Michael Root, Ph.D. Complete Interview



    A central question for the Reformation is what the Christian life is about, what it's seeking. In a sense, it's about seeking a kind of purity in Christ. Jesus

    said, "blessed are the pure in heart," but what constitutes being pure in heart?

    Catholics and Protestants would agree that being pure in heart is not
    something that's just about me; it's something about participation in the reality of Jesus. Jesus is the one who exemplifies, who does, the saving act and we participate in that. But how do we understand the ways in which the Christian does that participation? And that's at a crucial point now of Catholic and Protestant differences, particularly the differences between traditional Catholic theology and Martin Luther. For Catholicism, yes, it's a

    dependence on Christ, it's a participation in Christ; but there is a
    sense in which we develop always in dependence on God's grace. We develop a

    kind of purity which is a reality in our lives. And we can think about that, we can

    seek it in this life - that purity is almost never achieved, but we hope
    eschatologically in the kingdom, come the last day, maybe on the other side of purgatory, we will then be fully in Christ. We will be purified; God will be

    able to say to us, come good and faithful servant to the kingdom prepared for you
    and the saints. Luther was greatly worried that if you say we're to develop

    a kind of purity or holiness that's actually participation in Christ but
    real in us, then we'll start looking: "well, how am i doing, or how is grace doing

    inside me?" And then there's two dangers: one danger's despair -
    it doesn't appear that grace is working in me; maybe I'm not one of the elect, I'm lost. Or, I'll say, you know, grace is doing a pretty good job in me; I think I'm one

    of God's elect, I'm pretty good! That's pride. You get either pride or despair.

    For Luther, the Christian life is about utter dependence on the reality of
    Christ and His saving work, and that's what you look at; don't look inward. If you look inward, all you will do is find your failures. Is it ever the case that

    we will fulfill the law that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart,
    all our mind and all our strength? Luther emphasized that we're always both

    a saint and a sinner, in a certain sense. It's always the case that I try to
    follow what God wishes me to do, but I have to fight an internal opposition, the old Adam or the old Eve within me. And as long as I'm fighting the old Adam and the old Eve, then I'm not fulfilling the law that I should love the Lord my God

    with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength. I'll be doing good works; it's a

    good thing to resist the old Adam and Eve in me and seek to follow Christ. But
    because I have to resist this resistance within me, then I am not loving God perfectly, and that's what the law demands. So if we're Luther, there's this tension, and he thinks the only way to live in that tension is not to look inward; it's to look outward to the purity of Christ. So a significant difference, I think, down beyond the theology, at the level of piety, is that

    there's a kind of emphasis on Catholicism of the pursuit of holiness.
    The pursuit of holiness is central to the Christian life. Luther worries about that. He worries that it's too much about, however much

    you may say about "holiness is a participation in Christ, it's always in
    dependence on Christ at every single moment," however much you say about that, it's still going to be the case that when the eye turns back to the self, the game is just lost. Faith is about utter dependence on the objective reality of

    Christ given to me in word, in baptism, in sacrament, that's outside of me and
    on which I depend.

    A phrase that's deeply associated with Martin Luther is justification by faith.

    Now, justification is the question of, "How am I just?" The Latin word, justificatio,
    is "being made just." And the question is, come the last day when I stand before

    the judgment of God, what will be the basis of my being judged innocent. The

    full phrase for Luther is that we are justified by grace through faith for the
    sake of Jesus Christ, and I always say, to get Luther straight, you must have all three. Not by our own achievements are we going to be made righteous on the last

    day. I should note also Catholics and Protestants completely agree on that:
    grace is what saves us. But Luther insists the only way to receive grace is

    purely by trust, no a kind of internal achievement, because for Luther the
    Gospel is first and foremost a promise, and how do I show that I really received

    a promise? I depend upon it. If you say you promise to pick me up at five
    o'clock this afternoon in front of this church, and then I say yes, sure, sure, I

    believe your promise; but I also call for a taxi at five after five, just in case
    you're gonna miss me, then I haven't trusted you. Faith is complete dependence on the trustworthiness of the promise, and that promise is centered in Christ. So for Luther, the righteousness by which we are

    saved is a righteousness which is Christ's, and is ours also because we are

    married to Christ. Luther picks up marital imagery. Faith is the wedding
    band that unites me with Christ, in a happy exchange - his phrase - and in

    this exchange, I take on Christ's righteousness, and he takes on my sin. Now,

    the Catholic worry about this kind of talk in Luther
    is that it could seem as if God's judgment is a kind of legal fiction. I remain utterly sinful, but the righteousness of Christ covers me like a handkerchief over a dirty hand. The Catholic concern is that when God says, "you are innocent on the last day, come into the kingdom," God is a just judge; God does it lie. It can't just be a legal fiction. Grace must

    work in me in such a way that I will in fact be what God says I am - by His work,

    but it will be true that I will be righteous. Now, one way of getting at some

    of the difference, is a different question of what is righteousness.
    Here we come to a standard kind of theological distinction between

    justification - and that's the question, how am I pronounced innocent or
    righteous before the judgment of God? - and sanctification - how do I become holy, how do I become a true follower of Christ? Now, sometimes, I mean, people say, well -

