THE APOSTOLIC GOSPEL AND
THE APOSTOLICITY OF THE CHURCH
65. This second Part treats the apostolic character of the church, as our churches confess this in the
Creed and understand it in their theological traditions. The task is to work together as Lutherans and
Catholics toward answering the question, what makes a church apostolic? In fact, long-standing
differences over the respective claims of our churches to stand in continuity with Christian apostolic
beginnings constitute an obstacle preventing the establishing of communion between our churches.
Therefore, with the aim of grasping better the dimensions of this obstacle, and of moving toward
overcoming it, this Part will examine in detail the relation between the apostolic gospel of our salvation
in Christ and the ecclesial attribute of apostolicity.
66. What follows articulates first our churches' conceptions of ecclesial apostolicity as these are
grounded in Scripture and have developed in history, with special attention to changes in emphasis in
recent times. The elements that constitute today's churches as continuous with the once-for-all
apostolic beginnings need to be considered in their multiplicity. But this Part will also examine the
degree of agreement over the configuration among themselves of the components of apostolicity.
67. The difficulty of this task is the overcoming of an all-too-simple alternative in interrelating and
evaluating different components of apostolicity. One often hears that Lutherans see the church
legitimated as being in apostolic succession only by its preaching and teaching of the gospel, with
ministry playing no essential role. Catholics, on their side, are thought to hold that the unbroken line of
rightful episcopal succession is of itself a guarantee of the apostolicity of the church. But both
assertions are misleading.
68. An important step on the way toward overcoming this all-too-simple alternative will be to show the
importance in the two traditions of a larger complex of components, in doctrine, worship, and forms of
life and service, which together constitute apostolicity as an attribute of the church.
69. A second question to be answered in this Part concerns the present resources of our churches for
acknowledging in dialogue the apostolic character of the partner church which is not now united in full
communion. This study will show that Catholics and Lutherans are in greater agreement on ecclesial
apostolicity than is ordinarily supposed. What follows in this Part will show this from our common
biblical foundation and from the historical ways the apostolic gospel has been understood in relation to
the church. Then, from this basis, this Part will deal with the issue of mutual recognition, which is
clearly a critical step toward the visible union of our churches, toward which our dialogue aims.
2.2 Biblical Orientation
70. The Gospels keep alive the memory of Jesus' proclamation, as Part 1 presented in detail. Jesus'
message of God's reign and kingdom, along with his accounts of God the Father, of sin and
forgiveness, of faith and human hopes, and of Israel and the nations, remained foundational and was
essential in the apostles' preaching The apostolic church then continued to transmit this message and
doctrine. The Gospels keep fresh as well the recollection that Jesus called individuals to discipleship
(Mk 1:16-20 par.) and sent them on mission (Mk 6:6b-13 par.; Lk 10:1-16). Even with the transforming
impact of Easter, these events continued to characterize the apostolic mission of the church. Acts 1:3
tells of Jesus speaking to the disciples of the kingdom of God during the forty days of his
appearances. In Lk 24:47 the risen Messiah interprets Scripture as promising "that repentance and
forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
According to Mt 28:19-20, he sent them to all nations, to baptize them "in the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."
71. The Easter Gospel not only renews Jesus' message of God's reign.
Interwoven with worship, catechesis, service, and the whole life of the church, it also includes the
message of Jesus' saving death and resurrection, his pre-existence and incarnation (Jn 1:1-18), his
exaltation (Phil 2: 6-11), and his awaited return (1 Thess 1:9-10). Only through Jesus' death and
resurrection, did the disciples come to regard his announcement of the gospel as an eschatological
saving event, now to be further proclaimed. By renewing after Easter Jesus' preaching of the reign of
God, the apostolic message underscores the identity of the Risen One with the earthly and crucified
Jesus of Nazareth.
72. Early formulations of faith give witness to the Easter Gospel. According to Acts 4:12, Peter
confesses before the Jewish authorities, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name
under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." In First Corinthians, Paul cites one
of the earliest Christian confessions of faith, extending it to include his own vocation: "that Christ died
for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the
third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and to the Twelve. Then
he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive,
though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one
untimely born, he appeared also to me" (1 Cor 15:3-8). Thus Jesus' resurrection not only renews the
disciples' earlier mission within Israel, but also expands it to become a worldwide mission to all
peoples (Mt 28:16-20; Acts 1:8; cf. Mk 16:15).
73. The first community of believers, gathered together by the work of the Holy Spirit, was according to
Acts 2:42 distinctive in that "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the
breaking of the bread and the prayers." According to Luke, these four aspects represent the
constitutive elements of the community as church.
a. The apostles' teaching comes first, because the apostles, according to Luke, have by the
gospel message also renewed and actualized fundamental aspects of the preaching of Jesus, while
Jesus' death and resurrection was at the very center of their proclamation. On Pentecost Peter is said
to be the first to begin public proclamation in Jerusalem. Paul, although for Luke not an apostle in the
strict sense because not one of the Twelve, is still one who in Acts announces the same gospel as do
the Twelve. This teaching of the apostles has to be defended in disputes about correct belief and be
interpreted in fresh ways in new situations. But the apostles' teaching is essentially connected with
other fundamental actions of the church.
b. The fellowship indicates the bond of faith uniting those who have all received the Holy Spirit,
along with their community of goods, which served to help the poor and gave essential expression to
their bond of union (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35).
c. The breaking of the bread is best understood in connection with the Lord's Supper, which in
Luke's account includes the mandate, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19; cf. 1 Cor 11:24.25).
d. The prayers recited in common would include the Our Father, which Jesus had taught his
disciples (Lk 11:1-4; cf. Mt 6:9-13), as well as the Psalms, which were treasured as prayers in the
early community from the beginning (cf. 1 Cor 14:26; Col 3:16; Eph 5:19), as this community
continued using Jewish forms of prayer. These four characteristics of the church in Luke-Acts are not
a complete account. But they are fundamental. They link teaching with the practice of the faith, both in
service and in worship. The proclamation of the gospel, leading to conversion and baptism, preceded
the first community's life of faith. And the same Spirit who led the members to hear God's word in faith
then strengthens them as the community of believers to give in word and deed their own witness to the
74. The gospel of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed, as Paul writes about those who come to faith,
"How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of
whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how
are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who
bring good news!'" (Rom 10:14-15, citing Isa 52:7). There is no preaching of the gospel without
persons who preach, but no preacher may act as master over the gospel, since all must place
themselves in its service.
75. The apostles are the first Christian preachers, sent out by the Risen Lord himself (1 Cor 15:1-11;
Gal 1:15-16). The Creed's later designation of the church as "apostolic" serves to indicate that the
church is, according to Eph 2: 20, "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets" whose
essential task was the proclamation of the gospel (1 Cor 1:17; Acts 9:15). The church is apostolic
because the gospel that she hears in faith and to which she gives witness is apostolic.
76. The New Testament does not offer a unified concept of apostle, as already shown in Part 1.
Common elements are the moment of commissioning and the proclamation of the gospel in word and
deed. Luke's image of the twelve apostles brings out their eschatological significance, for they point to
the hoped-for restoration of all Israel, while at the same time the Twelve can offer assurance that the
Risen Lord is indeed the same one who lived on earth and was crucified. The Twelve link the
proclamation of the church to Jesus' preaching. But also according to Luke, it is by the mandate of the
Risen Lord that they announce the gospel "in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of
the earth" (Acts 1:8).
