A Mal­tese mas­ter­piece within the the­o­log­i­cal field

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - LETTERS -

Last month, Rev. Prof. Salvino Caru­ana OSA, launched his much-awaited book on Martin Luther “Jien s’hawn nista’”, Mart­inu Luteru: Ri­forma jew ri­forma? – at the Au­gus­tinian In­sti­tute in Pi­età.

The de­ci­sion to put pen to pa­per and write a book about the Ger­man Au­gus­tinian monk Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), as the 500th an­niver­sary of his Re­form is cel­e­brated, runs the great risk of at­tract­ing too much at­ten­tion... and crit­i­cism. The writer also faces the corol­lary prob­lem of hav­ing too much to di­gest prop­erly. The other risk is of hav­ing the work judged ac­cord­ing to ex­tremely dif­fer­ent forms of ap­pre­ci­a­tion, and fine crit­i­cism.

Fr Caru­ana, an Au­gus­tinian monk, in a few pre­lim­i­nary chap­ters, pro­vides the reader with a snap­shot of how Luther’s world looked like, namely, Europe, the Catholic Church, and the Men­di­cant Order of the Fri­ars of Saint Au­gus­tine, in the 15th and 16th cen­turies. Af­ter com­pos­ing a bi­og­ra­phy of Martin Luther, Fr Caru­ana pro­vides three chap­ters in which he gives a de­tailed out­line of the Re­form, the Counter-Re­for­ma­tion, and the Coun­cil of Trent. In four ap­pen­dices, the au­thor de­scribes, and dis­cusses, the ma­jor polemic re­gard­ing Martin Luther’s 95 Th­e­ses, the re­la­tions be­tween Luther and the Jews, Luther and the An­abap­tists: a re­form within the Re­form, and, fi­nally, a chap­ter on the re­la­tions be­tween Luther and the Turks. Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Au­gus­tine of Hippo’s writ­ings, Fr Caru­ana also com­posed a Re­trac­ta­tio.

There is no doubt that Martin Luther is one of the very few in the his­tory of Chris­tian­ity, in the re­li­gious pol­i­tics of his Father­land, Ger­many, and in the his­tory of Europe, about whom so much has been writ­ten. In other words, one must be fully aware that one is deal­ing with a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure of im­mense im­por­tance and stature, who, in 1542, de­clared him­self the most pop­u­lar per­son “in heaven, on earth, but also in hell”.

Very soon af­ter 1515, Luther be­gan to be seen as the saviour of the Ger­man peo­ple, free­ing them from the slav­ery of Rome and the pa­pacy. Luther, in fact, was the one who fi­nally freed the con­science from the slav­ery and fear of eter­nal damna­tion, even while here on earth. There is, un­doubt­edly, still a lot to be cleared con­cern­ing Martin Luther’s own at­ti­tudes in the light of the neg­a­tive mood and the apoc­a­lyp­tic ten­den­cies he har­boured to­wards the end of his own life, which he preached and taught. The Ger­man Re­former’s points of view are also to be mea­sured against those of some of his con­tem­po­raries, namely, Eras­mus of Rot­ter­dam, and a few oth­ers, who too had the same prob­lems, but re­mained, more or less, faith­ful to the Catholic Church.

Pro­fes­sor Caru­ana wrote that even dur­ing Luther’s own life­time, some con­sid­ered him a great per­son­al­ity, holy, sent by God to bet­ter and purge the life of many mem­bers of the hi­er­ar­chy of the Catholic Church, be­gin­ning with the pa­pacy it­self. Oth­ers con­sid­ered him to have been sent by Satan him­self to chas­tise and de­stroy the Catholic Church. With re­gard to some traits of his char­ac­ter there have also been im­mensely widely vary­ing opin­ions. Some wrote about his af­fa­bil­ity, kind­heart­ed­ness, cheer­ful, while oth­ers wrote about his ar­ro­gance, shame­less­ness, a glut­ton and very rude. A say­ing in Mal­tese runs: “As haughty as Luther!” Where lies the truth about Martin Luther?

In an ex­tremely well doc­u­mented con­clu­sion, Prof. Caru­ana ar­gues that in writ­ing on this topic, one ought to keep well in fo­cus the fact that to­day the ma­jor­ity of Protes­tants ac­knowl­edge that Luther com­mit­ted a num­ber of mis­takes, whereas Catholics ought to ac- knowl­edge the fact that the Catholic hi­er­ar­chy too grossly mis­in­ter­preted and mis­judged the Re­former for cen­turies.

In his ap­pre­ci­a­tion of this vol­ume, “Jien s’hawn nista’”, Mart­inu Luteru: Ri­forma jew ri­forma? Mgr Prof. Hec­tor Scerri de­scribed Fr Caru­ana’s work as “mas­ter­piece” since the lat­ter “to de­picts the re­former in an ob­jec­tive man­ner, namely a per­spec­tive which puts events and their im­pli­ca­tions in a much wider and truer pic­ture. He re­frains from fol­low­ing the former black-and-white schemes of ‘us’ and ‘them’, pre­ced­ing the era of au­then­tic ec­u­meni­cal di­a­logue and re­la­tions”.

Why not con­sider grab­bing a copy of this in­trigu­ing vol­ume? Fr Mario At­tard OFM Cap

Martin Luther

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