DEEPENING AND EXTENDING OUR RECOGNITION OF ONE ANOTHER
97. Already at an early stage in our dialogue, Catholics and Methodists recognised the need “to discover the underlying realities on which our churches are founded and to which the common features of our heritage point”.83 Chapter One of this present report probed the history of our relationship, in order to reveal some of the principal underlying convictions about the nature and purpose of the Church which led Catholics and Methodists occasionally to appreciate, but much more often to criticise, one another. Polemics reveal priorities, though the polemical context itself can obscure what is held in common. The very considerable agreement reached over the years of our recent dialogue, amply summarised in Chapter Two, indicates that Catholics and Methodists do, in fact, hold in common many beliefs and priorities regarding the Church. It is time now to return to the concrete reality of one another, to look one another in the eye, and with love and esteem to acknowledge what we see to be truly of Christ and of the Gospel, and thereby of the Church, in one another. Doing so will highlight the gifts we truly have to offer one another in the service of Christ in the world, and will open the way for an exchange of gifts which is what ecumenical dialogue, in some way, always is (UUS §28). In our striving for full communion, “we dare not lose any of the gifts with which the Holy Spirit has endowed our communities in their separation”.84 The Holy Spirit is the true giver of the gifts we are seeking to exchange. The present chapter identifies the principal ways in which Methodists and Roman Catholics are able to recognise each other’s ecclesial character, before describing those elements and endowments that they could suitably receive from, and give to, the other. Practical proposals for that exchange follow in Chapter Four.
98. Before giving an account of how we respectively see one another, it will be helpful to indicate some perspectives that are developing in this time of grace to the benefit of our mutual appraisal. First of all, the ultimate goal of the dialogue between Catholics and Methodists has been declared as “full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life”.85 These are not separate watertight compartments. On the contrary, faith and sacramental life, to take first those two features, are deeply interwoven, in accordance with the ancient principle, lex orandi, lex credendi (as we pray, so we believe). Much of Methodist belief is actually to be found primarily in the liturgy and in hymns (cf. British Methodist Church, A Catechism for the use of the people called Methodists, 68; CLP, 4.3.2), and has not received extensive articulation in other forms. In some cases, it remains implicit. In contrast, a feature of medieval scholastic theology was that it became rather detached from its liturgical moorings. Vatican II significantly strengthened the anchoring of Catholic theology both in the liturgy (SC §16) and also in the Bible (DV §§24-26), since the sacraments are “sacraments of faith, drawing their origin and nourishment from the Word” (Presbyterorum Ordinis §4; cf. SC §24). The Liturgical Movement had a profound influence across the Christian family in the twentieth century, not least on our two communions, and we rejoice now to share a strongly liturgical methodology in formulating our statements of belief and in the teaching of doctrine. Likewise, faith and mission cannot be separated in either of our traditions and that linkage is one of the main reasons for the resonance between our ecclesial lives that Catholics and Methodists often feel and that we are now seeking to explore and express. Both Catholics and Methodists believe that the Church on earth is “by its very nature missionary” (AG §2); it is “a community both of worship and of mission” (CLP, 1.4.1). “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ” (BD, p.87).
99. Regarding the relationship between the individual and the community, an important difference of starting point has tended to characterise Catholics and Methodists. On the one hand, Catholics start with the community, the Church as a whole, the bride of Christ, in whose life the individual participates. In other words, Catholic ecclesiology goes from the community to the individual, and regards the whole as greater than the sum of its parts. The blessings and the salvation enjoyed by each individual Christian are a participation in the blessings and salvation that Christ won for the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27). Each individual is saved by being taken up into that greater whole, just as each local church, likewise, participates in the mystery of the universal Church. The Church is not a federation of previously existing local churches, and neither is the community a collection of already existing individual Christians. On the other hand, Methodism tends to reflect the focus upon the individual which characterised many of its sources and to say that the Church is constituted by a particular collection of individual believers. In other words, Methodist ecclesiology goes from the individual to the community, and regards the whole, at least in its earthly manifestation, basically as the sum of its parts. This rather more existential and episodic approach is, of its nature, far less concerned than Catholics tend to be with fundamental structural considerations such as historical continuity and succession, though the pronounced Methodist emphasis upon the connectional principle must not be forgotten in this regard. Many Methodist structures and practices “grew out of practical concerns regarding how to live and spread the Gospel”, and Methodists believe that “church structures exist always in the service of mission”.86 Catholics have an instinct for the whole and an emphasis upon the confident actions of the Church as Church, while Methodists have an instinct for the individual and an emphasis upon the assurance that each individual has. Far from being conflictual, these respective emphases should be perceived as being necessarily complementary. The Church needs precisely those structures that enable individual Christians and local churches to achieve their true identity in and through communion. The one and the many, the individual and the community, achieve their identity simultaneously in the life which is patterned after the Trinity.