    Protestants especially - Luther emphasizes justification, Catholics emphasize
    sanctification. That's way too simple, I think. Luther does have his own understanding of sanctification, but it isn't that first

    you have faith, and then you have good works or something.
    It's that sanctification for Luther, I think, is having faith shape who you are

    more and more, so that we will be perfectly...we will be perfected on the

    last day. But for Luther, perfected means, I will be completely dependent upon the

    righteousness of Christ. My faith will now shape who I am. Now here is a place
    where Catholics and Protestants in some ways at crucial moments turn to

    different Biblical texts. For Luther, central to his development was Romans

    1:17: "The just shall live by faith." Faith is a way of life: it's what you do

    throughout your life. When Catholics think about the Christian life, they
    think about the triad in 1st Corinthians 13 of faith, hope, and love. And note, Paul says, "these three abide, and the greatest of them is love." Love is

    what binds us to the neighbour, and what binds us to God, so it's a complicated
    question: how do you understand the relationship between Luther's emphasis upon faith, and the Catholic emphasis upon love? Luther worried that

    if you say too much about love, that makes it sound like something I do, whereas
    faith is this complete trust in the other. Whereas the Catholic will insist, well, Paul's clear: love is the greatest of the three, and has thought it through

    that way, and love is what connects us with God. So that's part of the issue
    here, is that for Catholics, sanctification is the growth in us, the perfection, of all three: always oriented toward Christ, but having also a kind

    of internal reality, that I can talk about my own love-hope-faith. For Luther,

    sanctification is having faith shape us more and more.
    But that faith, because it's utter trust and something outside of me, it's hard to talk about. It's like humility. I mean, if I go into a job interview and I'm asked, "well, what are some of your strengths?" And I say, "Well, I'm really humble, I mean, I'm the humblest guy I know!" I mean, that's

    not going to work. Humility is shown, it's not claimed. There's the line
    about the monks' convention with the big banner that we're tops in humility! Faith is like that for Luther. So one of the places where the trains cross each

    other, we have ships passing in the night, is that Catholics do want to talk about
    how the self pursues holiness, whereas Luther - well, the self doesn't

    talk about itself, because faith is utterly other-developed. Faith can be
    other-oriented. Faith can be strong or weak; but what I should be concerned about is Jesus, not about my faith. My faith doesn't save me, Jesus saves me,

    although Jesus saves me through my faith.

    One of the issues that always comes up in thinking about Luther and the 95
    Theses is the question of purgatory, which is for Protestants and increasingly for many Catholics a somewhat odd notion. Purgatory isn't explicitly mentioned in scripture - where does it come from? What sort of idea is it? I'm a firm believer in purgatory. I hope there's a purgatory, because purgatory deals with certain basic issues. It seems I would say likely - people would argue - but it seems to me likely that Christians, we know from very early on by around 200, are praying for the dead. They're asking God to be merciful to the dead on the last day, to aid them. And I think it's a good guess that this was

    always going on, Christians praying for the dead. We also have a kind of issue:
    they're the saints, the great figures, they're sort of ready for primetime. They die and they're ready for Heaven. But what about Uncle Fred? He wasn't a

    bad guy, went to church, he missed church sometimes; you know, he had a little too
    much to drink now and then, but he was a good soul guy. But you know, Uncle Fred needs a little work. Is there hope for the middling Christian? You already can find this middling Christian problem with Saint Augustine, writing in the early

