Luther At the Stake. No, At the Altars. The Double Vision of the Jesuit Pope
Yesterday he saw the Protestant Reformation as the root of all evil. Today he celebrates it as “medicine for the Church.” But he doesn’t appear to have retracted his critiques. Here they are, word for word
by Sandro Magister
ROME, October 27, 2016 – In four days, Francis will fly to Lund, Sweden, where he will be welcomed by the local female bishop, to celebrate together with the Lutheran World Federation the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation:
No pope before him has ever shown such warm admiration for Luther.
Asked about the great heretic during the press conference on the return flight from Armenia, Francis said that Luther was moved by the best of intentions, and that his reform was “medicine for the Church,” skimming over the essential dogmatic divergences that for five centuries have pitted Protestants and Catholics against each other, because – these are again his words, this time spoken in the Lutheran temple of Rome – “life is greater than explanations and interpretations”.
The ecumenism of Francis is made like this. The primacy goes to the gestures, the embraces, some charitable act done together. He leaves doctrinal disagreements, even the most profound, to the discussions of theologians, whom he would gladly confine “to a desert island,” as he loves to say only half-jokingly.
But Jorge Mario Bergoglio also formed his own idea about Luther, Calvin, and Protestantism in general. An idea that he now keeps bottled up inside, but that in the past, when he was neither pope nor bishop, he was not afraid to let out in the open.
It was the summer of 1985 when Bergoglio, an ordinary Jesuit at the time, gave a conference in Mendoza, Argentina dedicated precisely to the strenuous five-century battle between the Society of Jesus and the Protestants. And the passages in which he lashed out with devastating fury against the thought and work of Luther and Calvin are reproduced further below.
Thirty years later, none of that invective is to be found in the highly friendly words and actions that Bergoglio, having become pope, addresses to the Protestants. But that does not necessarily mean that he has disowned those radical criticisms on the inside.
These, in fact, have been republished as-is, in Spanish and Italian, in two books that he authorized and that were released after his election as pope:
The Spanish edition of the book was edited by Grupo de Comunicación Loyola, an official expression of the Society of Jesus.
And the Italian edition also has a preface by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the Jesuit closer than any other to Pope Francis, his advisor, confidant, and ghost writer. Who, in summarizing Bergoglio’s anti-Protestant indictment, not only does not distance himself from it in the least, but even presents it as “a sumptuous tapestry from which one can easily understand the pope’s manner of proceeding, founded on two pillars: reality and discernment.”
When the Italian edition of the book came out, in the middle of 2014, the eminent Protestant theologian Paolo Ricca, a Waldensian, expressed his desolate astonishment in an editorial in the magazine “Riforma”:
Ricca wrote, with one eye on the preface by Fr. Spadaro:
“I find it hard to believe that the current pontiff would think these things about Calvin and the Reformation, when they have no place in heaven or on earth and no Catholic historian, at least among those I know and read, has said them in a long time. And given that the Jesuits, when they were formed, took upon themselves the task, in addition to the mission among the pagans, of combating Protestantism in every way possible, as in fact happened, then if the Protestantism that they fought is the one ‘frescoed’ by Bergoglio, they must know that they fought a phantom Protestantism that never existed, a pure polemical idol created only out of their imagination, which had little or nothing to do with the famous ‘reality,’ which they nonetheless wanted to take as a ‘pillar’ of their ‘way of proceeding’.”
And he concluded:
“I wonder how it is possible still to have today, or even thirty years ago, such a deformed, distorted, mistaken, and substantially false vision of the Protestant Reformation. It is a vision with which one cannot begin a polemic, let alone a dialogue: this is not worthwhile, because it is too far away from and out of step with reality. One thing is certain: on the basis of such a vision, an ecumenical celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, in 2017, appears literally impossible.”
And yet Pope Francis has done it. His festive journey to Lutheran Sweden is the proof. “The audacity of the impossible” is also the rallying cry of the new superior general of the Jesuits, elected a few days ago.
To perform the miracle, all it took was for Bergoglio to pretend to have entirely forgotten about his talk thirty years ago in Mendoza.
Here it is. All of it worth rereading, on the verge of the celebration in Lund.
Luther: a “crazy idea” developed in heresy and schism
by Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Many times Saint Ignatius has been called the bastion of the Counter-Reformation. There is truth in this, but [. . .] the Jesuits were more worried about Calvin than about Luther. [. . .] They had shrewdly grasped that the true danger for the Church lay there.
Calvin was the great thinker of the Protestant Reformation, the one who organized it and brought it to the level of culture, society, and the Church; he shaped an organization that Luther had not envisioned. He, the impetuous German who probably had planned at the most to give life to a national Church, was reinterpreted and reorganized by that cold Frenchman, a Latin genius versed in jurisprudence, who was Calvin.
Luther was viewed as a heretic. Calvin, moreover, as a schismatic. Let me explain myself. Heresy – to use Chesteron’s definition – is a good idea gone mad. When the Church cannot heal its madness, then heresy turns into schism. Schism implies rupture, division, separation, independent consolidation; it progresses by subsequent stages until it gains its autonomy. Saint Ignatius and his successors would fight against schismatic heresy.
And what is the Calvinist schism that would bring about the struggle of Ignatius and the first Jesuits? It is a schism that touches upon three areas: man, society, and the Church. [. . .]
In man, Calvinism would provoke the schism between reason and emotion. It separates reason from the heart. On the emotional level the man of that century, and under the Lutheran influence, would live out the anguish over his own salvation. And, according to Calvin, that anguish was nothing to worry about. All that mattered was attending to the questions of intellect and will.
