Catholics and Lutherans to Mark Reformation Split Together

500 years on

Senior Roman Catholic and  Lutheran officials announced on Monday they would mark the 500th  anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 as a shared event rather than highlight the clash that split Western Christianity.

The Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) presented a report in Geneva admitting both were guilty of  harming Christian unity in the past and describing a growing consensus between the two churches in recent decades.

The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the doctrinal challenge that launched the Protestant Reformation,  will be the first centenary celebration in the age of ecumenism, globalisation and the secularisation of Western societies.

“The awareness is dawning on Lutherans and Catholics that  the struggle of the 16th century is over,” the report said. “The  reasons for mutually condemning each other’s faith have fallen  by the wayside.”

They now agree belief in Jesus unites them despite lingering  differences, it said, and inspires them to cooperate more closely to proclaim the Gospel in increasingly pluralistic societies.

“This is a very important step in a healing process which we  all need and we are all praying for,” LWF General Secretary  Martin Junge said at the report’s presentation in Geneva.

“The division of the church is something we cannot celebrate  but we can see what is positive and try to find ways towards the  future together,” said Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican’s  department to promote Christian unity.

Rest here as common ground is sought.



18 thoughts on “Catholics and Lutherans to Mark Reformation Split Together

  1. In light of the liberal positions so much of the Lutheran Communion has taken in regard to issues like WO, homosexuality, etc., one wonders what can come of this. If only it had happened at the 400th anniversary? Even their High Church bodies, like the now distestablished Church of Sweden, have fallen into serious theological error in these areas and give no sign of amending their errant ways. Might make one wonder what motives are operating on both sides? Is Rome trying to woo those Lutherans who reject the liberal errors? Paving the way for a Lutheran Ordinariate? Are the Lutherans trying to get better recognition from Rome and protect their place in Christendom? To be treated more like the Anglican Communion?

    The part at the very end is interesting: “The LWF said it wants to talk with Anglican, Mennonite, Reformed, Orthodox and Pentecostal churches about how they might also participate in the 2017 commemoration.” Will be fascinating to see how much the Anglicans want to participate, given the oft ambivalence many today place on being heirs to the Reformation and the eternal internal debate about how RC, Lutheran, or Reformed historical Anglicanism was in the 16th-17th centuries. And even more so with the EO, since the Reformation was often more something they tended to watch, rather than actively participate in, and is something that is oft feared by us as something that could happen with Orthodoxy.

  2. We could comment that it is ironical that many of the theological issues that brought the Lutheran bodies to separate from the Church (themselves being not prevalent as the Reformation was primarily a political endeavour from earthly princes wishing to rule on the Church in their lands) are now no more extant, since for example the joint Catholic-Lutheran declaration on justification, having ceded their place to another range of issues pertaining principally to the realm of moral. But such a dichotomy would be false, since those very issues that separate us even more today, such as same sex marriage and female episcopacy arise directly from the idea of the reformers: if marriage is not a sacrament but a mere contract, why not marry two persons of the same sex? If holy orders are not a sacrament, but a mere mandate from the earthly Church to lead Her in worship, why not ordain lesbians? If Truth depends on private interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, why not adopt such an interpretation that make acts recognised as sins by the Tradition commendable?
    Only a careful and frank examination of the current situation, and of how these problems arise from those historic formulae of the Reformation breaking with the Tradition of the Undivided Church of the East and West might be a good start for an eventual healing of the breach between the Church and other Christian communities.

    +Soli Deo Gloria (not +pax et bonum today since we are on a Lutheran topic!)

    1. Henri, I don’t think your comment–“it is ironical that many of the theological issues that brought the Lutheran bodies to separate from the Church (themselves being not prevalent as the Reformation was primarily a political endeavour from earthly princes wishing to rule on the Church in their lands) are now no more extant, since for example the joint Catholic-Lutheran declaration on justification”–is anchored in history.

      Lutheran, Reformed, and RC “princes” were equally political at the time, and acted accordingly. They tended to act in a manner that worked to their advantage. Nothing new there. The 17th century Cardinal Richelieu is the classic example. France, not the RCC, came first to him, and he easily sacrificed the RCC’s desires for the glory of France!

