"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).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Who Are These Pan-Heretics Practicing the Arch-Sin of "Ecumenism"?

Each year during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I pause to do what old Latin manuals for confession call an "examination of conscience," asking whether any significant advances towards the goal of unity have been made over the last twelve months. Can we report any "successes?" Or should we instead confess any failures--either new ones, or exacerbations (or an unsatisfactory mitigation) of existing ones?

I made the mistake before Christmas of getting entangled in a Facebook "discussion" with a few especially embittered Orthodox who denounced me, and all non-Orthodox, as heretics at best, dwelling in unmitigated darkness without even so much as the grace of baptism to save my soul. I am guilty, inter alia, of subscribing to the "pan-heresy of ecumenism," which means I am also ipso facto a "modernist," a Latin "neo-papalist," and in general someone who has not followed the apparently infallible and all-knowing "Holy Fathers" who were, we are cheerfully led to believe without a shred of evidence, against all these things--however anachronistic it is to claim such. As I never tire of pointing out (and did this week to my graduate students in ecclesiology), if we really practiced the pan-heresy of ecumenism in the manner ascribed to us, we would have achieved a perfectly useless and totally anemic "unity" a long time ago. The fact we are still not united is evidence that most if not all of us are not willing to compromise on fundamental truth-claims.

What was striking was how widely these charges were applied on certain Facebook fora to others within Orthodoxy as well. When I posed a simple question asking for a definition of these charges in clear and commonly accepted terms (Catholics, a century on, still do not agree on a shared definition of what the "modernism" was against which Pius X raged), and for concrete evidence of them, including names of real live human beings who openly and admittedly subscribe to these views, I was of course given none. Instead one person stormed off with the predictable and amusing charge that she wouldn't supply evidence because, as a non-Orthodox, I was too blinded by "pride" and heresy to be able to accept the evidence with "humility." That, of course, is just a cowardly dodge and it meant what I had long suspected: she was dealing in caricatures and indulging in demonization of those who do not accept the particularly virulent ideology she and others have substituted for genuine faith practiced with real charity instead of hostility.

Before Christmas, when I was discussing the outstanding new book Orthodox Constructions of the West, I began by noting the importance which Robert Taft puts on confessing one's sins against unity and being honest about them. Taft lamented that not many do that in the Christian East. Well one historian and Orthodox priest has just done that in an outstanding reflection. Fr. Oliver Herbel writes a powerful and eloquent reflection here, and I very much urge you to go read it. (I will have an interview in the coming days with Fr. Oliver about his new book, Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church.)

And if you are inclined to wait a bit, and reflect on where we have come in the past century, and where we are headed ("we" being those of us committed to propagating and vigorously advancing the "pan-heresy of ecumenism" in the belief that our Lord wants us all to be united [cf. John 17]), then you may want to hold out until April for the publication of Michael Kinnamon,  Can a Renewal Movement Be Renewed?: Questions for the Future of Ecumenism (Eerdmans, 2014), 176pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
There is no doubt that ecumenism occupies a prominent place in the history of the church in the twentieth century: countless churches have been renewed through encounter with Christian sisters and brothers in other confessions and cultures. But it is not clear that this ecumenical impulse will continue to figure prominently in the church’s story.

In this book Michael Kinnamon argues that the ecumenical movement, which has given such energy and direction to the church, needs to be reconceived in a way that provides renewing power for the church in this era -- and he shows how this might happen. He names the problems with ecumenism, identifies strengths and accomplishments upon which the church now can build, and suggests practical, concrete steps we can take in the direction of revitalization.

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