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225. The period in which this third phase of dialogue has taken place was quite unique in that we passed from one century to another, and from one millennium to another. During this period, significant events have taken place in which the new relationship between Reformed and Catholic, which began at the time of the Second Vatican Council, has been greatly enhanced. At the same time, signs of the divisions which have kept us apart since the sixteenth century have been seen and felt.

226. The new relationship has been evident in the consistent invitations by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) to send a representative to its Executive Committee and General Council meetings, as well as to various consultations it has organized. Reciprocally, there have been invitations by the Holy See to WARC. The Alliance has accepted various invitations: to participate in the Ecumenical Commission of the Planning Committee for the Great Jubilee 2000; to join Pope John Paul II and other Christian leaders in the Ecumenical Service in Rome just after the closing of the Holy Year in 2001; and to the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi on January 24, 2002. Inviting each other to such significant events enhances our developing relationship. It demonstrates unambiguously our commitment to acknowledge each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, even if there are still serious divergences in our understanding of faith to be resolved.

227. Painful signs of our continuing division have also occurred during these years of dialogue. During the Jubilee Year 2000, WARC chose not to accept invitations by the Holy See to participate in some ecumenical events organized for the Jubilee Year because of the associated tradition of indulgences, a cause of considerable dispute in the sixteenth century. However, shortly afterwards, at the invitation of the PCPCU, Reformed and Catholics, along with representatives from the Lutheran World Federation, addressed the question of indulgences for the first time at a symposium. Clearly, ongoing differences call for ongoing dialogue.

228. During this third phase of dialogue, both Catholics and Reformed made extraordinary gestures related to a healing of memories, even if in quite different ways. During the Jubilee Year, Pope John Paul II, in the liturgy of the First Sunday of Lent 2000, a day which has become known as “the Day of Pardon”, called upon the Catholic Church to look back over the millennium just closing and to ask God for forgiveness of sins committed against unity. While no particular historical instance was mentioned, it clearly included any type of wrongdoing towards the Reformed, either in the distant past or in more recent times. Within the WARC family, two member churches decided to address specific anti-Catholic statements in their sixteenth and seventeenth century confessions of faith, and made it clear in an official way that these harsh historical statements do not represent their views on the Catholic Church today, even if there are still serious disagreements between us on related doctrinal issues.

229. Thankfully, theological dialogue is the instrument we use today to resolve such differences. We have travelled a long way together. In this third phase of dialogue just completed we have explored the biblical notion of the kingdom of God and have been able to say much together. First, the notion of the kingdom of God has been treated in a variety of ecumenical dialogues (cf. Appendix), and we have made use of these materials. At the same time the systematic treatment of the kingdom of God presented here makes a further ecumenical contribution by tracing this notion from its biblical roots, through stages of church history, with the goal of helping the partners move towards a common understanding of the church. Thus, our treatment of the biblical concept of the kingdom of God is followed by an exploration of the distinctive visions of the kingdom of God and its relation to the church found in patristic literature. The biblical and patristic insights, in turn, form the background for a discussion of the specific emphases given to this notion in the sixteenth century and afterwards in our respective Reformed and Catholic traditions. In this process we have discovered converging theological perspectives particularly in regard to the relationship of the kingdom of God to the church.

230. Second, in exploring the notion of the kingdom of God, we kept before us two challenges of Towards a Common Understanding of the Church: those of building upon ecclesiological developments already achieved, and of extending our efforts of common witness. In regard to the first, we have been able to deepen important convergences concerning the nature of the church claimed by TCUC precisely because we can now position those insights in the broader, more dynamic continuum required by our exploration of the kingdom of God – e.g. the biblical, patristic, and more recent theological perspectives, including the results of ecumenical dialogues. Thus, the convergence described in TCUC between the notions of the church as creation of the word (creatura verbi, emphasised by Reformed), and as sacrament of grace (sacramentum gratiae, emphasised by Catholics), though rooted in biblical thought, was presented in a contemporary theological analysis. The present report deepens this convergence in two ways. First, it illustrates that both concepts are integral to the notion of the kingdom of God and should serve the establishment of the kingdom of God in this world. Second, our exploration of the patristic material illustrated that the themes of the Word of God and the grace of God were of great significance in the ecclesiological reflection of the early Christian writers, even if they did not use the specific terminology used later in TCUC. Those writers certainly would have considered the church to be both a creation of the Word of God, and a sacrament of grace. Both factors help us affirm that neither of these visions of the church can wholly exclude the other, but are mutually dependent. Both are basic to an understanding of the nature of the church.

