Friday, December 12, 2014

"Bad ecumenism: is that phrase redundant?"



Pauli at Est Quod Est: George Weigel on bad ecumenism.
Bad ecumenism: is that phrase redundant? I'm one of those people that see the whole project of ecumenism in practice as being a big, ivory-tower academic ritual. I'm much more interested in personal, hand-to-hand apologetics, even though it gets pugilistic at times. I prefer that ecumenism to a supposed search for common ground which, in my experience, is usually a chance for theology grad students who can't write and don't want to commit to the priesthood or religious life to finally use those hours spent in classes and late-night bull sessions spent on the mostly irrelevant subject called comparative religion.
True 90% of the time. There is good ecumenism, such as spinning the positive in the Anglican branch theory, same as our theology of valid holy orders and valid Eucharists. All the ancient "Catholic" churches share an overwhelming amount of beliefs and practices, more or less equaling Catholicism. (Which by the way is not the original Anglican branch theory, which says the Catholic family has branches but they're the best because they're "reformed" too.) So why keep fighting? Arguably that's the only ecumenism that really matters to us: these are estranged Catholics, with bishops and the Mass; bringing them back is very doable and desirable. As for within the East, you have the recent Orthodox/Oriental Orthodox bromance, between two loose communions of ethnic churches little to do with each other; historically those communions hated each other. (William Tighe: ALL the ancient Catholic churches claim to be the true one, except the Nestorians now, because of Anglican influence.) A rapprochement that's probably just, between two churches that outsiders assumed were the same anyway. The Orientals have different rites as well as languages, distancing them from each other even more than the Orthodox are from each other. But they all, Orthodox and Oriental, have the same polity: married priests, monastic bishops.

As for the rest of ecumenism, two Episcopalians, C. Wingate and Dr. Olsen, have spoken for me. Corporate reunion won't happen, except, I say, the shrinking mainline merging, all becoming Episcopal even if they don't use that label, just like the Church of South India Protestant merger. They turned high-church but they don't want to come back to Catholicism, as their decisions about sex and the sexes show. (Protestants can change doctrine by vote. We can't nor do we want to.) And the Orthodox and the Orientals getting together.

The Orthodox don't want to come back either; the Russians, the only Orthodox with clout, understandably feel they don't need to since they're a world power.

So ecumenism's only real achievements are that the various Christian factions aren't trying to kill each other anymore, as the Protestants understand us well enough now so that doesn't happen, plus cooperation in charitable work, which we can do with the Orthodox in Eastern Europe along with our culture-wars coalition with them. With pro-abortion, homosexualist mainliners? Soup kitchens, food drives, joint Thanksgiving prayer services, and Christmas Messiah choir concerts, and that's about it. In America, it's charitable work and a culture-wars coalition with the evangelicals. (Jerry Falwell pioneered that Reagan Democrat ecumenism, reaching out to Catholics without compromising his fundamentalist Baptist faith; RIP. Arguably Nixon with Pat Buchanan working for him started that: anti-Sixties pushback.)

There has been a good ecumenism in the trenches as conservative Roman Catholics, spurned by Vatican II, have learned about the Christian East as a result (my first traditional Catholic Mass was Ukrainian), sometimes adopting Greek Catholicism. Some are called to do that. (Attrition to Orthodoxy has been negligible.)

You had good and bad ecumenism in its Sixties heyday too. "I think it's so groovy now that people are finally getting together." Churchgoers then, egged on by the media, really thought we'd all reunite. Good in that the Episcopalians were high-churchifying like they wanted to come back; it looked like Anglo-Catholicism was winning but it was really about to lose big. (Women priests. Felt like a sucker punch, but with 20/20 hindsight it was almost inevitable.) Good that other Protestants wanted to talk to us; everybody loved good Pope John. Bad in that it was really our Modernists and their liberals planning to create a new church together, not really Catholic. The whimper of that you'll see is the mainline merger I mentioned. (Ex-Catholics don't turn mainline. They just drop out: "I left the true church. Why should I bother with yours?")

I think the cartoon is from The New Yorker.

P.S. Hooray for Christmas. The feast celebrating God becoming man makes the Protestants want to come home. They forget they don't like us, putting up statues of Jesus and Mary, lighting candles, and singing in Latin.

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