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Oct 28 16 5:31 AM
One of the greatest rifts in Christianity — between Catholics and Lutherans — isn't what it used to be. As a sign of those much improved relations, Pope Francis is traveling Monday to Sweden, an overwhelmingly Lutheran country, to kick off a year-long commemoration of the Protestant Reformation that split the churches 500 years ago.It was the year 1517 when the German monk Martin Luther pinned his 95 Theses to the door of his Catholic church, denouncing the Catholic sale of indulgences — pardons for sins — and questioning papal authority. That led to his excommunication and the start of the Protestant Reformation.The Catholic Church reacted with the Counter Reformation, and mutual enmity led to decades of religious wars that devastated central Europe.Gerard O'Connell, Vatican correspondent for the Jesuit magazine America, says the pope's participation in commemorating the Reformation is proof of the extraordinary change in Catholic-Lutheran relations."A recognition, perhaps, that both sides missed something at the time of the Protestant Reformation," says O'Connell. "The Catholic Church missed ways of reforming itself. Luther and those around him pressed in a way that just couldn't be taken on board, so, in a way, both sides misspoke."The pope's trip is in keeping with his efforts to reach out to other branches of Christianity — like the Russian Orthodox Church — and other faiths, including Islam and Judaism.A reconciliationThe animosity and resentments left by the Reformation only began to heal after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, with the start of an ecumenical dialogue aimed at promoting Christian unity.There are still some doctrinal disputes. But Pope Francis says that while theologians iron out their differences, the two churches can work together on social issues like caring for the poor, migrants and refugees, and combating persecution of Christians.Jens-Martin Kruse, pastor of the Lutheran Church in Rome, says Francis' approach has been dubbed "walking ecumenism.""We are moving together, this is a new experience that we are together on this walk," Kruse adds. "Walking together, we find that we have lots of things more in [common than] we thought before."That raises the question of whether the Reformation might have been a complete misunderstanding."Maybe not a misunderstanding," says Kruse, "but today, we are at the point where a lot of these topics from Luther are common for Catholics and Lutherans."Praising Martin LutherLast June, Pope Francis went so far as to praise Luther — once deemed a heretic by the Catholic Church — as a great reformer.On his flight back to Rome from Armenia, the pope told reporters, "The church was not a role model, there was corruption, there was worldliness, there was greed, and lust for power. He protested against this. And he was an intelligent man."There are three remaining areas of division: the question of the Universal Church and papal primacy; the priesthood, which includes women in the Lutheran church; and the nature of the Eucharist or Holy Communion.This last item is of great concern to both churches, as they try to deal with Catholics and Lutherans who are married and who want to receive communion together.A year ago, visiting the Lutheran church in Rome, Pope Francis opened the door slightly. He suggested to a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man that perhaps, if her conscience permitted, she could receive communion in her husband's church.Briefing reporters at the Vatican, Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, said the question of sharing the Eucharistic table — or interfaith communion — is of prime importance."I really hope the joint commemoration gives us a strong encouragement to be faster, to be bolder and to be more creative," said Junge, "and with a very strong focus on where people feel lack of unity the heaviest, around the table."
Oct 31 16 3:30 AM
“One concept comes to mind: getting closer. My hope and expectation is to get as close to my brothers and sisters as possible. Closeness is good for everyone. Distance, on the other hand, makes us ill.” This was Pope Francis’ response to the question about his expectations regarding his visit to Sweden which begins Monday and aims to mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation. The Pope was interviewed by Fr. Ulf Jonsson, editor-in-chief of Swedish Jesuit magazine Signum; the interview was published by Italian Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica. Jorge Mario Bergoglio also talked about Luther, the author who took “the big step” of “placing the World of God in the hands of the people”. Pope Francis recalled the first time he stepped foot inside a Lutheran Church in Argentina, in Calle Esmeralda in Buenos Aires, at the age of 17. He went on to mention his encounter with a professor in the Faculty of Lutheran Theology. At the time, Fr. Bergoglio was teaching spiritual Theology at the Colegio de San José in San Miguel. “I remember that that was a very difficult moment for my soul. I had a great deal of trust in him and I opened my heart to him. He really helped me in that moment.” Reform and Scripture In answer to the question about what the Catholic Church could learn from the Lutheran tradition, the Pope said: “Two words spring to mind: ‘reform’ and ‘Scripture’. I’ll try to explain. The first word is ‘reform’. At first, Luther’s gesture was a gesture of reform at what was a difficult time for the Church. Luther wanted to come up with a solution to a complex situation. Then, this gesture – partly because of political situations, I am also thinking of the cuius region eius religio – became a “state” of separation and not a “process” of reform throughout the Church as a whole, which is fundamental given that the Church is semper reformanda. The second word is “Scripture”, the Word of God. Luther took a big step in order to place the Word of God in the hands of the people. Reform and Scripture are the two key aspects we can expand on looking at the Lutheran tradition. What comes to mind now are the General Congregations before the Conclave, how vivid the call for reform was and how present the topic was in our discussions.” Common prayer and merciful actions The Pope stressed that when it comes to ecumenism, what is required in addition to theological dialogue, is “common prayer and works of mercy, that is, working together for the benefit of the sick, the poor and those in prison. Doing something together is a high and efficient form of dialogue. I am also thinking of education. It is important to work together, not as separate sects.” Francis reiterated that he was not trying to proselytise: “We need to be very clear about one thing, for sure: proselytising in the ecclesial context is a sin. Benedict XVI told us that the Church does not grow through proselytism but through attraction. Proselytism is a sinful attitude. It would be like transforming the Church into an organisation. Speaking, praying and working together: this is the path we need to follow. You see, in unity, it is the enemy, the devil that never gets it wrong. When Christians are persecuted and killed, this happens to them because they are Chrictian not because they are Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, Catholic or Orthodox. There is an ecumenism of blood.” That madman who carried out the massacre in Nice About the recent meeting in Assisi, which was “very respectful and without syncretism”, the Pope recalled: “All of us together have spoken about peace and asked for peace. Together we pronounced powerful words for peace, which religions truly want. War cannot be waged in the name of religion, of God: it is blasphemy, it is satanic”. Francis mentioned the massacre in Nice: “That madman who carried out the massacre did so believing he was acting in God’s name. Poor man, he was mentally unstable! We can charitably say that he was a madman who tried to justify his actions through God. This is why the meeting in Assisi is very important.” He didn’t fail to mention the “terrorism of gossip”: “Anyone is capable of becoming a terrorist, even simply by using their tongue. I am not talking about arguments that take place out in the open, like wars. I am talking about an underhand, hidden terrorism that takes the form of words that are lobbed like “bombs” and do a lot of harm. The root of this terrorism is original sin and it is a form of criminality. It is a way to gain space for oneself, destroying the other. So there needs to be a profound conversion of the heart to overcome this temptation.” Transcendence does not mean terrorism Francis said he is certain that a real openness to transcendence cannot lead to terrorism. “There are forms of idolatry that are linked to religion. The idolatry of money, of enmity, of space that is greater than time, the greed of territoriality of space. There is an idolatry of conquering space, of dominance, that attacks religions like a vicious virus. Idolatry is playing at religion, it is a wrong religiosity. I call it “an immanent transcendence”, in other words a contradiction. Real religions, meanwhile, are the development of a person’s ability to transcend themselves, towards the absolute. The religious phenomenon is transcendent and is about the truth, beauty, goodness and unity. In the absence of such openness, there is no transcendence, there is no true religion, there is idolatry. The openness of transcendence cannot under any circumstances be the cause of terrorism, because this openness is always tied to the search for truth, beauty, goodness and unity.” The mother who was slain in front of the eyes of her children because she defended the cross Regarding the situation faced by Christians in the Middle East, the Pope stated: “I believe that the Lord will not leave His people tot heir own devices, He will not desert them. When we read about the tough trials the people of Israel went through in the Bible or we remember the trials the martyrs faced, we see that the Lord always came to the aid of his people”. Right now, the Middle East “is a land of martyrs. We can undoubtedly speak of a martyr and devastated Syria. I wish to mention a personal memory that remains engraved in my heart: on the island of Lesbos I met a father with his two children. He told me he was very much in love with his wife. He is a Muslim and she a Christian. When the terrorists arrived, they wanted her to remove her cross but she refused and they slit her throat in front of her husband and children. He kept on telling me: “I love her so much, I love her so much.” Yes, she is a martyr. But a Christian knows there is hope. The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. We have always known this.” For the Church, the challenge is union between elderly and young Pope Francis responded with a question about Churches on the peripheries. “It is true that young Churches have a more sprightly spirit, on the other hand there are Churches that