Index > Interconfessional Dialogue > M-RC > Dever Rep. 1971 | CONT. > sec. 1
General Retrospect - sec. 1
  section 3 (SPIRITUALITY) - select
  section 4 (CHRISTIAN HOME AND FAMILY) - select
  section 5 (EUCHARIST) - select
  section 6 (MINISTRY) - select
  section 7 (AUTHORITY) - select
  section 8 (THE WAY AHEAD) - select


   1. As a result of initiatives taken after Vatican Council II and of decisions made at the World Methodist Council in London, August, 1966, a dialogue was inaugurated between groups representing the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council. This Joint Commission held its first meetings at Ariccia, near Rome, in 1967.

   2. Opening papers at Ariccia were given by the co-chairmen, both pastors, on the question "Why are we here?" and one striking answer was "In expression of the ‘one ecumenism' of the Holy Spirit seizing the kairos, the Lord's moment, for full and frank discussion".

   3. All present were conscious in general of the spectacular change in atmosphere between the two Churches in the past six or seven years, but this was underlined with some hard facts. John Wesley's "Letter to a Roman Catholic" of July 18, 1749, stood out, we were reminded, as an almost isolated overture in a general picture of aloofness and suspicion which could be illustrated, e.g. from a Methodist text book as late as 1953, while changes in Roman Catholic ecumenical attitudes and policy were even more recent.

   4. It is against such a background that our present mood and opportunity must be seen in perspective. Catholics recognize how perceptive and generous many Methodists were in seeing and responding to the spirit at work in Vatican II, and acknowledging hitherto unsuspected affinities with their own tradition in some of the great acts of the Council.

   5. At the same time we both recognize that for our people the experience of the past decade is new and not yet fully assimilated. It is an experience which, to remain fruitful, must be deepened, built on and more widely shared. Further ecumenical progress becomes harder, not easier, because it cannot be a mere linear progress in the negotiating of differences.

   6. From the outset we recognized that Roman Catholic/Methodist dialogue had a singular advantage-there is no history of formal separating between the two Churches, none of the historical, emotional problems consequent on a history of schism. When speakers reflected at Ariccia on "how a Roman Catholic looks at Methodism" and "how a Methodist looks at Roman Catholicism" (each theme was treated twice, once by an American and once by an Englishman) it was made clear, without any glossing over difficulties, that there were yet more solid grounds for affinity.

   7. First among these was the central place held in both traditions by the ideal of personal sanctification, growth in holiness through daily life in Christ. Speakers from either side bore witness independently to this. For both, holiness is rooted in theology and in disciplined life. Conversion for the Methodist is but the beginning of a vital process, the ideal which is equally familiar to the Roman Catholic. If the cultivation of "Scriptural holiness" and its spread has always been seen by the Methodist as a common task, making the Church a fellowship rather than a hierarchy, Methodists gratefully recognize new emphasis present in "Lumen Gentium" 9-10 and in its chapter V on "The Universal Call to Holiness" while Roman Catholics can strengthen their own new insights by study of Methodist experience (the pursuit of this theme later gave rise to some of the commission's most satisfying work, which is reported on and its further prospects discussed below, Section III).

   8. The disciplined life of the early Methodist, aimed at renewing a lax Church, set standards for the whole of Methodism which have found Roman Catholic parallels more often in the early life of religious foundations such as the Jesuits.

   9. If a Methodist ideal was expressed in the phrase "a theology that can be sung", it was appreciated on the Roman Catholic side that the hymns of Charles Wesley, a rich source of Methodist spirituality, find echoes and recognition in the Catholic soul. This is not least true of the eucharistic hymns, which we saw as giving a basis and hope for discussion of doctrinal differences about the nature of the Real Presence and the sense of the ‘sacrificial' character of the Eucharist. Methodists on their side were candid in considering Roman Catholic questions on how far the Wesleys remain a decisive influence in contemporary Methodism.

   10. One Methodist speaker stressed as early as Ariccia that "we need to keep before us the vision of our common mission", and this was the governing idea behind seven practical proposals elaborated there:

  1. That everything possible be done by the Churches in cooperation to promote ecumenical instruction, discussion and action at all levels.
  2. That ways be explored of cooperating in the training of ministers so far as local authorities see prudent.
  3. That cooperation be sought with other Christian Churches with a view to securing as far as possible uniform wording for prayers which are in frequent use in common prayer. The common use of hymns should also be fostered without prejudice to existing tradition.
  4. That in all ecumenical encounters there should be effort to begin dialogue towards common Christian moral standards.
  5. That Methodists and Roman Catholics in their dialogue should be constantly aware of the challenge of secularism.
  6. That the Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches explore with others further possibilities of social cooperation at various levels. This should include not only joint statements on social issues but also joint effort in fields such as world peace, world development, family life, poverty, race and immigration.
  7. That ways of sharing facilities of all kinds be thoroughly explored, though with prudence and realism.

   11. While we recognize that a great deal of incidental Roman Catholic/Methodist collaboration reflects these proposals and even goes beyond them, we are disappointed at how little they have been considered and taken up in official ways. We realize of course that some of the purposes in question may be as well or even better achieved in a multilateral cooperation, but in the growing together of two Churches there can be no substitute in this or any age for the basic task of joint witness to fundamental Christian values. (This theme is taken up more fully later on Nos. 34-50).

