The Reception Process: The Challenge at the Threshold of a New Phase of the Ecumenical Movement

by Hermann J. Pottmeyer

Professor Hermann J. Pottmeyer is one of Europe’s leading Catholic theologians. He studied with Lonergan at the Gregorian University in Rome and taught with Carl Rahner at the University of Munster. Dr. Pottmeyer is Professor of fundamental theology at the University of Bochum, Germany. He is the author of fifteen books. Among his articles in English are: "The Traditionalist Temptation of the Contemporary Church," America, Aug. 29, 1992); "A New Phase in the Reception of Vatican II: Twenty Years of Interpretation of the Council;" and "Why Does the Church need a Pope?

This article first appeared in America, October 26, 1996, pp. 16 – 18.


Koinonia and communio describe the form of Christian unity; dialogue and reception describe the way to unity. The effort to achieve a more complete reception of one another in Christ through dialogue in truth is precisely the way that will lead to a full communio among sister Churches.

"Koinonia/communio" and "dialogue and reception": These are the key terms on which theologians are today focusing their thinking about the ongoing ecumenical process. Koinonia/communio describe the form of Christian unity; "dialogue and reception" describe the way to unity.

The two themes are closely connected. The way must correspond to the goal. If the goal is a communio of sister Churches, then on the way to that goal there must be the beginning of the kind of behavior proper to sister Churches. In the early Church, which thought of itself as a communio of sister Churches, the vital bonds between these Churches were manifested in mutual exchanges or, in other words, in dialogue with one another and in the reception of traditions or confessions of faith which each then made its own. Dialogue and reception are processes that today are already binding the separated Churches together. But just as the communio of these Churches is not yet complete, so too dialogue and reception between them are not yet complete. Therefore the effort to achieve a more complete reception of one another in Christ through dialogue in truth with one another is precisely the way that will lead to a full communio among sister Churches.

1. Reception as an Ecumenical Problem

In Una Sancta for 1996, Cardinal Cassidy described "the question of reception" as "one of the greatest challenges facing us today."(1) In the same periodical Koarad Raiser expressed his agreement with the cardinal. In addition to the lack of coordination among the bilateral and multilateral dialogues and to the problem of achieving, within the Churches, a binding reception of the results of dialogue, Raiser mentions one reason in particular that makes this reception of the results of dialogue difficult: "The paths thus far traveled 'in the ecumenical movement have taken the separated Churches as their starting point and sought to overcome the division by convergence and formal agreement."(2) When, in the process, many of the reasons for separation were discovered to be based on misunderstandings or to be historically conditioned and therefore no longer a reason for the separation of Churches, that for sure was already a considerable step forward.

On the other hand, each Church still evaluates declarations of convergence in light of the present state of its own teaching, without checking to see whether the other traditions may not also represent a challenge to expand, complement, enrich, or even revise its own tradition. "As long as the 'individual Churches evaluate declarations of convergence in light of the official state of their teaching, the process of reception will never advance."(3) These Churches remain in the "phase of defensive protection of their own identity, which is understood as what distinguishes them from other Churches."(4) What is said of declarations of convergence can be said also of the results of multilateral dialogues. These too to come up against limits in the capacity for reception, since there is no binding framework within which reception can take place." (5)

Raiser therefore suggests that we no longer regard bilateral and multilateral dialogues as simple contacts between separated Churches. Rather these dialogues and their reception should be viewed as phases in a comprehensive conciliar process. His suggestion takes "for its starting point the decisive presupposition that without any action on their part there already exists between the Churches a real community that pushes them toward full catholicity. The dialogues between the Churches are dialogues within community and not simply means of achieving community."(6)

Thus, the analysis of the present state of ecumenism shows 1) that the lack of reception by the Churches of the past and future results of dialogue is today the most important obstacle on the road to Christian unity. 2) We are on the threshold of a new phase of ecumenism, because this obstacle can be removed only by a change in the present attitude and outlook. Raiser refers to the most recent study document of the Dombes Group, which speaks of a needed "conversion" of the Churches, that is, a shift of attention from what still separates them to the task of strengthening all that already binds them together and that strengthens and expands the community between them.(7)

Before going on to speak of the convergence that exists on this point between the present General Secretary of the World Council of Churches and the Encyclical Ut unum sint, I must first take the further step of showing that the suggestion about dialogue and reception as phases of a conciliar process has not come out of the blue. It springs from theological reflection on what reception has meant in the ecclesial tradition and what it can mean today in the context of ecumenism.

