Fr Stephen Smuts

Posts Tagged ‘Reformation

Protestants and Catholic Row in Germany

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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”.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

July 25, 2014 at 15:04

Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible

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We spoke about Study Bibles yesterday, and here is yet another one for the Reformed (Anglican?) folk coming out this year: Reformation Heritage KJV (King James Version) Study.

The sampler is here. The notes – as would be expected – seem to be copious.

It should be ready in Fall, which for the rest of us (i.e. those who are not American or Canadian) means Autumn; and if, like me, you reside in the Southern Hemisphere, it means that it’ll be out in the Spring.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

July 23, 2014 at 14:11

Is Anglicanism a Variant of Lutheranism?

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“Variant” may not be quite the right word. But in this very engaging episode of “Anglicans Unscripted,” Peter Ould, a CofE priest (and blogger and Twitterer), offers his take on Anglican identity, that shape-shifting wonder of the Christian world.

Even though Henry VII was just a selfish Roman Catholic, basically, men like Cranmer and Ridley and Latimer were deeply imbibing of the Lutheran theology. … Anglicanism is inherently Lutheran.

Rest of the post is at Strange Herring.

Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

August 28, 2013 at 17:49

Catholics and Lutherans to Mark Reformation Split Together

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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.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

June 19, 2013 at 14:12

The End of the Reformation in England?

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Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, hails it:

The outpouring of public grief over the death of Diana Princess of Wales marked the moment England returned to its Roman Catholic roots almost 500 years after the reformation, according to the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Acts such as showering the Princess’s hearse with flowers show that the public is reverting to a “Catholic” approach to death after centuries of protestant reserve, the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols suggested.

He said that the Princess’s funeral in 1997 marked a watershed in British history and would be remembered as the “end of the Reformation in England”.

Catholic practices such as prayers for the souls of the dead and a belief in saints, which were dismissed by protestant reformers in the 16th Century, are now being rediscovered, he said.

The recent growth in unofficial roadside shrines commemorating people killed in accidents – often filled with flowers photographs and mementos – has also been widely interpreted as marking a change in the way the British respond to death.

Interviewed in a BBC documentary about shrines and other places of religious significance in Britain, the Archbishop said that English people were rediscovering their ancient Catholic “voice”.

“I remember vividly the cortege carrying the body of Princess Diana coming up the Edgware Road,” he said.

“The Edgware Road was crowded with people, and they were throwing flowers forward to catch them on the hearse as it went by.

“And somebody said to me ‘each of those flowers is a prayer for Diana’.

“The same man went on to say ‘I think this moment marks the end of the Reformation in England’.

“The English people are discovering again their voice: at the point of death we do pray for those who have died.

“And they are discovering again their vision of the future which is so vividly expressed in the lives of the saints.”

He added: “The Catholic understanding of saints is that they are alive in heaven and they are attentive to our efforts here, and help us with their prayers.

“So there’s – if you like – not just a memory of a relationship but a living relationship with saints.

“I think sometimes it is a misunderstanding that we worship saints.

“We don’t, we offer them our love and we ask for their prayers and we draw great strength from their example and their continuing presence as part of the living church.”

The Archbishop appears in “Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain’s Holiest Places” on BBC Four on Thursday.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

March 26, 2013 at 13:51

Could Church Planting Networks be Reform’s Ordinariate?

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Cranmer’s Curate:

The Anglo-Catholics have a home to go to in the Ordinariate once  women bishops are appointed in the Church of England. But what about  conservative evangelicals in Reform?

Once a single  clause women bishops’ measure is enacted, as seems almost certain after  the next General Synod elections, will we as a constituency knuckle  under and accept the unbiblical innovation or will we be moved to take  radical action?

The reality is that for us women  bishops are not an isolated departure from biblical truth in the Church  of England. The allowance of clergy and now bishops in civil  partnerships is a concern on top of the heretical teachings the  institutional Church has been tolerating and indeed promoting for  decades.

If the Church of England becomes like TEC,  large evangelical flagships could leave the institutional structures and carry on proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ in their local communities  as confessing Anglican churches. Yes, it would involve leaving their  buildings, which is a messy and tiresome business. But there are recent  precedents for this. St George’s Tron in Glasgow – now The Tron Church  out of the Church of Scotland – did it before Christmas. Orthodox  Anglican congregations in the United States and Canada have been doing  it for several years now. A whole diocese is doing it in South Carolina. It’s do-able for the large and well-resourced churches.

But what about smaller conservative evangelical churches? In the Church of  England, conservative evangelical succession for smaller churches is  difficult to secure even without women bishops. With the worsening  financial situation in many dioceses, churches are increasingly being  amalgamated across the traditions making it very difficult to guarantee  that Christ’s sheep in a small church will not be thrown to a liberal  wolf or wolfess.

Could conservative evangelical church  planting networks provide sound biblical ministry for such smaller  congregations?  This type of network, originally deriving from an  established evangelical flagship but developing outside the  institutional structures of the Church of England, is a growing  phenomenon in cities. Could they act as minster churches for small  ex-parish churches leaving the Church of England?

Leaving their buildings for a congregation of 40 or so adults would actually be quite liberating, They would be spared the expense of maintaining them. Meeting in a school or a community centre would be a lot easier and  cheaper.

Under this scenario, a nearby church plant  would provide a Bible teacher from their staff team who would travel  into that community on a Sunday or on some other day of the week when  the church family chose to meet. He would not be resident in the local  community, which is arguably not ideal. But that is better than a wolf  with a lair in residence. The sound man could teach the Scriptures and  train leaders in the small church but the day to day ministry and  outreach would be the responsibility of the resident congregation.

