Open Letter to Bishop Barron Regarding Martin Luther: I Am Who Am Not?

July 10, 2017

Open Letter to Bishop Barron Regarding Martin Luther: I Am Who Am Not?

By Andrew Parrish

Your Excellency,

You have long had a reputation as a stalwart defender of the Catholic faith. The apologetic work you have done explaining the Faith to both the faithful and the non-Catholic has been an inspiration and a great enlightenment to many. We take this opportunity to thank you for your service, as so many others have already done.

In the light of your theological expertise, it is troubling to see a number of questionable remarks on the subject of Martin Luther appear in the media in recent months, attributed to you. These comments have the potential to be very misleading and need to be addressed.

In particular, we address the column that you wrote on June 17th for, “Looking at Luther with fresh eyes.”

It is possibly true, as you say, that Luther’s experience was one of a blinding insight, a taste of the breathtaking freedom made possible by divine forgiveness; but surely Luther’s love, as evidenced by his words and actions, was a tainted and unhealthy one. Not all loves justify the lover; not all the things which a human can love are worthy of praise. Luther’s love caused him to leave the Church, to whom he was espoused as a priest, and take a human wife, an ex-nun; is this not precisely analogous to the love which causes a man to abandon his wife and live with a mistress - the terrible love of Anna Karenina? Tolstoy knew better than to praise such love, no matter how sincerely and powerfully it was felt.

Luther, you say, was a “mystic of grace”; meaning, presumably, that he intuited or experienced in a mysterious way the power of God’s grace to forgive his sins. As you describe, “at the core of Luther’s life and theology was an overwhelming experience of grace. After years of trying in vain to please God through heroic moral and spiritual effort, Luther realized that, despite his unworthiness, he was loved by a God who had died to save him.” But, your Excellency, the Catholic Church also teaches that we are loved by a God who died to save us. As you acknowledge, Luther struggled for many years with his scrupulosity, a psychosis which plays on an erroneous understanding of the Church’s, and God’s forgiveness. Despite attending Confession, he did not believe he was forgiven.

But it was not God or the Church that tortured Luther. It was Luther. It is generally conceded that he was not a spiritually or psychologically healthy man. His revelation could not be one which would improve upon that of the Catholic Church; healthy loves infused with the true truth do not spring from unhappy hearts desperate to justify an escape from self-imposed psychic prisons. Even if he was in love, his trajectory out of the Church shows that he did not properly understand the subject of his love. God does not reveal Himself as a logical contradiction, “I am who am not”. The church Luther founded stands in contradiction to the one he left.

Luther’s delight in the new bare minimum of “grace” led him to rail against virtue, confession, the Pope, the priests, the Mass, the Church, parts of the Bible, and Christ Himself. The Council of Trent did not condemn him because he loved grace so greatly; it condemned him because he relegated the entire Catholic Church to the waste bin, and encouraged thousands of others to do the same. Luther is an unrepentant and excommunicated heretic, responsible not for a trifling disagreement over Greek words but for a terrible schism that has torn the One Church into tens of thousands of tiny shreds. How are we Catholics to consider him at the same time a “mystic of grace,” or as Pope Francis referred to him, a “witness to the Gospel”? Is his excommunication to be considered lifted, or no longer valid? Or is there no longer considered to be any substantial difference between Lutheran and Catholic theology?

Such statements also make the dialogue which is their purported aim more difficult. Is not the purpose of ecumenical dialogue to convince the peoples of other faiths of the truth of our religion? If this is the case, is it not necessary to be clear on the differences in what we profess? Your response to these questions would be of great value to many ordinary, faithful Catholics who simply do not and cannot understand the apparent contradiction between your appellation, “Mystic of Grace”, and Trent’s “Excommunicated Heretic”.

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By Andrew Parrish

Andrew Parrish is a 2015 graduate of the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland. He holds a BA in Philosophy.

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