2. Reception in the Early Church and in Present-day Ecumenism.

A closer reflection on reception as an important occurrence in the life of the Church began with the Second Vatican Council, both within the Roman Catholic Church and in the ecumenical movement. In the Catholic Church, it was, first of all, the convocation of the Council and the Council itself that turned attention once more to the early Church councils, the reception of which was part of the conciliar process. A second factor was the form of the early Church as a communio ecclesianun in which the particular Churches had their own role in the reception process. This was the idea that governed the Council's reformof the Church.

Both of these factors also awakened a new interest in reception within the ecumenical movement. Two farther factors strengthened this interest. First, the Council raised the question for the other Churches and the ecumenical movement of whether and what they could receive from the Council. Second, the increasing participation of Orthodox Churches in the World Council of Churches from 1961 on turned attention to the communio ecclesianirn idea of the early Church, since this remained a living presence in the eastern consciousness, more so than 'in the West.(8)

Since the Council, the newly awakened 'interest 'in reception has led to a series of historical and systematic studies, in both Catholic(9) and ecumenical theology.(10) For the time being, the climax of these studies, at the level of conferences, was reached, in the ecumenical realm, at the Sixth Forum on Bilateral Dialogues in 1994(11) and, in the Catholic realm, at the Third International Colloquy of Salamanca in 1996.(12)

It can be said, speaking quite generally, that theological reflection on reception has focused on three points. A first has been historical study of the phenomenon of reception, with regard especially to the reception of conciliar decrees in the course of Church history.(13) Scholars discovered how, essential a role reception played in the life of the early Church. A second key issue has been a more accurate conceptual and systematic definition of reception and its role in the life of the Church.(14) A third has been the historical and systematic investigation of the relationship between the part played by reception and the contemporary ecclesiology of a given period. Here it was found that reception had its place in an ecclesiology that understood the Church to be a koinonia, a sacramental communio ecclesianun. In a conception of the Church as a centrally governed organization or in one in which the separated Churches were seen as simply a loose association with only few bonds of community, reception did not have an theological role in its own right.

It is obvious how important all this new information is for the reform of the Catholic Church and for the ecumenical movement. It is also this new knowledge that has led to the suggestion that the reception of ecumenical dialogues should be regarded as part of a conciliar process.

For a more precise definition of reception in the early Church, we can be satisfied here with Yves Congar's now classic formulation-. "By 'reception' I understand here the process by which an ecclesial body truly makes its own a resolution which it had not given to itself, recognizing in the measure so promulgated a rule which is applicable to its own life."(15)

The definition contains the key elements: 1. Reception is a more or less lengthy process. 2. Reception involves an active assent that signifies an independent judgment of the recipient and is not simply an act of obedience to a higher authority. 3. The recipients - whether a particular Church or a synod or a council - act as relatively independent subjects. 4. The material that is received originates, at least to a certain extent, in a source outside the recipient's own body. 5. The criterion for reception is the knowledge and experience that this material does not contradict the recipient's own tradition and shows that it will advance and enrich the inner life of the community.

In his contribution to the Third International Colloquy in Salamanca William Henn shows that a new phase in the ecumenical discussion on reception began in the seventies." During those years the first results of the ecumenical dialogues made their appearance, and the question arose of their reception by the Churches. A further stimulus to this discussion came from the decision of the Faith and Order Commission in 1982 to send the Lima Document on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry to the Churches with a request that they take an official position on it. In the course of this discussion it was gradually realized that the classical understanding of the reception of councils could not be applied without modification to the reception of modem ecumenical texts. In 1986 Thomas Rausch described the difference as follows:

While the classical concept emerged in a church which understood itself as a communion of churches, it was nonetheless a united Church. In the ecumenical context, however, a new element appears; for now what is involved is a process of reception between churches separated from one another by differences of history, doctrine and structure. In the absence of communion between the churches, the process of reception is complicated considerably; as Anton Houtepen observes, "more theological consensus is needed to restore unity than to preserve unity."(17)

Despite the undeniable difference between classical reception and the present day reception of ecumenical texts, we today can still learn from the classical model. A series of renowned ecumenical theologians have developed a perspective on ecumenical reception in which they have done precisely that.(18) They suggest that we consider the reception of ecumenical documents as only one element in a broader ecumenical reception. The very fact of entering into dialogue, even prior to the production of any documents, is already an act of mutual reception that recognizes the other community as a sister to one's own community or, at least, as a partner in dialogue, on the basis of a already existing communion, a partner with whom one should enter into lull communion. Thus, elements of mutual reception, especially the mutual reception of the parties involved, precede the holding of a dialogue and are woven into the text which emerges from the dialogue process. Furthermore, dialogue is essentially incomplete without the reception of its results. The text, then, is only "the tip of the iceberg," as Gunther Gassmann has put it."(19)

