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
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
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.
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.
A Reconciliation Of Memories
Whence Have We Come?
have our communions come? What paths have they followed - together
and apart, interacting, reacting, and going their separate ways
- over 450 years to reach where they are today? This first chapter
consists of accounts, written with consultation by each delegation,
of our respective histories in relation to one another, as we
see them now after five years of annual dialogues.
in the late twentieth century, our churches are not the same dialogue
partners they were even a generation ago, let alone in the sixteenth
century. In the past, we tended to read our histories both selectively
and polemically. To some extent, we still do. We see the events
through which we have lived through confessionally biased eyes
The present reality of our churches is explained and justified
by these readings of the past. Yet we are beginning to be able
to transcend these limitations (a) by our common use of the results
of objective scholarly inquiry and (b) by the dialogue our churches
have had with each other in this consultation and elsewhere.
scholarship today has not only produced fresh evidence concerning
our respective roles in the Reformation and its aftermath. It
also brings us together in broad agreement about sources, methods
of inquiry and warrants for drawing conclusions. A new measure
of objectivity has become possible. If we still inevitably interpret
and select, at least we are aware that we do, and what that fact
means as we strive for greater objectivity and more balanced judgement.
15. The method
used in our present dialogue has also deepened our shared historical
understanding. We first drafted our respective parts of this chapter
separately. Reading and reviewing these drafts together we learned
from each other and modified what we had written. We were reminded
that over the centuries our forbears had often misunderstood each
other's motives and language. We learned that our histories were
sometimes a matter of action and reaction, but that at other times
we followed separate paths. We occasionally heard each other speak
vehemently and felt some of the passions that dictated the course
of historical events and still in some ways drive us today.
16. All this has contributed to a certain reassessment of the
past. We have begun to dissolve myths about each other, to clear
away misunderstandings. We must go on from here, as our conclusion
shows, to a reconciliation of memories, in which we will begin
to share one sense of the past rather than two.
A Reformed Perspective
The Ecclesiological Concerns of the Reformers
17. The sixteenth-century
Reformation was a response to a widespread demand for a general
renewal of Church and society. This demand had begun to be heard
long before: it grew more insistent in the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries, led to the emergence of reformed communities such as
the earlier Waldensians and the Hussites, and was addressed by
several Church councils. In the sixteenth century it resulted
in the establishment of the major Protestant churches in various
parts of Europe. Thus the unity of the medieval Western Church
was shattered not only by the separation between the Protestant
Churches and the See of Rome, but also by the fact that the Reformation
consisted of several reforming movements occurring at different
times and places, often in conflict with one another, and leading
to the different communions and confessional groups we know today.
the Reformed Churches came to form a movement distinct from the
Lutheran Reformation in Germany, they shared the same fundamental
concerns: to affirm the sole headship of Jesus Christ over the
Church; to hear and proclaim the message of the Gospel as the
one Word of God which alone brings authentic faith into being;
to re-order the life, practice and institutions of the Church
in conformity with the Word of God revealed in Scripture. In all
this there was no intention of setting up a "new" Church:
the aim was to re-form the Church in obedience to God's will revealed
in his Word, to restore "the true face of the Church"
and, as a necessary part of this process, to depart from ecclesiastical
teachings, institutions, and practices which were held to have
distorted the message of the Gospel and obscured the proper nature
and calling of the Church. For many complex reasons, there resulted
new forms of Church organization with far-reaching social, political
and economic ramifications - forms determined on the one hand
by the fresh vision of the Church's calling and commission, and
on the other hand by rejection of a great deal that had developed
in the previous centuries.
the chief affirmations of early Reformed ecclesiology were:
The unity and universality of the one true Church, to which
those belong whom God has called or will call in Jesus Christ;
The authority of Jesus Christ governing the Church through
the Word in the power of his Spirit;
The identification of an authentic "visible Church"
by reference to the true preaching of the Word and the right administration
of the two dominical sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper;
The importance of a proper Church order, central to which
was the office of the ministry of Word and Sacrament and, alongside
it, the oversight exercised by elders sharing with the ministers
of the Word in governing the affairs of the Church.
20. As a
consequence of these affirmations the Reformers rejected all in
the life of the Church which, in their understanding, obscured
the unique mediatorship of Jesus Christ and seemed to give to
the Church an excessive role alongside him. The emphasis placed
in the ensuing controversy on the authority of the Church and
its hierarchy led them to question the value of episcopal succession
as an expression of the continuity of the Church in the apostolic
truth through the centuries. In particular, they rejected teachings
such as the following:
The appeal to the Church's tradition as an authority equal
to Scripture or belonging together with it;
The universal authority of the Pope;
The claim that Church Councils constitute an infallible
The canonical distinction between the office of a bishop
and that of any other minister of the Word and Sacraments.
The Emergence and Spread of the Reformed Churches
21. It is
conceivable that many if not all of the Reformers' goals might
have been realized without dividing the Western Church into different
confessional traditions. Their aims and insights could perhaps
eventually have been accepted by the entire Church and issued
in a comprehensive, unified Reformation. In fact, this did not
happen. The established leadership of the Western Church was not
generally prepared to agree to the amendments of doctrine, Church
order and practice which the Reformers sought. The Reformers for
their part were convinced that nothing less than obedience to
God and the truth of the Gospel was at stake, and interpreted
resistance as unwillingness to undergo conversion and renewal.
In addition, the process of reform proceeded at different paces
and took different forms in different local and national settings.
The result was division and much mutual exclusion even among the
22. In this
and in the subsequent development of the Reformed Churches such
factors as geography, politics, social and cultural development
played a considerable part. The Reformation took place in a period
of radical intellectual, cultural and political upheaval which
irreversibly altered the face of. Europe and paved the way for
the emergence of the modern world. The nascent Reformed Churches
of the sixteenth century both contributed to and were molded by
these wider movements. The countries most profoundly influenced
by Reformed theology were prominent among those in which, in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for better or for worse,
the seeds of modern democracy were fostered, new forms of economic
order developed, autonomous natural science came to its first
great flowering and the demand for religious tolerance became
increasingly insistent. Where it became influential, the Reformed
ethos stimulated commerce, challenged despotisms, encouraged parliamentary
government and enhanced national consciousness.
23. In these
developments, however, the Reformed Churches showed that they
could, in their own ways, fall victim to many of the same faults
they criticized in the Roman Catholic Church. They became legitimators
of sometimes oppressive political establishments, fell into clericalism,
and grew intolerant of minority viewpoints. They were occasionally
guilty of condemnations, burnings and banishment, for example
in regard to the Anabaptists in Switzerland, acts in many cases
typical of their times, but not to be excused on that account.
The Reformed also sometimes lent themselves to various forms of
national chauvinism; colonialism and racism. At times their criticisms
of opponents (and especially of the papacy) grew intemperate even
by the standards of an age given to vituperate language.
24. It has
been claimed that the heritage and influence of Reformed thought
contributed significantly alongside that of Renaissance and later
humanism to the shaping of modern Western culture. There is less
agreement concerning the exact nature of this modernizing influence.
It has been argued that in many respects the Reformation was more
a medieval than a modern phenomenon, yet it set processes in motion
that had far-reaching influence. Even the Enlightenment of the
eighteenth century can properly be seen as owing much to these
impulses, albeit in largely secularized form. So, too, can the
rise of modern biblical criticism in the eighteenth century and
its rapid development from the nineteenth onwards.
25. The Reformed
Churches themselves could not but be affected by all these direct
and indirect outworkings of the Renaissance and the Reformation.
It must be admitted that they have displayed -especially up to
the middle of the nineteenth century, but on occasion also since
then as well - a tendency to divide and subdivide on matters of
theological or ecclesiological principle. Rationalism, in the
guise of a tendency to frame theology in tightly deductive systems,
exacerbated this tendency. At times, rationalism gave rise in
some Reformed Churches to movements which even questioned such
fundamental dogmatic convictions as the Trinity and the divinity
of Jesus Christ. Another source of diversity lay in varying conceptions
of proper church order, e.g., whether the government of the Church
should be synodal, congregational or episcopal.
26. The family
of Reformed Churches has continued to grow and spread up to the
present. The expansion of the Reformed family is primarily due
to the missionary movement of the last two centuries. In 1875,
the Alliance of Reformed Churches was founded as a rallying point
for the .worldwide Reformed and Presbyterian family. In 1970,
it was widened to include the Congregational churches as well.
The World Alliance of Reformed Churches counts today about 170
member churches. The majority of the member churches of the Alliance
are to be found in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific.
Moreover, the last century has witnessed major efforts towards
reunion within the Reformed family, and since 1918 various Reformed
Churches have entered transconfessional unions. Among the member
churches of the Alliance there are today also some 16 united churches,
from the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (1918) to the
United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom (1981). At the same
time it has also become increasingly more aware of the challenge
to search after a fuller ecumenical unity. It is mindful of the
abiding heritage of the Reformation, but at the same time of the
common calling of all Christians today to confess and hold aloft
that to which all adhere and in which all believe, namely the
Good News of Jesus Christ, "the one Word of God which we
have to hear and obey in life and in death" (Theological
Declaration of Barmen, 1934).
27. In pursuing
its theological task the World Alliance of Reformed Churches draws
on the resources supplied by the rich tradition of Reformed theology
through the centuries from Zwingli and Calvin and their contemporary
Reformers to such figures of the recent past as Karl Barth, Josef
Hromadka and Reinhold Niebuhr. It also stands in the heritage
of witness reflected in the confessions of the Reformed churches
from the 16th century onwards and seeks to continue that witness
faithfully today. It does not do so, however, in the spirit of
a narrow traditionalist Reformed confessionalism. Rather, it is
open ecumenically and concerned to face contemporary and future
social, cultural and ethical challenges. The contribution of Reformed
theology to today's churches does not consist merely in the maintenance
of theological traditions or in the preservation of ecclesiastical
institutions for their own sake, but in being what Karl Barth
called "the modest, free, critical and happy science"
(Evangelical Theology, ch. 1), which enquires into the reality
of God in relation to us human beings individually and in community
in the light of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us'.
Contemporary Reformed Attitudes Toward the Roman Catholic Church
the Second Vatican Council, with notable exceptions, the general
Reformed view was that the Roman Catholic Church had not faced
the real challenge of the Reformation and remained essentially
"unreformed." This conviction was reinforced in the
modern era on the doctrinal level by the definitions of the dogmas
of Papal infallibility (1870), the Immaculate Conception of the
Virgin Mary (1854) and her Bodily Assumption (1950). In practical
terms, the same conviction grew from the experience of Reformed
minorities in countries dominated by Roman Catholicism. Up to
this day the memory of the persecution of Reformed minorities
plays a significant role. The development of the two traditions
largely in isolation - even when alongside each other in the same
country - increased the inclination of Reformed Christians and
churches to view the Roman Catholic Church in terms of its reaction
against the Reformation, and reinforced negative attitudes toward
Roman Catholic teaching, piety and practice.
of a change in perspective began to appear in the nineteenth century,
but remained sporadic. Contacts increased and the desire for a
new mutual understanding became more apparent in the twentieth
century, not least as an offshoot of the active role played by
many Reformed Churches from the beginnings of the ecumenical movement.
But it is really only since the pontificate of John XXIII and
the events surrounding the Second Vatican Council that a genuinely
new atmosphere has developed between the Reformed and the Roman
Catholic Churches. The presence of Reformed observers at the Council
and an other occasions since, the experience of ecumenical contact,
shared activity, worship and dialogue at many different levels
from the local congregation to international commissions, and
increasing cooperation and collaboration between Reformed and
Roman Catholic scholars in work of exegetical, historical, systematic
and practical theology - all this has helped to break down misunderstandings
and caricatures of the present-day reality of the Roman Catholic
Church. In particular, these developments have helped the Reformed
to appreciate the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church
has placed the Word of God at the center of its life, not least
in modern liturgical reforms.
30. In general
it can be said today that a process of reassessment and re-evaluation
of the Roman Catholic Church has been taking place among the Reformed
Churches in the last decades, though not proceeding at the same
pace everywhere. There are within the Reformed family those whose
attitude to the Roman Catholic Church remains essentially negative:
some because they remain to be convinced that the modern development
of the Roman Catholic Church has really addressed the issues of
the Reformation, and others because they have been largely untouched
by the ecumenical exchanges of recent times and have therefore
not been challenged or encouraged to reconsider their traditional
stance. But this is only one part of the picture. Others in the
Reformed tradition have sought to engage in a fresh constructive
and critical evaluation both of the contemporary teaching and
practice of the Roman Catholic Church and of the classical controverted
is on the Reformed side an increasing sense that while the Reformation
was at the time theologically and historically necessary, the
division of the Western Church should not be accepted as the last
word; that it is at best one-sided to read that history as if
all the truth lay on the side of the Reformers and none at all
on the side of their opponents and critics within the Roman Catholic
camp; that there have been both in the more remote and more recent
past many positive developments in the Roman Catholic Church itself;
that the situation today presents new challenges for Christian
witness and service which ought so far as possible to be answered
together rather than in separation; and - perhaps most important
of all - that Reformed Christians are called to search together
with their Roman Catholic separated brothers and sisters for the
unity which Christ wills for his Church, both in terms of contemporary
witness and in terms of reconsidering traditional disagreements.
