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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Real Ecumenism! - Vatican makes a path for Anglicans returning to Rome!


With the preparation of an Apostolic Constitution, the Catholic Church is responding to the many requests that have been submitted to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into full visible communion.

In this Apostolic Constitution the Holy Father has introduced a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony. Under the terms of the Apostolic Constitution, pastoral oversight and guidance will be provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate, whose Ordinary will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy.

The forthcoming Apostolic Constitution provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a world-wide phenomenon, by offering a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application. It provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy. Historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Constitution therefore stipulates that the Ordinary can be either a priest or an unmarried bishop. The seminarians in the Ordinariate are to be prepared alongside other Catholic seminarians, though the Ordinariate may establish a house of formation to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony. In this way, the Apostolic Constitution seeks to balance on the one hand the concern to preserve the worthy Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony and, on the other hand, the concern that these groups and their clergy will be integrated into the Catholic Church. ... [MORE]

  • Carl Olson provides a helpful roundup of initial reactions from various parties, notes "three dubious and curious conclusions" and recommends a re-reading of Vatican II's decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio:
    It's worthwhile revisiting that document since there appears to be the notion, among some Catholics and non-Catholics, that the goal of ecumenism is unending dialogue and perpetual conversation at the service of further dialogue and conversation, resulting in the formation of committees, sub-committees, and sub-sub-committees, which seek to refine further discussion about dialog—well, you get the picture. Nothing against good conversation and authentic dialogue, of course, but they should have a point, a purpose, a goal. As Unitatis Redintegratio explains, dialogue is meant to correct misunderstandings, remove impediments, and facilitate common endeavors, which are all oriented ultimately to complete, real unity.

  • Update! - Some good reflections from Amy Welborn (Charlotte Was Both October 23, 2009):
    This is obviously about Anglicans, because the initiative has come from the Anglican side – that is, those asking for this kind of structure. But I can’t help but see that it is also about the Church in general, particularly shifts in ecclesiological and canonical thinking and practice, and more specifically about the liturgical life of the Church. It is not clear what liturgy will prevail in this new arrangement, but I can’t help but wonder if part of the envisioned fruit of this is the wider presence of a liturgy that would offer another way for those fed up with the unpredictability and frequent ego-driven banality of a typical parish Mass but who find the TLM too big of a step (or for whom it is not available.) The insertion of a more formal, English-language liturgical tradition into Catholic practice adds a startling new chapter into the post-Vatican II era of liturgical change.

    It’s also interesting to me because the structure of this new entity does not depend on a local bishop’s good feelings or sympathies. This has been an enormous problem in the application of the Pastoral Provision and the Anglican Use, and aside from other reasons for approaching it this way, this seems to be a factor. Remember, though, that this is not unprecedented. [More]



Sunday, July 15, 2007

On Cardinal Kasper (Response to Michael Joseph)

The following should be read in connection with Cardinal Walter Kasper: Helping or Hindering the CDF?

Michael Joseph (Vox Nova) responds in Kasper's defense Clarifying Cardinal Kasper on Ecumenism and Evangelization.

As Michael points out, any document issued by the Church is best read in context with past statements. (The copious use of footnotes are there for a reason). A lot of misunderstandings could be avoided by reading "within the totality of the greater context of magisterial and curial teachings on ecclesiology, ecumenism and mission." The helpful documents in this case which Michael recommends (and bear repeating) are:

Moving on to Michael's objections . . .

Cardinal Kasper and the Jews

Michael responds:

