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Debate over the two hermeneutics

Article publié le 9 Juin 2009 | imprimer imprimer  | Partager :  Partager sur Facebook Partager sur Linkedin Partager sur Google+

According to his  » hermeneutic of continuity », Pope Benedict has insisted on the uninterrupted connection between Vatican II and the Tradition, and the July, 2007 Responses of the CDF stated that the Council’s teaching did not change earlier doctrine on the nature of the Church. How could we explain the fact that such a recall has been unequally received and regarded as a flashback to a rejected doctrine of the past ?

5)   Pope Benedict said in one of his addresses to non-Catholic Christians that the reception of the Joint Declaration on Justification needs to be verified. Two cardinals and theologians, Avery Dulles and the late Leo Scheffczyk, have said some Lutheran points in the Joint Declaration are in fact contrary to Catholic doctrine. Is the Joint Declaration an example of an ecumenical agreed statement which it is important not to confuse with Catholic faith and doctrine ?

The question raises a problem of some importance, viz. the correct use of the many statements being produced by ecumenical dialogues in which the Catholic Church is involved at various levels. This is a matter in which we await further direction from the Holy See; at present there is a lack of clarity on the question and some confusion in the way dialogue reports are presented to the public. It may be useful to cast a glance at the proposals made by the late Cardinal John Willebrands, formerly President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

At the plenary of that dicastery in November 1973, in his opening address (IS, 23, 1974, pp 5 – 6), Cardinal Willebrands referred to the rapidly growing number of joint declarations, agreements, reports and study documents coming from the dialogues. He went on to speak of the nature of the documents and to suggest the place they have in the life of the Church. He asked : « Have we here a new kind of document of the Magisterium — one even which would justify a change in the pastoral practice and discipline of the Church ? » He gives a clear « No » to the question, pointing out that the dialogue commissions, even if set up officially, are not agents of the Church’s Magisterium and their declarations do not have magisterial authority. The conclusions they reach « still remain the responsibility of those who formulate them. » The fact they are published does not give them authority, even if the publication is approved by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In fact the publication is often made inevitable because of pressure from the partners on the other side of the dialogue, who have to report and give an account to some ecclesiastical authority, for which publication is necessary. It then becomes necessary to ensure that it goes ahead to publication.

One has noticed that some Catholic theologians, probably not of the first rank, have tended to refer to the dialogue reports as if they were official documents of the Catholic Church and to recommend them for teaching purposes. This is highly misleading; they can have status for the Catholic Church only when they have been given approval by the Holy See.

An instance of an official response of the Holy See to a dialogue is the Joint Declaration on Justification from the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. The actual Declaration was signed, not by the Pope but by Cardinal Cassidy as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. What status this gives the Joint Agreement is not immediately clear. Must we take it as part of the magisterium of the Catholic Church?  I think not. For one thing, it does not have the clarity one expects of a statement of the magisterium ; when the Church intends to bind the faithful, she owes it to them not to leave them in doubt as to what is being required of them. Then, if it were, one would hardly expect to find a careful theologian like Cardinal Dulles publicly querying aspects of it.

One notes that the Official Common Statement signed by Cardinal Cassidy and the Lutheran World Federation speaks of the goal of « full church communion, a unity in diversity in which remaining differences would be reconciled and no longer have a divisive force ». Here is our old friend « reconciled diversity » pushing in again. Do theological differences lose their « divisive force » simply because a dialogue commission so declares?

The whole project of the Joint Declaration was carried to its final phases under a certain pressure from those on both sides in the dialogue commission who were determined to make something happen. I could see this in one of the dialogue meetings at which I was present. Though there were some unsolved difficulties connected with justification, a strong effort was made to have these declared not church-dividing but simply requiring further clarification. Not every one has been convinced this was true; some of those difficulties were doctrinally substantial and already involved a dogmatic position of the Catholic Church.

At his audience with the President of the Lutheran World Federation in November, 2005, Pope Benedict seemed to be aware of the problem when he said that « in order to build on this achievement (the Joint Declaration), we must accept that differences remain regarding the central question of justification; these need to be addressed together with the ways in which God’s grace is communicated through the Church. » When those difficulties were brought up at the time of the signing of the Joint Declaration, Cardinal Cassidy had in a certain degree disguised them by stressing that the real difficulties between Catholics and Lutherans were now ecclesiological questions, since agreement on justification has been achieved. That is not exactly correct. See the article of Cardinal Dulles : « Saving Ecumenism From Itself » in First Things (December, 2007). He says directly that « the Joint Declaration exaggerated the agreements. » He accepts the main point that there is in the Joint Declaration « a basic consensus on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith », something of which the importance ought not to be minimised. However he describes as « dubious » the position of the Joint Declaration that the remaining disagreements can be written off as « differences of language, theological elaboration and emphasis » and not warranting condemnation from either side. « In my judgement », he says, « some of the unresolved differences are more correctly classified as matters of doctrine ».