100. Related to the previous point is the fact that Methodists and Catholics have tended to adopt different approaches in defining the Church. Methodists impose few conditions and are reluctant to ‘unchurch’ other Christian bodies (CLP, 2.4.9; 3.1.12; cf §24 above), whereas Catholics have tended to be more conscious of what other Christian bodies lacked in terms of churchliness than of what they possessed. A movement from both of these positions has been evident in recent times. Vatican II had a clear sense of what is needed for the fulness of the Church (LG §14), and taught that this fulness has been entrusted to the Catholic Church (UR §3). However, it also adopted the idea of “elements and endowments” of the Church which can be found in many Christian communities (UR §3; LG §8). Moreover, it attributed a fruitfulness not only to those elements and endowments as such, but also to “the separated Churches and communities themselves [ipsae]” in which they may be found, which “have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation” (UR §3). Indeed, Pope John Paul II taught that: “To the extent that these elements are found in other Christian Communities, the one Church of Christ is effectively present in them” (UUS §11). Very significantly for the purpose of the present statement, he also reiterated that: “Catholics must joyfully acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brothers and sisters” (UUS §47; cf. UR §4), and which can contribute to the edification of Catholics themselves (UUS §48; cf. UR §4). Methodists would gladly make a reciprocal statement along the same lines. Moreover, with an eye to the difference between our communions mentioned above, many Methodists are nowadays feeling the need for a more substantial definition of the Church. For example, “United Methodists acknowledge a need to grow in an appreciation of the sacramental dimensions of their own structures and practices, which are not simply functional”.87
101. Concern with essential visible structures has been a strong feature of Catholic teaching on the Church, whereas Methodism has placed more emphasis on spiritual features, especially holiness, than on permanent structures. Reflecting on apostolicity as a mark of the Church, Catholics tend to think first of apostolic succession, and Methodists of mission. Despite this difference of emphasis, there is a significant move towards convergence. In fact, both Catholic and Methodist churches are now concerned with structures and with holiness and mission, and indeed with the relationship among them. We agree that the Church’s structures must effectively serve both the holiness of its members and the mission of the Church (CLP, 4.7.10).88
102. The idea of a sacrament is ideally suited to holding together internal and external, visible and spiritual, and both Catholics and Methodists have begun to speak of the Church itself in a sacramental way. Christ himself is “the primary sacrament”,89 and, as the company of those who have been incorporated into Christ and nourished by the life-giving Holy Spirit, “the Church may analogously be thought of in a sacramental way”.90 “United Methodists and Catholics both proclaim that the church itself is sacramental, because it effects and signifies the presence of Christ in the world of today.”91 This terminology is prominent at Vatican II (LG §§1, 9, 48; GS §§42, 45) and it is also repeatedly used in the British Methodist statement, Called to Love and Praise: the Church is “both the creation of the Word of God, and also the ‘mystery’ or ‘sacrament’ of God’s love for the world” (CLP, 3.1.10); it is “a sacrament or sign of Christ’s continuing presence in the world” (CLP, 2.1.1). Moreover, Methodists and Catholics agree on the constituent dimensions of sacramentality: “As agent of God’s mission, the Church is sign, foretaste and instrument of the kingdom” (CLP, 1.4.1; cf. 3.1.7; 3.2.1).
103. Here on earth, the pilgrim Church lives by the grace that draws us and all humanity to our destiny, and it already “prefigures and images the life of the kingdom of God”, especially when gathered for the celebration of the Eucharist (CLP, 2.4.8; cf. SC §8). While still on our way, the members of the Church on earth are called to bear witness to the unity, peace and reconciliation to which God calls all people. We are not only to model but also to minister those gifts to the world. Christians and Christian communities are called “to manifest koinonia as a sign and foretaste of God’s intention for humankind” (CLP, 3.1.7), and also to serve the achievement of that intention in the world. In other words: “The Church as communion is a sacrament for the salvation of the world.”92 It is possible to see not only the Eucharist and Baptism, but also the other rites of the Church that Catholics regard as sacraments, as intimately related to the overall sacramentality of the Church. Our agreement on the latter would then give us a most promising basis for fruitful discussion about sacraments in addition to Baptism and Eucharist, their nature and their number.
104. Mention of sacraments immediately prompts reflection on another matter, namely, the relationship in the Church between word and sacrament. Here, also, there is a polarisation within Christianity that should be surmounted. Undergirding all, Catholics and Methodists are united in a Trinitarian faith. The all-holy God in whom we believe is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ our Lord is the Son of God. He, the Word incarnate, is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “the mystery of our religion” (1 Timothy 3:16); he is “the primary sacrament”.93 Hence word and sacrament are not to be thought of as separate categories, as Protestants and Catholics have tended to do, with much dispute and division in consequence, but as profoundly united in the person of Christ. We believe that the incarnate Word is sacramental, the Scriptures are sacramental, and that the sacraments, which are “particular instances of the divine Mystery being revealed and made operative in the lives of the faithful”,94 are all proclamations of the Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26). In the liturgical celebration of the sacraments, word and action always go together. “The Mystery of the Word made flesh and the sacramental mystery of the eucharist point towards a view of the Church based upon the sacramental idea”.95
105. Catholics and Methodists have grown in knowledge and appreciation of one another in the years of our dialogue, as we have explained ourselves to one another and discovered how much we can say together. This process is ongoing, and it involves the possibility of discovering that we can have different ways of maintaining the same thing. One outstanding example is that, in and through our very different ecclesial structures, Catholics and Methodists are profoundly committed to living and showing forth the fundamental interconnectedness, communion or connection of the Church. “[B]oth United Methodists and Roman Catholics understand divine love as central to the nature and purpose of the church. This love leads one into partnership, connection, or communion with other believers. The sense of communion or connection is expressed through its structures.”96 Explaining ourselves to one another helps us to recognise one another, and this important concept has two meanings here. In our ecumenical times, ‘recognising’ happens when one church accepts the Christian truth of another’s teaching and acts, as for example when one church recognises another’s Baptism. But there is another more basic sense. When Catholics and Methodists explain the way in which their respective structures relate to the Church’s fundamental interconnectedness, then we are able to recognise what is meant by one another’s terminology and titles. ‘Now I understand’ is the reaction to this latter type of recognition, and it is the essential prelude to the more formal type of recognition, in which an evaluation is given of what is now understood.