Theological dialogue, joint working groups on doctrinal and ethical
issues and programs of joint action undertaken by some Reformed
Churches together with the Roman Catholic Church in recent years
- all these reflect this new climate, witness to a new and more
positive evaluation of the Roman Catholic Church as an ecumenical
partner, and hold out hope of further increase in mutual understanding
in the future.
32. This is not to say that all problems between Reformed and
Roman Catholic Churches have already been resolved; it is to say
that a search for solutions is under way, and being undertaken
together by both sides. One question requiring further consideration
is whether our two traditions from their separation in the sixteenth
century onwards need still to be seen as mutually exclusive. Or
can they not rather be seen as reconcilable? Can we not look upon
each other as partners in a search for full communion? In that
search we may be led to discover complementary aspects in our
two traditions, to combine appreciation for the questions and
insights of the Reformers with recognition that the Reformed can
also learn from the Roman Catholic Church, and to realize that
Reformed and Roman Catholics need each other in their attempt
to be more faithful to the Gospel. Those who have begun to think
in this way are attempting to reconcile their heritage as heirs
of the Reformation with their experience of fellowship with and
learning from their sisters and brothers in the Roman Catholic
Church. They are asking: Can our common faith set the questions
which have divided and in part still divide us in a wider horizon
Roman Catholic Perspective
Ecclesiological and Reforming Concerns of Roman Catholics at the
Time of the Reformation
was the condition of the Western Church on the eve of the Reformation?
Contemporaries found much to criticize. So have subsequent historians.
Indeed, one of the most striking characteristics of the age was
the vehemence of its rhetoric against certain abuses. Efforts
were of course being made to change things for the better. Reform
within the Catholic Church was undertaken in an urgent and more
systematic way, however, only after the Council of Trent (1545-63)
began to address it. But by that time the Protestant Reformation
was already well established and underway.
denounced at that time were the venality and political and military
involvements of some of the Popes and members of the Curia; the
absence of bishops from their dioceses, their often ostentatious
wealth and neglect of pastoral duties; the ignorance of many of
the lower clergy; the often scandalous lives of clergy including
bishops and certain popes, the disedifying rivalry among the religious
orders; pastoral malpractice through misleading teaching about
the efficacy of certain rites and rituals; the irrelevance and
aridity of theological speculation in the universities and the
presence of these same defects in the pulpit; the lack of any
organized catechesis for the laity; a popular piety based to a
large extent on superstitious practices. Judgement on the Church
just before the Reformation has, therefore, been severe - and
at reform remained sporadic, uncoordinated or confined to restricted
segments of society. Among these efforts was the Observantist
movement in the mendicant orders, which sought to restore the
simplicity of their original inspiration. Furthermore a reform
of the diocesan clergy in Spain was well under way by 1517. The
Humanist movement encouraged a reform of theology and ministry
that would depend more directly on biblical texts; it advocated
a reform of education for both clergy and laity, and proposed
an ideal of piety that insisted upon greater interiority and simplicity
in religious practice. In the early stages of the Reformation
the urgency of the situation was reflected also in the attempts
of Pope Adrian VI (1522-23) to implement reform in the Curia and
elsewhere. The very vehemence with which abuses were denounced
in some sectors of Church and society indicates, moreover, a deepened
religious sensitivity. In such a perspective the great leader
of both the Reformation and the Catholic Reform must be seen as
products of the concerns of the age into which they were born
and, to that extent, in continuity with those concerns and, indeed,
with each other.
then, can we explain the resistance met by the proposals of reformers
like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin? It is at this point that their
discontinuity with previous efforts at reform emerges. While those
earlier efforts concentrated on discipline, education, pastoral
practice and similar matters, Luther addressed himself first and
foremost to doctrine, as later did Zwingli and Calvin. Many people,
and not only theologians, were taken by surprise and were unwilling
to accept this sudden shift to reform of doctrine and especially
Luther's emphasis on the doctrine of justification. They were
shocked by the implication that the Church had for centuries been
in error about the true meaning of the Gospel. Moreover, Luther's
case was soon embroiled in a thicket of personal and theological
rivalries and of imperial-papal politics, so that fair procedures
and the serenity required for docility to the Spirit were tragically
and almost irretrievably compromised at the opening moment. At
practically that same moment a vituperative rhetoric from both
sides began to dominate theological exchanges.
37. In such an atmosphere the demands and proposals of the Reformers
were often also misunderstood by Catholics, and then just as often
distorted into caricatures. Direct access to their writings was
at best piecemeal, at worst thought unnecessary. This meant that
almost without exception the centrality and dramatically evangelical
nature of the issue of justification for the Reformers was not
grasped. Very few Catholics really understood that for the Reformers
what was at stake was not simply this or that doctrine, practice
or institution, but the very Gospel itself. Thus, for Catholics
"reform" continued to be conceived in pre-Reformation
terms as addressing disciplinary and pastoral issues in their
established form. They understood their engagement with the Reformation
as refuting its "doctrinal errors."
38. In Catholic
circles attention turned more or less immediately to ecclesiological
issues. Up to the time of the Reformation, reflection on the Church
had fallen into two main categories. The first consisted of polemical
and apologetical works dealing with church order that arose out
of conflicts between popes and either bishops or secular leaders.
The argumentation was juridical and political. These works which
provided a ready-made, though theologically and biblically inadequate,
defence of certain church institutions, were then utilized against
39. The second
consisted of assumptions that were more properly theological in
nature, but that had become embedded in writings and practice
in a much less systematic way. These assumptions were, however,
broadly operative in the minds of many persons and they must be
taken into account if we are to understand Catholic resistance
to the Reformation. Some of these assumptions and the conclusions
drawn from them were as follows:
Christ founded the Church, establishing it on the Apostles
who are the basis of the episcopal order of ministry and authority
in the Church. In this order the bishop of Rome had more than
primacy of honor, though the precise nature, extent and function
of this primacy was much debated.
Therefore the proposals of the Reformers concerning church order
appeared to be an attack on the apostolic foundation of the Church.
Christ promised unity for the Church. Consensus in doctrine,
extending through the ages, was a hallmark of the Spirit's work
and a sign of Christ's unfailing presence in the Church.
Therefore the turmoil accompanying the Reformation and the conflict
among some of the
Reformers themselves were taken as proof positive that the Spirit
of God was not at work among them.
Although the Church lived under Scripture, the Church was
chronologically prior to the writings of. the New Testament and
had recognized since earliest times that it itself as a community,
especially when assembled in Council, was the authoritative interpreter
of the divine Word.
In contrast, the Reformers seemed to arrogate to themselves the
right to interpret Scripture in a way at variance with the continuing
tradition of the community, and they did not seem to provide any
warrant for their interpretation that was necessarily grounded
in the community.
Bishops held primary responsibility for church polity.
In contrast, Luther, Zwingli and the English reformers appeared
to deliver the Church into the hands of secular princes and magistrates,
thus threatening to reduce the Church to a mere instrument of
The Council of Trent and the Roman Catholic Reform
only a few years after the beginning of the Reformation, the seriousness
of the crisis had become apparent to many. Less apparent were
the means to address it effectively. Particularly from Germany,
however, there soon came the cry for a council. Pope Paul III
convoked the Council of Trent in December 1945. By that time -
a full generation after Luther's 95 Theses - positions had become
so hardened and embittered that reconciliation was, humanly speaking,
impossible. Responsibility for the long delay in convocation must
be ascribed in part to the complex political situation and to
the ambivalent or obstructionist attitudes of some Protestant
leaders, but lies principally with the fearful, vacillating and
self-serving policies of Pope Clement VII (1523-34). By the time
Trent began its work Zwingli had died (1531), Luther had less
than a year to live, and other Reformers (such as Calvin) were
already utterly convinced that Rome was unwilling to undertake
the profound reform they wanted.
41. The Council
of Trent was destined to last, with long periods of interruption,
over eighteen years, finally concluding in December 1563. Attempts
to have Protestants participate failed for a number of reasons,
with the result that membership in the council was restricted
to Catholics. This fact indicated that the religious divisions
were already deep and widespread. In a situation like this, the
course of the council almost perforce helped confirm and sharpen
the divisions, just as the various Protestant Confessions of Faith
had done and would continue to do.
addressed both doctrinal and disciplinary issues. Among its doctrinal
decrees, the most fully discussed and the most earnestly researched
was the Decree on Justification, approved in 1547. The complaint
of Luther and others that the Church in its actual practice taught
a Pelagian doctrine of justification was taken by the principal
authors of the Decree with utmost seriousness. Every effort was
made to avoid formulations that would fall into that heresy, yet
considerable care was also exercised to insist on some measure
of human responsibility, under grace, in the process of salvation.
In its other doctrinal decrees, Trent gave an extraordinary amount
of attention to the sacraments because they were perceived as
falling under special attack.
43. The Council
of Trent was animated by the conviction that it had the special
guidance of the Spirit, and it considered itself to be the special
vehicle of the continuing action of Christ in the Church. Trent's
explicit emphasis on the continuity of the Church in practice,
doctrine and structure with the Apostolic Age was more pronounced
than in any previous council. This emphasis prevented serious
consideration of most of the changes the Reformers found to be
required by their reading of the New Testament. At the council
a certain reciprocity of Word and Church was taken for granted
as given and witnessed in both the early and contemporary Church.
The Council, unlike the Reformers, ascribed apostolic authority
to certain traditions," although it refrained from providing
a list of them.
was notably concerned not to condemn any doctrinal position held
by "Catholic theologians," and, although it never mentioned
a single Reformer by name, it condemned what it thought were Protestant
errors. Its decrees must, therefore, be interpreted with great
caution. For several reasons, including the wide range of opinions
in the Council, Trent made practically no direct and explicit
pronouncements about the ecclesiological disputes then raging.
However, the very fact that the Council took place was itself
an expression of the self-understanding of. the Church.
45. In its
decrees "concerning reform," Trent articulated its presumptions
in generally juridical terms. It meant these decrees, however,
to serve better ministerial practice and more effective care of
souls. In reaffirming traditional structures, Trent at the same
time undertook a certain redefinition of some of them. Perhaps
the most sweeping, though implicit, ecclesiological redefinition
in the Council and during that era was that the Church was primarily
a pastoral institution. Trent sought especially to direct bishops
to a properly pastoral appreciation of their office. It assigned
to them the preaching of the Word as their principal task, an
assignment taken with the utmost seriousness by many post-Tridentine
bishops, following the example set by Charles Borromeo and others.
Trent had given the greatest importance to the responsibility
of bishops to proclaim the Word of God (cf. Sessio XXIV, 11 Nov.
1563, can IV de Reformatione; COD (1973) p. 763), the doctrine
of the sacrament of Order, promulgated a few months sooner in
the same year, did not provide any place for the ministry of the
Word, so much was the Council worried about defending the doctrine
of sacraments (Sessio XXIII, 15 July 1563, De Ordine, COD (1973),
pp. 742 ss.). This fact masks what was actually happening in Catholicism
at the time and for several centuries thereafter. In fact, the
ministry of the Word was vigorously pursued, not so much because
of the criticism of the Reformers as because in this regard the
same reforming ideals impelled both Protestants and Catholics,
even though much Catholic preaching may not have been biblical
in a sense that the Reformed could recognize.
development in the ministry of the Word illustrates the fact that
Catholic Reform in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was
much broader than the Council of Trent and cannot be simply equated
with it. That Reform promoted, among many other things, a great
flowering of spiritualities and cultivation of religious experience,
a vast program of catechesis, extensive systems of schools for
laity and clergy, as well as other new forms of ministry and evangelization.
Impressive though the Reform was in so many ways, however, it
was not without its failures and false steps. For in stance: many
earlier abuses like the nepotistic practices of the papal court
and the seignorial style of the episcopacy seemed little affected
for the better; life various inquisitions had terribly deleterious
effects resulting from repressive measures that included confiscation
of goods, banishments and executions. The reading of the Bible
in the vernacular, although not always forbidden to laity (contrary
to that which is often asserted), was subject nevertheless to
some extremely strict conditions which in practice discouraged
the laity. Those who were educated were able to read in Latin,
as did the clergy, but those who would read it in the vernacular
were often considered suspect. Moreover, the doctrinal and disciplinary
decrees of Trent itself often came to be interpreted with a rigor
and a partisanship the council did not intend.
From Trent to the Present
partisanship was manifested in various ways, not the least of
which was the manner of stressing divergent understandings of
the Church. For example, when Roman Catholic apologists focused
on the notes of the Church one, holy, catholic and apostolic
Catholic positions were presented in ways intended to refute
the ecclesiological claims of their Protestant contemporaries
as well as to convey what Roman Catholics believed about the Church.
