Monday, October 31, 2005

Reformation Day and the posting [sic] of the 95 Theses

In light of the fact that many fellow Christians celebrate today as Reformation Day (or yesterday as Reformation Sunday), I'd like to "reprint" one of my earliest posts:
    Luther's 95 Theses

    If you asked anyone who knows anything about Church History in the West to pinpoint a specific moment or event which can be considered the beginning of the Reformation, the answer would probably be Martin Luther's posting of his 95 theses on indulgences on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. By this act, Luther is seen as rejecting the whole medieval system of indulgences and their associated doctrines and practices; in so doing, he makes his break from Rome, or at least begins to do so in a definitive way. In fact, many Protestant churches celebrate October 31st as "Reformation Day", indicating the importance of that date and Luther's actions on it in 1517 vis. the Reformation churches and communities. This date, then, has been widely regarded as the beginning of the Reformation. However...

    In all likelihood, it never happened. Luther never nailed his theses on indulgences to the church door in Wittenberg.

    Skeptical? I was, when I first heard of this theory not long ago. Nonetheless, I ask you to indulge me (pun intended) for a few moments...

    This argument was first made in 1961 (yes, over 40 years ago) by a Jesuit priest and Luther scholar (no, that's not a contradiction in terms) in Germany named Erwin Iserloh. Fr. Iserloh argued that the generally-held narrative was in fact a legend. He made his case based on a variety of arguments, some of which are as follows:

    1. The first written account of Luther's nailing his theses came from Phillip Melanchthon, which he wrote in 1548 three years after Luther was dead and over 30 years after the fact. Furthermore, Phillip wasn't even in Wittenberg in 1517 -- he was called there in 1518 -- meaning that he was not an eyewitness.

    2. Following from this, then, Luther never refers to the alleged event. In fact, he was initially unhappy with the fact that his theses were being spread around Germany; we know from his writings that he had given copies to friends, but that they were to be used for scholarly discussion, not widespread public debate.

    3. We do know from historical records that Luther mailed his theses to his Archbishop, the attached cover letter being very respectful in tone towards Luther's ecclesiastical superior. In other words, Luther did not seek to publicly attack the current doctrine of indulgences (at least not yet), but rather he followed the canonically-correct procedure and mailed his theses to his superior.

    4. Luther also stated in private correspondence after 10/31/1517 that not all of the theses were his opinions. In other words -- and again contrary to widespread belief -- the 95 theses are not an articulation on Luther's own theology of indulgences, at least not in their entirety. This is seen in that around the same time he wrote a Treatise on Indulgences, which I have read in english translation, and which -- by and large -- is perfectly compatible with Catholic teaching on indulgences. Besides the importance of this in and of itself, it corroborates the argument that Luther did not post his 95 theses, in that to do so would mean he was intending for public "consumption" ideas he did not hold to himself, while knowing that they would be circulated exactly as his ideas.

    What does this mean? That in the fall of 1517, Luther was far from the defiant rebel commonly seen by both Catholics and Protestants. Instead, he was a faithful son of the Church who sought a theological discussion on some notions concerning indulgences. It can also be shown that Luther's teaching on indulgences (at this point) was not heretical from a Catholic perspective, but in fact could have been a very positive factor, if it had ever become widely known.

    Finally, most Luther scholars (regardless of church affiliation) today accept Fr. Iserloh's argumentation; while this may not have reached the popular level, those who are heavily involved in studying Martin Luther's thought generally agree that Luther never posted the 95 theses.
As Fr. Jape said, Happy Reformation Day, and many happy returns! ;-)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Mary Jane

Interesting thoughts on the criminalization of marijuana from Nazarene pastor, professor, and theologian John Wright. He made me consider the issue in a manner I never had previously.
Maria Shriver: pro-"choice", pro-embryonic stem cell research, and self-proclaimed "devout Catholic"

Amy Welborn comments.

With Amy, I'd hesitate to describe myself as a "devout Catholic." I prefer orthodox Catholic, but as one of Amy's commenters noted, that can be a bit confusing, so if asked, I'd say I'm a Catholic who recognizes and hence accepts that what the Catholic Church teaches is true.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Catching up...

There are a couple bloggers especially important to the Sioux Falls Diocese that I need to link, and haven't yet:

Fr. Dana Christenson


Seminarian Anthony Urban

Sorry it took so long, guys!

And I know there are other people who have linked me but haven't gotten reciprocal links yet... please comment or email me to remind me! Thanks!

Sharon tagged me; here we go...

On your blog...

