A statement on the recent confusion about Finnish Lutheran group communing at Vatican

on February 25th, 2016 by admin

There was some comment and confusion over representatives of the Lutheran Church of Finland receiving the Eucharist at the Vatican.  Here is a comment from the Catholic Information Center in Helsinki.


Gerson and Wehner on Becoming a Minority

on November 3rd, 2015 by admin

Next summer’s Pro Ecclesia conference will take up the topic “The Emerging Christian Minority.”  Here is a thoughtful reflection on just that topic by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner – The Power of our Weakness.

Repent and Celebrate?

on August 3rd, 2015 by admin

Here is an interesting piece on commemorating and celebrating the Reformation in 2017. The authors are SarahHinlicky Wilson of the Strasbourg Ecumenical Institute and Thomas Albert Howard of Gordon College. I appreciate the insistence that a commemoration must also be an assessment, a coming-to-terms with the achievements and failures of our engagement with the Reformation. I continue to think, however, that the word ‘celebration’ is best avoided. I do not know if I, as a Catholic, could genuinely ‘celebrate’ the Reformation.
I think that a truly ecumenical attitude must recognize that there may be occasions when Protestants wish to celebrate the Reformation in ways that a Catholic (or Orthodox perhaps) cannot. Catholics need to respect that. Similarly, Protestants need to respect that there may be Reformation events in which Catholics (or perhaps Orthodox) would not wish to participate. We shouldn’t get bent out of shape in such a situation.

Michael Root

Comments from international Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue

on July 24th, 2015 by admin

Here are comments following the most recent meeting of the international Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, from Theo Dieter (Lutheran) and Eva-Maria Faber (Catholic). They comment especially on the 2017 anniversary.

Timothy George on the Ecumenism 50 Years After Vatican II

on March 21st, 2015 by admin

Timothy George, Dean at the Beeson Divinity School and outstanding Evangelical theologian, will be speaking at our conference this summer.  Here are some thoughts on ecumenism from him, given at a conference in Rome last fall on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism.

Introductory Reflections on 1517-1519

on March 17th, 2015 by admin

Here is a presentation given last summer at the National Workshop on Christian Unity on just what we are historically commemorating.  What happened in 1517 that is of such importance?  The text was accompanied by the timeline down a couple of items in this blog.

Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Revised Christological Agreement

on March 10th, 2015 by admin

The international dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Oriental Orthodox Churches released a revised agreement on Christology last fall that has not yet received wide attention.  The split between the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches is the oldest continuing Christian division.  Recent theological dialogues have often reached sufficient consensus on Christology, but ecclesial reconciliation is coming slowly.  The text of the revised agreement is here and the communique from the dialogue meeting is here.

1517 Reformation Timeline

on March 9th, 2015 by admin

We will be posting on the blog various resources for the 2017 commemoration.  These will be grouped together as “2017 Resources” under “Categories” to the right.  To begin with, here is a relatively detailed timeline of the first two years or so of the Reformation.

2017 Plans Move Forward at International Level

on March 9th, 2015 by admin

Planning continues to move forward between the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation on commemorations in 2017, as can be seen here.

Update on 2016 Orthodox Council

on March 3rd, 2015 by admin

First Things has an update on the 2016 Holy and Great Orthodox Council here. For the last fifty years, this Council has always seemed five to ten years off, always receding into the future. Now it appears to be arriving. Such a council, simply by happening, will be an event of ecumenical importance.

Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue on Mission

on September 30th, 2014 by admin

Here is report on the most recent meeting of the Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical dialogue on mission.

Wolfhart Pannenberg on the Ecumenical Task: In memoriam

on September 7th, 2014 by admin

Deutschlandradio reports that Wolfhart Pannenberg died on Thursday evening, Sept 4.  A man of staggering erudition, Pannenberg was devoted to the ecumenical cause and an exemplar of a catholic and evangelical theology.  He was a regular contributor to our journal Pro Ecclesia.  Here is his last contribution, from 2006, on Ecumenical Tasks in Relationship to the Roman Catholic Church
May light eternal shine upon him.

Reading Radner, Part 2

on August 26th, 2014 by admin

The Living Church, an excellent independent Anglican magazine, has printed the second half of its editor’s (Christopher Wells) Reading Radner, a summary of Ephraim Radner’s important (but difficult) book A Brutal Unity.

Ecumenism Statement from Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

on August 21st, 2014 by admin

Here is a new statement of ecumenical commitment from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.  It is written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism.

