Lutheran-Catholic Declaration, One Year Later

Positive Effects Seen, But Work Remains

ROME, NOV. 2, 2000 ( The historic Joint Declaration on the doctrine of justification, signed a year ago by Lutherans and Catholics, is having positive repercussions.

The declaration signed Oct. 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany, touched on a key misunderstanding over the mystery of salvation - and a principal reason for division between Catholics and Lutherans.

With the signing, reciprocal condemnations of the past were forgotten. Since then, prayer meetings between Catholics and Lutherans have multiplied, in Germany and elsewhere.

The consequences have surprised church figures.

Lutheran Bishop Christien Krause, president of the World Lutheran Federation, said over Vatican Radio: "I didn't expect it. There has been great appreciation for this consensus reached by the two churches, which has demolished secular prejudices; this fact has important repercussions in the process of European integration."

For his part, Father Aldo Giordano of Vatican Radio, secretary-general of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), explained that Christians now have a new responsibility toward Europe, as was clearly seen during the first meeting of bishops of the Old Continent with members of Parliament and the European Commission [ see "'A Spititual Dimension is Necessary' for Europe: Interview With Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop of Prague" in Oct. 24 archives].

"Now we feel that together we must contribute to give an ethical soul and respond to the search for the meaning of existence, which is evident in Europe," Father Giordano said. "During the meeting with directors of European institutions, they told us that this is our task, the task of Christian confessions. Of course, the churches can only give this meaning together."

Archbishop Walter Kasper, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who worked for years in the International Catholic-Lutheran Theological Commission, said: "The joint signing was a very important event because we found a point of agreement on the core of the Gospel. What does Jesus Christ mean to me personally? That was Luther's question and it is also the question today."

The new step that Catholics and Lutherans must now take at the theological level is an in-depth study of the different views of the Church, Archbishop Kasper said.

"We have much in common," he added, "but the Catholic Church is a sacramental and hierarchical Church, while the Protestant Churches and communities are centered on the Word of God. However, we can learn from them, because, since the [Second Vatican] Council, we have also understood the importance of the Bible, of the Word of God.

"Moreover, Protestants now also understand the importance of the liturgy, of symbols, of sacraments, etc. There is a mutual exchange between Protestants and Catholics, but there still are problems as, for example, the ministry of bishops and the ministry of the Pope."

This different view of the Church was highlighted in "Dominus Iesus," the recent Vatican document which reiterated magisterial teaching that the Church of Christ "subsists in" the Catholic Church.

Father Giordano said that the "ecumenical reality is going through a delicate time. The European bishops are aware of this. This does not mean that the need for an evolutionary leap in ecumenism is not perceived."

"Today," he continued, "the need to redefine the identity of Christian communities is particularly felt. Perhaps, this might create a pause in the dialogue, but it could also truly force us to take a new step forward in a dialogue that becomes more mature, as it is able to look at the different identities face to face, and therefore, also at the diversities."

Archbishop Kasper concluded: "I am not pessimistic about the future. I have hope, and my hope is based on the conviction that the ecumenical way is the work of the Holy Spirit and, who can stop the Holy Spirit?"

Zenit - The World Seen From Rome
2. november 2000