Wesley and Methodist Studies, vol. 4, 2012
The International Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council is sometimes called the ›Cinderella‹ among the bi-lateral dialogues. It has been taking place for more than forty years and produces every quinquennium a study document with remarkable results. But not much attention is paid to these documents and they are infrequently quoted either in the general ecumenical debate or even in Methodist or Catholic publications. This volume, edited by Christoph Raedel, a young Methodist theologian teaching at the International YMCA University of Applied Sciences in Kassel, tries to rescue the Dialogue from its Cinderella existence. Its title (in English something like: Together under way as people who have received gifts) follows the intention of the report from 2006, The Grace Given You in Christ (Seoul report), which takes up the theme of the ›exchange of gifts‹.
The first part consists of two pairs of parallel papers, written by a Catholic and Methodist. The first pair deals with the documents of the Dialogue. Christoph Raedel, the Methodist, gives a careful analysis of all the documents and observes, as in most protestant-catholic dialogues, a certain asymmetry between the partners. The ›high ecclesiology‹ of the Roman Catholic church creates the impression that the protestant side needs to remedy a deficit. Considering the goal of ›full communion‹ he suggests to clarify more precisely what degree of agreement in doctrine and order has to be achieved to reach this goal in order to safeguard some room for the richness of the traditions and for discernibly different accents.
Johannes Oeldemann, Paderborn, in his Catholic perspective centres upon the ›sources of faith‹, the concept of the sacraments and the practical suggestions, especially of the Seoul Report. He appreciates the methodological turn to the ›exchange of gifts; because this causes the partners to look at their commonalities and to focus on the strengths of the other and not on the weaknesses.
The other pair of papers, written by Manfred Marquardt, Reutlingen (Methodist) and Burkhard Neumann, Paderborn (Roman Catholic), deal with the World Methodist Council’s Affirmation of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Both assess it positively and without reservations, but whereas Marquardt urges the drawing of consequences for the relationship between the churches involved, Neumann shows more the implications for the ecumenical dialogue.
Geoffrey Wainwright, the long-time Co-Chair of the Dialogue Commission, contributes the German translation of his paper Dynamics of Dialogue (first published as Embracing Purpose, Peterborough, 2007). He deals with a plethora of axiomatic questions, cautions against too great impatience on the protestant side concerning Eucharistic hospitality and praises the paradigm shift by focusing on the ›exchange of gifts‹. But some of his examples reveal also the problem of this method. He writes »Methodists should be willing to be gifted by the Catholic side by such features as a more active enjoyment of the ›communion of saints‹ (perhaps sealed by our being able to pray together ›Sancti Ioannes et Carole, orate pro nobis‹)« (101). Just to provide some names of Methodists who have lived an exemplary life for a common calendar of saints and in return to be gifted with the highly problematic Roman Catholic understanding of ›saints‹ may not be the desirable solution.
From the perspective of the local level (especially in Switzerland) Thomas Gerold, Ravensburg, shares some ›reflections and suggestions‹ for ›the lived togetherness‹ of Catholics and Methodists.
The last part consists of the German translation of the Seoul Report. Whereas the translation may not be of much interest for most English speaking readers it may be appropriate to close this review with a few remarks on the document as such, not least because of the principal paradigm shift which is attributed to it by some of the authors of this volume.
The report is composed of four parts: I. Mutual Reassessment describes the new appreciation which has grown out of the many encounters of the last decades. II. Together in Christ develops a Trinitarian ecclesiology using a lot of Charles Wesley's Hymns. In III., Deepening and Extending Our Recognition of One Another, Methodists and Catholics tell one another what they appreciate of the other and what they want to share with them Here the asymmetry of the relationship becomes manifest. Methodists ›can now recognize the Roman Catholic Church as a true church‹ (§107) and ›acknowledge the episcopal college and the historic succession of bishops to be a sign of the unity of the Church in spaces and time‹ (! §112). They also are ready to acknowledge that ›a universal primacy might wen serve as focus of and ministry for the unity of the whole Church‹ (§114). They only ›invite Roman Catholics to consider how their own appreciation of spiritual gifts bestowed upon lay people may be informed by Methodism’s fruitful experience of the spiritual empowerment of lay people for ministry and mission‹ (§11S) and ›to consider how greater flexibility and pragmatism might enhance their own missionary activity‹ (§117).
Catholics on the other side ›recognize Methodist churches themselves as being of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation, and acknowledge that the Spirit of Christ has used and continues to use them as means of salvation, deriving their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth that Catholics believe has been entrusted to the Catholic Church‹ (§121). They want to give to the Methodists their ›articulated ecclesiology‹, especially the leadership through the college of bishops and the Petrine ministry, ordained ministry as priesthood, the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist and the ›infallibility given by God to the Church itself‹ (§§128-135).
It is therefore no surprise that where the Report tries ›to show that the reconciliation of Methodists and Catholics offers great potential to both communities‹ (§137). Roman Catholic categories are used, e.g. when it is said that ›we would also have the joy of sharing the inspiring examples of our saints‹ or that ›Methodists can receive a vital sign of apostolicity from Catholics, namely the apostolic succession of bishops‹. Here the Methodist understanding of holiness and apostolicity seems to be cut out. Just to add different conviction may accommodate some people’s perception of catholicity, but it does not create unity in accordance with the Gospel. The one Church of Jesus Christ is not only catholic, but also evangelical (in its original meaning: in accordance with the Evangel) and according to Methodist understanding this is what is meant by the ›mark‹ of apostolicity.
Part IV, Principles and Proposals for Developing Relations between Catholics and Methodists, names clear addressees for this Report and especially for the practical recommendations it makes. On the base of twelve principles, in which there is consensus, specific proposals are given how already today steps in the direction of the goal of ›full communion in faith, sacramental life and mission‹ can be made. This gives this document its distinctive character and is an important and commendable effort of the International Commission to escape the ivory tower of ecumenical specialists and to facilitate the cooperation of Catholics and Methodists on all levels.