have aged, Churches that have become a bit sleepy, that seem to only be interested in holding onto their space. I am not saying these Churches lack spirit: it’s there, but it is cooped up inside a structure, in a rigid position that is fearful of losing space. In some countries’ Churches, it is really obvious that a fresh outlook is lacking. In this sense, the freshness of the peripheries gives more room to the spirit. We need to avoid the effects of bad ageing in Churches. It is helpful to re-read the third chapter of the prophet Joel, where he says that the elderly will dream and the young have visions. The elderly dream of the possibility of our young people having new visions, that they have a future again. But sometimes Churches are too bogged down in programmes, on programming. I must admit: I know they are necessary, but I find it very hard to place hope in organisational charts. The spirit is ready to drive us forth. And the spirit is found in the ability to dream and the ability to prophesy. I see this as a challenge for the whole Church. And the way I see it, the union between the elderly and the young is the challenge the Church currently faces, a challenge to its ability to be fresh.” Prayer and testimony against atheism Asked about what “a person loses out on if they do not believe in God”, Francis replied: “It is not about losing out on something. It is about not being able to adequately develop an ability to be transcendent. The path of transcendence leaves room for God and little steps are important in this, even the step of going from atheism to agnosticism. The problem, in my view, is when a person is closed and considers their life to be perfect in itself and therefore inward looking, without the need for radical transcendence. But to make other open up to transcendence, there is no need for too many words of speeches. When someone lives transcendence, you can tell: they become living testimonies. During the lunch I attended with young people in Krakow, one of them asked: ‘What should I tell a friend who does not believe in God? How do I go about converting him?’ To which I responded: ‘The last thing you must do is say something. Act! Live! Then, when the other person sees your way of live, your testimony, they might ask you why you live in such a way’. I am certain that those who do not believe to do not seek God, may not have felt the restlessness of testimony. And this is very closely tied to comfort. It is unlikely you will find restlessness when you are comfortable. This is why I believe that the only weapons against atheism, i.e. against being closed to transcendence, is prayer and testimony.” “Here’s why I’m celebrating mass in Sweden, despite organisational problems” Finally, the Pope gave Swedish Catholics a piece of advice, urging “a healthy co-existence, where each person can live their faith and express their own testimony, living in an open and ecumenical spirit,” because “you cannot be Catholic and sectarian. We must try to be with others”. “‘Catholic’ and ‘sectarian’ are two words that contradict themselves. This is why, Francis concluded, initially I hadn’t planned to celebrate mass for Catholics during this visit: I wanted to place the emphasis on ecumenical testimony. Then I reflected further on my role as pastor of a Catholic flock that will becoming from neighbouring countries such as Norway and Denmark. In response to fervent requests from the Catholic community, I decided to celebrate a mass, prolonging my stay by one day. In fact I wanted the mass to be celebrated on the same day and not in the same place as the ecumenical meeting, so as to avoid messing up the plans. The ecumenical meeting retains its profound significance, according to a spirit of unity, that is my own. This caused some organisational problems, I know, because I will be in Sweden on All Saints’ day, which is an important day here in Rome. But I preferred it to be this way in order to prevent misunderstandings. The grace of shame One of the questions was about Jesus and what He represents for the Pope: “For me Jesus is the One who looked at me with merciful eyes and saved me. My relationship with Him will always be based on this principle and foundation. Jesus gave meaning to my life here on earth and hope for my future life. He mercifully looked at me, took me and set me on my path… And he granted me an important grace: the grace of shame… Shame is a positive thing: it stirs you into action but it also teaches you your place, who you are, preventing any form of arrogance and boastfulness.”
Oct 31 16 3:43 AM
Pope Francis’ visit to Sweden to participate in the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Oct. 31 is “very important” for ecumenism, and could pave the way for a new document on church, Eucharist and ministry, according to Cardinal Walter Kasper.The German cardinal understands the significance of this better than most because he served as co-chairperson of the international Catholic-Lutheran Commission that in 1999 reached agreement on the question of justification that was at the heart of the dispute that led to the Protestant Reformation.In this interview with America on the eve of Francis’ visit, the cardinal, who was President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity from 2001-2010, not only looks back on the progress made in the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue over the past 50 years, but also forward to new horizons for that dialogue. Moreover, he emphasizes that “doctrinal questions are not the only important thing for ecumenism, it is also important that you make ecumenism through friendship, through trust” and said, “this is the charism of Francis.”What’s the significance of Pope Francis going to Lund, Sweden, to participate in the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation?Well the Lutheran World Federation (L.W.F.) was the first one with whom we started the dialogue after the Second Vatican Council. The dialogue with the Lutherans, in my view, is the most advanced dialogue that we have. The first major consequence of that was the agreement on the question of justification, and now I think the time is mature to have a similar paper about church, Eucharist, and ministry. The dialogue on these three points is very far advanced, though there is not yet full consensus. A commission from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that is responsible for interreligious and ecumenical affairs has prepared all the materials about these three themes and about the achievements so far and I think that now we should make a common statement about these. If we do so, it could open the door, at least, for Holy Communion in singular, concrete situations. Could you explain the question of justification that once created so many problems, but is now resolved?The problem of justification was at the center of the whole dispute in the 16th century. Luther believed that there was only justification by faith, not by good-works, justification only by grace and not by our merits. Of course, we now agree that good-works are fruits of faith but we cannot merit grace, it’s given only by the love of God. At the time of the Reformation there was a sharp division about this point. The occasion was indulgences. Then a friar called Johann Tetzel, O.P., preached indulgences, and one got indulgences by giving money. There was a whole market of indulgences at that time and this was an abuse. Luther argued against indulgences in his 95 theses; he said one cannot merit grace, it is a gift of God by faith, and this created a discussion about the power of the pope to give indulgences. So, the question of papacy was immediately implied in this discussion; the pope was seen as the anti-Christ, teaching doctrines not founded in scripture, whereas Luther insisted on “scripture alone.”The question of indulgences, however, was only the starting point of a big dispute. There were also many political problems involved, and so the Reformation then became a reformation made by the princes who had not only their holy interests, but also their worldly interests – practical, economic, political. And then there were many abuses in the church in the late Middle Ages and people were very angry against Rome because of the indulgences. Money is the most sensitive point of the human being! So there was a lot of anger against Rome, the Curia, and there was a whole wave of emotions.You have written a book on Luther, which I understand you also gave to Pope Francis. How do you see Luther?In the beginning Luther had good intentions. He did not want to create a new church, he wanted to reform the whole church, he wanted the renewal of the universal church, starting from the bible. Today, we call this the New Evangelization, but then there was all this wave of emotions. Rome’s resistance led to his 95 theses that were no longer in agreement with Catholic teaching, regarding the sacraments, the ministry and so on. He was condemned as an obstinate heretic and outlawed at the Diet of Worms presided over by Emperor Charles V in 1521. Consequently, he was not any longer protected by the law of the Empire, anyone could kill him. Later, around 1530, he began to establish his own communities, and at some point turned back to positions, more on institutional questions, that were not those of the Catholic church.Luther is a complex personality, there was a complex evolution in him, and in the dialogue with the Lutherans, and especially with the L.W.F., we tried to discuss all these problems and so we are no longer in the position of the sixteenth century. The world has changed, the church has changed, the Lutherans have changed. We have tried to come to an ecumenical interpretation of all this in the dialogue, and now are very close together.Most importantly, in the dialogue we reached agreement on the central question of justification, expressed in the joint Catholic-Lutheran Declaration in 1999. In Germany, this was followed up by an agreement about baptism, and the mutual recognition of baptism.You were co-chair of the Catholic-Lutheran International Commission that reached the all-important agreement on the question of justification. Could you explain that agreement and how it happened?It came about because there were some very good studies on this question in the United States and in Germany, historical studies, and the new change in the research about Luther. Then a good friendship developed among us in the commission, and I think this was important. We walked with each other and shared how we live our respective faiths. All that created an atmosphere of trust in which one can find solutions.Then we agreed that, first of all, every human being requires justification, one cannot justify oneself. The great heresy of modern times is that we can do it by ourselves. It’s clear, also from psychology, that we all need justification, we are all sinners. Secondly, the fact is that only God can justify and pardon sins, we cannot do it by ourselves; we cannot do it by good