More From Durham
Continuing our focus on the biggest meeting St. Blog's completely missed, the paper runs a long story on the ecumenical mega-gathering earlier this week at Durham, written by deputy editor Elena Curti and international editor Michael Hirst....
In deepest Winter there are a few intimations of spring – an early snowdrop, the scent of witch hazel and the buds of Lenten roses just emerging. But if we are in the middle of an ecumenical winter, there are signs that the cause of Christian unity is not dead.I can hear the howls of protest already... but here's more:
These signs were manifest during a major international gathering of theologians at Ushaw College near Durham. One happened at an Anglican Eucharist when a curial cardinal went up to a Church of England bishop, head bowed, for a blessing at Communion.
At least two Catholic bishops, the Ushaw rector and most other Catholics present did the same. The gesture was symbolic of the whole tenor of a colloquium held over five days with the specific objective of discovering what Catholics could learn from the Orthodox, Anglican and Methodist Churches.
During his introductory remarks, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, confessed to being pleasantly surprised by the approach summed up in the title “Catholic Learning: Explorations in Receptive Ecumenism” and seemed to find it refreshing at a time when most ecumenists were inclined to wring their hands. The concept of the colloquium was, he said, more British or Anglican: a much more practical and appealing “via media”. Efforts by the Catholic Church to listen and learn from other traditions were, the cardinal said, entirely in tune with John Paul II’s definition of ecumenical dialogue as “not only an exchange of ideas but an exchange of gifts”.Suffice it to say, it all went over quite well
Certainly among some of the most senior figures present, the colloquium represented an important breakthrough. The Catholic theologian, Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge, called it the most remarkable event in living memory. The Bishop of Durham, Dr [NT] Wright, hailed it as a new chapter in ecumenism. He told me that for years the quest for unity had felt unfocused and over-bureaucratic. Not any more.Even Tom Reese was there....
"When we get a leading cardinal saying that receptive ecumenism is the name of the game and we are looking at the question of what gifts other Churches can give us that we need in order to be more complete than we were before, then this is like a curtain being opened and we can see a new bit of landscape out there. It is very exciting,” said Dr Wright. He drew great hope from a revival of interest in exploring the central tenets of the faith across the traditions.“If we celebrate that and live by that, who knows what is going to grow?” he said.
There was a more qualified endorsement from some of the Catholics present who were anxious about the divisions in their own Church. The former editor of the Jesuit journal America, Fr Thomas Reese, said the progress achieved by the Catholic Church in ecumenical dialogue in the past 50 years had been miraculous but that there were now people with weak credentials in the Vatican passing judgement on giants in the theological field. There were “fantastic” staff operating out of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Council for Interreligious Dialogue but each played second fiddle to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.As you can see, Tom's speaking again....
In electing Pope Benedict, he continued, the Conclave had chosen the brightest man in the room but not necessarily the man who would listen to the men and women outside the room. “When theologians become Popes, they have already made up their minds about the decisions they are going to make,” he said.