DAILY CATHOLIC WEDNESDAY November 3, 1999 vol. 10, no. 208
NEWS & VIEWS
GIANT STEP IN CATHOLIC-LUTHERAN DIALOGUE
Cardinal Cassidy and Bishop Hans Christian Knuth Explains Significance of Joint Declaration
VATICAN CITY, NOV 2 (ZENIT).- An historic step was taken on October 31, in the progress of the ecumenical dialogue, when a Joint Declaration was signed on the Doctrine of Justification by the Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Federation, in the German city of Augsburg.
This event was described by John Paul II as a "consoling sign" on the eve of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, and as "a corner stone on the complex road to the reconstruction of full unity among Christians."
Hundreds of guests from all over the world participated in the ceremony, along with Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Bishop Christian Krause, president of the World Lutheran Federation. The German media consider the event as a decisive change for relations between Catholics and Protestants. The change comes almost 500 years after the Reformation instigated by Martin Luther, with his famous 95 theses nailed to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
Cardinal Cassidy pointed out the significance of this ecumenical step, during an interview on Vatican Radio, in which he explained that it "touches on one of the most important questions at the time of the Reformation. It could be said that it was a central issue in the situation that caused the division of the Western Church. Now, we and the Lutherans from all over the world, have been able to find a formula to express the same faith in the fundamental truth of justification, although we put the accent on different aspects."
The Australian Cardinal believes that the agreement closes a wound that was opened almost five centuries ago, "as this division, which goes back to the time of Luther, caused the condemnations by the Catholic Church, as well as the Lutheran condemnations of Catholics. Today the document states clearly that those condemnations of the past are no longer applicable."
The Joint Declaration is also very important because it addresses the very matter of man's salvation.
"It is very profound," Cardinal Cassidy continued, "because -- above all, it is concerned with salvation, which comes from Our Lord Jesus Christ; the new life, which we are called to live thanks to Baptism; justification, as in Baptism a new life begins that leads us to sanctity and eternal life. I would say that it is more a spiritual question than a theological one. This act of salvation is both divine -- as it is Jesus Christ who saves us -- and human, as we must collaborate with grace. The Lord gives us the grace to collaborate with grace."
Although it has taken a giant step, communion with Lutherans is still far from complete. There are very important matters still pending, such as the sacraments, for example.
"This fundamental point opens the door to the coming century. The Holy Father has requested that, in view of the preparation for the Jubilee, initiatives be promoted that will unite Christians even more. We have not arrived at the end of the road. There are many questions that remain to be resolved. In a few words: we must continue to work, as the Pope has said: 'It is a long and difficult road, but full of joy,' " the Cardinal concluded. ZE99110202
Meanwhile in Berlin the leader of the German Evangelical-Lutheran Church, the principal representation of the Reformation in Germany, Bishop Hans Christian Knuth, 59, said, "It has been an historic step, without which, further steps could not be taken in the future. We have found common formulations precisely on a point that caused the schism five centuries ago: this is great news."
Bishop Knuth, who is also the highest representative of the General Synod of the Lutheran Episcopal Conference, and of the German section of the World Lutheran League, is responsible for relations with Catholics and, therefore, knows from within the long negotiations with the Holy See to arrive at this step of mutual agreement.
"Of course a process of this nature, cannot take place without frictions, without problems. It is somewhat similar to politics: when the matter is serious, everyone gets nervous. And, undoubtedly, following the Vatican note of June 25, 1998, we thought the whole process was in difficulty. Later, however, and all of a sudden, the substantial change came. I believe, that in the midst of human give and take, and of the nebulousness of diplomacy, the Holy Spirit wanted to give a signal," Knuth told the Italian newspaper "Avvenire."
According to the Lutheran leader, the decisive step was also taken for a very simple reason: in this long process, the two churches have come to know one another better. Old stereotypes have fallen away. "Undoubtedly, it is clear that a better perception of the other -- both in the personal as well as the theological aspects -- has been of great help. Moreover, ... it is an important fact that we faced a common front: the pressure of secularization, on one hand, and the new religions, on the other. This has led us to concentrate on what unites us, and not on what separates us."
There are those who believe that these agreements between experts in theology and those responsible in the churches leaves the normal faithful indifferent. Knuth disagrees. "No. On the contrary, I would rather say that everyone now ask us what the consequences of this Declaration will be."
And what are the Lutheran expectations? "We would like an end to the scandal that Christians must separate precisely at the moment when they approach the Table of the Lord. From our side, we have already sent out an invitation. What's more, we say we are not issuing the invitation, but the resurrected Christ is. We would like the Catholic Church to do the same."
The Lutheran Bishop feels that "precisely because it is clear that it is a long road, the theological commissions have developed the necessary preparatory work for the next steps. The Declaration on Justification is the balance of a long process that was later officially confirmed by the respective hierarchies; at present, the same should be done with the other aspects, that is, to go over all that has been elaborated by the commissions to see if a consensus can be reached. I repeat, the work is already done."
Regarding the wounds of the past, Bishop Knuth said "the Declaration states
clearly that our Synods are recognized as organs of ecclesial guidance. For
us, however, a further step cannot be ignored: it must be stated clearly
that it is about the Church, not simply about religious communities."
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NEWS & VIEWS