Brief von Prof. Dr. Dirk G. Lange

The Lutheran World Federation

A Communion of Churches
Assistant General Secretary
Prof. Dr Dirk G. Lange

Geneva, 25 January 2021

Dear Pastor Dr Link,

Greetings from Geneva! The President of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria received with gratitude your book and the Altenberger Declaration. He was also briefed on the work of the Altenberger Kreis. I am glad now to respond on his behalf.

You have worked tirelessly to bridge the distance of centuries caused by mutual condemnations. The excommunication of Martin Luther as well as Luther’s own vitriolic condemnations of the papacy weigh heavy on many hearts. Over the past two decades, many of the painful misunderstandings of the past have been set aside or seen in a new light. The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) and the way it addressed condemnations of the past is a good case in point.

As it is stated in another document of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, From Conflict to Communion, “What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change. (…) the point is not to tell a different history, but to tell that history differently.” (From Conflict to Communion, §16).

In this perspective, the LWF and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) have sought to move from conflict to communion. In the Lund Cathedral, we already lamented mutual misunderstandings that led our forebears to exaggerate oppositions and caricature each other in ways that often led to violence and death.  In Lund, we also confessed that our own ways of thinking often perpetuate the divisions of the past. The 16th century focused on what separated Lutherans and Catholics. Today, we approach one another from a perspective of unity.

As you probably know, the LWF and the PCPCU have recently updated all translations and accompanying documents of the JDDJ. Noteworthy this year was the addition of an updated Italian translation of the JDDJ and first-time translations of all the accompanying documents. These were rendered public on January 3 of this year for the 500th anniversary of the excommunication of Martin Luther, highlighting our common journey and the many steps we are taking together. There is a special foreword, written by the LWF General Secretary, the Rev. Dr Martin Junge and H.E. Cardinal Kurt Koch. In that foreword, they reaffirm their commitment to the path from conflict to communion, “We cannot erase our history of division, but we can make it part of our story of reconciliation.”

President Musa is grateful for the many good initiatives towards reconciliation and deeper understanding that are happening in many countries and churches of our global communion. Each region has a particular focus and lives out the ecumenical identity of the Lutheran confessions in different and unique ways. We listen and learn from one another. Thank you for your work in your context.

United in prayer,

Prof. Dr Dirk G. Lange