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31 October 2017 | by Ruth Gledhill

Welby on the Reformation: 'We have learned to love one another'


Welby on the Reformation: 'We have learned to love one another'

At #Reformation500, the Cardinal prays we are preserved from future divisions

Catholics and Anglicans have learned once again to love one another, the Archbishop of Canterbury said today.

Archbishop Justin Welby was speaking of his close friend, the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who himself prayed in Westminster Abbey for the church to be saved from future divisions.

Both church leaders, along with many others, were at a service marking the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.

Cardinal Nichols prayed "that the household of faith may be preserved from all that would further divide us; that we may be drawn by the living Lord into a deeper bond of peace and pursue all such things as build up our common life."

Archbishop Welby, in an article in the Evening Standard, described another service he was at recently with the Cardinal, at nearby Westminster Cathedral. 

"It was a communion service, one of the most solemn services in the Christian Church globally. Because of the events of the Reformation and the history since, it remains impossible for Anglicans and Roman Catholics to receive communion together."

Because he could not put his hands out for the bread and wine, he knelt down to be prayed for by Cardinal Nichols.

"He took my hand and lifted me to my feet. Both of us had tears in our eyes. We are the closest of friends, and being reminded of the divisions in the global Church pains us both very deeply."

There was much to mourn, and much for which to be sorry in the Reformation, Archbishop Welby said. "Entirely against the teaching of Jesus Christ, Christians learnt to hate and kill each other, even more than they had done in the past." But in this year of its 500th anniversary, as his friendship with Cardinal Nichols shows, they have learned once again to love one another.

Westminster Abbey Reformation

Singers at the service included London's German, Estonian, Icelandic, Swedish, Swahili Lutheran, Finnish, Latvian Lutheran, Norwegian Bonhoeffer, Danish and Chinese Lutheran choirs.

In his sermon the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "Through the Reformation we learned that we are saved entirely, confidently and unfailingly by grace alone, through faith, and not by our own works. Through the Reformation the church found again a love for the scriptures, and seizing the opportunity of printing, gave them afresh to the world." 

The gospel always speaks to the needs of our times, he added.

"Today the gospel speaks to the inequalities of a 21st century world of inequality: of refugees and human trafficking; human arrogance and materialism; in the use of technology as a saviour, rather than as a gift."

Luther set the gospel free, and as human beings we seek continually to imprison it behind ritual and authority, or to make it serve politics or causes, he said.

"When we seek to use the gospel for our own ends, rather than to proclaim it as the word of God, then the gospel is not preached and the church divides. We are called to be united. In our cultures the realities of difference of self-identity formation, of politics, of language, of our history as both oppressors and oppressed, all drive us, today, into self-reinforcing bubbles of mutual indignation and antagonism."

Pictures from the Reformation 500 service by Andrew Dunsmore/Westminster Abbey. The top picture shows the Luther Bible, part of the Lambeth Palace Library collection, which was placed on the Abbey's High Altar before the service.

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