Climbing the ecumenical mountains
The current ecumenical situation can perhaps be compared most
effectively with an excursion into the mountains.
During the rapid ascent to the towering peaks of a new promising
spirit of ecumenical communion acquired in the 1970s and '80s, a large
number of joint ecumenical texts were published and the summit of full
and visible communion of the Church with the recognition of faith and of
sacramental life and the concept of Church and of ministerial service
Today, after achieving this first lofty level by normalizing and
intensifying ecumenical communion, some people think we are proceeding
at too slow a pace, for new theological and political or ecclesial
obstacles have materialized that we do not yet know how to surmount.
Consequently, on the basis of the differentiated consensus reached
thus far by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
(Augsburg 1999) between The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic
Church, it is essential above all to clarify the diversity in our idea
of the Church and ministerial service.
For Catholics and Orthodox, consensus on this question constitutes
the hypothetical possibility of a joint celebration of the Eucharist. In
this regard, Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council
for Promoting Christian Unity, stressed: "According to the Declaration
on the principles of the Doctrine of Justification, it is
ecclesiological issues above all that are the subject of the dialogue
with the Churches deriving from the Reformation. According to both
Catholics and Orthodox, they are the key to dealing with the pressing
pastoral question of Eucharistic communion. This is the situation" (Situation
and Zukunft der
in: "Theologische Quartalschrift", 181 , 175-190, cit.
On the Evangelical side, on the contrary, the ecumenical goal is not
for the time being full and visible unity or ecclesial communion, but
intercommunion which would make it possible to also tackle other issues
if it were realized.
It should be said, however, that without ecclesial communion, no real
and veritable Eucharistic Communion can exist, nor without the Eucharist
can there be any full ecclesial communion.
On the other hand, in many local Lutheran Churches the question about
their own confessional identity is once again in the forefront. Dialogue
with the ecumenical partner leads sooner or later to questions
concerning one's own identity.
The following documents obviously belong in this context: "Ecclesial
communion in the Evangelical perspective", published by the Evangelical
Church in Germany (EKD) 2001; "Ecumenism according to Evangelical
Lutheran Understanding" and "Common Priesthood, Ordination and 'Calling'
in the Evangelical perspective", published by the United Lutheran
Evangelical Church in Germany (VELKD) 2004, which, for example, does not
consider ordination through prayer and the imposition of hands as an
indispensable prerequisite for the celebration of the Eucharist and of
With this idea of a functional rather than sacramental ministerial
service linked to grace, these texts tend to cast doubt on the joint
ecumenical texts that have so far been drafted.
Confessional self-verification should certainly be understood and
accepted, because meeting and dialogue presuppose a proper identity as
well as an enrichment and a challenge. This actually becomes more
difficult whenever a process is grafted in place of the conviction,
affirmed constantly in recent decades, that what unites us is greater
than what divides us, which emphasizes the distinctive features but, on
the contrary, fails to follow up its achievements.
In addition, in recent times new differences in ethical matters have
emerged. They concern the family and sexuality as well as the bioethical
and social-ethical challenges, and the differences are not only between
Catholics and Lutherans but are also at the very core of international
A further problem develops from the far-reaching contrast between
ecumenism at the grass-roots level and at that of theology and ecclesial
governance, the split between the so-called ecumenism "from above" and
ecumenism "from below". The contemporary social context contributes only
to widening it.
Due to the prevalent individualistic and pluralistic outlook, the
idea of the fundamental ecumenical need to seek the visible unity of the
Church of Jesus Christ is fading.
On the other hand, in its current phase, the Lutheran-Roman Catholic
International Commission for Unity, which consists of the Pontifical
Council for Promoting Christian Unity and The Lutheran World Federation,
has taken on the task of elaborating further presuppositions for a
differentiated consensus on a concept of Church and ecclesial
ministry. The topic of the document that will be completed this year
is: "Apostolicity and the ordained ministry in the Church". Last year,
the Commission continued its work on the theological and biblical drafts
and those on Church history which had so far been drawn up on these
In 2004, throughout the world, the Catholic Church and The Lutheran
World Federation joyfully celebrated the fifth anniversary of the
Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. With the signing
of this Declaration on 31 October 1999 at Augsburg, communion between
Lutherans and Catholics, although still incomplete, became deeper and
more authentic. This is the historical and ecclesiological consequence
of the Declaration.
The anniversary of the signing itself was the occasion for
celebration and more intense study across the world. The main
celebration, with the motto: "Justified
freed to live", was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 30
The Commission for Dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics for
Sweden and Finland focused its activity on the Catholic and Lutheran
concepts of faith and Church, based on a particular continuity in
ecclesial life in the context of the nordic countries: a continuity in
faith, in sacramental life, in the historical episcopate and in the idea
of ministerial service, in the liturgy and in spirituality.
In the United States of America, the dialogue commission between
Lutherans and Catholics published its new document in 2004: "The Church
as koinonia. Her structures and her ministers", which was able to
formulate a further rapprochement in matters connected with the idea of
Church and ministerial service.
In 2004, the Council meeting of The Lutheran World Federation was
Geneva on the theme "Growing together
growing apart", a critical topic
that describes not only the life of the World Lutheran communion, but
also the opportunities and problems of the ecumenical movement, just as
in many other contexts of today's world.
In November, in addition to many leaders and representatives of
ecumenism from every part of the world, distinguished members of The
World Lutheran Federation attended the Conference for the 40th
anniversary of the publication of the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis
Redintegratio (21 Nov. 1964), which was held at Rocca di Papa, just
outside of Rome. It was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity.
Regularly, at least once a year, in Geneva and in Rome, those in
charge of The Lutheran World Federation and those of the Pontifical
Council for Promoting Christian Unity meet for an exchange of
consultations. Their conversations concern the current problems and
projects of the International Dialogue between Lutherans and Roman
Catholics and ecumenical relations at many other levels.
The exchange of a series of visits between important ecclesial
representatives and individuals and groups active in the areas of
theology and pastoral care is an expression of the good relations
between Lutherans and Catholics.
Since the Second Vatican Council, interecclesial relations have
developed between the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht and
the Roman Catholic Church. In some Countries official dialogues exist at
a national level.
At the meetings and discussions that took place in Rome on the
occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the possibility of a
future International Dialogue was discussed.
In 2003, on the recommendation of a preparatory group, the International
Old Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Union of Utrecht and the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity set up a Commission for
International Dialogue, chaired on the Old Catholic side by Bishop
of Bern, and on the Catholic side by Bishop emeritus Paul-Werner Scheele
The colloquiums focused on the following questions: ascertaining the
theological and ecclesial agreements reached by the Old Catholic Church
and the Roman Catholic Church; debate on the differences that still
exist and the inclusion of results of other bilateral discussions
conducted by the Old Catholic Church and by the Roman Catholic Church
and their effects; discussion on the current pastoral and juridical
Also in 2004, ecumenical dialogue gave special prominence to the
theme of "the concept of Church and ecclesial ministry", whose
clarification is the necessary condition for the pressing pastoral issue
of Eucharistic Communion.
At the same time, ecumenism thrives on a specific spiritual
commitment whose authentic motivation is our desire to live the common
faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord, increasingly united with our partners
in the ecumenical dialogue.