Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Could Luther and Leo Have Ironed Things Out Over a Few Pints?

In his book The Spirit and Forms of Protest-antism, French Lutheran-minister-turned-Catholic Louis Bouyer argues that Protestantism, positively considered, is completely consistent with Catholic tradition both ancient and modern. He writes concerning sola gratia:

... this assertion, taken in its essence as we have sought to define it, is a genuine-ly Christian one and fully in accord, of course, with Catholic tradition properly understood.... Luther's basic intuition, on which Protestantism continuously draws for its abiding vitality, so far from being difficult to reconcile with Catholic tradition or inconsistent with the teaching of the apostles, was a return to the clearest elements of their teaching and is in the most direct line of that tradition.
Bouyer even goes as far as to say:

Protestantism, reduced to what Protestants regard as its essence, was under no necessity to embody itself in schism and heresy. On the contrary, by the very logic of its nature, it should have initiated in the Church itself a powerful movement of regeneration.... Unfortunately, that is not what happened, though the blame, in any case, does not lie exclusively with the basic principle of the Reformation.
Bouyer goes on to argue that Protestantism's central principles such as divine sovereignty, the unique authority of Scripture, and salvation by grace alone are not fallacious in what they affirm, only in what they deny (which things, he argues, are unnecessary and incidental to the heart of the Reformation).

This line of argument seems to be along the same lines as the sentiments of the late Richard John Neuhaus, who insisted that when he abandoned Wittenberg for Rome he relinquished nothing of what he formerly believed, but instead just picked up a bunch of extra stuff.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this, because I find it incredibly interesting (not to mention baffling and suspicious) that former Lutheran clergymen like Bouyer and Neuhaus would say such things. My initial reaction is to dismiss such sentiments as indicative of their never really having understood their own tradition, but I am also aware of how much of an ass that makes me look.

So what gives? Did Luther and the pope just need a heart-to-heart over a few ales in order to smooth things over?