September 23, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has written a foreword for the German translation of King Henry VIII’s 1521 Defense of the Seven Sacraments. The book was written by the English King prior to his own heresy and schism to refute the errors of Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, particularly his attacks on the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Müller praised the book for its “witness to Catholic Tradition.”
“This text – with its knowledge of Sacred Scripture, but also with the Patristic Tradition and the inchoate scholastic sacramental teaching with special reference to the relevant words of Hugo of St. Victor – is also a remarkable witness to Catholic Tradition. Whoever thought that the Church only came to her dogmatically binding teaching on the Sacraments because of the Protestant challenge, can learn here the truth,” he wrote.
The book has been recently republished in German to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, an event that divided Christendom and represented one of the greatest blows against the Christian faith in the history of Europe.
King Henry VIII wrote the work before leaving the Catholic Church to become the “supreme head” of the Church of England on account of the pope refusing to grant him an annulment of his marriage. Henry would marry six times. Historians suspect that the king was aided in the work by theological scholars such as St. Thomas More.
The Cardinal holds that, contrary to the attempts to re-image Luther as a fighter for moral reform, “Martin Luther did not, after all, aim at a spiritual and moral reform of the Catholic Church,” but instead, “openly provoked a breach” with it. He therefore concludes that “the year 1517 cannot be in retrospect a reason for joy over the celebration of the reformatory breakthrough to evangelical freedom.”
A full article on the publication of the book can be found here.
Cardinal Müller's foreword to German translation of Defense of the Seven Sacraments
Whoever did not at first want to acknowledge the fact, later – after his reformatory pamphlets came out in 1520, at least – had to admit that Martin Luther (1483-1546) did not, after all, aim at a spiritual and moral reform of the Catholic Church; but, rather, that he openly provoked a breach with “the Church, which is governed by the pope together with the bishops in communion with him” (Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 8).
Especially his text – in which he pronounced the liberation of the heretofore Church from the “Babylonian imprisonment of the Church” (1520) under the Church's hierarchy – and from the Catholic concept of Grace to be found in the Church's teaching on the Seven Sacraments, which was in his eyes wrong, proves that he had a completely contrary understanding of the essential questions of salvation and the ecclesial and sacramental mediation of salvation.
Already Luther's contemporaries had seen this reality immediately, and in a clear and insightful way. Even the King of England – a highly educated Catholic who was firm in his knowledge of the Fath, though not a theologian by profession – proves this thesis, and only one year later [in 1521], with his own polemical-theological refutation. That is to say, it was here that a nerve concerning different concepts of the Church was hit.
For his [King Henry VIII's] “Defense of the Seven Sacraments” (1521) – which, according to my knowledge, is now being presented for the first time in German – he received, as a thanksgiving and as a confirmation from the pope the title “Fidei defensor.” The English kings have preserved this title up until our days. Thus, in a form of a paradox, the Church of Rome is here confirming its indissoluble connection with the Anglican Church – which goes back to Henry's schismatic separation from the Holy See (1534). That same Church of Rome had planted Christianity in England 1,000 years earlier.
In the year of 2017, we once more look back to this 500-years-old separation of a large part of Western Christianity from the ecclesia principalissima. It is this Church of Rome that had been founded and organized by the Apostle princes Peter and Paul, “with which all other churches must agree, on account of its preeminent authority”; and it is only through communion with that Church that one belongs to the Catholic Church (St. Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, III, 3,2).
The separation from Rome and the divisions among Christians in the (various denominational) communities – which are fundamentally different with regard to the creed, the sacramental life, and the recognition of the bishops as successors of the Apostles, and as lawful shepherds instituted by Christ – are contrary to Christ's Will with regard to His Church.
He founded the Church in her unity, holiness, Catholicity, and apostolicity, built upon St. Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome, so that these may be, as persons, “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of the doctrinal and communal unity” of the episcopacy and of all denominations (Lumen Gentium 18).
The year 1517 cannot be in retrospect a reason for joy over the celebration of the reformatory breakthrough to evangelical freedom and to the “liberation from the reign of the pope, the Anti-Christ, over the true church,” through which liberation Christianity only then found its true appearance and its correct identity.
