PDF Changing Churches: An Orthodox, Catholic, and Lutheran Theological Conversation

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Here Mickey L. Mattox and A. Roeber address the most difficult questions Protestants face when considering such a conversion, including views on justification, grace, divinization, the church and its authority, women and ministry, papal infallibility, the role of Mary, and homosexuality. As a result of this forgetting, much of what divided the church in the past is virtually unknown today. Ecumenism, however, cannot base itself on forgetfulness of tradition. But how, then, will the history of the Reformation be remembered in ?

What of that which the two confessions fought over in the sixteenth century deserves to be preserved? Our fathers and mothers in the faith were convinced that there was something worth fighting for, something that was necessary for a life with God. How can the often forgotten traditions be handed on to our contemporaries so as not to remain objects of antiquarian interest only, but rather support a vibrant Christian existence? How can the traditions be passed on in such a way that they do not dig new trenches between Christians of different confessions?

New challenges for the commemoration. Over the centuries, church and culture often have been interwoven in the most intimate way possible. Much that has belonged to the life of the church has, over the course of centuries, also found a place in the cultures of those countries and plays a role in them even to this day, even at times independently of the churches.

The preparations for will need to identify these various elements of the tradition now present in the culture, to interpret them, and to lead a conversation between church and culture in light of these different aspects. For more than a hundred years, Pentecostal and other charismatic movements have become very widespread across the globe. These powerful movements have put forward new emphases that have made many of the old confessional controversies seem obsolete.

The Pentecostal movement is present in many other churches in the form of the charismatic movement, creating new commonalities and communities across confessional boundaries. Thus, this movement opens up new ecumenical opportunities while, at the same time, creating additional challenges that will play a significant role in the observance of the Reformation in While the previous Reformation anniversaries took place in confessionally homogenous lands, or lands at least where a majority of the population was Christian, today Christians live worldwide in multireligious environments.

This pluralism poses a new challenge for ecumenism, making ecumenism not superfluous but, on the contrary, all the more urgent, since the animosity of confessional oppositions harms Christian credibility. How Christians deal with differences among themselves can reveal something about their faith to people of other religions. Because the question of how to handle inner-Christian conflict is especially acute on the occasion of remembering the beginning of the Reformation, this aspect of the changed situation deserves special attention in our reflections on the year New Perspectives on Martin Luther and the Reformation.

What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change. Remembrance makes the past present. While the past itself is unalterable, the presence of the past in the present is alterable.

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In view of , the point is not to tell a different history, but to tell that history differently. Lutherans and Catholics have many reasons to retell their history in new ways. They have been brought closer together through family relations, through their service to the larger world mission, and through their common resistance to tyrannies in many places. These deepened contacts have changed mutual perceptions, bringing new urgency for ecumenical dialogue and further research.


Contributions of research on the Middle Ages. Research has contributed much to changing the perception of the past in a number of ways. In the case of the Reformation, these include the Protestant as well as the Catholic accounts of church history, which have been able to correct previous confessional depictions of history through strict methodological guidelines and reflection on the conditions of their own points of view and presuppositions.

On the Catholic side that applies especially to the newer research on Luther and Reformation and, on the Protestant side, to an altered picture of medieval theology and to a broader and more differentiated treatment of the late Middle Ages. In current depictions of the Reformation period, there is also new attention to a vast number of non-theological factors—political, economic, social, and cultural. The late Middle Ages are no longer seen as total darkness, as often portrayed by Protestants, nor are they perceived as entirely light, as in older Catholic depictions.

Mickey L. Mattox

The church was anything but a monolithic entity; the corpus christianum encompassed very diverse theologies, lifestyles, and conceptions of the church. Historians say that the fifteenth century was an especially pious time in the church. During this period, more and more lay people received a good education and so were eager to hear better preaching and a theology that would help them to lead Christian lives. Luther picked up on such streams of theology and piety and developed them further.

Twentieth-century Catholic research on Luther. Twentieth-century Catholic research on Luther built upon a Catholic interest in Reformation history that awakened in the second half of the nineteenth century. These theologians followed the efforts of the Catholic population in the Protestant-dominated German empire to free themselves from a one-sided, anti-Roman, Protestant historiography.

