Catholic bishop welcomes the challenge of Luther

By Ecumenical News International
September 13, 2009

The Roman Catholic bishop of Osnabrück in northern Germany has said that the 16th-century Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, offers a "positive challenge" to Protestant and Catholic churches.

"It's fascinating just how radically he puts God at the centre," Bishop Franz-Josef Bode said in an interview with the German Protestant news agency epd, in connection with a service at Osnabrück's Lutherkirche earlier this month, during which he preached on Luther.

Luther, said Bode, had rightly denounced failures in the Church and he had recalled the roots of faith.

Bode described Luther as a "fascinating personality for both churches", noting that the reformer had not intended to divide the Church through the dissemination of his 95 Theses of 1517, but that his teaching had later been exploited by others for their own purposes.

Luther had been more concerned in dealing with the fundamental question of how God turns towards human beings.

In the Church of that era there had been tendencies that contributed to "misunderstandings", said Bode, citing grace and the forgiveness of sins as things that certainly cannot be bought, in a reference to the contemporary practice of the Catholic Church of selling indulgences.

"The focus on Christ, the Bible and the authentic Word - are things that we as the Catholic Church today can only underline," said Bode. He noted that especially with the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has been able to understand and address in a new way Luther's thought and his esteem for the Word of God.

The Second Vatican Council met from 1962 to 1965 and it led to the Catholic Church accepting for the first time that there could be coexistence of different forms of faith in Christ, said the bishop.

The 50th anniversary of the council in 2015 takes place in the decade preparing for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation of 2017. Bode said he would work within the German (Catholic) Bishops' Conference to ensure that the ecumenical aspects of the Second Vatican Council are underlined.

Still, said Bode, there remain elements of division between the Catholic Church and Luther. These divisions centre on the understanding that Luther developed from his own experience of the Church, the priesthood and the sacraments.

The Catholic Church would, however, "today deal with such a provocation in a different and a better way," said the bishop.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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