For it to work, church planters would need to resist the temptation to  poach committed Christian people from those congregations who would  benefit their church plants. A servant-hearted vision for  community-based ministry would be the spiritual key to the success of  such ventures.

Can our church planters rise above the  temptation to empire-build? If they can, then our constituency has a  fighting chance of perpetuating Reformed Anglican ministry outside the  institutional structures.

We could have a home to go to.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

January 13, 2013 at 14:00

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The Story of the Reformation Needs Reforming

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The destruction of most of the libraries, music and art of England was not a religious breakthrough but a cultural calamity.

Prof Eamon Duffy in The Telegraph not so long ago:


For five centuries England has been in denial about the role of Roman Catholicism in shaping it. The coin in your pocket declares the monarch to be Defender of the Faith. Since 1558 that has meant the Protestant faith, but Henry VIII actually got the title from the Pope for defending Catholicism against Luther. Henry eventually broke with Rome because the Pope refused him a divorce, and along with the papacy went saints, pilgrimage, the monastic life, eventually even the Mass itself – the pillars of medieval Christianity.

To explain that revolution, the Protestant reformers told a story. Henry had rejected not the Catholic Church, but a corrupt pseudo-Christianity which had led the world astray. John Foxe embodied this story unforgettably in his Book of Martyrs, subsidised by the Elizabethan government as propaganda against Catholicism at home and abroad. For Foxe, Queen Elizabeth was her country’s saviour, and the Reformation itself the climax of an age-old struggle between God, represented by the monarch, and the devil, represented by the Pope.

Fear of Catholic Spain, the greatest power in Europe, gave Foxe’s story urgency. That fear escalated under the Stuart kings, for all of them married Catholics, and were suspected of favouring their wives’ religion. The prospect of a persecuting Catholicism imposed by an apostate monarchy fuelled Protestant anxiety. It led to Civil War, and the execution of King Charles I. Ironically, Charles was a loyal Anglican, but both his sons, Charles II and James II, did eventually embrace Catholicism.

In 1679 fear of Catholicism triggered a last orgy of persecution. The so called Popish Plot, to murder the king and seize the throne, was a paranoid fantasy concocted by Titus Oates, but it unleashed a wave of gruesome executions, including the judicial murder of the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Oliver Plunkett.

At the height of the hysteria, Protestant mythology achieved definitive form in a book that would shape the writing of Tudor history down to our own day. In 1679 Gilbert Burnet, a Scottish cleric, published the first volume of a massive History of the Reformation, an anti-Catholic narrative given scholarly credibility by the inclusion of dozens of documents gathered from public and private archives. Burnet would be the chief propagandist for the “Glorious Revolution” which deposed James II and set the Protestant William of Orange on the throne. His history rammed home the message that Catholicism and Englishness were utterly incompatible: Catholicism was tyranny, Protestantism liberation. “They hate us,” he wrote, “because we dare to be freemen and Protestants.”

It was a message the nation wanted to hear: Burnet was thanked by a special vote of Parliament. His work was supplemented by John Strype, another ardent “Orange” cleric, in a stream of biographies and collections of Reformation documents, many of them gathered from Foxe’s archives. Till well into the 20th century, historians of the English Reformation would rely on Burnet and Strype for their source materials, in the process perpetuating their late-Stuart take on the Tudor age.

The creation of the Public Record Office in 1838 made accessible thousands of documents from Tudor England, but didn’t radically alter this traditional spin on the Reformation story. The greatest Victorian historian of Tudor England was James Anthony Froude, who eagerly explored the archives, but read them through inherited spectacles. A Protestant to his fingertips, he hated clergy, doctrine, religious mystery and, above all, Catholicism. He saw the break with Rome as the beginning of Britain’s rise to imperial greatness, and the Reformation as a confrontation between two incompatible civilisations. Froude knew that the Reformation had been imposed to begin with on a reluctant nation, but he rejoiced that this had happened.

A disciple of Thomas Carlyle, he thought history was not for the little people, but was made by heroes. “Up to the defeat of the Armada,” he wrote, “manhood suffrage in England would at any moment have brought back the Pope.” Happily, there was no democracy in Tudor England, and the country had been saved from itself by the tyrannical Henry VIII, and if the abbeys were unroofed, and a few hundred priests butchered in the process, that was a small price for imperial greatness and the march of progress. Shorn of its more blatant jingoistic rhetoric, Froude’s Protestant version of the Reformation would be recycled in the writing of academic history late into the 20th century.

Historians no longer take that venerable Protestant version for granted, but it is still alive and well in the wider culture. It underpins, for example, Shekhar Kapur’s biopic Elizabeth. It was reiterated recently by the journalist Simon Jenkins when he wrote that “most Britons had, by the late 15th century, come to regard the Roman church as an alien, corrupt and reactionary agent of intellectual oppression, awash in magic and superstition. They could not wait to see the back of it.”

But in multicultural England, the inherited Protestant certainties are fading. It is time to look again at the Reformation story. There was nothing inevitable about the Reformation. The heir to the throne is uneasy about swearing to uphold the Protestant faith, and it seems less obvious than it once did that the religion which gave us the Wilton Diptych and Westminster Abbey, or the music of Tallis, Byrd and Elgar, is intrinsically un-English. The destruction of the monasteries and most of the libraries, music and art of medieval England now looks what it always was – not a religious breakthrough, but a cultural calamity. The slaughtered Popish martyrs look less like an alien fifth column than the voices of a history England was not allowed to have.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

June 25, 2012 at 11:40


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