Page 6, 13th November 1970

13th November 1970
Page 6
Page 6, 13th November 1970 — Indispensable handbook for all ecumenists

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Locations: Evanston, Rome, Edinburgh


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Indispensable handbook for all ecumenists


The Long Road to Unity by Marc Boegner (Collins 45s.)

THIS is a fascinating book, utterly indispensable to all who are concerned for Christian unity — and that must mean, for all Catholics and Protestants alike.

It provides the present with a context, the background of past unceasing work through a confusing variety of ways by individuals who were as misunderstood by their associates as by their opponents. And it is a happy story which reveals that, with the passing of time and under the hand of God, we really have progressed moved forward towards a clearer vision of Christ.

A long way and a hard road lies ahead. No one can doubt that. But sometimes the prophets of gloom are put to flight by a reading of history which recalls how much cause we have for thanksgiving, even though shame remains. Our impatience must not allow us to overlook the miracle of the days in which we live.

Marc Boegncr is the Grand Old Man, not only of French Protestantism (and how much do we really know about it; or its survival of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve; or of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, or the Separation of 1905?) but of the ecumenical movement; and he rightly prefers that term to the more static one of "ecumenism." His memories and personal involvement take us back to the closing years of the nineteenth century, and span more than sixty years; from Edinburgh to Evanston; from Leo XIII to Paul VI; from Mortalium animos to De Oecurnenismo. It is exciting to read for its breadth both of vision and ecclesiastical contact.

Boegner traces his introduction to the ecumenical Life to his kinsman Tommy Fallot -a man of rare perception and 'the father of social Christianity in French Protestantism." But always he has been led to make contact with those who shared his ideals rather than his more limited church tradition.

Thus soon he was at home in Scandinavia as Scotland; in Switzerland as in Rome; and ceaselessly he pursued his vision "that it is only through love that a way can be found to the visible restoration of the unity of the Body of Christ . . the unity of the Church is not something that has to be established in the twentieth century : it is a fact." But it has taken us a very long time rto get hold of that fact and to ex

perience the therapy it brings. Boegner reveals in his pages two parallel and often virtually opposite movements.

That stemming from the Edinburgh Conference of 1910 which eventually and after long delays led to the establishment of the World Council of Churches; originally Protestant sponsored, recently strengthened by the membership of the Orthodox, but still deprived of direct involvement by the Catholic church. The other movement has derived from the Catholic church and has proceeded upon different premises. On both sides there has been growth (a better word in this context than change).

Protestant suspicion, based on an amalgam of ignorance, folk memory and truth has not disappeared quickly. It has not disappeared even now. But it is infinitely less than it was sixty years ago, The author sees hope for the future in the establishment of Ecumenical Institutes which "must undertake the magnificent task of giving the Reformed Churches, still tragically attached to their divisions, the vision of the Church of Christ, restored to

its unity, and alone capable of carrying out, in the world and for the world, its mission of witness and service."

Marc Boegner, in a lifetime of journeyings, has thrown his ministry as a Protestant pastor into the verification of Fallot's twofold affirmation. "1. The Church will be Catholic or it will not be the Church; 2. The Christian will be Protestant or he will not be Christian."

For readers of the CATHOLIC HERALD probably the most immediate interest his memoirs hold will be of his contacts with their church. In days when hope seemed unrealistic, Boegner was never deserted by love or the conviction that the prayer of St. John chapter 17 was meant to be realised. Probably no Protestant leader has, so long and so consistently, sought not only friendship but also truth in the Catholic Church. And if he has learnt it, I thing it is not unreasonable to presume that he has taught it as well.

From Malines to Vatican 2 is, thank goodness, a very long road indeed. Here is a man who is familiar with every turn of that road, and whose hopefulness, after sixty years, is as fresh as his faith. His estimate of the present Pope is therefore all the more significant. "Both within the Catholic Church and to outsiders, Paul Vi gives the impression of being a man who tries to hold the balance, or rather make concessions. I do not believe that that is so . . . He dreads above all what might produce a crack and still more a split in the body which is responsible, under his supreme authority, for the government of the Church. He does not wish to break with either patty : he wants agreement in charity, humility and love. What disturbs him most, in the post-conciliar period of the Church's life, are not problems of discipline, for these he will tell you are easily solved, but disputes that relate to faith."

In this long book, the author has resisted the frequent temptation to indulge in irrelevant anecdotes, however peripherally entertaining they might be. His course is clearly set. It is a road which all of us must follow. For its end is Christ.

Finally, a bouquet. Such a book, because of its pluriform resonances, is particularly difficult to translate. I can give no higher praise than to remark that one reader at least was never aware that he was reading in translation.

Alternatives to Christian Rend by Leslie Paul (Hodder & Stoughton 8s.) THIS is not about other religious beliefs but, as a subtitle reveals, about tcntatives of the contemporary search for meaning — evolution with its hopes and despairs, Marxism as a utopian dream, theories of a historical machine, psychology, existentialism. . . The author's critique leads you to feel that, as he finds them, they lead to waste lands. This is all the more significant in his study of the contemporary terror in the work of novelists, not professedly searching their souls but, to quote Peguy, pulling words from their guts. The last chapter examines demythologising, secularising, murdering "theology" under a significant title: "God as the Afflicted Man." Leslie Paul's conclusion does not so much affirm that God endures as that the Search goes on.


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