This comprehensive approach has recently gained acceptance in several ecumenical documents dealing with reception. As the Sixth Forum on Bilateral Dialogues says,

ecumenical reception is the comprehensive process by which the churches make their own the whole range of results of their encounters with each other. It is thus far more than the official response to the results of dialogues, although such responses are essential. Reception is an integral part of the movement toward ... full communion.(20)

A further element in this new conception of reception, and an inheritance from the classical model of reception, is that it understands the agents of this comprehensive process to include all of the members of the Church, while specifying g the particular roles of Church leaders, of the whole body of the faithful, and of theologians. As Cardinal Willebrands says:

 Inasmuch as the entire people of God partakes in the search for and the unfolding of the truth of God's word, all the charisms and services are involved according to their station: the theologians by means of their research activities, the faithful by means of their preserving fidelity and piety, the ecclesial ministries and especially the college of bishops with its function of making binding doctrinal decisions. One can say that ministry and charism, proclamation and theology, magisterial ministry and sense of faith of the people, all act together in the reception process.(21)

The same three agents of reception are to be found in one of -the reports of the Sixth Forum on Bilateral Dialogues when it says: "Within the process of reception, church leaders, theologians and the people as a whole each have a part to play in accordance with their various responsibilities."(22) The Directory of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unitv (1993) likewise speaks, emphatically and 'in detail, of the participation of all members of the Church in the reception process and of the triad of agents of reception. It does so in paragraphs 179-182, which are devoted entirely to the subject of reception.(23)

The same Directory also speaks of the spiritual climate in which alone there can be a successful ecumenical reception: "The life of faith and the prayer of faith, no less than reflection on the doctrine of faith, enter 'into this process of reception, by which the whole Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit... makes her own the fruits of a dialogue, in a process of listening, of testing, of judging and of living."(24)The necessity of conversion for a successful reception is made very clear in the report of the Sixth Forum on Bilateral Dialogues: The movement of the churches towards fuller communion with each other is only possible when they are open to renewal. Mutual openness, the removal of dividing differences of faith and order, and the reconciliation of memories presuppose changes of perspective and attitude. Without such a process of spiritual renewal, no progress towards visible unity is possible.

Consequently, reception of the results of ecumenical dialogues on the way towards unity both presupposes and furthers such renewal. Without a readiness to be renewed by the experiences and insights of other traditions, a church and its members are not inclined to receive the results of a dialogue. Dialogue exposes a church to the challenges and enriching gifts it may receive from other traditions. Reception and renewal are thus two aspects of the same reality of moving towards fuller communion.(25) This spiritual ecumenism is undoubtedly a decisive element in the comprehensive conception of reception and the soul of the mutual reception of one another that precedes and accompanies the reception of the documents.

3. The Contribution of the Encyclical Et unum sint

As a third step I want to take a brief look at he Encyclical Ut unum sint of

1995, insofar as it deals with our subject. After the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio of the Second Vatican Council this encyclical is undoubtedly the most important official statement issued by the Roman Catholic Church on the subject of ecumenism. The encyclical surprised many with its excellence, its strong backing of ecumenical concern and progress, and its forward-looking attitude. On essential points, of course, it follows Um'tatis Redintegratio, but there are some new emphases. The question I am asking is this-. Is there a convergence here with the proposal of Konrad Raiser, which I sketched in my first step and the development of which I traced in my second?

Let us look first at the understanding of dialogue and reception. In its first chapter the encyclical offers a remarkable anthropology of dialogue.(26) From this it derives the criterion of "reciprocity." It then makes this important observation:

It is necessary to pass from antagonism and conflict to a situation where each party recognizes the other as a partner. When undertaking dialogue, each side must presuppose in the other a desire for reconciliation, for unity in truth. For this to happen, any display of mutual opposition must disappear. Only thus will dialogue help to overcome division and lead us closer to unity. (27)

This requirement corresponds exactly to Raiser's proposal that others be perceived and accepted not as separated Churches but as partners and eventually as sister churches. The issue, then, is the mutual reception of one another that precedes and accompanies the reception of the results of dialogue, and, therefore, the comprehensive conception of reception.