77. Paul's understanding of the apostolate is narrower, as has been carefully described in Part 1 of
this study. To him the apostolic mission is based in an appearance of the risen Lord (Gal 1:15-16; 1
Cor 15:1-11) while also for him the identity of the risen Christ with the crucified one is decisive.
Because Christ died "once-and-for-all" (Rom 6:10) and "for all" (2 Cor 5:14), the mission is not only to
Israel but also to all peoples. The apostles are sent to proclaim the gospel so that in every place Christ
may become the foundation of the church (1 Cor 3:5-17; cf. Eph 2:20-21, 4:7-16). In this, the Pauline
apostolate is of lasting importance.
78. In his conflict with his Galatian opponents, Paul asserts that there is no other gospel than the
gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:7). The apostolic gospel, no matter who preaches it, is one and the
same as a definite message (1 Cor 15:11) centered on Jesus' death and resurrection (Gal 1:1.4; 1 Cor
15:3-5). This gospel founds community (Eph 4:4-5) and builds up the church (1 Cor 15:1). It must be
firmly maintained by the word that is proclaimed (1 Cor 15:2).
79. The evangelist Mark placed his work under the heading, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus
Christ, the Son of God" (Mk 1:1). All the evangelists give witness in their gospels, different as they may
be, to the one gospel of God, which Jesus announced and in which Jesus is proclaimed. In the New
Testament the one gospel of Jesus comes to us in the four canonical Gospels, into which numerous
particular traditions about Jesus have been incorporated. In the preface to his gospel narrative, Luke
states that this happened after critical examination (Lk 1:1-4). In Acts, Luke tells how the witness to
Jesus came to Jerusalem and Judea, to Samaria, and to the gentiles as far as Rome (cf. Acts 1: 8).
The apostolic letters relate how, in faith in Christ, a way of life took shape in the first communities, or
how this should occur, amid difficulties of disputes in the communities and threats to them from
outside. The book of Revelation makes its readers look ahead to the realization of God's Reign in a
world of sin and chaos, until the descent to earth of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 21-22). All of these
writings belong to the chorus of many New Testament voices witnessing to the gospel.
80. Luke tells Theophilus that his new account of Jesus is written "so that you may know the truth
concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (Lk 1:4). The Fourth Evangelist declares
the intent of his gospel: "These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (Jn 20:31). In his letters,
Paul repeatedly speaks of wanting to reach his readers by proclamation, consolation, requests,
admonitions, and instruction. The New Testament books express the living faith of all those who have
been drawn by Jesus' message, by his death, and by his resurrection to hope to share in the
"universal restoration" (Acts 3:21). The New Testament keeps alive Jesus' call to discipleship and his
mission mandate, along with the truth of his teaching and his loving service. The books of the New
Testament understand the Scriptures of Israel, the Old Testament, in the way pointedly expressed in
Second Timothy: "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for
every good work" (2:16-17).
81. The apostolic gospel encounters us basically in the witness of Holy Scripture, which both
presupposes and is further ordered to the viva vox evangelii. The New Testament, produced amid the
life of the Early Church, and meant to be read in the context given by the Scriptures of Israel,
communicates the gospel of Jesus Christ. The canonical conclusion of Paul's letter to the Romans
asserts the fundamental significance of the apostolic gospel for the church of all ages: "To God who is
able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the
revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but is now disclosed, and through the
prophetic writings is made known to all the gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to
bring about the obedience of faith - to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory
forever" (Rom 16:25-27).
2.3 The Apostles and the Church in Early and Medieval Interpretations
2.3.1 Early Affirmations of Apostolicity
82. Early post-apostolic expressions of the churches' relationship to the apostles present only
fragments, but these are important. First Clement, written from Rome around 96 A.D., called on the
faithful of Corinth to submit to those whose ministry comes in an orderly sequence from those whom
an apostle appointed. But Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, urged the church of Philippi, which had been
instructed in the "word of truth" by Paul, "to turn back to the word delivered to us from the beginning",
that is, to the apostolic message of Christ's coming in the flesh and his cross, with the transmitted
sayings of the Lord.6
83. More explicit attention to continuity with the apostles' doctrine emerged in second and third century
arguments against Gnostic masters, like Valentinian and Basilides, who claimed to be transmitting to
their disciples revealed doctrines originating with Jesus. Hegesippus, writing about 180 A.D., asserted
that the bishops of his day, who succeed the apostles in Jerusalem, Corinth, and Rome, agreed in
proposing the same public teaching from which the Gnostics were diverging. Irenaeus, shortly after,
claimed that Christian public instruction is basically the same in different locales, where bishops
adhere to the canon of truth, or rule of faith, passed on from the apostles. Sure access to God's word
is had in the churches being led by bishops whose ministry stands in continuity with those whom the
apostles appointed to transmit Christ's truth.
84. The canon of truth, neglected by the Gnostics, provided the apostolic scheme of teaching and
principles of Scriptural interpretation, for example, in holding the identity of the God of Israel with the
Father of Jesus Christ. But one early teacher, Marcion, questioned the use by Christians of the
Scriptures of Israel, leading to his excommunication at Rome in 144 A.D., after which a number of
writers reinforced the role in Christian faith of Israel's Scriptures, with their Creator-God of
righteousness and promises. In time, the ongoing presence of the apostles was sensed in the
churches through the apostolic instruction heard by the faithful from readings of the apostolic texts of
the eventual New Testament canon. In the fourth and fifth centuries, great preaching bishops brought
the Scriptures to bear on both doctrinal questions and Christian life, so as to make the churches
apostolic in an intense manner, without however linking this with the notion of apostolicity.
85. Among early creeds, much like the Apostles' Creed professed today in our churches, some
baptismal formulae confess, among the works of the Holy Spirit "the holy and catholic church". The
Council of Nicaea (325) issued against those using Arian slogans the anathema of "the catholic and
apostolic church". The widely received and still recited Creed of the Council of Constantinople (381)
confesses the church to be "apostolic", which is an attribute effected by the Holy Spirit who unites,
sanctifies, and maintains believers over time in continuity with the apostles' faith, teaching, and
2.3.2 The Special Apostolicity of Rome and its Bishop
86. In the patristic era, the churches considered to have been founded by apostles (sedes
apostolicae)had normative roles in clarifying the content of true faith in Christ. But from the second
century onward, the Church of Rome, where Peter and Paul were venerated as apostles and martyrs,
claimed to be "apostolic" in a singular manner. The bishops of Rome, claiming to fulfill responsibilities
Christ gave to Peter, were active in the fifth century in convalidating doctrines and norms issued by
local Western synods. In Late Antiquity, bishops, presbyters, or synods, from both the West and the
East, repeatedly appealed to Rome requesting an intervention in situations of conflict. They sought
support for their positions, asked advice, and hoped to obtain from Rome a decisive solution of
disciplinary and doctrinal disputes. As time went on, being in communion with Rome gained ever
87. Rome's special apostolicity found expression in principles which were for the most part
uncontested in the West through Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, as encapsulated in the maxim, Prima sedes a nemine iudicatur ("The First See is judged by no one"), to which, however, medieval
canonists formulated an exception regarding the Pope: nisi deprehendatur a fide devius. ("... unless
found deviating from the faith"). Pope Hormisdas formulated in 515 the basis for Rome's normative
role in teaching, quia in Sede Apostolica immaculata est semper catholica servata religio ("because in
the Apostolic See the catholic religion has always been preserved immaculate"). But Pope Gregory the
Great (590-604) designated himself servus servorum Dei ("the servant of the servants of God") and
recognized Antioch and Alexandria as Apostolic Sees also exercising "petrine" authority in the
ecclesial communio of churches founded by Peter and the other apostles.