106. Catholics and Methodists wish to make what we respectively believe more easily recognisable to one another and to the world at large. This involves a willingness to consider changing some of the ways in which we do things and express ourselves. The Catholic Church demonstrated such a willingness by its teaching on episcopal collegiality at Vatican II (LG §22). This had immense structural consequences and was a vital means of expressing the communional nature of the Church, which had previously been overshadowed by a monarchical understanding of the papacy. For their part, Methodists have acknowledged the need to reflect seriously upon their own structures, particularly because of Methodism’s unique history and the rather unusual process by which it gradually came into being through a growing ecclesial self-sufficiency, apart from the Church of England. Methodism’s “own order and discipline emerged largely as the result of a series of ad hoc experiments”,97 and some of its original patterns were clearly acknowledged to be “extraordinary” (CLP, 4.2.4; 4.2.6; 4.2.12). Methodists affirm, and Catholics readily acknowledge, the graced and fruitful nature of Methodist ministry from the outset. We both, nevertheless, nowadays see the opportunity of setting Methodist ministry within a more recognisable framework of apostolic succession as we pursue our goal of the full, visible communion of our churches. For example, some Methodist churches have expressed a readiness for serious consideration of the “historic episcopate” and also of primacy in the Church.98 “In effect, Methodists rule out no development compatible with our ethos which strengthens the unity and effectiveness in mission of the Church” (CLP, 4.6.11; cf. 4.6.9).
The Exchange of Gifts: A Methodist Perspective
107. Methodists recognise Roman Catholics as fellow Christians, sharing the historic creeds and a common Trinitarian faith to a degree that is far greater than was often credited in the past. Methodists characteristically define the Church in the following way: “The church is a community of all true believers under the Lordship of Christ. It is the redeemed and redeeming fellowship in which the Word of God is preached by persons divinely called, and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s own appointment” (BD, p.21, Preamble to the Constitution; cf. CLP 2.4.9). Consistent with this definition, Methodists can now recognise the Roman Catholic Church as a true church. Obvious as it may seem, this needs to be clearly stated because Methodists have not always viewed the Roman Catholic Church so positively. “While Wesley and the early Methodists could recognise the presence of Christian faith in the lives of individual Roman Catholics, it is only more recently that Methodists have become more willing to recognise the Roman Catholic Church as an institution for the divine good of its members.”99 Accordingly, Methodists acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church itself to be a means of grace for salvation.
108. Correlatively, Methodists recognise ordained ministers of the Roman Catholic Church as agents of God, exercising a graced and fruitful ministry. To be more precise, Methodists recognise Roman Catholic priests as presbyters in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, exercising an authentic ministry of word and sacrament. Likewise, Methodists recognise Roman Catholic deacons as exercising a diaconal ministry in the Church, though further dialogue is required concerning the nature of the diaconate. At present, Methodists do not recognise an episcopal order of ministry as distinct from the presbyterate, though some Methodist Churches set apart presbyters to the office of bishop, and others have expressed a willingness to accept the ministry of bishops in the interest of Christian unity. Nevertheless, Methodists recognise that Roman Catholic bishops exercise episcopé in ways that correspond to individual and corporate forms of oversight in Methodism.
109. Concerning the sacraments, Methodists recognise Baptism in the Roman Catholic Church as constituting entry into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and therefore neither baptise nor conditionally baptise those Roman Catholics who subsequently become Methodist. Methodists also recognise that when Roman Catholics celebrate the Eucharist, Christ himself is objectively present. Moreover, Methodists find in Roman Catholic teaching on the Eucharist a resonance with their own teaching as expressed in the eucharistic hymns of the Wesleys. Methodists further acknowledge that when Roman Catholics celebrate other rites and ordinances God is present and operative in these means of grace. “Methodists, while using the term ‘sacrament’ only of the two rites for which the Gospels explicitly record Christ’s institution, do not thereby deny sacramental character to other rites.”100
110. Beyond these basic affirmations about the ecclesial nature of the Roman Catholic Church, its ministry and sacraments, Methodists recognise that Roman Catholics attach importance to particular ecclesial elements and endowments that are similarly valued in Methodism: regular attendance at worship; the means of grace, both instituted and prudential; frequent reception of Holy Communion; Baptism as a covenant relationship involving commitment to the community of faith; a high regard for ordained ministry; personal holiness as the gift and work of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Methodists and Roman Catholics agree in their understanding of holiness in terms of sanctification or participation in the divine nature (2 Peter 1.4). In the words of Charles Wesley: Christians are “Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place”.101 Besides individual holiness, Roman Catholics demonstrate a commitment to justice and peace which Methodists recognise as social holiness.
111. As a result of bilateral dialogue, Methodists are now better able to appreciate certain other ecclesial elements and endowments in the Roman Catholic Church which historically have been a source of dispute between Catholics and Protestants. In some cases, Methodists are increasingly open to receiving these ecclesial elements as gifts from the Roman Catholic Church, which would deepen and make more visible their real but imperfect communion with Roman Catholics. At a basic level, the diversity in unity of the Roman Catholic Church is one such element; another is its concrete expression of the universality of the Church. Whilst treasuring the Wesleyan emphasis on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Methodists would benefit from a more developed theology of the Eucharist, such as can be found in Roman Catholic teaching.102 Certain forms of devotion which are present in the Roman Catholic Church are absent from Methodism because of the legacy of Reformation disputes. Recognising that some Protestant concerns have been resolved by recent reforms in Roman Catholicism, and as a result of greater understanding through theological dialogue, Methodists might in future be willing to adopt some of these devotional practices (e.g. the Stations of the Cross); Roman Catholic veneration of Mary is another example, subject to continuing dialogue about the later Marian dogmas. Greater awareness of the communion of the saints and the Church’s continuity in time, the sacramental use of material things and sacramental ministry to the sick and dying are also ecclesial elements and endowments that Methodists might profitably receive from Roman Catholics.
