Thursday, March 31, 2011

Martin Luther And the Protestant Reformation

The 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church door by Martin Luther will be coming up in 2017. The Catholic Times editorial discusses what was involved with the posting of the theses and clarifies the meaning of the word 'indulgence'--the "selling of indulgences" prompting Luther to post the theses and sparking the Protestant Reformation. Usually translated into Korean as "the forgiving of sin," indulgence is a word that is continually being misunderstood in the press, in history books and,too often, in many internet blogs.

The bishops have clearly pointed out that 'indulgence,' a theological term, is being misused when it is understood as a means to forgive sin, as a quick sell and purchase of salvation--as some critics have viewed it--by the donation of money. The bishops have sent the mass media a list of Catholic terms, asking that they be used correctly, anticipating that many articles will be appearing in the daily press in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. And many of those articles will be discussing the "granting of indulgences," wrongfully understood even by Catholics at that time that sins could be forgiven on payment of money. In the history of the Church, one can always find those who have abused what the Church teaches for reasons of gain or out of ignorance. In an effort to collect money for different projects, many used indulgences as a means to collect money. That this was an abuse is clear; however, it  is not a reason to misunderstand or distort the meaning of this word, as understood by the Church. Indulgences do not forgive sin, whether by the use of money, prayer, good works, or by any other means; it forgives only the temporal punishment due to sin. (The sacramental forgiveness of sin must include confessing one's sins, usually verbally and usually to a duly ordained priest, sincere sorrow for having sinned, and a firm purpose of amendment.)  This will be difficult to  understand for those who have no sympathy for this process and for what temporal punishment for sin means or who don't care to know.

The editorial was also concerned that this issue might damage the image of the Church by passing along information not warranted by the facts. The Church has never said that by giving money sins can be forgiven, and this has been the teaching well before the reformation. As in present times, those who do not follow what the Church teaches should not be used as examples of what the Church does teach.

October 31 is Reformation Day and will be celebrated in the Protestant world. For Protestants, it is an opportunity to  continue the reform that was started with Luther. According to the columnist in the Catholic Times, the Reformation was also a time for self-examination by the Catholic Church, and a time to  begin the process of change. The Council of Trent came shortly after to clarify troubling matters that surfaced as a result of the Reformation; and in dioceses, seminaries were started to educate the clergy, many of whom lacked the knowledge necessary for their calling, a reason for the corruption that the Reformation brought to light.

Thanks to the reformation, the Church was motivated to work for new programs to educate its priests. The columnist mentions Fr. Hubert Jedin, one of the outstanding Catholic historians of the last century, who said it was the Reformation that enabled the Church to look at itself and begin it own reform and renewal.

Protestants, reflecting on what  Luther means to them, also present us Catholics with an opportunity to see where we have been and where we are now; on our way to an on-going reformation, keeping ourselves humble and penitent.                        


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