By Patricia Navas
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant Churches — Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed and Methodist — is entering a new phase, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Cardinal Walter Kasper pointed this out Thursday during a press conference at the Vatican press office to present a book produced by the council titled “Harvesting the Fruits: Basic Aspects of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue.”
The 207-page book delineates the progress in ecumenical dialogue during the last 40 years, since the end of the Second Vatican Council. The focus of the book, which took two years to complete, and includes the contribution of Protestant theologians, is on dialogue with Protestant churches, since those were the first to establish formal dialogue with the Vatican in the wake of Vatican II.
“With this book, we are at the end of the first stage, which has been full of fruits and, at the same time, we are entering a new phase, which we hope will be fruitful and that the difficult problems that are pending will be resolved,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Kasper said that now is the moment to evaluate the situation of ecumenical dialogue, adding that “[w]e ourselves are pleasantly surprised for all that has been achieved in these years.”
In regard to the harvesting of the fruits of the dialogue, referred to in the book’s title, Cardinal Kasper said that “it is really a very rich harvest, which overcomes the numerous controversies and great historical problems of the Reformation.”
“This could be a clear answer to opinions that are spreading, at times also in the Roman Curia, or to the unjustified accusation that ecumenism with the Protestant authorities had not harvested fruit to date and has left us with empty hands,” he continued.
“We do not want the wealth of the results obtained to be forgotten and have to begin again from zero,” he said.
“We wish to begin a process of reception of these rich fruits in the body of the Church itself, to come to a new kind of ecumenical behavior,” he revealed.
Cardinal Kasper pointed out that at present, rapid changes are taking place in the West in the ecumenical realm as in all others.
In this connection, he said that after the enthusiasm of the first years following the council, today there is a certain exhaustion in ecumenical dialogue.
“However, the new sobriety established can also be a sign of greater maturity. The ecumenical journey will probably take longer than it seemed after the council,” he noted.
The book reflects the changes that the ecclesial communities in dialogue have undergone in the course of the past 40 years.
“Perhaps our interlocutors are no longer the same; they are more varied than the ones we came across during and after the council. There are internal fragmentations, new problems in the field of ethics, problems that were unknown in the past,” he explained.
“There have been changes also in the Catholic Church. Sometimes our documents are difficult for our interlocutors to digest,” he continued. “With this book, we wish to foment a new stimulus.
“By illustrating the numerous positive results of these 40 years, we want to show that we are capable of obtaining anything if we continue to be committed to ecumenism.”
The volume highlights, for the first time, the results of the four bilateral dialogues with the four Protestant Churches, grouped by topics, to allow for comparisons and a clearer view of the scope of what has been achieved in 40 years of dialogue.
The book also includes areas of ecumenical convergence, which could help in the process of reception of the results in the different Churches.
With regard to problems to be resolved, Cardinal Kasper explained that “[w]e have identified problems in hermeneutics, in anthropology, in ecclesiology and also in understanding of the Eucharist.”
The Catholic and Protestant Churches hope to organize a symposium in February 2010, to debate the future of Western ecumenism, announced the cardinal.
The book presented on Thursday in the Vatican will serve as the basis for the conversations of that meeting.
Intervening in the press conference, in addition to Cardinal Kasper, was Monsignor Mark Langham, official of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and one of the cardinal’s principal collaborators in the elaboration of the book.
Monsignor Langham pointed out that Cardinal Kasper “wished to make known in this way to a new generation the fruit of 40 years of ecumenical dialogue,” a generation “that grew up in the post-conciliar years, and probably does not know thoroughly what has been achieved.”
The official explained that the book is structured in four chapters: “Principles of Our Common Faith,” “Salvation, Justification and Sanctification,” “The Church” and “Baptism and Eucharist.”
Applying the methodology of the ecumenical dialogue itself, the first chapter treats the common basis of all the parties in dialogue.
The second chapter focuses on a central issue of the Reformation — salvation, justification and sanctification — in which “a significant agreement has been achieved that constitutes a milestone in ecumenical relations,” explained Monsignor Langham.
However, he added, “questions still remain that require further clarification, such as that which refers to the function of the doctrine of justification within the whole of ecclesiology.”
The third chapter, the longest, examines the mission, authority and ministry of the Church, beginning with the way these aspects are presented in the joint declarations of the Churches over these years.
“In this connection, the controversies and misunderstandings of the 16th century have been re-examined and overcome in part,” said the expert, though problems remain in key questions such as “what is” or “where is” the Church.
In Monsignor Langham’s opinion, “this shows that the relation between the spiritual and concrete elements that define the Church will have to be studied more profoundly.”
The fourth chapter addresses, for example, the controversy over the Eucharist that existed during the Reformation, about which “thanks to an intense dialogue and above all to a renewed emphasis on the function of the Holy Spirit, it has been possible to arrive at an important convergence,” stated the official.
In any case, he added, “some questions on that sacrament will have to be studied further, as well as the character of sacrifice of the Mass, the Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist, and the meaning of ‘transubstantiation.'”
In the last chapter, Cardinal Kasper addresses the synthesis of the four dialogues and the importance of all that has been achieved.