Thus, in contrast to the diversity of Protestant movements, Roman
Catholics were united in one, visible Church under the pope; where
the Reformers championed justification by faith alone, Roman Catholics
maintained also the role of good works in sanctification (in being
made holy) and insisted on the grace conveyed by a worthy reception
of the Sacraments; where the newly formed Protestant churches
had broken with the apostolic succession of the universal Church,
the Roman Catholic Church had retained the threefold apostolic
ministry of episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate; where the
Reformers relied on their individual interpretation of Scripture,
Roman Catholics claimed to preserve the entirety of catholic doctrine
transmitted from Christ through the ages.
one-sided argumentation (which has generally been abandoned by
Roman Catholic theologians since Vatican II) was apologetically
successful - if not in convincing Protestants - at least in assuring
Roman Catholics that theirs was the one and only true Church of
Jesus Christ. Moreover, post-Tridentine apologetics capitalized
on the divisiveness within Protestantism in contrast to the organic
unity of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, Post-Tridentine
Catholicism became ever more juridical in its approach to a wide
range of issues and ecclesiology increasingly institution oriented
and papally centered.
"pyramidal" ecclesiology, which emerged in the context
of rising nationalism, received considerable reinforcement in
the nineteenth century when both the spiritual prerogatives and
the political power of papacy were subject to repeated attacks.
Many ecclesiologists hastened to defend both the spiritual independence
and the doctrinal authority of the popes. Simultaneously, on the
popular level, the pope was considered the symbol of Roman Catholic
unity, his slightest command a matter of unquestioning obedience.
In the eyes of many, both within and outside the Roman Catholic
Church, papal centrism appeared to have been absolutized by the
First Vatican Council's teaching on the "Primacy and Infallible
Teaching Authority of the Roman Pontiff." Due to the adjournment
of the Council shortly after this definition, Vatican I did not
have sufficient opportunity to take up the broader ecclesiological
issues in the schema De Ecclesia that was proposed for consideration,
but never adopted.
51. In fact,
the teaching of the First Vatican Council in this regard is much
more nuanced than either its ultramontane proponents or its anti-papal
opponents seem to have realized. For example, Vatican I did not
teach that "the pope is infallible" - as is popularly
imagined. Rather it taught that the pope can, under carefully
specified and limited circumstances, officially exercise the infallibility
divinely given to the Church as a whole, in order to decide questions
of faith and morals for the Universal Church.
already then at work have had profound effects on the Catholic
Church in the twentieth century, influencing ecclesiology as well.
Renewal movements relating to biblical studies, liturgy, theology,
pastoral concerns, ecumenism, and other factors, paved the way
for the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Influenced also by
the ecumenical movement, this Council's rich presentation of the
Church in Lumen Gentium differed significantly from apologetical
approaches to the past. Concentrating not just on institutional
aspects, but on basic biblical and patristic insights on the Church,
Lumen Gentium re-emphasized, among other themes, the notion of
the Church as the People of God and as a communion. All members
of the People of God, it said, participate, even if in different
ways, in the life of Christ and in his role as prophet, priest
and king (LG 9-13). The Council described the dimensions of collegiality
in which the bishops of the whole world live in communion with
one another and with the pope, the head of the episcopal college.
While reiterating again the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, the
Council made clear that the bishops also "exercise their
own proper authority for the good of their faithful, indeed even
for the good of the whole Church" (LG 22). In focusing on
an ecclesiology of communion, the Council was also able to give
fresh insights on relations already existing, despite separations,
with Christians of other churches and ecclesial communities -
a real, though imperfect communion that exists because of baptism
(Unitatis Redintegratio, 22).
53. As already
seen, Catholics agree that there was need for reform in the Church
in the sixteenth century, and acknowledge the fact that Church
authorities did not undertake the reform which might have prevented
the tragic divisions that took place. At the same time the Roman
Catholic Church has never agreed with some of the steps taken
by the Reformers relating to their separation from the Roman Catholic
Communion, nor with certain theological positions that developed
in Reformed communities, and seeks dialogue with the Reformed
on those issues. The various ways in which reform. and renewal
have taken place within the Catholic Church since the sixteenth
century illustrate resources that existed for bringing renewal
from within. Thus while the Council of Trent came too late to
avoid divisions, it clarified Catholic doctrine and introduced
reforms which have had lasting effects in the Church. The birth
of new religious orders from the sixteenth century to the twentieth,
and the renewal of older religious orders, gave fresh impulses
to missionary activity. From the sixteenth century, evangelization
has increased. Catholic missionaries, sometimes at the cost of
their lives, brought the Gospel to lands where it had never been
heard before. In traditionally Christian countries, other groups
emphasized apostolates of service to the poor and of education
of the young, or the renewal of contemplative life. Movements
of lay spirituality and Catholic action have flourished, especially
in the twentieth century, along with movements for liturgical,
biblical and pastoral renewal. Such developments and many others
paved the way for the significant reform and renewal brought about
in the Catholic Church through the Second Vatican Council which
continues to be implemented in the Church today.
Contemporary Roman Catholic Attitudes toward the Reformed Churches
54. The ecumenical
experience of Roman Catholics also gradually increased, sometimes
intentionally through such efforts as the week of prayer for Christian
Unity, and sometimes circumstantially as in the experiences of
World War II, when Christians from different churches suffered
and died together as prisoners and refugees. While such shared
experiences helped to develop the ecumenical climate in which
Vatican II met, even the most prophetic could not have predicted
that the Council would provide what turned out to be a pervasive
reorientation in Roman Catholic liturgy and life, theology and
to Vatican II, the attitude of most Roman Catholics towards Protestants
in general, and members of Reformed Churches in particular, was
negative, though the degree of negativity ranged from overt hostility
in some places to guarded acceptance in others. Friendship between
members of the two traditions tended to be based on family, business,
and social relationships, in which religious differences were
frequently left undiscussed. Genuine theological dialogue, though
not unknown, was comparatively rare; more common were polemical
exchanges in which Roman Catholics criticized and sometimes caricatured
the history, doctrine and worship of their Protestant "adversaries"
Catholic negativity towards the Reformed churches had a number
of intertwined bases. On the ecclesiastical level, the most obvious
focus of contention was the Reformed rejection of the episcopacy
and the papacy that was also sometimes expressed in terms that
Roman Catholics found extremely offensive. Another cause of opposition
was the fact that the Reformed principle of sola scriptura resulted
in a repudiation of many Roman Catholic teachings and practices,
such as the sacrifice of the Mass, Marian devotions, and the earning
religious differences were further intensified by social, economic,
and political disparities. In areas where Roman Catholics were
a minority, they frequently felt themselves oppressed by members
of the "Protestant Establishment." The separate and
frequently antagonistic development of the Reformed and Roman
Catholic communities tended to perpetuate stereotypes and, in
some cases, still continues to impede dialogue even today.
there were some instances of ecumenical dialogue between Reformed
and Roman Catholic theologians prior to the Second Vatican Council,
it was the Council that provided the significant breakthrough
for overcoming the long-standing antagonism in Reformed-Roman
Catholic relationships. While the Council primarily aimed at achieving
an aggiornamento within the Roman Catholic Church, the presence
of observers from other Christian communions, including Reformed
Churches, was a constant reminder that ecclesial reform and renewal
are not only internal concerns, but have ecumenical implications
59. In particular,
Unitatis Redintegratio noted that the churches and communities
coming from the Reformation "are bound to the Catholic Church
by an especially close relationship as a result of the long span
of earlier centuries when Christian people lived together in ecclesiastical
communion" (19). It recognized that the Spirit of Christ
has not refrained from using them as a means of salvation (3).
The Council encouraged Catholics to work for the reunion of all
Christians through ecumenical dialogue, a disavowal of prejudices,
and co-operation on projects of mutual concern. Instead of repeating
the polemical accusations that charged Protestant Christians with
the sin of separation, the Council acknowledged them as "separated
brethren" (fratres seiuncti), justified by their faith through
baptism, who reverence the written Word of God, share in the life
of grace, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, celebrate Christ's
death and resurrection when they gather for the Lord's Supper,
and witness to Christ through the moral uprightness of their lives,
through their works of charity, and their efforts for justice
and peace in the world.
the years since Vatican II, this process of reconciliation has
been carried on in. different ways and at various levels - local,
national, regional, international. For example, Reformed and Roman
Catholics have prayed together, have been involved in theological
dialogue at various levels; they have joined in producing bible
translations; they have collaborated on a variety of projects
of social concern, economic justice and political witness. At
the international level, the efforts of the dialogue co-sponsored
by the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and the
World Alliance of Reformed Churches were recognized by Pope John
Paul II in a letter to Dr. James McCord, President of the World
Alliance of Reformed Churches, on the occasion of its General
Council in Ottawa, in July, 1982:
upon which we have embarked together is without return, we can
only move forward, that is why we strive to manifest unity more
perfectly and more visibly, just as God wants it for all those
who believe in him. (Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity,
Information Service, 51 (1983) p. 30).
61. In the
scholarly world, these efforts at reconciliation have been accompanied
by new interpretations of Reformation history and theology. For
example, Roman Catholic theologians today generally acknowledge
that many of the issues raised by the Reformers urgently needed
to be faced and resolved. Similarly, Roman Catholic historians,
while not agreeing with all aspects of their thought, have become
more sympathetic to Zwingli and to Calvin, no longer seeing them
chiefly as rebels against ecclesial authority, but as reformers
who felt obliged by their understanding of the Gospel to continue
their efforts to reform the Church at all costs. The "zeal
that animated these two outstanding religious personalities of
Swiss history" was favorably noted by Pope John Paul II on
the occasion of his pastoral visit to the Catholic Church of Switzerland
of the thought and ethical convictions particular to each of these
two men continues to be forcefully and dynamically present in
various parts of Christianity. On the one hand, we cannot forget
that the work of their reform remains a permanent challenge among
us and makes our ecclesiastical division always present; but on
the other hand, no one can deny that elements of the theology
and spirituality of each of them maintain deep ties between us.
(Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service
55 (1984) p. 47).
62. As mentioned
at the beginning of this chapter, these reviews of our respective
histories, even when sketched so briefly, have shown us "whence
we have come," so that we can better understand where we
are - so that we can better understand what yet needs to be done
in reassessing our past. We see more clearly how our respective
self-understandings have been so largely formed by confessional
historiographies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These
differing self-interpretations have, in turn, fostered the establishment
of whole sets of different values, symbols, assumptions and institutions
- in a word, different religious and ecclesial cultures. The result
is that today, as in the past, the same words, even the same biblical
expressions, are sometimes received and understood by us in quite
63. The very
recognition that this is the case marks important progress in
our attempt to rid our memories of significant resentments and
misconceptions. We need to set ourselves more diligently, however,
to the task of reconciling these memories, by writing together
the story of what happened in the sixteenth century, with attention
not only to the clash of convictions over doctrine and church
order, but with attention also as to how in the aftermath our
two churches articulated their respective understandings into
institutions, culture and the daily lives of believers. But, above
all, for the ways in which our divisions have caused a scandal,
and been an obstacle to the preaching of the Gospel, we need to
ask forgiveness of Christ and of each other.
Common Confession of Faith
Our Lord Jesus Christ:
The Only Mediator Between God And Humankind
64. Before moving on to matters which are still points of disagreement
and divergence between our churches, we as a Dialogue Commission
propose to confess together our faith in Christ. We give this
affirmation of faith the title "confession" even though
it is neither a confession in the ecclesial sense nor a complete
statement of faith. We do so because we are convinced that the
importance of what we are able to say together merits such a title.
65. We make this confession of faith, wishing to manifest publicly
our desire to re-examine the reasons which brought about our separation
in the past and to assess whether or not they are still of such
a nature as to justify our division. Jesus Christ, in whose name
our forbears separated themselves from one another, is also the
one who unites us in a community of forgiveness and of kinship.
We wish to voice our conviction that what unites us as Christians
is more important, more essential, than that which separates us
as Roman Catholics and Reformed. Even if full communion is not
yet granted us, we cannot define our relations to each other simply
in terms of separation and division.
66. We make
this confession, moreover, mindful of this world of ours, so as
to give common witness before it. With respect for all who seek
God, however God is named for them, or even if for them God cannot
as yet be named, we wish to speak the Good News of salvation brought
in Jesus Christ by God seeking out humankind. In that Good News
we Christians already find our reconciliation and the strength
to work for the fuller reconciliation of all with God and with
confession involves on our part the recognition of the authority
of the Scriptures, as these have been identified by the early
church, to whose teaching we desire to remain obedient. We recall
what was said on this subject in the report of the first phase
of our dialogue (The Presence of Christ in Church and World, 25-33).
In the same way we recognize together in the teaching of the ancient
Church, the force of a norma norrnata, i.e., an authority which
is subject to the authority of the Scripture, and we desire to
maintain that teaching in its purity. The teaching of the Church
ought to be an authentic explanation of the Trinitarian and christological
affirmations of the early confessions of faith and the early councils
(cf. on this subject, PCCW, 34-38).