      And the Reformation certainly was not a political endeavor, at least not as far as Luther, Melanchthon, and the other magisterial Lutheran Reformers were concerned. The same primary religious issues of the day then still apply today: papal primacy & supremacy, purgatory, indulgences, the sacrifice of the mass for the living and dead, transubstantiation, the number and nature of “sacraments”, the canon of the OT, mandatory priestly celibacy, Marian devotions/dogma, petitioning the Saints, etc.

      Andi it is hard to see how much weight the RCC gives to the Joint Declaration it signed. Seems like so many RCs want to say it isn’t binding and is just the opinion of the RC commission behind it.

      Certainly, compared to the year 1535, Rome has moved a long way toward the position of the Reformers on many things (e.g., vernacular liturgy & bible), but Rome remains as far away, if not farther, now than then (e.g., dogmas of the immaculate coneption, papal infallibility, and the assumption).

    2. Henri, When was the time of “the Undivided Church of the East and West”? The 4th century had the Arians and Donatists. Then the East split in the 5th century over “Nestorianism” and later Chalcedon. Those two splits remain with us today. And the East and West were significantly diverging in thought and dogma back to Augustine and Leo the Great. Which is why there was so much tension and conflict between East and West after that era (e.g., Photian Schism). I think most historians today would posit that the 11 century “schism” was merely a recognition of the existential divide between East and West that had been there for many centuries.

      1. I am indeed aware that at any time there has been dissidence in the Church, schisms, etc… By the “undivided Church East and West” I mean the Church before the 1054 great schisms. It is sensible since in inventing a new theology solely based on their private interpretation of the Holy Scriptures (and only some of them: Luther advocated purging the Bible from many Books including the epistles of James and Revelation!), and irregardless of Tradition, the reformers broke with the doctrines on the nature of the Eucharist, on holy orders, on the reverence due to the Virgin Mary… held by the undivided Church before the break, and then by both the Catholic and Eastern “orthodox” Churches to this day.

        As to the either political or theological understanding of the Reformation, I stand by my word. Luther would have no success without the German princes wishful to control the Church and Her assets. Himself fell in that political trap by using the princes as “notbischoff”, ie “bishops in time of needs”. Anyway, he totally fell under the control of those princes by asking them to protect him from the outcomes of the Diet of Worms. Calvin was even more a political figure, being himself the ruler of Geneva! And without Henry VIII and Gustav Vasa, the strongly Catholic countries of England an Sweden would never have embraced protestantism. This is but a handful of the many examples of how the protestant Reformation was promoted mostly for political reasons. And indeed, still today our minister of the public instruction was heard lamenting that “alas France didn’t become protestant in the 15th century” so that the State could control the Church… (wich remains here a counter-power).

        + pax et bonum

      2. Henri, Your statement–“Calvin was even more a political figure, being himself the ruler of Geneva!”–is completely wrong. Please read a good biography of Calvin and you’ll realize the error of this statement. See, for example, Bruce Gordon’s Calvin (Yale Univ. Press, 2009).

        You might also read Miriam Usher Chrisman’s magisterial work, Strasbourg and the Reform, A Study in the Process of Change (Yale Univ. Press, 1967). It covers this important city’s history from 1480-1548. Just as with Calvin, Martin Bucer was NOT the ruler of or in Strasbourg. As she points out, the civil leaders were actually quite moderate in regard to the reforms. The impetus was broad-based, including from the priests, monks, and nuns. Yes, the bishop resisted, but his flock withered away. He lost the hearts and minds of his flock. So the various levels of civic leaders balanced the demands of the masses for reform with their fear of reprisals from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Which is one reason why they worked so hard against the radical Reformers (e.g., Anabaptists).

      3. Henri, If you get the time, read Jaroslav Pelikan’s great work, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation (Harper & Row, 1964). If you do you’ll see the error in your blanket statement that “since in inventing a new theology solely based on their private interpretation of the Holy Scriptures…, and irregardless of Tradition, the reformers broke with the doctrines”. Of course, this great theologian ended up Orthodox, but he wrote this when he was a very orthodox Lutheran. And anyone who seriously studies the Augsburg Confession (1530) and Melanchthon’s Apology to same (1531) will quickly realize that you’re statement is just plain wrong. Luther and Melanchthon upheld all of the classic dogmas (Trinity, dual natures of Christ, Incarnation, virgin birth, resurrection, Ascension, the theology of original sin & baptism, the real presence in the eucharist) and the three primary Western Creeds (Apostles, Nicean, Athanasian).