    5th century: what to do about the sort of standard guy? Purgatory is a kind of

    sense that even though we die imperfect, even though we die not quite ready to

    enter the pure presence of God, God will take care of it! God will take care of it,

    in helping us through that last stage of penance, coming to terms with ourselves,
    moving us along to that point where we are genuinely ready for primetime, so to

    speak. For certainly many of the saints, purgatory is the completion of penance
    in this life. In this life, we must confront our sins, we must deal with them,

    we must seek to reconcile with those around us, deal with the effects of

    sin in us - that's what we have to do. That often isn't completed in this
    life. I still am dealing with my own recalcitrant emotions and desires. That's what's completed in purgatory. Now, what is the case, we know better now than we certainly did in Luther's time, is that penance has had a complicated history. Already in the New Testament, we find talk of, in the book of James, for example, you

    should go to the elders and confess your sins. And we know that certain kinds of
    particularly major sins - murder, adultery in the early church - the early church, 2nd 3rd century - this would require a public confession and major public penance. In the process of the Middle Ages, you develop the notion that even for small sins, one should confess to a priest, and there would be, as an example, a part of

    the coming to terms with your sin, "satisfactions" you would do afterwards:
    the proverbial, "say 10 Hail Marys and then Our Father" - is a way of seeking in a small way to start to deal with the consequences of that sin. Purgatory was

    then understood as both a healing process, a process by which God deals
    with the effects of sin in us, and a kind of finishing out dealing with the

    consequences, even in terms of punishments, in a certain sense, of
    sins. In connection with purgatory, inevitably in discussing Martin Luther, you have to address indulgences. Indulgences - again, we now know a good deal more about their history - the way they sort of develop willy nilly without any particular intention initially in the church (3rd, 4th century) when penances were far more rigorous, going on a long time. It could be the case that

    somebody who is known for his or her holiness, particularly in an
    era of persecutions, somebody that risked their life for the faith, they would come and talk to you, they would regularly pray for you, and your penance would be shortened. This was a kind of indulgence: that there were various penitential works to be done. But perhaps there'd be some special good work you would do that would substitute for that penance. And connected with that work was the prayer of all of the church: all of the church would be praying for those engaged and the good work connected with this indulgence - not only us, the saints

    in Heaven, the Blessed Virgin, Christ Himself. And the Bible says, the prayers

    of a good man availeth much; what must the prayers of all the saints Christ
    included avail if they join you in doing this penitential good work? So over time, you had this notion, in my various

    penitential tasks, I could perhaps substitute doing X for Y if there was a

    indulgence attached. Only in the late Middle Ages, in fact only officially at
    the end of the 15th century (1470s) is it made clear you could also attach these

    indulgences...you could say, I've done the good work attached to this indulgence,
    and I want this indulgence to be applied to Uncle Fred who's not the greatest

    guy, but a good guy - will apply this to him in purgatory. It'll help him deal
    with the penitential work of purgatory. In addition, about the same time, I'm afraid, the question arose: could a possible good work be a financial

    donation to some worthy project like repairing a roof, or building
    St. Peter's in Rome? And the answer was yes. For about the 30 years before the

    Reformation - this was really a late development - you started getting what
    amounted to fundraising campaigns, raising money for worthy causes: for

    example, building St. Peter's in Rome. When these indulgences would then be

    basically tied to giving a financial contribution, it was precisely the
    indulgence campaign to raise money for the building of St. Peter's that Luther

    protested against in his 95 Theses. If Luther had only protested about

    indulgences, that they undercut true penance, which was a major theme in the

    95 Theses, he wouldn't have been saying anything a variety of critics of

    indulgences hadn't said throughout the medieval period. But he
    raised another question: what was the authority of the Pope to grant these

    indulgences, particularly once you started applying them to purgatory. This
    was a question which was debated in the Middle Ages, and it might be the case

    here that Luther didn't quite fully grasp just what had been decided in the
    1470s, just a little before his own life. Official Catholic teaching is not that

    the Pope can apply indulgences to purgatory by his administrative
    authority. That was rejected, although it hadn't been held by Luther's own order:

    their understanding had been the Pope's sort of authority as Pope could

    do this administratively, could shorten people's time in purgatory. The official
    teaching is that it's a matter of prayer, it's not something we do on our own; we

    don't have that authority - but we can pray with confidence. And remember,
    attached to an indulgence are the saints, the Blessed Virgin, Christ,

    offering their merits to God in prayer, and God will respond.

    In Matthew 16, Jesus says to Peter that he grants him the keys of the

    Kingdom: what he binds on Earth will be bound in Heaven,
    what he frees on earth will be freed in Heaven. Now, there is scholarly debate about what that means: Was it the power to forgive sins? Was it also the power to decide difficult moral questions about what was right and wrong? There's some argument about what it meant in a rabbinic context. It came to be the notion that particularly the power of binding or forgiving sins in the confessional is

    bound up with that gift. Now - this is always a complicated question - is that in
    Matthew 18, two chapters later, Jesus gives the same gift to all the Apostles. Within months of the posting of the 95 Theses, the public debate

    which went rather viral, shifted from a direct discussion of indulgences, to a

    discussion of Papal authority. And once one got on the subject of Papal
    Authority, the discussion started, so to speak, getting out of hand. It had become a much tougher, sharper kind of debate.