There is also the delicate question, frequently addressed by Kasper, on the relationship of the Jews to the Catholic Church. Kasper has described the Jewish faith as "salvific" on several occassions. Regrettably, many Catholics have misread these statements--likely due to having little theological reading under their belt--and contorted them into suggesting that the Jews can be saved simply by being Jewish. But such an interpretation is far too heavy for Kasper's words to bear. The covenants of God with Israel are stages in "salvation history," which means that each covenant reveals or discloses the salvific plan of God for humanity, sanctifying those with whom the covenant is made. That said, Kasper's use of "salvific" is really quite simple: the Jews already participate in salvation history by means of their covenants with God (cf. Romans 9-11). Vatican II expressly stated that the Jews are "most dear for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts of God are without repentence," that they are included in "the plan of salvation" (Lumen gentium, no.16), and that the "Church of Christ acknowledges that in God's plan of salvation the beginning of her faith and election is to be found in the patriarachs, Moses and the prophets" (Nostra Aetate, no. 4). Salvation history does not begin with Jesus, yet it is fulfilled with Jesus, who said himself "Salvation comes from the Jews" (John 4:22). Thus, Jews, by virtue of their covenants with God, participate in the salvific plan for humanity in a way wholly unlike any other non-Christian faith. The Jews are already "on the way" to Christ, so to speak, and so evangelization of the Jews is an altogether different affair than evangelization of, and mission to, members of other faiths.

However, the covenants of Israel coalesce and culminate in Jesus, so salvation is a full reality only through faith in Jesus the Christ. The chosen people of God, the Jews, are predisposed as a people for receiving Christ as their Messiah. But that final step of faith into the fulfilled covenant of the blood of God is still necessary, and Kasper has never denied this.

Michael provides a general summary of the Church teaching on the question of the Jews. None of this is particularly news -- I've discussed this and other issues in Jewish-Christian relations (probably to the point of overkill) since this blog began, and I'm familiar with the Catholic contributions to this field (Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, Msgr. John Österreicher, Eugene Fisher, Fr. Flannery, Fr. Palikowski, Fr. Hans Hermann Henrix) and not a few Jews or Protestants.

I should point out, however, that as educational as Michael's summary may be, it is hardly sufficient and not "really quite simple" as he suggests: a cursory reading of those involved in Jewish Christian dialogue reveals a range of differing interpretations, and as far as this topic is concerned I don't think another passage is contested more heavily between Jews and Christians, and between Christians vs. Christian, than "the covenant has not been revoked."

My concern with Cardinal Kasper on this subject lies not so much with his personal theological opinions but his public statements, and the general impression given to his audience through his choice of words.

The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is quite clear on the correct interpretation of Nostra Aetate, insofar as the salvation of the Jews is concerned:

7. "In virtue of her divine mission, the Church" which is to be "the all-embracing means of salvation" in which alone "the fulness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (Unit. Red. 3); "must of her nature proclaim Jesus Christ to the world" (cf. Guidelines and Suggestions, I). Indeed we believe that is is through him that we go to the Father (cf. Jn. 14:6) "and this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (Jn 17:33).

Jesus affirms (ibid. 10:16) that "there shall be one flock and one shepherd". Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, "while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae)" (Guidelines and Suggestions, I).

(Source: "On the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church" June 24, 1985).

As far as rejecting the 'parallel ways to salvation', Kasper does touch on this all-too-briefly in the discussion which I quotes (his address to the Jews concerning Dominus Iesus in 2001):

One of these questions is how to relate the covenant with the Jewish people, which according to St. Paul is unbroken and not revoked but still in vigour, with what we Christians call the New covenant. As you know, the old theory of substitution is gone since II Vatican Council. For us Christians today the covenant with the Jewish people is a living heritage, a living reality. There cannot be a mere coexistence between the two covenants. Jews and Christians, by their respective specific identities, are intimately related to each other. It is impossible now to enter the complex problem of how this intimate relatedness should or could be defined. Such question touches the mystery of Jewish and Christian existence as well, and should be discussed in our further dialogue.
Catholics may allude to the possibility of Jews being saved by Christ even through the expression of their own fidelity to their covenant but insist nonetheless -- quoting Michael Joseph -- "on the final step of faith into the fulfilled covenant of the blood of God is still necessary." Jews on the other hand will more often than not interpret that phrase (when stated in isolation) as meaning they have no obligation to consider the claims of the Church.

Michael is right: Kasper "has never denied" that Jews must take the "final step of faith into the fulfilled covenant" -- But could he have stated that more forcefully? Did his Jewish (and Christian) audience take that from his 2001 address? Or come to other conclusions?

It comes as no suprise to me that the authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission (a 2002 joint release by The Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB and the The National Council of Synagogues) based their reflections on the same May 1, 2001 address from Cardinal Walter Kasper, stating that while the Church accepts individual converts from Judaism "out of respect for religious liberty":

. . . it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. However, this evangelizing task no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history.

