From Conflict to Communion – Including Common Prayer -  - ebook

From Conflict to Communion – Including Common Prayer ebook



[Vom Konflikt zur Gemeinschaft. Erweitert um den Ökumenischen Gottesdienst zum gemeinsamen Reformationsgedenken 2017] Im Jahr 2017 werden Katholiken und Lutheraner gemeinsam auf die Ereignisse der Reformation vor 500 Jahren zurückblicken. Zugleich werden sie 50 Jahre offiziellen ökumenischen Dialog auf weltweiter Ebene bedenken. In dieser Zeit ist ihre neu gewonnene Gemeinschaft weiter gewachsen. Das ermutigt Lutheraner und Katholiken, ihr gemeinsames Zeugnis für das Evangelium von Jesus Christus, der das Zentrum ihres gemeinsamen Glaubens ist, miteinander zu feiern. Jedoch werden sie bei dieser Feier auch Anlass haben, das Leid, das durch die Spaltung der Kirche verursacht wurde, wahrzunehmen und selbstkritisch auf sich zu schauen, nicht nur im Blick auf die Geschichte, sondern auch angesichts der heutigen Realitäten. "Vom Konflikt zur Gemeinschaft" entwickelt eine Grundlage für ein ökumenisches Gedenken, das sich deutlich von früheren Jahrhundertfeiern unterscheidet. Die Lutherisch/Römisch-katholische Kommission für die Einheit lädt alle Christen ein, diesen Bericht aufgeschlossen, aber auch kritisch zu prüfen und auf dem Weg zur vollen, sichtbaren Einheit der Kirche weiterzugehen. In 2017, Catholics and Lutherans will jointly look back on events of the Reformation 500 years ago. At the same time, they will also reflect on 50 years of official ecumenical dialogue on the worldwide level. During this time, the communion they share anew has continued to grow. This encourages Lutherans and Catholics to celebrate together the common witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the center of their common faith. Yet, amidst this celebration, they will also have reason to experience the suffering caused by the division of the Church, and to look self-critically at themselves, not only throughout history, but also through today's realities. "From Conflict to Communion" develops a basis for an ecumenical commemoration that stands in contrast to earlier centenaries. The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity invites all Christians to study its report both open-mindedly and critically, and to walk along the path towards the full, visible unity of the Church. This editition is Including Common Prayer.

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Bibliographic information published by the German National Library

The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at

4th, revised and expanded edition 2016

© 2013 by Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH · Leipzig

and Bonifatius GmbH Druck – Buch – Verlag Paderborn

This work, including all of its parts, is protected by copyright.

Any use beyond the strict limits of copyright law without the permission of the publishing house, the LWF or PCPCU is strictly prohibited and punishable by law.

Cover: Kai-Michael Gustmann, Leipzig

Typesetting and Inside Layout: Steffi Glauche, Leipzig

E-Book: Zeilenwert GmbH 2016

ISBN Epub 978-3-374-04947-9

ISBN Mobi 978-3-374-04948-6

ISBN 978-3-374-04569-3

ISBN 978-3-89710-674-1






Introduction (1–3)


The character of previous commemorations

The first ecumenical commemoration

Commemoration in a new global and secular context

New challenges for the 2017 commemoration


Contributions of research on the Middle Ages

Twentieth-century Catholic research on Luther

Ecumenical projects preparing the way for consensus

The importance of ecumenical dialogues


What does reformation mean?

Reformation flashpoint: controversy over indulgences

Luther on trial

Failed encounters

The condemnation of Martin Luther

The authority of Scripture

Luther in Worms

Beginnings of the Reformation movement

Need for oversight

Bringing the Scripture to the people

Theological attempts to overcome the religious conflict


Structure of this chapter

Martin Luthers’s medieval heritage

Monastic and mystical theology




Scripture and tradition

Looking ahead: The gospel and the church

Towards consensus


Baptism: The basis for unity and common commemoration




Common Statements of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity

Phase I (1967–1972)

Phase II (1973–1984)

Phase III (1986–1993)

Phase IV (1995–2006)

Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity

Introduction to the Common Prayer for the Ecumenical Commemoration

Common Prayer

More books



Martin Luther’s struggle with God drove and defined his whole life. The question, How can I find a gracious God? plagued him constantly. He found the gracious God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. »True theology and the knowledge of God are in the crucified Christ« (Heidelberg Disputation).