1. Go into your archives.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to it).
3. Post the fifth sentence (or closest to it).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same thing.

My 23rd blog was: The Left's Marriage Problem

Fifth line: "Seriously, this is a surprisingly (considering the source) good article on the Left's inexplicable animosity towards marriage; even NOW gets criticized."

Now, I'll tag: Fr. Todd, David Jones, Peter Sean Bradley, Christopher Blosser, and Kevin Miller.

Scooter Libby has been indicted on one count of obstruction, two counts under the False Statements Acts, and two counts of perjury.

What's interesting is that Libby was not charged on the primary matter at hand in this investigation: illegally leaking the name of a covert operative to the press (or anyone else, for that matter).

In any case, my hope is that justice is done: if Libby in fact broke the law, he should be so convicted and punished.

In the meantime, I look forward to blatant hypocrisy and inconsistency sure to come from at least some leftists, who vociferously argued that lying was no big deal when their man Bill did so.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Is it too much to ask politicians to make tought decisions?

From Stanley Kurtz today:
    Here's a piece from USA Today called, "Who will take care of an older population?"

    Funny how MSM didn't print stories like this while the social security debate was going on. In the eyes of history, the president's attempt to do something about the coming entitlement crisis will be seen as an act of immense courage and foresight. The shame will rest on his critics. The Democrats have doomed us to many years of inaction on this issue. Like the French and German left, they are forcing their countries to waste the critical years when something constructive could actually be done to avert the coming danger.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bogged-down quagmire

Via Drudge, I saw this Washington Post piece on anti-war protestors' preparations for the 2,000th US military death in Iraq. At this point, 1,996 US soldiers have lost their lives in operations in Iraq.

As is well-known, opponents of this war like to make comparisons to Vietnam; just like that conflict, they claim, we are bogged down against an elusive foe in a protracted war we cannot win.

Out of curiosity, I googled "vietnam casualties year by year", and one of the search results was this page, which breaks down US casualties in Vietnam year-by-year. When you view this chart, remember that Johnson sent the first combat troops to Vietnam in March of 1965. In that year alone, 1,863 US soldiers were killed. Casualties for the next four years were 6,144, 11,153, 16,589, and 11,614, respectively.

Now, we've been in Iraq for two and a half years, meaning we're losing about 800 lives per year. While we cannot and must not shrug at that number -- any death in combat is a terrible thing -- we also have to have a bit of perspective:

This ain't Vietnam.

Again, make sure you're reading Bill Roggio.

Friday, October 21, 2005

"Some worry the Synod lack[s] theological depth"

That's the title of this section of John Allen's latest "The Word From Rome," in which Allen discusses the observations of some that the synod discussions have been "highly focused on rites, rules, and practical pastoral challenges, with relatively little attention to underlying theological principles."

He discusses this in an interview with Australian Salesian Fr. Francis Moloney, one of the theological experts of the synod, dean of CUA's School of Theology, and former member of the International Theological Commission. Fr. Moloney told Allen, "I believe there has been a fairly mediocre level of discussion among the bishops about ultimate theological and pastoral issues, which is what I think the Holy Father actually wanted." The following is especially fun to read:
    At the same time, Moloney said, the pope's own deep theological reflection should reassure anyone worried about the eventual apostolic exhortation Benedict is expected produce on the basis of the synod's input.

    "I've known him for 18 years," Moloney said. "Don't worry, he'll handle it. What he comes up with will easily outclass anything said in that hall."

Pope Benedict: he's awesome, baby!

Allen's report also mentions something I haven't noted before: that in a recent interview with Polish TV, Benedict said, "I consider it my essential and personal mission not so much to produce many new documents, but to see to it that [John Paul's] documents are assimilated, because they are a very rich treasure, the authentic interpretation of Vatican II."

Amen, Your Holiness.

Benedict's first encyclical

From this CNS story:
    Pope Benedict has yet to publish a major papal document, although he recently completed work on a 46-page encyclical for release in early December. Sources told Catholic News Service that the encyclical was a spiritual meditation focused in large part on "eros" (love) and "logos" (the word) and their relationship to the person of Christ.
This is the first word I've seen the Benedict has completed his first encyclical, and I'm very excited about it! Sounds like great Advent reading!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Catholic Carnival Fifty-Two is up here!
"Slouching Towards Miers: Bush shows himself to be indifferent, if not hostile, to conservative values"

That's the title of Robert Bork's op-ed at OpinionJournal today.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Theologically illiterate

It's deeply unfortunate and a bit embarassing when someone who thinks they know something about something doesn't know much about that something, but still takes up bully pulpits made available to them in order to (unintentionally) reveal their ignorance.

