Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > R-RC > Final Report | CONT. > Ch. 1
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Toward a Reconciliation of Memories - Ch. 1
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1.1. Whence Have We Come?

  1. Whence have our communions come? What paths have they followed - together and apart, interacting, reacting, and going their separate ways - over 450 years to reach where they are today? This first chapter consists of accounts, written with consultation by each delegation, of our respective histories in relation to one another, as we see them now after five years of annual dialogues.

  2. Today, in the late twentieth century, our churches are not the same dialogue partners they were even a generation ago, let alone in the sixteenth century. In the past, we tended to read our histories both selectively and polemically. To some extent, we still do. We see the events through which we have lived through confessionally biased eyes The present reality of our churches is explained and justified by these readings of the past. Yet we are beginning to be able to transcend these limitations (a) by our common use of the results of objective scholarly inquiry and (b) by the dialogue our churches have had with each other in this consultation and elsewhere.

  3. Historical scholarship today has not only produced fresh evidence concerning our respective roles in the Reformation and its aftermath. It also brings us together in broad agreement about sources, methods of inquiry and warrants for drawing conclusions. A new measure of objectivity has become possible. If we still inevitably interpret and select, at least we are aware that we do, and what that fact means as we strive for greater objectivity and more balanced judgement.

  4. The method used in our present dialogue has also deepened our shared historical understanding. We first drafted our respective parts of this chapter separately. Reading and reviewing these drafts together we learned from each other and modified what we had written. We were reminded that over the centuries our forbears had often misunderstood each other's motives and language. We learned that our histories were sometimes a matter of action and reaction, but that at other times we followed separate paths. We occasionally heard each other speak vehemently and felt some of the passions that dictated the course of historical events and still in some ways drive us today.

  5. All this has contributed to a certain reassessment of the past. We have begun to dissolve myths about each other, to clear away misunderstandings. We must go on from here, as our conclusion shows, to a reconciliation of memories, in which we will begin to share one sense of the past rather than two.

1.2. Whence Have We Come?

    1.2.1. The Ecclesiological Concerns of the Reformers

  1. The sixteenth-century Reformation was a response to a widespread demand for a general renewal of Church and society. This demand had begun to be heard long before: it grew more insistent in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, led to the emergence of reformed communities such as the earlier Waldensians and the Hussites, and was addressed by several Church councils. In the sixteenth century it resulted in the establishment of the major Protestant churches in various parts of Europe. Thus the unity of the medieval Western Church was shattered not only by the separation between the Protestant Churches and the See of Rome, but also by the fact that the Reformation consisted of several reforming movements occurring at different times and places, often in conflict with one another, and leading to the different communions and confessional groups we know today.

  2. Although the Reformed Churches came to form a movement distinct from the Lutheran Reformation in Germany, they shared the same fundamental concerns: to affirm the sole headship of Jesus Christ over the Church; to hear and proclaim the message of the Gospel as the one Word of God which alone brings authentic faith into being; to re-order the life, practice and institutions of the Church in conformity with the Word of God revealed in Scripture. In all this there was no intention of setting up a "new" Church: the aim was to re-form the Church in obedience to God's will revealed in his Word, to restore "the true face of the Church" and, as a necessary part of this process, to depart from ecclesiastical teachings, institutions, and practices which were held to have distorted the message of the Gospel and obscured the proper nature and calling of the Church. For many complex reasons, there resulted new forms of Church organization with far-reaching social, political and economic ramifications - forms determined on the one hand by the fresh vision of the Church's calling and commission, and on the other hand by rejection of a great deal that had developed in the previous centuries.

  3. Among the chief affirmations of early Reformed ecclesiology were:
    — The unity and universality of the one true Church, to which those belong whom God has called or will call in Jesus Christ;

    — The authority of Jesus Christ governing the Church through the Word in the power of his Spirit;

    — The identification of an authentic "visible Church" by reference to the true preaching of the Word and the right administration of the two dominical sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper;

    — The importance of a proper Church order, central to which was the office of the ministry of Word and Sacrament and, alongside it, the oversight exercised by elders sharing with the ministers of the Word in governing the affairs of the Church.
  4. As a consequence of these affirmations the Reformers rejected all in the life of the Church which, in their understanding, obscured the unique mediatorship of Jesus Christ and seemed to give to the Church an excessive role alongside him. The emphasis placed in the ensuing controversy on the authority of the Church and its hierarchy led them to question the value of episcopal succession as an expression of the continuity of the Church in the apostolic truth through the centuries. In particular, they rejected teachings such as the following:
    — The appeal to the Church's tradition as an authority equal to Scripture or belonging together with it;

    — The universal authority of the Pope;

    — The claim that Church Councils constitute an infallible teaching authority;

    — The canonical distinction between the office of a bishop and that of any other minister of the Word and Sacraments.

