A Maltese masterpiece within the theological field
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