October 31 marks precisely five hundred years since the symbolic beginning of the Protestant Reformation. And on the part of the highest officials of the Catholic Church, the celebrations so far have been practically a one-way street: a chorus of praise for Martin Luther. “A medicine for the Church,” Pope Francis said of him in taking stock of his ecumenical journey in Swedenexactly one year ago.
“L’Osservatore Romano,” however, or “La Civiltà Cattolica” have been cautious not to republish what Jorge Mario Bergoglio wrote about Luther and Calvin before he was elected pope.
Only one of his texts on the Protestant Reformation has been preserved, from about thirty years ago. But it was republished in 2014 with a preface by the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, director of “La Civiltà Cattolica” and one of Pope Francis’s closest confidants, without the slightest disclaimer of the crushing anti-Protestant invectives contained in it.
When the text came back to light, in fact, the eminent Protestant theologian Paolo Ricca, a Waldensian, expressed his consternation in an editorial for the magazine “Riforma”:
“I ask myself how it is possible to have still today, or even thirty years ago, such a deformed, distorted, mistaken, and substantially false view of the Protestant Reformation. It is a view with which it is impossible to begin a dialogue, or even an argument, it is so far and divergent from reality.”
Going so far as to doubt whether the anniversary of the Reformation could be celebrated together with the current pope.
“One thing is certain: on the basis of such a view, an ecumenical celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, in 2017, appears to be literally impossible.”
However, as is well known, Pope Francis has succeeded and then some in retying the threads of dialogue and in establishing in public opinion the image of a Catholic Church friendlier than ever with Luther and grateful for what he did.
Naturally, setting aside entirely that text of his. Which it could be useful to read and is linked here:
But this censure of the anti-Lutheran Bergoglio is not the only one of this season of ecumenism. To it can be added another: on an author who is among the most prominent writers for “L’Osservatore Romano,” Marco Vannini, a renowned expert on theology and mysticism, especially that of Germany, and a scholar of Luther.
Vannini published a book this year that says right from the title what side he takes: “Against Luther and the false Gospel.”
Vannini calls himself “perhaps heretical but Roman Catholic,” although in an article in 2004, under the reign of pope Karol Wojtyla, “La Civiltà Cattolica” adjudged that he “excludes transcendence, suppresses the essential truths of Christianity, and by way of Neoplatonism inexorably arrives at a modern Gnosticism.”
The fact remains that with Pope Francis he has become a regular writer for “L’Osservatore Romano.”
But not this time. Not even one line on his erudite book against Luther. Curiously, it was noted in Italy only by the magazine “Il Regno,” an authoritative voice of progressive Catholicism, with an interview of the author.
An interview in which Vannini begins like this:
“My familiarity with the texts of Luther dates back to my youth; then I moved on to my predominant interest, German mysticism before and after the Reformation. The controversy over Luther is certainly ‘outdated’, because in my view the Catholic or ex-Catholic world has incorporated ideas, tendencies, and ways of being from the Lutheran Protestant world. Lutheranism and the Reformation in general are responsible for one of the gravest evils of our world: individualism, the primacy of the subject who centers himself on self-love, which is ‘radix omnis mali et peccati’, the root of all evil and sin, as Saint Augustine said and Meister Eckhart often repeated. This is the reason for my hostility toward Lutheranism. It is no coincidence that Luther is so beloved by self-proclaimed secularists who have no affection for Christ or Christianity.”
Further on in the interview Vannini doubles down on his criticism. Both against the use that Luther makes of Sacred Scripture:
“I really do not forgive the use that Luther makes, at his pleasure, of Scripture, for example when he defines one text as absolutely the word of God, separating it from all the rest, or when he takes what he needs from Scripture and throws away what doesn’t work. Years ago, when I edited the prefaces for Luther’s Bible, his manipulations against the pope seemed intolerable to me.”
And against his rejection of the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle:
“The authentic Gospel consists in the fact that the light of God, the eternal light, is always and no matter what on every man. In Luther I find instead something diabolical, there is a spirit of deceit that contrasts with the nobility of the spirit, with the truth and with the profound honesty that one experiences in reading the great philosophers. When Luther lays into philosophy, calling it a ‘prostitute of dialogue’, I perceive a radical hostility: here his false Gospel is going strong. It is false because it does not arise from the universality of reason, which is the most precious thing we possess, but is the fruit of his particular decisions.”
Vannini goes so far as to sweep away, together with Luther, even the apostle Paul:
“The Christian faith without the lesson of ancient philosophy would be defunct. Today perhaps it could be a form of gnosticism or one sect among the many if it had not met on its way those great and honest philosophers who were also Christians, and whom Luther insults and despises. Christianity would not have survived with Paul alone, whom Luther however loves so much. On this it would be necessary to read Nietzsche, a powerful psychologist who unmasks the profound self-affirmation of Paul, who begins the letter to the Romans by shamelessly insulting the classical world: something that is absolutely dishonest.”
Ideas worthy of discussion, as can be seen, all the more so at a commemoration like the present one. But the official Vatican organs have carefully held back from commenting on them, as if the only applicable watchword were to say that the Protestant Reformation was “an event of the Holy Spirit.”
In fact, poor Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, the ousted ex-prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, has no platform left but a “foreign” blog to repeat the elementary and enduring differences that divide the Catholic Church from Protestantism:
> Quella di Lutero? Non fu riforma, ma rivoluzione
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)