  5. 1.2.2. The Emergence and Spread of the Reformed Churches

  6. It is conceivable that many if not all of the Reformers' goals might have been realized without dividing the Western Church into different confessional traditions. Their aims and insights could perhaps eventually have been accepted by the entire Church and issued in a comprehensive, unified Reformation. In fact, this did not happen. The established leadership of the Western Church was not generally prepared to agree to the amendments of doctrine, Church order and practice which the Reformers sought. The Reformers for their part were convinced that nothing less than obedience to God and the truth of the Gospel was at stake, and interpreted resistance as unwillingness to undergo conversion and renewal. In addition, the process of reform proceeded at different paces and took different forms in different local and national settings. The result was division and much mutual exclusion even among the reformation churches.

  7. In this and in the subsequent development of the Reformed Churches such factors as geography, politics, social and cultural development played a considerable part. The Reformation took place in a period of radical intellectual, cultural and political upheaval which irreversibly altered the face of. Europe and paved the way for the emergence of the modern world. The nascent Reformed Churches of the sixteenth century both contributed to and were molded by these wider movements. The countries most profoundly influenced by Reformed theology were prominent among those in which, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for better or for worse, the seeds of modern democracy were fostered, new forms of economic order developed, autonomous natural science came to its first great flowering and the demand for religious tolerance became increasingly insistent. Where it became influential, the Reformed ethos stimulated commerce, challenged despotisms, encouraged parliamentary government and enhanced national consciousness.

  8. In these developments, however, the Reformed Churches showed that they could, in their own ways, fall victim to many of the same faults they criticized in the Roman Catholic Church. They became legitimators of sometimes oppressive political establishments, fell into clericalism, and grew intolerant of minority viewpoints. They were occasionally guilty of condemnations, burnings and banishment, for example in regard to the Anabaptists in Switzerland, acts in many cases typical of their times, but not to be excused on that account. The Reformed also sometimes lent themselves to various forms of national chauvinism; colonialism and racism. At times their criticisms of opponents (and especially of the papacy) grew intemperate even by the standards of an age given to vituperate language.

  9. It has been claimed that the heritage and influence of Reformed thought contributed significantly alongside that of Renaissance and later humanism to the shaping of modern Western culture. There is less agreement concerning the exact nature of this modernizing influence. It has been argued that in many respects the Reformation was more a medieval than a modern phenomenon, yet it set processes in motion that had far-reaching influence. Even the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century can properly be seen as owing much to these impulses, albeit in largely secularized form. So, too, can the rise of modern biblical criticism in the eighteenth century and its rapid development from the nineteenth onwards.

  10. The Reformed Churches themselves could not but be affected by all these direct and indirect outworkings of the Renaissance and the Reformation. It must be admitted that they have displayed -especially up to the middle of the nineteenth century, but on occasion also since then as well - a tendency to divide and subdivide on matters of theological or ecclesiological principle. Rationalism, in the guise of a tendency to frame theology in tightly deductive systems, exacerbated this tendency. At times, rationalism gave rise in some Reformed Churches to movements which even questioned such fundamental dogmatic convictions as the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ. Another source of diversity lay in varying conceptions of proper church order, e.g., whether the government of the Church should be synodal, congregational or episcopal.

  11. The family of Reformed Churches has continued to grow and spread up to the present. The expansion of the Reformed family is primarily due to the missionary movement of the last two centuries. In 1875, the Alliance of Reformed Churches was founded as a rallying point for the .worldwide Reformed and Presbyterian family. In 1970, it was widened to include the Congregational churches as well. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches counts today about 170 member churches. The majority of the member churches of the Alliance are to be found in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific. Moreover, the last century has witnessed major efforts towards reunion within the Reformed family, and since 1918 various Reformed Churches have entered transconfessional unions. Among the member churches of the Alliance there are today also some 16 united churches, from the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (1918) to the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom (1981). At the same time it has also become increasingly more aware of the challenge to search after a fuller ecumenical unity. It is mindful of the abiding heritage of the Reformation, but at the same time of the common calling of all Christians today to confess and hold aloft that to which all adhere and in which all believe, namely the Good News of Jesus Christ, "the one Word of God which we have to hear and obey in life and in death" (Theological Declaration of Barmen, 1934).

