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Communion with, not under the Pope.

Catholic friends often tell me, We don't understand why you Protestants don't accept the papacy as such. We all have fathers -- that goes without saying. But whether you always do what your father says is another question. After all, Rome is a long way away..." This attitude may offer a personal solution for individual Catholics, but it does not resolve the debate about what sort of unity we want, which is a fundamental one in the ecumenical movement.

The formulation in my title -- "communion with, not under the pope" is a modification of the old Roman Catholic formula that the unity of the church takes shape as communion with and under the pope -- cum et sub Petro. The intent of changing this to "with, not under" is not to revert to classic Protestant polemics about the papacy, but to try to move the discussion beyond the alternatives of either abolishing the papacy or submitting to the pope. Thus I shall suggest from a point of view some perspectives on our hope for a universal ministry of unity in the church. Can greater ecumenical communion be realized without obliging any church to surrender its identity?

The theses I shall put forward are inevitably marked by my own membership of a church which has lived for centuries without a pope. All in all, this has been a good experience, though it must be admitted that the provincialism of the German regional churches (Landeskirchen) has no doubt stunted their perception of the universal unity of the church; and not until the ecumenical movement and the founding of the World Council of Churches in the 20th century have we begun to overcome this.

The ecumenical movement

1. Overall perspective: What we have in common is more essential than what divides us.

The ecumenical movement has taught us to recognize communion in essentials and on that basis to evaluate our differences in a new light. During earlier periods of confessional polemics it was the other way around: getting a single point of doctrine wrong was often sufficient reason to be excluded as a heretic.

We believe in common that we live out of the love of God as it was revealed in Jesus Christ, that we are members of the body of Christ through baptism, that this unity is a gift prior to anything we do. From the perspective of God's love and grace there is no "more" or "less", only communion in faith. This is not therefore a cheap and minimal "lowest common denominator" consensus. Far from it: being members together of the body of Christ is the highest common denominator.

The problem within each church and in interconfessional dialogue lies at the human level of establishing the agreement in faith and giving form to the unity of the church in terms of doctrinal expressions and structures of communion. From New Testament times on there has been a multiplicity of ways of belief, theologies, images of Christ and also church structures. Different structures of thought and forms of piety -- which of course are also encountered in all other religions and worldviews -- have resulted in different confessional emphases and sometimes in contradictions, oppositions and even schisms.

In the Protestant-Catholic dialogue of recent decades the churches have acknowledged a basic consensus on Christology and on the question of justification by grace alone through faith. But even though Rome and the Lutheran World Federation hope to endorse this consensus officially in 1998, the confessional problems will remain, because each side draws different consequences from it.

2. Diversity in unity: We are one in our faith in Christ, but not in what we believe about the church and its authority or about authority in the church.

The basic question is how the church represents Christ. The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) presents the church -- in analogy to the person of Jesus Christ -- as a "complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element", so that it can be called the sacrament of salvation and the sacrament of the world. According to Lumen Gentium: "This church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (para. 8).

This is the basis of the Catholic belief that the structure of the church and of the papal ministry are not simply historically determined forms, but belong to the faith itself. In their dialogues with Lutherans in the US, for example, the Catholics said: "The acceptance of the papal office is for us imperative because we believe that it is willed by God for his church."(1)

The Protestant understanding of the relationship of Christ and the church is rooted in a more functional conception oriented to the work of Christ for us. The church receives the gift of salvation and is the steward of it, but is not itself a sacrament. As communion of saints, the church -- like the individual Christian -- is always simul justus et peccator, justified and at the same time sinful. Thus there is a clear distinction between the "origin and foundation of the church -- what the church lives by" and the "shape of the church -- how the church lives".(2) Not that the shape of the church is purely arbitrary, for the church must always create room for the witness to and service of the gospel. But a diversity of church orders may be legitimate, provided they remain subject to the authority of the word of God. Concretely this means that both within Protestantism and in Protestant-Catholic dialogue, "no single historically arisen form of church leadership and ministerial structure can or may be laid down as a prior condition for fellowship and for mutual recognition".(3)

Divine hierarchical structure on the one side, fundamental openness to historically variable structures on the other: these polarities imprison the ecumenical movement in the question of ministry, from which the only escape is to listen together to God's word in the light of our fundamental communion in faith and to each other, and to seek ways of understanding and agreement.

