Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dragnet Ecumenism

Fr Z has started calling the Holy Father, "the Pope of Christian Unity", it is a good title, and yes it is a bit of Liberal bashing, because it is quite a different "unity" that he is seeking than most who are engaged in ecumenical dialogue. Some years ago I asked a Catholic "ecumenical representative", what dialogue they were engaged in with the SSPX, the answer was just a look of confusion.

On the local level in E & W, and I suspect elsewhere ecumenism often appears as a specialism for those with a penchant for weak tea, damp church halls and interminable meetings. Ultimately it seems as if the ultimate end is to foster friendly relationship rather than to establish institutional unity.

For Catholics unity is institutional. We believe that the institution of the Church is given by Christ himself, it is not optional. As Catholics we believe that it is Christ's will that all Christians share in the fullness of the faith, within the Catholic Church.

The great change under Benedict is that unity has been placed at the heart of both the papacy and the mission of the Church as the Vatican II teaches, and has a definite object - full institutional unity. "Gathering into one" is at the heart of his understanding of the Papacy.

The great change that has marked Benedict's ecumenism is its institutional character, it is focused on bishops and churches -or ecclesial communities, we see that in the talks with the Romanian Orthodox, with the SSPX and now with Anglicanism.

As I said in a comment on an earlier post we have been used laymen or clergy coming into the Church and following instruction and discernment being received, the plucking of individual fruit, there appears to be something different here, the reconciliation of bishops and therefore of whole -or significant parts- of Churches by the successor of St Peter. This "dragnet" ecumenism, Peter throws a net into the sea and pulls in a great shoal of fish - good and bad alike. With the reconciliation of the SSPX, the whole of the fraternity will be accepted, including possible sede vacantists, so too with Anglicans. The "sorting" one presumes happens after reconciliation, by the the newly reconciled Church or ecclesial community. I presume we will have to live with anomalies and ambiguities such as the divorced and remarried, in the case of both Anglicans and Orthodox, it will be messey, but the ultimate concern must always be the good of souls.


Independent said...

The Early Church and the Medieval Church were messy institutions, perhaps we are seeing a return to the situation before the Reformation.

Fr Paul of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, who began the Church Unity Octave, was very fond of the text "Gather up the fragments that remain that nothing be lost". It would seem that Pope Benedict is of that mind.

gemoftheocean said...

You raise a good point re: the divorced and remarried. I think that surely, each individual person will still have to convert. Bishops can only do so much in bringing their flocks around.

As for "ecumenism" - on a local level, other than joinging together fo organize food banks and the like, I can't see seeing around in little groups with circles and "facilitators." I've never been one for attending those sorts of "pep rallies." Count me with those kids who would have hung out under the bleachers smoking a cigrette, even if I don't smoke. When you get down to brass tacks, it is they who will have to compromise principles. Each person must come to iton his or her own. I'm not into the "group hug" thing.

Deacon David Brinn said...

Hi Fr Ray, I agree that a lot of local ecumenical groups are not much more than social events with a bit of joint worship thrown in once a year, but here in my neck of the woods, we are much more about joint mission and activity, making sure the Gospel message gets through.Our meetings are well organised and time limited ! Yes there are issues, yes it can be messy but we are working on a local level to make sure that the friendly relations between churches are there for when opportunities for institutional unity, arise on the wider ecumenical scene.
Maybe you would like to take a look at my blog and see what one small corner of E and W is doing to show what can be acheived. BTW love the new sanctuary !

Richard said...

Why is it that many of us are so concerned about the precise beliefs and circumstances of people joining the Church yet are far less worried about the very same things in people who were born and baptised into it?

Yes, a few Anglicans who are interested in becoming Catholic might be divorced and re-married - and that is wrong - but I suspect there are far more "cradle Catholics" who are receiving Communion regularly who are themselves in improper relationships.

The same is true of beliefs - there are far more divergent beliefs amongst regular communicating lifelong Catholics than amongst any Anglicans who might wish to join the Church as part of a bulk transfer. Just think about what you hear or even read by supposed Catholics about Papal infallibility, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Virgin Birth, the status of homosexual relationships, women priests, abortion.

I'm not saying that we should ignore these issues, merely that there is a strange divergence between how we treat converts and cradle Catholics.

Independent said...

Richard - Perhaps the Catholic Church would be on stronger ground if it excomunicated "Catholic" politicians who advocated abortion, and theologians such as Hans Kung who appear doubtful about the beliefs which you list. I see that he is very critical of the Pope's offer to Anglicans.