    The context for these debates about penance, purgatory, etc. was confession:

    the practice of auricular or private confession, of going to the
    priest and confessing one's sins. In many ways it was then like it is now, with the

    exception in fact of the confessional, the box. The box so to speak was actually
    developed just at the very end of Luther's life. Charles Borromeo of Milan is credited with at least popularizing the modern confessional. One went to the

    priest; one goes to the priest - "bless me Father, for I have sinned" -
    and one recounts one's sins. One confesses one's sins. That's what we're called upon

    to do. The priest then pronounces absolution - "ego te absolvo" (the old

    Latin phrase) - and he forgives you your sin: your sins are then forgiven, period.
    However, think about the reality of sin. This is not my sin (I'm not

    confessing here on camera), but let's say somebody commits adultery and they go to
    their wife, they tell them (it's a man) - he goes to his wife and he says, you know, I committed adultery; please forgive me. And after a lot of struggle, a lot of discussion, the wife says, yes I'm ready to forgive you. But now does that mean everything's hunky-dory in the marriage? Does that mean there's no work left to do? There has to be a kind of work done to overcome the damage done by that sin.

    Or think of the contemporary sin: you know, online pornography - regular watching

    such things has an effect on you, and even if you repent, truly
    repent, there has to be work on what that has done to you over time. The

    concept in Catholic theology - again, perhaps this isn't the most attractive
    way of putting it - is that in the confessional, the eternal punishment for sin - your alienation from God - is overcome. But, there are temporal

    punishments, there are the effects of sin, there are the consequences of that

    sin that now need to be addressed. And that finds a focus

    today in the proverbial "10 Hail Marys" and in "Our Father." In the past, I should

    note, these penances - the past, really meaning fourth, fifth, sixth century -
    these penances were quite more extreme. They would be public humiliation for a

    year or two. They would be being excluded from the Eucharist for five years. They
    would be no meat, a vegetarian diet, for a year. They were a good deal more strict. But the concept of temporal punishments, satisfactions, is

    bound up with this notion that there are temporal punishments, consequences, that
    still need to be addressed. In a sense, that's what purgatory is about: purgatory is about completing that process of overcoming the effects of sin on us.

    Certainly you'll find various statements about confessing one's sins in Scripture.

    When one has to go to a proof text, it tends to be, for example, in James talking

    about confessing to the elders. But there's a lot of talk in the New
    Testament about sort of the healthiness, the goodness of confessing one's sins one to another. We now know the word purgatory - purgatoriam in Latin - can only be found in the early 8th century for the first

    time. You'll find early on some practices; in particular, I would say

    praying for the dead. You find in Tertullian, the father of the early third
    century, writing in 200, 210 or so: he's already talking about offering the

    mass for the dead. Now, the question is, this practice seems
    fairly early, fairly deeply embedded. We had this very confusing passage in 1st

    Corinthians 15, where Paul mentions - he doesn't endorse, he doesn't condemn -
    baptizing the dead. There's some concern of doing something for the dead. What this becomes - again, practice in the ancient church - is particularly praying for the dead, and offering the mass for the dead. But what did that imply? I think as a Catholic theologian, I have to grant:

    of course, the word purgatory isn't in Scripture; but rather, I would say those

    practices which imply something like purgatory - prayer for the dead in

    particular - are there. And, I would say the obvious reality: we die

    still with sin in us in some ways, and we'll be perfect in the kingdom - that
    there'll be a purging, a transformation of us between death and final

    perfection, that seems obvious. The questions are the details here, so to
    speak. Now, you do get here not so much a difference between Catholicism and Luther, as a difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. I would note, Luther's criticism of purgatory had more to do with the way he thought it was bound up with works righteousness. That was his "you do things to help people to salvation" rather than depend on Christ. That's Luther's central critique. However, the Reformation develops and you get a

    greater stress, a greater difference drawing, about the way you appeal to
    scripture. It is the case that Catholic theology is willing to say - the Catholic

    Church is willing to say - that over time the church develops out of that original
    deposit of faith. There are no new revelations after the Apostles. But there

    is the power of the church, the capacity of the church, to discern the inner
    meaning of the faith - particularly, say, something like purgatory, even

    though I think we have to be honest, the word isn't there. It can't be

    derive. There, there is a difference about a kind of trust in the way the

    Holy Spirit guides the church so that it can draw out implications from the
    original deposit of the faith.