For the Protestant churches this will imply a process of "ecumenical learning", in which far more attention is given than heretofore to the universal ecumenical structure of the church.

3. Unity in diversity: Because the gospel must be proclaimed in word and deed at all levels of church life, a global structure of church unity is indispensable.

In this sense, the ecumenical movement may be seen as a kind of 20th-century Reformation. The World Council of Churches, in which almost all non-Roman Catholic church traditions are represented, is an instrument for bringing already existing ecumenical impulses into conversation with one another and for working together as closely as possible on the world level. To expand on this theme here would lead us too far afield: suffice it to say that for the ecumenical conversation with the Catholic Church, the critical point on the agenda is how to handle the doctrine of papal primacy.

We thus turn now to the attitude of the non-catholic churches to the claim of papal primacy. The key points at issue here are (1) the succession of Peter, (2) Rome as centre and guarantor of unity, and (3) the dogmatizing of the claim of papal primacy by the First Vatican Council. After considering these questions, we shall ask how a communion of other churches with the pope flight be possible.

Not under the pope

1. Peter was not a pope: No other church acknowledges the Roman Catholic claim to have maintained in the ministry of the successor of Peter and in the office of the bishops of Rome the visible sign and guarantee of unity".

Among Catholic and Protestant biblical scholars a wide-ranging consensus prevails that the "papacy in its developed form cannot be read back into the New Testament".(4) There is no doubt that during the life of Jesus and in the early church the historical figure of Peter had a prominent position accorded to him by Christ, especially in Jerusalem. After the exodus from Jerusalem his apostolic service was itinerant, not linked with any of the churches he founded or visited. Jesus' calling and commissioning of the Twelve symbolized by analogy the continuity of the new people of God with the twelve tribes of Israel. This was limited to the lifetime of these twelve men; and there is no reference to any process of succession, to a "college of twelve" or to a successor of Peter as such. Peter's martyrdom in Rome does not prove that he was bishop of Rome or that any future Roman bishop -- as distinguished from the bishop of Jerusalem or Antioch, for example, where Peter in fact worked longer -- was the successor of Peter and heir to his leading role.

The special position assumed by the church in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem derived from its natural prominence as the imperial capital and from the martyrdom of Peter and Paul there. Over time this authority shifted from the ecclesia Romana to the sedes apostolica and finally to the sedens, the Roman bishop. The claim that the bishop of Rome is the successor of Peter comes up for the first time with Stephen I in 256.

Given these facts, about which there is scarcely any serious doubt among even Catholic historians, it is somewhat surprising that the words of Jesus and of the exalted Christ to Peter have been repeatedly applied -- most recently in Pope John Paul II's encyclical on ecumenism, Ut unum sint -- to the bishop of Rome and the pope as the basis of a claim to a divinely ordained primatial power.

More understandable, though no less problematic, are the references to the leading of the Holy Spirit in the history of the Roman church and in the claim of papal primacy. But to identify this as a matter of faith and to exclude from fellowship those who do not accept it is to turn extra- or post-biblical traditions into a virtual source of revelation. Here the Eastern Orthodox churches also raise a strong protest. They are willing to speak of an historically evolved primacy of honour of the Bishop of Rome, but they firmly reject any dogmatic claim of primacy to Rome.

2. The pope is not the only Peter. Christian truth must not be represented by a single person and a single primatial centre, but is rather found in the dialogical hearing of the word of God within a many-centred Christianity.

In the debate about Peter and the pope Catholic theologians refer to a nascent typology of Peter in the New Testament. From describing leadership in the New Testament as a "Petrine function", one moves logically to the concepts of "Petrine service" and "Petrine ministry" related to a single person. These concepts are not found in the New Testament in this way, and it is inappropriate to apply them, consciously or unconsciously, to the papal office.

The Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople have consistently argued that Peter and the other apostles together have had many successors in all the bishops. The former ecumenical patriarch Dimitrios put this point of view clearly during a 1973 visit by Cardinal Willebrands to Istanbul:

To be clear, upright and honourable over against each other and the whole

world, we should

repeat and emphasize that no bishop of the Christian church has a universal

privilege, given

by God or by human beings, over the one holy catholic and apostolic church;

all of us, be it

in Rome, in this city or in any other..., are simply and only co-bishops

under the one chief

high priest, the head of the church, our Lord Jesus Christ, according to

the always existing

and ecclesially recognized hierarchical order.(5)

The current patriarch, Bartholomeos, reaffirmed the Orthodox point of view in a June 1996 interview with the Polish Catholic weekly Tygodni Powsrechny, in which he described the papacy as the "greatest and most scandalous hindrance" to the unity of the Christian churches. Above all, he said, the dogma of papal infallibility must be given up and the "universal primary of the pope in juridical sense" abolished. The pope must be seen as "coordinator and senior church leader" and as "patriarch alongside other apostolic centres of the world".(6)

From a Protestant point of view the idea of typological Petrine functions is certainly linked to the question of how a ministry of oversight in the proclamation of the gospel should look. The New Testament attests to others' assuming a "Petrine function" alongside Peter, in order to lead the church and to strengthen the brothers and sisters. Paul, James the brother of the Lord, the evangelists, whose written gospels awakened faith and unity, and many other "pillars" -- in Jerusalem and elsewhere -- represent the unity and plurality of the proclamation of the gospel.

In his function of unity Peter has not only found successors in all bishops, as the Orthodox insist; as Lukas Vischer says, "Peter has not one but many successors in the church. The Spirit provides for countless charismatic successions."(7) He mentions in this connection the ecumenical impact of persons like Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Pope John XXIII in fostering faith and unity.

Clearly, to identify a charismatic Petrine service in such successors of Peter does not yet resolve the problem of church structures. To shed light on this, it is useful to consider the first great controversy in the history of the church -- the one between Jewish and Gentile Christians over compliance with the law. This dispute was decided not by an appeal to the primacy of Peter but in a conciliar way at the so-caned apostolic council in Jerusalem (Acts 15). Later Rome and other cities had equal patriarchal rank. Rome was the patriarchate of the Latin West; and the other patriarchs never recognized its claims to primacy of jurisdiction. Why should not a Christianity with many centres in conciliar fellowship, as in the early church, offer a solution in the contemporary context that is suitable and in conformity with the gospel?

That does not mean abolishing the papal ministry if the Roman Catholic Church, as part of the one church of Christ, wants to maintain it. The debate is about whether and how the worldwide Roman Catholic Church can recognize as sister churches other churches which have their own spiritual and autonomous geographical centres.

3. Catholic breadth and Roman narrowness: To identify obedience in faith to God with ecclesial obedience to the doctrinal office as closely as the Roman Catholic system does is ecumenically untenable.

In Roman Catholic thought, the concentration of the universal office of unity in one person and one geographical centre is seen as the fullness of catholicity, whereas what is found outside the Roman Catholic Church are only "elements of sanctification and of truth" Lumen Gentium, para. 8). All other churches argue that this concentration on one person, the pope, and on one centre, Rome, has particularized and confessionalized the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy sees Rome not as the mother church from which the Eastern churches fell away in the 11th century, but as the patriarchate of the West which is claiming primacy for itself. According to the churches of the Reformation, Rome's dogmatized claim of primacy makes it one confessional church alongside the others.

Instead of harbouring a diversity of legitimate theologies, Rome often declares a particular theology normative. Of course this is not the intention; and the travels of the current pope give evidence of respect for a legitimate diversity of Catholicisms. Yet on many doctrinal questions Roman narrowness takes precedence over Catholic breadth.

The issue here is not simply the modern or post-modern question of pluralism, as though the church should be nothing more than a free market of ways of believing from which everyone can choose what he or she wishes. No church wants that. What is at stake is the issue of how to preserve the truth of the gospel. Can human beings infallibly comprehend, articulate and shape it? Or does the truth, which is finally Christ himself, fundamentally presuppose a personal and dialogical approach, thus implying freedom and historically conditioned diversity?

