The history of the Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institute for Ecumenism is insolubly connected with the name of its founder: the late Archbishop of Paderborn, Cardinal Lorenz Jaeger. When he became Archbishop during the turmoil of the Second World War, he immediately undertook ecumenical tasks. But his ministry is unthinkable without the other ecumenical pioneers in the Church of Paderborn. Above all, three professors at the Philosophico-theological Academy – Paul Simon, Adolf Herte and Norbert Peters – did the crucial groundwork for the convergence of the separated churches already before the beginning of the Second World War.
First steps towards ecumenical dialogues
Paul Simon was one of the first catholic authors who dealt with the ecumenical movement. He led the first catholic interdenominational conference of theologians in 1934. Adolf Herte presented crucial studies about the development of the catholic view of Martin Luther. As an Old Testament Scholar, Norbert Peters fostered the encounter with the protestant exegesis and contributed largely to the establishment of textual criticism in the catholic field. Paul Simon, from 1933 on dean of the cathedral, and Lorenz Jaeger, Archbishop from 1941 on, maintained many ecumenical contacts during the time of the third Reich. But due to monitoring of the secret police, these mainly had to be kept hidden. In 1943 the two achieved the foundation of an ecumenical department of the Bishops’ conference whose directors were Jaeger and Cardinal Innitzer from Vienna. Already in the last year of the war, theological preparatory work began for the dialogue with the protestant side. Karl Rahner, Romano Guardini and Michael Schmaus took part.
From these preparations derived in the year 1946 the so-called “Jaeger-Staehlin-Kreis” (an ecumenical working group of protestant and catholic theologians) which until today maintains the dialogue with protestant theologians. Among its members are and were e.g. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann, Joseph Ratzinger und Eduard Lohse. Paderborn became (like Vienna for the dialogue with Orthodoxy) a workshop of dialogue with Protestantism. After all, Jaeger took part in the initiative to found the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and played an important role in its conception (1960). Supported by Eduard Stakemeier, the first director of the Möhler-Institute and Professor at the Theological Faculty Paderborn, he can be considered as one of the fathers of the Decree of Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council. Because of his commitment for the unity of the Church he was raised to the dignity of a Cardinal in 1965.
A society for the foundation of an ecumenical institute
To foster the encounter of the separated Christians, on January 27th 1965 the “Society of promoting scientific research in the field of studies in Denomination and Diaspora” was brought into being. The chief target of the Society was the establishment of an institute that promoted research on the field of ecumenical theology. It was renamed in 1969 to “Society of cultivating scientific research on the field of ecumenism e.V.”.
The foundation of the institute
The institute was founded on January 19th 1957 by Archbishop Lorenz Jaeger. The original title “Institute for Studies in Denomination and Diaspora” was changed in 1966 to “Institute for Ecumenism”. It is affiliated to the Theological Faculty in Paderborn.
Governing body of the institute is the Archdiocese of Paderborn. President of the Institute is the respective Archbishop of Paderborn. The institute is led by a Professor from the Theological Faculty Paderborn.
The first director was the fundamental theologian Prof. Dr. Eduard Stakemeier (1904-1970) in Paderborn. His successor was the subsequent Bishop of Würzburg, Prof. Dr. Paul-Werner Scheele. Since 1999 Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen leads the institute.