RE-FORMATION THESIS #67 of 95: Luther's revolt was triggered by deformed practice and doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church; but the Eastern Orthodox Church was relatively unaffected by the sixteenth century upheavals and continues to affirm the historically understood sacerdotal and sacrificial nature of the Holy Eucharist
As the wording of this thesis is intended to imply, the sixteenth century ecclesiological hiatus euphemistically termed “the Reformation” was triggered by corrupt practices and deformed doctrines within the medieval Church of Rome. The issue of “indulgencies” in particular was the focal point of Augustinian monk Brother Martin Ludher’s condemnation [note#1]. “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs” – a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel, papal seller of indulgences to raise money to rebuild St Peter’s Basilica in Rome who plied his trade in the vicinity of Luther’s home town. On reflection, what Christian would not support the Reformers in sixteenth century Europe? Seemingly spiritually insightful men pleading scriptural truths against the deformed doctrines and practices of the monolith that was the medieval Roman Catholic Church.
However, Luther merely set the ball rolling; a still more marked dissent from Catholic doctrine and teaching followed through the likes of Zwingli and Calvin which distressed the former monk greatly for he was a reluctant schismatic. To the surprise of many, he had recently said this about the Catholic Church:
“With the papacy there is a correct Holy Scripture, a correct baptism, a correct sacrament of the altar, a correct key to the forgiveness of sin, a correct preaching office, a correct catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and articles of faith” [note #2]
And Luther will have hoped that once Scripture had been translated into the vernacular and more widely distributed, dissenters from Rome would come to a unified view on the key doctrines such as the Eucharist, baptism and essential church polity. But it was not to be. What is more, through the movement Luther initiated, the vernacular Protestant Bible would soon come to replace the sacrifice of the altar as the focal object of veneration in most of the breakaway churches. That has desolating consequences from the perspective of those who understand that sacrament to be central to the Faith – the means by which one experiences interior sacred communion and sanctifying grace [previous thesis]. Desolating also in view of the way that Paul’s teaching would come to be further misunderstood by many. Augustine’s one-dimensional grace analysis with its dire providential implications was built upon and reinforced by the Reformers’ doctrine of total depravity and sovereign grace theology.
In terms of Luther’s immediate legacy, the ecclesiological fragmentation and exacerbated national and global conflict challenges his claim to be prophetic. For if a prophet (and anyone who dares challenge the established ecclesiological order in such a way had better be one) can be shown by the outcome of his predictions to have spoken presumptuously, he is no longer to be feared or listened to (cf. the testing of prophets and prophecy – Deut18:18-22). What Luther had believed and expected would happen did not happen; that is that Christians in the West, liberated from the papacy and with Bibles in hand would come to a united understanding of the essentials of the gospel. ML was personally distraught at the breakaway movement’s sub-divisions even in his own day; let alone what he would have made of the bewildering plethora of denominations that exist today.
There is a good reason for such a disastrous miscalculation: the decidedly non-perspicuous nature of Holy Scripture. For, as referred to in my interim summary (previous post), he regarded ALL the earliest Church fathers with the possible exception of Augustine to be in darkness concerning the nature of saving faith. So the Reformer provided his own solution regarding justification, law and faith, which I spent a number of posts deconstructing .
The elephant in the room
As this thesis also alludes to, the proverbial elephant in the room within the usual Reformation debate has been the perennial Eastern Orthodox Church whose priority has always been to remain faithful to the deposit of faith. For she was a relatively stable element in the sixteenth century debacle, yet her sacerdotal practice has been much the same as Rome’s. Like her they accept the real presence of Christ at the altar, regarding the Eucharist as “the awesome sacrifice entrusted to the Church to be re-enacted and given to the faithful for the nourishment of their faith and forgiveness of their sins”. For God has ensured that that the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation has been available to the faithful in East and West and for every generation of the Christian era – within the Apostolic churches, that is. And so for the purpose of the Re-formation, it is necessary to show that the Reformation was no reformation, rather an ecclesiastical hiatus and fragmentation. It is something from which we must recover if “the body of Christ is to be built up until we all reach unity in the Faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man, attaining the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph4:13).
NOTE #1 The birthname by which Augustinian monk Brother Martin would have been known at the time. He changed his surname to “Luther” to allude to “Eleuthérios” from the Greek Ελευθέριος, meaning free or liberated. Also, no doubt in view of what his family name “Luder” actually meant in his native language.
NOTE #2 – citation: Luthers Werke 26: 147 – Weimar: Hermann Bohlaus Nachfolge