The Reformation took place 500 years ago. A milestone being ‘celebrated’ at present throughout the protestant world. But what is there to celebrate about a formal act of schism ? What precisely do we cheer regarding a breaking apart of the body of Christ? Not least when Jesus prayed that we ‘would be one.’ I don’t get it.
The reality is that the reformation divide dealt a blow to Christian authority and unity in the West. A problem still working itself out within the Catholic church and without. Where Christendom once spoke with a single voice now it can only now babble via conflicting opinions and competing theologies. Little wonder the Western world eventually abandoned faith altogether; secularism was the inevitable fruit of the chaos and confusion now presented to the world.
Doubtless the “celebrations” will bypass uncomfortable truth such as this. Ours is, after all, an ecclesial generation- across reformation divide- hungering for comfort more than honesty and sentiment more than reason.
And doubtless old protestant rhetoric will resurface to justify celebration. We shall hear how brave Fr. Luther liberated an oppressed people by handing them scriptures the nasty Catholics withheld. A fantasy with no credible historic basis given that most could not read and hand written books were beyond the budget of normative families, It was the invention of the printing press, coinciding with the reformation, which changed the method in which scriptures were imparted. Just one example of how truth can take a back seat when schism is being justified.
Not that Protestant outrage was unjustified. Vatican corruption at the time was ghastly. It warranted rebellion. It is only a shame reform was saught without not within. That in creating a competing body integrity was further lost not gained. Luther and Pope Alexander and Henry VIII should have had heads banged together that wiser voices might win out. So the Catholic church bears much responsibility for what transpired. Disunity and fracture occur when doctrine and praxis are compromised. But that doesn’t mean we can celebrate.
And what to make of Catholic bishops and priests accepting invitations to join these dubious celebrations? Why do some Catholic clergy delight in celebrating the reformation itself, smiling alongside Anglican counterparts, even as they refuse to support and/or encourage an actualised act of unity- the Ordinariate? It is bewildering and I can only some prefer the thought of unity to its reality? They talk the talk but draw the line at walking the walk. You tell me?
Alas it seems many Catholics today have subconsciously sold out to the protestant mindset. To acceptance of division as healthy and inevitable. A papal methodism emerges in which an ecumenism of gesture trumps meaningful unity of truth. Smile with your Anglican counterpart and hope the sandwich supper and watered down liturgy can heal reformation divide. Then retreat back to your separated body no different than before. Yes I know the ARCIC wheel goes round again, a new topic discussed, a statement issued; but nobody actually imagines an end game. Don’t panic. The unity expressed is theoretical not actual. Stay comfy- no change needed.
Meanwhile the Ordinariate- totally ignored amidst the celebrations- is centred on a different model. The brain child of Pope Benedict XVI; it is the bringing together of Anglican and Catholic into a new expression of unity. An actualised lived out ecumenism. Anglican patrimony preserved but one faith proclaimed. And since its inception is has both challenged and inspired. Not being as comfy as gesture ecumenism it inevitably enrages those who only want the smiley photograph. Yet it also gathers together those truly working for reconciliation within one body. Hence, in just a few years, it has achieved more unity than all ARCIC talks combined. Speaking of which- why isn’t our Ordinary on the ARCIC committee? What sense in that besides a refusal to engage with the new model of ecumenism the Ordinariate brings?
Lets not be too harsh here. Of course we must celebrate what old ecumenism achieved. Must applaud the friendship and warmth that has grown up since Vatican II when so many believed unity was just around the corner. And we must celebrate the gifts of protestant theologians and evangelists the world over. So lets cut the bishops some slack- doubtless that is why they attend. They are being polite and extending the hand of friendship and love. But not- please- via any celebration of the reformation divide itself! That event, on both sides of the Tiber, should only be met with sackcloth and ash, repentance and sorrow and a realisation of the damage caused when we go it alone as Christians and pledge to work apart.
So pray for unity. Pray for realised action over empty gesture. Pray that the new model of receptive ecumenism, launched by Pope Benedict, and lived out by those of us in the Ordinariate, with little support from certain quarters, might be better understood and embraced. For we really must unite as Christians not ludicrously celebrate the very schism that caused our deep divisions.