112. Methodists have tended to view the history of the Church episodically, focusing on those extraordinary occasions when the Holy Spirit has been discerned in particular events. As a result, Methodists have often neglected long periods of Christian history when the Holy Spirit has guided the Church by more ordinary means. Methodists now recognise that the fifteen centuries prior to the Reformation constitute a shared history with Roman Catholics. Methodists further acknowledge the importance of rediscovering for the present age God’s providence for the Church in times past, and historical scholarship is helping Methodists to appreciate those neglected aspects of the Catholic tradition which have long been obscured by Reformation disputes and their aftermath. Accordingly, Methodists acknowledge the episcopal college and the historic succession of bishops within the Roman Catholic Church to be a sign (though not necessarily a guarantee) of the unity of the Church in space and time. For the sake of unity in the Church, British Methodists, in considering the adoption of episcopacy, are willing to “receive the sign of episcopal succession on the understanding that ecumenical partners sharing this sign with the Methodist Church (a) acknowledge that the latter has been and is part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church and (b) accept that different interpretations of the precise significance of the sign exist”.103 Historically, episcopé in Methodism has mostly been exercised corporately, even in those parts of the world where Methodism is endowed with bishops. However, Methodists increasingly recognise the value of episcopé properly exercised by individuals within the context of a collegial ministry of oversight. Thus Methodists are open to receiving from Roman Catholics fresh insights into the exercise of individual forms of episcopé for the building up of the Body of Christ.
113. In some respects the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome is less of an obstacle to unity between Methodists and Roman Catholics than it once was. “Methodists accept that whatever is properly required for the unity of the whole of Christ’s Church must by that very fact be God’s will for the Church. A universal primacy might well serve as focus of and ministry for the unity of the whole Church.”104 According to one view, “Methodists could not accept all aspects of papal ministry as it is currently exercised, but would be more open to a universal primacy understood as a ministry of service and unity rather than primarily as a seat of authority” (CLP, 4.6.11). Methodists around the world responded positively to Pope John Paul II’s invitation to engage in dialogue about the exercise of the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome (UUS §96). In the light of the present crisis of authority in the Christian Church, Methodists may come to value a Petrine ministry at the service of unity. In particular, with proper safeguards, Methodists may be prepared to receive a Petrine ministry exercised collegially within the college of bishops as a final decision-making authority in the Church, at least insofar as essential matters of faith are concerned.
114. John Wesley regarded the Methodist movement as having been raised up by God to “spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land”, and Methodists understand themselves to be “part of Christ’s universal church” (BD, p.43, “Basic Christian Affirmations”; cf. British Methodist Deed of Union, §4, as in The Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church, 2005). In the providence of God the historic mission of Methodism has been made possible by a number of ecclesial elements and endowments that, although not necessarily unique to Methodists, are nevertheless characteristic of their polity and discipline. Encouraged by Pope John Paul II’s description of ecumenical dialogue as an exchange of gifts (UUS §28), Methodists invite Roman Catholics to receive afresh from the common Christian heritage certain ecclesial elements and endowments that currently may be more evident in Methodism than in the Roman Catholic Church.
115. Some of these ecclesial elements and endowments stem from Methodism’s societal origins. For instance, Methodism is endowed with the connectional principle whereby local congregations or churches are visibly united in communion, watching over one another in love through the Conference. Methodists remain committed to Christian conference as a means of discerning God’s will for the Church, both as an agent of authority and as an initial sign of reception. Another consequence of the societal origins of Methodism is the prominent role of lay people in the Church. Methodism has always been dependent on the contribution of trained lay preachers, and lay leadership remains a hallmark of local Methodist churches. Furthermore, lay people are empowered by their Baptism actively to participate with ordained ministers in the Church’s instruments of authority. Theologically, Methodism’s reliance upon the contribution of lay people rests on the conviction that the Holy Spirit generously bestows gifts upon the whole people of God for the sake of the Church’s ministry and mission. In obedience to the Holy Spirit, the Christian community is called to discern particular spiritual gifts among its members. While some may seek ordination as presbyters and deacons, many more are called by God to employ their spiritual gifts as lay people. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how their own appreciation of the spiritual gifts bestowed upon lay people may be informed by Methodism’s fruitful experience of the spiritual empowerment of lay people for ministry and mission.
116. Whilst affirming the contribution of lay people to the life of the Church, British Methodism ordains by prayer and the laying-on of hands those whom it recognises as called by Christ to ministry as “stewards in the household of God and shepherds of his flock” (British Methodist Deed of Union, §4). Within the ministry of all the baptised, the United Methodist Church also ordains men and women to a ministry of word and sacrament (BD, pp. 89, 198, 230). Theological reflection has led Methodists to conclude that the Church’s mission is properly carried out by the whole people of God, lay and ordained together. In the movement’s early years, and again more recently, women have made a full contribution to the mission and ministry of Methodism. Nowadays Methodists do not restrict any ministry or office in the Church to either men or women, believing that to do so would be contrary to God’s will as they discern it in obedience to the Scriptures. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how the Methodist experience and practice of ordained ministry might contribute to their own understanding of the Church’s ministry.