In 2017, Catholic and Lutheran Christians will most fittingly look back on events that occurred 500 years earlier by putting the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center. The gospel should be celebrated and communicated to the people of our time so that the world may believe that God gives Himself to human beings and calls us into communion with Himself and His church. Herein lies the basis for our joy in our common faith.

To this joy also belongs a discerning, self-critical look at ourselves, not only in our history, but also today. We Christians have certainly not always been faithful to the gospel; all too often we have conformed ourselves to the thought and behavioral patterns of the surrounding world. Repeatedly, we have stood in the way of the good news of the mercy of God.

Both as individuals and as a community of believers, we all constantly require repentance and reform – encouraged and led by the Holy Spirit. »When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ›Repent, ‹ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.« Thus reads the opening statement of Luther’s 95 Theses from 1517, which triggered the Reformation movement.

Although this thesis is anything but self-evident today, we Lutheran and Catholic Christians want to take it seriously by directing our critical glance first at ourselves and not at each other. We take as our guiding rule the doctrine of justification, which expresses the message of the gospel and therefore »constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ« (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification).

The true unity of the church can only exist as unity in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that the struggle for this truth in the sixteenth century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history. In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church. This commemorative year presents us with two challenges: the purification and healing of memories, and the restoration of Christian unity in accordance with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:4–6).

The following text describes a way »from conflict to communion« – a way whose goal we have not yet reached. Nevertheless, the Lutheran – Roman Catholic Commission on Unity has taken seriously the words of Pope John XXIII, »The things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.«

We invite all Christians to study the report of our Commission both openmindedly and critically, and to come with us along the way to a deeper communion of all Christians.

Karlheinz Diez

Auxiliary Bishop of Fulda

(on behalf of the Catholic co-chair)

Eero Huovinen

Bishop Emeritus of Helsinki

Lutheran co-chair


1. In 2017, Lutheran and Catholic Christians will commemorate together the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Lutherans and Catholics today enjoy a growth in mutual understanding, cooperation, and respect. They have come to acknowledge that more unites than divides them: above all, common faith in the Triune God and the revelation in Jesus Christ, as well as recognition of the basic truths of the doctrine of justification.

2. Already the 450th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 1980 offered both Lutherans and Catholics the opportunity to develop a common understanding of the foundational truths of the faith by pointing to Jesus Christ as the living center of our Christian faith.1 On the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth in 1983, the international dialogue between Roman Catholics and Lutherans jointly affirmed a number of Luther’s essential concerns. The Commission’s report designated him »Witness to Jesus Christ« and declared, »Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, cannot disregard the person and the message of this man.«2

3. The upcoming year of 2017 challenges Catholics and Lutherans to discuss in dialogue the issues and consequences of the Wittenberg Reformation, which centered on the person and thought of Martin Luther, and to develop perspectives for the remembrance and appropriation of the Reformation today. Luther’s reforming agenda poses a spiritual and theological challenge for both contemporary Catholics and Lutherans.



4. Every commemoration has its own context. Today, the context includes three main challenges, which present both opportunities and obligations: (1) It is the first commemoration to take place during the ecumenical age. Therefore, the common commemoration is an occasion to deepen communion between Catholics and Lutherans. (2) It is the first commemoration in the age of globalization. Therefore, the common commemoration must incorporate the experiences and perspectives of Christians from South and North, East and West. (3) It is the first commemoration that must deal with the necessity of a new evangelization in a time marked by both the proliferation of new religious movements and, at the same time, the growth of secularization in many places. Therefore, the common commemoration has the opportunity and obligation to be a common witness of faith.


5. Relatively early, 31 October 1517 became a symbol of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Still today, many Lutheran churches remember each year on 31 October the event known as »the Reformation.« The centennial celebrations of the Reformation have been lavish and festive. The opposing viewpoints of the different confessional groups have been especially visible at these events. For Lutherans, these commemorative days and centennials were occasions for telling once again the story of the beginning of the characteristic – »evangelical« – form of their church in order to justify their distinctive existence. This was naturally tied to a critique of the Roman Catholic Church. On the other side, Catholics took such commemorative events as opportunities to accuse Lutherans of an unjustifiable division from the true church and a rejection of the gospel of Christ.