  12. In pursuing its theological task the World Alliance of Reformed Churches draws on the resources supplied by the rich tradition of Reformed theology through the centuries from Zwingli and Calvin and their contemporary Reformers to such figures of the recent past as Karl Barth, Josef Hromadka and Reinhold Niebuhr. It also stands in the heritage of witness reflected in the confessions of the Reformed churches from the 16th century onwards and seeks to continue that witness faithfully today. It does not do so, however, in the spirit of a narrow traditionalist Reformed confessionalism. Rather, it is open ecumenically and concerned to face contemporary and future social, cultural and ethical challenges. The contribution of Reformed theology to today's churches does not consist merely in the maintenance of theological traditions or in the preservation of ecclesiastical institutions for their own sake, but in being what Karl Barth called "the modest, free, critical and happy science" (Evangelical Theology, ch. 1), which enquires into the reality of God in relation to us human beings individually and in community in the light of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, ‘God with us'.

    1.2.3. Contemporary Reformed Attitudes Toward the Roman Catholic Church

  13. Before the Second Vatican Council, with notable exceptions, the general Reformed view was that the Roman Catholic Church had not faced the real challenge of the Reformation and remained essentially "unreformed." This conviction was reinforced in the modern era on the doctrinal level by the definitions of the dogmas of Papal infallibility (1870), the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary (1854) and her Bodily Assumption (1950). In practical terms, the same conviction grew from the experience of Reformed minorities in countries dominated by Roman Catholicism. Up to this day the memory of the persecution of Reformed minorities plays a significant role. The development of the two traditions largely in isolation - even when alongside each other in the same country - increased the inclination of Reformed Christians and churches to view the Roman Catholic Church in terms of its reaction against the Reformation, and reinforced negative attitudes toward Roman Catholic teaching, piety and practice.

  14. Signs of a change in perspective began to appear in the nineteenth century, but remained sporadic. Contacts increased and the desire for a new mutual understanding became more apparent in the twentieth century, not least as an offshoot of the active role played by many Reformed Churches from the beginnings of the ecumenical movement. But it is really only since the pontificate of John XXIII and the events surrounding the Second Vatican Council that a genuinely new atmosphere has developed between the Reformed and the Roman Catholic Churches. The presence of Reformed observers at the Council and an other occasions since, the experience of ecumenical contact, shared activity, worship and dialogue at many different levels from the local congregation to international commissions, and increasing cooperation and collaboration between Reformed and Roman Catholic scholars in work of exegetical, historical, systematic and practical theology - all this has helped to break down misunderstandings and caricatures of the present-day reality of the Roman Catholic Church. In particular, these developments have helped the Reformed to appreciate the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church has placed the Word of God at the center of its life, not least in modern liturgical reforms.

  15. In general it can be said today that a process of reassessment and re-evaluation of the Roman Catholic Church has been taking place among the Reformed Churches in the last decades, though not proceeding at the same pace everywhere. There are within the Reformed family those whose attitude to the Roman Catholic Church remains essentially negative: some because they remain to be convinced that the modern development of the Roman Catholic Church has really addressed the issues of the Reformation, and others because they have been largely untouched by the ecumenical exchanges of recent times and have therefore not been challenged or encouraged to reconsider their traditional stance. But this is only one part of the picture. Others in the Reformed tradition have sought to engage in a fresh constructive and critical evaluation both of the contemporary teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church and of the classical controverted issues.

  16. There is on the Reformed side an increasing sense that while the Reformation was at the time theologically and historically necessary, the division of the Western Church should not be accepted as the last word; that it is at best one-sided to read that history as if all the truth lay on the side of the Reformers and none at all on the side of their opponents and critics within the Roman Catholic camp; that there have been both in the more remote and more recent past many positive developments in the Roman Catholic Church itself; that the situation today presents new challenges for Christian witness and service which ought so far as possible to be answered together rather than in separation; and - perhaps most important of all - that Reformed Christians are called to search together with their Roman Catholic separated brothers and sisters for the unity which Christ wills for his Church, both in terms of contemporary witness and in terms of reconsidering traditional disagreements. Theological dialogue, joint working groups on doctrinal and ethical issues and programs of joint action undertaken by some Reformed Churches together with the Roman Catholic Church in recent years - all these reflect this new climate, witness to a new and more positive evaluation of the Roman Catholic Church as an ecumenical partner, and hold out hope of further increase in mutual understanding in the future.

