When I was younger, I came very close to going to seminary and taking vows. I grew up not far from a Benedictine Archabbey, where I spent a significant amount of time. Even later in life, I spent two weeks at an Orthodox monastery (and let me tell you, that’s hard on your feet — they pray for hours, and if you didn’t know, the Orthodox never sit or kneel, but stand throughout). Church history and theology both fascinate me. End the preface.
Ecumenism was at its most trendy in the 80s, when we lived in Louisville (see here). I can’t say I was impressed then, and am even less so now.
This might annoy some of my readers, but I see the Church as wounded by the Great Schism. I believe that any movement toward ecumenism should be first with the Orthodox, for whom I have the highest respect.
Neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Orthodox are rushing into any such ecumenism, unlike the Protestants (I’ll get to them in a moment). After all, the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox have agreed that the agree on all matters of faith, even the dual nature of Christ, yet are moving very slowly toward reconciliation. One of the problems, of course, is Apostolic Succession. Which bishop of Alexandria, for example, is valid?
The reunification of the Western and Eastern Churches is thornier. The issue is, of course, that which caused the Schism in the first place: papal primacy. On theology, there is really no significant block, save perhaps for the filioque, though Rome and the Orthodox have agreed that the clause really represents no theological difference.
The Western and Eastern Churches are both orthodox (with a small ‘o’ referring to faith), and they are both conservative — not necessarily in a political sense, but a theological sense. In fact, the Western and Eastern Churches seem to be almost the only theologically conservative churches left in the world. Of course, this also slows ecumenism; neither is, as I said before, rushing to reunify.
Both have been taking in both individual converts and whole parishes from historically orthodox Protestants, particularly the Anglicans. Both have “Anglican Rite” parishes, in communion with either the Western or Eastern Church, but allowed to worship with their own liturgy.
That isn’t ecumenism. That is the opposite of ecumenism. It’s welcoming those who left the Church back, usually because the converts were disillusioned with the lack of orthodox faith in their own churches.
And that leads us to Protestantism. Although I welcome ecumenical progress between Rome and the Orthodox, I really don’t much care about the same between Rome and Protestant churches. Actually, that’s not entirely correct. I should have said that I am leery of any ecumenical progress between the two (with one exception, as I’ll explain below).
Ironic as it may seem, the one Protestant church with which I struggle the most in terms of possible reunification with Rome is the Anglican Communion — ironic because historically, at any rate, of all the Protestant churches, the Anglican Communion has been the most orthodox, and has had the least theological difference with Rome.
But while other Protestants left the Church in what at least they thought of as good faith, the Church of England did not. I hate to be crass, particularly here, but let’s be honest: the formation of the Church of England, and its split with Rome, was all about Henry VIII wanting some strange, and that’s all it was about. There was nothing even remotely excusable about the origins of the Church of England.
Rome should set as the first condition for reunification with the Anglican Communion that they admit the utter bad faith in which they left the Church.
But any reunification between Rome and Canterbury is unlikely, given how far down the path of “inclusivity” Anglicanism has travelled, to the point that, like nearly all mainstream Protestants, they share no faith or theology, and expect you to believe nothing. The ease with which the Anglicans and Lutherans recently joined, despite very real (at least historically) theological differences, speaks for itself.
There is one orthodox Protestant church I would like to see at least enter into talks with Rome: The Missouri Synod Lutherans. They alone, because of their conservative theology, refused to amalgamate with all the other Lutheran bodies, and now, they remain the only Lutherans in the United States. John Paul II stated that the Church could now call the Augsburg Confession Catholic, in the capital-C sense; that leaves little theologically in the way, other than that sticky papal primacy issue — and of course over six hundred years of antipathy between the two.
I once heard a theologian say that the only Reformation in the Reformation occured in the Church, and that the Reformation was misnamed. I agree. Those who objected could have remained in the Church. They chose instead to leave. I am no great fan of any kind of ecumenism with Protestants for that reason.
None of this means, of course, that I scorn those who attend Protestant churches. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Nor does any of this mean that I behave uncharitably toward Protestants. All it means is that when it comes to reunification with Rome, I feel no urge to push the process.