Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A picture paints a thousand words

What thousand words is this picture saying?

++David Moxon's own report is here, but I suspect Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox might have their own thousands of words to say.

Pope Francis is really pulling out all the stops to reach out, beyond the strict literalness of Roman law (which, for instance, declares Mr David Moxon to be a layperson) and previously expressed papal views (that, saving the Eastern Orthodox) other Christians belong to "ecclesial communities" and not to actual, real churches. So here he includes Archbishop David Moxon in a shared blessing of thousands of Christians gathered at the end of a week of prayer for Christian unity.

But, wait, there is more.

Pope Francis has also said these words in his homily on the occasion. Words which are full of extraordinary grace and hope for real progress to be made towards actual Christian unity:

""As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behavior of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has happened, but we do not want to let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. God’s mercy will renew our relationships."" (from the same link above)

Note that Pope Francis is crystal clear: he talks of "other Churches" (not, "ecclesial communities").
Let me put that in another way: other Churches.
And in case I have not clearly pointed out to you the expression he used, it was: OTHER CHURCHES.

Actually, even more important than such recognition, is the recognition that Catholics have erred. But so have Protestants and I think the "ball" of confession, forgiveness and repentance has been lobbed into our church courts. Who will make reply?

We are living in a new ecumenical era. The wave is flowing, will we catch it or miss it?


Brendan McNeill said...

What an enigma is Pope Francis. From denouncing market economies one moment, to embracing social liberalism the next. And now in a moment of clarity, acknowledging the wider body of Christ.

What further surprises await – a push for same sex blessings perhaps – or would that be too weird even for this Pontiff?

Anonymous said...

Peter, why do you think that we are living in a new ecumenical era? I do not mean to deny that this could be so. I simply do not know what your criteria might be, or what observations satisfy them.

It has never made less sense, but we seem resigned to visible disunity. The triumphalism is mostly gone; all the old players are now humbler as social minorities. Theological cross-fertilisation is commonplace; you can't swing a censer without hitting a Catholic who reads Karl Barth, or maybe a Southern Baptist who reads Henri de Lubac; everybody reads Tom Wright and John Zizioulis. Prelates of theoretically rival churches nervously realise that they stand or fall together in public opinion. The Church of Ireland realises that it has no choice but to discreetly help the battered RCC in Ireland recover from its scandals. Crusades are far out of fashion-- Campus Crusade for Christ has taken the name "Cru"-- but many of us agree that churches in the most secular societies could best evangelise by collaborating on something really big. And suddenly, the differences among churches seem trivial in societies absorbing Muslim refugees. Differences among the old churches of the establishment matter less in many places than stretching civil religion's sacred canopy to shelter adherents of Islam.

But for all this, nobody expects the ecumenical breakthroughs that seemed imminent four decades ago. Francis has not recognised Anglican orders, made the Filioque optional, adopted the Augsburg Confession, or permitted inter-communion. Mainline denominations are decidedly post-confessional and mostly comprise congregations with fewer than 50 people and a mean age above 60 years. But they still do not show the interest in merging that they had in the 1960s.

So no, this is not the frosty climate of Apostolicae Curae and Saepius Officio. But we seem comfortable, and maybe cynical, about our divisions. In the Middle East, Orthodox, Nestorian, and Monophysite bishops have gotten along like this for a millennium and a half. Each year on the Sunday of Orthodoxy all the heretics are solemnly anathematised in the sonorous words of the Synodikon as if it were still 787. And then that afternoon they embrace and sip strong coffee together, nibble pastries, read between the lines of newspapers, and generally sort through wars and rumours of war. When the shadows lengthen, they embrace again, and walk their separate ways to vespers.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
It might be "too wonderful" of this pope rather than "too weird"!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
Like most of my posts, there is a fair chance that I have rushed to judgment, though unapologetically, because rushed judgments posts may be provocative enough for people to both to read. ("Pope makes smallest of gestures, hardly likely to make even a footnote in history of false ecumenical springs" would guarantee a readership of 1.37 readers!)

Nevertheless, in this particular case, I think it is a new era when the pope shifts the discourse, with specific reference to avoiding "ecclesial communities." It may yet prove to be not much of a "new" era, and that would be so if we wake up in 50 years time to no change on "null and void" orders and so forth. If Anglicans, Orthodox and Romans make further efforts towards unity (e.g. by fixing the date of Easter) I am sure it would pave the way for some new energy for other rapprochements, e.g. between Anglicans, Methodist and Presbyterians.