As with pretty much all somethings, this happens in matters theological and ecclesial, from all sorts of perspectives. Because of google news alert, today I found an example of this from a self-described progressive Catholic.

Writing in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, freelance writer Maureen Conners Badding explained why some "progressive Catholics" have spiritual fatigue.

It's all because of that oppressive and stuck-in-the-past hierarchy, you see. A hierarchy which (here comes the list of standard complaints):
  • refuses to ordain married men or women;
  • equates homosexuality with pedophilia;
  • refuses to allow the use of condoms to try to prevent the spread of AIDS;
  • prohibits birth control;
  • migrates away from Vatican II;
  • opposes yoga;
  • prohibits most forms of fertility treatment.
Ms. Conners Badding at one point (with regard to the final complaint) states, "Frankly, I have no idea if this is a new policy, because I've never heard it discussed at Sunday Mass."

That pretty much says it all. Ms. Conners Badding doesn't appear to have spent much time investigating the Church's rationale for its teachings, apart from what she hears in Sunday morning homilies. And frankly, that's pretty evident from her complaints. In some cases, she makes straightforward mistakes (e.g. positing that the Church equates homosexuality and pedophilia). In others, she is more basically unaware of the respective theological argumentation and discussion. For instance, she makes the oft-repeated call for the ordination of married men and women, ostensibly to solve a clergy shortage. Now, those in the know know that the shortage is not universal, even in our country; there are many dioceses here (and in other nations) that are doing quite well in vocations. Furthermore, one need only have some basic awareness of the state of ministry in other communities to know that opening up the ministry in the manner Ms. Conners Badding would prefer has done nothing to alleviate their clergy shortage.

She also claims that the Church has moved away from Vatican II. Based on her editorial, I seriously doubt that she has ever read the conciliar texts, nor that she has much more than a rudimentary understanding of the Council. If she did, she would know that Pope Benedict was an important theologian at the Council, and that he (like his predecessor) have often called for a full and complete implementation of the Council's vision. To state that the Church is moving away from the Council simply betrays her ignorance of that momentous event.

Much more could be said about the specific errors in this article, but there are two broad comments I'd like to conclude with.

First, Ms. Conners Badding's article indicates that rather than form her conscience and faith according to the teachings of the Church in order to serve and evangelize our society (as Vatican II intended [cf. The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity for starters]), she has formed her faith and conscience according to secular standards and has (attempted to) judge her church on that basis. That is, she's got it backwards. I've seen this far too often: people use their own standards of right and wrong (thinking that those standards are self-evident, when in fact that are profoundly problematic) to judge the Church. Such an attitude is many things, but Catholic it is not.

Second, Ms. Conners Badding evidently does not believe what the Church believes about its identity. The Catholic Church claims that it was founded by Jesus Himself, and that He has sent the Holy Spirit to protect the Church from teaching error. In other words, the Church's self-understanding is that her teachings are true, not because of the genius of the hiearchy, but because of the grace and mercy of God.

Ms. Conners Badding obviously does not believe this about the Church. My question to her would be simple: then why be Catholic? Why bother belonging to a religious community if its teachings are not God's teachings? Struggling with particular teachings is one thing; a Catholic failing to believe that the her own Church's teachings come from Jesus is something else entirely.

My prayer and request is that anyone who struggles with a particular church teaching do two things: first, remember and rejoice in the fact that the Church is protected by the Spirit from error; and two, spend some time in prayer and study to better understand whatever teaching bothers them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New Permalink: Ressourcement ~ Restoration in Catholic Theology

Run by Justin Nickelsen, this blog focuses on the work of theologians like Henri de Lubac, Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Danielou, etc.

Justin's been around for a bit now, but I'm just getting around to reading him regularly and (finally) linking him.
SJV in St. Paul

There's a great article in the Star Tribune (yes, the Strib!) about St. John Vianney college seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. It's the place we send most of our college sems and it's great to see such an outstanding article.
"A treasure offered to us"

Today marks the 43rd anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, an event which Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI viewed as a providential event and a gift to the Church in our time.

Let us pray that all the people of the Church respond to the call of both popes for for the full and complete implementation of this Council.

Catholic Carnival 51 is up! Check it out!

Friday, October 07, 2005


Julius Erving joined Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) in urging the Senate to pass a bill that would speed research on umbilical cord blood stem cells.

Way to go, Dr. J!
Who is the god of this world?

