Declan MARMION, Salvador Ryan, and Gesa E. Thiessen, editors. Remembering the Reformation: Martin Luther and Catholic Theology. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2017. pp. 248. $79 hc. ISBN: 9781506423371. Reviewed by Paul LACHANCE, Independent Scholar.


Remembering the Reformation is a collection of essays by eleven international scholars, with contributor biographies, a foreword, introduction, epilogue and index. As it is explained in the editors’ introduction, Remembering the Reformation emerged from an international conference, whose full title was “Martin Luther and Catholic Theology: Remembering the Reformation: What have we learned? What have we yet to learn?” The stated purpose of the conference and the collection was and is to gain new insights into the meaning and contemporary significance of the Reformation through a process of mutual learning that reaches beyond words and symbols to, in the words of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, the substance of what is communicated thereby to discern precisely where genuine opposition and difference actually exist and where they do not.  At the same time, the essays intend to read texts in their historical context and to highlight how the language of Lutherans and that of Catholics have had a mutual influence.

The conference papers were delivered in parallel sessions, but are organized in the collection under four headings: Historical Foundations, Luther and the Medieval Tradition, Luther and Catholic Theology, and What Can Catholics Learn from Luther?  The individual essays cover a range of topics including the events of the Sixteenth Century, historical patterns of invective, sacramental theology, Luther’s arguments against scholasticism, his view of women, Lutheran observers at Vatican II, Luther’s ideas in the thought of Benedict XVI, Karl Rahner, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, religious imagery, scriptural hermeneutics, and universal priesthood.

The organization of these many topics under into the first three sections is common enough and helps to focus the reader’s attention within general areas of commonality among the essays.  For several reasons, however, it appears that the division itself and the fourth section, in particular, “What Can Catholics Learn from Luther”, distract the reader from the overall intent of the collection.  First, in their own way, all the essays contribute to the stated purpose of mutual learning, and hence to the question about what can be learned.  Above all, the essays enact Augustine’s hermeneutics of love and seek not to win an argument but to learn something.  Together they lead the reader through the difficult, at times embarrassing, frequently self-critical exercise of genuine listening.  Second, the essays converge beautifully, in ways that are not made evident by the division, on the theme of listening to history for the sake of the present and the future.  

For example, Philip Carey and Pieter De Witte both offer subtle interpretations of Luther’s assertion simul iustus et peccator.  Their placement in sections ostensibly devoted diversely to historical and to Catholic theology may obscure the integrity of the hermeneutic task. Cary’s essay, for instance, highlights the need to appreciate the historical development from Augustine’s theology of grace to the Medieval Scholastic distinctions and identification of sacraments as efficacious signs, precisely to understand Luther’s simul in the process of justification.  De Witt likewise reads Rahner and von Balthasar within a Modern ecclesial and ecumenical context.  Second, the essays in the final section apart from declaring what Catholics may learn from Luther, tend rather to identify areas of common cause in the modern world of images, of scriptural interpretation, and theologies of priesthood.  As Gesa Thiessen observes in her essay on religious images, “it is not so much the question of what Catholics can learn from Lutherans, but rather that today in an age that is overloaded with images, Christians together must challenge, ask questions, and explore how images can play a positive, creative, and critical role in the church into the future.”  This section offers a salutary reflection on what Catholics and Lutherans both have to learn from a loving and critical recovery of the common past.  All in all, this collection is an excellent testament to the virtues and achievements of contemporary ecumenism by authors who are making notable contributions in their own fields.