Bishop appointed for Canada’s Chaldean eparchy

Toronto, Canada, Oct 31, 2017 / 12:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Bawai Soro was on Tuesday appointed Bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto, which serves Canada’s estimated 40,000 Chaldean Catholics. The Oct. 31 appointment fills the vacancy left by August’s transfer of Bishop Emmanuel Shaleta to the Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego. Bishop Soro was born in 1954 in Kirkuk, Iraq, and was baptized into the Assyrian Church of the East, a non-Chalcedonian Church based in northen Iraq. His family emigrated to Lebanon in 1973, and then to the US in 1976. He was ordained a deacon in the Assyrian Church of the East in 1973, a priest in 1982, and a bishop in 1984. Whila a priest he served as pastor of a parish in Toronto, and was bishop of the Assyrian eparchies of San José and Seattle. He obtained a master’s degree in theology from the Catholic University of America in 1992, and a doctorate from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in 2002. While a bishop, he was actively involved in ecumenical dialogue between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Catholic Church. Bishop Soro was received into communion with the Catholic Church in 2008, along with nearly 1,000 families of his Church. He was received into the Chaldean Catholic Church, which is the Catholic analogue to the Assyrian Church of the East. Both Churches use the East Syrian rite. They are both derived from the Church of the East, a non-Chalcedonian Church which experienced a schism in 1552. In 2014 he was appointed protosyncellus, or vicar general, of the Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego. Bishop Soro has been outspoken about the persecution of Christians in his native Iraq, and has applauded their perseverance. In June, he told CNA that “the story of suffering of Iraqi Christians is an ongoing phenomenon.” He reflected on his family’s perseverance in the face of the Ottoman’s Assyrian genocide, saying that “if my grandparents survived this difficulty and were able to hand their faith to the next generations, this suffering generation will do the same.” The Chaldean Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto was established in 2011. It consists of 10 parishes and missions, and is served by 10 priests and two deacons. Read more

Catholics, Lutherans look toward Christian unity in Reformation statement

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2017 / 10:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Reformation anniversary gives us a renewed impetus to work for reconciliation, said a statement released jointly Tuesday by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation. “We recognize that while the past cannot be changed, its influence upon us today can be transformed to become a stimulus for growing communion, and a sign of hope for the world to overcome division and fragmentation,” it said Oct. 31. “Again, it has become clear that what we have in common is far more than that which still divides us.” The statement was released to mark the end of the year of common commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is the Roman Curia’s office for ecumenism, while the Lutheran World Federation is the largest communion of Lutheran ecclesial communities. In the US, the Lutheran World Federation includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but neither the Missouri nor Wisconsin Synods. The common commemoration was opened last year with an ecumenical prayer service between Lutherans and Catholics at the Lutheran cathedral in Lund, Sweden during the Pope’s Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2016 visit. During the service, Catholics and Lutherans read out five joint ecumenical commitments, including the commitment to always begin from a perspective of unity. Pope Francis and Munib Younan, then-president of the Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land, also signed a joint statement. Quoting the 2016 declaration between Pope Francis and Younan, this year’s statement acknowledged the pain of disunity, particularly that caused by the inability to share in the Eucharist. “We acknowledge our joint pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our people to be one in Christ. We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue,” the statement declared. The new statement also emphasized the commitment to continue this journey toward unity “guided by God’s Spirit…according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ.” With God’s help, we hope to continue to seek “substantial consensus” on issues pertaining to the Church, Eucharist, and ministry, it said. “With deep joy and gratitude we trust ‘that He who has begun a good work in [us] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ’.” They gave thanksgiving for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, as well as the need to ask forgiveness for failures and the ways in which “Christians have wounded the Body of Christ and offended each other” over the past 500 years. One positive effect of the past year’s common commemoration has been viewing the Reformation with an ecumenical perspective for the first time, it concluded. “In the face of so many blessings along the way, we raise our hearts in praise of the Triune God for the mercy we receive.” Read more

