(Oh, no, it's half over and I haven't done any of my shopping, or sent out cards or...)
A generally interesting piece by Peter Steinfels in the Times about the understandably evolving ecumenical impulse among Christians.
He accounts for its seeming waning firstly by claiming, rightly, that the movement for Christian Unity has been a victim of its own success.
No longer does anyone think he will go to hell for attending someone else’s religious service (if any thinking person ever really did. I suggest that is a cartoon-level memory of a cartoon-level understanding of a cartoon-level presentation to those with limited levels of comprehension of what is a profound theological truth that Catholics know; kinda like “you’d go to hell for taking one bite of meatloaf on a Friday!“, but that would be another subject.)
He notes that the “work has been carried on by … ecumenical officers and theologians engaged in interchurch dialogue. These highly committed people track the progress of unity the way brokers watch the stock ticker. But people in the pews appear to have other things on their mind.”
Well, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but this PIP’s impression is certainly that it is a worthy but not very pressing concern given inordinate attention by … those “of a certain age?”
While faith enrichment committees plan interdenominational listening sessions, children and adults closer to home are clueless about sacramental theology, liturgical principals, the economy of salvation and what either the Bible or the Catechism actually says about a given subject, (which hardly ever, contrary to widespread belief, is “Lo, it mattereth not what beliefs thou shalt cleave unto, so long as thou art nice.” But I again digress)
But he also gives 3, (perhaps less reassuring) causes for the lack of focus on what once seemed very important to more people.
1) That diversity is seen not a cause for scandal but a fact to be celebrated, 2) that much more energy goes into understanding and negotiating the relationship between Christianity as a whole and other religions, and 3) that many denominations are deeply concerned with their own identity at present.
Now this is where he stumbles.
He rightly points toward (but does not name,) mainstream Protestantism’s self-destructive pretense that attending the same conferences, and calling yourself by the same titles, and acknowledging joint heritage… wait, let’s edit that down to Being Able to Claim You’re Members of the Same Club is more important than witnessing to Truth, (if Truth would require that one of two mutually exclusive positions would have to be called… well, Falsehood.)
But he says, “this anxiety about identity is most evident in a stream of conservative positions taken by Pope Benedict XVI, [and the] Vatican offices.”
When I was nubile and attractivish, or at least aware of how attractive girls were spoken to, would-be Lotharios always accused non-compliant young ladies of fear.
What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of me/trying this/going there/drinking that?
Once, at my snarkiest, I drawled, I’m not “afraid” of you anymore than I’m afraid of spinach, the 3 Stooges or anything else I avoid because I don’t like it.
Benedict XVI is no more “anxious” about whether Catholicism can “can define and maintain any clear-cut identity at all,” than he is about… the Three Stooges.
I see no anxiety, no fear, no worry about Catholic identity.
Why would he be anxious about whether the Faith can do something that is already done? And cannot be undone, I might add.
The Faith, the Truth, the identity exists, it just is. The Holy Father knows this and so he can proclaim it, loudly, resolutely, proudly, with no defensiveness.
I imagine if he feels any anxiety, Mr Steinfels, it is for the salvation of people who don’t yet know what he knows, with the certainty, and serenity with which he knows it.
What do you know?
I would also suggest one more possible contributing factor to less noise being made about ecumenism, and that is a better understanding of what true ecumenism would entail.
Say my brother quarrels with me and moves out of the family manse, into a house across the street.
If we are reconciled, and agree that we should live together again, how is it progress if we pick a spot equidistant from where we each are now, right on the double yellow line in the middle of the road?
One other, minor point I want to touch on.
In explaining why the multiplicity of sects might be a good thing, Steinfels tells us that, “diversity of Christian traditions has kept neglected facets of the faith alive and emphasized in some quarters — to be recovered when their absence was felt.”
Now, I would gladly acknowledge that diversity of Christian traditions is good, but the splintering off from the OHCA Church, is an attempt to screw around with not traditions but Tradition.
This can seem to be a good thing, (as in, for instance, the much bruited about preservation of various ritual beauties in the face of widespread iconoclasm and ugliness in present day Catholicism, thanks to the Anglican Communion,) only because God can draw straight with crooked lines, and because of His mercy, things often turn out All Right, despite human efforts.