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Home Uncategorized Here I Stand

Here I Stand

Patrick Claffey
Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer, by Scott H Hendrix, Yale University Press, 368 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-030016699 I have a vague memory, dating back to my student days at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth in the 1970s, of sitting in Loftus Hall while the late Patrick Corish, professor of ecclesiastical history, strode restlessly leonine, back and forward, tossing the chalk from hand to hand, as he often did, and repeating ponderously: “Martin Luther, heretic or saint?” I can’t remember what his view was but, in any case, by that time the great reformer was well on the way to rehabilitation in the Catholic church. Some years earlier, in July 1970, the 5th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation had gathered in Évian in France with the theme Sent by the World, bringing together some two hundred and forty Protestant preachers. Following the Second Vatican Council (1963-65) or Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum Secundum, to give it its more complete Latin title, there had been a profound change in the relationship with both the other Christian denominations, and also with the non-Christian religions, as we entered into a new era of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. It was therefore not altogether surprising, in those years of ecumenical enthusiasm, to find that one of the most significant addresses at the Lutheran assembly was delivered by the liberal Dutch cardinal Jan Willebrands (1909-2006), then president of the secretariat of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In his address, Willebrands spoke of Luther in terms that Catholics usually reserved for St Thomas Aquinas, referring to him reverentially “our common master”. While, in the name of “truth”, noting the “torments he inflicted upon the Catholic Church and the Holy See”, the cardinal recognised Luther as “a profoundly religious personality who sought the message of the Gospel honestly and with abnegation”. He also noted how Vatican II had “approved demands that had been formulated by Martin Luther”, thus enriching Catholic theology with a deeper understanding. (Jan Willebrands, Lecture to the 5th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, on July 15th, 1970, La Documentation Catholique, September 6th, 1970, p 766) Going back to the reformer’s own time, many had drawn parallels with St Paul in terms of his significance for the theological development of Christianity. Luther’s former professor and fellow Augustinian John Nathin was so impressed by his conversion that he lauded him as “a second Paul”. Luther’s own deep admiration for…



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