The Reformation: too important to leave to the Orange Order

Posted By: October 25, 2017

Irish Echo. October 25, 2017

Letters to the Editor

Ever since I was in the seminary in England (1962-1969),     I became

convinced that what was seen to be the main cause of the Reformation, that being disagreement

on the Doctrine of Justification, was a classic case of two sides talking at each other instead of to each other.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546) roared at the Pope, and the Pope said to himself, “I will teach this Saxony upstart some manners.”

One word (well, actually 95 Theses) led to another, and from the spark ignited on Octo- ber 31, 1517 the Lutherans would eventually split from Rome, even though it was not Luther’s intention to leave the Catholic Church, but to reform it.

And then in the way of most splits, Zwingli split, then Calvin, then Henry VIII, then the Presbyterians, then the Methodists, then this, that, and the other, until now when there are by some accounts over 40,000 denominations split from Rome, each claiming to be “the one true Church of Jesus Christ.”

Brendan Behan’s famous quote that the first thing on the agenda of an Irish Republican meeting is ‘the split,’ was, therefore wrong: “The Split” is not an IRA thing, but a Protestant thing! (Revisionism is a terrible beauty, God help us).

When I was in the seminary, I began to do my own study of the great (but by no means perfect) Martin Luther.

My religious superior and teacher of church history became alarmed and cautioned me about my “Protestant leanings.”

Then, in 1970, when I spoke out against British injustice in the North of Ireland, the same superior — now superior of all the Redemptorists in England, Scotland, Wales and South Africa – would tell me I had too many “Catholic leanings,” and that I would have to be silent or be “deported” to America.

“Here I stand, I can no other,” I said to myself, quoting Luther. And so, to America, I came on October 2, 1972.

It was a source of great spiritual and ecumenical joy (not self-justification) to me that on October 31, 1991, the Vatican and the World Federation of Lutheran Churches issued the “Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification.”

The Joint Declaration (with its Official Common Statement and Annex) formally and authoritatively declared that the Doctrine of Justification is no longer a “Church-dividing” issue: “In faith, we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent His son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ Himself is our righteousness, in

which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” (Number 15).

The Anglican/Episcopal Church and World Methodist Council also welcomed and approved the Joint Declaration on Justification. And the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) formalized its assent to the statement at an ecumenical prayer service in Wittenberg, Germany, on July 5, 2017.

The WCRC is the largest association of Reformed churches in the world and the third largest Christian communion in the world after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

This is an extraordinary development in the life of Western Christendom, a stunning reconciliation among Christians who once fought wars, declared each other heretics and sent each other to hell’s fire and damnation.

Who says the Holy Spirit is not active in today’s church!

The Pontifical Council for Christian Unity in the Vatican said: “One of the crucial issues of dissent between the Reformers and the authorities of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century is thus being diffused and overcome, making further growth in spiritual and ecclesial communion between the Protestant and Catholic Churches possible.”

And the Vatican and the World Federation of Lutheran Churches have called on Catholics and Protestants to jointly commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But unfortunately, in today’s very secularized world, the wonderfulness of all this Holy Spirit-inspired progress is not full;y appreciated.

Most sadly of all, the one place on earth where it should have made magnificent impact is Northern Ireland. But apparently, is hardly noticed.  Indeed, in the hardcore fundamentalist section of the Protestant community, it is deliberately ignored or recognition is sullenly refused.

Unfortunately, this is an example of what Dr. John D. Brewer means when he speaks of “theology being used in social closure and stratification” in Northern Ireland.  He explains: “Anti-Catholicism, however, needs to be approached sociologically rather than theologically;y, for anti-Catholicism was given a scriptural underpinning in the history of Protestant-Catholic relations in Northern Ireland in order to reinforce divisions between the religious communities and to offer a deterministic belief system to justify them.  Anti-

Catholicism is thus a powerful resource and can be located sociologically;y by identifying the socio-economic and political processes that lead to theology being mobilized in protection and justification of social stratification and social closure.” (Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600-1998: the mote and the beam).

The Orange Order has been commemorating the Reformation throughout this year, but I’m afraid, in the spirit of “social stratification and social closure.”  Hardly what Martin Luther had in mind.

On the other hand, Pope Francis, in commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at the Vatican in April pleaded” “Today, as Christians, all of us are called to put behind us all prejudice towards the faith that others profess with a different emphasis or language, to offer one another forgiveness for the sin committed by those who have gone before us, and together to implore from God the gift of reconciliation and unity.”

This Fermanagh man will proudly commemorate the 500th anniversary on Reformation Sunday, which is celebrated on the last Sunday in October (even though the historical date is October 31).


Fr. Sean Mc Manus is founder and president of the Capitol Hill-based Irish National Caucus