works, by asceticism, by mysticism and so on, it is all God’s grace, and it makes us a new creation. We are justified by God alone, and by faith in God’s work in Jesus Christ on the cross and in the resurrection, and not by our own merits. We are justified by the grace of God or—as Pope Francis says—by the mercy of God. But God’s grace must become fruitful in works of charity and in our life. It’s not a cheap faith where we have nothing to do; good works are a fruit of grace, we cannot do them by our own forces. Those are the main points. There are some smaller points regarding different aspects of the fundamental agreement that still need to be clarified, but do not contradict the fundamental agreement.In October of 1999, John Paul II approved this agreement on one of the central points of the Reformation, and as consequence of that in Germany we also reached agreement on the mutual recognition of baptism.We have reached this fundamental agreement but we are not yet fully united because there are still problems relating to church, ministry, Eucharist, and papacy.The Lutherans do not yet accept the papacy.Well there has been a lot of discussion and dialogue about the papacy. They no longer consider the pope as the anti-Christ. Lutheran bishops come to Rome and like to have a photo with the pope. So, things have changed, but there is still much resistance against the universal jurisdiction of the pope.To address this question of the papacy, John Paul II, in the encyclical “Ut Unum Sint,” invited all the ecumenical partners to reflect together with him about a new way of exercising the papal ministry. Benedict XVI repeated it. Francis repeats it, but goes further and calls for “a conversion of papacy.” He wants to give more freedom, not autonomy but more responsibility, to bishops and to the local church. From both sides, there is a rapprochement.In this context, I think the meeting in Lund is very important, because doctrinal questions are not the only important thing for ecumenism. It is also important that you make ecumenism through friendship, through trust, and this is the charism of Francis, to make friendship, to establish personal relations, trustful relations, and I think this can help a lot. Moreover, he does not think in terms of positions, but in the terms of development, of process. For him, ecumenism is to walk together, step by step, and walking together to address the challenges of our days which also brings us closer to each other.I consider Lund an important step in this common walk to unity. Lund cannot close theological questions, but it can pave the way for a new document about ministry, the Eucharist and church, or at least help us go further. It gives important support for our dialogue, because it builds trust, and without trust we cannot solve any problems. Friendship and trust are fundamental, so this will be a new push for the dialogue and it will make this new closeness transparent to the public. This is a public witness because everyone now sees the pope goes to the Lutherans, and they see the Lutherans with the pope, and this changes the mentalities in the church. But I have to add something. The Lund meeting is a relationship with the L.W.F., but in Germany we have a different situation because they are more skeptical, because the Evangelical Church of Germany is not only Lutherans it also includes the Reformed and United churches, there’s a mixture and therefore we have a different situation, more skeptical, more critical, more resistant, so I don’t know if this meeting can help to overcome some of their reservations. One can only overcome these reservations and distrust through the culture of encounter.I know that in Buenos Aires Francis had very good relations with the Lutherans, and he wants to move forward. He’s not a specialist of the theological dialogue; rather he emphasizes friendship and walking together. For him ecumenism like synodality means walking together. He believes in the process. Time has precedence over space.Apart from the questions regarding papacy, ministry, Eucharist, church, Lutherans also have a problem about Mariology.Yes! For most Lutherans, our veneration of Mary and of the saints, our praying to them for intercession is something very strange, but it is a part of Catholic religiosity. Luther himself venerated Mary a lot, but he did not accept the intercession of Mary and the saints. I think the problem was that at that time there were exacerbations of Marian piety. But the same is true today in some southern European countries, and maybe in parts of South America, and all this is quite different to our northern cultural mentality; we are more cold, less emotional. It’s a difference of cultures, not of faith. For us Catholics this Marian piety is normal, but for Protestants the papacy and Mariology are emotionally loaded problems.Is Francis helping to dilute or reduce such reservations among Lutherans and Protestants?The way Francis is exercising the papacy is helping a lot to overcome these prejudices. He’s not a tyrant, as Luther called the pope. All his humanity is a big gift also for ecumenism. It’s clear that with our theological reflections we cannot reach normal people; for them life is life and today Protestants and Catholics work together, live together and in Germany there are lots of mixed marriages. But this is also new, it was not the case before the Second World War where there were Protestant and Catholic religions and, for example, it was difficult for me as a Catholic to meet a Protestant girl!It's important to remember that the move towards unity is not only a theological process, it is a process of life, of “walking together” as Francis says. He has underlined this aspect of ecumenism and also “working together,” such as we have seen in the common response to the crisis of the refugees that we have in Germany. This crisis was a real gift for ecumenism because an enormous number of Catholic and Protestant volunteers worked together in favor of the refugees and stood against those right-wing people that were against them. These are practical things, but they are very important; they bring people much closer together than our theological discussions. Francis understands this well.Some in Germany have reservations about the pope’s meeting with the Lutherans at Lund also because of the problems about the papacy and Mariology.Reservations, yes, but also surprise and joy. You must remember that Germany is the country of the Reformation; it is deeply linked to its history, to its national identity; it is felt more strongly here than anywhere else in the world. We are still living with the consequences of this. Indeed, up to the Second World War we had Catholic regions and Protestant regions in Germany, and it is only after the war that the regions became much more mixed. These non-theological elements are very important in the whole discussion on ecumenism.The L.W.F. is celebrating its own 50th anniversary, and it was already a surprise that they invited the pope for this anniversary. It was a common invitation from the L.W.F. and the Council for Christian Unity. They have published a common booklet “From Crisis to Communion,” looking back at the road they have travelled together over the past 50 years.Moreover, I think the majority in countries like Germany, where Catholics, Lutherans and Protestants work together, inter-marry and do many other things together, welcome this meeting and are very happy about this step forward in ecumenical relations. But there are ultra-orthodox Catholics who are upset because they feel the pope may give up something of Catholic doctrine and tradition, and there are ultra-orthodox Lutherans who fear something similar in terms of the Lutheran tradition. There is this fear.Remember however, that for Catholics in the past Luther was the arch-heretic, and for the Lutherans the pope was the anti-Christ, but since John XXIII all this changed. Even before then there was already a change among Catholic historians like Joseph Lortz, and Hubert Jedin, the expert on the council of Trent; they reached the conclusion that Luther had good intentions at the beginning. Today Catholic and Protestant historians have more or less the same understanding of the Reformation. Benedict XVI recognized this when visited Erfurt in 2011, and praised Luther as a man who was passionate about God.I once asked Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini S.J., what he considered the greatest obstacle to Christian unity and he responded, “the spirit of possessiveness, everyone wants to keep what he has.”Yes, indeed! The churches are like big steamers on the sea, they are awkward, it is difficult for them to move and change direction. To give up something, to give up a certain mentality, is most difficult. But it’s an attitude, it’s a human problem, not a dogmatic one. Pope Francis rightly speaks of “conversion”; it needs conversion of the papacy, conversion of bishops, conversion of Lutherans and of Catholics, and conversion is not the easiest thing. But at the end of the day, the full unity of the church is the gift of the Spirit, and we must pray for this gift of conversion.We must pray for the grace of unity, and pray to open one’s heart to the other, open one’s opinions, to give up prejudices and this is not so easy as we all have prejudices. Spiritual ecumenism, praying together, is at the very heart of ecumenism. Praying together changes the heart, and so I think this celebrating together the Liturgy of the Word in Lund is most important.Is it easier for Catholics today to unite with the Lutherans or with the Orthodox?That’s a good question. As it stands from the dogmatic aspect, we are much closer to the Orthodox than to the Protestants because we recognize each other’s sacraments, including priesthood and episcopacy. The only point of disagreement with the Orthodox is the papacy, they would agree with a primacy of honor but not of jurisdiction. But there are people within the Orthodox church, like the monks on Mount Athos, who do not agree that our sacraments are valid. But there are also difficulties within the Orthodox churches as we saw around the pan-Orthodox synod where some do not dare to recognize us as a church, but this is fundamentalism. Whereas for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew it is clear, and it is also clear for Patriarch Kirill who told me we recognize all your sacraments. From the dogmatic aspect we are closer to the Orthodox, but the Protestants are coming out of this same Latin and Western culture, so it’s not only dogmatic it is also a cultural gap with the Orthodox, which have a different history and culture—the Byzantine, and so from this respect it is easier with the Protestants. We are closer in the way we do theology, using the same approaches in biblical exegesis, in the historical-critical methods and so on. In this cultural respect, Catholics and Protestants are much more similar, whereas the Orthodox tradition and way of thinking culturally is different.
