the spirit of friendship and reconciliation, a dialogue between
Catholics and Mennonites took place over a five-year period, from
1998-2003. The dialogue partners met five times in plenary session,
a week at a time. At the first four sessions, at least two papers
were presented by each delegation as the joint commission explored
their respective understandings of key theological themes and
of significant aspects of the history of the church. At the fifth
session the partners worked together on a common report.
2. This was a new process of reconciliation. The two dialogue
partners had had no official dialogue previous to this, and therefore
started afresh. Our purpose was to assist Mennonites and Catholics
to overcome the consequences of almost five centuries of mutual
isolation and hostility. We wanted to explore whether it is now
possible to create a new atmosphere in which to meet each other.
After all, despite all that may still divide us, the ultimate
identity of both is rooted in Jesus Christ.
3. This report is a synthesis of the five-year Catholic-Mennonite
dialogue. The Introduction describes the origins of the dialogue
within the contemporary inter-church framework, including other
bilateral dialogues in which Catholics and Mennonites have participated
in recent decades. It identifies specific factors that led up
to this particular dialogue. The Introduction then states the
purpose and scope of the dialogue, names the participants, and
conveys something of the spirit in which the dialogue was conducted.
It concludes by naming the locations at which each of the annual
dialogue sessions took place, and states the themes that were
discussed at each session.
4. Three chapters follow the Introduction. The first of these,
"Considering History Together", summarizes the results of our
common study of three crucial eras (and related events) of history
that have shaped our respective traditions and have yielded distinctive
interpretations. These are 1) the rupture of the sixteenth century,
2) the Constantinian era, and 3) the Middle Ages as such. The
aim of our study was to re-read history together for the purpose
of comparing and refining our interpretations. Chapter I reports
on our agreed-upon evaluations as well as some differing perspectives
on the historical eras and events that were selected and examined.
5. In the second chapter, "Considering Theology Together", we
report on our common and differing understandings of the Church,
of Baptism, of the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper, and of peace.
In each case, we state the historic theological perspectives of
the Catholic Church and of the Mennonite Churches.1
This is followed by a summary of our discussion on major convergences
and divergences on each theme. Of particular significance is our
theological study and comparison of our respective peace teachings.
The Mennonites are one of the "Historic Peace Churches"2,
which means that the commitment to peace is essential to their
self-definition. The Catholic Church takes the promotion of unity
-- and accordingly peace -- as "belonging to the innermost nature
of the Church".3
Is it possible, therefore, that these two communities can give
witness together to the Gospel which calls us to be peacemakers
in today's often violent world?
6. Chapter III is entitled "Toward a Healing of Memories".
In a sense, every interchurch dialogue in which the partners are
seeking to overcome centuries of hostility or isolation is aimed
at healing bitter memories that have made reconciliation between
them difficult. The third chapter identifies four components that,
we hope, can help to foster a healing of memories between Mennonites
7. The members of this dialogue offer this report, the results
of our work, to the sponsoring bodies in the hope that it can
be used by Mennonites and Catholics not only within their respective
communities but also as they meet together, to promote reconciliation
between them for the sake of the Gospel.
ORIGIN OF THESE CONVERSATIONS
8. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, separated
Christian communions have come into closer contact, seeking reconciliation
with each other. Despite ongoing divisions, they have started
to cooperate with one another to their mutual benefit and often
to the benefit of the societies in which they give witness to
the Gospel. They have engaged in theological dialogue, exploring
the reasons for their original divisions. In doing so, they have
often discovered that, despite centuries of mutual isolation,
they continue to share much of the Christian heritage which is
rooted in the Gospel. They have also been able to clarify serious
differences that exist between and among them in regard to various
aspects of the Christian faith. In short, in modern times we have
witnessed the emergence of a movement of reconciliation among
separated Christians, bringing with it new openness to one another
and, on the part of many, a commitment to strive for the unity
of the followers of Jesus Christ.
9. Many factors have contributed to this contemporary movement.
Among them are conditions and changes in the modern world. For
example, the destructive power of modern weapons in a nuclear
age has challenged Christians everywhere to reflect on the question
of peace in a totally new way -- and even to do so together. But
the basic inspiration for dialogue between separated Christians
has been the realization that conflict between them impedes the
preaching of the Gospel and damages their credibility. Indeed,
conflict between Christians is a major obstacle to the mission
given by Jesus Christ to his disciples. It is difficult to announce
the good news of salvation "so that the world may believe" (Jn
17:21) if those bearing the good news have basic disagreements
10. Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Catholic
Church has been engaged in a wide variety of ecumenical activities,
including a number of international bilateral dialogues. There
has been dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox
Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Churches,
the Assyrian Church of the East, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran
World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the
World Methodist Council, the Baptist World Alliance, the Christian
Church (Disciples of Christ), the Pentecostals, and the Evangelicals.
There have been consultations with the World Evangelical Alliance
and Seventh Day Adventists. Also, since 1968 Catholic theologians
have participated as full voting members of the multilateral Commission
on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.