  17. This is not to say that all problems between Reformed and Roman Catholic Churches have already been resolved; it is to say that a search for solutions is under way, and being undertaken together by both sides. One question requiring further consideration is whether our two traditions from their separation in the sixteenth century onwards need still to be seen as mutually exclusive. Or can they not rather be seen as reconcilable? Can we not look upon each other as partners in a search for full communion? In that search we may be led to discover complementary aspects in our two traditions, to combine appreciation for the questions and insights of the Reformers with recognition that the Reformed can also learn from the Roman Catholic Church, and to realize that Reformed and Roman Catholics need each other in their attempt to be more faithful to the Gospel. Those who have begun to think in this way are attempting to reconcile their heritage as heirs of the Reformation with their experience of fellowship with and learning from their sisters and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church. They are asking: Can our common faith set the questions which have divided and in part still divide us in a wider horizon of reconciliations?

1.3. A Roman Catholic Perspective

    1.3.1. Ecclesiological and Reforming Concerns of Roman Catholics at the Time of the Reformation

  1. What was the condition of the Western Church on the eve of the Reformation? Contemporaries found much to criticize. So have subsequent historians. Indeed, one of the most striking characteristics of the age was the vehemence of its rhetoric against certain abuses. Efforts were of course being made to change things for the better. Reform within the Catholic Church was undertaken in an urgent and more systematic way, however, only after the Council of Trent (1545-63) began to address it. But by that time the Protestant Reformation was already well established and underway.

  2. Especially denounced at that time were the venality and political and military involvements of some of the Popes and members of the Curia; the absence of bishops from their dioceses, their often ostentatious wealth and neglect of pastoral duties; the ignorance of many of the lower clergy; the often scandalous lives of clergy including bishops and certain popes, the disedifying rivalry among the religious orders; pastoral malpractice through misleading teaching about the efficacy of certain rites and rituals; the irrelevance and aridity of theological speculation in the universities and the presence of these same defects in the pulpit; the lack of any organized catechesis for the laity; a popular piety based to a large extent on superstitious practices. Judgement on the Church just before the Reformation has, therefore, been severe - and justly so.

  3. Efforts at reform remained sporadic, uncoordinated or confined to restricted segments of society. Among these efforts was the Observantist movement in the mendicant orders, which sought to restore the simplicity of their original inspiration. Furthermore a reform of the diocesan clergy in Spain was well under way by 1517. The Humanist movement encouraged a reform of theology and ministry that would depend more directly on biblical texts; it advocated a reform of education for both clergy and laity, and proposed an ideal of piety that insisted upon greater interiority and simplicity in religious practice. In the early stages of the Reformation the urgency of the situation was reflected also in the attempts of Pope Adrian VI (1522-23) to implement reform in the Curia and elsewhere. The very vehemence with which abuses were denounced in some sectors of Church and society indicates, moreover, a deepened religious sensitivity. In such a perspective the great leader of both the Reformation and the Catholic Reform must be seen as products of the concerns of the age into which they were born and, to that extent, in continuity with those concerns and, indeed, with each other.

  4. How, then, can we explain the resistance met by the proposals of reformers like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin? It is at this point that their discontinuity with previous efforts at reform emerges. While those earlier efforts concentrated on discipline, education, pastoral practice and similar matters, Luther addressed himself first and foremost to doctrine, as later did Zwingli and Calvin. Many people, and not only theologians, were taken by surprise and were unwilling to accept this sudden shift to reform of doctrine and especially Luther's emphasis on the doctrine of justification. They were shocked by the implication that the Church had for centuries been in error about the true meaning of the Gospel. Moreover, Luther's case was soon embroiled in a thicket of personal and theological rivalries and of imperial-papal politics, so that fair procedures and the serenity required for docility to the Spirit were tragically and almost irretrievably compromised at the opening moment. At practically that same moment a vituperative rhetoric from both sides began to dominate theological exchanges.

  5. In such an atmosphere the demands and proposals of the Reformers were often also misunderstood by Catholics, and then just as often distorted into caricatures. Direct access to their writings was at best piecemeal, at worst thought unnecessary. This meant that almost without exception the centrality and dramatically evangelical nature of the issue of justification for the Reformers was not grasped. Very few Catholics really understood that for the Reformers what was at stake was not simply this or that doctrine, practice or institution, but the very Gospel itself. Thus, for Catholics "reform" continued to be conceived in pre-Reformation terms as addressing disciplinary and pastoral issues in their established form. They understood their engagement with the Reformation as refuting its "doctrinal errors."

  6. In Catholic circles attention turned more or less immediately to ecclesiological issues. Up to the time of the Reformation, reflection on the Church had fallen into two main categories. The first consisted of polemical and apologetical works dealing with church order that arose out of conflicts between popes and either bishops or secular leaders. The argumentation was juridical and political. These works which provided a ready-made, though theologically and biblically inadequate, defence of certain church institutions, were then utilized against the Reformers.

