Reformed-Catholic Consultation Meets in Georgia, Continues Work on a Document on Mutual Recognition of Baptism

November 22, 2006 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON (November 22, 2006)--Continuing to refine a document on mutual recognition of Baptism, the Reformed-Catholic Consultation met at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, from October 8-10, 2006. The meeting was hosted by Professor Martha Moore-Keish and the Columbia Theological Seminary community.

Co-chair Rev. Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary commented on the significance of this consultation: "Our discussion of baptism has �made significant progress toward mutual understanding. Roman Catholics and representatives of Reformed bodies say clearly to each other, to the larger world, and, - perhaps most importantly - to local parishes and ecclesially divided families--that we embrace each other as pilgrims who share a common baptism in Jesus Christ." Participants have emphasized that our mutual recognition of Baptism is not only a sign of our ties to the apostolic tradition, but is also an indispensable foundation for all our ecumenical efforts.

Co-chair, Most Reverend Patrick R. Cooney, Roman Catholic Bishop of Gaylord, Michigan observed that: "The current dialogue between members of the Reformed tradition and the Roman Catholic tradition is a conversation on what we believe about Baptism and how we celebrate this sacrament liturgically. Our discussions clarify where we are one and where we differ, so that we may find the road to closer unity in our common apostolic Christian faith."

Previous drafting efforts by writing teams resulted in the following documents: 1) Mutual Recognition: a fifty-page report on sacramentality, theology of the Sacraments, history of Baptism in the Reformed traditions, and Catholic and Reformed theologies of Baptism, prepared by Dr. Ralph Del Colle, Rev. Dr. Ronald Feenstra, Fr. Dennis McManus, and Dr. Martha Moore-Keish. 2) Another Partner in the Dialogue – On the Mercersburg movement in the 19th century, on the revival of Patristic liturgical themes and theology in the works of John Williamson Nevin, by Sydney Fowler. 3) The Roman Catholic Liturgy of Baptism in Comparison to the Reformed, by Dennis McManus. 4) Confirmation in the Reformed Tradition, by Rev. Dr. Ron Feenstra. 5) Tangible Expressions of Mutual Recognition, by Canon Francis V. Tiso and Rev. Lydia Veliko.

Most of the conversation centered on the fifty-page report, which is the most substantial part of a document that the dialogue is preparing for the use of the respective communions. The continuing challenge has been to understand and bring into harmony the following key strands of tradition: 1) The patristic, primarily Augustinian, strand impacting Roman Catholic and Reformation theology and pastoral practice. 2) Second-tier Reformation developments primarily witnessed in the writings of John Calvin in the course of his ministry and leadership. 3) The Reformed confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries with the reception of Zwinglian, Lutheran, and Calvinist reforming impulses. 4) The Roman Catholic theology of sacraments and grace during the Scholastic period, the Catholic reform period, the liturgical movement, and Vatican II. 5) The recent history of ecumenical agreements in various parts of the world. 6) Directives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the World Council of Churches, the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Reformed governing boards for a more thorough review of mutual recognition of Baptism.

Already signaled in Lumen Gentium (1964), the validity of Christian Baptism creates the necessary precondition for the possibility of ecumenism since it establishes an ecclesial reality of real, though imperfect, communion. Any diminishment of that unity puts the ecumenical movement toward fully visible communion at serious risk. The "Prospectus" of the Seventh Round of the Consultation was to examine in depth both Baptism and Eucharist. The participants agreed to a trajectory through October 2007 to conclude work on Baptism. At the same time, plans were set in motion to begin a study of the Eucharist.

Prof. Nicholas Wolterstorff, a distinguished professor of philosophical theology at Yale Divinity School, was invited to give a critique of the dialogue's work on the basis of his own interests in aesthetic philosophy and on pastoral experience in a strongly liturgical Reformed church of which he is a member.