Spanish bishops call for peaceful resolution to Catalan independence crisis

Madrid, Spain, Oct 31, 2017 / 06:01 am (ACI Prensa).- As the situation in Catalonia unfolds after the Spanish autonomous community declared independence, a move strongly opposed by the Spanish central government, local bishops are insisting on a peaceful resolution. Cardinal Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona, the Catalan capital, said Oct. 27 that “as shepherd of Barcelona” he loves Catalonia and shares “the people’s pain and suffering,” and that his heart “weeps with them.” Cardinal Omella was in Rome the day of the Catalan declaration of independence, and he asked God to “help us avoid confrontation and build a future in peace.” “After my two years in the Diocese of Barcelona, I can say that I deeply love Barcelona and Catalonia. They are marvelous people,” the cardinal emphasized. “And I also love Spain and I love the Europe we belong to, where I received my formation as a young man.” Cardinal Omella was born in the Catalan-speaking region of Aragon, and first served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Zaragoza. The Catalan crisis began with an Oct. 1 independence referendum, which had been declared unconstitutional and illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. Ignoring the court ruling, Catalonia’s separatist government proceeded with the referendum, setting the stage for sometimes violent clashes with voters as the Civil Guard and National Police attempted to stop the vote. According to the Catalan government, 90 percent of those who voted – 43 percent of potential voters – supported independence from Spain. The Catalan regional parliament then declared the community’s independence Oct. 27. Spain’s central government responded by announcing the dissolution of the Catalan parliament and the suspension of Catalan autonomy. The Spanish president removed from office the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and other officials. The Spanish government has called for regional elections in Catalonia to be held Dec. 21. Cardinal Ricardo Blazquez Perez of Valladolid, president of the Spanish bishops’ conference, expressed Oct. 28 his “sadness over the declaration” of independence, and reiterated “his support for the constitutional order” and its “re-establishment.”   “I am praying to God for the peaceful coexistence of all citizens,” he concluded. Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid tweeted the same day: “Christ encourages us to not raise up walls, to engage one another in dialogue, and to work for social reconciliation. At this time in Spain with special urgency.” Read more

‘Bubble zone’ law could end Ontario’s March for Life, bishop warns

Ottawa, Canada, Oct 31, 2017 / 12:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Canada, called into question Ontario’s new “bubble zone law,” which he said restricts the peaceful efforts of the pro-life movement. … Read more

