Four-part series on Reformation aims to educate, promote understanding, foster unity
With grilling season upon us, the smell of sizzling bratwurst and the sound of cracking open a beer on a warm spring day are pretty common around central Minnesota. But what does this have to do with Martin Luther and the 16th-century Protestant Reformation?
Other than the fact that beer, brats and Luther all have German roots, it also is the title of Father Anthony Oelrich’s four-part series on Luther and the Reformation that he will host at Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud beginning May 18.
This October marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and Father Oelrich believes that studying Luther and his “95 Theses,” along with the documents of the Second Vatican Council, can bring understanding about what led to the division of the church, and perhaps even foster healing.
“It’s a wonderful occasion to revisit the teachings of the Second Vatican Council,” Father Oelrich said. “First of all, in the most apparent way, it’s a time to revisit the church’s teaching on ecumenism.”
The Reformation began on Oct. 31, 1517, in Germany, when Martin Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz. Luther, who was at that time an Augustinian monk, protested the practice of the sale of indulgences, including in his letter the now-famous 95 Theses.
Over the next three years, the dispute over indulgences, the sacraments, Mary, salvation and papal authority between Luther and the church continued; in 1520 Luther was given a choice: recant 41 of his public statements or face excommunication. Luther refused to recant, and was excommunicated on Jan. 3, 1521.
Despite the division this action caused, Father Oelrich and many Catholic theologians believe that Luther possessed an authentic religious genius.
“Luther had a real insight into the nature of sin, that sin is a reality that separates us from God, that it is a source of ‘death’ and that we desperately need God’s grace. He had a great sense of that,” Father Oelrich said.
“When studying this period of our history, what you discover in a very basic way, is the fruit of the call of the Second Vatican Council to unity and to grow in knowledge of one another. But it’s also a reality that the council was also a reception of some of the very fundamental things that Luther was calling for reform.
“When you delve into the Protestant Reformation, you discover that the whole history of the church has reform movements. Think of Francis, Dominic — those are reform movements. The church has always been in need of reform,” he said.
Father Oelrich will emphasize the “restoration of unity among all Christians,” which is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.
“This principle, of course, has been amplified in the church’s magisterium ever since the Second Council, especially through St. John Paul II, who frequently went back to the call for church unity, especially in his encyclical, ‘Ut Unum Sint,’ [which means “that they all may be one”],” he said.
“One of the key emphases of the council was ecumenism, reapproachment of the various parts of the Christian family that had grown so divided since the time of the Reformation followed by the Council of Trent,” he continued. “The years following Trent were often marked by the distinct bodies of Christians defining themselves over and against one another.
“So the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is for us a marvelous time to reacquaint ourselves with the history, to learn why there was division to begin with, to recall that we have been called by the church to turn again to pray for unity and to act on ways to build on that unity,” he said.
Last year, Father Oelrich hosted a similar event, an “Introduction to Theology,” geared toward St. Cloud State University and St. Cloud Technical and Community College students who remain in the parish community after most of the other students have gone home for the summer.
“It’s a way to continue to engage them in their faith outside of a classroom setting, which is why we have the food,” Father Oelrich said.
The sessions are also open to permanent members and to anyone interested in growing in knowledge.
“It’s meant to be an encounter of faith,” he said. “Especially by simply coming together. It is my hope that we grow in love for all the ways that God approaches us. Pope Francis says that we touch God through creation. We also can touch God through our Protestant brothers and sisters.”
This article contains information from Catholic News Agency.