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Divided, but attentive

02 June 2009

Here are explorations for undivided truth,says Christopher Hill

Holy Dove: a cover image from Christian Community in History: Volume 3, Ecclesial existence by Roger Haight SJ (Con­tinuum, £30 (£27); 978-0-8264-2947-6). The book is an exercise in “ecclesi­ology from below”, and com­pletes a trilogy. The first two volumes were published in 2004-05

Holy Dove: a cover image from Christian Community in History: Volume 3, Ecclesial existence by Roger Haight SJ (Con­tinuum, £30 (£27); 9...

Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning: Exploring a way for contemporary ecumenism
Paul D. Murray, editor

The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let us keep the feast
George Hunsinger

CUP £15.99 (978-0-521-71917-9)
Church Times Bookshop £14.40

CARDINAL KASPER, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, is among the 32 international ecumenical theologians who contribute to this 534-page volume of essays. With Paul Murray, they set out in January 2006 to explore “receptive ecumenism”. (A second conference was held in Durham this January.)

Murray’s introductory chapter explains what he means by receptive ecumenism. We expect other Christians to learn from us rather than the other way round: what can we receive from our ecumenical partners — or even erstwhile opponents?

Cardinal Kasper welcomes a British theological realism. Building on the German 19th-century theologian Möhler, and on Newman, he seeks an Evangelical Catholicity and an exchange of gifts. Kasper’s gift to ecumenism is his encouragement and patronage of such an exchange.

Receptive Ecumenism is in five parts. Part One articulates vision and principles. Philip Sheldrake and Nicholas Lash are characteristically stimulating on the Church as a school for learning and on the generosity and hospitality of God (with the help of St Benedict and St Francis). Part Two explores learning through particular ecumenical dialogues: Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, and Orthodox.

Part Three explores issues of Catholic order and includes a particularly interesting exploration of Kasper’s thought on the “re-reception” of Petrine ministry by Denis Edwards. Paul Lakeland and Patrick Connolly are hard-hitting about the need for lay participation in government and on the lack of clerical accountability in the current RC Church. Part Four speaks of pragmatic reception, including Mary Tanner’s exploration of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue. There are also fascinating explorations of the psychoanalytical, sociological, “tribal”, and organisational factors inhibiting receptive ecumenism.

Part Five deals with ecumenical response to Catholic learning. It includes a response to Cardinal Kasper by Nicholas Sagovsky; a radical exploration of the consequences of “differentiated consensus” by Hervé Legrand; the insistence of encounter and engagement by Daniel Hardy, and a final, pregnant chapter by Peter Philips, in which he explores the eucharist as a means of unity, not only its end.

Perhaps the key essays published in a smaller book would reach a wider audience. But there are many gems. The book, and the movement it articulates, is like the tiny tips of spring buds on a raw day before spring has begun.

George Hunsinger’s The Eucharist and Ecumenism, in the Cambridge current issues in theology series, embodies the principles, if not the name, of receptive ecumenism. He is Professor of Systematics at Princeton, and well-grounded not only in his own Reformed tradition, but also ecumenically. Hunsinger happily acknowledges his debt to the late Professor Tom Torrance.

There is “enclave” theology and ecumenical theology. Following Tom Torrance, he applies to the eucharist Barth’s insight from Hebrews that the Christ event must be present and future, not only past. He examines the Real Presence according to Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Peter Martyr. The “transelementation” of Gregory of Nazianzen and Cyril of Alexandria (via Theophylactus, known and quoted by Archbishop Cranmer) is explored approvingly and offered ecumenically. Here bread and wine are as an iron in the fire, not changed, but given the effect of fire.

On eucharistic sacrifice, Zwingli and then Luther and Calvin are examined, the last emphasising the perpetual priesthood of Christ as the current work of the Spirit. Repetition of the Cross is rejected, but so is the eucharist as a “bare” memorial. Aquinas is again sympathetically explored.

Gregory Dix is extensively quoted (though Hunsinger is well aware of more recent criticism of Dix). For Hunsinger, the paschal meal is the clue to the eucharist, with its past, present, and eschatological dimen­sions. Hunsinger also explores classical issues relating to eucharistic ministry. He admits that ecumen-ical progress will be hard while Zwingli remains the Reformed liturgical master.

Two final chapters follow, the first a constructive dialogue with Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture. This contains a surprising dialogue with E. L. Mascall. Finally, a fascinating chapter on Nicene Christianity, the eucharist, and peace. This includes a rebuttal of the argument that orthodoxy causes war and child abuse. Athanasius and Anselm are here explored as representative champions, and current misunderstandings of the atonement (Evangelical and liberal) are exposed.

I cannot recommend this book too highly. It demonstrates the possibility of receptive ecumenism.

The Rt Revd Christopher Hill is the Bishop of Guildford.


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