    It's well-known the Reformation began with the indulgence campaign, ostensibly to
    help build St. Peter's, that Luther objected to. And this raises a question about the whole role of money in the Reformation. As I mentioned, these

    indulgence campaigns - these fundraising campaigns, in a sense - had really only
    been going on for thirty years. There had been critics, and the St. Peter's indulgence was the last one of these big money-raising indulgences campaigns. It

    was actually worse than Luther knew. There was with papal knowledge various
    amounts of money, about half, being siphoned off for other purposes. Now, it wasn't the case simply that the Roman Church money involved XYZ; it was true in

    the Protestant side, the Lutheran side too. Famously in England, Henry the 8th
    made a good deal of money by expropriating church lands. This occurred in other places. And certainly part of what's going on in the Reformation is the attempt of princes to control the churches in their territory. If a church and its territory became Protestant, it fell under the control of the local ruling body - city council, in a city of the prince in another area. Politics and

    money inevitably play a role in the Reformation. Behind this there are large

    questions. It takes money to build a church like this, so majestic: this is
    the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; going to St. Peter's in Rome; going to St. Paul's Anglican, Protestant Cathedral in London - these are wonderful spaces. But are they what simpler followers of the crucified carpenter should be doing? That's a real question. These are inspirational kinds of places. Luther himself went on supporting great art. Lutherans built very large churches.

    But one has to note, one of the ways of the Reformation, one of the complexities
    of the Reformation, is the way from the very beginning, issues of pure theology -

    what I've talked about, the nature of justification and grace, church practices,
    confession - it was always bound up with politics: the role of the princes, princes want control solidifying states, they were unhappy with the role of a super-national institution like the papacy telling them what to do, there was too much German money going to Rome. Secular financial economic considerations were always bound up with

    the Reformation. And part of the tragedy of the Reformation is the way in which
    the divisive but perhaps controllable differences in theology were bound up

    also with divisive political, social and economic tensions which reinforced one
    another, and helped to produce the permanent (so far, sadly) permanent divisions of Western Christianity.

    Often when we think about the issues raised by the Reformation and the
    division of Christianity, we think only about Catholicism and Protestantism. But it's important to remember, if you take worldwide Christianity, there are Catholics, there are Protestants, and there are the Orthodox - the great churches of the East headed as first among equals by the ecumenical patriarch the Archbishop of Constantinople in Istanbul; the Russian Orthodox Church clearly being the largest. Relations between the Orthodox and the West certainly haven't been close, but they haven't had exactly the same kind of history as in the West. The reality of the Western relations certainly was both sharper - we spoke the

    same language, Catholics and Protestants initially - and in addition, there was
    the wars: the wars of religion beginning 1546 in Germany, the last

    one really being the end of the 30 Years War in 1648 - were vicious wars, civilian

    kind of theological road rage, one historian calls it.
    These were bitter wars. And the reality is, over an extended period of time, when two groups kill a significant number of each other, it's very hard to sit down and have a theological discussion calmly. The Orthodox here might be an example: a

    different kind, a different spirit, different aesthetic. You go into their
    churches, they look quite different; a rather different theology. It's often useful when you have it sort of binary - two opposites battling each other - to

    bring in a quite different third that doesn't quite fit in between them, but
    it's a different way of looking at things - can be helpful. Over time, both Catholics and Protestants in some ways tried to appeal to the Orthodox as an ally against the other - that never really quite worked for either side. So one

    ecumenical hope would be the ways in which Catholicism and Protestantism and
    their theological discussions might be able to bring in Orthodoxy as a complicating and hopefully helpful resource in the discussions.

    Luther and his writings came at the same time as there were new
    technological possibilities for distributing them, the movable-type printing press. And Luther and the printing press industry, as it was developing, fed off each other. Luther was a master at writing short pithy pieces, and this is what the printers love to do: cheap, short

    pamphlets - they could sell them really cheaply, distribute large numbers. And
    Luther wrote very quickly, he churned these things out, so that by 1520, say, three

    years after the 95 Theses, when the argument had moved on from indulgences,
    enormous numbers of these were in circulation. One thing that happened was that opinions form very rapidly. By 1520, Luther is excommunicated, and by that

    time on the other side, Luther had decided that the Pope was the Antichrist.
    By late 1520, the two sides have dug in in ways that it's very hard to then

    reach reconciliation. To make a very long story short, by the 1530s you start

    getting institutionalization - that is, the Lutheran territories start creating their
    own church structures; 1546, you get the wars of religion beginning, you have the

    development, the structure now of what no one in 1517 could imagine:

    the long-term, virtually permanent existence of separate churches. Now,

    part of the effect of this, I think deeply against Luther's intentions, was
    to create a new situation: one not immediately where you had different territories, but it led to a situation ultimately that we have now. You can choose what church to go to! In some ways, you have to choose: it's not just given