Thus, while the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all, it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. . . .

Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s kingdom. Their witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church’s experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity.

There was considerable and understandable criticism of the ambiguities in the document upon its release: Cardinal Dulles responded in America; Deal Hudson (Crisis); Carl Olson (then editor of Envoy Magazine); Fr. James V. Schall, SJ, Dr. Ronda Chervin, Fr. Francis Martin and others voiced their criticism of the document in a symposium for the National Catholic Register.

In the end, Cardinal Keeler was obliged to distance himself, stating that the document "does not represent a formal position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA)" (it was removed as well from the USCCB website; to this day the reference appears, but no link to the actual text).

I cannot say whether Cardinal Kasper's views cohere exactly with those of the authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission (has he ever commented on that debacle?), nor do I wish to place the blame squarely upon his shoulders. However, there is no question the authors took inspiration from his 2001 address and his selective presentation of Church teaching.

[Update - Donald McClarey offers a bit of background on Cardinal Kasper's role in the meetings which culminated in the release of this document.]

Kasper and the CDF's "Responses to Some Questions"

Michael omits Kasper's reported grumbling against Dominus Iesus as reported in an interview with the , in which he expressed his personal offense at the suggestion that churches born of the Reformation were not "churches in the proper sense," describing the language of Dominus Iesus as "clumsy and ambiguous." The fact that he now informs his Protestant critics that they are likely overreacting to the CDF is certainly heartening.

My chief concern, as indicated in my previous post, is the overall effect that Kasper leaves on his ecumenical audience by the manner in which he "clarifies" the documents in question.

Michael contends that:

The drive behind ecumenism is not to draw Protestants and Orthodox into the Catholic Church. The drive is to remove the obstacles to unity so that Protestants and Orthodox have no reason to remain divided or alienated from the fullness of the Church of which they are already a part, albeit imperfectly. And this includes the humble housekeeping within the Catholic Church so that it is truly an example of holiness and a worthy recipient of the esteem of other Christians.
Perhaps I misinterpret Michael, but it seems as though the intention of the first sentence is phrased in opposition to the second. I wouldn't perceive them as being exclusive. Q: Wouldn't the "removal of obstacles to unity" likewise serve the aim of bringing Protestants and Orthodox into full communion with the Church?

I admit that whenever I hear these phrases like "removing obstacles to unity" and achieving "full communion" in the context of ecumenical dialogue and particularly with Protestants, I have to wonder: do Catholics and Protestants share the same understanding of these phrases? -- I could name a few "obstacles to unity" for Protestants which Catholics understand to be normative to our faith and practice.

Consider the press release of the World Council of Churches, which if I read the news correctly is the body to whom Kasper was responding in his cautionary letter. Responding to the CDF, Setri Nyomi (Rev. Dr.) General Secretary expressed the WCC's specific problem with the statement that "These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense," stating:

Since Vatican II, our dialogues have sought to understand and overcome differences we have had for centuries, and to build common agreements over things we hold dear in our common Christian faith. The outcomes especially of Reformed-Catholic dialogues on "Towards a Common Understanding of the Church" and "The Church as Communion of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God" have given hope to our journey of overcoming differences and affirming our oneness in the Church of Jesus Christ.

An exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ, as we read in the statement released today, goes against the spirit of our Christian calling towards oneness in Christ.

Kasper was right to point out that the CDF's proclamation was "nothing new" and "clarifies positions that the Catholic Church has held for a long time" and that this was a "clarification of the dialogue" (would that he have adopted this approach more firmly at the time of Dominus Iesus, when the Church likewise asserted "nothing new"). But was it enough to say that Catholic and Protestants "mean different things by 'church'" or to point to the "recognition of baptism . . . and a series of positive statements about the Protestant eucharist (Decree on Ecumenism 22)"?

In my opinion (for what it's worth), to suggest that Unitatis redintegratio is a "positive" statement of the "Protestant eucharist" is questionable and I suspect that Setri Nyomi would find it just as offensive, having declared his adamant opposition to the Church's self-conception as "the Church of Jesus Christ" and the Catholic belief that Protestants "have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery" because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood.

