An Honest Basis for Ecumenism

David Dale considers Dominus Jesus

 

PERHAPS THE MOST remarkable characteristic of Dr Carey's response to the Roman Catholic declaration of August 6 - Dominus Jesus - was that he seems surprised and affronted by it - which means that he is likely to ignore its contents. That would be a pity. He should not have been surprised by it for it contained nothing new. His press release in response to the declaration typically slightly misquotes it. The two references to which he objects are to be found in section 17 and are as follows:
1.' the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery are not Churches in the proper sense' and

2. 'these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe that they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation.'

Dr Carey's response to the first observation is to say 'the idea that Anglican and other churches are not "proper churches" seems to question the considerable ecumenical gains we have made.' The statement that certain churches are 'not churches in the proper sense' is not an insult however. It simply expresses the belief that these ecclesial communities are deficient in certain elements which Rome deems necessary to the fullness of the Church. It may, incidentally, be thought unkind to mention it but it is only honest to observe that the Church of England has now no commonly accepted ministry and thus no commonly accepted sacraments, no common liturgy, no common source of authority and that matters as important as the authenticity of priestly and episcopal orders can be decided at parish level. Something is missing there.

Dr Carey's response to the second observation is to say that 'the Church of England and the world wide Anglican communion do not for one moment accept that its orders of ministry and Eucharist are deficient in any way.' An Orthodox layman treads warily in such a dispute but I must ask the simple question 'What's new?' Of all the things that have been known for centuries it must be that the Roman Church believes that the Church of England is not a church in the 'proper sense'. There is nothing insulting in that phrase nor does it question a single ecumenical gain - of which more later. It simply states the terms upon which the ecumenical dialogue must proceed between Rome and Canterbury. To say that in Rome's eyes Canterbury has certain defects again simply restates a well know view which was made explicit in 1896 in the Epistle 'Apostolicae Curiae'. Anglicans may not like it but the idea is not new to them - and, significantly, schemes of reunion of reunion between the Church of England and non-episcopal churches contain elements which are designed to remedy defects in the ministries and sacraments of those churches. Rome is saying to Canterbury what it has said frequently before and what Canterbury by implication says to other churches.

It would be wiser for Anglicans to examine in detail the reasons for the declaration. It has been made because what some of us dreadful Orthodox call the pan-heresy of Ecumenism has been straying down some very odd paths of late. The declaration lists them. Wince when you recognise one of them and then you will see the importance of the declaration.

This is the list: '..it has been held that certain truths have been superseded; for example, the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the nature of the Christian Faith as compared with that of belief in other religions, the inspired nature of the books of Sacred Scripture, the personal unity between the Eternal Word and Jesus of Nazareth, the unity of the economy of the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit, the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ, the universal salvific mediation of the Church....'

I could, with no difficulty, furnish Dr Carey with a long list of Anglican bishops who have and still do deny one or more of those 'certain truths' which would and should, allowing for some definitional tidying up, be accepted by all Christians. The declaration continues to explore the implications of the proposition that these 'certain truths' have been superseded. Again I have heard these damaging implications voiced by Anglican bishops including Dr Carey.

Any ecumenical advances gained while ignoring these hard facts have been illusory. I would even go further and beyond the increase in personal friendship which is certainly important I would challenge Dr Carey to name one of 'the considerable ecumenical gains'. They are almost all illusory.

A study of the ARCIC reports and the report of the Orthodox-Anglican discussions shows that much more was held in common than was supposed. In the end, however, the true gains were at the level of clarifying definitions and far warmer personal relationships. There was no success in overcoming differences of substance.

This declaration finds it historical place in the process of defining terms and of warning those involved that ecumenism has real dangers when dogmatic truths are relativised and the following of the Lord Jesus is believed to concern not the obedience of faith but selecting a religion that satisfies one emotionally and spiritually.

Dr Carey must have realised that the ordination of women finished any hope of ecumenical advance with Rome and Constantinople beyond a fruitless exchange of views. Rome and Orthodoxy warned him clearly enough. It was for this reason that the Orthodox replaced most of the bishops involved in the discussions with Anglicans by theologians. The discussions ceased to have substance and the possibility of resulting in organic unity. Roman Catholics and Orthodox will continue to be polite, lay Roman Catholics will continue to receive Holy Communion from Anglicans and some Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians will continue to argue for the ordination of women but the truth is that true ecumenical dialogue is over. It cannot restart between Rome and the Anglican Communion except on the terms of this declaration - indeed those terms were always there. Anglicans just chose to pretend that they were not.

As far as Orthodox are concerned the declaration says very little that is new and some of the terms of it, particularly that the one Church of Christ subsists in the Roman Church, will be rejected. It is interesting, however, that the declaration sets out the Creed of Constantinople without the fihioque clause. This is at least the second time since 1981, when John Paul II recited the Creed on June 7 of that year without the filioque, that the Roman Church has set out the Creed in its proper canonical form. There are, of course, other dogmatic barriers between the Orthodox and the Roman Church but the permanent removal of the uncanonical and heretical filioque clause would be a good start.

Anglicans would be wise to study sections 4, 6, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of this declaration. They refer to dangerous tendencies to be found increasingly among Anglican bishops and priests; dangerous not because the Bishop of Rome does not like them but because they destroy the dynamic of evangelism and put the salvation of souls at risk. A person does not have to agree with everything in this declaration to acknowledge that it is a valuable and perceptive analysis of serious doctrinal errors in some of the churches of the Reformation. The presence of these dangers should alarm evangelicals as much as catholics. For this everyone should be grateful to the Roman Church and give serious attention to the questions the declaration raises.

David Dale is an Orthodox layman

 

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Opening Page