Research prepares the ground for fruitful dialogue

Well-wishers and honorary doctor: (from left) Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the PCPCU; Prof. Dr Myriam Wijlens from Erfurt University, Prof. Dr Theodor Dieter with his award and Prof. Dr Michael Gabel, dean of the Catholic Theology faculty at Erfurt University. Photo: Erfurt University

Erfurt, Germany/Geneva (LWI) – An extraordinary honor: Prof. Dr Theodor Dieter has received an honorary doctorate from one Catholic theology faculty and another one is coming up. Both Erfurt University (Germany) and Leuven (Belgium) have hereby recognized his outstanding contribution to Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.

Prof. Dr Dieter (65) is research professor and director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. Since 1965, acting on behalf of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Institute has prepared the ground for the LWF’s ecumenical dialogues, and accompanied them theologically. It also engages in ecumenical research and continuing education with the aim of overcoming differences with other Christian churches and rendering visible the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Theodor Dieter was awarded the first doctorate on 24 January – during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – in Erfurt (Germany). That was where Martin Luther first took up his studies in 1501 and later taught for a while.

Significance for the progress of ecumenical dialogue

The guests invited to the award ceremony in Erfurt included Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). He came to Erfurt especially from Rome in order to express the appreciation of the Catholic Church for the theological work of our Institute.

Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the PCPCU, wrote to express his praise of Theodor Dieter: “His work as Director of the Lutheran World Federation’s Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg and his advisory activity in all questions concerning the ecumenical movement is of great significance for the progress of ecumenical theological dialogue, as well as ecumenical research and teaching.”

Through his activity he makes a fundamental and significant contribution to restoring Christian unity
Prof. Dr Myriam Wijlens

The tribute was given by Prof. Dr Myriam Wijlens. She is professor of Canon Law in Erfurt and represents the PCPCU in the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

“Through his activity he makes a fundamental and significant contribution to restoring Christian unity,” Wijlens said. “His numerous publications in different journals, lexicons and collections of articles are evidence that the theology of Martin Luther, developed in the medieval context, forms the basis of Theodor Dieter’s research and that he comes up with findings that are fruitful for the present day.”

Listening to one another and letting others speak for themselves

Myriam Wijlens particularly underlined Prof. Dieter’s contributions to the drafting and reception of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and also to the document From Conflict to Communion, which in turn forms the basis for Common Prayer, the liturgical guide for Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.

Theodor Dieter has worked towards dialogue between the Christian churches since the 1990s. He is concerned to stress what Lutheran and Roman Catholic doctrine hold in common, rather than their differences. But such a culture of dialogue and mutual recognition does not happen “at the press of a button”, he said in his address at the 50th anniversary of the Strasbourg Institute in 2015. “It comes about through practice, through long practice in listening to one another and letting others speak for themselves, taking their position seriously and looking at your own church from the perspective of the others, plus the practical readiness to abandon prejudices in favor of better perception.”

The second honorary doctorate will be awarded to Luther specialist Theodor Dieter by Leuven University on 15 February 2017, i.e. in the year of the Reformation commemoration. In the 16th century this university was one of the first to condemn Luther‘s statements. Accordingly, the honor accorded to Dieter is especially symbolic, ecumenically speaking.

“He has been the driving force behind almost all the documents in the context of the Lutheran Catholic dialogue over the past twenty years,” says the announcement from Belgium.