Saturday, July 12, 2008

Book Review: Roots of the Reformation, Karl Adam.

Roots of the Reformation was written by the late German Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the infamous University of Tubingen in the first half of the twentieth century. It is a small work but prodigious in learning, extremely well written and free from logical fallacies. It reaches a happy medium in the state of discussion between Catholicism and Protestantism, it is not severely polemical nor blindly ecumenical.

What we are given by Adam is a masterful presentation of the roots (philosophical and cultural), the reasons for the Protestant Reformation. The very first chapter "Weakness in the Church" gives the main origin for the reforms, namely corruption, abuses and underhanded tactics by some not all of the Catholic clergy,

"The Pope's yearly income was greater than that of any German Emperor. John XXII, for instance, died leaving three quarters of a million gold coins in his treasury: a figure so high, considering the values and conditions of the time, that it was bound to have a catastrophic effect on the believer when he pictured against this background the poor tent-maker Paul, or the still poorer fisherman Peter, coming with dusty sandals to Rome and bringing nothing with them but a deep and noble desire to preach Christ and to die for Christ."1

Or in another example Adam notes,

"Innocent VIII, in his bull Summis desiderantes (1484), gave the Dominicans in Constance plenary powers in the matter of witch-burning, and threatened with ecclesiastical punishment anyone who opposed the prosecution of witches. He thus did all that the highest ecclesiastical authority could do to encourage and legalize the obsession. Christ had healed those possessed by devils, but now, in the name of the same Christ, they were to be burnt."2

In chapter two "Luther" Adam records the rise of the German reformer and his quest to his particular understanding of Christian theology. A fascinating psychological reading of Luther is given as well as his dependence on Ockhamism for his novel ideas on justification and the nature of the church. Luther's departure was not (contrary to popular belief) a careful study of the Greek Scripture in one hand and the slogan of ad fontes on the other but rather was primarily driven by subjective-esoteric epiphanies of Christian truth,

"it was not the objective spirit of the Church's tradition speaking and witnessing in the Church's teaching which interpreted this objective word of revelation, but his own spirit alone; not the We of the members of Christ inspired by a common faith and love, but his own unique, individual I. In this formal, though not material, sense Luther was always a subjectivist."3

Adam then gives a thorough defense of the Catholic doctrine of Sola Gratia - and that it was not originated by Luther but was already held and defended by Catholics for 1500 years. Moreover, Luther viciously attacked the Papacy, Adam must be quoted on this in full,

"It was night indeed in a great part of Christendom. Such is the conclusion of our survey of the end of the fifteenth century: amongst the common people, a fearful decline of true piety into religious materialism and morbid hysteria; amongst the clergy, both lower and higher, widespread worldliness and neglect of duty; and amongst the very Shepards of the Church, demonic ambition and sacrilegious perversion...Had Martin Luther then arisen with his marevlous gifts of mind and heart...had he brought all these magnificent qualities to the removal of the abuses of the time...had he remained a faithful member of his Church...then indeed we should today be his grateful debtors. He would be forever our great Reformer...comparable to Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi. He would have been the greatest saint of the German people...But - and here lies the tragedy of the Reformation and of German Christianity - he let the warring spirits drive him to overthrow not merely the abuses in the Church, but the Church Herself, founded upon Peter, bearing through the centuries the successio apostolica; he let them drive him to commit what St. Augustine called the greatest sin with which a Christian can burden himself; he set up altar against altar and tore in pieces the one Body of Christ."4

The Catholic Church due to all this reformed herself. Abuses have been cut away and the focus of Christ and Apostolic teaching has been re-emphasized. It is the conclusion of professor Adam that had Luther come today, he would not protest the Church as violently as he did.
[End Notes.]

1. Roots of the Reformation. 14.

2. Ibid., 25.

3. Ib., 42, Adam's emphasis.

4. Ib., 25-26.


Reformed Renegade said...

