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Theological Notebook/Personal/Musical: Another Pesch Event; Wish I May

Today was the final event with this year's Père Marquette Lecturer, Otto Hermann Pesch (Professor Emeritus at the University of Hamburg). In this case, he was speaking to a much larger, public session of the Theology of Martin Luther class for which I'm the TA. So we had a public discussion on the question "Was Luther a Heretic?" and this was in conversation with his old friend, the esteemed Luther scholar, Rev. Dr. Eric Gritsch, who had come out to Milwaukee from Pennsylvania (he is Professor Emeritus for Church History at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg PA, and a doctoral student of Roland Bainton's) to attend the Lecture. Both have taken part in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue sessions over the years, Pesch as a Catholic and Gritsch as a Lutheran, and so their thoughts during the question-and-answer session afterward moved into lively reflection on the implications for church unity of our main question.
DISCUSSION NOTES – 28 March 2006
"Was Luther a Heretic?"
Dr. Dr. Otto Hermann Pesch – Rev. Dr. Eric Gritsch


Luther not a heretic (nor a saint).

Until 1521 Luther not a heretic--but a victim of political power-play. After this time, his innovations were more problematic. He is best addressed as the raiser of legitimate questions.

Key Points:
1) Problems upon entering the Augustinian Order. Entered problematically : convinced he must fulfill vow or be damned. Tension of not knowing if he can achieve ideal of his vow and a true love of God.
2) Immanent expectation of the End Times in his day and of Last Judgment: a very existential question of being read to be judged. This was foundational and real for this culture: not to be dismissed as a "fringe" religious concern as it would be by today's dominant Secularist culture.
3) His Three-fold personal encounter with problem of judgment: Daily prayer of Psalms and frequent presence of term "judgment" and theology and spirituality of judgment in Eucharist. Theological problem as theologian treating this academically. His study revealed that absolution was held to work only for real love of God and not for fear of punishment--allowed him no comfort in Sacrament of Penance. The Exegetical problem in studying Augustine's anti-Pelagian writings and reading Paul through this: no salvation through human effort.
4) On these bases he begins to preach against indulgences. The deep scandal of what the idea of indulgences had come to at this time was the resultant image of God. The Pope could dispense indulgences (or not) at his discretion. That is, humans could apparently hinder and obligate God––to overrule God's nature and justice. Thesis 59 (or did he say 58?) is the key: the Pope doesn't grant indulgences out of merits of Christ: those merits are always available to God's people who turn in repentance.
5) His opponents accused him of violating the doctrine of the Church by arguing thus; in reality this was only a custom or practice and did not touch substantively on the doctrine of the Church.

Luther wrote to Karlstadt (check spelling) that he did not want to become a heretic by revoking that opinion by which he had become a Christian.


Luther's reform movement as a Catholic Reform movement was only exercised in Electoral Saxony by the grace of Frederick the Wise, whose concern for the Church allowed Luther to die in bed and not the stake.

Luther's notion of an "emergency bishop"––that all the baptized could be in a pinch "priest, bishop, or pope"––was a divisive move. Territorialism became a great problem: he didn't know that the politicians could be as poor politically as the bishops he knew (didn't recognize Frederick as a profound exception). (Pesch: canonical reality that princes in medieval times have right and duty to step in for support of church if Church fails in emergency situation.)

His continuity with Catholicism against "radical Reformation" notable: always came down on the Catholic side of such issues.

Lutheran/Catholic dialogue made problematic by papal infallibility being declared in 1870, which goes beyond the indefectibility of the church (that Lutherans also hold with Catholics) because the Pope does not yet speak for all Christians. Infallibility also took Mary away by refining her to something foreign in modern Marian dogmas. Notion of church as contingent eschatological reality also jeopardized by this "divinization of human institutions." Dialogue can proceed from these points "by going forward to Luther."

In QnA, Pesch on Ecumenical Dialogue: "The way to Wittenberg goes via Constantinople." Fascinating comments made that I had no idea about (kesil should be interested in this) that the Eastern Catholic Churches are not under any obligation (whatever "obligation" really might mean here) to hold to the professed Marian dogmas, nor would the Orthodox churches in any future unity with Rome. Lutheran dialogue participants saw this as hopeful for the Marian dogmas becoming then a "non-issue" for them. Of course, this really places these "dogmas" on a fundamentally different level then from what else has been called "dogma" in the Church, which seems to be the essential, credal stuff. I really thought that that bears looking into in the future.

Edit: Well, I recorded a new lead track on "Wish I May" and remixed the thing somewhat, mostly tweaks like taking down the shaker which suddenly had struck me as WAY TOO LOUD. Little things like that can creep up on you, even after having listened to it a few dozen times. But then, after a few dozen listens, sometimes your judgment is just plain shot. So I uploaded that mp3 file off of the original entry the other day. Still not terribly happy with the vocal track.
Tags: ecclesiology, historical, marquette, martin luther, musical, personal, père marquette lecture, theological notebook

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