The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht and the Church of Sweden established a dialogue commission in 2005. Its task was to examine whether a form of ecclesial communion could be determined. The commission met 12 times and concluded its work with a report submitted to the leading bodies of the two churches in 2013. The International Bishops’ Conference of the Old Catholic Churches received the report with thanks. It is now the task of the member churches of the Union of Utrecht to decide on the report’s reception. The content is briefly summarised below to simplify the presentation and discussion of the report at Synod level.
The report has four parts.
1. Introductory chapters 1 and 2 describe the landscape of each church and the background to the establishment of the dialogue. This part reflects the slowly developing wish to achieve a kind of ecclesial communion.
2. Chapters 3 and 4 present the two churches. First the historical development of each is briefly described as the basis for its distinguishing character. Both churches have during their development undergone various forms of protest and renewal, in response either to the Reformation starting in the 16th century or the First Vatican Council of the 19th century. The report then describes each church’s foundational documents (3.3 and 4.4), understanding of episcopacy, synodality and the ordained ministry (3.4 and 4.4) and ecumenical relations (3.5 and 4.5). This part concludes with a description of the life of the two churches today (3.6 and 4.6).
3. Chapter 5 is the heart of the report. This part describes the understanding of central theological terms shared by the two churches. It examines the marks of the church as expressed in the creed: “We believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”. There follows a description of church structure, from the starting point of the local church being the manifestation of the “one” church. Next the question of sacraments is taken up, concluding that although there are differences in defining them, these differences need not stand in the way of ecclesiological communion. This section concludes with remarks on the apostolic succession, which is common to both churches.
4. Chapter 6 deals with a number of themes for ongoing consideration in which full consensus has not been reached. These include the apostolic tradition and the teaching of the ecumenical councils, which have historically been emphasised more in the Old Catholic churches (closer to the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church) than in the Church of Sweden (closer to the protestant tradition). Consideration is also given to Eucharistic sharing as a form of real institutional unity, which has not yet been achieved. Finally, mention is made of the fact that both churches have entered into ecumenical agreements with various other churches, but that the consistency between these agreements have become more complicated and need continued consideration.
The report concludes with a set of recommendations and appendices.
The members of the commission took great pleasure in their work. They increasingly recognised that the two churches not only live in comparable societal and social environments, but also that they have much in common from the point of view of theology and church life. The commission therefore concludes that there is a solid foundation on a spiritual as well as institutional level which enables future relationships between the two churches. It hopes that, with God’s blessing, its work may contribute to the visible unity of the Church of Christ.
Amsterdam, January 2014
Dirk Jan Schoon, Bishop of Haarlem and Co-Chair of the Dialogue Commission