Looks like I need to add this to my future reading list. Sounds like Adam's prejudices fall on the RC side, no?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Christ had healed those possessed by devils, but now, in the name of the same Christ, they were to be burnt.

That's a bit of a stretch. Witches aren't the victims of demon possession. And Protestants have burned more witches than Catholics have.

Seems like an interesting book though.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

@ Renegade, yes sir in fact this scholar was a Catholic and one of the best of the twentieth century. His Spirit of Catholicism is required reading for Catholic scholars being arguably the best apologetical work in the twentieth century.

@ Tim, I agree the analogy breaks down. Nevertheless, If you have not read this work I highly suggest it, Amazon currently has it on good price and I heard a rumor that EWTN's Grodi was giving it out free when calling and asking for it in his show.

Rene'e said...

"It is the conclusion of professor Adam that had Luther come today, he would not protest the Church as violently as he did."

I do not think that the Lutheran church of the present, with its various branches and eschewed theology was the Lutheran church Martin Luther had invisioned or knew in his lifetime. I think he would be appalled by some of the actions of his church and the various divisions within it.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

You are correct Rene. One of the points Adam labors in his work is just that, that the Lutheranism of Luther was much more "Catholic" than the current forms.

However, my point in that statement that you cited is that if Luther would come today and experience the current Catholic Church it would have undoubtedly been a different situation.

Regardless, the Catholic Regula Fidei remains as it always has, unswerving amongst the waves of heresy.

Rene'e said...

Yes Rick, I agree with your point.

I think if Luther were here today and witnessed all the other denominations,many with their liberal and individual theologies and then turn to see the Catholic Church, he would drop to his knees and thank God.

Right before he went to confession with a Roman Catholic priest.

George Weis said...

Ok Rick,

So how can one know Adam has the right perspective?
Perhaps I should read the book! That probably would answer it.

As always, I agree that if there was a way for him to stay in the Church, that would have been best. But, he wasn't dealt with well either. So would they have sent him to the stake like Huss before him had he stayed around? I think his original plan was to see Reform within. Or am I way off on that?

Tim has told me many times, "the Church moves slowly". But often they didn't seem to want to move at all. It wasn't after everything went off the deep end, that Reform happened within. If I sound huffy, I assure you I am not :D Just asking some questions! HAHA!

Ma, I agree that all the liberalization would have struck Luther with horror. I am appalled myself!

Blessings to each of you for the sake of Christ.


R. E. Aguirre. said...

George, I think Adam has the right perspective because I have studied both sides of the issue (the Protestant and the Catholic views on the Reformation) and Adam et al make far more sense of the evidence.

Again, stating that "they would have killed him" solves nothing and only muddies the waters further.

Luther's so-called reform as Adam and countless other historians, scholars and specialists have noted, was more of an abandonment of the Ancient Historic Church for his own purposes, namely to re-create not re-form the church. (Dave Armstrong has written on this point in detail, one example is his paper here - ).

And as always, the Catholic Church has been made stonger through heretical counter-claims, since this forces her to pronounce the regula fidei even louder (in the case of the Reformation it was her stances on Soteriology).

George Weis said...

I always eagerly await your responses Rick. What do you mean by "muddy the water" exactly? Are you saying that point proves nothing and also blocks being able to distinguish the truth?


R. E. Aguirre. said...

What I meant by that George was that claiming the old argument that, "Oh they would just have killed him anyways" proves nothing and just adds confusion to our discussion. I have responded that Protestants are just as guilty of this sin both on Catholics, other Protestants and heretics alike.

George Weis said...

You are correct Rick. I absolutely abhor all of the killings! When did it turn from Christians being killed by pagans to "Christians" being murdered by "Christians"? Aweful!

Well, it must be a wonderful place to be where you are in life Rick. I wish I could go back to School for these very studies. I can read read read... but it becomes overwhelming!


R. E. Aguirre. said...

Yeah George I can't see how you can justify the killing of human beings (that are made in the image of God) on doctrinal grounds.

On reading take your time brother, you have the rest of your life to become a Catholic 0<|:-)