ELCA Bishops, Vatican Leader, Reflect On Joint Declaration

 — Oct. 8, 20048 oct. 2004

CHICAGO (ELCA) — The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification — a significant document for Lutherans and Catholics signed in 1999 in Augsburg, Germany — “should not remain a paper and a ‘dead’ letter,” said Cardinal Walter Kasper. The document “must become known, lived out and become a reality in the body of the church,” he said.

Kasper, president, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, The Vatican, made the comment in an Oct. 2 address to the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church, consisting of the church’s 65 synod bishops, presiding bishop and secretary. It met here Sept. 30-Oct. 4. ELCA synod vice presidents, meeting here simultaneously with the conference, met with the bishops Oct. 2.

Cardinal Kasper’s visit was in recognition of the 5th anniversary of the signing of the Joint Declaration on Oct. 31, 1999. Kasper also noted this is also the 40th anniversary year of the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII. “Vatican II” marked a fundamental shift toward the modern Catholic Church and emphasized ecumenism.

Different understandings of the doctrine of justification were key factors in events that led to the Protestant Reformation, separating Lutherans and Catholics for nearly 500 years. With the Joint Declaration, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and The Vatican agreed to a common understanding of the doctrine of justification and declared that certain 16th century condemnations of each other no longer apply. The LWF is a global communion of 138 member churches in 77 countries, representing nearly 65 million Lutherans.

Pope John Paul II described the Joint Declaration as a “milestone,” Kasper said.

“The image fits the situation exactly,” he said. “We have reached an important staging post but are not yet at the final goal. The Joint Declaration is important even though it has limits. Its greatness lies in the fact that we can now give joint witness to what is at the heart of our faith, and with this common witness we enter together a new century and a new millennium.”

The increasingly secularized world “needs such common witness,” Kasper declared.

Kasper pointed out that the Joint Declaration does not address other “problems” that remain between Protestants and Catholics. Those questions include understandings of “simul iustus et peccator,” a Lutheran doctrine that enables a believer to be justified and sinner at the same time; cooperation; how to speak about “merits”; and the central “normativity” of the doctrine of justification, he said. The Joint Declaration represents what Kasper called “differentiated consensus rather than total agreement.” Lutherans and Catholics are continuing in an international theological dialogue on many questions.

Kasper was upbeat about the meaning of the signing of the Joint Declaration, saying that the relationship between Catholics and Lutherans “reached a new quality and intensity.”

“We held out hands to each other as churches, and we do not wish to let go ever again,” he said.

“I have rarely met a human being who so embodies the gifts of the [Holy] Spirit as you do,” said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and LWF president, as he introduced Kasper. “You are a person of profound wisdom and grace.”

Hanson told the bishops and vice presidents that Kasper does not diminish the work that remains for Lutherans and Catholics.

“He keeps calling us not to be discouraged in the face of those challenges, but to find our encouragement in our common life in the Holy Spirit,” Hanson said.

While in the Chicago area, Kasper preached during an Oct. 1 “Solemn Vespers” service that included the Conference of Bishops, vice presidents, seminary presidents and the public at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Park Ridge, Ill. He also preached during a morning prayer service Oct. 2.


Formal Responses Bring ‘Challenge’

The Rev. Duane H. Larson, president of Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, and the Rev. Marcus J. Miller, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, Cuyahoga Falls, provided brief formal responses to Kasper’s address.

Larson summarized his remarks about the significance of the Joint Declaration in five key points:

+ that “real and realistic progress” had been achieved through the Joint Declaration;

+ that “even more substantive progress or consensus” had been achieved;

+ that there is “theological and ecclesial work to be done;”

+ that Kasper envisions “a robust ecumenical life of the Spirit” through prayer, Bible study and “justice-doing;” and

+ that the Joint Declaration is going to prove itself “as more effective and productive in real church life together” than perhaps other church documents.

Miller, who was present for the signing in 1999, said he recalled how then-Bishop Kasper and the Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, embraced unexpectedly after they signed the Joint Declaration. Miller said Noko told him that the embrace happened “because we couldn’t help ourselves.”

“We can’t help ourselves as we look at the daunting tasks that continue to lie ahead and pursue those with all of the energy we have as church,” Miller said. “The urgency to heal the brokenness we have at the table (Holy Communion) is for us also a pastoral matter. The faithful are divided at the table in many of our synods and dioceses.”

It is not possible for Lutherans to commune in most Roman Catholic congregations, a point Hanson raised in an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican last year. ELCA congregations generally welcome all who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized to participate in Holy Communion.

Miller proposed that when the two churches mark the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration, both churches prepare some materials that can be used by Lutherans and Catholics for “confession, forgiveness and renewal of the heart.”

Posted: Oct. 8, 2004 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4813
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 8 oct. 2004 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4813
Catégorie : ELCA News

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