  7. The second consisted of assumptions that were more properly theological in nature, but that had become embedded in writings and practice in a much less systematic way. These assumptions were, however, broadly operative in the minds of many persons and they must be taken into account if we are to understand Catholic resistance to the Reformation. Some of these assumptions and the conclusions drawn from them were as follows:

    — Christ founded the Church, establishing it on the Apostles who are the basis of the episcopal order of ministry and authority in the Church. In this order the bishop of Rome had more than primacy of honor, though the precise nature, extent and function of this primacy was much debated.
    Therefore the proposals of the Reformers concerning church order appeared to be an attack on the apostolic foundation of the Church.

    — Christ promised unity for the Church. Consensus in doctrine, extending through the ages, was a hallmark of the Spirit's work and a sign of Christ's unfailing presence in the Church.
    Therefore the turmoil accompanying the Reformation and the conflict among some of the
    Reformers themselves were taken as proof positive that the Spirit of God was not at work among them.

    — Although the Church lived under Scripture, the Church was chronologically prior to the writings of. the New Testament and had recognized since earliest times that it itself as a community, especially when assembled in Council, was the authoritative interpreter of the divine Word.
    In contrast, the Reformers seemed to arrogate to themselves the right to interpret Scripture in a way at variance with the continuing tradition of the community, and they did not seem to provide any warrant for their interpretation that was necessarily grounded in the community.

    — Bishops held primary responsibility for church polity.
    In contrast, Luther, Zwingli and the English reformers appeared to deliver the Church into the hands of secular princes and magistrates, thus threatening to reduce the Church to a mere instrument of secular politics.

    1.3.2. The Council of Trent and the Roman Catholic Reform

  8. Within only a few years after the beginning of the Reformation, the seriousness of the crisis had become apparent to many. Less apparent were the means to address it effectively. Particularly from Germany, however, there soon came the cry for a council. Pope Paul III convoked the Council of Trent in December 1945. By that time - a full generation after Luther's 95 Theses - positions had become so hardened and embittered that reconciliation was, humanly speaking, impossible. Responsibility for the long delay in convocation must be ascribed in part to the complex political situation and to the ambivalent or obstructionist attitudes of some Protestant leaders, but lies principally with the fearful, vacillating and self-serving policies of Pope Clement VII (1523-34). By the time Trent began its work Zwingli had died (1531), Luther had less than a year to live, and other Reformers (such as Calvin) were already utterly convinced that Rome was unwilling to undertake the profound reform they wanted.

  9. The Council of Trent was destined to last, with long periods of interruption, over eighteen years, finally concluding in December 1563. Attempts to have Protestants participate failed for a number of reasons, with the result that membership in the council was restricted to Catholics. This fact indicated that the religious divisions were already deep and widespread. In a situation like this, the course of the council almost perforce helped confirm and sharpen the divisions, just as the various Protestant Confessions of Faith had done and would continue to do.

  10. Trent addressed both doctrinal and disciplinary issues. Among its doctrinal decrees, the most fully discussed and the most earnestly researched was the Decree on Justification, approved in 1547. The complaint of Luther and others that the Church in its actual practice taught a Pelagian doctrine of justification was taken by the principal authors of the Decree with utmost seriousness. Every effort was made to avoid formulations that would fall into that heresy, yet considerable care was also exercised to insist on some measure of human responsibility, under grace, in the process of salvation. In its other doctrinal decrees, Trent gave an extraordinary amount of attention to the sacraments because they were perceived as falling under special attack.

  11. The Council of Trent was animated by the conviction that it had the special guidance of the Spirit, and it considered itself to be the special vehicle of the continuing action of Christ in the Church. Trent's explicit emphasis on the continuity of the Church in practice, doctrine and structure with the Apostolic Age was more pronounced than in any previous council. This emphasis prevented serious consideration of most of the changes the Reformers found to be required by their reading of the New Testament. At the council a certain reciprocity of Word and Church was taken for granted as given and witnessed in both the early and contemporary Church. The Council, unlike the Reformers, ascribed apostolic authority to certain traditions," although it refrained from providing a list of them.

  12. Trent was notably concerned not to condemn any doctrinal position held by "Catholic theologians," and, although it never mentioned a single Reformer by name, it condemned what it thought were Protestant errors. Its decrees must, therefore, be interpreted with great caution. For several reasons, including the wide range of opinions in the Council, Trent made practically no direct and explicit pronouncements about the ecclesiological disputes then raging. However, the very fact that the Council took place was itself an expression of the self-understanding of the Church.

