Monday, March 13, 2006

Ruminations on the ABC Crisis While Passing By Augsburg

Last week, while passing by Augsburg, in Southern Germany, my mind was drawn to a famous meeting there between Martin Luther and Cardinal Cajetan almost five hundred years ago.* On his way to the ecclesiastical hearing before Cajetan at Augsburg, in October 1518, Luther’s thoughts turned to the welfare of his mother and father. “Now I must die,” he said. “What a disgrace I shall be to my parents!” Proceeding to Augsburg on foot until illness forced him to take a carriage for the final leg of his journey, Luther was accompanied by a young monk, Leonard Baier, and his dear friend Link.

Cajetan (Thomas de Vio of GaĆ«ta) was an Italian bishop, cardinal, theologian, commentator on St. Thomas, and general of the Dominican Order. He was a man known both for his great learning and integrity but also for being a little too fond of pomp and the trappings of office. The Pope put him in charge of Luther’s hearing at Augsburg, a stormy encounter that lasted three days. Cajetan had promised to proceed as a “father” rather than a “judge,” but his instructions from Rome allowed for no discussion of the issues.

History records (and the excellent “Luther” film from last year documented) that on the first day of the hearing, Luther prostrated himself in a gesture of humility, and the cardinal raised him up in a gesture of reconciliation. But when Cajetan informed Luther that he must recant immediately and Luther refused, Cajetan concluded the reformer was an obstinate heretic.

Referring to Luther’s frequent rudeness in debate, Cajetan described his encournters with Luther in strong terms. When he wrote to Rome, he could only conclude: “What an animal!” For his part, Luther characterized Cajetan as a man no more fit to handle his case than an ass was fit to play a harp.

One point from this encounter deserves mention in the context of our current ABC battles. Against Cajetan’s insistence on capitulation to papal power, Luther claimed that he must obey God rather than man. While powerful voices cry for bending to the interpretations and admonishments of Dr. Medley, evangelicals continue to profess that their higher loyalty belongs to the One who owns them. More than Codes of Ethics or a powerful desire for unity, we must obey God rather than men.

* Historical notes taken from several computerized reference sources available through Libronix. I have not taken the time to footnote or reference the sources, many of which dropped out as the post was pasted to this blog.

[His Barking Dog claims no official stature, station, or status in the PSW. Like Cajetan's dismissal of Luther, I'm just "an animal." Like Luther's assesment of Cajetan, I'm probably no more equipped to discuss these matters than an "ass . . . [is] fit to play a harp"]

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