By Timothy George
September 19, 2016
Next month, on October 31, the eve of All Saints Day, Pope Francis will visit Lund, Sweden, to participate with Lutheran church leaders in a joint ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation. October 31 is Reformation Day on Protestant church calendars, and this year it will mark the 499th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the Castle Church door at Wittenberg. The Pope’s presence at the prayer service in Lund Cathedral (Domkyrka), a church where Christians have worshiped for more than one thousand years, will be followed by a larger gathering at nearby Malmö. This historic occasion, which will launch a full year of Reformation remembrances, will doubtless be the most talked about ecumenical event of 2016.
But why Lund? Luther was German, not Swedish, and the case might have been made for holding this event in Augsburg, where the Joint Declaration on Justification was unveiled in 1999, or in Erfurt, where the Augustinian friary Luther entered still stands and where Pope Benedict XVI preached in 2011. Even more attention-getting would have been the iconic Wartburg near Eisenach, where Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German, working furiously for ten weeks in 1522. But Sweden has claims of its own, including the fact that it was one of the first nation-states to adopt the Reformation in the sixteenth century—even though, as in England, there were reasons of state as well as reasons of faith behind this decision. Olaus Petri is called the “Martin Luther of Sweden.” Petri, who became a pastor in Stockholm in 1524, had studied with Luther in Wittenberg, as had his brother Laurentius Petri. Through their work and that of other early reformers, the New Testament was translated into Swedish in 1526, followed by the complete Swedish Bible in 1541.
But more to the point, perhaps, is the fact that the Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of churches in the Lutheran tradition, was founded in Lund in 1947. For the past fifty years, the LWF and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have conducted serious theological discussions, culminating in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) and the recent report From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017 (2013). Three notes resound through the liturgy planned for the Lund commemoration: gratitude, repentance, and common witness. All are found in this prayer:
Jesus Christ, Lord of the church, send your Holy Spirit! Illumine our hearts and heal our memories. O Holy Spirit: help us to rejoice in the gifts that have come to the church through the Reformation, prepare us to repent for the dividing walls that we, and our forebears have built, and equip us for common witness and service in the world. Amen. Read the rest at First Things.