15.1.5 Medieval Enlightenment Works To Show the Basis for the Sacrament of Penance to be Faulty

As discussed in an earlier post, 15.0.1 At the Heart of the Reformation was the Call to Return to the Practices of Early Christianity, one of the things happening in the 15th century were comparisons of Greek texts to Latin Vulgate translations.  Here is an example:

In the year 1440, a humanist scholar named Lorenzo Valla examined an ancient document, supposedly fourth century, supposedly given by the Emperor Constantine to the Roman Pope of the time giving the Pope lordship over the western half of the Roman Empire.  The scholar was able to determine that the document was a forgery because it was written using eighth century Latin. Valla also wrote Annotations on the New Testament where he used his knowledge of Greek and Latin to show that there were errors in the currently used Latin Vulgate translation.[i]  Later Erasmus of Rotterdam found these Annotations and he used them to produce a Greek edition of the New Testament.  It was put alongside Erasmus’s own translation of the Latin Vulgate.

Erasmus’s motivation for doing this was the reform of the Catholic Church and, initially, he was even thanked for his work. But the work proved detrimental to Catholic theology.  The Latin Vulgate says that Matthew 4:17 translates as “do penance”.   This verse is part of their basis for establishing the sacrament of penance. Their interpretation is that do penance means to confess to a priest in the sacrament of confession and perform what acts of contrition he prescribes.  However Erasmus did not translate the verse the same. Rather, he translated it initially as “be penitent”, and then later as “change your mind”. This is a radical change from the theological statement that the Roman Catholic Church claimed this verse in Matthew to be. Rather than establishing a sacrament called Confession or Penance, the verse is really calling for people to change their thinking about their actions.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mat 4:17 ESV)

This verse is clearly a call for people to change their thinking themselves, not a call to go visit a priest to confess sins.

[i] The Unquenchable Flame, Discovering The Heart of the Reformation, B&H academic, Nashville Tennessee, 2009, P. 33

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