A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Should Reformation Day Be Celebrated?
Timothy George said yes in piece he wrote for First Things in 2009:
On this Reformation Day, it is good to remember that Martin Luther belongs to the entire Church, not only to Lutherans and Protestants, just as Thomas Aquinas is a treasury of Christian wisdom for faithful believers of all denominations, not simply for Dominicans and Catholics. This point was recognized several weeks ago by Franz-Josef Bode, the Catholic Bishop of Osnabrück in northern Germany, when he preached on Luther at an ecumenical service. "It's fascinating," he said, "just how radically Luther puts God at the center." Luther's teaching that every human being at every moment of life stands absolutely coram deo-- before God, confronted face-to-face by God-- led him to confront the major misunderstanding in the church of his day that grace and forgiveness of sins could be bought and sold like wares in the market. "The focus on Christ, the Bible and the authentic Word are things that we as the Catholic church today can only underline," Bode said. The bishop's views have been echoed by many other Catholic theologians since the Second Vatican Council as Luther’s teachings, especially his esteem for the Word of God, has come to be appreciated in a way that would have been unthinkable a century ago.
Several years ago I was asked to endorse a book by my friend Mark Noll called Is the Reformation Over? I responded by saying that the Reformation is over only to the extent that it succeeded. In fact, in some measure, the Reformation has succeeded, and more within the Catholic Church than in certain sectors of the Protestant world. The triumph of grace in the theology of Luther was-- and still is-- in the service of the whole Body of Christ. Luther was not without his warts, and we can hardly imagine him canonized as a saint. (Remember: simul iustus et peccator!) But the question Karl Barth asked about him in 1933 is still worth pondering this Reformation Day: "What else was Luther than a teacher of the Christian church whom one can hardly celebrate in any other way but to listen to him?"
But Stanley Hauerwas said no in a sermon he preached back in 1995:
Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name 'Protestantism' is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.
For example, note what the Reformation has done for our reading texts like that which we hear from Luke [Luke 18:9-14].... We Protestants automatically assume that the Pharisees are the Catholics. They are the self-righteous people who have made Christianity a form of legalistic religion, thereby destroying the free grace of the Gospel. We Protestants are the tax collectors, knowing that we are sinners and that our lives depend upon God’s free grace. And therefore we are better than the Catholics because we know they are sinners. What an odd irony that the Reformation made such readings possible. As Protestants we now take pride in the acknowledgment of our sinfulness in order to distinguish ourselves from Catholics who allegedly believe in works-righteousness.
HT: Francis Beckwith