Something quite remarkable—indeed historic—happened in Salzburg, Austria, on September 6th last. The occasion was an ecumenical Congress organized by the [Protestant] International Christian Network (Internationale Konferenz Bekennender Gemeinschaften). What made the event so notable was the unanimous approval, after prayer and consultation, of what is now known as the Salzburg Declaration. Entitled Current Threats to Human Creatureliness and their Overcoming, it addresses all the major controversial issues dealing with the beginning and end of life, sexuality and marriage, the new [mis]understanding of which is in the process of deforming contemporary culture and society.
The Declaration approaches these issues from the perspective of the Word of God, specifically what revelation teaches us about the theology of creation and the implications of this theology for sexual ethics and bioethics. It starting point is the affirmation that creation is the work of divine love, which we are called to appreciate and respect, not least by acting in harmony with the moral order intrinsic to our created beings as humans. The different topics are examined in the light of God’s intent in creating us.
What is noteworthy is the fact that the inspiration for the document was the Address by Pope Benedict XVI to both houses of the German parliament (Reichstag) on September 22, 2011. After praising the environmental movement for recognizing that something was wrong with our relationship to nature—treating it as raw material to be used as we saw fit—the Pope went on to draw attention to what he called the “ecology of man”. By this he meant that: “Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself.” This “ecology of man” reveals to man a life in harmony with creation according to the will of God. It is in sharp contrast to the view of what it is to be human as propagated by feminism, the homosexual lobby, and gender theory.
The Salzburg Declaration makes it abundantly clear that the Biblical understanding of human creatureliness makes it possible to articulate a uniform view with respect to the dignity of the human person, masculinity and femininity, marriage and the family, as well as sexuality and procreation, a view that transcends Confessional and Church differences. Considering the virulent controversies surrounding these topics, this unanimity based on the Word of God was experienced by the participants at the Congress as a rare spiritual consensus, since the participating theologians, Church dignitaries, and Christians, came from all the main denominations and represented various spiritual and theological outlooks.
The consensus that was already felt at the Congress was unexpectedly confirmed in the following weeks by the fact that an overwhelmingly large number of personalities from different Churches and Confessions (Cardinals, Bishops, professors, pastors, laity) supported the Declaration by becoming co-signatories.
The Salzburg Declaration was drafted by the Lutheran theologian, Dr Werner Neuer (the only Lutheran guest-member of Ratzinger’s Schülerkreis). After extensive consultation and amendments proposed by the ICN theological commission, the text was adopted by the Salzburg Congress. Dr Neuer states that “It can be considered a notable document since it confirms that true ecumenism can consist not of theological minimalism at the expense of Biblical truth but rather ought to strive for the catholic fullness of the revealed truth of the Gospel. The Salzburg Declaration, which up to now has been received above all in continental Europe ought no longer be withheld from the English-speaking world.”
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