Monday, 26 September 2011

Pope Benedict, Martin Luther and non-ecclesial Christianity

During his visit to Germany, Pope Benedict met with the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany. The place of this meeting was the former Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, a location associated with the life and work of Martin Luther. The full text of Pope Benedict's address can be found here.

There are two particular points within this address that I found of note. The first reminded me of Pope Benedict's encounter with leaders of other Christian denominations during his visit to Cologne in 2005. I posted on that earlier address here.

The "strap line" that I used from that address in Cologne:
“The real question is the presence of the Word in the world."
has a resonance with the phrase that Pope Benedict chose at Erfurt to characterise the work of Martin Luther:
“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of [Martin Luther's] whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians?
This later address represents in some way an exemplification of the style of ecumenical dialogue that Pope Benedict in Cologne described as a "small comment", apologising for his expression of a "personal opinion". I find Pope Benedict's willingness to take a prompt from Martin Luther most significant, and, if what Pope Benedict says in his address reflects his general thinking, it is not a prompt just put together for this address but one that influences him more widely.

The second point of note is the reference that Pope Benedict makes to the challenge represented to both Lutheran and Catholic Churches by what one might term non-ecclesial Christianity:
Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability.
The four weaknesses that Pope Benedict sees in this type of Christianity, and that I have highlighted by adding italics, are interesting. That this form of Christianity is problematical can be seen in my own professional field. It is this form of Christianity that seeks to promote "creation science" or "intelligent design" - both ideas that have little rationality and lack genuine dogmatic content. The problem is that the teaching of a more traditional doctrine of creation gets caught up in the same attacks that secularists then direct at "creation science"/"intelligent design", and an attempt is then made to ban any doctrine of creation from the field of science education.

Pope Benedict's critique of non-ecclesial Christianity is very strong, and so it will be interesting to see how those communities react to his words.

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