Memento mori – How religious orders remember death

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- There’s an old Latin phrase that’s suddenly new again – at least in the realm of Catholic Twitter™. The resurgence of the the Latin phrase “memento mori” (remember your death) is thanks in large part to tweeting nun Sr. Theresa Aletheia, a “media nun” with the Daughters of St. Paul, who has been recording, via tweets, what it’s like to have a (plastic) skull sitting on her desk:     Day 94 w ????on my desk:   If we could taste the joys of heaven for even a moment, we would have no fear of death.#mementomori — Sr. Theresa Aletheia (@pursuedbytruth) October 27, 2017     The phrase, and practice, has caught on, and a quick Twitter search of #mementomori now reveals hundreds of results. But even before nuns and Catholic millennials were tweeting about the skulls on their desks, religious orders have been “memento mori”-ing for centuries. Here’s how various religious orders have kept their mortality in mind throughout the ages.Origins of the phrase According to legend, the phrase “memento mori” may have originated with the Roman empire. Allegedly, when victorious Roman generals returned from battle, in the midst of their festivities, a slave or another low-ranking citizen would follow them around and whisper “memento mori,” or some other reminder that their earthly glory was temporary. Even before the Roman empire, meditation on death and the last things was a common practice of ancient philosophers like Plato, who once said that philosophy was “about nothing else but dying and being dead”. The phrase and the practice was then incorporated into medieval Christianity – death was especially poignant as the plague spread throughout Europe and Asia, killing millions of people within the span of just a few years. “Memento mori” was such a popular religious theme in this period that it inspired a genre of art, music and literature.Memento mori myths and the Brothers of the Dead One of the most common myths surrounding “memento mori” is that the phrase is used by monks, particularly the famously-ascetic Trappist monks, as a form of greeting among brothers. Fr. Timothy Scott, a Trappist brother and priest, said that this myth originated with a now-obsolete order of French monks called “The Order of the Hermits of Saint Paul,” who came to be known as the “Brothers of the Dead.” According to “La Sombre Trappe,” by Fr. M. Anselme Dimier, this order “pushed its tastes for the macabre to the extreme,” wearing scapulars with skulls and crossbones, and kissing a skull at the foot of the cross before each meal. The words “Memento Mori” were found on the seal of the order alongside a skull and crossbones, and skulls were prominently displayed in most parts of the monastery, including in each brother’s cell. The brothers of this order were also known for greeting each other with “Think of death, dear brother,” and rumors have spread that the Trappists adopted this tradition, even after the Brothers of the Dead were suppressed by Pope Urban VIII in 1633. “In no period of the Order’s history, in no Trappist monastery, have these words been in usage; the brothers greet one another in silence, as in the early days of the Order of Citeaux,” Dimier wrote. Fr. Scott confirmed that a silent greeting “is the constant tradition and practice of the Order.”How Trappists “memento mori” Trappists are a branch of Cistercian monks, a reformed branch of the Benedictines, who desired to live the Rule of St. Benedict more authentically. But while Trappist brothers don’t use “memento mori” as a greeting, other reminders of death have been present in the Trappist order, particularly in older monasteries, Fr. Scott said. In his book “A Time to Keep Silence”, Patrick Leigh Fermor recalls these symbols of death, particularly present in Trappist monasteries during the 18th and 19th century. “Symbols of death and dissolution confronted the eye at every turn, and in the refectory the beckoning torso of a painted skeleton, equipped with an hourglass and a scythe, leant, with the terrifying archness of a forgotten guest, across the coping of a wall on which were inscribed the words: ‘Tonight perhaps?’” Fr. Scott added that he has heard of several other monasteries with various “memento mori” traditions, such as the monastery of la Val Sainte in Switzerland, which kept a white-wood cross and a skull in the middle of the refectory, or dining hall. Another Trappist monastery in France had the words “Hodie mihi, cras tibi” (Today I die, tomorrow it will be you) written above the door leading to the cemetery. These skulls, inscriptions, and the various prayers for the dead help the brothers “to keep in mind that our time on this earth is limited and what we do now matters for eternity,” Fr. Scott said. “We will be accountable one day before God for all that we do. It makes no sense to waste the precious time that has been allotted to us. We must use it to do good and to love others now.” “However, the theme of memento mori, remembrance of death, needs to be set within the larger theme of the memory or mindfulness of God,” he added. “The monastic life is oriented primarily toward cultivating a living relationship with the persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who have been revealed to us in the Son, Jesus Christ, and who, through his passion, death, and resurrection have called us to full communion and fellowship with them now and in eternity.”The bone churches of Europe Several orders of monks, including the Capuchins, Franciscans, and the Cistercians, are also known for having built churches or crypts decorated almost exclusively with the remains of their forebearers, a stark “memento mori” for any visitors to these sites. One of the best-known such churches, sometimes called an Ossuary, is the Capuchin crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto in Rome, Italy, which includes six chapels, five of which are covered in the skeletal remains of Capuchin friars of yesteryear. The crypt was built in the 1630s, when Pope Urban VIII ordered some Capuchin friars to set up residency at the Church, and asked that they bring the remains of their bygone brothers with them, so that they would not be abandoned. In total, an estimated 4,000 skeletons, from friars deceased between the 1520s – 1870s, decorate the insides of the various chapels. The various crypts include a crypt of the resurrection, a crypt of skulls, a crypt of leg and thigh bones, and a crypt of pelvises. A plaque in on display in the crypt reads: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”   Allegedly, this Roman ossuary inspired a similar “Bone Church” in Prague, in the Czech Republic. There, the Sedlec Ossuary, built by Cistercian monks, is decorated with the remains of an estimated 40,000 people. The reason for the large number of remains dates back to the 1200s, when a Cistercian monk returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he brought back dirt from Golgatha, the hill where Christ was crucified, and sprinkled that dirt in the cemetery at the monastery. As word of this holy dirt spread, the cemetery became a popular place in which to buried. By the time the plague hit, the number of people requesting burial in the cemetery became so great that the monks began exhuming the bones, storing them in the church, and using them for interior decoration. The Church has been restored several times and is no longer in possession of the Cistercian order, but the popular site receives thousands of visitors annually. A third popular “Bone Church” is the Capela dos Ossos, in Évora, Portugal, next to the Church of St. Francis. Built by a Franciscan in the 16th century, the chapel has similar origins to the Czech Ossuary, in that it became a creative way to store the bones contained in cemeteries running out of room to house remains. Reportedly, the monk also believed that the Church could be a force for the Counter-Reformation, and a good place for Catholics of the area to come and remember their mortality. Like the Roman ossuary, the bone church in Portugal has several “memento mori” themed inscriptions, including Ecclesiastes 7:1 “A good name is better than good ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.”Dominicans – the best order in which to die For Dominican friars, their “memento mori” comes every day when they recite prayers for the dead, said Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, professor of moral theology for the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies. The Dominicans pray for the dead so frequently that it’s become part of a joke, he told CNA. “There are many reasons you want to live in the other orders – the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Jesuits – but out of all of them, you want to die with the Dominicans, because we constantly pray for the dead,” he said.   Whenever a Dominican friar dies, all the priests in his province celebrate a Mass for him. The order also prays what is called the “De Profundis” – a daily prayer, typically before a main meal, that includes praying Psalm 130 in remembrance of all of the men of the province whose death anniversary is on that day. Dominicans also celebrate an additional “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day” –  they celebrate these feasts with the Church on Nov. 1 and 2, but then they celebrate a second round of these feasts on Nov. 7 and 8, particularly praying for the Dominican saints and souls. “In terms of praying daily for the dead, it is a constant reminder of our own mortality, that heaven and eternal life is the goal, and it’s also a reminder that death is something that we all face,” Guilbeau said. “When we die, we go alone, there’s no one who accompanies us in that at that moment. But by praying for those who have gone before us in death, we get a sense of that union and community that endures into the next life, and insofar as we aid the dead by our prayers, they’re waiting for us and aiding us by their prayers. It’s a daily reminder of the common prayer that we have for each other.” “In terms of…sleeping in our coffin or having skulls on the desk, we don’t do that,” Guilbeau said, but he added that the black cape that Dominicans wear is meant to serve as a physical “memento mori” for the order.   The daily reminder of death isn’t something “macabre or depressing,” Guilbeau added, “but it’s something hopeful and joyful, that this veil of tears is not the end of our existence, it’s not the goal.”   “If we live in the love of Jesus Christ and we live in the light of the Holy Spirit, there’s constant preparation  and help and grace and strength for that moment when we pass from this life to the next,” he said. Therefore, for the saint, death isn’t something to be feared, but welcomed and embraced like a sibling, Guilbeau said, recalling the words of St. Francis who once wrote in his “Canticle of the Sun”: “Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.”   Read more

