The Reformation was a Tragedy

“Martin Luther in the Circle of Reformers” by the German School, circa 1625-50

We haven’t hit the month of October yet, and already I have read so much about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that I would just assume be done with it. Actually, that’s a lie. I could probably read articles about the Reformation until kingdom come. I am what is popularly called a history geek. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this year has been so full of solas, beer steins, and papal anathemas that I hesitated to add to the deluge unless I had something to say that was rather different from what had already been said.

Well, here’s something you may not have heard from many Protestants this year: the Reformation was a tragedy. Yes, you read that correctly. In the midst of all this celebrating, I think we ought to take some time to mourn what we have lost. Great damage has been done to the cause of Christian unity, and 500 years later we have yet to recover.

“Hold on a minute!” you might be thinking. “Are you suggesting that the Protestants were wrong to break away from Rome? Do you really believe we should ignore major doctrinal errors in order to maintain a superficial unity?” No, that is not what I am saying at all. There are certainly aspects of the Reformation that we should be celebrating. The recovery of the doctrines known as the Five Solas (scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and the glory of God alone) was an absolutely essential development in the history of Christianity. Many of today’s doctrinal errors occur when we fail to cling to those biblical principles. Even so, I think we must celebrate with a twinge of sadness. Continue reading

No Thank You, Aquinas: Women Are Not Misbegotten

Depiction of Thomas Aquinas by Gentile da Fabriano, circa 1400

Thomas Aquinas was undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers in Christian history. His Summa Theologica is quite possibly the most influential theological tome of all time. Christians of all stripes certainly have much to gain from reading the works of Aquinas.

However, my opinion of Aquinas is decidedly mixed. He introduced some great ideas into Christianity, but also some unfortunate errors that have resounded down to the present day. One such concept is the notion of “redemptive suffering”, which I have recently been studying. Aquinas was not the first person to teach this idea, but he certainly helped to lay the groundwork for a theology in which human suffering could itself hold salvific power.

Another place where Aquinas introduced erroneous thinking into Christianity is naturally rather important to me: his beliefs regarding women. The problematic section comes in Part One, Question 92 of the Summa. The first article he considers is, “Whether the woman should have been made in the first production of things?” Continue reading

Truth with a Capital ‘T’

Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City (author photo)

Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (author photo)

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

When I finally had the chance to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the largest and arguably most important church in the world, there were three things in particular that I wanted to do: 1) I wanted to gaze in wonder at Michelangelo’s Pietà. 2) I wanted to stand on the same red porphyry tile on which my distant ancestor Charlemagne was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor. 3) I wanted to pray for the reconciliation of the Church.

The basilica did not disappoint. We got there early enough in the morning that it was not yet packed with tourists, so the place was quite peaceful. I was unfortunately not able to get close to the Pietà as the chapel was blocked off, but I did see it from a distance. I confused my husband thoroughly by making him take my picture standing on the porphyry. I tried to explain in whispered tones the significance of this rare holdover from the Old Saint Peter’s Basilica, but in the end I suppose it was just a reddish piece of stone.

We had made our way through much of the sanctuary (no small task, especially when you are stopping constantly to take pictures) and were about to head down to the grottoes when I chose my moment to pray. I had many altars to pick from, but all featured relics or icons of some saint or another to which Catholic pilgrims were praying, and I would have felt somewhat of a fraud kneeling there. Therefore, I picked an obliging spot near the Altar of the Transfiguration – roughly halfway between the bones of Saint Peter and Saint Gregory – and squatted down to say my prayer. Continue reading

A New (Old) Commandment

Depiction of Christ washing Peter's feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

Depiction of Christ washing Peter’s feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

This is the ninth in a series of article on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I sincerely hope by this point that the biblical imperative regarding reconciliation has been well established and that it has been made clear just how vital of an issue this is: the most vital, really, for within the concept of reconciliation all the things that pertain to salvation are encompassed along with our purpose on this earth. We have also taken a look at the underlying heart attitudes that can make or break reconciliation. The conversation has for the most part centered on relationships between two individuals, or between the individual and God. By focusing on big concepts rather than specific circumstances, it is possible that I have even made it this far without seriously offending you. Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

It is necessary that we move beyond this limited scope and begin to examine reconciliation on a corporate level. Here it is worth noting that every Christian has relationships with two kinds of people: those who are Christians and those who are not. Reconciliation is needed in both areas, but I am going to begin by examining reconciliation among Christians themselves, for if we cannot get our own house in order, we have little hope outside the walls, so to speak. Continue reading

The Origins of the Protestant Reformation

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder portraying the pope selling indulgences, circa 1521

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder portraying the pope selling indulgences, circa 1521

Can you recall the first time you learned about the Protestant Reformation? In all likelihood, you were told a story somewhat like this. On October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the door of a church that stated his complaints with Roman Catholicism. This began the splitting of Western Christianity into two primary groups: Catholics and Protestants. Regardless of where you grew up and what form of religion your family practiced, the issue was almost certainly presented in this manner.

