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. Sven Oppegaard, director of the L.W.F. ecumenical office, was perhaps most clear in his response: "'We should be honest and say very clearly that the Joint Declaration does not have any institutional consequences for the two world communions at this point. It does not [mean] intercommunion; it does not [mean] interchangeability of priests and pastors in any way.'" (5)
A measure of disappointment was palpable after a visit by Krause to the Vatican in December, 1999, when Lutheran and Roman Catholic church officials found it necessary to continue to explain why eucharistic sharing was not yet possible. Still, the questions doggedly persisted: Why had the depth of agreement and convergence on this central doctrinal issue not led the two churches into a visibly different and deeper relationship? What issues remained to block a common sharing at the Lord's Supper? Was there a way through this apparent impasse?
Crisis in Ecumenism
Nearly two years later, in November, 2001, Kasper made his first report as president to the plenary meeting of the P.C.P.C.U. In that report he asserted that the ecumenical movement had entered a period of crisis. The term "crisis," he insisted, was not to be understood merely in the negative sense of a break-down or collapse of what had been built up in the last decades. He used the term "crisis" in its original, classical sense: "... a situation where things are hanging in the balance, where they are on a knife-edge; indeed, this state can either be positive or negative. Both are possible.... old ways come to an end, but room for new possibilities open[s]. A crisis situation therefore presents itself as a challenge and a time for decision." (6)
I link Kasper's observations about the crisis in ecumenism with the experience following the signing of the "Joint Declaration" because I believe the two matters are related. The ecumenical movement hangs in the balance between (a) attaining the heady promises that seemed so certain only a decade ago, and (b) devolving to such extent as to suffer a material change. Among his suggestions for addressing this crisis, Kasper stressed the importance of embracing an "ecumenism of life" intent upon making the ecumenical gains of the previous thirty years a matter of ownership for all Christians rather than leaving them in the conceptual realm of ecumenists and church hierarchs. Kasper went on to use somewhat sobering, if not pessimistic, language to state his impressions of this crisis:
The time for an enthusiastic ecumenism that was characteristic of the period immediately following the [Second Vatican] Council has gone. ... I personally prefer to speak of a new realistic approach and of a maturing and adult ecumenism that has gone beyond the enthusiasm of youth but also [beyond] the loutish behaviour of adolescence and has become mature and realistic. This means that we have to envisage a longer period during which we will continue living in the present situation of an already existing and profound communion, but which is still not a full communion.... a situation in which we have left behind the old hostility and indifference and ... rediscovered the brotherhood of all Christians.... the most important result of the last decades of ecumenism. ... We have to fill this transitional period, of a real if not complete church communio, with real life. To the "ecumenism of love" and the "ecumenism of truth", which both naturally remain very important, must be added an "ecumenism of life". (7)
This assessment of the need for a longer interim period is a somber one, and I fear that such conclusions could too easily tip the balance, leading to material change in the goal of the ecumenical movement from seeking visible unity to settling for "a state of peaceful coexistence" (8) among Christians.
An ecumenical delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met with Kasper in March, 2003. Central to the conversation was a request to hear more about Kasper's perspective on this crisis and his conception of an "ecumenism of life." Kasper attributed the crisis largely to the fact that implementing ecumenical breakthroughs had been more difficult than previously imagined possible. The enthusiasm of the 1960's, which had heard many predictions of organic unions of various types, had been dampened by ecclesial inertia. Describing briefly what he meant by "ecumenism of life," Kasper itemized many things one might have predicted, including shared Bible study among clergy and lay groups, common service projects, and combined worship using the service of the Word. Some members of the Lutheran delegation expressed their agreement, but the conversation underscored why I believe the ecumenical movement may become a victim of its own success.
One positive development of the early enthusiasm of the ecumenical movement is that Christians finally, for the most part, have stopped condemning one another. Old anathemas have been set aside for the sake of cooperative social outreach, soup kitchens, neighborhood-rehabilitation projects, and raising funds for nondenominational efforts, such as the CROP Walk. Roman Catholics help deliver Meals on Wheels. Lutherans volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul stores. Lutherans and Catholics increasingly marry without fear of rejection by their families of origin. Generally speaking, Christians today are increasingly tolerant and well-behaved toward one another.
Therein, I believe, lies the source of the ecumenical crisis: the understanding by many people that ecumenism has attained what it set out to achieve, namely, Christian cooperation. Peaceful coexistence among Christians may be viewed by some as adequate, but this was not the goal of the ecumenical movement. Polite indifference is the posture of strangers, not of family members in Christ. Such attitudes perpetuate social distinctions that are contrary to God's will for humanity and veil any sense in which the church of Christ can be a sacrament of unity. "Koinonia" becomes understood simply as …
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Publication information: Article title: Under One Christ: Implications of a Roman Catholic Recognition of the Confessio Augustana in C.E. 2017. Contributors: Schreck, Paul A. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Volume: 43. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 2008. Page number: 90+. © 1998 Journal of Ecumenical Studies. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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