117. Methodists are especially sensitive to the need for fresh embodiments of the apostolic faith for the sake of evangelisation in changing situations. One consequence of this missiological perspective is that Methodists adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach towards ecclesial structures. Thus the history of Methodism bears testimony to the conviction that in every generation God can and does raise up diverse forms of ministry for particular purposes. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how greater flexibility and pragmatism might enhance their own missionary activity.
118. Likewise, a significant feature of the historic mission of Methodism has been an emphasis on the crucial importance of personal experience of Jesus Christ and his redeeming love. However else it may be described, the Church is a community of Christians whose personal experience of Jesus Christ compels them to join with other Christians in worship, fellowship, mission and service in the world. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how this same emphasis, and the forms that it takes, might contribute to their own pastoral ministry and mission.
119. Arising out of its missiological and soteriological perspective, Methodism has an internal impetus towards deepening communion with all other Christians. For the sake of unity, Methodism is endowed with a longstanding commitment to ecumenism and a capacity for patient dialogue and cooperation with fellow Christians. Methodists have been partners in united and uniting churches, notably in Australia, Belgium, Canada, India, the United States and Zambia, and this reflects a willingness to sacrifice their long-cherished particular ecclesial identity in the pursuit of Christian unity. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how their own commitment to Christian unity might similarly influence their own understanding of their particular identity, and their willingness to distinguish between what is essential and what is changeable.
120. Methodists manifest a characteristic ethos in worship and spirituality. Notwithstanding the value attached to Holy Communion, Methodist worship places great emphasis on the ministry of the Word. Methodists hear the Scriptures and the proclamation of the Gospel with a strong sense that God is present and effective in them today. Thus, reading the Scriptures and evangelical preaching remain prominent features of Methodist worship. The liturgical use of corporate hymn singing is also characteristic of Methodism, and the hymns of Charles Wesley constitute a corpus of practical theology for the Methodist people. Other forms of worship used by Methodists have their origins in the Moravian Love Feast and Puritan forms of renewing the Covenant. In recent years the Liturgical Movement has influenced the shape and content of Methodist worship along ecumenically convergent lines. Devotional life in Methodism is similarly characterised by certain historic features that have contributed significantly to its fruitfulness. Particular emphasis is attached to Bible reading and study, as well as meeting with others in small groups for fellowship, extempore prayer and mutual pastoral care. The experience of assurance has been a treasured feature of Methodist piety, not necessarily as a guarantee of perseverance, which removes the need for hope, but as the Holy Spirit’s endowment of an inner conviction of having received saving grace. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how these same ecclesial elements and endowments might enhance their own worship and spirituality.
The Exchange of Gifts: A Catholic Perspective
121. In accordance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Decree on Ecumenism (UR §3; see above, §100), Catholics gladly recognise Methodist churches themselves as being of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation, and acknowledge that the Spirit of Christ has used and continues to use them as means of salvation, deriving their efficacy from the very fulness of grace and truth that Catholics believe has been entrusted to the Catholic Church. Catholics esteem many aspects of Methodist belief and practice and are very close to Methodists in their quest for holiness, their commitment to mission and their belief that the hallmark of life in Christ is communion or connection. These are core features of Methodism and are equally precious to Catholics. In some ways they give a blueprint for our future unity.
122. Catholics see in Methodists a vigorous Trinitarian faith and a great attachment to the person of the Word incarnate, who calls us to a holiness that is “perfect love”, and therefore “social”, patterned after the Trinitarian life of God. The unity of the Church therefore has the form of connectionalism, beautifully expressed in Methodism as “watching over one another in love”. Holiness understood as godliness is intimately related to unity, and unity takes the form of communion. Methodists are visibly united in communion, as a sign of God’s life and God’s love. There is a strong emphasis in Methodism, from its origins, upon the formation of small groups for the exercise of mutual care and shared discipline, and this resonates with the growing emphasis on small Christian communities in many parts of the Catholic Church. Moreover, Methodists are strongly committed to mission and to social responsibility, actually putting God’s love into practice, with a real care for the needy of this world. Communion is also expressed by a collegial understanding of ministry which resembles the Catholic understanding that priests form a presbyterium around their bishop in a local church (SC §41, LG §28) and that the bishops form a college together with the pope (LG §22). In numerous ways, Methodist ministers work together for the accomplishment of their mission in circuits, districts and councils of bishops. Methodists have a lived sense that no baptised Christian is ever alone, no minister is ever alone, no bishop is ever alone.
123. Catholics are at one with Methodists in their understanding that holiness entails conversion and transformation, being “changed from glory into glory”. Bearing in mind the controversy at the Reformation between Catholics and Protestants regarding cooperation with grace, it is of immense significance that Catholics and Methodists stand together on this matter. Methodists believe, as Catholics do, that we truly cooperate with God’s grace and participate in God’s life. God works through the visible community of the Church and through individuals in it, both pastors and laypeople. There are foundations here for a serious shared exploration of the idea of sacramentality. Moreover, while acknowledging only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, Methodists would regard the other rites that Catholics recognise as sacraments as, in some way, sacramental in character. The striking fact that Catholics sing with conviction a number of Methodist hymns expressing eucharistic faith is indicative of the extent to which we share an understanding of the Eucharist. We share a belief that devout reception of holy communion is central to the life of faith.
