The Catholic Commentator  

During the past 50 years, Catholic and Lutheran leaders have worked hard to achieve unity and healing among the two religious denominations, according to presenters at the “Reformation: 500 Years Later – Lessons Learned” program sponsored by the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Oct. 24 at St. George Church in Baton Rouge.  

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Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes, former archbishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and former bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, left, talks with Bishop Michael Rinehart of the evangelical Lutheran Church in America, TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod, following a dialogue “Reformation: 500 Years Later – Lessons Learned,” Oct. 24 at St. George Church in Baton Rouge. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator


The dialogue session was held one week before the observance of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany on Oct. 31, 1517. Posting the theses, formally called the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” sparked the Protestant Reformation.  

Archbishop Albert C. Hughes, former archbishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and former bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, and Bishop Michael Rinehart, of the evangelical Lutheran Church in America, TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod, talked about the hope inspired by their common beliefs, what it means and looks like for Catholics and Lutherans to be transformed by an encounter with each other and barriers to moving forward. They specifically discussed five ecumenical imperatives from “Conflict to Communion.” 

After extensive ecumenical dialogue and to prepare for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Lutheran and Catholic leaders created “From Conflict to Communion.” The document encourages Catholics and Lutherans to take a discerning, self-critical look at themselves, not only in their history, but today. 

Archbishop Hughes began by thanking Bishop Rinehart for his and his fellow Lutheran’s witness and service to the people of the Gulf South during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He said he found that to be inspiring to people. 

One of the lessons from the Reformation Archbishop Hughes talked about was its emphasis in having faith in the word of God. 

“We want to make sure we continue to appreciate sacred Scripture as the living word of God,” said Archbishop Hughes, adding that people should approach it with their “hearts, minds and souls.”

He further emphasized this by pointing to St. Jerome’s saying, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of God.” 

The Council of Trent invited the Catholic Church into a reformation of its own, by insisting that priests understood and were able to preach from Scripture and making sure the laity became more involved with Scripture, according to Archbishop Hughes. 

He said, unfortunately, the emphasis of the council did not become fully realized until the Second Vatican Council. 

“It was the Second Vatican Council that confirmed the centrality of the word of God in sacred Scripture,” said Archbishop Hughes. “To pray over, read and live with the word of sacred Scripture.” 

He said Catholics recognize the importance of oral translations of the word of God and the traditions handed down by the Catholic Church.

The archbishop said another lesson to be learned from the Reformation, which was also affirmed by the Second Vatican Council, is God’s call for sincere repentance. 

One of the most vital factors to be addressed for unity between Catholics and Lutherans is “love as a means of reconciliation,” said the archbishop. 

Bishop Rinehart presented Archbishop Hughes with a copy of the book “Martin Luther: An Ecumenical Perspective,” written by Cardinal Walter Kasper. The book looks at the life and works of Luther in an ecumenical perspective and is realistic about the fallout from the Reformation, according to the bishop.

He said when he thinks about the Reformation, he concurred with the archbishop that the emphasis of God in Scripture is absolute and that Jesus became flesh. 

Luther was passionate about humanism, but not in the fundamental way people today understand it to be, said Bishop Rinehart. 

“Today’s fundamentalists don’t understand what we pray and believe,” said Bishop Rinehart. He said Lutherans have written hymns centered on the Lord’s Prayer and creed. 

“It’s certainly the language of the people,” said Bishop Rinehart. 

He said Luther was a professor of theology and a priest who drew from a long history of Catholic theology. He said the church is created by the Spirit, but can be subject to greed, which Luther pointed out in addressing the topic of plenary indulgences in his theses. But far from being a judge who is waiting for the slightest fraction to occur, he said God is a loving father waiting for his prodigal son to return and sending word through his prophets. 

He said his theses were actually written in an academic tone, which was for questioning rather than accusing. 

The bishop said that Luther’s father was a minor noble, and therefore, Luther’s language was stalwart. 

But as misunderstandings have developed, pointed language does not get dialogue moving in the right way, said Bishop Rinehart. 

“We have to ask the question because none of us were around then – how do we as carriers of our tradition carry the word of Jesus Christ together,” said Bishop Rinehart. 

He and Archbishop Hughes agreed that the Reformation is not something to celebrate, but observe. 

There are many signs of hope for unity among Lutherans and Catholics that Archbishop Hughes and Bishop Rinehart pointed out. 

In 1999, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was created and agreed to by the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation as a result of extensive ecumenical dialogue. 

The document states that the churches now share “a common understanding of justification through Jesus Christ.” 

In 2015 Catholic and Lutheran leaders released on Oct. 31, the eve of Martin Luther’s posting of 95 theses, the “Declaration of the Way,” which listed 32 agreements between Catholics and Lutheran beliefs. 

But there are barriers that remain to full unity, according to the presenters, including physical union due to differences of belief concerning Communion, the ordination of priests and central authority of the Church. But they had much hope for the future between the faith denominations. 

“Lutherans are as unhappy about the division as anyone. I really appreciate the fact that we can come together and have these conversations,” said Bishop Rinehart. 

“We need to overcome all challenges and be intentional in the desire of reconciliation and love for one anther so we can draw the best from one another,” said Archbishop Hughes.