Milestones in Papal Ecumenism: Part Nine

Benedict’s papacy saw a strain between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. This strain was noted in the Common Declaration issued between Archbishop Rowan Williams and Benedict on November 23rd, 2006 following Benedict formally receiving Williams. popebenedictxvirowanwilliamspopebenedictdbzlzb45777lAlthough there was a strain, the work of some forty years of dialogue and of the ARCIC meetings was noted and called to be built on. The strain was furthered when Benedict, without consultation with the Anglicans, erected the personal ordinariates, canonical jurisdictions, for disaffected Anglicans on October 20th, 2009. When participating in a joint Evensong at Westminster Abbey on September 17th, 2010, Benedict delivered an address where he stated:pope-benedict-speaks-in-westminster-abbey_medium

Tonight we entrust all of these to the Lord, confident in his providence and the power of his grace. We know that the friendships we have forged, the dialogue which we have begun and the hope which guides us will provide strength and direction as we persevere on our common journey… This is the word of encouragement which I wish to leave with you this evening, and I do so in fidelity to my ministry as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Saint Peter, charged with a particular care for the unity of Christ’s flock.

Although he called for increased ecumenical relations, it should be noted he was wearing the stole of Pope Leo XIII, the pope who declared that Anglican Holy Orders were “absolutely null and utterly void” during the celebration.

438_erfurt-001Similar to the strains felt between the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Communion, there was a cooling of meetings between the Pope and leaders of the Protestant churches, although there was still official dialogue and commissions meeting. Benedict, instrumental in the Joint Declaration between the Roman Catholic Church and the LWF, and also in the controversial document Dominus Iesus, continued the theology of Dominus Iesus, with a clarification being issued reiterating the document on June 29th, 2007. On a planned trip to Erfurt, Germany, the site of the monastery where Martin Luther was a monk, there was great expectation that this would be the occasion of an ecumenical breakthrough. Aware of the expectations, Benedict told the gathered ecumenical representatives at an ecumenical prayer service that there has been great strides made in ecumenical relationships, but when it came to the end of the speech, he said that:

Prior to my visit there was some talk of an “ecumenical gift” which was expected from such a visit. There is no need for me to specify the gifts mentioned in this context…Unity grows not by the weighing of benefits and drawbacks but only by entering ever more deeply into the faith in our thoughts and in our lives.

Although this statement was surprising to many, the significance of a joint service, with both the Pope and the president of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Nikolas Schneider, jointly presiding and both giving the final blessing, in Erfurt should not be under estimated.

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