With the approach of Unity Week, DR. RAMSEY, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, reviews "Dialogue Between Christians, Catholic Con tributions to Ecumenism" by Father M.-J. Congar, O.P. (Chapman 50s.)
TH I S COLLECTION OF PAPERS on ecumenical themes by Fr. Congar is of absorbing interest and seems to me to have special importance for those who work for Christian unity. The papers were written at various dates between 1935 and 1958, and as Ill of them are earlier han the Second Vatican -council they show the ipsurging in the mind If one theologian of houghts which since the :ouncil have come into ;reater prominence.
A charming autobio;raphical introduction ells of the writer's persistent devotion to ecumenical activities even in times when there was, to say the least, much official discouragement.
I must confess that my heart was warmed in reading this reminiscence of an incident of 30 years ago, "I love the Anglican Church for its admirable inheritance and its ethos, which is At once both religious and humanist, reverent yet free. A stay at the theological college of Lincoln in 1937, where Dr. Michael Ramsey, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, was my guide, was a revelation to me. In spite of the lapse of time, I am still under the spell of Evensong, which I have never forgotten."
Those touching words make me the more ready to attend to Fr. Congar's critique of Anglican theology. to which I shall return.
The book is roughly divided into papers dealing broadly with the theme of unity, and essays on particular historical and doctrinal topics concerning the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion and Protestantism. A closely reasoned essay on terminology urges that both on doctrinal and on practical grounds it is better to use the word "Communion" than "Confession" or "Church" to describe the various denominational groupings on Christendom.
We start with a paper written on the eve of the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches at Amsterdam in 1940 which poses the questions concerning the relation of Rome to the W.C.C. and to the ecumenical movement as it was then developing. The non-participation of Rome is explained by the circumstances of the times. Then, the ecumenical movement, inaugurated by the non-Roman Catholic part of Christendom, consciously or unconsciously presupposed certain basic concepts: that the denominations were all of them true Churches. that there was a "spiritual" unity underlying them, that the goal was to find form and expression for this underlying unity and that the goal would be reached by the sharing of the various "contributions".
Rome could not accept membership as it would imply an ecclesiology other than that which she professed. But, said Fr. Congar, Rome "by her very refusal has borne witness to the idea of unity and of the Church in such a way as to bring profit to all Christian thought." (p.77) THINGS HOWEVER MOVE. The ecumenical movement, still in the pre-Vatican Council decades a mainly Protestant enterprise though with increasing participation by the Holy Orthodox Church, learned to shed specific ecclesiological presuppositions and to discover a more open dialogue. And Rome began to be involved with other Communions through informal conferences, friendships and dialogues.
While Protestants discovered "the evangelical character of many features of Catholicism", Catholics have experienced through dialogue with Protestants "the evangelical truth of many realities whose substance we have preserved but meaning we have partially forgotten, even though this meaning is eminently traditional . . . We have largely begun to rediscover the Bible, and the part of the Word of worship" (p.50). That is perhaps the first stage in a deepening ecumenical experience. Fr. Congar holds that through it the Catholic discovers more deeply the meaning of his own traditional faith.
So far so good. But now comes the rub, and Fr. Congar describes it with candour and sensitivity. On the one hand the Roman Catholic shares in ecumenical activities; on the other hand he is bound to insist that reunion "cannot take place in any other ecclesiastical body than the Catholic Church, because it is this Church which is the apostolic Church" (p.95). Unity is unity with Rome, there is no other. But does this contention close down the dialogue and simply equate ecumenism with the making of "conversions"? Not so, insists Congar. The process of unity is one with the process of the Church's reformation, renewal, growth into being different. Within this process the lessons of many separated Christian traditions, where there is true holiness. will be learned and absorbed.
It is this eschatological reference, the conception of the Church growing towards the plenitude of its being, which gives the clue to ecumenism, and marks the deep difference between the spirit of ecumenism and the spirit of prosyletism. "To be sure, no Catholic worthy of the name would refuse help to a separated brother who, doubting the truth of his own position, wished to become a Catholic. Nevertheless. the ecumenical worker as such feels himself impelled to work for unity at a different level and in a different way. For him the aim is to help other Christian Communions, and, if one may so speak, his own Church also, to approach and converge upon the plentitude which lies before us. in the light of which integration will really be able to take place" (P.97).
These are remarkable words for 1948. They anticipate much of the thought of the Vatican Council. and the teachings of contemporary theologians such as Cardinal Bea. I do not make the mistake of forgetting the unchanged orthodoxy of the tradition. But it is the eschatological understanding of the Church, the world and the Christian life which makes the difference to spirit and action. "Can a Catholic gave any acceptable meaning to the fundamental demand of the ecumenical attitude that he should recognize in Christian communities, such as the Eastern Churches or Anglicanism, a positive role in connection with the development of Christianity in the world and the achievement of what the Catholic Church could be if reunion one day became a reality?" (p.114). If the moral of these words were today taken to heart, in their respective contexts, by Roman Catholics and Anglicans in England the religious scene in this country might be changed.
IHAVE been passing on through the first part of Fr. Congar's book where the themeisdeveloped in successive papers. In the latter part of the book the essays on historical and doctrinal subjects, though written separately, serve really to illustrate the theme of the first part. As might be expected there is a warmly appreciative critique of Eastern Christianity. This in turn assists the discussion of the issues of the Reformation. True Catholicism, Fr. Congar points out, includes both the institutional and juridical aspect of the Church in the world and also its mystical and heavenly aspect. The two aspects were integrated powerfully in S. Augustine. But a growing unbalance in the emphasis on the juridical and institutional aspect and a failure to integrate this with the other caused heresies and schisms which were striving to recover an aspect of Catholicism itself and fell into errors in the process. If this is recognized, the lessons of Protestantism are relevant for the fullness of Catholicity, and the Reformation conflicts can be seen in fresh light.
AN ESSAY ON "TRENDS of Thought in Anglicanism" traces the story in outline from Hooker to William Temple. A very thorough study of Anglicanism lies behind this essay. and the extensiveness of the bibliographies is matched by the discrimination with which they are used. The result is a very understanding picture. I think the account of Methodism misses the point that Methodism was not only a movement of evangelism but also a movement of personal holiness, and it is here that we see links of continuity between the Evangelicals and the Tractarians who came after them.
There are a few slips. E. C. Moberley should be R.C. Moberly. Lightfoot was Lady Margaret, and not Regius, Professor. William Temple continued to be Chairman of the Doctrinal Commission after he went to York. Earlier in the book, in connection with the incident at Lincoln which I recalled, Fr. Congar writes: "Though I find the Anglican Church sympathetic and its ethos attractive, it seems to me relatively uninteresting from a dogmatic point of view. Anglican historical and exegetical works have taught me much, its theological treatises very little." May not history and exegesis deepen for all of us our apprehension of theological truth in its bearing upon human life?
So I close Fr. Congar's book with real gratitude for what he shows us of the meaning of ecumenical work and of its possibilities within the pattern of our respective ecclesiastical loyalties. The publication of Fr. Congar's book in England must help forward the ideals and actions which he describes.