An ecumenical treatment of the extra nos character of justification

on August 20th, 2014 by admin

An important aspect of the discussion of justification in the Catholic-Lutheran text From Conflict to Communion is the way it handles the extra nos (outside of us) character of the Christian’s righteousness according to Luther. For Luther, the only righteous that can avail before the judgment of God is the righteousness of Christ, in which the justified participate by faith. That participation does not mean, however, that Christ and the justified person somehow merge. They remain distinct and so the most fundamental attitude of the Christian is trust and dependence on Christ, who remains extra nos, outside of us in the sense of distinct from us.
The Catholic worry has been that this emphasis on a righteousness that remains outside of us leaves the justified just as they were, mired in sin. Has grace been reduced to a legal fiction, in which God pretends not to notice that we remain sinners?
Both for a true picture of Luther’s theology and for ecumenical understanding, it is important that From Conflict to Communion states:
“The image [the joyful exchange, in which we receive Christ’s righteousness and Christ takes our sin] slows that something external, namely Christ’s righteousness, becomes something internal. It becomes the property of the soul, but only in union with Christ through truth in his promises, not in separation from him. Luther insists that our righteousness is totally external because it is Christ’s righteousness, but it has to become totally internal by faith in Christ. Only if both sides are equally emphasized is the reality of salvation properly understood” (§108).
“Thus, our righteousness is external insofar as it is Christ’s righteousness, but it must become our righteousness, that is, internal, by faith in Christ’s promise” (§112)
That Luther’s understanding of justification is ‘forensic’ is not denied. But: “If God declares someone righteous, this changes his or her situation and creates a new reality. God’s judgment does not remain ‘outside’ the human being” (§115).

Baptist Catholicity

on August 19th, 2014 by admin

An interesting development of the last decade or so has been the appearance of a distinctively Baptist strain of “evangelical catholic” theology.  It is strongly ecumenical and seeks to affirm Baptist links with the larger tradition of the Church  Perhaps the most prominent advocate of this approach has been Steven Harmon (see his blog Ecclesial Theology and his book Towards Baptist Catholicity).  Now there is the interesting new book of Curtis Freeman, who directs the Baptist studies program at Duke Divinity School, entitled Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists.  Definitely a movement worth following and material worth reading.

International Catholic-Reformed Dialogue

on August 18th, 2014 by admin

Here is a report on the latest activity of the international Catholic-Reformed dialogue.  You might recognize George Hunsinger of Princeton Seminary and former speaker at our conferences in the picture accompanying the article.

Oswald Bayer on the Reformation, Modernity, and Freedom

on August 7th, 2014 by admin

A central theme in the present ecumenical discussion of the Reformation is the relation between the Reformation and the rise of whatever one thinks constitutes “modernity.”  What connection is there and does any such connection show the positive character of the Reformation or simply identify the Reformation with an alleged modern slide into relativism, individualism, etc.?  For another voice on this debate, here is a recent essay from our journal Pro Ecclesia by Oswald Bayer, “Necessary Transformation? The Reformation and Modernity in Controversy over Freedom.”

“Justification and Freedom” – 6: Some final comments

on August 4th, 2014 by admin

In the previous post, I noted that the deep ecumenical problem with Justification and Freedom is not some specific assertion it makes, but the goal it is seeking to achieve: a sharpening of a distinct Protestant identity in a situation of Christian division. In such a situation, such a sharpened identity is almost always contrastive: we are this because we are not that. In Germany, where the EKD and the Catholic Church take in almost all Christians, it is all too easy for the identity of each to become defined by not being the other.

This tendency is strengthened in Justification and Freedom by its emphasis on “this [faith, grace, etc.] alone,” implying “not that.” The “not that” is too often a caricature. It is not understood for its own sake, but as a contrast case to set up the alternative. “Christ alone” means saints are not to be honored in place of Christ [p. 55]. True enough. And what Catholic or Orthodox ever said that saints were to be honored in place of Christ? To create a contrast, a false alternative must be created. (There is a difference on the invocation of the saints, but it is inevitably more subtle).

One particular theme in the text is ecumenically troubling. On ordained ministry, the text takes up a “transference theory” [Übertragungslehre]: every Christian can do what clergy do, but for good order the tasks of preaching and administering the sacraments are transferred [übertragen] to certain persons, who can devote full time to the task. Rather than an “estate [Stand] of consecrated priests constituted by a distinct sacrament, . . . the right [Recht] of publicly preaching the Word and administering the sacraments can be transferred to certain persons according to a regulated ordered process under the prayer of the congregation. Thus evangelical pastors are not consecrated [geweiht], but ordained [ordiniert]” (p. 90).

Again, there is an issue here, but such a stark contrast does not get at the truth, as ecumenical dialogues have shown (see the international Catholic-Lutheran statement The Ministry in the Church, esp. paragraphs 20, 23, 33-35, here). If the difference is so fundamental, than is any possible recognition of Protestant orders by the Catholic Church undercut: after all, here the EKD seems to be saying that what they are doing in ordination is not what Catholics are doing.

Catholic bishops and theologians have reacted to the text quite negatively. Wolfgang Thönissen, director of the ecumenical institute at Paderborn related to the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, has said Catholics should not accept invitations to “celebrations” of the Reformation, but should weigh invitations to ecumenical “memorial events” [Gedenkveranstaltungen]. The text has been vigorously defended as ecumenical by one of its more prominent authors, Prof. Volker Leppin of Tübingen.

Time will tell whether this text is a momentary bump or a significant obstacle. I worry that, at the very least, it shows deeply ingrained problems.

Ecumenical news – August 1

on August 1st, 2014 by admin

Some ecumenical news on Lutheran-Catholic dialogue and on the possibilities of Catholic-Orthodox relations.