THE EDITOR: On November 20 I addressed members of the Catholic and Anglican communities — St Francis RC and St Margaret’s Anglican Church, Belmont — at a service organised by Fr Thomas Lawson and Rev Canon Ronald Branche to remember the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I share below extracts from my presentation:
“We come together to heal and to build unity in Christ, our Lord. October 31 marked 500 years since Martin Luther, a university lecturer and Augustinian monk, posted on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, his 95 theses — a list of criticisms of the Catholic Church’s doctrines and practices at that time.
Luther’s theses sought to reform the church. Instead, his stance led to a schism/split in western Christianity, the outcome of which was the birth of the Reformation and Protestantism. Today there are thousands of Christian denominations.
Luther was condemned by the Catholic Church as a heretic, was excommunicated in 1521 and his writings were banned. The split led to hundreds of years of widespread bloodshed, wars, destruction of churches/monasteries, religious art. Thousands were hung, drawn and quartered or burnt at the stake for their religion — on both sides.
The “birth” of the Anglican Church is as a result of action by King Henry VIII of England who, in 1527, asked to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. He wanted to marry Anne Boleyn. The pope refused to grant it. In 1534 King Henry created the Church of England and named himself as its spiritual and political leader. The titular leader of the Anglican Church is the monarch.
Anglicans reject the concepts of transubstantiation, the primacy of the pope, papal infallibility, Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and assumption of Mary. The status of women in the hierarchy of the Anglican Church is another key difference between the two denominations. Over the past 50 years, there has been ecumenical efforts. Pope Francis has made ecumenicalism a hallmark of his papacy. Both Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, have apologised for the violence that followed the Protestant Reformation. I agree with them that there is much in our history for which we should ask God’s/each other’s forgiveness.
On October 31, 2016, Francis and Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, signed a joint declaration at an ecumenical prayer service in Lund, Sweden, commemorating the schism. Inter alia, the declaration states:
“Through dialogue and shared witness we are no longer strangers. Rather, we have learned that what unites us is greater than what divides us. While we are profoundly thankful for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, we also confess and lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the church. Theological differences were accompanied by prejudice and conflicts, and religion was instrumentalised for political ends... We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion.”
On January 17, the UK Guardian published a moving article titled, “C of E Archbishops call on Christians to repent for Reformation split.” In it the Archbishop of Canterbury, Welby, and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, called on all Christians “to repent of our part in perpetuating divisions. Such repentance needs to be linked to action aimed at reaching out to other churches and strengthening relationships with them.”
On October 30, the Evening Standard reported on Welby’s expression of pain at not being able to receive communion together.
But there is hope. Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-20. The love of Christ compels us to work towards unity. We are all the Body of Christ.
LEELA RAMDEEN, chair, CCSJ