Monday, September 29, 2008

Ecumenism: cui bono?
A Roman Catholic writes:
What has been the ecumenical outcome? Still no closer to actual reunion — but instead the greatest meltdown in [Roman] Catholic membership and practice in England since the Reformation. Add to that the whole fairly brutal post-Conciliar assault on traditional Catholic liturgy and devotion did great damage (irony of ironies) to spiritual affinity with Orthodoxy, the one group of Christians that ecumenical dialogue might eventually reunite to Rome. For there was a profound commonality between the traditional rites of Rome and Constantinople, with their shared emphasis on sacrifice, sanctuary and sacramental priesthood, their shared ad orientem worship, and their common emphasis on the overt display of reverence for the Virgin Mary and the saints. Many Orthodox find what passes for liturgy and devotion in a typical modern [Roman] Catholic parish unattractive and unworthy of a Divine Liturgy. (If any in the current English Catholic liturgical establishment is under the illusion that Pope Benedict’s restoration of the 1962 Missal is somehow unecumenical, they would be quickly disabused by the Orthodox bishop who was joyfully in attendance with me at a recent Missa Cantata in the Old Rite at the London Oratory, and whose welcome for Summorum Pontificum was frank and open.)
As the writer suggests, the Orthodox simply aren’t taken seriously — in Western countries there just aren’t that many of them. (If that were different I dare say they’d be hated by mainstream society as much as Rome. No Pope to blame and they choose to be... Catholic.)

Looking Catholically/non-myopically/non-ethnocentrically to the historical and current big picture, what’s dividing Rome and Orthodoxy, otherwise essentially the same church, is not the existence of the papacy but beliefs on its foundation and scope, not at all the same as Western liberals’ disagreement with the Pope because he’s Catholic (‘I can’t change that — I’m only the Pope’). As each claims to be the infallible church, union won’t happen. Stalemate.

That and the massive protestantisation of Rome on the ground level as this and other honest writers admit.

(My guess is the Lesser Eastern Churches and Orthodoxy will reunite officially and relatively soon, long before any other Catholic union.)

The real difference is not credal or sacramental but regarding how the infallible church works; Protestants say the church is fallible, a whole other kettle of fish. (Individual conversions are the only way for Protestants to come on board.)

For Protestants with their many self-refuting theologies, in the long run their destinations are Rome, Byzantium or the abyss (unbelief as in ‘post-Christian’ Europe); the two big Catholic churches probably will remain in a perpetual standoff until the end of time (perhaps a divine joke that goes over our heads).
The [Roman] Catholic Church’s present commitment to ecumenical dialogue with Protestantism has proved, at least as far as securing actual Christian unity is concerned, a policy failure. It has certainly produced deeply valuable forms of local cooperation; but usually, as on life issues, between specific Protestant and Catholic groups who share firm Christian convictions on moral issues, and who share them as part of a common detachment from any theological liberalism — and who precisely for that reason are under no illusions about each other’s very differing beliefs on other questions, and fully acknowledge and respect the profoundly different theological and ecclesial identity of each.

Theological agreements with Protestantism are, at their best, something of a mirage.
There’s real ecumenism, talking to other Christians to teach them the truth about the church and clear up misconceptions about the other side (which Rome had no objection to in principle/doctrine), and then there’s common-knowledge ‘ecumenism’, exactly the indifferentism Rome and the Orthodox condemn, which is essentially code for liberal Protestants and RC liberal-Protestant wannabes, often from Protestant countries, getting together and agreeing with each other like it means anything to Catholics.
I question whether real ecumenical dialogue is always taking place rather [than] what is not often more than British politeness.
Fr Steel

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