Stanley Hauerwas on the Reformation

Centrists / Religion

Stanley Hauerwas was asked to preach on Reformation Sunday (what some Lutherans and many other protestants call the Sunday of All Saints). Prof. Hauerwas, as you might expect knowing his thinking, not going to choose the obvious path of lauding the reformers who managed to split western Christendom:

“I realize that this perspective on Reformation Sunday is not the usual perspective. The usual perspective is to tell us what a wonderful thing happened at the Reformation. The Reformation struck a blow for freedom. No longer would we be held in medieval captivity to law and arbitrary authority. The Reformation was the beginning of enlightenment, of progressive civilizations, of democracy, that have come to fruition in this wonderful country called America. What a destructive story.

You can tell the destructive character of that narrative by what it has done to the Jews. The way we Protestants read history, and in particular our Bible, has been nothing but disastrous for the Jews. For we turned the Jews into Catholics by suggesting that the Jews had sunk into legalistic and sacramental religion after the prophets and had therefore become moribund and dead. In order to make Jesus explicable (in order to make Jesus look like Luther — at least the Luther of our democratic projections), we had to make Judaism look like our characterization of Catholicism. Yet Jesus did not free us from Israel; rather, he engrafted us into the promise of Israel so that we might be a people called to the same holiness of the law.

I realize that the suggestion that salvation is to be part of a holy people constituted by the law seems to deny the Reformation principle of justification by faith through grace. I do not believe that to be the case, particularly as Calvin understood that Reformation theme. After all, Calvin (and Luther) assumed that justification by faith through grace is a claim about God’s presence in Jesus of Nazareth. So justification by faith through grace is not some general truth about our need for acceptance; but rather justification by faith through grace is a claim about the salvation wrought by God through Jesus to make us a holy people capable of remembering that God’s salvation comes through the Jews. When the church loses that memory, we lose the source of our unity. For unity is finally a matter of memory, of how we tell the story of the Reformation. How can we tell this story of the church truthfully as Protestants and Catholics so that we might look forward to being in union with one another and thus share a common story of our mutual failure?”

Read the full sermon here. I think it would qualify as a sort of mitzvah.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. David Burhenn says

    Dr. Knisely, I am surprised that you would state that Reformation Sunday substitutes for All Saints Sunday for “some Lutherans.” If you look at the lectionary for both the ELCA and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, you will see that Reformation Sunday is celebrated on the last Sunday in October while All Saints Sunday is celebrated on the first Sunday in November, as separate feast days. The vast majority of Lutherans in the United States therefore celebrate both feast days.

  2. Thanks David, I stand happily corrected. Back during my teenage sojourn amongst the LCA, we never celebrated All Saints, only Reformation Sunday. I’m glad to know that our respective Communions have grown closer together than I had realized.

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