Martin Luther, Roman Catholic Prophet

By Gregory Sobolewski | Go to book overview

4
LUTHER AND THE ROMAN CATHOLIC
MAGISTERIUM IN THE TWENTIETH
CENTURY

Wasn't it perhaps even necessary, we might ask here at Augsburg, in
accordance with God's unfathomable wisdom, for religious schisms
and religious wars to occur in order to lead the Church to reflect on
and renew her original values?

—Pope John Paul II, May 1987 1

Pope John Paul II issued the first papal statement focused on Luther since his excommunication in 1521 when the pontiff appreciatively noted the five-hundredth birthday of the reformer in 1983. During the interval, the magisterium observed the precedent established by the Council of Trent; it avoided assessments of individuals in order to teach emphatically the traditional and complete faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church that the Roman hierarchy protected and heretics eschewed.

Roman Catholic emphasis on unity within the hierarchicallyconstituted, sacramental, visible church of Rome dominated all magisterial perspectives on non-Catholics until the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). In contrast to Protestant emphasis on ecclesial purity evidenced from strict attention to the Bible and corresponding apostolic traditions together with proper administration of sacraments, magisterial pronouncements regarding non-Catholics, few though they were, firmly taught that repatriation to Roman Catholicism was the solution to the sixteenth-century schism. Magisterial opinion of Luther was subsumed by the church's ecclesiological assessment of Christian divisions that appreciated deeply the security provided by the church's universal adherence to doctrine rather than reformers' innovations to the common faith. Luther's excommunication became merely the foundational event among more obvious and far-reaching threats to Catholic unity that had evolved in the sixteenth

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