8 January 2009


Yesterday to a Council meeting of the Ecumenical Society of the BVM. Apparently the membership shows all the symptoms of aging and contraction. I wonder if the reason is that it represents the culture of the 'old ecumenism'; of convergence and putting divisions behind us, when in so many ecclesial contexts people are preoccupied with the new divisions which transcend 'denomination': Gender; Ordination of Women; the relationship between Worship and the secular culture ...

Over lunch (in Cardinal College Oxford) I found myself, not for the first time, in conversation with a RC who was fairly strongly anti-Benedict 'because of Benedict's opposition to ecumenism'. It is surely a sign of the times that a papist should spend lunch attacking the pope, and an Anglican in defending him. I resolved to write a post or two on why I think Benedict is the foremost ecumenical thinker of the twentieth century.

Bu first, some preliminaries. Ecumenical theology begins in the first millennium with the Western Church setting itself free from the 'common sense' position that since the Spirit is the possession of the Church, the Sacraments cannot exist outside it. Pope S Stephen I opposed this view, insisting that heretical baptism is valid. Augustine, during the Donatist controversy, established that Holy Order could validly exist among schismatics. In times of controversy there is always a temptation to think that one's opponents, so grave are their errors, cannot possibly be validly conveying sacramental grace. But inexorably there grew up in the West the notion that a valid minister with a very minimal intention and using an adequate Form and Matter could validly convey the sacraments, even when in a state of mortal sin, even when in schism, even when in heresy, even if apostate. Sometimes silly people dismiss talk about validity and invalidity as mechanical. Fools, they do not realise that the only alternative is the 'Cyprianic' view that anybody who is not within (what I define as) the Church, lacks Baptism and all the other sacraments. This is a view that has been held in the Orthodox Church; Metropolitan Callistus once observed that while Westerners did not often, for obvious reasons, meet such Orthodox, they should not forget that they exist. A friend of mine, baptised as a presbyterian, became Orthodox in Brighton by being chrismated. When he subsequently became a monk on Mount Athos, this was all deemed a nullity and he was baptised and chrismated afresh.

Such a view implies that all non-Othodox are unbaptised heathen. There is no possibility of ecumenism in such a theology.

Only the 'mechanical' view that valid sacraments can exist outside the Church affords a basis, both theologically and practically, for ecumenical activity.

More later.


Chris Jones said...

Fr Hunwicke,

Two points:

First, you've made a plausible case that only the 'mechanical' view affords a basis for ecumenical activity, but that is not the same thing as showing that the mechanical view is, in fact, correct.

Second, your case is plausible, but not, to me, persuasive. Surely one must believe that one's ecumenical partners are in some sense Christian (even though outside the canonical boundaries of the Church). But that belief is not dependent on a 'mechanical' view of sacramental validity; it can just as well be based on the notion of 'uncovenanted grace'. That is, in fact, the common Orthodox view, expressed in the aphorism 'God is not bound by the sacraments, but we are'.

The difficulty, of course, with the notion that there can be valid sacraments outside of the Church is that it admits that the Church (whose unity is an article of faith) can be divided; or requires, in order to save the unity of the Church, the notion that the "true" Church is invisible.

The problem, it seems to me, with the practice of "re-baptism" on Mount Athos that you referred to is not so much that the Athonites are 'rigorist,' as it is that they are not respecting the authority of bishops who receive converts by chrismation. One may make a plausible case (though not a dispositive one) that only receiving by baptism is canonical. But one may not gainsay the right of an Orthodox hierarch to exercise economy and relax the strict canonical requirement.

Independent said...

