Cover Image: Ecumenical Symposium on Revisiting the Reformation at St Xavier's College Auditorium on 31st Oct 2017 (Courtesy: Farrell Shah, Director Archdiocesan Social Communications Commission)
Church Citizens' Voice Asso. Editor, Isaac Gomes reports from Kolkata on the Ecumenical Symposium on Revisiting the Reformation, held at Fr Depelchin Auditorium, St Xavier’s College Kolkata, on 31st October 2017. The dignitaries present included Most. Rev. Thomas D'Souza, Archbishop of Calcutta,Rt. Rev. Ashoke Biswas, Bishop of CNI Diocese of Calcutta, Rt. Rev. Salvadore Lobo, Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Baruipur, Rt. Rev. Isaac Mangalraj, Bishop of ECI Diocese of Calcutta, priests and nuns from different congregations.
On 31st October 2017 the Archdiocese of Calcutta, thanks to the Ecumenical Commission, organised a unique event. It was an Ecumenical Symposium on Revisiting the Reformation, held at Fr Depelchin Auditorium, St Xavier’s College Kolkata, from 5-7 pm. Fr Felix Raj, Principal of the College, said in his welcome address: “A warm welcome to you to this ecumenical symposium on Revisiting the Reformation….Our gathering here is notable for two reasons: It is the first Ecumenical Gathering at St Xavier’s College. Secondly it is the first programme of St.Xavier's University organised for the Kolkata Christian community. I do foresee many events of this kind to happen, given the identity of a Catholic University and its service to the Church.” He said this initiative towards Unification of the Churches was very significant because “what unites us through one Baptism is greater than what divides us.”
Rev Dr John Romus (left) and Rev. Dr Felix Raj (right) at St Xavier's College, Kolkata
Rev. Romus, the former Dean of Morning Star College, Barrackpore began his talk on the topic, from a Catholic perspective. He highlighted the Joint Declaration for Joint Commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Yunan, President of the Lutheran World Federation, signed on 31 October 2016, at the Lutheran Cathedral of Lund, Sweden. Both pledged to work together for greater unity among Christian Churches. For full text of the Joint Declaration, please refer to website
For Full text: Pope’s homily at service for 500th anniversary of Reformation, please visit website http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/10/31/full-text-popes-homily-at-service-for-500th-anniversary-of-reformation/
Fr Romus mentioned six significant gifts of Reformation which are shared by the Roman Catholic Church and have been incorporated in the documents by Vatican II (1962-1965), the Council that reformed the Catholic Church in the 20th century freeing it from its out-dated medieval attitudes and practices. These significant gifts are:
(1) Reform ingrained in the very nature of the Church
The Reformation inspired by Martin Luther gave theological legitimacy to Church renewal as a divine call to remain loyal to Christ alone. For the Protestant Christians continuous reform is an essential aspect of the Church. They tell us, “a reformed church must always be reformed.”
Vatican II acknowledges the need for constant ecclesial purification. It says, "The Church, embracing sinners in her bosom, is at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, and …. pursues the path… of renewal" (LG,8).
Speaking on Reform, Pope Francis reminds us, “Certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots… but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them.” (EG 43). Precisely for this reason, Pope John XXIII convoked Vatican II.
(2) Centrality of the Word of God
Reformation brought freshness of the Gospel in Christian life and Ministry. Reformers taught us the importance of reading the Bible in our own language and interpreting it in our own context. Fr. Romus stressed that the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation which is hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith, is central for the Catholic Church. The magesterium "is not above the word of God but serves it, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously, and explaining it faithfully ….."(DV 10).
(3) Rebirth of the Laity
Another cardinal principle of the Reformation has been the priesthood of all Christians. Martin Luther restored the Biblical idea of Common Priesthood of all baptised Christians against the clericalism and the low position given by the Church Hierarchy to the Laity. By baptismal anointing, all Christians share in the one priesthood of Christ and form one spiritual community but all are not called to be pastors. This principle opened a huge space for the Laity in the Church and their empowerment through education, both in the Catholic and Protestant churches.
Similarly Vatican II reiterates the common priesthood of all the faithful and emphasises on the dignity of all vocations in the Church. It differentiates, however, the common priesthood from the ministerial priesthood, though each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ (LG 10).
The Council further taught that ll Christians are called "to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (LG 40). Empowered by the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation, members of the Laity receive their share in the Mission of the Church directly through Christ himself. Their right and duty to be apostles comes from their union with Christ their head (AA, 3). Fr Romus said, in the Protestant Church many Laypersons (men and women) are taking up theological studies. He said theological formation of lay Catholics is much less.
(4) The world, the context of salvation
Martin Luther’s theology of vocation has had a great impact throughout society. He taught that all Christians who are called by God through Christ, become priests to their neighbours, mediating God's love-in-action to them. Each person – lay and clergy alike – is called to work in the world of daily activities. It is because of Luther's theology, Christian vocation and the secular concerns of the world are linked. Thus he laid the foundation for a world-affirming spirituality which was absent in the medieval Western Christendom. Marriage, sexualilty & family life, various occupations, politics and economics were given theological validity. Religion re-emerged as a powerful spiritual force, both in one's personal and public life, shaping the culture and political life in Europe when the process of secularization began to take roots.
(5) Advent of Cultural Pluralism
Reformation created many denominational churches alongside the Roman Catholic Church, each having its own universities, theological faculties, and jurisprudence (Canon Law). This developed variety of theological, philosophical, cultural and political traits within Europe and created the mindset for liberal democracy (pluralistic civil society).
