By Devin Watkins
On the 491st anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, the Pope met Friday with members of the Lutheran World Federation at an audience in the Vatican.
In his address to the representatives, Pope Francis took note of the anniversary, and thanked the delegation for coming to Rome “to foster our unity.”
The Augsburg Confession was an attempt to avoid a division in Western Christianity, and later became the primary Lutheran confessional document, describing what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess.
Pope Francis recalled that Catholics and Lutherans came together in 1980 to recognize our common faith expressed in the text, which focuses on “one body… one baptism, one God”.
The Pope then reflected on these three elements. He began with our common faith in one Triune God, as expressed at the Council of Nicaea in 325.
“The Nicene Creed is a binding expression of faith,” he said, “not only for Catholics and Lutherans, but also for our Orthodox brothers and sisters and for many other Christian communities. It is a treasure we hold in common.”
The Holy Father encouraged everyone to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea in 2025 as a “new impulse to the ecumenical journey.”
One baptism in Christ
Pope Francis went on to consider the “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” which unites all Christians.
“Holy baptism is the primordial divine gift at the basis of all our religious efforts and our commitment to the achievement of full unity,” he said, adding that all progress toward overcoming divisions, healing memory, and reconciliation are grounded in the sacrament.
The Pope pointed out that ecumenism is a “journey of grace”, more than an exercise of ecclesial diplomacy.
“It depends not on human negotiations and agreements,” he said, “but on the grace of God, which purifies memories and hearts, overcomes attitudes of inflexibility and directs towards renewed communion: not towards reductive agreements or forms of irenic syncretism, but towards a reconciled unity amid differences.”
And he encouraged Lutherans and Catholics to persevere in dialogue to achieve greater unity among the members of the body of Christ.
The Pope continued reflecting on the theme of Christ’s “one body”, which he said we have wounded with our divisions.
“When we are pained by divisions between Christians,” he said, “we draw close to Jesus’ own experience of seeing His disciples still disunited, His tunic rent.”
Pope Francis added that we experience the Lord’s passion by not being able to share the same altar, even though we are filled with enthusiasm in seeking Christian unity.
Conflict to communion
He then urged everyone to continue “with passion on our journey from conflict to communion,” as Catholics and Lutherans explore the “close bonds united Church, ministry, and the Eucharist.”
“It will be important to examine with spiritual and theological humility the circumstances that led to the divisions, trusting that, although it is impossible to undo the sad events of the past, it is possible to reinterpret them as part of a reconciled history.”
Accompanied by the Lord
Finally, Pope Francis recalled that Lutherans and Catholics are not alone as we tread the path from conflict to communion: “Christ accompanies us.”
And he invited everyone present to pray the Our Father “for the restoration of full unity between Christians.”