“Not Up for Discussion – the effect of the Reformation on the culture of debate within the church(es)”, With 1 Comments, Category: Church News, Church Reform, Ecumenism, Latest News,
Dr Sabine Schratz OP delivered a wonderful, insightful talk on the wide-ranging effects of the Reformation 500 years ago on the lives of billions of people since then.
Luther’s famous 95 theses nailed to the church doors in Wittenberg set a storm of reaction in motion that he had never intended. What he rightly expected was a learned theological disputation, instead he experienced excommunication, kidnapping and leadership of a break-away church.
Henceforth, Western Christendom and with it the emerging states were divided. Dissidents suffered persecution, expulsion, social exclusion or even death. Wars between the states, hitherto unparalleled in their cruelty, followed. The 30 Years War signaled both the end of an era and the beginning of a new foundation for society: revealed religion had lost its credibility, new cohesion was to be found in reason. The era of Enlightenment had dawned.
Within the churches, the prevalent culture became closed to discussion, fearful, authoritarian and suspicious of the other. Each church defined itself over against the
other in terms of beliefs, liturgy, conduct, morality and social engagement. Anathemas, catechisms, the censorship of books were outward instruments of churches preserving their orthodoxy and controlling their flocks. Easy for us to condemn censorship of the printed word at that time. However, the use of the Internet for criminal purposes, for pornography and for undermining our democratic institutions makes us aware that even today some form of patrolling and enforcing media ethics is necessary.
A question for today is how to regain the “medieval” culture of debate and healthy disputation. Happily, there are many hopeful signs. One example is the recent “Katholikentag” in Germany. 70.000 Catholics, including members of the hierarchy and high-ranking politicians, met to discuss current issues in church and society, not omitting controversial topi
cs such as lay participation, the role of women and the question of LGBT rights. Dr Schratz suggested that a member of WAC Germany be invited to talk about the state of discussion there.
Perhaps the recent pointer offered by Pope Francis has something to teach us. On the controversy of allowing Protestant spouses of Catholic couples to receive communion, the Pope declined to give a clear directive to the German bishops. Instead, he called the conflicting parties to Rome to meet with the relevant dicasteries. The bishops were then sent home to find a solution as “unanimous as possible.” In this regard, the words of Timothy Radcliffe OP may be prophetic: “It is the task of our guardians of orthodoxy to ensure that panic never suppresses reflection, to have the courage to stop premature condemnations, to ensure that we take the time we need.” Could it be that Pope Francis is remodeling the way church unity might be best preserved by making the curia facilitators of dialogue?
Dr Sabine Schratz OP is the director of Lumen Dominican Centre, Blackrock, Co. Dublin (www.lumenop.ie).
15 May 2018
 Timothy Radcliffe OP, What Is the Point of Being A Christian? London : Continuum, 2005, p. 189.