What caused the Reformation? A Catholic explainer

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2017 / 04:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One fated Halloween, 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle in a dramatic act of defiance against the Catholic Church. Or, he may have just hung it on the doorknob. Or mailed out copies. Or, if he did nail it, the act of the nailing itself would not have been all that significant, because the door may have been used as a bulletin board where everyone was nailing announcements. And he probably wasn’t all that defiant; he likely had the attitude of a scholar trying to raise questions and concerns. At that point, Luther didn’t know how defiant he would eventually become, or that his act, and his subsequent theological work, would lead to one of the greatest disruptions of unity in the Church’s history. “This was not a declaration of war against the Catholic Church, nor was it a break,” Dr. Alan Schreck with Franciscan University of Steubenville told CNA. “It was a concerned, Augustinian monk and biblical scholar correcting an abuse, and it was really a call for a dialogue.” However, it took fewer than five years for this call for dialogue to transform into schism, rejection of the authority of the Church’s tradition and bishops and most of the sacraments, and a growing number of Protestant communities, united only by their rejection of the Catholic Church. While historians debate just how dramatic was the actual posting of the 95 theses, its anniversary is an occasion to look back at what the role of the most popular Protestant was in the movement that ultimately split Western Christendom in two.Who was Martin Luther? Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, the oldest son of Hans and Margarethe Luther. His father, a successful business and civic leader, had grand visions for his eldest son’s life and sent him to school with the hopes he would become a lawyer. While Luther completed his bachelor’s and master’s degree according to his father’s plan, he dropped out of law school, finding himself increasingly drawn to the subjects of philosophy and theology. Soon after leaving law school, Luther entered an Augustinian monastery, a decision he would later attribute to a vow he made during a precarious horseback ride, when he was nearly struck by lightning in the midst of a storm. Terrified that he was about to die, the 21-year-old Luther cried out to St. Anne, promising that he would become a monk if he survived. He felt it was a vow he could not break; his father felt it was a waste of his education. By all accounts, Luther was a Catholic success story before he became the leading figure of the Reformation. He joined the monastery in 1505, and by 1507 he was ordained a priest. He became a renowned theologian and biblical scholar within the order, as well as a powerful and popular preacher and lecturer at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. During his years of study and growing popularity, Luther began developing the groundwork of his theology on salvation and scripture that would ultimately become deal-breakers in his relationship with the Catholic Church.The offense of selling indulgences But it wasn’t strictly theological ideas that first drove Luther to the ranks of reformation ringleader – it was his critique of the practice of selling indulgences, the central subject of his 95 theses, that catapulted him into the limelight. According to Catholic teaching, an indulgence is the remission of all or part of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven, and can be applied either to the person performing the prescribed act or to a soul in Purgatory. To obtain an indulgence, one must complete certain spiritual requirements, such as going to the sacraments of Confession and Communion, in addition to some other act or good work, such as making a pilgrimage or doing a work of mercy. But even years before Martin Luther, abuses of indulgences were rampant in the Church. Instead of prescribing an act of prayer or a work of mercy as a way to obtain an indulgence, clerics began also authorizing a “donation” to the Church as a good work needed to remit the temporal punishment due to sin. Increasingly, people grew critical of the sale of indulgences, as they watched money gleaned from people’s afterlife anxiety go to fund the extravagant lives of some of the clergy. The money was also often used to buy clerical offices, the sin of simony. During Martin Luther’s time, in northern Germany, the young and ambitious prince-Archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg was offered the position of the Archbishop of Mainz, but was unwilling to relinquish any of his previously-held power. Meanwhile in Rome, Pope Leo X was demanding a considerable fee from Albrecht for his new position, as well as from the people of his dioceses for the fund to build St. Peter’s Basilica. Albrecht took out a loan and promised Rome 50 percent of the funds extracted from – as critics would describe it – preying on people’s fear of Purgatory. For the St. Peter’s fund, the Pope had employed Dominican friar Johann Tetzel to be the Grand Commissioner for Indulgences for the country of Germany. According to historians, Tetzel liberally preached the indulgence, over-promising remission of sins, extending it to include even future sins one might commit, rather than sins that had already been repented of and confessed. He even allegedly coined the gimmicky indulgence phrase:  “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from Purgatory springs.” It was Tetzel’s activities that ultimately pushed Luther to protest by publishing his 95 theses.The 95 theses and the seeds of reform “When he posted the 95 theses, he wasn’t a Lutheran yet,” said Michael Root, professor