We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: "Reformation Day" Reflections (Jordan Trumble, Saint Hilda's '12)
By 8:00AM I had already seen three anti-Roman Catholic comments or statuses on Facebook, in honor of the day’s celebration of “Reformation Day.” This “holiday” commemorates Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, an event that catapulted the Western Church into turmoil and eventually led to a schism (not to be confused with the Great Schism of 1054AD, but a schism nonetheless).
I’ve never liked the idea of celebrating Reformation Day (though I should qualify my use of the term “never” by saying that I’d also never heard of Reformation Day celebrations until I enrolled at a Lutheran university in 2005). During my first semester of college, I was surprised to meet Lutherans who celebrated Reformation Day proudly, as I might celebrate a liturgical feast day such as, perhaps, Christ the King Sunday or one of the various Marian feasts on the Church calendar. It was a little strange to encounter this Reformation celebration, what I see as tantamount to a celebration of Church schism, but I shrugged it off because, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t actually care that much.
As time has gone on, though, and I’ve become more and more entrenched in life in the Church, I’ve returned to my initial unease with the practice of celebrating Reformation Day. It’s not that I think Martin Luther or many of the other Church reformers have been entirely wrong. Indeed, Luther and other reformers have spoken out against a number of corrupt Church practices that needed to be changed.
But I think that we forget to recognize that, with much-needed reform, came division. People did not simply break away from the Roman Catholic Church in an instant; pain, conflict, and death came with this separation. Celebrating Reformation Day, at best, recognizes the triumph of reform while romanticizing the oft-forgotten strife that went with it. At worst, celebrating Reformation Day can be a flippant dismissal of a call for us all to be members of the Body of Christ
Now, I understand that for many, if not most, people celebrating the Reformation, the day is more about celebrating church reform and less about anti-Roman feelings. But to believe that we can celebrate reform without also acknowledging the unfortunate fracturing of the Church is to show a disregard for and devaluation of the Body of Christ. How can we truly work for Christian unity while celebrating division?
Furthermore, how can we be a people who confess “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church” and celebrate the anniversary of a schism as a holiday? (The Nicene Creed, from which this line is taken, is normative to most mainline Protestants as well as Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and many Orthodox Christians.)
To put it simply: we can’t.
When we say that we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, we are saying that we are all called into relationship as a single, universal body. We are putting aside our differences in belief and worship and recognizing that we are called into beautiful communion with God as the Church. Not as the Lutheran Church, or Anglican Church, or Methodist Church, but as THE Church.
It is my hope that, instead of celebrating Reformation Day with punch, cupcakes, and anti-Roman comments, we can use this day as an occasion for solemn commemoration. Let us use this day as a time to reflect on the injustices we see in our own lives and in our own communities, both secular and religious, and how we can bring change in the face of injustice and healing in the face of fracture. Let us use this time to truly confess, not just in word, but in action that “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”