    for you anymore. There's a shift where, as Luther
    emphasized, the external realities you should trust in - you are, despite Luther's

    intention, an effect of the Reformation is you're thrown back on your own
    devices. I moved to Washington, what do I do? I'd gone to a Lutheran Church before, but I don't like this pastor; maybe I go to the Presbyterian Church! I'll go to a Baptist Church! I was raised Catholic, but I really like the Orthodox. Despite themselves, however churches may want to stress the givenness of their reality and authority, the effect of the

    divisions of the Reformation are that we're in a new situation where
    inevitably private decision, private judgment, the individual, play a new kind of role. Now, the sort of genius of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I would note, are more that here's the church structure: you live in that structure, it's not really your decision. However, in the modern situation - an unintended

    consequence in history is often the story of unintended consequences - is that
    in Luther's protests (leading up to now), permanent Church division has had

    the effect of throwing the individual on to their own devices. It's hard to

    exaggerate how important this has been for European history. Do you have the

    whole rise of this kind of skepticism and philosophy and wider culture? Because the
    structures of certainty, the givens, were undermined by the division of opinion,

    and then that division of opinion being expressed in war, in violence, in rage

    against the other. This is a sad consequence of the Reformation - is this

    movement, I would say, this movement inevitably (I would argue,
    despite Luther's intentions) toward a kind of individualization of religion. How would Luther fit into the modern world? I think it's almost a world of Tweets, the Internet: it is attractive to make some parallels. Luther fed off (and it fed off him) the most modern technology of his time: as I mentioned, the printing press. He produced things fast; he made strong accusations: the Pope is the Antichrist!

    He didn't pull punches; so you have texts like, "against the goat Emser" (Emser is

    another theologian). How would he fit into the modern kind of situation? I think

    he'd be complicated. I think Luther would be utterly baffled by the modern world,

    that you have multiple churches, that you have people who seem to be
    perfectly happy with no religious faith at all. There are parallels: he's a man of deep convictions; he is a man of a certain coarseness.

    Luther is famous for his scatological language; it's referenced as what we say are bathroom

    kinds of discussions. There is a kind of, if one wants to celebrate it, earthiness -
    if you want to criticize it, coarseness and crudity to Luther. Unfortunately,

    that might fit into the modern world, particularly the recent world fairly
    well. Luther's a man with many warts, some people say a force of nature

    beyond any kind of judgment. He is a man of rage sometimes; there are texts of

    Luther's that, would that he had never written them, on some of his anti-
    Papal texts, some of his anti-Jewish texts - this is a bad side of Luther. There is also sometimes a kind of simplicity, a kind of utter trust, a kind of a

    warmth that you don't get in the colder scholastic philosophical theologian.

    Luther wrote spiritual masterpieces ("On the Freedom of a Christian"). He was a great
    interpreter of scripture. He worked like like a dog; he could produce enormous amounts of stuff in short periods of time. He's a complicated mix,

    and he is deeply a man of his time. That's why it's so hard to ask, how would

    Luther, how would he fit into the modern world. He was a late medieval man; he
    believed fervently and literally in the Devil. The Devil is a real force that

    must be struggled with, and some interpreters think this is quite central
    to Luther, this quite literal belief in the Devil. He was a man who lived in

    that late medieval world that was difficult, I think, for us to imagine.

    Famously, the 95 Theses begin with the first thesis, Thesis 1: "When Jesus said
    'repent,' he meant our whole lives to be lives of repentance" - that is, penance,

    repenance, is a characteristic of your entire life, not a matter simply of going
    to confession every second Saturday afternoon or something like that. What does this mean? Does it mean Luther was an advocate of gloominess, of always beating yourself or whipping yourself with a chain or a whip or thorns? It helps to remember: the late medieval period - say, 1350 on - was a hard

    time. The Black Death arrives in Central Europe in 1349. Remember, this is 25, 30%

    of the population dying. This was a horrible event. You also have what's

    called the beginning of the Little Ice Age: you have a climate change, something
    we know about today; except instead of things getting warmer, they got colder. Northern Europe, you had significant crop failures - it was a difficult time. It was also a time of economic change. Luther's father is something of a modern story:

    begins as a mine worker, becomes a co-owner in the mine - it's a time of
    change. Luther fits into a kind of late medieval piety, one that stressed humility, one in which one way of justifying yourself, of

    having you as a sinner be justified by God, is to condemn yourself. If you

    condemn yourself adequately, well then you're on God's side condemning sin. And
    paradoxically, by focusing on your own sinfulness you would be in line with God

    and thus be in a sense innocent. Remember the parable of the publican and the
    sinner: publican says, thank God you didn't make me a sinner, the sinner says have mercy on me, I know I'm a sinner, and Jesus says to the publican, the one who says I'm a sinner goes home justified. That's a part of Luther, and if that's what all he was about - if it was just about beating up on yourself, and if you beat up on yourself hard enough, God's on your side - if that was it, it would be gloomy. What's striking is that Luther never loses that late-medieval sense of a world on the brink; of a world in which the devil is constantly threatening; in which there are deep, deep threats around you. He never loses that.