Nov 1 16 6:50 AM
Did Luther Really Nail 95 Theses to the Chapel Door on October 31st?As religion.ORF reports from Austria, doubts first arose in 1961 as to whether the Catholic monk Luther really nailed a manifesto to the chapel door of a Castle in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Catholic historian Erwin Iserloh, drawing on the doubts of Lutheran historian Hans Volz, stated in a lecture in Mainz in 1961 that the nailing of the Theses never happened. And the debate began to rage.Iserloh later backed off from his claim. It is true that Luther himself wrote, “On the day of All Saints I first began to write against the Pope and indulgences.” But this is no argument against October 31 – the feast was always understood to include the vigil on the previous day.It is certain that Luther sent his 95 Theses to 27-year-old Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg on October 31. Albrecht was responsible for the sale of indulgences for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In a letter Luther admonished that the sale of indulgences be examined. An original of this letter is extant, but not of the 95 Theses. Historians are not agreed as to whether he also nailed the theses to the church door on this day. The available sources are not entirely clear.Philipp Melanchthon reported that Luther did nail the theses to the church publicly. But Melanchthon could not have witnessed this, for he arrived in Wittenberg only a year later. And he wrote his report after the death of Luther in 1546.A confidant of Luther, Georg Rörer, wrote of him nailing theses to several church doors. But he arrived even later than Melanchthon in Wittenberg – in 1522. He may well have been drawing on Melanchthon in his account.Willi Winkler, biographer of Luther, doubts the whole story. “In any case, the hammer is a later invention,” he states. In the first centenary of the Reformation in 1617, it was a simple feather pen with which Luther wrote on the chapel door.According to the most current research, Luther never spoke of nailing the theses to the church door. However, at the time it would have been quite customary to post scholarly theses on church doors, and perhaps not worthy of note.A reason to doubt the legend is that Luther did not set out to be a revolutionary, but rather hoped to reform the church by the sending of letters. But perhaps he nailed the theses to the door at a later date, or had someone else do so.Lutheran Bishop Michael Bünker of Austria thinks it best not to keep transmitting the tale of a lonely monk whose hammer strikes were heard all the way to Rome. He wouldn’t be entirely opposed if some children here and there heard the beloved story. “After all, it’s not entirely debunked, but neither is it proven,” he said.Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to Bischop Bünker whether four nails were pounded into a door. But this is clear to him: “Theologically, the theses were hammer strikes.”
Nov 4 16 11:10 AM
I have often referred to the signing of the document “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World” by the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, and the World Evangelical Alliance in 2011 as a crucial event in the history of the church. Now I was allowed to witness another event in Lund of at least equal importance. I am neither Catholic nor Lutheran. But what has happened here paves the way for all Protestant churches and confessions. And the presence of Orthodox representatives, even of the ancient oriental churches, such as the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Aphrem II, proves that the results are perceived even by uninvolved third parties.In Lund, the Reformation year was opened not only by the Lutheran World Federation, but also by the Catholic Church, represented by the Pope. The event took place in the Cathedral of Lund in front of 450 invited guests, including King Carl Gustaf and Queen Sylvia of Sweden, the Swedish Prime Minister as well as other members of the government, national and international representatives of the Catholic Church and of the Lutheran Churches. Also present were leading representatives of the so-called Secretaries of Christian World Communions, that is to say the leaders of almost all Christian international denominations and umbrella organizations (from the Orthodox churches to the Salvation Army), among which the two largest, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), were represented by their Secretary Generals and a second delegate each.On a larger scale, the Lund event can be seen as part of a process of peace making within global Christianity. One could argue that, in a sense, Catholics and Lutherans signed a peace treaty. They regret having used armies, secular powers, and disinformation to fight each other, and they now want to deal with their differences through peaceful discussion, no longer using non-spiritual weapons. They will stop trusting in money, culture, power, and the state, but will instead trust the future of the churches to the power of the gospel, to which every Christian will bear witness and pass on with kindness. From my point of view as an Evangelical Christian, this vision has to be welcomed wholeheartedly.The so called sell-out of the Reformation, which has been announced by all sorts of critics and conspiracy theorists, has simply not taken place. In the liturgy of the worship service in the Cathedral of Lund, everyone prayed “Thanks be to you, O God, for the many guiding theological and spiritual insights that we have all received through the Reformation. Thanks be to you for the good transformation and reforms that were set in motion by the Reformation or by struggling with its challenges. Thanks be to you for the proclamation of the gospel that occurred during the Reformation and that since then has strengthened countless people to live lives of faith in Jesus Christ.” It cannot be said that Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan from Jerusalem, President of the Lutheran World Federation, and his Secretary General, Martin Junge from Chile, would have been willing to water down their Lutheran identity for the purpose of a big media event.The Lutherans expressed their regret that the Reformation had been misused for political goals all too quickly and that the Protestants had not been able to prevent religious wars and the persecution of others. Both sides have distanced themselves from having spread lies about one another and from having been filled with hatred, which even led to war in many cases.But the core concerns of Luther, sola gratia along with his call for reform, were acknowledged as ground breaking by all participants. The Pope said: “The spiritual experience of Martin Luther challenges us to remember that apart from God we can do nothing. ‘How can I get a propitious God?’ This is the question that haunted Luther. In effect, the question of a just relationship with God is the decisive question for our lives. As we know, Luther encountered that propitious God in the Good News of Jesus, incarnate, dead and risen. With the concept “by grace alone,” he reminds us that God always takes the initiative, prior to any human response, even as he seeks to awaken that response. The doctrine of justification thus expresses the essence of human existence before God.” Especially in modern Protestantism there are many who have not understood Luther as well as this statement and surely it also reminds us, that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.Since the preparation of the event in Lund was of the utmost importance to the World Evangelical Alliance as well as to many other people, I not only talked with the leaders of the Lutheran World Federation very extensively, but also met with the Pope four times in recent weeks. From my personal observation and interaction, Pope Francis is aware, that in the 16th century, corruption did win over reform and is deeply convinced that the Holy Scripture, the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit possess the required power to lead the churches to a greater unity in the long term, if we put God’s iniative and saving grace first, and to enable each Christian to personally witness about salvation and hope in Jesus Christ to a dying world.Indeed, with his words the Pope was only drawing conclusions arising from the fact that the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation, after years of intense work, had agreed on a short definition of the doctrine of justification, which summarizes the NT view, especially Paul’s. 17 years later, this accordance can lead to practical implementation, not hastily but in a prudent manner, not as if walking on thin ice but as a sustainable commonality. What is new is that the Pope sees justification as an absolute central question. Just shortly after his election I heard for the first time from Pope Francis that the common view of justification as salvation by grace and faith alone should be the center of our shared commonalities and that on this basis further steps would have to be taken. As is usual, Pope Francis has made his announcements come true, even though they initially sounded quite adventurous.At the same time, however, the fundamental recognition of Luther’s basic concerns by the Catholic Church is no cause for Protestant triumphalism. It must be borne in mind that the Reformation led quickly to further divisions, to polarization, to religious nationalism, as well as to the spread of pride and hatred. The joint statement, which was signed during the Ecumenical Prayer in Lund, puts it this way: “While we are profoundly thankful for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, we also confess and lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church. Theological differences were accompanied by prejudice and conflicts, and religion was instrumentalized for political ends.”In essence, the event was a celebration of the Reformation, not only by the presence of the Pope, but even at his invitation. Beyond all doubt, it was a remarkable step the Pope took towards Protestants, both symbolic and substantial. Of course this gesture was not presented only by the Pope. Many leading Catholic theologians, bishops, and cardinals had been actively involved in the preparations for many years. Just in time, the Pope tears down 500-year-old walls and replaces conflict by serious talks, self-criticism on both sides, and by the desire that the necessary disputes within Christianity should be shaped by love, not by the desire to defeat each other.The Pope’s moving appeal in the Malmo arena to intensify ecumenical cooperation did not mean a hasty overcoming of the remaining deep theological differences between Catholics and Protestants. Instead, these differences would have to be thoroughly discussed, although the similarities certainly predominate. In this sense, he called World Christianity to show solidarity to a suffering world, and together help the poor, the sick, the oppressed, and the persecuted. The signing of a far-reaching cooperation agreement between Caritas International and the World Service of the Lutheran World Federation, which took place during the ceremony, underlines what is meant by this. This is reminiscent of the great commonality shown by all churches especially in the course of international refugee aid. It makes clear that theological differences should not be discussed at the expense of the needy, but as a common struggle for truth.
