omnibus omnia

Pope Benedict’s New Ecumenism

In Anglicans, Benedict XVI, Catholicism, Christianity, Church, Culture War, Ecumenism, Evangelism, Faith, God, Opinion, Protestantism, Religion on October 22, 2009 at 00:36

The Pope has inaugurated a titanic shift in ecumenical policy with the new norms for Anglican converts.

At The Telegraph, Damian Thompson reports that the progression to the upcoming Apostolic Constitution (regarding the juridical framework for receiving Anglicans and former Anglicans to the one true Church) had not involved the ecumenical establishment and its allies in the local hierarchy.  We write this post to note that, while this “bypassing” of the main players in the Anglican-Catholic dialogue does not  spell the end of the ecumenical movement in the Church, it shows that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is making an major change in the existing policy towards ecumenism and evangelization.  To explain:

The multifarious use of the concept of ecumenism shows that ecumenical dialogue may have any or all of four different objectives; that is, it may seek to (1) facilitate common action among Christians; (2) effect the eventual restoration of unity among Christians; (3) deepen greater mutual understanding among persons with disparate beliefs (e.g., the Catholic-Lutheran declaration on justification); and/or (4) remove barriers to the foregoing (e.g., the removal of the mutual excommunication of the bishops of Rome and Constantinople).  These purposes may be respectively denominated as cooperative and, to borrow the language of mysticism, unitive, illuminative, and purgative purposes.

Notwithstanding the milestones reported by His Eminence Cardinal Kasper, a frank assessment of ecumenical dialogue over the past 50 years manifests the improbability of unitive ecumenism coming to fruition between the one true Church and the Protestant denominations.  Whatever unitive progress may accrue from the production of non-binding common statements on contentious issues, these simply cannot outpace  the increasing divergence caused by mainline Protestantism’s  surrender to  Modernist (actually Postmodernist) theology.  Thus Sandro Magister, noting the show of concord between the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury and the (Catholic) Archbishop of Westminister, remarked:

“This kind of harmony makes one think how close reconciliation would be today between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, if only the latter had not allowed the ordination of women and practicing homosexuals to the priesthood and the episcopate, with the ensuing dramatic divisions between those who agree and those who do not” (from Chiesa, with thanks to Shawn Tribe of the New Liturgical Movement for the heads-up).

Consequently, ecumenical dialogue (with its resemblance to the gruesome bore-fest of diplomatic negotiations) has a better raison d’etre as a basis for common action and mutual understanding among Christian bodies rather than on any prospect of actual reunion. Unfortunately, this fact has not been recognized by ecumenical policy makers, whose dialogues have therefore accomplished much less common action than, say, the “ecumenism of the trenches” of loudly disagreeing Catholics and Evangelicals.

Moreover, and quite problematically from a doctrinal point of view, the ecumenists’ unjustified emphasis on unitive ecumenism, as well as on the mutual concord required for the illusory prospect of reunion, has led to an inclusive “I’m OK-You’re OK” approach to differences that runs contrary not to only to the Church’s missionary mandate but to sound reason.  (Note too that this “ecumenical approach” has infected evangelization efforts, with the emphasis on conversion and salvation being exchanged, or even ignored, for a relativism that is more fitted to cultural anthropology than to missiology.)

Hence the importance of the announcement of the new juridical policy for converts from Anglican Protestantism. Doctrinally, the Holy See’s decision to issue the Apostolic Constitution presages a new and better approach to ecumenism that definitively repudiates practical indifferentism and refuses to let dialogue and common action obscure fidelity to the truth.

Pragmatically, by (momentarily?) shelving the prospect for a general rapprochement with the Anglican communion’s nominal leadership, we think that the Holy Father has  unleashed a titanic shift on ecumenical policy:

First, it implies acceptance of the fundamental limitations of the ecumenical endeavor–that ecumenical dialogue, while a viable basis for common action and mutual understanding, will not lead to reunion any more than would talking together at the United Nations.  The Pope is admitting that unitive ecumenism is dead, and that the energies spent reviving it are better used on illuminative ecumenism and common action against increasingly totalitarian secularism.

Second, and therefore, it shows that His Holiness is beginning to correct the over-emphasis on ecumenical dialogue as an instrument for restoring Christian unity, by reinvigorating a “second channel”–and an older and frankly surer one–for bringing back unity among Christians. As Father George Rutler, a convert from Anglicanism, said on CNA,

“The Apostolic Constitution is not a retraction of ecumenical desires, but rather is the fulfillment of ecumenical aspirations, albeit not the way most Anglican leaders had envisioned it.”

Third, and most importantly for the one true Church, the Holy Father has made it very clear that in case of apparent conflict between the two endeavors, evangelism will be chosen before ecumenism.

This threefold policy is quite justified, on both doctrinal and pragmatic (or perhaps pastoral) grounds.  The pragmatic/pastoral reasons are evident, for it is evidently easier to negotiate and reunite with individuals, families, and  small groups, as the prospective Apostolic Constitution will do, than with a coalition of disparate views and interests such as that represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury. As the Guardian reports, the prospective Apostolic Constitution is appealing to Anglicans on the parish level, whereas little more than speculation can be made about larger bodies like the African Anglican community, whose leaders are “still weighing” the Holy Father’s offer.

As to the doctrinal grounds, it’s pretty simple: Christ our Lord commanded us to preach and baptize, or evangelize; He did not command us to dialogue, or ecumenize; and while neither one excludes the other, it’s pretty clear which is more important to us as Christians of the one true Church.  Against hermeneuticists of discontinuity, we must stress that this  recognition of primacy (lovely word, that) of evangelization subsists (another lovely word) even in the age of aggiornamento. Thus His Holiness Pope John XXIII, in response to the fact that “more and more men of good will in various parts of the world earnestly striving to bring about this visible unity among Christians”,  said that

“We therefore beg and implore Christ Our Mediator and Advocate with the Father to give all Christians the grace to recognize those marks by which His true Church is distinguished from all others, and to become its devoted sons. May God in His infinite kindness hasten the dawn of that long-awaited day of joyful, universal reconciliation.” (from Insight Scoop)

We unite our own prayer with that of the late Vicar of Christ, and we pray to the Lord our God that He may protect our living Pontiff, Pope Benedict the Magnificent. God bless us all.


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