Kneeling Before Luther

500 años después, de rodillas ante Lutero

It is with deep sorrow we say this.

What surfaced during the ecumenical meeting between Pope Francis and the World Lutheran Federation on October 31st in Lund, seems to be a new religion. A religion that has clear starting points, but murky, disquieting ends.

The slogan that resounded the most in Lund Cathedral was the need for a “common path” which would carry Catholics and Lutherans “from conflict to communion”. Both Pope Francis and Pastor Martin Junge, Secretary to the Lutheran Federation, made reference to the evangelical parable of the vine and branches in their sermons. Catholics and Lutherans would be the “dry branches” of a single tree which bears no fruit as a result of the 1517 separation. However, nobody knows what this “fruit” would be. At the moment the only thing Catholics and Lutherans seem to have in common is a state of deep crisis, with different causes though.

Lutheranism has been one of the major factors in the secularisation of Western society and today it is in the death throes because of the consistency through which it developed the seeds of its own destruction, present at its very beginning. The Scandinavian countries, long time considered models for our future, have been at the forefront of secularization. However, Sweden, after being transformed into the country of multiculturalism and homosexual rights, is today a country in which only 2% of Lutherans are practicing, while almost 10% of the population practice the Islamic religion.

By contrast, the Catholic Church is in a crisis of self-demolition, as a result of abandoning Her tradition in order to embrace the process of the secularization of the modern world, precisely as it was breaking up. The Lutherans are looking for a breath of life in ecumenism, and the Catholic Church is not alert to the breath of death in this embrace.

“What unites us is far greater than what divides us”, this was again repeated at the Lund ceremony. Yet, what [precisely] unites Catholics and Lutherans? Nothing, not even Baptism, the only sacrament of the seven that Lutherans recognize. For Catholics, in fact, Baptism removes original sin, whereas for Lutherans it cannot be cancelled, given that, for them human nature is radically corrupt and sin invincible. Luther’s formula “sin strongly, but believe even more strongly” sums up his thought. Man is incapable of good and can do nothing other than sin and blindly abandon himself to Divine mercy. God decides who is damned and who is saved in an arbitrary, irrevocable manner. Freedom does not exist, only a rigorous predestination of the elect and the damned.

“By Faith alone” goes along with “by Scripture alone”. For Catholics there are two fonts of Divine Revelation: Holy Scripture and Tradition. The Lutherans eliminate Tradition since they claim that man must have a direct relationship with God, with no mediations. It is the principle of the “free examination” of Scripture, from which springs individualism and contemporary relativism. This principle implies the denial of the Church and the Pope, whom Luther called “an apostle of Satan” and “antichrist”. Most especially, Luther hated the Pope and the Catholic Mass, which he wanted to reduce to a mere commemoration, by denying its sacrificial nature and the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. However, for Catholics the renovation of the unbloody Sacrifice of Christ, which is in the Mass, is the only font of Divine grace. Are these simple misunderstanding and incomprehension?

Pope Bergoglio stated at Lund: “We too must look with love and honesty at our past, acknowledge error and ask forgiveness.” And again: “it has to be acknowledged with the same honesty, that our division was deviating from the original intuition of the people of God, which aspires naturally to remain united, and [this] historically was perpetrated by worldly men of power more than by the will of the faithful.”

Who are these men of power? The Popes and Saints, who from the very beginning fought against Lutheranism? The Church, which for five centuries has condemned it? The Council of Trent pronounced the decisive word on the incompatibility of the Catholic Faith with the Protestant one. We cannot follow Pope Francis along a different path.