88. In the Early Middle Ages, the older structures of collegial church governance, such as provincial
councils, largely disappeared in the West, which eased the passage of local churches under imperial
and princely power. Contesting this, the popes of the Gregorian reform, beginning in the eleventh
century, intervened in the name of the freedom of the church, spreading their effective influence over
much of Western Europe. Medieval canonical codifications, expressing the ecclesiology of the era,
formulated the changed structure with the popes at the apex of the hierarchy, leaving few remaining
traces of the church seen as the communion of local churches led by bishops who were keeping alive
the apostolic gospel. Individuals, such as Ockham (d. 1347), Wycliffe (d. 1384), and Huss (d. 1415),
protested against the prevailing juridicism on behalf of a radically spiritual church. But it was the crisis
of the Western Schism (1379-1417) that occasioned the revival of older ideas of a corporate locus of
authority, whether in the universal church or concretized in a general council, which could end the
Schism and, it was hoped, promote general church reform. But the papal restoration after the Council
of Constance, given ecclesiological formulation in Summa de ecclesia (1452) of J. Torquemada, O.P.,
had the effect of subordinating both councils and reform to the governing policies of the popes.
2.3.3 Apostolicity in Lifestyle, Art, and Liturgy
89. During the Western Middle Ages, the apostolicity of the church extended beyond the hierarchy.
Movements beginning in the late eleventh century sought to revive the vita apostolica ("apostolic
lifestyle") in communities without private property and dedicated to work and prayer on the model of
the founding community of Jerusalem. The Waldensian movement expressed this yearning for
apostolic simplicity and for preaching based on vernacular portions of Scripture. Their preaching
without episcopal approval, however, led to censure in 1182 and their marginalization. But the
thirteenth century approval of the programs of Dominic and Francis of Assisi assured the on-going
presence in the church of the ideal of living and spreading God's word in conformity with the church's
90. Iconography made the apostles and their foundational role present to Christians of Late Antiquity
and the Middle Ages. Always twelve in number, their membership could vary, as when Paul replaced
Matthias. Early frescoes showed Christ teaching the word of revelation to the Twelve and mosaics
depicted Christ amid the apostles as giver through them of the new law of life. All major Gothic
cathedrals include statues of the apostles, for example, at portals in groupings with the prophets who
witnessed to Christ before he came. The liturgical calendar distributed the feasts of the apostles
throughout the year, to create a regular rhythm of remembrance of Jesus' chosen emissaries to the
91. Medieval carvings, paintings, and illuminated bibles at times link each apostle with an article of the
Creed and also show the apostles departing on mission from Jerusalem to preach the gospel and
baptize after Christ's Ascension. The Roman Canon names the twelve apostles in the Communicantes prayer, just after the Te igitur had qualified the offering as being for the benefit of all who hold "the
catholic and apostolic faith". On these prayers Gabriel Biel, in a work studied by Luther, commented
that the apostles are foundational of the church as the principal witnesses of Christ's passion and
resurrection, but their founding depends on Christ, the ultimate foundation from whom the faith began
and has its present solidity.7
2.3.4 Calls for Reform
92. Individual churchmen had issued memoranda and appeals for reform of the church all through the
fifteenth and into the early years of the sixteenth century.8 Perceptive observers could see that a
wealthy and powerful hierarchy was no longer in harmony with its apostolic mission. Often these
appeals called for a return to observance of the older codes of law, while a few, like Wycliffe and Hus,
called for renewed biblical preaching. But the desire of reform of the head, and thereby of the
members, remained an unsatisfied aspiration.
2.4 Developments in the Reformation and Afterwards
2.4.1 The Lutheran Reformation
93. Among early modern exponents of religious reform, Martin Luther was distinctive in the force of his
appeal to the biblical basis of reform, especially as found in the apostolic writings of the New
Testament. Luther called an apostle "one who brings God's word" and understood the apostolic legacy
wholly from the gospel and the commission to make it known. The church lives by the specific word
coming to it from the risen Christ, through the apostles and the witnesses who follow. "Where the word
is, there is the church."9 The church remains apostolic by proclaiming the good news concerning Christ
who "has died for our sins and is risen for our righteousness" (Rom 4:25).10 Thus, "where two or three
are assembled, if only they hold to God's word in the same faith and trust, there you certainly have the
authentic, original, and true apostolic church."11
94. The gospel word displays the power of the risen Christ by gathering and shaping the church as creatura evangelii ("creature made by the gospel"),12 in which pastors, preachers, and all the faithful
are called to continue the succession of witness to Christ's saving Lordship. Christ, now at the right
hand of God, rules visibly on earth through the preaching of the gospel and celebration of the
sacraments in the church. Receiving the apostolic gospel in faith entails as well receiving the practices
such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, the power of the keys, and mutual consolation, through which the
message of Christ engages human life with divine power.13 By the apostolic word and practices, as
Luther set forth in the Large Catechism (on the Creed, Third Article), the Holy Spirit is distributing,
through the ministry of those properly called, the treasure of forgiveness of sin and sanctification
acquired by Christ's death and resurrection
95. Luther himself rarely spoke of the "apostolic church". But he understood the reality that we
designate the church's apostolicity as continuity in proclaiming the same message as the apostles and
as continuity in practicing baptism, the Lord's Supper, the office of the keys, the call to ministry, public
gathering for worship in praise and confession of faith, and the bearing of the cross as Christ's
disciples.14 These are the marks of the church by which one can recognize it, since they are the means
by which the Holy Spirit creates faith and the church. Among these marks, the gospel message,
however, is the decisive criterion of continuity in practice with the apostolic church.
96. The apostolic legacy is handed down based on and always related to Holy Scripture which is the
touchstone of all preaching, teaching, and practice. Scripture, when read as centered on God's grace
in Christ, makes present the right understanding of apostolic teaching, 15 which includes the trinitarian
and christological doctrine of the Ancient Church. It is the doctrine of justification by faith that
expresses and orients this understanding.
97. The gospel serves as the basis of all authority in the church. Since apostolic authority is concrete
service of the message of Christ, the rank or role of a person does not suffice to legitimate teaching,
for the latter must be tested for its coherence with the gospel originally delivered by the apostles. But
for one to undertake in public to speak this message, which is God's means of life-giving promises,
one must be authorized by a definite call. Continuity and Critique in the Lutheran Reformation
98. The aim of the Reformation was to re-establish continuity with the true church of the apostles by a
new reception of the apostolic gospel and the practices bound to it. This entailed rejecting the
misconceptions of the gospel and deformations of practice by which the church of the day had broken
continuity with the apostles. For the good news had been falsified by making God's favor dependent
on good works, by centering the Lord's Supper on sacrifice offered to propitiate God, and by the papal
hierarchy's claiming the right to add new articles of faith and impose practices binding in conscience.
