Over the next few days I will be making a series of posts in relation to the brouhaha in Germany over the “foundation text” [Grundlagentext] produced by the Evangelical Church in Germany for the 2017 Reformation anniversary, entitled Justification and Freedom [Rechfertigung und Freiheit]. As noted below, the text has drawn a strong and negative reaction from some historians and from Catholic bishops and ecumenists in Germany. In the series of posts, I will address why one should care about this particular argument, give some background, describe the text’s contents (which, as far as I know, are only available in German), and note some indications it gives of why the 2017 anniversary might be an ecumenically difficult moment.
But first, why should the wider ecumenical world care? 2017 represents an important ecumenical possibility and more effort and money is being poured into this anniversary in Germany than anywhere else. That’s not surprising, since the event being commemorated, Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, occurred in Germany. The commemoration involves more than just the churches; the ‘Luther Decade’ is also tourism-building event and has received state funding.
Academic theology has also been able to maintain itself as a true discipline, with agreed scholarly and intellectual standards, far better in Germany than in America or Britain. That holds for both the Protestant and the Catholic sides. We should be able to expect high quality work to come out of the anniversary preparations and events. Unfortunately, it is also true that over the last quarter century German-language theology, both Protestant and Catholic, has not produced thinkers comparable to Ratzinger, Pannenberg, Balthasar, or Jüngel and has become more parochial.
There are also a more negative reason to care. My experience has been that the Vatican tends to accord great importance to the Germans in Catholic-Lutheran relations, more probably than their objective weight within world Lutheranism merits. Problems in the 2017 commemoration in Germany might have a negative impact on the Vatican’s attitude to the entire event, or they might make the Vatican pay more attention to world Lutheranism, a positive result.
The events in Germany are worth attending to, and so the series of posts that will be forthcoming.