Christianity / History

Notes on Religious History, Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

…But Community is more Important

This isn’t the 16th century anymore. The Second Vatican Council changed everything. It took the Vatican 416 years to modernize after Trent, but in the 1960s the Catholic Church finally transitioned to the vernacular. Far more striking is what the Catholic and Lutheran Churches agreed to on the 482nd anniversary of Luther nailing 95 theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg.

Perhaps a religious scholar/historian like Ed Kilgore might remember that momentous event occurred in 1517, but recalling the exact date might be difficult. It shouldn’t be—Luther pounded in the nails on Halloween. When Halloween fell in 1999, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ):

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Roman Catholic Church have reached agreement on an historic document which aims to resolve a theological controversy dating back to the 16th-century split between Martin Luther and the papacy. The two communions are to declare officially on 31 October [1999] that mutual doctrinal condemnations pronounced at the time of the Reformation no longer apply. It is believed to be the first time that the Vatican has ever declared that Catholic doctrinal condemnations no longer apply to a Protestant communion.

This piece began with a response to Ed Kilgore’s response to Rick Santorum. Santorum, if he were aware (highly doubtful) of the JDDJ, might decry the agreement with the same intensity that Lutheran conservatives condemned the Halloween signing 15 years ago. Not that it matters—he’s centuries too late. He’s Catholic, and the magisterium since John XXIII convened Vatican II doesn’t care one iota about reactionary dead-enders…and the concept is spreading.

Ending the Killing

The effect of the JDDJ is building over time. 35 out of the 124 members of the LWF voted against the declaration. On 18 July 2006, the World Methodist Council voted unanimously to adopt the JDDJ. The PCPCU didn’t waste time expanding the pact:

Methodist, Roman Catholic and Lutheran leaders said their communities will be able to work more closely in proclaiming the Gospel message of salvation after the World Methodist Conference adopted the Catholic-Lutheran joint declaration on justification.

“This is a historic day. This is a gift of God. We can be grateful for it,” Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said at the July 23 signing ceremony in Seoul, South Korea.

The agreement on justification — how people are made just in the eyes of God and saved by Jesus Christ — “provides a basis for a more profound common witness before the world,” said the cardinal.

Delegates to the World Methodist Conference voted unanimously July 18 to adopt the declaration, which was approved in 1999 by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation.

Cardinal Kasper’s office at the Vatican released his statement and other texts from the signing ceremony.

The Methodists’ resolution said the 1999 agreement “expresses a far-reaching consensus in regard to the theological controversy which was a major cause of the split in Western churches in the 16th century” over salvation by grace alone or by grace and good works.

Beneath the arguments about doctrine, a groundswell of good will has been building for 500 years that is finally taking hold. The evidence is clear, though reactionaries (Republicans, Likud, ISIS, al Qaeda) are trying to spook the majority of human beings to thinking the world is going to hell in a handbasket. No, it really isn’t:

The East German border guards were primed for a fight…

…but in the end chose not to kill:

Twenty-five years have elapsed since 11/9, the day the Berlin Wall came down…with no shots fired.  This was the triumph of peace, a force so strong the 1991 Soviet hardliner coup d’etat couldn’t stand up to a politician making a speech on top of a tank:

Yeltsin on tank outside the White House

This (Berlin 1989 and JDDJ 1999 and 2006) is the laying down of arms, of the realization that we are not bound by the horrors of the past. We cannot bring back William Tyndale or the Martyrs of Africa (not that we should want to—they have been dead for 500 and 1,500 years respectively), but humanity needs not follow the same path of destruction. We won’t, God willing.

In exploring the unfolding of Christian religious history somehow melding into my earlier Berlin posting, I’m reminded of an argument I made last November:

Are we really so blind?  Why are we asking about religious justifications for war rather than why do human beings feel the need to justify violence at all?

Bill Maher or George Carlin (if the latter could rise from the ashes of cremation) could argue Christianity made Huneric in the 480s and Henry VIII/Charles V in the 1530s do such despicable acts…or did they commit such crimes regardless of faith?

Violence is an essential condition to the fact that humans are mammals.  All organisms on Earth can be divided into whether they fix carbon or not.  Autotrophs have this capability; the most common mechanism to fix carbon being photosynthesis.  All other organisms lack this capability, and heterotrophs must consume autotrophs or other heterotrophs to survive.  Consuming other organisms is always a violent process, in which one organism is killed to nourish another.

For some reason, humanity alone seems to require justification for violence, this essential ingredient for continued survival.  Why we feel the need to blame different cultures, economic and/or governmental systems, religions or other forms of organization for why humans commit violent acts?  It isn’t human organization that causes violence; it is because we are organisms that cannot fix carbon.

Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim il-Sung and Pol Pot murdered millions of people without any discernible religion…and they have a hell of a lot more in common with Huneric, Henry and Charles than St. Jerome, Martin Luther and William Tyndale.

Is religion actually an antidote to intrinsic violence? Is killing in the name of religion the ultimate heresy? One need look no further than the Gospel of Luke:

Supplies for the Road

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?”

So they said, “Nothing.”

36 Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. 37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’[d] For the things concerning Me have an end.”

38 So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”

And He said to them, “It is enough.”

The Prayer in the Garden

39 Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. 40 When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” 43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.[e]

45 When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. 46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

Betrayal and Arrest in Gethsemane

47 And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. 48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?

49 When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

51 But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:35-51)

Jesus set his disciples up, to trick Peter into cutting off Malchus’s ear to reiterate what turning the cheek 70 times 7 really entails. Jesus Christ’s final act as a free man was to mend the ear of a man that will assist in his death, to heal his enemy. If He could do that, how hard is it for Catholics and Protestants to get along?


One thought on “Notes on Religious History, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Notes on Religious History | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

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