Catholic Guilt

June 10, 2009

I was watching Dead Zone the other night with Chris, the episode “Transgressions” in the final season. At one point, Johnny tells Sarah he just feels so guilty, and she quips, “It’s all the Catholics you’ve been hanging around.” Odyssey 5 also comes to mind in which someone tells another, “You’re Catholic, you always feel guilty.” After I finished reading Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, I decided I was too harsh on her, that she wasn’t being deliberately malicious, and decided to email her and ask why she made certain characters Catholic. She responded by saying “Because [she has] many Catholic friends who suffer guilt until they realize how much God loves them.”

Where did the “guilty Catholic” come from? Personally, I have never met a Catholic who’s tortured by guilt. I feel no guilty motivations for any “works” I may do, though Lord knows I have plenty in my life to feel guilty about. When I asked Chris, he joked, “I feel guilty for not feeling guilty!” Although as far as I can tell, this stereotype has little basis in reality, it is a widespread and deeply ingrained stereotype. I can only speculate as to its origin.

The Original Guilty Catholic

Maybe we can look back to the Reformation. Martin Luther was initially wholly motivated by guilt. At least that’s the picture I got from his biography, Luther the Reformer. He ran from pilgrimage to pilgrimage, in a frenzy to rack up his good works points and wipe out his guilty debts, which eventually led to his “faith alone” epiphany. Repeatedly, he was told by his fellow monks to look to the cross, but was plagued knowing he could never do enough to be righteous, and stand before a righteous God, of his own merit. When I accused Luther of pride in a conversation with a friend, because Luther somehow believed his sins were too great for the usual method of salvation from the cross, he told me this form of pride is called despondency. I’m willing to venture that the generic guilty Catholic stems from despondency. I think Luther’s pride is also seen when he believed that he was the only one whose interpretation of Scripture was correct, and that his belief was enough to save him. Focuses way too much on himself to be of Christ. Enough about Luther, the original guilty Catholic.

Why Catholics Might Feel Guilty

The difference between Protestants and Catholics in how we see ourselves, is that Catholics believe what we do matters, but we take full credit for our sins, and only share in any credit for the good we may do by God’s grace. Of course, many of the far removed Protestant denominations believe the same thing (my parents and I agree on the technicalities of this issue, a great relief!), but this was a crucial breaking point during the Reformation. “Faith alone” means what we do doesn’t actually matter in that it doesn’t affect anything, it is merely proof of faith without our free will. Always keep in mind, Luther emphasized grace to the point of condemning free will in even our decision to accept Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Calvin took things further and said our damnation and even our sins are designed by God to increase His glory, we have no choice in anything. Both thought that any effort on our part was pride, and that any claim to glory on our part was an attempt to take away glory from God. Of course, increasing the glory of His loved ones increases His glory, especially since we can only be glorified if we become like Christ. How can that be prideful?

This kind of disconnect with our actions doesn’t make much sense, and it scrambles any of the beauty of our relationship with God because free giving of our selves is crucial to any real relationship. If what we do doesn’t matter, then why are we here? That’s why many Protestant denominations have drifted back to Catholic dogmas, without a clue as to their roots.

So here is the defining Catholic feature: we must do things. There’s really not much that we must do, and Augustine assessed it as a very easy yoke to bear indeed, especially compared to the old law. There are observances of a few “sweet” sacraments, and obedience to those in authority. Like any kind of guilt, I’m assuming that of the guilty Catholics (I’m sure some do exist though I haven’t met them), comes from knowing that either you’ve done something wrong or you haven’t done what you should do. In the Catholic Faith, what we should and shouldn’t do is more clearly defined than in many other faiths or denominations, so I guess it makes sense that there is a guilty Catholic stereotype. Maybe it has sprung, not from real experience with guilty Catholics, but from what people imagine they would feel if they were Catholic and had to follow “all those rules”.

