Monday, November 1, 2010

Because of Martin Luther, the Council of Trent and My Husband

When my husband and I were engaged 18 years ago, we had a conversation about where we would marry. Both of us had been raised Catholic and had become inconsistent in our practice of the faith. "What about the Lutheran Church?" I asked Greg. "It's exactly like Catholicism except women can be ministers and the ministers can marry."

 My husband, whose father was raised Lutheran, then explained to me that all Martin Luther's objections to the institutional problems in the Church had been answered. Besides which, he told me, only Catholics understand that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ.

After more discussion, we decided to marry in the Catholic Church. At the time, we had very few Catholic friends and so our wedding program included a guide to the liturgy so they could follow along. These days, friends of mine who are Protestant sometimes mention the Catholic Church's centuries-old abuses, including the selling of indulgences, to justify their pursuit of a particular Protestant denomination. I shun religious debates, so I tend to keep my mouth shut.

But as my faith has grown through the years, I have come to understand the Church in all Her wisdom. Former Catholic priest and theologian Martin Luther objected publicly to institutional abuses within the Church, in particular the selling of indulgences by Dominican preacher Johann Tetzel. Luther appealed in 1518 for a general council. The Church finally responded with the ecumenical Council of Trent, held in 25 sessions between 1545 - the year before Luther died - and 1563.

"The Ecumenical Council of Trent has proved to be of the greatest importance for the development of the inner life of the Church. No council has ever had to accomplish its task under more serious difficulties, none has had so many questions of the greatest importance to decide. The assembly proved to the world that notwithstanding repeated apostasy in church life, there still existed in it an abundance of religious force and of loyal championship of the unchanging principles of Christianity."

I consider Martin Luther a brave but misguided man who wasn't patient enough to wait for the Church, through the Holy Spirit, to correct the errors of men. He inadvertently prompted the Counter-Reformation, an age which, The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, "was one of the greatest for theology the world has ever known." Among the fruits of the Counter Reformation are the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis de Sales and the music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. And so I'm grateful to Martin Luther, the Council of Trent, and my wise husband, for my marriage in the Church 17 years ago and for keeping me connected to Christ.