Over the weekend I was looking around the Catholic Encyclopedia to see what the old definitions of heresy, schism, and modernism were, and to check what they writers said about Protestantism. It was eye opening. Roman Catholics don’t talk that way anymore about Protestants.
For instance, here’s the part of the article on justification:
This principle bears upon conduct, unlike free judgment, which bears on faith. It is not subject to the same limitations, for its practical application requires less mental capacity; its working cannot be tested by anyone; it is strictly personal and internal, thus escaping such violent conflicts with community or state as would lead to repression. On the other hand, as it evades coercion, lends itself to practical application at every step in man’s life, and favours man’s inclination to evil by rendering a so-called “conversion” ludicrously easy, its baneful influence on morals is manifest. Add to justification by faith alone the doctrines of predestination to heaven or hell regardless of man’s actions, and the slavery of the human will, and it seems inconceivable that any good action at all could result from such beliefs. As a matter of history, public morality did at once deteriorate to an appalling degree wherever Protestantism was introduced. Not to mention the robberies of Church goods, brutal treatment meted out to the clergy, secular and regular, who remained faithful, and the horrors of so many wars of religion, we have Luther’s own testimony as to the evil results of his teaching.
Then this on church-state relations (i.e. Caesaro-papism):
A similar picture of religious and moral degradation may easily be drawn from contemporary Protestant writers for all countries after the first introduction of Protestantism. It could not be otherwise. The immense fermentation caused by the introduction of subversive principles into the life of a people naturally brings to the surface and shows in its utmost ugliness all that is brutal in human nature. But only for a time. The ferment exhausts itself, the fermentation subsides, and order reappears, possibly under new forms. The new form of social and religious order, which is the residue of the great Protestant upheaval in Europe, is territorial or State Religion — an order based on the religious supremacy of the temporal ruler, in contradistinction to the old order in which the temporal ruler took an oath of obedience to the Church. For the right understanding of Protestantism it is necessary to describe the genesis of this far-reaching change.
. . . From this time forward the progress of Protestantism is on political rather than on religious lines; the people are not clamouring for innovations, but the rulers find their advantage in being supreme bishops, and by force, or cunning, or both impose the yoke of the new Gospel on their subjects. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, and all the small principalities and imperial towns in Germany are examples in point. The supreme heads and governors were well aware that the principles which had brought down the authority of Rome would equally bring down their own; hence the penal laws everywhere enacted against dissenters from the state religion decreed by the temporal ruler. England under Henry VIII, Elizabeth, and the Puritans elaborated the most ferocious of all penal codes against Catholics and others unwilling to conform to the established religion.
But the faculty at Catholic University of America produced a New Catholic Encyclopedia just after the Second Vatican Council. It takes a decidedly different tone. In fact, its authors offer little comment. This is a Roman Catholic version of an Encyclopedia Britannica, an effort to cover a comprehensive range of topics and provide useful and reliable information. Here is an excerpt from the NCE’s article on Luther (it does not even have one on Protestantism):
Evaluation. It is an exaggeration to identify the Reformation with the person of Luther and to equate all of Protestantism with his doctrines. Nevertheless, one must admit the enormous influence that he exercised upon the movement. The survival of Luther’s own brand of evangelicalism was greatly aided by the rise of numerous reformers elsewhere in Northern Europe, that is, by the rise of figures like Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin, and a host of others. Lutheranism’s success as a protest against the Church’s dominant teachings concerning salvation, and its later growth as a church independent of Rome, is also in part attributable to Luther’s long and productive life. He continued to exert his stamp upon the evangelical cause for a quarter century after the movements birth. And upon his death in 1546, he had trained large numbers of pastors and theologians who were prepared to carry on his legacy.
That’s it. No condemnation, not even a warning. In fact, the article even suggests that some bishops were glad to have Luther’s protest:
It is one of the strange turns of history that Luther was never officially prosecuted in his own country, although excommunication, by labeling him a heretic, made him liable to the death penalty in the Empire. A number of circumstances combined to render the ecclesiastical and civil penalties ineffective. In the first place there was strong public reaction that rebelled at the prospect of condemning a man who had become the outright spokesman for their own grievances against corruption in the Church. The conviction that until a council had actually pronounced against him, he and his followers were definitely cut off from the Catholic Church was widespread. Finally, the majority of the German bishops, still influenced by conciliarism, were hardly inclined to stand in the way of a man whose attacks on papal claims to ecclesiastical supremacy expressed their own opposition to Romanism.
It is curious that the papal bull itself against Luther was not sufficient to condemn him (it would have likely had not the Turks been creating distractions for the emperor, Charles V). Could it be that the editors of the New Catholic Encyclopedia were welcoming a renewal of conciliarism? Odd then and ironic that Protestants convert to Rome because of conservative popes at a time when Roman Catholicism has wiggled out of papal supremacy and returned oversight to bishops and superiors, thus rendering the Church as diverse and unruly as Protestantism itself.