    But there's the decisive shift. And the shift is, yes, I need to repent, but my

    penance is now bound up with dependence on Christ. There's not just the negative -
    I'm awful, I fail - but then that statement, I fail but Jesus doesn't: Jesus succeeds

    and if I trust in Christ - and I can trust that God will lead me to trust in Christ -

    if I trust in Christ, then I can have a kind of joyous life, knowing I'm a sinner -

    yes, that's the case - but Luther thought, as long as you trust in Jesus, you can

    have a kind of basic confidence: a confidence that, come the last day and
    now you are in the love of God. And that's the kind of joyousness. But note

    that joyousness requires the dark background. It's only that if it was up

    to me, I'm screwed: it's over. Because I am a deep sinner. I'm a bag of maggots. I'm a
    worm. If you don't have that background - and we don't in most of modern culture - we

    don't have that penitential kind of sense. Without that penitential sense, the
    attractiveness of Luther's understanding of the Gospel - which was attractive to many people at the time - without that sense, you don't see the

    joyousness. It's precisely the sharp contrasts in Luther's picture, as in a
    lot of late medieval art, between the rather grotesque, the gloomy, and

    against that background, the sunlight of the Gospel.

    One of the blessings of the modern period has been the work on overcoming
    these Reformation divides between Catholic and Protestant. This has been a large part of my life. My sort of academic specialty has been working on

    overcoming Reformation divides. I've been on the International and the U.S.
    Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, I was privileged to be a part of the work on

    the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, where narrowly on the
    question of justification, Lutherans and Catholics now say they need not condemn each other. There's still some real differences, but on the topic itself, there need not be condemnations. Now in my own case, things got a little complicated. A challenge of ecumenical dialogue: if it's not just negotiation, I

    mean ecumenical dialogue should be a joint pursuit of the deeper
    truth that we hope can unify us despite (or help us overcome) divisions. There's

    always a risk in that, that you'll find, gee, the other side seems right! There's a

    real difference here, and I think maybe I'm on the wrong side. Now, that happened
    to me: I sort of despite myself became convinced on some basic issues about grace, about the way in which grace elevates human freedom, where grace engages the self, the way grace transforms the self. I became convinced in the end that the Catholic position was correct. So I did the only thing I

    could honestly do: I became a Catholic. I now teach here at Catholic University.
    That's the kind of risk that goes on in any kind of genuine intellectual pursuit.

    It's always possible that one simply becomes convinced. We don't control our

    convictions - Luther would certainly agree with that! The ecumenical dialogues
    between Catholics and Lutherans - that's what I know the best - have been very successful in some topics, particularly the nature of salvation, justification

    which Luther thought was absolutely central, and some other topics such as
    the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist and some other issues. Where the dialogues are working now, but I have to say, to my mind with very little real success, are on issues of the church, and on actual Christian practice. Issues

    about what is authority in the church, how do we make decisions, who makes those
    decisions, what's the nature of the priesthood. I mean, finally it's not about

    reconciling Luther with the Pope at the time, Leo the 10th; the issue is about
    reconciling the contemporary Lutheran Church with a contemporary Catholic Church, and that means bringing together people and structures. In some certain ways that's harder to do than simply dealing with questions about theology. It's hard work. I also have to add honestly that whereas

    Lutherans and Catholics - or more broadly, Catholics and mainline Protestants - have
    come together in many ways on some doctrinal issues, time doesn't stand

    still on some other issues: particularly some social ethical issues, issues of
    divorce, issues of abortion, same-sex marriage issues - there's an increasing

    divide between Catholics and many at least mainstream Protestants. So at the
    present moment, dialogue goes on. I don't think...I'm not optimistic, but I am hopeful. Hope is a theological virtue - hope's the gift of God - one always goes on working, but you never know how it's going to turn out. But at this point we are dealing with quite difficult issues, I think. How does one judge the

