Towards Unity: Ecumenical Dialogue 500 Years after the Reformation

 — Apr. 1, 20171 avril 2017
“Foreword” by Archbishop Donald Bolen

Those who work in the field of Christian unity for any length of time are quick to point out that ecumenism is the work of the Holy Spirit. We say that not to sound pious but because we know firsthand two things: from our failed efforts, that we cannot bring about unity by ourselves no matter how hard we try; and from our successes, that something else is operative in this work of dialogue and reconciliation. God’s grace shapes our efforts in countless ways, experienced in a deep yearning for unity, in the insights which come forth from dialogue, in the moments of breakthrough when new understandings are reached, in the relationships and bonds of communion that are formed when we work with other Christians at the service of unity.

Ecumenism is a work of the Holy Spirit in the churches as they put themselves at the service of Jesus’ desire that his disciples be reconciled, and it is a work of the Spirit in people’s lives. This volume, which reflects on ecumenical achievements and hopes as we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, is a celebration of the work of the Holy Spirit in the churches and ecclesial communities of the West as they have sought to address conflicts and heal divisions. It is also a celebration of the work of the Holy Spirit in the ecumenical ministry of Monsignor John Radano, and in a secondary but very real way, of each of the contributors to this volume. John Radano, generally known by his dialogue partners and colleagues as Jack, served as head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity‘s (PCPCU) Western section for nearly a quarter century, from 1984 to 2008. In this capacity, he participated in dialogues with Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, Mennonite, Classical Pentecostal, and Evangelical traditions, and served as liaison with the World Council of Churches‘ Commission on Faith and Order. Jack was also involved in relations with the Anglican Communion, the World Methodist Council, and the Global Christian Forum, so had a truly comprehensive involvement in relations with the Catholic Church’s dialogue and consultation partners in the West.

As Cardinal Kasper’s introduction notes, Jack has an encyclopedic knowledge of the ecumenical movement and ecumenical texts, not least because during his years at the PCPCU, he served as the editor of Information Service, the Pontifical Council’s journal documenting the Catholic Church’s involvement in the ecumenical movement on an international level. Coupled with that deep knowledge base and widespread engagement in ecumenical relations, Jack’s work was characterized by a deep confidence in the process of dialogue. While dialogue needs to be accompanied by prayer for unity, relationship building, and efforts at common witness and mission, it is the work of dialogue that is at the heart of the Pontifical Council’s efforts at reconciliation among Christians. Ecumenical dialogue is dependent on men and women who have profound confidence in and knowledge of their church and its teachings, and who have an ability to bring that knowledge and commitment into dialogue with others in a way that is intelligent, respectful, open-minded and discerning. It also benefits greatly from those who are engaged in dialogue over the long haul, thus building honest and genuine relationships with the dialogue partner and an in-depth understanding of the other’s tradition and history as well as one’s own. Jack was eminently suited to this work and gave himself over to it with tremendous generosity. He is a living example of the Second Vatican Council’s understanding that to be deeply committed to one’s Catholic faith and to be seriously committed to Christian unity are profoundly compatible.

I had the privilege of serving at the PCPCU from 2001 to 2008, as the staff person for relations with the Anglican Communion and the World Methodist Council. Jack was a generous and patient cap’ufficio (head of department) for those of us working in the Western section, always ready to take the time to answer our questions, give feedback to our ideas, and brainstorm about how to respond to the challenging situations that were a daily occurrence at the office. Above all, I witnessed in him (and learned from him) a deep commitment to the process of dialogue and a recognition of the rich value and potential of the bilateral and multilateral texts that the dialogues produced. Jack referred to these as texts of reconciliation, and when they did not seem to have a significant impact on participating churches upon their release, he spoke of them as being “in the bank,” treasures waiting to release their reconciling potential when the time was right.