It’s true that the Catholic punishments are also well defined. There is the sacrament of reconciliation and penance. Usually, people are instructed to right their hearts through prayer, not to sin again, and are forgiven. Doesn’t sound awfully guilt inducing to me, but hey, I haven’t actually gone through it yet. Then there is the punishment of Purgatory, although as C. S. Lewis puts it, our souls cry for the purifying fires of Purgatory. We would not wish to stand before a righteous God without being purified. The pain of Purgatory is a sweet pain when thought of that way. The only real catch in all the Catholic rules is that we must mean it. Everything is vain without faith that bears fruit in love. If someone obeys all the rules, and goes to confession, does their penance, etc., but does so without love of God or faith in His mercy and salvation, they must know in their heart they haven’t fulfilled the greatest prerequisite to accepting God’s grace. So is the guilty Catholic really the same as a guilty Protestant, just better defined?

Why Catholics Shouldn’t Feel Guilty (and most don’t)

Of course, those familiar with Catholic beliefs know we can never merit our salvation, and even the good works we do are not by our own merit, but Christ’s. Salvation and our lives here on Earth are not about us, and we need to avoid pride, which leads us to believe it is. Instead, we must realize that all we are capable of is cooperating with Christ, and allowing God’s grace to work in our lives. Any good that we do or have is only by God’s grace. So the pressure to “earn” salvation would seem to me an entirely invented pressure, designed to make us feel more important than we are.

That must be the key. Realize that it’s not about us! It’s not about fearing His punishments or even fulfilling a list of requirements. It’s about God, and loving His laws, because you love Him and want to please Him and be conformed to His will. When we realize that, the pride of giving ourselves credit, and beating up ourselves with guilt disappears. Because then, we see that our sins are washed away by Christ’s more than adequate sacrifice. Our works are performed in earnest effort to be closer to God and conform to His will. The good we do is not ours, and the bad we do doesn’t matter in light of the cross, like Luther’s peers told him.

I don’t know how Luther could have missed it, because as I’ve said before, the heart of the Catholic Faith is sacrificing our pride, our selves, and surrendering to Christ. I know the Church of his time was a hyperactive abused thing, but it’s all there in the catechisms and councils. Guilt was conquered at the cross. We realize that nothing we do is enough to stand before a righteous God, but that He has done enough. What we do matters, because we choose to accept or reject God, His grace, and His will in our lives. We choose to respond in love or pride, and consequently feel peace or guilt.


This is all more of a journal entry pondering this stereotype that I find bizzare, and doesn’t really qualify as a public statement. Do I understand it right? Or is the guilty Catholic outside my reach still?

Catholicism 101: Do whatever work is before you for the glory of God

February 18, 2009

James Swan has just yesterday posted an article entitled “Steve Ray Reinvents Protestant Spirituality” on James White’s blog, Pros Apologian. He asserts that the concept of living a daily spiritual existence, in which every mundane task like diaper changing is done for the glory of God, is “Protestant theology 101”. I find his assertion strange, especially since it is that very aspect of the Catholic Church that I find to be most beautiful and true.

Even a superficial look at the Catholic way of life shows an emphasis on doing whatever work is before you for the glory of God. Opus Dei, began by Josemaría Escriva, is a Catholic society dedicated to “Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace” (also a title of a Scott Hahn book). Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium declares the Catholic’s Universal Call to Holiness. Mother Teresa expounded the idea of working every day for the love of God with her actions, but also says, “There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in – that we do it to God, to Christ, and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.” and, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” Further back in time, in the 1600’s, we see Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk who wrote Practice of the Presence of God, saying such things as “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” and, “People seek methods of learning to know God. Is it not much shorter and more direct to simply do everything for the love of Him? There is no finesse about it. One only has to do it generously and simply.”

Also, there is a contemporary of Luther, St. Francis de Sales who wrote Introduction to the Devout Life. He says: “It is… an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state. Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.”

My mind boggles that someone can fail to see this ordinary devotional life in Catholicism, especially since my experience of Protestantism has focused on the exact opposite, in which everyone strove to attain places of honor and get recognition for their own glory rather than God’s. Regardless of what Luther taught or intended, the post-denominational Protestants speak little about striving to serve God in the small things, and are more about winning souls for Christ. Although the Catholic Church meets every individual where they are at and encourages ordinary devotions, they still hold in high regard the sacred life of the devoted religious.

