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Ecclesia semper reformanda est

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Ecclesia semper reformanda est (Latin for "the Church must always be reformed", often shortened to Ecclesia semper reformanda) is a phrase first greatly popularized[1] by the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth in 1947, allegedly deriving from a saying of St. Augustine.[2] It most often refers to the conviction of certain Reformed Protestant theologians that the Christian Church must continually re-examine itself in order to maintain its purity of doctrine and practice.


An early example is Jodocus van Lodenstein, Beschouwinge van Zion (Contemplation of Zion), Amsterdam, 1674–1678,[3] who claims the "truth… that also in the Church there is always much to reform" ("Sekerlijk de Gereformeerde Waarheyd… leert dat in de Kerke ook altijd veel te herstellen is".[4]).

A variation of the term, Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda ("the reformed church [must] always be reformed"), also used by Karl Barth, refers to the desire of an "erudite man" cited by Jodocus van Lodenstein that the Church should not be called "Reformata", but "Reformanda".[5]


It is widely but informally used in Reformed and Presbyterian churches today (for example, the French Reformed Church use "Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda" as motto).

Catholic Church[edit]

The first term was used by Hans Küng[6] and other ecclesiastical reformers of the Catholic Church who were influenced by the spirit of Vatican II of the 1960s.

The Catholic Church used the idea in the document Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council, nr. 8: "Dum vero Christus, "sanctus, innocens, impollutus" (Hebr 7,26), peccatum non novit (cf. 2Cor 5,21), sed sola delicta populi repropitiare venit (cf. Hebr 2,17), Ecclesia in proprio sinu peccatores complectens, sancta simul et semper purificanda, poenitentiam et renovationem continuo prosequitur":[7] "While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal."[8]

This latter usage appears in a 2009 pastoral letter by Bishop R. Walker Nickless that encourages a hermeneutic of continuity in Catholic teaching and practice.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

The phrase (without the est) is also put into the mouth of the fictional Pope Gelasius III in Mary Doria Russell's 1998 novel Children of God.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steve Perisho: "Semper reformanda," at http://spu.libguides.com/DCL2017/Reformation#s-lg-box-wrapper-18675181, citing himself (August Bauer in 1893) but more importantly J. N. Mouthaan, "Besprekingsartikel: Ecclesia semper reformanda: modern of premodern?," Documentatieblad Nadere Reformatie 38, no. 1 (2014): 88 (86– 89), who cites Abraham Kuyper in 1892, and observes that this means both that "The formulation ecclesia semper reformanda is much older than 1947", and that "The origin of this formulation lies therefore even earlier [than in] Kuyper."
  2. ^ . Theodor Mahlmann: "Ecclesia semper reformanda". Eine historische Aufarbeitung. Neue Bearbeitung, in: Torbjörn Johansson, Robert Kolb, Johann Anselm Steiger (Hrsg.): Hermeneutica Sacra. Studien zur Auslegung der Heiligen Schrift im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, Berlin – New York 2010, pp. 382–441, here pp. 384–88.
  3. ^ Michael Bush, "Calvin and the Reformanda Sayings," in Herman J. Selderhuis, ed., Calvinus sacrarum literarum interpres: Papers of the International Congress on Calvin Research (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008) p. 286. ISBN 978-3-525-56914-6
  4. ^ Cited according to Theodor Mahlmann, p. 423.
  5. ^ Cf. Theodor Mahlmann, p. 387.
  6. ^ Cf. Theodor Mahlmann, p. 387.
  7. ^ "Lumen gentium".
  8. ^ "Lumen gentium".
  9. ^ Pastoral letter