Diarmaid MacCullock, professor of the history of the Church at Oxford, acknowledged as a scholar world-wide, wrote The Reformation: A History, in 2003. Lured by the enthusiasm of the reviewers, I bought it then and am now up to page174 of 792. I'm beginning to imagine I'll say what Father "Stately" Gately, SJ, who had come to Shadowbrook to die, said to the Rector, Father Bill Finneran, SJ, who had given him a two volume history of Ireland to read, "Gee, Bill, thanks, but I don't think I'll have time to finish it."
In The Reformation, early on, MacCullock says that Luther was inspired, not by the antics in Rome, but by St. Augustine's theories of orginal sin, his forlorn and bleak nature of man, his blessing on "just wars" and his rigid theology of church, even though all of that was writ a thousand years before Luther nailed his own 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517. The more I read after MacCullock proposed the relationship to St. Augustine, the more I came to imagine that the same Augustinian stuff is going on strong today. As a novice in ecclesiology and church history, I am quick to jump to opinions in tune with the tumbling emotions within me when I think Rome, Curia, Popes, Cardinals and read Thomas Reese's recent six proposals for the reform of the Vatican. The feeling is that the history of the Church and of Christianity is the history of the mother of all brainwashing, par excellence, by those who could read pagan philosophers and use their thoughts and words to teach the Gospel story told so simply by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the others.
My own Catholicism right now, the mental stuff of it, feels like a faithless, hopeless, loveless confusion of intellectualities, stuffeed with the big names: Clement, Origen, Chrysostom, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, without too many really big ones after that Thirteenth Century, at least until an Augustinian monk Martin Luther lit the match on the tinder box of western Christianity. That Catholicism gets a life with Thomas Reese, SJ, and Roger Haight, SJ, and Jacques Dupuis, SJ, and Karl Rahner, SJ, along with so many others of our own times, that I begin to think that all we are doing in our 3rd millennium is repeating what has been going on since St. John finished the Fourth Gospel.
More of the same, over and over, with the instigation of the Reformation of the 16th century itself being attributed to the ideas and thoughts of Augustine of Hippo of the 5th century. We are still debating today what they were debating from the beginning, each one insisting that his or her ideas are those of Jesus Messiah. He was crucified for his ideas and words. A lot of those who claimed to explain him were crucified, too, or burned at the stake, by the high priests of their times. And so it goes on and on and on. If today, I were to say I can explain Jesus Messiah, I had first better make sure I please Rome's High Priests. Wonder how long Garry Wills will last without an excommunication of sorts, after his trilogy: What Jesus Meant; What Paul Meant; What the Gospels Meant. Tom Reese, too, kicked off the Jesuit magazine America by an angry Cardinal Ratzinger as soon as he became Pope Benedict X VI.
As for Thomas Reese's six proposals for reform, my impetuous and unlearned suggestion would be to abolish the College of Cardinals first, then elect Bishops locally, and set up some kind of governance wherein there are checks and balances on power, its use and abuse. To do that, we need Thomas Reeses, people who know what they are doing and are not just reacting emotionally to the brainwashing of two millennia, some of which cleared the mind, a lot of which drowned it. Like Father Reese, I am pretty sure it will never happen. Not even Luther or Calvin or Zwingli or Henry VIII succeeded. Proof? Cable TV these days has been taken over by the Pope, who was once called a Rotweiler, an Enforcer, an implacable, etc., etc., etc. He is a powerful man, regardless of his track record in the abuse of power, or maybe precisely because of it. My biased personal opinion is that a good lot of us are not paying him much attention, nor giving him heed.