"During the Reformation, the Church feared that Martin Luther would hit like an atomic bomb and drive a wedge that would permanently divide Western Europe's Christianities," says TIME senior religion writer David Van Biema. "But Protestantism is out there; you can't put it back in the bottle." So a half-millennium's worth of antagonism ends amicably, and when 1,500 Catholics and Lutherans gathered for a Reformation Day service at the National Cathedral in Washington, not a note was nailed to the front door.
What 95 theses? After 482 years of contentious, often bloody schism that seeded several wars and caused 20 generations of ill will, the Catholic and Lutheran churches formally shook hands and made the sign of peace Sunday. The heart of the ideological divide was Martin Luther's belief that you could be a good Christian simply by renewing your faith each day, while Catholics maintain that you must wed your faith to good deeds. Realizing that the Protestants probably aren't coming back to the fold anytime soon, the Vatican made the best of the situation, declaring that since the laws of Lutheranism lead to a good, pious life, the main differences between the two churches were in semantics, not ideology. Oddly, the Catholic Church, which has a reputation for standing its ground, was able to ratify the agreement unilaterally for each of its 1 billion members, while some sects of the more liberal Lutheran faith notably America's 2.6 million member Missouri Synod Church rejected the agreement.