Benedict XVI hopes for a “spiritual ecumenism” between Catholics and Lutherans
On February 10, Benedict XVI expressed his wish that the dialog between Catholics and Lutherans progresses on the basis of what Vatican Council II (1962-1965) accomplished and passes from the “practical” phase to a “spiritual ecumenism”. On the last day of the symposium with the Protestant denominations held from the 8th to the 10th of February, 2010 by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, the pope called for “a full visible unity between Christians”.
Shortly after the Wednesday general audience, the Sovereign Pontiff received a delegation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the United States in a room next to the Paul VI Audience Hall. Founded in 1988, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is affiliated with the World Lutheran Federation. It comprises 4.7 million faithful and is currently presided by Mark Hanson (see photo).
“Harvesting the fruit of this dialog undertaken following the Vatican Council II is an important mission” declared the Holy Father. “And in order to continue building on what has been accomplished, we need a spiritual ecumenism, founded on ardent prayer and conversion to Christ, the source of grace and truth”. Benedict XVI concluded by citing John-Paul II on the occasion of a meeting with the members of the Lutheran Church of America in 1985: “Let us rejoice that such an encounter can take place. Let us dispose ourselves to be open to the Lord, so that He may use this encounter for His own ends, to make way for the unity He desires. Thank you for your efforts in favor of full unity in faith and charity”.
Comment: This last phrase which Benedict borrowed from his predecessor, in the same vein of ecumenism promoted by Vatican II, does not fail to evoke the theory of “the exchange of gifts between Churches in their complementarity”, as developed in the encyclical Ut unum sint (no. 57). This is in fact a case of asking the Lutherans to bring their contribution to the work of unity in faith and charity, which transcends Catholics just as it does Lutherans. This presupposes that the Catholic Church is not integrally the guardian of the treasure of the faith. To which the Congregation of the Holy Office responded in its decree De motione oecumenica of 20 December 1949: “One should avoid talking on this point in such a way that, in returning to the Church, they (the Protestants) think they are briguing to it an essential element which was lacking until now”. (Sources: apic/vis DICI no. 210 of 2/20/10).