You can see where Swan is coming from, though, that is the medieval perspective of Martin Luther. He says, “Martin Luther joined the monastery because he was serious about his soul and being truly spiritual” which isn’t strictly true. Although from a pious family, the reason Luther joined a monastery is because, fearing for his life during a thunderstorm, he made a vow to God that if he lived he would become a monk. Luther preached on “the sacredness of every calling, whether one was a cobbler, blacksmith, or mother. Whatever one does, one should do to the glory of God”. This is worthy preaching. However, Luther took this too far when he went on to condemn monastic life as useless and believed it was a vain attempt to merit your own salvation. His biography describes the impact of his preaching on monastic life, so that monks were freed from their vows “to take up useful occupations” and those who remained monks were urged to be useful as well in “preaching, physical labor, and caring for others”. (Luther the Reformer: The story of the man and his career, p 179-180)

Luther says: “Hence direct all the good you can do and your whole life to the end that it be good; but it is good only when it is useful to other people and not to yourself… If you find a work in you by which you benefit God or his saints or yourself and not your neighbor, know that such a work is not good.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:36]. This is plain wrong and appears to be the foundation of the infamous Protestant work ethic that has led to unbridled competition in capitalism and threatens to destroy the free citizen (see Belloc’s Crisis of Civilization). At the foundation of this admonition to be useful to others is the rejection of the Catholic mantra “life matters”.

If we are only good when we are useful and productive, then our life as a thing in itself has no value. Then the elderly, disabled, or unborn are easily disposable “for the good of the many”. Take it a step further and we see a scene forming from the Twilight Zone’s “The Obsolete Man“. Someone may object that I’m being overly dramatic and that Protestants themselves do not condone the destruction of life, truth, or beauty. However, I still maintain that this is the underlying attitude in Luther’s attack on monastic life. We see the fruits of this in post-Reformation Protestant culture. Liberty and quality of life has become more important than life itself and the sacred is no longer recognized.

Also, this attitude prioritizing usefulness and rejecting the sacred led to the pillaging and destruction of medieval churches in the Reformation revolts as well as the seizure of the Church charities that were placed in the public chest for the poor. This echos a familiar tune:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. (Matthew 26:6-10)

There is honor due our Lord, and it cannot be forsaken in favor of a lesser commandment. God is honored when people sets themselves apart for His service, and like Christ says above, they do a beautiful thing for Him. The Old and New Testament both bear witness to the consecrated lives of different individuals. Nearly all the Old Testament prophets lived consecrated lives, but Samuel in particular is a good example. From before his birth, he was promised as a nazirite to God, destined to live set apart and to dwell at the temple solely in service of the Lord (1 Samuel 1). In the New Testament, John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and ate locust and wild honey so that he might prepare the way for the Lord (Mark 1:1-8). Even Paul advocates remaining single to “live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor 7:35) How can this be considered a bad thing, and how can anyone deny the deeper relationship with God that is found through perpetual prayer and devotion to God?

When Luther rejected the monastic way of poverty, chastity, and obedience, he destroyed the sacred. He undermined the beauty and truth of the Christian way of life, and failed to see the immense value of the prayers of the religious and example in a life set apart. It seems when the innate value of life and the holiness of God are misunderstood, we not only fail to treat God as he should be treated, but also fail to treat others with the reverence we should. As a Protestant, Mother Teresa’s saying “each one of them is Jesus in disguise” was a foreign concept to me. I was told we should be Christ’s light, not that others are like Christ to us. When you lack a piece of the truth, the entire system comes crashing down.

I don’t believe that Luther intentionally did these things or could have known where his reform would lead. He was motivated by a fundament misunderstanding of the Catholic faith. He initially approached it from the perspective of avoiding Hell rather than doing all for the love of God. He obsessed that his sins no matter how small always separated him from God’s perfect righteousness, a righteousness he hated (Luther the Reformer, p. 87-88), and he could never do enough to merit his salvation. In this he was right, since there was no love motivating even the smallest work he did, of course nothing he did would please God in the slightest. Swan promulgates Luther’s misunderstandings by saying “For a Roman Catholic, one must become perfectly spiritual in order to become justified. The soul must become objectively pleasing to God to merit heaven.” This misses the mark and distorts and amplifies only a small portion of the gospel.

There is no need to be “perfectly spiritual” to be justified. Catholics believe they are justified by grace through faith, and by virtue of our baptism. They believe we can do nothing to merit our justification, but that “justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). They teach that faith gives fruit in love, and those who love God keep his commandments, though imperfectly, which does not jeopardize their salvation. They also believe that in adhering ourselves to the divine will, we continue our justification in that we become more like Christ and sanctified. Perfect sanctification is desired to the point of necessity in order to stand before a holy God, which is attained in this life or in Purgatory. They do not believe that you can be saved in Purgatory, but that only those who are saved already are cleansed of earthly attachment to be made holy and fit to stand before a righteous God.

