The following is an excerpt from R. R. Reno and Kevin Vanhoozer’s epilogue “The Continuing Importance of Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue” in Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty, edited by Timothy George and Thomas Guarino.
ECT is no novelty. We are not the first to walk the road to Emmaus. There have been previous attempts by Evangelicals and Catholics to come together to discuss “the things about Jesus of Nazareth” (Luke 24:19 NRSV).
Largely forgotten in the annals of religious conflict is one fleeting bright spot: a two-year period in mid-sixteenth-century Germany when Catholics and Protestants engaged in serious dialogue under the watchful eye of Emperor Charles V.
Evangelicals may be surprised to learn that the Protestant Reformers made a sincere yet ultimately unsuccessful effort to preserve communion with the Roman Catholic Church through a series of dialogues from 1536 to 1557. Evangelicals may be even more surprised to learn that Calvin was one of the Protestant participants in a number of these meetings, including the Regensburg Colloquy (1541), where he represented the city of Strasbourg.
Catholics may be surprised to learn that, prior to the Council of Trent (1545–63), a number of Catholic theologians were sympathetic to Protestant understandings of original sin and other doctrines. Protestant and Catholic theologians reached agreement on the doctrine of justification at the Regensburg Colloquy, some 450 years before ECT did it again in 1997 with The Gift of Salvation. Both sides at Regensburg consented to article 5 on “The Justification of Man.”
Calvin did not have high hopes for the colloquy in general, but he was positive about article 5, which he believed preserved “the substance of the true doctrine.” Peter Matheson’s verdict is therefore unnecessarily harsh: “The dialogue between Protestantism and Catholicism at the Diet of Regensburg in 1541 did not fail. It never took place.”
In the end, it was not the doctrine of justification by faith—the doctrine on which Luther said the church stands or falls—that derailed the Regensburg Colloquy. Rather, it was the nature of the authority of the church that proved a hurdle too high to jump. So it remains today, perhaps, in which case we should not tire of theological discussion but rather do as did those at Regensburg.
ECT, far from being a novelty, is another lap in the good race that seeks the prize of Christian unity. We should not disguise or distort the differences that divide us, but we are duty bound to preach in deeds of dialogue the unity Christ promises.