Symposium 2018 – The Reformation: History and Ecumenism

This past autumn, Christians throughout the world commemorated the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. In light of this, we at Caritas in Veritate have organized a symposium held on April 16th, 2018 to discuss the Biblical, historical, and ecumenical implications of the Reformation.


The main topic discussed during the symposium – justification – was a topic of utmost importance during the reformation. Martin Luther, in his 1535 lecture on St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, wrote,


If Paul could not give in to false Apostles, much less ought we to give in to our opponents. I know a Christian should be humble, but against the Pope I am going to be proud and say, ‘You, Pope, I will not have for my boss, for I am sure that my doctrine is divine.’ Such pride against the Pope is imperative, for if we are not stout and proud we will not succeed in defending the article of the righteousness of faith.


He then went on to say,


If the Pope were to concede that God alone through His grace justifies sinners, we would carry him in our arms, we would kiss his feet. But since we cannot obtain this concession, we will give in to nobody, not to all the angels in heaven, not to Peter, not to Paul, not to a hundred emperors, not to a thousand popes, not to the whole world. If in this matter we were to humble ourselves, they would take us away from the God who created us, and Jesus Christ Who has redeemed us by His blood. Let this be our resolution, that we will suffer the loss of all things, the loss of our good name, of life itself, but the Gospel and our faith in Jesus Christ – we will not stand for it that anybody will take them away from us.


His doctrine of justification by faith alone was seen as a make or break doctrine for Luther. Yet, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church felt just as strongly: in its Decree on Justification, published in the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent it said that anyone who accepted Luther’s view of justification by faith alone was anathema, thus making adherence to the Lutheran doctrine on salvation incompatible with communion or full participation in the Catholic Church.


Things, fortunately, changed greatly over time. In 1999, representatives of the World Lutheran Confederation – a network of Lutheran ecclesial bodies scattered throughout the world, but with particular historical ties to Dutch, German, Swiss and Scandinavian Lutheran bodies – met with representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, one of the highest institutions within the Catholic Church to deal with issues of ecumenism. Representatives from the two groups signed a document titled as The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which outlined the commonalities between Lutheran and Catholic views of justification. Similar steps towards reunification had taken place in the past. In 1994, a group of American Catholic and Evangelical Protestant theologians and clergymen signed a document titled Catholics and Evangelicals Together, which outlined the commonalities between Catholicism and Evangelicalism and affirmed their joint desire to work together to bring the Gospel message into the larger social realm. Thirty years earlier, Anglican, Lutheran, and Calvinist theologians and clergymen were invited to attend the Second Vatican Council and serve as observers to the event. It was this Council which first set forward the Catholic Church’s devotion to ecumenism.


What we can infer from all of this is twofold: firstly, the gravity of the topic at hand. The debates surrounding justification are one dynamic of the larger question, “How are we saved?” How we answer this is what distinguishes Catholics from non-Catholic Christians, and Christians in general from non-Christians. Yet, it also shows the necessity and possibility for both sides to sit down and work together in analyzing the Biblical and historical data, to work together to find the truth of the matter.


The speakers at the symposium, whose presentations are available below, shed much light on the topic, and have an intimate knowledge of the issues at hand. The first article is by Fr. Terence Keegan, and is titled “Paul and Justification: From Covenantal Nomism to Life in the Spirit, from Promise to Fulfillment”, in which he explores various dynamics of the Pauline view on justification. Obtaining his degree from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Fr. Kegan is a priest of the Dominican Order who has been teaching for almost 50 years, and has been teaching at Providence College since 1975. His area of expertise is Biblical theology, particularly the theology of the New Testament.


The second paper was by Dr. Ian Levy, and is titled “Nicholas of Lyra: A Late Medieval Reading of the Pauline Epistles.” In this paper, he examines the thought of the 14th century French theologian Nicholas of Lyra, particularly as his thought was expressed in his commentaries on St. Paul’s letters. Dr. Ian Levy obtained his doctorate from Marquette University, and his areas of expertise include New Testament theology, as well as Medieval and early modern theology, particularly the Late Middle Ages and the Reformation. He is currently the head of the theology graduate program at Providence College.


The final presenter at the symposium was Dr. Michael Root. Titled “Luther and Catholicism: Possibilities and Problems,” his paper is devoted to examining Luther’s theology within its original historical context, as well as examining historical Protestant views of Catholicism and historical Catholic views of Protestantism, particularly of Luther. He then ends by speaking of possible lines of action going forward for Catholic-Protestant, particularly Catholic-Lutheran, relations. Dr. Root is a professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America. Receiving his doctorate from Yale University, his main areas of interest include systematic theology as it pertains to eschatology, grace and justification, and interreligous dialogue. He has taught at such institutions as Catholic University of America and Providence College.


We hope you enjoy these papers, and may their publishing serve, at least in a small part, to further clarify our view of the issues so fundamental to one of the deepest and saddest divisions within Christendom, thereby helping us to better live out Christ’s desire that “they all be one” (John 17:21)

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