  13. In its decrees "concerning reform," Trent articulated its presumptions in generally juridical terms. It meant these decrees, however, to serve better ministerial practice and more effective care of souls. In reaffirming traditional structures, Trent at the same time undertook a certain redefinition of some of them. Perhaps the most sweeping, though implicit, ecclesiological redefinition in the Council and during that era was that the Church was primarily a pastoral institution. Trent sought especially to direct bishops to a properly pastoral appreciation of their office. It assigned to them the preaching of the Word as their principal task, an assignment taken with the utmost seriousness by many post-Tridentine bishops, following the example set by Charles Borromeo and others.

  14. Although Trent had given the greatest importance to the responsibility of bishops to proclaim the Word of God (cf. Sessio XXIV, 11 Nov. 1563, can IV de Reformatione; COD (1973) p. 763), the doctrine of the sacrament of Order, promulgated a few months sooner in the same year, did not provide any place for the ministry of the Word, so much was the Council worried about defending the doctrine of sacraments (Sessio XXIII, 15 July 1563, De Ordine, COD (1973), pp. 742 ss.). This fact masks what was actually happening in Catholicism at the time and for several centuries thereafter. In fact, the ministry of the Word was vigorously pursued, not so much because of the criticism of the Reformers as because in this regard the same reforming ideals impelled both Protestants and Catholics, even though much Catholic preaching may not have been biblical in a sense that the Reformed could recognize.

  15. This development in the ministry of the Word illustrates the fact that Catholic Reform in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was much broader than the Council of Trent and cannot be simply equated with it. That Reform promoted, among many other things, a great flowering of spiritualities and cultivation of religious experience, a vast program of catechesis, extensive systems of schools for laity and clergy, as well as other new forms of ministry and evangelization. Impressive though the Reform was in so many ways, however, it was not without its failures and false steps. For in stance: many earlier abuses like the nepotistic practices of the papal court and the seignorial style of the episcopacy seemed little affected for the better; life various inquisitions had terribly deleterious effects resulting from repressive measures that included confiscation of goods, banishments and executions. The reading of the Bible in the vernacular, although not always forbidden to laity (contrary to that which is often asserted), was subject nevertheless to some extremely strict conditions which in practice discouraged the laity. Those who were educated were able to read in Latin, as did the clergy, but those who would read it in the vernacular were often considered suspect. Moreover, the doctrinal and disciplinary decrees of Trent itself often came to be interpreted with a rigor and a partisanship the council did not intend.

    1.3.3. From Trent to the Present

  16. Post-Tridentine partisanship was manifested in various ways, not the least of which was the manner of stressing divergent understandings of the Church. For example, when Roman Catholic apologists focused on the notes of the Church — one, holy, catholic and apostolic — Catholic positions were presented in ways intended to refute the ecclesiological claims of their Protestant contemporaries as well as to convey what Roman Catholics believed about the Church. Thus, in contrast to the diversity of Protestant movements, Roman Catholics were united in one, visible Church under the pope; where the Reformers championed justification by faith alone, Roman Catholics maintained also the role of good works in sanctification (in being made holy) and insisted on the grace conveyed by a worthy reception of the Sacraments; where the newly formed Protestant churches had broken with the apostolic succession of the universal Church, the Roman Catholic Church had retained the threefold apostolic ministry of episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate; where the Reformers relied on their individual interpretation of Scripture, Roman Catholics claimed to preserve the entirety of catholic doctrine transmitted from Christ through the ages.

  17. Such one-sided argumentation (which has generally been abandoned by Roman Catholic theologians since Vatican II) was apologetically successful - if not in convincing Protestants - at least in assuring Roman Catholics that theirs was the one and only true Church of Jesus Christ. Moreover, post-Tridentine apologetics capitalized on the divisiveness within Protestantism in contrast to the organic unity of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, Post-Tridentine Catholicism became ever more juridical in its approach to a wide range of issues and ecclesiology increasingly institution oriented and papally centered.

  18. This "pyramidal" ecclesiology, which emerged in the context of rising nationalism, received considerable reinforcement in the nineteenth century when both the spiritual prerogatives and the political power of papacy were subject to repeated attacks. Many ecclesiologists hastened to defend both the spiritual independence and the doctrinal authority of the popes. Simultaneously, on the popular level, the pope was considered the symbol of Roman Catholic unity, his slightest command a matter of unquestioning obedience. In the eyes of many, both within and outside the Roman Catholic Church, papal centrism appeared to have been absolutized by the First Vatican Council's teaching on the "Primacy and Infallible Teaching Authority of the Roman Pontiff." Due to the adjournment of the Council shortly after this definition, Vatican I did not have sufficient opportunity to take up the broader ecclesiological issues in the schema De Ecclesia that was proposed for consideration, but never adopted.

