I have heard that in the 16th century Lutherans were referred to as "adversaries" by theologians like St. Robert Bellarmine. As far as I know, this goes against Church teaching. Lutherans are always said to be "our fellow Christians" by recent Popes.

Perhaps non-Catholics are always "adversaries" according to the Church?

According to the Church, are Lutherans the "adversaries" of Catholics?

  • I understand that Lutherans view themselves as Evangelical Catholics.
    – Lesley
    Feb 20, 2021 at 11:27
  • 1
    The question is somewhat opinion based, even in Catholic circles!
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 20, 2021 at 17:49
  • I have always heard from Priests that we must be able to dissagree with people without calling someone an enemy or adversary. You should try to undeestand people. Calling someone an adversary or enemy seems to indicate that you go into the discussion with too much emotions and little understanding.
    – user51926
    Feb 21, 2021 at 9:56

4 Answers 4


Bellarmine wrote arguing the Catholic position and attempted to demonstrate that the Lutheran position, on a range of matters, was incorrect. He frequently did this along the lines of "our adversaries argument is this, but I think they are mistaken because..".

In that contest "adversaries" means those on the other side of the question, those putting an alternative opinion.

He was not saying he regarded Lutherans as his enemies. There were no unfriendly, pejorative, hostile or even impolite intent in referring to a person on the other side of a debate as an adversary.


Protestants are called so because they started to protest against practice of the Vatican in the 16th century. The Vatican refused and banned the protest. This led to churches being adversaries.

However, that is history now. In practice, the Catholic Church even has dialogues with Islam. Considering Lutherans as adversaries is definitely outdated.

  • Why are modern Lutherans not adversaries? I guess that the Church used another language those days. I guess that today the Church has a more mature way of speaking about Lutherans nowadays. The Church hasn't always used a good language. St Robert Bellarmine used "adversaries" but then he was not perfect as he was a human like all of us.
    – user51926
    Feb 21, 2021 at 9:48
  • @KenGraham You have replaced 'The Catholic Church: collaborates with Islam' by 'has dialogues' which is more generally true. However, collaborative work is really shared by Catholic, Protestant and Sunnite clergymen in hospitals, prisons and social welfare in our community.
    – Jeschu
    May 8, 2021 at 15:36
  • You can rollback my edit if you desire. But generally Rome employs that term dialogue with over faiths. And yes, I did upvote this answer when it was first posted.
    – Ken Graham
    May 8, 2021 at 15:53
  • @KenGraham it's ok like that. I am not speaking for the Catholic church, just from my experience on the local scale.
    – Jeschu
    May 8, 2021 at 17:33

Nothing prevents the baptized from becoming heretics and thus opposing the Church. Protecting the Church against harmful influence ("adversaries"), like the arch-heretic Luther, is the rationale for trying heretics and, if necessary, even delivering them to the State for punishment (e.g., the death penalty):

St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica II-II q. 11 a. 3 c.:

With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.

However, he advocates mercy; he continues:

On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death [as a last resort]. For Jerome commenting on Gal. 5:9, "A little leaven," says: "Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die. Arius was but one spark in Alexandria, but as that spark was not at once put out, the whole earth was laid waste by its flame."

Thus, St. Thomas does not indiscriminately advocate the death penalty for heretics, but this illustrates heretics' danger to the Church; thus, heretics are adversaries.

  • You are citing theological disputes long time before Luther.
    – Jeschu
    May 8, 2021 at 15:44
  • @Jeschu Luther's heresies are nothing more than a rehashing of Paleo-Protestant Jovinian's (4th cen.). St. Thomas (13th cen.) also foresaw and refuted his heresies.
    – Geremia
    May 8, 2021 at 19:47

When one asks what any church body believes, one has to go to their authoritative sources. For Roman Catholics, one of those authoritative sources is the Council of Trent. In session 6, canon XII, they write (https://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct06.html):

CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

This condemnation was included (along with a number of others) to clearly and specifically speak against what Lutherans taught. And since what Lutherans taught was against the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church (as approved by a pope and a council), all Lutherans are now "extra ecclesia" outside of the church (i.e. destined for hell). This is the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. And they have not changed these words or repudiated them.

The second distinction one has to make with the Roman Catholic Church is that they, within themselves, make a distinction between what a pope might say on his own and what he pronounces "ex cathedra", occupying his office as the vicar of Christ, officially making a proclamation on behalf of Christ.

This is important to understand because it is not uncommon throughout history to see an odd variance (even contradiction) in the teachings/preachings of the bishop of Rome. Please allow 2 examples.

  1. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI reminded the press that all churches that weren't within the sphere of Roman Catholicism "were not true churches." (https://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19692094 ) (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bfb9sCrKA9eH3loRC9XixVUBPGbuDiHj/view?usp=sharing).
  2. In 2013, Pope Francis states that atheists can get into heaven (https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/05/29/187009384/Pope-Francis-Even-Atheists-Can-Be-Redeemed )

How can it be that one who believes in Jesus (who has not submitted to papal authority) can go to hell and yet one who does not believe in Jesus at all can go to heaven?

That tension, for Roman Catholics, is resolved by the pope making pronouncements "ex cathedra" (officially as the vicar of Christ) and also by councils gathering together to make commendations and condemnations.

The condemnations against Lutheranism have never been revised or repudiated by a church council or by a pope speaking 'ex cathedra'. Lutherans, because they believe that they are saved by Jesus alone through faith alone are eternally condemned (anathema sit) in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church:

Canon XII -- Si quis dixerit, fidem justificantem nihil alind esse, quam fiduciam divinae misericordiae peccata remittentis propter Christum; vel eam fiduciam solam esse, qua justificamur: anathema sit.

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