99. The Reformation rejected what it found contradicting and obscuring the gospel in the church under
the papacy, but its critique was not total, for Luther could say, ". . . in the Papacy there are the true
Holy Scriptures, true baptism, the true sacrament, the true keys for the forgiveness of sins, the true
office of proclamation, and the true catechism."16 The Catholic Church possessed and was passing on
the elements of the apostolic legacy which the Reformation was now using in correct ways.
100. Reformation critique thus served re-focusing church life on the gospel and reorganizing it to serve
the communication of the gospel. Reform aimed at renewed continuity with the apostolic church by
centering church life on Scripture and its exposition in preaching, by the administration and daily
remembrance of baptism, by the common celebration of the Lord's Supper, by pastoral exercise of the
keys to deal with sin, and by reaffirming ministry as an office of communicating the gospel. By
preaching and these basic forms, the gospel of Christ makes itself present in the church.
101. The gospel purely taught and the sacraments rightly administered are necessary for the
existence of the church (Augsburg Confession, Art. 7). This basic affirmation defines the church by
reference to the apostolic mission, while also establishing what is needed for its unity. But an
agreement on the teaching of the gospel also embraces the practices coming from the apostles by
which the message impacts on life and gives form to the life of the community (cf. nos. 94-95, above).
Beyond the apostolic nucleus, "traditions" may be accepted, but not as necessary for constituting the
church and its unity.
102. Maintaining the church's continuity in the message and in the essentially connected practices
received from the apostles comes to be centered in catechesis, which is instruction and initiation
aiming to shape life and devotion by the basic texts of the Commandments, the Creed, prayer, the
sacraments, and confession and absolution by the power of the keys. By these, the apostolic legacy
remains present and alive in the church.
2.4.2 Apostolicity at Trent and in Post-Tridentine Catholic Theology
103. To prepare its doctrinal clarifications and reform decrees, in 1546 the Council of Trent first stated
that the gospel of Christ, preached by the apostles, is the source of all saving truth and norms of
Christian practice. This gospel gave rise to a body of doctrine and norms expressed in both Scripture
and the unwritten traditions transmitted by the apostles to the church (DS 1501; Tanner, 663). But this
same gospel is not only an external word, but is also interior, planted by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of
believers.17 Regarding Scripture, Trent specified the canon and indicated that interpretations
concerning faith and practice must not diverge from a perennial ecclesial understanding, exemplified
by the Church Fathers, which remains present today and empowers the teaching office to judge the
adequacy of biblical interpretations (DS 1507; Tanner, 664).
104. Trent did not present a dogmatic ecclesiology, but left this area open. Theologians responded to
the immediate needs of controversy by developing an apologetical treatment of apostolicity, that is, a
presentation of evidence to prove that the Roman Church is alone the vera ecclesia ("true church"),
with rightful authority in teaching and a legitimate corps of bishops and presbyters.18 Later Catholic
manuals of ecclesiology were dominated by apologetics, arguing from numerous external "marks" or
"notes" by which to ascertain the true church of Christ, especially through the papal and episcopal
succession in office from Peter and the other apostles to the present day.
105. Post-Tridentine Catholic theology was narrowed by constraints of argument to give practically no
place to the ecclesial endowments of Scripture, creeds, worship, spirituality, and discipline of life,
which in fact shaped the lives of Catholics but which were also shared in different ways with Christians
of the separated churches. Ecclesiology was dominated by concern with the formal issue of legitimacy in holding these and other gifts. Interior gifts appeared less important than the verifiable marks
employed by an apologetics drawing on history. In the argument, the aim was to identify the
institutional entity in which Christ's truth is normatively taught, his efficacious sacraments
administered, and a pastoral governance exercised in a legitimate manner, especially by reason of
apostolic succession of Pope and bishops in a church assuredly still sustained by Christ's promised
2.5 Developments toward Resolution and Consensus
2.5.1 A Catholic Ecumenical Vision of Participated Apostolicity
The Gospel and the Episcopal College
106. In the mid-twentieth century, important works of biblical theology, along with newly circulating
patristic and liturgical sources, gave Catholics the resources for fresh developments in ecclesiology.
But the gospel is basic to the church, as Vatican II indicates at the beginning of its dogmatic text on
the church (LG 1) by referring to Christ as the "light of the nations" (Lumen gentium) to be brought to
all humanity by proclaiming the gospel to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15).
107. When Vatican II restates Trent's declaration on the gospel as source of all saving truth (DV 7),
"the gospel" is the concentrated expression of God's revelation which gives believers, out of the
fullness of God's love, access to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The truth revealed about
God and human salvation "shines forth in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and sum total of
revelation" (DV 2). Christ completed and perfected revelation by his words and works, signs and
miracles, but above all by his death on the cross and glorious resurrection, which express the gospel
message "that God is with us, to deliver us from the darkness of sin and death and to raise us up to
eternal life" (DV 4). The gospel of salvation is thus articulated in Vatican II's Constitution on Divine
Revelation (Dei Verbum), which is prior to all else that the Council taught on the church and its life.19 This recovery of the soteriological focus of revelation was one factor in opening the way for Catholics
to join Lutherans in adhering to a common understanding of justification in The Joint Declaration on
the Doctrine of Justification (esp. nos. 14-18).
108. Regarding the papal and episcopal ministry serving the public proclamation of this gospel,
Catholic doctrine now features further recovered insights. In Vatican II, the apostolic primacy of Rome
and its bishop must be seen within the entire body of bishops, who form a structured collegium, which
succeeds the college of the apostles in missionary and pastoral responsibility, and in governing and
teaching authority (LG 22-24). The unity of the church has the form of communio among particular
churches whose bishops are united in the episcopal college, which is a corporate locus of apostolic
succession in union with the bishop of the primatial apostolic See of Rome, who is both a member of
the college and its head. This college perpetuates itself in order to carry out its responsibilities to the
gospel by including new members, firm in their profession of the church's faith, who corporately
ensure the continuity over time of what the college has been commissioned by Christ to proclaim to
and preserve in his church.
109. Being an ordained member of this college does not guarantee an individual bishop's faithful
transmission of the apostolic gospel and tradition, for one can fall into disaccord with the transmitted
faith and so lapse from episcopal communio, but the Catholic conviction is that the college as a whole,
in union with the primatial bishop, is protected in transmitting the apostolic message and forms of
worship and life. This heritage of teaching, liturgy and witness, that is, the living tradition, is thus bound
to a corporate body of living teachers, whose apostolic succession makes them normative witnesses
to what comes from Christ through the apostles.