11. Mennonite World Conference (MWC) has previously held
international bilateral dialogues with the World Alliance of Reformed
Churches and with the Baptist World Alliance. Also, together with
the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed
Churches, MWC sponsors the multilateral dialogue on the "First,
Second and Radical Reformations", also known as the "Prague Consultations".
MWC and the Lutheran World Federation have agreed to international
conversation beginning in 2004. Mennonite World Conference member
churches in France, in Germany, and in the United States have
held bilateral dialogues with Lutheran churches in those countries.
12. Though Mennonites and Catholics have lived in isolation
or in tension for centuries, they too have had increasing contact
with each other in recent times. On the international level, they
have met each other consistently in a number of interchurch organizations.
For example, representatives of the Mennonite World Conference
(MWC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
(PCPCU) meet annually at the meeting of the Conference of Secretaries
of Christian World Communions (CS/CWC), a forum which has for
more than forty years brought together the general secretaries
of world communions for informal contacts and discussion. There
have been numerous other contacts on national and local levels.
13. More recently some Catholics and Mennonites have begun
to invite one another to meetings or events each has sponsored.
On the international level, Pope John Paul II invited Christian
World Communions, including the Mennonite World Conference, to
participate in the Assisi Day of Prayer for Peace, held in October
1986. The MWC Executive Secretary, Paul Kraybill, attended that
meeting. The MWC invited the PCPCU to send an observer to its
world assembly in Calcutta in January of 1997. Msgr. John Mutiso
Mbinda attended on behalf of the PCPCU and brought a message from
its President, Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy, in which the Cardinal
expressed the "sincere hope that there will be other contacts
between the Mennonite World Conference and the Catholic Church".
After the international Mennonite-Catholic Dialogue began in 1998,
MWC was among those Pope John Paul II invited to send representatives
to events in Rome related to the Jubilee Year 2000. The Mennonite
co-chairman of this dialogue, Dr. Helmut Harder, attended a jubilee
event at the Vatican in 1999 on the subject of inter-religious
dialogue. More recently, accepting the invitation of Pope John
Paul II to leaders of Christian World Communions, Dr. Mesach Krisetya,
president of the MWC, participated in the Assisi Day of Prayer
for Peace, January 24, 2002. Moreover, to name one example from
a national context, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops
in the USA,4
in the course of writing its pastoral statement on peace in 1993,
sought the expertise of persons from outside the Catholic Church,
including that of Mennonite theologian John H. Yoder.
14. The possibility and desirability of an international
Catholic-Mennonite dialogue came into view in the context of informal
contacts during meetings of the CS/CWC. The question was first
raised in the early 1990s in a conversation between Dr. Larry
Miller, Executive Secretary of the MWC, Bishop Pierre Duprey,
Secretary of the PCPCU, and Msgr. John A. Radano, also of the
PCPCU. During ensuing annual CS/CWC meetings, Msgr. Radano and
Dr. Miller continued to informally discuss the possibility of
an international dialogue. Two particularly compelling reasons
for dialogue were the awareness that contemporary historical studies
point to medieval sources of spirituality which Catholics and
Mennonites share, and the conviction that both believe peace to
be at the heart of the Gospel. There was also a sense that, as
in other relationships between separated Christians, there is
need for a healing of memories between Mennonites and Catholics.
In 1997 the leaders of both communions responded positively to
a proposal that a Mennonite-Catholic dialogue should take place
on the international level. The dialogue, envisioned initially
for a five-year period, began the following year, organized on
the Catholic side by the PCPCU and on the Mennonite side by the
SCOPE, AND PARTICIPANTS
15. The general purpose of the dialogue was to learn to know
one another better, to promote better understanding of the positions
on Christian faith held by Catholics and Mennonites, and to contribute
to the overcoming of prejudices that have long existed between
16. In light of this purpose, two tracks were followed during
each of the annual meetings. A contemporary component explored
the positions of each side on a selected key theological issue.
A historical track examined the interpretation of each dialogue
partner with reference to a particular historical event or historical
development that caused or represented separation from one another
in the course of the history of the Church.
17. In order to implement the study of these two tracks,
MWC and PCPCU called on papers from participants who brought historical
or theological expertise and understanding to the events, the
themes, and the issues that effect relationships between Catholics
18. Mennonite delegation members were Dr. Helmut Harder (co-chairman,
Canada), systematic theologian and co-editor of "A Confession
of Faith in Mennonite Perspective"; Dr. Neal Blough (USA/ France),
specialist in Anabaptist history and theology; Rev. Mario Higueros
(Guatemala), head of the Central American Mennonite seminary with
advanced theological studies at the Salamanca Pontifical University
in Spain and numerous contacts with Catholics in Latin America;
Rev. Andrea Lange (Germany), Mennonite pastor and teacher, especially
on themes related to peace church theology and practice; Dr. Howard
J. Loewen (USA), Mennonite Brethren theologian and expert in the
confessional history of Anabaptist/Mennonites; Dr. Nzash Lumeya
(D.R. Congo/USA), missiologist and Old Testament specialist; and
Dr. Larry Miller (co-secretary, USA/France), New Testament scholar
and Mennonite World Conference Executive Secretary. Dr. Alan Kreider
(USA), historian of the early church, joined the group for the
annual session of the dialogue in the year 2000.
