500 Years of Reformation

Thursday, October 12, 2017

500 Years of Reformation

On the 11th of October, ECPM held two events in Strasbourg to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. They were side events to the October 2017 session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and were organized in collaboration with ECPM MPs Pavel Unguryan and Valeriu Ghiletchi. 


The first event took place in the Palais de l'Europe, the principal building of the Council of Europe and had the title: “500th Anniversary of Reformation – impact on the Cultural, Social and Political life of Europe”. It was attended by Members of the Parliamentary Assembly, religious leaders, members of the press as well as representatives of NGOs.  


Lefteris Kaloterakis (ECPM) welcomed all who were present and started the event by briefly touching upon the importance of discussing and remembering the Reformation. "Through the Reformation, we witnessed the birth of modern states that have a structured system of governance and are able to impose uniform laws as opposed to patrimonial states where one’s relationship with the ruler determined one’s status." Mr Kaloterakis added that "the Reformation also had profound influence on the way societies operated in the economic and social sphere. (…) Personal responsibility was especially underlined and individuals were urged to devote themselves to their vocations with as much zeal as possible. Work became a way to glorify God. However, profit was not a goal by itself but a means to do good and affect the whole of society. The emphasis on personal responsibility, coupled in the Dutch and Swiss examples with a decentralized organization based on communities, gave new legitimacy to state institutions allowing the minimization of corruption. Finally, the idea that all society activities should serve a broader public interest became central. We therefore have a lot to learn from the spirit and the legacy of the Reformation. ECPM believes that we need to rethink our fiscal policies so that we have an economy that works for the people. We need to put human dignity in the forefront of our social policies. Our hope is that today’s events, as well as any initiative to honour the Christian heritage of Europe, will be a step towards this direction." 


ECPM member MP Pavel Unguryan, who chaired the meeting together with ECPM member MP Valeriu Ghiletchi, started by presenting the results of a study he conducted in collaboration with Vernon L. Smith, Ph.D. (Economic Science Institute) and Roman M. SheremetaPh.D. (Case Western Reserve University and Economic Science Institute). The study examined the effects of the reformation on education, work ethic, entrepreneurship, social ethic, civil society and institutional changes. He pointed out that the changes that occurred during the reformation had an enormous positive impact on the development of the Western World countries and the whole world. 


Jeff Fountain, Director of the Schuman Centre for European Studies, presented the positive impact the Reformation had on European countries on social fields such economic progress, art and music, marriage and family, law as well as the fight against corruption. He mentioned that the Reformation also had a dark side, as it was often connected with increased polarization between church groupingsHe finally noted that Europe is the continent most shaped by the Bible as well as by the rejection of the Bible calling this phenomenon "the paradox of Europe". Lawrence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International, spoke on the impact of the Reformation on western legal systems. Referring specifically to the example of the United Kingdom, he noted that it is clear that neither kings nor popes would be allowed to interfere with the freedoms of the citizens of the United Kingdom to worship on the basis of their beliefs: "These liberties, now enshrined in law, were gained through significant hardship and war. They remain a fundamental part of the legacy of the Reformation, which gave us an idea of liberty under the law which is as pressing and poignant today as it was 500 years ago." 


On the same afternoon, the Strategic Forum for the "Preservation and Promotion of the Principles of the Reformation on the European Continent" was organised in the premises of the European Parliamentary Association. It was attended by a delegation of Ukrainian church leaders as well as by members of different Non-Governmental Organizations. The main speaker for this event was David Fieldsend, President of Sallux (ECPM’s Foundation). Mr Fieldsend mentioned that "over a period of several centuries, Reformation principles about civic order, social mores and the dignity and equality of all men (women came later) came to permeate the whole continent, including those with only a tiny minority of protestant believers, and the European values of human rights, democracy and rule of law can be clearly traced back to the roots of the sixteenth century reformation. It is no accident that the booklet that Luther published explaining the rationale for his famous 95 theses was entitled 'The Freedom of a Christian'."  


He added that the "Reformation broke the stranglehold and monopoly on public truth of the ruling classes in both church and state. Before the Reformation ordinary people were told what to believe and how to live by leaders putting their own interpretation on both religious scriptures and civic charters which the common people could neither read nor understand." Moreover, it was mentioned that it was in Protestant countries that the push for public education and universal literacy first began. Finally, he explained that it was not his intention to "give the impression that somehow this should be used to exclude or suppress the Catholic contribution to the wellbeing of our Continent (or the Orthodox contribution for that matter). If it had not been for the historic Roman Catholic Church it would be impossible to talk today of a common European cultural heritage…it is on that Catholic foundation of reconciliation and peace building (which was the prime motivating force in the initiation of the western European project which grew into the EU) as well as the Reformation foundation of individual liberty and rights of freedom of thought, expression and belief that the Europe inherited by our modern Institutions, be it the European Union or the Council of Europe, was built." 

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