I'm prepping for a presentation for next week's Theology on Tap; on a fit of insanity, I decided that I'd give a presentation called "Finding God in Katrina" in which I'd tackle the problem of evil and suffering insofar as it relates to and impacts on faith.

First and foremost, I don't feel equal to this task; please pray for me.

Second, part of my research is David Bentley Hart's excellent work The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? In the course of the text, he discusses the dual usage of "the world" in the New Testament, especially in John's Gospel. In so doing, he references 2 Corinthians 4:4, which refers to "ho theos tou aionos toutou": the god of this world. Guess who that is, according to Paul? Satan!

Just a helpful reminder that we live and participate in a constant struggle, a spiritual warfare.

"Alla tharseite, ego nenikeka tou kosmon": But take heart! [Jesus has] conquered the world!

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Some people are wondering what I think about the Harriet Miers nomination.

With many (all?) conservatives, I'm disappointed. There were better candidates, and I wish the President was more willing to go outside his circle of comfort. My desire was for a serious intellectual candidate who could challenge the prevailing philosophies in the legal world. I don't think that's Harriet Miers.

But I do believe the President when he says she shares his judicial philosophy, and I am confident that she will properly judge the cases that come before the Court, even though her opinions may not be high-powered intellectual tomes.

So, I guess I tend to side more with Hugh Hewitt et al than Ramesh Ponnuru et al.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Iraq: A Just War?

As long-time readers of this blog know, I'm inclined to think that the Iraq War was (and is) just, especially in regard to the reasons for going to war. (To clarify, the question of "just war" touches on both why a war is fought and how it is fought; the focus here will be on the former.)

There are, of course, plenty of people who oppose the war, and for plenty of reasons. Some of those reasons are ridiculous, but some of them are at least plausible and understandable. I'm happy to see that most of those Catholics who view the war as unjust are in the latter camp.

Over the last week or so, I've been involved in a combox discussion with such a Catholic: Dr. J.P. Hubert, Jr., MD FACS at David Jones' blog (at this post). Dr. Hubert identifies himself as a Catholic ethicist, and although it does not appear that his formal education (at least at the graduate level) is in theology, his writing and argumentation indicates a good degree of familiarity and facility with Catholic moral theology.

I've decided to write a post on this discussion primarily for myself, that (hopefully) I might better lay out my position with regard to my discussion with Dr. Hubert.

As I've indicated in the most recent comments, the Schwerpunkt of our disagreement concerns this question: is the initiation of hostilities always immoral? That is, is it ever morally licit to actually attack another country first, before they attack us? Dr. Hubert believes the answers to those two questions are yes and no, respectively, while I take the opposite view.

In his recent comments, Dr. Hubert fleshes out his position in a number of ways. First, he argues that the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which addresses the issue of just war doctrine is entitled "Avoiding War". That is, the very fact that the CCC discusses just war under the section title "Avoiding War" indicates that the attacking first is always illicit.

Here, Dr. Hubert is giving far more weight to a section title than those titles merit. As with Scripture, Magisterial texts must be read with an awareness of the author's intention as well as the literary genre of the text. Section titles in the CCC do not serve as the basis for drawing doctrinal or dogmatic conclusions.

Dr. Hubert also notes that the Magisterium has never advocated initiating hostilities, and with that I agree, because it is true. Nonetheless, the lack of advocation is not the same as condemnation. For the Magisterium to not-assert that x is true is not to assert that x is false.

Dr. Hubert also notes that the CCC does not mention the initiation of hostilities in the section on just war doctrine, and again I agree. But again, I must note that this cannot be taken as an argument to prove that the Magisterium categorically and absolutely condemns the initiation of hostilities. The absence of an approving assertion is the not the same as a condemnation.

In one of my comments, I raised the issue of initiating an attack against a nation which is committing genocide against its own people. My argument was that if initiating hostilities was always wrong, then it would also always be wrong to attack such a nation. Dr. Hubert attempts to answer this argument as follows:
    Genocide is a unique case which represents an "aggressive attack" on an entire race or ethnic group. The entity in question is morally justified in defending against it by the principles of the JWD. If a functional peace-keeping universal entity exists (such as the U.N) whose province it is to help defend against unjust aggression including Genocide, then such a defense is morally licit (by the second law of Christ) if the entity in question is unable to repel the aggressor without it. The Magisterium supports such an action if it is advocated by a properly responsible international body. This is supportable on the basis of mercy (love) if not in justice. Importantly, the defensive action is a response to the unjust aggression of Genocide. Any unilateral such action would be more problematic however but that is a fine-point not in question here.
Here is the problem: CCC 2309 states that a just war requires damage by the aggressor (in this case, the nation committing genocide) against another nation or nations. This does not obtain in this example. If one follows the hermeneutic indicated by Dr. Hubert in his analysis of the CCC, then one is forced to conclude that it would always and everywhere be immoral for one nation or nations to initiate hostilities against a genocidal nation which has never attacked another country. (NB: I think this is a mistaken hermeneutic; I am only demonstrating the consequences it entails.)