Most people today will never progress beyond that extremely limited and largely misleading version of events, nor will they come to realize the vast ways in which their own lives have been affected by the Reformation. Nearly 500 years later, if we are to truly understand what happened on that October day, we must go back in time and consider the events leading up to that period. Continue reading

Happy Reformation Day!

Wittenberg All Saints Church, The Theses Doors, Wiki AlterVista

The “Theses Doors” at All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther purportedly nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” on October 31, 1517. Photo by Wikipedia user AlterVista

It is October 31st, a day which in the United States is associated with Halloween, a celebration that mostly involves dressing up, pigging out on candy, and covering the neighbor’s yard with toilet paper and smashed pumpkins.  However, did you also know that October 31st is Reformation Day?  What is Reformation Day?  Allow me to explain…

Nearly half a millennium ago, on October 31, 1517, a theology professor at the University of Wittenberg in Germany drafted an announcement of an upcoming university debate and posted it to the door of the local church, which in those days served as a kind of town message board. This is the kind of everyday occurrence that normally gets ignored by historians, except that the man’s name was Martin Luther and his announcement contained a list of “Ninety-Five Theses” that laid out what he believed were necessary reforms in the Catholic Church. As it turns out, the typical story of Luther authoritatively attaching his list of demands to the church door is likely apocryphal and based mostly on the account of his friend Philip Melanchthon, who may or may not have actually been in town at the time the event was supposed to have occurred. Continue reading

Are Women Better off Catholic?

St. Peter's Square in Vatican City with St. Peter's Basilica in the background. Photo by Greg O'Beirne via Wikipedia/GFDL Creative Commons

St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. Photo by Greg O’Beirne via Wikipedia/GFDL Creative Commons

Is Catholicism better then Evangelicalism when it comes to females?

The very title of this piece may be confusing for some.  Is the Roman Catholic Church better for women than evangelical Protestantism?  Some may argue that Catholicism is by nature highly patriarchal and even sexist.  Women are not allowed to be priests, not allowed to use birth control, etc.  The Catholic Church is run by a bunch of men who believe that marrying a woman would simply be too distracting from their duties.  They do not allow women to play a role in selecting the Pope, voting on important doctrinal issues, or administering the sacraments.

To all this I respond, “How is that really any different from evangelicalism?”  We too typically prevent women from becoming members of the clergy or serving on the deacon and elder boards that make important church decisions.  While we do not condemn all forms of birth control, we do start to ask questions when people don’t seem to want to get married, have children, or participate in idyllic family life.  Generally, the role of women in basic church governance, teaching, and administration is no greater in evangelicalism than in Catholicism. Continue reading

Gluttons for Punishment?

Gluttony

An illustration by Albrecht Dürer depicting gluttony, circa 1498

What comes to mind when you hear the word “gluttony”?  My immediate mental image is of a rotund man sitting at a banquet table, turkey leg in one hand and wine goblet in the other, stuffing his face past the point of normal endurance.  My imagination then expands to the Independence Day hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s on Coney Island, sumo wrestlers gorging themselves on trays full of sushi, and frat boys trying to best each other in a drinking contest.  Perhaps I even see a cruise ship drifting through the Caribbean, its eager occupants devouring food and drink 24/7.

These scenarios range from silly to serious, and all of them have to do with the rapid devouring (I use this same word again because no verb in English seems to capture the meaning of gluttony as well as “devour”) of some kind of food or beverage, all of which usually leads to or is a part of bad behavior. But in our culture, such consumption is not considered to be especially bad.  Continue reading

Thus Spake Francis

Pope_Francis_among_the_people_at_St._Peter's_Square_-_12_May_2013

Photo by Wikipedia user Edgar Jiménez

With a single question, the newly minted Pope set off a worldwide media reaction – and raised some important questions about the state of the papacy in the 21st century.

I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about the papacy.  Smarter people than I have devoted their lives to the subject and still been left with profound mysteries.  However, there is one thing of which I am fairly certain: popes do not give impromptu, unrestricted press conferences aboard the papal plane. (Fun fact: the plane, hereafter to be known as Pontiff One, does not run on destructive fossil fuels, but is instead carried  invisibly by angels.)

Yet, that is exactly what Pope Francis did earlier this week during his trip back from a successful outing to Brazil, going where the Queen of England still fears – or at least refuses – to tread: in front of a group of reporters.  Fortunately for the assembled media, the Q & A session proved to be newsworthy for more than one reason.  When one of them asked the Holy Father a question about the supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican that has so fascinated the Italian press, Francis gave a surprisingly nuanced answer. Continue reading