Reformation: Past violence must not be forgottenThe 500th anniversary of the Reformation is an event to be celebrated but also a memory that requires purification and a request for forgiveness.
Jan 29, 2017
By Giorgio Bernardelli
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is an event to be celebrated but also a memory that requires purification and a request for forgiveness. This is the spirit in which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby — together with John Sentamu the Archbishop of York, the Church of England’s second most important see — invited Anglican communities to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation, in a letter sent on the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This week of prayer comes just before next month’s synod, during which the Church of England will commemorate the anniversary.
Remembering the Reformation in London means also taking a trip back in British history, as it was the rift which Luther created in 1517 that led to the official split between Canterbury and Rome not many years later, in the days of Henry VIII. Violent persecutions followed. “In England alone,” British daily The Guardian writes, “more than 800 monasteries, abbeys, nunneries and friaries were seized, libraries were destroyed, manuscripts lost, treasures stripped and works of art appropriated. Thousands of people were hung, drawn and quartered, or burnt at the stake for their religious beliefs.”
“The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division amongst Christians in Europe,” Welby and Sentamu write in their statement. “In this Reformation Anniversary year, many Christians will want to give thanks for the great blessings they have received to which the Reformation directly contributed. Amongst much else these would include clear proclamation of the gospel of grace, the availability of the Bible to all in their own language and the recognition of the calling of lay people to serve God in the world and in the Church. Many will also remember the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love.”
“Those turbulent years,” the two Anglican religious leaders reflected, “saw Christian people pitted against each other, such that many suffered persecution and even death at the hands of others claiming to know the same Lord. A legacy of mistrust and competition then accompanied the astonishing global spread of Christianity in the centuries that followed. All this leaves us much to ponder.”
“Remembering the Reformation,” the Archbishops of Canterbury and York concluded, “should bring us back to what the Reformers wanted to put at the centre of every person’s life, which is a simple trust in Jesus Christ. This year is a time to renew our faith in Christ and in Him alone.” However, “remembering the Reformation should also lead us to repent of our part in perpetuating divisions. Such repentance needs to be linked to action aimed at reaching out to other churches and strengthening relationships with them.”
Although Welby and Sentamu’s message makes no explicit request for forgiveness on the part of the Church of England for the violent acts perpetrated after the schism, the idea that a gesture like this could take place on the occasion of the upcoming synod is still causing controversy in London. Former MP and minister Ann Widdecombe (a former Anglican who converted to Catholicism), has branded it an utterly pointless initiative. Meanwhile, Catherine Pepinster, former Editor-in Chief of The Tablet, Britain’s biggest English Catholic weekly, recalled that the “Reformation is a history of politics as much as theological disputes,” adding: “I’m not sure that an apology is the right thing”. --La Stampa
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