VATICAN CITY (RNS) Lutherans and Catholics have pledged to celebrate together the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017, with both sides agreeing to set aside centuries of hostility and prejudice.

The Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation released a joint document, “From Conflict to Communion,” in Geneva on Monday (June 17) that said there’s little purpose in dredging up centuries-old conflicts.

Martin Luther, founder of Germany's Protestant (Lutheran) Church, nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Religion News Service file photo

Martin Luther, founder of Germany’s Protestant (Lutheran) Church, nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Religion News Service file photo

The publication of Martin Luther’s 95 theses on Oct. 31, 1517, is traditionally celebrated as the birth of the Reformation that split Western Christianity into Catholic and Protestant.

In the document, the two churches recognize that in the age of ecumenism and globalization, the celebration requires a new approach, focusing on a reciprocal admission of guilt and on highlighting the progress made by Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the past 50 years.

How to observe the landmark split is a sensitive topic in Rome, where some Catholics say there’s nothing to celebrate about a schism. Lutherans, too, are wary of a sense of triumphalism or taking pleasure in another church’s discomfort.

The document re-examines the history of the Reformation and the split it created, stressing that Luther “had no intention of establishing a new church, but was part of a broad and many-faceted desire for reform” within the church.

“The fact that the struggle for this truth in the 16th century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history,” the document says. “In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church.”

The joint document acknowledges that in today’s world most Christians live in the Global South and thus “do not easily see the confessional conflicts of the 16th century as their own conflicts.”

Even in the Old World, “the awareness is dawning on Lutherans and Catholics that the struggle of the 16th century is over. The reasons for mutually condemning each other’s faith have fallen by the wayside.”

After caricaturing each other’s beliefs for centuries, an honest theological confrontation between the two sides began after the modernizing reforms of the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the document says.

It stresses that, thanks to the ecumenical dialogue of recent decades, Lutherans and Catholics “have come to acknowledge that more unites than divides them.”

In 1999, the Vatican and Lutherans signed a formal agreement on the doctrine of justification, the theological issue that was at the root of the separation of the church in the 16th century. The dispute was whether Christians could be saved by faith alone or also through their good works.

But today, even if they have come to an understanding on many core issues of faith, Lutherans and Catholics remain divided on matters such as the role of the pope, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

13 Comments

  1. Thomas E. Ambrogi

    As a Jesuit priest and theologian, I was for ten years a member of the National Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Group. This is really extraordinary ecumenical news, and I’m proud to have had at least a word in it long ago.

    Thomas E. Ambrogi
    627 Leyden Lane
    Claremont, CA 91711

  2. Rev. Eric Borchers (LCMS)

    As I was searching the web to find out what bloggers are saying about the almost 500 year old Reformation I discovered this article. It has in fact provided me with wonderful excitement for the future relationships between not only day-to-day Lutherans and Catholics but also for continued theological discussion between each; the body of Christ. However, I do take issue with one continued misnomer in articles like this: the notion that was espoused in the last sentence which seems to indicate that all Lutheran bodies believe the same thing. :( I wish we could. Thank God, whether it is the Catholic Church, Lutherans of (WELS), (LCMS), or (ELCA)…we are all connected by our salvation by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ!

  3. Your right Michael by saying, “Luther would be rolling in his grave if he knew what was happening.” Many died because of the spiritual/religious darkness in the Catholic church. If we asked them what they think today, I believe they would still stand for the other 94 theses that the church still believes and practices. It’s just that people today think they are more cultured and intelligent to believe as the people inspired by God 500 years ago. I will always be a protestant standing next to Luther for the truth.

  4. So Rome has finally declared full blown Protestantism. The prophecies of St. Francis, Our Lady of Good Success in Quito, at La Sallette, and Fatima are now borne out, Satan has been enthroned at the top of the Catholic Church. The heretic Jesuit who boasts in his comment that he was part of the crew that has brought this about is destined to an eternity in Hell.

  5. Is this the same Luther who encouraged Christians to sin with vigour, and slandered and blasphemed
    Jesus by declaring that He fornicated with the woman He met at the well ?

  6. @ Michael – You said: “Mary is not to be lifted up as some god.” Catholics have never done this and never will.

    “She is not some mediator, only Jesus is” That’s right Jesus mediates salvation Mary mediates as she did at the wedding feast in Cana. Anyone can be a mediator, but only Jesus mediates our salvation to the Father.

    You’re weighed down my many inaccuracies and misconceptions. It’s holding you back.

  7. There can never be a sharing of Holy Communion between Lutherans and the Papists as long as the RC church rejects the basic Christian premise and Gospel truth of Justification by Grace through Faith in Christ. ALONE! This is the cornerstone of the Christian religion .

  8. That’s right James,

    Unity can only be based on truth. Otherwise there is not true unity. We can love others and share common bonds, but I can not go against my conscience and against what the bible says. Mary is not to be lifted up as some god. Only God alone is to be worshiped. She is not some mediator, only Jesus is. That is the only way. People forget that we are still protesting for a reason. Luther would be rolling in his grave if he knew what was happening.

  9. Reply to James Keppel:

    Papists? Really? Expressing bigotry and using terms from the 16th century is very adult of you.

    It is very Catholic to say, “Justification by Grace through Faith in Christ. ALONE!”
    There is absolutely no conflict here. This is Catholic teaching. Check out, “DOMINUS IESUS” at the Vatican website:http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html

    It is very Protestant to say, “Justification by faith alone.” This was the issue with Luther.

    I was raised Catholic, spent 30 years in the Protestant wilderness, and became Catholic again.

    Please check out Martin Luther’s letter, “The Jews and Their Lies.” The “great” reformer advocated violence against the Jewish people. Find it online, read it and be prepared to get sick. Whatever Martin was in his lifetime, he became a madman at the end of it.

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