    Reformation, particularly as a Catholic? I think the Catholic has to regret the

    division among Christians that occurred at the Reformation - there's no way around
    that. There is blame on both sides: both sides rushed to judgment in certain ways. There were certainly failures in the Catholic Church. I think it's it's easy and correct to be critical of the indulgence campaign that set things off to begin with. Even if I judge in the end, I think the Catholic Church was right in some deep sense. There's more than enough blame to go around. What was the effect of the

    Reformation on the Catholic Church? Well, positive and negative.
    Certainly negatively, a problem for both Lutheran and Catholic was that each side

    defined themself over against the other.
    "If the Catholics do it, we won't." "If Protestants do it, we won't!" So that led in some ways probably to the Catholic Church not distributing the Bible in the

    vernacular - that's what Protestants do, we don't do
    that! - and that was a negative effect. I do think in the long term there have been positive effects of the Reformation, particularly in the last 100, 125

    years where some aspects of the Reformation - the Catholic Church no
    longer says, well, if the Protestants do it, it must be wrong - there are good reasons perhaps for, most often, the mass being in the vernacular. I tend to like the mass in Latin sometimes, but I can easily see, one needs to go ahead and move the mass into the vernacular. The widespread distribution of Bibles, something that should have been done earlier in Catholic history. So

    in that sense there had been particularly in the last 150 years, as
    we've gotten over this, "that the other side does it, we won't just to make it clear that we're not them" - there has been a kind of mutual enrichment that John

    Paul II talked about, a gift exchange, between Protestants and Catholics. And
    the hope would be that we don't pick each up each other's bad habits, but that there are gifts that each of us have been given by God in our histories that we can exchange with the others, and that's part of what ecumenism is about: even if we're in a situation where we may be deadlocked on formal relations for a while, that doesn't mean that we can't learn from each other, we can't share our gifts with one another, that there can't be as much fellowship as there can be in this situation. And that's certainly, I think, one of my hopes for the future, is that as much as possible this gift exchange can go on.

    Luther was a man of strong convictions. He believed in God, he believed in the Devil,
    he believed in sin, he believed in eternal judgment, he believed in Heaven, believed in Hell. And he thought it made a great difference whether you believed in these things. If you had true faith in Jesus, you would enjoy eternal life, eternal bliss. And if you didn't, you would be cast out into the darkness where the real devils, the real demons, will torment you for eternity. He was a

    man who believed these things, and would have a hard time understanding how

    people wouldn't care; how this wouldn't be a burning issue. And that's why I

    think in many ways Luther - if you were to drop him down into America in 2017 - would

    be baffled. He would be baffled at people, not who aren't fervent atheists - I mean

    that I think Luther might understand (again, that's strong convictions). It'd be
    people that shrug their shoulders: you know, "I don't need religion. I'm spiritual, but not religious. I've made my own religion." I think the notion of making your own religion, Luther would find something between laughable and

    something to cry over. Your own religion won't stand up before the assaults of

    the Devil. They're not built on the only foundation that's adequate: Jesus.

    I think Luther, if you would set him down today - of course, this is a guess -
    I think he'd be appalled at even what's happened in some ways to his own theology. It's not...for Luther, his message is not therapeutic. It's not about

    helping you get through the day. It's not about being the best you possible. If you

    try and really emphasize being the best you possible, you're going be the worst
    you, Luther would think, because you're looking at yourself. I think Luther would look at a lot of what passes as a kind of mild

    Christianity, positive thinking, spiritual but not religious - I think Luther would
    look at that and condemn them with the kind of vehemence that he used for the

    papacy, for the works of the Devil. I think
    he would be baffled, horrified, by the kind of not caring. One

    of the things that the Catholic Church historically has criticized the effect
    of the Reformation, is what's called indifferentism: that one is indifferent, one doesn't care; that faced with all these choices, it doesn't really matter - you can take Jif, you can take Skippy, but maybe you just want to eat peanut butter! - that religion is a matter of taste. It's not a matter of the deep realities of life: that life is serious, life has goals, ends,

    and if you don't meet those goals, that means your life has in some ways run

    aground; it's wrecked. For Luther, life is a serious business, and that's

    one reason why, I mentioned earlier, I think it's important: this sort of dark
    background - for Luther, it's not cheap grace. This grace is going to lift you out of a situation of deep threat. And yes, it's pure gift - but that gift calls for acceptance, it calls for faith, it calls for trust in the face of temptation. I think, for Luther, he might find the modern world frivolous. Frivolous in its lack of seriousness, amusing itself to death. I think he would think there's been a decline at the basic background conditions that he

    and his Catholic opponents shared in the 16th century. They believed a lot was at
    stake in every human life, and they were struggling over it, and I think they would find today the battle has been given up too often. One is settling for a

    pablum, for mere therapy that doesn't address the disease.