110. Vatican II echoes a major Reformation concern by linking the episcopal office, before all else,
with the preaching of the gospel of Christ (LG 25.1). Bishops are evangelists, called to exemplify
preaching for the presbyters whose ministry of word, sacrament, and pastoral care (PO 2.4, 4-6) they
promote and oversee. Since the petrine office is within the episcopate, its primary role is also to
proclaim Christ, in the image of Peter's foundational witness to the resurrection of Christ, as the
central event announced in the gospel. Thus, episcopal and papal apostolic succession in office
serves a successio verbi ("succession in the word"), to build up the church from its foundation of faith
111. Part 3 of this report will present how Catholic doctrine views a pastoral ministry of word and
sacrament outside the corporate episcopal succession. But this must rest on a view of ecclesial
tradition, about which contemporary Catholic teaching features insights recovered from long-neglected
sources, which lead to a conception different from what predominated in the post-Tridentine era, but
which in fact fulfills essential intentions of the Councils of Trent and Vatican I. A Renewed
Understanding of Tradition
112. Beginning in the initial Catholic arguments against Reformation claims and continuing well into
the twentieth century, an apologetically framed Catholic theology stressed the existence of certain
non-written traditions conveyed to the churches by the apostles by means other than Scripture. A text
like 2 Thess. 2,15 was cited to show that Paul also transmitted "traditions taught by word of mouth",
while John 20,30 and 21,25, on the "many other things that Jesus did", opened a broad panorama of
possible practices not attested in the gospels. These traditions, emphasized against the Reformation sola Scriptura ("Scripture alone"), entered the church as doctrines and instituted community practices,
which the apostles communicated orally but did not set down in the New Testament, with these
leading in time by the dynamic of development to required liturgical and disciplinary ordinances and
even to dogmatic propositions of the doctrine of faith.
113. Historical studies motivated Vatican II to avoid ratifying the notion of unwritten traditions which
supplement Scripture with further teachings and practices of apostolic origin. The Council carefully
avoided a doctrinal decision on the contents of the "unwritten traditions", while stressing instead an
intimate correlation, permeating the whole life of the church, between Scripture and the dynamic
process of tradition (DV 8.3, 9). By the interaction of these two in the church, the apostolic tradition of
the gospel and life is perpetuated, which Scripture expresses in a special manner (DV 8).
114. Here apostolic tradition itself is depicted in a fresh manner. In the churches they founded, the
apostles communicated the gospel, thereby communicating dona divina ("divine gifts") to believers, by
the ensemble of "the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions
they established, [as] they themselves had received" (DV 7.1). This complex reality, the apostolic
patrimony, passed into the post-apostolic churches and thus began its further life in history: "what was
handed on by the apostles comprises everything that serves to make the People of God live their lives
in holiness and increase their faith." This reality constituted of many elements is then perpetuated in
and by the church "in her doctrine, life, and worship" as she continuously transmits "all that she herself
is, all that she believes" (DV 8.1).
115. The patrimony of the apostolic tradition is multifaceted and vital, being closely linked with the
corporate reality of the community. A many-sided depositum vitae ("deposit of life"), illustrated
suggestively by the Pastoral Epistles, represents what Vatican II sees as the apostolic tradition, which
has its center in the gospel and finds in the New Testament its pre-eminent testimony to Christ, in
whom appeared "the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior" (Titus 3,4-7, also 2,11-14).
116. The apostolic tradition comprises many interwoven strands of teachings which foster faith and life
consonant with faith, and many practices inculcated in the community to promote its witness in its
locale. These traditions make up the authentic Tradition manifested in the church's communal life.
The Catholic Church and the Other Churches and Ecclesial Communities
117. The renewed Catholic doctrine on Scripture and tradition leads, in our ecumenical context, to the
recognition that these components pertain to the means of sanctification and formation in truth that are
present both in the Catholic Church and in other communities now in real but imperfect communion
with the Catholic Church.
118. These developments in Catholic ecclesiology, concerning the episcopate and tradition, open
avenues of advance, not only toward doctrinal agreement with churches of the Reformation about the
church, but also toward acknowledging the apostolicity of these churches whose ministerial pastoral
leadership does not stand in historical apostolic succession.
119. Vatican II took important initial steps toward considering as apostolic churches now outside the
Catholic communion, when it affirmed that "many elements of sanctification and truth are found
outside its [own] visible confines", that is, in other churches and ecclesial communities, and when it
called these "gifts belonging to the Church of Christ" (LG 8). The Council developed this in LG 15, with
reference to the "elements" that are central components of life in the separated churches and ecclesial
communities: baptism, the Scriptures, faith in the Triune God, sacraments, the sanctifying activity of
the Holy Spirit, and the witness of martyrdom.
120. Vatican II's Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio) laid a central foundation of our
dialogue by acknowledging that the other churches and ecclesial communities "have been by no
means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has
not refrained from using them as means of salvation ..." (UR 3). The same passage mentions again
"the elements of sanctification and truth", with amplification on liturgical worship among the
endowments which come from Christ and constitute the separated communities as means by which
the Spirit of Christ works out the salvation of their members.
121. From this conciliar affirmation of the Christian endowments of the separated churches, Catholic
ecumenical theology is justified in concluding to an implicit recognition of these churches and ecclesial
communities as apostolic, since the very elements listed are not meteorites fallen from heaven into the
churches of our time, but have come from Christ through the ministry of his apostles and are
components of the apostolic tradition. Beyond our common sharing in Christ's salvation by grace and
personal faith, we are also in real, but still imperfect, ecclesial communion (UR 3) because we share
the mediating elements of sanctification and truth given by God through Christ and the apostles. The
Catholic Church and the churches and ecclesial communities of the Reformation both participate in
the attribute of apostolicity because they are built up and live by many of the same "elements and
endowments" pertaining to the one and multiple apostolic tradition.20
122. This affirmation involves for Catholics an analogous or differentiated application of the
qualification "apostolic" to other churches and ecclesial communities, because of Catholic convictions
about the full complement of sacramental and institutional elements, especially in its episcopal and
primatial ministers, that the Catholic Church has retained, in spite of her deficiencies in faith, worship,
and the mission entrusted to her. In churches whose bishops stand outside the episcopal college
united with the successor of Peter, apostolicity while being genuine is also different from the
apostolicity of a church in which faith, doctrine, sacraments, worship, and life are integrated by a
united and collegial episcopal ministry which, in communion with the successor of Peter, continues in
a unique way the ministry of the apostles. For Catholics this ministerial structure is not external to the
gospel it communicates, for it mediates the gospel.
123. Parts 3 and 4 of this document will explore further the different ways our churches are apostolic,
by examining our convictions and differences over ordination in episcopal succession and over
teaching authority, both of which affect the way Catholic theology applies the qualification "apostolic" to
the churches of the Reformation.
2.5.2 An Ecumenical Lutheran Account of the Apostolicity of the Church
The Full Dimensions of the Word of God
124. The insights of biblical theology in the last century have again reinforced for Lutherans the
awareness of the gospel as God's saving word sent forth into history. The word of God is dynamic, for
in it God is acting, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. The gospel is "the power of God for salvation"
(Rom 1:16), through which the Spirit gathers and sustains a new community for its corporate witness
to the gospel among the nations. Through the witnessing community, as a distinctive, continuous, and
embodied presence in the world, God's word is engaging historical life in an efficacious way, as Luther
says in the Large Catechism, "The Holy Spirit continues his work without ceasing until the Last Day,
and for this purpose he has appointed a community on earth, through which he speaks and does all
125. The word of God, to be sure, has a definite content as teaching about the Son of God and his
saving work, a doctrine which must be attested truthfully in faithful reception of the apostolic testimony.
While faith without content is void, still it is not simply assent to true statements, since God meets
believers in personal encounter by engaging them in the promise of the gospel word and sacraments.
Thus believers fully trust in God's promises and in faith they personally embrace true belief.