The breakthrough for Catholic scholarship came with the thesis that Luther overcame within himself a Catholicism that was not fully Catholic. In a new way, Luther was portrayed as an earnest religious person and conscientious man of prayer.

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Painstaking and detailed historical research has demonstrated that Catholic literature on Luther over the previous four centuries right up through modernity had been significantly shaped by the commentaries of Johannes Cochaleus, a contemporary opponent of Luther and advisor to Duke George of Saxony. Cochaleus had characterized Luther as an apostatized monk, a destroyer of Christendom, a corrupter of morals, and a heretic. The next step for Catholic research on Luther was to uncover analogous contents embedded in different theological thought structures and systems, carried out especially by a systematic comparison between the exemplary theologians of the two confessions, Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther.

At the same time, Catholic research examined the meaning of the doctrine of justification within the Augsburg Confession. Ecumenical projects preparing the way for consensus. These efforts led directly to the ecumenical project, begun in by Lutheran and Catholic theologians in Germany on the occasion of the th anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, of a Catholic recognition of the Augsburg Confession.

The extensive achievements of a later ecumenical working group of Protestant and Catholic theologians, tracing its roots back to this project of Catholic research on Luther, resulted in the study The Condemnations of the Reformation Era: Do They Still Divide? The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification , 4 signed by both the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in , built on this groundwork as well as on the work of the US dialogue Justification by Faith , 5 and affirmed a consensus in the basic truths of the doctrine of justification between Lutherans and Catholics.

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The Second Vatican Council , responding to the scriptural, liturgical, and patristic revival of the preceding decades, dealt with such themes as esteem and reverence for the Holy Scripture in the life of the church, the rediscovery of the common priesthood of all the baptized, the need for continual purification and reform of the church, the understanding of church office as service, and the importance of the freedom and responsibility of human beings, including the recognition of religious freedom. The Council also affirmed elements of sanctification and truth even outside the structures of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict also recognized the ways in which the person and theology of Martin Luther pose a spiritual and theological challenge to Catholic theology today when, in , he visited the Augustinian Friary in Erfurt where Luther had lived as a friar for about six years.

For him, theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God. For who is actually concerned about this today—even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives?

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In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. Lutheran research on Luther and the Reformation also underwent considerable development. The experiences of two world wars broke down assumptions about the progress of history and the relationship between Christianity and Western culture, while the rise of kerygmatic theology opened a new avenue for thinking about Luther. Dialogue with historians helped to integrate historical and social factors into descriptions of Reformation movements.

Lutheran theologians recognized the entanglements of theological insights and political interests not only on the part of Catholics, but also on their own side. Dialogue with Catholic theologians helped them to overcome one-sided confessional approaches and to become more self-critical about aspects of their own traditions. The importance of ecumenical dialogues. The dialogue partners are committed to the doctrines of their respective churches, which, according to their own convictions, express the truth of the faith.

The doctrines demonstrate great commonalities but may differ, or even be opposed, in their formulations. Because of the former, dialogue is possible; because of the latter, dialogue is necessary. Dialogue demonstrates that the partners speak different languages and understand the meanings of words differently; they make different distinctions and think in different thought forms.

However, what appears to be an opposition in expression is not always an opposition in substance. In order to determine the exact relationship between respective articles of doctrine, texts must be interpreted in the light of the historical context in which they arose. That allows one to see where a difference or opposition truly exists and where it does not. Ecumenical dialogue means being converted from patterns of thought that arise from and emphasize the differences between the confessions.

here Instead, in dialogue the partners look first for what they have in common and only then weigh the significance of their differences. These differences, however, are not overlooked or treated casually, for ecumenical dialogue is the common search for the truth of the Christian faith. Today we are able to tell the story of the Lutheran Reformation together. Even though Lutherans and Catholics have different points of view, because of ecumenical dialogue they are able to overcome traditional anti-Protestant and anti-Catholic hermeneutics in order to find a common way of remembering past events.

The following chapter is not a full description of the entire history and all the disputed theological points. It highlights only some of the most important historical situations and theological issues of the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

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  • In antiquity, the Latin noun reformatio referred to the idea of changing a bad present situation by returning to the good and better times of the past. In the Middle Ages, the concept of reformatio was very often used in the context of monastic reform.