THE "barriers of suspicion and ignorance" between Catholics and Methodists have been lowered at an amazing rate over the past five years, said the final resolution of the World Methodist Conference which ended at Westminster last week.
The Conference, attended by 2,090 delegates from 64 countries, named a team of top-level Methodist leaders who will take part in the talks with the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity in Rome this autumn.
Five Vatican observers also attended. The retiring president of the World Methodist Council, Bishop Fred Pierce Corson of Philadelphia, was joined on the inaugural platform by Cardinal Heenan.
A surprise appearance was made towards the end of the conference by the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Cardinale, in order "to add his own greetings to those of Cardinal Heenan and the Vatican ohservers at the Council."
Archbishop Cardinale also outlined a way of taking up
the Vatican Council's "eagerness to establish efficient means of contact with all men of goodwill", and making it bear on the Methodist Catholic dialogue.
The forthcoming Rome talks, he said, should "stress the great truths we hold in common and cancel the strain caused by what we do not share".
The Archbishop "fervently prayed" that past hostility would be left behind by both Methodists and Catholics, so that the's, should be earnest in their aim "to be one in Christ Jesus".
Archbishop Cardinale said that the coming contacts between the two Churches could be made more effective if Catholics and Methodists looked more closely at the teachings of the Scottish Franciscan philosopher John Duns Scotus.
Scotus's view of religion, said the Archbishop, had so many similarities to Methodism that he might even be thought of as the first Methodist.
He went on to sum up Scotus's view of the Church, which could become a "positive influence" in MethodistCatholic dialogue, being so close to the spirit of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. He gave the Methodist Council a six-point plan based on Scotus's teaching:
I. As humanity has progressed, the knowledge of the truth has always increased, though the truth itself remains unchanged.
2. Authority has only the value of the arguments it advances. . . . What authority does not teach may also be true. Even the Fathers of the Church, wishing to combat error, have frequently gone to excess in their mode of speaking.
3. The mind of one's opponent is to be interpreted with sympathy, from his own words and not from commentaries or hearsay.
4. In defending the faith it is better to acknowledge one's ignorance than to pretend to be wise through false arguments. It is wrong therefore to think one IS able to know and prove all revealed truths with the intellect alone, for this is limited and weak.
5. Not even in the matter of faith should unnecessary proofs or many miracles be multiplied. Sacred Scripture should be explained literally and naturally as far as possible, making use of the natural sciences in order to reach a clear understanding of it. Dogmas should not be unnecessarily restricted to a particular sense, but expounded with a certain liberty.
6. No one is bound to consent to something new, even if it is proposed by a theologian, but first he is bound to "listen to the Church" (Mt. 18, 17) and so avoid error. The Church in fact is the trustworthy community above everything else, in whose testimony one can believe without erring. As St. Augustine says: "I could not believe in the Gospel unless I first believed in the Church."
The conference turned again to ecumenism and relations with Rome in its final message: "In the brief five years since our last Conference amazing progress has been made in courtesy and cooperation between Christian denominations.
"The most remarkable is the lowering of the barriers of suspicion and ignorance that have divided us from our brethren in the Roman Catholic Church, and them from us. . . . The roads to unity in Christ begin to converge."