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Reformers or Saints: What Does the Church Need?

In his apologia for the origin of the modern Roman Catholic Church flowing directly from the earliest Church, Kenneth Whitehead makes this statement:

The early church has not disappeared.  She is with us still.  Reformers, again by whatever name, are not so much needed by this Church as are those who aspire to be saints – those determined to follow Christ seriously and to fulfil God’s holy will by employing the means of sanctification that Christ’s Church continues to provide.

This reminded me of the account of Bonhoeffer’s conversation with Catholic pacifist, Jean Lassare in which Lassare told Bonhoeffer that he hoped to perhaps one day become a saint.  Bonhoeffer replied that he wished to learn to have faith.

Regardless, what do people think of this line?  Does the church need saints or reformers?  Can a reformer be a saint?  Can a saint be a reformer?


  1. Hill wrote:

    My two cents are that there is a natural process of reform inherent in the church wide pursuit of sainthood. I also think that there is no other choice for a Christian but to pursue saintliness. The Church is a dynamic entity, and the emergence of aspects which requires “reform” in an explicit way could be understood simply as the failure of a part of the church in the pursuit of saintliness.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 4:40 pm | Permalink
  2. freder1ck wrote:

    Blessed Antonio Rosmini, censured by the CDF but now a blessed in the Church.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  3. Dennis wrote:


    The Church always needs reformers! I believe Catherine of Siena and Thomas Aquinas could both be considered reformers and both are saints and Doctors of the Church.

    Our calling as members of the Catholic Church is to SCREAM OUT when there are members of the clergy from the Pope on down who are violating Church teaching as taught by the Magisterium.

    Martin Luther was absolutely correct in posting his 95 Theses. Those points needed to be corrected.

    Where he went wrong was breaking away from the Church.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 10:27 pm | Permalink
  4. Dennis,

    Martin Luther was excommunicated. He didn’t have to break away from the Church.

    Friday, November 23, 2007 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  5. I wonder what Bonhoeffer thought of the word saint. I think it meant different things to Lasserre and Bonhoeffer. When I read the letter to Bethge that mentions that encounter I wonder whether, if having faith and being fully human and being a saint aren’t really the same thing.

    I think of Bonhoeffer as a saint and a reformer, knowing that reformers and saints are sinners, and that they can only obey God with what they know at the time.

    Reformers and Saints are always recognized in retrospect.

    Friday, November 23, 2007 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  6. Hill wrote:

    Excommunication only comes after a refusal to obey. While I’m not trying to paint a simple picture of what actually transpired in the Reformation or lay explicit blame with any party over the division, claiming that Martin Luther didn’t break with the Church is a bit disingenuous.

    Friday, November 23, 2007 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

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