Category Archives: Ecumenism

Ecumenism 2

“Ecumenism is open to two kinds of misunderstanding or abuse. First, it can be misconceived as aiming merely at a modus vivendi and more friendly relations among communities that remain divided. Second, there seems to be a temptation for Catholics to represent Protestant views, formerly rejected by the Church, as not irreconcilable with Catholicism, to thin down Catholic doctrine to aspects that may be compatible with Protestant positions, and to dodge the differentiation between truth and error.

The Second Vatican Council, however, in welcoming the Ecumenical Movement and encouraging its progress, has not sanctioned such confusions. The Decree on Ecumenism repeatedly states that the aim of ecumenism is the restoration of full unity between the now divided communities (see nos. 1, 4, 5, 12). It is with this objective in view that the document readily admits that we can learn from the separated separated Christians (nos. 4, 6), and it urges that we should try to understand better the mind of the separated brethren (no. 9). But the Decree also demands “that it should become clearer what the position of the Catholic Church really is” and “that our faith be more adequately expounded” to the separated Christians (nos. 9, 11 para. 2). It warns that those things which we can learn from the separated Christians “have carefully to be distinguished from the Deposit of Faith” (no. 6). There is no room for a license to blur essential differences. The Decree explicitly cautions against confusion in stating: “Nothing is so alien to ecumenism as that false irenicism by which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers damage and its genuine and plain sense is obscured” (Nil ab oecumenismo tam alienum est quam ille falsus irenismus, quo puritas doctrinae catholicae detrimentum patitur et ejus sensus genuinus et certus obscuratur. No. 11).

True ecumenism is a common quest for the truth and for possibilities of re-establishing real unity. The principal objective of such endeavors is, of course, the discovery of agreements and a rapprochement without detriment to the truth. But since truth is opposed to error, it is also necessary to make distinctions and even to venture criticism. Honest inquiry for the truth does not evade the challenge of serious criticism.

Catholics are at present criticizing their own past and the present condition of their Church with a zeal which to some extent is surely justified and healthy, though it often overshoots the mark. But is it only Catholicism that requires to be criticized? Is it not necessary that the principles underlying the separate existence of Protestant churches should also be critically examined?

The movement that resulted in the division was started by Martin Luther. Crucial to his theology and spirituality, from about 1518 onward, was his new conception of faith. This concept was a seed whose germinative power has remained unimpaired throughout four-and-a-half centuries. It is the inchoate form of anthropocentric theology. Now it is anthropocentric trends which at present are causing considerable confusion in Protestantism and Catholicism alike, and the writings of modern Protestants evidence the impact of Luther’s central idea. A critique of this idea seems therefore requisite for clarifying the situation.

But is it wise to reopen an old wound which has just begun to heal? Should we not be glad that the period dominated by controversy has at last come to an end? Would it not be more helpful to the cause of reconciliation to confine our studies to features in Luther’s thought acceptable to all partners in the dialogue?

There is no one today who denies that there are genuinely Christian values in Luther’s works. The present author is well aware that these can be made fruitful for true ecumenism and he has been anxious not to overlook such values even in writing this critique. However, experience of recent years has come to confirm his conviction that a positive evaluation of Luther’s ideas presupposes criteria, and these can only be gained by critical scrutiny. The present confusion is in a great measure the outcome of a lack of criteria. Today, a critique of Luther’s central concept is not a triumphant assertion of Catholic claims but an attempt to discern one of the origins of dangers that threaten all churches alike.

The thought of pre-Protestant Luther (1509–17) is grand and deep. His passion for the Word of God, his “theology of the cross,” and his spirituality of humility revivified vital elements of Catholic tradition with an originality indicative of charism. Even his anti-philosophical attitude is evidence of his total surrender to the majesty of God. His allegiance to nominalism did not impair his religious originality. On the contrary, he kept a critical attitude toward tenets of that school and succeeded in making its way of thinking subservient to his intention, which was exclusively and passionately religious. All the great impulses of a truly Christian nature that remained even in his later career date from that early period which, though very different from prevailing forms of medieval Catholicism, must be judged as the promise of a Catholic renewal.”

-Hacker, Paul (2017-09-22T23:58:59). Faith in Luther: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion (Kindle Locations 391-428). Emmaus Academic. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

Ecumenism

“For Lutherans and Evangelicals must come to terms—for the sake of true ecumenism—with a central question that, as John Henry Newman rightly observed in his Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification, the Reformation theologians never clearly answered: What exactly is justifying faith? Is Luther’s concept of reflexive faith faithful to the testimony and teaching of the New Testament and the earliest tradition of the Church?26 Does Luther’s understanding reflect at all the patristic patrimony about faith? Is it compatible with the consensus of medieval theologians, the teaching of the Council of Trent, the post-Tridentine theological consensus, and the teaching of Vatican I on faith? Last but not least, is it fully compatible with the differentiated consensus formulated in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification?…

True ecumenism will climb patiently and irrevocably the narrow and steep path of the unshakable commitment to the truth, the unity it yields, and the dialogue, encounter, and common inquiry to which the truth beckons and commits. True ecumenism cannot be nudged along by church-diplomatic machinations and various other contraptions but requires common prayer, mutual charity, indeed brotherhood, and long-suffering patience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in a shared eschatological horizon. In season and out of season, true ecumenism will be committed to one principle and one principle only, a principle in which genuine unity is already inchoately present.

-Hacker, Paul (2017-09-22T23:58:59). Faith in Luther: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion (Kindle Locations 213-220, 222-227). Emmaus Academic. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

26 Over the course of more than one generation, a number of important New Testament scholars have developed a “new perspective” on the theology of the apostle Paul, a perspective that stands in sharp contrast if not contradiction to Luther’s understanding of reflexive faith. The most important voices in a debate over which more ink has been spilled than over virtually any other topic among NT scholars from all ecclesial backgrounds are Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” The Harvard Theological Review 56/3 (1963): 199-215; E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977); James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005); and N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God 4 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013). That Luther’s understanding of reflexive faith is rather well alive among Evangelicals is demonstrated amply in a volume that challenges N.T. Wright’s interpretation of Paul on justification: John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007). See N.T. Wright’s response: Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009). Most recently, in his important study Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), John Barclay has steered a via media between the “old perspective on Paul” (deeply informed by Luther’s interpretation of Paul through the conceptual lens of the reflexive faith) and the “new perspective on Paul.” Yet, importantly, in Barclay’s book one will search in vain for traces of Luther’s reflexive faith.