Christ, Mediator and Reconciler
all humankind, our sisters and brothers, we announce the death
of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 11:26) and proclaim his resurrection from
the dead (cf. Rom 10:9; Acts 2:32; 3:15). In that mystery of death
and resurrection we confess the event which saves humanity, that
is, liberates it from the distress in which it is imprisoned by
sin and establishes it in communion of life with God. That event
reveals who God is, who we are and who Christ is as mediator between
God and humankind.
69. a) God
is the One who "chose us (in Christ) before the foundation
of the world... He destined us in love to be his sons through
Jesus Christ" (Eph 1:4-5)2, a God of tenderness and mercy,
who wills not the death of the sinner, but rather that the sinner
should be converted and live. God is the One who has loved us
unto death: indeed, in the person of Jesus Christ, God himself
died on the Cross for, "in Christ, God was reconciling the
world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19). But this was not the "death
of God" proclaimed in recent times: it was the death of the
Just One fallen into the hands of evil persons, and faithful to
his mission to the end. Jesus died a death which is a victory
over the death which touches all. God's omnipotence is revealed
in the deepest weakness of human nature, assumed in solidarity
with us. If the death of Jesus is the work of sinners, God from
all eternity has made it one with the design of salvation, accomplishing
that life giving work by raising Jesus from the dead. Placed at
the heart of human violence, Jesus by his love has transformed
the work of death into the work of life.
b) The death
and resurrection of Jesus also reveal to us who we are: not merely
creatures who are object of God's benevolence, but also human
beings capable of sin, historically imprisoned in the bonds of
a sin which is our curse. From the beginning we hid ourselves
from God, and this is why God is hidden from us. It is not that
God is distant and inaccessible, but that we reject the God who
is too near and too explicit. This awareness of alienation and
exile in the midst of faith we call sin. We recognize that there
is a betrayal of God's trust in us and that God's heart is saddened
by our separation. From this condition we cannot free ourselves
by our own strength. This is why the need and expectation of a
mediator are central to the Old Covenant, where the law, sacrifices,
prophecies, wisdom are ways of mediating between a living God
and a humanity subject to sin and death. But none of these paths
fully reach the goal. Because of sin, the law intended for life
judges, condemns and leads to death. Substitute sacrifices are
endlessly repeated. Prophecies lag, bide their time, fall silent.
Wisdom remains an ideal. In Jesus, the unique mediator, in his
death and resurrection, we are radically freed from this situation:
the way of true life is opened to us anew.
c) The death
and resurrection of Jesus finally reveal who Jesus himself is,
the one mediator between God and humanity, that is, the One who
comes to reconcile us with God. This is why we accept together
the confession of faith of the New Testament. " For there
is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the
man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1
Tim 2:56). We confess that "there is no other name under
heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
and reconciliation have been embodied and located, named and personified
in Jesus of Nazareth - whence it was thought at that time nothing
good could come, condemned and executed at Jerusalem - which God
has since David's time identified as the place of God's peace,
resurrected by the power of God and placed at God's right hand.
This is the news, still surprising and overwhelming, which constitutes
the Gospel; of this the Church is the beneficiary and the herald.
71. We therefore
confess together that Christ, established as Mediator, achieves
our reconciliation in all its dimensions: God reconciling humanity,
human beings reconciled with each other; and humanity reconciled
the one hand, indeed, in and through Jesus Christ we have reconciliation
with God. For "every good endowment and every perfect gift
is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas
1:17). For "all this is from God, who through Christ reconciled
us to himself." (2 Cor 5:18); "In him we have redemption
through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses"(Eph
the other hand, in and through Jesus Christ, we have reconciliation
among ourselves, "For he is our peace, who has made us both
one." In his flesh he "has broken down the dividing
wall of hostility... that he might create in himself one new man
in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both
to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility
to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far
off and peace to those who were near" (Eph 2:14-17). The
vertical and horizontal dimensions of reconciliation are interdependent:
just as hostility is the consequence and sign of separation from
God, so reconciliation in peace among human beings is the fruit
and sign of reconciliation with God. From Christ we receive the
gift of reconciliation which aims to extend to all. To this we
witness together in faith.
thanks to Jesus Christ, Jews and Gentiles "both have access
in one Spirit to the Father" (Eph 2:18). In and through Christ
we can offer ourselves "as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable
to God, which is ... spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1). For he
"gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice
to God" (Eph 5:2). Jesus, the Christ, marks the end of condemnation
by the law, because he is "...our righteousness and sanctification
and redemption" (1 Cor 1:30); he marks the end of the sacrifices
of the law because "he entered once for all into the holy
place, taking... his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption"
(Heb 9:12); Christ marks the end of waiting on prophecies because
he fulfils all that was written of him "...in the Law of
Moses, and the prophets and the psalms" (cf. Lk 24:44); Christ
marks the end of the anonymity of wisdom, for he himself is the
"wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24).
72. We confess
together that just as God is unique, the Mediator and Reconciler
between God and humankind is unique and that the fullness of reconciliation
is entire and perfect in him. Nothing and nobody could replace
or duplicate, complete or in any way add to the unique mediation
accomplished "once for all" (Heb 9:12) by Christ, "mediator
of a new covenant "(Heb 9:15; cf. 8:6 and 12:24). This mediation
is still present and active in the person of the risen Christ
who "is able for all time to save those who draw near to
God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for
them" (Heb 7:25).
The Work of Christ Reveals That He is the Son Within the Trinity
73. In his
life and in his death Jesus is revealed as the Son par excellence
of God, the One who alone knows the Father and whom the Father
alone knows (cf. Mt 11:27), who can address himself to God saying
"Abba, Father" (Mk 14:36). Thus in the light of Jesus'
resurrection and exaltation Christians have confessed that he
has been made Christ and Lord (cf. Acts 2:36) and that he is the
one to whom are applied the words of the Psalm: "Thou art
my Son, today I have begotten thee"(Acts 13:33; cf. Heb 1:5).
He is, then, this One whom God has sent us (cf. Gal 4:4); he who
"though he was in the form of God, did not count equality
with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the
form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being
found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto
death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:6-8). This is why with
the Church of every age, we confess Jesus Christ as at once true
God and true human being, at once one with God and joined in solidarity
with humankind, not an intermediary between God and humanity but
a genuine Mediator, able to bring together God and humanity in
immediate communion. His reconciling mediation opens up for us
a vision of his mediation in creation: he is "the first-born
of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven
and on earth... all things were created through him and for him"
(Col 1:15-16). He is the Word and "all things were made through
him" (Jn 1:3). The mediation of Christ has thus a cosmic
universality: it is directed towards the transformation of our
world in God.
the work of Jesus, the Son, reveals to us the role of the Spirit
of God who is common to him and to the Father: it reveals to us
that God is Triune.
75. The Holy
Spirit is present and active throughout the history of salvation.
In the life of Jesus the Spirit intervenes at all the decisive
moments: Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35;
Mt 1:20); the Spirit descended on him at his baptism (Lk 3:22);
he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:1); he accomplished his
ministry with the power of the Spirit (Lk 4:14). He proclaimed
that the prophecy of the book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the
Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me" (61:1)
was fulfilled in him (Lk 4:17-21). He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit
(Lk 10,21). No one had ever possessed the Spirit as lie did, "not
by measure" (Jn 3:34). Still more, it is he who promises
to send the Spirit (Jn 14:26; 16:7) and invokes the Spirit on
his own disciples after the resurrection (Jn 20:22), because his
death had been an act of "giving up" the Spirit to God
and at the same time an act of "transmission of the Spirit"
(Jn 19:30). In turn God raises him up and gives him the Spirit,
so that he might spread the Spirit among us (cf. Acts 2:32-33).
By the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit
becomes the common gift of the Father and the Son to humanity.
as the Spirit came upon Jesus at the moment of his baptism, so
the Spirit descends upon the disciples gathered in the upper room
(Acts 2:1-12) and on the Gentiles who listen to the word (Acts
10:44-48). These three closely linked "Pentecosts" belong
to the foundation of the Church and make it the "Temple of
the Spirit." Thus the design pursued from the beginning by
God the Creator and Savior - to bring into being a people - is
Justification By Grace, Through Faith
we believe in Christ, the one Mediator between God and humankind,
we believe that we are justified by the grace which comes from
him, by means of faith which is a living and life-giving faith.
We recognize that our justification is a totally gratuitous work
accomplished by God in Christ. We confess that the acceptance
in faith of justification is itself a gift of grace. By the grace
of faith we recognize in Jesus of Nazareth, established Christ
and Lord by his resurrection, the one who saves us and brings
us into communion of life with God. To rely for salvation on anything
other than faith, would be to diminish the fullness accomplished
and offered in Jesus Christ. Rather than completing the Gospel,
it would weaken it.
78. To speak in this way of our justification and reconciliation
with God is to say that faith is above all a reception (Rom 5:1-2):
it is received and in turn it gives thanks for grace. The raising
to life, by God alone, of Jesus Christ, put to death by all, is
the eschatological event which defines faith as reception of a
gift of God, not as any human work (Eph 2:8-10). We receive from
Christ our justification, that is our pardon, our liberation,
our life with God. By faith, we are liberated from our presumption
that we can somehow save ourselves; by faith, we are comforted
in spite of our terror of losing ourselves. We are set at liberty
to open ourselves to the sanctification which bod wills for us.
79. The person
justified by the free gift of faith, i.e. by a faith embraced
with a freedom restored to its fullness, can henceforth live according
to righteousness. The person who has received grace is called
to bear fruits worthy of that grace. Justification makes him or
her an "heir of God, co-heir with Christ" (Rom 8:17).
The one who has freely received is committed to gratitude and
service. This is not a new form of bondage but a new way forward.
And so, justification by faith brings with it the gift of sanctification,
which can grow continuously as it creates life, justice and liberty.
Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and humankind, is also
the unique way which leads toward pleasing God. Faith receives
freely and bears testimony actively, as it works itself out through
love (Gal 5:6).
2.3. The Calling of the Church: its Role in Justification
by Grace through Fath
we confess the Church, for there is no justification in isolation.
All justification takes place in the community of believers, or
is ordered toward the gathering of such a community. Fundamental
for us all is the presence of Christ in the Church, considered
simultaneously as both a reality of grace and a concrete community
in time and space. Christ himself acts in the Church in the proclamation
of the Word, in the celebration of the sacraments, in prayer and
in intercession for. the world. This presence and this action
are enabled and empowered by the Spirit, by whom Christ calls
to unite human beings to himself, to express his reality through
them, to associate them in the mystery of his self-offering for
81. The Church's
calling is set within the triune God's eternal plan of salvation
for humankind. In this sense, the Church is already present at
creation (Col 1:15-18). It is present in the history of humankind:
"the Church from Abel," as it was called in the ancient
Church. It is also present at the Covenant declared to Abraham,
from which the chosen people would come. Even more, the Church
is present at the establishment of the People of the covenant.
Through the law and the prophets, God calls this people and prepares
them for a communion which will be accomplished at the sending
of Emmanuel, "God with us" (cf. Mt 1:23). The novelty
introduced by the incarnation of the Word does not call into question
the continuity of the history of salvation. Nor does it call into
question the significance of the interventions of that same Word
and Spirit in the course of the Old Testament revelation. For
God has not rejected this people (Rom 11:1). The continued existence
of the chosen people is an integral part of the history of salvation.
82. Nevertheless we believe that the coming of Christ, the Word
incarnate, brings with it a radical change in the situation of
the world in the sight of God. Henceforth the divine gift which
God has made in Jesus Christ is irreversible and definitive. On
God's side, salvation is accomplished and is offered to all. The
presence of God has become inward among believers (Jer 31:33;
Ezek 36:26) in a new fashion, by the Holy Spirit which conforms
them to the image of Jesus Christ. At the same time, God's presence
becomes universal; it is not limited to one people but is offered
to all humanity called to be gathered together by Christ in the
is why we believe that the people of God gathered together by
the death and resurrection of Christ does not live solely by the
promise. Henceforth it lives also by the gift already received
through the mystery of the event of Jesus, Christ and Lord, who
has sent his Spirit. We therefore confess Jesus Christ as the
foundation of the Church (1 Cor 3:11).
