After 500 years of schism, will rift of Reformation finally be healed?

Luther-led Rift healing at last?

   (David J. Michael, Oct 31 2016 in America the National Catholic Review)

Martin Luther’s burning of the Papal Bull excommunicating him in 1520 led to five centuries of religious division in Europe.

The meeting of Pope Francis and Archbishop Antje Jackelén in Sweden will underscore one of the big divides between their churches: the role of women. Photograph: AFP/Getty

(Note: Money, money, money, it (we mean Protestant Reformation) all started with indulgences for money. God’s grace for money? Is it any better today with Syromlabar Kerala church? Is it not worshipping the golden calf of Mammon of iniquity? Recall our earlier postings: 50 crore imperial splendor of Edappally? Garland of money? Naboth’s vineyard graphically portraying Narakal school grab drama? 

What was at the heart of this GREAT SCHISM that split the invincible Catholic church into two, each condemning the other to HELL FIRE? It was craze for Money power, Royal Spleandor,  Pride that goes before a FALL worse than the FALL in the Garden of Eden, and may be also lust for the cravings of the flesh and palate (tasty food) without shedding a drop of sweat. The whole of this report below, especially the second part is a mine of very precious information for those who care to study facts, nourishing, comforting and challenging.

The theological or doctrinal issue is that of JUSTIFICATION by faith or good works? Both fade into insignificance before a Humble Simple Francis who calls himself  “a sinner” and says “the name of my God is MERCY”. From where did he get these two ideas of unfathomable “humility” and of God as “Embodiment of Mercy unparalled?”               

Most probably from the  Pope fatty like Falstaff in the Dickens,  John XXlll,  who kick-started the whole Ecumenical movement, when he turned his vertical church horizontal, sideways towards the Protestants with stretched arms in embrace and said: “You are my brother Joseph!” That was profound humility in action. Later he exhorted his own church to go forward boldly  using the Medicine of Mercy” to heal the wounded and dying in the battle field of the Church and those outside his church. Pope Francis,  was just crowning that prescription of the Great Pope John XXIII, when he converted the present whole year a “Celebration of God’s Mercy”.

One word also on justification! When “Velle et Agere” (to wish and act, that is, to wish to do a good deed and the very act of doing the good deed) is from God; when the first prompter (Motus primarius) philosophically and theologically is God or His grace, what is left for man to take pride in as his contribution? Recall to mind the staggering statement of a Saul of Tarsus, torpedoed from his high horse top to become Paul: “What have you which you have not received, and if you have received, why do you glory, as if you have not received?”

Those who believe in the scripture, meditate this on what it says on God’s plan of salvation and predestination and its various steps: Predestination in progressive steps: Selection (calling), Justification, Sanctification and Glorification: “He called those he intented,  those he called he justified, and those he justified he glorified (shared his glory)” Rom. 8.39. What then is left for man to take pride in, except to say:  “When we have done all that we are supposed to and called upon to do, we have to call ourselves: ‘Useless Servants’”. All glory and honor is to be given to  God alone, if there is a God who is Sat,Chit, Ananda, or Summum Bonum (Embodiment of all Goodness).

It is to bypass or overcome all these philosophical and theological hurdles or indigestibles, Pappa Francis exhorts us to forget for a moment all these doctrinal and legal correctness, and to concentrate on Pastoral practice of rescuing  first the dying in the battle field without  wasting time checking his/her blood pressure etc. Befriend the needy without worrying if he/she is a Hindu, Muslim, Jew or Protestant.  Befriend means to fall in love and all is well, or permitted in love and war. Can you stop one  fallen in love with another in Enemy camp?

Finally remember Francis was feeling quite comfortable with the first female Archbishop  Primate (Jackelén married to Heinz) of Sweden, although some of our pious Catholic readers may be feeling very much ill-at-ease with this and our last James Kottorposting about the possibility, letgitimacy and need of women priests preaching, becoming bishops and  even presiding over the church as a married Pope! Don’t be shocked! What else was Peter the fisherman? james kottoor, editor)                    

Pope Francis is in Sweden today(Monday Oct.31st) to mark the start of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation together with Lutherans from across the world. The ecumenical gathering, hosted by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), has been dubbed “From Conflict to Communion,” and it marks the first time that Catholics and Lutherans have jointly commemorated the Reformation on a global level. The event will take place in the Lutheran Cathedral of Lund, a sleepy university town in southern Sweden.

