Address during the encounter
between the Lutheran World Federation
and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

24 June 2021



Here in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, I welcome you very warmly to this encounter today at the start of the visit of a Lutheran World Federation delegation under the leadership of the President, Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa, and the General Secretary, Revd Dr Martin Junge.

We are linked with the Lutheran World Federation by a long history of ecumenical understanding and reconciliation. After all, the dialogue with the LWF is the first ecumenical dialogue that the Catholic Church began immediately after the end of the Second Vatican Council, so that in 2017, we not only commemorated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation in Germany but also looked back over 50 years of intense ecumenical dialogue.

In the last half century this dialogue has proved very fruitful. This first became manifest with the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in Augsburg on 31 October 1999, i.e. on the teaching in the article of which the Reformer Martin Luther said: “Nothing in this article can be conceded or given up, even if heaven and earth or whatever is transitory passed away”,[1] and which at the time led to the Reformation and to the subsequent dividing of the Church. The fact that a broad ecumenical consensus was achieved on this doctrine may be valued as a lasting milestone in the relationship between Lutherans and Catholics.

Without this understanding, we could hardly have imagined a common commemoration of the beginning of the Reformation five centuries years ago on 31 October 2016 in the Evangelical Lutheran cathedral in Lund, Sweden. There, at a common prayer, Pope Francis and then president of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Munib Younan, signed a joint statement expressing the significance of this commemoration with the words: “While we are profoundly thankful for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, we also confess and lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church.”[2] The way for this common commemoration of the Reformation was, moreover, firmly paved by the document of the Evangelical Lutheran / Roman-Catholic Commission for Unity entitled “From Conflict to Communion”.

From conflict to communion is certainly not always a straight path and not simply a royal road which could always head in the same direction. Rather, there can also be detours and wrong turnings. Such a detour is certainly the latest document of the Evangelical Lutheran / Roman Catholic Commission for Unity entitled “Baptism and Growth in Communion”. Besides many positive pneumatological insights, this document also contains problematic ecclesiological statements and ambiguities, when seen from the Catholic angle. That meant that it was assessed to be not yet capable of reception, as the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity stated in the joint Preamble. Alongside this substantive issue, a difference in the status attached to such documents became clear. The Preamble states that the document was “studied and received” by the LWF Council. The Catholic side, by contrast, is used to taking one step at a time towards an approval of an ecumenical document. We will deliberate on both these problems in a retreat planned for September 2021 in order to be able to continue our ecumenical journey in future.

We may understand today as a further stage on this path, since the leading representatives of the Lutheran World Federation have come to Rome on the very eve of the commemoration of the Augsburg Imperial Diet when the Confessio Augustana was handed to Emperor Charles V. That turns our eyes again to Augsburg and that place at which Roman Catholics and “Catholics of the Augsburg Confession” were probably closer to each other than ever again since. That is because the Diet of Augsburg was the “last energetic attempt at a reconciliation”, which sadly failed, as Pope John Paul II underlined on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the Confessio Augustana, adding: “With all the greater gratitude we are seeing today, ever more clearly, that while back then the bridge-building did not succeed, important pillars of the bridge have remained intact through the storms of time.”[3] When I envisage the historical and ecumenical significance of Augsburg 1530 I can only hope that the 500th anniversary of the Confessio Augustana in 2030 will be marked in equally intensive ecumenical communion as the commemoration of the Reformation in 2017 and that, on the path towards it, we can make further good progress towards understanding.

At your Council meeting you elected a new general secretary, whom I wish all the best and God’s blessing. Nevertheless, we do not yet have to farewell General Secretary Dr Martin Junge. He will remain in office for a while yet and, as indicated above, we are planning an intensive retreat together. But already I would like to thank you most warmly, my dear Martin, for our long and intensive cooperation. We have been privileged to enjoy wonderful events together and we have also had to find our way through difficult phases. I am convinced, however, that it is because our ecumenical cooperation over this long period was able to thrive so well that we were also able to bear our difficulties and problems together with perseverance. Thank you already today for this frank and loyal cooperation – we in the Pontifical Council want to show our gratitude once again at lunch tomorrow. Every good wish for your future and may God bless and keep you by his grace, that is “not for sale”. And may we all have a good, fruitful encounter on these two days.




[1].    Martin Luther, The Smalcald Articles, in: The Book of Concord. The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. by Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, Minneapolis 2000, 295-328, zit. 301.
[2].    Joint statement at the common Catholic-Lutheran Reformation commemoration in Lund on 31 October 2016.
[3].    Address by John Paul II on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the Confessio Augustana on 25 June 1980.