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Pope Francis next to a statue of Martin Luther
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A statue of Luther in the Vatican and a new papal definition of ‘lukewarm’

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry

October 25, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis will travel to Lund, Sweden, next week to assist in the launch of a yearlong commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the castle church of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.

In a lead-up event at the Vatican on October 13, the Pope received a group of 1,000 Lutherans and Catholics from Germany in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall and addressed them from the stage where a statue of Luther was erected. The sight came as a shock to many Catholics because Luther was excommunicated and his theses rejected by Pope Leo X in 1520. The split he caused in Christianity remains as one of the most damaging in the Church’s 2,000-year history.

At the meeting, Francis reinforced his admonition from earlier this month against converting people. Weeks after saying it is a “very grave sin against ecumenism” for Catholics to try to convert Orthodox Christians, Pope Francis told the pilgrims “it is not licit” to “convince [non-Christians] of your faith.” In that meeting, the pope also offered a novel definition of “lukewarm,” which according to Pope Francis is when Christians “are keen to defend Christianity in the West on the one hand but on the other are averse to refugees and other religions.”

The word ‘lukewarm’ has significant meaning to Christians because of the words of Christ revealed in St. John’s Revelation (3:15-16): “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” The common interpretation of the verses was to condemn the practice of picking and choosing among the Christ’s teachings rather than holding to all of them. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says, “Half-hearted commitment to the faith is nauseating to Christ.”

In answer to a question about what he likes about the Lutheran Church, the pope said, “I really like good Lutherans, Lutherans who really practice their faith in Jesus Christ. What I don’t like are lukewarm Catholics and lukewarm Lutherans.” Italian daily La Stampa’s Vatican Insider quotes the pope as saying it’s a “contradiction” when Christians “are keen to defend Christianity in the West on the one hand but on the other are averse to refugees and other religions.”

The Pope’s application of Christ’s strong condemnation to those who would be averse to other religions is perhaps a warning to those who would object to his coming praise for Luther scheduled for October 31. Swedish Catholic professor Clemens Cavallin points out in an essay on the upcoming celebration with Pope Francis in Lund that the common prayer service to be used has a very positive view of Luther.

“The text,” he says, “paints a picture of Luther as a religious hero who found the way to a more true form of Catholicism.” Cavallin notes that in the liturgical guide, the Common Prayer, a section called Thanksgiving, is intended to express, “our mutual joy for the gifts received and rediscovered in various ways through the renewal and impulses of the Reformation. After the prayer of thanksgiving, the whole assembly joins in singing thanks for and praise of God’s work.”

“The ecumenical journey enables Lutherans and Catholics to appreciate together Martin Luther’s insight into and spiritual experience of the gospel of the righteousness of God, which is also God’s mercy,” the text says.

The section concludes with the following prayer of gratitude:

Thanks be to you, O God, for the many guiding theological and spiritual insights that we have all received through the Reformation. Thanks be to you for the good transformations and reforms that were set in motion by the Reformation or by struggling with its challenges. Thanks be to you for the proclamation of the gospel that occurred during the Reformation and that since then has strengthened countless people to live lives of faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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