  19. In fact, the teaching of the First Vatican Council in this regard is much more nuanced than either its ultramontane proponents or its anti-papal opponents seem to have realized. For example, Vatican I did not teach that "the pope is infallible" - as is popularly imagined. Rather it taught that the pope can, under carefully specified and limited circumstances, officially exercise the infallibility divinely given to the Church as a whole, in order to decide questions of faith and morals for the Universal Church.

  20. Forces already then at work have had profound effects on the Catholic Church in the twentieth century, influencing ecclesiology as well. Renewal movements relating to biblical studies, liturgy, theology, pastoral concerns, ecumenism, and other factors, paved the way for the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Influenced also by the ecumenical movement, this Council's rich presentation of the Church in Lumen Gentium differed significantly from apologetical approaches to the past. Concentrating not just on institutional aspects, but on basic biblical and patristic insights on the Church, Lumen Gentium re-emphasized, among other themes, the notion of the Church as the People of God and as a communion. All members of the People of God, it said, participate, even if in different ways, in the life of Christ and in his role as prophet, priest and king (LG 9-13). The Council described the dimensions of collegiality in which the bishops of the whole world live in communion with one another and with the pope, the head of the episcopal college. While reiterating again the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, the Council made clear that the bishops also "exercise their own proper authority for the good of their faithful, indeed even for the good of the whole Church" (LG 22). In focusing on an ecclesiology of communion, the Council was also able to give fresh insights on relations already existing, despite separations, with Christians of other churches and ecclesial communities - a real, though imperfect communion that exists because of baptism (Unitatis Redintegratio, 22).

  21. As already seen, Catholics agree that there was need for reform in the Church in the sixteenth century, and acknowledge the fact that Church authorities did not undertake the reform which might have prevented the tragic divisions that took place. At the same time the Roman Catholic Church has never agreed with some of the steps taken by the Reformers relating to their separation from the Roman Catholic Communion, nor with certain theological positions that developed in Reformed communities, and seeks dialogue with the Reformed on those issues. The various ways in which reform. and renewal have taken place within the Catholic Church since the sixteenth century illustrate resources that existed for bringing renewal from within. Thus while the Council of Trent came too late to avoid divisions, it clarified Catholic doctrine and introduced reforms which have had lasting effects in the Church. The birth of new religious orders from the sixteenth century to the twentieth, and the renewal of older religious orders, gave fresh impulses to missionary activity. From the sixteenth century, evangelization has increased. Catholic missionaries, sometimes at the cost of their lives, brought the Gospel to lands where it had never been heard before. In traditionally Christian countries, other groups emphasized apostolates of service to the poor and of education of the young, or the renewal of contemplative life. Movements of lay spirituality and Catholic action have flourished, especially in the twentieth century, along with movements for liturgical, biblical and pastoral renewal. Such developments and many others paved the way for the significant reform and renewal brought about in the Catholic Church through the Second Vatican Council which continues to be implemented in the Church today.

    1.3.4. Contemporary Roman Catholic Attitudes toward the Reformed Churches

  22. The ecumenical experience of Roman Catholics also gradually increased, sometimes intentionally through such efforts as the week of prayer for Christian Unity, and sometimes circumstantially as in the experiences of World War II, when Christians from different churches suffered and died together as prisoners and refugees. While such shared experiences helped to develop the ecumenical climate in which Vatican II met, even the most prophetic could not have predicted that the Council would provide what turned out to be a pervasive reorientation in Roman Catholic liturgy and life, theology and thought.

  23. Prior to Vatican II, the attitude of most Roman Catholics towards Protestants in general, and members of Reformed Churches in particular, was negative, though the degree of negativity ranged from overt hostility in some places to guarded acceptance in others. Friendship between members of the two traditions tended to be based on family, business, and social relationships, in which religious differences were frequently left undiscussed. Genuine theological dialogue, though not unknown, was comparatively rare; more common were polemical exchanges in which Roman Catholics criticized and sometimes caricatured the history, doctrine and worship of their Protestant "adversaries".

  24. Roman Catholic negativity towards the Reformed churches had a number of intertwined bases. On the ecclesiastical level, the most obvious focus of contention was the Reformed rejection of the episcopacy and the papacy that was also sometimes expressed in terms that Roman Catholics found extremely offensive. Another cause of opposition was the fact that the Reformed principle of sola scriptura resulted in a repudiation of many Roman Catholic teachings and practices, such as the sacrifice of the Mass, Marian devotions, and the earning of indulgences.

