Martin Luther, Roman Catholic Prophet

By Gregory Sobolewski | Go to book overview

1
INTRODUCTION

Arise, O Lord, and judge thy cause…. A roaring sow of the woods
has undertaken to destroy this vineyard, a wild beast wants to
devour it…. Since these errors, as well as many others, are found
in the writings or pamphlets of a certain Martin Luther, we
condemn, reject and denounce these pamphlets and all writings
and sermons of this Martin, be they in Latin or other languages, in
which one or more of these errors are found. For all times do we
want them condemned, rejected and denounced.

—Pope Leo X, 1520 1

For the Catholic Church the name of Martin Luther is linked,
across the centuries, to the memory of a sad period and particularly
to the experience of the origin of deep ecclesiastical divisions. For
this reason the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's birth should
be for us a reason to meditate, in truth and Christian charity, on
that event fraught with historical significance which was the period
of the Reformation. Because time, by separating us from the
historical events, often permits them to be understood and repre
sented better.

—Pope John Paul II, 1983 2

Roman Catholic attitudes toward Martin Luther (1483–1546) have changed. Whether popular, scholarly, or magisterial, twentiethcentury Catholic viewpoints about Luther have generally abandoned a tradition of contempt for the German reformer. The alternate perspectives, however, are not nearly as sharply defined or as singleminded. The contemporary Catholic opinion towards Luther is genuinely positive. Today few would choose the latter of Avery Dulles's options, given at a sermon during the Chair of Unity Octave (a period of prayer for Christian unity held annually from January 18 to 25) in 1965: “What are we to think of Martin Luther? Was he a reformer sent by God to recall the Church to its true vocation or a false prophet impelled by Satan to lead the faithful astray?” Rather, the current state of the question for Catholics remains as it was given in

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