The Vatican and the 2017 Reformation Jubilee in Germany

Some ecumenical friction in Germany, reports ZEIT-online. Nikolaus Schneider, head of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (Protestant Church in Germany), “cannot accept that Rome sets standards for what is Church and what isn’t.” Schnedier said, “The Pope and bishops are not entitled to that, only Christ is.” The Pope should not “be confused with the Lord of the Church himself.” The Vatican does not consider Protestants to be a church in its official documents.

Schneider invites Catholics to celebrate the jubilee of the Reformation with Protestants in 2017. “It would be a wonderful image if the Pope would find a way to celebrate the Reformation jubilee with us,” he said. So far the Vatican has been critical of the jubilee celebration. Cardinal Kurt Koch said in April that the Reformation is no occasion for celebration, for the Catholic Church cannot celebrate a sin. Schneider rejected this criticism as “completely inappropriate” and said that “the Reformation was a necessary process of renewal.”


  1. I’m with the Cardinal on this one. Celebrate the divisions among Christians when Christ prayed that we would be one? No thanks.

    For what it’s worth, that also puts the Cardinal in the same camp as Stanley Hauerwas:

    On the other hand, I applaud Mr. Schneider’s frankness concerning the differences in ecclesiology between his community and the Roman Catholic Church’s. The differences are real and shouldn’t be glossed over in ecumenical discussions.

  2. Maybe it depends on who’s talking? For a Protestant to say that he or she doesn’t want to celebrate the break with Rome, it sounds like Christian humility and not bragging about Protestant reform efforts. For a Catholic, especially a Catholic official, to say the same thing can sound like a put-down of Protestants.

  3. Catholics and Protestants celebrating this day together would be something like a couple celebrating the anniversary of their divorce. Let there be reunion first, then we can celebrate that.

    There are many situations where we can celebrate together. This is not one of them. I sincerely hope the Pope declines.

  4. It sounds to me like celebrating a divorce. I also don’t foresee Protestants and Catholics coming together to “celebrate” the 500th anniversary of the Council of Trent.

    Now, coming together for dialogue and discussion on the occasion of an anniversary… that’s another matter altogether.

    1. The Catholic church was so unfaithful that there had to be a stand taken; think of the massive sale of indulgences, the fraudulence of the relics industry, simony, the Inquisition it is a wonder that it didn’t occur earlier.

      Rev Schneider is right to point out huge arrogance of the CC to reject the ecclesial nature of the Reformation churches

      As a catholic, I thank God for the Christian witness of the Protestant churches & I shake my head with dismay at the rude arrogance of the current leadership of the Catholic Church

      1. I was looking for the words to express this. Sadly, I see a repeat of the process today!

      2. No one denies that there were abuses.

        But in the end, that wasn’t what Martin Luther’s stand was really about.

      3. It doesn’t reject their “ecclesial nature.”

        Indeed, Dominus Iesus refers to such groups as “Ecclesial Communities.” So there is no rejection of their “ecclesial” nature inasmuch as they have valid baptism.

        What it does say is that they are not true particular/local churches in the sense that Catholic and Orthodox dioceses are.

        But…many of them (especially the evangelicals) don’t even WANT or CLAIM to be “churches” in that technical sense. They don’t have a Bishop with See, and don’t want one.

  5. How about “commemorate” rather than “celebrate”? The rupture was a tragedy, but it was not Luther’s intention: he wanted reform and renewal within the church. Rigid obstinacy on the part of Rome and political involvement quickly brought about polarisation. If we first commemorate, then we can celebrate how much the various Christian groupings have learned since then.
    The Altenberger Dom, a former Cistecian monastery near Cologne, is now used by Catholic and Lutheran. It has a marvellous depiction by Werner Franzen entitled “Amplexus” (Embrace), of Jesus, from the cross, reaching out to embrace Bernard and Luther together. See a picture at

    1. This is an idea I can get behind — maybe even some sort of penitential service acknowledging and asking forgiveness for the wrongs on both sides over the last 500 years. That would be a more appropriate response than a “celebration.”

    2. I know some Lutheran liturgical scholars, and one of them in particular (Gordon Lathrop) has a keen appreciation for Luther, he even says his name with the kind of reverence that Catholics have for their favorite saints — which, for Lutherans, he would be. The ability to take a stand when all the powers of the bureaucracy are aligned against you is indeed a telling witness — one we appreciate when the person taking a stand is Catholic — Franz Jaegerstaetter in the Third Reich, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Joan of Arc, Oscar Romero, Thomas More and John Fisher — a few examples that come to mind. When I was grieving over the clergy sex abuse in 2002, I thought of Gordon, and his admiration for Luther, and I understood, and felt I also had come to a deeper appreciation for what Luther did.
      While not exactly celebrating the Protestant Reformation, we should admit that other Christian groups did/ do a better job of witnessing to legitimate aspects of the Christian tradition. The place of the Word in worship, for example, and a more prominent role for the laity in congregational and ecclesiastical affairs.