231. The same dynamic framework of our reflection on the kingdom of God also suggests ways of going further on another TCUC suggestion: that we might be able, together, to describe the church as “sacrament of the kingdom of God,” (111) and, thus, say more, together, about the role of the church in mediating Christ’s salvation. This is because the notion of the kingdom of God requires a more explicit recognition of its relation to the Holy Spirit, and to its eschatological dimension. In TCUC, the Catholic understanding of the church as sacrament is based on two analogies: that between Christ and the church, and that between the church and sacramental rites. It was strongly christological, though not lacking reference to the role of the Spirit. But since the activity of the Spirit is the basis both of the efficacy of the sacraments and of the spread of the reign of God, the perspective of the kingdom and its particular reference to the Spirit allows both Reformed and Catholics to acknowledge, even further, the radical dependence of human beings upon God. This dependence is implied in the description of the church as a sacrament of the kingdom. Also, the distinction we make between the kingdom of God and the church is rooted in an eschatological understanding of the church, which is related to, witnesses to and moves toward its fulfillment in the kingdom. This reflects both the Reformed insistence on the promise of a “not yet” and the Catholic insistence of a gift “already there” (TCUC 122). Here again, our reflection fosters the description of the church as “sacrament of the kingdom of God.”

232. In regard to common witness, we have taken seriously the dynamics and challenges of particular contexts in which Christians have sought to live the values of the kingdom of God. The experience of Christians in the local settings, as described by the three narratives in chapter II, has underlined some important lessons. The narratives illustrated, for example, the growing significance of ecumenical relations between Reformed and Catholics. As each showed, although Reformed and Catholics began separately to bring kingdom values into the difficult problems faced in their contexts, eventually both moved towards witnessing together. Each illustrated, too, the way the universal expression of the church made an impact on the local church and vice-versa, and the importance of the interrelationship of these two aspects of the church. Furthermore, in light of these narratives, we explored together for the first time in Reformed-Catholic international dialogue factors involved in interpreting Christian experience, that is, the theological dimensions of discerning God’s will for decision making in service to the kingdom of God. These include the role of the Holy Spirit, common sources of discernment, differences between Reformed and Catholics in the use of these sources, different patterns of discernment and the functioning of these patterns in ecumenical collaboration, and the possibilities of common discernment and witness. As ethical and moral issues in our modern world raise challenges for human behaviour, and become more central and intense in ecumenical relations, the insights about discernment gathered here are offered as one contribution to the dialogue on these vital questions that concern all Christians. These insights can assist Reformed and Catholics in their efforts at common witness.

233. Finally, the process of introducing these narratives into our dialogue has as such helped us to understand better the various methods of dialogue within the ecumenical movement. Relating our theological discussions to the experiences of Christians in local settings has helped us to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (cf. Rev 2 and 3). As we have seen in the narratives (cf. chapter II), common witness to the kingdom by Catholic and Reformed people is happening in various places all over the world. This common witness, this coming together around events and issues and ideals of peace and justice in the concrete lives of human communities, happens in spite of the historic issues that continue to divide us. We note that this common witness is one way in which mutual respect, trust, and affection grows between our communions, making life between us spiritually richer, and nurturing our sense of mutual belonging. We rejoice in this common witness, to the shared faith that underlies it, to the sense of new possibilities it nurtures in our communions and the contribution that it makes to the fullness of unity that we seek.

234. Dialogue, healing of memories, efforts at common witness – all of these are a continuing challenge for us to deepen the developing relationship between us, a relationship grounded in our one baptism in Christ. It is part of our common understanding that we are involved in the one ecumenical movement, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A new century and a new millennium are additional reasons for us to distance ourselves even further from the conflicts of the past, and to face the future with an uncompromising commitment to continuing reconciliation. Eventually this could and should help our fellow Christians in both our communities to live up to the standards of the kingdom of God.

235. For the privilege of taking part in this dialogue and for the efforts made and for whatever degree of success we are able to claim, we give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed that his disciples “may all be one” (John 17:21) and who taught his disciples to pray: Thy Kingdom come!


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