I am frankly puzzled at Catholics who criticise the Pope for lack of ecumenical spirit. He invited Lutherans to address his seminar, his writings have many references to the work of Anglican and Protestant scholars, he invited a Rabbi to address a synod, he discussed with Muslim scholars matters of mutual interest, he declared anti-semitism to be sinful and Jews to be "our elder brethren in the faith" and within his own church he has sought to reach out to those who prefer the old Mass. With the Lutherans he has secured agreement on the doctrine of Justification by Faith, and under his inspiration the petition of the Traditional Anglican Communion for union with the Catholic Church seems to be receiving favourable consideration.
This is indeed a considerable record, especially when one considers that he has spoken the truth and compromised no principle. What is the case for saying that he is opposed to ecumenism?

Independent said...

I forgot to say that he has fostered friendly even cordial relations with the Orthodox.

Doctor Singularis et Invincibilis said...

I am a Byzantine Catholic, and witnessing, not without some secret delight, the rather recent disappointment of so many Western ecumenically—minded persons who only now acquiesce to discover that the Eastern ‘separated brethren’ are not so friendly as it was (why?) long presumed.
Yet one must admit as well that the Orthodox played fair—even in this era of crazy minimalism and concessions. They never pretended to share the Western view of the ‘imperious craving for reunion’, etc..

The vain expectations of so many Westerners are all due to an obstinate and voluntary blindness and denial of the truth—the ‘Orthodox’ never gave you false hopes—yet you kept in deluding yourselves about how close and brotherly we are, etc..

I believe that in Rome they finally realized it at least a decade ago—but feel it’s embarrassing to withdraw admitting they were grossly mistaken.
After all, unsolicited yet assiduous love is called harassment.

Doctor Singularis et Invincibilis said...

It's at least naive to base a Church's ecumenical policy on the statements of a few Orthodox bureaucrats when the unanimity of their theologians (Lossky, Florovsky, Florenski, Vlachos, etc.) is firmly against and has very different presuppositions than ours.

Anonymous said...

I would have to respectfully disagree with Cristian Ciopron. There are many within the Orthodox Church whom I have had contact with who long to see the East and West reunited. I being one of them. . .

I do not pretend to believe that the Old World mentality of some does not exist, but it is quickly becoming the minority (at least here in the US, and from the looks of it the Greeks across the board under Bartholomew I.)

As to your friend who was re baptized, I know that some uncanonical groups do this, but by and large most local Churches adamantly disagree with such a thing. There is a former Roman Catholic man at my parish (OCA, which is by the way one of the more conservative jurisdictions in the US) who was received through confession alone.

There is a greater need to speak to one another. We must put aside old polemics and search back instead to our common fathers. After all, I believe that it was your pope (and subsequently ours, though sadly by mystical extension) who said "We share common fathers, how can we not be brothers?"

As to Lossky, Florovsky, Florenski, Vlachos, etc. they are not infallible. I respect each of them immensely and reading them has produced in me a hunger for a closer orientation towards the hesychistic experience of God, but that does not mean that every position that they advocate represents every single person, theologian, and hierarch in Orthodoxy.

May the God of our common fathers bless you, keep you, and make his face to shine upon you. And may he, in his rich mercy and unfathomable love, lead us to unity in these, the last days.


Doctor Singularis et Invincibilis said...

I'll have to disagree with you as well.Of course the respective theologians aren't infallible.They are simply:
--treated as if they were infallible;
--hugely influential and respected;
--speakers for the majority.
I live in a country with Orthodox majority, and I know what I am speaking about.It's them who count. It's them who speak for the majority.

Doctor Singularis et Invincibilis said...

They have a millenium of hate and bashing history,and they meet a very bland Catholic stuff who's willing to negotiate everything and to downplay essential things.
But I understand you;to me,in an Ortodox country,the Calvinistic anticatholic propaganda looks as inoffensive as the Orthodox hate looks to you.You do not know the tone of everyday preaching in an Orthodox country,where everything is 'by difference with the Catholics' and an Orthodox hierarch (Bartolomeu Anania) compares the Catholics' eucharisty to stew!!

Doctor Singularis et Invincibilis said...

Anyway,I like your blog, TRUTHSPIRIT, and I appreciate your open attitude.