Many Catholic bloggers commented on Pope Francis’s participation in commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. While some were positive, others were perplexed at the pope’s initiative. In his address to participants in a March 2017 meeting themed, Luther: 500 Years Later, Pope Francis acknowledged his own surprise that an Office of the Holy See had convened Catholics and Lutherans to discuss Luther. After all, Pope Francis explained, “not long ago a meeting like this would have been unthinkable.”
Why would the pope commemorate the Reformation, the consequence of which was greater division among Christians and the separation of Protestants from communion with Rome? This was a question on many minds. The Protestant Reformation involved controversies over such topics as: indulgences; the authority of scripture; and the doctrine of justification to name only a few.
Keen to promote reconciliation and peace, Pope Francis, at a prayer service in Sweden, reflected: “We too must look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness, for God alone is our judge. We ought to recognize with the same honesty and love that our division distanced us from the primordial intuition of God’s people, who naturally yearn to be one, and that it was perpetuated historically by the powerful of this world rather than the faithful people, which always and everywhere needs to be guided surely and lovingly by its Good Shepherd.”
The Vatican has also published an important and ecumenically groundbreaking document entitled, From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. This document is available on the Vatican website and is recommended reading for anyone seeking to learn more about Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the key theological debates in the light of the response offered by the Catholic Church.
You can also learn more by studying the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism. Finally, if you would like to engage in this ecumenical dialogue concretely, join us as we gather with Bishop McGrattan and other bishops representing the Anglican and Lutheran denominations, to pray together for better Christian cooperation as we commemorate 500 years since the Reformation in our own diocese on Sunday October 29. Please see Diocesan Dates on page 21 for the details.