We chatted with Annemarie Mayer, a professor and scholar at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Tübingen, Germany.
Tell us how you got involved in ecumenism.
I studied Latin, Greek and Catholic Theology at Tübingen University and went abroad for a year: I read classics as a visiting student in Oxford. After one term I missed theology so much that I went to lectures and had theology tutorials although my college didn’t “cater” to theologians. I found it absolutely intriguing that the theology faculty over there is “ecumenical” in the sense that it doesn’t so much matter what church you belong to as long as you are an outstanding acadamic in your field. So I had patristic christology tutorials with a Greek Orthodox bishop, went to systematic theology lectures by the current Archbishop of Canterbury and tutorials on the history of canon law by a Jesuit. I liked the mixture and the striving for the common cause of academic excellence and when I came back to Tübingen I tried to find a comparable setting over here at the Ecumenical Institute of Tübingen. And over here I asked myself whether this working together can take place only for academic purposes (the way I had discovered it). And I found that it was reaching much deeper, also on a practical level, and that it was pointing towards the ultimate goal what church is about.
You were involved in the drafting of “Fellowship at the Lord’s Supper is Possible” (Abendmahlgemeinschaft ist möglich), which proposed guidelines for intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants. What is the basic proposal, and what are your hopes for its impact?
Its basic proposal is that things that work in the case of emergency cannot float in a theological vacuum; so, if mutual or at least unilateral eucharistic hospitality is possible in special urgent situations (“cases of pressing spiritual need,” as the encyclical Ecclesia de eucharistia puts it) there must be some theological justification for it; and if that is the case, couldn’t that way of theological reasoning be applied to other cases as well. Of course this application should be performed with discretion: not just for one ecumenical “happening” (like in the case of a Ökumenischer Kirchentag or Ecumenical Church-Day, a German event), but only in groups, parishes, families where there is an awareness of the ecumenical impact and a long-lived mutual understanding.
You also have researched a medieval pioneer of interreligious dialogue. Tell us about him and how this study has shaped your view of ecumenism.
Ramon Llull (as the Catalans call him) or Raymond Lull (d. 1316) had the luck to be born on the island of Mallorca. In those days there was a significant percentage of Muslims and Jews living there, so he imbibed “convivencia,” living together with people of other faiths, already from the very beginning of his life. He was looking for some common ground in order to make sure that his Muslim and Jewish friends wouldn’t lose their salvation. He found that common ground in reason, given to each human being by the Creator. So, rational discourse and reasoning were his means of dialogue with other faiths (as opposed to e.g. crusades or indoctrination by compulsory listening to sermons). As for his ecumenical efforts (in those days there were only the Orthodox Churches, no Protestants, but still…) his own impulse for ecumenism was the loss of credibility which the Christian faith was suffering from internal splittings and rivalry. So in order to make the Christian belief more trustworthy and attractive the reconciliation of the different Christian churches is imperative; this is a view I share with Lull.
What specifically do you think Catholics and Lutherans have to offer each other?
I think both can try to see their own tradition with the eyes of the other and thus learn more about their own strong and not so strong points. To identify what the respective assets are and to strengthen them is a task which Catholics and Lutherans as ecumenical partners can help each other to fulfill.