Martin Luther, Roman Catholic Prophet

By Gregory Sobolewski | Go to book overview
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Luther, there is no ounce of godliness in you.

—Heinrich Suso Denifle, OP 1

At the core of Luther's religious experience we find God.

—Joseph Lortz 2

Incognito, Luther is present in an extremely efficacious way in the
present-day Catholic experience of faith.

—Otto Hermann Pesch 3

Catholic theological assessments of Martin Luther have changed in the twentieth century, especially since World War II. The solidly negative appraisal of Luther initiated by Sylvester Prierias, OP, in 1517, enshrined by Johann Cochläus in 1549, and reaffirmed with near unanimity by Catholic scholars in succeeding centuries has disintegrated in the face of the ecumenical movement in general and, more specifically, in recognition of Roman Catholic Luther-studies in Germany. Contemporary Catholic theologians do not invoke a litany of psychoses, felonies, or sins of the flesh as was routine in past generations. Further, the majority of theologians evince a genuine respect for Luther's religious motivations, theological insights, and ability to communicate.

More important, Catholic theologians have not abandoned, in ecumenical zeal, the long-standing theological or doctrinal issues that were obscured or ignored in past polemics. The primary benefits of freeing Catholic theology from this legacy of character assassination has been to promote honest appreciation of existing Christian unity and candid consideration of the confessional divergences that remain to be resolved.

The following review of major elements in twentieth-century Catholic historiography about Luther chronicles the basic features of


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