With the present study document on the apostolicity of the church, the Lutheran-Roman
Catholic Commission on Unity completes, after working from 1995 into 2006, the fourth phase of the
Lutheran-Catholic world-level dialogue. The Commission was mandated and its members were
appointed by their churches, as these acted through the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical
Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The study document is presented to these two mandating
bodies, and so to the respective churches, but as well to the wider public of persons and groups
engaged in the ecumenical movement. The Commission hopes that the study will open fresh
perspectives in the area of ecumenical ecclesiology and will throw light on pathways along which
significant steps may be taken toward the goal of full communion between the Catholic Church and
the Lutheran churches of the world.
The document offers, first, a careful examination of New Testament texts pertaining to the
apostles and the main aspects of apostolicity (Part 1), and then sets forth the outcome of
investigations from three specific perspectives on apostolicity, namely as a creedal attribute of the
church (Part 2), as a characteristic of church ministry (Part 3), and as a decisive quality of the teachers
and doctrine which our churches require in order to remain in the truth of the gospel (Part 4).
The History of this Phase of Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue
In the early years of this phase, the Commission discussed two topics in addition to the topic
of apostolicity, namely, first, ethics and moral teaching in our churches and their significance for
ecumenical relations, and, second, the degree of Catholic-Lutheran doctrinal agreement on the
Eucharist. But the Commission soon recognized that both these topics are so extensive and complex
in themselves that it could not do justice to them while carrying out its investigation of apostolicity. It
was decided, therefore, to concentrate all the effort on the topic of apostolicity. Thus we present only
one text, which however has grown to notable length.
The make-up of the Commission provided the ample geographical background of the
members themselves, who represent Catholic and Lutheran perspectives formed by life and work in
their local churches. They come from Argentina, Canada, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan,
Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Tanzania, and the United States.
During its years of dialogue, the Commission entered into exchanges with local churches in
the places where its annual week-long meetings were held, namely in Germany (Rottenburg-Stuttgart,
Würzburg and Tutzing-Munich), Scandinavia (Finland and Denmark), Hungary (Dobogokö near
Budapest), Poland (Opole), Italy (Bose, Milan, and Cassano delle Murge near Bari), and the United
States (Baltimore). Reports were heard on ecumenical efforts in these locales and the Commission
sought to communicate to others in these places something of its commitment to Christian unity and of
its dialogue method. The Commission hopes that these meetings have enriched local churches and
fostered the ecumenical dedication of their members in the places where the Commission met.
While meeting in Baltimore in July 2004, the Commission heard a report on the then just-concluded Round X of the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue in the USA, which has since been published as The Church as Koinonia of Salvation. Its Structures and Ministries.1 Here the Commission found points
of contact and a complementarity between that text and Part 3 of its document which treats church
ministry and apostolic succession. Also, support was found in the project of the German Ecumenical
Working Circle of Evangelical and Catholic Theologians (Jaeger- Staehlin Kreis), in which two
Commission members are active participants. Several sections of Part 4 of the present study, on how
the church remains in the truth of the apostolic gospel, were aided by the Working Circle's ample
study, Verbindliches Zeugnis.2
The decade of this dialogue was marked by the major event of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed amid considerable solemnity on October 31,
1999, in Augsburg, Germany. During the first years of its work on apostolicity the Commission
accompanied and discussed the processes by which our churches received the Joint Declaration and
reached agreement to proceed to the signing in Augsburg. Some members of the Commission
contributed to the drafting of the Joint Declaration itself and they along with others helped present it to
The Context of this Study
The world-level official dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics began immediately after
Vatican Council II and completed its third phase in 1993. The Commission that has now completed its
work thus represents the fourth phase of this dialogue. The present work should be understood as a
further step along the path of the three previous phases and as extending what they proposed in the
documents they produced. It relates especially to the Lutheran-Catholic world-level dialogue reports, The Gospel and the Church of 1972, The Ministry in the Church of 1981, and Church and Justification of 1994.3
An important characteristic of the present work is its connection with the Joint Declaration on
the Doctrine of Justification. The Joint Declaration has a notable weight and authority, because with its
signing in 1999, the two churches in dialogue formally received the results of several Lutheran-Catholic dialogues which had treated the doctrine of justification both on the world-level and in national
dialogues in the United States and Germany.
The Methods of the Joint Study
The investigation of the New Testament witness to the apostles and to their mission on behalf
of the gospel of Jesus Christ contributes extensive and important results to our document. Scholarly
exegetical study has been central in the effort to avoid an older style of using Scripture as the source
of proof-texts. Part 1 presents the New Testament texts in their complexity and allows them to speak
for themselves. Then Parts 2, 3, and 4 each contain sections of "biblical orientation" in which the
relevant New Testament texts are placed within the horizon of the topics and questions of each of
these Parts. The Commission was attentive to the dynamic of development within the New Testament
itself. In a real sense, the entire process went ahead in the Commission as an intense dialogue
grounded in Scripture as the primary testimony of our faith.
