Announcing The Regensburg Forum

by Aaron Anderson

In keeping with our commitment to scholarly explorations of contested issues between Catholics and Protestants, the writers of Catholics & Calvinists have decided to re-name our project The Regensburg Forum: History, Philosophy, and Theology in the Augustinian Tradition. We think that this change in nomenclature will serve to both broaden the possibilities for discussion on our site and also narrow the focus of our approach to the scholarly matters that deserve further exploration and creative engagement. Crucially, we will focus on the importance of attending to the Augustinian legacy, which both our traditions inherit and develop. Recognizing that the proliferation of early and late medieval theology and the original protest of the Reformers relied heavily upon creative deployments Augustinian thought in philosophy and theology, we take the Augustinian tradition to be a key point of departure for study and research. We are convinced that careful research in an Augustinian key will help to bring Roman Catholic scholarship closer to the orthodox and scholastic heart of Reformed thought, while also allowing the discontinuities of Reformation thought with Roman Catholicism to be studied in light of remarkable and overarching continuities.

This name change also reflects the fact that Catholics & Calvinists has first welcomed and then learned from the critiques and informed concerns of our readers. Though we elected the term Calvinist out of good will – historic, evangelical Calvinism is a tradition worth engaging in its own right and on its own terms! – it continues to present challenges to the dialogue, especially because some readers sincerely doubt that Calvinism proper can be the object of ecumenical study, and because others doubt that Catholics and Calvinists share a commitment to the gospel of free grace. As some of our interlocutors, both confessionally Reformed and New Calvinist, have indicated, one of the questions at issue is whether we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ. We recognize the sources and sincerity of these objections, and have no reason to be intransigent and insist on owning the terms of the debate or make assent to shared Christian unity a condition for serious discussion. So, our name change represents the sense that our writers have of what is truly at stake in debates between Reformed and Catholic Christianity, and also an act of good faith towards our Reformed readers that want to continue engaging with us, but worry about the problems of uniting ecumenism with scholarship.

Stated concisely, and in keeping with our commitments to an ecumenism of learning that manifests in shared scholarship between Protestants and Catholics, The Regensburg Forum will continue the work that Catholics & Calvinists began, but with an increasing focus on perceived continuities and discontinuities in the history of Reformed and Catholic debate, with, again, the Augustinian tradition as a point of departure and a guide. I say perceived because The Regensburg Forum is of the mind that much work remains to be done on “settled” ideas, figures, and debates of (especially) the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Early Modern Catholic, and Enlightenment eras that have been “unsettled” by ongoing scholarship. Creative research and reexamination in these areas, we think, will prove extremely fruitful for (re)understanding the state of our divides today. This work falls to both the Reformed and Catholics, but, to our minds, it falls especially to Catholics, given our deficiency of scholarship in magisterial Reformed thought and its highly nuanced theological systems. The Regensburg Forum will continue to develop work that interrogates the state of Reformed-Catholic debate, all with a desire to contribute learned Catholic research on Reformed and “Reformational” theology to forward further dialogue. Of its nature, then, our work requires the presence of those that represent the Reformed tradition, and we continue to work to publish contributions from evangelical and Reformed Christians. Indeed, we hope to have regular participants from these traditions very soon!

Obviously, The Regensburg Forum takes its name from the remarkable and also lamentable proceedings of the Colloquy of Regensburg, the final attempt of the Holy Roman Empire to reconcile the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. For those who are unaware of its history, the Colloquy of Regensburg (alternatively the Diet of Regensburg) was a forum that gathered leading Catholic and Protestant representatives – notably Martin Bucer and Philipp Melanchthon for the Protestants – at the German city of Regensburg in 1541. It was arguably the most significant of numerous Reformed-Catholic dialogues that took place between 1536-61, and featured Catholic legates, theologians, and politicians and Reformed ministers and theologians. The Colloquy convened at the request of Emperor Charles V to debate the contested matters the Reformers had raised and also to seek, if possible, theological rapprochement on justification, the integrity of human nature, free will, sacraments, hierarchy and other disputes over orthodox doctrine and practice. Without question, the proceedings of the Colloquy of Regensburg were as politically charged as they were religiously motivated, given the highly precarious state of an imperial peace grounded largely in religious affiliation.

The Colloquy serves as an incredibly interesting study for those involved in Catholic and Reformed dialogue, both because of what it achieved and what it did not. The Colloquy was able to come to (partial but significant) agreements on original sin, Pelagianism, and, notably, justification – arguably the fundamental dividing issue of the Reformation – in the form of Article VDe Iustifcatione Hominis, which Calvin, himself a delegate at the Colloquy, believed maintained “the substance of true doctrine.”  However, with increasing resistance on the part of Protestants and procedural dependence on papal declarations on the part of Catholics, the Colloquy began to stall as both camps resisted efforts to deepen the doctrinal content of the agreements. Martin Luther (then at a distance in Wittenberg) and also John Calvin both offered appraisals which proved to be integral to the Protestant sensibility that guided the Reformers’ willingness to accept or reject the Colloquy’s proposals. Eventually, the Reformers’ qualified approval of the proceedings turned to suspicion and then denunciation. Catholic representatives proved increasingly intransigent to the Emperor’s moves to qualify Catholic resolutions in favor of the Protestants. The promise of the Colloquy sputtered, overtaken by further censures and forced measures by the Emperor and the Vatican.

