Since the Pope’s words have catapulted Catholicism into the limelight, we have heard many comments from its followers that somehow Luther ‘lured’ people wrongly from the one, true church and that ‘everyone’ had held the Maccabees (the books that speak of Purgatory) to be the Word of God until Luther came and ‘rewrote’ the bible. They claim (though the Pope never made this claim) that when the Pope said someone who didn’t believe in God could still get to heaven with a ‘contrite heart’, he was speaking about their time in Purgatory. I decided to brush up on my history to ensure I remembered it correctly.
Interestingly enough, it was around the time when the Catholic Church decided to sell ‘indulgences’ (that let someone out of Purgatory!) that Luther began writing vehemently against the Catholic Church. Church corruption was at an all time high and the Church had suffered many scandals. The church was quarreling with monarchs over political and economic issues (taxes- how droll). And the industrial revolution was changing everything- from land-based economy to cash based. The church began to be impoverished and decided that they would sell ‘indulgences’ which would allow someone to avoid Purgatory. This became big business- but outraged those among the common people- who couldn’t afford this spiritual luxury.
Also, people were becoming unhappy with their monarchies who were paired up with the Catholic church to control the masses. The printing press put the bible into the hands of regular people- not just the priests. One of those people was Luther. People began to feel that THEY, too, should have direct access to the Word- not just the translations from the priests. And they felt, like Luther, that the Church had lost its way.
One of Luther’s main objections was the spiritual superiority of the priests. Another was the need for priests to intervene between man and God. Another was the idea that good works are necessary for salvation. Another was that ONLY the bible, and not the institution of the Church, is the authoritative word of God. He knew Catholic teachings had gone directly against the bible. All this led to the Protestant Reformation.
Shortly AFTER the Reformation began, the Catholic church decided to canonize (to change them from mere historical documents to the ‘inspired Word of God’) the Apocrypha (the books (ex: the Maccabees) which contain material about Purgatory), which to me signifies their desire to solidify their hold over men’s spiritual destinations- and on their most lucrative income stream. The Catholic Church excommunicated Luther because he dared to read the bible and to see for himself the corruption of the Catholic church at that time. Theologically, he was correct and they were wrong. Yet, even today, some Catholics don’t care about theology or the what the Word has to say on a subject. They simply say that Luther and his followers wrongly split the church! If anything, it seems to me that the followers of Luther were taking the ‘true church’ BACK to it’s roots, not the other way around. It looks as if the Catholics were the ones changing things and going off the track.
To me, the fact that the Protestant reformation happened because the common man was able to read the bible on their own is a most marvelous thing! They didn’t agree with the new and corrupt direction of the Vatican and thus, said, ‘no.’ The canonization of the Apocrypha appears to be the result of poverty on the church’s part rather than the result of deep spiritual conviction. Why, after over 1,000 years of rejecting this body of books did it finally and suddenly decide it was indeed the ‘inspired work of God’? I find it rather interesting that the Catholic church never considered it authoritative until they truly needed to raise funds via ‘indulgences’. Making it ‘authoritative’ seems like a very politic thing to do in that case, doesn’t it? The timing also suggests that it was actually the Catholic Church that ‘rewrote’ the bible and that they did it AFTER they excommunicated Luther!
The reason I am speaking about Purgatory now is because the Catholics coming to defend the pope are bringing up Purgatory as an excuse for his words against the Blood of Christ. They are saying (though the pope never said this) that he MEANT people repenting in Purgatory. So, the discussion must be had about purgatory before we can even discuss the Pope’s words. Also, the accusation from defensive Catholics has been that Luther and everyone else ‘believed’ in the Maccabees until Luther wrongly tore people away from the Catholic Church. However, history shows differently. Not even the Catholics ‘believed’ in Purgatory (as authoritative) until AFTER Luther broke away. History is a marvelous teacher indeed.