This is the origin of Calvinist wretchedness: a rigid discipline with a great distrust in that which is vital, the foundation of which is faith in the total corruption of human nature, which can be put into order only by the superstructure of human activity. Calvin effects a schism within man: between reason and the heart.
Moreover, within the faculty of reason itself, Calvin provokes another schism: between positive knowledge and speculative knowledge. This is the scientism that shatters metaphysical unity and provokes a schism in the intellective process of man. Every scientific object is taken as absolute. The most sure science is geometry. Geometric theorems will be a sure reference guide for thought. This schism, having taken place within human reason itself, strikes at the whole speculative tradition of the Church and the whole humanistic tradition.
The Calvinist schism then strikes at society. This will remain divided by it. As the bearers of salvation, Calvin privileges the middle classes. [. . .] This implies and involves a revolutionary disrespect for the people. There is no longer people nor nation, and what instead takes shape is an international association of the bourgeoisie.
With an anachronism we could apply here the formula of Marx: “Bourgeoisie of the whole world, unite,” despising anything that might signify the nobility of the people. With this attitude Calvin is the true father of liberalism, which was a political strike at the heart of the people, at their way of being and expressing themselves, at their culture, at their way of being civic, political, artistic, and religious.
On the social level, this is probably most noticeable first in the elaboration of Hobbes (according to whom men had to brought to live together by means of deception and force, while the state, the “modern Leviathan,” existed simply to keep egoism at bay and avoid anarchy, legitimizing a logic of authority, since there was no natural law) and then of Locke, much more sophisticated but no less cruel.
Hobbes asserts a heartless “power,” with an absolutist and rationalist justification. Locke dresses all of this in “civil composure” and seeks to redefine society while excluding the people.
Locke’s position is the following: he begins from the admission of a certain natural law and wields the slogan “reason teaches that. . .” in order to then draw – as if by magic – conclusions that justify that social schism: man – because he transcends his natural corruption through activism – can possess the fruit of his work as long as that fruit is not corruptible. This leads to money and the money-focused character of liberalism.
Moreover, reason teaches that man has the right to buy work; and this gives rise to two kinds of workers: those who possess incorruptible goods and those who do not possess them. The state has the function of keeping order between these two categories of workers, preventing the rebellion of the latter against the former. At bottom, Calvinist-schismatic-liberal thought is claiming for the second group of workers the power of rebellion, what we would call today the rebellion of the proletariat. In the end, Marxism is the inevitable child of liberalism. [. . .]
In the third place, the Calvinist schism wounds the Church. [. . .] It supplants the universality of the people of God with the internationalism of the bourgeoisie. [. . .] It decapitates the people of God from unity with the Father. It decapitates all the professional confraternities, depriving them of the saints. And, by suppressing the Mass, it deprives the people of God of mediation in Christ really present. [. . .]
At bottom, Calvin had tried to save man, whom the Lutheran perspective had thrown into anguish. In Luther one encounters the intention of saving man from Renaissance paganism, but that intention had developed into a “crazy idea,” or heresy. Thus Calvin, with the legislative coldness that characterizes him, starts from the distressing Lutheran framework and progresses in this way: man is corrupt; therefore, discipline.
This leads to what we know as “Protestant rigor.” This proposes signs of salvation that are different from those of Catholics – the ones that we cited previously – and the sign is the work of accumulation. Almost as if one were to equate the fruits of work with the signs of salvation. We could simplify it in a caricatured form with this axiom: “You will be saved if you obtain the wealth that is obtained with work.” And so the middle class is formed.
Starting from the Lutheran position, if we are consistent, there remain only two possibilities from which to choose in the course of history: either man falls apart in his anguish, and he is no longer anything at all (and this is the conclusion of atheist existentialism), or man, basing himself on that same anguish and corruption, makes a leap in the void and declares himself superman (this is the option of Nietzsche).
At bottom Nietzsche regenerates Hobbes, in the sense that the “ultima ratio” of man is power. Authority is possible only in opposition to love, on the basis of the opposition within man between reason and heart. Such power, as the “ultima ratio,” implies the death of God. This is a paganism that, in the cases of Nazism and Marxism, would acquire organized forms in political systems.
The Lutheran perspective, since it is founded precisely on the divorce between faith and religion (it in fact conceives of faith as the only salvation and accuses religion – acts of religion, piety, and so on – of being a mere manipulation of God), generates divorce and schism; it entails all the forms of individualism that, on the social level, affirms their hegemony.
Any sort of hegemony, whether religious, political, social, or spiritual, has its origin here.
In 1985, when he gave this conference, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was 49 years old and was rector of the Colegio Máximo di San Miguel. From 1973 to 1979 he had been provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina.
On his current approach to Lutheran and Calvinist Protestantism, see:
> A Pope Like None Before. Somewhat Protestant (22.7.2016)
One example of this new approach concerns Eucharistic communion.
Among the radical criticisms that Bergoglio made against Reformed Protestantism in his 1985 conference was that of “suppressing the Mass,” and therefore of “depriving the people of God of mediation in Christ really present.”
Which leads to the incompatibility between the two visions of the Eucharist.
But in practical terms today Pope Francis is showing himself more than willing to remove the prohibition on receiving communion together between Catholics and Protestants, as he conveyed in his answer to the question from a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic last November 15, while he was visiting the Lutheran church in Rome:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.