WITH the end of the World Council of Churches'
general assembly at New Delhi and the approach of the Chair of Unity Octave (January 18-25), the question paramount in many Christian minds is: what are the main obstacles to a more effective theological dialogue between Catholic and non-Catholic experts
I put this question at the week-end to Fr. Edward Duff, S.J., of the United States, one of the five observers nominated by the Holy See to attend the New Delhi meeting, and now on his way home after flying to London to record an ATV programme on religious toleration.
"Given the divergence of theological positions represented in its membership." he told me. "the World Council's existence is a moral miracle."
Out of courtesy to his World Council hosts, Fr. Duff refused to be formally interviewed on the general assembly as such. But, speaking out of 15 years' experience of the ecumenical movement, he outlined some of the major -hurdles in this way:
I. There is a danger that, in their eagerness to unite, some Christians will overcome their theological problems by jettisoning them altogether. Such a tendency is particularly marked among the younger elements. Far from reducing error, it deepens it, because questions essential for the discovery of truth are disregarded.
An important example of this is the recent discussion on dropping conditions for intercommunion. At New Delhi. in fact. there was an open Communion Service sponsored by the Anglicans for all denominations. One of the Assembly reports indicates that there is no agreement as to the "necessity of an episcopally ordained ministry in the Apostolic Succession".
2. There is at present scant agreement among the members as to the nature of the Church; indeed, if there were. there would he no need for the World Council. One widespread view seems to hold that the Church is cornposed of the sum total of people calling themselves Christians. and that the Council exists to manifest that existential unity.
Over and over again one hears references to the unity of the Church "manifesting itself at times of ecumenical encounter".
Great emphasis is now being laid on visible unity. Many of the separated brethren are convinced that the Church is "there". Most of them, however, seem quite unable to accept that there ever was. in the historical order, a visibly united Church.
3. The dominant note in the World Council itself, of course, is that of main line Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. Only one out of the central committee of 100, for instance. is a Frenchman.
A document of careful scholarship analysing Fundamentalist reservations about the World Council was distributed to the delegates at New Delhi. There is no evidence that a similar investigation of the Roman Catholic position is projected. 4. The ecumenical movement still centres largely on the clergy and the expert theologian. It has, as the World Council leadership deplores, little grip on the man in the pew. 5. There are difficulties. too, in a political sense. Like the United Nations. the World Council, drawn from all races and countries, re presents a wide variety of outlooks and interests. To an increasing extent it is reflecting the AfroAsian emphasis now so influential in world affairs.
At New Delhi, as is generally known, there was direct reference to the Algerian refugees (the amendment being introduced by a Russian) and of the alleged persecution of Africans in Angola (introduced by Afro-Asian members), but no discussion of refugees from China, Tibet, or East Germany (though some World Council members were prevented by Ulbrichi's regime from coming to the assembly).
The Central Committee itself includes. the Czech Professor Hromodka, who defended the Russian nuclear tests as "selfdefence". And finally, as India was preparing to march on Goa, there was a distinct attempt to identify Indian with Christian policies in international affairs.
6. The role of the Orthodox in the World Council is to assert that the Church cannot be contrived. but must be accepted. The Orthodox defend the position that a visibly united Church did once exist. They go on. of course, to assert that they are its natural heirs, The inclusion of the Russians in the World Council, moreover. has drawn all the Orthodox together in a single bloc, showing an identity of views on questions of theology.
On the other hand. the Russians, at least in the person of the chief of their delegation, Archbishop Nikodim, are unfriendly to Rome.
Fr. Duff pointed out that the Catholic observers went to New Delhi by express invitation. They met with a great welcome and much hospitality. The Council members were plainly delighted to have them there.
Great personal sincerity stood out on all sides, and Fr. Duff became aware of a manifest eagerness for unity, a determination to stay together" at all costs.
We have outgrown the days," he told me, "when some Christians by-passed theology with superficial slogans like 'dogmas divide, action unites'. One of the greatest advantages of the World Council is that it brings Americans, for instance, whose interdenominational collaboration tends to take the form of common action for a temporal object, into contact with that small but vital group of European theologians intent on direct theological discussion."
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Octave Intentions: Page 9
FOUR NEW GRAMMAR SCHOOLS
NEW Catholic grammar schools are to be built at Whitley Bay, Stockton and Gateshead, and work on Lanchester's new grammar school is about to begin. This development, and the new grammar school at Hebburn, was referred to by Bishop Cunningham of Hexham and Newcastle at the annual prize-giving of St. Aidan's Grammar School, Sunderland.