126. This awareness of the full dimensions of the word of God has implications for understanding the
apostolicity of the church, the substance of which lies in the ongoing proclamation of God's saving
action in Christ, through word and sacrament, in fidelity to the apostolic witness. The Holy Spirit is
acting to bestow saving communion with Jesus Christ on believers living in history and to form them
into a community of witness and celebration for attesting the good news to all the world. The continuity
of the Spirit's saving action, taking form in the church's continuous reception and handing- on of the
gospel, amid a manifold ecclesial practice centered on the gospel, is thus seen today as the depth-dimension of the apostolicity of the church.
The Elements of Apostolicity and their Configuration
127. In view of these dimensions of the gospel, as the word of God sent forth in history, apostolicity
must be taken as a complex reality embracing multiple elements. A Lutheran view of ecclesial
apostolicity does not simply look to the presence of these elements in the life of a community, but
much more to the pattern of their configuration and to the understanding and use of them. This is of
primary importance for a Lutheran account of the church's apostolic integrity. The Reformers
recognized that all the elements of apostolicity were present in the late-medieval church, but the
pattern of their right shape, understanding, and use had been obscured. To reform the church was to
re-gather the elements of apostolicity around their proper center, so as to recover an authentically
apostolic pattern of the marks of the church.
128. The center is, of course, the holy gospel that promises forgiveness and salvation given freely by
God's grace, for Christ's sake, received by faith alone. The preached gospel is linked inseparably with
baptism and the Lord's Supper in articulating the grace given to believers. For the good news of
salvation to be communicated in its depth and saving power, the preached gospel must be joined with
the sacraments, along with the ministry of the keys. This is the vital center of the church's life, the
central cluster of authentic continuity with the apostles, by which their mission continues.
129. This center does not exclude other elements of apostolicity, but their meaning becomes clear
only in relation to these basic forms. Around them the witnessing community takes shape, by which
the message is proclaimed and celebrated. The concern here, in Lutheran perspective, is not
reduction through the exclusion of other elements, but the concentration of everything in the
community on the central communication of God's life-giving forgiveness.
130. Around the central expression of the gospel in word and sacrament, the life of the community
takes shape in offices and institutions, doctrines, liturgies and church orders, and an ethos and
spirituality animated by the message of God's grace. Also in this account apostolicity is a gift and
calling which shapes the whole life of the church as a community in history. On this basis, Lutheran
theology can understand the continuity of the church with its apostolic origin in a socially embodied
way, which while complex is centered on the proclamation of the gospel and celebration of the
sacraments in a manner echoed by Catholic teaching in Vatican II (cf. nos. 107 and 114-116, above).
The Substance of the Gospel and its Contingent Forms
131. Today Lutheran teaching has learned that the central forms of the gospel, with the community life
shaped by them, and in it the office of ministry, all come to us in historically contingent expressions.
The good news of Christ comes to us in biblical texts, in a canon, and in liturgical creeds all marked by
the time of their origins. The sacraments of salvation have been embedded in historically developed
orders of worship and liturgical texts. The church's ministry and the office of the keys are mediated to
us in contingent forms of church order and traditional pastoral care. 132. This means that the church
must continuously be aware of needs for reform. But in this we cannot distill a pure gospel in
abstraction from contingent forms, and we should not, for such a gospel would not be a word sent
forth in history. We recognize today that the church needs, in various degrees, particular forms of
apostolic continuity which are not in themselves intrinsic to the substance of the apostolic gospel.
These forms serve the proclamation of the good news of Christ and bring to believers today the
elements of gospel-centered apostolic continuity, while expressing as well the unity in faith between a
local community and the church throughout the world and throughout the ages.
133. The widely recognized mediating forms of apostolic continuity, based on the books of the biblical
canon, such as creedal formulas, catechisms, church orders, and common forms of worship, while not necessary in a strict sense for the gospel to be expressed with saving efficacy, are still needed in the
church for its mission and its broader unity. Their use, however, must be continually reformed, to
enable them to serve better the continuity of the church with its apostolic origin.
134. Reform must entail holding fast to and proclaiming more authentically the truth of the gospel,
which in the sixteenth century led to breaking historic bonds of ecclesial communion. But today such
reform should go hand-in-hand with the recollection that according to Christ's will the communion of
Christians with one another is intrinsic to their witness.
Diversity and its Reconciliation
135. Historical consciousness makes us aware today of the persistence of theological diversity both
throughout the history of the Christian community and today among those who receive the common
apostolic legacy. Many recognize that the unity in faith and sacramental life toward which our
ecumenical efforts are advancing will entail "reconciled diversity", which while leaving real diversity
nonetheless shapes and orders it by what is held in common, so that differences do not entail division
136. Reconciliation is encompassed by unity given in Christ and actualized by the Holy Spirit. It
concerns that which we receive together from the apostles, in doctrine and preaching, sacramental
life, mission, prayer, and ethos. The reconciling movement of communities toward each other has to
attend to the confession of the apostolic faith and to doctrine. But the ground of unity in reconciled
diversity is extra nos, outside ourselves, in the word and sacraments by which Christ is present and
known to us. What reconciles is the mutual recognition that it is the apostolic legacy which the
respective churches receive in their preaching and sacramental practice. Reconciliation occurs
through such shared reception of the apostolic gospel, and by finding deep common features of
different receptions we draw near to a common center and enter into communion with one another.
137. In the relation between the churches, "unity in reconciled diversity" rests on recognition as a
judgment that another community has authentically received the apostolic legacy, so that what it
teaches agrees with the gospel's content and its communal practice communicates the good news of
Christ. This leads to common confession of the apostolic faith and acknowledgment that the different
ways the communities explicate the faith are open to one another in their diversity.
138. Thus a differentiated consensus is the form in which separated churches may come together,
that is, in agreed confession with recognition that existing differences do not impede mutual
recognition of the present-day continuity with Christian apostolic beginnings and do not prevent
partnership in the apostolic mission.
Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church
139. Lutherans have long held Roman Catholic teaching and practice to be discontinuous with the
apostolic legacy in different respects, for instance when institutions and practices of merely human
devising are considered integral to this legacy. What is essential in the life of the church has thereby
been obscured. In the Lutheran view, the Roman Catholic Church has retained the substance of the
apostolic legacy. It is, however, interpreted and configured in such a way that apostolicity is not
properly embodied in teaching, sacramental practice and structures of governance.
140. But in the changed ecumenical situation, along with their own new insights into the implications of
fundamental beliefs, Lutherans see Roman Catholics working out new understandings, for example,
when they emphasize the centrality of the apostolic gospel as "the source of all saving truth and norms
of practice" and interpret apostolic succession in terms of what is provided by God so that the full and
living gospel might always be preserved in the church (Vatican II, DV 7).
141. While important differences remain, the discussion of apostolicity can and must proceed on the
basis of the shared conviction expressed in the Malta Report of 1972: "The church is apostolic insofar
as it ... abides in the apostolic faith. The church's ministry, doctrine, and order are apostolic insofar as
they pass on and actualize the apostolic witness" (The Gospel and the Church, 52).
