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This year com­mem­o­rates the 500th anniversary of the Ref­or­mation. | Wiki­media Commons

Debates about Christian doc­trine during the Ref­or­mation didn’t play out only on church doors at Wit­tenberg and in lecture halls at Marburg; they led to dis­tinct ways of prac­ticing the faith for all Chris­tians.

In the second installment of the semester-long “Ref­or­mation at 500” lecture series Tuesday and Wednesday, the­olo­gians and his­to­rians from Hillsdale to Spokane, Wash­ington, dis­cussed the life of faith as lived out in the Catholic and Protestant tra­di­tions, espe­cially in the practice of the Eucharist.

“The Ref­or­mation is thought of pri­marily in terms of dogma,” said Thomas Burke, chairman and pro­fessor of phi­losophy and religion at Hillsdale, in his 4 p.m. lecture in Phillips Audi­torium. “But one must also remember that the Ref­or­mation was ini­tially inspired by a concern for true piety.”

Burke com­pared and con­trasted the ways Protestant practice dif­fered from Catholic practice according to their dis­tinct posi­tions on jus­ti­fi­cation, the priesthood of all believers, and original sin.

“The point is the doc­trine of jus­ti­fi­cation was not an end in itself, but a means to a new picture of the way to live the Christian life,” Burke said. 

This included a view of the “priesthood of all believers” that reshaped the existing hier­ar­chical structure of the church and focused on preaching instead of admin­is­tration of the Eucharist in the Mass.

 “I was looking from a Lutheran per­spective,” said John James, a senior classics major and trea­surer of the Lutheran Society, “but I think Burke showed how dif­ferent views of jus­ti­fi­cation lead to Protes­tants’ dis­tinct views, but then also made some dis­tinc­tions within Protes­tantism.” 

It also led to a view of jus­ti­fi­cation and sanc­ti­fi­cation that focused first and foremost on inner faith, not the Catholic view of good works that help sinners grow in piety.

But this refo­cusing on the inner life of faith has led to mis­un­der­standings about the Protestant under­standing of Holy Com­munion, according to W. Bradford Lit­tlejohn.

“The central debate was not whether the body and blood of Christ were present, but whether bread and wine were present in the Eucharist,” said Lit­tlejohn, who is founder and pres­ident of the Dav­enant Institute for studies in Christian the­ology, focusing on the Ref­or­mation and its later devel­op­ments.

Far from dividing the material and spir­itual world by viewing the Sacrament as a mere symbol, Reformed tra­di­tions upheld the belief in Christ’s real presence, refining the doc­trine with greater philo­sophical and the­o­logical rigor, Lit­tlejohn said. Even Catholic and Lutheran the­olo­gians, who claim that Christ is present in a bodily sense, ulti­mately find the real presence to be, in some sense, beyond reason. 

“Everyone agreed that Christ’s flesh couldn’t be locally present, but present only in a mode that sur­passes our under­standing. The dif­ference was that for the Reformed, this mode had a name: the Holy Spirit,” Lit­tlejohn said. 

According to John Calvin and other Protestant the­olo­gians, the Holy Spirit makes Christ present through the believer’s faith, not any outward con­version of the ele­ments.

“The essential point,” Lit­tlejohn said, “is that the Eucharist is a mystery to be grate­fully received, not a logical exercise.” 

James said Littlejohn’s lecture brought clarity to his under­standings of Reformed views on the Eucharist.

“As far as what I’d heard before, I thought it was helpful because in the past it seemed to me that the Reformed view was just more vague,” James said. “This helped clarify that they have a very estab­lished the­o­logical stance that isn’t just less defined, or more open.”

On Wednesday at 4 p.m., asso­ciate pro­fessor of history Darryl Hart, who has pub­lished a col­lection of essays on liturgy in the Reformed tra­dition, pre­sented “The Inward Turn of Protes­tantism after the Ref­or­mation.” 

“Protes­tants bal­anced talk about holiness with the formal aspects of church life — ini­tially. But with the rise of Puri­tanism and frus­tration over church life in England, Protes­tants in the Calvinist world began to turn inward,” Hart said. This has visible — and audible — con­se­quences that are evident in Protestant churches today: “Pres­by­te­rians aban­doned singing Psalms for singing hymns … Hymns were much more about per­sonal expe­rience — Hence the inward turn.”

Hart’s lecture was fol­lowed by a faculty panel at 7 p.m. with Hillsdale pro­fessors Burke, Hart, Jordan Wales, Eric Hutchinson, Korey Maas, and Adam Car­rington.

The “This Far by Faith” lecture series con­cludes Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 with a dis­cussion of the authority of Scripture and the church.