996 I led a series of tours of Luther’s reformation sites in Germany, including Wittenberg, Heidelberg and Worms. I posed for pictures outside the door of the Castle Church as well as at the site where Luther gave his “Here I stand” speech. I was so familiar with the locations in Wittenberg that I was asked if I had ever been to them before. I could only say that I had never been there in person, but had been there many times in my mind. When at each location I felt a tremendous closeness to a man who had influenced so much of my spiritual journey.

As Luther wrote:

“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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High Crimes and “Miss” Demeanors: The Catholic Church Equates Women’s Ordination with Pedophilia

Note: This is a serious post that unfortunately has been on my mind for some time and I have not written about it until now.  It is important enough for me to interrupt my latest baseball post and I realize that some readers will not like what I say; I might even get some hate mail as I have gotten it for much less but here it goes.

It seems that the Roman Catholic Church is finally making some changes to policy and possibly Canon Law to ensure that clergy that are convicted of sexual assault, rape or pedophilia receive faster censure or maybe even punishment in the Church outside of what various national or state governments do.  Of course this came after years, albeit decades of chicanery where the Church either through omission or commission aided and abetted many of the men suspected, charged or convicted of sexual abuse, assault or other crimes against children as well as adults entrusted to their spiritual and sometimes their physical care.  It is a policy decision that moves in the right direction but seems to be perfunctory and in light of the actions of the church hierarchy over many decades to cover up crimes committed by clergy seem hollow and unrepentant and an insult to victims who still desire justice even as the Vatican continues to fight to keep clergy from being prosecuted by the courts of various nations.  To make matters worse it uses the same letter to equate the ordination of women as a “major crime against the Church” or in other words equivalent to pedophilia, child sexual abuse and a host of other crimes whose victims cry out for justice.  I just don’t get it.

Now before the reader thinks that I am on an anti-Catholic crusade be assured I am most assuredly not. I find even with all of its faults as well as recent retrenchment on many initiatives that were once heralded by Catholics and Protestants alike, much to be commended in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact in the late 1990s I explored the possibility of “crossing the Tiber” and wrote two very orthodox and even serious articles on the Church in the New Oxford Review. Those articles actually got me banned from writing for several years by a former Archbishop in my church who is now coincidently a Roman Catholic Layman who writes for Catholic Online.  Back then stuff was too Catholic for him, seems almost like Karma to me, now he defends the Curia and I question it.  Things have changed over the years.  Many of my closest friends in ministry have been and are Roman Catholic Priests, many of who feel as I do and fear retribution if they speak up on any of this.  Needless to say I am dumbfounded at the statements and actions coming out of the Vatican or directly from Pope Benedict XVI.  It almost seems that these actions and statements occur on a weekly basis. If you ask me such statements and attitudes make the Church hierarchy appear to be defensive, vengeful, arrogant, isolated, vindictive, petty and completely unaware of how these actions make the Church look to a watching world.  But then I wonder if they really care about this.

To be honest I don’t know what to make of this. The Church has survived 2000 years or so and survived a lot worse crisis than it is experiencing in this new millennium however it seems that the present administration in the Vatican has built a wall to “protect” itself from actual accountability and responsibility for the criminal acts of some of its clergy which in turn victimizes the victims of these men again and again.  The whole attitude and action seems without grace and heartless despite the formal statements from the Pope and other prelates, however as my old sophomore football coach Duke Pasquini used to say “your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”  Words are cheap and the Vatican’s failure to first discipline its own and second to turn them over to the state for temporal judgment is arrogance that Jesus would have condemned the Pharisees and Sadducees for, not what he expects of his Church to practice.  Actions speak louder than words and the Vatican’s actions damn it in the eyes of a watching world and this friends  is nothing to rejoice over or gloat about even for those that have an ax to grind against the church.  It is cause mourning for it taints people’s view of God in a decidedly negative way both believers and unbelievers, God gets the blame more often than not for the sins of his people.  If Benedict is serious about wanting a leaner church he will get it as ordinary Catholics, especially in the west will vote with their feet leaving only those that agree with this perverted view of the Church’s role in the world.

