VATICAN CITY, 23 SEP 2011
Following a brief visit to the cathedral in Erfurt, the Holy Father travelled by car to the city's ancient Augustinian convent where he met with the German Evangelical Church Council.
The German Evangelical Church, a union of twenty-two Lutheran Churches, has more than 24 million faithful, around 30 percent of the population.
Benedict XVI was greeted on arrival by Pastor Nikolaus Schneider, president of the German Evangelical Church, and by Bishop Ilse Junkermann of the Evangelical Church of Thuringia. They accompanied him to the main hall, the only building in the convent to have remained unchanged since the time Martin Luther was a monk there.
The Pope spoke of the emotion he felt, as Bishop of Rome, on finding himself in the place where Martin Luther had studied theology and been ordained a priest in 1507. "The question of God", he said, was Luther's "deep passion", the "driving force of his whole life's journey. 'How do I receive the grace of God?': this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle".
"'How do I receive the grace of God?' The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me", the Holy Father went on. "For who is actually concerned about this today, even among Christians? ... Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. ... Nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately He mercifully overlooks our small failings. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small? ...
Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, ... the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation?"
"If love for God and godly love of neighbour - of His creatures, of men and women - were more alive in us", hunger and poverty would not so devastate the world, said the Pope. Thus, "evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful.
The question: what is God's position towards me, where do I stand before God? - this burning question of Martin Luther - must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. ... This God has a face, and He has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ".
Faith: the strongest force for ecumenism
Faith in Christ must be the starting point for ecumenism. "The first and most important thing for ecumenism is that we keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularisation - everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task. It was the error of the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common in terms of the great deposit of Sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds. The great ecumenical step forward of recent decades is that we have become aware of all this common ground and that we acknowledge it as ... our undying foundation".
However two phenomena endanger this communion. Firstly, "a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: ... the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed - the question of our fundamental faith choice".
The second phenomenon is "the secularised context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past".
For this reason "faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith - thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with Him, the living God. ... Faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularised world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord".
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