Page 5, 28th April 1972

28th April 1972
Page 5
Page 5, 28th April 1972 — ECUMENISM AND EVOLUTION IN THE CHURCH
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Locations: Coventry, Surrey, London

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ECUMENISM AND EVOLUTION IN THE CHURCH

THE replies of Fr. Flanagan and Fr. McKee (April 21) to the admirable letter of Fr. Coventry, S.J. (April 7) call for comment. At a time of more than usually quick evolution in the Church and in the world, it is doubtless useful and providential that some priests and lay people should remind us not to forget the traditional and unchanging aspects of the Church. If we need prophets who are specially looking ahead, we also need others who are particularly conscious of the necessity for fidelity to our past. This conservative role, however, needs to be fulfilled in a balanced way if it is to be effective and fruitful. Extreme conservatism can, among other things, by reac tion encourage extreme radicalism, and this leads to the unhappy tensions between extremes which we see too often in the Churchtoday. That some Catholic priests have gone dangerously far in the direction of what Fr. Flanagan calls "liberalistic ideas" is surely unquestionably true. But such priests are certainly not to be found, as Fr. Flanagan implies, among the bishops and priests of the Joint Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission or of our National Theological Commission. By casting suspicion on the orthodoxy or soundness of such officially appointed cornmissions, Fr. Flanagan and his friends are undermining one of the things they claim especially to be defending — the authority of the Church. This authority, it should be remembered, is not just a question of documents of the past, to which Fr. McKee refers so abundantly. These documents and the teaching of the Cherch have to be presented and interpreted by living people who have the office and the competence to do so. Fr. Flanagan appears to regard ecumenism as the special threat to Catholic orthodoxy. This seems to me strange, since the most radical Catholics tend to be little interested in ecumenism. They usually concentrate their attention on the world and its problems, regarding ecumenism as too Churchcentred. I would have 'thought that Fr. Flanagan would be more concerned about those Catholics who are no longer much interested in ecumenism, the Church, and its unity, rather than about those who are deeply concerned to fulfil Christ's will that his followers should be united in one Church. It is not Catholic ecumenists who tend to drift into humanism, but rather those who regard ecumenism as being out of date or irrelevant. Fr. Flanagan writes: "Fr. Coventry does not seem to be aware that there are many bishops and priests today whose liberalistic ideas cause much distress to the Vicar of Christ." May I ask Fr. Flanagan and his friends in their turn whether they are aware that Pope Paul (and many other people besides) have also been caused much distress by those conservative clergy who have not really tried to co-operate with the reforms and the ecumenical initiatives introduced by the Vatican Council and by the Pone himself? I can sympathise with those Catholics who suffer when they hear of radical excesses in the Church — just as I sympathise with those who suffer from conservative excesses. I myself am saddened when I read in the CATI101 IC HERALD, for example, that a priest has been giving Communion to non-Christians as a sign of humansolidarity. May I, however, ask Fr. Flanagan and his friends to distinguish between radical ex cesses and authentic ecumenism'? And may I ask them to reconsider their opi nion that our official commissions chaired by bishops are not capable of safeguarding the integrity of Catholic doctrine?

(Fr.) Benedict M. Heron, O.S.B. London, N.14.

