On February 15, Prof. Theodor Dieter of the Institute received an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, an exceptionally large university with 55,000 students. Along with the University of Cologne, Leuven was the first university to condemn the teachings of Martin Luther in 1519. But Leuven today very consciously chose to bestow this honorary doctorate on a Luther researcher and ecumenical theologian.
The faculties of Philosophy, Theology, and the Arts together prepared the honorary doctorate, the rationale being that the University wished to recognize Dieter’s “meticulous research into Luther’s early philosophy, which reveals a stronger affinity with medieval scholasticism in terms of openness to Aristotelian concepts; for [his] contributions to the development of a different view on Luther which puts his condemnations in a more nuanced perspective, including the one by our University; for [his] ceaseless efforts to defend the most important Joint Declaration by Lutherans and Catholics on the Doctrine of Justification despite the ongoing polemics; and for [his] key role in the international ecumenical dialogues between Catholics and Lutherans as the main driving force of all consensus documents of the past 20 years.”
In the Laudatio it was further underscored: “With this honoring of Prof. Dieter, we honor also the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. This Institute has diligently taken up new methods of ecumenical hermeneutics and the development of new models of unity, and with the formulation of probing questions has taken a pioneering role in ecumenism.” This was a moving commendation of the ecumenical theological work of both the honoree and the whole Institute.
The celebration of the honorary doctorate took place on the feast day of the university’s patron, Mary, who is understood in the tradition as the sedes sapientiae (“seat of wisdom”) with the Christ child on her lap. The celebration began with those being so honored—along with Prof. Dieter, there were also two professors of medicine from the U.S., a nutrition scientist from the Netherlands, and a Commissioner of the European Union—being ceremonially entered into the Golden Book of the University and in the magnificent late Gothic city hall’s Golden Book of the City.
After lunch with numerous colleagues a large number of professors in their academic gowns processed through the city from the university to the cathedral to take part in a worship service accompanied by the wonderful singing of the student choir. After worship the bestowal of the honorary doctorates took place at the university in the presence of a big group of professors and guests, including the Cardinal of Leuven. In the chancel sat the promotores, namely those expert advisers who defended the cause of the honorary doctorate for each of the recipients. Prof. Dieter’s promotores were the theologian Prof. Peter de Mey, the historian Prof. Violet Soen, and the philosopher Prof. Andrea Robiglio. After the Laudatio, delivered by Peter de Mey, the Rector read aloud the doctoral diploma and attached the sash, signifying an honorary doctorate, to Prof. Dieter. Afterwards in an atmosphere of good will and joy there was a reception with the opportunity to engage in conversation with professors from a whole host of different disciplines.
For a Luther researcher and ecumenical theologian to be recognized, along with the Institute for Ecumenical Research, not only in such a top-notch academic environment but also in the very place where Martin Luther was first condemned—what an extraordinary and unforgettable event!
Prof. Peter de Mey’s Laudatio: Ehrenpromotion KU Leuven für Theodor Dieter. Laudatio Prof. de Mey
Bilder: Huisfotograaf KU Leuven; Elke Leypold, Institute for Ecumenical Research