“Catholicity must not be understood as a mark of uniformity, but as implying a dynamic of communion in diversity,” the study affirms. “It calls for ongoing reform so that the church may rediscover, in each era, the sense of its vocation to unity and universality, properly understood.”
Entitled “‘De toutes les nations . . . ’ Pour la catholicité des Églises” (“’Of all nations . . .’ For the catholicity of the churches”), the study was published in November by the Groupe des Dombes.
The 40-member group gathers equal numbers of Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians from France, Switzerland and Belgium, and is named after the Abbey of Notre-Dame des Dombes in eastern France where its meetings took place from the 1930s to the 1990s.
The group is known for a series of pioneering studies on how issues often seen as divisive by Christians of different church traditions can become a source of mutual enrichment.
Its new publication advocates a “reformed catholicity” through the conversion of the churches, where catholicity is not seen as the exclusive property of the Roman Catholic faithful, but describes the entire Christian church.
Pointing to “universality” as one aspect of catholicity, the study’s title comes from the injunction of the risen Christ to his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
At an online press conference on 17 November to present the study, the group’s Protestant co-president, the Rev. Prof. Dr Elisabeth Parmentier, dean of the faculty of theology of the University of Geneva, noted that Protestants have often been reticent about using the word “catholic.”
However, she said, the idea of catholicity “touches on touches on all the questions linked to ecumenism, and especially the question of unity.”
The study explores how the idea of catholicity has been used in church history, within the ecumenical movement, from a biblical standpoint, and in relation to unity, synodality, the sacraments, prayer and liturgy, and the world more widely.
Roman Catholics and Protestants, it says, need an understanding of a “reformed catholicity” in which they learn from each other the importance of universality on the one hand, and of diversity and plurality in the church, on the other.
It concludes that the Catholic Church and the churches of the Protestant Reformation “form a single church, albeit in imperfect communion,” said the group’s Catholic co-president, Rev. Prof. Dr Joseph Famerée, former dean of the theology faculty of the Catholic University of Louvain.
“It may not seem all that new, but it is,” he said. “From a Catholic point of view at least, it is new to dare to say that we, the Catholic Church and the Church of the Reformation, already form a single Church.”
Nevertheless, he continued, “there are still certain differences that have not yet been completely overcome,” and the ecumenical work of conversion must continue toward full communion.
The Groupe des Dombes was founded in 1937 by Abbé Paul Couturier, a Roman Catholic priest in Lyon, France, known as a pioneer of Christian unity, and the Swiss Reformed Pastor Richard Bäumlin of Basel to explore mutual understanding between Roman Catholics and Protestants.