D0 ES any reputable 2-oecumenist (I cannot speak for the disreputable) really subscribe to the "Americanise' suggestion quoted in Fr. McKee's letter of April 21 that "dissidents should be helped into the Church by ignoring or playing down certain elements of doctrine"? The Unity Secretariat's document on Ecumenical Dialogue (1970) makes it abundantly clear that dialogue is not a reductionist quest for some pathetic minimum or residual faith on which all can agree, hutthe growth of all concerned "to a deeper realisation and a clearer expression of the unfathomable riches of Christ." Methodologically this requires close attention to what Vatican II says of "the hierarchy of truths." It is through agreement on the great central truths of faith that we should come eventually to agreement on the (equally true) truths that surround them. Within a given doctrine the same principle can be followed: thus dialogue on other aspects of the Eucharist is impossible until there is a substantial measure of consensus regarding the central dogmas of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Real Presence. The authors of the Windsor Statement admit that "no attempt was made to present a fully comprehensive treatment of the subject." but they offer the hope that "if there are any remaining points of disagreement they can be resolved on the principles here established." Like Fr. Coventry, I am prepared to believe them. Fr. McKee writes "with disrespect towards none": but the examples he instances are scarcely flattering to the faith, let alone the good faith, of the Catholic members of the n ternational Commission ("the modernist does wear disguise"; the quotation about "men with love on their lips and hatred in their hearts"; Loisy's almost total disbelief even as he penned seemingly orthodox statements about the Mass). True, no direct conclusion is drawn from these instances, but an impression remains. Bishops and priests appointed to take part in official dialogue are not "anxious to barter orthodoxy of doctrine for an ecumenical mirage," if I may quote Fr. Flanagan. Quite apart from the fact that the ecumenical goal is no mirage, upon resting as it does Our Lord's Prayer. such men are indeed aware of their heavy responsibilities in the matter of orthodoxy. Theirs is not some sort of pseudo-Catholicism masking "hatred in the heart"; their devotion to their task springs from love of the Church, and is shown in their readiness to submit their findings to the judgment of the Church. That such judgment may be ed passon this important Statement, discussion and evaluation of it are essential. No one is more anxious than are the members of the Commission to perfect it in every way. But such discussion must surely be based on full recogni tion of the sincerity, sersiousness and responsibility — yes, even the zeal for orthodoxy — of thoseto whom this difficult task has been entrusted by the Church.

(Fr.) Richard L. Stewart Woldingham, Surrey.

THE tone of the letter from Fr. McKee (April 21) fills me with alarm. It would seem that, if the Inquisition has been dismantled, its spirit is still very much alive if 'thinking such as his is widespread among Catholics. I am sure he loves the Church. and is distressed that the constant discussion of dogmas, which were held to be irrevocably settled, appears to be undermining the faith of ordinary Catholics. But is there really any need to raise the spectres of Modernism. Americanism and Calvinism in an effort to discredit the Ca t h clic signatories of the Joint Statement on the Eucharist and to accuse, in such blanket terms, modern Catholic theologians and Biblical scholars of a sinister plot to poison the wells of truth? The attempt by present-day Catholic thinkers to express, in a language more readily understandable to our contemporary world, the essential truths of the Faith is surely a laudable undertaking, fraught though it may be with obvious dangers. That individuals will make mistakes is inevitable, but the means are not lacking in the Church for them to be detected and rectified in a spirit of charity. It is the duty of the magisteriuni to "guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us" (2 Tim., 1/14), but the policy of stifling discussion and of heresy-hunting has done immeasurable harm to the Church in the past and scarcely can be considered as conforming to the spirit of the New Testament. Would Fr. McKee like to see a return to the atmosphere of on' condemnations which condem deletions which accompanied the Modernist crisis and held up the progress of Biblical studies for over a generation. The task of the modern Catholic theologian and scholar is difficult and unenviable, and sometimes he must feel he is walking through a minefield. It does not help if those behind are doubting his good faith as well as his cornpetence. Aberrations will inevitably arise, scholars will make mistakes, but surely the sensus m (and by that mean the sensor of the whole Church .-Pope, bishops, priests and laity under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) will be able to separate true developments from those which are spurious and erroneous. Fr. McKee would seem to be lacking in any confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit to preserve the Church from what he takes to he an approaching theological delnicle. He should meditate on the words of Mgr. Duchesne to one of his students: "One may appear to be launching the boat into the centre of the storm, but since Jesus is in it, there isn't any danger." But perhaps Fr. McKee may consider these words as tainted, as they were addressed to . . . Alfred Loisy ! Finally, on behalf of our modern theologians, of whatever hue, I should like to echo the plea which the French poet Apollinaire made for his fellow artists: Ilave pity on us who are always fighting on the frontiers . . . Pity on our mistakes and our transgressions.

Robert A. Murphy Newcastle upon Tyne.




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