Sunday, October 29, 2017
Stanley Hauerwas has an (as one would expect) provocative and someone idiosyncratic reflection up at the Washington Post. (I'm assuming that, in keeping with the usual practice, Hauerwas didn't pick the particulars of the headline." A bit:
Five hundred years after its inception, we are witnessing the end of the Reformation. The very name “Protestant” suggests a protest movement aimed at the reform of a church that now bears the name of Roman Catholicism. But the reality is that the Reformation worked. Most of the reforms Protestants wanted Catholics to make have been made. (Indulgences are no longer sold, for instance.) A few Protestant denominations might still be anti-Catholic (consider evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress’s claim, recently publicized, that Catholicism has Satanic origins ), but the original idea that Catholics adhere to a legalistic perversion of Christianity that does not admit the free grace of God is seldom seen, these days, as the Protestant difference from Catholicism. Over time, historians have helped us see that there was no one thing the Reformation was about, but that if there was a single characteristic at its heart, it was the recovery of the centrality of Christ for making sense of why Christians are not at home in this world. That emphasis turned out to be the overriding insight that shaped the work of Vatican II, meaning Catholics have overcome the major thrust of the Reformation.
That the Reformation has been a success, however, has put Protestantism in a crisis. Winning is dangerous — what do you do next? Do you return to Mother Church? It seems not: Instead, Protestantism has become an end in itself, even though it’s hard to explain from a Protestant point of view why it should exist. The result is denominationalism in which each Protestant church tries to be just different enough from other Protestant churches to attract an increasingly diminishing market share. It’s a dismaying circumstance. . . .
My own sense is that it's difficult to reduce or distill the Protestant Reformation (Revolt?) down to one "single characteristic" and so it is also difficult to pronounce with confidence who "won" or to say what "winning" would even be. (A lot of early Protestants had a whole lot of practices and teachings in their sights - e.g., the veneration of Mary, the Sacraments, etc. - that still seem to be going strong.) Still . . . interesting.