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The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism

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by Rev. Louis Bouyer Rev. Bouyer shows the principles such as free and unmerited salvation, the sovereignty of God, justification by faith, and the sovereignty of Holy Scripture that inspired many 16th century Protestant reformers. He also discusses the weakening elements, such as denial of objective value of the sacraments, as well as opposition between scripture and apos by Rev. Louis Bouyer Rev. Bouyer shows the principles such as free and unmerited salvation, the sovereignty of God, justification by faith, and the sovereignty of Holy Scripture that inspired many 16th century Protestant reformers. He also discusses the weakening elements, such as denial of objective value of the sacraments, as well as opposition between scripture and apostolic tradition, and between scripture and church authority. This book challenges Catholics and Protestants, alike, to understand essentials which both divide and unite them.


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by Rev. Louis Bouyer Rev. Bouyer shows the principles such as free and unmerited salvation, the sovereignty of God, justification by faith, and the sovereignty of Holy Scripture that inspired many 16th century Protestant reformers. He also discusses the weakening elements, such as denial of objective value of the sacraments, as well as opposition between scripture and apos by Rev. Louis Bouyer Rev. Bouyer shows the principles such as free and unmerited salvation, the sovereignty of God, justification by faith, and the sovereignty of Holy Scripture that inspired many 16th century Protestant reformers. He also discusses the weakening elements, such as denial of objective value of the sacraments, as well as opposition between scripture and apostolic tradition, and between scripture and church authority. This book challenges Catholics and Protestants, alike, to understand essentials which both divide and unite them.

