The Quincentenary of the Reformation

2017 was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the castle chapel in the German town of Wittenberg – an event that has become known as the starting point of the Reformation.

The idea behind marking the anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 in Great Britain was to promote the understanding of the significance of the Reformation for British society, the church and identity and consciousness of the Lutheran heritage.  During the year, the Council of Lutheran Churches worked with a wide variety of partners, in other churches and beyond, including the German Embassy and a group of London churches under the banner ‘Still Reforming’ who organised an event per month, each hosted by churches of different traditions.

Below you can read some of the papers presented at events in connection the quincentenary. You can find details of the Reformation 500 ecumenical services here.

A Symposium: Liberated by God’s Grace 1517–2017 500 years of reformation

The Reformation Symposium took place in St Margaret’s Westminster on the afternoon of 31 October 2017, the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Many events, lectures, sermons, displays and exhibitions had taken place across the UK in this Reformation year, however this felt a very significant event, held on the day itself, right next to Westminster Abbey after the service commemorating the events of 500 years ago. The service had included the historic action of a formal Anglican recognition of the Joint Declaration on Justification put forward by the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The symposium offered a fascinating range of historical and theological perspectives on the Reformation. The first two lectures focused upon the reception of the Reformation in England. Alexandra Walsham spoke of how the image of the Reformation had changed in different historical eras, and how it spoke in an extraordinary creative way into different historical periods in English history. David Crankshaw told some often heroic stories of how Luther’s works and ideas were preserved and spread in England over subsequent centuries under a great deal of suspicion and hostility. The symposium then moved on to a number of contributions relating to the continental Reformation. Eamon Duffy explored the extraordinary revolution in Roman Catholic notions of Luther in the Twentieth Century, and the way in which Catholics could receive Luther as not so much a rejected heretic, but as a voice within the great tradition of Christian theology. Robert Stern offered a fascinating perspective on the use of Luther’s ideas on freedom and sin, through the lens of the Danish philosopher Knud Løgstrup, showing the power of Luther’s idea of grace turning us outwards towards our neighbour, rather than inwards towards ourselves, and the way in which this idea could be re-appropriated in a modern context. Finally, Martin Lind related Luther’s theology of the cross to the struggle for the church and society in Nazi Germany, with particular relationship to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

A particularly marked aspect of the symposium was its ecumenical character. It included Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic perspectives on Luther, each of which offered a positive reading of the Reformer, notwithstanding a recognition of the complexity of his legacy, especially with regard to the breakup of mediaeval Christendom, and his attitude to his opponents, the papacy and the Jews. Questions from the audience focused upon this ecumenical perspective, exploring the ways that different parts of the church see Luther today. It has been a particular mark of this Reformation commemoration, in contrast to many that have gone before, that it has been a remarkably ecumenical event. Clearly the memory of the Reformation is more difficult for some than others, and there has of course been much debate on whether the Reformation was ultimately good or deleterious for western society, and for the place of the church within it. However, it has been heartening to see such a warm harmony of voices, recognising in the richness of the theology of Martin Luther a gift to the whole church, not just a part of it. Introduction provided by the Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, Symposium Chair

Professor Alexandra Walsham ‘Remembering the Reformation’
What was the evolving memory of Luther’s Reformation in the first two centuries after 1517? With a focus on the British Isles, though set in a European perspective.

Professor David Crankshaw ‘Covert, Overt, and Collectible: Luther’s Works in England and English’
How did Luther’s works impact upon the English? Luther was hugely prolific, publishing in Latin and German but what effect did they have on education in a time of widespread illiteracy, and a language barrier amongst the literate?

Professor Robert Stern Freedom from the self: Luther and Løgstrup on sin as ‘incurvatus in se’
What was the impact of Luther on Twentieth Century Nordic theology, philosophy of religion and ethics? Still relevant and highlighted in the thinking of the influential Danish philosopher and theologian, K E Løgstrup.

Professor Eamon Duffy From Beast of the Wild Wood to Prophet of Reform: Changing Roman Catholic Perceptions of Martin Luther
The author of The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400–1580 provides his perspective on the Reformation. What really was the impact on people’s religious beliefs?

The Right Reverend Dr Martin Lind “God is weak” A Relation Between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Luther’s Theology of the Cross
How did the ‘theologia crucis’ influence Luther? And over 400 years later, how did it influence the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis, in his brand of radical thinking about a weak and suffering God?

Some of the presentations above are linked to the article presented at the event. Each article is under copyright and must not be reprinted in any form without the individual author’s permission.

My Heart Strangely Warmed

The Lutheran, Moravian and Methodist Churches presented a day of music, workshops, academic discussion and worship, on 20th May 2017 at the Moravian Church and School at Fulneck, Pudsey, West Yorkshire.

The theme of the day was “My Heart Strangely Warmed”, with a special focus on music, particularly hymnody. Congregational singing has been an important part of most churches as a vehicle to develop spirituality, convey theology, and of course as a deep and moving form of communal worship. Hymns seep into everyday life, providing catchphrases, film soundtracks (such as “Jerusalem”), and marking special occasions of all sorts.

The programme included a number of workshops and papers, including:

David Bunney ‘Lines in pleasant places’
Margaret Morey Catherine Winkworth + hymn translation
Walter Riggans ‘And yet strangely cooled’
James Woolford ‘How do we get people singing again?’
Clive Barrett Hymnody + Resistance
Marylynn Rouse ‘John Newton’
Jo Cox-Darling ‘The Wind of the Spirit..’
Grove Choir workshop
Martin Clarke ‘And Can it be’
Danish choir workshop

Some of the presentations above are linked to the article presented at the event. Each article is under copyright and must not be reprinted in any form without the individual author’s permission.

The Background for marking the Quincentenary

During the early decades of the 1500s, numerous people in the Catholic Church started to criticise its activities. Some of them went so far in their demands for reform that the result was a break with the papal church. Martin Luther was the leading figure of the movement, insisting that each and every Christian had a direct relationship to God. There was no need for a large church organisation to administer the grace of God, and it was wrong to believe that people could achieve salvation through good deeds. Salvation was solely God’s to give to those who accepted faith. An understanding of God came from the words of the Bible, so the Bible was to be made accessible to everyone through translation into their mother tongue.

The Catholic Church had become a parallel state in society, an international organisation with its own laws and many social and ethical duties. The Reformation removed the church as an autonomous social and secular power. In its place, Lutheran princely churches emerged where kings and their administrations assumed responsibility for the support and promotion of the religious lives of their subjects, and provided a framework for moral behaviour. Areas like care of the elderly and poor relief, which had previously been provided by the church, became the responsibility of secular society. Citizens were not to isolate themselves from society to serve God, but instead assume the duties befitting their social rank and station in society.

The Reformation marked the beginning of almost 500 years of development. The consequences of the Reformation theologically and socially were manifold, and can only be understood in an international context. It is an important subject with numerous issues to explore, analyse, problematize, discuss and communicate.