Kasper seems most optimistic in believing can proceed from there; I do hope the WCC will reconcider and respond in the desired manner.

There is a passage from John Paul II's Ut Unum Sint that leapt out at me and to this present pseudo-"crisis":

Ecumenism implies that the Christian communities should help one another so that there may be truly present in them the full content and all the requirements of "the heritage handed down by the Apostles". Without this, full communion will never be possible. This mutual help in the search for truth is a sublime form of evangelical charity. . . .

The documents of the many International Mixed Commissions of dialogue have expressed this commitment to seeking unity. On the basis of a certain fundamental doctrinal unity, these texts discuss Baptism, Eucharist, ministry and authority.

From this basic but partial unity it is now necessary to advance towards the visible unity which is required and sufficient and which is manifested in a real and concrete way, so that the Churches may truly become a sign of that full communion in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which will be expressed in the common celebration of the Eucharist.

This journey towards the necessary and sufficient visible unity, in the communion of the one Church willed by Christ, continues to require patient and courageous efforts. In this process, one must not impose any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary (cf. Acts 15:28).

79. It is already possible to identify the areas in need of fuller study before a true consensus of faith can be achieved: 1) the relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God; 2) the Eucharist, as the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, an offering of praise to the Father, the sacrificial memorial and Real Presence of Christ and the sanctifying outpouring of the Holy Spirit; 3) Ordination, as a Sacrament, to the threefold ministry of the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate; 4) the Magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him, understood as a responsibility and an authority exercised in the name of Christ for teaching and safeguarding the faith; 5) the Virgin Mary, as Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ's disciples and for all humanity.

In this courageous journey towards unity, the transparency and the prudence of faith require us to avoid both false irenicism and indifference to the Church's ordinances. Conversely, that same transparency and prudence urge us to reject a halfhearted commitment to unity and, even more, a prejudicial opposition or a defeatism which tends to see everything in negative terms.

To uphold a vision of unity which takes account of all the demands of revealed truth does not mean to put a brake on the ecumenical movement. On the contrary, it means preventing it from settling for apparent solutions which would lead to no firm and solid results. The obligation to respect the truth is absolute. Is this not the law of the Gospel?

It is with this in mind -- this attentiveness to revealed truth and an intolerance for "apparent solutions which would lead to no firm and solid results" that we should receive the Congregation's latest release.

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Monday, October 31, 2005

What a way to spoil Reformation Day

I had the opportunity to rent 'Luther', the movie, over my vacation last month. Quite the example of Protestant hagiography. Fr. Oakes' review (Luther, the Movie First Things 139 January 2004) rings true:
. . . the film is monumentally dull, primarily because the screenplay makes no effort whatever to give the viewer any notion of what the real Luther was like. It must be some kind of achievement to spend that much money on a Lutheran-sponsored movie and yet still insure that not once in the entire film does the character of Luther so much as quote, even in passing, from St. Paulís Epistle to the Romans or even enunciate that lumpy word justification. Thus the famous interrogation between Luther and the Dominican monk Johannes Eck at the Diet of Worms in 1521 (when Luther made his famous ìHere I Standî speech, thus making irreparable the rupture between Rome and the budding Reformation) comes across not as a theological dispute but more like the grilling of a Hollywood director before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the postwar era . . .

It was rather interesting watching it at this point in time in my life -- a decade ago I would have been cheering on Luther in his revolt against the Church. (Tangent: Visit the Pertinacious Papist today, and readers might be suprised to find this the same man who read to his children after dinner from Fox's Book of Martyrs).

Anyway, October 31st was Reformation Day, and Chris Burgwald (Veritas) has to go and spoil all the fun by shooting down the myth of the Wittenburg Door:

If you asked anyone who knows anything about Church History in the West to pinpoint a specific moment or event which can be considered the beginning of the Reformation, the answer would probably be Martin Luther's posting of his 95 theses on indulgences on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. By this act, Luther is seen as rejecting the whole medieval system of indulgences and their associated doctrines and practices; in so doing, he makes his break from Rome, or at least begins to do so in a definitive way. In fact, many Protestant churches celebrate October 31st as "Reformation Day", indicating the importance of that date and Luther's actions on it in 1517 vis. the Reformation churches and communities. This date, then, has been widely regarded as the beginning of the Reformation. However...

