I have no doubt that this book is in the hands of every member of the national and international Western bilateral dialogues as a kind of vademecum to assess their progress and remaining problems. Harvesting the Fruits provides as well an excellent summary for those who wonder what has been accomplished by these long-running dialogues, now more than forty years old. Its author, Cardinal Walter Kasper, is well-known to theologians from more than a score of books on theology, but it is his office as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity since 2001 that places him in an excellent position to assess the Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogues that began in 1967 (Lutheran and Methodist) and 1970 (Reformed and Anglican) and that continue to the present.
The purpose of this succinct assessment is to encourage further study and to promote acceptance of the work of the four Western bilateral international dialogues: the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Methodist Council (LMC), the Anglican Communion, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). Certainly he has provided a succinct and well-documented tool to effect those purposes. This small paperback contains four chapters. I include the page numbers as indicative of the extent of the treatment of each: 1) Fundamentals of Our Common Faith: Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity, pp. 10-30; 2) Salvation, Justification, Sanctification, pp. 31-47; 3) The Church, pp.48-158; 4) The Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, pp.159-195. A pithy Introduction (pp. 1-9) sums up the ecumenical task: “Where are we? What has been achieved? What has still to be done? Where can we, and where should we, move ahead?” (p. 3). It tells us also why just these four bilateral dialogues among the many in which the Roman Catholic Church is engaged and points to one of the great successes, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), concluded and signed by the RC and LWF in 1999.
But why is Chapter 3, “The Church” two to three times as long as the other chapters? The chapter subheadings indicate the reason: A. Common Perspectives on the Nature and Mission of the Church, B. Source of Authority in the Church, C. The Ministry in the Church, D. Reflections on Chapter Three. B. and C. raise issues that remain difficult for the bilateral dialogues. Their subheadings include such contentious problems as “The Apostolicity of the Church (Episcopal role in governing the church and ordaining its ministers) and Scripture and Tradition: “A distinction has to be drawn between the Tradition (i.e., the living presence of the Gospel throughout the ages down to the present), and the many traditions within the Church.” (p. 150). The teaching authority of the Church involves, of course, the discussion of papal infallibility. Central to all of the many issues discussed in the long chapter on the Church is the nature of the Church as a community living through time and space and yet called to unity. It is in the hope of this unity that the ecumenical dialogues meet, labor, discuss, and work out statements that carry the dialogues further toward a reconciliation that can be outwardly expressed in “sharing the one table of the Lord.” (pp. 206-07)