Dr. Hubert also argues that the Magisterium in fact has indicated positively that the Iraq War was unjust. He references Pio Cardinal Laghi's mission to President Bush prior to the war, at the direction and behest of Pope John Paul II (Cardinal Laghi then relayed the Holy Father's opposition to the war). He also quotes Cardinal Ratzinger's statement, “There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war'.”

A few comments are in order. Primarily and paramount, neither of these examples constitute a direct and public teaching by the Magisterium. This is not deconstruction of language, but rather constitutes a close reading of Magisterial actions. Take the first example: a meeting whose contents are intended to remain private is de facto not a public teaching. The second example indicates the personal opinion of the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF (it's important to note that while the man who made "statement x" would later be elected pope, it is misleading to state that "the pope said 'statement x'"); now, I see Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict as one of the greatest theologians and church leaders of the last century. But on this point, I think he is wrong, and his views on the matter have never been communicated as the definitive teaching of the teaching office of the Catholic Church.

Finally -- and to return to an earlier point -- it is important in this discussion to keep in mind the genre of the CCC. Like every other catechism, it is intended as a basic summary of the essential teachings of the Church. This means many things, but one thing is does not mean is that it treats every issue in a completely thorough manner; that is simply not the raison d'être of a catechism. Take an issue on which I have probably the most familiarity: the theology of grace. The CCC offers the basic summary of the Catholic Church's teaching on grace, but it is in no way an exhaustive presentation of that theology. The same is true with its presentation of just war doctrine: it is a basic summary, not a thorough presentation. James Turner Johnson and others have powerfully argued that there is much, much more which can be said about this issue than is found in the CCC.

As Dr. Hurbert notes, the issue of the initiation of hostilities is not the only source of our disagreement, but as I noted at the opening of this post, I do believe that it is the focal point of that disagreement.

Finally, I want to note that Dr. Hurbert has been the epitome of a curteous interlocutor in our discussions, and I thank him for that.

I look forward to the continuation of this discussion.

Update: Stephen Hand of Traditional Catholic Reflections & Reports offers some thoughts (scroll down a bit) on the above post. Stephen is opposed to the war, and he has long argued his case with those who disagree. You can find his comments at the link provided; here is the response I emailed to him:

Stephen, I'm not sure why you offered the quote you did from my post, b/c the substance of your reply doesn't seem to relate to the particular issue I was discussing there, i.e. the problem of a genocidal regime as it relates to the morality of initiating hostilities against said regime.

In any case, that nations have alluded to alleged defensive motives in order to rationalize illicit first-strikes does not in and of itself invalidate the notion that the initiation of hostilities can be morally licit. Abusus non tollit usum: the abuse of something is not an argument against that thing.

I'll also grant that the CCC does not address preventive war, but as I said in my post, that is not the same thing as a condemnation of such a war. Again, I'll grant that Cardinal Ratzinger saw the war as most likely (and perhaps certainly) unjust. But he never proferred that view in his official capacity as Prefect of the CDF, and hence faithful Catholics can disagree with him.

I fully agree that the notion of disagreement with the CDF Prefect (let alone the Holy Father himself) requires careful thought and discernment. But it can be licit. It's well-known that Ratzinger looked askance at the Assissi meetings, even thought they were a "pet" of JPII's. I am not saying that my wisdom and intellect match Ratzinger's, but I do think that there are problems with the position he articulated.

For instance, in the same statement you are referring to, he doubted that just war was even possible today. In and of itself (i.e. prescinding from context which was perhaps not revealed), that is a difficult statement to make sense of. The Vatican itself publicly agreed that the US's actions against the Taliban were licit. (In fact, come to think of it, one might argue that the same arguments being employed against the justice of the Iraq War also obtain with regard to Afghanistan, in that that nation did not initiate hostilities against the US.) [This strikes me as an important point.] Furthermore, with the development of technologies that greatly reduce the danger to innocents, it seems that it's easier to be in accord with the tenets of that doctrine.