A few days ago, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In the USA, it did not make the news that much. I saw a couple of interesting articles on the subject. One of them that impacted me was the article that said that the reason we do not speak much about the Reformation much was because the Reformation had largely suceeded. What did that article mean?
The original Reformation was about issues like indulgences, reliance on Scripture, faith vs works, liturgies that were not understandable to the people, etc. The article commented that Roman Catholics had actually fixed much of what troubled Protestants 500 years ago. That is, the liturgy is now in the vernacular. It is no longer has such a complex schedule of saints that even the priest has difficulties in figuring out what prayers to say during the Mass. Pay for indulgences was done away with within a couple of decades of the offense.
Are all the theological issues fixed? No, we Orthodox have any of several theological issues with the Roman Catholics. Besides that, we tend to think that their liturgical fixes went a bit far, particularly when we look at various videos on YouTube. But, I do not want you to miss the point. The Roman Catholic Church is not today the Church against which the Reformers preached. It is not the Church that I think it ought to be, but it certainly is not the Church that it was.
When Luther did his “Hier stand ich. Ich kann nicht anders,” speech before theDiet, he did the right thing. It was a difficult time and an incredibly corrupt Church. He was thrown out of a Church that had left the other Patriarchates only one hundred years before. [Note: while everyone says 1054 AD, as late as the 1400’s there was a council between Rome and the Orthodox to try and solve the split.] This was a Church that needed to be confronted. And confront Luther did.
But, 500 years later, the Holy Spirit has been doing some work with the Roman Church. That statement immediately brings up a problem for those who do not believe that the Holy Spirit will do much work with apostates of heretics, other than trying to convince them to return to the fold. That type of attitude is found among both theologically very conservative Orthodox and Protestants. I am not one of them.
Among many Orthodox, they would argue that to acknowledge the Holy Spirit as working outside the Church in any manner save providence, salvation, and recalling the prodigals, is to acknowledge that the Church is not fully visible. In other words to acknowledge the Holy Spirit as working in any substantial way outside Orthodoxy is to buy into the theology that the Church is basically invisible and that it shows up through various visible groups. I do not agree with that theological construction, and do not see either Scripture or Holy Tradition as saying that the Holy Spirit self-limits his dealings in such a way.
Nevertheless, my point is the point of the article. There is more than one reason why we do not speak much about the Reformation anymore. But, part of the reason that we no longer refer much to the Reformation is either because we do not believe in the Reformation (the Orthodox), or because we have seen the way in which the Roman Church has changed (Orthodox and Protestants). Again, this does not mean that I agree with the Roman Church. But, sometimes we need to recognize where there has been healthy change. [But, I still hate some of those YouTube videos with oddball dancing priests, super-soaker Holy Water dispensers, group-dancing Franciscans, etc.]