124. God is at work in the world through us. The Church is essentially missionary as an agent of God’s loving mission. The Methodist commitment to evangelism and the great history of Methodist missions are admired by Catholics, who have their own similar commitment and history. Methodists have a zeal for the salvation of all. John Wesley famously said: “I look upon all the world as my parish”.105 One of the leading pioneers of the renewal of Catholic theology at Vatican II and of the Catholic Church’s ecumenical commitment, Yves Congar OP, was inspired by these words to entitle one of his own books on the nature and scope of salvation, Vaste monde ma paroisse.106
125. Jesus prayed that his followers would be one so that the world might believe (John 17:21). A remarkable feature of Methodism in the last hundred years has been its growing internal unity, undoubtedly influenced by the requirements of mission. Catholics see in this, and in the profound Methodist desire for a healing of past hurts, great signs of grace and authenticity. Furthermore, Methodists have been at the forefront of the modern movement for the unity of all Christians from the outset. The pioneering work of John R. Mott is particularly worthy of note. This, too, is a sign of grace. The Catholic Church entered the ecumenical movement during the Second Vatican Council, and has an irrevocable commitment to Christian unity (UUS §3), seeing it not as something optional, but as an intrinsic aspect of the pursuit of true catholicity (UR §4). Catholics and Methodists strongly resonate in this commitment.
126. In all of the above areas, crucial for the life of the Church, Catholics and Methodists would surely be strengthened by one another in the full communion of our churches. We would edify one another, building one another up in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Catholics can unhesitatingly state that they would gain from such a communion. We can also identify some further specific points of potential gain. Catholics can learn from Methodists’ love for, and devotion to, reading the Scriptures, with a vivid sense that God speaks to us personally as we do so. Catholics would benefit also from Methodists’ commitment to singing their faith in joyful hymns that express the very heart of Christian belief. Much Methodist music and hymnody is already benefiting Catholics. Likewise, Catholics have much to learn from the Methodist understanding and practice of lay ministry, based on Baptism and the priesthood of all believers, and they have much to ponder with regard to the place of lay people in the governance of the Church. The perception of Baptism as a covenant that can be regularly renewed, as Methodists do, is a valuable and scriptural one.
127. The gift of John and Charles Wesley themselves, outstanding and godly men, to be shared as heroes of Christian faith, would be a cause of joy and thanksgiving. The Wesleys are alive today, so to speak, because of the Methodist Church, and thereby enabled to be gifts to the entire Church. To preach so as truly to “warm the heart”, as the Wesleys did, is an important model for Catholics, too, and the Wesleys’ emphasis on frequent reception of holy communion is deeply edifying to Catholics. At a Methodist celebration marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, said: “Just as you continue to turn to the ministry of John Wesley for inspiration and guidance, we can look to see and find in him the evangelical zeal, the pursuit of holiness, the concern for the poor, the virtues and goodness which we have come to know and respect in you. For all of this, we can all afford to be profoundly grateful.”107
128. Gladly acknowledging the gifts they would like to receive from Methodists, Catholics would also like to invite Methodists to consider whether there are gifts which they in turn might receive. First, the Catholic Church has an articulated ecclesiology, with a long tradition of reflection on the Church and the benefit of the Second Vatican Council’s documents on the Church. Central to that ecclesiology is the visible manifestation of two dimensions of communion, namely communion across space, expressed by the collegiality of the bishops, and communion across history, continuity in time, served by the apostolic succession of the bishops. These can be regarded equivalently as two dimensions of connection, and the Catholic tradition would see bishops as nodal points of the web of ecclesial communion in Christ which spans space and time. Catholics invite Methodists who do not have bishops to consider this time-honoured way of expressing connection, and would be happy to explore with Methodists who do have bishops the sense of collegial responsibility that their bishops already have.
129. Within the framework of the college of bishops, Catholics also invite Methodists to consider whether they might receive the Petrine ministry. As an intrinsic part of that offer, they would like to engage with Methodists in accordance with the invitation made by Pope John Paul II when he proposed a dialogue with the leaders and theologians of other churches about the forms that the papal ministry might take in order to be recognised as “a service of love” by all Christians (UUS §§95-96). Catholics are convinced that the Church needs a universal focal point for its pastoral care, and that Christ himself instituted such a ministry in the primacy of Peter among the Apostles. Along with many Christians today, Methodists are beginning to experience the value of greater global cohesion and expression. Catholics invite Methodists to consider whether the Petrine ministry might serve that end. It may be helpful to approach the topic of the personal exercise of the Petrine ministry by the pope through a sense of the corporate exercise of governance by the whole college of bishops, of which he is the centre and head.
130. Catholics invite Methodists to look afresh at those doctrines which, in the turmoil of the Reformation, became obscured in Protestant thought and life instead of simply being reformed of their excesses. Outstanding among these would be the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist and the understanding of ordained ministry as priesthood. At the Second Vatican Council and in the years since the Council, the Catholic Church has sought to articulate its teaching on these matters clearly and biblically, with an awareness of the misunderstandings and disputes of the past and a desire for constructive dialogue with Christians of other traditions. Part of the gift that Catholics would like to offer to Methodists regarding these matters is this new articulation of Catholic doctrine.
