Pope Benedictus XVI Visit to The Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt

Pope Benedict XVI paid a visit to Germany from 22 until 25 September 2011. On Friday, 23 September, the Pope spoke with members of the Evangelical Church of Germany at the Augustinerkloster and participated in an ecumenical service of the word. Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Augustinerkloster prompted headlines from newspapers such as the New York Times, “Pope Visits Venerated Lutheran Monastery.” The Augustinerkloster is where Martin Luther was ordained as a priest in 1507. A little more than 500 years later, Pope Benedict XVI visited Martin Luther’s monastery and spoke with representatives from the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). The EKD is NOT in pulpit and altar fellowship with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The Missouri Synod’s partner in Germany is the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Pope Benedict XVI’s address can be found here. In an effort to provide timely information on ecumenical news, we thought it would be helpful to post on this and provide a commentary on the event from Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt who attended and heard the Pope’s address.

From Berlin Sunday Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt is Presenting in this photo.

Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of SELK, provided the following commentary on Pope Benedict XVI’s address to EKD leaders. The translation is provided by Rev. Dr. John Stephenson, a professor at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada (a seminary of the Lutheran Church Canada).

Commentary on the papal visit to Germany[1]

Pope Benedict XVI visited Germany from 22 through 25 September 2011. Bishop Hans-Jőrg Voigt of the SELK, who resides in Hanover, took part in the ecumenical service of the Word held in Erfurt with the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Here the Bishop describes the results of the papal visit.

The unity of the Church will come about through delving deeper into the truth of Holy Scripture and not through crafting theological compromises— we “independent” [i.e., confessional] Lutherans can only say Yea and Amen to this notion. For belief founded on clear Scripture will sooner or later convict theological compromise formulas of their inadequacy. Conversely, common confessions forged through prayer and suffering have true staying power.

Immediately after the service I heard someone remark that the Pope had made no mention of Luther in the Augustinian monastery. To which I responded that in this memorable place Benedict XVI had given a clear and straightforward testimony of faith that Luther himself would not find wanting. Later on in the proceedings the Pope did in fact subjoin the requisite “discussion” with Luther.

My “take” on Benedict XVI’s visit to Germany—A highly learned theologian fortified by the intrepid wisdom that comes with age here confronted with the Name of Jesus Christ the devastating phenomenon of how the Church has marginalised herself by giving in time after time to expectations from the most varied (secular) quarters. As he did so, there was no lack of humour, even of a dose of irony at his own expense, nor of a fitting measure of self-criticism, for example, with respect to the sexual abuse problem that has caused so much distress.

EKD Synod President Katrin Göring-Eckardt spoke of walls—of stone and of silence—that have been guarded for too long and that will crumble from inside. If she was targeting the Roman Catholic Church with this remark, then she was making an indirect comparison with the regime of the former German Democratic Republic. Surely Mrs Göring-Eckardt cannot have intended such a thing—that would be a quite improper insinuation!

Of course, I could here go on to list a whole host of open theological questions and zero in on our “No!” to the First Vatican Council’s teaching on the papal office. But to do so would not do justice to what actually happened, which was that for a few days Jesus Christ and the Christian faith were the number one topic in Germany. The members of our Federal Parliament, the Bundestag, were quite right to rise from their seats in a gesture of respect.
† Hans-Jörg Voigt


[1] Along with Pt André Schneider, who serves at Christ Church in Erfurt, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt officially represented our sister Church the SELK at the ecumenical service held in Erfurt’s Augustinian Cloister on Friday 23 September 2011. The secular press gave much publicity to the Pope’s meeting at this historic site with “the German Lutherans,” failing to realise and make clear that the EKD (= “Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany”) is a coalition of three church bodies that enjoy communion with each other, namely, the Reformed, the United, and the Lutherans of the Territorial Churches (Landeskirchen). But even within the VELKD (= United Evangelical Church in Germany), “Lutherans” in our confessional sense of the word are today a rapidly vanishing, marginalised, and harassed minority. The commentary offered here in English translation appeared in the 28 September 2011 issue of the online news service “selk_news”. JRS