1. GENERAL RETROSPECT
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.
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".
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.
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
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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:
That everything possible be done by the Churches in cooperation
to promote ecumenical instruction, discussion and action at
That ways be explored of cooperating in the training of ministers
so far as local authorities see prudent.
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
That in all ecumenical encounters there should be effort to
begin dialogue towards common Christian moral standards.
That Methodists and Roman Catholics in their dialogue should
be constantly aware of the challenge of secularism.
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.
That ways of sharing facilities of all kinds be thoroughly explored,
though with prudence and realism.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Turning to the theme of authority, discussion centered on the following
problems of authority:
What are the implications of the incarnation for any doctrine
of authority in the Church? (Cf. Nos. 102 et sqq.).
How to discern the sensus fidelium in contemporary conditions.
The nature of obedience ("internal" and "external").
The relation of conscience to informed reasoning (Cf. Nos. 113-6
How far can the authority of conclusions be divorced from the
arguments supporting them.
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.
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.
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).
Papers on Secularization given at Rabat will be referred to in section
II of the report (No. 28).
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.