131. Vatican II taught that through the sacraments, and most especially by Baptism and the Eucharist, we are “united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his passion and glorification” (LG §7). In other words, we are sacramentally united with Christ, as his body, in the great single act of his sacrifice, by which he entered into glory.108 There can never be any repetition of that act; it happened once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). Nevertheless, the Eucharist truly has a sacrificial character because Christ is really present there in the very act of his supreme self-gift to his Father. The sacramental presence of Christ himself is at once the sacramental presence of his sacrifice also, because the Christ who is present is he who has entered the sanctuary once and for all bearing his own blood to secure an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12). He now lives forever, exercising a perpetual priesthood, making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:24-25).109 Catholics regret any impression they may have given of a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, but they also reject the overreaction which denies a sacrificial character to the Eucharist. In the sense outlined above, they endorse the statement of the Lima text of the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission that the Eucharist is “the sacrament of the unique sacrifice of Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for us”.110
132. From the same biblical basis, Catholics affirm that there is only one priesthood in God’s plan of salvation, namely that of Christ himself, which is imparted to the whole Church as his body. Vatican II taught that every liturgical celebration is “an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body” (SC §8), and that there are two proper sharings in this one priesthood within the Church, which are “ordered to one another”, namely the royal priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial priesthood of those faithful who are called and ordained to represent Christ himself in the midst of his people, acting in the name and person of Christ to effect the eucharistic sacrifice and offer it to God in the name of all the people (LG §10). This new formulation contains an important re-anchoring of the concept of priesthood, which gets behind the Reformation disputes that so often treated either the priesthood of the minister or the priesthood of the people as the primary datum. Reformation misgivings about the priesthood of the minister were intimately linked to those regarding the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist, since a priest offers sacrifice. These two issues must therefore be addressed together. Catholics believe that, as there is only one sacrifice, so there is also only one priest, namely Christ. Those who are called ‘priests’ are only ever representatives of Christ the priest in the midst of the priestly people. Through them, Christ the priest is sacramentally present to minister to his people. Catholics welcome the statement of the Lima text that ordained ministers are “representatives of Jesus Christ to the community”, and they value its further statement that ordained ministers “may appropriately be called priests because they fulfil a particular priestly service by strengthening and building up the royal and prophetic priesthood of the faithful through word and sacraments”.111 Catholics believe that “when anybody baptises it is really Christ himself who baptises” and likewise that “it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church” (SC §7). The person who is truly active for our salvation in the power of the Spirit is always Christ himself, in accordance with his final promise: “ I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The confidence that Catholics have in the effectiveness of all the sacraments is ultimately rooted in this promise, which actually gives rise to a whole realm of sacramentality. Though the Lord is no longer visibly present, in countless ways he is truly present, and the key actions when his presence is proclaimed and trusted are called ‘sacraments’. Catholics believe that when the Church ordains those who will officially act in the name of Christ in the midst of his people, those acts of ordination are of such decisive importance that they, too, are sacraments, moments of prayer and of absolute confidence in the active presence of Christ himself, faithful to his promise.
133. Catholics agree with Methodists that “Ministry in the Christian church is derived from the ministry of Christ” (BD, p.194), and recognise the great care with which Methodists treat the question of priesthood (cf. CLP, 4.5.1; 4.5.6; 4.5.9; 4.5.11). The statement from the British Methodist Deed of Union that “the Methodist Church holds the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and consequently believes that no priesthood exists which belongs exclusively to a particular order or class” seems to Catholics to be marked by a Reformation rivalry between the royal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. However, the recent British Methodist statement that the office of an ordained minister “consists in enabling the Church’s whole ministry in such a way that Christ is effectively present in preaching, in the sacraments, in the Church’s discipline and pastoral care” (CLP, 4.5.11) reflects the grounding of priesthood in Christ himself that Catholics would wish to be the basis for ecumenical rapprochement.
134. Catholics would also like to share with Methodists the absolute confidence in Christ’s action through the ministry of word and sacrament. Whatever the weakness and sinfulness of the minister, God’s salvific action in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is never thereby brought to nothing. When Christ himself says to his followers, “I am with you always”, he is giving a guarantee on which we can rely. We must be vigilant and never complacent, but vigilance must not compromise our hope, confidence and trust. Catholics invite Methodists to ask whether their traditional reliance on the inner assurance of the Holy Spirit (cf. British Methodist Catechism, 18) might not also be applied to the Church as a whole. Can the Church not have a corporate assurance, particularly regarding the liturgical actions of its ordained ministers, and might not the ordained ministers also have a part to play in articulating the assurance of the Church? These queries first arose twenty years ago, when Catholics and Methodists agreed “on the need for an authoritative way of being sure, beyond doubt, concerning God’s action insofar as it is crucial for our salvation”,112 and they recur now with some urgency.
135. Moreover, Catholics would wish to suggest to Methodists that the disputed issue of ‘infallibility’ can be approached from within this very confidence in Christ’s own action in word and sacrament. Just as Catholics believe that Christ can unfailingly wash, feed and forgive his people through the sacramental ministrations of the Church and its ministers, so too they believe that he can unfailingly teach his people. Not only does he do so whenever the Scriptures are proclaimed (cf. SC §7; in §132 above), for every such proclamation is in truth infallible, but he can also do so through the teaching of the Church on a matter of vital importance. Just as there are clearly specified conditions for the proper celebration of Baptism, Eucharist, and other sacramental actions, which, when fulfilled, enable the Church to trust without doubt that Christ himself is present and active, so likewise there will necessarily be specific conditions for recognising his presence and action in decisive instances of teaching. A close reading of the definition of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council shows that very specific conditions were indeed laid down for the exercise by the pope of “the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals” (DS 3074). The pope has to be speaking ex cathedra, as “shepherd and teacher of all Christians”, and defining “by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church” (DS 3074). It is also clear from the terms of the definition above that the basic assurance being expressed was of the infallibility given by God to the Church itself, as “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
136. The previous chapter indicated five “areas of serious divergence” (§92) between Catholics and Methodists hitherto, namely, 1) the role of the laity in authoritative teaching, 2) the sacramental nature of ordination, 3) the episcopate in apostolic succession, 4) the ‘assurance’ of certain authoritative acts of teaching (i.e. infallibility), and 5) the place and role of the Petrine Ministry. The Joint Commission believes that a sacramental approach to the Church, already broached by the Nairobi Report (see above, §104) and more fully worked out in subsequent reports and now here in this present statement, offers avenues for progress on these issues.
