“Luther and the Sacraments” at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome

A conference on the subject of “Luther and the Sacraments: A Catholic Re-Reading in Ecumenical Perspective” took place from February 26 to March 1 at the Gregoriana, a Jesuit university in Rome. The conference was prepared and led in cooperation with the Johann Adam Möhler Institute in Paderborn, Germany, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU).

The event itself was already a special achievement—Luther’s sacramental teaching was actually discussed in Rome, at the Jesuit university no less; and two cardinals gave lectures on the topic, one at the beginning (Cardinal Koch, President of the PCPCU, on “The Reformation and the Catholic Church”) and one at the end (Cardinal Müller, Chair of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “The Church as the Place of Justification”) !

The conference was consistently organized in dialogical fashion: a Protestant speaker would deliver a lecture on Luther’s teaching about baptism, confession, the Lord’s Supper, or the office of ministry, and then a Catholic would respond. Theodor Dieter from the Institute presented Luther’s understanding of the sacrament of penance (which can be seen on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCIbwC0Gpn8 ). His Catholic respondent was Prof. Michel Fédou SJ from Paris. Together with the Paris colleague Prof. Dieter led a workshop on Luther’s encounter with Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg in 1518, in which participants analyzed the respective texts of Luther and Cajetan.

The conference had a wide resonance: about 250 attended the lectures and took part in intensive discussions, and the media reporting was extensive. While the conference did not break new ground from the perspective of ecumenical research, it did indeed draw a wider public into the ecumenical conversation, all the way up to leaders in the church. Such fundamental engagement with Luther’s theology always opens up more ecumenical doors in unanticipated ways. It is also important for ecumenical progress to correct old and deep-seated prejudices that persist on both sides.

The lectures and discussions were framed by worship and prayer in various churches. The beauty of the liturgy as well as the physical environment gave the conference a special and spiritual quality. The wonderful hospitality of the Gregoriana and the perfect organization of the event were impressive indeed.

Photos: Dirk Vogel