Luther: 500 Years After

Anyone familiar with Martin Luther is aware that his religious ideas often reflect his inner turmoil – the agonized awareness that he was a sinner, the consuming fear that he was damned, a pressing need for reassurance that he was saved by faith in the salvific action of Christ.

Out of this tangle came Luther’s distinctive view of faith as a “reflexive” or “apprehensive” entity – the believer’s reaching out to salvation in Christ, seizing it (or Him), and directing it (or Him) back upon himself in order to possess the assurance of salvation and a place among the elect.

This circular trajectory is traced by Paul Hacker in his book Faith in LutherHacker was a controversial German Catholic religious scholar, a convert from Lutheranism, who died in 1979. Faith in Luther first appeared in 1966, with a preface by a then-youngish theologian, a star at the recently concluded Vatican Council II, Joseph Ratzinger, now better known as Pope Benedict XVI.

The Ratzinger preface is included in the new edition, along with an informative foreword by Reinhard Hutter, another former Lutheran, who now teaches at the Catholic University of America.

The republication is a timely contribution as the fifth centennial observance of Luther’s posting of the famous 95 theses, supposed to have occurred on October 31, 1517, draws to a close. Historians say that event may or may not have happened, but the theses certainly were real, as were the break with Rome and the fracturing of European Christendom that followed.

As is the lasting significance of Luther’s thinking about faith. The subtitle of Hacker’s book – Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion – points to why that is so:

Luther’s “temptations” were the outcome of the deadly stress produced by the first effort of a man-oriented trend to assert itself within the uncontested framework of a decidedly theocentric and Christocentric religion. Since Luther’s time the same trend has forced faith to withdraw to the position of a “religionless Christianity.” Anthropocentrism has reached its last stage before coinciding with professed atheism. This situation causes a new kind of interior convulsion, and this is the contemporary form of faith’s essential experience of temptation.

The whole nightmare of “tempted faith” vanishes once the reflexivity of faith is renounced. But for many, it seems arduous to get rid of an inveterate evil.

If true, this constitutes stern criticism of Luther. But is it true? To answer that, it’s necessary to take a close look at Luther’s ideas about faith. With their emergence, Hacker writes, “the potential reformer became the first Protestant.”

Luther as an Augustinian Monk by Lucas Cranach the Elder (workshop), c. 1550 [German National Museum, Nuremberg]

Here Hacker relies heavily on Luther’s immensely popular Small Catechism. Summing it up, he writes that for Luther “the act of reflexive faith is directed to the Divine Person of Christ, but it is intended to recoil on the believer’s ego in order to evoke in him a consciousness of his own relation with God, a consciousness of consolation and salvation.”

As Luther put it in a sermon of 1519: “Nobody can possibly know that he is in God’s grace and that God is propitious to him except through faith. If he believes it, he is blessed; if not, he is condemned.” This is what Luther meant by calling such faith “apprehensive” (fides apprehensiva) – it grasps salvation, indeed grasps Christ Himself.

Hacker finds this concept of faith pervasive in Luther’s religious thinking. As such, it strongly influences his view of the sacraments. For example, although he eventually rejected Penance as a true sacrament, he paradoxically took an appreciative view of auricular confession (“it pleases me wonderfully”), since the forgiveness spoken by the minister brought “a unique remedy for afflicted consciences. . . .We give peace to ourselves in the mercy of God, who speaks to us through our brother.”

Of the two sacraments that Luther recognized – baptism and the Eucharist (“the Lord’s Supper”) – his treatment of the latter is particularly interesting from the standpoint of reflexive faith.

The Mass is essentially for Luther “a promise of remission of sins,” and that’s why he insists emphatically on the Real Presence. For if the meaning of the Mass is Christ’s promise to pardon sins, then, in Hacker’s words, “the bodily presence of the one promising at the time of the proclamation of his promise surely guarantees the validity of the promise and the actuality of its accomplishment.”