  25. These religious differences were further intensified by social, economic, and political disparities. In areas where Roman Catholics were a minority, they frequently felt themselves oppressed by members of the "Protestant Establishment." The separate and frequently antagonistic development of the Reformed and Roman Catholic communities tended to perpetuate stereotypes and, in some cases, still continues to impede dialogue even today.

  26. Although there were some instances of ecumenical dialogue between Reformed and Roman Catholic theologians prior to the Second Vatican Council, it was the Council that provided the significant breakthrough for overcoming the long-standing antagonism in Reformed-Roman Catholic relationships. While the Council primarily aimed at achieving an aggiornamento within the Roman Catholic Church, the presence of observers from other Christian communions, including Reformed Churches, was a constant reminder that ecclesial reform and renewal are not only internal concerns, but have ecumenical implications as well.

  27. In particular, Unitatis Redintegratio noted that the churches and communities coming from the Reformation "are bound to the Catholic Church by an especially close relationship as a result of the long span of earlier centuries when Christian people lived together in ecclesiastical communion" (19). It recognized that the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as a means of salvation (3). The Council encouraged Catholics to work for the reunion of all Christians through ecumenical dialogue, a disavowal of prejudices, and co-operation on projects of mutual concern. Instead of repeating the polemical accusations that charged Protestant Christians with the sin of separation, the Council acknowledged them as "separated brethren" (fratres seiuncti), justified by their faith through baptism, who reverence the written Word of God, share in the life of grace, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, celebrate Christ's death and resurrection when they gather for the Lord's Supper, and witness to Christ through the moral uprightness of their lives, through their works of charity, and their efforts for justice and peace in the world.

  28. During the years since Vatican II, this process of reconciliation has been carried on in. different ways and at various levels - local, national, regional, international. For example, Reformed and Roman Catholics have prayed together, have been involved in theological dialogue at various levels; they have joined in producing bible translations; they have collaborated on a variety of projects of social concern, economic justice and political witness. At the international level, the efforts of the dialogue co-sponsored by the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches were recognized by Pope John Paul II in a letter to Dr. James McCord, President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, on the occasion of its General Council in Ottawa, in July, 1982:
    The way upon which we have embarked together is without return, we can only move forward, that is why we strive to manifest unity more perfectly and more visibly, just as God wants it for all those who believe in him. (Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service, 51 (1983) p. 30).
  29. In the scholarly world, these efforts at reconciliation have been accompanied by new interpretations of Reformation history and theology. For example, Roman Catholic theologians today generally acknowledge that many of the issues raised by the Reformers urgently needed to be faced and resolved. Similarly, Roman Catholic historians, while not agreeing with all aspects of their thought, have become more sympathetic to Zwingli and to Calvin, no longer seeing them chiefly as rebels against ecclesial authority, but as reformers who felt obliged by their understanding of the Gospel to continue their efforts to reform the Church at all costs. The "zeal that animated these two outstanding religious personalities of Swiss history" was favorably noted by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of his pastoral visit to the Catholic Church of Switzerland in 1984:
    The legacy of the thought and ethical convictions particular to each of these two men continues to be forcefully and dynamically present in various parts of Christianity. On the one hand, we cannot forget that the work of their reform remains a permanent challenge among us and makes our ecclesiastical division always present; but on the other hand, no one can deny that elements of the theology and spirituality of each of them maintain deep ties between us. (Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service 55 (1984) p. 47).

1.4. Conclusion
  1. As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, these reviews of our respective histories, even when sketched so briefly, have shown us "whence we have come," so that we can better understand where we are - so that we can better understand what yet needs to be done in reassessing our past. We see more clearly how our respective self-understandings have been so largely formed by confessional historiographies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These differing self-interpretations have, in turn, fostered the establishment of whole sets of different values, symbols, assumptions and institutions - in a word, different religious and ecclesial cultures. The result is that today, as in the past, the same words, even the same biblical expressions, are sometimes received and understood by us in quite different ways.

  2. The very recognition that this is the case marks important progress in our attempt to rid our memories of significant resentments and misconceptions. We need to set ourselves more diligently, however, to the task of reconciling these memories, by writing together the story of what happened in the sixteenth century, with attention not only to the clash of convictions over doctrine and church order, but with attention also as to how in the aftermath our two churches articulated their respective understandings into institutions, culture and the daily lives of believers. But, above all, for the ways in which our divisions have caused a scandal, and been an obstacle to the preaching of the Gospel, we need to ask forgiveness of Christ and of each other.



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