Reformation Observances


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Philip D. W. Krey
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , August
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Reformation Observances is a unique book in the flow of works appearing on the Protestant Reformation in its 500th anniversary year. It describes how four major Christian theological traditions—Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, and Roman Catholic—have observed the Reformation through the centuries. Each of the chapters on these traditions are insightful and helpful.

John A. Radano’s foreword, “2017: An Ecumenical Perspective,” is especially interesting as he sets the 450th anniversary in 1967 in the context of the ecumenical movement, especially Vatican II (1962-1965). Cardinal Augustin Bea conveyed to the Vatican II Council—which had Lutheran observers—that Pope Paul VI expressed that “with all of you, we deeply regret that 450 years ago the unity of Western Christianity was broken. We do not wish to blame each other for this terrible schism; rather together we wish to seek ways of restoring the lost unity” (xiii).

Lutheran-Catholic dialogues in the next decades led to the 1995 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), an ecumenical landmark which indicated a change in the relationship of Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Walter Kasper, a leading Roman Catholic theologian, writes that “with the JDDJ, it was possible to see anew that the affirmation of sola gratia and sola fide does not contradict the affirmation that by grace we are made capable of bearing good fruits through works of justice, mercy and active love” (xix-xx). Lutheran Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran Federation, asserted that one of the JDDJ’s main messages is that “wherever in the world they may live, Lutherans and Roman Catholics are not enemies anymore but sisters and brothers in Christ” (xx). This situation now forms the context in which the stances and observances of the four theological traditions are presented and understood.

Editor Krey’s excellent piece on “Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation—October 31, 1517-October 31, 2017” acknowledges that “we may never know” whether Luther actually nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church or whether he may have had a student do it (1). But the sales of indulgences by Dominican Friar Johann Tetzel led Luther to head a reform movement now understood to be “the most significant in a series of medieval and late-medieval attempts at reform” (2). Krey notes that the church divisions of the past are “healing” and that in regard to Luther, “the 500th Anniversary Celebration of the Reformation will observe him more as the common doctor of the church than hero and prophet” (2).

Krey interestingly describes centennial celebrations of 1617, 1717, 1817, and 1917. Each is fascinating, showing how observance in those times reflected contemporary concerns and images. For example, in 1817, Germans were celebrating Protestantism’s movements toward a modern, crucial critical approach to religion and Luther was hailed as “a German citizen and patriot who had embodied the liberal characteristics of reason, virtue, and freedom” (11).

A similar historical approach to the landmark observance years is taken by Robert W. Prichard in his “Martin Luther and the Episcopal Church.” He acknowledges that commemorations of Luther and the Protestant Reformation have been “almost nonexistent in the history of Anglicanism” (24). So he uses his surveys of the celebrations of centenary years to trace the relationship of Anglicans and Lutherans, a relationship Pritchard notes has often been close.

Episcopal church ecumenical discussions with other Protestant churches have taken these forms: (1) bilateral conversations in which there is an acknowledgement of the presence of apostolic tradition in the other communion, despite the absence of episcopal succession; (2). “Interim Eucharistic sharing,” a step taken with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1982; and (3) full communion, which includes possible exchange of clergy. This final step was reached between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the 1999-2000 statement “Called to Common Mission,” 1999-2000 (39-40). Pritchard also notes cooperative Episcopal/Lutheran ventures in theological education, indicating in the end that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church are “close ecumenical partners with a long shared history” (41).

Jayakiran Sebastian’s “Celebrating the Dynamic Legacy of the Reformation: An Indian Perspective” uses a postmodern and postcolonial approach to show ways in which his own Reformed Indian perspective was shaped by a number of Reformation forces.

The collection’s final contribution is Jacob W. Wood’s “The Five-Hundredth Anniversary of the Reformation: A Catholic Perspective.” Here Wood surveys the appropriation of the theological legacy of Augustine on contentious issues that divided the church: free choice, the necessity of grace, and the unity of the church. He provides a detailed theological look at ways Roman Catholic theology worked to articulate an Augustinianism in light of Reformation critiques.

Vatican II provided the Roman Catholic’s church fullest articulation of these issues, including an ecclesiology which gave the Church “an understanding of itself which was at once more consistent, more profound, and more humble: seeing the Petrine Office and the unity attendant upon it as a gift from God to be shared in and reconciled with freedom and grace, not an office to be imposed” (90). Wood also points to the Joint Declaration of Justification as a significant milestone in which “Catholics recognized the importance of the will in the Lutheran doctrine of justification, and Lutherans recognized the primacy of grace in the Catholic doctrine of justification” (90). Wood sees this as “a bold move toward healing the ecclesial divisions brought about during the Reformation” (90).

Reformation Observances beneficially combines historical contexts with contemporary ecumenical dialogues to provide an excellent resource for the 2017 Reformation observance year and beyond. It enriches our understandings of the Reformation through the history of its celebrations and helps set important trajectories for coming conversations about what we have learned, where we now stand, and the importance of future directions in Christian ecumenism.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Donald K. McKim is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
November 22, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Philip D. W. Krey, Ministerium of New York Professor Emeritus at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and president there from 1999 to 2014, is Senior Pastor at St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. He has coedited Romans 9-16 (2016) and The Catholic Luther (2016), both with his brother, Peter D. S. Krey.


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