Monday, December 10, 2012

Justification (post 1): Let's whet the old appetite

The Protestant Reformation is usually said to have started in 1517 1 with Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on All Saints'eve. The official title of the theses was "Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" (Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum). The theses mainly objected to the abuse of indulgences-- which were intended for the relief of temporal punishment for sins that had been forgiven. Here are some of Luther’s theses:

 29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;

34. For these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

Following the Reformation there was, on both the Protestant and Catholic sides, an explosion of exegetical scholarship, empowered by research techniques developed during the European Renaissance.

For example, much was written concerning the doctrines of Mary the mother of Jesus, so-called Marian Doctrine. Take for example the doctrine that Mary was a perpetual virgin and that the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in scripture were not his blood siblings but either cousins or step-siblings—sons and daughters of Joseph from a previous marriage.

According to Rome, when the Gospels speak of the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus, they do not mean other children of Mary. The Hebrew words were very broad, according to Catholics, and they could cover any sort of relationship. In addition, those who defend the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity point out that Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ and his disciples, lacked a specific word for "cousin", so brother and sister were often used in lieu of cousin. Even modern English, they point out, uses "brother" and "sister" more broadly for members of fraternities and sororities. Not to mention that all Christians refer to one another as “brothers and sister.” Proponents also claim there is implicit evidence of Jesus being without any living brothers or sisters at the time of his crucifixion in that Jesus entrusts his mother to John instead of a sibling. In addition, it is sometimes argued that if "brothers and sister"” really means brothers and sisters, it refers to Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. In this view, Joseph was much older and died much earlier than Mary.

There are many objections to Rome’s view that Mary was “ever-virgin,” perhaps none stronger than the plain reading of this passage:
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matt. 1:24-25)
To most Protestants, this passage clearly implies that Joseph and Mary had normal sexual relations after the birth of Jesus. To Catholics, who argue, in part based on the subtleties of the Greek word heos, (translated as until) this passage states nothing more than what happened during the time period under discussion—from the conception of Jesus until His birth, with no implication for what occurred afterward even though in modern English we infer that the until" generally implies not just duration but that the situation later changed. Defending this viewpoint, one theologian of the era of the Reformation wrote2:
This passage (Matt. 1:24-25) afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius3. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary's perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of [Matthew], as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.
This same theologian, affirming the doctrine that Jesus had no brothers and that Mary was forever a virgin addresses: But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (Gal. 1:19) in this manner2:
Who this James was, deserves inquiry. Almost all the ancients are agreed that he was one of the disciples, whose surname was "Oblias" and "The Just," and that he presided over the church at Jerusalem. Yet others think that he was the son of Joseph by another wife, and others (which is more probable) that he was the cousin of Christ by the mother's side: but as he is here mentioned among the apostles, I do not hold that opinion. Nor is there any force in the defense offered by Jerome, that the word Apostle is sometimes applied to others besides the twelve; for the subject under consideration is the highest rank of apostleship, and we shall presently see that he was considered one of the chief pillars. It appears to me, therefore, far more probable, that the person of whom he is speaking is the son of Alpheus.
We of course argue that James was indeed the blood-brother of Jesus. Another theologian of the Reformation era wrote4:
I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.
And a third wrote5:
I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.
It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin.” And also: “Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.
The three theologians under discussion are, in order, John Calvin, Huldreich Zwingli and Martin Luther. The big three Protestant Reformers. I could have also provided examples of the Reformers’ views on baptism and the Lord’s supper that to the modern Protestant, especially the Baptist, sound “Catholic.” And why do I consider this important? It is from my belief that if you ask a modern Protestant “why was there a great schism of the church that we call the Reformation?” he is likely to respond “because of indulgences” or “because of strange Catholic doctrines” like Mary’s perpetual virginity or because they view the Lord’s supper as more than commemorative. Nothing could be further from the truth. The schism known as the Reformation was due to something else entirely. It was due to irreconcilable differences over the doctrine of Justification. That is why it is important for us to study Justification. The differences between Reformed theology and Catholic theology on Justification are the same today as in the time of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

1 And, apropos nothing, we point out that 1517 is an interesting number, being the product of two consecutive primes, 37 and 41.
2 Calvin Commentaries.
3 Helvidius was the author of a 4th century argument against the perpetual virginity of Mary.
4 Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424)
5 Martin Luther,That Jesus was born a Jew.

1 comment:

  1. Well said!

    Arguments with Catholics today often swerve into these subjects - but we must remember the heart of the Gospel is justification. And that is our irreconcilable difference.