As I noted in my latest National Catholic Reporter column that posted this week, Protestants are making 2017 plans for how to commemorate the start of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago.
In that piece, I suggest that commemoration, not celebration, is the right attitude, given that the schism produced a lot of bad blood between Protestants and Catholics back then and that the divisions continue today.
So there you have one Protestant perspective on the matter.
For contrast today, I offer you this one Catholic perspective from a Patheos.com blog called "The Cordial Catholic." The author of it is K. Albert Little, who describes himself as an evangelical convert to Catholicism.
In the piece, Little offers what he calls "five things you need to know about the Protestant Reformation." (I have an almost visceral dislike of articles that pretend to offer you five of this or 10 of that, all neatly tied up, as if that's the final word on the subject. But let that go. Little seems like a nice and reasonable -- even cordial -- man and I'm sure he doesn't mean to say there are only five things you need to know or that any other information is superfluous.)
One of Little's more interesting points is that although the printing press played an important role in the Reformation (the book to read is Brand Luther, by Andrew Pettegree; here is my review of it), it led to some problems, too. As he writes:
"With the printing press, Christians were finally able to access the Bible for themselves and numerous translations of the Greek and Hebrew biblical texts began to proliferate.
"But secondly, it’s important to recognize that while we, today, celebrate Luther’s emphasis on making the Bible accessible to the everyday Christian Luther himself lamented its widespread availability almost immediately.
"Luther recognized, quickly, what the Catholic Church had understood all along. Not that the everyday Christian should be deprived of the Bible but that without some education, including basic literacy education, they wouldn’t understand what they’re reading.
"Misinterpretations would abound.
"And they did."
One problem with the traditional Catholic approach to biblical literacy, however, is that it has not encouraged the people in the pews -- until quite recently -- to read the Bible for themselves and to do it in solid study groups so that they avoid conclusions that aren't warranted. That is changing, but on the whole, Protestants tend to be more biblically literate than Catholics, though even among Protestants there is much biblical illiteracy along with a tendency to read the Bible in a literalistic way instead of a serious way.
Perhaps Little's most problematic point, however, is this:
"While the Catholic Church was unequivocal in its core teachings since early in its history, the Protestant Reformation, with its hands on the now readily available Scriptures, would take many fundamental doctrine back to the drawing board.
"Doctrines which had been established by the Early Church and written about shortly after Jesus left the earth and ascended to Heaven."
That description seems a little too neat. After all, it took time, for instance, even for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to emerge from scripture (the term Trinity is not found in the New Testament) and it wasn't until the Fourth Century that the church declared clearly that Jesus had two natures, meaning that he was both fully human and fully divine. (Though that decision continued to be challenged.)
Beyond that, it took until roughly the year 150 for what became the separate religion of Christianity to formally and finally separate itself everywhere from its parent, Judaism.
Still, it's intriguing to read this Catholic perspective on the Reformation, though it's worth recognizing that, like my own NCR column, it's just one person's perspective. The good news is that there have been some important moves toward Catholic-Protestant (especially Catholic-Lutheran) dialogue and unity, though one unified church still is a distant dream.
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SEE THAT HOLOCAUST DENIAL MOVIE
Ever since I heard that a movie ("Denial") was being made about scholar and author Deborah Lipstadt's court victory against a Holocaust denier, it's been on my list to see. I hope to get that accomplished soon. In the meantime, here's an argument by a Religion News Service blogger about why seeing that movie is a moral imperative. I've heard Lipstadt speak and have read her book, The Eichmann Trial. If you ever have a chance, do both.