Nov 8 16 4:46 AM
Pope Francis’ short trip to Sweden a big step on a longer journeyROME (RNS) Even by this pope’s standards it was a bold move.Francis, the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics across the globe, this week traveled to Sweden, one of the most secularized countries in Europe, to take part in events marking 500 years since Martin Luther kickstarted the Protestant Reformation.Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X but Luther’s ideas became a lightning rod for change in Europe and around the world, sparking brutal wars and leaving a long, lasting rift in Western Christianity.But since Francis’ election in 2013 he has made it his business to heal old wounds rather than dwell on the past — be it helping the U.S. and Cuba re-establish diplomatic relations, opening up new channels with China or making overtures to Orthodox Christians, whose split with Rome is even older than the schism with Protestants.His trip to Sweden was another piece in this radical reconciliation strategy, and it was rooted in a fervently held belief that Christians must overcome the “scandal” of their own divisions if they are to have any chance of presenting a convincing witness to others.The Catholic Church has been formally engaged in discussions to bring about unity within Christianity since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s; the difference today is that it has a pope willing to speak to Protestant churches on equal terms.In the past Rome acted a bit like the head teacher of ecumenical dialogue, suggesting other churches weren’t really churches and hoping to bring everyone over to its point of view.Under Francis, however, Christian leaders are treated more like colleagues talking to each other on a level playing field.During a joint Lutheran-Catholic ceremony in Lutheran Cathedral in Lund, the pontiff demonstrated this by going further than any of his predecessors in praising Luther, citing the former Augustinian friar’s once disputed idea that Christians achieve salvation through faith alone.“The spiritual experience of Martin Luther challenges us to remember that apart from God we can do nothing,” Francis said on Monday (Oct. 31), the first day of his overnight visit, which began a year to the day before the official 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 Theses denouncing Rome to the door of a German cathedral.Francis also gave thanks to the Reformation for making Scripture a more central part of the Catholic Church’s life.Today, after a long and patient theological dialogue, Catholics and Lutherans no longer officially disagree on the core issues that originally split them. Indeed, there were hopes that the pope’s visit to Sweden might herald a breakthrough in Catholics and Lutherans being able to receive Communion in each other’s churches.While some progress was made, and a path ahead seems clearer than ever on that crucial question, there is still a long way to go.In the meantime, however, the two churches have found new divisions, mainly over homosexuality and the ordination of women.While Lutheran churches worldwide have a diversity of approaches, the church in Sweden is one of the most progressive: It has openly gay pastors, it recognizes same-sex marriage and its leader is a woman, Archbishop Antje Jackelen.And to show how intractable the female ordination question is, on the flight back to Rome the pope ruled out women ever being ordained as priests in the Catholic Church.“St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands,” he said when asked about the issue during his in-flight news conference.“But forever, forever? Never, never?” the Swedish reporter asked in a follow-up question.Francis, referring to a 1994 document published by the late pope stating that female ordination was out of the question, replied: “If we read carefully the declaration by St. John Paul II, it is going in that direction.”Aware of the difficulty these disagreements present, the pope used his trip to Sweden to emphasize instead the work Catholics and Lutherans can do together in helping refugees and saving the planet.In front of a 10,000-strong crowd in an arena in Malmo, Francis heard from Rose Lokonyen, a refugee from South Sudan living in Kenya, who spoke about helping displaced people; from Pranita Biswasi, a Lutheran woman from Orissa, India, on the effects of climate change; and from the bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, on the plight of Syrians.But this focus on ecumenism as shared service left open the question over whether Catholics and Lutherans are pursuing what’s been called an “NGO-style ecumenism,” where they in effect act like nongovernmental organizations working to try to save the planet while putting the doctrinal problems to one side.The Rev. Martin Junge, secretary-general of the Lutheran World Federation, responded to these concerns by stressing that ecumenism has different strands, and they feed off one another.Archbishop Jackelen added that it was refreshing to see the churches move away from condemning sexual transgressions and focus on sins against economic justice and the environment. These, she explained, had far “greater consequences.”A pro-migrant and pro-environment stance can also be a successful strategy in a highly secular country such as Sweden, where polls show people have more faith in their country’s tax office than in the Church of Sweden.Many Swedes praise the pope’s openness to refugees and his efforts to reform the Vatican. Francis has also received good press for his friendship with Carlos Luna, an Argentinian living in Sweden whom the pope — when he was a Jesuit in his native Argentina back in the 1970s — disguised as a priest so he could escape the country’s military dictatorship.Today, Luna helps refugees and other displaced people, and Francis donated one of his white skullcaps to be sold at an auction to raise money supporting Luna’s work.These are the sort of stories and gestures that endeared Francis to Swedes: While a majority say they are nonbelievers, there is anecdotal evidence of an increasing interest in faith, if not organized religion. It is perhaps a nascent case of believing rather than belonging.Furthermore, while most of the 9 million-strong population are nominally members of the Lutheran Church of Sweden — founded after the Reformation by King Gustav Vasa and still closely tied to the state — immigration is changing the religious landscape.Numbers of Catholics are growing slowly and in some places are making use of underused Lutheran churches. Meanwhile, 5 percent of the population is Muslim, making Islam the second-largest religion in the country.For Pope Francis, unity can’t be put on hold while debates about theology go on. Instead, he wants Christians to find an ecumenism that bypasses divisions and recognizes a simple truth he articulated in Sweden: “We realize that much more unites us than separates us.”
Nov 10 16 4:34 PM
On Thursday, Pope Francis spoke about Christian unity and ecumenism, specifically what they are not. Namely, they aren’t about uniformity or the total absorption of one religion by another, but instead consist of a common communion in Christ.“Ecumenism is true when Christians are able to shift the focus from themselves, from their arguments and formulations, to the Word of God who demands to be heard, accepted and witnessed in the world,” the Pope said Nov. 10.“Because of this, the various Christian communities are called not to ‘compete,’ but to cooperate.”Pope Francis addressed members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity gathered in Rome for their plenary assembly at the Vatican.Throughout his pontificate Francis has placed a strong emphasis on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. The last few months alone have included several ecumenical meetings, such as in Lund, Sweden, and in Georgia and Azerbaijan.In his speech, the Pope gave three examples of what he considers to be “false models of communion” that don’t really lead to unity, but instead “contradict it in its true essence.”The first of these, he said, is believing that unity is a result of human effort, when in reality, it is always and only a gift of the Holy Spirit.“We humans are not able to create unity alone, nor can we decide on the forms and times. So what is our role? What must we do to promote unity among Christians?” he asked, explaining that “our task is to accept this gift and make it visible to all.”The best way to do this? Francis believes it is by “journeying” along the path. Though we may be far from full communion, there are often glimpses of hope, he said. Putting aside presumption, we can recognize how everyone is a sinner and everyone is in need of God’s love and mercy.“Likewise, the unity of love is already a reality when those whom God has chosen and called to form his people together announce the wonders he has done for them, especially by offering a testimony of life, full of love for all people,” he said.When we meet “as brothers, we pray together, we work together in proclaiming the Gospel and in service to the least we are already united,” he continued.Only along this path, he said, can the theological and ecclesiological differences between Christians be surpassed, according to the Holy Spirit and “for the good of the Church.”The second false model of unity Francis proposed is to believe that unity is equivalent to uniformity.When the different theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical traditions are “genuinely rooted in the apostolic tradition,” he noted, they are an “asset, not a threat” to the unity of the Church.If we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, he said, the “richness, the variety, diversity” do not become a source of conflict, but are instead a point of enrichment.The “ecumenical task,” then, is to respect “legitimate diversity” and work to successfully address what seem like irreconcilable differences, even when they persist.Similarly, Pope Francis said that unity is not “absorption,” but a unification around the same center, the Lord.“It is not enough to be unanimous in understanding the Gospel, but it is necessary that all believers are united to Christ and in Christ,” he said.“In doing so, we Christians can recognize ourselves as brothers and sisters who believe in the one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, engaged together to find ways to obey the Word of God.”It is both personal conversion, and conversion as a community, to conformity with Christ which allow us to grow in communion among ourselves, the Pope said, explaining that this must be the spirit of every meeting which strives to bring differences closer together.Jesus himself prayed in John 17:21 that “they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you,” Francis noted.“The unity of Christians is an essential requirement of our faith. A requirement that flows from the depth of our being believers in Jesus Christ,” he said. “We call for unity, because we invoke Christ.”
Nov 12 16 10:55 AM
Nov 13 16 2:37 AM
“Over the course of the past year I had the opportunity to attend many significant ecumenical meetings, both here in Rome and during my apostolic trips. For me, each of these meetings was a source of consolation because I noticed that the desire for communion is alive and intense.” Pope Francis said this during his audience with participants at a plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican. “As Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter, conscious of the responsibility vested in me by the Lord,” he added, “I wish to stress that Christian unity is one of my main concerns and I pray that it will be increasingly shared by every Catholic”. “Christian unity is an essential requirement of our faith. A requirement that springs from the intimacy of our being as believers in Jesus Christ. We invoke unity because we invoke Christ. We wish to live unity, because we wish to follow Christ.” “It is not enough to be in agreement in comprehension of the Gospel, but it is necessary that all believers are united to Christ and in Christ. It is our personal and community conversion, our gradual conformation to Him, our living increasingly in Him, that enables us to grown in communion between us.” “Unmasking” “some false models of communion that in reality do not lead to unity but instead contradict its essence,” Pope Francis said that Christian unity “is not the fruit of our human efforts or the product constructed by ecclesiastical diplomacy, but is instead a gift that comes from on high”. Secondly, “unity is not uniformity”. “Christian unity,” he clarified, “does not lead to a ‘reverse ecumenism’, for which one would have to deny their own history of faith; neither does it tolerate proselytism, which is instead poisonous to the path of ecumenism.” “I like to repeat,” Francis went on to underline, “that unity is achieved by journeying, to recall that when we journey together, that is, when we encounter each other as brothers, when we pray together and collaborate together in proclaiming the Gospel and in the service of others, we are already united. All the theological and ecclesiological divergences that still divide Christians will be overcome only along this path.” “The different theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical traditions which have developed in the Christian world, when they are genuinely rooted in the apostolic tradition, are a wealth for and not a threat to the unity of the Church.” “Seeking to suppress this diversity is to counter the Holy Spirit, Who acts by enriching the community of believers with a variety of gifts. Throughout history, there have been attempts of this type, with consequences that at times still cause suffering today.” “The ecumenical task is to respect legitimate diversity and to reach the point of overcoming irreconcilable differences with the unity that God asks of us. The continuing existence of such divergences must not paralyse us, but rather drive us to seek together a way of facing such obstacles successfully”. The Pope concluded by saying: “Before seeing what separates us, it is necessary to perceive also in an existential way the wealth of what we have in common, such as the Sacred Scripture and the great professions of faith of the first ecumenical Councils.” “Therefore,” he added, “the various Christian communities are called not to compete with one another, but to collaborate.”