142. Through the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the Lutheran World
Federation has acknowledged that, despite continuing differences, the teaching of the Roman Catholic
Church on justification is compatible with faithful proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ in
accord with the apostolic witness. This is for Lutherans the recognition that the basic reality which
makes a church apostolic is present in the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, Lutherans find
some doctrines and practices which they see in tension with this reality. They also see Catholics
regarding some elements as integral to apostolicity, such as historical apostolic succession and papal
primacy, with which they do not agree. The ecclesiological weight given to these elements prevents
their giving an unrestricted recognition to the apostolicity of the Roman Catholic Church. This also
shows that there are differences between the Catholic and Lutheran conceptions of the apostolicity of
143. The present dialogue is thus rightly asking what we can now say together about the true
apostolicity of the church, especially regarding ministry, tradition, and teaching authority in their service
of the church's continuity with its apostolic origin. This will then lead to the further question of the
extent of our recognition in each other of the apostolic gospel and mission in their integrity.
2.6 Conclusions on Ecclesial Apostolicity
144. This fourth phase of the Lutheran-Catholic world-level dialogue has taken up a tension-filled
complex of questions about the church, namely, the characteristic of its enduring continuity with its
apostolic foundation, the apostolicity of its ordained ministry, and its means of maintaining faith and
doctrine in the truth communicated by the apostles.
145. To clarify the first area, we have reviewed, compared, and probed more deeply our respective
understandings of the apostolicity of the church. The initial results can be summarized here in three
sections: (1) foundational convictions about ecclesial apostolicity which we share in faith; (2) shared
understandings we have discovered; and (3) differences which must be examined more deeply with a
view to their reconciliation and of clarifying whether they still have a church-dividing effect.
2.6.1. Shared Foundational Convictions of Faith
146. In formulating the initial results of our joint study of the apostolicity of the church, we first affirm as
common convictions the central truths of the Lutheran-Catholic consensus on justification. We believe
that the Triune God is working to save sinners by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus
Christ. We share in the righteousness of Christ through the Holy Spirit and are accepted by God by
grace alone, in faith and not because of any merit on our part. In Christ, the Holy Spirit renews our
hearts and equips and calls us to good works (JDDJ, no. 15).
147. As attested in the Joint Declaration, we confess together faith in the Holy Spirit, "Lord and giver of
life", who is bringing to the whole world the salvation gained by Jesus Christ. We are furthermore one
in confessing the church as an essential work of that same Spirit, who created communities of
believers through the gospel of Jesus Christ announced as a saving message by the apostles. We
agree, as we accept the New Testament testimony, that Jesus Christ sent his apostles as authorized
witnesses of his resurrection and to make disciples in the whole world and impart baptism for the
forgiveness of sins. By the gospel of salvation, the apostles gathered believers into communities
founded on Jesus Christ (cf. Part 1, nos. 22 and 25, above). To these communities the New
Testament writings, whether composed by apostles or by evangelists, prophets, and teachers of the
late apostolic period, give further apostolic instruction in faith and a manner of life worthy of the gospel
148. By confessing that the church of every age is "apostolic" we hold that the apostolic witness is both
a normative origin and an abiding foundation. The church of every age, we believe, is a work of the
Holy Spirit who makes present the apostolic gospel and makes effective the sacraments and apostolic
instruction which we have been graced to receive. In faith, we accept, as individuals and communities,
the call to serve the further transmission of the apostolic gospel which the Holy Spirit continues to
make a viva vox of good news and a meaningful way of life in truth and service for men and women
both of our day and in the future lying before us.
2.6.2. Shared Understandings Discovered
149. Grounded in our shared convictions of faith, our study has shown that in explicating what we
believe about Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the church, which has already begun in previous documents
of this dialogue, especially Church and Justification (1994), there are further important truths on which
our two doctrinal traditions manifest a consensus.
150. This study reveals a fundamental agreement between Lutherans and Catholics that the gospel is
central and decisive in the apostolic heritage. Thus we agree that the church in every age continues to
be "apostolic" by reason of its faith in and witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is attested by the
New Testament (cf. nos. 70-81, above).
151. The pre-Reformation church understood a central component of its apostolicity to be its
profession and teaching of the orthodox faith expressed in the twelve articles of the Apostles' Creed.
Reformation preaching and catechesis received this legacy in a fresh manner, concentrating on the
gospel of salvation as the proclamation of God's grace to sinners, a message coming from the Risen
Christ and originally communicated by the apostles. By faith in this message, in every age sinners lay
hold of Christ's death for our sins and his resurrection for our justification (cf. nos. 93-95, above).
152. This gospel of our salvation served as criterion in the Reformation critique of the established
church of the sixteenth century and was the norm of the Lutheran constructive reshaping of church life
around proclamation of and teaching on Jesus Christ as the apostolic gospel makes him present (cf.
nos. 100-102, above). For the Lutheran Reformation, the gospel is a definite message about Jesus
Christ in his unique role in the divine plan of salvation. As for Luther, so for modern Lutherans, the
gospel is a dynamic viva vox in which Christ is encountering human beings to whom he becomes
present as Savior and whom he empowers by his Spirit to become believers declared and made
153. But when the Council of Trent, driven both by Reformation challenges and the intent to reform the
church, probed the deeper foundations of its faith and life, it singled out the gospel of Jesus Christ,
proclaimed by the apostles, as "the source of all saving truth and norms of practice". While Scripture
and the apostolic traditions communicate this gospel truth and norms of living outwardly, it is the Holy
Spirit who writes the same gospel interiorly on believing hearts (cf. no. 103, above).
154. Vatican II restated the centrality of the gospel, but enriched its affirmation by a christocentric and
salvific account of God's word of revelation of which the gospel is the concentrated summation (cf.
nos. 106-107, above). Beyond this account of the gospel as central to the church and its life, Vatican II
went on to state that by the ongoing interaction of the church's living tradition of faith and life with the
Scriptures, God continues to speak today and by the Holy Spirit the living word of the gospel (viva vox
evangelii) resounds in the church and the world (DV 8.3).
155. Catholic and Lutheran teaching are also in agreement that the apostolic legacy, by which faith in
Jesus Christ is instilled, nurtured, and embodied, is a manifold and many-faceted heritage. Thus, the
opposition sketched at the beginning of this Part (no. 67, above) does not present the real situation.
156. In Catholic theology between Trent and Vatican II, apostolicity was narrowly conceived as
continuity in papal and episcopal succession and this continuity functioned as a nota ecclesiae ("note
of the church") in proving the legitimacy of the Roman Catholic Church. But Vatican II drew on
Scripture and the Fathers to explain the apostolic tradition, in its objective sense, as an ensemble of
gospel preaching, sacraments, different types of ministry, forms of worship, and the apostles' example
of selfless service of the churches founded by the gospel (cf. nos. 114-115, above). The apostolic
heritage, expressed in a special manner in Scripture, "comprises everything that serves to make the
People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith" (DV 8.1). The original apostles,
formed by hearing Jesus and living with him, then instructed by the Holy Spirit, transmitted an ample
basis of what the later church expresses in its doctrine, life, and worship.
157. This renewed view of apostolic tradition as unifying many components grounds the Roman
Catholic approach to the churches and communities to which she is related by a true but imperfect
communion. Catholic ecumenism presupposes the sincerity of faith of other Christians, but this is not
properly the basis of meeting them in dialogue and striving for visible Christian unity. This rests instead
on "the elements of sanctification and truth" that are present and operative in the still separated
communities not in full communion. These bodies "have been by no means deprived of significance
and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them
as means of salvation" (UR 3).
