The upcoming flesh-press ecumenical gathering between far-left Lutherans and far-left Catholics in Sweden, while nothing new, is becoming increasingly egregious thanks to its anticipated papal participation. While it’s doubtful that P. Francis will be doing or saying anything worse than the Church has already suffered from P. John Paul or even P. Benedict in regards to ecumenical excesses, this celebration of Fr. Luther’s apostasy raises a new cycle of questions about the place of heretics in the modern Church.
No doubt we will shortly be seeing a slew of online articles from Fr. Zuhl, Catholic Answers, and mommy-bloggers explaining all the reasons why this celebration of German cheek does not technically change any doctrines nor the anathemas of Trent. These will ignore the point that Francis’ pontificate does not operate on the level of truth, logic, or definition, but on the level of agitprop and emotional manipulation. When we are bombarded with photographs of Francis smiling next to a chocolate sculpture of the German monk, the unstated implication is that the this man was sweet; that he was black, but beautiful.
Somewhere in the southeast of Rome sits the Scala Sancta, the steps that Christ himself once ascended in order to be condemned by the Roman prefect of Judea. In the early 1510s a young Fr. Luther, zealous for the purity of the Church and deeply scandalized by the corruption of the Roman clergy, climbed the Holy Stairs and despaired. In his own words,
At Rome, I wished to liberate my grandfather from Purgatory, and went up the staircase of Pilate, praying a Pater Noster on each step; for I was convinced that he who prayed thus could redeem his soul. But when I came to the top step, the thought kept coming to me, “Who knows whether this is true?” (source)
Thus did Fr. Luther, fifteen centuries after the fact, echo the words of the devil who inspired Pontius Pilate: “Quid est veritas?” Like Pilate, Luther washed his hands of all his sins—past, present, and future—a self-absolution that his followers imitate to this day. Pilate’s wife had at least made an attempt to stop her husband from shedding innocent blood; Luther was seduced by the disgruntled nun Katharina von Bora, recently escaped from the convent by hiding in a wagon of fish barrels.
Five centuries after Fr. Martin’s moment of despair, and not very long after my reception into the Church, I completed my own pilgrimage up the Scala Sancta in Rome. My meditations on the way up were partly of Christ’s Passion, partly of gratitude for the grace of conversion, but mostly of an utter repudiation of Luther’s mortal doubt. Still, if I had thought about it at the time, I would have prayed instead for the soul of his poor grandfather who was deprived of his progeny’s sacrifices.
The penitential season of Advent is coming soon. Perhaps P. Francis should consider giving up chocolate.