of systematic theology at The Catholic University of America. “In some ways they get things rolling, but what’s important is what happens after the 95 theses when Luther gets pushed into a more radical position.” Regardless of how dramatically they were posted to the door of Wittenberg Castle on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed not only his theses but the feelings of many faithful at the time who were also frustrated with the corruption and abuse they saw in the Church. Christian humanists such as Erasmus and St. Thomas More were contemporaries of Luther who also objected to abuses within Church while not breaking from it. Meanwhile, Luther’s already-established reputation as a respected professor, as well as access to the printing press, allowed his theses and ideas to spread at a rate previously unmatched by previous reformers who had similar critiques of the Church. “Clearly there was a kind of symbiosis between Luther and the development of the printing press,” Root said. “What he was writing was able to engage lots of people. Many of them were short pamphlets that could be printed up quickly, they sold well…so he was on the cutting edge of technology and he fit what the technology needed – short, energetic things people wanted to read.” Most historians agree that Luther’s original intent was not to start a new ecclesial community – that idea would have been “unthinkable at the time,” Root noted. ??“So that’s too much to say; however, it’s too little to say all he want to do was reform abuses.” By 1518, his theses spread throughout Germany and intellectual Europe. Luther also continued writing prolifically, engaging in disputes with Tetzel and other Catholic critics and further developing his own ideas. For its part, the Church did not issue an official response for several years, while attempts at discussions dissolved into defensive disputations rather than constructive dialogue. As a result, early opportunities to engage Luther’s criticisms on indulgences instead turned into arguments about Church authority as a whole.Swatting flies with a sledgehammer – Luther becomes a Lutheran One of Luther’s most well-known critics was Catholic theologian Johann Eck, who declared Luther’s theses heretical and ordered them to be burned in public. In 1519, the two sparred in a disputation that pushed Luther to his more extreme view that scripture was the only valid Christian authority, rather than tradition and the bishops. “The Catholic critics quickly changed the subject from indulgences to the question of the Church’s authority in relation to indulgences, which was a more dangerous issue,” Root said. “Now you’re getting onto a touchy subject. But there was also an internal dynamic of Luther’s own thought,” that can be seen in his subsequent writings. In 1520, Luther published three of his most renowned treatises: The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, On the Freedom of a Christian Man, and To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. By that time, it was clear that what Luther thought was wrong in the Church was not just the abuse of indulgences, but the understanding of the message of Christianity on some basic levels. Besides denouncing the Pope as a legitimate authority, Luther also declared that faith alone, sola fide, was all that was necessary for salvation, rather than faith and good works. “Luther was definitely trying to fix what was a legitimate problem, which was pelagian tendencies, or people trying to work their way into heaven,” said Dr. Paul Hilliard, Assistant Professor and Chair of Church History at Mundelein Seminary. It had created a “mercantile attitude” in some people at the time of Luther – “if I do this, God will do this.” “So Luther was trying to correct these things, but the phrase I sometimes say is that Luther swatted the fly of pelagianism with a sledgehammer. In order to keep any trace of humans earning salvation out of the system, he changed the system.” Luther’s distrust of human beings did not particularly spring from his criticisms of indulgences and the subsequent pushback from the Church – it was in line with most anthropological thought at the time, which tended toward a very negative view of human nature. Therefore, in his Protestant views, he sought to get rid of any human involvement wherever possible – particularly when it came to interpreting scripture and salvation. “On the scale of beasts to angels, most people (at the time) would have us a lot closer to beasts,” Hilliard noted. The Catholic Church officially condemned Luther’s theses in a papal bull, Exsurge Domine, promulgated in June 1520, and in part authored by Eck. The declaration afforded Luther a 60-day window to recant his positions, lest he be excommunicated. But by the time the papal bull was issued, Luther had not only denounced the authority of the Pope, but had declared him an anti-Christ. The window for reconciling views was all but closed.The popular and political reforms Despite Luther’s increasingly radical claims against the Pope and the Church, his popularity spread, due to his compelling and prolific writings and, to Luther’s dismay, his populist appeal. Luther popularized the idea of a “priesthood of all believers” to the exclusion of an ordained, ministerial priesthood. Rather than bearing an indelible mark on their soul, in Luther’s view ministerial priests did not differ from the “priesthood of believers” except in office and work. This, along with his personality and background, appealed to the poor and working class of the time who were frustrated with the lavish lives of Church hierarchy, which typically came at the expense of the poor in rural areas. “Luther was very much a populist, he was a man of the people, he was scruff, he came from sort of peasant stock, he spoke the