Not only is the Colloquy of Regensburg an interesting and too-little-studied event, but it also has resonances with the vision we are attempting to set forth at The Regensburg Forum. Depending on how one judges the possibilities for dialogue between the Reformed and Catholic churches, Regensburg may appear to have been a disaster born of futile motivations and impossible aspirations. Or, it could be an intriguing example of rigorous debate over substantive theological matters that were still considered worthy of open discussion between Reformed and Catholic theologians. The Regensburg Forum decidedly takes the latter interpretation, largely because this interpretation of the Colloquy’s unfolding resists over-idealizing Protestant and Catholic purity vis-à-vis the other. The initial deliberations-turned-agreements of the Colloquy’s members displayed a remarkable amount of theological creativity, compromise, and mutual honesty about the vital importance of relating justification and sanctification while maintaining orthodoxy.

Further, the incursions of complicated realities into the Colloquy that were beyond its formal considerations – political, social and military – help to illustrate that the classic divisions of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation are very much owing to (though not reducible to) multi-faceted phenomena and historical forces: political pressures, military expansionism and nationalism, understandings of the integrity (or lack thereof) of religious life, the increase in lay piety and knowledge, prevailing philosophical schools and debates, and local and cosmopolitan tensions. Given this complex unfolding of events within the European milieu, much recent Reformation historiography has unsettled comfortable (and relatively ahistorical) caricatures of the Reformation era – for example, those that reduce the Reformation protest to a single, pure “religious” idea, those that present the Council of Trent as an authoritarian “closing down” of theological debate, or those that speak of the Calvinist tradition without so much as a mention of its scholastic heritage.

Especially of note here are the fascinating intellectual “clashes” in the various Augustinian schools which run right through late medieval theology and philosophy and into the Reformation. Against the perception that the Reformation is primarily constituted by a series of discontinuities (with regard to dogma, philosophy, humanism, tradition, etc.), studies of the “Augustinianisms” represented, for instance, by the schola Augustiniana moderna, have shown an “unequivocal intellectual continuity between the ideas and methods of late scholasticism, the Renaissance, and the first phase of the Reformation” (McGrath, Intellectual Origins of the Reformation, p. 137). What becomes clear from this proliferation of Augustinian debates – which occur side-by-side with the via moderna debates about the divine power, human merit, the limits of scholasticism, and so forth – is that the Reformers directly inherit, critique, and modify many of the lively debates and settlements of early-modern Catholicism and Renaissance humanism.

With this recognition comes an opportunity to appreciate that continuity anew, as well as the imperative to bring Catholic thought, with all of its internal debates and theological pluralism, into conversation with early Reformed thought at the intersection of history, philosophy, and theology. Works as various as those of Heiko Oberman, Henri de Lubac, SJ, Alister McGrath, David Steinmetz, Etienne Gilson, Ulrich Lehner, and Louis Dupré have posed significant historical questions to narratives of Reformation-Catholic divides that tended to overlook the complex continuities and discontinuities present in both Catholic and Reformed thought on theology, philosophy, scholasticism, and humanism. And, it is precisely in returning to the ways that both Catholics and Protestants navigated these issues – each often mistaking the other’s internal debates for authoritative church teachings or theological consensus – that we think stimulating conversations can continue between the Catholic and Reformed traditions.

We do not, of course, take the Colloquy of Regensburg to be the decisive model for dialogue per se. We are not endorsing all aspects of its proceedings – it is certainly a good thing that, in our day, opportunities for theological debate do not have the threat of religio-political censure or punishment looming in the background! Additionally, while the Colloquy itself was an ecumenical meeting in the strong sense, our Forum is not a meeting place that is directed at establishing political peace and visible unity.

Regensburg, though, is important to us not only because it can help to unsettle some of our settled narratives about Reformed-Catholic polemics, but also because it was a deliberative space, however risky and contentious, where deeply committed Reformers and Roman Catholics met and discussed. Further, the debates and exchanges at Regensburg were conducted in such a way that the shape of the theological debate that had taken place up to that point was deepened and even re-oriented. A sincere effort was made by both Catholics and Protestants to heal the divides that were tearing Christ’s church apart. So while Regensburg is an imperfect reference, we do think that it was an instance of a real discussion and debate which showed that a deeper understanding of one another was possible in the decades after 1517-1521. While the Council of Trent’s contribution in the years just after Regensburg cannot be ignored, we at The Regensburg Forum think that there is still much to learn, discuss, and debate now that 470 years or so have passed.

The Regensburg Forum does not claim to be the capstone of scholarship in these areas; however, we do wish to increase good will between Reformed and Catholic Christians online, and want to leverage the online space in a way that generates scholarly conversations and encourages others to do the same. With our new name comes a continued commitment to modeling charity, rigor, and scholarship in inter-confessional dialogue.

One thought on “Announcing The Regensburg Forum

  1. Quick question: you want to increase good will. Not a bad thing at all. But where are the instances of ill will?

    And if there are examples of ill will, what connection do you see between that ill will and people leaving Protestantism to become Roman Catholic? Someone could psychologize the blog by wondering if the bloggers feel badly for upsetting Protestant friends and family for leaving those former communions for a new and superior one.

    As you might detect, leaving conversion out of the conversation may be a serious omission. After all, a conversion is based on both an understanding of Rome and Protestantism. How much are those understandings more important for contemporary good will than the understandings of Trent and the Reformers? To me the latter seem to be several steps removed from the current climate of will (good or ill).

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