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Index > Interconfessional Dialogue > M-RC > Dever Rep. 1971 | CONT. > sec. 8
 
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The Way Ahead - sec. 8
FULL TEXT

8. THE WAY AHEAD
 

   119. Our instructions were to devote the last section of this report to developing and setting out the commission's ideas on how Roman Catholic-Methodist dialogue might profitably go forward following the first phase of which the report marks the conclusion.

   120. In the field of theological dialogue what has been said above in sections II to VII will not suggest any lack of material for future programs, whether they be programs of further thinking and acting together in areas where we feel we have much to share and to offer each other, or programs which boldly tackle the chief difficulties which keep us apart. In none of the areas covered by this report do we feel that the possibilities of dialogue have been exhausted. In some of them it has hardly begun, and we are concerned chiefly to suggest what we hope might be improvements in organization and method.

   121. In working these out we have borne in mind one of two main considerations already aired in the progress report drafted at Rabat, e. g. 22-5: "We would hope that those responsible for the deeper (theological) inquiry... would bear continually in mind the responsibility we feel for serious planning of the education of our Churches at lay, ministerial and local levels, for the overcoming of prejudices and misunderstandings and for offering guidance toward cooperation between local Churches. If this responsibility should remain unfulfilled, the work of our Joint Commission will be to that extent unfruitful.
   This in turn raises the vital question of communication. Given the nature and mandate of the Joint Commission, it cannot be expected that the general public will share fully in all phases of the consultation. On the other hand, it is not easy to see how the serious planning of the education of our Churches at lay, ministerial and local level is to begin, or how our Churches are to be convinced that their spokesmen are doing anything, if there is no better communication than in the conventional press release. It is therefore suggested that provided the status of papers be clearly established (working papers, e. g.) they might be circulated among responsible and qualified people, and summaries of them might be incorporated in reports. This last could be done even if the papers did not command general acceptance, since dissent could be recorded as part of an account of the substance of discussion. It might be that certain of the papers prepared for these consultations would prove suitable for publication in one form or another.

   122. It is the judgment of the commission that the dialogue would be most efficiently continued under a central committee with a maximum of six members from each side, and with more precisely defined functions. It should be responsible in general for relations between the World Methodist Council and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity; and an important part of this responsibility should be the stimulating of good relations, of dialogue and cooperation at national and local level. This should include collecting information about activity and experiments wherever they are shared by Methodists and Roman Catholics and in whatever context, and facilitating its circulation and exchange. Thus useful comparative judgments can be made and clearer ideas may emerge of how we can best achieve our shared purposes in Christian life and witness and in the search for unity. The dialogue in the fullest and liveliest sense can hardly be thought of as something merely to be kept ticking from one annual central committee meeting to another.

   123. The task of the committee in regard to serious theological dialogue should be mainly one of organization, coordination and review.

   124. Organization should be as flexible as possible, regulated only by the principle that the best work is done only by adequately equipped people giving adequate time, energy and interest to it. This entails regular cooperation, usually possible only to people who have regular access to each other in the right kind of circumstances. An example of such circumstances has been briefly considered above ( 16). Another joint work the commission might stimulate and to some extent organize is written work for publishing, of various scope, whether aimed at involving larger numbers from the learned world in the dialogue and bringing it into useful relationship with other dialogues, or whether aimed at making our people (and others) at large aware that progress is being made and familiarizing them with a situation of friendship and joint activity.

   125. Favorable reference has already been made ( 29) to the English joint publication Christian Belief. As well as further examples of this type, we think that other types, such as formal symposia on given themes, books in the form of exchange of letters, sympathetic commented editions of the works of one side by members of the other - e. g. of C. Wesley's hymns from the Roman Catholic side or of some Catholic classic from the other.

   126. But in an age when less and less reading can be relied on to be done this literary activity would need to be supplemented, especially below the specialized level, by joint effort in the other communications media, and by stimulating well-directed discussion among our people in order to create constructive Christian criticism towards the vast impact of the mass media in general.

   127. The committee's coordinating and reviewing function would include taking account of the total ecumenical picture, including both other dialogue and such schemes as either Church might be involved in - e. g. the Consultation on Church Union in U.S.A. The commission should also feel the need to see the dialogue in the context of human unity in general and of the many problems involving religion and culture in the conditions of our age. This might sometimes involve encouraging certain types of expert enterprise more than others.

   128. Finally the committee should have the task of seeing that the authorities in the two Churches are adequately aware of what is being done, give it adequate attention and make adequate response.

   129. We would have no illusions, however, about the fruitfulness of all these activities if they were divorced from the spiritual renewal and the spiritual sharing which are at the heart of ecumenical progress. It is because (as this report has so insisted) we have become aware of exceptional affinities between Roman Catholics and Methodists in that religion of the heart which is the heart of religion, that we believe in the future of Roman Catholic-Methodist relations.

   130. Roman Catholics would not consider this complete without grateful reference to the noble Resolution of Intent, unanimously adopted by the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in U.S.A. on April 23, 1970. Disavowing the traditional polemical understanding of those among its "articles of religion" which were part of an anti-Catholic inheritance from a less happy age, the resolution gives courageous practical and public expression of that "change of heart" which the Second Vatican Council saw as the soul of the ecumenical movement, and a solemn responsibility of all in every Church. It has been our privilege in the commission to be spurred to such change of heart by the heart-warming experience of our work together. We are profoundly thankful to God for the koinonia, the shared spiritual experience of prayer and self-scrutiny together.

   131. Measured against our age-old estrangements, our progress in ecumenical experience in the past three years has been swift and surely led by the Spirit. For this we give heartfelt thanks to God and from it we take hope and courage. But measured against the exigencies of our Churches and the challenge of our times, it leaves us aware of the distance that still lies between us now and our professed goals. We know too well that the latter stages of the ecumenical dialogue are more formidable than the early ones, requiring of us redoubled efforts and devotion, not merely to the work we have to do together, the joint witness to great Christian values that we must give and widely promote in our Churches, but to the tasks of educating our people and communicating to them something of the joys and inspiration that have been vouchsafed to us. As we look to the future, therefore, we renew our commitments and reaffirm our confidence in God's providential leading, in which we have already been so richly blessed.

[Information Service 21 (1973/III) 22-38]



 
 
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