Friday, September 20, 2013

The Spirituality of Anniversaries: Commemorating the Reformation in 2017

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (for a really snappy resource hosted by the Evangelische Kirche im Deutschland, visit Luther 2017 500 Jahre Reformation).

That's still four years from now, admittedly, but by any measure 500th anniversaries are rather significant. Really the only thing bigger than a 500th is a millenial anniversary, and I think we can all agree that thousand year anniversaries are kind of a big deal.

Anyway, in preparation for the commemoration, a joint commission of Lutherans and Roman Catholics have produced a spectacular report, From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.

So why should you consider reading this report? It might be natural to postpone reading a report in preparation for an anniversary four years hence, authored by a committee, about Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical relations, what with Brad Pitt's World War Z just hitting Red Box and all.

Can I persuade you to read it anyway, and soon, preferably with a group of friends? Because truly, of all the resources I have read in the past decade on ecumenical dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics, this might be the best and most accessible of the bunch?

Here's why:

1) The report models the best insight of ecumenical theology--it focuses on what we share in common rather than what divides us. We need to learn and practice this model more frequently.

2) The report is preparation for the first anniversary of the Reformation in a truly ecumenical era. Even the 450th anniversary was still before such major ecumenical milestone as Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

3) It serves perfectly as a primer on church history in the Reformation era, including a concise and riveting chapter, "a historical sketch of the Lutheran Reformation and the Catholic Response."

4) It also includes a great little chapter, "New Perspectives on Martin Luther and the Reformation," that takes into account recent research into Luther and Reformation history.

5) It highlights five basic themes in Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue worthy of our attention. Readers of any type will benefit from a clearer understanding both of their own tradition around these topics, as well as greater insight and sympathy to the commonalities shared between the two communities:

  • Luther's grounding in medieval and mystical theology
  • The doctrine of justification
  • The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist
  • The office of ministry
  • The way we approach Scripture and tradition

6) It highlights that baptism is the basis for our unity and common commemoration. It therefore invites all Christians to begin from a position of repentance. We first regret and lament what divides us, then pray for the unity that Christ gives.

7) It offers five ecumenical imperatives:

  • Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.
  • Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.
  • Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.
  • Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.
  • Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.

8) It models something simple but profound. Lutherans and Catholics sitting down and authoring a common statement, illustrating that dialogue is the best and only way forward.

9) It's free and available on-line.


  1. Fifty years ago, Yves Congar was still getting in trouble for his praise of Martin Luther. It was apparently unseemly to call a heretic a genius! But today, you can find a number of his works that were previously blocked from translation, published in English. The section of "True and False Reform in the Church" on Protestantism has been left out, but Congar himself suggested that it hadn't aged well. And his notes from the Council are available in their entirety.

  2. Peter Kreeft, as usual, has some helpful thoughts here: