Jews, Christians and the Reformation : Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in the context of the Jewish Christian Relationship
- Rabbi Sybil Sheridah Rabbi at the West London Synagogue
- Dr Volker Haarmann Pastor for Jewish Christian Relations, Department of Theology and Ecumenism, Protestant Church of the Rhineland
Chair : Dr Harriet Crabtree OBE Director of the Inter Faith Network
Opening addresse by sr. Margaret Shepherd, NDS, 7th of June 2017
The past few weeks have been difficult and painful for us all and we mourn the loss of life and injuries sustained in the recent shocking terrorist events. Those affected by such trauma are held in our prayers.
We’re also on the eve of an election – which I must say we hadn’t bargained for when we were planning this evening!
But: on behalf of the Sisters of Sion, it’s my pleasure to welcome you all most warmly to this 47th Lecture in Memory of Cardinal Augustin Bea, one of the giants of Vatican II.
Cardinal Bea was a scripture scholar and, as such, was best known for his presidency of the Secretariat for Christian Unity during the Second Vatican Council. He was a decisive force in the drafting of Nostra Aetate which became the foundation document for the developing – and, indeed, ongoing – dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. As we say frequently and with gratitude, it’s not too great a claim to say that without Cardinal Bea’s conviction and perseverance, Nostra Aetate might never have seen the light of day. We owe him a very great deal for ensuring that what has been called by one of our Jewish colleagues and friends, “a religious, extraordinary revolution” came into being, radically changing the direction of the Church’s relations with the Jewish people. And so we are here tonight to continue to honour his memory. As our Jewish friends would say, may his memory be for a blessing.
The history of the Jewish people did not happen in a vacuum, and we have always to keep in mind the events going on in the world at large that impacted Jews in a major way. One of those huge events that shook up Europe was the Protestant Reformation, for which the catalyst was the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. As you will be aware, the 500th anniversary of this is being commemorated this year. It was the start of a painful history of division and separation among Christians which in recent times our churches have made great strides to overcome, reaching out to each other in friendship and mutual understanding.
This year, history was made on Sunday, 26th March, when Catholics and Lutherans in Britain jointly commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Catholic-Lutheran Common Prayer was conducted at St George's Cathedral in London, at the invitation of the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark. It was based on a service held in Lund, Sweden, in October 2016, at which Pope Francis joined Lutheran leaders to begin the year of commemoration.
The preachers at the service in London were the Most Revd Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham and Chair of the Bishops' Conference Department of Dialogue and Unity; and the Rt Revd Martin Lind, Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain.
Archbishop Longley recalled the increasingly close links between Catholics and Lutherans in Britain that had developed over the years. He said: “These ecumenical friendships, in which we recognise the grace-filled fruitfulness of each other’s ministries, are among the gifts already exchanged which enable us to be at home with one another today.” Bishop Lind said that Lutherans and Catholics were in search of lost unity. He put it like this: “You may say: we were once married. The marriage was broken in a divorce. Now we have to reconcile and unite again....We are not going back to what once happened. We are on the way to a new unity, an untried experience.”
With this search for unity among Christians in mind, I’d like to mention a most interesting article by Archbishop Kevin McDonald, Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark, which was published in the latest issue of The Pastoral Review. Archbishop Kevin entitled his article, Is there any Difference between Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue? In it he stressed the importance of acknowledging developments both during the Second Vatican Council and since which impact directly upon ecumenism. He says, “The most significant is, of course, the enormous development in our teaching on the Jews. With them we now speak of an ‘intra-religious’ dialogue rather than an inter-religious one……. Because of the catechesis of Pope John Paul II, we now acknowledge that the covenant God made with the Jews has not been revoked. Christians are related to Jews at the level of their ‘identity’. Judaism is ‘intrinsic’ to Christianity…… There are those who would therefore argue that the unity of Christians will only take shape when Christians explore together their common roots in Judaism and begin to look forward with the Jews to the final fulfilment of God’s promises at the end times.”
Returning to Luther, you will sadly be familiar with his failed overtures to the Jews in his attempt to convert them, leading him to virulent expressions of antisemitism, which have had a painful and tragic impact on the Jewish Christian relationship right down into our own times. So as we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is fitting for this year’s Cardinal Bea Memorial Lecture to consider Luther and the Reformation in the context of that Jewish Christian relationship, which is of such concern to us all.
I have mentioned Archbishop Kevin McDonald. He was to have chaired our Memorial Lecture but unfortunately had to have surgery recently. I’m pleased to say that he has made a good recovery and is with us this evening. However, I’ve suggested that he goes gently! Dr Harriet Crabtree has very kindly stepped into his shoes and I am grateful to her.
Harriet is the Executive Director of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, for which she has worked since 1990. The Inter Faith Network links faith community representative bodies, inter faith bodies and educational and academic bodies with an inter faith focus and works with them to promote inter faith understanding and cooperation. Before coming to work for the Inter Faith Network, Harriet studied and worked in the States, living at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School (from which she received her doctorate in theology) and teaching there and in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University.
I invite Harriet now to introduce for us our distinguished speakers, Rabbi Sybil Sheridan and Pastor Dr Volker Haarmaan.