Nov 16 16 11:13 PM
When Pope Francis flew to Sweden on Oct. 31 to participate in the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Marcelo Figueroa, 59, a member of the Evangelical Church in Argentina and an old friend, was on the plane too. He was there as the recently appointed director of a new and original Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily, that will bring the pope’s words to his homeland every week.For Mr. Figueroa, the pope’s participation in the ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation at the Lutheran cathedral in Lund was not only a truly historic moment, it was also for him a profoundly emotional one, given their personal relationship and work together in the field of ecumenism in Buenos Aires for 17 years.They have known each other since 1998, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., became archbishop of that metropolis. Mr. Figueroa, then director of the United Bible Society in Argentina, believed it was “very important” to have an ecumenical relationship with the Catholic Church and felt convinced this could be developed around the Bible. He proposed to the new archbishop that they “work together” around the Bible, and he received an enthusiastic response. Subsequently they created events like The Day of the Bible in Buenos Aires and produced papers on biblical texts. “In this way, we came close together, we became very close friends,” Mr. Figueroa confided over dinner after the recent trip to Sweden.Many years later, after Mr. Figueroa left his job with the U.B.S., Archbishop Bergoglio invited him to work for the archdiocese as “a biblical consultor.” For the next three years, this Protestant layman-cum-biblical scholar prepared reflections on the Bible every day for Catholics in Buenos Aires, using the lectio divina method, and posted them on the archdiocesan website.In 2010 Cardinal Bergoglio invited him to work as assistant to the director of the archdiocese’s television Channel 21. That September, Mr. Figueroa proposed that the archbishop participate in an inter-religious television program to discuss social problems in the light of Scripture. Cardinal Bergoglio at first hesitated but finally agreed to do four programs when he understood that it would be a discussion with his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka and with Mr. Figueroa as the Protestant anchorman. The project worked well. They made 31 hourlong programs between October 2010 and February 2013. In the November after the papal election, Mr. Figueroa published their conversations in Spanish (now in English as The Bible: Living Dialogue, Religious Faith in Modern Times).It was hardly surprising, then, that Marcelo Figueroa was profoundly moved when Pope Francis declared in his homily at the Lutheran Cathedral in Lund: “With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the church’s life. Through shared hearing of the word of God in the Scriptures, important steps forward have been taken in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, whose 50th anniversary we are presently celebrating.”Commenting on the ecumenical commemoration afterward, Mr. Figueroa hailed Francis’ presence as “most significant” and “an important part of ecumenical history.” He noted that the pope participated in a truly humble way throughout, wearing the same stoles as the Lutheran bishops. He interpreted all this as Francis’ way of saying to the Lutherans, “Yes, I am the pope, but, first of all, I am your brother!”Mr. Figueroa emphasized that this ecumenical event was “a commemoration, not a celebration” because “we do not celebrate this division.” On the contrary, he said, in Lund “we recognized the scandal of this division in the world and in the heart of Christ, we acknowledged our sins, and we accepted to work together in ‘the ecumenism of mercy’ to help all who suffer or are excluded, and especially today migrants and refugees.”Marcelo Figueroa concluded with this significant remark: “Bergoglio did not discover ecumenism when he became pope; he had practiced it as bishop in Buenos Aires for many years, even in the face of opposition.”
Nov 18 16 8:43 AM
RNS - Tackling a delicate issue as it begins its yearlong celebration of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, Germany’s main Protestant church has officially renounced its mission to convert Jews to Christianity.In practice, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), made up of 20 regional Lutheran, Reformed and United churches, mostly gave up efforts to convert Jews in the decades after the Holocaust, and closing that chapter should have been a formality.But officially abandoning the “Judenmission,” or Mission to the Jews, turned out to be theologically complicated.In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gave his Apostles the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.” And small groups of evangelicals in a few member churches have long opposed an official statement against conversion, despite calls from Jewish groups to issue one.The EKD’s annual synod, which it calls its “church parliament,” finally drew up a resolution that was passed unanimously on Nov. 9 in Magdeburg. It said that Christians “are not called to show Israel the path to God and his salvation.”Since God never renounced his covenant with the Jews, his chosen people, they do not need to embrace the new Christian covenant to be saved, it said.“All efforts to convert Jews contradict our commitment to the faithfulness of God and the election of Israel,” the resolution read. That Christians see Jesus as their savior and Jews don’t is “a fact we leave up to God,” it said.Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, welcomed the resolution, which his group had been urging the EKD to pass for several years.“This clear renunciation of the Mission to the Jews means very much for the Jewish community. With it, the EKD recognizes the suffering that the forced conversion of many Jews over the centuries has caused,” he said.Luther’s anti-SemitismThe EKD has worked for the past decade to prepare a year’s worth of events worldwide to commemorate Luther’s 95 Theses, which legend says he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517. Lutherans worldwide will mark the anniversary, but the focus will be in Germany.Although he initially expressed concern for the plight of Jews in medieval Europe, and hoped to bring them into the Christian fold, Luther changed tack later in life and in a treatise titled “On the Jews and Their Lies,” he urged his followers to burn down their homes and synagogues and confiscate their money.The move to renounce the Judenmission was part of the EKD’s drive to deal with this embarrassing strain of anti-Semitism in their history so the Reformation anniversary could focus on Luther’s other legacies.The EKD synod last year denounced the “undisguised hatred of Jews” in Luther’s writings and acknowledged that his anti-Semitism had inspired the Nazis centuries later.In fact, the EKD synod broke with traditional theological anti-Semitism in 1950 by declaring that God’s covenant with the Jews was still valid. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that most member churches came out clearly against evangelization efforts.The EKD wasn’t alone in changing its approach to Jews slowly. The Roman Catholic Church renounced its theological anti-Semitism in 1965 with the pioneering document Nostra Aetate at the Second Vatican Council.It took another 50 years before the Vatican issued a clear statement last December that it “neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”US Lutherans take different approachesThe Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest U.S. Lutheran body and a mainline denomination, denounced theological anti-Semitism in a 1994 declaration and urges its members in dialogue with Jews to “respect our neighbors’ concerns” about conversion.The conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the second largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., has also denounced Luther’s diatribes against Jews but follows his injunction “to pray for them, so that they might become converted.”In Germany, most evangelicals belong not to the 23 million-member EKD but to the German Evangelical Alliance, which claims over 1 million members. But some evangelicals are in EKD regional churches and have long defended some kind of mission to Jews.They are strongest in the regional church in Wuerttemberg, the region around Stuttgart, where a group called the Gospel Service for Israel opposes outright conversion but supports “Messianic Jews” who accept Jesus as the savior of Israel.The group claims to have over 1,000 members, including immigrants who have come from Russia since communism collapsed there in 1991.In Bavaria, a group calling itself Confessing Christians — a name that recalls the Protestants who opposed Hitler — were against any renunciation of evangelization efforts, maintaining this would limit religious freedom by denying Jews the right to change faiths.Messianic Jews pose a conundrumInternal debates leading up to the synod focused on how clear the renunciation of the Judenmission should be.The final text denounced efforts to convert Jews but did not specifically mention Messianic Jews, a group of Jews who accept Jesus as savior but who are not regarded as Jews by mainstream Judaism.“The secret of God’s revelation includes both the expectation of the return of Christ in splendor and the confidence that God will save his first-called people,” it said.Some synod participants felt the declaration should have renounced the Messianic Jews and worried that the failure to mention them meant the EKD was keeping a back door open to encourage Jews to convert.Schuster, the Jewish leader, said he understood the renunciation of evangelization “also applies to the so-called Messianic Jews, who are not Jews.”Detlef Klahr, a senior synod official, told journalists there was “no loophole” in the resolution. Evangelization of Jews was clearly ruled out by the resolution, he said.
