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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

September 5th, 2018 Posted by | Movements | no comments

15.0.1 At the Heart of the Reformation was the Call to Return to the Practices of Early Christianity

The beginning of the 16th century was one of the worst times in Christianity. Corruption was everywhere from the pope down. “The decline and corruption of the papacy was well-known. After its residence at Avignon, where had it had served as a tool of French interest, the papacy had further weakened by the Great Schism, which divided Western Europe in its allegiance to two – and even three – popes.”[i]

The Conciliar Movement was a  movement formed by the Catholic Church itself to reform itself in the 14th and 15th centuries.  But it had a basic problem with corruption itself in that a number of the bishops sitting on those councils were profiting from the corruption themselves. Oh, the conciliar movement sounded good, there were reformers rallying against the pluralism, the profiting and greed from the buying and selling of everything from bishop’s offices to indulgences all the while that many of the same bishops were the perpetrators of these misdeeds.

Even many of the parish priests had bought their positions. So even if they did have some noble aspiration to minister to the people, how could they be trusted?

Clerical celibacy was fully law in this day and time, but there were many bishops and local priests alike with mistresses, illegitimate children living in places that were far from what the vow of poverty would suggest.

This same time period also marked the end of the “dark ages”.  The Byzantine Empire had collapsed. Europe at this time was in the feudal system, but that was coming to an end. The aristocracy, including church leaders (for many church leaders were huge landowners) was putting increasing burdens on the masses who served on these feudal lands.  “The ostentatiousness of prelates, their power as landowners, and their support of increasing inequality were seen by many as betrayal of the poor, and eventually as a sign that the antichrist had gained possession of the church. The ferment brewing in such quarters periodically broke out in peasant revolts, apocalyptic visions, and calls for a new order.”[ii]

Look at that statement again, the church wasn’t being viewed as the representative of the Savior, but as the representative of the enemy of the Savior! And the people were fed up.  There were revolts and rebellions.

The printing press was in full production. And with it information was moving faster than ever to new places.  New worlds were being discovered. People were traveling from the Far East and to the Far West.  And the previously sheltered community of Western Europe was being exposed to influences from the East where differences in Greek manuscripts were beginning to show against the Latin vulgate texts and questions were arising as to the veracity of church teachings.

A quick look at how the Roman Catholic Church operated in this medieval time appears to me to look more like a magic show than true Christianity. Consider this. Most of the people were illiterate and deemed incapable of understanding the intricacies of the faith. There was no Bible for people to read but in the architecture of the churches the builders cleverly placed the pantheon of statues that included the Saints, Jesus, and Mary, the theotokos, the mother of God.  Those cleverly situated statues replaced the Bible as each Saint and statue had its legend and stories that were passed from mouth to mouth. There were relics of saints and the relics of the cross. It was said that there were so many relics of the cross bandying about that there was no way that one human could have lifted a cross of that size. The relics had power, or so many believed. And then there was the greatest magic of all in the center of that Catholic ritual called the “mass”, where miraculously with the words “Hoc est corpus meum”, “this is my body”, bread and wine were transformed into body and blood of the most powerful being. To many it represented unbelievable power.   “Thus when parishioners heard ‘hocus-pocus’ who knows whose mistake it was?[iii]  It had strong similarities to a magic show.

The mass itself was said in Latin, while even some of those celebrating mass didn’t really understand the language let alone anybody in the church.  And that miracle of the Mass where the body is created out of bread was only tasted once a year by of the average parishioner while the blood from the wine never was.

But the times were certainly changing. And the hope for many was that since in the preceding centuries the church had adapted practices that were contrary to original Christian teaching that a return to the sources of Christianity these practices would be done away with.

The sources that many saw as the way to the get back to the original teachings were the bible and the patristic teachings, the writings of the fathers.

At the heart of the Reformation was a rallying cry that the church had strayed off course and that the way back required a look back.  That look back was through looking at the bible and the early writings.

Just how off track the church was no one knew at this point. Martin Luther started by focusing on primarily on indulgences with the perspective that the Roman Catholic Church could be reformed, corrected back into the state of the true, original church. From there, other issues came to the forefront as reformers began comparing Medieval Christian Theology with early Christianity.

[i] THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 1985, p. 6

[ii] Ibid, p. 9

[iii] The Unquenchable Flame, Discovering The Heart of the Reformation, B&H Academic, Nashville Tennessee, 2009, P. 19

September 5th, 2018 Posted by | Movements | no comments