Martin Luther’s Reformation started when he nailed his 96 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church on Oct. 31, 1517, but he was not excommunicated by Pope Leo X until 1520 and declared a “notorious heretic” by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V until 1521, the year historians mark as the start of Luther’s schism from the Catholic Church.
That makes 2021 the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation. Rome officially disagrees with Luther, but it cannot be denied that the gist of his 96 Theses has enriched Christian thought and practice. There is more freedom of thought, of conscience, in Protestantism and this has allowed for the full play of man’s creativity in both the interpretation and practice of Christ’s teachings.
The Reformation has also enriched the world. In case you haven’t noticed, predominantly protestant countries (UK, Nordic Countries, Germany etc.) are more progressive economically, more stable politically, and more open culturally. Reformation Churches (Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian etc.) are more open to the world and frame their theology with a view to improving life in the world.
The Catholic Church, in contrast, frames its theology away from this world and towards the world after death. Thus, for a long time it considered the world as an enemy, a place controlled by the Devil, a world, therefore, that should be shunned, despised in favor of the world above.
Vatican II tried to open the Catholic Church to the world, but it has closed its doors again even before they could be fully opened. This is especially true of the Philippine Catholic Church that has obviously rejected from the start all but the peripheral changes advocated by the Ecumenical Council.
Pope Francis is doing his best to revive the spirit of Vatican II, but the CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines) is not on the same page with him on this. It is absorbed in its own thoughts, mostly of how to preserve its pre-eminent position of influence in society.
Protestantism entered the Philippines only in 1898. It has not changed the course of Philippine history the way Catholicism has, but there’s no denying that it has enriched Philippine Christianity. Its practical and realistic approach to Christian living has attracted freedom-loving and critical-thinking Filipinos to its fold and has made it a force to reckon with in the fight to reform Philippine society.
This other quincentennial also calls for a celebration. When all is said and done, Protestant or Catholic, we are all followers of Christ who unequivocally tells us in the Gospels that in the end we will be judged not by what we say we believe but by what we do for His brethren.