158. In a rarely noted but remarkable correspondence with Vatican II on tradition and "the elements of
sanctification and truth", Luther connected the gospel with a set of practices through which the saving
message comes to individuals and gives shape to community life (cf. nos. 94-95, 100-102, above).
Christ rules and works through the gospel proclaimed, but this comes to expression in baptism, the
sacrament of the altar, and the ministry of the keys for the forgiveness of sins. The church is apostolic
by holding to the truth of the gospel that is embodied continually in practices coming from the apostles
in which the Holy Spirit continues the communication of Christ's grace. The Holy Spirit makes use of a
complex of means by which believers are sanctified and church is constituted (Large Catechism, 3rd
article of the Creed).
159. Our study has uncovered a further instance of agreement in Luther's several lists of inherited
elements when he explained what the reformed churches have received from the church under the
papacy (cf. no. 99, above). Consequently, gazing across the divide of separation, he insisted that a
manifold Christian substance must be recognized in the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation
was not starting the church anew but instead was recovering the original significance of "elements"
which it received, namely, the Scriptures, baptism, the sacrament of the altar, the keys, and the
catechetical components of the Lord's Prayer, the commandments, and the Creed with its articles of
faith. For the Reformers, the use of these elements under the papacy was seriously defective as an
embodiment of Christ's gospel, but the Roman Church is acknowledged as still carrying within it the
principal practices by which the gospel is meant to shape the life of the church in continuity with its
160. Thus, on the apostolic tradition, both as comprising a manifold legacy of fundamental means of
sanctification and as directed to shape community life by the gospel of our salvation in Christ,
Lutheran and Catholic teaching and church life manifest a wide-ranging agreement. Today we
therefore mutually recognize, at a fundamental level, the presence of apostolicity in our traditions. This
recognition is not negated by the important differences still to be investigated.
2.6.3. Differences Calling for Further Examination
161. The fundamental mutual recognition of ecclesial apostolicity which we have set forth is presently
limited on both sides by significant reservations about the doctrine and church life of the partner in
162. A first limitation rests on differences in understanding ordination to the pastorate, ministry in
apostolic succession, and the office of bishop in the church. Second, while we agree on Sacred
Scripture being the norm of all preaching, teaching, and Christian life, we differ on how Scripture is to
be authentically interpreted and how the teaching office serves Scripture in the latter's guidance of the
church's teaching and practice.
163. This part of our study has shown the solid basis of our mutual recognition of apostolic continuity.
Now we turn, in Part 3, to examine apostolic succession, the ordained ministry, and the episcopate
especially in light of the experiences that were formative for our churches. Part 4 will review our
respective convictions about the authority of Scripture and then examine our differences over how the
teaching office is constituted and how Scripture functions as the source and apostolic criterion of all
that our churches believe and teach.
164. On apostolicity as mark and attribute of the church our joint study of Scripture and history leads to
a fruitful account of present-day teaching and to agreements grounding a fundamental mutual
recognition. In what follows our work aims at discovering even more commonly shared convictions and
corresponding practices regarding ministry and the relation between Scripture and the teaching office.
We aim at an agreement which will reduce significantly the reservations presently hindering that full
communion in apostolic truth and life which is the goal of our dialogue.
- “Letter to the Philippians”, nos. 3 and 7, dated in the second decade of the second
century, not long after Ignatius of Antioch passed through Smyrna as a prisoner.
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- Canonis misse expositio, Lectio XXXII, Par. G, and XXIV, C-G; ed. H. A. Oberman
& W.J. Courteney (Wiesbaden, 1963-67), 1, 334 and 227-232. The work was printed
some fifteen times beginning in 1488 and Luther studied it before ordination to the
priesthood in 1507.
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- Some representative titles: De squaliboribus Romanae curiae (Matthias of Cracow, 1404), Monita de reformatione ecclesiae in capite et membris (Pierre d’Ailly, 1414), Advisamenta super reformatione papae et romanae curiae (D. Capranica, 1447), Libellus de remedies afflictae ecclesiae (R. Sánchez de Arévalo, 1469), Libellus ad Leonem X (T. Giustiniani & V. Quirini, 1513). To these may be added the reform preaching of Savanarola in Florence and the complaints over papal appointments and taxes formulated in the Gravamina nationis Germanicae, regularly revised at late fifteenth century diets of the Empire. A new and widely attractive program of reform emerged after 1500 in Erasmian biblical humanism, calling for a transforming impact of the apostolic writings of the New Testament, known in their original Greek, on theology, spirituality, and preaching.
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- “Ubi est verbum, ibi est Ecclesia.” WA 39/II, 176,8f.
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- Commentary on Galatians (1519), WA 2, 452; LW 27, 154. Smalcald Articles, II, 1.
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- WA 47, 778,9-12.
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- WA 2, 430, 6-7, from Resolutiones Lutherianae super propositionibus suis Lipsiae disputatis (1519). Also, WA 6, 560,33-35; LWF 36, 107, WA 77, 721,9-14; and 17/1,
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- Exposition of Psalm 110 (1535), WA 41, 131; LW 13, 272. Smalcald Articles, III, 4, BC 19.
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- See Luther’s defenses of the continuity of the Lutheran churches with the ancient church of the apostles in On the Councils and the Church (1539), WA 50, 628-644; LW 41, 148-167, and Against Hanswurst (1541), WA 51, 479-487; LW 41, 194-199.
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- WA 41, 562,14-16: “Hoc vero est apostolice tractare scripturas, et statuere illam universalem sententiam, quod omnes qui credunt verbo Dei sunt iusti.”
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- Concerning Rebaptism (1528), WA 26, 146f, LW40, 231f. Also, Commentary on Galatians (1535), WA 40/1, 69; LW 26, 24.
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- Cardinal Legate M. Cervini, the future Pope Marcellus II, spoke of the gospel written on hearts, in the programmic address of 18 February, 1546, which initiated deliberations on Scripture and the traditions. CT 1 (Freiburg 1901), 484f.
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- This narrowed theological perception, abstracting from preaching, the spiritual life, and missionary zeal, has been magisterially presented by G. Thils, Les notes de l’Église dans l’apologétique catholique depuis la Réforme (Gembloux 1937). An emblematic exposition of “apostolicity” in the form of historical proof is the entry by J.V. Bainvel in the monumental Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, 1 (1903), 1618-1629.
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- In a 1964 response to a proposed amendment, Vatican II’s Doctrinal Commission stated that De revelatione, the future Dei Verbum, is “in a way the first of all the Constitutions of this Council.” Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Vaticani Secundi, vol. IV/1 (Vatican City 1976), 341.
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- The Catholic attribution of apostolicity, based on the apostolic elements, goes hand-inhand with use of the designation “ecclesial communities” for bodies of the Protestant tradition, a terminology introduced into De oecumenismo in the revision of early 1964 and retained in the promulgated text in UR 19 and 22. The meaning was explained in the Relatio accompanying the revised text as recognizing in them “a truly ecclesial
character”, because of the presence and socially formative action in them of the one Church of Christ, in a true but imperfect manner. (Acta Synodalia, III/2, 335)
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- BSLK 659,47, 660,3; BC 439.
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