I have long been sympathetic with Father Yves Congar’s famous remark that if figures on both sides of the Reformation divide had been a bit more open-minded and open-hearted, there might be a Lutheran order in the Catholic Church today, just as there are Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, and, indeed, Augustinians, the religious family to which Martin Luther himself initially belonged.

Implicit in Congar’s observation is the conviction that there was something altogether right and important in some of the Reformer’s moves and that the church catholic would have benefitted from incorporating them into its own life. Implicit too is Congar’s sense that, sadly, things got out of hand: exaggerations, over-reactions, impugning of motives, awkward formulations, etc. on both sides. The result was that a reform movement within the church gave rise to a divided church.

The Second Vatican Council, at which Congar played a major role, valorized a number of themes dear to the hearts of the Reformers: the primacy of Christ, the need for ardent evangelization, the central place of the Bible in the life of the church, using both bread and wine in Communion, the priesthood of all believers, etc. And it expressed its fervent hope for the unification of all those baptized into the body of Christ. For this, both Protestants and Catholics should give thanks.

The Primacy of Grace

At the same time, there were and are substantive issues that separate Catholics from Protestants, and it is only right that, on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we look critically at them.

The single most significant contribution of Martin Luther and those who followed in his theological path was the stress on the primacy of grace. Absolutely ...

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