In bilateral dialogues, which formed the biggest part of Jack’s work at the PCPCU, commission members generally live, pray, eat, plan, discuss, and draft together during the course of their annual meetings. Motivated by the common aim of seeking reconciliation as they approach the Scriptures, tradition, and their separate histories on the theological subject under investigation, dialogue participants often come to see the integrity of the dialogue partner as one who desires to love God, to be a faithful disciple of Christ, to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. The dialogue process helps to create a context that is highly conducive to recognising the other’s faith, and to finding a faithful way forward when addressing long-standing divisions. The great Catholic ecumenist Jean Tillard offered a keen insight into the working of an effective dialogue commission when speaking of his work on the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission: “as a Commission we found ourselves living and experiencing the tragic drama of our two churches”: the unity being sought was one that “together we were already experiencing.” Working on a dialogue commission, the real but imperfect communion between churches can be experienced with immediacy and forcefulness.

This book witnesses to what has been achieved through the work of dialogue over the past fifty years, and to the work of the Holy Spirit in evidence through the dialogue process. It also witnesses to the importance of ecumenical friendship in advancing the cause of unity. When approaching colleagues and former colleagues of Monsignor Radano to ask if they would be willing to prepare a paper as part of a Festschrift honouring Jack, there was a nearly unanimous “‘yes” to this invitation, even though these scholars and church leaders are all incredibly busy people. The friendship that emerges over the course of years of dialogue does not always transfer to spending a lot of time together outside of the dialogue. Rather, it is a friendship grounded in the experience of working closely together, empowered by the Holy Spirit, at a cause much bigger than ourselves, the work of God reconciling the world to himself in Christ. Such friendship is a chosen instrument in the toolbox of the Holy Spirit, and its capacity to assist in the work of reconciliation is the cement that holds the papers of this volume together and made it possible.

The text begins with an Introduction and initial chapter which offer reflections from two former Presidents of the PCPCU. Both testify to Monsignor Radano’s commitment, competence, and wide knowledge of the dialogues in which he was involved over many years. The next several chapters focus on gleanings from the bilateral dialogues. Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSC, addresses an internal audience, calling on Roman Catholics to integrate dialogue results into catechetical materials. He invites churches to rewrite history together and to promote the healing of memories. Articles by Drs. Mary Tanner and James Puglisi, SA, highlight insights from Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, especially in ecclesiology. Dialogues with the Methodists, Lutherans, and Disciples of Christ are featured in the texts of Drs. Geoffrey Wainwright, William Rusch, and Margaret O’Gara. Developments in Reformed ecclesiology and ecumenicity are discussed in the essays by Drs. Donna Geernaert, SC, and Odair Mateus. Growth in understanding through the dialogue process with Mennonites, Pentecostals, and Seventh-day Adventists is explored in the chapters by Drs. Helmut Harder and Larry Miller, Mel Robeck, and Bert Beach. The article by Dr. Henri Blocher offers an Evangelical reading of Ut Unum Sint that illustrates some of the challenges faced by dialogue partners as they seek to receive documents produced in another tradition. The next three chapters invite reflection on the ecumenical movement as a whole. While the text by Dr. William Henn, OFM Cap., explores some specific strengths and weaknesses of the current search for Christian unity, that of Dr. Günther Gassmann chronicles the development of concepts of unity in the WCC Commission on Faith and Order. In the article by Dr. Thomas Best, mutual accountability is identified as a decisive dimension of the church and churches’ relationships with one another.

The final two chapters of this volume focus on specific ecumenical organisations which give form to multilateral relationships. Dr. Denton Lotz reflects on some of the concerns raised by Baptists and Evangelicals who affirm the search for Christian unity but are not members of the World Council of Churches. Dr. Huibert van Beek describes the emergence of the Global Christian Forum and the new possibilities it offers for promoting Christian unity among churches which do not usually cultivate a strong sense of belonging to Reformation history. In his Postscript, Bishop Anthony Farquhar offers a personal portrayal of Monsignor Jack Radano, theologian, scholar, and consummate ecumenist.

Posted: Apr. 1, 2017 • Permanent link:
Categories: ResourcesIn this article: books, Christian unity, Donald Bolen, Donna Geernaert, Nicholas Jesson
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Catégorie : ResourcesDans cet article : books, Christian unity, Donald Bolen, Donna Geernaert, Nicholas Jesson

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