      4. And you, read, the Stripping of the Altard by Eamon Duffy, and the many books by Alf Härdelin on mediaeval Scandinavia (not available in English I fear). They show that the common folk, if angry against the abuses that existed here and there in the Church (not as widespread as the Reformers pretended they were) were not willing to change their religion. Indeed, harsh penal laws had to be enacted to achieve this result, and not with a considerable recusancy, lasting till the early 19th century in Norway, and to this day in England. The real motor of the Reformation was the principle Cujus Regio, ejus religio. If this is not political, I don’t know what is it! And maybe Calvin was not exactly the political ruler of Geneva, he had anyway the power to have burned at the stake those who disagreed with him! Indeed, if St Francis de Sales was never able to preach the faith in Geneva as he did everywhere in Savoy, bringing back this place to the faith, was because of the tyranny reigning in that city!
        I have over you, I think, the advantage of being an European (and not an American full of misconceptions pertaining to that citizenship); I have been to both Geneva, Wittenberg, and have studied this part of history not only through books but by going to the place, and meeting the actual heirs of Calvin and Luther. Michel Viot, the former Lutheran Bishop in Paris actually agrees that the Reformation was political before being theological.
        But I know you, you will continue to argue on this file till you’re the last one present! In any case, good night.

        + pax et bonum

      5. Henri, I own and have read Duffy’s work. I like to use it to point out to today’s RCs how different their church and worship is compared to their middle age ancestors. As Duffy points out, the basic thrust for the average peasant in the pews (who didn’t know Latin and didn’t have access to scripture) was tied to purgatory and indulgences! No wonder Luther posted his 95 theses?

        Never forget, the Reformation failed in Spain, France, and Italy due to the political and religious persecution by RCs!

        But the Reformation wasn’t entirely homogeneous. Just compare Ireland to Hungary. Or compare what is now Belgium to what is now the Netherlands. And there was both a RC Counter-Reformation and a 2nd Reformation involving Reformed vs Lutheran.

        It is every bit as accurate to say that Luther’s discontinuities with the medieval, scholastic RCC was every bit as discontinuous as that medieval, scholastic RCC with that of Augustine’s RCC! The RCC Church of Trent wasn’t anything like the RCC of the 7 Ecumenical Councils. You don’t find transubstantiation, purgatory, indulgences, etc. in the Patristic Era.

        I suspect being European, you’re a bit like the Greeks I know. Seems for some that the sack/rape of Constantinople by the RCC’s Crusaders was a rather recent event, that has left vivid memories which one never forgets? I’m sure some RCs rue their loss of England, Wales, Scotland; parts of Ireland, Germany & the Netherlands; Estonia, Latvia, and Scandanavia, and they pine for “reconquest” or dream of alternate pasts where they never lost.

      6. Funnily enough, I am reading an advance copy of a book on the Huguenots right now to write a brief review. I have got only to the early 1560s, and it is clear that right from the outbreak of the first round of civil wars in France Catholics and Protestants massacred each other with almost equal gusto and bloodthirstiness. (The book has, if anything, a rather distinct, if English/secular, pro-Huguenot slant.)

    3. About Calvin, he wasn’t even a citizen of Geneva until 1555, and although he was hardly opposed to the burning of Servetus, it was the Genevan magistracy that insisted on the ultimate penalty. Calvin was never “Pope of Geneva,” and such authority as he had rested on persuasion. It was only in 1555 (partly as a result of the influx into Geneva of French Protestant refugees and the large-scale granting of Genevan citizenship to the more affluent and respectable of them) that the “Friends of Calvin” effectively came to dominate the Genevan magistracy — but even then, although the Genevan Church had relatively more freedom of action in its own sphere than the church did in any of the other Swiss Protestant cantons, it was, in the end, legally subordinate to the civil authorities, and effectively came under their complete control and domination after the death of Theodore Beza in 1605.

