Martin Luther, Roman Catholic Prophet

By Gregory Sobolewski | Go to book overview

5
PERSPECTIVE

Yet however much human culpability has damaged communion, it
has never destroyed it. In fact, the fullness of the unity of the
Church of Christ has been maintained within the Catholic Church
while other Churches and ecclesial Communities, though not in
full communion with the Catholic Church, retain in reality a
certain communion with it.

—Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity 1

The Roman Catholic magisterial image of Luther after the Second Vatican Council is established through typically Catholic sensibilities: an appeal to basic ecclesiological doctrines that substantiate the Catholic vision of life from generation to generation and the celebration of past persons and events that represent the grandeur of the faith announced by Jesus Christ. This study has considered magisterial evolution regarding Luther as a process by which resentment against him has been cauterized due to the development of an ecclesiology of communion in Lumen gentium, its ecumenical application in Unitatis redintegratio, and subsequent interconfessional dialogues. This recovery of a more profoundly biblical notion of the mystical body of Christ allows recognition of Christian holiness wherever baptized persons respond to the Holy Spirit of the Christian trinity. Moreover, deep magisterial appreciation of Luther proceeds from acknowledgment of his reforming impulses and his genuine dedication to the common life in the Spirit enunciated in the Word of God and corresponding tradition.

Together with the reorientation of Catholic ecclesiology at the Second Vatican Council, papal and curial statements during recent Luther-celebrations have produced clear evidence that Luther is seen by the magisterium as an authentic reformer and perceptive theologian rather than the misguided renegade who was excommunicated. Acknowledgment of Catholic complicity in crimes against the faith in the sixteenth century and fresh consideration of Luther's diversified theology, especially his spiritual and pastoral legacy, have removed a veneer of Catholic righteousness in ecumenical matters and estab-

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