Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Dialogue

Luther posting the 95
Theses on the Castle
Church Door 
Pope Francis continues to drive the Krazies to the brink of schism.  The current outrage is his apology for the atrocities committed by Catholics against Protestants during the Reformation and his decision to attend a public commemoration of the Reformation at the Lutheran Cathedral in Lund, Sweden, this autumn marking the beginning of the 5th centennial of the Reformation. 
It is curious that the commemoration marking the beginning of the year long anticipation of Luther’s 1517 posting of the 95 Theses on Wittenberg Castle Church is being held in Sweden and not in Germany.  Presumably the conclusion of the centennial will be held next year in Wittenberg and it is easier for the Pope to go to an event held by the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden rather than the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Germany as the Swedish Church has always maintained much more of its Catholic heritage than the other Lutheran Churches. 
Lund has been a diocese since 1060—originally suffrage to Hamburg—and a Metropolitan Archdiocese from 1104 until the Reformation.  During the Middle Ages it held the primacy of Scandinavia.  During the Reformation the Scandinavian Churches temporarily abolished the distinctions of Archbishop, reducing Lund to a diocese again.  It currently is a diocese suffragen to Uppsala.  The last Catholic Archbishop of Torben Bille who, before he could be consecrated, was arrested and imprisoned by Christian III of Denmark. 
This gets a little complicated here as there are several interlocking historical circles.  Lund at the time of Torben Bille was actually under Danish rule.  Christian’s father, Frederick I, had introduced Lutheranism into Denmark.  Christian’s accession to the throne was initially blocked by the Catholic bishops and nobles who were resisting the Reformation, but after the Count’s War King Christian prevailed in his efforts to make the Church of Denmark Lutheran.  As Lund was in his realm, he was not anxious for a Catholic bishop there and so replaced Bille with Frans Vormordsen.  It was over a century later, in 1658, that Lund was ceded to Sweden. 
As for the Church of Sweden being Lutheran, that is a parallel but separate story.  Sweden, Denmark, and Norway had been united under one crown by Margaret I of Denmark in the 1397 Union of Kalmar.  With the gradual rise of distinct national identities among the Scandinavian peoples in the fifteenth century this Union became more and more fragile.  In the early sixteenth century the Swedes established their independence under the leadership of Gustav Vasa, a truly great monarch.  The problem was that the Archbishop of Uppsala and primate of Sweden, Gustav Trolle, was still loyal to Christian II of Denmark.  The Danish parliament, the Riksdag, petitioned the pope to replace him with Johannes Magnus, a prelate  more to his own liking.  There were four other empty dioceses and Gustav proposed candidates to the pope for these dioceses as well.  The pope rejected Magnus and three of Gustav’s four candidates.  The King installed Magnus without the authorizing papal bull.  The irony is that Magnus turned out to be a loyal Catholic and Gustav was frustrated in his attempts to introduce Lutheranism to Sweden.  He finally sent Magnus to Russia on a diplomatic errand.  Meanwhile, Magnus’ brother went to Rome and explained to the Holy See the situation in Sweden and why Trolle could not be reinstated.  The Holy See ended up having Magnus consecrated as Archbishop of Uppsala but as Gustav Vasa was determined to introduce Lutheranism to his kingdom, the point was moot and Magnus was unable to return to his see and spent the remainder of his life in Rome. 
Why did Gustav Vasa want Sweden to be Lutheran?  Basically it was the same story as the motivation behind Henry VIII.  Both monarchs—as well as several other European Kings and princes—believed that the Church in their realms should be subject to the Crown and not to a foreign prince—the Pope.  This was the time of the rise of nation states and the various kings and princes saw the political power of the Church and were determine to harness it for their own purposes.  In countries such as France, and even more so Spain, where the papacy pretty much gave control over the Church to the Crown there was no problem.  But in Denmark and Sweden and England and Scotland and a variety of German principalities and dukedoms, the practicalities of politics trumped Christian faith.  Of course today too God often get’s the word and self-interest gets the deed. 

Today there is a strong backlash against ecumenism among the right-wing Catholics.  They ignore both the complexities of history and our contemporary world and want no dialogue—much less apologies—with those who differ from their own opinions and views.  They are quite like the wing-nuts that have taken over conservative politics in the United States: it is all or nothing, no dialogue and no compromise.  I will steer away from the political realm—though it interlocks with a certain distorted Christianity—but in the realm of Christianity we cannot afford not to sit down and dialogue with anyone who is willing to enter into sincere and honest dialogue.  The healing of the divisions in Christianity is of paramount importance in a world that on the one flank is confronted by jihadist Islam and on the flank by the rampant secularism of our post-modern world.   Jesus’ final request for us was ut unum sint: that all may be one.  This is not an option: it is a commandment.  We are a long way from being able to fulfill that mandate but it begins with dialogue. 

1 comment:

  1. Well said. Dialogue certainly goes much further than "my way or the highway."