The encyclical describes spiritual ecumenism as the "soul" of the new outlook.(28) Spiritual ecumenism plays a very important role in the encyclical, which speaks at length of the "primacy of prayer"(29) and of "renewal and conversion."(30) Conversion helps to change the "way of looking at things"; it causes other Christians and Churches to be seen in a new light and leads to the discovery of their riches of sanctity, holy men and women, and Christian commitment. At the same time, this conversion makes one aware of one's own imperfections and sins against other Christians and so opens the way to one's own renewal.(31) For this reason, the encyclical speaks repeatedly of "the dialogue of conversion."(32) Part of the common ground created by dialogue and reception is a shared view of the criterion for binding truth. The encyclical says: "By engaging in frank dialogue, Communities help one another to look at themselves together 'in the light of the Apostolic Tradition. This leads them to ask themselves whether they truly express in an adequate way all that the Holy Spirit has transmitted through the Apostles."(33)The encyclical is the first papal document to deal expressly with ecumenical reception and to describe this as a new challenge.(34) In the third chapter we read: "A new task lies before us: that of receiving the results already achieved. These cannot remain the statements of bilateral commissions but must become a common heritage."(35)

Like the documents mentioned earlier, the encyclical, too, speaks of the triad of agents of reception.(36) It describes reception in greater detail as "a broad and precise critical process which analyzes the results and rigorously tests their consistency with the Tradition of faith received from the Apostles and lived out in the community of believers."(37) This description of reception as "critical process" is entirely in keeping with the classical understanding of reception. But, as was already the case in the early Church, it raises the question of the criteria of truth. It is noteworthy that here and in other passages the encyclical refers not simply to the present state of the teaching of the Catholic Church but to the tradition of the apostles as still taught and lived in the Church today. By this tradition is undoubtedly meant, also and not least, the tradition of faith of the Catholic Church. In fact, in another passage and with a reference to Unitatis RedinteLrratio, the encyclical declares that the full truth of Christ has always been maintained in this Church.(38) But this declaration is accompanied by distinctions.

As the encyclical says in the passage on dialogue that I cited a moment ago, the Catholic Church submits itself, along with the other Churches, to the critical question of "whether they truly express in an adequate way all that the Holy Spirit has transmitted through the Apostles."(39) This self-critical question is part of reception as a "critical process." The encyclical further declares that "certain features of the Christian mystery have at times been more effectively emphasized" in the other Churches.(40) Consequently, it does not insist on the formulation of the faith that has come down to us in the Catholic Church as the sole criterion of truth. It regards it as possible that in the reception of ecumenical dialogue the way in which the truth of the faith has thus far been expressed in its own tradition may prove less helpful on the way to unity in the truth. Thus the encyclical says:

Taking up an idea expressed by Pope John XXIII at the opening of the Council, the Decree on Ecumenism mentions the way of formulating doctrine as one of the elements of a continuing reform.... (For) doctrine needs to be presented in a way that makes it understandable to those for whom God himself intends it.(41) For this reason, it is said at the end of the section on reception: "In all this, it will be a great help methodologically to keep carefully in mind the distinction between the deposit of faith and the formulation in which it is expressed, as Pope John XXIII recommended in his opening address at the Second Vatican Council."(42)

If I understand the encyclical correctly, Pope John Paul II already applies this methodology to the question of the Petrine office. He accepts "the request made of me to 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."" The pope cautiously distinguishes between the modem absolutist and centralist exercise of the primacy and the biblically based Petrine office and its exercise during the first millennium, and he invites other Christians "to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church and allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by his plea" for unity.(44)As has already become clear, an integral understanding of reception depends on emphasizing no longer the separation but rather the existing common ground and community among the partners in dialogue. It is this respect that the encyclical displays the greatest advance beyond the Decree on Ecumenism. The many ecumenical encounters of which the pope speaks in his encyclical have evidently enabled him to share the same experience.

