Is the Protestant Reformation, initiated by Martin Luther (1517 A.D.), over? Not according to Pope Benedict XVI (Ratzinger), who reaffirms the binding nature of the Council of Trent (in response to the Protestant Reformation, i.e. the counter-Reformation 1547); to the dismay of many Catholics and Protestants who have been apart of ecumenical dialogue as evinced in Evangelicals, Catholics Together (ECT), and more recently the Joint Declaration. Notice some of the sentiment captured by Michael Horton, as he quotes, and glosses on some of Ratzinger’s thoughts in this regard:
What would the response be if Martin Luther had appeared on the scene today? Ratzinger replies, “Yes, I do think that even today we would have to speak with him very seriously, and that today too his teaching could not be regarded as ‘Catholic theology.’ Otherwise, there would be no need of the ecumenical dialogue, which is a way of getting into a critical discussion with Luther and asking how the great things in his theology can be held fast while what is un-Catholic can be overcome” (157-8). At the heart is his aberrant ecclesiology, which placed the exegete above the magisterium (158). Good signs: “An exclusive insistence on the sola scriptura of classic Protestantism could not possibly survive, and today it is in crisis more than ever precisely as a result of that ‘scientific’ exegesis which arose in, and was pioneered by, the Reformed theology” (160). For the churches of the Reformation, “it will always be hard, if not impossible,” to accept the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession, which in principle denies ministerial orders to Protestant ministers (160-1). “As an example he [Ratzinger] cites Rome’s renewed refusal to allow ‘intercommunion,’ i.e., the possibility of a Catholic participating in the eucharist of a Reformed church. He says, ‘But it is not a question of intolerance or of ecumenical reticence: the Catholic confession is that without the apostolic succession there is no genuine priesthood, and hence there can be no sacramental Eucharist in the proper sense. We believe that the Founder of Christianity himself wanted it this way’” (161). Although there is reciprocal recognition of each other’s sacraments and ministry, the Orthodox also remain separated from Rome. “They cannot accept that the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is the principle and center of unity in a universal Church understood as communio…Humanly speaking I do not see how there could be complete union, beyond the initial phase of practical steps which have already been taken” (162). The break with Protestantism remains serious. “The Eucharist is life, and, so far, we cannot share this life with those who have such a different understanding of the Church and the sacraments” (163). He adds that he has never been attracted to Protestantism, either in theology or practice (166). (Quote taken from here)
and further on the relevance of the Council of Trent:
“I am convinced that we will make progress today, not by turning away from Trent, but only by a radicalization of what is to be found there” (266). (Quote taken from here)
and here are a few Canons on the issue of justification directly pronounced at the binding council of Trent:
CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.
CANON XIV.-If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema. (Quotes taken from here)
If what is communicated here is true, the Protestant Reformation is not over; and for that matter, neither is the Roman Catholic counter-Reformation. This is illustrated by the fact that the Pope believes that Luther’s view of Justification is still at odds with the “Churches'” teaching, and that he would basically need to recant his perspective, and place himself under the magesterium of the Church. According to Ratzinger “. . . the break with Protestantism remains serious . . . ,” and as such should make any reconciliatory language by Protestants, suspect—unless of course they are willing to submit to the Apostolic Priesthood represented by, primarily, St. Peter’s immediate successor, The Pope, and by the magesterium reflected and expressed within the “tradition” and judgment’s of the church throughout history.
Secondly, as illustrated by Canon XII and XIV, the Protestant, and Pauline mantra of Justification by FAITH ALONE, in CHRIST ALONE is anathematized by the council; which Ratzinger says is binding. Ironically while Trent anathematizes those who believe in a gospel of “faith alone” in “Christ alone,” they in essence anathematize themselves . . . since the Apostle Paul anathematizes anyone who preaches a different gospel than the one he preached; he says:
As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be anathematized! –Galatians 1:9
and later in this same epistle he clarifies what “kind” of gospel he is preaching:
. . . nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. –Galatians 2:16
and further on this same issue, but in a different epistle:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9. not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. –Ephesians 2:8-9
Many more could be adduced (see Rom. 3:21ff; Phil. 3:9; Tit. 3:5; etc.), the point is, is that following Trent closely, even radically, the Catholic Church clearly preaches a different gospel than the one offered by the Apostle Paul. Again their anathematization is ironic, since in fact they anathematize themselves relative to the APOSTLE Paul’s pronouncements (to the NO’S of the New Paul Perspectives–btw that’s why this issue is so pertinent to ecumenical and conciliatory dialogue).
Anyway I hope we Protestants continue to recognize the substantial differences there are between us, and the Roman Catholics on at least “Justification;” the Pope does!