Embarking on the Year of Faith: An Ecumenical Step

My dear friend Jessica has highlighted in warmth and charity a remarkable but largely overlooked moment here at the beginning of our Year of Faith: Jessica’s own archbishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, addressed the Catholic Synod of Bishops in Rome yesterday, offering meaningful words on the contemplation of Christ and its essential connection with sharing Christ with others. As the bishops and Catholics worldwide discuss the New Evangelization and our call to share the Gospel in today’s world, his words were especially timely.

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Archbishop Rowan Williams.

But even more than what Archbishop Williams said, I am gladdened by the ecumenical step this represents — both that Pope Benedict invited Archbishop Williams to speak, that Williams agreed, and that the Catholic bishops received him graciously. To my knowledge, this is the first time the leader of a major Protestant sect has ever addressed an assembled synod of Catholic bishops. This may seem to some a small step, but considering the five hundred years of history that have passed between us, the bloodshed and fear and anger and many martyrs for both causes — this, to me, marks a huge step forward.

The Anglican Communion, especially some branches of it like Jessica’s, may be closer in thought and feeling to Rome than any other division of our separated brethren — in fact, some branches are already breaking off to return to us. Archbishop Williams’ address to our bishops is but one step — but the road to reunion must be walked a step at a time. It is my deepest and sincerest hope that we can continue to take steps such as this.

12 thoughts on “Embarking on the Year of Faith: An Ecumenical Step

    • Thanks. My heart really beats to see the Church reunited. Christians have so much more in common — the love of Christ — than any of us have different; and that love transcends anything else. It pains me that so many can’t see that.

  1. Thank you, dear friend. What unites ++Rowan and the Pope is that they are both men of great personal holiness – and I think such men recognise each other across whatever divisions history has thrown up, and they see Christ and not the divisions – He is our true hope 🙂

  2. While I am happy, this does point out the fundamental difference in our understanding of ecumenism. For other Christian, ecumenism is coming to new understandings in our workings together. But for Rome, ecumenism is getting everyone else to join the Roman Catholic Church. There is still a huge gap between those understandings.

        • I don’t know the parameters of the reunion; only God can work that out. But Protestants coming home to Rome seems the more likely and workable result (though the Roman Church would have to do some giving and forgiving too, no doubt). Y’all were the ones who broke from Church tradition and authority and separated from us, not the other way around. It seems easier to relax from 500-year-old traditions than 2000-year-old ones (especially given, and I believe, that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit). The Prodigal Son came home; the Father didn’t go and join him in the pigpen. 😉

        • The Prodigal Son did go home–but the father met him on the road. And the older son, the one who had never strayed, who kept with his family’s tradition and who by all rights deserved to be in the right, was shamed by his inability to budge.

          I do apologize, because this is one of those few areas where I start to get frustrated. Rome needs to understand that when it comes to ecumenism, there is a whole lot of giving and forgiving that it needs to do itself. It can’t stand there and say, “This is all good, now just come home to us and everything will be fine.” It doesn’t work like that.

          I would love it if, one day, Protestants and Roman Catholics solved their differences. It’s going to take a lot of humility from everyone involved. Protestants will have to admit that they don’t have everything corrected and figured out (this will come as quite a shock to most Protestants. And for God’s sake, stop teaching that Rome is the anti-Christ; Luther was a blowhard.). Rome will have to admit that it screwed up. Protestants can point out many ways in which the injustices and abuses of the Reformation period still persist in the Roman Catholic Church. Neither side is perfect, and both sides need to realize that for reconciliation to take place.

          • I get frustrated, too, especially by the conservative Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) branch of Protestants, who tend to be the most unforgiving and insistent that Rome is “apostate,” etc. I think the first and most important step toward anything is to cut that out. There are some Catholics who are just as bad, calling any accommodations to “schismatics” a compromise of our faith, etc. My aim in pointing out errors in Protestant theology is not to attack anybody’s faith, but hopefully, if there be any chance at all, make somebody think about it enough to realize that no, they don’t have it all figured out for certain. (If anybody did see the light of Rome by my posts, I’d be glad, but that’s not the main thing I’m thinking of.) I think rigid adherence to doctrines like sola scriptura and sola fide are some of the main things standing between us. For some people, like the ones I mentioned above, those are the very heart of the Christian message — the love and grace of Christ gets lost in the bickering over semantics.

            The main way I see that Rome “made a mistake” was in condemning and excommunicating Luther too quickly and not allowing more dialogue before there was a permanent break. They did give him the chance for a public hearing at the Diet of Worms, but the expectation was, of course, recant or be condemned. But that was the procedure of canon law (and still is) — dialogue and accommodations were not the way for dealing with “heresy.” To the Church of the time, Luther had made himself like any other heretic, by directly challenging the authority of the pope. Guy sure knew how to kick the hornets’ nest. I think if Luther had been more patient and less confrontational, and if the Church hadn’t been so immediately defensive, this might not have happened. But the Church felt threatened (and rightly so) given what was fast becoming an explosive political situation. I think if Luther hadn’t been caught in the middle of German imperial politics, he would have been squashed like any other heretical bug.

            And the thing is, I’m pretty sure the situation could have been resolved without a split if Luther had just calmed down. Luther’s doctrines, the more I read of them, were at least initially only a small departure from Catholic doctrine. He affirmed the efficacy of the Sacraments, calling them, as I just did in my most recent posts without knowing I was quoting Luther, the “means” of grace, whose power is the grace of God and not the efforts of the individual. That’s the proper understanding of the Church, as the Council of Trent affirmed. I think the more alienated Luther became, the more radical his theology became — and certainly those who followed like Calvin took it even further, until the situation has become all but irreconcilable.

          • And continuing the Prodigal Son analogy, I do agree with you that the Father (Holy Mother Church) should come running to meet him in the road. The elder brother is the Traditionalist Catholics who are unwilling to compromise tradition in any way. As we’ve said before, the statements of the Second Vatican Council on ecumenism, the Catholic–Lutheran agreement on justification, and now the Anglican archbishop addressing the Synod of Bishops are all the kind of steps we should all be taking toward meeting each other in the road. But I think the more radical, Reformed Protestants are the people who have the furthest to travel — and there’s only so far we can go to meet them.

  3. Radicalism in all corners squeezes out the middle (which is why I am going to be very glad when this U.S. election is over). Like I said, I’m sorry I got defensive–it is one of the things that gets me heated.

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