Thus he writes that "the one Church of Christ is effectively present" 'in other Christian Communities.(45) And again: "it is not that beyond the boundaries of the Catholic community there is an ecclesial vacuum."(46) The encyclical describes as "a basic ecclesiological statement" the wish expressed 'in the Directory of the Pontifical Council for a reciprocal official recognition of baptisms.(47) In Chapter two, "brotherhood rediscovered" is listed as the first of "the fruits of dialogue." The text goes on to say: "There is an increased awareness that we all belong to Christ. I have personally been able many times to observe this. ... The 'universal brotherhood' of Christians has become a firm ecumenical conviction."(48)

The encyclical sees one sign of this new outlook in a changed vocabulary, which it too accepts. People are speaking increasingly, not of "separated brothers," but of "other Christians" or "others who have received Baptism" or "Christians of other Communities." The Directory describes other communities as "Churches and Ecclesial Communities that are not in fall communion with the Catholic Church."(49)

The pope sees the division as having been overcome most of all in the spiritual realm. It is worth noting that in his view the very close union of Christians has already been accomplished "in the full communion of the Saints" and especially in a "common Martyrology."(50) The pope speaks of the martyrs several times. In the Introduction he says: "These brothers and sisters of ours, in the selfless offering of their lives for the Kingdom of God, are the most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcended and overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel."(51) In the third chapter he writes: "I have already remarked, and with deep joy, how an imperfect but real communion is preserved and is growing. ... I now add that this communion is already perfect in what we all consider the highest point of the life of grace, martyria unto death, the truest communion possible with Christ."(52)

The pope also asks the provocative question: "Is not this same attachment at the heart of what I have called a 'dialogue of conversions Is it not precisely this dialogue which clearly shows the need for an ever more profound experience of the truth if full communion is to be attained?"(52) In fact, Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic Christians had precisely this experience in the concentration camps and gulags of our century: Rarely has this experience been acknowledged in this way in an official document.

But the encyclical sees community being established even in ecumenical dialogues. It says: "The bilateral theological dialogues carried on with the major Christian Communities start from a recognition of the degree of communion already present."(54) The striking emphasis of the encyclical on contacts with the Churches of the East has attracted both attention and criticism. And yet, independently of any supposed ecumenical tactics, this emphasis follows naturally from the very starting point of the encyclical. For it is because of the more complete community in faith and order with these Churches that the dialogue with them comes closest to the model of "dialogue and reception among sister Churches."Thus an analysis of the Encyclical Ut unum sint shows an extensive convergence with the proposals of the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches as to how the challenge raised by the task of reception can be met by a more complete and rounded understanding of what reception is.

4. Remaining Disagreements and Reception

In a fourth and final step I want to turn to the question of remaining disagreements. This question arises not only as a task of further dialogues but also, and in a special way, as a task for reception. Thus, for example, the very important Lutheran-Roman Catholic Common Statement on "Church and Justification" (1994) reaches a fundamental agreement on the question of justification; and yet a section entitled "Areas of Controversy" lists a series of remaining disagreements.(55) Similar remarks occur in other ecumenical documents. The question arises, therefore, of the reception of such documents.

It can be said, first of all, that the common acknowledgment of remaining disagreements already represents ecumenical progress. For this common acknowledgment does not detract from the existing common ground and community but, on the contrary, is an expression of it and strengthens it. This is certainly the view of the Encyclical Ut unum sint, which lists five such areas.(56) In addition, the disagreements differ among themselves 'in importance and are not unaffected by agreements already reached. This is especially true if they are seen in the setting of a dynamic process of dialogue and reception in which others are taken seriously as partners and their concerns are regarded as possible enrichments of one's own tradition.

In dealing with remaining disagreements in the process of dialogue and reception, two kinds of criteria may be distinguished in principle. The first kind I would call criteria for the differentiation and evolution of disagreements, the second kind, criteria of truth. Three criteria for the differentiation and evaluation of remaining disagreements can be found in the Encyclical Ut unum sint. The first I have already cited; it is "the distinction between the deposit of faith and the formulation in which it is expressed."(57) If a disagreement has its basis only or chiefly in traditional formulations, then it is necessary "to find the formula which, by capturing the reality in its entirety, will enable us to move beyond partial readings and eliminate false interpretations.(58) For "the element which determines communion in truth is the meaning of truth. The expression of truth can take different forms."(59)

The Encyclical gives as a second criterion the "order or 'hierarchy' of truths, since they vary in their relationship to the foundation of the Christian faith."(60) In fact, a joint working out of the relationship of controverted doctrines with the foundation of the Christian faith (that is, with the mystery of Christ and the coming of the reign of God) can help in grasping the differing importance of disagreements, in understanding the concerts of others, and perhaps in Jointly setting new priorities that will open the way to an agreement. This point was also made in The Notion of "Hierarchy of Truths." An Ecumenical Interpretation, , a study document commissioned and received by the Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches in 1990.(61)

The third criterion reads: In the process "towards the necessary and sufficient visible unity ... one must not impose any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary (see Acts 15:28)."(62) Jean-Marie R. Tillard has underscored the importance of this criterion: "'Reception' is thus found to be completely dependent on the definition of the phrase id guod requiritur et sufficit."(63)

