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Reformed/Roman Catholic International dialogue:
Second Phase (1984-1990)


  1. As representatives of the Reformed Churches and of the Roman Catholic Church, we have carried on a dialogue whose purpose has been to deepen mutual understanding and to foster the eventual reconciliation of our two communities. Our conversations have been officially sponsored by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. We have met in Rome, Italy (1984), Kappel-am-Albis, Switzerland (1985), Venice, Italy (1986), Cartigny, Switzerland. (1987) and Ariccia, Italy (1988). This report emerged out of these encounters. Joint sub-committees met in Geneva (1989 and 1990) to take into account further suggestions of the Commission for the report and to prepare it for publication.

  2. An earlier phase of this dialogue took place under the same sponsorship between 1970 and 1977. That series of conversations produced a report entitled The Presence of Christ in Church and World (PCCW), which gave attention to issues such as: the relationship of Christ to the Church, the Church as a teaching authority, the Eucharist, and the ministry. These earlier conversation discovered considerable common ground, but left open questions pertaining to such matters as authority, order, and Church discipline. During approximately these same years representatives of the Lutheran World Federation joined Reformed and Roman Catholic participants in a trilateral dialogue to produce a report titled The Theology of Marriage and the Problem of Mixed Marriages.1

  3. In this second phase of dialogue just completed we have concentrated more directly on the doctrine of the Church. Certain ecclesiological issues touched upon in the earlier conversations are further treated. Building on this previous work, we have now gone deeper into the realm of ecclesiology, bringing important aspects of this subject into bilateral conversations for the first time. In this way, we have sought further to clarify the common ground between our communions as well as to identify our remaining differences. We hope these results will encourage further steps toward common testimony and joint ecumenical action.

  4. We have discovered anew that the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Churches are bound by manifold ties. Both communions confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, affirm the Trinitarian faith of the apostolic Church through the ages, and observe the one Baptism into the threefold Name. In recent years Reformed and Roman Catholic Christians have begun, in many places and at many different levels, to share the experience of fellowship and to seek fuller communion in truth and love for the sake of our common service of Jesus Christ in the world. Our churches share more common ground than previously we were able to see.

  5. Yet we have also realized anew that there remain disagreements and divergences between us. Some of these have emerged in the course of this dialogue and have been tackled head-on. Others have been perceived, but left for substantive treatment in future dialogue.

  6. Our communions are called to live and witness together to the fullest extent possible now, and to work together toward future reconciliation. The common ground we share compels us to be open toward one another, and to aspire to that communion into which the Spirit seeks to lead us. Each communion is bound in conscience to bear witness to the way in which it understands the gospel, the Church, and the relationship between them, but at the same time to bear this witness in dialogue and mutual support. As we articulate our differing positions in love, we are challenged to a deeper fidelity to Jesus Christ.

  7. This report presents the results of our dialogue in four chapters. Chapter I recalls the sixteenth-century Reformation and recounts the path taken by each communion since that time. The new openness of ecumenical relationships has helped us to see our respective histories in new perspectives, and to clarify our relationships today. A new assessment of our common ground and of our disagreements is now possible; we are moving closer to being able to write our histories together.

  8. The existence of this common ground gives us a context for discussing what remains controversial. Thus its content needs careful consideration. Chapter II seeks to accomplish this. This chapter focuses upon two areas of fundamental agreement: that our Lord Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and humankind, and that we receive justification by grace through faith. It follows that together we also confess the Church as the community of all who are called, redeemed and sanctified through the one mediator.

  9. A complete ecclesiology was beyond our scope in this phase of dialogue. But it seemed especially important to reconsider the relation between the Gospel and the Church in its ministerial and instrumental roles. Chapter III takes up this question and carries it through a series of topics: the Church as creatura verbi and the Church as sacrament of grace; continuity and discontinuity in Church history; the question of Church structure and the ordering of ministry. Certain convergences are set forth, and the remaining issues noted for future consideration.

  10. Finally, Chapter IV sketches some ways forward. Our churches meet in many settings. In ways appropriate to each situation we may (1) take specific steps to deepen our existing fellowship; (2) address issues in such a way as to come closer to a reconciliation of memories; (3) find arenas for common witness, and (4) consider the nature of the unity we seek.

  11. The Dialogue Commission offers this report to its sponsors in the hope that it may encourage us all to work for the unity of Christians which we believe is God's will.


  1. Both reports can be found in Harding Meyer and Lukas Vischer, Editors, Growth in Agreement: Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level, New York/Ramsey: Paulist Press, and Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1984, pp. 433-463 and 277-306 respectively.

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