In our upcoming novel The Hidden Saint we explore the difficulties that surrounded the split within the Christian Church in the 16th century. Those differences are especially important now that we are entering the 500th year of that split and the celebrations which will surround the event. Fortunately, we are more understanding of one another’s positions today in light of the attacks on Christianity as a whole.
The central issue between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church in the 16th century concerned the doctrine of justification. The condemnations hurled at one another in that century no longer apply due to a high level of consensus between the two faiths. (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification; The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church 25 June 1998) While all issues have not been resolved, there is a consensus on the fundamental truths of the doctrine of justification. Several remaining differences require further study; for example, the Catholic Church continues to believe that concupiscence is not a sin, and that baptism removes all sin.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI set up a procedure to allow “groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world” to return en masse to the Catholic Church. Conservatives of the Anglican Communion, including conservative Episcopalians, took comfort in this procedure and the practice has proven workable. Several important issues remain unresolved: papal supremacy and ordination of women and openly homosexual priests. Other Christians, most noticeably the Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox faiths, have seen with interest, the fact that married Anglican priests may now receive Holy Orders and become Catholic priests.
After the Battle of Lepanto in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire quickly rebuilt its fleet of ships to its former level. However, never again did Islam seriously challenge Europe. Currently, Muslims represent about 23.2 percent of the world’s population as compared to Christians which represent about 31.5 percent (PEW Research). Most of the Muslim population resides in such countries as Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Just as it did in the mid 16th century, the current generation must find a way to mute the dual threats of terrorism and the lack of morality. These perpetual threats may never be eradicated only contained as long as humans are merely humans. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (8:22) “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even unto now…”