An essential of historical Protestant Reformation faith is the doctrine that the pope or the papacy was to be regarded as the antichrist. The Smalkald Articles, a definitive confessional writing for Lutherans, emphatically states the pope is the very antichrist. Such a view seems anachronistic and out of step in a religious world today where mutual tolerance is the chief dogma.
The “Protestantization” of the Roman Catholic church, at least in the United States, has been rapid. So commonplace is the English Mass that the Latin prototype is a rare and advertised occurrence. In a lecture to a Catholic lay audience, the chairman of the Notre Dame religion department suggested a form of local parish government that was downright congregational. In spite of papal claims to sovereign authority, political upheaval continues in all corners of the Catholic church.
Adherence to the pope as the antichrist was easier when Protestants were being put to death. Luther lived as an outlaw, and unlike other Reformers, could travel safely only in lands held by princes favorable to his cause. The memories of the Saint Bartholomew’s massacre in France and the Inquisition in Spain left indelible imprints on the pages of church history.
The current incumbent in Saint Peter’s chair is a downright amiable person. John Paul II has probably already become the most popular pope in recent history. Out-and-out confrontations and condemnations have been replaced by more reasonable dialogues and policies of unofficial mutual recognition. The churches confronting each other in the sixteenth century are simply not the same ones four centuries later. To commemorate the four hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, certain Roman Catholic theologians ...1
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