The effects of Luther’s thinking, of course, didn’t end with him. On the contrary, Hacker says, “The new concept of faith inescapably initiated a development in which religion became at first man-oriented and eventually man-centered.” Here was “the seed of anthropocentrism in religion and of idealism in philosophy.”

No Catholic of even minimal sensitivity can fail to appreciate the dramatic improvement in Lutheran-Catholic relations since Vatican II, especially the joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed in Augsburg in 1999.

Two years ago a dialogue group representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded that the number of “church-dividing issues” remaining between them is not large. But the remaining issues are of no little importance, since they include the authority of the pope, abortion, same-sex marriage, and ministry (ELCA accepts women as ministers along with gays and lesbians in same-sex unions).

If Paul Hacker is correct, add faith to that list, and put it first. In his foreword, Reinhard Hutter calls the book “an urgent invitation for future bilateral ecumenical dialogues to tackle explicitly the questions, What is faith? What is saving faith? What does saving faith presuppose and entail?”

Leaving these questions unexamined, he warns, would mean that “the partners in the ecumenical dialogue would most likely talk past each other on many other theological topics.” As then-Father Joseph Ratzinger put it in 1966, an ecumenism based on “a surrender of truth would be the equivalent of burying the faith. . . .[Hacker] has the right, therefore, to expect his work to be evaluated by the single norm he has in mind: the quest of the truth of the Gospel, whether it is pleasant or not, whether it coincides with one’s ideas or makes them questionable.”


Four Words for Tumultuous Times.

Via Debora Seidman
on Oct 5, 2017


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In stressful times, it’s easy to get thrown off course.

During these past few weeks I’ve been keenly aware of the massive hurricanes sweeping our globe. They’ve not just been in the United States and the Caribbean.

I’m an empath with antennae that are fine-tuned to global environmental crises. I also have friends, family, and students in hurricane affected areas.

Perhaps the thing that’s been throwing me off the most though is a long stretch of sleeplessness. Not sleeping is certainly contributing to my empathic nature being even more prominent than usual. While I’m dedicated to a spiritual practice and self care, when I don’t sleep, my brain gets so confused that I lack all motivation to do the things I know will help.

When my mind starts to wander into the kind of negative, fearful thoughts that inevitably arise at 2 a.m. while I’m not sleeping, I simply say out loud: “I am holy ground.”

Sometimes I stand up, feel my feet on the floor, and connect with the ground. Usually, though, I’m so tired that I just lie in bed. But in saying those words aloud, I feel a shift in a visceral way, through my body and my heart. When I say these words, my breath lets go, and some of the stress in my body is alleviated.

From there, I can take another breath, and make a better choice about the next sleepless moment. Instead of being pulled further into a spiral of despair, I’m pulled toward hope. I remember to pray. I remember that I believe in miracles. I remember that I’m not alone.

These days I’ve come to accept that I may or may not sleep. But if I remember that I am holy ground, I don’t abandon myself when I’m at my most vulnerable. If I am holy ground, then I’m able to connect to a web of sacredness, a network of invisible support that always knows my name.

So. I whisper it. I chant it. I sing it out loud: “I am holy ground.” I say it over and over again, so all my cells wake up and remember.

You are Holy Ground {Poem}.

When earthquakes shatter your foundation
You are holy ground.

When nuclear war gets played with like a game
You are holy ground.

When the wildfires come, and the hurricanes,
and you know that climate change is already here:
You are holy ground.

When fear arises and stops your breath
and you can’t take another step,
You let it rise, and let it go
and know again—
You are holy ground.

Over and over in these changing times,
when an old paradigm is dying
You let the old paradigms die within you as well.

You call out the lie of your weakness,
your powerlessness, your shame
You step into the wider truth, the deeper truth,
the ever present, unchanging truth
of who you are and why you came.

You remember the call:
to be in service to the earth’s
Great time of change

You want to remember
and help others remember.
You know that fear cloaks
the light you are.

To come back home,
you walk.
Every step you take
is planted on the earth.
You remember
the promise you made.