6. Political and church-political agendas frequently shaped these earlier centenary commemorations. In 1617, for example, the observance of the 100th anniversary helped to stabilize and revitalize the common Reformation identity of Lutherans and Reformed at their joint commemorative celebrations. Lutherans and Reformed demonstrated their solidarity through strong polemics against the Roman Catholic Church. Together they celebrated Luther as the liberator from the Roman yoke. Much later, in 1917, amidst the First World War, Luther was portrayed as a German national hero.


7. The year 2017 will see the first centennial commemoration of the Reformation to take place during the ecumenical age. It will also mark fifty years of Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. As part of the ecumenical movement, praying together, worshipping together, and serving their communities together have enriched Catholics and Lutherans. They also face political, social, and economic challenges together. The spirituality evident in interconfessional marriages has brought forth new insights and questions. Lutherans and Catholics have been able to reinterpret their theological traditions and practices, recognizing the influences they have had on each other. Therefore, they long to commemorate 2017 together.

8. These changes demand a new approach. It is no longer adequate simply to repeat earlier accounts of the Reformation period, which presented Lutheran and Catholic perspectives separately and often in opposition to one another. Historical remembrance always selects from among a great abundance of historical moments and assimilates the selected elements into a meaningful whole. Because these accounts of the past were mostly oppositional, they not infrequently intensified the conflict between the confessions and sometimes led to open hostility.

9. The historical remembrance has had material consequences for the relationship of the confessions to each other. For this reason, a common ecumenical remembrance of the Lutheran Reformation is both so important and at the same time so difficult. Even today, many Catholics associate the word »Reformation« first of all with the division of the church, while many Lutheran Christians associate the word »Reformation« chiefly with the rediscovery of the gospel, certainty of faith and freedom. It will be necessary to take both points of departure seriously in order to relate the two perspectives to each other and bring them into dialogue.


10. In the last century, Christianity has become increasingly global. There are today Christians of various confessions throughout the whole world; the number of Christians in the South is growing, while the number of Christians in the North is shrinking. The churches of the South are continually assuming a greater importance within worldwide Christianity. These churches do not easily see the confessional conflicts of the sixteenth century as their own conflicts, even if they are connected to the churches of Europe and North America through various Christian world communions and share with them a common doctrinal basis. With regard to the year 2017, it will be very important to take seriously the contributions, questions, and perspectives of these churches.

11. In lands where Christianity has already been at home for many centuries, many people have left the churches in recent times or have forgotten their ecclesial traditions. In these traditions, churches have handed on from generation to generation what they had received from their encounter with the Holy Scripture: an understanding of God, humanity, and the world in response to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ; the wisdom developed over the course of generations from the experience of lifelong engagement of Christians with God; and the treasury of liturgical forms, hymns and prayers, catechetical practices, and diaconal services. As a result of this forgetting, much of what divided the church in the past is virtually unknown today.

12. Ecumenism, however, cannot base itself on forgetfulness of tradition. But how, then, will the history of the Reformation be remembered in 2017? What of that which the two confessions fought over in the sixteenth century deserves to be preserved? Our fathers and mothers in the faith were convinced that there was something worth fighting for, something that was necessary for a life with God. How can the often forgotten traditions be handed on to our contemporaries so as not to remain objects of antiquarian interest only, but rather support a vibrant Christian existence? How can the traditions be passed on in such a way that they do not dig new trenches between Christians of different confessions?


13. Over the centuries, church and culture often have been interwoven in the most intimate way possible. Much that has belonged to the life of the church has, over the course of centuries, also found a place in the cultures of those countries and plays a role in them even to this day, even at times independently of the churches. The preparations for 2017 will need to identify these various elements of the tradition now present in the culture, to interpret them, and to lead a conversation between church and culture in light of these different aspects.

