A reformer should take care that, in his zeal to get rid of manifest abuses, he does not at the same time shake the faith and its wholesome institutions to the foundation.
Continuing Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany,
our selection from Life of Luther by Jean-M.-Vincent Audin published in 1839. The selection is presented in 4 installments, each one 5 minutes long.
Previously in Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany.
The Reformation was a revolution, and they who rebelled against the authority of the Church were revolutionists. However slightly you look into the constitution of the Church, you will be convinced that the Reformation possessed the character of an insurrection. What is the meaning of this fine word, Reformation? Amelioration, doubtless. Well, then, with history before us, it is easy to show that it was only a prostration of the human mind. Glutted with the wealth of which it robbed the Catholics, and the blood which it shed, it gives us, instead of the harmony and Christian love of which it deprived our ancestors, nothing but dissensions, resentments, and discords. No, the Reformation was not an era of happiness and peace; it was only established by confusion and anarchy. Do you feel your heart beat at the mention of justice and truth? Acknowledge, then, what it is impossible to deny, that Luther must not be compared with the apostles. The apostles came teaching in the name of Jesus Christ their master, and the Catholics are entitled to ask us from whom Luther had his mission. We cannot prove that he had a mission direct or indirect. Luther perverted Christianity; he withdrew himself criminally from the communion in which regeneration alone was possible.
It has been said that all Christendom demanded a reformation — who disputes it? But long before the time of Luther the papacy had listened to the complaints of the faithful. The Council of Lateran had been convened to put an end to the scandals which afflicted the Church. The papacy labored to restore the discipline of the early ages, in proportion as Europe, freed from the yoke of brute force, became politically organized and advanced with slow but sure step to civilization. Was it not at that time that the source of all religious truth was made accessible to scientific study, since, by means of the watchful protection of the papacy, the holy Scriptures were translated into every language? The New Testament of Erasmus, dedicated to Leo X, had preceded the quarrel about indulgences.
A reformer should take care that, in his zeal to get rid of manifest abuses, he does not at the same time shake the faith and its wholesome institutions to the foundation. When the reformers violently separated themselves from the Church of Rome, they thought it necessary to reject every doctrine taught by her. Luther, that spirit of evil, who scattered gold with dirt, declared war against the institutions without which the Church could not exist; he destroyed unity. Who does not remember that exclamation of Melanchthon, “We have committed many errors, and have made good of evil without any necessity for it”?
In justification of the brutal rupture of Germany with Rome, the scandals of the clergy are alleged. But if at the period of the Reformation there were priests and monks in Germany whose conduct was the cause of regret to Christians, their number was not larger than it had been previously. When Luther appeared, there was in Germany a great number of Catholic prelates whose piety the reformers themselves have not hesitated to admire.
What pains they take to deceive us! In books of every size they teach us, even at the present day, that the beast, the man of sin, the creature of Babylon, are the names which God has given in his Scriptures to the pope and the papacy! Can it be imagined that Christ, who died for our sins, and saved us by his blood, would have suffered that for ten or twelve centuries his church should be guided by such an abominable wretch? that he would have allowed millions of his creatures to walk in the shadow of death? and that so many generations should have had no other pastor but Antichrist?
Luther mistook the genius of Christianity in introducing a new principle into the world–the immediate authority of the Bible as the sole criterion of the truth. If tradition is to be rejected, it follows that the Bible cannot be authoritatively explained by acquired knowledge; in a word, human interpretation based upon its comprehensions of the Greek and Hebrew languages. So, by this theory, the palladium of orthodoxy is to be found in a knowledge of foreign tongues, and living authority is replaced by a dead letter; a slavery a thousand times more oppressive than the yoke of tradition. Has any dogmatist succeeded in drawing up a confession of faith by means of the Bible which could not be attacked by means of reason? This formula, that the Bible must be the “unicum principium theologiÃ¦,” is the source of contradictory doctrines in Protestant theology; hence this question arises: “What Protestant theology is there in which there are not errors more or less?” It was the Bible that inspired all the neologists of the sixteenth century; the Bible that they made use of to persecute and condemn themselves as heretics. When Luther maintained that the Bible contains the enunciation of all the truths of which a knowledge is necessary to salvation, and that no doctrine which is not distinctly laid down in the Bible can be regarded as an article of faith, he did not imagine that the time was at hand when everybody, from this very volume, would form a confession for himself, and reject all others which contradicted his individual creed. This necessity for inquiry so occupies the minds of men at the present day that the principal articles of the original creed are rejected by those who call themselves the disciples of Jesus.
Julius Koestlin begins here.
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