The Reformation

The "New" Martin Luther

by Art Sippo

Cincinnati’s diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Telegraph, carried a short Catholic News Service (CNS) story in their April 12 issue, "Understanding Martin Luther" which reported that thousands of Catholics joined in "activities honoring [Luther] on the 450th anni-versary of his death". The article claims that Catholics now have a "new" understanding of the man whom they were "once taught to revile… as a heretic who led millions from the faith." This "new" understanding relates primarily to those who have been taught in Catholic universities by dissident theologians seeking to advance the cause of Luther’s rehabilitation as a Catholic; this "new" understanding has been fueled by an academic misinformation campaign that further seeks to minimize the importance of the Council of Trent which was called in response to Luther’s heresies; this "new" understanding is a false one.

There is a substantial body of literature now extant which points to the unavoidable conclusion that Martin Luther suffered from serious mental illness and that his mental illness was directly related to the theological opinions he espoused when he broke from the Church in the 16th century. The common excuse offered by dissident theologians that he was a crude peasant ignores the fact that Luther was hypercritical of his opponents to the point of inventing faults they didn't have while being himself morally suspect. Erasmus, for instance, had many faults, but Luther's attacks on him in "The Bondage of the Will" were exercises in slander fueled by his own battle with manic-depression and psychotic tendencies during his periods of mania.

For a man who was going to "purify" the Church "out of love and zeal for the elucidation of the truth" (as Luther is quoted by CNS), Luther lived an immoral and unprincipled life. In "Table Talks" Luther got drunk one night and told some of his fawning sycophants that Jesus must have been an adulterer because even He could not resist temptations of the flesh. He went on to claim that Jesus had an affair with Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, and the Samaritan woman at the well. In Luther's own words in a "Spiritual Counseling" letter to Jerome Weimer: "[t]he whole Decalogue must go! ... Sin strongly; believe more strongly." The breaking of the Decalogue includes more than mere pecadillos. Luther was advising Weimer to commit mortal sin. This scheme of desensitization is precisely what the Marquis de Sade recommended to men as a way of toughening themselves to be able to abuse women of the lower classes for "fun".

To be clear, the Reformation was a demonic deception from the start. The so-called reformers were not sober Catholics trying to recapture the vigor of the New Testament Church. The 16th Century Protestants were apostates who have wrought nothing but havoc on the world and the Church. To depict Luther as a reformer of the Church in the same way we venerate St. Catherine of Siena or St. Ignatius Loyola, as some eminent theologians and newspaper mercenaries are wont to do, is an insult to Christ, the Church, and her martyrs.

It is true that Luther was not all wrong or completely crazy. Indeed, some of his critiques of the folk Catholicism in his day, and of the hypocrisy within the hierarchy and clergy were justified. Nevertheless, he was wrong on key issues of doctrine and discipline and had no right to sit in judgment of the Catholic Tradition to the point of breaking with the Pope and the hierarchy and calling for their deaths and the extirpation of their offices by military force. His mental illness contributed directly to this rebelliousness and his religious errors. And even as modern dissidents claim he can somehow be rehabilitated as a Catholic, his excommunication was based on sound reason and is witness against this man's apostasy and its bitter fruit

Art Sippo
The Catholic Legate

This article originally appeared in the May/Jun '96 issue of
St. Catherine Review.