Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification: Soteriological and Eccesiological Implications from an Anglican Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification: Soteriological and Eccesiological Implications from an Anglican Perspective

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

The American Book of Common Prayer includes a splendid collect, "For the Unity of the Church," which asks God through "our only Savior, the Prince of Peace" to "give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions;" taking "away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord.""(1) Given our present circumstances-not only of continuing celebration but also of further ecumenical reflection upon the 1999 Lutheran-Roman Catholic "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" (2)-this prayer seems auspicious in two ways. First, the prayer testifies to the exigency with which the traditions involved undertook the arduous labor that led to the final document. It is obvious to anyone reading the Joint Declaration that Lutherans and Roman Catholics took their past differences on this matter "seriously to heart." Second, however, the Joint Declaration, having achieved official ratification, now stands as a sign-post and encouragement pointing to the goal of that peace and unity we all seek. So, then, even as congratulations and thanksgivings are in order, further reflections by other ecumenical partners of both traditions are appropriate.

So, as a representative of the Anglican tradition, I offer the following in the spirit of a fellow pilgrim along what I hope is an Emmaus road. In a sense, I come to this task wearing three hats--not indeed a triple tiara with license to pontificate--but more modestly, all caps that may be combined into the traditional headgear of an academic. As an ecumenical theologian of the church I am, of course, always interested in hopeful manifestations of that "unity and concord" that is a gift of God, for I believe the Joint Declaration to be just such a manifestation. As a historian, I am always captivated by the task of investigating past moments when "the then present" failures in community, communication, and communion among Christians occurred, for it is in these events that frameworks for continuing division were set. It is from these moments and events that we need to retrace the trajectories of our "unhappy divisions" in order that what has been done amiss may be made right. Finally, it is as a liturgiologis t that I am fascinated by when, where, and why the words we address to God in prayer were written and, indeed, continue in use. Thus, since history is always relevant, I wish to enter my reflections by way of unpacking the circumstances of this "Anglican" "Prayer for the Unity of the Church." These are not only fascinating in themselves but are, as it turns out, also directly pertinent to the task at hand.

This prayer first appeared in an Anglican prayerbook in 1892. It was no accident that it was the prayerbook of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. As the late Massey H. Shepherd noted, "It came into the American Prayer Book...in response to the awakened interest of Anglicanism in the cause of Church unity." (3) It was in the E.C.U.S.A. that the classic platform of modern Anglican ecumenical engagement first received approbation. Subsequently, the action of the 1886 Chicago General Convention appeared in slightly modified form as the 1888 Lambeth Quadrilateral: hence, the appearance of this prayer--originally titled "For the Unity of God's People"--in the context of renewed ecumenical awareness. That is neither the whole story of this prayer, nor was this the context of its origin. Emphatically, au contraire! or, in a more Pauline mode, me genoito!

The original context is scarcely edifying ecumenically. It is pertinent, nevertheless, if only in that a brief relating of the circumstances of its composition will serve to get most of the players on stage for the present reflective task. This prayer of unknown authorship originally appeared in the Accession Service of King George I in 1714. (4) It was surely an ecumenical moment for the Church of England, as the Duke of Hanover was crowned not only monarch of Great Britain but also eo ipso became Anglicanism's first Lutheran fidei defensor--ironically a title conferred by Pope Leo X on Henry VIII for his blast against Luther in the book Assertio Septem Sacramentorum! …

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