The Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Erfurt bestowed on Dr. Theodor Dieter of the Institute an honorary doctorate on January 24, 2017, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This honorary doctorate in Catholic Theology (Dr. theol. h.c.) was given “in recognition of his contributions to research into Martin Luther’s theology in its historical context and its meaning for the present, his scholarly dedication to ecumenical theology, including the methodology and hermeneutic of the dialogues between the churches, and his outstanding achievements especially in the area of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue.”
The celebration took place in a historically significant place: Coelicum, the room in which Martin Luther gave his first lecture. After the festive entrance of the scepter of the faculty, the faculty’s dean welcomed all those present, among them numerous prominent personalities, such as the Magnus Cancellarius (Great Chancellor) of the Faculty, Bp. Ulrich Neymeyr, bishop of the diocese of Erfurt; Regional Bishop Ilse Junkermann from the Evangelical Church in Central Germany, the heartland of the Reformation; Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome; Erfurt’s Bishop Emeritus Dr. Joachim Wanke; Suffragan Bishop Dr. Reinhard Hauke; Dr. Dorothee Kaes of the German Bishops’ Conference; the Regional Bishop of Halle-Wittenberg, Provost Dr. Johann Schneider; Prof. Dr. Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr from the Theological Faculty of Friedrich Schiller University in Jena; and Rector Prof. Dr. Volker Zerbe from the Professional School of Erfurt. The presence of Bp. Farrell at the celebration showed, as the dean emphasized, the great importance of ecumenism for the Catholic Church. In her impressive Laudatio, Prof. Dr. Mirjam Wijlens set this honorary doctorate from the Catholic Theological Faculty in the Coelicum in the larger context of the Reformation, the division of the church, and the ecumenical movement, expressing appreciation in clear and vivid language of the kind of theological work that Theodor Dieter has done for Catholic-Lutheran ecumenism.
The new Dr. h. c. Dieter thanked the assembly for the honorary doctorate with a lecture on the topic, “The Ecumenical Worship Service in Lund on October 31, 2016: A Theological Commentary.” In it he described the difficult task set before the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Commission on Unity to sketch the theological basis for an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation anniversary. He explained the solution that the commission came upon with the document “From Conflict to Communion” and showed how the contents and structure of this document shine through the liturgy crafted for the ecumenical service in Lund. That Pope Francis presided over the worship service along with the leaders of the Lutheran World Federation was a moving confirmation of how far fifty years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue have come.
Members of the trombone choir of the Evangelical parish in Erfurt graced the celebration with music, including among other pieces songs by Martin Luther. The ensuing reception took place in the Kilianikapelle, where Luther was ordained a priest. Thus was the challenging figure of Martin Luther present at the event as much as ecumenical efforts. The participation of many people in the area of theology as well as ecumenism, their shared joy as well as the historically unique location, made the event a wonderful celebration of ecumenism, marked by great cordiality and human warmth and esteem.
Photos: Elke Leypold, Institute for Ecumenical Research; Désirée Haak, University of Erfurt