137. With regard to the four traditional marks or notes of the Church, this chapter has sought to show that the reconciliation of Methodists and Catholics offers great potential benefits to both communities:
a) In an important sense, two uniting churches give to one another the gift of unity. In this case, two different aspects of unity would be valuably combined, one more structural and historical, the other more spiritual and eschatological. The Catholic Church believes that the unity Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning “subsists in the Catholic Church” (UR §4; cf. UUS §11), particularly because of the continuance in it of the Petrine ministry. In a sense, therefore, through this essential sign of visible unity, the Catholic Church can give the gift of unity to the Methodist Church. On the other hand, Methodists understand unity primarily as the spiritual unity of the body of Christ, which Christians must strive to make more visible in the world but which will remain imperfectly realised until the last day. This eschatological emphasis is important and reminds Catholics that unity is also a vocation that must inspire and challenge us each day towards an ever greater attainment of it.
b) The emphasis upon holiness which Methodists and Catholics already share means that we would give each other great solidarity and encouragement in our living of this mark of the Church and in our striving for an ever fuller realisation of it. We would also have the joy of sharing the inspiring example of our saints.
c) Christian divisions prevent the Church from realising “the fullness of catholicity proper to her” (UR §4, italics added; cf. above, §125). The firm commitment of Methodists and Catholics to ecumenism is indicative of our shared desire for ever greater catholicity, and that commitment and desire would be further strengthened by our unity. In accordance with its twofold meaning, the catholicity both of Catholics and also of Methodists would be enhanced by our unity: by an increased depth and balance of belief, and by an increased vigour and scope of outreach.
d) Methodists can receive a vital sign of apostolicity from Catholics, namely the apostolic succession of bishops. However, Catholics have much to gain from the commitment to apostolic mission which is an explicit part of Methodist identity.
The mutual enhancement of each other’s oneness, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity through Catholic-Methodist unity would be the fullest possible realisation of John Wesley’s famous appeal that Protestants and Catholics should “help each other on in whatever we are agreed leads to the Kingdom”.113
138. The members of the Joint Commission, both Catholics and Methodists, are deeply conscious of drawing on the common heritage mentioned previously (above, §100), and of wanting to remind one another of elements of that shared patrimony which we have, respectively, neglected. No-one owns this treasure: we all hold it in trust for one another and for the world. Since it all comes from the God who is love (1 John 4:8), and who poured out his love for us in Christ, it is imperative that we should all be converted to an equal generosity with the gifts of God, which is only ever a participation in his own generosity. We hope that this statement may itself be such a participation in God’s generosity, and that it may prompt a widespread mutual generosity between our churches, as they seek together to grow in a common sharing of the gifts that God wants his people both to enjoy and to minister to the world. We gladly affirm together the vision of unity that Pope John Paul II outlined when he said: “Full unity will come about when all share in the fullness of the means of salvation entrusted by Christ to his Church” (UUS §86).
- The Dublin Report, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (1976), §17.
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- United Methodist-Roman Catholic Dialogue, USA, Through Divine Love: The Church in each Place and all Places (2005; hereafter Through Divine Love), §178.
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- Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §20; cf. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §§4, 111.
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- Through Divine Love, §§157, 158.
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- Through Divine Love, §§146, 178.
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- Regarding the real purpose of Church structures, John Wesley asked “What is the end of all ecclesiastical order?” and immediately gave his own answer: “Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God, and to build them up in His fear and love? Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not, it is nothing worth” (Letter of June 25, 1746, to “John Smith”; Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial Ed., 26:206). More recently, after urging the development in the Church of a “spirituality of communion”, Pope John Paul II frankly stated: “Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, ‘masks’ of communion rather than its means of expression and growth” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 2001, §43).
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- The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §89; The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §94.
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- The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §96.
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- Through Divine Love, §109.
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- Extraordinary Synod to reflect on the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, 1985, “Final Report”, II D 1.
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- The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §§94-95.
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- Ibid., §97.
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- Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §10; cf. above, §77.
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- Through Divine Love, §55.
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- CLP, 4.7.9; cf. 4.7.11; Through Divine Love, §§157-58.
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- Cf. British Methodist Conference, What sort of Bishops? (2005).
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- The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §100; cf. above, §§36, 43.
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- Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §13.
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- “Love divine, all loves excelling” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 267).
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- Cf. Methodist Church of Great Britain, His Presence Makes the Feast, 2003, n.11.
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- British Methodist Conference, Episkopé and Episcopacy, 2000, §114.
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- Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §58.
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- Letter to James Harvey (see John Wesley’s Journal, 11 June, 1739).
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- Published in 1959; trans. The Wide World My Parish (1961).
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- Cardinal Walter Kasper, Homily at Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church, Rome, 22 June, 2003.
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- Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 2003, §§11, 12, 15.
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- Cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, §3.
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- BEM, “Eucharist” §8.
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- BEM, “Ministry” §§11, 17.
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- Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §75.
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- Letter to a Roman Catholic; cf. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §36.
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