According to popular legend, on Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, thereby inaugurating the Protestant Reformation. Historians now tell us that it is unlikely that Luther literally walked with nail, hammer and parchment to the castle; the actual causes of the Reformation are as numerous as they are complex. Nevertheless, this month marks the start of a yearlong commemoration of that first protest five centuries ago and the momentous events that followed. Mindful of the anniversary, Pope Francis traveled to Sweden this year to participate in an ecumenical prayer service with representatives of the Lutheran World Federation. “As Catholics and Lutherans, we have undertaken a common journey of reconciliation,” he said. “We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.”
Closer to home, last month America was honored to co-host a series of symposia and prayer services with Concordia College, a New York-area school in the Lutheran tradition, that focused on the anniversary and the future of ecumenical dialogue. For much of the 108-year history of this review, such a thing would have been unimaginable. America in those decades was a frequent target of anti-Catholic attacks and polemics. Yet the editors of America gave as good as they got. For what we and our forebears have done and failed to do, we ask for forgiveness, as we rededicate ourselves to praying and laboring for that day when the Lord’s desire that “they may all be one” will at last be fulfilled.