There are two things that I want to note before I end this little essay.  The first was the censure of Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna and the driving force behind the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, a renowned theologian, pastor who was considered as a potential Pope.  Schoenborn accused retired Cardinal Angelo Soldano, the former Vatican Secretary of State of blocking investigations requested by him of clerics accused or suspected of criminal sexual activity.  He also said that Soldano had caused “massive harm” when he dismissed claims of clerical abuse as “petty gossip” in his Easter sermon.  In censuring Schoenborn the Vatican announced that brother Cardinals could not criticize one another but only the Pope.  I am sorry but when the Church, any church silences dissent and even constructive criticism from its highest ranking prelates then there is a problem because it demonstrates that the leadership views the preservation hierarchy and the rights of the Papal state as more important than the Gospel and justice for the people of God.  Somehow I can hear Jesus call out “woe to you Scribes and Pharisees and all that.”  Rome is burning and the Pope and the Curia continue to try to douse the fire with gasoline.  No wait, napalm it’s stickier and burns better.  They are a disaster.

The second came the same day and in the same document that the Vatican will in making it easier to investigate sexual abuse in the church. The document declared it a Major crime against the Church” to ordain a woman as a Priest. Now this is not new the Vatican has been excommunicating women and those that ordained them for years.  However, declaring it to be a major crime puts it at the same level as pedophilia and other sexual crimes of clergy.  How do they compare?  Oh wait, female Priests put the souls of their parishioners in mortal danger even more so than male Priests who physically, emotionally and sexually abuse those in their charge.

The ordination of women may not be allowed by the Roman Catholic or for that matter my Church but to call it a major crime against the Church and equate it with pedophilia and sexual abuse of minors is abhorrent.  When the Roman Catholic Church hides behind diplomatic immunity as a nation state and claims religious persecution when someone inside or outside of its walls calls it to account it shows a cold and ruthless face to the world.  It says that it wants to punish those guilty of such heinous crimes but at the same time it shields them from criminal prosecution by the state without providing any discipline of its own.  The Vatican claims to be a state with all the rights and privileges thereof but refuses to put these criminals in its own jails and punish them.  In fact I say hire more Swiss Guards, open up a jail in the basement of the Vatican do a little rendition and torture in some third world dictatorship put them on the Papal G5 send them to Rome and give these criminals a life sentence in the catacombs somewhere.  Well that won’t happen so were left with the Vatican continuing to protect the guilty and if it does anything try them in ecclesiastical courts which do nothing more than mete out spiritual judgments that do absolutely nothing to help the victims.

Jesus I’m sure would be really welcome especially by hanging out with people like Mary Magdalene and even the Apostle Paul who seemed to allow women to have a lot of authority in places that he visited, people like Lydia in Philippi as well as Priscilla of Priscilla and Aquila fame. Interestingly enough many commentators and Scripture Scholars believe that Priscilla may have written the book of Hebrews and some make a very convincing case for this.  My Lord it is no wonder that people don’t want to have anything to do with the Christian faith when the mother Church of the west engages in such activities.

I really don’t know what to say when Catholics come to me about such things because I do not ever want to be accused of leading Catholics away from their Church or faith. As an Anglo-Catholic with strong pro-Roman leanings I encourage them to stay and be salt and light knowing that all Papacy’s end and magisterial eras come and go and that the Church has somehow made it 2000 years through worse crisis than the current day.  That is cold comfort to them and I wish that I could do better but it is what it is and unfortunately Rome continues to burn as the Pope and Curia call for more napalm with which to further engulf the church that they pretend to defend.  It seems that they are about to destroy the church in order to save it and I cannot understand where that fits in the context of God’s love and care for his people, especially the lost, the least and the lonely, those whose prayers like those of the sinner versus the Pharisee are heard by God.  God help the Roman Catholic Church and even more those victimized by its clergy in such ungodly ways.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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