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“SEEING IN A NEW LIGHT”: FROM REMEMBERING TO REFORMING IN ECUMENICAL DIALOGUE Margaret O’Gara* Ecumenism is a means of reforming the Church, and such reform is made possible in part when history is seen in a new way. The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification speaks of seeing once-divisive questions and condemnations “in a new light.”1 By shining this new light into the darkness of past disputes about justification, Catholics and Lutherans were able to see these past disputes more clearly and to overcome the divisions they caused. Here, remembering became a means of reform. 1. Reflecting on Remembering Together While it may seem obvious, the part played in ecumenical dialogue by a new common view of history is not always noticed or discussed. But some agreed statements include actual comments on the process of remembering history together and the transformation that results. For example , the report of the International Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Mennonite World Conference explains how members reread certain periods of church history together in an atmosphere of openness that was “invaluable.”2 Such openness allowed a broader view of Christian history and counteracted the loss of perspective resulting from centuries of separation. Commission members write, “Our common rereading of the history of the church will hopefully contribute to the development of a common interpretation of the past. This can lead to a shared new memory and understanding. In turn, a shared new memory can free us from the prison of the past.”3 And the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church explains that, when their churches overcome earlier controversial questions and doctrinal condemnations, they “neiThe Jurist 71 (2011) 59–76 59 * Faculty of Theology, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto 1 Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church, Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids, MI & Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 1999) #7. 2 International Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Mennonite World Conference, “Called Together To Be Peacemakers,” www.bridgefolk.net/calledtogether. htm, #26. 3 Ibid., #27. 60 the jurist ther take the condemnations lightly nor do they disavow their own past.”4 On the contrary, the Joint Declaration explains, the churches have come to new insights in their histories. “Developments have taken place that not only make possible but also require the churches to examine the divisive questions and condemnations and see them in a new light,” it claims.5 Convergence is possible because of recent biblical studies as well as “modern investigations of the history of theology and dogma,” it continues.6 Nevertheless, while the doctrinal condemnations of the sixteenth century on justification appear “in a new light,”7 nothing is “taken away” from their “seriousness”: some were not “simply pointless” and “they remain for us ‘salutary warnings’ to which we must attend in our teaching and practice.”8 Like these agreed statements, the encyclical on ecumenism of Pope John Paul II also drew explicit attention to the process of the “necessary purification of past memories.”9 John Paul II believed that Christians of different churches have not known each other well, and that we have inherited misunderstandings and prejudices about each other from the past10 that lead to misgivings in the present. The purification of memories calls first for a repentance and conversion, so that we change “our way of looking at things,” he writes. Only then are we ready for a new look at the past, since disciples of the Lord “are called to reexamine together their painful past and the hurt which that past regrettably continues to provoke even today.”11 In this reexamination, he explains, they are invited by the Gospel “to acknowledge with sincere and total objectivity the mistakes made and the contingent factors at work at the origins of their deplorable divisions. What is needed,” he continues, “is a calm, clear-sighted and truthful vision of things, a vision enlivened by divine mercy and capable of freeing people’s minds and of inspiring in everyone a renewed willingness, precisely with a view to proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of every people and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2326-6236
Print ISSN
0022-6858
Pages
pp. 59-76
Launched on MUSE
2016-07-06
Open Access
No
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