Contemporary Perspective: Viewing the Reformation through the lens of modern culture, religion and politics
(SNR) - The Diocese of Lincoln’s Office of Evangelization presented a five-part series about the Reformation during “coffee house” events at Gianna’s Java & Gelato in Lincoln.
October 17, 2017 was marked as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. As the Protestant population within the diocesan boundary is more than six times the Catholic population, the series was held to equip Catholics with a thorough understanding of the Catholic perspective on the Reformation.
The speakers prepared short recaps of their talks for the Register. The full videos of each talk is available online in the video gallery.
By Bud Marr
At the beginning of his Essay on the Development of Doctrine, John Henry Newman famously remarked that “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” In Newman’s view, the deeper that one delved into Church history, the more likely that one would be disabused of any attachment to Protestantism. For him, “the utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity [was] a plain fact.” These are strong words, and not likely to serve as the motto for ecumenical gatherings in our own day, but Newman was never one to pull punches. By throwing down the gauntlet in this way, he clearly marked out what was at stake in the divisions between Catholic and Protestants.
Newman himself was an expert in Patristic theology, and it’s clear from the broader context of these remarks that he primarily had in mind early Christian history. However, his argument applies not only to the Patristic era or to the Medieval era, but to the study of the Reformation period as well. “To be deep in Reformation history is to cease to be Protestant.” Careful historical analysis can help us to see how Protestant theology, from its very inception, represented a rupture with received Catholic tradition. Furthermore, the break that Protestant theologians made with that tradition continues to impact our lives today—both our lives as Christians and as citizens living in an increasingly secular society.
In his magisterial volume, The Unintended Reformation, Brad Gregory of Notre Dame carefully traces out the long-term impact of the Protestant Reformation, showing how this movement came to influence the practice of the faith for millions of Christians in ways that were not foreseen by its standard bearers. Three of the most significant unintended consequences were the injection of private judgment into the discipline of biblical interpretation, the fracturing of a unified moral outlook, and the diminishment of a sacramental understanding of God’s activity in the world. As these developments have accelerated, we increasingly find ourselves in a society that celebrates individualism, that lacks any sort of shared moral convictions, and that views the world in a mechanistic fashion devoid of the Divine Presence and, thus, without grace.
Recognizing the connection between these developments and Protestantism should not lead to triumphalism or finger-pointing on the part of Catholics—not only because these responses are at odds with living the Gospel, but also because in our own day we, as Catholics, have too often been lukewarm in the face of similar threats to our faith. We, too, are susceptible to reading the Bible in idiosyncratic ways, to ignoring the voice of Holy Mother Church when it comes to morality, and to living our lives as if God does not exist. Studying the history of the Protestant Reformation, then, is not meant as a way to assert our superiority over other Christians. Rather, through such study, we seek to live more faithfully, learning from the mistakes of previous generations, so that we can attain closer adherence to the entirety of the Catholic faith.
View this talk on YouTube or listen to the podcast.