Protestants would say that the truth comes about as a permanent event of word and proclamation in worship, in the sermon and wherever else people hear and preserve God's word. The public ministry of proclamation, the ordained ministry, comprises church leadership, but this is always limited by both a collegial and communal structure and a conviction of basic human and churchly fallibility.

The Eastern Orthodox objection to the primacy of jurisdiction of one individual in the church is rooted in the character of the church as mystery. The claim of papal primacy destroys the ecclesial, sacramental structure as such. The Western idea of authority is an innovation contrary to the form of the ancient church, superimposing itself on -- and indeed suppressing -- the sacramental structure of the church. Cardinal Ratzinger once summarized the Orthodox objection in a striking way: "the papacy is not a sacrament but a juridical institution elevated above the sacramental order."(8)

The objection of the Protestant churches similarly relates to the close identification between obedience in faith to God and ecclesial obedience to an ultimately infallible doctrinal office in a primatial and Rome-centred system of faith and church. The oath taken by all Catholic office-bearers implies the clear profession of everything included in God's word according to Holy Scripture, tradition and the Roman doctrinal office -- and in the fuller version in the Roman formulation of 1989 goes further to require specific obedience to doctrines promulgated by the pope or the college of bishops when they exercise the authentic teaching ministry even if these are not definitively proclaimed as binding.(9) Here we see clearly just how closely intertwined are the primacy of jurisdiction and the dogma of infallibility, and what it means concretely to live and operate "with and under the pope". Protestants cannot go along with the declaration of questions of church order as unconditionally applicable issues of faith or with the demand for agreement in the form of a profession of faith in or obedience to even non-definitive decisions of the Roman curia.

In this connection, it should be mentioned that the ministry of the pope as spiritual judge also remains alien to Protestants, who consider that "beatification" and "sanctification" encroach on the final judgment of God. To be sure the veneration of saints is neither taught as necessary for salvation nor in general is it required by the church. But both the church-juridical procedure of beatification and the practice of invocation of saints, which is also called prayer, give evidence of wide differences in theory and practice, in doctrine and piety, between Protestant and Catholic understandings of the authority that belongs only to God and Christ and the churchly authority of the pope and the saints.

It requires no special perspicacity to see that no other church is going to accept the Roman Catholic model of unity of faith and church unity. This is probably why Pope Paul VI said in a 1967 address to the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, "We are fully aware that the pope is the greatest stumbling-block on the way to unity."10 Pope John Paul II sees this no less clearly, though in Ut unum sint he puts it somewhat more cautiously: that. The Catholic claim of papal primacy "constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians" (para. 88).

Does all this imply that ecumenism is illusory except in the form of a "return" to unity "with and under the pope"' -- and thus is in effect dead? Contrary to many who would come precisely to such a sceptical conclusion, I am convinced that, in the light of the communion in the fundamentals of faith in the saving activity of the triune God as outlined above, it is possible to go on looking for an ecclesial communion in word and sacrament beyond the alternatives of abolishing the papacy or submission to the pope.

Communion with the pope

1. United under the gospel....: Ecclesial communion with the pope is possible if a common understanding of the gospel is articulated and if the pope does not insist that non-Roman Catholic Christians recognize the primacy of papal jurisdiction and the dogma of infallibility.

Apart from the question of ministry, the various Protestant-Catholic dialogue commissions have attained a remarkable measure of agreement on questions of faith. Specific confessional accents remain, even in the doctrines of justification and sacraments. But for the most part the theologians in these commissions always say that the remaining differences should no longer be church-dividing. The German Protestant Landeskirchen have declared at the highest synodical levels that the doctrinal condemnations in the confessional documents of the Reformation era regarding the Catholic doctrine of justification and the eucharist do not apply to the Catholic Church of today. Similar voices from the Roman Catholic side, also beyond the German context, would clear the way for an official mutual recognition.

But how do we escape the trap of the question of ministry? To clarify the points of tension, let me cite two quotations and then turn to the possibility of interim solutions.

