This Fall begins a year-long commemoration of the Reformation's 500th anniversary. Based as this number is on the 1517 date of Martin Luther's 95 theses, one might expect the commemoration to center on Luther's contributions, or carry significant tones of Lutheran triumphalism. However, much of the official planning and documents have formed the commemoration into a present- and future-looking exercise. This presentation traces some of those avenues of discussion, and argues that the relevance of 1517's legacy has at least as much to do with popular ecclesial self-understanding as it does with official ecumenical or theological advances.
The discussion begins by briefly summarizing the slow turn toward ecumenism by the Lutheran and Catholic churches, leading to numerous official documents on theological convergence and divergence, including the 2016 document "Declaration on the Way." The discussion then turns to the interplay between official theological discussions and the ecclesial life they inspire (or inhibit) in popular religiosity. Specifically, the presentation argues that relegating ecumenism to official exercises and documents easily turns into a clerical cuius regio, eius religio ("whose realm, his religion"), wherein clergy and other church leaders tend to define rather than discern ecclesial relationships. The discussion finishes by arguing that the 1517 commemoration points more to developments in popular church life-especially liturgy and work for social justice-than official church leadership.
Durheim, Benjamin, "Why 1517 matters: on the relevance of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation" (2016). Forum Lectures. 161.