Protestantism – A Tale of Many Schisms

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The year 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses which we wrote October 31, 1517.  In spite of this, however, Martin Luther did not found the first Protestant church until 1521 shortly after he was excommunicated from the Church.  He called it the Evangelical Church whereas Catholic bishops called it the Lutheran Church after him.  Contrary to what many believe, Luther was not originally interested in splitting from the Church: in fact the 95 Theses for a large part sound very Catholic and he was only asked by Leo X to omit 41 of the 95 Theses.  It was Luther’s pride, however, that prevented him from obeying the Pope’s request and he gradually questioned the Church on other matters besides just the abuse of selling indulgences like the Canon of Scriptures and justification by faith and works.

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Dr. Martin Luther, D.Th., Priest, Confessor, Theologian and Reformer

This is not a criticism so much of mainstream Protestant communities as it is a criticism of modern Protestant groups like the Baptists, the Pentecostals and the non-denominationals.  I find many Protestant services to be dry.  They deprive their congregants of the Sacraments.  They strip their communities of the history of Christianity.  They have taken out the Mass in favor of a service or liturgy as we call it in the Church which comes from the Greek term for service.  “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant” as Blessed John Henry Newman said.

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Strangely enough all Protestant groups to one extent or another borrow from the Catholic Church.  They all call the Bible the written word of God, yet the Bible does not clearly define itself as such but the Catholic Church did such when she formalized the universal or Catholic Canon of Scriptures in the late 4th century at the Councils of Hippo, Carthage and Rome which Protestants accept minus seven books for the most part.  Protestant groups abide by the Gregorian calendar, a 16th century reform of the Julian calendar which the Eastern Orthodox Churches still use.  Protestants incorporate all or parts of the Roman liturgical calendar into their calendar: celebrating holidays like Christmas, Easter Sunday, Pentecost, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, festivities established by the Catholic Church.  Some even celebrate Lent and Advent, even observing Catholic disciplines of fasting and abstinence.  For those who celebrate Christmas and Easter but not Advent and Lent, why do they celebrate two but not the other two?  They accept the First Nicene Council which dogmatically defined the Trinity; the men who attended were not ministers who wore suits and had autonomy; they were priests and bishops who taught things like the Real Presence, or the primacy of Rome; the Council even spoke about the Eucharist (Canons 13 & 18) which as Saint Justin Martyr says “is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (cf. First Apology 66), or as Saint Ignatius of Antioch writes “to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ” (cf. Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 7:1); it even forbade deacons the right to “give the Body of Christ to them [presbyters] that do offer” (cf. Canon 18).  So why do many Protestants accept the Trinity but not the Real Presence in the Eucharist since the Council upheld both?  Some Protestants quote Saint Augustine of Hippo on predestination and justification by faith when he says that “from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her” (cf. On Nature and Grace 42), “I am held in the communion of the Catholic Church by…and by the succession of bishops from the very seat of Peter” (Against the Letter of Mani 5), or that the bread “on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God is the body of Christ” and “what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ(cf. Sermon 227), and “What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice [wine] the blood of Christ” (Sermon 272).

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First Nicene Council

The groups which rejected the Real Presence were those such as Gnostics who rejected the divinity of Christ or believed in many gods, rejected the Canon of Scriptures which Catholics and Protestants use since it contained clear Eucharistic and Tinitarian references, or believed in reincarnation.  The Gnostics rejected the Real Presence because they believed the body to be evil.  Docetism, which was a branch of Gnosticism, denied the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, the Holy Trinity and the Crucifixion; so Saint Ignatius of Antioch probably referred to them when he said, “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 7:1).  It was not until the Protestant Reformation with the Zwinglians that a Trinitarian group rejected the Real Presence; so these Protestants have been influenced by Antitrinitarian groups which rejected the Real Presence, the Catholic Canon of Scriptures in favor of their own, the Crucifixion, the Trinity, believed in reincarnation, the evil of the body and the plurality of gods.

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Saint Pius V, pray for us!

 

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