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60Modern but Not Liberalhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/06/modern-but-not-liberal
Fri, 01 Jun 2012 00:00:00 -0400 “Modern but Not Liberal” is one of three addresses given to a symposium on “After Liberalism,” put on in late February with the support of the Simon/Hertog Fund for Policy Analysis and of Fieldstead and Company.
Thomas Joseph White, O.P.
, responded to this paper. The first address and responses appeared in the May issue; the last address and responses will appear in the August/September issue.
The Catholic Lutherhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/1996/03/004-the-catholic-luther
Fri, 01 Mar 1996 00:00:00 -0500
Ecumenical skeptics today often argue that presumed doctrinal convergence between Protestants and Roman Catholics only papers over an underlying”and fundamental”disagreement. Typically, Martin Luther is called on as the prime witness to this contention: did not the Reformation schism begin with his theological “breakthrough,” his principled repudiation of the “catholic” form of Christianity as a whole; A careful examination of what Luther actually wrote and said, however, suggests very different conclusions that may surprise Protestants and Roman Catholics alike.
In what might be called the standard Protestant reading, the young Luther was a man haunted by a question for which traditional Catholicism could provide no answer
How can I get a gracious God?
This question arose from Luther’s deep religious or existential insight into the inauthenticity of all human works before God”an inauthenticity systematically denied by the sacramental rituals, dogmatic faith, and mystical aspiration of traditional Christianity.
Some scholars believe that Luther found his distinctive answer to this question very early and that his development as a theologian was mostly a matter of bringing his discovery to dear enough expression that it finally provoked its inevitable conflict. Since the Second World War, however, most scholars have come to believe that Luther found the answer only in 1518, after the indulgence controversy was already underway. Luther’s struggle with the question
How can I get a gracious God?
already strikes at the roots of traditional Christianity, and his persistence in asking it was enough to cause his early difficulties with the Church authorities. But it is only in 1518–when he met with the papal legate Cajetan and refused to recant”that the handwriting was on the wall; Luther could no longer live in the house of Catholic tradition.
The scholars who see something decisive happening to Luther’s thought in 1518 seem to me to have the best of it. But in either account, Luther’s “Reformation Breakthrough” is implicitly construed as a refounding of Christianity, on a par in important respects with Pentecost. Most interpreters of Luther would not feel comfortable saying this in so many words. but it is clearly implied by the story they tell. Luther is, for example, said to have “rediscovered the gospel,” which surely implies that the gospel somehow got lost. And what is the revelation of the gospel if not the founding of Christianity and of the Church?
The Protestant reading of Luther’s story implies further that Luther has no significant relation to the preceding Christian tradition: Luther’s breakthrough came about in an a historical, unmediated encounter with the naked Pauline
. Luther is read as saying something radically incompatible with anything said in the Church since the death of Paul (except perhaps for a few glimmers in Augustine). The Catholic tradition figures in the story only as what Luther had to overcome to rediscover the gospel. Those concerned with Luther thus have little reason for concern with tradition, which”as “scholasticism,” “mysticism,” or “traditional dogma””serves mostly as a foil for Luther’s “discovery.”
A final implication of this way of reading Luther is the most important and the most troubling: the sixteenth-century Protestant/Catholic schism is construed as the logical, inevitable, and necessary public outcome of Luther’s theological development. If even Luther’s question was impossible for traditional Christianity to assimilate, much less his answer, obviously his new faith demanded a new church. No ecumenical courtesy can change the fact that, on this reading of Luther, the two parties to the schism were, in effect, practicing different religions. This way of telling Luther’s story is quite conservative in its effects, even though it presents Luther as a radical, for it makes the present division of the Church seem normal and inevitable to us.
The reading of Luther that I propose tells quite a different story. While something important for Luther’s theological development did occur in 1518, it was not a “Reformation turn” away
the catholic tradition. On the contrary, it is better described as a “catholic turn” that anchored Luther’s work much more solidly within the framework of catholic Christianity. Luther’s theology was deeply shaped by his scholastic, monastic, and patristic predecessors; he was creative, but his creativity lay especially in his fresh grasp of traditional problems and in his innovative use of traditional resources to address those problems.
Of course, if all this is so, we are no longer able to suppose that the Reformers discovered a radically new version of Christianity for which the old Church could not make room. On the reading I propose, the Reformation schism was brought about instead by contingent human choices in a confused historical context defined less by clear and principled theological argument (though that of course was present) than by a peculiar and distinctively sixteenth-century combination of overheated and ever-escalating polemics, cold-blooded
and fervid apocalyptic dreaming.
]]> Getting the Name Righthttps://www.firstthings.com/article/1992/11/006-getting-the-name-right
Sun, 01 Nov 1992 00:00:00 -0500 Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism
edited by Alvin J. Kimel
Eerdmans, 334 pages, $21.95