A memorandum signed by many prominent German Protestants on the occasion of the first visit by Pope John Paul IIto Germany in 1980 asked whether the pope could, for the sake of the unity of the church, renounce historically evolved rights and initiate an ecumenical development in which non-Roman Catholic Christians were not obliged to recognize the dogma of infallibility and the primacy of jurisdiction?(11) Fifteen years later, in Ut unum sint, Pope John Paul II, responding to the request that he "find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation", offers an invitation to dialogue: "Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between us persuade church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject..., in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another...?" (paras 95 and 96).

Is it possible to hold together the pope's concern for not renouncing "what is essential" with the Protestants' call for giving up the notion that recognizing the dogmas of the First Vatican Council is a condition for ecclesial communion?

Here it is worthwhile first to take a look at efforts within Roman Catholicism itself to renew the papacy. There has been some discussion of this in recent decades under the themes of "collegiality" and "subsidiarity". However, this has not led to die reception of any new ideas; on the contrary, one can identify certain tendencies to centralize in order to counter what is considered excessive pluralism: in the realm of jurisdiction through the new code of canon law (1983), and in the realm of doctrine through the universal catechism, the oath of faith and the definitive claims made for certain papal decisions, such as that on the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood. This is not the place to go into these intra-Catholic discussions; rather, let me focus on the question of an ecumenical broadening of the principle of subsidiarity.

In the context of church structures subsidiarity means that what can properly be decided within smaller units of ecclesial life should not be referred to church leaders with broader responsibility. Ecumenically, Heinrich Tenhumberg, the late Catholic bishop of Munster, raised this possibility in the 1970s, drawing on the work of the then-professor of theology Joseph Ratzinger. Using the model of sister churches from the first millennium, the idea was that once the question of holy orders is clarified, Protestant churches could have the same juridical status as the Eastern patriarchates. The Protestants, according to Tenhumberg, "would have to recognize the continuation of the biblically attested Petrine ministry in the bishop of Rome, while the Roman Catholic Church would agree not to insist on extending the primacy of jurisdiction as developed by Rome in the same manner to the Reformation churches".(12)

Thus the proposal of a voluntary limitation of papal authority is not something that comes as a Protestant imposition on the Roman Catholic Church, but stems from discussions within the Catholic Church itself. Similar suggestions have come from Heinrich Fries and Karl Rahner, and from the Catholic delegates in the dialogue with Lutherans in the USA.(13) To make the point somewhat crudely: just because the primacy is dogmatized does not mean that the pope is always obliged to make use of it.

In any case, all these Catholic proposals presuppose a fundamentally ecumenically recognized papal ministry. A representative Catholic position is expressed by the German Jesuit theologian Werner Loser, who speaks about the reform necessary in all churches, in order to achieve as much catholicity and breadth as will enable "the still-divided churches to find their place within a renewed Roman Catholic Church without giving up their traditions effected by the Holy Spirit".(14)

It should be noted that what is being proposed here is not an "ecumenism of return", but a looking together into the future. But the unsatisfactory, indeed unrealistic, dimension of this must be stated forthrightly: what is envisaged in all of these cases is basically an institutional integration into the Roman Catholic Church -- not, to be sure, by way of "absorption", but nevertheless in the form of a modified communion "with and under the pope". For in the final analysis, all are expected to accept the dogma of the Petrine ministry with its claim of infallibility and with primacy of jurisdiction. But I know of no Orthodox or Protestant who would agree to that. To say "forward to a moderate Rome" instead of "back to Rome" is hardly the way non-Roman Catholic churches would construe the goal of ecumenism.

What non-Catholics have in mind when they ask that the pope renounce the claim to authority over them is that they not be obliged to accept the dogmas of the First Vatican Council, though on the basis of communion in fundamentals of faith they respect the fact that the Catholic Church preserves its identity through the papal ministry. To the extent that the pope would recognize as parts of the one church of Christ Protestant and Orthodox churches which do not adhere to the decisions of the First Vatican Council, this Catholic confession would not suspend communion in word and sacrament with other churches. Such a Protestant formulation of the goal is possible on the basis of the centre of the Holy Scripture -- the confession of Christ -- because nothing here touches the foundation of the church, only its shape. The papacy is respected as one possibility, but it is not taken over, because it is not the only shape that the unity of the church can take.(15)

This does not imply that everything remains the same as it has always been and that, in line with the modern notion of pluralism, nothing more is possible than a coexistence of separate confessions. Nor does it mean that the ecclesiology of the Reformation, with its distinction between the foundation and the shape of the church, should now become ecumenically normative. A Protestant concept of "communion with the pope" would surely demand new initiatives from the Protestant churches as well as the Roman Catholic Church. I shall refer briefly to this in my last two theses.