In all likelihood, it never happened. . . .

I have to admit, reading Burgwald's post came as quite a shock to me . . . Almost as much as reading about discovery of the birthplace of the Reformation last October.

Likewise, the Catholic Enyclopedia bursts some stereotypes concering the infamous seller of indulgences, Johann Tetzel, which acknowledges both the legitimate errors in teaching on Tetzel's part (concerning indulgences for the dead) and yet, condemns the demonizing of the poor monk by Protestant critics:

History presents few characters that have suffered more senseless misrepresentation, even bald caricature, than Tetzel. "Even while he lived stories which contained an element of legend gathered around his name, until at last, in the minds of the uncritical Protestant historians, he became the typical indulgence-monger, upon whom any well-worn anecdote might be fathered" (Beard, "Martin Luther", London, 1889, 210). For a critical scholarly study which shows him in a proper perspective, he had to wait the researches of our own time . . .
(For those wanting to know more about the Church's authentic teaching on this matter, see James Akin's Primer on Indulgences Volume 5, Number 11. Nov. 1994.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Catholic-Mennonite Dialogue Revisited: "Purification of Memory"

Back in February I blogged about discovering Mennonite-Catholic Dialogue and an article on the history of the dialogue by Ivan J. Kauffman. As I mentioned, the dialogue is of particular interest to me since my background on my grandfather's side is Swiss Mennonite.

Mr. Kauffman contacted me today to inform me of the publication of the official report of the first five-year series of international-level ecumenical dialogues (1998-2003) between the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The report, titled "Called Together To Be Peacemakers" can be found on the Catholic-Mennonite relations website Bridgefolk.Net.

In the preface to the report, the authors note that Mennonites and Catholics have lived through over four centuries of separation. The purpose of the dialogue was not to strive for full communion (an impossible goal, given the circumstances and the tenants of Mennonite belief) but rather "to assist Mennonites and Catholics to overcome the consequences of almost five centuries of mutual isolation and hostility, [and] to explore whether it is now possible to create a new atmosphere in which to meet each other. After all, despite all that may still divide us, the ultimate identity of both is rooted in Jesus Christ." The authors of the report affirm the possibility of achieving the "purification of memory" called for by the Holy Father, and in so doing moving beyond mutual hostilities to a more honest recognition of where we stand and how we may better our relations:

The experience of studying the history of the church together and of re-reading it in an atmosphere of openness has been invaluable. It has helped us gain a broader view of the history of the Christian tradition. We have been reminded that we share at least fifteen centuries of common Christian history. The early church and the church of the Middle Ages were, and continue to be, the common ground for both our traditions . . .

Our common re-reading of the history of the church will hopefully contribute to the development of a common interpretation of the past. This can lead to a shared new memory and understanding. In turn, a shared new memory can free us from the prison of the past. On this basis both Catholics and Mennonites hear the challenge to become architects of a future more in conformity with Christ’s instructions when he said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35). Given this commandment, Christians can take responsibility for the past. They can name the errors in their history, repent of them, and work to correct them. Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder has written: “It is a specific element in the Christian message that there is a remedy for a bad record. If the element of repentance is not acted out in interfaith contact, we are not sharing the whole gospel witness.”

Present day Mennonites find their origins in the non-violent Anabaptist groups of Switzerland, southern Germany and the Netherlands, which were part of the broader "Radical Reformers" who split from not only the Catholic Church but classical Protestantism as well. The Anabaptists possessed sharply divergent understandings of baptism, ecclesiology, church-state relationships and social ethics, (especially an insistence on radical nonviolence), and the formation of Mennonite identity, spirituality and tradition was fueled by a bitter opposition to the institutional Catholic Church, which they regarded as "fallen" from the time of Constantine. Subsequent persecution and martyrdom of countless Mennonites at the hands of Catholics and Protestants had a major influence in their self-consciousness as well.