Parts 2, 3, and 4 also survey developments in the church of the patristic and medieval periods.
Many detailed studies exist concerning the issues taken up in these sections. These studies have
been drawn upon in a selective manner in the different sections, without any presumption of giving
complete and fully nuanced accounts of the relevant topics.
The surveys of the centuries between the apostolic age and the outbreak of the Reformation
aim to be more than just a historical narrative. These centuries are for both Lutherans and Catholics a
common history of the development of doctrine and church order. The Lutheran churches see their
tradition as rooted in the mission and founding work of the apostles, but also as carrying forward
through the Reformation essential elements of the doctrinal and structural developments that
occurred, after the apostles, in the early-church and medieval periods.
While not exhaustive, the historical surveys have nonetheless produced unsuspected benefits,
as appears in Part 3, regarding the transformation of the episcopal ministry in the fourth century, from
which an important contribution has been provided to the interpretation of both the Reformation and
more recent Catholic developments.
The sections on Luther and the Lutheran Reformation rest on detailed studies, but not simply
as historical accounts, but also for systematic theological explanations and arguments. Similarly,
detailed studies have been carried out on the modern Catholic doctrinal tradition as shaped by the
Councils of Trent, Vatican I, and especially Vatican II. Important points are taken over from Trent on
the Sacrament of Order in Part 3, while Vatican II contributes to Part 2, on the ecclesial "elements"
originating from the apostles, and to Part 4, on the place and role of the Bible in Catholic life.
Limits of This Study of Apostolicity
The Commission agreed from the beginning not to take up a point of serious difference
between Lutherans and Catholics, namely, the ordination of women to the pastoral ministry and their
appointment to the episcopal office. The Lutheran members of the Commission emphasize, however,
that when the text speaks of "ministry" they have in mind men as well as women as office bearers.
Concerning another controversial issue, namely the special apostolic ministry of the Bishop of
Rome, this does in fact enter into our study at several points. But the Commission does not presume
to provide an ecumenical treatment of the papacy at a fundamental level or in a comprehensive
manner. Other Lutheran-Catholic dialogues, conducted in the United States, have focused directly on
the Roman primacy and on infallibility in teaching.4 Moreover, the recent dialogue-study brought out in
Germany, Communio Sanctorum (2000), contains a substantial Catholic-Lutheran exchange on the
papacy.5 The Commission recognizes that it could not aspire to add new insights to this discussion.
Furthermore, we are aware that Pope John Paul II's encyclical on ecumenical commitment, Ut unum
sint (1995), has led to a broad discussion and many publications on the papal ministry, which we could
not hope to work through and integrate into our study.
A Note on Language
This dialogue document has been prepared, at all stages of the Commission's work, in both
English and German. The two versions aim to respect the stylistic requirements of each language and
thus do not stand in literal, word-for-word correspondence with each other. But an editorial sub-group
of Commission members carefully examined the two versions in order to be sure that the two texts
agree fundamentally with each other.
Thus, both the English and the German versions of this study may be considered original texts
of the Commission and may be cited in reports on and analyses of its contribution toward hastening
the recognition of greater communion between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran churches of the
Bishop Béla Harmatí
Archbishop Alfons Nossol
Roman Catholic Co-Chair
- Eds. R. Lee and J. Gros, FSC (Washington, D.C. 2005).
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- Eds. G. Wenz & T. Schneider, 3 vols. (Freiburg & Göttingen 1992-98). In 2002 the German
Working Circle took up the topic that the present study document treats in Part 3, namely, the
church's ministry in apostolic succession. The Working Circle has published two volumes of
papers, but as yet no agreed conclusions, in Das kirchliche Amt in apostolischer Nachfolge. I. Grundlagen und Grundfragen, eds. T. Schneider & G. Wenz (Freiburg & Göttingen 2004), and
II. Ursprünge und Wandlungen, eds. D. Sattler & G. Wenz (Freiburg & Göttingen 2006).
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- Given in Growth in Agreement, eds. H. Meyer and L. Vischer (New York/Ramsey &
Geneva 1984), pp. 168-89 (The Gospel and the Church) and pp. 248-275 (The Ministry in the
Church), and in Growth in Agreement II, eds. J. Gros, FSC, H. Meyer, and W. G. Rusch (Geneva
& Grand Rapids 2000), pp. 485-565 (Church and Justification).
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- See the publications of Rounds V and VI of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the USA, Papal Primacy and the Unity of the Church (Minneapolis 1974) and Teaching Authority and
Infallibility in the Church (Minneapolis 1980).
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- Bilateral Working Group of the German National Bishops' Conference and the Church
Leadership of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, Communio Sanctorum. The
Church as the Communion of Saints, trans. M. W. Jeske, M. Root, and D. R. Smith (Collegeville
2004), treating the Petrine Ministry on pp. 51-68.
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