On October 31, 2017, the Vatican State Philatelic and Numismatic Office announced the issue of two new stamps. Ironically, one honors the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and the other the 450th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622).
The first stamp is worth €1 and shows, according to the Philatelic Office, “kneeling to the left and right of the cross, respectively, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) holding the Bible, the source and objective of his teaching, and Philipp Schwarzerdt, known as Melanchthon (1497 – 1560), Luther’s friend, one of the chief leaders of the Reformation, holding the Augsburg Confession, the first official exposition of the principles of Protestantism.” The stamp’s issue date is 500 years to the day after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church of the castle of Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517.
The press release accompanying this stamp quotes Pope Francis’ remarks during his trip to Sweden on October 31 and November 1, 2016. The “common faith” (sic) of Catholics and Protestants in Jesus Christ requires “daily” (and mutual?) “conversion,” through which we are to reject “the disagreements and the historical conflicts that impede the ministry of reconciliation,” the Pope explained, adding that Christian unity was a priority. As Bishop Bernard Fellay rightly recalled in his Letter to Friends and Benafactors (no. 87) of Easter 2017, in this way “the meaning of the word ecumenism has changed, the concept of unity has been modified, and the means to attain it have been falsified.”
Honoring a Saint
The other stamp, paradoxically issued at the same time, is a portrait of St. Francis de Sales in stained glass, with a face value of €2.55 Patron of writers and Catholic journalists, he is depicted pen in hand. This saint “lived his ministry with the firm determination to preserve the Church of Rome from the Calvinist Reformation,” the press release states, adding, “Through the love of God he brought many faithful who had strayed back to the Catholic communion.”
The holy Frenchman was born in Upper Savoy on August 21, 1567, to a noble Savoyard family who had remained Catholic in a Calvinist region. After becoming a priest, he spent four years courageously leading a mission in Chablais ( a region of northern Savoy, south of Lake Leman), full of Bernois Calvinists. In 1595 he brought to the mission the apostolate of the press. In Thonon, capital of Chablais, he preached in the only Catholic church, while by public order of the Calvinist city consistory, all Protestants were forbidden to listen to him. So he reached them through printed articles, slipped under the doors of Calvinist homes, assembled later on under the title The Catholic Controversy. St. Francis de Sales was bishop of the diocese of Geneva in exile in Annecy, from 1602 to 1622. He was canonized in 1662, and Pius IX declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1877, saying about The Catholic Controversy, “A marvelous theological science shines forth from this work; in it we see an excellent method, an irresistible logic, both relative to the refutation of heresy and the demonstration of Catholic truth.”
120,000 copies of each stamp have been printed. They will be available for purchase on November 23, 2017.