14. For more than a hundred years, Pentecostal and other charismatic movements have become very widespread across the globe. These powerful movements have put forward new emphases that have made many of the old confessional controversies seem obsolete. The Pentecostal movement is present in many other churches in the form of the charismatic movement, creating new commonalities and communities across confessional boundaries. Thus, this movement opens up new ecumenical opportunities while, at the same time, creating additional challenges that will play a significant role in the observance of the Reformation in 2017.

15. While the previous Reformation anniversaries took place in confessionally homogenous lands, or lands at least where a majority of the population was Christian, today Christians live worldwide in multireligious environments. This pluralism poses a new challenge for ecumenism, making ecumenism not superfluous but, on the contrary, all the more urgent, since the animosity of confessional oppositions harms Christian credibility. How Christians deal with differences among themselves can reveal something about their faith to people of other religions. Because the question of how to handle inner-Christian conflict is especially acute on the occasion of remembering the beginning of the Reformation, this aspect of the changed situation deserves special attention in our reflections on the year 2017.



16. What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change. Remembrance makes the past present. While the past itself is unalterable, the presence of the past in the present is alterable. In view of 2017, the point is not to tell a different history, but to tell that history differently.

17. Lutherans and Catholics have many reasons to retell their history in new ways. They have been brought closer together through family relations, through their service to the larger world mission, and through their common resistance to tyrannies in many places. These deepened contacts have changed mutual perceptions, bringing new urgency for ecumenical dialogue and further research. 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 churchdividing differences.


18. Research has contributed much to changing the perception of the past in a number of ways. In the case of the Reformation, these include the Protestant as well as the Catholic accounts of church history, which have been able to correct previous confessional depictions of history through strict methodological guidelines and reflection on the conditions of their own points of view and presuppositions. On the Catholic side that applies especially to the newer research on Luther and Reformation and, on the Protestant side, to an altered picture of medieval theology and to a broader and more differentiated treatment of the late Middle Ages. In current depictions of the Reformation period, there is also new attention to a vast number of non-theological factors – political, economic, social, and cultural. The paradigm of »confessionalization« has made important corrections to the previous historiography of the period.

19. The late Middle Ages are no longer seen as total darkness, as often portrayed by Protestants, nor are they perceived as entirely light, as in older Catholic depictions. This age appears today as a time of great oppositions – of external piety and deep interiority; of works-oriented theology in the sense of do ut des (»I give you so that you give me«) and conviction of one’s total dependence on the grace of God; of indifference toward religious obligations, even the obligations of office, and serious reforms, as in some of the monastic orders.

20. The church was anything but a monolithic entity; the corpus christianum encompassed very diverse theologies, lifestyles, and conceptions of the church. Historians say that the fifteenth century was an especially pious time in the church. During this period, more and more lay people received a good education and so were eager to hear better preaching and a theology that would help them to lead Christian lives. Luther picked up on such streams of theology and piety and developed them further.


21. Twentieth-century Catholic research on Luther built upon a Catholic interest in Reformation history that awakened in the second half of the nineteenth century. These theologians followed the efforts of the Catholic population in the Protestant-dominated German empire to free themselves from a one-sided, anti-Roman, Protestant historiography. The breakthrough for Catholic scholarship came with the thesis that Luther overcame within himself a Catholicism that was not fully Catholic. According to this view, the life and teaching of the church in the late Middle Ages served mainly as a negative foil for the Reformation; the crisis in Catholicism made Luther’s religious protest quite convincing to some.

22. In a new way, Luther was portrayed as an earnest religious person and conscientious man of prayer. Painstaking and detailed historical research has demonstrated that Catholic literature on Luther over the previous four centuries right up through modernity had been significantly shaped by the commentaries of Johannes Cochaleus, a contemporary opponent of Luther and advisor to Duke George of Saxony. Cochaleus had characterized Luther as an apostatized monk, a destroyer of Christendom, a corrupter of morals, and a heretic. The achievement of this first period of critical, but sympathetic, engagement with Luther’s character was the freeing of Catholic research from the onesided approach of such polemical works on Luther. Sober historical analyses by other Catholic theologians showed that it was not the core concerns of the Reformation, such as the doctrine of justification, which led to the division of the church but, rather, Luther’s criticisms of the condition of the church at his time that sprang from these concerns.