The Vatican’s volte-face on Martin Luther

SIR – As a Catholic I have found the writings of Flannery O’Connor to be helpful in many ways when bad things happen in the Church. As she once said: “The only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.”

Having said that, one piece of news recently did make me ashamed of what can sometimes be done supposedly in the name of the Church. This relates to the Vatican’s recent issuing of a stamp to commemorate the nailing by Martin Luther of the 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral 500 years ago. The stamp depicts Christ Crucified. But instead of the traditional picture of Mary, the Mother of God, and St John at the foot of the Cross, there are two substitutes, namely the two heresiarchs, Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon. This is quite staggering and clearly blasphemous.

If that were not enough, there is an article by the Jesuit Fr Pani in a recent issue of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Pope’s “unofficial” voice, that states that Luther was in no way a heretic, but an authentic “reformer”. If this is so, then he has been unjustly persecuted for 500 years and must surely be rehabilitated and even canonised perhaps.

The problem, of course, is that Fr Pani has to explain why his great predecessors in the Jesuit order, for example St Ignatius Loyola, St Peter Canisius, St Peter Faber and St Robert Bellarmine, fought so heroically against the Lutheran heresy in the 16th century; and why on the 400th anniversary in 1917, La Civiltà Cattolica itself published an article censuring Luther as an apostate, a rebel and a blasphemer.

My only consolation in all of this is that ironically the events of 2017 stated above constitute in fact a very good argument for the truth of Catholicism. Hilaire Belloc expressed it very well when he described the Catholic Church as “an institute run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight”.

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