Visible unity has always been and continues to be the ultimate goal of the international dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Communion. In 1992 this dialogue, sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, celebrated its 25th anniversary, having begun its work in Zürich in 1967, just after the close of the Second Vatican Council.
With this document the dialogue completes the third phase of its work, a phase which has addressed an issue at the heart of Lutheran-Roman Catholic relations: the role of the Church in salvation. This theme grew organically out of the reports of the first two phases.
The Malta Report, The Gospel and the Church (1972), marked the end of the initial phase of dialogue. It ascertained a "far-reaching consensus" in the doctrine of justification and demonstrated a convergence of views in the area of Scripture and Tradition. The Malta Report became the foundation for further dialogue, establishing its direction and demonstrating its feasibility. The breadth of its scope led naturally to a series of documents in the second phase dealing with more particular dogmatic issues seen as church-dividing since the l6th century Reformation.
Having before it not only the confessional documents of the Reformation era, but also the documents of Vatican II, and benefitting from the labors of theologians in biblical, liturgical, dogmatic and historical studies, the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Commission was able, in its second phase, to transmit to the churches common documents on The Eucharist (1978) and The Ministry in the Church (1981). It also produced statements marking two Reformation anniversaries: "All Under One Christ" was a common statement on the Confessio Augustana in observance of the 450th anniversary of its presentation in 1530, and "Martin Luther - Witness to Jesus Christ" was issued in 1983, the 500th anniversary of the Reformer's birth. Both documents and the many other articles and addresses that these anniversaries also occasioned are important contributions toward the goal of Catholic-Lutheran unity.
Two further documents from the second phase of dialogue addressed themselves to how visible unity might be realized in concrete ways: Ways to Community (1980) and Facing Unity - Models, Forms and Phases of Catholic-Lutheran Church Fellowship (1984).
When in 1985 the question of how to proceed to a third phase was addressed, a joint memorandum began with this judgment:
The dialogue has brought us to a point from which it is no longer possible to go back. Thus the question about the actualization of Catholic-Lutheran church fellowship should be the framework for the further dialogue...
A statement from the 7th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (1984) was then quoted with approval:
In the third phase of the continuing theological dialogue, the themes must be so formulated that the implications for church fellowship of the consensus expressed or the convergence achieved are clearly sought.
After a reference to the doctrinal condemnations of the Reformation era, the joint memorandum concludes:
It can be observed that... Catholics and Lutherans keep coming back to the question about the understanding of the church, more precisely to the central question of the church and the nature of its instrumentality in the divine plan of salvation (church as sign and instrument; "sacramentality" of the church)... This question immediately raises again, especially for the Lutheran side, the question of the doctrine of justification. It is less a matter of the understanding of justification as such... rather it is a matter of the implications of the mutual relationship of justification and the church.
It was noted how this brings the discussion back to an issue present already in the first phase of dialogue. Almost two decades later, however, the new Joint Commission had to take account of how the issue of justification had surfaced again in its documents on eucharist and ministry and be aware of the growing intensity of a new debate as to whether a "fundamental difference" between Protestantism and Catholicism really exists.
The third phase of dialogue was instructed to deal with the question of the church in light of sacramentality and justification. It began its work in the spring of 1986, completing it in 1993. Plenary sessions were held annually. In most years there was a drafting meeting scheduled between plenary sessions.
Once the work had begun it was the responsibility of the Joint Commission to shape, clarify and determine its own course. Though the joint statement here presented clearly follows the original mandate in the joint memorandum of 1985, two developments should be noted which may assist the reader in understanding our work. First, because of the developments between 1972 (Malta Report) and 1986, the Joint Commission found itself compelled to test the claim of a "far-reaching consensus" on justification. In so doing they relied heavily on the comprehensive American dialogue statement, Justification by Faith (1985), and on the justification chapter of The Condemnations of the Reformation Era - Do They Still Divide? (1986).
Second, as work progressed on what has become Church and Justification, ecclesiological themes not originally part of the schema required attention. The scope of the project had to grow if the result was to be persuasive. Thus it has become the most extensive statement to be presented by the international dialogue to date.
In submitting its work the Joint Commission asks that this report be seen together with the documents from the second phase The Eucharist and The Ministry in the Church as well as Ways to Community and Facing Unity. It asks whether, taken together, these documents constitute the sufficient consensus which would enable our churches to embark upon concrete steps toward visible unity which have become more and more urgent.
Würzburg, 11 September 1993
Bishop of Würzburg
|JAMES R. CRUMLEY, Jr.
Lutheran Church in America
||Acta Apostolica Sedis.
||Ad Gentes, Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity, in The Documents of Vatican II, Walter Abbott, S.J., General Editor, America Press/Association Press, 1966.
||Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531).
||The Book of Concord. The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (tr. and ed. T. Tappert; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959).
||Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No. 111, Geneva, 1982.
||Confessio Augustana (Augsburg Confession).
||Christus Dominus, Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church, in The Documents of Vatican II
||Dignitatis Humanae, Declaration on Religious Freedom in The Documents of Vatican II
||Dei Verbum, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, in The Documents of Vatican II
||Formula of Concord (1577), Epitome.
||Formula of Concord (1577), Solid Declaration.
||Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, in The Documents of Vatican II
||The Large Catechism of Martin Luther (1529).
||Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in The Documents of Vatican II
||Luther's Works, American Edition
|LW Phil. Ed.
||Luther's Works, Philadelphia Edition
||Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, in The Documents of Vatican II
||Presbyterorum Ordinis, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, in The Documents of Vatican II
||The Smalcald Articles (1537).
||Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, in The Documents of Vatican II
||Unitatis Redintegratio, Decree on Ecumenism, in The Documents of Vatican II
||Martin Luther, Werke, Weimarer Ausgabe.
||WA Die Deutsche Bibel.
Bible quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, 1989