30 review for The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism

  1. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    This book is well organized and displays a detailed knowledge of the history of the Protestant churches, including many quotes from original documents. Its scholarship is well beyond me, but it appears to be quite authoritative. The argument sounds familiar but is fleshed out with such clarity that the revealed message is far more subtle than I anticipated. Bouyer starts by describing the two core tenets of Protestantism. Luther starts the Reformation when he defines sola gratia, the idea that we This book is well organized and displays a detailed knowledge of the history of the Protestant churches, including many quotes from original documents. Its scholarship is well beyond me, but it appears to be quite authoritative. The argument sounds familiar but is fleshed out with such clarity that the revealed message is far more subtle than I anticipated. Bouyer starts by describing the two core tenets of Protestantism. Luther starts the Reformation when he defines sola gratia, the idea that we are justified by grace alone. Calvin takes up this idea and develops it into soli Deo gloria, the sovereignty of God, which he sees as meaning justification both starts and ends with God. Bouyer takes pains to point out that both are not deviations from or perversions of Catholicism; they actually are strongly supported by it. Luther begins his separation from the Catholic Church when he fails for the umpteenth time to remain sinless. After working extremely hard to be a "good" Catholic, he comes face to face with the fact that it is beyond his power. He realizes that salvation can only come from God. He feels the traditions and imagery of the Church are distracting acts and idolatry divorcing man from the realization that only faith will save him, and faith is a gift from God that man can never achieve on his own. Although there are many layers of tradition and physical touchstones in the Catholic Church, and although good works are expected, there is no doubt that Catholicism would agree with Luther on his central point: one is justified by the grace of God; Man cannot save himself. Calvin took Luther's idea and extended it, realizing that not only did justification require grace from God but that its efficacy is dependent on Him. God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and ending of all acts of faith. For Calvin, it was all about the sovereignty of God. This argument can be made from the words of Paul; it is not unorthodox. Calvin pushed this concept to develop a church without worship, focused solely on scripture, because he believed man had no ability to participate in his justification, but the idea that faith comes from God and in the end is to glorify God is fully Catholic. Basing Christianity on the Bible is not a Protestant idea. Indeed, saints like Augustine and the Middle Ages scholars, and don't forget Jerome, thought and taught in a world of God's Word. For a while, as Protestants translated the Bible into the vernacular, the Catholic Church did not push personal study of the Word, fearing the errors of the Reformation. Instead, the message (the same message from the Bible) was communicated via the Magisterium and tradition. However, the Church, led by the Popes, have returned to focus upon the Word (and this book was written before Vatican II). Having established common ground between the Catholic and Protestant faiths, even their tight accord, Bouyer turns to the negative elements. Along with each accord, there developed a parallel negative aspect. With sola gratia came the idea that so important is the grace coming from God that the person is pointless, not changed by the encounter. The focus on sola fide came with a devaluing and even denial of all traditions and other works, which meant the Catholic Church was the enemy. God was so sovereign that man must be a base animal incapable of reaching towards God even when justified. These negative aspects were not part of the core Protestantism. They developed to distinguish Protestantism from Catholicism, since it was not very different in its beliefs. In the end, Protestants were saying God could not raise up man. This idea of external justification resulted in the belief that humbling oneself before God to merit grace was unnecessary, quickly taking many of its adherents far away from Luther's ideal. Some versions of Protestantism felt free of the need to do any good works, believing Man could feed his animal desires with impunity, ignoring the consequences of sin because one's actions did not factor into his justification anyway. Others tended toward the Pelagian heresy, hoping that if Man could not warrant grace from God, maybe he could live a sinless life without God's intervention, an idea that necessarily negated the concept of Original Sin. Other's rebellion tended toward a naturalistic sense of worth apart from grace, creating a religion of sentimentality, the "feel good Jesus" who is the best example of a good man but not necessarily thought of as divine. Many, such as those who came to America, sought to set up their own "heavenly" cities purely through their own enlightened efforts. Here too was born the utilitarian idea that worldly success must be blessed by God, reward for hard work rather than true piety and belief in a divine Christ. Within hardly a generation, most Protestant sects (perhaps unwittingly) rejected Luther's (and Catholicism's) belief that God is the Alpha and Omega when it comes to justification, instead making Man into a do-it-yourself being on par with God, who was tapped only as a wellspring of spiritual energy. Rather than recognizing the dignity of man in ideas like subsidiarity, Protestants became progressive and tried to fix everything for everyone else, even if in the name of God. A similar about face occurred regarding the authority of the Word of God. Because there was no authoritative interpretation, what passed for theology was instead a historical justification for source of the Bible. Factions upon factions sprouted, each against the other, becoming the ultimate in relativism. Bouyer believes Protestantism only survived as a result of revivals. Here Protestantism returned to those positive principles on which it was based. In fact many of Protestant churches of today were born of this time. Many of them returned so close to the original principles that they ended up resembling Catholicism in many ways, even when not knowing what Catholicism really was, even while thinking they were set against it. For example, some thought the saints great models, somehow "despite" being Catholic. Further, Bouyer feels that if the Protestant churches were truly honest and made a complete return to the first principles, they would end up Catholic. For example, all demanded close reading of Scripture, but many downplay celebration of the Eucharist; all demand focus on God, but rather than seeing praying with Mary as a focus on God, they call it idolatry. Many cry for social justice, and yet many still deny the letter of James as not canonical. If they could only lift the veil they have set up against the Church, they might step right in; and if Catholics could understand what thy are trying to accomplish, they would be more welcoming. In the end, only the Catholic Church keeps the Word of God alive and sovereign; the Protestant churches, in their sermons and their teaching, are made for men, not for God. Included in the "Catholicism Explained/Theology" section of Fr. John McCloskey's 100-book Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan. Listed by Patrick Madrid in the Reading Plan of Search and Rescue in Phase 3 (Advanced).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lucie Cavaroc

    I have heard that the reading level of Americans has gradually declined and is now at about a fourth grade level. I am embarrassed to say that this book made that premise abundantly clear to me. There was so much I didn't understand. I'd like to say that it was because of the Latin terms I didn't know and the background facts I was obviously supposed to know but didn't, but I'm afraid that mostly it is because it was published in 1955 and the material was beyond me. The parts I understood were e I have heard that the reading level of Americans has gradually declined and is now at about a fourth grade level. I am embarrassed to say that this book made that premise abundantly clear to me. There was so much I didn't understand. I'd like to say that it was because of the Latin terms I didn't know and the background facts I was obviously supposed to know but didn't, but I'm afraid that mostly it is because it was published in 1955 and the material was beyond me. The parts I understood were enlightening.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    I tried, but just couldn’t finish this one - it was way above my head.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Winterstein

