The Fries-Rahner Proposal for the Unity of the Church

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In the early 1980s, two Catholic theologians—Karl Rahner and Heinrich Fries—offered a proposal of their own for the unity of the church. It provoked widespread discussion after its publication under the title Unity of the Church: An Actual Possibility. Eight theses lay out the conditions for church unity. They are (briefly summarized):

Thesis one states that the basic truths of Christianity as expressed in the Holy Scriptures and the Apostles’ and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed are to be binding for any future one church.

Thesis two states that no confessional statement that is binding for any one church is to be explicitly rejected by the others, nor is any confessional statement of any one church to be imposed on the others. This applies especially to Roman Catholic teaching that has not achieved dogmatic status and ethical questions as well.

Thesis three states that churches can maintain their same structures and overlap in territory as they have previously.

Thesis four states, in two parts, that a) all participating churches recognize the sense and right of the petrine ministry of the Roman pope as the concrete guarantee of the unity of the church in truth and love, and b) the pope on his side commits expressly to recognize and respect the independence of the participating churches. He will make use of his teaching authority in a way that is equivalent to a common council of the whole church.

Thesis five states that all participating churches will have bishops as the head of the various jurisdictions.

Thesis six states that the participating churches will exist in a mutual brotherly exchange in all their dimesions of church life.

Thesis seven states that, without any prejudice about the legitimacy of the ministerial offices that have existed in the divided church up till the present, from now on all ordinations will take place with prayer and the laying-on of hands in such a way that their recognition presents no difficulty for the Roman Catholic church.

Thesis eight states that between the individual participating churches there will be pulpit-and-altar fellowship.

2 thoughts on “The Fries-Rahner Proposal for the Unity of the Church

  1. For us Lutherans the question looms large, especially at this point in our history. Do we look to the Lutheran Confessions as constitutive – fundamentally creating a new church – or as corrective – documents written from a perspective firmly within “the Church” that address areas in need of reform. Sadly, it would appear the former has become de facto. However, there are voices within the Lutheran movement who continue to see the Confessions from the latter perspective. As Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten so deftly puts it in his seminal book “Mother Church: Ecumenism and Ecclesiology”, five hundred years after Luther the issues between Lutherans and Roman Catholics are no longer soteriological. It is a matter of ecclesiology. However, can Lutherans lay down our now dated “slogans” about the former in order to take up the challenges of the latter. These challenges hold much promise and hope for us as the “one holy, catholic and apostolic church.”

  2. Sehr geehrter Bruder in Christ Heinrich Fries. Ich bin seit zwei Jahren damit beschaefftigt eine Welt-Religion zu schaffen, dass heisst, alle haupt Religionen in eine Weltweite Religion, und nicht nur Protestanten undKatholiken zusammen bringen sonder auch die Hindus, Buddhists und Judaisten und Islam, und mehrere kleine Einheitem. Denn Gott in Seinem ewigen Plan wollte das ein Katholische Kirche die Braut Jesu waer, und Katholisch hier uebersetzt vom Griechischem, ganz einfach: Universale Kirche, und hat ueberhaupt nichts zu tun mit was die Roemisch Katholische Kirche darau gemacht hat. Mit Freundlichen Gruessen und moge unser Gott Sie segnen, ich bin; Rev. Dr. Hagen von Maydell,esq (D.Dive, Th.M.,BSCN)

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