“Discerning the More Fruitful Paths to Reform”

“Piercing the layered veils of historical understanding involves a return to the sources with questions and categories beyond those available at the time under study.”

With this provocative line begins Joseph W. Koterski’s article “Discerning the More Fruitful Paths to Reform: Pierre Favre and the Lutheran Reformation,” a very interesting read.:”(Heythrop Journal XXXI [1990], pp. 488-504)”:

Because the article is about Pierre Favre, a prominent figure in the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) from the time of its founding in 1540, Koterski further sets the stage by claiming that the term “Counter-Reformation” was “not part of the self-understanding of the Catholic reform party, but a denomination applied long after the fact.” He notes that “reform was in the air, and had been so for a long time, but was conceived in many different ways: personally as well as ecclesially, from the top down as well as from the bottom up.”

Favre’s career in the Society was short, since the Society was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 but Favre died on the way to the Council of Trent in 1546. Present at the Protesting Catholic-Roman Catholic colloquies in Parma (1539), Worms (1540-1541), Ratisbon (1541), and Speyer (1543), Favre developed the opinion that the Protestants (here meaning Lutherans) were obstinate heretics bent on revolution:

They say that they want only the reform of the Church, and they say it in such a way that the ignorant and stupid believe them, even when they see them desecrating images, overturning all the altars in each church except one, and blaspheming anyone who hears private masses or prays to the saints, while giving them to understand that they want nothing other than reformation. It awakens fear of Christ Our Lord to see the blindness which has fallen upon this nation.:”(Ibid., pg. 490.)”:

Nevertheless, though he believed that most of the Protestants were using the current widespread call for reform as a cover for merely schismatic activities, Favre desired that the ongoing disputes not be run by men on either side who only wanted to fight and sling mud. He was most willing, in fact, to see good in Protestants like Melanchthon who sought more moderate reforming goals. Particularly, he urged the authorities at Rome to seek out and read not just any copy of the Augsburg Confession, but one which contained the Apology of Melanchthon, since it was Melanchthon’s mediating position which Favre judged to have the best possibility of bearing fruit between the parties.:”(Ibid., pg. 491.)”:

Echoing a complaint that had already been heard for centuries, Favre wrote to Ignatius Loyola that the primary scandal for the Catholic Faith was the morally lax lives of the priests and bishops. This, he said, more than any of the heretical doctrines of the Protestants, was responsible for the defection of so many from the Catholic religion. Notice the typical Catholic (and quite proper) concern for faith not being a merely intellectual exercise, but one which transforms the whole life:

If only there were many workers at hand! If only those who are intent on building up the Catholic faith would rebuild and build up the structure of morals by their words and their lives! And now especially, since against the heretics one can do little by learning alone. This is because the world has already come to such a state of disbelief that one can only use the arguments of works and of blood. Otherwise the matter goes very slowly and errors increase. Neither words nor reasons are enough anymore to convince heretics here or elsewhere.:”(Ibid., pg. 492.)”:

The theme of moral reform, and also of the futility of purely intellectual means and physical force, comes out even stronger in a 1546 letter to Prior Gerard Kalckbrenner of Koln:

It grieves me to see that the powers and dominations of the earth…attempt nothing else, plan nothing else, think of nothing else, than the extirpation of public heretics. As I have often said in your presence, both hands of those who build the city are busy with brandishing the sword against its enemies. Why is it, O good God, that we do not build with at least one hand? Why is it that nothing is done about reformation–I do not speak of the reformation of the doctrine of faith, nor the doctrine of good works, for there is nothing lacking to us in these doctrines–but about the reformation of the life and morals of Christians? Why do we not return by way of the doctrine which is both ancient and modern to doing the good works of the early Christians and the holy Fathers?:”(Ibid., pp. 495-496.)”:

Focusing on good morals as a route to attaining good doctrine would come to be a key Jesuit strategy. But “morals” did not merely mean matters of right and wrong. It also had much to do with the manner of approaching people, the ability to create trust and respect–which too often merely intellectual and polemical arguments failed to do. Favre wrote:

The first point is that anyone who wants to help the heretics of this age must seek to bear them much charity and truly to love them, excluding from one’s own mind all considerations which could chill one’s esteem for them.

Second, that one must get their good will, so that they will love us and keep a good place for us in their hearts. This we can achieve by speaking with them familiarly on those topics which we have in common and avoiding all contentious arguments in which one party might seem to beat the other; for our communication should be on those subjects which unite us rather than on those which seem to emphasize the disagreement between our views.:”(Ibid., pg. 499.)”:

His recommendation for dealing with the Lutherans in particular is to recognize that they lost right understanding of the Catholic faith before they lost right belief in it: “Because the Lutheran sect lost right understanding before right belief, one must proceed from those things which effectively strengthen right understanding to those which avail for right belief.”:”(Ibid.)”: As Kotersky summarizes Favre’s views, “For Favre there are intellectual errors involved in the Protestant position, but what is really at issue is a defect in charity, a coldness to the love of God, or an indifference to the doing of good works that chills and lessens the ability of the mind to see aright.” Indeed, “the desire he found among Protestants to dispute points of doctrine is a symptom rather than the cause of the problem of disorder in the Church and that the causes tend to be in the order of the will, habit, and felings.”:”(Ibid., pg. 501.)”:

Kotersky summarizes by again noting Favre’s congenial nature and refusal to engage in the purely negative mud-slinging that controversialists on both sides were doing. Although he unswervingly believed Protestantism to be a grave error, he also believed that genuine fruits and genuine reform would come from a more moderate approach to the troubles. Unfortunately, his type of attitude (which was shared by Melanchthon) would not prevail in the increasingly angry and bitter disputes of the remaining decades of the sixteenth century. Favre himself died on the way to attending the just-opened Council of Trent, where, over time, radical zealots not committed to listening and understanding the “heretics” but only to condemning them in the harshest terms, would take over and solidify the schism into a cold, hard, institutionalized fact of life.

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