    This is one of the worst books I have read in a long time. Under a thin patina of sophistication and scholarship lies a pernicious ignorance or dishonesty and a lot of poor logic. That sounds harsh, but permit me to lay it all out. The argument of the book is an exercise in question begging. The argument could be summarized as, “The best parts of Protestantism can be found in Roman Catholicism and are therefore merely vestiges of Catholic theology; the bad parts of Protestantism are due to an unc This is one of the worst books I have read in a long time. Under a thin patina of sophistication and scholarship lies a pernicious ignorance or dishonesty and a lot of poor logic. That sounds harsh, but permit me to lay it all out. The argument of the book is an exercise in question begging. The argument could be summarized as, “The best parts of Protestantism can be found in Roman Catholicism and are therefore merely vestiges of Catholic theology; the bad parts of Protestantism are due to an uncritical acceptance of late-medieval nominalism.” If you already agree that the Roman church is the one, true church, this makes sense, but if you do not accept that premise, this book will not convince you of anything. Lest you think I exaggerate, let me quote the book (p. 258): “Although French Protestants like to call their services le culte, the fact is that there is nothing that resembles so little the worship of God or is more like the cultivation of a religious humanism than the general practices of Protestantism, unless they happen to be simply a survival of Catholic worship itself.” So, Protestant worship is worship only insofar as it copies Roman practice. Likewise, we are told that the revival of English Protestantism by Wesley, with his emphasis on sanctification, occurred because of his debt to pre-Reformation Catholic mysticism. The book abounds with such claims. Let’s consider that claim of nominalism. In a passage I have seen quoted multiple times online, Bouyer claims that the key to understanding Luther and the Reformation is revealed by Luther saying that Occam was the only good Scholastic. I have read multiple books and essays (by Heiko Obermann, Alister McGrath and others) on the connection between nominalism and Luther and I have never come across a quote that matches Bouyer’s claim and Bouyer provides no citation. I suspect the quote is bogus. In any event, it is contradicted by other quotes from Luther (here is a real quote with a citation: “Bonaventura inter scholasticos doctores optimus est” WATi.330). As everyone knows, Luther was trained in nominalism at Erfurt, but he abandoned it and heavily criticized Occam and Biel. If Bouyer’s quote from Luther is real, it probably comes from his early years and does not reflect his mature thinking. In this same section of Bouyer’s book we have some other, serious falsehoods. We are told that the Reformers uncritically accepted nominalist ideas. It might come as a surprise to anyone reading only Bouyer’s book to then learn that Luther’s “Disputation against Scholastic Philosophy” is almost entirely directed against the nominalists Occam and Biel, other Reformers like Melanchthon routinely criticized Biel and Protestant theologians in the generations after Luther adopted metaphysical views at odds with nominalism. It might also come as a surprise to learn that nominalist theologians participated in the Council of Trent. You won’t read any of that in Bouyer’s book. For Bouyer, the key feature of Luther’s understanding of justification is its extrinsic nature, that God declares us righteous, but leaves us just as sinful as we were before. God, according to his absolute, inscrutable power can decide to consider us righteous regardless of any real righteousness in us. This view, according to Bouyer, could only have developed within the nominalist system. For a thoughtful, scholarly refutation of this precise point, I recommend the essay by Bengt Hagglund (Concordia Theological Monthly, vol. 28, no. 6, p. 441, 1957; available online). In brief, for Luther and Lutherans the righteousness by which we are justified is real, but it is Christ’s and we receive it through faith. It is not a legal fiction with no basis. And, it is clearly taught in the Lutheran confessions (cf. Art XX of the Augsburg Confession) that when we are justified we become a new creation and begin to love God and follow his commands. We are not justified because of this change, but there is a real, ontological change in justification. Bouyer must know this, so his caricature of Protestant belief appears dishonest. Bouyer also makes a blatant, easily disproved claim about the Protestant view of faith and nominalism. According to Bouyer, in the nominalist view faith is its own justification, i.e., a kind of “fideism”, and Protestants just followed along. From the time of the Reformation onward, Protestants have consistently held that faith justifies because it holds onto Christ’s righteousness, that the object of saving faith is Christ. Fideism is rejected. Bouyer must know this, too, and yet he repeats this claim multiple times, writing that Protestants teach a “completely subjectivist view of faith.” Other problems abound. It is Bouyer’s explicit method to not rely on the actual words of Protestant theologians: “No religion, or religious movement, is to be judged on the basis of its theoretical expositions.” Instead, it must be judged by the reality of the religious community as it practices its belief. Although reasonable, Bouyer then uses this principle to permit himself to cherry pick those aspects of Protestant practice he considers to be the logical developments of Protestant belief. Of course, all the good things in Protestantism are merely vestiges of Catholicism, so it is all the bad parts that are the result of fundamental Protestant doctrines. The book also contains statements that are simply, historically false. For example, we are told that Luther developed his view of sola Scriptura in reaction to the Anabaptists, not in response to his Roman interlocutors. This is a bizarre view, easily disproved. Another complaint: when it suits his polemical purpose, Bouyer lumps Protestants together, but uses a single theologian (usually Barth) or tradition as representative. So, we are told that Protestant churches have eliminated altars. This is obviously not true of Lutherans and Anglicans. The book is also poorly written. That may be due to the translation from the original French. Many of Bouyer’s sentences contain four or more clauses, making it difficult to follow his train of thought. Is there anything good in this book? Unintentionally Bouyer provides some guidelines for Protestant renewal. He praises certain aspects of Protestant revivals or attempts by Protestants to return to their origins, although all the good parts, again, owe a debt to Catholic theologians. For a Protestant, connections to pre-Reformation theologians within Protestant churches are completely understandable, given that the Reformers self-consciously understood themselves to be returning the Church to an earlier, purer version, keeping the good parts and rejecting the dross of Medieval theology. With that in mind and an understanding that Bouyer’s claims about Protestantism and nominalism are nonsense, the path for Protestants is clear: return to Protestant orthodoxy while (still) rejecting nominalism, pursue a piety that takes sanctification seriously, redevelop an appreciation of the Sacraments and boldly read and study theologians from other traditions accepting the good and rejecting the bad by judging it against Scripture. This can all be done without a hint of contradiction or reliance on Catholic theology. As it turns out, this has been the direction of my own personal spiritual life for the past 15 years, long before I ever heard of Bouyer. Bouyer even suggests some earlier Protestant theologians to follow, such as Wesley, JK Wilhelm Loehe, and Johann Gerhardt. Bouyer’s explicit view is that Protestants should submit to the Pope, but his lack of any real arguments in favor of Catholic distinctives and his various errors about Protestants merely provide encouragement for a more robust Protestant renewal.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Gene

