On Sunday, October 29, 2017, we commemorate and celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Reformation created a schism in the Catholic Church; Martin Luther is credited with initiating it with the posting of his ninety-five theses in 1517. Luther wanted reform and criticized real abuses in the Church at the time. The movement of Reformation later included doctrinal changes as well. In the end, Martin Luther was considered a heretic rather than a reformer by the Church.
Dominicans, like the Church, were also at fault, both as privileged clergy and as “defenders of the truth.” The formal response from the Church (the Counter Reformation) was slow, almost 30 years later. It is always too easy for those who are privileged and enculturated to disparage a message of needed change in a timely manner.
Today Pope Francis reminds us as a Catholic Church to be grateful for the gifts of the Reformation and he calls for increasing collaboration between the churches. The Dominican Order which is still dedicated to preaching truth could again play a significant role.
Therefore, I asked the Dominican Center: Spirituality for Mission Board Members to reflect on their own experiences, beliefs, and spirituality in this new age of ecumenism. I also asked a Lutheran Minister educated by Dominicans for her thoughts. I asked the following question:
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation
– Given that the Dominican Motto is Veritas (Truth) and
– Given the prosecution of the Inquisition against heresies before and during the Reformation and
– Given that Pope Francis is expressing gratitude for the contributions of Protestant Christianity
what do you call upon from your Dominican spirituality for inspiration and guidance in how to approach this occasion and to relate to Christian ecumenism?
A sampling of their responses is below. Hopefully, they will inspire and speak to a desire for further growth between our Christian Churches as we celebrate a common faith, a common Eucharist.
We Dominicans have come a long way! Five hundred years ago Martin Luther opposed the Dominicans who were “selling indulgences” and who, in many ways were responsible for the “break” known as the Reformation, and here we are today congratulating Lutherans across the globe as they celebrate the 500-hundred-year anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his thesis on the church door. Both Lutherans and Catholics have come a long way from those early days of anger and violence. Today we stand with Lutherans and celebrate the contributions that Martin Luther made to Christianity: for example, insisting that people learn to read so they could read the Bible and highlighting the importance of faith. Throughout the centuries we have often insisted that the followers of Martin Luther learn from us. Today we acknowledge that we Dominican Roman Catholics have learned much from Luther’s followers, and we celebrate with them this important anniversary. – Anneliese Sinnott, OP
Is this a celebration of a former schism or a celebration of basic unity? Certainly, the Catholic Church needed to be challenged at that time. Yet, or maybe, with reconciliation efforts and a willingness to stand in truth, a different outcome could have occurred.
Many people pray that we would one day be united with our Lutheran brothers and sisters. Perhaps, we already are–with just different names and structures. As a descendant of many “protestant” ancestor I always felt faith connections with my aunts and grandparents on my Dad’s side who were not Catholic. Perhaps the most important unity is not sameness of name or structures but united commitments to live and support gospel lives in the 21st century. – Nancyann Turner, OP
I have often stated that my job as a congregation centered community organizer is the best experience of church I have ever had. And it’s true. I have had to move beyond the physical, mental and spiritual walls of the “one true church” to encounter the truth in others. And that truth is delightful.
Several years ago, I was visiting the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop of Detroit. While waiting I was talking to one of the bishop’s “special assistants” for urban ministry. She was an elderly African American and a lifelong Lutheran (Missouri Synod actually) and at some point, I asked her, “What does the Lutheran church give to the city of Detroit?” She answered me without a moment’s hesitation, “Grace freely given,” she said, “and an old German care for things, especially the earth.”
“Grace freely given” and an old German care for things” – In my opinion a great gift to the world from Luther’s sons and daughters. – Cheryl Liske, OP
As we celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation, I especially call upon a spiritual longing that I believe I share with Jesus, who at the Last Supper prayed that “all may be one.” We all follow the same Jesus and we are all sent on the same mission: to preach the Gospel, the truth and the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I’ve heard it said so often, our witness to the rest of the world would be so much more effective if we were united in our preaching and service. We need to recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, worthy of respect, love, and cooperation in mission.
As Christians, I believe there is so much we can offer the world – devotion to God, respect for all life, hope in the future (here and in eternity), service, concern for the welfare of others, and allegiance to the truth. – Barbara Kelley, OP
Over the years I have had the blessing of being able to work with Ecumenical as well as Inter-Faith people. I have found the opportunities to be faith-filled and enriching. Working with the Virginia Council of Churches helped me appreciate their way of bringing Bishops, Clergy and Lay people together to address the needs of the church. I also was able to see the struggle it took to come to common understanding. Participating year after year in the Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic (LARC) Dialogue helped me to realize the hurtles built up over five centuries of mistrust, anger, blame and bad intent. I knew that we need more than words to express the truths/faith in which we believe.
All in all, I would say that the people I experienced were the ones who made the difference. We expressed the same values. We expressed the love and care of our Creator for us all by our love and care for one another. – Marilyn Winter, OP
On October 31, 1517, the Augustinian monk, Doctor of Theology, and priest Martin Luther made public his 95 Theses. This year we commemorate those ideas, posted to stir academic debate 500 years ago. One of the theses that resonate with my Dominican spirituality of Veritas is number 62: “The true treasure of the Church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”
As one nurtured by Dominican Sisters, and ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I am profoundly grateful for the vast gifts of St. Dominic and Martin Luther. Both lived in a time of turmoil. Both had deep concern for the well being of people. Both were dedicated to making the Gospel available to all. Dominic made the revolutionary move to preaching in the local vernacular. Martin made the revolutionary move of translating and printing the bible in the vernacular. Both were fiercely dedicated to the Church and to the Word of God.
Both these disparate yet similar worlds live well within my spirit as one who was loved by Dominican teachers who were seeking truth, making peace, and reverencing life. In time, I was called by my baptism to ordination in the Lutheran tradition. During my training in seminary, I learned of Martin’s dedication to social justice as he created a Community Chest as a resource for any in need. In this I hear the echo of Dominic’s dedication to meet people where they lived, and in their need. My life as a preacher is a legacy to their dedication to the Word and to the world, held in tension with the matters of social justice, and in the light of the Gospel.
I am deeply grateful to live into the missions of both Dominic de Guzman and Martin Luther. May their examples of faith seeking truth for the good of the world inspire all. – Rev. Annette Griffin, Lutheran Minister
Last year, Pope Francis traveled to Lund, Sweden to assist in the launch of a year- long commemoration of the 500th anniversary. This prayer of gratitude is taken from their common prayer together:
Thanks be to you, O God, for the many guiding theological and spiritual insights that we have all received through the Reformation. Thanks be to you for the good transformations and reforms that were set in motion by the Reformation or by struggling with its challenges. Thanks be to you for the proclamation of the gospel that occurred during the Reformation and that since then has strengthened countless people to live lives of faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Source: Common Prayer: From Conflict to Communion, Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.
Karen Rossman, OP