Seton Hill celebrates 500th anniversary of the Reformation

Seton Hill religious studies/theology professors David von Schlichten, left, and Tim Gabrielli discuss Catholic and Lutheran perspectives of the Reformation in recognition of its 500th anniversary. The professors also talked about the prospect of Catholics and Lutherans sharing communion together. Photo courtesy of M.Haynes.

Seton Hill University celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a historic event that took place in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s actions eventually led to the formation of the Lutheran religion. To mark the anniversary, students gathered in the Campus Ministry Lounge for a discussion led by religious studies/theology professors Timothy Gabrielli and David von Schlichten, who provided the Roman Catholic and Lutheran perspectives of the event and discussed recent dialogues between Catholics and Lutherans who have discussed one day sharing communion together.

“From the Catholic perspective, that the idea that the Church is divided is not something to be celebrated,” said Gabrielli. “It’s not ‘Oh, isn’t this good diversity;’ there can be absolutely ligament diversity between the one church. I joked about it a couple times at the event. The ideal solution would have been to have a Lutheran order similar to how we have Benedictines or Sisters of Charity, so that kind of diversity, yes. But it shouldn’t be thought as we all need to be the same, but we’re not in full communion with each other.

“That’s a real thing to be lamented,” said Gabrielli. “Both Lutherans and Catholics recite the Nicene Creed which says ‘We believe in one holy and apostolic church,’ One. We profess these beliefs, but we’re not one, and that’s the problem.”

In 2015, Lutherans and Roman Catholics created the Declaration of the Way: Church Ministry and Eucharist. The document is meant to create a greater unity between the two religions.

“We see in other arenas, when you simply end up in your own echo chamber and simply only talking to people who tend to be in your group or people that agree with you,” said Gabrielli. “There’s been tons of conversations about this since the last election, questions of fake news, it makes these dialogues important. It’s that understanding of peace rather than demonizing the other side.”

In 2016, Pope Francis pledged to work towards a shared Eucharist. In the Lutheran tradition, anyone of any Christian denomination can receive communion, but with the Catholic Church that is not the case.

A drawing of Martin Luther is shown above. He was a well-known religious figure for starting the Lutheran practice. Photo from wikipedia.org.

“What I predict will happen is that in the next 20 years to 30 years we will reach a point, maybe, where Lutherans will be invited to share the Eucharist with Catholics in some way together,” said von Schlichten, who is also an ordained minister and a parishioner at the First Lutheran Church in Greensburg. “Progress is generally slow in the Church but I can see that happening.”

Students were given the opportunity to ask questions and share their own opinions. Sister Maureen O’Brien, head of campus ministry at SHU, broke the silence by asking von Schlichten if Luther being alive today would produce a different outcome.

“Luther loved to reach the population and was very gifted with words, and somewhat tech savvy for his time,” said von Schlichten. “So I think if Luther were alive today, then he would heavily use social media. He’d be on Twitter, he’d be on Instagram, he’d be making use of those to try and reach a large audience and to reach the general population, instead of talking to other theologians. He could do that very well, but his focus was always on the general population. That was certainly the case in his writings from the 1500s and I think that would be the case today too.”

Von Schlichten discussed the common misconceptions of the Reformation with the most notable being the act of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg.

“People often think, ‘Wow, that was so bold and gutsy, he’s nailing the door.’ The content was gutsy, but the act of nailing something to the door wasn’t a particularly gutsy move in that of itself,” said von Schlichten. “It was what was in the document that was gutsy. It’s not unusual to something we would see today where people would post something to social media or to a bulletin board. That was the bulletin board of the day.”

“I knew about Vatican II, but I didn’t know there had been so much writing to reunite the two churches and create a bridge with the Lutherans,” said junior political science major William Weber.

“A lot of people think that Lutherans hate Catholics or the other way around, and that’s really not the truth,” said sophomore psychology major Alexis Johnson.

There was a mistake on the flyers posted around campus saying it was the 400th anniversary.

Students listen as professors David von Schlichten and Tim Gabrielli discuss different viewpoints of the Reformation. Photo courtesy of M.Haynes.

“It provided a nice opportunity since the 400th would have been 1917,” said Gabrielli. “So this is very different to 100 years ago. The Catholic position was basically, ‘this is betrayal, you left us’ and I think that through the 20th century and the further reflections on that, we come to see that how we tell these stories historically. We like to tell them with sort of a limited perspective and we start doing a more careful look at history. We realize it’s more complicated than simply ‘they left,’ I mean, there’s fault on all sides.”

Sister Maureen organized the event. Last year SHU held a coffee talk on Islam and discussions on Catholicism and Judaism. The department plans on having additional religious discussions in the following semesters on Hinduism, Buddhism and Atheism.

“Campus ministry is a department that helps to serve the needs of the whole community,” Sister Maureen said.

“It’s not a club but rather a reality that focuses on faith, liturgy, service and prayer. Seton Hill has many religions representing and is only 50 percent Catholic, so in my mind it’s really important that Campus Ministry reaches out to them to help them understand their faith and their spirituality,” said Sister Maureen.

“I think too often we focus on the things that divide us rather than the things that unite us.”

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