   12. So far this report has no more than alluded to the great doctrinal issues between our Churches; but in fact the friendship and mutual confidence we were able to establish so quickly at Ariccia ensured a welcome for the candor of the chief speakers on doctrine. If the passages in Lumen Gentium about the People of God were welcomed by Methodists, it was asked equally how they were to be related to the dogmas, found unacceptable, concerning the papacy. Equally Roman Catholics who speak warmly of Charles Wesley's eucharistic hymns said that "few Methodists would hold the doctrine of the Real Presence in any sense akin to the Catholic meaning". In either case the effect was not to inhibit dialogue but to stimulate it, though progress differed considerably in the two cases (cf. below Section V and VII).

   13. Methodists, like others who had followed the progress of Vatican II, showed great interest in the references to non-Roman Christians in Unitatis Redintegratio, Nos. 31-3 and in Lumen Gentium, 15. The crucial question here is, how far are Roman Catholics committed to the developments of which these apparently tentative passages seem capable? A related interest was shown in recent Roman Catholic writings on ministry, in which reflection on ordinary and extraordinary ministries seems to have many points of contact with the original Methodist situation (cf. No. 97).

   14. All these interests assume a purpose in our dialogue which goes far beyond dialogue for its own sake; a Methodist speaker invited the Commission to face squarely from the start the final prospect, if not of full organic union, at least of sharing at Holy Communion and there was no dissent voiced to this approach.

   15. The problems of mixed marriages were discussed at some length and the need for a thorough common study of the theology of marriage and its relation to mixed marriages and other contemporary problems was accepted. The nearest to an implementation of this has been the study on Christian Home and Family undertaken for and completed at our last (Lake Junaluska) meeting (See below Section IV). There seems no reason why our dialogue should not benefit here from work being done in other bilateral and multilateral dialogue.

   16. The problem of organizing adequate work between sessions is one that faces every series of annual ecumenical discussions. The most useful results are often yielded by small joint consultations out of which papers to be presented grow. Two such groups met in Cambridge, England during 1968 in preparation for our second meeting in London, and another in 1970 in preparation for our last meeting at Lake Junaluska. Such meetings possibly suggest a fruitful method of future collaboration. It was found to be helpful to meet in a university where two foundations, one Methodist and one Roman Catholic, could cooperate and where Methodist and Roman Catholic scholars were within call. The method of beginning with short memoranda, sets of questions posed by one side to the other, might well serve in the future (see below Nos. 68 and 124-6).

   17. With material from the first Cambridge meeting to hand, on the subjects Eucharist and Authority in the Church (the latter with particular reference to the papacy) the full joint commission met for the second time in London from August 31 to September 4, 1968.

   18. Great themes of Eucharist theology such as transubstantiation, relations of Word and Sacrament, and the place of sacrifice were found to have emerged at Cambridge, but the conditions and time limits of the London meeting as well as the Joint Commission's terms of reference, prevented anything more than the opening of these issues.

   19. There was clarification of what is meant by describing the Eucharist as a memorial. It was agreed that while traditional Methodist reverence for the preaching of the Gospel finds an echo in recent Roman Catholic theological and liturgical thinking, there are signs that Methodists on their part are re-capturing through the liturgical movement an appreciation of the sacraments such as is enshrined for example in Charles Wesley's eucharistic hymns.

   20. Turning to the theme of authority, discussion centered on the following problems of authority:

  1. What are the implications of the incarnation for any doctrine of authority in the Church? (Cf. Nos. 102 et sqq.).
  2. How to discern the sensus fidelium in contemporary conditions.
  3. The nature of obedience ("internal" and "external").
  4. The relation of conscience to informed reasoning (Cf. Nos. 113-6 ).
  5. How far can the authority of conclusions be divorced from the arguments supporting them.

   21. In preparation for its next meeting, the Joint Commission resolved that a small group should survey the ground covered by the first two meetings and submit practical suggestions for the way ahead. The hope was also expressed that the next meeting of the Joint Commission in autumn, 1969, might result in an interim report. In accordance with this decision, it was at Oxford in July, 1969, that a group endeavored to discharge this task by preparing a report for the third meeting of the Joint Commission at Rabat, Malta, September 15 to 19, 1969.

   22. The two main themes under discussion at Rabat, apart from the review just referred to, were Ministry in the Methodist and Roman Catholic traditions, and Methodist and Roman Catholic reflection on the Church in the contemporary world.

   23. A first paper outlined how the original Methodist societies with their extraordinary preaching ministry developed into the Methodist Church with its ordinary ministry of the Sacraments as well as of Word. A Roman Catholic paper took as its starting principle the primacy of the Church's memory of what Jesus had said and done and tried summarily to trace the developments of the theology of the Ministry from earliest times to Vatican II. The discussion centered on the sacramental nature of the ordination rite in Methodism and also on the distinction between the ordained ministry and the common priesthood of all the faithful; here it was suggested and widely agreed that the difference in kind was a difference of functions in the Body. We feel that there is a great deal of room for further joint reflection here especially with regard to the prophetic, charismatic aspects of ministry which could be fruitful not only for our own dialogue but in other ecumenical fields as well (Cf. No. IV).

   24. Papers on Secularization given at Rabat will be referred to in section II of the report (No. 28).

   25. The wider vision of the possibilities of Roman Catholic/Methodist dialogue, which this four years' experience and other parallel experiences have opened up, convinced both the Roman Catholic and the Methodists concerned that the time is ripe for a reorganization of the dialogue. The commission at Rabat decided that proposals for such a reorganization should be discussed at Junaluska in 1970 and presented to the World Methodist Conference in 1971 and to the Plenary of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in the same year (Section VIII). Meanwhile four themes were chosen as continuation of the dialogue-themes which had already emerged as crucial and which it was hoped might be well prepared by working (with cooperation of experts from outside the commission) in the intervening months (details and assessment of this work will be found in Sections 111, IV, V and VII). The commission has reason to be grateful to all who collaborated in this work.


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