Right now, when it feels impossible
is the time to remember
without a doubt—
who you are:
you are
holy ground.

You are holy ground.

You are
holy ground
even now.

With every breath you take:

We are holy ground. Now, always, still.

And if that’s so, then we are loved. If we’re loved, then we’re not abandoned. If we’re not abandoned, then there’s hope, and when there’s hope, we feel a part of life again, even at 3 a.m. on another sleepless night, when the whole world feels like it is on shaky ground.

All of us need each other to remember who we really are—holy ground, holy ground, holy ground.

Las Vegas shooting reveals what Benedict XVI called the “sorrow of the world”

Robyn Beck | AFP
University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) cheering squad member Gala Hernandez (L), grieving for a friend killed in Sunday night’s mass shooting, is comforted by a teammate beside the 58 crosses placed in memory of the shooting victims, on the Las Vegas Strip just south of the Mandalay Bay hotel, October 6, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. On October 1, 2017 Stephen Paddock killed at least 58 people and injured more than 450 after he opened fire on a large crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. The massacre is one of the deadliest mass shooting events in US history. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck


This sorrow, he explains, is rooted in modern man’s losing sight of his “own real greatness.”

As endless headlines postulate about the Las Vegas shooter’s possible “motive,” many people are asking deeper questions about the largest public massacre in American history: What is wrong with our culture and what are we called to do about it? I think Elizabeth Scalia was correct in a Facebook comment last week: “Ultimately, this goes to something within the human heart itself.”

I just happened to begin reading a book by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) last week that nails with eerie prophetic accuracy a core problem we are facing today: a sense of despair that St. Thomas Aquinas referred to as the “sorrow of the world”—the same worldly grief that St. Paul concludes produces death (2 Cor. 7:10).

In The Yes of Jesus Christ: Spiritual Exercises in Faith, Hope and Love,Ratzinger’s words, given as a retreat in 1989, blaze with insight about the sorrow of the world. This sorrow, he explains, is rooted in modern man’s losing sight of his “own real greatness” and in his “incapability” of believing in the divine call on his life, which is to love and be loved by God.

According to Ratzinger, we are suffering today from an acute deprivation of belief in and experience of the love of God, which calls us to human greatness. Whereas authentic Christian hope sees the world through the lens of “certainty that I shall receive that great love that is indestructible and that I am already loved with this love here and now” (Ratzinger, 69,70), despair grows out of ceasing to know and believe that we are loved by a God of unbounded goodness who calls each of us to the exalted vocation of divine intimacy and eternal life.

Such despair, which is all too pervasive in today’s world, leads to “a persistent morbid search for the new as a substitute for the loss of the inexhaustible surprise of divine love.” (Ratzinger 78) In the context of the Las Vegas killing spree, Stephen Paddock’s act of outrageous violence was a pitiful and perverted counterfeit of that which all human beings truly seek: the thrill of finding “the inexhaustible surprise of divine love.”

In Ratzinger’s words:

The deepest root of this sorrow is the lack of any great hope and the unattainability of any great love …in this way the truth becomes ever more tangible that the sorrow of the world leads to death … the ghastly business of playing with power and violence, that is still exciting enough to create an appearance of satisfaction. (Ratzinger, 73)

A life without belief in transcendent love leads to despair and ultimately death, which man will take into his own hands to lord over as a god. When despair begins to reign over the human heart, man will increasingly settle for what Ratzinger aptly calls “monstrous surrogates” for love: power and violence that give him a taste of temporary gratification, even as they fail miserably to satisfy his hunger for the infinite.  In the end, man will either allow love to transform him or he will transfer his despair onto others through increasingly violent measures that falsely empower him. Paddock is case in point.

While Ratzinger’s diagnosis of our culture is scarily accurate and stark, he does offer what he calls “the way to healing.” He states that only the courage to rediscover and accept the divine dimension of our being can give our souls and our society a new inner stability once again. (Ratzinger, 78)

How will this rediscovery take place? It will happen through “men and women who have listened to God and come into direct contact with God; through men and women for whom God has become an actual experience and who as it were know him first hand.” (Ratzinger, 26)

In other words, it will happen through the convincing witness of those who have encountered God personally and then become living proof that there is a God; living proof that the God we have experienced is indeed a God of limitless love who continually exclaims to every one us: it is good that you exist!