As a matter of fact, these three criteria make clear the possibility of a plurality of ways of expressing and living the faith, without harming or lessening the communion in truth. Such a plurality is already to be seen in the New Testament writings and in the Churches of the first millennium. All three criteria for differentiating and evaluating remaining disagreements are thus an important help in showing whether or not these disagreements are an obstacle to the acceptance of full communion. The criteria of truth are necessarily connected with the foregoing criteria, but they are the decisive ones in the final analysis. The problem that arises for reception at this point was mentioned at the beginning of my lecture. It is the inclination of Churches to receive ecumenical documents solely on the basis of their own traditions. Tillard criticizes the similar outlook which accepts "from the agreed text only 'what has always been thought and stated' within its own tradition and refuses anything which challenges or is alien to it. In this case, the tradition of the group becomes the gauge of acceptance, a stand which implies the refusal to risk becoming seriously involved."(64)

As the criteria of truth according the Roman Catholic Church the Encyclical Ut unum sint lists: "Sacred Scripture and the great Tradition of the Church. Catholics have the help of the Church's living Magisterium."(65) Or, in the formulation cited earlier: "The tradition of faith received from the Apostles and lived out in the community of believers gathered around the Bishop, their legitimate Pastor."(66)

In fact, however, the normative role of tradition and the magisterium is disputed among the Churches. The Encyclical Ut unum sint lists among the five still controversial areas: "I) the relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matter of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God," and "4) the Magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him, understood as a responsibility and an authority exercised in the name of Christ for teaching and safeguarding the faith."(67)

The clarification and removal of these disagreements is an urgent task because further ecumenical reception depends on it in great measure. Unless I am completely wrong, two distinct problems, and the confusion of the two, play a role in the disagreements mentioned. A first and more basic problem is to be seen in the Churches of the Reformation and has to do with the acceptance of the normative role of the Church, its tradition, and its magisterium in the communication and preservation of the revelation. For it was part of the original experience of these Churches that the Church, at times and in part, failed in this function. The other problem arises out of the hermeneutical difficulties in the interpretation of tradition and in making the necessary distinction between binding "Tradition" (with a capital T) and purely human "traditions." Not infrequently this second problem is assigned a more fundamental significance because it is confused with the first.

In this regard, it may be noted that the hermeneutical difficulties are no fewer in the interpretation of the sacred scriptures. In addition, it must be observed that all the Churches which reject universal tradition as a rule of truth in the interpretation of the scriptures and insist on their own particular tradition as sole criterion of truth, do not adopt a credible point of view. Finally, it must be said that the concrete hermeneutical difficulties arising in the interpretation of sacred scripture and ecclesial tradition do not in themselves form a problem specific to any tradition or one that should separate Churches. This problem, after all, arises even within the Roman Catholic Church (think, for example, of the discussion among Catholics of the ordination of women) and it also arises within the other Churches. Even the as yet undivided Church of the first millennium faced the problem, as can be seen from Vincent of Lerins' Commonitorium in the fifth century. The Encyclical Ut unum sint refers to norms of truth developed at that time when it says that matters of faith "require universal consent, extending from the Bishops to the lay faithful, all of whom have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It is the same Spirit who assists the Magisterium and awakens the sensus fidei."(68)

What, then, is to be done? Ecumenical agreement is already being started regarding the normative role of the Church - that is, of the entire people of God and the magisterium -- and also regarding the fundamental distinction between "Tradition" with a capital T and "traditions." But further clarification is needed, and the question is closely connected with the question of justification.

With regard to the second problem, namely, an agreement on "Tradition" (with a capital T), its hermeneutical assessment, and its binding force, it is desirable that the Tradition of the as yet undivided Church of the first millennium, especially its Christological and Trinitarian doctrinal decrees and its status as a communio ecclesiarum, be given priority over the later confessional developments of a particular Church. This is not a plea for a fossilized classicism. What is being recommended is rather the path of a patient re-reception (to use Yves Congar's term) of this great and universal tradition and its decisions. Such a re-reception not only takes its bearings from the past, but at the same time it heeds the "sips of the times," above all the urging of the Spirit to a full community of Churches and the need of a credible preaching by a reconciled Christianity.

