Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fr. Mitch Pacwa's Documentary on the Reformation

According to the National Catholic Register, Fr. Mitch Pacwa's production company is working on a documentary on the Reformation, which it intends to release around the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, October 31, 2017.

Here are some excerpts from the NCR's interview with Fr. Pacwa:
Tell me about this video project that you are working on for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

One of the things I think is very important is that the secular press typically misrepresents people of faith, so our goal is to give a balanced presentation on the subject. They want to emphasize that this was a way to have a freedom from the Church, and then as they deal with that, they continue on with their goal of attacking religion as a whole. That is fairly standard M.O. So I would like to present a more balanced picture of what was happening at the time of the Reformation, making sure the data about the Reformation is presented very carefully, very fairly, so everyone involved can have a sense that this is not as simple as you may have once thought.

What will it involve as far as preparation for the project?

There are a number of elements. First of all: The way we want to present the topic is to include scholars who are familiar with the field, those who not only deal with the problem at the time of the reformers, but what were the variety of issues that led up to the Reformation. There were concerns about the meaning of the sacraments that go back to the 11th century. Berengarius, for example, was a deacon in Southern France who was the first theologian to deny the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. One of the reasons it’s so significant is that, given how late that is, you have people arguing against it, and the term transubstantiation is a term developed precisely in response to Berengarius.

The Avignon residency was certainly a problem, when the popes lived in France rather than in Rome, and focus a little bit on how that also had an influence on the development of the Reformation. Why? What was going on in terms of the Reformation and the ideas of the Renaissance? Because some forms of the Renaissance were strongly committed to restoration of pagan ideas. Paganism was certainly one of the attractive forces in the Reformation, not that the reformers were pagans, but notions of freedom developed by some of the early Renaissance figures were very influential on ideas that developed into nationalism, that the nation was placed over the Church would be an example of one of those influences.

Are you concerned about Protestant reaction to a documentary like this?

I’m not, actually, because the goal is not to fight against Protestants. I don’t think that the Protestants are going to be a big concern at all. I’m much more concerned at how the secular media is going to present the Reformation. When I look at the History Channel, I’m convinced they will be equally insulting to all comers. They will not be pro-Protestant. They will be antagonistic to the various religions. I’m convinced the secular media will use the Reformation simply as a way to attack all Christians. There’s already been one series where they were saying how bad the Catholics were and there’s so much corruption in the Church. And then after it sounded like they were very kind to the Protestant reformers, they turned around and attacked Luther as an anti-Semite. So any fears we have of reflecting badly on Protestants is nothing compared to what we should expect the Protestants will be experiencing, as well. There is an anti-Christian concern that is at stake here, not anti-Protestant, and the faster all the communities understand that the better off they’ll be in working on the issues.

In fact, the mainline Protestant churches are relatively small communities. The Episcopalians in this country are a little over 2 million, and the Presbyterian Church USA is about the same. So this is a very small community. I don’t find them threatening Catholicism or anything like that. What I do see as a threat to all the Christian communities are the secular folks in the media. We live in a time of very aggressive atheism. That’s not the first time it’s happened. Aggressive atheism certainly took over Russia when it became the Soviet Union, took over China, Cambodia, Nazi Germany. Aggressive atheists have been around, but they’re also extremely destructive. They try to pass off the falsehood, particularly related to the Reformation, that religion is the biggest cause of war in the history of the world. That is patent nonsense. The wars of Christianity, according to the research done at the history department of Baylor University, account for about 5 million people being killed, whereas the wars of atheism in the 20th century alone, or secularism in the case of World War I — 20 million people died in World War I’s nationalistic war, which is a secular ideology — that was three times as many as the Christians. Hitler’s and the Japanese Empire’s war was 50 million, and the KGB said that 62 million were starved to death or executed during the Soviet period. And with China, they don’t know yet; guesstimates go as high as 200 million.
So these very dangerous atheists are my concern.

Is it also part of your hope that bringing out the truth of this period in the Church would help Protestants come around on the side of the Catholic Church?

Certainly, I would be most interested in seeing Protestants become open to Catholicism. That’s always going to be. I’m a Catholic. And I think the Catholic Church is teaching the truth. So I’m going to stay with Catholicism because I do believe that it’s true. But when I disagree with Protestants, as I often do, I want to disagree with them on the basis of correct information about Protestantism and about Catholicism. I don’t want misinformation about either community. There is plenty of fault to go around as far as the Reformation is concerned. As the prophet Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; every one to his own way.” As Catholics we are not on the side that was completely innocent; neither are Protestants. So our task is definitely going to have to be one of trying to better understand what were the situations. And, for instance, there has been a good deal of research on the circumstances of the pre-Reformation period showing it was not so totally corrupt as sometimes it is portrayed in popular understandings of the Reformation. Like most of life, it’s more complicated than that. So we want to deal with all the complexities that exist so that we can better work on understanding what was done then and what were the issues at stake for the individuals of that time period. That’s another big issue: making sure we understand their terminology and their issues from their own perspective rather than sometimes reading in our own concerns to their perspective.

Read the whole thing here.


Matthew Bellisario said...

This sounds interesting. But we all have to wonder if a documentary like this will we be able to be released in 2017, after the big 0 in office completes his agenda. Its so far off the world may look like something out of Blade Runner. Maybe he could speed things up a bit?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Certainly, I would be most interested in seeing Protestants become open to Catholicism. That’s always going to be. I’m a Catholic. And I think the Catholic Church is teaching the truth. So I’m going to stay with Catholicism because I do believe that it’s true."

As a staunch conservative Protestant...

I strongly applaud such sentiments! I prefer principled disagreement which arises from honest clarity such as the words uttered by Fr. Pacwa.