2. ... in conciliar fellowship ...: A conciliar fellowship of the confessions is a biblically appropriate and realistic possibility for construing communion with the pope and the unity of the universal church.

The WCC assembly in Uppsala in 1968 spoke of looking forward to a time "when a genuinely universal council may once more speak for all Christians, and lead the way into the future".(16)

Two problems inevitably arise. First, do only bishops -- in the sense of Catholic and Orthodox canon law -- belong to the council, or is it a representation of the whole people of God, in which ordained and non-ordained together assume the function of church leadership? Second, how is the old problem of the relationship between conciliar authority and papal authority to be resolved?

After Uppsala there was an extensive ecumenical debate on "conciliarity", "conciliar fellowship" and "koinonia".(17) Out of all this emerged an identification of the principles of ecclesial communion on all levels as recognition of baptism, common celebration of the eucharist and mutual recognition of ministries, as well as common witness and common service in the world. Several questions regarding a "council" (Latin) or a "synod" (Greek) as the organ of leadership in the church can be resolved only after common recognition of ministry and ordination is achieved.

Numerous theological dialogues have debated the problematics of the ordained ministry and episcopacy without achieving tangible results which the churches have officially received. The ecumenical prospects appear to be most promising when each side lays its theological and spiritual cards on the table: which truth is to be protected with authority and which danger of arbitrary freedom is to be defended against? Fundamental consensus has emerged regarding the functions of the ordained ministry (proclamation of the word of God, celebration of the sacraments and leadership of the church), but common understanding remains elusive on such questions as whether the office-bearer has a special ontological status and whether a hierarchical structure is indispensable.

Personally I have not lost hope that mutual recognition -- despite the differences on the understanding of ministry -- will one day be possible. Protestant theology must seek to interpret Protestant ordination as maintaining the divine commission in a way that Catholic and Orthodox churches recognize in it an essential continuity with the early church, and as implying an understanding of the office of bishop in the historic apostolic succession so that we are not seen to have any defects in our understanding of ministry. "Recognition", not "integration", should be the first ecumenical goal.

Only then will it be possible to create ecumenically common universal structures, of which the existing ecumenical councils and conferences of Christian churches are prototypes. At national and regional levels these increasingly include official Roman Catholic participation; and the European ecumenical assembly planned for Graz in 1997 is a good example of the potential here. In any event, the churches are not yet prepared, under the present circumstances of division, to give the ecumenical councils the clear mandate to speak and act for them which could lead, on the respective regional levels, into conciliarity".

At the global level there is only the Joint Working Group between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church. It operates in a very conciliatory, but not yet conciliar way. Those coming from the side of the WCC permanently circle around in search of a common position on issues of witness and service in the world on which the Catholic Church, with its Roman doctrinal office, already has a clear position, which it does not want to see watered down through ecumenical partnership. This was evident, for example, in preparations of church participation in the recent United Nations conferences on population (Cairo) and women (Beijing). Nor does Rome wish to allow the impression to be created that a common delegation of the WCC and the Vatican could be considered as the voice of Christianity. Here again, of course, the issue of the authority of the pope would be at stake.

For non-Roman Catholic churches as a whole, a universal ecumenical council as a structure of church unity is conceivable in principle. To be sure, Protestants and Orthodox still need to clarify between them the question of the historic episcopate and the patriarchal structure of the ancient church. And the problems among the Orthodox themselves over the calling of a pan-Orthodox council make it clear that it is conciliar processes rather than a council (or synod) which should be sought first.