The focus of this seventh round of Catholic-Reformed dialogue can be traced back to the preparations for the Jubilee Year 2000. Catholic bishops around the world had indicated their hope that the event would highlight the meaning and importance of Baptism for all Christians. Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the Unity of Christians, wrote an article, "Ecclesiological and Ecumenical Implications of Baptism" for October 2000 issue of The Ecumenical Review, which was background for his Prolusio to the November 12-17, 2001, Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. On February 23, 2002, Cardinal Kasper wrote to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, then President of the USCCB, conveying the Plenary's request for a study of mutual recognition of Baptism in the current ecumenical situation. The importance of such a study had been underlined by Pope John Paul II in Ut unum sint 42: "[mutual recognition of Baptism at the local level] is something much more than an act of courtesy; it constitutes a basic ecclesiological statement." Section III of the encylical, "Further Work" presents the points that need to be considered: (a) The theological meaning of Baptism; (b) The liturgical dimension of Baptism, particularly the Trinitarian formula and the use of water; (c) The ecclesial consequences and implications of local agreements on Baptism, particularly for the building up of ecclesial communion, real though incomplete. Bishop Gregory assigned this task to the Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs on June 28, 2002.

At a meeting in New York on Sept 24.25, 2002, the staff of the SEIA, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in America agreed upon a prospectus for the seventh round of the consultation. In view of the request from the Holy See, it was agreed that the dialogue would focus on the meaning and practice of Baptism, the relationship of Baptism to Eucharist, and the role of both sacraments in shaping the churches and drawing them toward fuller communion. The dialogue was to be designed in such a way as to address theological, ecclesiological and pastoral issues.

Concerning the theology of Baptism and Eucharist, the dialogue was to explore these questions: What is our common theology of Baptism as sacrament? How does our theology of Baptism shape our ecclesiology? What is the precise manner by which we recognize each other's Baptism? What tangible expression can we give to this recognition? What is the relationship of Christian Initiation to the Eucharist? What is our theology of Eucharist as sacrament? How is Eucharist understood in our traditions as a sacrifice we offer and a gift we receive? What does the "sacrifice of the cross" mean? How do we understand the "real presence" How is it understood in the Lord's Supper? How are we to understand the significance of Roman Catholic Eucharistic veneration? How do these theologies both shape and reflect our churches' worship? How do our theologies of Eucharist influence our ecclesial structures and their commitments? What implications do the differences and agreements regarding the Lord's Supper have for the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and Reformed Churches?

The Reform-Catholic Consultation in the United States is co-chaired by Dr. Richard J. Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary and by Most. Rev. Patrick R. Cooney, Roman Catholic Bishop of Gaylord, Michigan. The dialogue was established in 1965, and is currently sponsored by the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America sends an observer.

Members present and participating in the three-day meeting were, besides the co-chairs: Roman Catholics: Dr. Ralph Del Colle, Sister Joyce A. Zimmerman, Fr. Dennis E. Tamburello, Fr. Dennis McManus, Dr. Christian Washburn, and Canon Francis V. Tiso (USCCB Staff); Reformed Church in America: Rev. Renee House, Rev. John Paarlberg, Rev. Douglas Fromm; Christian Reformed Church: Ms. Sue Roseboom, Rev. Dr. Ronald Feenstra, Dr. George Vandervelde, Rev. Dr. Lyle Bierma; Presbyterian Church: Rev. Dr. Martha Moore-Keish, Rev. Robina Winbush; United Church of Christ: Rev. Dr. Sidney D. Fowler, Rev. Dr. John Riggs, Rev. Lydia Veliko; ELCA Observer: Rev. Dr. Scott Ickert. The next plenary meeting of the Consultation will be on September 30 - October 2, 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Previous Meetings of the Seventh Round were held September 24-26, 2003 at Louisville, KY, April 15-16, 2004 at Washington, DC, October 13-15, 2004 at Grand Rapids, MI, April 14-15, 2005 at Chicago, IL, October 25-26, 2005 at Pasadena, CA, April 27-28. 2006 at Albany, NY.