84. The inauguration
of the Church takes place in time and in stages related to the
unfolding of the Christ-event. These stages, closely related as
they are, are three in number:
is, first, the missionary activity of Jesus "in the days
of his flesh" (Heb 5:7): his preaching of the Kingdom, which
presupposes the promises of the Old Testament, and his mighty
works; the invitation to believe in him and the call to conversion
addressed to all; the gathering of the disciples, men and women
(Lk 8:1-3) and the appointment of the group of Twelve (Mk 3:13-19);
the change of Simon's name to Peter (Mt 16:18) and the role which
is assigned to him in the circle of the disciples (Lk 22:31-32).
b) The second
stage is Jesus' celebration of the Last Supper with these same
disciples as a memorial (Lk 22:14-20) of the giving of his life
for all; his death on the Cross, by which he accomplished the
salvation of all (Jn 12:32); the resurrection of Jesus, which
gathers the scattered community of the disciples. The risen Christ
for forty days leads his followers into a more profound faith
(Acts 1:2-3); in leaving them he gives them the command to baptize
(Mt 28:18), to preach repentance and forgiveness, and to bear
witness to him (Lk 24:47-48).
c) The third
stage is the sending of the Spirit upon the community of one hundred
and twenty gathered on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2/2-4). The
disciples are sent out to Israelites and to Gentiles, as is shown
by the gift of the Spirit to the Gentiles (Acts 10:44) which may
be called a "new Pentecost." Thus the Church is founded
once for all, fully constituted and equipped for its universal
vocation in the world and for its eschatological destiny. This
gift of the Spirit is the first fruits. The Spirit's work of renewal
and gathering will be fully achieved and manifested only when
Christ returns in glory.
85. The Church
is called into being as a community of men and women to share
in the salvific activity of Christ Jesus. He has reconciled them
to God, freed them from sin and redeemed them from evil. "They
are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which
is in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24).
86. The justification of Jesus' disciples, sinful individuals
freely justified by grace without any merit on their part, has
been one of the constitutive experiences of the Christian faith
since the foundation of the Church. Justification by grace through
faith is given us in the Church. This is not to say that the Church
exercises a mediation complementary to that of Christ, or that
it is clothed with a power independent of the gift of grace. The
Church is at once the place, the instrument, and the minister
chosen by God to make heard Christ's word and to celebrate the
sacraments in God's name throughout the centuries. When the Church
faithfully preaches the word of salvation and celebrates the sacraments,
obeying the command of the Lord and invoking the power of the
Spirit, it is sure of being heard, for it carries out in its ministry
the action of Christ himself.
87. The ministerial
and instrumental role of the Church in the proclamation of the
Gospel and in the celebration of the sacraments in no way infringes
the sovereign liberty God. If God chooses to act through the Church
for the salvation of believers, this does not restrict saving
grace to these means. The sovereign freedom of God can always
call anyone to salvation independently of such actions. But it
is true to say that God's call is always related to the Church,
in that God's call always has as its purpose the building up of
the Church which is the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:2728; Eph 1:22-23)
(cf. N. 101).
common confession of the Church, of its vocation and of its role
in justification by grace through faith, provides a positive context
for a study of some of the questions which still divide us in
our respective understandings of the relationship between Christ's
Gospel and the Church as a community existing in the world.
Church We Confess
And Our Divisions In History
89. The difficulties
which still separate our communions arise largely from our different
understandings of the relationship between that which we confess,
on the one hand, concerning the origin and the vocation of the
one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in God's plan of salvation
and, on the other hand, the forms of its historical existence.
Our two communions regard themselves as belonging to the Una Sancta,
but differ in their understanding of that belonging.
90. In addressing
this subject, we must move beyond comparative ecclesiology. Our
method requires us both to say what we can together and to recognize
without ambiguity that which cannot yet be the object of consensus.
implies a double challenge. There are, first, differences of perspective
such that we find in the position of the partner a complementary
point of view or a different accent on a single commonly held
truth. In opening ourselves to the partners critique we can learn
to express our own views in a more balanced way and perhaps find
a common frame of reference for understanding each other
92. Secondly, however, some of our positions seem simply to diverge.
They appear mutually incompatible or incommensurable. That leaves
us, for the present at least, with no choice but to agree to disagree,
while seeking clarity about the nature of our disagreements. We
find, among other things, that we disagree about what issues are
serious enough to be church-dividing. Questions which, from the
Roman Catholic side, are obstacles to full communion are not necessarily
so from the perspective of the Reformed, and vice-versa. This
does not dispense us from the responsibility of searching for
reconciliation across even the most apparently insurmountable
barriers. In the meantime we respect each other, and we are grateful
for the measure of community that is possible between us.
93. In this
Report we do not treat the whole range of ecclesiological issues.
We prefer to highlight three particular arenas of discussion because
of what is at stake in them and because of the light they can
cast on the way to a fuller consensus. We shall deal, first, with
two conceptions of the Church which, though different, we consider
potentially complimentary. We then deal with two areas of apparent
divergence or incompatibility: our views of continuity and discontinuity
in Church history, and of the Church's visibility and ministerial
Two Conceptions of the Church
94. We have
already affirmed the ministerial and instrumental role of the
Church in the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of
the sacraments (NN. 85-86). Word and sacrament alike are of the
very nature of the Church. They also provide us with two different
conceptions for understanding the Church and the way in which
it fulfils its ministerial and instrumental role, the first, more
"Reformed," the second, more "Roman Catholic."
The Church as "Creatura Verbi"
95. The Church
existing as a community in history has been understood and described
in the Reformed tradition as creatura verbi, as "the creation
of the Word." God is eternally Word as well as Spirit; by
God's Word and Spirit all things were created; reconciliation
and renewal are the work of the same God, by the same Word and
Word in history has taken a threefold form. Primarily it is the
Word made flesh: Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen.
Then it is the Word as spoken in God's history with God's people
and recorded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as
testimony to Jesus Christ. Third, it is the Word as heard and
proclaimed in the preaching, witness and action of the Church.
The third form depends upon and is bound to the second, through
which it has access to the first, the Word incarnate in Jesus
Christ. This is why the Reformed tradition has insisted so emphatically
that the preaching, teaching, and witness of the Church through
the centuries - the Church's dogma and tradition are always to
be subordinated to the testimony of the Bible, that Scripture
rather than Tradition is "the word of God written" and
"the only infallible rule of faith and practice." Scripture
is the control by which the Church's proclamation must be governed
if that proclamation is to witness authentically to God's Word
in Jesus Christ and to be "the Word proclaimed." For
the Word of God is one consistent word: The Word of judgement
and mercy, the Gospel of reconciliation, the announcing of the
Reign of God. It is a Word alive as Jesus Christ himself is alive:
it is a Word calling to be heard, answered and reechoed; it is
a Word claiming response, obedience and commitment as the Word
of grate which evokes and empowers authentic faith.
97. The Church
depends upon this word the Word incarnate, the Word written, the
at least three ways.
the Church is founded upon the Word of God
the Church is kept in being as the Church by the Word of
the Church continually depends upon the Word of God for
its inspiration, strength and renewal.
98. In each
of these aspects, the Word and Spirit of God work together, for
it is the power of the Spirit that enables the hearing of the
Word and the response of faith. The Word and Spirit of God together
establish, preserve and guide the community of the Church in and
through human history. The Church, like faith itself, is brought
into being by the hearing of God's Word in the power of God's
Spirit; it lives ex auditat, by hearing.
emphasis upon hearing the Word of God has been of central important
in Reformed theology since the 16th century. This is why the Reformed
have stressed "the true preaching of the Word" together
with "the right dispensing of the sacraments according to
the institution of Jesus Christ" as a decisive "mark
of the true Church." Behind this emphasis lies a keen awareness
of the way in which the Old Testament proclaimed "the Word
of the Lord," of the New Testament recognition of Jesus Christ
as "the Word who was in the beginning with God" and
of the new sense in the 16th century that the Bible is a living,
contemporary Word with which the Church's teaching and order,
as these had come to develop, were by no means always in harmony.
Against the appeal to continuity, custom and institution, the
Reformed appealed to the living voice of the living God as the
essential and decisive factor by which the Church must live, if
it will live at all: the Church, as creatura verbi.
far, our exposition has been relatively traditional and familiar.
But despite the intended organic relationship between Word and
Church, the Reformed tradition has not always held it steadily
in view. It has sometimes inclined to verbalism, to the reduction
of the Gospel to doctrine, of the divine Word incarnate in Jesus
Christ to theological theory. Proclamation of the Word has been
seen simply as an external mark of the Church rather than intrinsic
to it; the Church itself regarded more as the place where Scripture
is interpreted than as a community living from the Word. Such
understandings fall short of the full meaning of creatura verbi
as describing the nature and calling of the Church.
Church is the creation of the Word because the Word itself is
God's creative Word of grace by which we are justified and renewed.
The Church is the human community shaped and ruled by that grace;
it is the community of grace, called to let "this mind be
among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus..." (Phil
2:5). The community of faith is thus not merely the community
in which the gospel is preached; by its hearing and responding
to the Word of grace, the community itself becomes a medium of
confession, its faith a "sign" or "token"
to, the world; it is itself a part of the world transformed by
being addressed and renewed by the Word of God.
The Church as "Sacrament of Grace"
before Vatican II, many Roman Catholic theologians described the
Church as a "sacrament," because this term is associated
with the biblical term "mystery." Such a sacramental
description highlights the comparison between what the Church
is and what is enacted in the celebration of the sacraments. The
adoption of this term by the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium
I, 1) for speaking of the Church has made this usage almost a
commonplace in Roman Catholic thought.
103. The Second Vatican Council described the Church, because
of its relationship with Christ, as "a kind of sacrament,
or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all humankind"
(Lumen Gentium 1). The Church is described as the "universal
sacrament of salvation" (Lumen Gentium 48; Gaudium et Spes
45; Ad Gentes 1), the "visible sacrament of this saving unity"
(Lumen Gentium 9), the "wondrous sacrament" (Sacrosanctum
Concilium 5). In some cases the conciliar text indicates the deep
roots of this conception of the Church in patristic thinking,
by referring to some expressions of Cyprian who speaks of ecclesial
unity as a sacrament (LG 9 and SC 26). It then directly applies
these formulas to the Church in extending the dynamic of their
meaning. At the same time, it refers to a prayer in the Roman
Missal before the restoration of Holy Week, which affirms that
"from the side of Christ on the cross there came forth the
wondrous sacrament which is the whole Church" (SC 5).
application of the category "sacrament" to the Church
is doubly analogical. On the one hand, it is analogical with regard
to its application to Christ. Christ, indeed, is the primordial
sacrament of God in that the Logos became flesh, assuming our
humanity. Jesus is the full revelation of grace (cf. Jn 1:14)
and "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15), the
one who has become "the source of eternal salvation to all
who obey him" (Heb 5:9). That is why Paul proclaims "the
mystery of Christ" (Col 4:3). Later on, Augustine, for whom
the terms "mystery" and "sacrament " are practically
equivalent, writes: "There is no other mystery of God than
Christ"(P.L. 33, 845). For Saint Thomas the original sacraments
of our salvation are the "mysteries of the flesh of Christ,"
in particular, the passion and the resurrection of Christ are
sacraments by reason of their double character of being exemplary
sign as well as instrumental and effective cause (cf. Comp. Theol.
239; S. Theol. III°, Q. 62, art. 5 and primum). Luther made
his own this traditional interpretation of Christ: "The Holy
Scriptures know only one sacrament, which in Christ the Lord himself"
(Disputatio de fide infusa et acquisita de 1520, 18; Weimar edition,
6, p. 86). All language concerning the sacramentality of the Church,
then, must respect the absolute Lordship of Christ over the Church
and the sacraments. Christ is the unique foundational sacrament,
that is to say, the active and original power of the whole economy
of salvation visibly manifested in our world. The Church is a
sacrament by the gift of Christ, because it is given to it to
be the sign and instrument of Christ.
105. In the
New Testament the term "mystery" is not directly applied
to the Church, although Ephesians 5:32 applies this term to Genesis
2:24 and relates that verse to the relationship between Christ
and the Church (and the Latin Vulgate translated "mysterium"
as "sacramentum"). The Church then is only a sacrament
founded by Christ and entirely dependent on him. Its being and
its sacramental acts are the fruit of a free gift received from
Christ, a gift in relation to which he remains radically transcendent,
but which, however, he commits to the salvation of humankind.
That is why, according to the Second Vatican Council, "It
is not a vain analogy to compare the Church with the mastery of
the Word Incarnate," for its one complex reality is "constituted
from both a human aspect and a divine aspect" (LG 8). This
analogy should not make us forget the radical difference which
remains between Christ and the Church. In particular, the Church
is only the spouse and the body of Christ through the gift of
106. On the
other hand, the Church is called a sacrament by analogy to the
liturgies of Baptism and the Eucharist, which the Greek fathers
called "the mysteries," in a sense already analogous
to the Pauline mysterion. The sacraments are the gestures and
the words which Christ has confided to his Church and to which
he has linked the promise of grace by the gift of his Spirit.
107. In the
Church as "sacrament," "a bridge is built between
the visible face of creation and the design of God realised in
the Covenant" (cf. Groupe des Dombes, L'Esprit Saint, l'Église
et les Sacrements, 23). Or, in a slightly different register,
one can also call the Church a "living sign." The terms
"sacrament" and "sign" imply coherence and
continuity between diverse moments of the economy of salvation;
they designate the Church at once as the place of presence and
the place of distance; and they depict the Church as instrument
and ministry of the unique mediation of Christ. Of this unique
mediation the Church is the servant, but never either its source
or its mistress.