“For all of us, it was a big surprise that the pope would come here for this commemoration of the Reformation,” said Bishop Anders Arborelius, O.C.D., of Stockholm’s Catholic diocese. “When you think about Reformation, you think about Germany, about Wittenberg and not about Lund.” But both Lutheran and Catholic traditions have deep roots in Lund. In the Middle Ages, Lund’s cathedral was Northern Europe’s hub for the Catholic Church, the seat of the archbishop of the Nordic countries. It was in Lund that the ecumenical movement began when, in 1947, the Lutheran World Federation was founded after Lutheran churches came together after the war to ensure greater unity.

“This is a place where we have been praying during times long before Reformation. This is a church for the whole church,” said the Rev. Lena Sjöstrand, the chaplain of Lund’s cathedral, when I met her on Sunday outside the cathedral which was already buzzing with security measures, a gaggle of policemen with automatic weapons a few meters away.

If one does not associate Lund with the Reformation, one certainly does not associate it with Catholicism. “We have to remember that Sweden as a nation was born against the Catholic Church, so since the 16th century, up to about 200 years ago, the Catholic Church was banned from Sweden and even had capital punishment for Catholics,” said Bishop Arborelius. Catholics could not become physicians, teachers, or nurses until 1951, and Catholic convents were not legal until the early 1970s. Bishop Arborelius, a kind-eyed Carmelite in his late 60s, became Sweden’s first Swedish Catholic bishop since the Reformation when he was installed in 1998.

Like most native Swedish Catholics, he is a convert from the Lutheran Church of Sweden. But the bulk of the church he inherited is made up of first and second generation immigrants. St. Eugenia, the Jesuit parish in Stockholm, has almost 100 different nationalities. While the Catholic Church in Sweden now has over 100,000 members, far more than the approximately 5,000 members it had in the 1950s, it is still far less than the Church of Sweden, which counts 6.4 million registered members.

Active membership in the Church of Sweden is a fraction of that number, however, and Sweden consistently ranks among the world’s most secular countries. “You have to have a deep faith in order to live in Sweden because it’s a very secular surrounding and you have to be very conscious of your faith,” Bishop Arborelius told me. But “it’s a very thrilling time to be a Catholic in Sweden because the church is growing. People are more interested to listen to us. For instance, today, the biggest Swedish newspaper had several pages about the visit of the pope and about people becoming Catholics.”

Indeed, Pope Francis’ visit has created a media frenzy and has largely overshadowed the event itself. “Most Christians and most people in Sweden have a very high regard of the pope as a moral authority, as a person who can somehow help people to come closer to God and to live a good life,” said Bishop Arborelius. After the service in Lund’s cathedral, the pope will travel to the neighboring city of Malmö, where he will take part in a similar event in Malmö Arena; the initial block of 6,000 tickets sold out within an hour.

On Tuesday, he will celebrate a Mass for Scandinavian Catholics, a decision that was not popular among Lutherans, according to reporting in Expressen, a major Swedish newspaper. But in an interview with America, Archbishop Antje Jackelén, the Lutheran archbishop of Uppsala and primate of the Church of Sweden, was quick to emphasize the two sides’ cooperation: “Pope Francis is not coming as a guest—he’s coming as a host—together with the Lutheran World Federation.”

According to Bishop Arborelius, the commemoration and the document which will be signed will stress commonalities: “We want to start with proclaiming our belief in Jesus and what that means for the world today and from that common faith in him. We want to give a witness to the world, especially to those in need.”

Caritas Internationalis and Lutheran World Relief have a strong presence at the event in Lund. Bishop Antoine Audo, S.J., the Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, will speak, and Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, who worked to negotiate the end of the civil war in Colombia, will also be in attendance. “We could say this meeting somehow is concentrating upon this common witness,” noted Bishop Arborelius, “what we can do for a world in need, in sorrow, in war.”

“I hear many people asking for a solid basis for hope, and maybe this can provide something of an answer,” said Archbishop Jackelén.

The focus on conflict resolution and social justice is a natural fit for Sweden, a country that has been at the forefront of the current refugee crisis. The pope “is a symbol for those questions, and apparently, it touches something in people’s hearts right now,” noted the Rev. Sjöstrand. “What is important in the ecumenical movement is to bring together those social issues with prayer and transcendence. That is important in this meeting—that we meet to pray. In the praying, we bring up these issues of the world, but we do it, praying before God, together.”