Because Mennonites are at odds with Catholics on so many things, the challenges of carrying out successful long-term dialogue is significatly greater than, say, Lutherans or Anglicans, who have retained many elements of Catholic tradition. The fact that Mennonites and Catholics were able to participate in a 5-year dialogue involving close study of each other's religious history, frank recognition of injustices committed against the other, the renouncement of polemics and mutual stereotypes, and charting of areas in history and theology for further study and discussion is no small achievement in ecumenical relations.

It is my hope that "Called Together To Be Peacemakers" will be the subject of greater attention, reflection and critique by Catholics and Mennonites in the months to come.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Discovering Mennonite-Catholic Dialogue

Friar Cornelis: "I've come here to see whether I can . . . bring you back to the Catholic faith of our mother, the holy Roman church, from which you have apostatized to this damnable Anabaptism."
Pastor de Roore: "I have apostatized from your Babylonian mother, the Roman church, to the . . . true Church of Christ-this I confess and thank God for it.

That's exchange between a Franciscan Inquisitor and Anabaptist martyr-to-be way back in 1569, according to author Thieleman J. van Braght. 1 It comes from an article by Ivan J. Kauffman, "Mennonite-Catholic Conversations in North America: History, Convergences and Opportunities". 2 Kaufmann notes that "this book has played a major role in forming the Mennonite community's self-image from its publication to the present," which to me is reminiscent of Fox's Book of Martyrs (1583), (which I recall with some amusement was read to me as child by my now-papist father).

In light of this depiction of Catholic-Protestant relations, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that Catholics and Mennonites are speaking again, howbeit on better terms and in a more civilized and respectful manner -- such that in 1997, Cardinal Edward Cassidy of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity conveyed his greetings to the World Mennonite Conference meeting in Calcutta, saying:

"We are convinced that it is the will of Christ that his disciples seek unity, for the scandal of division among Christians 'provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature.' Please know that we are with you in prayer during your daily deliberations."
Such a greeting from a Cardinal of the Catholic Church would certainly have raised the eyebrows of Friar Cornelis and Pastor de Roore.

* * *

Anybody wanting to know more of the history of the Mennonites and Annabaptists and their relations with the Catholic Church will certainly benefit from reading Kaufmann's article. Here are a few historical points I thought interesting:

  • "Friar Cornelis was willing to cause Pastor de Roore's death for the sake of preserving social and religious order. But Pastor de Roore would not have been willing to cause Friar Cornelis' death, even in self-defense . . . The rejection of lethal violence under any circumstances continues to be a major issue dividing Mennonites and the other Anabaptist-origin groups from other Christian churches." [Amusing biographical note: my father has traced our family tree back to a draft-dodger who eluded conscription during the Revolutionary War].
  • Annabaptists were actually persecuted by Catholics and Protestants until the 18th century, "until they were successful in establishing relatively stable communities in the Netherlands, Alsace, Ukraine and Pennsylvania" (where they would evolve into the denominations we now call Mennonite and Amish).
  • "Although several Anabaptist-origin communities survived in Europe, only the Dutch would survive in any number, and they at the cost of disavowing the pacifism of their founders. The future of the pacifist Anabaptist tradition would be in North America."
  • Upon migration to North America, Catholics and Swiss Anabaptists found themselves in the minority and discriminated against by the Protestant majority -- "Catholics because they were not Protestants, Anabaptists because they were pacifists -- but nevertheless allowed to exist." Both adopted similar survival strategies by forming tightly-bound subcultures, with their own schools, cultural traditions and religious organizations. "The right to religious liberty and the separation of church and state which Mennonites and other Anabaptist-origin groups required came to be sought by American Catholics as well, since only under these political conditions could they hope to survive in a majority Protestant culture."
  • The earliest known Mennonite-Catholic interaction in North America occured informally, when German-speaking Catholics and Alsatian Amish both settled in Waterloo, Ontario. Bishop Peter Litwiller, the leader of the Amish community, and Fr. Eugene Funcken, the leader of the Catholic community, became personal friends and engaged in an informal dialogue.
  • For all the criticism of Vatican II and denunciations of "ecumenism" by some factions with Catholicism, it is interesting to note that the Council itself was instrumental in prompting Anabaptist-origin denominations like the Mennonites to "re-examine their attitudes and ask if they could regard Catholics as Christians." According to Kauffman, concurrently with Vatican II, Mennonites began to read Catholic authors, attend Catholic retreats, place themselves under Catholic spiritual directors, and adopt pre-Reformation liturgical practices such as the lectionary and frequent communion. 3