(6) Ecumenical Advocacy to Human Rights
Lutheran theology taught us that we are freed by God’s Grace alone. It also taught that a Christian is subject to none but a dutiful servant of all. Many Protestant theologians of the World Council of Churches (WCC) substantially contributed in drafting the UN Charter of Human Rights. Since then many Protestant Churches have been in the forefront, across the world, to promote human rights, gender justice, and freedom of conscience, speech and religion.
Vatican II responded to the concerns of the contemporary multi-cultural world. The Council brought out a contextual theology in which the many initiatives taken by the Protestant Reformation towards the secular order have found due attention. Guadium et Specs reiterates that everyday life in the secular world is in the context of practising faith. This implies that the Church must read the signs of time and interpret them in the light of the Gospel (GS 4-10). Consequently fait becomes proactive to present day concerns of the world. Therefore, advocacy for human dignity and human rights for socio-economic and political order is essential to Church’s pastoral service to the world.
Fr Romus concluded that the Reformation has sensitised the Roman Catholic Church to the need for continuous reform, centrality of the Bible and the need to read it in one's own language. The theology of the common priesthood and Christian freedom has opened a vast space to Laity for the ecclesial ministry. Fifty years of Ecumenical Dialogue has taught us that we are not independent but inter-dependent members of the one body of Christ. This realisation calls us to establish a humane world order, through service to all people, starting with serving the marginalised sections of our society.
Rev. Dr Sunil Michael Caleb, Principal Bishop’s College, talked on the History of Reformation, from the Protestant point of view. He said Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) call for Reformation of the Church was a necessary tragedy. Necessary because he protested against rampant corruption in the Church and published 95 theses urging the Church to reform. Reformation brought Renewal as well as worldwide repercussions like break-up of the Church, many years of violence, death and suffering among Christians, especially in Northern Ireland. A look at history reveals the suffering and wounds that Christians have inflicted on each other. Christians are still suffering because of this violence and politics among themselves.
Had the Church cared to listen to Martin Luther who was a professor of theology and an Augustinian monk, this tragedy and blood-bath could have been avoided. But we are now walking the long road towards reconciliation and greater understanding. Though Martin Luther called for reformation of the Church on 31st October 1517, he did not want to divide the Church. He was against the buying of indulgence (taking money for forgiveness of sins) instead of the Church encouraging works of mercy or charity. He also rebelled against the dominance of Italian Popes.
Fr Caleb stressed on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) which is a document created, and agreed to, by the Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Luthern World Federation in 1999, as a result of extensive ecumenical dialogue. The Declaration states that the churches now accept that it is God’s Grace alone which enables us and unifies us and not our merit. Reformists challenged that Salvation was granted by the Church and stressed that faith in Christ’s supreme sacrifice was the only way to building the right relationship with God and not the perceived power of the Church to forgive sins. They said the Clergy and Bishops are just servants or functionaries of God to serve the faithful.
Martin Luther’s challenge brought back the Bible as central to Christian life – to be read or heard by Christians as the Word of God in their own language. He got the original Bible translated in simple language and his translations are considered a great work of literature. People started reading the Bible even when they did not get access to the Clergy. Before Martin Luther’s works of translation, the dependence on Latin version of the Bible, made believers too dependent on the clergy for the interpretation of the Bible. Reformers challenged the Catholic Church’s doctrine and customs which were not in the Scriptures. Reformation also brought about Democratization of the Church.
The Bad effect of Reformation was the import of European Denominations / splinter groups into India e.g. Church of North India, Church of South India, Marthomite and Methodist Church, etc. There is an on-going effort to bring all splinter groups together on the lines of National Church Fellowship (NCF) started by CBCI and to extend it to Global Christian Forum (GCF) towards greater unity.
Rev. Caleb ended his talk by stating that in India, there was an urgent need to be united for we believe in one Bible, one Lord, one faith and one baptism.
Bishop Salvadore Lobo complimented both the speakers. He said the importance of Laity has been specially highlighted in Vatican II documents. He said for unity of the two churches, we need humility and penance. However, he said that the Work of Unity is the task of the Holy Spirit and is not a human project.
Archbishop Thomas D’Souza said that we have to remember and learn from what happened 500 years ago. He said that a proposal for better understanding between the two Churches began on 31st October 2016. Now we have to more forward believing in God, while commemorating the 95 theses which Martin Luther, nailed on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on 31 October 1517. It also concludes the Lutheran decade. Germany’s Protestant and Catholic churches have also pledged "healing of memories" to mark Reformation anniversary. He said division of the Church was an unfortunate by-product of Luther's protest and today is an invitation to us to live the Gospel in an authentic way and move forward from Conflict to Communion.
Fr Timir Singha, Secretary of the Ecumenical Commission of the Archdiocese, and the initiator of the day’s event, thanked the speakers, all the dignitaries and the organisers.
There was a brief Question-Answer session. Two pertinent questions were: (1) Which of the two Churches is older – by a senior Missionaries of Charity nun and (2) In spite of workshops on Ecumenism and initiatives at different levels for unification, doubts and mutual mistrust still exist between the two Churches – What is the solution to this?
The Symposium ended with a befitting song by the Youth Choir of Bishop’s College.
The million dollar question is how much both the Churches are willing to accommodate each other to be one with Christ, in keeping with the belief in One Bible, One Lord, One Faith and One Baptism.
Rev. Fr. Dr. S. Xavier (HoD), Environmental Studies, St Xavier's College, Kolkata, emceed the programme admirably, keeping the audience in good humour with his witticisms.