Pharisaic "Indignation has never redeemed anyone, but it has probably lost many souls. All the simoniacal bacchanals of sixteenth century Rome would not have been of great profit for the devil if they had not succeeded in the unique coup of hurling Luther into despair and, along with this dauntless monk, two-thirds of unhappy Christendom. Luther and his followers despaired of the Church, and it is a curious fact that one who despairs of the Church runs the risk of sooner or later despairing of mankind. From this point of view Protestantism appears to me like a compromise with despair. . . .
"A moment ago I wrote that the scandal of Renaissance Rome hurled Luther into despair. No doubt that is true only in part. For a monk of his time that sort of danse macabre [(presumably the scandal)] had nothing about it to disconcert either reason or conscience, and the awaited inevitable end found itself inscribed in stone upon the portals of cathedrals. The people of the Church would have willingly tolerated his joining his voice to so many other more illustrious or more saintly voices which never ceased to denounce these disorders. The unhappiness of Martin Luther was to aspire to reform. . . . [Now] It is . . . a fact of experience that one reforms nothing in the Church by ordinary means. Whoever pretends to reform the Church by these means, by the very means through which one reforms a temporal society, not only fails in his undertaking, but infallibly ends by finding himself outside the Church. I say that he finds himself outside the Church before anyone takes the trouble of excluding him. I say that he excludes himself by a sort of tragic fatality. He renounces the Church's spirit, he renounces her dogmas, he becomes her enemy almost without his own knowledge, and if he tries to return each step only separates him the more. It seems as if his very good will itself is accursed. This, I repeat, is a fact of experience that everyone can verify for himself if he will only take the trouble of studying the lives of heresiarchs great and small. One reforms the Church only by suffering for her. One reforms the visible Church only by suffering for the invisible Church. One reforms the vices of the Church only by being prodigal of the example of her most heroic virtues. It is possible that St. Francis Assisi was not less revolted than Luther by the debauchery and by the simony of prelates. It is even certain that he suffered more cruelly because of them, for his nature was very different from that of the monk of Weimar. But he did not challenge the iniquity, he did not try to confront it with himself. He hurled himself into poverty, plunged into it as deeply as he could, along with his followers, as into the source of all purity. Instead of trying to snatch from the Church her ill-gained goods, he overwhelmed her with invisible treasures, and under the gentle hand of this mendicant the heap of gold and luxury began to blossom like an April hedge. . . .
"The Church has need not of reformers, but of saints. Martin was the reformer born. There are reformers whose tragic destiny seems explicable to us, Lamennais for example. . . . He was made for despair. . . . He filled himself to the brim with despair. But Luther, Martin Luther, he was rather made for joy. . . . Ah well, this strong man held out no longer than the other. He too became infatuated with himself. We have seen him take the bit in his teeth, like a drayhorse which has set its huge hoof in a wasp's nest. He took off kicking clumsily with his four hooves, belly to the ground. And when he came to a halt—not out of weariness certainly, but to see where he was, to recover his breath, to smell out his wounds—the old Church was already far behind him, at an immense distance, incalculable, separated from him by all of eternity, and he—ah, rage, stupefaction, heart-rending misfortune."
Georges Bernanos, "Brother Martin," trans. Erwin W. Geissman, Cross currents 2, no. 4 (Summer 1952): 5-7 (1-9). All of this appeared originally in Esprit 19, no. 10 =no. 183 (Octobre 1951): (433-445). "in common medical parlance, the words 'acute crisis' soon evoke another word, 'fever'. But pharisaism is a suppuration without fever, a cold and painless abscess" (4).
But as for Luther himself, "I believe that there is here rather something to make us dream on the mysterious designs of the all-powerful mercy towards this strange man. I prefer to try to understand something of the scenes of a drama whose true dénouement will always remain unknown to us in this world and perhaps also in the next. Who can tell, indeed, where the gentle pity of God will hid those He has snatched from Hell by some irresistible stratagem, to the eternal confusion of the just and the wise" (5).