(Vatican Radio) ‘Walking together on the way’ is the title of a new document to be published by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, whose members met this month in Erfurt, Germany.
Despite some “difficult conversations” and “hard questions” over the past year, the Anglican and Catholic theologians who make up ARCIC III managed, at the May 14th to 20th meeting, to conclude the first part of their mandate, finding agreement on ways in which the two Churches are structured at local, regional and universal levels.
The new statement opens the way for the Commission to tackle the second part of its mandate on how the Churches, at local and universal level, are able “to discern right ethical teaching”.
But what does the new ecumenical text contain? And how will it affect ordinary Catholics and Anglicans in the pews? To find answers to those questions, Philippa Hitchen spoke to the Catholic co-secretary of ARCIC III, Fr Anthony Currer of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
Fr Tony notes that the city of Erfurt was chosen for this 7th annual encounter because it was the place where Martin Luther found his vocation and entered the Augustinian order. In this year marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, he says, members of the group also knew they had to make some important decisions on what the document could say “about ecclesiology, about the Church as communion and […] about how our structures work within that communion”.
Asking hard questions
Fr Tony says participants “asked hard questions of one another” and agreement was by no means “a foregone conclusion”, yet the encounter also produced some “very positive conversations”. By reflecting on what the Anglicans call ‘instruments of communion’ the group explored decision making at local, regional and universal level, within both traditions.
Using what’s called the ‘receptive ecumenism’ model, Fr Tony explains that “each of us on our pilgrim way, trying to walk in fidelity to the Lord,” is called to examine how we “are wounded in some way”. By speaking honestly to our dialogue partners about our difficulties and shortcomings, he says, “we can learn from one another”.
Synodal structures, open discussions
Asked about what Catholics can learn from their Anglican counterparts, Fr Tony points to the “processes of synodal life” including parish councils, diocesan administrations and other regional structures. Noting the way Pope Francis is calling for “a more synodal Church”, he says these are questions where “we can look to the Anglican Communion” whose structures are “a bit more developed than our own”. He also notes the “very frank and open culture of discussion about real difficult issues in the Anglican Communion”, saying “that's something we could look to gain from”.
Reflecting on obstacles to unity, such as the ordination of women, Fr Tony says the new document looks at the broader questions of “ where authority lies,” adding that decisions taken at regional level are under “a lot of pressure to move in line” with the prevailing culture of the country.
Growing in communion
Looking at the impact this new document can have on people in the pews, Fr Tony says “this is an exercise which can be carried on at all levels of our Church and we invite lay Christians, clergy and local bishops to come together in conversation, [….] to be honest with each other about what they’re struggling with” and in this way learn to grow in communion, “recognizing one another as fellow travelers along the way.”
Please find below the full communiqué from the meeting of ARCIC III
The Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) held the seventh meeting of its current phase (ARCIC III) in Erfurt, Germany, 14–20 May, 2017. The Commission met at the St Ursula Educational and Catechetical Centre of the Diocese of Erfurt. The Centre is on a site which has been home to communities of consecrated life for over 800 years. A community of Ursuline sisters occupy part of the site and continue this tradition. The Commission is grateful to the director of the house Frau Carla Riechel, the guesthouse team, and the Ursuline sisters for making its stay so comfortable and for the context of prayer and spirituality in which it was able to conduct its work. The Commission also thanks Professor Myriam Wijlens for making so many of the arrangements for its time in Erfurt.
The Erfurt meeting marks a considerable step forward. In response to the first part of its mandate, to examine “the Church as Communion, local and universal” the Commission completed an agreed statement, the first of its current phase, entitled, Walking Together on the Way: Learning to be Church- Local, Regional, Universal. That the text was agreed owed much to an extensive process of redrafting over twelve months.
Walking Together on the Way employs the method of Receptive Ecumenism to examine the structures by which Catholics and Anglicans order and maintain communion at the local, regional and universal level. It examines common theological principles that Anglicans and Catholics share, and the differentiated structures, based on these principles, by which they make decisions. This method invites both traditions to repentance and conversion, by looking at what is underdeveloped or wounded in themselves. It is also predicated on the belief that in our dialogue partner we meet a community in which the Holy Spirit is alive and active. We can therefore ask firstly, where our communities are in need of reform, and, secondly, what we can learn from the our dialogue partner to help us in this growth. The Commission described this process as “receptive learning”.
The text prepares the way for the next ARCIC statement on the second part of its mandate, “how in communion the local and universal Church comes to discern right ethical teaching.” The Commission took time to review its work to date on this theme and proposed a schema to be approved at the Informal Talks in October. Building on the ecclesiological text, the schema will guide the next phase of the work of ARCIC III.
The Commission had decided to meet in Erfurt to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Erfurt is a significant city in the life of Martin Luther. It was here that he studied, decided to enter the Augustinian order, made his vows and was ordained. On Wednesday 17 May the Commission visited the Augustinerkloster where we were guided by the minister, the Revd Dr Irene Mildenberger. Afterwards the Commission was given a guided tour of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Mary’s by Dr Markus Schnauß. On Thursday 18 May, the Commission was privileged to meet the Catholic Bishop of Erfurt, the Most Revd Ulrich Neymeyr, who spoke about the pastoral challenges faced by Christians in his diocese.
ARCIC III was particularly glad to complete its first agreed statement, and the first ARCIC statement since 2005, in this significant location and in this auspicious year. It hopes that Walking Together on the Way: Learning to be Church- Local, Regional, Universal will also be known as “The Erfurt Document”. The published text is expected to be available in 2018.
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