Theologia Crucis and the Triumph in the Cross: St Thomas More, Martin Luther, and Pope Benedict XVI

A Catholic visitor to my office today saw the portait of the person on the left hanging in my office, and suggested that it might be the person who is pictured on the right.

After I picked myself up off the floor (literally ROTFL), he asked me (as one does) what a picture of the Arch-heretic was doing on my wall.

I explained that Luther was very poorly misunderstood by Catholics in general (not to mention the “Lutherans” that followed him in later years), and that there were elements of his spirituality which were valuable when interpreted correctly.

For instance, his doctrine of simul justus et peccator, when interpreted within the Catholic tradition, has much to commend it as a pastoral spirituality. His Christocentricity is worth retaining in a day and age when a more vague “Theocentricity” is in vogue. And it would be interesting to compare his understanding of conscience with that of St Thomas More, since both took a stand on it (Luther kept his head, though).

But what I value most from Luther is his Theologia Crucis, the theology of the Cross. I pointed out to my visitor that it is not unusual to see this emphasis popping up from time to time in Pope Benedict’s writing, and lo and behold, not an hour later, I came across just such a reference in the Pope’s recent “talk-back” with priests on Tuesday, July 24, in Auronzo di Cadore.

There he analysed the situation in the Church that followed the Second Vatican Council (and which continues today). Sandro Magister gives us at least this part in English. Here is the point at which Luther and Benedict XVI begin talking the same language:

Along this road, we must grow with patience and we must now, in a new way, learn what it means to renounce triumphalism.

The Council had said that triumphalism must be renounced – thinking of the Baroque, of all these great cultures of the Church. It was said: Let’s begin in a new, modern way. But another triumphalism had grown, that of thinking: We will do things now, we have found the way, and on it we find the new world.

But the humility of the Cross, of the Crucified One, excludes precisely this triumphalism as well. We must renounce the triumphalism according to which the great Church of the future is truly being born now. The Church of Christ is always humble, and for this very reason it is great and joyful.

The Church is growing with new realities full of vitality, which do not show up in the statistics – this is a false hope; statistics are not our divinity – but they grow within souls and create the joy of faith, they create the presence of the Gospel, and thus also create true development in the world and society.

I love that last bit about statistics not being our God. Earlier, the Pope quoted a proverb I had not heard before: “If a tree falls it makes a lot of noise, but if a forest grows no one hears a thing” .

But does Benedict mean to give a blanket ban on the sense of the “triumphant” in the Church? I have certainly found Lutherans who think this way–who would say that there is no place for any sense of triumph. But is this true to our Easter joy and Resurrection hope? Papa Benny suggests that there is a authentic and valid Christian triumphalism, the boasting that St Paul boasted of, the Triumph of the Crucified One:

Thus it seems to me that we must learn the great humility of the Crucified One, of a Church that is always humble and always opposed by the great economic powers, military powers, etc. But we must also learn, together with this humility, the true triumphalism of the Catholicism that grows in all ages. There also grows today the presence of the Crucified One raised from the dead, who has and preserves his wounds. He is wounded, but it is in just in this way that he renews the world, giving his breath which also renews the Church in spite of all of our poverty. In this combination of the humility of the Cross and the joy of the risen Lord, who in the Council has given us a great road marker, we can go forward joyously and full of hope.

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One Response to Theologia Crucis and the Triumph in the Cross: St Thomas More, Martin Luther, and Pope Benedict XVI

  1. Past Elder says:

    And does Sir Thomas’ spirituality have anything to contribute? What is it?

    The end of the quotation makes it quite clear that it is neither the humility of the Cross nor the joy of the risen Lord that is being championed here, but Vatican II — and that the council rather than the Gospel or the Catholic Faith prior to the council is the root of this new religion. In light of that it really doesn’t matter whether the Gospel and preconciliar Catholicism are the same thing, as both are swept aside, or rather reinvented at will, in the creation of the new faith based on the council, nor does it matter what kind of triumphalism attends it.

    I think rather the Roman church has descended to levels even worse than in Luther’s day, and were he here to see it would bring on even stronger language than in his own time.

    Now, on a side note, does Australian currency contain the “DF” — how interesting that the English monarchs retain a title given by a pope to Henry VIII for a book contra Luther on the sacraments! Oh well, in my lifetime “Imp Ind” was still on there too.

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