Summer Seminar 2016: Fifty Years of Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue

Fifty years ago, at a meeting of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) which took place at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, a commission was formed to foster the relationship between the the two churches. With that began half a century of international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue that continues to this very day and has led to decisive ecumenical progress.

This anniversary prompted the Strasbourg Institute to dedicate its fiftieth Summer Seminar to the topic of this dialogue, in cooperation with the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute (Paderborn, Germany). From 4 to 11 July of this year, speakers who have been active participants in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue were invited to review the various phases of the dialogue.


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Over the week’s work, 60 participants coming from 22 countries and 8 churches sought to understand, describe, and analyze this dialogue. After a general historical introduction, a more incisive review was undertaken of the years from 1967 to 1994. This was the time of important statements (“The Eucharist,” “The Ministry in the Church,” and the vision of unity that came from them, “Facing Unity”). A highpoint was the day that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was signed. This took place in 1999 when the Vatican and the LWF established the foundational consensus upon which all other progress would rely. This fact was especially underscored at the Seminar by Cardinal Lehmann. Subsequent dialogues led to the statement “From Conflict to Communion,” an important document looking toward the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. This new phase was discussed in detail and led on the last day to a presentation of various perspectives on the future and new ground to be broken.

A second dimension of this seminar was the presentation of regional dialogues and their consequences in Latin America, the U.S., Tanzania, France, and Germany. Much has been accomplished in each of these areas, though of course much remains to be done. 

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At the end of the Seminar, the group together celebrated the common liturgy that will also be celebrated on 31 October 2017 in Lund by the LWF, Pope Francis in attendance. Since the drafters of this liturgy were present at the Seminar, it made for an entirely fitting conclusion to the event. Catholic Archbishop Grallet of Strasbourg and Lutheran Bishop July of Württemberg (who is also the chair of the Institute’s board) presided at the worship service.

Finally, during the course of the Seminar Prof. Theodor Dieter, a major player on the Lutheran side of this dialogue, celebrated his 65th birthday. All of the papers presented at this year’s seminar will be published as a Festschrift in his honor.

Worship service on July 9 (Lund liturgy) in French and German: Programme Célébration oecuménique 2016

Sermon by Archbishop Grallet (in French): Homélie Msgr Grallet

Comments from participants:

“Thank you for the gift of the seminar that celebrated 50 years of dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Though I was a pastor during those same 50 years, I came away very grateful for the servants who gave of their time and skills to keep the conversation going. At the same time, I carry within me a concern for the future conversations. Who will continue the dialogue that is needed until we have full communion? The setting of Strasbourg and the seminary campus was just spectacular in every way. Thanks again.”  —Rev. Frank Lee, D.Min. (USA)

“It has been a big gift from God for sending me to this conference through which I learned in first person about the whole story of Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue that started 50 years ago. I was deeply touched by the strong desire for reconciliation and admirable perseverance from our German brothers. Returning to Hong Kong, I was urged to promote  the achievements of JDDJ and the recent document ‘From Conflict to Communion.’ The pioneers and the team of bilateral dialogue have been doing marvelous work, and I hope the reception of their achievements will be widely recognized by various denominations all over the world.”  —Sister Theresa Lumo Kung (Hong Kong)

“The Summer Seminar was a very educational experience. The academic lectures from a group of highly skilled international guests and the question-and-answer sessions after the lectures were especially instructive. The working groups, which focused on specific issues and ecumenical documents, were also very informative in both dogmatic-theological and practical-ecclesial perspectives. The instruction, debate and discussion was especially unique because of the very international character of the group. Virtually every corner of the world was represented among the participants and presenters. We had the opportunity to talk about the different challenges that the churches across the world are facing and also to address the hopes for the future. The work of ecumenism is not, however, only a matter of theological discussion and debate. We also took time to worship together in the beautiful Church of St. Thomas. The meals at the seminar, including the wonderful French wines, were, needless to say, superb. We also had time to enjoy the lovely city of Strasbourg and the beauty of God’s creation. The final day trip to the Alsace countryside, the trip to Colmar (Isenheim Altarpiece) and the wine-tasting were all very memorable events. The Summer Seminar is not something to miss!”  —Dr. Paul Silas Peterson (Tübingen, Germany)