Announcing a New Series: Reading the Declaration on the Way

As you may already aware, this year is the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the 16c. European Reformations. Like most historical anniversaries, choosing which events to count as the “start” of this complex history is a little difficult, but Martin Luther’s 95 Theses on Indulgences makes a pretty good choice. It’s made even better that this event has been celebrated at each of its centenaries.

The featured image on this post is from the first such centenary, and it’s hard to overemphasize how different the tone of this year’s events is from each of the previous four. Notice how Luther’s quill is quite literally splitting the papal lion through the ears. The artist clearly thought that this pen was mightier than the sword!

Detail from Anonymous 1617 Broadsheet commemorating the Reformation

There are many events happening across the world as we approach the end of October.  Those of you who are within driving distance of Minneapolis or Collegeville might want to stop in for what promises to be a truly engaging discussion – starting tonight!

For those of you who, like me, are farther from Minnesota, you will be able to tune in right here for another way to commemorate this anniversary. Over the next couple months, I’ll be penning entries for Pray Tell that engage with one of the theological responses to the anniversary, the Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist. This document was the product of the US Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, and a pdf is available on the US Bishops’ website.

I’ve chosen to write about the US document, and not the International Dialogue’s response to the anniversary for a couple of reasons.  First, the international document From Conflict to Communion has gotten quite a lot of attention in the last year. Second, I think that the narrower emphasis of the Declaration on the Way (DW) might be more helpful to the Pray Tell readership. DW focuses on three major theological areas in which ecumenical progress has been made, but in which we have not yet reached the kind of consensus that we have on Justification. These are: church, ministry, and eucharist, and each should be of interest to readers of a blog devoted to liturgical concerns!

So, here’s what you can expect: Next week I’ll post an introduction to the document overall. After that, I’ll write at least one post on each of the content areas of DW, and I’ll end the series with a post about the ecumenical importance of the DW and some thoughts on where the ecumenical conversation seems to be heading.

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to take a look around at what events are happening in your area. This 500th anniversary is the first centenary of the Reformation that Protestants and Catholics have commemorated together — and that is itself worth a celebration!


  1. I must be obtuse, because I don’t understand why an event that drew countless millions over centuries away from the the Eucharist, away from the apostolic succession of Peter, is to be celebrated. Acknowledged-yes, studied-sure, mourned-perhaps, but celebrated?

    1. “The ecumenical movement has altered the orientation of the churches’ perceptions of the Reformation: ecumenical theologians have decided not to pursue their confessional self-assertions at the expense of their dialogue partners but rather to search for that which is common within the differences, even within the oppositions, and thus work toward overcoming church-dividing differences.” From Conflict to Communion

      This document, from the International Dialogue, is largely an answer to your question. People are talking to discern what is good and worth celebrating in each other’s histories. This, more than faultfinding of the past, is seen as a way to clear our own eyes so we will see Christ more clearly.

    2. Chip, I think that we and they celebrate all the good things that happened on the Lutheran and Protestant side in the 16th century. And all sides mourn the bad things that happened (and happened on both sides – remember, Vatican II teaches that there were mistakes on both sides.)

      You probably already know this, but we Catholics don’t believe that we are simply split from Protestants and they are separated from the succession of Peter. We also believe that we are already in a real but imperfect communion with them through baptism. (See Vatican II on this.)

      There is obviously some real overlap between what Luther and the reformers did and what Vatican II did. Ergo, any Catholic who believes in and celebrates Vatican II can celebrate all the Vatican II-like things Protestants did in the 16th century.

      The main point – see the recent Vatican documents including joint docs with Protestants – is that we’re not two sides opposed with each other and trying to prove each other wrong. We’re all on the same side in Christ, as we work to learn from each other, grow closer together, celebrate all the unity we already have, and purify ourselves on all sides so that we’ll have the unity the Lord wills for us.

      I hope this helps.

      Fr. Anthony

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