Common statements about the profession of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, as well as many other ecumenical documents, have already been following this path. The Roman-Catholic Church expressly follows it in its relation with the Churches of the East. Many voices in Rome point out that Rome is striving for an ecumenical agreement on the Petrine office on the basis of the first millennium and the exercise of the primacy during that period. In the Encyclical Ut unum sint we read: "For a whole millennium Christians were united in a 'brotherly fraternal communion of faith and sacramental life. ... If disagreements in belief and discipline arose among them, the Roman See acted by common consent as moderator."(69)

In 1982 Cardinal Ratzinger was already writing: "When it comes to the doctrine of the primacy, Rome must not demand more of the East than was formulated and taught in the first millennium."(70)

The first millennium also provides a model for ecumenical reception in our day. Although it is true that "more theological consensus is needed to restore unity than to preserve unity" and that there is consequently a certain difference between classical reception and present-day ecumenical reception, Edward Kilmartin is correct in saying that "as in the case of Nicaea 1, Chalcedon and the rest of the so-called ecumenical councils of the first millennium, reception took place through a more or less complicated process."(71)

I want to end with a citation from the 1985 statement of the Inter-Orthodox Symposium on the Lima documents; it takes its direction from the classical concept of reception: "Reception at this stage is a step forward 'in the 'process of our growing together in mutual trust ...' towards doctrinal convergence and ultimately towards 'communion with one another in continuity with the apostles and the teachings of the universal Church'. (72)NOTES1. Edward I. Cardinal Cassidy, Welche nichsten Schritte in der Okumene sind iiberfiillig, realislerbar und wiinschenswert?, in: Una Sancta 51 (1996), 117.




1. Edward I. Cardinal Cassigy, Welche nachsten Schritte in der Okumene sind uberfallig, realisierbar und wunschenswert?, in : Una Sancta 51 (1996), 117.

2. Konrad Raiser, Welche nachsten Schritte in der Okumene sind iiberfallig, realislerbar und wiinschenswert?, in: Ibid., 123.

3. Ibid., 124.

4. Ibid., 126.

5. Ibid., 124.

6. Ibid., 123.

7. Ibid., 126; Groupe des Dombes, Pour la conversion des (Paris: Centurion, 1991).

8. See Thomas P. Rausch, Reception Past and Present, in: Theolological Studies 47 (1986), 497508; William G. Rusch, Reception - An Ecumenical Opportuniiy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 13-32; Franz Wolfinger, Die Rezeption theologischer Einsichten und ihre theologische und 6kumenische Bedeutung: von der Einsicht zur Verwirklichung, in: Catholica 31 (1977), 202-233; Hermann J. Pottmeyer, Rezepfion und Gehorsain: Aktuelle Aspekte der wiederentdeckten Realitiit "Rezeption", in: Wolfgang Beinert, ed., Glaube als Zusfimmuniz. Zur Interpretation kirchlicher Rezeptionsvorgange (Freiburg: Herder, 1991), 51-91.

9. See Aloys Grillmeier, Konzil und Rezeption: Methodische Bemerkungen zu einem Thema der okumenischen Diskussion der Gegenwart, in: Theologie und Philosolphie 45 (1970), 321352; Idem, The Reception of Chalcedon in the Roman Catholic Church, in: The Ecumenical Review 22 (1970), 383-41 1; Yves Congar, La recepfion comme r6alit6 eccl6siolo 'que, in: Revue des sciences philosophiques et theologiques 56 (1972), 369-403; Giuseppe Alberigo, Jean-Pierre Jossua, Joseph A. Komonchak, eds., The Reception of Vatican II (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1987); Aloys Klein, Rezeption der ecumenischen Dialoge, in: Klaus Liidicke, Heinrich Mussinghoff, Hugo Schwendenwein, ed., Justus Index (Essen: Ludgerus, 1990), 31-39; Wolfgang Beinert, ed., Glaube als Zusfimmuniz: Zur Interpretation kirchlicher Rezepfionsvorgange (Freiburg: Herder, 1991); Gilles Routhier, La reception d'un concile (Paris: Cerf, 1993); Jean-Marie R. Tillard, La reception comme exigence oecumenique, in: Gillian R. Evans, Nfichel Gourgues, ed., Communion et r6union. Manges J.M.R- Tillard (Louvain: University Press, 1995), 75-94; Angel Anton, La "reception" en la Iglesia y eclesiologia (I), in: Gregorianum 77 (1996), 57-96; (111), in: Ibid., 437-469.

