Historical studies and their perspective enable one to understand today that the Protestant Reformation cannot be explained by theological reasons alone. And although there were misunderstandings at the root of the break, there was above all an historical, political and economic context, without which a rupture of Christianity would not have been possible, said on Thursday the President of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, Premonstratensian Father Bernard Ardura who, accompanied by Johannes Grohe, current Professor of Medieval History at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, held a meeting with journalists in the Holy See Press Office.
There they explained that an International Study Congress organized by the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, on the occasion of the 5th centenary of the Lutheran Reformation, will be held from March 29-31 at the Mary Most Holy Maiden Institute, located very near the Vatican.
The title of the meeting is “Luther 500 Years Later. A Rereading of the Lutheran Reformation in the Historical Ecclesial Context,” in which a series of historical data will be provided, which will make possible a better understanding of what happened.
Questioned by ZENIT, Father Ardura said that in the Reformation “there are re-readings which enable one to discover that there were misunderstandings and we have already experienced this in the Orthodox Churches. He pointed out, for instance, the subject of justification, in faith and works, which was key in the Reformation and which recently “was the object of an agreement between the two Churches, which enables one to understand that, with different words, we have communion in the same faith.”
He acknowledged that there are still “other aspects” that are pending, such as the constitution itself of the Church, the role of the ministry within the Church, the Apostolic Succession, the place of the Sacraments.” All these are “subjects that are still open.”
The historical perspective, enables us to understand in greater depth, because Luther did not arrive in the middle of a Church that should be discarded;” on the contrary, he “arrived in a Church that, in the second half of the 15th century, already experienced elements of reform.”
He noted that in the Congress, “we will present many examples in various countries of Europe, at the level of bishops, and also the reforms within the religious orders, whether Benedictine, Premonnstratensian, Cistercian – be it in England, Bohemia, Italy or France.”
Thus, the historical perspective “enables one to understand better another aspect: what were the non-theological elements that led to the rupture. Let us not forget that in Germany there were tensions between the Princes and the Emperor, who was the head of the Holy Catholic Empire and the embodiment of the Catholic Empire.” Moreover, he recalled that the Emperor was called “Imperial Apostolic Majesty.”
In that context, “Protestantism found in the German Princes especially its point of diffusion,” not forgetting “economic aspects such as the secularization of ecclesiastical properties.”
For all these reasons, therefore, “theological questions alone do not explain the Lutheran Reformation,” stressed Professor Ardura, because “the Church is semper reformanda and already then the Church was in a process of reform.”
The challenge, however, was to “coincide in communion,” as were the reforms that Church had within herself in the course of the centuries.
Another aspect pointed out by the Director of the Historical Committee was “the concrete praxis of indulgences, which is the spark that lights the powder. Because there were ways of doing that one realizes, after so much time, were not in consonance with the spiritual reality.” And he specified this idea by pointing out that “today also, when indulgences are requested from the Apostolic Penitentiary, written in large letters is: ‘this is free,’ because an indulgence is a gift of God which is not purchased. And there were ways of doing things that were very contestable.”