"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Receptive Ecumenism

Of the thirty-two articles in this volume,

Paul D. Murray, ed., Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning (Oxford UP, 2008 [hb], 2010 [paper]), 570pp.
five are of particular interest to Eastern Christians. The first is by Paul McPartlan (“Catholic Learning and Orthodoxy – the Promise and Challenge of Eucharistic Ecclesiology”), which sums up the advances in eucharistic ecclesiology in both Catholic and Orthodox circles in recent decades.

The second, by Denis Edwards, “The Holy Spirit as the Gift,” argues for “re-receiving” Vatican I through four hermeneutical principles Walter Cardinal Kasper (to whom the volume is dedicated) outlined in 2004: to interpret primacy within ecclesiology as a whole; to integrate Vatican I within the entire history of ecclesiology, allowing it to interpret the past, but the past to interpret it also; to understand the historical context of the council and that context’s understanding of key concepts like “sovereignty”; and “to interpret the Petrine ministry according to the Gospel” (207).

The third article follows on from the second thematically (but is not in the same section in the book): Hervé Legrand, “Receptive Ecumenism and the Future of Ecumenical Dialogues – Privileging Differentiated Consensus and Drawing its Institutional Consequences.” Legrand rightly cautions that Kasper’s proposal for a “rereading and  re-reception of the First Vatican Council’s doctrine on primacy … will be insufficient for the Orthodox Church” and will have “no chance of taking place unless the Roman Catholic Church first clarifies those dogmas for herself, reaching in this way, with the Orthodox, a renewed understanding of them” (389–390).

The fourth article is Joseph Famerée, “What Might Catholicism Learn from Orthodoxy in Relation to Collegiality?” Famerée notes that Catholicism still has much to learn about the practices of synodality and regional primacy, and on this he's absolutely right. I deal at length with synodality in my book on the papacy forthcoming from UND Press. On the other hand, the author gently but rightly chides the Orthodox for frequently giving in to “the autocephalic temptation of phyletism” (214). The problem for Orthodox ecclesiology especially, but for Catholic ecclesiology of the 19th century as well, is that both were not merely influenced by, but I would argue corrupted by the models of the 19th-century nation-state, that "most dangerous and unmanageable institution" as Alasdair MacIntyre has rightly called it.

The fifth and final article is Andrew Louth’s, “Receptive Ecumenism and Catholic Learning – an Orthodox Perspective.” Louth commendably begins by saying that his “remarks are primarily self-critical, that is critical of the way … eucharistic ecclesiology is worked out in the life of the Orthodox Church” because the ecclesiology is one thing but “the reality is, I fear, rather different” (362). Thus Louth notes that “the great Orthodox proponent of eucharistic ecclesiology, Metropolitan John of Pergamon, is himself simply a suffragan to the Patriarch of Constantinople, with no community over which he could preside.” This is but one example in Orthodoxy where “in practice, not only is there little trace of any kind of ‘eucharistic’ ecclesiology, there is often enough little trace of the communio or koinonia … characteristic of the ecclesiology of the first millennium” (366). It is clear, then, that Orthodox and Catholics both need to engage in receptive ecumenism in order to continue learning from each other and their shared tradition.

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