Brad Gregory is a practicing Catholic teaching at the iconic Catholic school in the U.S., but the University of Notre Dame professor is visiting Schenectady's Union College to mostly talk history, not religion.
Gregory will deliver the Wold Lecture on Religion and Conflict at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Nott Memorial, capping a month-long celebration by Union on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
"You can't understand the character of the world today unless you understand what happened 500 years ago," said Gregory, a European History professor at Notre Dame and a leading authority on the Reformation. "I think it's the single, most important thing to happen in relation to our modern world. This whole process, which I like to call an extended phenomenon, is incredibly important, as is the Enlightenment, which can't be understood apart from The Reformation."
The Reformation lasted much of the first half of the 16th Century,beginning with Martin Luther's posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the front door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. While most people hear the word "Reformation" and remember its positive impact on the world, Gregory likes to point out there's another side to the story. His lecture is titled "Whether We Like it or Not: Why the Reformation Matters after 500 Years."
"I try to steer away from whether it was good or bad, but I think the Reformation unintentionally led to a lot of serious problems, some of which only became evident to me and are still unfolding in recent decades," said Gregory, who last month had his book, "Rebels in the Ranks," published by HarperOne. "The kind of deep divisions about fundamental matters of value, truth morality, what human life should be, what a human being is, etc., that we experience on a daily basis now in the United States, are not directly, not intentionally, but are a very long-term outcome of the Reformation in Europe. So, if you're uncomfortable with the deep divisions in American society today, you should have at least a tempered enthusiasm for the Reformation because it started a process of deep disagreement about what is true, how to live, and what we should care about. The conversation has become much more secularized, but it's never gone away since the 16th century."
Luther's notion that salvation was not earned by good deeds but received as a free gift of God's grace, was quite revolutionary in its day, and he also felt individuals should have the opportunity to think for themselves. In Schenectady, Lutherans will be looking back at the Reformation in a different way than many Catholics.
"It's the touchstone of all Protestant denominations, but I think it's more talked about in Lutheran circles," said Dustin Wright, senior pastor at the Messiah Lutheran Church at 2850 Guilderland Ave. in Schenectady. "I'm going to be talking about the similarities between today and the time of the Reformation, and how the invention of the printing press back then is a lot like the internet today."
Wright will also perform a short skit in this Sunday's service in which he will play Martin Luther.
"God was speaking to Luther in new ways back then, and he's speaking to us in new ways 500 years later," said Wright. "I think there's been a lot of work to bring the Catholic and Lutheran Church back together, and I think we've settled most of our differences. 500 years later we're getting closer."
At the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Glenville, senior pastor Deron Milleville also has something special planned for his parishioners.
"Weather permitting, we're going to get a group of people together and march through the neighborhood," said Milleville. "We'll head south down Route 50 and take a turn on Heckeler Drive and hopefully talk to a few of our neighbors if they're doing something outside like raking or whatever. Our church is more about just the four walls of our building. It's about our community, and we want people to know God's love and grace."
Father Richard Carlino, the priest at both St. Anthony's and St. John The Evangelist in Schenectady, said the Reformation was an awfully long time ago.
"In history, the Roman Catholic Church initially did not take the Reformation well, or the Counter Reformation, which was when we tried to undo everything the Reformation had done," said Carlino. "But the second Vatican Council in the 1960s said that some of Luther's reforms and demands were legitimate. And one thing I always remember clearly coming out of Vatican II was the saying that the church is always in need of reform.
"What I like to remember is that the gospel calls us to love everyone," continued Carlino. "Our church calls for a continuous dialogue with other Christian religions. Pope Francis even said that we should have dialogue with atheists because many atheists are good people. 500 years is a long time ago. We should all be loving, and remember that we're all children of one God."
'The Wold Lecture on Religion and Conflict'
WHAT: A presentation by Notre Dame University professor Brad Gregory
WHERE: Nott Memorial, Union College, Schenectady
WHEN: 5 p.m. Thursday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: Visit www.union.edu
A Reformation timeline
Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439 and by 1455 had published the first Bible. It is often called the most important invention of the second millennium. Over the next half century it would have a huge impact on religion and eventually spark the Protestant Reformation.
Here's a look at some of the major religious events of the Protestant Reformation from Martin Luther's initial act of defiance to the Peace of Augsburg.
1517 - Luther nails his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany, criticizing the church and questioning Pope's infallibility.
1521 - Luther refuses to recant his works at the Diet of Worms, is excommunicated.
1530 - Augsburg Confession:, the first doctrinal statement of the Lutheran Church.
1534 - Henry VIII and England break away from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry names himself head of the Church of England.
1535 - Thomas More is executed after refusing to accept King Henry VIII's claim as head of the Church of England.
1536 - Institutes of the Christian Religion, written by John Calvin.
1542 - Roman Inquisition enacted by Pope Paul III, prosecuting individuals accused of Protestantism as well as other offenses.
1545-1563 - Council of Trent: Counter-Reformation to stop spread of Protestantism as well as check abuses and issues in the Roman Catholic Church.
1555 - Peace of Augsburg, allowing Catholicism and Lutheranism to coexist in Germany.