Kaufmann goes on to describe in great detail how five factors -- (1) internationalization of the Church; (2) shift from a dogmatic to an historical intellectual perspective; (3) democratization of society; (4) liturgical and spiritual change; (5) changes in the morality of warfare -- shaped Catholics and Mennonites and their ineraction with each other, and chronicles the major (and predominantly informal) meetings between Catholics and Mennonites in the 20th Century. Of these, there is one encounter that really caught my attention: the Catholic Church's meeting with The Bruderhof, a contemporary Anabaptist community founded by Eberhard Arnold in the 1920's, and associated with the 16th century Hutterites. The Bruderhof has the distinction of being the first Anabaptist-origin community to enter into formal dialogue with the Catholic Church at the institutional level. According to Kaufmann, "Although this dialogue does not involve Mennonites directly, it has an important impact on Mennonites because of the theological positions they share with the Bruderhof."

The Bruderhof-Catholic conversation was initiated by Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter on the third Christian millennium, Tertio Millenio Adveniente, which included a statement indicating the Catholic Church was prepared to apologize for having in the past used "violence in the service of the truth." When the Bruderhof leadership read this statement they contacted their friend Fr. Richard Neuhaus, who in turn arranged an appointment with Cardinal O'Connor. The Cardinal received them in March 1995, accepting copies of their writings and noting the potential for greater Catholic understanding of Anabaptism. 4

A few months later the Bruderhof leadership met in Rome with Cardinal Ratzinger, . . . The Cardinal listened as his visitors read accounts of two of the Anabaptists martyred in the sixteenth century. He then made this statement:

What is truly moving in these stories is the depth of faith of these men, their being deeply anchored in our Lord Jesus Christ, and their joy in this fact, a joy that is stronger than death.

We are distressed, of course, by the fact that the Church was so closely linked with the powers of this world that it could deliver other Christians to the executioner because of their beliefs. This should be a deep challenge to us, how much we all need to repent again and again-and how much the Church must renounce worldly principles and standards in order to accept the truth as the only standard, to look to Christ. Not to torture others but to go the way of witnessing, a way that will always lead to martyrdom in one form or another.

I believe it is important for us not to adopt worldly standards, but rather to be ready to face the world's opposition and to learn that Christ's truth is expressed above all in love and forgiveness, which are truth's most trustworthy signs. I believe that this is the point at which we all have to begin learning anew, the only point through which Christ can truly lead us together. 5

Following this meeting in Rome the senior leader of the Bruderhof, Elder Johann Christoph Arnold, was invited to an ecumenical reception for Pope John Paul II in New York. Elder Arnold spoke briefly with the pope at this reception. Later Cardinal O'Connor visited the Bruderhof. This entire set of encounters appears to be a major event in Anabaptist-Catholic relations. Cardinal Ratzinger's statement appears especially significant from an Anabaptist perspective. 6 What remains is to explore the possibility, inherent in Cardinal Ratzinger's remarks, that the Anabaptist martyrs could in some way be honored by the Catholic Church for their witness to religious liberty and the Church's peace position.

* * *

Kauffman's article is of personal interest to me as well, as my background on my father's side is predominantly Swiss Mennonite. However, with the conversion of my father and 3/4 of the Blosser siblings to Romanism, the religious disposition of future Blossers will most likely be no longer Mennonite, making my grandfather "last of his kind."

To be honest, this is something I regard with mixed feelings -- gratitude for myself, at having discovered the Church and the Catholic faith; but at the same time mixed with sadness for my grandparents, because especially as I get older I find much to appreciate about the Mennonites and my background, and I wonder how much, if anything, of their religious heritage will be carried on by their offspring.

How does it feel to be in their shoes, I wonder, now separated by the gulf of troubled history and religious tradition, a rift not likely to be healed in this life?

