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Prof. Anton Houtepen

A tribute to the memory of Anton Houtepen by WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit

17 December 2010

by Olav Fykse Tveit,
General secretary of the World Council of Churches


Dr Anton Houtepen was one of the most dedicated supporters of the work of the World Council of Churches’ commission on Faith and Order. As a Dutch, Catholic theologian he contributed with a deep understanding of the tradition of the One Church in formulating the faith of Christ’s Church through the ages. He showed the highest regard for the Church’s saints and martyrs.

Driven by his great creativity and the openness of his mind, from the late 1960s into the early 1990s Dr Houtepen served as a consultant to the commission. As such, he attended consultations, conferences and meetings on Faith and Order in aid of the churches’ quest for visible unity. He worked closely with three successive directors of Faith and Order: Dr Lukas Vischer, Dr William Lazareth and Dr Günther Gassmann. We remember him as one of the most active Roman Catholic participants in the work of Faith and Order through those many years.

He contributed to the work on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry culminating in the “BEM” publication of 1982 and the churches’ subsequent responses to the BEM document.  He was also active as a participant in the lengthy series of consultations on the Apostolic Faith study, enlarging the scope of the undertaking with his broad knowledge of hermeneutics. Dr Houtepen wrote in his introduction to “Confessing our Faith Around the World” (Faith and Order Paper No. 120, 1983), a collections of texts he compiled:

The unity of the Church and the Christian community—in the biblical sense of ‘koinonia’—are fundamentally based on the participation of all church members and of all churches in the one initiative of grace which God works in our human history. Amidst innumerable uncertainties and fears, doubts and longings, pain and struggle, the Christian Faith is an answer of trust, a password of hope against fatalism... It is a living practice of loving, caring, healing, guiding, rescuing, helping people in their struggles, pains and fears ‘in the name of God’ and as ‘disciples of Jesus Christ’.”

In all his work with the commission on Faith and Order, Dr Houtepen is best remembered for his wisdom, knowledge and commitment to the ecumenical movement, to ecumenical theology and to multilateral ecumenical dialogue. In his long years of service as a consultant to Faith and Order, he enabled the commission to call the churches to the goal of visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship.

Personally, I am deeply indebted to Anton, as a friend and as a teacher of ecumenical theology and ecumenical spirituality. I was blessed in having access to him and his knowledge as I worked on my doctoral thesis on the texts of the Faith and Order movement. He freely offered me a great deal of his time, a lot of his insight and always his inspiration to believe that we cannot do theology or be the church without a proper understanding of ecumenical theology. The visits to him and his family will remain forever in my mind as cherished treasures.

May God bless the beloved memory of Dr Anton Houtepen.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary
World Council of Churches