    This is most certainly a worthwhile book to read for a Protestant like myself who feels there is something to be gained from a greater understanding of Catholic theology. The book has two main sections. In the first section Bouyer praises the fundamental principles of the Reformation that addressed some of what was failed in Catholic practice in the Middle Ages. He then goes on to show how these principles, rather than opposing authentic Catholic instruction, actually have support from a number This is most certainly a worthwhile book to read for a Protestant like myself who feels there is something to be gained from a greater understanding of Catholic theology. The book has two main sections. In the first section Bouyer praises the fundamental principles of the Reformation that addressed some of what was failed in Catholic practice in the Middle Ages. He then goes on to show how these principles, rather than opposing authentic Catholic instruction, actually have support from a number of the pre- and post-Reformation writings of authentic Catholic theologians and doctors of the Church. Bouyer is quite convincing: Anyone who can convince me that at heart Calvin was a mystic rather than a dry, sour, legal mind has got to be a gifted apologist. The next section of the book detects flaws in how the main positive principles of the Reformation were distorted and shows how these defects were actually the result of the Reformers being creatures of the philosophy of their own age and unable to think far enough outside the box to reject some of these failed views that already existed in the Catholic Church they were emerging from. I feel that some actual difficulties of Protestant theology are put into focus well by Bouyer, especially the teaching of "extrinsic justification". The part of the book that didn't seem as clear and didn't mean as much to me was the critique of Neo-orthodoxy and Barthism in particular, but that may only be because I have little familiarity with Karl Barth's theology and little sympathy for the parts of it that I do know about. But this is certainly a book that will help any Christian, Protestant or Catholic, evaluate his dogmas and align his beliefs more closely with Biblical truth. The author, though Catholic, deals very lovingly and respectfully with brethren like myself separated from his church.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    I will admit, this was a tough read, very academic. I kept my phone close by so I could make use of the dictionary. That being said, I did learn quite a bit. The author, originally a Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism and was ordained a priest, does a fine job explaining the strong foundations that all Christians share... justification by faith, the necessity of grace, the sovereignty of God. We share a great deal of common ground. He does go into depth explaining where the various d I will admit, this was a tough read, very academic. I kept my phone close by so I could make use of the dictionary. That being said, I did learn quite a bit. The author, originally a Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism and was ordained a priest, does a fine job explaining the strong foundations that all Christians share... justification by faith, the necessity of grace, the sovereignty of God. We share a great deal of common ground. He does go into depth explaining where the various denominations splintered away, dividing more and more as different leaders came up with different interpretations of Scripture and theology. Biggest takeaway... there is common Truth that all Christians share. Jesus prayed for unity among his followers; we have an obligation to love each other, to work with each other, and pray with and for each other.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Very informative and thorough.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katarzyna Balutowski