  1. The Bloody Theater, or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians (1660), trans. Joseph F. Sohm (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1950), 774-75.
  2. Mennonite Quarterly Review, January 1999.
  3. See also "Renewing the Conversation: Mennonite Responses to the Second Vatican Council," by Earl Zimmerman, in the same issue, which describes the mixed reactions among some Mennonites to the Council.
  4. "An Historic Meeting," The Plough (May/June 1995), 18-19.
  5. "Steps Toward Reconciliation," The Plough (Summer 1995), 22-27.
  6. "Meeting Brother John Paul II," The Plough (Nov./Dec. 1995), 28-29; "Cardinal O'Connor Visits Woodcrest," The Plough (Nov./Dec. 1996), 2-3. Yet another meeting occurred in 2001 with several hundred representatives representing Catholic orders (including John Michael Talbot), as reported by Emmy Barth and Archbishop Harry J. Flynn.

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Sunday, December 21, 2003

Rev. Michael C. D. McDaniel, RIP

Bill Cork mentions that Rev. Michael McDaniel of the ELCA has passed away.

He served as a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Carolina, and later as "theologian in residence" at my alma mater, Lenoir Rhyne College. In 1991 he started the Center for Theology, host to the annual Aquinas-Luther Conference which has brought Catholics and Lutheran scholars together in dialogue for over a decade now.

I fondly recall McDaniel as a wonderful teacher, with kind eyes, a warm smile and an infectious laugh. Moreso, he was a staunch Lutheran who dearly loved his church, and who loved his Lord even dearer -- and did not refrain from challenging his church when it went astray from the truth. He will be greatly missed. Please keep his wife Marjorie, and son, John, in your prayers.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.


Saturday, October 11, 2003

The Catholic Luther (?)

The conventional [Protestant] portrayal of Luther is of a man wrestling with "the inauthenticity of all human works," driven incessantly by the question: how can I get a gracious God? -- rediscovering the Gospel of Christ and bringing about the "the sixteenth-century Protestant/Catholic schism . . . as the logical, inevitable, and necessary public outcome of his theological development." So says David Yeago, who seeks to challenge this dominant perception in "The Catholic Luther", First Things 61 (March 1996): 37-41. 1

According to Yeago what troubled Luther's conscience in his early years was not that of assurance of forgiveness or certitude of salvation, but rather the threat of idolatry manifested in our sinful nature which is radically corrupted (incurvatus in se, "curved in on self") and corrupting the gifts of God, seeking everything for our own sake. He goes on to examine what he describes as a distinctly Catholic turn toward sacramental theology post 1518:

After 1518, Luther is quite clear that it is in and through the public performance of the sacramental signs in the visible Church that grace is bestowed on those who believe. His mystical theology of uncreated grace, the purifying encounter with God in His very Godhead, is henceforth anchored to the preaching and ritual of the Church as the concrete locus of God's certain, undialectical presence. Indeed, it becomes an explicit theological axiom for Luther that inward and spiritual grace is given only in and through the public, bodily, sacramental practice of the Church.

Yeago contends that "there are no historical grounds for believing that the schism was the necessary outcome of Luther's theology of grace"; the Protestant/Catholic schism of the 16th century was not the logical, inevitable outcome of Luther's theological development but rather the result of a number of interrelated factors:

There is blame enough to go around for this tragic and pointless outcome. The theological obtuseness of the Roman court theologians (Cajetan partly excepted), the inability or unwillingness of the Roman authorities to appropriate their own best ecclesiological traditions, and the unlovely influence of financial politics on the handling of the doctrinal issues all played a considerable role, as did Luther's impatience and anger, his inability to take stupid and inappropriate papal teaching at all calmly (perhaps because his own early view of the papal office was unrealistically high), as well as his tendency to dramatize his own situation in apocalyptic terms. The tragedy is compounded, moreover, on the reading that I have proposed, by the irony of the fact that in material theological terms the Luther of 1519 arguably did greater justice to the core convictions of the catholic tradition than did the Luther of 1517.

It is a very fascinating article, one that I encountered some time ago and thought might be of interest to certain members of St. Blog's Parish in light of all the blogging on the recent film. Perhaps those with a Lutheran background would be interested in critiquing Yeago's position?

  1. Published in the anthology The Catholicity of the Reformation, edited by Carl R. Bratten & Robert W. Jenson. Reviewed in First Things by Leonard R. Klein.


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