Report on Catholic-Methodist Relations in 2004
Fr Donald Bolen
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Getting to know 'those who are a part of me'
During the Vespers celebration commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, Pope John Paul II noted that even if the ecumenical path that lies ahead "is still long and arduous", already now we "discover and experience the action and dynamism of the Spirit of God, whom we rejoice to see at work also in the Churches and Ecclesial Communities that are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church
The beloved Pontiff then proceeded to speak about a faith-filled approach in working towards Christian unity, noting: "Rather than complaining about what is not yet possible, we must be grateful for and cheered by what already exists and is possible. Doing what we can do now will cause us to grow in unity and will fire us with enthusiasm to overcome the difficulties".
Seeking "the action and dynamism of the Spirit of God" in the other and "doing what we can do now" are two of the key principles which continue to shape relations between the World Methodist Council (WMC) and the Catholic Church.
The International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue Commission
For the past three years, the Methodist-Catholic dialogue has been working towards a common understanding of the Church.
More specifically, the Commission is seeking to identify the extent and ways in which Catholics and Methodists can recognize in each other the one Church of Jesus Christ.
From a Catholic perspective, Methodism contains or embodies many but not all of the elements and endowments of the Church. In line with Pope John Paul's Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (cf. n. 11) and building on the Decree on Ecumenism, to the extent that these elements can be found in the member churches of the World Methodist Council, the Church of Christ is effectively present in them.
Methodists, for their part, tend towards an inclusive definition of Church; hence, on the basis of our common Trinitarian faith, they recognize the Catholic Church as a true church and a means of grace for salvation.
Methodists do believe that their Wesleyan tradition holds elements which the Catholic Church could benefit from, and find helpful the notion that dialogue involves an "exchange of gifts", as set forward by Pope John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint (n. 28).
Within this framework, the Methodist-Catholic Dialogue Commission is seeking to more clearly identify the elements of Church which each dialogue partner can recognize in the other, and to concretize the gifts which each desires to share with the other.
Differences between Methodists and Catholics lie principally in the area of ecclesiology, and the Commission's hope is that its current work on the nature and mission of the Church will lay the foundations to address the sacramentality of the Church and of ordination, episcopal ministry in apostolic succession and the Petrine ministry.
The current report is scheduled to be completed and submitted to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Methodist Council by the Summer of 2006.
World Methodist Council (WMC) Executive Committee Meeting
In September 2004, there was a meeting of the WMC's Executive Committee in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
The Executive Committee meets three times every five years, and brings together approximately 120 persons representing the 76 member churches of the WMC. These member churches have a combined membership of approximately 32 million active
members, though approximately 75 million people have some affiliation with a member church of the WMC.
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is consistently invited to send an observer to meetings of the Executive Committee, a practice which facilitates close communication and contributes to a deeper understanding of each other as we seek to grow towards unity in faith, mission and sacramental life.
One important development reported on at the Executive Committee meeting concerned the proposal for member churches of the WMC to become associated with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which was signed by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999.
Over the past year, member churches had been asked to study and respond to a draft text which articulates Methodist affirmation of the basic consensus statements of the Joint Declaration, in addition indicating their acceptance of the specifically Lutheran and Catholic explanations in the text (noting that these diverse emphases should not be church-dividing), and setting forth distinctive Methodist emphases on the doctrine of justification.
The responses received to date by the WMC have all been positive.
It is hoped that the desire and intent of the WMC member churches to be affiliated with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification could be confirmed and celebrated at the next meeting of the World Methodist Conference in July 2006. This would not in any way alter the agreement reached between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, but would mean that any initiative moving forward as a result of the Joint Declaration could now also include the Methodists.
Relations with the Catholic Church are taken very seriously by the WMC, and our international dialogue is without doubt their most sustained ecumenical undertaking.
In Port Elizabeth, the present author joined Professor Geoffrey Wainwright, Methodist co-chair of our International Dialogue Commission, in giving a presentation on the current work of the Commission and delivered a message from Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to the participants of the WMC Executive Committee meeting.
Cardinal Kasper's message noted that this was a fruitful time for Methodist-Catholic relations, both in terms of our theological dialogue and concerning possible Methodist association with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. He noted that the latter "would mark a significant step forward in Methodist-Catholic relations".
The message was greeted warmly, and the Executive Committee members in turn sent their greetings to Pope John Paul II and to Cardinal Kasper.
Other initiatives and 'those who are a part of me'
Two other events round out this report on Methodist-Catholic relations in 2004.
In March 2004, the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue co-chairs, Professor Geoffrey Wainwright and Bishop Michael Putney, met with Cardinal Kasper and staff members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to discuss possible further steps in our relations.
One proposal emerging from the meeting, a proposal warmly embraced by the Pontifical Council, was for a delegation of leaders from the WMC to come for an official visit to the Holy See in Autumn of 2005, to discuss how Methodists and Catholics might build on our theological dialogue, which has functioned quietly but effectively since 1966.
In November 2004, Professor Wainwright was asked to give one of the keynote addresses at the symposium organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity celebrating the 40th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio. He spoke on the nature of the unity we seek, and affirmed that the Decree was one of the three or four most important ecumenical Documents of the last 50 years, together with Ut Unum Sint, the Lima Statement Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
To conclude where we began, at the Vespers celebration for the 40th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio, the Holy Father also spoke of a spirituality of communion as entailing "an ability to think of our Christian brothers or sisters, in the deep unity born from Baptism, as 'those who are a part of me"' (citing Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 43).
Patiently and with perseverance, Methodist-Catholic relations are being strengthened in this direction.
This year the International Dialogue Commission met in Krakow and took an excursion to Częstochowa, where they were privileged to hold an ecumenical prayer celebration before the Icon of the Madonna at the Marian shrine of Jasna Gora.
Singing with full hearts the Charles Wesley hymn "O Thou Who Camest From Above", the Commission members, Methodist and Catholic alike, experienced something of the exchange of gifts of which we often speak, and in the process, glimpsed a little more what it might mean to know each other as "those who are a part of me".
Weekly Edition in English
22 June 2005, page 8
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