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May 26, 2024

Moving on through the heresies, the next major one found on the majority of lists is in the Middle Ages - the 16th century to be exact. That heresy is Protestantism. We all know that the figure head of this particular heresy was a former Augustinian priest by the name of Martin Luther. The generally accepted “official” starting of the protestant reformation/revolution was 1517. For a period of time Luther had been moving in the direction of breaking off from the Catholic Church. In spite of repeated attempts by his religious superiors and even the pope himself, Luther forged ahead in the creation of a new church. While there is no denying that there were cases of scandal, excess and sinfulness in parts of the Church, the Church herself and her teaching were not the source of the problems. The desire of the Church to bring him back into the fold is evidenced by the fact that he was not excommunicated until the year 1521, 4 years after his 95 theses were published and numerous attempts to bring him back to the Church. It was these theses that signaled he was formally beginning to break from the Church. While most believe that he was righteously calling to an end of the abuse of indulgences, there is no denying there was abuse in some cases, but it was far from the general rule and most of the cases brought up to support this theory are aberrations and far from the norm. The first part of his theses deal with his rejection of purgatory, the ability of the Church and the pope to offer relief to souls of the dead and the power of the Church in dealing with things eternal, then finally his rejection of indulgences. What we find in his talks and writings up to this point, is that he was a man suffering from extreme scruples and who refused to take the advice of his spiritual advisors or superiors in remedying them. Some of his closest friends were intentionally driving him in the direction of a formal break from the Church and they in turn would then use this break to ram through all sorts of deviations and departures from sound theology and morality. Luther was a man of extreme swings of mood and spirituality. He went from preaching about the good of indulgences to denying them all together. From practicing the Sacraments, to eliminating most of them. He became more and more antagonistic toward the Church and certain figures in theology. For instance, he developed an extreme hatred for Moses, from the Old Testament. There are many instances of his use of extremely vulgar language in speaking about the pope and the Church.

As the time progressed, it became evident that the “moral system” of his new church was basically nothing more than self-determination in right and wrong, with very few actual annunciated principles. As this new church moved forward, he and is confidants developed a new doctrine for their church and the basic summarization is called the “five solae”: Solus Christus: Christ alone. Sola scriptura: Scripture alone. Only Scripture is the infallible rule of faith and practice. Sola fide: Faith alone, rejecting the value of good works or prayers towards salvation. Sola gratia: Grace alone. The human initiative has no part in salvation. Soli Deo gloria: Glory to God alone. Devotion to Mary and the Saints was strongly discouraged. This last one was something that gradually became more radical over time, as Luther himself at the beginning was in favor of having a special veneration for Mary.

This is a heresy that truly splits Europe in two, spiritually and civilly. There is such a major departure from the understanding of faith, scripture and morality that it leads to extreme hostility and even open warfare. We will conclude here for the week and pick this topic up again in the near future.

God love you, Fr. Anthony

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