      Anyone with a knowledge of 16th-Century Swedish History will know that opposition to the “Reformation process” was more vigorous, violent and long-sustained than in England, with several revolts in the late 1520s and the heroic Nils Dacke Rebellion of 1542-3. All of these revolts has as one of their goals the repudiation of Lutheranism and an end to the Reformation. There are notable differences (as well as some similarities) between England’s Henry VIII and Sweden’s Gustav Vasa (Gustav had no interest in or knowledge of Theology, unlike Henry, and had none of the “matrimonial difficulties” that played so large a role in England’s break with Rome), but one similarity is their amazing unscrupulousness in lying about their goals and intentions in the face of domestic opposition and revolts. Indeed, Gustav far exceeded Henry in this regard, for while Henry was willing to disconcert and disunite the leaders of ther Pilgrimage of Grace by promising redress of grievances, he never professed any willingness to give up his “Supreme Headship” of the Church of England, whereas Gustav insisted on numerous occasions well int the early 1540s, falsely and mendaciously, that any “novel doctrines” and worship practices that had been introduced in Sweden had happened without his knowledge and consent and that if he found such allegations to be true he would punish those responsible for them. It was only after the suppression of Dacke’s Rebellion that he allowed some liturgical changes to become mandatory — and this was at the same time that he embarked on his scheme to abolish bishops and episcopacy altogether, and to replace the bishops by royally-appointed, and unconsecrated, “superintendents.” Indeed, by the time he died in 1560, there were only two surviving bishop (Laurentius Petri of Uppsala, and the deposed Botvid Sunession of Strangnas, who had been consecrated by Petri in 1536) who had received some form of episcopal consecration, and one other, Paul Juusten of Viborg, who had, as the chronicler Messenius reports, received a blessing “after Luther’s custom” at the hands of Sunesson in 1554 before being appointed as “superintendent” of Viborg. Sunesson died in 1563, after being restored as Bishop of Strangnas in 1561; and the purported continuation of the Apostolic Succession in the Church of Sweden rests entirely on Juusten, who was made Bishop of Abo in 1563 (without undergoing any form of episcopal consecration) and who was one of the many bishops (the title “bishop” was restored in 1568 to those superintendents whose “districts” had had bishops before the Reformation, but none of them were consecrated or reconsecrated) who participated in the consecration of Laurentius Petri Gothus as Archbishop of Uppsala in 1579. So little did King Johan III esteem the “apostolic succession” of his own bishops that over the ensuing decade he made repeated, if unsuccesful, attempts to secure the reconsecration of some of his bishops at the hands of Catholic or, alternatively, Orthodox bishops. (Right down to 1786 Swedish Lutheran bishops could, and routinely did, delegate the performance or ordinations to their cathedral deans; and there were 18th-Century cases of men appointed as bishops in Sweden who exercised all the functions of bishops before being consecrated, and in a couple of cases never were consecrated at all.)

      Opposition to the Reformation in Norway (and also Iceland) was, as Henri writes, even more vigorous and long-sustained than in Sweden.

      1. Someone should give a brief excursus on the fast rise and murderous fall of the French Protestants. Plenty of massacres all around. And some wonderful monarchical duplicity. What is that famous royal saying, something about Paris being worth a few masses? Though later Cardinal Richelieu did come through for the Protestants. I mean, France didn’t want an all powerful Habsburg Monarchy, even if it was RC. And Napolean at least had some revenge on them and the Prussians.

      2. @ William Tighe – There is an interesting architectural connection between the successive waves of immigrants to London’s East End, religious tolerance and the garment industry.

        Protestant England was certainly pro-Huguenot and there is a Georgian building in Brick Lane in London that was built in 1743 as a Chapel for the Huguenot weavers who settled in Spitalfields, prospered and eventually moved out as they were assimilated.

        That same building then became the “Spitalfields Great Synagogue” in the late 19th century when there was an influx of Jewish immigration from Russia and Eastern Europe to the same part of the East End who also overwhelmingly found employment in the “rag trade”. Many of the families prospered and moved out to North London.

        In 1976 the same building became the Brick Lane Mosque serving the Bangladeshi community who came to England in the last half of the 20th Century and also found their living in the garment industry.

  3. Just to note that there are obviously Lutherans (I are one and serve a Synod of such) who disagree vehemently with the whole-hog sale-out to liberalism that has bedeviled so much of world Lutheranism, and that while I may not call marriage a sacrament in the strict sense of the word, I do confess that it can only be engaged in by a man and a woman and that it is impossible for the Church to bless that which God does NOT bless; and while I do not consider holy orders a sacrament in the same way that Baptism or the Holy Eucharist or Absolution is, nevertheless, the Word of God still clearly limits this holy office to certain males, making it impossible to place one of the fair sex into the divinely instituted preaching office. Which is to say, there are still Lutherans around that could have a profitable dialog with Rome about the areas in which we still stand together, as well as the areas in which we remain at odds.

