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WASHINGTON (October 26, 2010) — Members of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States approved by unanimous consent on October 17 the dialogue’s final report on "The Hope of Eternal Life." The 65-page report represents the fruit of the dialogue's four-and-a-half-year study. It explores issues related to the Christian's life beyond death, such as the communion of saints, resurrection of the dead, and final judgment, as well as historically divisive issues such as purgatory, indulgences, and prayers for the dead.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sponsored this 11th round of talks. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) was invited to participate in the conversation. Although they were represented in the dialogue, the final report was only agreed to on the Lutheran side by the ELCA.
This most recent round of dialogue began in December 2005, but Catholics and Lutherans have been in formal dialogue in the United States since 1965. The choice of topic emerged from principles of life-after-death developed in the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” which the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church signed October 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany.
This investigation “has resulted in another substantial contribution to the ecumenical endeavors of the participating churches,” said the Rev. Lowell G. Almen, Lutheran co-chair and retired secretary of the ELCA.
The report was finalized at the dialogue's meeting October 13-17 at St. Paul’s College in Washington, and will be made public November 15, when it is presented to the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB.
As reflected in the forthcoming report, the churches in the dialogue declared together, “Life does not end in death. God in Christ offers everyone the hope of eternal life.” At the same time, representatives of the participating churches acknowledged the possibility of eternal loss by those who refuse God’s mercy, in spite of God’s desire for the salvation of all. As one of the agreements declares, “We can entrust the judgment of our lives to the one who died for our trespasses and rose for our justification.”
“The careful precision brought to this past meeting of the dialogue by the members, and their knowledge of history, have been a great blessing for all of us,” Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba of Milwaukee, Catholic co-chair of the dialogue, said. "Simply tracing the unfolding practices which have marked our respective Lutheran or Catholic prayers on the occasion of the death of a believer brought light to our conversation.”
The topic took a poignant turn during the course of this round with the deaths of two of the dialogue’s original members. Assumptionist Father George Tavard, who had been a peritus at Vatican II, died on August 13, 2007, and Dr. John H. P. Reumann, a well known Lutheran New Testament scholar, died on June 6, 2008. Each served continuously on the dialogue since 1965 and made important contributions to all of the dialogue’s ten agreed statements. They also offered early contributions to what emerged as the final text of this 11th round.
The report was written in a tone to provide a resource for study by pastors as well as lay members since the topic holds deeply personal and pastoral dimensions for all members of the participating churches.
Additional Catholic participants in the dialogue include Margaret O'Gara, Ph.D., University of St. Michael's College, Toronto; Jesuit Father Joseph Fitzmyer, professor emeritus, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.; Christian Brother Jeffrey Gros, Memphis Theological Seminary, Memphis, Tennessee; Father James Massa, USCCB staff; Christian David Washburn, Ph.D, Saint Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota; Jesuit Father Jared Wicks, John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio; and Sister Susan Wood, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, Marquette University, Milwaukee.
Lutheran members include The Rev. Winston D. Persaud, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa; Michael J. Root, Ph.D., professor of systematic theology and dean, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C.; Rev. Dr. Lowell Almen, co-chair of the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue; Rev. Stephen J. Hultgren, assistant professor, Department of Theology, Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y.; Rev Theodore W. Asta, associate to the bishop (ecumenism and administration), New England Synod-ELCA; Rev. Marcus J Miller, president of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C.; Dr. Cheryl Peterson, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio; Rev. Paul Schreck, ELCA staff.
Information regarding the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue is at http://www.usccb.org/seia/lutheran.shtml.
Keywords: Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, eternal life, ELCA, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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