For the Roman Catholic Church there is an additional problem. According to official Roman doctrinal understanding, the unity of the universal church is not the result of the coming together of the particular churches -- as in a council -- for the universal church is "ontologically prior" to the particular churches, of which the visible guarantee is papal primacy.(18) Cardinal Ratzinger has insisted repeatedly that a "truly universal council" would not simply bring together the plurality of particular churches in a kind of ecclesiastical parliament, but must be carried ecclesiologically from the centre outwards by the unity-creating function of the Petrine office in the bishop of Rome.(19) He has consistently held that "the idea of a purely pastoral primacy without legal rank need not come into consideration on the ground that in practical terms it is irrelevant".(20)

All this would appear to suggest that there is no prospect of going along with the Roman Catholic Church into a universal council and a communion "with but not under the pope". On the other hand, Ratzinger has also said that "one may not impose as truth that which in reality is an historically evolved form standing in a more or less close connection with the truth".(21) Here is the point of contact for further ecumenical dialogue; and one may hope that eventually Roman Catholic dogmatics will find it impossible to continue evading the insights of the exegetes and historians who see the development of papal primacy in a much more nuanced way than as simply "divinely willed". Such a development could then lead to a situation in which the Roman Catholic Church might for its part maintain the claim of papal primacy, while nevertheless sharing, on the way to the kingdom of God, in a conciliar fellowship of churches and a universal council. Ratzinger himself has acknowledged "that none of the maximalist solutions [proposed by individual confessional families] offers a realistic hope for unity".(22)

I hope in this connection that a recent proposal by WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser will be discussed widely. Recalling Uppsala, he appeals to the churches to take the opportunity of the series of global ecumenical and confessional assemblies and conferences at the end of this decade to move towards making a public mutual commitment in the year 2000 to inaugurate a process of preparation for a general Christian council.(23) The WCC Study project "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches" makes a similar proposal.(24) The churches' preparations for celebrating the year 2000 could be a trial run for a wider ecumenical conciliar process. A pan-Christian gathering in Bethlehem or Jerusalem, as has been proposed from several quarters, could be an important step towards a conciliar fellowship of the churches.

In short, the route to a conciliar fellowship of all Christian confessions is still a long one. But it seems to me to be the only possibility for getting beyond the alternatives of either abolishing the papacy or being in subjection to the pope.

3. ... with the Roman bishop as promoter of unity: As head of the largest Christian church the pope can take initiatives on behalf of the whole church and, in exceptional circumstances and in consultation with others, speak in the name of all Christianity.

Since Gregory the Great in the year 600 one of the papal titles has been servus servorum Dei (servant of the servants of God). I suspect that all Christians would welcome it if the bishop of Rome really did serve all and did not use his full historically evolved powers as primate. I am referring here to a fundamentally structural problem, not to the way in which the present pope -- or any other -- discharges his office. To go back to the old terminology, one might say that a serving "papalism" would create space for a genuine "conciliarism" among autonomous particular churches.

I dream of a servant of unity who -- perhaps as chair of such a council -- recognizes a reconciled diversity of the churches, who leads dialogues and reconciles rather than granting audiences, making definitive decisions and taking personal decisions upon himself or his curia. I dream of a pope who allows open communion and assures Catholics that their Sunday obligations can be fulfilled by attending a Protestant or an ecumenical worship service. I dream of a communion "with but not under the pope", in which the pope, alongside the heads of other churches, whether in Jerusalem, Constantinople or Moscow, in Wittenberg, Geneva or Canterbury, would take the initiative for a universal ecumenical council, in which all respond together to the invitation of Christ to his table and say to the world what it so much needs to hear: "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!"


(1) P.C. Empie and T.A. Murphy, eds, Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1974, p.34. On the whole issue see Reinhard Frieling, "Mit, nicht unter dem Papst: Eine Problemskizze uber Papstamt und Okumene", in Materialdienst des Konfessionskundlichen Instituts Bensheim, no. 28, 1977, pp.52-60.

(2) The Church of Jesus Christ: The Contribution of the Reformation towards Ecumenical Dialogue on Church Unity, Leuenberger Texte no.1, Frankfurt, Lembeck, 1995, pp.87,80.

