Protestants and Catholic Row in Germany

As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches.

A fierce row between Catholics and Protestants in Germany is the result of a misunderstanding, a German theologian has claimed.

Lutheran leaders had invited the Catholic Church to join them in commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther published his 95 theses.

Luther was opposed to the sale of indulgences, to the Bible not being in the vernacular and to the Church’s doctrinal position on justification through faith – all issues which have seen significant changes over the years.

In 1999 the Catholic and Lutheran Churches issued a joint declaration on the doctrine of justification which set out “a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ”. The declaration was widely seen as important in establishing common doctrinal ground between the Churches.

But when the German Evangelical church (EKD) issued a position paper “Justification and Liberty” in May it did not explicitly mention of the declaration.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said: “I could hardly believe it. That really hurt me”.

He said the EKD should “not forget what we have already formulated together”.

Now the row has escalated. According to the Tablet, Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen, deputy chairman of the German bishops’ conference’s ecumenical commission, said earlier this month that he was “incensed and disappointed” by the position paper.

“I really cannot actually see a reason for celebrating anything together any longer,” he said, calling the position paper “destructive”. Bishop Algermissen was quoted as saying that the Catholic Church had been given “one slap in the face after the other recently”, and that “the cat has now been let out of the bag”.

Professor Volker Leppin, a member of the group which drafted the EKD paper, told The Catholic Herald that “the EKD takes the protest of Cardinal Kasper very seriously” and that “we are willing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with our Catholic sisters and brethren”. He said the position paper “expresses exactly this. It ends with the vision of a jubilee celebrated together with Catholics. And it starts with the statement that Protestants are able to find formulations of the doctrine of justification together with the Roman Catholic Church – an evident allusion to the joint declaration on justification of 1999.”

He continued: “The criticisms of Cardinal Kasper and Bishop Algermissen, regrettable as they are, are consequences of a misunderstanding of the text, and the EKD will do all the best to clarify these irritations. The clear will of the EKD is to celebrate the reformation jubilee in a peaceful, ecumenical context.”

On Monday the Bavarian EKD Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm said he was “saddened by the sharpness of the discussion.
“You rub your eyes and ask yourself: what is happening?” he wrote, adding that he hoped “the waves flatten again in this case” and that the 2017 event is celebrated ecumenically as a “great Christ festival … as Luther would have wished, in my opinion”.


2 thoughts on “Protestants and Catholic Row in Germany

  1. I saw this in the Catholic Herald, Uk. Sadly, the Catholic Cardinals don’t realize that Lutherans, at least most, don’t function solely around the so-called ‘Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification’, between Catholics and Lutherans. This was of course a piece between German Lutherans and Catholics in 1999, but with the so-called Lutheran World Federation. But the latter surely does NOT include ALL of Lutheranism! I have the book: Rereading Paul Together, Protestant and Catholic Perspectives on Justification, David E. Aune, Editor, (Baker Academic, 2006). This book is a must read for those that wish to even begin to understand this long Lutheran and Catholic debate! So again, this doctrinal issue is hardly a done deal with many Lutherans, and too Catholics! Myself as a classic and historical Anglican, and someone who is surely friendly with historical Lutherans, (having done one of my doctorates on Luther’s Doctrine of the Cross), I too cannot give a complete Amen to the so-called Joint Declaration of 1999. But of course I admit I am more toward a “Neo-Calvinist” position here! And I am one that does not believe Dr. Luther would move toward any “Joint” position with Rome on this. But of course that is my theological and historical opinion on Luther! I would quite suggest we still see Luther’s so-called Theological Testament, in The Schmalkald Articles, 1536! Indeed how can we not? And in the end, the reading of Luther must always be from his own “confessional” writings! In reality the depth of The Reformation itself demands such! And we should note, that for Luther anyway (as Calvin btw), that Justification is much more than only a metaphor. But surely one of St. Paul’s very basic and central dogmas! But of course with the Evangelical Doctrine of “Imputation”! THIS, is the essence of the Reformation doctrine here, as we can see in Romans 4! See btw D.A. Carson’s book: The Vindication of Imputation, etc. No, this great subject and theological reality is hardly just a “mystical” or enigmatic aspect, but more of a “mystical genitive” for the great and long-lasting magisterial Protestant Reformers, i.e. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, etc. For them, this is simply-profoundly “Pauline” and even “Johannine” Righteousness! The great Greco-Roman, and Jewish Hellenistic idiom, somehow presented by the doctrine of God Himself, ‘In Christ’! The Jewish Messiah and Savior of the World! And of course here we enter surely by “faith”, which is itself, “the gift of God”, (Eph. 2: 8).

    1. And this might be helpful in understanding the Lutheran and Reformed positions here!

      ‘The Evangelical Church in Germany (German: Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, abbreviated EKD) is a federation of twenty Lutheran, United Protestant (Prussian Union) and Reformed (Calvinist) Protestant regional church bodies in Germany. The EKD is not a church in a theological understanding, because of its denominational differences. However, the member churches (Gliedkirchen) share full pulpit and altar fellowship. In 2011, the EKD had a membership of 24,328,000 church-goers, or 30.3 per cent of the German population.[4]

      Only one member church, the Evangelical Reformed Church, is not restricted to a certain territory. In some ways, the other member churches resemble dioceses of the Anglican or Roman Catholic churches, from an organisational point of view. However, the member churches of the EKD are independent, with their own theological and formal organisation. Most member churches are led by a (state) bishop. One of the regional leaders is Council Chairman (Ratsvorsitzender) of the EKD elected by the Synod and Church Assembly. All regional churches of the EKD are members of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe.’

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