Dec 5 16 5:58 AM
Cardinal Koch: Ecumenism must have a common goalChristian unity will not fall down from heaven once and forever, says the prefect of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.Pontifical Council for Christian Unity president, Cardinal Kurt Koch, will this week take part in celebrations in Strasbourg, France, marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Here he reflects on the prospects for ecumenism.A meeting between the pope and Patriarch Kirill, deepening of the common mission with the Anglicans, the Lund declaration with the Lutherans… Can we speak of a successful year for ecumenism?For sure. Let us not forget also the meeting in Lesbos with Patriarch Bartholomeos and the archbishop of Athens, a very strong sign of solidarity with the refugees, showing that they had not been forgotten in the ecumenical world. Another highlight of the year was the PanOrthodox Council in Crete and the plenary of the Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue Commission, which showed that even after nine years of difficulties it was possible to publish a common text. There were also the Pope’s visits to Armenia and Georgia.Can we imagine another meeting between the pope and Patriarch Kirill?We have not discussed it yet. After the meeting with the pope, there were strong criticisms of the Patriarch in Moscow so I understand his caution. I perceive a growing opposition in the Orthodox Churches to ecumenism. Several Churches refused to participate in the Orthodox Council, particularly because of the document on ecumenism.In the Dialogue Commission, we certainly feel that there are more tensions among Orthodox than with Catholics. However, I am still confident because many Orthodox leaders are favorable to ecumenism, particularly Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos and Patriarch Kirill, even though I understand that the latter fears division within his own Church.Catholics also have shown some reticence, e.g. those who have criticized the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What do you think of these criticisms?All the more so since it is actually not a celebration but a commemoration! Our joint text on From conflict to communion is clear. We are emphasizing first our gratitude for a history that was formed not only by 500 years of conflicts but also marked by 50 years of intensive dialogue. The dialogue with the Lutherans was the first dialogue started after the Council and in 1999 it resulted in “The Common Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.”The next challenge will be to do penance for the things that still divide us. The Reformation did not lead to the renewal of the Church desired by Luther but rather to division and horrible wars of religion, particularly the Thirty Years War. We certainly cannot celebrate that but need to confess and ask for forgiveness.What are the new paths forward for ecumenism?The fundamental problem is that we no longer have a common vision of the objective of ecumenism. Without a common objective, we cannot envisage the next steps. This is why, together with the Lutherans, I proposed the preparation of a new common declaration on the Church, the Eucharist and ministry.Going beyond Church leaders, what can be done to create experience of ecumenism among the faithful?In ecumenism, there are always several dialogues taking place. The ecumenism of truth concerns the theological dialogue on as yet unresolved issues. However, above all, there is the dialogue of charity that is lived out in the deepening of friendly relations. This relationship between the faithful is fundamental, hence the importance of common witness.Since dialogue is blocked on ethical issues, is it not paradoxical to direct it towards the area of common witness?On the contrary, we need to do in common everything that it is possible to do together. This is how we will be able to resolve problems. We cannot wait for these issues to be resolved in order to act! Pope Francis’ motto in ecumenical matters is that unity is made along the path together. It does not fall down from heaven once and forever.This is also the reason that the pope often speak of the ecumenism of blood. All the Churches have their martyrs and this common testimony is a very important sign. The martyrs have already found unity. The primitive Church said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians.” I am convinced that the blood of many martyrs today will be the seed of the unity of the Body of Christ.
Jan 18 17 12:17 AM
Church of England expresses remorse for violence and persecution of Catholics during ReformationMixed response to historic statement from Archbishops of Canterbury and York on 500th anniversaryThe Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued an historic statement expressing remorse for the violence and persecution of the Reformation.In a message released ahead of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation Archbishops Justin Welby and Dr John Sentamu reflected on the Reformation’s “legacy of mistrust and competition” and called on Christians to repent for those things that had divided the faithful.In the statement released on Tuesday they said that the Reformation was a process of both renewal and division amongst Christians in Europe.But they also acknowledged the “lasting damage” done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, “in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love”.The archbishops continued: “Those turbulent years saw Christian people pitted against each other, such that many suffered persecution and even death at the hands of others claiming to know the same Lord. A legacy of mistrust and competition would then accompany the astonishing global spread of Christianity in the centuries that followed. All this leaves us much to ponder.”Among its many great blessings, they said, were a proclamation of the gospel of grace, the availability of the Bible in the vernacular, and recognition of the calling of lay people to serve God.The Reformers had intended to refocus people on Christ, they wrote; and it was with that focus that Christians today should ask “hard questions” about those things in their own lives, and in the lives of their churches, that blocked their sharing of him.“Remembering the Reformation should also lead us to repent of our part in perpetuating divisions. Such repentance needs to be linked to action aimed at reaching out to other churches and strengthening relationships with them,” they concluded.Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme ahead of the statement’s release Catherine Pepinster, Catholic commentator and former Tablet editor, expressed doubt as to whether apologising for the Reformation was the right thing to do.“Reformation is a history of politics as much as theological disputes, it’s also a story of conscience, I’m not sure that an apology is the right thing,” she said.“Certainly in Rome it is clear that what happened here during the Reformation is still felt very deeply and it still affects how people think about this country. In that sense it will have an impact. In Rome itself, the perception of this country is still affected by the Reformation.”But recalling the Pope’s October trip to Lunt in Sweden she said she though Francis was trying to move the Church on.“He wasn’t there to celebrate the Reformation, he was clearly there to commemorate what had happened and he clearly regretted it. But, very interestingly, he did say that Catholics should be grateful to the Reformation because it meant that Scripture had become more central to Christian life and that was not something that was part of the Catholic world.”A motion on the anniversary of the Reformation is due to be debated at the next session of the General Synod in London in February.
Jan 19 17 5:30 AM
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Feb 6 17 11:59 AM
Christ’s call for his disciples to be one requires that even as they try to resolve their differences on doctrinal and moral questions, they must get used to working and praying together, Pope Francis said.“Increasingly we are learning to ask ourselves: This initiative, can we share it with our brothers and sisters in Christ?” the Pope said on February 6 in a speech to leaders of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, a body representing Lutherans, Reformed and United communities.“The differences in questions of faith and morals, which still exist, remain challenges on the path toward the visible unity for which our faithful yearn,” the Pope said. “The pain is noticed particularly by couples who belong to different confessions.”Lutheran Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chair of the evangelical church council, told the Pope, “It is sometimes a painful reality in families: couples who share children, grandchildren and friends are divided at the Lord’s table.”He told reporters later that the group had discussed the question of eucharistic hospitality — sharing Communion in certain circumstances — with Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In general, the position of the Catholic Church has been that regular eucharistic sharing is not possible until full unity has been restored.Making a change in practice for inter-confessional couples, Bishop Bedford-Strohm said, will require serious theological reflection and dialogue, but “for me, everything looks quite optimistic.”Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Catholic bishops’ conference, accompanied the group to the papal meeting and told reporters, “there is momentum now for our unity.”The commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, launched in Germany by Martin Luther, is energising ecumenical dialogue and activity in the country, the cardinal said. “We cannot do everything in one year, we cannot solve all the theological questions, but we can start.”The Rev Annette Kurschus, deputy head of the evangelical council, said it is important to note that the push for greater opportunities for sharing Communion is not coming from church leadership, but from the grass roots, from active Catholic-Protestant couples who suffer when they cannot share such an important part of their lives.“If we perceive their suffering, the division, then maybe it will be possible to overcome it,” she told reporters.Pope Francis told the group that when the world is experiencing “serious rifts and new forms of exclusion and marginalisation,” Christians have an even greater responsibility to respond to Jesus’s call to unity and to being witnesses of reconciliation.“We live in very difficult times,” Cardinal Marx told reporters later. Christians must find a common way of reacting and witnessing to the Gospel, asking themselves whether they should use “a language of division, of dominance, of hate, of confrontation, or should it be a language of dialogue, of understanding, of goodwill?”“We know where we have to stand,” the cardinal said.“We have to be convincing as witnesses for Christ and for love,” Bishop Bedford-Strohm said. “Therefore, we have to be witnesses of reconciliation in a Europe where we have so many divisions, so much hate.”The bishop also told reporters that on behalf of the evangelical churches, he formally invited Pope Francis to Germany “whenever he wants.”“He was very positive” about the invitation, the cardinal said. “I hope he can find the time.”