But this historic date should be for all Christians an occasion for penance and for a renewal in Christ. The separation can be overcome, with the help of the Holy Ghost, if we ourselves return to the foundation and the center of our Faith. In a time when all the signs of a Christian culture are being eliminated in Europe, and when man inwardly estranges himself from the love of Christ due to a tragic lack of knowledge of the great mysteries of salvation of the revealed Faith, we also have to recover the great treasure which Christ has left to His Church in the celebration of the Holy Sacraments.
Henry Tudor, King of England (1509-1547), when writing his defense of the Sacraments against Luther, did not refuse the help of great scholars. Here, St. Thomas More is especially to be mentioned, who suffered martyrdom under him in 1535 because of his defense of the papal primacy and of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage. This text – with its knowledge of Sacred Scripture, but also with the Patristic Tradition and the inchoate scholastic sacramental teaching with special reference to the relevant words of Hugo of St. Victor – is also a remarkable witness to Catholic Tradition. Whoever thought that the Church only came to her dogmatically binding teaching on the Sacraments because of the Protestant challenge, can learn here the truth. Indepenent of this text, we may also refer to the magisterial and binding definitions concerning the number, the essence, and the effects of the Sacraments ex opere operato as defined at the Lateran Council and the Council of Florence (contrary to the later subjetive faith, as presented in Luther's own fiducial faith).
King Henry repeatedly stresses that he was not so much interested in writing a strictly academic and purely specialist-technical document. Luther's own polemics of the year 1520 – especially his denial of five of the Sacraments (with Penance itself being still contested), of the sacrifial character of Holy Mass, and of the objective real presence of Christ (in the sacramental signs, and nor merely Christ's presence in one's subjective faith) – were themselves popular and polemical, and aimed at influencing the “simple people.” Therefore, this response written by King Henry is not about an exhibition fight between some scholars who try to surpass and outdo each other with the help of greater knowledge of sources, eloquent arguments, and polished formulations. The intention is the fortification of the Christians with regard of the reliability of their Faith and of the sacramental mediation of salvation, as it has been taught and practiced by the Church since Apostolic times.
In his Afterword – which is significant in light of the history of the Church – the king stresses that both the pope and he himself were always only concerned about the conversion of Luther, who, however, could not be convinced of his own contradictions to the Church's whole Tradition, neither with the help of Sacred Scripture, nor with the help of reason. Luther, according to King Henry, is not concerned about the reform of the Church. And that is because the Holy Father surely would have been grateful for such proposals, and then one could, with united forces, have contributed to a renewal of the Church in her “head and members,” as was demanded in the late Middle Ages. But Luther, according to the king, established “a new church” (p. 134) when he was overthrowing the “Church of the Living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
The study of the texts of the Protestant reformers and of the Catholic reform theologians of the 16th century should, however, not throw us back into the times of confessional polemics. But, at the same time, it can preserve us from a superficial euphemism in the ecumencial movement; and it can help us focus on those differences that exist and that need to be overcome, as well as to take a closer look on the special challenges of our time.
Today, humanity needs and demands the common witness of Christianity for God in Christ and in His Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as united and sanctified in the Holy Ghost. The one salvific event of the Incarnation of the Divine Word and of the Passion and Resurrection of the Son of God and as the only mediator of truth and Grace, Our Lord Jesus Christ, is still being transmitted to us in the Church with the help of Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Penance, Annointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. The Second Vatican Council says in article 11 of Lumen Gentium: “It is through the sacraments and the exercise of the virtues that the sacred nature and organic structure of the priestly community is brought into operation.” This reads like a summary of Henry VIII's document, but in light of the later renewal of the Church's sacramental theology, and with the help of the liturgical and Patristic movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.
May the present document of Henry VIII from the year 1521 both serve the ecumenical movement for progress toward the full communion of all Christians in the One Church, as well as help Catholics to deepen their own recognition and appreciation of the great wealth of the sevenfold Sacramental depth.
Translation LifeSiteNews' Maike Hickson.