In short, “the rediscovery of the divine dimension of our being” will happen through God’s grace working through you and me.  The New Evangelization of the Church and the world begins with our unadulterated “yes” to love in union with the “stronger and greater Yes” of Jesus Christ—the Yes that has the power to transform all of the evil of the world into an offering of love.

Anxiety, Communication And Leadership


Anxiety, Communication and Leadership post image

In my post Once You Understand Emotion, Motivation Is Easy, I laid the link between Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory and current emotions.

In this post, I will briefly expand these ideas and then focus on a specific emotion from a communication and leadership point of view: Anxiety.

Self-Determination Theory And The Basic Psychological Need For Safety

Self-Determination Theory states that the fulfillment of three psychological needs influences job satisfaction: Mastery, connection, and autonomy. If we extend these needs into the social arena generally, the need for autonomy and connection may be translated one-on-one as being essential for well-being. Social mastery needs some elaboration: It has to do with competency in terms of being able to anticipate others’ behavior, reacting appropriately to this behavior and the ability to influence others. In short, it has to do with a feeling of being in control or the basic psychological need for safety. Bear in mind these are psychological needs, not material needs.


When people feel safe, connected and autonomous they generally experience a sense of well-being. When one of these three needs is threatened, certain emotions will arise. When safety is at stake, an anxious reaction is a natural response, leading the body to prepare itself for action: The so-called Fight-Flight-Freeze response. Anxiety is a very basic emotion and has a positive intention: It prevents you from doing silly things, things which could endanger your existence. The survival instinct is so strong, that almost all sensory perception is first filtered by an organ in the midbrain: The amygdala. This organ is responsible for our so-called negativity bias: We first need to scan the environment for potentially dangerous situations, as these have priority. So anxiety really is an adaptive emotion, it ensures we survive. It only becomes a problem when its intensity isn’t appropriate for the actual situation at hand.


On a very basic level, we are social beings because we need each other. Exclusion from the group that surrounds us is a potentially dangerous situation, something borne out by research: When a person ventilates a view which is different from the majority of the group, their amygdala react. They react irrespective whether such a person actually experiences fear when standing up for their view. Also when they feel excluded for what or whom they are, this will lead to anxiety.

Anxiety And Communication

In the same way, anxiety has its role to play in communication. In the first instance, it prevents us from saying silly things, things which will obviously lead to our exclusion from that group we would like to belong to. On the other hand it may also inhibit us, prevent us from saying the things that should be said (when others cross our boundaries, for example), prevent us from making contact with others (think of shyness, for example) or simply cause us to provide politically correct responses so as not to stand out too much from the group. In a team this can be detrimental, it means this team member’s expertise is unavailable for the group. When several team members don’t speak freely, groupthink rears its head, sometimes even with catastrophic implications.

So what can you as a leader when dealing with an anxious team member? Firstly you will need to be able to recognize an anxious response: eyes wide (or wider than normal: both eyebrows lift), the tightening of the lip, the rapid breaking of eye-contact and moving uncomfortably are tell-tales. As people seldom feel competent in an atmosphere which doesn’t feel safe, your task is to ensure you provide a space in which your team members may speak freely, without the (perceived) danger of being excluded.

A Safe Space

So what can you do precisely to create that safe space where even anxious team members are stimulated to speak more freely? Practicing Observational Listening is a good start: By concentrating on what the team member understood by your message (rather than what you meant), you see their current emotions more clearly and can respond to their emotions more sensitively. Also by being a role model, showing for all to see that you are an empathic person of integrity who treats others with respect. And by displaying some of your own vulnerability in the appropriate use of self-disclosure. Thereby you arethe safe space where even anxious team members feel safe enough to contribute.