Feb 27 17 12:02 PM
The path toward Christian unity can’t be found isolated in a laboratory hashing out theological differences, but rather by walking together on a common journey, Pope Francis said.While theological dialogue is necessary, Catholics and Anglicans can continue to “help each other in our needs, in our lives and help each other spiritually,” the pope said Feb. 26 while answering questions from parishioners of All Saints’ Anglican Church in Rome.“This cannot be done in a laboratory; it must be done walking together along the way. We are on a journey and while we walk, we can have these (theological) discussions,” he said.The pope made history as the first pontiff to visit the Anglican parish, which was celebrating the 200th anniversary of its establishment in Rome.Invited by the Anglican community, Pope Francis took part in an evening liturgy and blessed an icon of Christ the Savior to commemorate the occasion.The prayer service included a “twinning” pledge between All Saints’ Anglican Church and the Catholic parish that shares its name in Rome. As Pope Francis looked on, the pastors of both parishes signed a pledge to collaborate in joint retreats, works of charity and sharing meals with each other.Rev. Jonathan Boardman, chaplain of the Anglican church in Rome, presented the pope with several gifts that highlight his concern for the poor and the marginalized, including a promise to serve meals to the homeless once a week in his name.He also said 50 English Bibles will be given in the pope’s name to Anglican nuns in Rome who minister to the city’s prostitutes.The Anglican community also presented Pope Francis with a basket of homemade jams and chutneys as well as a Simnel cake, a traditional fruitcake typically served on the fourth Sunday of Lent and adorned with 11 marzipan balls representing the 12 apostles, minus Judas.After welcoming the pope to the parish, Rev. Boardman noted that when divisions first began, the title “Bishop of Rome” was once used by Anglicans as an insult “or an attempt to belittle it.”“Today for us recognizing your unique role in witnessing to the Gospel and leading Christ’s church, it is ironic that what we once used in a cruel attempt to ‘put you in your place’ has become the key to your pastoral kindness in being alongside us and so many other Christians around the world,” Rev. Boardman said.The pope thanked the congregation and acknowledged that much has changed between Anglicans and Catholics, “who in the past viewed each other with suspicion and hostility.”“Today, with gratitude to God, we recognize one another as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ, through our common baptism. As friends and pilgrims, we wish to walk the path together, to follow our Lord Jesus Christ together,” he said.He also emphasized the need for Catholics and Anglicans to work together to help those in need in order to build “true, solid communion” through a “united witness to charity.”Following the prayer service, the pope took some moments to answer questions from several members of the Anglican church.Asked what was his take on current relations between Catholics and Anglicans, the pope said that while relations between the two communities have been at times “two steps forward, half step back,” they are still good and “we care for each other like brothers and sisters.”Ernest, an Anglican seminarian, also asked the pope whether Anglicans and Catholics in Europe can learn from the example of churches in Asia, Africa and the Pacific whose “ecumenical relations are better and more creative.”Pope Francis said the younger churches “have a different vitality” and have a “stronger need” to collaborate.An example of this, he added, was a request made by Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian bishops of South Sudan for him to visit the country along with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury.“This creativity came from them, the young church. And we are thinking about whether it can be done, if the situation is too difficult down there. But we must do it because they — the three (bishops) — together want peace and they are working together for peace,” the pope said.
May 5 17 10:39 AM
Pope Francis’ trip to Egypt (April 28-29, 2017) has been one of the most important and difficult for this pontificate, given the international political situation and the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt and of all Christians between Africa and the Middle East. It is not easy to look at this trip through one single interpretive lens, and therefore it requires the attempt to read it in the context of the pontificate.A first level was the trip of Francis as expression of the modern magisterium of the pope of the Catholic Church on the relationship between religion as defensor of human rights and political rights in an age of evident crisis of faith not only in God, but also in our fellow human beings – the crisis of democracy. Interestingly, in his speech to the strongman of Egypt, general Al Sisi, and to the political authorities, Francis quoted from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 but also from the Egyptian Constitution of 2014, delivering a blunt reminder to Egyptian political authorities: “It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.” Francis walked a very fine line between the need to avoid the impression of a papal blessing of the post-Islamist regime of Al Sisi in Egypt, more friendly to Christians than the brief period of Morsi on one side, and on the other side the need not to be silent before the disturbing record of the present regime in terms of the respect of democratic rights and of freedom.The second level was the inter-religious relations. Pope Francis had to deal with the difficult legacy of the Regensburg address of Benedict XVI in 2006, which was a typical example of the divided and mutually opposed and deeply misguided, ideological receptions of Ratzinger’s most important public pronouncements (similarly to what happened to the famous speech on the “two hermeneutics of Vatican II” of December 2005). For hardliner, “occidentalist” Catholics the Regensburg speech was the gold standard of the Catholic response to Islam, while for some Muslims it was the manifestation of the crusading mentality of the Vatican. Despite the attempts to frame Bergoglio’s response to the invitation to the peace conference organized by Al Azhar as “Francis’ Regensburg speech”, the tone and the content were significantly different. In his speech to the international peace conference at Al Azhar, Francis quoted from the Second Vatican Council (the declaration Nostra Aetate on non-Christian religions and the constitution Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the modern world) and from John Paul II’s visits to Egypt in 2000 and from the first interreligious meeting of prayer in Assisi in 1986).There is then the third level of the ecumenical and ecclesial relations, where the intra-Catholic and the inter-Christian relations are more interconnected than before. There are technical aspects of his visit and agreement with Pope Tawadros II that will have to be evaluated in time, especially about re-baptism: “Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other.” In this respect, also pope Tawadros has to deal with the “dubia” raised through the media by his opponents.What is most important is that Francis’ visit to Egypt has confirmed the complex nature of the ecumenical dimension of this pontificate, where we can see three kinds of ecumenism. The first ecumenism is that of bilateral relations between Churches: commissions of theologians and prelates who discuss documents that the Churches will have to approve or reject, or approve and put in a drawer. Francis sees a role for this ecumenism of bilateral commissions and official joint declarations, but without being driven or bound by this kind of relationship that is typical of the ecumenism of the post-Vatican II period and which has brought significant fruits, especially on the basis of relations of the Catholic Church with Lutherans, Anglicans, and Orthodox, but also with non-Chalcedonian Churches (the 1973 Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Pope of Alexandria Shenouda III). Francis is aware of the different roles of the official ecumenical dialogues and of the ecumenical dialogue that is related to his “ecclesiology of the people”: an ecclesiology of the people endowed with an infallibilitas in credendo (exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of November 24, 2013, par. 119) – the people’s infallibility in the foundations of its faith. The ecumenical relations between different Churches need solemn acts and official texts, but without the reception of them by the people they would be meaningless. Francis knows that post-Vatican II ecumenism has been made and received by the lay Christian faithful and that there is no hermeneutical re-discussion of Vatican II that can stop this progress.Then there is a second type of ecumenism, of which Francis has often spoken: “the ecumenism of blood” (from the beginning of his pontificate: see his interview with Andrea Tornielli of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, 14 December 2013), the brotherhood and sisterhood of Christians of every church and theological tradition in the face of persecutions, especially in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. On this score, it is significant that the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, joined Francis in Egypt in a show of solidarity with Coptic Christians. Martyrdom as a theological source is redefining ecumenism more than the theological and ecclesiastical systems in the West can comprehend. The issue of refugees escaping persecution is a humanitarian and political issue, but also an interfaith and ecumenical one. From discussions about “Eucharistic hospitality” (giving communion to Christians who are members of another Church, not Catholic-Roman) we have moved on to the problem of hospitality tout court of those who (including many Christians, Catholics and not) flee from death and destruction: it is not a theologically less relevant question than that of Eucharistic communion. Christianity is now put to the test more by its response to the humanitarian crisis of today than by the dogmatic obstacles in the full communion between Churches.Finally, there is the third type of ecumenism, the one it is most difficult to speak in the Catholic Church, for it is the most difficult and delicate: intra-Catholic ecumenism, among Catholics of devotions and different “obediences” and idiosyncratic identities. Francis insistently called to dialogue and rejection of sectarianism between Churches, but also within the Catholic Church. Francis has repeatedly appealed to the various Catholic movements to coexist in local churches without temptation to occupy spaces or claim primogeniture rights. His trip to Egypt was a powerful reminder against the Catholic temptation to see Christianity through a West vs. East lens: it has been a subtle message against the Catholic “Orientalization” of the Eastern Churches – the temptation to see in them something like a museum of exotic, pre-modern and anti-modern Christianity – as well as against the Catholic “Occidentalization” of itself – Catholicism as an essentially Western religion. In this sense, Francis’ ecumenism is challenging different kinds of Catholics certainly not less than non-Catholic Christians.
May 12 17 6:33 AM
The bond between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church is a reminder “to intensify our common efforts to persevere in the search for visible unity in diversity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II on May 10.“Along this path, we are sustained by the powerful intercession and example of the martyrs. May we continue to advance together on our journey toward the same eucharistic table, and grow in love and reconciliation,” he said.The letter commemorated the “Day of friendship between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church,” which marks the 44th anniversary of the first meeting between Blessed Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III.Recalling his visit to Cairo last month, Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for the agreement he and Pope Tawadros signed ending a long disagreement between the two churches over the sacrament of baptism.In the joint declaration, the two leaders declared they “will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our churches for any person who wishes to join the other.”Pope Francis said he was “especially grateful that we have strengthened our baptismal unity in the body of Christ.”He also assured Pope Tawadros of his prayers “for you, and for peace in Egypt and the Middle East.”“May the Spirit of peace bestow on us an increase of hope, friendship and harmony,” the pope said.
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