#43 Phoenix Rising

This week saw the return of Trial Exams and their marks to my Year 12 students. Some were happy with their results, some were not. Some still have a long way to go between now and their final exams, including actually reading to the end of Fahrenheit 451 (really, please read it).

This week also saw the return to prison for Cardinal George Pell, who unsuccessfully sought to have his convictions for child sexual offences overturned. As a Protestant Christian, I feel a great deal of remorse for the Catholic Church and for the many people within the Church who live their lives trying to please God.

Fahrenheit 451 SPOILER ALERT

At the end of the novel, just after the city has been bombed, Granger says to Montag:

Someday the load we’re carrying with us may help someone.  But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn’t use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spitting in the graves of all the poor ones who died before us. We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run.

This conversation happens just after Granger talks about the cyclical nature of humanity; that we keep making mistakes and yet there is always a Phoenix that rises out of the ashes.

In the early 1500s, a young monk on his first trip to Rome was somewhat under-awed with the level of spirituality in the place. For obvious reasons, he expected it to be much more in line with the teaching he had come to know and believe.

His irritation only grew further, less than a decade later, when he heard that people were paying money to the Catholic Church in order to buy their souls out of purgatory. He wrote:

Why does not the pope liberate everyone from Purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter’s church, a very minor purpose. 

He also questioned why the Pope, with all his great wealth, didn’t just build the new church from his own money, as opposed to sourcing funds from the poor. This young monk was of course, Martin Luther: the metaphorical phoenix rising from the ashes of a time of great corruption within the Catholic Church.

He was a man of the book, who used what he got out of it. He used The Bible to question the very core teaching the Catholic Church held about salvation. Instead of agreeing, as he first did, that salvation was a shared process (part by God, part by a person), Luther ended up viewing that salvation for humanity was unattainable. It was God who conferred it onto humanity. The Book of Romans appears to have been a favourite for Luther:

For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’

That was the part that changed it all for Luther. He realised the Church had nothing to do with salvation. He realised that it was all about faith in God; Faith in Christ’s death on the cross.

…all have sinned… and are justified freely by his grace…

It’s belief. It’s a gift. It’s forgiveness. It’s the gospel.

And it’s available for anyone: monk or mugger, cardinal or criminal.

Yours in faith,


Image Credit: Image from Public Domain Photography

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