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"The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism" is a critically engaged yet remarkably sympathetic analysis of the Protestant Reformation by a Lutheran who converted to Catholicism. In the first half he praises the key positive principles of the Reformation, showing how they are good, true, and fundamentally Catholic. In part two he shows how those same great principles have been continuously and inevitably undermined by and among the Reformers (and their heirs) as a result of Protestantism's failure to properly critique and throw off the nominalistic philosophical framework of the late medieval period. He clearly explains how the positive principles of the Reformation and Protestantism can only be sustained and flourish within the Catholic Church. Whether Protestant or Catholic, you should read this book. It is absolutely crucial to understanding what unites & divides Protestants and Catholics, and how to preserve untainted the truths we hold most dear.
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Committed Christians of all persuasions often know what their churches teach, but seldom know why. The value of this book, in my estimation, is that it lays bear the philosophical underpinnings of the Reformation, rooted as it was in Scotist/Occamist Scholasticism. Bouyer shows that Reform thought resulted in a reinterpretation of the meaning of Christian doctrine and Scripture through the lens of Occamist radical dualism-- ergo the Reform emphasis upon private interpretation, the appeal to Scripture and Faith alone, the doctrine of Consubstantiation and the rejection of reason as an authoritative and reliable means of interpreting revealed truth.
Bouyer, beginning his spiritual service as a French Lutheran Cleric, knew Protestant thought from the inside out. He is careful to outline all the good Reform teaching contains and quick to point out how Church practice at the time of the Reformation had come to deemphasize much the Reformers championed. His issues are not with the orthodox doctrines but with the negative elements that mysteriously appear with them in Reform thought. Bouyer insist that these elements, not rooted in orthodox doctrine but in the poison of Occamist Nominalism, weaken and dilute the orthodox doctrines and prevent them from bearing fruit. They also create endless division and doctrinal chaos and confusion.
The book is divided into three large sections. In the first he outlines the positive principles of the Reformation, with numerous quotes from the writings of the Reformers.Read more ›
Bouyer has a masterpiece of Christian writing in this work. It is written with the heart of an apostle seeking truth and nothing but truth. He looks at all the good that Protestantism has accomplished in its teachings and fervor for Christ and then shows the flaws that underlie the entire system. He then goes on to show in amazing fluidity and detail how the good the comes from Protestantism can only come to its fullest potential in the Catholic Church. Wonderful argument, original thesis and great writing. What a book!
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If I were told that there was a book about Protestantism written by a Catholic priest in the 1950's before Vatican II, I would be quick to assume that it contained unfair simplifications of Protestantism, while giving a triumphalistic view of the Catholic Faith.
However, nothing could be further from the truth regarding "The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism" by Fr. Louis Bouyer. Originally written in 1956, Bouyer's book is a masterful treatment, from a Catholic perspective, of exactly where the original Reformers were wrong - and where they were right. The tone of the book is clearly that of a convert (which Bouyer was) who desires nothing more than the reconciliation of his former Protestant brethren with the Catholic Church, and who sees the Catholic Church as the fulfillment, not the rejection, of the best impulses of the original Reformers. Bouyer takes pains to present Protestantism in the most favorable light, always assuming sincerity and good intentions on the part of those who developed Protestant theology.
The book is divided roughly in two parts - in the first section (the greater part of the book) he discusses all the correct (from a Catholic perspective) desires and doctrines of the Reformers, and in the second part he details where they fell short of the fullness of the truth found in Catholicism. In both sections he maintains an even, fair treatment of the decisive differences that separated Western Christendom in the 16th century.
This book is eminently useful to both the Catholic and the Protestant. The Catholic can better understand the reasons behind the beliefs of our "separated brethren," while appreciating many of the impulses behind them.Read more ›
I found this book very valuable because, to be honest, I have always struggled to understand precisely what draws people to protestantism. For me a catholic, the negativity of the movement (illustrated by its name) coupled with its propensity towards relentless splintering seemed to underscore that the movement was a human movement and not a manfestation of the Spirit. This analysis seemed to be even clearer when presented with some american forms of protestantism which seem to be a monstrous distortion of the gospel with its obsessive focus on "me" and God speaking to "me", and God blessing "me" - where does the People of God and the New Israel come into all this and who speaks for Jesus here and now?
Thus, it seemed to me that protestantism was simply a new Tower of Babel, an example of man againing becoming alienated from man by being trapped in his own ego and own privated "spirit filled" illuminations.
Bouyer brilliantly shows in the first half of the book what the genius of protestantism was and is: a complete an utter realisation that my salvation is utterly the work of grace, that when I convert, it is the grace of God drawing me to him. Thus, I do not earn salvation as every impulse in me towards the divine including accepting Christ, as the Kyrios, is down to the grace of God.
Bouyer shows that this is totally catholic and fully consistent with the teaching of the church from the beginning (see the 6th century Council of Orange and latterly of Trent). However, Luther was not satisfied with proclaiming this truth, which, at that time, needed to be proclaimed again from the rooftops.Read more ›
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