A Diet of Pasta and the Diet of Worms

Pasta again!

Pasta again! (Photo credit: HatM)

What better place to discuss a break from Rome than in an Italian restaurant?  I connected with a couple of fellas at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and later we went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in Chicago.  It was one of those great evenings of conversation that theologues savor.  I knew one of the guys already, and the other was a newer acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a while.  We talked about the so-called ‘quests for the historical Jesus‘ all down the sidewalk until we decided on where to eat.  After sitting down and placing our order, we talked about the weather, food, and drink.  Then, the three of us got into a rather aggressive theological debate about Luther’s break from the Roman Catholic Church.

Can you see the picture?  Three of the most un-Italian guys you can think of raising a ruckus about the Roman Catholic Church in an Italian restaurant.  The thought still makes me chuckle.

Anyway, the food was good and the conversation stimulating.  The question we addressed was this: Was it right for Luther to create a new ecclesiastical body separate from that of Rome?  Why divide the church again?  Of course, I thought this was a no-brainer, and one fellah agreed to a point.  Luther was excommunicated.  What else could he have done?  But the other gentleman disagreed.  His argument went something like this (my responses follow each):

(1) Luther was a nut. –I have no disagreement there.  Luther was probably one of the smartest and strangest dudes in church history.  Some of his actions were comical, others were just downright macabre.  But it takes an eccentric personality to make the bold history-changing moves he did.

(2) Why didn’t Luther use proper channels to seek reform? — I’m no church historian, but I thought he tried.  Furthermore, when you’re being excommunicated from the church, that pretty much stops your in-house efforts.

(3) If Luther sought to create a comparable church (a true church), then why did he make it look so very different from the Roman Catholic Church?  The protestant churches were different from Rome on virtually every level.–I think the coming of modernism and individual thought had something to do with that.  In Rome, you’d be struggling to change pre-established tradition.  The Protestants had a clean slate to start over with no traditions to stop them.  The decisions they made reflect Luther’s words at the Diet of Worms: the new doctrines were based on reason and Scripture instead of traditions.  Obviously, that would make the church look much different.

No one won our little Diet of Pasta that evening.  But it was a stimulating conversation nonetheless.

Categories: History, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “A Diet of Pasta and the Diet of Worms

  1. Luther was excommunicated three years after he wrote the ninety-five theses, which were originally topics for disputations, and not an act of rebellion–although they later became as much. After some of his friends translated them into German and started printing them (he probably did not nail them to the Church door), he became more popular, and started publishing his writings. The Pope, meanwhile, having heard of Luther’s ninety-five theses, made a number of attempts to dissuade Luther of his views, but with each Luther grew more hard-hearted against the papacy. Finally, in 1520, the Pope issued a Bull, Exurge Domine, which condemned 41 propositions from the 95 theses–none of which had to do with corruption in the church, by the way, but instead were entirely theological condemnations. The Pope gave Luther two months to recant of these propositions, and threatened Luther with excommunication, to which Luther responded by strengthening his claims, and by publicly burning a copy of the Bull. The Pope waited seven months, instead of two, before excommunicating Luther.

    So, as for reform within the Church, Luther was not interested in “in-house efforts.” He wanted to be out of house to begin with, as one can infer from his actions.

    Moreover, as for things looking different, Luther actually became more extreme after his excommunication. As for Scripture and reason, the Church has always held Herself to be infallible, and, what’s more, that Sacred Scripture came out of Sacred Tradition (that pesky pre-established tradition protestants wanted to get rid of). Which is all to say, I think Lutheranism was actually the root of the Enlightenment.

    Of course, I am in fact saying more, because my Catholicism makes me see everything through Rosary-colored-glasses. Nonetheless, I think I’m saying true things, regardless.

  2. This doesn’t mean that the Augustinian monk didn’t initially love the Catholic church, Josh; neither does it prove that he didn’t care to change or ‘reform’ it. I think his debates and conversations as a university professor reveal some of that. As I said, Luther definitely was a nut. He was hot and cold. In his eyes, the church went from the greatest to the worst, the one true church to the great harlot.
    Lutherianism the root of the Enlightenment? I think that goes a little far too, though Protestantism played a big role. The printing press disseminated lots of info to lots of people, which was big factor. Since you and I are children of the Enlightenment, I think that it was a pretty good thing overall.

  3. No. But he came to hate it before he was excommunicated, or at least that’s what I infer from his actions.Not that he thought he hated the Church–he thought of the Church as something fundamentally different, but that he in fact hated it. However, it does indicate the latter–that he did not, in the months leading up to his excommunication, care for reforming the Church.

    As for the root of the enlightenment, I mean Lutheranism as Luther and his early followers, not as a denomination–the term early protestantism would work just as well here. You have to realize how fundamentally strange protestantism was. For 1500 years (or 1000, from the protestant interpretation), there had been priests, masses, sacraments, and a philosophy based on that of the ancients. There was a tradition which extended beyond Sacred Tradition, but which included it. There was a definite social order, and every man knew his place in the universe–for the ordering was universal, not societal. Moreover, the Word had become flesh, and had done so entirely. Christ had come, and by his coming, had sanctified and redeemed our fleshiness, such that a man could be a good man, and in his being good, could do good, by God’s grace.

    Then comes Luther. The priests and the masses and the sacraments are done away with. Aristotle is cast out the door, along with Plato, and all other things beyond Scripture, at least presumably. Gone is both Sacred Tradition and the west’s native traditions. Most important, however, was the division of spiritual from corporeal. God, in Luther’s mind, extended no graces that allowed people to do good. God did not even predestine people to do good, for man was incapable of committing a single right action. This division extended to union of body and soul. Man was, up to that point, simultaneously an embodied soul and an ensouled body. Yet with “sola fide,” and the emphasis on faith over works, Luther already presupposed that faith was not itself a work–that an action of the mind or soul was radically different from an action of the body. Hence came Descartes and his ilk, and, moreover, the entirety of the enlightenment, which rejected everything held beforehand.

    Of course, this is my narrative of the thing, and the narrative a great many other have arrived at. Alasdair MacIntyre comes to a similar conclusion. As for proof, I’m not very much interested in it, just because history as a discipline does not easily allow for it, beyond the level of bare facts. I am, however, interested in deeds. I can and always have been able to draw conclusions about something what has been done, even if these conclusions are not and cannot be proven–indeed, I am the kind of creature that draws such conclusions naturally.

    As for the enlightenment, I reject most of its inheritance, because I do not consider myself a child of modernity, but rather of postmodernity, which has as much relation to modernity as modernity does to premodernity. Which is to say, not a whole lot. What is interesting, however, is the relation between postmodern and premodern philosophy. Both are at a more human level than modernity ever could be, and both in basically the same way. Chesterton said that the foundation of Aquinas’ philosophy is that eggs are eggs (you should look up the quotation), and phenomenology, the first form of postmodernity, wholeheartedly agreed, unlike any modern.

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