10. See Liviu Stan, On the Reception of the Decisions of Ecumenical Councils by the Church, in: Councils and the Ecumenical Movement (Geneva: WCC Studies 5, 1968), 68-75; Werner Kuppers, Reception, Prolegomena to a Systematic Study, in: Ibid., 76-98; Kurt Schmidt-Clausen, Die Rezeption der Dialogue, 362.

11. Reports of the Sixth Forum on Bilateral Dialogues 1994 5.

12. III. Colloque International Salamanque 1996, La reception et la communion entre les eglises.

13. See Aloys Grillmeier, The Reception of Church Councils, in: Paul McShane, ed., Foundations of Theology: Papers from the Internetional Lonergan Congress (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1971), 102-114; Hermann J. Sieben, Die Konzilsidee der Alten Kirche (Paderborn: Schoningh, 1979); Edward J. Kilmartin, Reception in History: An Ecclesiological Phenomenon and its Significance, in: Journal of Ecumenical Studies 21 (1984), 34-54; Klaus Schatz, Rezeption 6kumenischer Konzilien im ersten Jahrtausend: Schwierigkeiten, Formen der Bewaltigung und verweigerte Rezeption, in: Wolfgang Beinert, ed., Glaube als Zustimmung, 93-122; Gilles Routhier, La reception d'un concile.

14. See the comprehensive bibliography in: Angel Anton, La "reception' en la Igiesia y eciesiologia (I) and (H); III. Colloque International Salamanque 1996

15. Yves Congar, La reception comme realite ecclesiologique, 370.

16. William Henn, The Reception of Ecumenical Documents, in: III. Colloque International Salarnanque 1996, La reception et la communion entre les eglises.

17. Thomas P. Rausch, Reception Past and Present, 500.

18. Gunther Gassmann, Rezeption im okumenischen Kontext, in: Okumenische Rundschau 26 (1977), 314-327; Idem, Die Rezeption der Dialoge, in: Ibid. 33 (1984), 357-368-1 Idem, The Official Responses to the Lima Document, in: Ecumenical Trends 15 (1986), 186-188; see also John D. Zizioulas, The Theological Problem of "Reception", in: One in Christ 21 (1985), 137-193; Jean-Marie Tillard, Reception - Communion..

19. Gunther Gassmann, Die Rezeption der Dialoge, 362.

20. Reports of the Sixth Forum on Bilateral Diadoizues 1994 5.

21. Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, The Ecumenical Dialogue and its Reception, 222.

22. Reports of the Sixth Forum on Bilateral Dialogues 1994, 6.

23, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Applications of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism, paragraphs 179-182.

24. Ibid., paragraph 180.

25. 'Reports of the.Sixth Forum on Bilateral Dialogues 1994, 7.

26. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter "Ut Unum Sint" (25 May 1995), 28-30 (UUS).

27. Ibid., 29.

28. Ibid. 28.29. Ibid., 21-30.

30. Ibid., 15-17.

31. Ibid., 15.

32. Ibid., 82.

33. Ibid., 16.

34. Ibid., 80-81.

35. Ibid., 80.

36. Ibid., 80-81,

37. Ibid., 80.

38. Ibid., 10-11.

39. Ibid., 16.

40. Ibid., 14.

41. Ibid.,18-19.

42. Ibid., 81.

43. Ibid., 95.

44. Ibid., 96.

45. Ibid., ll.

46. Ibid., 13.47. Ibid., 42.48. Ibid.49. Ibid.

50. Ibid., 84.

51. Ibid., 1.52. Ibid., 84.

53. Ibid., 83.54. Ibid., 49.

55. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Statement "Church and Justification", 1994, paragraphs 174-241. 56. UUS, 79.

57. Ibid., 81.

58. Ibid., 38.

59. Ibid., 19.

60 Ibid., 37.

61. "A Study Document Commissioned and Received by the Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, The Notion of 'Hierachv of Truths'. An Ecumenical Interpretation (Geneva: FOP 150, 1990), 16-24.

62. UUS, 78.

63. Jean-Marie Tillard, "Reception"-. A Time to Beware of False Steps, in: Ecumenical Trends 14 (1985), 148.

64. Ibid., 146.

65. UUS, 39.

66. Ibid., 80.

67. Ibid., 79.

68. Ibid., 80.

69. Ibid., 95.

70. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Theologische Prinzipienlehre. Bausteine zur Fundamentaitheologle (Munchen: Wewel, 1982), 209.

71. Edward G. Kilmartin, Reception in History, 38.

72. Max Thurian, ed., Churches Respond to BEM 1 (Geneva: FOP 129, 1986), 124.