108. As Christ's
mediation was carried out visibly in the mystery of his incarnation,
life, death and resurrection, so the Church - has also been established
as visible sign and instrument of this unique mediation across
time and space. The Church is an instrument in Christ's hands
because it carries out, through the preaching of the Word, the
administration of the sacraments and the oversight of communities,
a ministry entirely dependent on the Lord, just like a tool in
the hand of a worker. So the New Testament describes the ministry
of the Church as serving the ministry of Christ. Ministers are
"God's fellow workers" (1 Cor 3:9), "servants of
Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4:1),
"ministers of a new covenant" (2 Cor 3:6), "ministers
of reconciliation" accomplished by Christ (Cf. 2 Cor 5:18)
and, more generally "envoys" or "ambassadors for
Christ" (2 Cor 5:20).
instrumental ministry of the Church is confided to sinful human
beings. It can therefore be disfigured or atrophied, mishandled
and exaggerated. But the reality of God's gift always transfigures
human failure, and God's fidelity to the Church continually maintains
it, according to the promise (Mt 28:20) which sustains it in its
mission of salvation across the ages.
Church is thus constituted as a sacrament, an instrument of the
unique mediation of Christ, a sign of the efficacious presence
of that mediation. The Church is such in that it lives out of
the Word, which has engendered it and which it proclaims, and
to the extent that it is open and docile to the Spirit that dwells
within it. The Paraclete maintains and continually renews the
memory of Christ in the Church (Jn 14:26; 16:15) until the Savior
comes again. This Paraclete accomplishes in the Church the ministry
of liberty (2 Cor 3:17), of truth (Jn 16:13), of sanctification
(Rom 8:12-13) and of transformation (2 Cor 3:18). In this way,
the Church is the bearer of the tradition of the Word, that, is,
the sacrament of the Word of God; and bearer of transmission of
salvation, that is, the sacrament of Christ and of the Spirit.
111. If the
Church is seen in relation to its source, it may be described
as the sacrament of God, of Christ, and of the Spirit - as a sacrament
of grace. If it is seen in relation to its mission and calling,
it may be called the sacrament of the kingdom, or the sacrament
of salvation (Lumen Gentium 48): "like a sacrament, that
is a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the
unity of the entire human species" (ibid. 1).
Questions and Reflections
112. We are
agreed in recognizing the radical dependence of the Church in
receiving the transcendent gift which God makes to it and we recognize
that gift as the basis of its activity of service for the salvation
of humanity. But we do not yet understand the nature of this salutary
activity in the same way. The Reformed commonly allege that Catholics
appropriate to the Church the role proper to Christ. Roman Catholics,
for their part, commonly accuse the Reformed of holding the Church
apart from the work of salvation and of giving up the assurance
that Christ is truly present and acting in his Church. Both these
views are caricatures, but they can help to focus attention on
genuine underlying differences of perspective of which the themes
of creatura verbi and sacramentum gratiae serve as symbols.
two conceptions, "the creation of the Word" and "sacrament
of grace," can in fact be seen as expressing the same instrumental
reality under different aspects, as complementary to each other
or as two sides of the same coin. They can also become the poles
of a creative tension between our churches. A particular point
at which this tension becomes apparent is reached when it is asked
how the questions of the continuity and order of the Church through
the ages appear in the light of these two concepts.
The Continuity of the Church Throughout the Ages
114. In what
sense can it be said that the Church has remained one from generation
to generation? This question is of immediate relevance for relations
between the Reformed and Roman Catholic churches because the events
leading to the Reformation and resulting in division seem to imply
a discontinuity in the life of the one Church.
God's Fidelity and Our Sinfulness
we believe that God remains faithful to God's promise and never
abandons the people he has called into being. "God is faithful,
by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus
Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1:9). Such is the ground of our conviction
that the Church continues through the ages to carry out the mission
it has received until the end of time, because "the powers
of death shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18). Through
the Church, Christ who is present with us all days until the end
of time (cf. Mt 28:20), leads us indefectibly to salvation.
continuity of the Church has an origin: it is the sending-of the
apostles on a mission by Christ, a sending which makes them "apostles";
it has a purpose - the mission, "apostle," to make disciples
of all the nations (cf. Mt 28:19). This is why the Church is of
its essence apostolic and its ministry is within an apostolic
succession. As was said in our preceding document, this succession
"requires at once a historical continuity with the original
apostles and a contemporary and graciously renewed action of the
Holy Spirit" (PCCW, 1O1). Apostolicity is then a living reality
which simultaneously keeps the Church in communion with its living
source and allows it to renew its youth continually so as to reach
fidelity is given to men and women who are part of a long history
and who, moreover, are sinners. The Church's response to God's
fidelity must be renewed to meet the challenges of various times
and cultures. The Church is not worthy of its name if it is not
a living and resourceful witness, concretely addressing people's
needs. This is also why the Church's continuity demands that it
recognizes itself as semper reformanda. The sinfulness of humanity
which affects not only members of the Church but also its institutions,
is opposed to fidelity to God. If human sinfulness does not put
the Church in check, it can nevertheless do grave harm to the
Church's mission and witness. The constant need for reform in
the Church is recognized. "Christ summons the Church, as
it goes on its pilgrim way, to that continual reformation of which
it always has need, insofar as it is an institution of human beings
here one earth" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 6). The Church must
then live within a constant dynamic of conversion.
The Need for Reform and Renewal
118. We acknowledge
that at the time of the Reformation the Church was in urgent need
of reform. We recognize that the various strivings for reform
were in their profoundest inspiration signs of the work of the
Holy Spirit. In the event of the Reformation, the Word of God
played a role, that Word which is "living and active, sharper
than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and
spirit" (Heb 4:12). Not everything that happened can be attributed
to the Word because in the division of the Western Church human
sinfulness also played its part. Our common awareness of this
summons us to "discern the spirits," i.e., to distinguish
in this process the work of human sinfulness from the work of
the Spirit. As Roman Catholics and Reformed, we should not seek
to justify ourselves here. We must each assume responsibility
for our own past and for that part of the sin which was our own.
that is not all If it is true that "in everything (even sin,
one could say) God works for good with those who love him, who
are called according to his purpose"(Rom 8:28), we must then
recognize the mysterious design of God which moves toward its
accomplishment in spite of our division. Our continual conversion
to Christ should make us discover and understand the positive
meaning of this event in the life of Christ's Church. It reminds
us of the Church's dependence on Christ and the Spirit, who act
in it and for it with sovereign liberty. It invites us to recognize
new fruits of holiness. It involves us in a Christian striving
that impels us to reconcile in our lives complementary aspects
of the one Gospel. Reflection on the positive meaning of the Reformation,
despite the division, concerns us all, because it is a major event
in the history of the Church.
Questions and Reflections
as things are at present, divergences persist between us in our
understanding of the continuity of the Church and its visibility.
The Reformed churches give first consideration to continuity in
the confession of faith and in the teaching of Gospel doctrine.
It is in this sense that the Church remains apostolic and the
ministers raised up in it by the Spirit form part of the apostolic
succession. The Catholic Church, for its part, considers that
this apostolicity of faith and preaching as well as that of the
administration of the sacraments are linked to a certain number
of visible signs through which the Spirit works, in particular
to the apostolic succession of bishops.
121. We both
acknowledge the reality of tradition, but we do not give it the
same weight. The Reformed see in Holy Scripture the sufficient
witness of the Gospel message, a message that "constantly
creates the understanding of itself afresh" (PCCW 29) and
is the locus of the immediate communication of the truth. This
does not imply disregard for tradition as an expression of faithful
communion throughout the centuries. Catholics for their part regard
Scripture as the norma normans of all doctrine of the faith, but
they think that Scripture, the work of the living tradition of
the apostolic generation, is in its turn read and interpreted
in a living way in an act of uninterrupted transmission which
constitutes the tradition of the Church throughout its history.
The authority of this living tradition and of the magisterial
decisions which mark it from time to time is founded on submission
to the message of Scripture. In order to help the people of God
be obedient to this message, the Church is led to make interpretative
decisions about the meaning of the Gospel (cf. PCCW, 30, 32).
we differ in our understanding of the nature of sin in the Church.
Undoubtedly we both recognize that, whatever the effect of sin
on persons and institutions, the holiness of the preaching of
the Word and of the administration of the sacraments endures,
because the gift of God to the Church is irrevocable. In this
sense the Church is holy, for it is the instrument of that gift
of holiness which comes from God. But the Reformed think that
God's fidelity is stronger than our infidelity, than the repeated
"errors and resistances to the Word on the part of the Church"
(PCCW, 42). Hence the Church can experience moments when despite
the exemplary witness of individuals its true identity is obscured
by sin beyond recognition. This does not mean that God abandons
the Church, which, for the Reformed, continues in being always
and until the end of time. On the Catholic side, it is thought
that human sin, even if it goes so far as to mar greatly the signs
and institutions of the Church, never nullifies its mission of
grace and salvation and never falsifies essentially the proclamation
of the truth, because God unfailingly guards the Church "which
he has obtained with the blood of his own Son"(Acts 20:28).
The times of the worst abuses were frequently times in which great
sanctity flourished. In other words, we do not think in the same
way about the relation of the Church to the Kingdom of God. The
Reformed insist more on the promise of a "not-yet";
Catholics underline more the reality of a gift "already-there."
our respective interpretations of the division in the sixteenth
century are not the same. The Reformed consider that the Reformation
was a rupture with the Catholic "establishment" of the
period. This establishment had become greatly corrupted and incapable
of responding to an appeal for reform in the sense of a return
to the purity of the Gospel and the holiness of the early Church.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that the resulting division was
a substantial rupture in the continuity of the Church. For Catholics,
however, this break struck at the continuity of the tradition
derived from the apostles and lived through many centuries. Insofar
as the Reformed had broken with the ministerial structure handed
down by tradition, they had deeply wounded the apostolicity of
their churches. The severity of this judgment is moderated today
because ecumenical contacts have made Catholics more aware of
the features of authentic Christian identity preserved in those
124. In the
future, our dialogue will need to address such still often divisive
questions as the following:
the interpretation of our positions given above, what can Reformed
and Roman Catholics now say together about the reform movements
of the sixteenth century the reasons behind them, the course they
took, and the results that cane about?
(because of baptism and other ecclesial factors) that despite
continuing divisions a real though imperfect communion already
exists between Reformed and Roman Catholic Christians, what implications
does this communion have for our understanding of the continuity
of the Church?
3. To what
extent can we together proclaim the Gospel in an idiom intelligible
to our contemporaries, even if we differ in some ways in our understanding
of the Apostolic faith?
4. How can
we reconcile the freedom of the individual Christian in appropriating
the Christian message with the responsibility of the Church for
authoritatively teaching that message?
In the past,
we have usually answered such questions from our separate ecclesiological
perspectives; in the future, we will need to work out a joint
response in dialogue.
The Visibility and the Ministerial Order of the Church
Reformed and Roman Catholic communions differ in a third way with
respect to their understanding of the relation between Gospel
and Church. Our divergence here has to do with the role of visible
structure, particularly in relation to mission and ministry We
will look first at visibility and invisibility in the Church as
such, and then at mission and ministerial order.
The Church: Visible and Invisible
126. In the
past, Reformed churches have sometimes displayed a tendency not
only to distinguish, but also to separate the invisible church,
known to God alone, and the visible church, manifest in the world
as a community gathered by the Word and Sacrament. In fact, such
a distinction is not part of genuine Reformed teaching. We can
affirm together the indissoluble link between the invisible and
the visible. There exists but one Church of God. It is called
into being by the risen Christ, forms "one body," is
summoned to "one hope," and acknowledges know ledges
"One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of
us all..."(Eph 4:4-6). Christ, through his Spirit, has empowered
this Church for a mission and a ministry in the world, and equipped
it to call others to the same unity, hope and faith. From its
earliest time, it has been provided through God's grace with ministerial
means necessary and sufficient for the fulfilment of its mission.
invisible church is the hidden side of the visible, earthly church.
The Church is manifest to the world where it is called to share
in the Kingdom of God as God's chosen people. This visible/invisible
Church is real as event and institution, wherever and whenever
God calls men and women to service.
visible/invisible Church lives in the world as a structured community.
Gathered around Word and Sacraments, it is enabled to proclaim
God's Gospel of salvation to the world. Its visible structure
is intended to enable the community to serve as an instrument
of Christ for the salvation of the world. It thus bears witness
to all human beings of the saving activity of God in Jesus Christ.
This testimony of the visible/invisible Church often calls it
to a confrontation with the world. In such testimony the Church
sees itself summoned to praise and glorify God. In all its visible
activity its goal is Soli Deo gloria, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.
129. We diverge,
however, on the matter of the closer identification of the Church
with its visible aspects and structure. Roman Catholics maintain
that the Church of Christ "subsists" in the Roman Catholic
Church (Lumen Gentium 8), a formulation adopted at the Second
Vatican Council to avoid the exclusive identification of Christ's
Church with it. They admit likewise that many "elements"
or "attributes" of great value by which the Church is
constituted, are present in the "separated churches and communities"
and that these last are "in no way devoid of significance
and value in the mystery of salvation" (Unitatis Redintegratio
3). The question is, therefore, to what degree they can recognize
that the Church of Christ also exists in the Reformed churches.
