'Unity' call on Reformation anniversary

Statue of Martin Luther in Wittenberg, Germany
Image caption A statue of Martin Luther in Wittenberg, where the Protestant Reformation began

The Church of England has said Protestants should "repent of their part in perpetuating divisions" - 500 years after the Reformation began the split from the Roman Catholic Church in Europe.

A statement from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York has said the split caused "lasting damage" to the unity of the Church - something that contradicted the teaching of Jesus and left a "legacy of mistrust and competition".

It went on to say: "Such repentance needs to be linked to action aimed at reaching out to other churches and strengthening relationships with them."

'Call to all Christians'

Coming during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it is a further sign that these two Churches are seeking to repent of past failings and find more ways in which they might work together.

The historic rupture, which began in October 1517 when the German monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, led to centuries of violence, where rulers of one Church would frequently execute communicant members of the other.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Reverend Justin Welby

Last October, Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury presided at a service in Rome that was held on the fiftieth anniversary of the historic summit between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, which established the Anglican Centre in Rome.

In a joint declaration issued after the service in October, the two leaders said they were "undeterred" from seeking unity between the two denominations.

While the Archbishops of Canterbury and York embrace the theological distinctives that arose out of the Reformation, specifically Martin Luther's emphasis on Christian salvation being through faith and not by merit or effort, they regret the bloodshed that followed that historic rupture in 1517.

It is worth noting that both Churches always mark 4 May as a day for Reformation Martyrs, with the Church of England praying that 'those who have been divided on earth may be reconciled in heaven'.

Today's statement is a call to all Christians, of whatever denomination, to repent of division and to unite within the Christian Gospel.

Correction 18 January 2017: This report has been amended to remove a suggestion that the Church had apologised for events following the Reformation.

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