19. On the Catholic side, participants included the Most
Reverend Joseph Martino, (co-chairman, USA), a church historian
and Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia, located in an area which
includes many communities of the Anabaptist tradition; Rev. Dr.
James Puglisi, SA (USA/Italy), Director of the Centro Pro Unione
and specialist in liturgy and sacraments; Dr. Peter Nissen (The
Netherlands), church historian and authority on relations between
Catholics and Anabaptists in the sixteenth century; Msgr. John
Mutiso Mbinda (Kenya/Vatican City), PCPCU staff member who participated
in the 1997 MWC world assembly meeting in Calcutta and whose work
brings him into regular contact with international Christian organizations
where Mennonites participate at times; Dr. Joan Patricia Back
(United Kingdom/Italy), on the staff of Centro Uno, ecumenical
secretariat of the Focolare Movement, whose communities around
the world have contacts with many Christian groups, including
Mennonites; Rev. Dr. Andrew Christiansen, SJ (USA), an expert
in social ethics whose work in matters of peace both on the academic
and the practical levels have brought him into contact and conversation
with Mennonite scholars; and Msgr. Dr. John A. Radano (co-secretary,
USA/Vatican City), Head of the Western Section of the PCPCU who
has participated in various international dialogues.
20. The atmosphere in the meetings was most cordial. Each
side presented its views on the theological issues as clearly
and forcefully as possible, seeking to foster an honest and fruitful
dialogue. As the conversation partners heard the other's views
clearly stated, it was possible to begin to see which parts of
the Christian heritage are held in common by both Mennonites and
Catholics, and where they have strong differences. In presenting
their respective views on history, dialogue members did not refrain
from allowing one another to see clearly the criticism each communion
has traditionally raised against the other. At the same time,
dialogue participants did this with the kind of self-criticism
that is needed if an authentic search for truth is to take place.
The constant hope was that clarifications in both areas of study,
historical and theological, might contribute to a healing of memories
between Catholics and Mennonites.
21. Prayer sustained and accompanied the dialogue. Every
day of each meeting began and ended with prayer and worship, led
by members of the delegations. On Sundays, dialogue participants
attended services in a Mennonite or a Catholic congregation, depending
on which side was hosting the meeting that year. During the week,
the host side arranged a field trip to sites associated with its
tradition. These services and trips contributed to the dialogue
by helping each partner to know the other better.
AND THEMES OF ANNUAL MEETINGS
22. The first meeting took place in Strasbourg, France, October
14-18, 1998. Each delegation made presentations in response to
the question, "Who are we today?" A second set of papers helped
to shed light on the reasons for reactions to each other in the
sixteenth century. At the second meeting, held in Venice, Italy,
October 12-18, 1999, the discussion in the theological sessions
focussed on the way each communion understands the church today.
The historical track explored the Anabaptist idea of the restitution
of the early church, as well as the medieval roots of the Mennonite
tradition of faith and spirituality. At the third meeting, November
24-30, 2000, held at the Thomashof, near Karlsruhe, Germany, the
contemporary discussion turned to an area of possible cooperation
between Mennonites and Catholics today, with the theme formulated
as a question: "What is a Peace Church?" In the historical sessions,
each presented an interpretation of the impact of the "Constantinian
shift" on the church. In the fourth meeting, at Assisi, Italy,
November 27 to December 3, 2001, each delegation presented its
views on Baptism and the Eucharist or Lord's Supper. The historical
part of that meeting focussed on the view of each on the relationship
between church and state in the Middle Ages. At the fifth meeting,
October 25-31, 2002, in Akron, Pennsylvania, members worked on
the final report of the dialogue. Drafting meetings in March,
May and June, 2003 provided occasions to refine the report in
preparation for its submission.
Note: A list of the papers presented at the dialogue sessions,
together with their authors, appears as an Appendix
at the end of this report.
The word "church"
is used in this report to reflect the self-understandings
of the participating churches, without intending to resolve
all the ecclesiological issues related to this term. Mennonites
and Catholics do not share a common understanding of the Church.
The term "Historic
Peace Churches", in use since about 1935, refers to Mennonites,
Quakers (Society of Friends), and Church of the Brethren.
For an orientation to the Historic Peace Churches, see Donald
Durnbaugh, ed., On Earth Peace: Discussions on War/Peace
issues between Friends, Mennonites, Brethren and European
Churches 1935-1975 (Elgin: The Brethren Press, 1978).
on the Church in the Modern World", Gaudium et spes, 42.
the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.