Dialogue With Lutheran World Federation

Author: Fr Matthias Turk


Fr Matthias Türk
Pontifical Council for promoting Christian Unity

Pursuing a ‘differentiated multiplicity’

The ecumenical celebration at St Paul-Outside-the-Walls

As the Apostle writes, we are "one body" (Col 3:15). All Christians took part in this year's important ecumenical celebrations. For the first time, the opening of the Holy Door at St Paul-Outside-the-Walls on 18 January 2000, at the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was given an ecumenical character.

The fact that the President of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Christian Krause of Braunschweig, Germany, made this expressive gesture of Gospel proclamation to the world was a new and culminating moment in the common ecumenical path between Catholics and Lutherans, on which an important step was already taken last year with the signing of the Common Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification on 31 October 1999.

The ecumenical liturgy emphasized even more expressively the interior bond formed by faith in one Lord, which last year too made possible new pastoral, theological and even ecclesial developments between Lutherans and Catholics. Despite certain doubts regarding participation in the opening of the Holy Door because of the question of indulgences, especially in the Reformed and Evangelical Lutheran context, President Krause said in a statement: "Common prayer does not presuppose full doctrinal agreement; it is based solely on the mercy of God who has granted us to pray and has promised us that prayer in Jesus' name will be heard".

The other representatives of the Lutheran World Federation who took part on 18 January 2000 in the procession into the basilica and in the ecumenical Divine Office were Bishop Ilkka Kantola of Turku (Lutheran Evangelical Church in Finland), who also led the traditional ecumenical delegation which comes to Rome every year for the feast of St Henry, whose relics are preserved in the Basilica of St Mary sopra Minerva;Norbert Deneke, Vice-Dean of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Italy; and Udo Hahn, Oberkirchenrat of the United Lutheran Evangelical Church of Germany, (VELKD, Hannover). The Old Catholic Church was represented at St Paul's by Archbishop Antonius J. Glazemaker, then-President of the Union of Utrecht, and by Prof. Jan Visser.

In connection with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity an explicit reference was made to the possibility of continuing the ecumenical dialogue with the Old Catholics. During the celebration at St Paul's Basilica on 18 January, some passages were read from the works of the Evangelical Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, killed in a concentration camp, and from other witnesses to the faith.

Ecumenical Commemoration of Witnesses to the Faith in the 20th century

Beyond all confessional differences, the witness of Christians who died for the faith was the most inspiring demonstration possible of God's love for the world on 7 May 2000 at the Colosseum, when the Holy Father presided at the Commemoration of Witnesses to the Faith in the 20th Century, together with the representatives of Churches and Ecclesial Communities

Among the countless, horrifying testimonies of the victims of violence, a text was read about Paul Schneider, the Evangelical Lutheran Pastor who died on 18 July 1938 in the concentration camp of Buchenwald after being subjected to torture and experiments by the Nazi regime of terror. During the service Dr Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation based in Geneva, led the Lutheran delegation.

International Lutheran-Catholic Commission for Unity

Under the aegis of the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the theological commission of experts met from 5 to 12 September at Bose, an ecumenical monastic community near Turin, Italy, which gave this meeting a particularly spiritual character thanks to prayer and the Divine Office, in which the commission's members were invited to participate. From the start the aim of the dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics has been the full and visible unity of the Church. In its first phase (1967-71), it concentrated on the themes of the Gospel and the Church. Inits second phase (1973-84), it treated the Eucharist and Ministry in the Church. In its third phase (1986-93), it was concerned with the Church and Justification.

At the end of each phase a dialogue document was drafted, which was published and submitted to Church leaders for approval. The central theme of the current and fourth phase is the Apostolicity ofthe Church. In short, in its historical and theological research the commission worked out an interpretation of the apostolicity of the Church and of the ordained or consecrated ministry according to the Lutheran and Catholic traditions. A group of experts who met in Stuttgart last spring prepared study documents. The dialogue commission then turned its attention to the Doctrine of the Church and the way in which the ecclesial Magisterium is applied in the various traditions. Additional discussion topics were the HolyScriptures, Tradition and "Persevering in Faith".

Regular consultations and new ecumenical documents

In the intense atmosphere of the great ecumenical meetings of the Jubilee Year, the meeting known as theJoint StaffMeeting, which takes place regularly once or twice a year, was held in Rome on 8-9 May, involving senior officials of the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It dealt with the reception of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

Together with the important results achieved at both the pastoral and community levels, the meeting's agenda included examination of questions to be clarified in the Joint Declaration such as: the relationship between the Word of God and Church doctrine, as well as ecclesiology, ecclesial authority, Church unity, ministry, the sacraments and the relation between justification and social ethics (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, n. 43). In order to work out a programme that would follow up the Joint Declaration, the Lutheran World Federation, on the occasion of its council meeting (Turku, Finland, June 2001), established its own group of experts which intends to collaborate in the future with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in order to implement this follow-up.

In its current fourth phase the International Commission is already addressing the most important questions at the theological level, including those mentioned above. The document on which the commission is currently working gives reason for hope, since, after clarifying fundamental questions regarding the doctrine of justification, the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue has now reached the point of dealing with central themes such as the Church, ministry and the sacraments. It is necessary to await the results that will be achieved by the Catholic-Lutheran Commission before addressing the problem of Eucharistic hospitality, which has already been raised on the Lutheran side. In this regard, it is important to do now what can be done together and not to seek other steps which cannot be taken yet.

At the beginning of September in Hannover the bilateral working group of the German Bishops' Conference and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (VELKD) presented another dialogue document, Communio Sanctorum: Die Kirche als Gemeinschaft der Heiligen (Communio Sanctorum:The Church as Communion of Saints). The text, which is the result of a bilateral consultative process at the national level, has analyzed the ecumenical agreements achieved so far, seeking to overcome reservations and obstacles, including the question of the Church's essence, her ministry and, in particular, of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome.

In addition to these topics, the working group in Germany has discussed veneration of Mary and the saints, and eschatology. The text systematically recognizes that the unity in faith to be pursued is not uniformity but a differentiated multiplicity, in which the remaining differences are no longer Church dividing. Evenin this case, as in the Joint Declaration, a "differentiated consensus" was sought. The document Communio Sanctorum was a sign of hope in the Jubilee Year. It has given an important impetus to ecumenism, which is sometimes described as "stagnant", and is gradually being received by Church authorities and the faithful.

The Holy Father's words at the more important ecumenical events of the Jubilee Year should be strongly reaffirmed also for Catholic-Lutheran relations: "Every Jubilee Year is like an invitation to a wedding feast. From the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities throughout the world, let us all hasten to the feast now being prepared; let us bring with us all that already unites us and, fixing our gaze on Christ alone, let us grow in the unity which is the fruit of the Spirit".  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
25 April 2001, page 6

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