Reformation undone ...

The readings and homily at today's Mass made me think a lot about justification by faith alone and the whole issue of the Reformation.

The odd thing is this:

At the time of Luther and Calvin, Protestants said that no amount of good works would save you; rather one is saved by believing what one must believe: in the person and saving power of Jesus Christ.

Ask an average modern German Lutheran (and certainly a modern Anglican!) and he will tell you that what counts is that someone strives to be a good person. This is salvation by works alone. A complete capitulation of the Reformation.

It is the Catholics who now are left insisting that one must believe in Christ.

So what keeps the churches of the Reformation going? Cultural attachment to the forms of Protestant worship and a fear of what they perceive as strict Catholic (sexual) morality. Another anomaly, because at the time of the Reformation, Calvin, for one, was as strict as they come on such issues.

This is why progress has been made in ecumencial dialogue on the old theological causes of division. Anglicans have been cajoled into admitting the need for a Pope (in ARCIC) and Lutherans have been persuaded - in a joint declaration of a few years ago - to admit that good works are a good thing.

Dialogue of this kind with this Orthodox is more difficult, because although theological difficulties have arisen, they were not at the root of the split. Moral difficulties exist now with the Orthodox too. Under communism the Orthodox churches were all too silent on abortion, divorce and other important moral questions. And in Greece a culture of laxity has led to a situation where the Church has been marginalised in these issues.

The next challenge for any kind of ecumenical dialogue will be to tackle the moral problems that threaten not just individual souls, but the whole of society: these are problems that create a culture of sin from which it becomes increasingly difficult to extricate oneself. It will be a painful dialogue because both Protestants and Orthodox have historically tended to kowtow to the State. This new duty for Christians will no doubt involve some political battles, or at least debates. And to be effectual, we need to be united.

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