language of the people, so I think a lot of the common people identified with him,” Shreck said. “He was one of them, he wasn’t far away in Rome or a seemingly wealthy bishop or archbishop…so he appealed particularly to Germans because he wanted a German liturgy and a German bible, and the people said, ‘we want a faith that is close to us and accessible’.” But Luther balked when his religious ideals spurred the Peasant’s War of 1525, as peasants in rural areas of German revolted, motivated by Luther’s religious language of equality. The year or so of subsequent bloody war seemed to justify those who dismissed Luther as nothing more than a social movement rather than a serious religious reformer. In order to maintain the esteem of those higher up, Luther disavowed the unruly peasants as not part of the official reform movement, laying the groundwork for the Anabaptists to fill in the religious gaps for the peasants in the future. However, the Peasant’s War wasn’t the only time the Reformation got political – or lethal. Because of the vacuum of authority that now existed in Luther’s pope-less, emerging ecclesial community, authority was handed over to the local princes, who took advantage of the reformation to break from the fee-demanding Pope. Much of Germany had embraced Lutheranism by the mid 1500s, though some parts, such as Bavaria, retained their Catholic faith. For his part, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V officially condemned Luther’s theology at the 1521 Diet of Worms, a meeting of German princes, during which Luther famously refused to recant his position with the words: “Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.” Despite Charles V’s opposition to Luther’s views, he allowed for Luther’s safe passage from the diet, rather than enforcing the customary execution of heretics, and thus forfeited his best chance for stomping out the Reformation at its roots. Historians speculate that while Charles V personally opposed Luther’s views, he let him live because he also saw the decentralizing of power from the Vatican as something of which he could take political advantage. Reformation fever was also catching throughout Europe, and soon Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and England were all following Germany’s example of breaking from the Catholic Church and establishing state-run, Protestant ecclesial communities. “I like to think of the story with the little Dutch boy with his the finger in the dyke,” Shreck said. “Once the breach was made, others follows his example. Once Luther did it, it was like the domino effect.” “In a book by Owen Chadwick, he said the Reformation came not because Europe was irreligious, but because it was fervently religious,” Shreck added. “This was after the black death and a lot of social turmoil – people really wanted to turn to God and seek solace in faith.” But the reformers were not all agreed on their beliefs, which led to the rise of numerous sects of Protestantism, including Calvinism, Anglicanism, and Anabaptism. “Protestantism became very divided, though they all claimed to be doing the right thing because they believed they were maintaining the purity of the faith,” Schreck said. Root noted that once the Protestant-Catholic divide “got embedded in political differences, between southern Europe and northern Europe, between Spain and England, and so the religious differences also became national differences, that just made matters far worse.” “Once you have the wars of religion in 1546, then attitudes become very harsh. Once you start killing each other, it’s hard to sit down and talk,” he added. The wars over religion would become especially pronounced in the 30 Years War of the 1600s, though at that point, religion had become more of a political tool for the state, Hilliard said. “The 30 Years War is a really good indication that while religion was important, it was not the most important thing – it was a war between different competing princes to gain greater control of territories, during which religion was thrown into the mix,” Hilliard noted.Could the Reformation have been avoided? The million-dollar question at the center of Reformation history is whether the Reformation and the splitting of Western Christendom could have been avoided. “Some would say by two years into the Reformation, the theological differences already ran very deep and there was no way you were going to get reconciliation,” Root said. “But there are others who would argue that as late as the 1540s it was still possible that perhaps the right set of historical circumstances could have brought people together, and there’s no way of knowing, because you can’t run history again and change the variables.” “Whether one could have settled it all then short of war, there were missed opportunities for reconciliation, that’s clear,” he added. Luther’s fiery and rebellious personality, matched with the defiant and defensive stance that the Catholic Church took in response to his ideas, created a perfect storm that cemented the Protestant-Catholic divide. Much of Luther’s thinking remained Catholic throughout his life, Schreck noted, including his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. “I think if there had been a sincere effort on the part of the Catholic hierarchy that his concerns were legitimate, history might have gone in a different direction.”  It wasn’t until Pope Paul III (1534–1549), 17 years after the fated theses first made their rounds, that the Catholic Church as a whole took a serious and official look at its own need for reform, and its need to respond to the Protestant Reformation.This is Part 1 in a three-part series on the Reformation. Part 2 will discuss the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation. Part 3 will discuss ecumenism today.   Read more

