Monday, September 13, 2010

The Seventh Challenge: Ecumenism

by Paula Ruddy

Continuing with our special Countdown to Synod 2010 series . . .

In the last four challenges to the contemporary Church, Paul Lakeland turns to the Church’s relation to the world. In number seven, he asks how the Catholic Church can fulfill its responsibility to relate to other Christian communities.

Paul dates the first genuine ecumenical break-through in 1937 with the work of Yves Congar. Minnesotans are familiar with the liturgical movement that began in Europe in the middle of the 19th century from the involvement of St. John’s University and Abbey in Collegeville and the great teachers trained there. Paul says that in some ways the liturgical movement laid groundwork for the ecumenical movement in crossing denominational lines. It all led up to the great Ecumenical Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.

Relations have improved with the Orthodox church, the Anglican, and the Lutheran churches. The principal difference between Catholicism and Lutheranism was addressed in a major joint statement on justification in 1999. Paul cites a primer on the status of ecumenical dialogue by Paul D. Murray, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Paul distinguishes between the formal work of dialogue between church bodies and the work of theologians. Church bodies move slowly and with caution for pastoral concerns. The work of theologians, on the other hand, is an investigation of truth within an academic community, not bounded by institutional caution. This difference gives rise to the teaching Church and theologians stressing different interpretations. Different emphases have led to “disagreement over the ways in which we should understand the relationships between the various Christian churches and the Catholic tradition.” ( p. 102)

This disagreement came to a head with the publication of Dominus Jesus in 2000, signed by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Its language and its emphasis on obedience to the teaching authority may have been addressed to Catholic theologians, but it was a bump in the road for ecumenical relations.

Dominus Jesus raises questions but it does not contradict the teaching of Vatican II and the sensus fidelium that other Christian denominations are part of the Church of Christ.

Before and behind the inadequacies of Dominus Jesus is the belief that the Church of Christ is bigger than the Catholic Church and that other Christian traditions also share in it. … So when lay Catholics claim a special status for their own tradition, but do not proceed to assign lesser status to other Christian communities, their beliefs express a solidly ecumenical theology. (p. 104)

The truth of the matter of ecumenical relations is that a posture of humility and service works, while arrogance does not. Theologically speaking this means that the Church has to banish everything from its proclamations on ecumenical relations in which it appears that unity is a matter of other traditions recognizing their need to come closer to the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ “subsists. . . . If Christian unity is to be real in the future it will come about when changed Protestant churches and a changed Catholic Church find their way together into a unity within the one Church of Christ. (p. 104)

NEXT: The Eighth Challenge: Religious Pluralism.

See also the previous PCV posts
The First Challenge: Identity and Commitment
The Second Challenge: Ministry - Ordained and Lay
The Third Challenge: The Roles of Women in the Church
The Fourth Challenge: Church Teaching and Individual Conscience
The Fifth Challenge: The Religious Formation of the Young
The Sixth Challenge: The Scandal of Sexual Abuse

Theologian and author Paul Lakeland will be the keynote speaker at the Catholic Coalition for Church reform's September 18 Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table." For more information about this event and to register, click here.

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