    1. Indeed, but this type of Lutherans is becoming more and more rare stock in Europe… The latest example being the willful dissolution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France in the United Protestant Church in France a few months ago, dissolving a small numbers of classical Lutherans in a great mass of more liberal Reformed (by the way, the penultimate bishop of Paris of that now extinct Lutheran body is now… a Catholic Priest). The same thing happened in 2003 for the Lutheran Church in Elsass und Lothringen. In Sweden, the small conservative fragment of the Church of Sweden, the “Church Union”, is on the way to disappear, having no more Bishop sympathetic to its cause since the death of Bertil Gärtner (all other Scandinavian Bishops now refuse to ordain seminarians objecting to women’s ordination). And I prefer not to talk about what happens in Germany! In the EKD, be they high church (there is a complete monastery of gay monks in Berlin dressing-up for the liturgy), or of a more reformed hue (presiding Bishop Margot Kässman advocated transforming churches in mosquees) they are all rotten by liberalism.
      It is also interesting that you consider that a dialog with Rome could be useful and fruitful. For all I know, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod adamantly refuses any kind of dialog with the Catholic Church since “the Pope is the Antichrist”. It would be laughable if it wasn’t going against the very words of Our Saviour “that they all may be one”.

      + pax et bonum

      1. No indeed, the LCMS via the ILC (traditional Lutheran counterpart to the LWF) is slated to have talks with Rome, and was a very powerful force in many of the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogues up to this point (Prof. A.C. Piepkorn was especially active in the 60’s, see Eucharist and Ministry). Prof. Ratzinger knew the lay of this land much better than his predecessor and it was in the waning days of his papacy that this latest ILC dialogue was scheduled. We’ll see how it goes.

        And yes, the LCMS and all historic, confessional Lutherans view with great worry the claims of the papacy. Is this news? But it has never hindered us from talking – and again with many of Ratzinger’s comments about the papacy, at least a glimmer of a way forward was shown.

        Rev. H. R. Curtis
        Pastor, Trinity and Zion (LCMS), Worden and Carpenter, IL, USA

      2. There is one retired Church of Norway bishop (Halvor Bergan, who retired as Bishop of Agder in 1998) and one retired Church of Finland bishop (Olavi Rimpilainen, who retired as Bishop of Oulu in 2002) who were and are opposed to the pretended ordination of women, but neither of them has continued to exercise in retirement the sort of inspirational spiritual leadership (combined, it has to be said, with disasterous “church political” leadership) which Bertil Gärtner exercised in Sweden after his retirement as Bishop of Gothenburg in 1991, right up to his death in 2009.

      3. Rev. Curtis, Thinking it was AC Piepkorn who preferred to refer to himself as a member of the Church of the Augsburg Confession. That Confession (and Philip’s important Apology of same) has given historical, traditional Lutheranism a bulwark that Anglicanism didn’t quite get out of its 39/42 Articles. It gets to the essential dogmatic heart of Lutheranism, esp. its Articles of Faith and Dcotrine (I-XXI) but also in the section involving matters of dispute and abuses corrected (Arts. XXII-XXVIII). Trent and Vatican I veered off into radically anti-Lutheran directions. There seems no possible grounds to agree when the AC and RCC dogma are so opposed in so many areas.

        In his book Obedient Rebels (YUP, 1964), Jaroslav Pelikan has an entire section on the relations between Luther and the Hussites/Bohemian Brethren. Pelikan states, “With no other group of fellow-Protestants did Luther negotiate as long, as patiently, and as successfully as he did with the Hussites.” (p. 135) But the differences with them weren’t nearly as vast as the differences are today with the RCC. As AC Art. XX points out, “…childish and useless works like rosaries, the cult of saints, monasticism, pilgrimages, appointed fasts, holy days, brotherhoods, etc.”; from XXI: “However, it cannot be proved from the Scriptures that we are to invoke saints or seek help from them”; plus the critical section on the Mass in Art. XXIV that condems private masses and the concept of the mass as sacrifice for the living and the dead. And, of course, Art. XXVIII on the Power of Bishops. Melanchthon buried indulgences in the brief conclusion, but it, too, is there.

        Might be more beneficial in long run for ILC and Rome to talk about abortion, homosexuality & scriptural marriage, WO, the sanctity of marital sexuality, cloning, and euthanasia. Cement their agreement on the critical moral issues of the day. For at the end of the day, I don’t see Lutherans rejecting the AC or Rome renouncing Trent/Vatican I.

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