The Defence of the Priesthood Against Luther: The Prologue

FAITH Magazine January-February 2010

In this Year of the Priest we publish a British Bishop's defence against another full frontal attack upon the Church in an earlier age.

There have been published to the world from Luther's printing press many books which I have perused with great grief, for I found scattered throughout them so much of that poison by which innumerable simple souls, day by day, are destroyed. Yet of all that I have seen none is more pestilential, senseless or shameless than the one he entitles The Abrogation of the Mass, for in it he tries utterly to destroy the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ, which the Church has ever held to be most salutary, and the chief object of devotion to all the faithful of Christ. To effect his purpose, with much display of words he contends that there is no visible priesthood, and in every possible way he tries to show that the priesthood to which for so many centuries our forefathers have beenaccustomed was established partly by the lies of men, partly through the inspiration of Satan. This he asserts almost at the opening of his book: "If you wish to be truly a Christian, be certain, and never allow yourself to be moved from that certainty, that there is in the New Testament no visible and external priesthood save what has been set up by the lies of men and by Satan."

To put it briefly, Luther makes three attacks against the sacred priesthood. He brings forward three arguments by which, as with three battering-rams, he imagines that he can utterly destroy this Christian truth. For after he has delivered these three attacks upon the priests he adds

"I am confident that by these three arguments every pious conscience will be persuaded that this priesthood of the Mass and the Papacy is nothing but a work of Satan, and will be sufficiently warned against imagining that by these priests anything pious or good is effected. All will now know that these sacrificial Masses have been proved to be injurious to our Lord's testament and that therefore nothing in the whole world is to be hated and loathed so much as the hypocritical shows of this priesthood, its Masses, its worship its piety, its religion. It is better to be a public pander or robber than one of these priests."

My God! How can one be calm when one hears such blasphemous lies uttered against the mysteries of Christ? How can one without resentment listen to such outrageous insults hurled against God's priests? Who can even read such blasphemies without weeping from sheer grief if he still retains in his heart even the smallest spark of Christian piety?

Trusting therefore in the goodness of our Lord we will in our turn try to launch three attacks against Luther by which as with a sponge we hope to wipe away all the filthy and blasphemous things that have proceeded from his mouth against priests. But, to avoid confusion, lest the reader, when he hears of attacks, should be uncertain whether we mean our own or Luther's, we shall call our attacks rejoinders. Our first rejoinder then shall be the prescriptive right of existing truth which, from the founders of the Church through the orthodox Fathers has come down infallibly to us. The second shall be a series of axioms, drawn from the Holy Scriptures and arranged in due order, by which that priesthood, which he calls a visible one, shall be fully established. The third shall be a clear anddirect rebuttal of Luther's objections, one by one. But as we do not wish to waste time with many words we shall at once enter upon our subject.

P. E. Hallett's Burns Oates 1935 translation of "Sacri Sacerdotii Defensio Contra Lutheram, first published July 15th, 1522.

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