“We are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification.” [Council of Trent, Session 6, Ch. 8]

They, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written; He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs, when she prays, “Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity.”
[Council of Trent, Session 6, Ch. 10]

“For, whoso are the sons of God, love Christ; but they who love him, keep his commandments, as Himself testifies; which, assuredly, with the divine help, they can do. For, although, during this mortal life, men, how holy and just soever, at times fall into at least light and daily sins, which are also called venial, not therefore do they cease to be just.” [Council of Trent, Session 6, Ch. 11]

Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ. Neither is this to be omitted,-that although, in the sacred writings, so much is attributed to good works, that Christ promises, that even he that shall give a drink of cold water to one of his least ones, shall not lose his reward;
[Council of Trent, Session 6, Ch. 16]

It’s no wonder that people like Swan, who see an entirely different Catholic Church than I do, feel the way they do about it. There is no way to make them see what I do, and so my only option is to proclaim the truth and be satisfied that my duty has been done. People may listen, they may not, or they may do as I have done and file away conversations and tid-bits that come back to haunt me when my experience testifies a different truth than the one I have held. Also, I can take a lesson from the subject matter at hand, and give every testimony and blog post up as service to our Lord and for His glory.

My Paradigm Shift

January 5, 2009

At some point I realized I was using phrases like “us” and “our views” while referring to Catholicism. I wondered when I began thinking of myself on the Catholic side of the fence rather than the Protestant side. I can pinpoint the beginning of this paradigm shift to a lengthy debate with a friend of mine that recently abandoned his Christianity. He belonged to a form of Calvinism and drifted away slowly. Then he finally announced his rejection of Christianity in favor of embracing a new-age pantheistic view of the universe. He now believes in a holonomic theory of the universe in which all of matter consists of energy that is consciousness.

My friend said that his new views gave him freedom to love and forgive others and conquer his sins whereas Christianity never did this for him. He complained that Christians ignore inconsistencies in the Bible (which I’ve heard from a lot of people, but never had a compelling argument presented), use the fear of Hell to convert others, over-emphasize guilt and sin, and foster hateful attitudes towards others. The list goes on but those are the highlights.

A year before his denouncement of Christianity, I remember asking my friend would he lose his faith if the theory of evolution were true? His affirmative answer gave me worry. It was just one symptom in a series of problems that I have come to identify with the Protestant break from the Catholic Church. His problems constantly seemed to be rooted in sola scriptura coupled with bad interpretations. He would believe anything if he could find a verse or even a couple words together in the Bible to support a view. One example is the idea that you should only forgive people when they repent, which he got from the verse “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3). I read this and see a command to not withhold forgiveness if someone repents, not a command to forgive only if they repent. An authoritative interpretation would do away with this kind of rampant Bible literalism that gives fundamentalists so much trouble with modern science.

In response to his accusation that Christians use the fear of Hell to win converts, Mother Teresa sprang to mind instantly. She was even criticized for not pushing conversion on the poor she worked with. She insisted on witnessing through actions by spreading the love of God. This is the general attitude that I find from Catholics, and I think the “win souls any way you can” attitude is strictly an evangelical downfall. It’s my theory that “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16) evangelism is a natural conclusion to being saved once and for all and by belief alone.

This salvation invention of Luther’s may also be the root of my friend’s other major objection: over-emphasis on sin and guilt. This is the epiphany of epiphanies for me. In reading Luther’s biography, “Luther the Reformer: The Man and his Career” I learned that all of Lutheran theology stems from belief in the total corruption of everything we do and are, which in turn came from Luther’s obsession with his own sins and the insufficiency of anything he did in front of a righteous God. While his fellow monks pointed Luther to the forgiveness of the cross, he instead came up with the following formula for salvation: Our salvation depends on our faith in Christ (i.e. belief that he is the Son of God who died for our sins), our faith depends on repentance and knowledge of our state as a sinner. Therefore, says Luther, “always a sinner, always repentant, always righteous”. Ironically, in a self-reliant effort to escape from his sinful state, Luther instead emphasized his sinfulness and elevated it to the basis for his own salvation. But his illogical and fruitless method of finding righteousness through belief and repentance alone left his followers despondent. They have no arsenal in the ongoing battle against sin to become like Christ.

