Local News Archive
Print Issue: November 9, 1967
Archbishop's Notebook: For Lutherans, Catholics: A Flash Of Light
Why were so many Lutherans praying with so many Catholics at our Cathedral Sunday night? Together they responded and sang. They listened to their priests and pastors read from the Scriptures, and to the Lutheran speakers splendid homily.
Many left with their hearts warmer and their heads held high, not in triumph, but in this single step toward a unity which Christ prayed for, which existed for 15 centuries, which has been split since the 15th century, and which some day Christ will bring about.
It was only a single step. But in a long agony of bitter separation, it was a flash of light, a reflection of what could be.
The occasion was the 450th anniversary of the Reformationan event that Catholics have seen as an ugly, hateful, rebellion, while Protestants saw it as a great historic renewal of faith and grace. Both were wrong, and in a sense, both were right.
Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, the Lutheran historian, was probably closest when he called it, a tragic necessity. It was tragic because it shattered the unity of Christianity, and necessary because it cleansed the church.
A Catholic has only to read history to realize that, although the corruption was wiped out long ago, certain other teachings took nearly 400 years to return to Catholicism: The lay priesthood, the concept of the people of God, the vernacular and hymns, communion under two species, and the emphasis on the Bible. Lutherans, on the other hand, finding that Luther had a great love and veneration for Mary, the Virgin Mother; the structure of authority and the sacraments. Even in the central Lutheran teaching, justification by faith, Catholics and Lutherans are finding dialogue effective.
The hero of German Lutherans, Bishop Otto Dibelius, said with feeling as Vatican II came to a close:
If the Roman Catholic Church had looked like it does now 450 years ago, then there would never had been a Reformation in Germany.
The Two Luthers
To read the early accounts of Luther by Catholics and Lutherans, one would think it were two persons. Pope Leo called him a wild boar in our vineyard (which was pale along side some of the things Luther later called the pope). At the reformers funeral, the eulogist cried out: An angel flying through the midst of heaven, who had an eternal gospel to preach.
Will the real Luther stand up?
Was it the embattled defender at the Diet of Worms declaring: Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me.
Or was it the man who in his youth was scrupulous and obsessed with sin? It is hard for the biographer to explain much of his inconsistency.
Catholic figures in history, of course, have ambiguous characters too. It is not edifying to read the lives of the Renaissance popes, Leo X saying, God has given us the papacy. Let us now enjoy it! and The Church is corrupt in head and members (Adrian VI).
We owe it to Luther and the Lutherans to read Hubert Jedin, Philip Hughes, Joseph Lortz, John C. Murray and Yues Congar (Catholics) and Jaroslav Pelikan, Gerhard Ritter, George Lindbeck and Arthur Piepkorn (Lutherans).
The whole point of history is to seek truth, not to score points.
We need lots of dialogue-a university and living room levels. It is spreading. The archdiocese has a good program. It is our hope to raise the level of it by genuine meetings with Lutherans and other Protestants.
But Sunday night, it will simply an interchange of hearts, more than intellects. We simply prayed and listened and had refreshments. For the moment, that was good. (With nearly 8.900 present, the refreshments ran low, and Catholics had to be told: Family, hold back).
Out of the dialogue can come better understanding, more respect and deeper friendship. But there are more profound reasons. Dr. Piepkorn recently wrote that Lutherans and Roman Catholics have so much in common! He meant that we have 1,500 years of history, and our creeds, our liturgical calendars and our hymns emphasize our common heritage. And yet we have 450 years of separation, unhappy centuries, tinged by mutual acrimony and darkened by mutual anathemas. We have lost the counsel and honest criticism of each other. Both our heritage and our breach should help to ring us together.
What We Hoped For
The Lutheran pastors, our two bishops and the priests of our archdiocese had these things in mind at our Catholic-Lutheran service.
We thought of Christs prayer for unity-that they all are one, as you Father in me, and I in you, that the world may know that you have sent me. How can the world believe this if it finds, not a spirit of unity, but a jarring discord among the divided Christian Church?
Ecumenism is not a knocking off of rough but necessary edges, a watering-down of belief. Love of God and fellowman-the heart of the Christian lifebecomes nothing more than sentimentality unless it is seeking for truth. Surely this is the Catholic Galatians premise. And in his lecture on the Galatians, Luther said: We must proclaim concord in doctrine and faith as much as they proclaim concord in life.
Secondly, we are all conscious that the common ground of our brotherhood is baptism. The Vatican Council cleared up a vague point in our teaching; All Christians by baptism, enter the Church as through a door.
The question arises immediately: If we are members of the same family, why do we not talk to each other?
If the Catholic Church of the 15th and first half of the 16th century had reformed herself, and if Luther had remained faithful to his early vows and commitments, todays Church would have been different.
If we had listened more carefully to Luther and the other reformers, we would not have had to wait until 1962-65 to clarify the priesthood of all believers, the popular participation in the vernacular scripture-reading and the liturgy, and the relation of faith and good works.
The Council of Trent which ended in 1564 (nearly 50 years after Luther revolt,) halted the corruption and set the Church on a new course of vigor, purity and righteousness. To insure this new life, six popes fought the old sins. Christianitys recovery owes as much to Hadrian VI, Paul III, Julius III, Paul IV, Pius IV and Pius V as it does to Luther and the other Protestant leaders.
But no institution can exist without ongoing criticism, continued reexamination and determined reform. In the four centuries after the Reformation these necessary elements were stifled by the religious wars, religious nationalism like Englands Prussias, Polands, and the continued splitting off of new sects.
Not until the world Protestant conferences at Edinburgh in 1905 and 60 years later the Vatican Council, did the Christian churches became conscious of the beauty and necessity of religious unity. Recently, Dr. Carl Braaten of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, raised the question:
Should Protestantism run independently of the Catholic Church or should it not be incorporated to serve as a leaven for reform?
We have prayed and sung together. Isnt it time we studied and talked and dialogued together?
Paul J. Hallinan
Archbishop Of Atlanta