  6. The international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue is working on a text on how Lutherans and Catholics might together ‘commemorate’ the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. There is much potential on this topic for ecumenical damage, both from insensitive statements and from false expectations on both sides. Catholics should not expect Lutherans not to ‘celebrate’ on occasion; Lutherans should not expect Catholics to abandon their convictions about the nature of the Church.

  7. For those of us in the U.S., an interesting analog might be the recent events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War. The organizers of these events in South Carolina went to considerable effort to differentiate a commemoration from a celebration. The mood of the official functions was somber and reflective, with ample time devoted to the evils of slavery and the loss of life on both sides. Any hint of celebration was promptly criticized by press and public, as was the case with one dance involving period costume.

    Predictably, some attendees at these commemorations did complain about the “political correctness” of the speeches, prayers, and other observances.

    The 500th anniversary of the Reformation seems appropriate for commemorative events, including opportunities for ecumenical dialogue. In the name of Christian unity, I would be inclined to overlook the moments in this jubilee function that might strike some of us as excessively celebratory.

  8. Back in 1999, the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue resulted in a statement that removed the mutual anathemas that were hurled in the 1500s. According to then-ELCA presiding bishop H. George Anderson, the person on the Roman Catholic side of things most responsible for guiding the agreement through was Joseph Ratzinger.

    The text of the Joint Declaration is here:

    The last two paragraphs of the document are instructive:

    43.Our consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification must come to influence the life and teachings of our churches. Here it must prove itself. In this respect, there are still questions of varying importance which need further clarification. These include, among other topics, the relationship between the Word of God and church doctrine, as well as ecclesiology, ecclesial authority, church unity, ministry, the sacraments, and the relation between justification and social ethics. We are convinced that the consensus we have reached offers a solid basis for this clarification. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church will continue to strive together to deepen this common understanding of justification and to make it bear fruit in the life and teaching of the churches.

    44.We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.

    Perhaps this points toward language that is more helpful when thinking about this anniversary — celebrating the various steps forward in the ongoing task of renewing the church and reconciling God’s people.

  9. No one denies that there were abuses.

    But in the end, that wasn’t what Martin Luther’s stand was really about.

    The theological disputes of the Reformation were obscured by the realpolitik tactics of the European powers. My understanding of the Council of Trent is that the fix was in from the beginning – that anyone who disagreed with certain statements was ipso facto a Protestant and therefore denied a vote on the matter. I can’t tell you where Luther’s theology differed from what the current Magesterium is. I think some on both sides are arguing over matters that are true mysteries, and thus all are guilty of hubris. But to suggest that somehow Luther bears the bulk of the responsibility for the outcome is nonsense.

  10. What goes around comes around? In their public criticism and lawsuits against the administration’s HHS rule for the Affordable Care Act, Cardinal Dolan and the USCCB have used almost the same words as Nicklaus Schneider, who “cannot accept that Rome [in the USCCB’s view, Health and Human Services] sets standards for what is Church and what isn’t.” On that point at least, I agree with Nicklaus Schneider. We mortals do not impose limits on the “Body of Christ.”

  11. The Church led by John Paul II went into the preparations for the year 2000 in a penitential mode. Who today would not be tempted to disunity if the Holy Father were another Borgia? We have been through a lot these past 500 years and a penance service and rededication to the work of ecumenism is, to me, an obvious task. John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint would be a great place to start on our side. Dust it off, please and let the dialogues start up again.

  12. Here’s something else to dust off, if you can find a copy: Johannes Ruber’s Bach and the Heavenly Choir, which pictures the desire of an ecumenically-minded pope to canonize J.S. Bach, and the discussions thereto. It ends, as I remember, with a concert in the Vatican of Bach’s music, conducted by the pope (he’s also a musicologist, I think), with a Lutheran bishop playing the harpsichord continuo. A lovely picture of what might have been, seen in the light of post-war reconciliation.

  13. I just heard further details of the plans for the 2017 jubilee of the Reformation in Wittenberg on Deutsche Welle. I wonder if Pope Francis will appear during the festivities. Nobody knows for sure, since His Holiness tends to make plans on the spur of the moment. Still, I could see Pope Francis participating in a panel with Protestant clergy, for example. Something tells me that Pope Francis’s reading of Dignitatis Humanae is quite different than the interpretation of his predecessor.

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