Just previous to these discussions with my friend, I had read “Counterfeit Revival” by Hank Hanegraaf. His well researched history of Pentecostalism made me sick to my stomach about the shady persons initiating the charismatic renewal, a movement I had unknowingly been a part of from the ages seven to seventeen. I learned from this book the importance of knowing the history of things and the damage that can be done with Bible literalism, especially when things are taken out of context. So when these other issues came up in discussions with my friend, I was primed to take refuge in Catholic beliefs, starting to claim them as my own. Sola scriptura crumbled, authority of the Church rose from obscurity, and the practices of the Church started making so much sense in light of errors that were possible when you try to do things a different way. Chris says that if it’s anything like his conversion, this paradigm shift of mine is like getting over the top of the hill, and it’s all a fast roll down from here.

Self-driven Faith

December 29, 2008

It’s ironic that a common Protestant view of Catholicism is that it’s a self-driven religion. I always had the stereotypes in my mind that Catholics try to work their way to heaven and have all these strange man-made rituals to get them there and make them feel spiritual. After over twenty years in evangelical churches and only three in Catholic churches, I think this may be a classic case of Freudian projection. What Protestants accuse Catholics of, they are guilty of themselves.

Over at the blog, Thoughts from a Ragamuffin, Ragamuffin has talked about the hype generated at many Protestant churches like the upbeat big band music and the dynamic preaching necessary to keep a church alive. I wish I could find his specific post, but I’ve lost it. The problem he discusses and that I have found in these situations is that sometimes, you just don’t feel like it. You could smile and clap and sing but can’t “enter in”. Often enough for me it’s because the kids are wiggling on my lap, or ready for a nap since they’ve been up all night. I don’t feel like working myself up into a spiritual frenzy. Like Ragamuffin has said, it’s comforting to profess your faith in the liturgy even when you don’t feel like it.

There are the respected men and women of God at these Protestant churches who always seem to have it all together and be able to “enter in”. They’ve memorized every verse in the Bible, their prophetic accuracy is over 50% (if you’re Pentecostal), they attend every meeting and are “forerunners” or some other word-of-the-day. I have seen the best of them fall. Affairs, divorces, homosexuality… it does seem most of these problems have to do with sex. I’ve also heard from our pastor at different times “Let’s judge this leader by his fruit” and “You can’t judge the godliness of a person by their personal life”. Fifteen years later, I’ve had the privilege to judge these “forerunners” by their spiritual fruit as well, and let’s just say that the church is no longer a church and they no longer lead anything. One excuse I’ve heard for disasters like this one is that the pastor or church was new and inexperienced. I’ve not so secretly thought that if there was a heirarchy of experienced leaders, some set rules of initiation, and less of an emphasis on venerating leaders based on their own powers then we wouldn’t set ourselves up as easily for such a fall. Sounds Catholic to me.

This self-driven spirituality has always been a problem for me. Ironic, isn’t it? Protestants (who have probably never read the canons of the Councils of Orange or Trent) accuse Catholics of trying to work their way into heaven, while they time after time they try to keep their spirituality and liveliness of the church going through their own abilities. I know it’s not the same in every church, but I think the Protestant system sets people up to be considered spiritual by their own power, by what they do and how great a faith they have. I’ve known several people who have given up their faith altogether, because they thought if they were saved “once and for all” then they would stop struggling with their sins, and couldn’t take being disappointed. I always knew I never had that power to make myself spiritual and backed out of the whole scene, terrified of becoming a hypocrite like the others.

On the other hand, in the Catholic Church I have found a series of rituals and graces available to everyone who wants them. It’s not dependent on how many prophecies you make that come true or how many people you’ve prayed for that get healed or even leading a spotless public life. Any individual can avail of God’s grace through the sacraments and become closer to God. Not because of the wondrous faith he has or his sinless record, but because of his hunger for God and that small amount of faith that it takes to step forward and act on your belief, making use of the sacraments. There’s something poetic about crying out for God and seeking him in the Eucharist.