The Reformed for their part do not understand the Church as reducible
to this or that community, hierarchy or institution. They claim
to belong to the Church and recognize that others also do. Their
chief difficulty is not in extending this recognition to the Roman
Catholic Church, but the view that the Roman Catholic Church has
of its special relation to the Church of Jesus Christ.
Mission and Ministerial Order
and Reformed agree that the order of the Church originates in
the Gospel which the risen Christ charged his disciples to proclaim.
In this perspective, it is given first in Word and Sacrament:
"Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age"(Mt
28:19-20; cf. Lk 24:47-48; Jn 20:21 b).
those who follow Christ, the Word of God contained in Scripture
and proclaimed, lived and interpreted in the Church, is the fundamental
and inalienable point of reference for the Church's order. Scripture
bears the Word of salvation by which faith is born. Faith leads
to Baptism and it is nourished by the celebration of the Lord's
Supper, the Eucharist.
mission which the risen Christ committed to the "eleven"
(Mt 28:16) and from which the Church arose, implies that one should
distinguish between those who announce the gospel ("you")
and those to whom it is proclaimed ("make disciples").
It entails, moreover, a ministry of Word, Sacrament and oversight
given by Christ to the Church to be carried out by some of its
members for the good of all. This triple function of the ministry
equips the Church for its mission in the world.
ministerial order manifests itself above all in the ministry of
the Word, i.e. in the preaching of the Gospel, "the word
of God which you heard from us"(I Thess 2:13; cf. 2 Cor 11:7),
the announcing of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name
of Jesus (Lk 24:47-48), and the proclaiming of him as the one
anointed with the Spirit "to preach good news to the poor...
to set at liberty those who are oppressed"(Lk 4:18). He who
was the preacher of God's Word par excellence has thus become
the Preached One in the Word carried to the "ends of the
earth"(Acts 1:8) by his chosen witnesses (Acts 10:41-42).
ministerial order also finds expression in the ecclesial rites,
traditionally called Sacraments. We believe that in them Christ
himself acts through the Spirit among his people. The Church is
ordered through Baptism, in which all who believe in Christ are
not only washed and signed by the Triune God, but are "built
into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood" (I Pet 2:5).
Similarly, in the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist, the community
of faith, hope and love finds its rallying point: "Because
there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake
of the one bread" (1 Cor 10:17). Such rites along with the
Word of God are fruitful means of grace for those who believe,
and by them the whole people of God is built up and nurtured.
order is further manifest in the ministry of oversight (episkopé),
exercised by Church members for the fidelity, unity, harmony,
growth and discipline of the wayfaring people of God under Christ,
who is "the Shepherd and Guardian (episkopos)" of all
souls (I Pet 2:25). Various "gifts," "services,"
and "activities," are inspired by God's Spirit in the
Church (I Cor 12:4-6), but all members are called upon to be concerned
for that same unity, harmony, and unbuilding of the Church.
in the New Testament took different forms at various times and
places under diverse names (see e.g., Acts 1:20-25; 20:17; 28;
1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11-13; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13; 4:14; 5:3-22;
Tit 1:5-9). Paul often refers to himself as "the servant/slave
of Jesus Christ." (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1) and as such
writes to churches that he has founded as one exercising authority
in virtue of the Gospel that he preaches (I Thess 2:9, 13; cf.
I Cor 15:11: "Whether it was I or they, so we preach and
so you believed"). Though we have no direct indication that
the communities founded by Paul were presbyterally organized,
but only the affirmation of Acts 14:23, where Paul, according
to Luke, appoints presbyters "in every Church," Paul
was at least aware of a structure of leadership in some communities
to which he wrote: I Thess 5:12: "respect those who labor
among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you";
Phil 1:1, greetings are sent to "all the saints in ...Philippi,
with the overseers and deacons" (syn episkopois kai diakonois).
From the various forms of leadership mentioned in the Pastorals
there emerged a pattern of episcopoi, presbyters and deacons,
which became established by the of the second century.
pattern of leadership developed from some New Testament forms,
while other (even earlier) New Testament forms did not develop.
The spread and theological interpretation of ecclesial leadership
in the immediate post New Testament period must be seen against
the background of the wider development of the early Church and
its articulation of the faith (see I Clem 40-44, especially 42,
1-2, 4; 44, 1-2; Ignatius of Antioch, Eph 2, 1-5; Magn 2; Hippolytus,
Apost. Trad.). In the course of history some of the functions
of such leaders underwent change; even so the ministry of bishops,
presbyters and deacons became in the ancient Church the universal
pattern of church leadership.
The Mutual Challenge
138. We have
now explored and reflected upon three dimensions of the relation
between Gospel and Church. Despite our agreements, there remain
divergences between us which deserve further exploration and offer
us new challenges.
on the question of doctrinal authority in the Church, the previous
report, The Presence of Christ in Church and World (24-42), described
our agreement concerning the view that we in large measure share
regarding Scripture and its canon. In this area, formerly contested
matters have been substantially clarified. This document likewise
has identified the core of what still separates us in the interpretation
of Scripture, the authority of confessions of faith and of conciliar
decisions, and the question of the infallibility of the Church.
These divergences still remain to this day. Among the remaining
divergences, the following are particularly important:
- Both sides
emphasize the indefectible character of Spirit guided preaching
and teaching that mirrors the Gospel and Holy Scripture. Roman
Catholics relate that preaching and teaching to a God-given authority
vested in the Church, which, in service to the Word of God in
Scripture and Tradition, has been entrusted with authentically
interpreting it, and which in distinct cases is assisted by the
Holy Spirit to pronounce infallibly on matters of faith and morals.
Reformed Christians refer such preaching and teaching ultimately
to the supreme authority of the Word of God in Scripture as illuminated
by the Holy Spirit.
140. Second, on the question of the Sacraments, in spite of growing
convergence, there still exists between us not only a disagreement
concerning their number, but also a divergence in our understanding
of "Sacrament" and of the competence of the one who
ministers. Roman Catholics recognize seven Sacraments, according
to the Council of Trent (DS 1601), though they give a major importance
to Baptism and Eucharist and recognize in the Eucharist the center
of the sacramental life of the Church. The Reformed Churches recognize
Baptism and the Lord's Supper as Sacraments in the ordinary sense,
though also recognizing in the laying on of hands "an efficacious
sign which initiates and confirms the believer in the ministry
conferred" (PCCW, 98). Calvin himself did not object to calling
ordination a Sacrament, but he did not count it on a level with
Baptism and Eucharist because it was not intended for all Christians
(Institutes IV: 19,28).
141. Third, the earlier document (PCCW, 98) provides a common
description of ordination, putting in relief its double reference
to the "historical and present action" of Jesus Christ
and to "the continual operation of the Holy Spirit."
Nevertheless, the nature of ordination still causes difficulty
between us. Is the laying-on of hands a sending on a mission,
a passing on of a power, or an incorporation into an order? (cf.
Ibid, 108). On the other hand, can a defect in form put in question
or invalidate the ministry as such - or can such a defect be remedied
"by reference to the faith of the Church?" (ibid.).
- One further
difference concerning the ordained ministry cannot be ignored,
especially today. In the Reformed churches as in many other Protestant
communions it has become increasingly common in recent decades
to ordain women without restriction to the ministry of Word and
on the question of how the authority of Christ must be exercised
in the Church, we are in accord that the structure of the ministry
is essentially collegial (Compare: PCCW, 102). We agree on the
need for episkopè in the Church, on the local level (for
pastoral care in each congregation), on the regional level (for
the link of congregations among themselves), and on the universal
level (for the guidance of the supranational communion of churches).
There is disagreement between us about who is regarded as episkopos
at these different levels and what is the function or role of
insist that the ordained ministry is a gift of God given to persons
"set apart" (cf. Rom 1:1) in the community By the sacrament
of ordination the minister is united with Christ, the sole High
Priest, in a new way which qualifies him to represent Christ in
and for the community. The one ordained can act there "in
persona Christi"; his ministry is an embassy in the name
of Christ in the service of the Word of God (cf. 2 Cor 3:5). Ordination
to the priesthood qualifies one to represent the Church before
God, in its offering to the Father through Christ in the Spirit.
All of these aspects of this ministry are especially realized
in the eucharistic celebration. The ordained ministry thus places
the Church in total and current dependence on its unique Lord.
for Catholics, at the heart of the ministry, ordained in the succession
of the Apostles, stands the bishop who continues in the community
the preaching of the apostolic faith and the celebration of the
sacraments, either in his own right or through his collaborators,
the priests and deacons. His role is also to develop a life of
harmony within the community (homothymadon). The bishop also represents
his church before other local churches in the bosom of the universal
communion. Charged to maintain and deepen the communion of all
the churches among themselves, the bishops, with the Bishop of
Rome who presides over the universal communion, form a "college."
This "college" is seen as the continuation of the "college"
of the apostles among whom Peter was the first. The Bishop of
Rome, understood as the successor of Peter, is the prime member
of this college and has the authority necessary for the fulfilment
of his service on behalf of the unite of the whole Church in apostolic
faith and life.
Churches also emphasize the importance of the ordained ministry
of Word and Sacrament for the life of the Church (cf. Eph 4: 11-16).
The Reformed understanding of the ministry is in general more
"kerygmatic" than "priestly"; this corresponds
to the awareness of the Word of God as the power by which the
Church lives. Within this perspective, however, there is a valid
sense in which the Reformed minister acts "in the person
of Christ" - e.g. in preaching, in dispensing the sacraments,
in pastoral care - and also represents the people, in articulating
and leading their worship. For this reason Reformed churches approach
the preparation and ordination of ministers with great care, emphasizing
the need for a proper order and the laying-on of hands by duly
d) The Reformed
stress the collegial exercise of episkopé. At the local
level the responsibility lies with pastors, elders and/or deacons,
with a very important role often played by the church meeting.
At regional and national levels it is exercised collectively by
synods. The same applies, in principle, to the universal level.
The Reformed have never given up hope for a universal council
based on the authority of the Scriptures. That hope has not yet
materialized, though ecumenical world assemblies in our century
are an important step towards its fulfillment.
e) The Reformed
hold that the sixteenth century brought into being a new form
of Church order based on Scripture and a practice of the ancient
Church, adapted to the needs of a new situation. Reformed churches
today still maintain that pattern and believe it to be legitimate
and serviceable in the life of the Church. This does not exclude
the possibility of further development in the ecumenical future
of the Church.
we have begun to come to terms with the particularly difficult
issue of the structure of ministry required for communion in the
universal Church. The earlier report (PCCW) made allusion to it.
Our discussion of the matter has shown how complex the issues
involved are and how different the perspectives in which they
are seen on both sides. As we pursue the dialogue on the Church's
structure and ministry, this theme deserves closer attention.
144. As a
program for future dialogue we suggest the following questions:
interpretations of Scripture are inextricably bound up with our
ecclesiological convictions. With what hermeneutical and doctrinal
perspectives do we approach the New Testament in the search for
guidance on the ordering of the Church in the ecumenical future?
What significance is there for the Church today in the
role assigned to Peter in several central New Testament passages
- and in the way in which that role was interpreted in the ancient
What is the connection between the ministry of leadership
described in the New Testament (presidents, leader, bishops, pastors)
and in the ancient Church and (a) Roman Catholic bishops, (b)
Reformed ministers of Word and Sacraments?
145. Our five years of dialogue have convinced us that a new situation
now exists between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed
Churches. It has become apparent that the two confessions share
much in common and can, therefore, enter into a living relationship
with each other. Encounters in many parts of the world have led
to mutual openness and a new understanding. It has become clear
that the two sides have much to say to each other and also much
to learn from each other.
common ground that unites our churches is far greater than has
usually been assumed. We start from the premise that God has already
granted us unite in Christ. It is not for us to create unity,
for in Christ it is already given for us. It will become visible
in our midst as and when we turn to him in faith and obedience
and we realize fully in our churches what he expects from us.
We firmly believe that the unifying power of the Holy Spirit must
prove stronger than all the separation that has occurred through
our human sinfulness. This confirms our conviction that we must
work for the ultimate goal of full communion in one faith and
one eucharistic fellowship.
147. At the
same time, however, our dialogue has shown that certain disagreements
in understanding the relationship between the Gospel and the Church
have not yet been overcome. It would therefore be unrealistic
to suppose that the time has now come for declaring full communion
between our churches.
we do believe that the living relationship that has come into
being between our churches makes possible a new way of dealing
with these divergences. They should not be looked upon primarily
as grounds for mutual exclusion, but should rather be seen as
terrain for mutual challenge. In ecumenical encounter we can deepen
our understanding and our obedience. We can discover in the other
the gift of God.
