Friday, February 12, 2010

Professional Ecumenism: Our work here is done.

John Allen of NCR has an interview with Anglican Rev. Ephraim Radner, a professor of theology at the Wycliffe College of the University of Toronto, who is one of those participating in the week-long conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, whose prefect is Cardinal Walter Kaspar.During that interview he asked Fr. Radner:
Cardinal Walter Kasper in his opening address on Monday said that we are entering an ecumenical phase that may be less exciting but more mature. Do you agree?
I think that’s true, and I think it’s also a challenge. Lots of people know how to do the old stuff … you have a problem, you sit down and talk about it. For instance, the "Joint Declaration on Justification" is viewed as a classic case where the two traditions [Catholics and Lutherans] took a 16th century problem, worked it over, pulled it apart, and realized that they could translate language and concepts and come to a place where it all looks kind of compatible. That’s the notion, "compatible not contradictory." One of the big issues in the cardinal’s book, however, is that with many of these big issues, they’re not totally resolved, and that way of resolving them seems to have run its course.
What exactly has run its course?
This idea of taking concepts, pulling them apart, finding common language that can lie behind all these different methods. The basic notion, to take a completely different example. is what happened in the dialogue between Catholics and Oriental Christians on Christology. Lo and behold, after 1,500 years it turns out it was all a historical misunderstanding. You’re pulling apart culturally conditioned linguistic concepts. [Source]
As an example of what Fr. Radner is talking about in speaking of Oriental Christians, let's take the concept of physis in Greek, translated by the word natura in Latin, and use it to hear the term "transubstantiation". This word was essentially coined by one of the Lateran Councils, and used by it to designate "a change like no other change known to man". When Catholic non-theologians say that Christ becomes present "physically" on the altar, Greek-speakers hear "naturally", which is not what the Catholic intended to say (at least it is not what he should have intended to say); it is not a natural change, and "transubstantiation" was coined to exclude that very idea. From this exchange of "culturally conditioned linguistic concepts" both sides begin to see what the other side has been objecting to, and there is a new mutual understanding. Such new understandings are legitimately described as "compatible not contradictory".

That much I can agree with. I am a metaphysical realist, actually a Thomist, or at least Thomistic (not being a specialist), and I hold that the principle that guarantees the possibility of recognizing agreement or disagreement, is the principle of contradiction itself, and the definition of truth which is adaequatio rei et intellectus, "mutual equality of the intellect's concept and the reality outside the mind". Reality outside the mind includes facts, and "facts are stubborn things" John Adams once told a jury. Proper judgement requires a proper understanding of the facts, and not merely an attempt to dilute doctrinal realities into some kind of mutually agreed upon statements about them. The most important facts the Catholic Church deals with are given to her by Christ, and are not subject to "negotiation". Metaphysical idealists, whether Kantian or Hegelian, not only do not need facts, they believe that we cannot even know reality, so facts themselves, far from being stubborn, are totally malleable, as long as we just keep moving along.

Fr. Radner, echoing Cardinal Kaspar, raises the real issue that has many Catholics perplexed about what we are given to understand "ecumenism" is. "With many of these big issues, they’re not totally resolved, and that way [i.e., the old way] of resolving them seems to have run its course". It seems very clear to me that when one has done all the taking apart, analysis, and there remains no resolution, the parties should be said to be "not in agreement"; in fact, it might be truer to say that the parties actually contradict one another. Perhaps that should be the content of the so-called "ecumenical catechism" spoken about by Cardinal Kaspar: "In the end, we contradicted each other on the following points", followed by the long list of actual doctrines taught down the ages by the Catholic Church which its "ecumenical partners" deny.

And, of course, that catechism should be published, just like all the position statements over the decades have been published.

No comments:

Post a Comment