    Many good points and predictions. Definitely worth the read. But the language is a snooze at points and it references -isms relevant to the writing of the book which mean nothing to modern readers.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeffery

    Louis Bouyer was a French Lutheran priest who converted to Catholicism in the 1930s. This book, published in 1939, made a novel and profound contribution to the comparative study of Protestantism and Catholicism. Bouyer discusses a variety of doctrinal and spiritual matters on which Protestants and Catholics have commonly diverged: whether grace is imputed or infused, whether the Word of God is totally detached from human interpretation or bound to the Church, whether God's sovereignty overwhelm Louis Bouyer was a French Lutheran priest who converted to Catholicism in the 1930s. This book, published in 1939, made a novel and profound contribution to the comparative study of Protestantism and Catholicism. Bouyer discusses a variety of doctrinal and spiritual matters on which Protestants and Catholics have commonly diverged: whether grace is imputed or infused, whether the Word of God is totally detached from human interpretation or bound to the Church, whether God's sovereignty overwhelms or elevates man's autonomy, the value of personal religion, and the role of the sacramental in Christianity. On all these points, Fr Bouyer claims the Catholic teaching contains the Protestant teaching, but that at times it has been unfortunately obscured. What is more, he thinks that Protestant principles, if left only to themselves, will run amok and tear down the Church. They need a form to live in, and that form is the Catholic Church. Protestantism is destined to disorder and decay because the positive principles it enunciates (grace is a free gift, God is sovereign, God's Word is bigger than man's thoughts, we need a personal relationship with him) are accompanied by negations (man plays no role in his salvation, man's freedom is crushed by God, the Church is not fit to interpret God's Word, religion is bad) which are unbiblical and tend to ruin. In all this, Father Bouyer writes with great affection for Protestantism, as a faith which nourished him spiritually and contains much of the truth. He is also not without criticism of Catholic errors and tendencies. Yet, in all this, he claims that the Catholic teaching contains the whole truth, and that this is the "tent" under which all Christians can most fully and durably live as the Church of God. With right emphasis, Protestants can find the realization of the fullness of their faith in Catholicism, and Catholics can seek the revitalization of seemingly dead elements of their faith by recourse to Protestant spirituality.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Scott Barber

    This book is a clear affirmation of the spirit which inspired the Reformation, and a measured critique of the philosophical nominalism into which that spirit was flung. This is essential reading on the development of Protestantism, and its relationship to its Catholic roots.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jed Park

    Looks at the positive principals of Protestantism along with what went wrong after the Reformation.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Magisterial, erudite, definitive. Indispensable.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Arianna C. Ninà

    17.56

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Bouyer unveils the beauty found in the core desires of Protestant Christianity, and how those desires are consummated in understanding Catholicism accurately. Great book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tim Grimes

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  17. 4 out of 5

    [چوہا] آدمی

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anastacia Hines

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert Corzine

  20. 5 out of 5

    Vic Holguin

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sue

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brian Ferry

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  24. 4 out of 5

    ALG

  25. 5 out of 5

    Keith

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bryan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kevin J Combs

  28. 5 out of 5

    itskarrs

  29. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    A model book for Catholic-Protestant dialog.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robert Sweeney

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