Under One Christ: Implications of a Roman Catholic Recognition of the Confessio Augustana in C.E. 2017

By Schreck, Paul A. | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Under One Christ: Implications of a Roman Catholic Recognition of the Confessio Augustana in C.E. 2017


Schreck, Paul A., Journal of Ecumenical Studies


Official ratification of the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" on October 30-31, 1999, was a grand and auspicious occasion. The two-day celebration of the agreement, which was intended to bring to a peaceful conclusion the sixteenth-century disputes about justification that split the Western Church, began with a day-long series of lectures and receptions hosted by the City of Augsburg and concluded with a joint vesper service. The signing celebration on the second day began at the Roman Catholic Dom with mutual confession and absolution, along with the affirmation of a shared baptism. More than 900 people participated inside the cathedral, and thousands more stood outside the doors. The participants formally processed through the city streets, lined by thousands of townsfolk, to St. Anna's Church, for the ceremonial signing by representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (P.C.P.C.U.) and the Lutheran World Federation (L.W.F.). Because of the small size of St. Anna's nave, a large tent that was erected outside allowed 2,000 people to watch the ceremony on large-screen television sets as the liturgy was broadcast by German television. Moments after the signing ceremony, Pope John Paul II issued a personal affirmation of the "Joint Declaration" in his Sunday Angelus, which stated:

   This is a cornerstone for the complex road in the reconstruction of
   full unity among Christians ... [The agreement] is a sure base to
   continue the ecumenical theological research and to address the
   difficulties that still exist with a more well-founded hope, so
   that difficulties can be resolved in the future. At the same time,
   it is an extraordinary contribution to the purification of the
   historical memory and to common testimony. (1)

On November 1, 1999, however, representatives of the L.W.F. and the P.C.P.C.U. found themselves in an awkward place. Having signed the "Joint Declaration" the previous day, these representatives had to explain to thousands of people that the agreement had not established a basis for eucharistic sharing between the two churches. It seemed that many people--particularly those in Lutheran and Roman Catholic "mixed marriages"--had understood the signing of this agreement as healing the schism and that they would soon, if not immediately, be able to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion together.

This widely held misconception likely was fueled in part by the visibility given to this event by the L.W.F., the Catholic Church, and the secular media. A joint news conference convened on October 29, 1999, prior to the signing, provided enthusiastic statements from Edward Idris Cassidy and Walter Kasper, president and secretary, respectively, of the P.C.P.C.U; and Christian Krause and Ishmael Noko, president and general secretary, respectively, of the L.W.F.: "'The Joint Declaration is a peace document ... for the whole world,'" Noko said, asserting, "'It carries a special message of peace to Europe," where the conflict between Lutherans and Roman Catholics was reflected in the Thirty Years' War of the 17th century." (2) Noko went on to say:

"We are today officially launching a new environment within which we can conduct ecumenical relationships.... It means that we can boldly walk forward with a clear understanding that Roman Catholics and Lutherans are no longer enemies, opponents around the critical question of justification. It opens doors that were closed, and puts official stamps on other initiatives which have been going on unofficially." (3)

At this same news conference, Kasper added his observation that the "Joint Declaration" was a first step: "'We have to go further, and both churches are decided to go further and to come, step by step, to full communion. This means also eucharistic sharing.'" (4) News reporters then peppered the panel with questions about the possibilities of Lutherans' receiving the Lord's Supper in Roman Catholic churches, and vice versa. …

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