Pope Francis: In the Eucharist we receive the grace to love

Vatican City, Oct 29, 2017 / 07:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis reflected on Jesus’ command to love God above all things, and your neighbor as yourself, saying that it is in the Eucharist that we receive the grace to carry this out. “God, who is Love, has created us to make us part of his life, to be loved and to love Him, and to love all other people with Him. This is God’s ‘dream’ for man. And in order to accomplish it we need his grace, we need to receive in us the ability to love that comes from God himself.” For this reason “Jesus offers himself to us in the Eucharist…” the Pope said Oct. 29. “In it we receive his Body and His Blood, that is, we receive Jesus in the best expression of his love, when He has offered himself to the Father for our salvation.” Pope Francis reflected on Sunday’s “short, but very important” Gospel passage from St. Matthew in his brief message before leading the Angelus with around 30,000 people in St. Peter’s Square. In the Gospel passage, a Pharisee asks Jesus what, among the more than 600 Jewish laws, is the greatest. And Jesus, not hesitating at all, answers: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” The Ten Commandments, which were communicated directly to Moses by God, are a covenant with the people. And in his answer, “Jesus wants to make it clear that without love of God and neighbor there is no true fidelity to this covenant with the Lord,” the Pope pointed out. In answering this question, Jesus is trying to help the Pharisees understand the proper order and importance of things, and how all other laws depend on these two. “What Jesus proposes on this evangelical page is a wonderful ideal that corresponds to the most authentic desire of our heart,” he said. “In fact, that we have been created to love and to be loved.” Francis emphasized that we can do many good things, follow all the laws, but if we do not have love it is useless. This is how Jesus lived his life: preaching and performing works always with what is “essential, that is, love.” “Love gives momentum and fecundity to life and to the journey of faith: without love, both life and faith remain sterile.” In fact, even if we have known the commandment to love from the time we were children, we must never stop trying to conform ourselves to this law, putting it into practice in whatever situation we find ourselves in, he concluded. And as we try to live out this commandment to love, we can turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary for help, he said: The Holy Virgin helping us “to welcome into our lives the ‘great commandment’ of love of God and of neighbor.” Read more