A final word. It seems to me that this article of Cardinal Dulles is of major importance. It raises questions about the continuing usefulness of the « convergence method » of dialogue. Perhaps this suggests it is time to undertake a thorough review of the ecumenical engagement of the Catholic Church. A renewed clarity on the goal of unity initiatives and an evaluation of the Church’s theological and practical efforts towards the unity of Christians since Vatican II could bring new energy to the whole ecumenical movement in the 21st century and a clearer understanding of its future.

6)  What is the relation between ecumenism and conversion to the Catholic Church ?

This question is particularly topical in view of an interesting book written by the Dean of the John Paul II Institute, Melbourne, Australia, Dr Tracey Rowland, « Ratzinger’s Faith ». In it she has this comment : « When it comes to the more practical questions about the way of moving forward towards Christian unity, Ratzinger has stated that Catholics cannot demand that other Churches be disbanded and their members individually incorporated into the Catholic Church.  However Catholics may hope that the hour will come when ‘the churches’ that exist outside ‘the Church’ will enter into its unity. They must remain in existence as churches with only those modifications which such a unity necessarily requires. In the meantime the Catholic Church has no right to absorb the other churches. The Church has not yet prepared for them a place of their own to which they are necessarily entitled. Here his position appears to be that the various contemporary Protestant denominations may ultimately be received back into full communion as uniate rites, retaining something of their own cultural patrimony in the process. » (p. 98)

Had Dr Rowland predicated the above about the Orthodox Churches, it would have made sense enough from a Catholic perspective. It does not in terms of the bodies that issued from the Protestant Reformation. In attributing this opinion to Cardinal Ratzinger, she gives a reference to a collection of articles published as Theological Highlights of Vatican II, NY, 1966. I have not had access to that volume but I venture to say that if Cardinal Ratzinger had held those views in 1966, he has not held them in recent years, at least not in that form ; otherwise he could not have authorised the publication of those documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – Dominus Jesus and Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain  Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church.

Both of those documents question seriously whether, apart from the Orthodox, other Christian bodies can be considered churches in the same theological sense as the Catholic Church uses the term. This is not a punitive stance, simply a statement of theological fact from a Catholic perspective, uttered with the hope of clarifying difficulties that must affect relationships. That is the point of the remark of Pope Benedict in his address to the Plenary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in February, 2000. In commenting on the document, Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church, he confirmed that « the one and only Church of Christ has substance, permanence and stability in the Catholic Church. » He noted that the document calls attention to the difference that still persists between the different Christian confessions as concerns their understanding of « being Church » in a strictly theological sense. This, far from impeding true ecumenical commitment, will be a stimulus to ensure that discussion of theological questions is always carried out with realism and with complete awareness of the aspects that still divide Christian confessions. The logical conclusion is surely that the Reformation communities could not be entitled to be received into communion with the Catholic Church as churches in the theological sense.

That then leaves open the question of the salvation of those members of the other confessions who, through a well formed conscience, come to realise that the Church of Jesus Christ is to be found in the Catholic Church and that they, as responsible individuals, must go ahead to seek communion with her. Clearly this goes against the practical position of some Catholic ecumenists who have actively discouraged individual conversions to the Church, an attitude that has unfortunately spread quite widely throughout the world into Catholic dioceses and parishes. It is an attitude that has never been promoted by the Second Vatican Council or officially by the Church.  It is surely rejected by the Vatican II Constitution on the Church,  Lumen Gentium, when it says : « Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by God through Jesus Christ, would refuse to enter her or to remain in her could not be saved. » (14) That has both ecumenical and personal implications which often have not been sufficiently taken into account.

The Second Vatican Council Decree on Ecumenism states that « this work of preparing and reconciling those individuals who wish for full Catholic communion is of its nature distinct from ecumenical action. But there is no opposition between the two since both proceed from the marvellous ways of God. » (4) To my knowledge this has never been developed or further explicated officially but the Revd Charles Morerod, OP, in a recent article on the Decree on Ecumenism commented on the point, saying « individual conversions are not excluded but are distinguished from ecumenical dialogue. All gifts received from God by any Christian must be received as a help that cannot destroy faith. » (The Decree on Ecumenism in Vatican II: Renewal Within the Tradition, p 318)

A more forthright comment comes from the well known English Newman scholar, Dr Ian Ker, in response to an interviewer’s question : « What counsel might Cardinal Newman give to Anglicans today as well as Catholics participating in ecumenical conversations with Anglicans ? »  Dr Ker replied : « By the end of his life, Newman came to believe that Anglicans ‘were giving up everything.’(….) But long before that he was clear that any kind of corporate reunion with a body as disparate and divided as Anglicanism was totally impossible. I believe that today he would warmly support any efforts to help disaffected High Anglicans to enter into the Catholic Church; the idea that they should stay and try to leaven the lump he would regard as completely fanciful and unrealistic. » (Zenit, 23/10/08)

Clearly there are avenues here that need to be further explored by those responsible for giving Catholic ecumenical work a fruitful direction.

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