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Ecumenical leaders call for context, nuance in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue


  • Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is seen at The Catholic University of America in Washington May 30. The Swiss cardinal spoke about Martin Luther and the Reformation. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
  • Attendees listen to Cardinal Kurt Koch's talk about Martin Luther and the Reformation at The Catholic University of America in Washington, May 30. The Swiss cardinal is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
  • A priest takes notes during Cardinal Kurt Koch's talk about Martin Luther and the Reformation at The Catholic University of America in Washington, May 30. The Swiss cardinal is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
  • The Rev. Larry Golemon, executive director of the Washington Theological Consortium, attends Cardinal Kurt Koch's talk about Martin Luther and the Reformation at The Catholic University of America in Washington May 30. The Swiss cardinal is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
  • Attendees listen to Cardinal Kurt Koch's talk about Martin Luther and the Reformation at The Catholic University of America in Washington, May 30. The Swiss cardinal is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
  • Cardinal Kurt Koch, left, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is seen with Father Mark Morozowich, acting provost at The Catholic University of America in Washington, May 30. The Swiss cardinal gave a talk on campus about Martin Luther and the Reformation. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

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WASHINGTON (CNS) --- Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, renowned for his ecumenical efforts, addressed a Washington gathering of Catholic and Lutheran leaders striving for unity.

Cardinal Koch's speech took place May 30 at "The 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther's Posting of the Ninety-Five Theses Conference: Luther and the Shaping of the Catholic Tradition," held at The Catholic University of America.

In his address, Cardinal Koch called for a new understanding of Martin Luther that takes into account his historical and religious context.

The cardinal, who leads the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, outlined how Luther was grounded in the monastic and mystical traditions of late medieval Catholicism, like Christ-centered theology.

He also pointed out that the reforms Luther called for were not extraordinary in their time: similar reforms were gaining traction elsewhere, like the "devotio moderna," or "modern devotion," movement in the Netherlands that called for humility and simplicity in the church, or the first multilingual edition of Scripture that was published in Spain in 1515.

Luther, the cardinal said, never intended for his reforms to divide the church, just as medieval reformers such as St. Francis and St. Dominic never intended to found new religious orders. They only intended to reform the church from within.

Cardinal Koch said the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was partly to blame for the division.

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