Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pope Francis on Luther on June 26, 2016

Pope Francis was interviewed aboard an airplane on June 26, 2016. In that interview he expressed the position that Luther was right about justification. Before we get too excited, though, please consider the statement in its full context:
Kleinjung: Holy Father, I wanted to ask you a question. Today you spoke of the gifts of the shared Churches, of the gifts shared by the Churches together. Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also – this is a heretical question – perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you.

Pope Francis: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church, but then this medicine consolidated into a state of things, into a state of a discipline, into a way of believing, into a way of doing, into a liturgical way and he wasn’t alone; there was Zwingli, there was Calvin, each one of them different, and behind them were who? Principals! We must put ourselves in the story of that time. It’s a story that’s not easy to understand, not easy. Then things went forward, and today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, and these also depend on the Churches. In Buenos Aires there were two Lutheran churches, and one thought in one way and the other...even in the same Lutheran church there was no unity; but they respected each other, they loved each other, and the difference is perhaps what hurt all of us so badly and today we seek to take up the path of encountering each other after 500 years. I think that we have to pray together, pray. Prayer is important for this. Second, to work together for the poor, for the persecuted, for many people, for refugees, for the many who suffer; to work together and pray together and the theologians who study together try...but this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. - “when?” - “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know...the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together. Above all for the poor, for the people who suffer and for peace and many things...against the exploitation of people and many things in which they are jointly working together.
Some thoughts:
1) Notice that Francis doesn't make any promises regarding revitalizing Luther, even though that was what was asked.
2) Instead, Francis focuses primarily on ecuminism.
3) Although Francis appears to believe that Lutherans, Protestants, and Roman Catholics all agree on justification ("all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.") his apparent basis for believing this is is the joint statement on justification, one which he acknowledges expresses divisions as well as agreement: "today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, ... ."
4) Moreover, neither that document nor this statement repudiates Trent's denial of justification by faith alone.

So, what the Pope means by agreement with Luther on justification is not something Luther would count as agreement. It is a very high level agreement, such as is found in the "joint statement on justification," and not one that addresses what Luther saw as the central point of the Reformation.

-TurretinFan

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