149. "Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed
you, for the glory of God" (Rom 15:7). On the basis of this
appeal of the Apostle Paul, we conclude that the Roman Catholic
Church and the Reformed Churches should no longer oppose each
other or even simply live side by side. Rather, despite their
divergences, they should live for each other in order to be witnesses
to Christ. Guided by this mission, they should open themselves
to and for each other.
The Diversity of Situations
150. In some
countries, far-reaching agreement has already been achieved. Official
dialogues have taken place and, as a general rule, these have
led to results similar to those to be found in the present report.
In some other countries the churches maintain close relationships
and collaborate regularly, reacting together to important problems
of public life. But there are also countries where their relations,
even today, hardly go beyond occasional and individual contacts.
The mistrust inherited from the past has not yet been overcome.
Political situations and sociological factors often play an important
part in this mistrust. In some places the Roman Catholic and Reformed
Churches even find themselves on opposite sides of political conflict.
In other places, closer relations are made more difficult by the
numerical size of the partners: whenever a large church finds
itself faced with a small minority, a great deal of sensitivity
and effort are needed if living relationships are to be established.
In many places, the diversity of the Reformed Churches makes interconfessional
dialogue and collaboration more complex.
151. We agree
that initiatives should be taken to deepen Christian fellowship
in each country. We are grateful for the convergences we have
found in the dialogue at the international level and believe that
these results can serve as a stimulus for the churches in each
country. But the desired living relationship cannot be created
only by an agreement at the international level. First, according
to the Reformed understanding, each member church is responsible
for its own confession, its life and its witness; consequently,
the World Alliance of Reformed Churches has no binding authority
over its member churches. Secondly, we are convinced that the
call for unity must always aim at concrete and lived communion.
It is always addressed to "all in each place." But we
do believe that the mutual understanding reached in international
dialogue should serve as an encouragement to establish more active
relations between our churches at the local level.
Steps Along The Way To Unity
152. We suggest
that dialogues between local churches should keep in mind the
following steps on the way to unity.
a) Our churches should give expression to mutual recognition of
Baptism. In some countries, the Roman Catholic and Reformed Churches
have already agreed to accept each other's Baptism fully and without
reserve, provided that it has been celebrated in the name of the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and with the use of water.
We believe that such agreements can and should be made in all
places without delay. Such an agreement implies that under no
circumstances can there be a repetition of baptism which took
place in the other church. Mutual recognition of baptism is to
be understood as an expression of the profound communion that
Jesus Christ himself establishes among his disciples and which
no human failure can ever destroy.
mutual recognition of Baptism is already possible today, we are
not yet in a position to celebrate the Eucharist or Lord's Supper
together. Our different understandings of the relation between
the Gospel and the Church also have consequences as regards admission
Churches take the view that, precisely because Christ himself
is the host at the table, the Church must not impose any obstacles.
All those who have received baptism and love the Lord Jesus Christ
are invited to the Lord's Supper (see the declaration of the World
Alliance, Princeton 1954).
Catholic Church, on the other hand, is convinced that the celebration
of the Eucharist is of itself a profession of faith in which the
whole Church recognizes and expresses itself. Sharing the Eucharist
therefore presupposes agreement with the faith of the Church which
celebrates the Eucharist.
in the understanding of Eucharistic sharing must be respected
by both sides. Still, we recall and reaffirm the progress in our
common understanding of the Eucharist that has already been made
in the first phase of dialogue (PCCW, 67-92). Aspects of the common
understanding were summarized in these words, which we repeat
again here: "...we gratefully acknowledge that both traditions,
Reformed and Roman Catholic, hold to the belief in the Real Presence
of Christ in the Eucharist; and both hold at least that the Eucharist
is, among other things:
1) a memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord;
2) a source
of living communion with him in the power of the Spirit (hence
the epiclesis in the liturgy), and
3) a source
of the eschatological hope for his coming again" (PCCW, 91).
c) In many
countries there has been a rapid rise in the number of confessionally
mixed marriages in recent years. It is not therefore surprising
that the problem of a more appropriate way of dealing with this
new reality has cropped up time and again in the course of bilateral
dialogues. We hold that confessionally mixed marriages could be
seen as an opportunity of encounter between the two traditions,
even though some difficulties cannot be denied. We deem it to
be important that the two churches should jointly exercise pastoral
responsibility for those who live or grow up in confessionally
mixed marriages in a manner which supports the integrity of the
conscience of each person and respects their rights. In this respect
see also the report of the dialogue between the Roman Catholic
Church, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of
Reformed Churches (The Theology of Marriage and the Problem of
Mixed Marriages, cf. N° 2 above).
Toward the Reconciliation of Memories
153. In Chapter
I we tried together to understand our separated histories afresh.
Beyond this lies a step not yet taken. From understanding each
other's memories we must move to a reconciliation of the memories
of Roman Catholics with those of Reformed Christians, and vice
versa. Shared memories, even if painful, may in time become a
basis for new mutual bonding and a growing sense of shared identity.
154. This proposal has been made time and again by both Reformed
and Roman Catholic authorities. Pope John Paul II formulated it
in the following terms: "Remembrance of the events of the
past must not restrict the freedom of our present efforts to eliminate
the harm that has been triggered by these events. Coming to terms
with these memories is one of the main elements of ecumenical
progress. It leads to frank recognition of mutual injury and errors
in the way the two communities reacted to each other, even though
it was the intention of all concerned to bring, the Church more
into line with the will of the Lord" (Address to the members
of the Swiss Evangelical Church Federation, 14 June 1984).
I shows how much has been accomplished in this direction. Mention
should be made, for example, of the efforts of Roman Catholic
historians to produce a new interpretation of the great Reformers,
especially John Calvin, or the attempt of the World Alliance to
give a new overtone to the memories of the revocation of the Edict
of Nantes. But much yet remains to be done.
156. As illustrations
we choose the following:
a) The problem
of interpreting the rupture caused by the Reformation has already
been touched on. In addition to the theological reflections already
offered, serious historical research needs to be jointly undertaken.
b) We must
tackle the problem of the condemnations that the Roman Catholic
Church and the Reformed Churches pronounced against each other.
The polemics between the churches found expression in mutual anathematizations,
and these continue to make themselves felt today. One need only
think, for example, of the condemnation of certain Roman Catholic
teachings and practices in such Reformed confessions as the Heidelberg
Catechism or the Westminster Confession, or the identification
of doctrines condemned by the Council of Trent with certain of
the teachings of the Reformers. Conscious efforts at theological
and historical research will have to be made in order to distinguish
the justified concerns of these declarations from the polemical
c) Particular attention should be paid to the way in which confessional
separation was brought to the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
Churches in these areas had no part in originating the separation.
It was only through migration or missionary expansion that European
divisions were transplanted to these continents. What in actual
fact are the reasons for the separate existence of these churches
today? A careful historical analysis might well bring to light
new factors of separation which have been added to the inherited
Common Witness in the World of Today
for each other" as churches must also mean "bearing
common witness." We take the view that the Roman Catholic
Church and the Reformed Churches must make every effort to speak
jointly to the men and women of today to whom God desires to communicate
Christ's message of salvation.
opportunity for taking common stands with regard to contemporary
issues should be taken and used. Our separation must not prevent
us from expressing the agreement we have already achieved in our
witnessing. For example, the Roman Catholic Church and the World
Alliance of Reformed Churches are wholly agreed that every form
of racism is contradictory to the Gospel and must therefore be
rejected. In particular, they see apartheid as a system that the
Christian Church must condemn if its evangelical credibility is
not to be put into jeopardy.
very similar applies with regard to the witness of the churches
on issues of justice, peace and the integrity of God's creation.
The most profound convictions of their faith oblige both churches
to render decisive witness in these fields. They would imperil
the integrity of their teaching if they failed to give it.
160. We also
know, however, that challenges which call for common confession
in our day and age also generate new divergences and divisions.
These could stress and endanger our still fragile fellowship.
It is therefore all the more important that we should continually
listen anew together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church
today: the Spirit who will lead us to the fullness of the truth.
What Kind of Unity Do We Seek?
though we are still far from being able to proclaim full communion,
it is important for the relations between our churches that we
should have an agreed vision of the ultimate goal that should
guide our efforts. This is a question that needs further study.
Various concepts of unity have been proposed and deserve attention.
But we believe that serious consideration should be given in our
Reformed Roman Catholic relationship, and in the ecumenical movement
in general, to the description of the "unity we seek,"
as expressed by the Assembly of the World Council of Churches
in Nairobi (1975). This text describes what is called "conciliar
fellowship," and goes as follows:
"The one Church is to be envisioned as a conciliar fellowship
of local churches which are themselves truly united.
"In this conciliar fellowship each local church possesses,
in communion with the others, the fullness of catholicity, witnesses
to the same apostolic faith and therefore recognizes the others
as belonging to the same Church of Christ and guided by the same
"As the New Delhi Assembly pointed out, they are bound together
because they have received the same baptism and share in the same
eucharist; they recognize each other's members and ministries.
"They are one in their common commitment to confess the Gospel
of Christ by proclamation and service to the world. To this end,
each church aims at maintaining sustained and sustaining relationships
with her sister churches, expressed in conciliar gatherings whenever
required for the fulfilment of this common calling." (David
M. Paton, Editor, Breaking Barriers, Nairobi, 1975. The Official
Report of the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches,
Nairobi, 23 November - 10 December, 1975. London: SPCK, and Grand
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1976, p. 60).
162. We see
in the Nairobi declaration a sketch of the way in which organic
unity could be structured even at the universal level. The statement
does not describe the present state of relations between the churches,
but rather serves the purpose, without reference to conciliarist
controversies of the past, of articulating a concept and vision
of unity toward which Christians can move to overcome their divisions.
of the features described in this text have since been given further
attention within our dialogue and within the broader ecumenical
movement. A crucial factor in the description is that each local
church "witnesses to the same apostolic faith." Without
this there can be no unity. In this report, for example, the second
Chapter, "Our Common Confession of Faith," indicates
important aspects of the apostolic faith that we can confess together.
Basic for unity too is the need to share the same faith in regard
to baptism, eucharist and ministry. An important contribution
towards achieving this is the document of the Faith & Order
Commission on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, to which the churches
have given their official responses.
164. If the
living relationship between our churches is to grow, we must consciously
foster regular contact with each other. If each church is to consider
God's gift in the other, each will have to orientate itself towards
the other. Inherited problems of doctrine call for further reflection.
Newly arising problems (for example, relationships and dialogue
with people of other living faiths, or issues raised by the progress
of science and technology) must become subjects of frank and open
dialogue. The road to unity can be traveled more readily if both
communions can learn to listen together to the Word of God and
to the questions raised by each other.
165. We pray
God to grant us the Spirit to heal wounds, to gather and edify
Christ's people, to purify us and to send us into the world anew.
Alliance of Reformed Churches
Lewis S. Mudge (USA) (Co-Chairman)
Rev. Prof. Dr. Shirley C. Guthrie (USA) (meetings 1984-1987)
Rev. Prof. Dr. Alaisdair I.C. Heron (FRG)
Rev. Bernard M. Muindi (Kenya) (meetings 1984, 1985, 1987)
Bishop Mercuria M. Serina (Philippines) (meetings 1984-1985)
Lukas Vischer (Switzerland)
Rev. Prof. Dr. Paolo Ricca (Italy)
Rev. Prof. Dr. John E. Burkhart (USA) (1986)
Rev. Alan Falconer (Ireland) (1986)
Rev. Dr. Alan E. Lewis (Scotland) (1985)
Alan P.F. Sell (Geneva) (1984-1987)
Rev. Henny Dirks-Blatt (Geneva) (1985)
Rev..Christiane Nolting (Geneva) (1988)
Bernard Sesboüé, SJ (France) (co-chairman)
Rev. Prof. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, SJ (USA)
Rev. Prof. John H. Fitzsimmons (Scotland) (meetings 1984, 1985,
Rev. Prof. Francis T. Lysinge (Cameroon)
Rev. Prof. Dr. Joseph Trütsch (Switzerland) (meetings 1984,
Aloys Klein (staff Rome, 1984) (FRG) (1985, 1986, 1988)
Dom Emmanuel Lanne, OSB (Belgium) (1986-1988)
Rev. Dr. John Ford, CSC (USA) (1987-1988)
Rev. Dr. John O'Malley SJ (USA) (1987-1988)
Rev. Dr. Elmar Salmann, OSB (Italy) (1984)
Rev. Prof. Dr. Heinz Schütte (FRG) (1984)
Pierre Duprey, M. Afr. (Rome)
Msgr. Dr. John A. Radano (Rome) (1985-1988)
Council of Churches Observer:
Dr. Günther Wagner (Switzerland.) (1985, 1986, 1988)
[Information Service 74 (1990/III) 91-118]
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.
Quotations are taken from the Common Bible: the Holy Bible, Revised
Standard Version, containing the Old and New Testaments with the
Apocryphal Deuterocanonical Books: An Ecumenical Edition, New
York, Glasgow, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland: Collins: 1973.
Service 35 (1977/III-IV) 18-33]
address of the full-text: