Monday, January 22, 2007

Is ecumenism dead?
I recall towards the end of my seminary days when [Roman] Catholic and Lutheran theologians issued the joint statement on Justification by Faith. This should have been a momentous occasion: the issue that had separated the two had been basically eliminated. The total lack of excitement that greeted the statement astonished me, especially as I was deep into a Master’s thesis on Romans.
Dom Peter’s entry reminds me of these blunt words (right, I warned you) from First Things’ Joseph Bottums:
In the early 1970s, it was not unknown that reputable [Roman] Catholic theologians and even bishops would, in ecumenical settings, concelebrate the Eucharist with liberal Protestant clergy. Such events were unusual, of course, but those participating thought they were only a step or two ahead of where the Church was going. If you cannot imagine this happening today, that’s partly because the old mainline Protestant churches matter so much less than they used to. Besides, their sharp anti-Catholic turn in recent years — much of it occasioned by the battles over abortion — has made this kind of unfocused ecumenical gestures pointless. Mostly, however, you can’t imagine bishops or theologians of stature concelebrating the Eucharist with non-Catholics because the doctrine of communio, with all it entails for Christian unity and division, has grown firm again.
It’s worth remembering that 50 years ago the mainline denominations opposed abortion and 80 years ago contraception as much as Rome does. The World Council of Churches was more clearly orthodox Christian when it began and many Orthodox and other Eastern churches joined it; reunion talks were feasible (from the Catholic point of view really a kind of instruction for non-Catholics though of course clearing up misunderstandings goes both ways).

You can argue that mainstream RC since the big flinch of Vatican II is functionally just as sidelined as the mainline (or even has become mainline as Bottums says 1950s sociologists predicted would happen with the move to the suburbs) — the only difference is people still strongly identify with it emotionally for ethnic and class reasons. About the sense that the Kennedys and Nancy Pelosi (their good points are another matter) are anything to do with the holy, Catholic, apostolic and Roman Church.

A friend wrote anonymously last summer:
...We (Catholics) can only have less and less to talk about with these people (liberal Anglicans). Like with Protestants, Mormons, and Jews, cooperation in humanitarian and charitable works is both possible and desirable, but any sort of ecumenism is best left untouched. In terms of the Anglican Communion, well that seems like it’ll fall apart more rapidly every day, and so there won’t be any anxiety over being in the same jurisdiction with the liturgical Unitarians.

I just wish they had the integrity of Benjamin Jowett and his ilk.
Mormons and Jews are not Christians so the term in those cases is interfaith not ecumenical.

Central Church friend Charley Wingate says:
Ecumenism as a reunion movement is pretty well dead. Ecumenism as a "Can we stop character assasination of other churches?" movement ought to be alive and well.
Which essentially agrees with Dom Peter.

I agree with the latter but am not so sure the former won’t happen: I think you may see the mainliners shrink and merge instead of competing for the same liberal upper-middle-class market share and Rome, the Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox and the Assyrian Church — the Catholic family — at least are still talking to each other, tentatively. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox schism ended in the next few decades.

Which brings me to this recent conversation.

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