(3) Ibid., p.99.

(4) R.E. Brown, K.P. Donfried and J. Reumann, eds, Peter in the New Testament, Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1973, p.8.

(5) Quoted by Damaskinos Papandreou, "Uberlegungen zur Primatsfrage", in H. Stirnimann and Lukas Vischer, eds, Papstamt und Petrusdienst, Frankfurt, 1975, p.54.

(6) Quoted in Katholische Nachrichten Agentur, 29 June 1996.

(7) Lukas Vischer, "Petrus und der Bischof von Rom -- Ihre Dienste in der Kirche", in Stirnimann and Vischer, op. cit., p.42.

(8) Joseph Ratzinger, "The Future of Ecumenism", Theology Digest, Vol. 25, no. 3, 1977, p.201; reprinted in Theologische Prinzipienlehre, Munich, 1982, pp.203-11.

(9) Reprinted in Materialdienst des Konfessionskundlichen Instituts Bensheim, no. 40, 1989, p. 80.

(10) Acta. Ap. Sed., no. 59, 1967, p.418.

(11) The text of the memorandum appeared in Materialdienst des Konfessionskundlichen Instituts Bensheim, 31, 1980, no. 5.

(12) H. Tenhumberg, "Kirchliche Union bzw. korporative Wiedervereinigung", in W. Danielsmeyer and C.H. Ratschow, eds, Kirche und Gemeinde, Witten, 1974, pp.22-33. Cf. Ratzinger, Theologische Prinzipienlehre, Munich, 1982, pp. 209-11 (a text from 1976); and Church, Ecumenism and Politics, New York, Crossroad, 1988, pp.81f.

(13) Heinrich Fries and Karl Rahner, Unity of the Churches: An Actual Possibility, Philadelphia, Fortress, 1985, esp. thesis 3, pp.43ff.; for the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, see Empie and Murphy, op. cit., pp.9ff.

(14) Werner Loser, "Das Einheits- und Okumenismusverstandnis", in Loser, ed., Die romisch-katholische Kirche (Die Kirchen der Welt, vol. 20), Frankfurt, 1986, p.343.

(15) This was the argument of the US Lutherans in their dialogue with Roman Catholic Church; cf. Empie and Murphy, op. cit., p.30.

(16) The Holy Spirit and the Catholicity of the Church", in N. Goodall, ed., The Uppsala Report 1968, Geneva, WCC, 1968, p. 17.

(17) For a summary of the discussion and references up to 1993 see G. Gassmann, ed., Documentary History of Faith and Order 1963-1993, Geneva, WCC, 1993, pp. 203f., 209-39; cf. the statement on the unity of the church from the WCC's seventh assembly (Canberra 1991) in M. Kinnamon, ed., Signs of the Spirit, Geneva, WCC, 1991, pp. 172ff.; and the report of Section 2 at the fifth world conference on Faith and Order (Santiago de Compostela 1993), in T.F. Best and G. Gassmann, eds, On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, Geneva, WCC, 1994, pp.237-44.

(18) Cf. "Some Aspects of the Church as Communion:" Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, repr. in Catholic International, Vol. 3, no. 16, Sept. 1992, para. 9, pp.763f. The principles set forth in this letter are already present in Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism and Politics, pp.73ff.

(19) Cf. Ratzinger, Theologische Prinzipienlehre, pp.203ff.; Church, Ecumenism and Politics, pp.29ff., 65ff., esp. 92f.

(20) Church, Ecumenism and Politics, p.37.

(21) Theologische Prinzipienlehre, p.208.

(22) Ibid.

(23) Konrad Raiser, "Welche nachsten Schritte in der Okumene sind uberfallig, realisierbar und wunschenswert?", Una Sancta, Vol. 51, 1996, pp. 120-28.

(24) Cf. esp. chapter 7 of the "working draft" sent to member churches in Nov. 1996 and reprinted in this issue of The Ecumenical Review, p.32f.
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Title Annotation:Common Understanding and Vision
Author:Frieling, Reinhard
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Previous Article:Towards a common understanding and vision of the WCC: a working draft for a policy statement.
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