November 21, 2010

Reality Cheque

President Koch of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity says that Protestants have forsaken true ecumenism by not holding out for true, visible unity. By which, of course, he means institutional unity.

Well, as the policeman said, "Move along, nothing to look at here." This has always been the Roman model for ecumenism — as the church, in the view from the Vatican Hill, is officially defined as subsisting in that hierarchy of bishops in communion with the pope. The idea of independently governed churches being in communion with each other but answerable to no higher-level administration is simply foreign to their way of thinking. (And apparently some Anglicans find it hard to grasp, too!)

The proverb is true, and to be believed: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Episcopal Café


June Butler said...

Tobias, at the moment, I'm tired, and all I can think of to say now is, "About those condoms...."

Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...

If one reads William Reed Huntigton's work the Church Ideal
one finds that the response to the quadrilateral was constraining for inrernational unity. If the Covenant is passed and implemented
it will be that much more difficult and I cannot figure out why the larger communion cannot figure that out for themselves.

Anonymous said...

From the article, the Cardinal-elect's point was that the original goal of ecumenism, which had a Protestant, not Catholic, origin, was institutional unity.

Naturally Catholics are going to look to institutional unity as the ultimate end-goal of ecumenism. That's not just "the view from Vatican Hill" but RCC doctrine reaffirmed by both Vatican Councils. In that sense, "Move along, nothing to look at here," is an appropriate comment.

But what about the historical assertion of Cardinal-elect Koch, that contemporary ecumenism has abandoned the original goal of the movement? I don't know enough about the early history of ecumenism to offer an analysis of his statement. Is Koch, in fact, correct?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mimi, I won't touch that one!

Fred, I think the contrast is between Huntington's walled but spacious field and the pyramid of hierarchy.

Fr Michael, I think the Cardinal is mistaken about "the original goal of ecumenism." I'm not even sure what he means by "original." As you say, the doctrine of Roman supremacy has been in place for a very long time; "ecumenical" only in its sense of "universal." But the early church prior to the assertion of Roman hegemony consisted as a communion of more or less independent provincial churches, centered in the various Metropolitical Sees, which all recognized each other and worked collaboratively. It is also telling that Gregory I objected when the Patriarch of Constantinople adopted the title "Ecumenical Patriarch." Gregory, who knew no Greek, heard this as meaning "universal" in the sense of domination; and retorted by adding to the titles of the papacy, Servus servorum Dei. So it seems to me that an ecumenism based on mutual recognition rather than centralized hierarchical authority is the "ancient form of ecumenism" -- contrary to Koch.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Tobias:

I'm gathering here that the "ecumenism" referred to by Koch is the contemporary movement founded in the late-19th or early 20th century, triggering the foundation of the World Council of Churches and the various dialogues that have marked the 20th and 21st centuries.

Unless I'm mistaking the Cardinal-elect (and I have not looked to read his multi-page address), he is claiming that the movement had, as a goal, the unification of churches. Curious to know if anybody among the regular readership of this blog knows enough about the subject to offer an educated critique of his assertion.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr Michael,
I think you are describing Koch's view accurately, as, I think, am I. Although some late modern ecumenical dialogue was towards "unification" in terms of government, that was relatively short lived, and was never the prevailing model. The WCC was more about mission and service, certainly not about becoming a single unified "church" -- after all it included the Eastern Orthodox as well as many Protestants. There was a brief flurry of activity with COCU that tended towards unification, but it was judged to be a deficient model, and the prevailing model for ecumenical dialogue over the last two generations has been towards a kind of mutual respect and understanding, and a "communion of communions" as J Robert Wright dubbed it.

Organic unification is much more the Roman model, though Rome too has participated in "dialogues" on specific issues, though I don't know how sanguine Rome has been that, for instance, the Eastern Orthodox would actually "unite" with Rome under a unified jurisdictional head.

It seems to me that his point is that the "unification" model is the "right" way to do ecumenism, and Protestants have forsaken it. My point is not that he is mistaken in point of history (though I think he over-emphasizes the importance of COCU, if that's what's on his mind); but he has projected the Roman model of church as the ideal of "true ecumenism." As I say, nothing new here.