As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary, Bearings Online is highlighting profiles of persons closely associated with Collegeville Institute’s history—that great cloud of witnesses who have accompanied us since 1967, and will journey with us into the future.
In part two of our profile on Collegeville Institute founder Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB, read about a lecture he gave at the University of Hawaii in 1967. The following article titled Catholic Priest Praises Luther was published 50 years ago in the Honolulu Star Bulletin on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Click here to read part one of this article, which includes a summary of McDonnell’s legacy and an excerpt from his theological writing on the trinity.
Catholic Priest Praises Luther
November 1, 1967. Honolulu Star Bulletin.
The Roman Catholic Church may never canonize Martin Luther but she can give him justice, the Rev. Kilian McDonnell told some 200 listeners at the John F. Kennedy Theater yesterday.
The director of the [Collegeville] Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey and University, Collegeville, Minn., gave this year’s Berry Lecture at the University of Hawaii.
The series was started 10 years ago by the Rev. Lawrence Berry of Seattle.
Father McDonnell called it one of the greatest tragedies of the Reformation that “the Catholic Church – fighting for her life and concentrating on what she saw as doctrinal errors – never recognized the undoubted, unimpeachable spiritual aspirations of Luther and Calvin.
“For all its doctrinal errors, the Reformation was a great spiritual movement,” he said. “Whatever the final judgment upon Luther and Calvin, the essential motivation of the Reformation was spiritual and pastoral.
“A spiritual reformation was historically necessary. St. Clement Maria Hofbauer said that the Reformation came about because the Germans, a pious people, could not be pious in the Roman Church.”
Luther’s marriage to a nun was, “in the eyes of the Church, ultimate proof that what she had to deal with was a bad priest who had married a bad nun,” said Father McDonnell.
“Though she recognized the necessity for reform from within, though she knew that the causes of the Reformation were multiple, there was always the suspicion that, in the last analysis, the cause of the Reformation was Luther’s desire for a wife.”
The Catholic priest added that Luther’s marriage had nothing to do with his breaking with Rome.
He pointed out that the eight-year lapse between Luther’s break with the Roman Church in 1517 and his subsequent marriage to Catherine von Bora in 1525 “hardly fits the picture of a frustrated monk impatient to bed the first available woman.”
“The turning point in the Catholic evaluation came from a professor of Wurtzburg, Francis-Xavier Kiefl,” said Father McDonnell.
“Kiefl readily admits that Luther was motivated by a Biblical truth: the Lord who is all-powerful. But Kiefl, too, criticizes Luther because he conceived the all-powerful Lord in a manner which was too unilateral, too one-sided.”
Father McDonnell thinks the 1948 work of Joseph Lortz the most formidable evaluation of Luther and the Reformation. Lortz deplores Luther’s break with the Church as a renunciation of unity, but he asserts that Luther was a religious man and his work cannot be understood except in that context.
Adolph Herte, another Catholic, discovered after reading some 500 Catholic works on Luther that their source material came from John Cochlaeus a contemporary of Luther and one of his bitterest enemies.
Based on gossip
Cochlaeus gathered all the gossip about Luther and presented it as history, McDonnell said, and added as an “ultimate evil” the charge that Luther did not have a drop of German blood.
“It has been suggested that the Roman Catholic Church lift the ban of excommunication laid upon Luther and that he be canonized as a saint,” concluded McDonnell.
“With all the good will in the world, I find canonization a bit much.
“But I would give you this warning. Do not study his writings unless you are prepared to love him. For he will steal your heart away as he has stolen mine.”
This is part two of our Collegeville Institute Greats profile on McDonnell. Click here to read part one.