Tuesday, March 31, 2009

nail this to my door, por favor

Martin Luther's famed 95 theses-they were nailed to the Wittenburg Church door roughly 500 years ago.

I believe it was October of 2000 or 2001, when I decided to celebrate Halloween by doing nothing at all, save posting a note to trick or treaters reminding them of the more important event which fell on 10/31, that of "Reformation Day". I included a printout of the 95 theses, if I'm not mistaken. But whether the words were there or not, it is certain that something was missing from my mind, and that was a true reflection on Luther's words in the 95 theses.

I took the time to read his theses again today, and stood aghast at number 7 which states:

"God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to the priest, His representative."

If you follow the theses through their logical chain, do not lose sight of where you began.
Keep your eyes open. Don't forget to breathe.

He was climbing a ladder towards making a point, but at no point was he speaking ill of the teaching of Christ in the Gospel of John which states:

"If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

How it is that some can retain the sins of others and loose the sins of others if we are all atoms floating up to God, with no chain linking us to others, no obligations to speak to another of our many wrongs and weaknesses, is simply beyond me. But my incredulity is not the topic du jour, nor is your credulity.

It is the words of Luther, so often chanted against establishment, as though they were tools of unraveling the web of tradition which surrounded him in 16th century Germany. Those words must be considered. We can talk of De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiae and see three years later that there was an out and out rejection of the world in which he lived.

But do not take me to the "start" of it all, and imagine this Augustinian monk holding some sort of a Chick tract and a smile that states that it's all about the individual and Jesus.

For Luther's 7th thesis is in keeping in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition, when he says:

"God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to the priest, His representative."

Let those words simmer and roll about your intellectual palate. God never remits guilt to anyone when? When they are not made to be humbly submissive to whom? To the priest? And who is this priest? The representative of God on earth?

If that fits in your perspective, you are in agreement with Luther. But somehow I must wonder whether Luther would have (m)any friends who are Protestants today, who would sign up to thesis #7. To their credit, some traditional Lutherans may grasp this. But is this an exception to a rule where we all seem to make our own rules of contrition and repentance and penance? Now I'm sorry enough. Now I have asked God with enough sincerity to forgive me. Now I have united my heart to His sufferings enough.

And what about the rest of the 95 theses? Luther takes great pains to not disparage the Pope as he does disparage those who treat God as some sort of sick cosmic genie. As well he should, as well we should. I had heard it said that Catholics can affirm all 95 theses, but to read them today was shocking, for it appears to me now that not only is that true, it also seems like most Protestants would have serious qualms with these words written by Luther.

So nail those theses to my door, but do not call for all of the nails in Christ's one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church to be pulled out of the building. Do not pull the bricks of His Church apart to the point that not one stone lies on top of another. For when you plumb such depths, you will be going too far. Asking for sincerity is one thing. Bringing it about by tearing down walls is another matter altogether.

In this time of Lent, where repentance and confession of sins are so important, I take Luther's words as a call to remind me again and again that no man is an island.

"God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to the priest, His representative."

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