Copenhagen, 26 January 2001
Our Ref. 703
To the Roman Catholic Church in Denmark
In September 2000 Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church issued a declaration named Dominus Iesus. The declaration deals first of all with the relations of the Roman Catholic Church to other religions, and the need to avoid relativism as to the crux of Christian faith in every religious dialogue, and for the church to adhere to Jesus Christ as the heart of faith. This is why Ratzinger’s declaration is entitled “Dominus Iesus”, The Lord Jesus.
However, Cardinal Ratzinger does not leave it at expressing the importance of the Christian Doctrine to which the church must always be faithful, and which also the Protestant churches share, namely that the Lord of the Church is the Triune God, revealed in Jesus Christ. The Church must never forget, suppress or diminish this in any dialogue or in any meeting with other religions.
Ratzinger takes the opportunity also to clarify how the Roman Catholic Church shall regard other churches. The churches are divided according to rank: Some are classified as sister churches and proper churches, others as ecclesial communities, meaning first of all the protestant churches, which, according to Ratzinger, are not churches in a proper sense because they “have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery”.
On the background of “Dominus Iesus”, the Council on International Relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark has discussed the consequences for the relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark and the Roman Catholic Church, especially the Danish Roman Catholic Church.
The Council on International Relations fully agrees to Cardinal Ratzinger’s main concern: It is the task of the church to preach and adhere to the faith in and the doctrine of the Trinity, revealed in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. The Council on International Relations values that a church speaks clearly on central issues, both in relation to other religions and in relation to other churches.
However, it has a destructive effect on ecumenical relations if one church deprives another church of the right to be called a church. It is just as destructive as if one Christian denies another Christian the right to be called a Christian.
The Council on International Relations finds that the relationship between churches must be characterized by “reconciled diversity”. This expression, which is made problematic in Cardinal Ratzinger’s declaration, confirms the richness of the diversity in church traditions and the mutual respect. An Evangelical Lutheran church should reject the differentiation made in the declaration between “proper churches” and “ecclesial communities”. The true Church is the communion of saints where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered properly. Not an earthly body, but the Lord of the Church makes it Church.
Based on this understanding the Council on International Relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark continues to use the expression ”reconciled diversity”.
The Council therefore repeats the invitation, sent earlier to the Roman Catholic Church in Denmark, addressed to the Bishop of the Church, to co-operate on a joint study material for the Roman Catholic and the Evangelical Lutheran congregations in Denmark.
What has been achieved by many years of fellowship in practice and through international bilateral dialogues has of course had effect with regard to mutual respect between our two churches in Denmark. We wish this mutual respect to stand and to lead to open and sincere dialogues between our churches.
(translated from the Danish original)