Inputs from other Sources

Antje Jackelén is Sweden's first female Archbishop of Uppsala.  She  won archbishop election on 15th October 2013 in Sweden after receiving 56 per cent in the first  voting round itself. She thus became the Archbishop of Uppsala and primate of the Church of Sweden. Earlier she  was the Bishop of Lund. Bishop Jackelén was ordained a priest in 1980. As priest she served in 3 parishes from 1981 to 96. Originally a German, married to Heinz, moved to Chicago in 2001 where she taught at the Lutheran School of Theology from 2001 to 2006, when she was elected Bishop of Lund.After election she made  one point very clear: “ When you try to water down complex issues to yes- or no-statements you easily create a debate that just polarises people," She sees no contradiction in believing both in God and in evolution. The virgin birth is a "mythological term to explain the unique. Those who interpret the virgin birth as a biological issue have completely missed the point." She does not make a big deal out of her gender. Saying: "I have been a woman all my life, so I carry that with me in everything I do…. But of course it is great. I have moved so much in international contexts where I have noted that many are curious about female church leaders. So I am aware that it is also an asset," 

On 31 October 1517, a monk named Martin Luther walked to a church in the German town of Wittenberg and nailed a document – his 95 theses – to its wooden doors, lighting the fuse of the Reformation.

On Monday an ecumenical service led by Pope Francis at Lund cathedral in southern Sweden  heralded a year of events running up to the 500th anniversary of the move that resulted in the greatest schism in western Christianity and a string of religious wars – and which has sectarian echoes today on the football terraces of northern Europe.

Christian leaders and congregations will spend the next 12 months consolidating moves towards greater cooperation and dialogue after centuries of division. In the first papal visit to Sweden in more than 25 years, Francis will lead prayers asking “forgiveness for divisions perpetuated by Christians from the two traditions”. On Tuesday, he will celebrate mass in Malmö before around 10,000 people.

In Germany, leaders of the Catholic and main Protestant churches have issued a joint text calling for a “healing of memories” of past divisions. An ecumenical pilgrimage to the Holy Land aimed at highlighting common roots despite separation has just concluded.

The commemorations are the latest step in a slow rapprochement between the Catholic and Protestant traditions – pursued by Francis, who has put ecumenicalism and healing past wounds at the heart of his papacy. The moves are not without controversy, however. “There are rightwing Roman Catholics who find the whole thing profoundly distasteful,” said Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of church history at Oxford and author of The Reformation: A History. “But they’re the sort of people who hate the present pope anyway.

“On the other side, you’ve got the remnants of high-temperature Protestantism. In Northern Ireland, for instance, you’ll have preachers saying how dreadful all this is.”A recent document signed by dozens of Protestant evangelicals and entitled “Is the Reformation Over?” says that although cooperation between the two traditions should be encouraged in areas of common concern, “the issues that gave birth to the Reformation 500 years ago are still very much alive in the 21st century for the whole church”.

According to historians, Luther never intended his 95 theses – which may or may not actually have been nailed to the church doors – to spark a revolution. “He started by wanting reform. He never planned to split away from the Latin church; that wasn’t where it began,” said Bishop William Kenney, the Catholic co-chair of the international dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics, who will accompany the pope to Sweden.

Nevertheless, Luther’s theses, written in Latin, fundamentally challenged the authority and elitism of the Roman Catholic church. They were a backlash against increasing corruption and in particular the highly profitable sale of indulgences – promoted as fast-track tickets to heaven – to fund the building of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Luther declared that when it came to “justification” – avoiding hell, gaining admission to heaven – there could be no mediation, no brokering by the church. Salvation was a matter between an individual and God.

This was indeed revolutionary. Swiftly translated into German and other European languages, Luther’s ideas were the talk of Europe within weeks, spreading courtesy of the new printing presses – the Google and Twitter of the medieval era – and triggering religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval.

Rome condemned the monk as a heretic, removed him from the priesthood and banned his writings. In response, Luther publicly burned the papal bull, or edict. The sale of indulgences plummeted and his ideas started to take hold.

“It released something that still is important: a challenge to authority that has been good for the human community,” said Richard Holloway, the now agnostic former Anglican bishop of Edinburgh and author of A Little History of Religion, published this summer.

“It had a dark side, but it did move the religious debate on from divine authority imposed from above, and brought into the conversation a sense of protest against that. I think it would have happened in some other way even if it hadn’t been kicked off by Luther. Humans are revolutionary species that are constantly revising and challenging their institutions.”

