A special service to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation
entitled "Reconciling the Reformation"
took place in St Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral Armagh
on Sunday 8th October 2017


The preacher at the service was the Roman Catholic Archishop of Armagh - Eamon Martin.
A summary of his sermon is provided below.

In welcoming everyone to the service, the Dean of Armagh Gregory Dunstan said:

Martin Luther’s publication of ninety-five theses, in Wittenberg, on 31st October 1517, had consequences out of all proportion to his intentions.  His action was that of a scholar, calling for the reform of the Church.  It led to a re-formulation of western Christianity, and to the break-up of a hitherto-united European Christendom, which have influenced the history of the world.
The reformation that Luther began affected those churches that trace their history from ancient times through it, those which trace their origin to it, and those that, remaining in communion with the See of Rome, underwent their own reform through the Council of Trent.  The insights of Luther’s reformation have continued to be worked out in the life of the Church.  His legacy has included a recovery of the place of the Bible in the life of the Church, and of personal faith in the life of the Christian.  As the Reformation developed, it explored alternative models of Church order.  More radically, as it displaced an older, medieval world-view, it opened the way to new branches of knowledge and to scientific discovery, ultimately affecting even the understanding of the Bible itself.  As European nations became imperial powers, the consequences of the Reformation were exported to the world.

But there was another side.  The Reformation marks a schism in the Body of Christ.  When different understandings of Christian faith became allied to dynastic, national or imperial politics, Christians divided by the Reformation went to war with each other.  Religious rivalry inflamed national rivalry.  Christians killed one another.

Therefore, in commemorating Martin Luther as a central figure in the history of Christ’s Church, it is appropriate to recall that troubled and painful history in which we share, and to offer a prayer of our emptiness and sin.

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.  My Lord, fill it. 
I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. 
I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent,
that my love may go out to my neighbour. 
I do not have a strong and firm faith;
at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.  O Lord, help me. 
Strengthen my faith and trust in you. 
In you I have sealed the treasures of all I have. 
I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. 
I am a sinner; you are upright. 
With me is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. 
Therefore, I will remain with you of whom I can receive,
but to whom I may not give.  Amen.              Martin Luther, 1483-1546


Archbishop Eamon Martin's address:

Archbishop Eamon expressed his deep gratitude to Archbisop Richard Clarke and Dean Gregory Dunstan for the invitation to join with them.
He commenced his address by referencing St Francis of Assisi and said "when I reflect on that phrase:
ecclesia semper reformanda – the Church, always in need of being reformed” – I often think of Saint Francis, an insignificant friar who forsook a future of wealth and power to witness instead to a simple life of poverty, a life motivated by true faith, certain hope and perfect charity”. 

Archbishop Eamon went on to say that he would like to present three ways of bridging
or reconciling the Reformation:

"Firstly, I want to emphasise the importance of personal friendship and trust in helping to bridge and reconcile the Reformation. This trust is founded on the reality that what unites us is so much greater than what divides us. We share the conviction that ‘God loved us first’, with His free gift of grace and merciful love, and before any human response that we might have given. Sometimes we underplay the extent of agreement that exists across our traditions on key doctrinal issues, including the core issue of justification which triggered so much of the polemic and mutual condemnations of the Reformation period. That is, of course, not to deny that there remain important differences between us – for example over issues like Church, Eucharist, ministry and the papacy. However, changing the paradigm from disagreement and difference to one of friendship and trust, frees up our theologians to debate and clarify the areas of difference that merit deeper understanding and dialogue.
The Gospel, however, shakes us out our complacency; it challenges us to deepen ‘true faith’ in a culture of openness and dialogue which allows us to learn from, and be enriched by, each other.
(Archbishop Richard has often said to me that we should try to do together those things which we feel we do not have to do separately). 

The second bridge I offer towards reconciling the Reformation is that of a shared encounter with Christ in the sacred scriptures and in prayer. Saint Jerome was convinced that “ignorance of the scriptures is also ignorance of Christ”. During the period surrounding Luther’s Reformation, Christians rediscovered the centrality of God’s Word in the life and mission of the Church.
Knowing this, we might return more often in prayer to the Word of God in a quest for greater reconciliation. Through shared study of God’s word, combined with prayerful reading and reflection, the Holy Spirit can guide us to overcome prejudice and promote greater harmony and understanding. 

That brings me to my third suggestion for reconciling the Reformation – strengthening our shared Christian witness on the island of Ireland. 
The role of religion and faith in Irish society, north and south, has clearly changed dramatically, influenced by the process of secularisation and evidenced by a steady decline in Church attendance and in vocations to ministry. More and more people are now living their lives without any reference to God or to religious belief.
It is in this environment that all of us as members of Christian traditions are being called to courageously “go out of ourselves” to engage in mission. Our wounded world needs so much to be healed and enlightened by the Gospel, and we are all called to be prophetic in shining the light and truth of the Gospel into some of the trickiest and most sensitive issues of our time. All around us we see people discarded by society, or starved of purpose, ‘robbed of hope’, or simply confused by the superficiality of what is on offer to them. Jesus in our hearts is calling on all of us Christians: ‘give them something to eat!’

The full text of Archbishop Eamon Martin's sermon can be found here