Religious freedom, not secularism, key to Europe’s future, Vatican official says

Rome, Italy, Oct 28, 2017 / 10:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked about his faith during a magazine interview.  As Blair began to offer an answer, he was interrupted, cut off by Alastair Campbell, the prime minister’s director of strategy and communications. “We don’t do God,” Campbell said. “ I’m sorry.” Campbell seemed to know, in the not-so-distant past of European politics, that any public mention of religion was a serious taboo. This week, as top ecclesial and political leaders gather in Rome to discuss the future and identity of Europe, Vatican Secretary for Relations with the States Archbishop Paul Gallagher said that religion is no longer a forbidden subject in European politics.   “The days when you could say ‘we don’t do religion’ are over,” Gallagher said. “Many diplomatic services throughout Europe and elsewhere are now running courses, literally accelerated courses to make up time on religion,” he said, explaining that political leaders are beginning to recognize that “the world is a very religious place.” Increase in religious affiliation worldwide continues to grow around the world, he said, explaining that this fact “brings with it a very big responsibility for believers.”  “I think we have to take that responsibility very seriously, and make sure that religion is making a positive contribution, and that religion, and if you want to say even the Catholic religion, is a part of the solution and not the problem.” Archbishop Gallagher spoke alongside German Cardinal Reinhard Marx at an Oct. 27 press conference on a major conference titled “(Re)Thinking Europe: A Christian Contribution to the Future of the European Project,” taking place in Rome this week, drawing hundreds of high-level European Church and political leaders.  Running Oct. 27-29, the conference is organized by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) in partnership with the Holy See, and will consist of a joint, constructive reflection on the challenges facing Europe. Some 350 participants from 28 delegations representing all E.U. countries are in attendance, including high-level E.U. politicians and Catholic hierarchy, academics, ambassadors, representatives of different Catholic organizations and movements, as well as from other Christian delegations. Responding to a question posed by CNA on the role religion can play in Europe given its Christian roots, Pope Francis’ continuous call to go back to those roots, and the growing presence of Islam, Gallagher said he believes there is a growing awareness and recognition in the world of “the positive things religion does.” Although Europe continues to grapple with a high influx of migrants, Gallagher said,“I think we have to stick to principles.  If we believe in religions freedom, then it is valid for a Hindu, for a Muslim or anybody, as it’s valid for a Christian.” The archbishop also said that, in his view, there is “often a great degree of misinformation and ‘scaremongering’ of the sizes of the Islamic communities around Europe.” The Pew Research Center estimates that Muslims constituted 6% of Europe’s population in 2010. While Europe works to carve out a path forward, Gallagher said he believes religions will play “a positive role.” This, he said, is first of all because “we do recognize that some of the liberal, secularist thought that was part of much of our societies, is not in good health either.” He said we have to “combat a lot of political correctness that exists within Europe,” as well as the tendency “to kick religion into the private sphere and not to allow it to be part of the public debate.” “This is something which we obviously have to work on, and it is a work in progress,” he said.  Also weighing in on the issue, Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich, President of the COMECE and Coordinator of the Vatican’s Council for the Economy, noted that 20 years ago many people thought “religion would disappear” from society.  “That was the common conviction of many sociologists and politicians, that society will progress and religion will disappear; secularism.” However, “that’s not the case.” “Religions will be very important for the 21st century,” he said, explaining that a key question conference participants will have to ask themselves on the role of religions is: “will they be an instrument of peace and dialogue, or of confrontation?” For Christians in particular, the Second Vatican Council said the People of God, the Church, are “a sacrament of unity for all human beings,” and not just those inside the Church.  “We are not only for us, and the Pope is underlining this,” Marx said. “We are not narcissistic, inside ourselves, we are part of a solution for all human beings.” “I do not see that the Church is ‘less interesting’ in the public world,” he said, and stressed the need to continue pursuing a dialogue with Islam, which he noted isn’t new to Europe. “So for the future, I think the Catholic Church has to play a very important role to find ways of dialogue, ways of relating to this religion, which is very important for the 21st century and Europe,” he said. The cardinal said his greatest fear moving forward is not so much that religion will be ignored or eradicated, but that “it will be instrumentalized for other reasons, for political reasons. That will be perhaps the great fear for the 21st century.”   Read more

‘Tis the season: Dominican Sisters climb charts with new Christmas album

, Oct 28, 2017 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- Among other things, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have been known to appear on game shows and to chat with Oprah Winfrey on television. This year, the Dominican Sisters of Mary are being recog… Read more

Pope to European civil and Church leaders: men and women are different

Vatican City, Oct 28, 2017 / 10:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a lengthy speech to civil and ecclesiastical leaders of Europe on Saturday, Pope Francis defended the family as being made up of a man and woman open to life – saying that this fundamenta… Read more




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