On Monday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will participate in a joint Lutheran-Catholic worship service in Sweden this October, kicking off a series of events planned for 2017 to commemorate the 500th anniversaryof the Reformation.
The effort to mend relations with Protestants has been on the agenda of many popes before Francis, but it is a delicate endeavor. The worship service in Sweden was billed by its sponsors, the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation, as a “commemoration,” not as a “celebration,” in order to avoid any inappropriate note of triumphalism. Some Catholics have criticized the notion of a pope celebrating the anniversary of a schism.
Francis addressed the troubled history between the Christian churches as he led an ecumenical vespers service at a basilica in Rome on Monday to mark the closing day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He appealed for forgiveness for “the sin of our divisions, an open wound in the Body of Christ.”
He added that “when together the Christians of different churches listen to the word of God and try to put it in practice, they achieve important steps toward unity.”
All of which shows that Francis doesn’t understand the reason for the rift in the first place. And whether he wants to admit it or not, Catholic theology is as far from Luther today as it was 500 years ago. False unity is still a falsehood.
When Rome abandons Tradition as a source for revelation and embraces salvation by faith utterly without the mixing in of human effort, then it will be able to reunite with the Lutherans. The rest of us would need a lot more from Rome on the meaning of the Supper and practical ecclesiology.