Luther’s challenge to the once impregnable Catholic church was taken up by others, including John Calvin, whose ideas spread from Geneva to Scotland, France and the Low Countries. In Germany, the new ideas inspired the Peasants’ War of 1524-5. In England, Henry VIII –motivated more by lust and the desire for a male heir – embarked on his own, less clear-cut, separation from the Catholic church.

Rome launched a counter-reformation but by the end of the 16th century almost all of northern Europe was Protestant, albeit fractured into warring groups.As well as bloodshed, the Reformation unleashed terrible destruction of religious heritage and art. In England, more than 800 monasteries, abbeys, nunneries and friaries were seized, libraries destroyed, manuscripts lost, treasures stripped and works of art appropriated. But the Reformation also gave rise to new forms of art, music and literature.

It’s the culmination of a great deal of work on the part of the Lutherans and the papacy over the past 20 years Diarmaid MacCulloch historian

“The dissolution of the monasteries was a tragedy,” said Holloway. “A lot of beauty was lost for ever. But it also released the power of the individual, the power of the small group, against the mighty institution. Loss and gain, that’s our story.”

The German priest and theologian at its centre was complicated, argumentative and bad-tempered, according to Nick Baines, the bishop of Leeds, who will tomorrow deliver a sermon about the Reformation in the monastery at Erfurt, central Germany, where Luther once lived as a monk.

“He said some terrible things about Jews,” Baines said, “which in turn had terrible consequences four centuries later. And he wasn’t exactly a proto-feminist. He was grasped by a concept of grace yet he didn’t exercise grace towards other people. He was a very brave man, but must have been a nightmare to be around. But most people who change the world are.”

It took Catholics some time to see the merits of the challenges posed by Luther, but the church needed reform, according to Kenney. “We had the problem of the sale of indulgences. There was a certain amount of corruption in parts of the church. I do think it was ultimately a good thing for the Catholic church – the Reformation, not the splitting of the church. It was forced to think again, to renew itself, and that is positive.”

Yet it took until 1999 for the Catholic and Lutheran churches to agree on a joint declaration that resolved many of the theological issues at the heart of the split. “That was an enormous step forward, and we’re now trying to work out what the consequences of that are,” added Kenney.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict engaged in some dialogue with the Lutherans and other Protestants, but Francis has really pushed it forward. “For 500 years, Europe has had this huge fault line between Catholics and Protestants,” said MacCulloch. “Now the pope is going to a Lutheran country to emphasise the division is in the past. It’s the culmination of a great deal of work on the part of the Lutherans and the papacy over the past 20 years.”

Francis had “softened the tone”, said Holloway. “The conversation will get warmer and sweeter, and who knows where it will lead. But the Roman Catholic church is a bit like a colossal aircraft carrier, and it takes a long time to make even tiny modifications.

 “My hunch is that we’re probably moving to a stage where we’ll have the religious equivalent of multiculturalism. We won’t seek to merge, as it were, but we’ll seek to see the value in differences as long as they’re balanced with a sympathetic tolerance towards each other.”

From a Catholic perspective, Kenney said he thought there was a “realistic possibility” that the traditions could unite. “But there are big questions that need to be resolved,” he added.Among those is the issue of women. Despite his warmth towards women members of the Catholic church and his frequent acknowledgement of the role they play in lay leadership, Pope Francis has insisted that “the door is closed” to women priests, although he has floated the possibility of female deacons.

The Lutherans have no such compunction. The Church of Sweden has had women pastors for more than half a century, the Danes for almost 70 years. And the gulf between the two churches on this issue will be underscored this week when Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic church, comes face to face with the head of the Church of Sweden, Archbishop Antje Jackelén – a woman.


1517 Publication of Luther’s 95 theses arguing that salvation depends on faith alone

1521 Luther refuses to recant and is formally excommunicated by Pope Leo X

1522 His translation of the New Testament into common German gives ordinary people access to the scriptures and fuels criticism of the Roman church

1524 German peasants, partly inspired by Luther, rise up against feudal overlords

1526 Publication of William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament

1534 Act of Supremacy, making Henry VIII head of the church in England, heralds the English Reformation

1545 Council of Trent opens, to clarify doctrine and reform the Catholic church

1618 Revolt in Bohemia starts Thirty Years War across Europe

1648 Peace of Westphalia entrenches Protestantism in northern Europe, but the consequences of Luther’s revolt reverberate for centuries to come

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