Chris has known about my distaste for the self-induced spirituality of Protestantism and the comfort I take in the Catholic faith. So this Christmas, he gave me Mother Teresa’s secret writings, “Come Be My Light”. She is quoted as saying “If I ever become a Saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from Heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” The darkness she talks about is this lack of feeling the presence of God in her daily life. Although close to him early in her life, she lost her sense of closeness with God when she went to Calcutta to become one of the poor she ministered to. She became like them – completely impoverished, thirsting for the goodness and love of God.

I wonder if Mother Teresa had any idea when she begged her superiors to destroy her letters how many of us feel the same way at times and would benefit from her example of faith. Abraham, when he was asked to put his faith in God and do something he didn’t want to do, he did it anyway. It was credited to him as righteousness. I think it rings truer to believe in God and commit yourself to following Him no matter what you want or how you feel than setting up your whole faith on the greatness of your ability to purely believe.

I contrast Mother Teresa’s committed faith to the self-centered faith of Martin Luther. As a monk, he obsessed over his own sins instead of dedicating himself to the will of God. He relied on his own belief (I don’t even want to call it faith) to save him instead of the graces available in the church. He rejected authorities because they weren’t as well read or intelligent as he thought he was. I’ll give a more complete portrait of Luther when I finish his biography, but his narcissistic motivations seem clear enough to me. I compare Mother Teresa to the son who told his father no, but did his will in the end, and Martin Luther to the son who told his father yes, but did not do the will of the father.(Matt 21:28-31) I don’t think she ever told God no, but certainly did the will of the Father however she felt. Luther seemed to never think twice and consider that the Father’s will might be different than his own.

Then who, Luther? You?

November 26, 2008

I’m currently reading “Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and his Career” and I’m about halfway through. Martin Luther has just had a debate with Johann Eck concerning Luther’s latest stance on papal authority (that the pope has no authority). During the debate Luther also came out saying that a council of the church doesn’t have authority either. He seems to have based this on them making decisions that are against his own understandings of the Scriptures, in particular, the Council of Constance. He goes on to say that only Christ is the head of the church, in need of no “vicar” even here and now on Earth.

Luther tells Eck, “I give St. Peter the highest honor, but not the greatest power. For he does not have the power either to create, to send forth, to govern, or to ordain the Apostles.” From the context, he seems to be talking about appointing successors to the apostles.

My immediate reaction to this is to say, “Then who has this power, Luther? You?” Christ is gone until he returns at the end of time. Eleven men ordained by Christ did not reach all the Earth with their teachings before they died. Those of us who have come after need guidance. I have often heard Luther’s assertion that Christ is the head of the church even now defended by saying the Holy Spirit is our liaison with Christ, and the Bible is the sole authority because people are unreliable. Honestly, every unreliable person depending on their own individual understanding as opposed to that of a structured, trained, and blessed leadership seems a lot more flawed.

Any person who’s half awake can see where sola scriptura has led to. Every person “led by the Holy Spirit” has interpreted the Bible very literally and very differently. Protestantism has fallen into disarray, with over 25,000 denominations. Each new denomination or even non-denomination becomes more fractured and more permissive. None can recommend themselves except by impressing that their theology or service feels right or is the closest match to a given Christian’s individual interpretation. The body of Christ needs a head, lest it fall into disarray.

I assume that Luther wasn’t calling for an all out anarchy of the generalized church, so it seems to me as if Luther wants to put himself in the place of Christ, the very thing he accusses the pope of doing. It also occurs to me that in the Lutheran church they do indeed create, send forth, govern, and ordain ministers. Maybe it makes them feel better not to call them apostles. What we are left with is that no matter what Luther’s intentions may have been, in effect, he replaced the current authority, Pope Leo X, with himself because he thought he was better read and more intelligent.

Did Luther not realize that someday he would die too? Maybe not all heads of the Lutheran church would be quite as well studied as Luther, or make the same decisions that Luther would in their place. Did it disturb him on his deathbed that he would have to relinquish control of his institution as well? I wonder.

Protestants generally don’t like the authority of the Pope. I’m not a Catholic yet, and I still have difficulties accepting it. But I can’t think of any system that could even work, much less work better. So I find myself standing where I never thought I would. If you believe that Christ was the son of God and died for our sins, giving us the way to salvation, then where can you turn but to the Catholic Church?