‘All of us are well aware that the past cannot be changed. Yet today, after fifty years of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants, it is possible to engage in a purification of memory’
Below is the Vatican-provided translation of Pope Francis’ address to International Conference of Study organized by the Pontifical Council for Historical Sciences, on the occasion of the 500-Year Anniversary of the Protestant Reform (1517-2017) on the theme: ‘Luther, 500 years later.’ A Reflection on the Protestant Reform in the Historic, Ecclesial Context which took place in Rome, March 29-31, 2017:
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Ladies and Gentleman,
I am pleased to greet all of you and to offer you a warm welcome. I thank Father Bernard Ardura for his introduction, which summarizes the purpose of your meeting on Luther and his reform.
I confess that my first response to this praiseworthy initiative of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences was one of gratitude to God, together with a certain surprise, since not long ago a meeting like this would have been unthinkable. Catholics and Lutherans together, discussing Luther, at a meeting organized by an Office of the Holy See: truly we are experiencing the results of the working of the Holy Spirit, who overcomes every obstacle and turns conflicts into occasions for growth in communion. From Conflict to Communion is precisely the title of the document of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission prepared for our joint commemoration of the fifth centenary of the beginning of Luther’s reform.
I am particularly happy to know that this commemoration has offered scholars from various institutions an occasion to study those events together. Serious research into the figure of Luther and his critique of the Church of his time and the papacy certainly contributes to overcoming the atmosphere of mutual distrust and rivalry that for all too long marked relations between Catholics and Protestants. An attentive and rigorous study, free of prejudice and polemics, enables the churches, now in dialogue, to discern and receive all that was positive and legitimate in the Reformation, while distancing themselves from errors, extremes and failures, and acknowledging the sins that led to the division.
All of us are well aware that the past cannot be changed. Yet today, after fifty years of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants, it is possible to engage in a purification of memory. This is not to undertake an impracticable correction of all that happened five hundred years ago, but rather “to tell that history differently” (Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity, From Conflict to Communion, 17 June 2013, 16), free of any lingering trace of the resentment over past injuries that has distorted our view of one another. Today, as Christians, all of us are called to put behind us all prejudice towards the faith that others profess with a different emphasis or language, to offer one another forgiveness for the sin committed by those who have gone before us, and together to implore from God the gift of reconciliation and unity.
I assure you of my prayers for your important historical research and I invoke upon all of you the blessing of God, who is almighty and rich in mercy. And I ask you, please, to pray for me. Thank you.
[Original text: English] [Vatican-provided text]