However I am not going to naively think that a zillion and one fissiparous Protestant denominations in the Western world are also going to form a new church union in my lifetime.

I do harbour the thought that the rise of aggressive Islamism will focus our minds on what unites us as Christians.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Peter

In response to your two replies (above) I suspect we Anglicans will still be discussing whether my wife should be allowed a penis when the mullah's nuke us.

Peter Carrell said...

Well, I won't be part of that discussion, Brendan.
I'll be too busy digging my shelter and lining it with concrete and lead!

Brendan McNeill said...

How's progress with the shelter?

Peter Carrell said...

Slow. It's hard to find cheap sources of lead now that drainpipes have gone to plastic!

Anonymous said...

Francis has one excellent reason to avoid making serious ecumenical gestures: it is the wrong year. 2016 is the year when we all watch The Donald run for president with the morbid fascination of watching The Gadget explode at Alamogordo. But 2017 is the quincentennial of the 95 Theses, and for that occasion, the Pope will need to make some gesture with magnanimity and even a certain magnificenza. He probably has something in his desk drawer that you would like, Peter.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

It's great to see our former Paheha Archbishop David Moxon in the limelight in Rome. David has, I'm sure, been a very good and careful Representative for Anglicans at the Holy See (not too tempestuous a medium for him).. His own precepts are towards the Catholic - in litrgry and philosophy. Perhaps this is why his own episcopal consecration, in Hamilton, N.Z., was able to take place in the local Roman Catholic Cathedral, when his own Anglican Cathedral was deemed too small a venue to accommodate all expected to be with him on that occasion. ++David has always been 'on-side' with the New Zealand Roman Catholic hierarchy, and as the Anglican representative with ARCIC, he servec us well in the conversations on mutual interests.

All that aside; David's invitation by Pope Francis - together with the inclusion of a distinquished Eatern Orthodox prelate - to join the Roman Pontiff in imparting an episcopal Blessing upon those assembled at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Rome - was just one more mile-stone in the amazing trajectory of initiatives that will mark out this hard-working and eirenic papacy.

Who knows, Pope Francis might even yet preside over the promulgation of a reversal of the Papal Bull (still extant) that ruled Abglican Orders to be invalid? Now that would be quite something. Something that this Pope could do that would really upset those R.C.s who think they are the only catholics.

Pageantmaster said...

Ah - to commune, or not to commune? That is the question.

It all sounds very jolly.

Jean said...

Hi Peter

I have left it late to comment on this one but personally I think it's great. Ecumenicalism doesn't necessitate the physical joining of all churches (uniformity) which it may have been seen as in the past but unity in purpose. Some smaller churches may join in co-operating ventures or merge with other churches or close, and yet still other churches are just beginning to be planted.

Those I meet from other churches don't have the heads down being prepared to accept the teachings from other church traditions but not let them infuence their attitudes. In fact I hear comments like, "We are all part of the same family". I see co-operation between churches in services to the community and combined church services. Here in NZ I see different churches combining for regional and national outreaches, I see those with spiritual gifts sharing them by visiting other churches and I see conferences and camps with people from multiple denominations attending. I do not believe this is a top down dictate I believe it is a movement which has grown from the ground up. For the most part many young people identify themselves more strongly as Christian than by their denomination.

As Bishop Justin has said we have two major Christian denominational representatives Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis who put Jesus first, have worked with the least of these, believe in the working of the Holy Spirit, are prepared to speak up about social justice issues - and now can we add are urging us to move beyond the past and towards christian unity? Dare we let cynicism domiinate our thinking?

What will happen when the celebration of the reformation happens... well... perhaps the speech given by the Preacher to the Papal household to the Church of England last November may provide a clue to the Vatican's response in this matter.

Incidentally I came across a protestant blog reporting on the speech, and nearly all the comments were snarky. Claiming he 'can't be speaking for the Vatican' and going as far as to say he might be being nice in order to convert people to joining the Catholic Church! I couldn't help but ask if anyone actually knew his background, his calling from God to preach and his burning desire for the unity of the Church. Simple answer nope, no-one and there were many who commented, had any idea. I got a few replies like, oh I didn't know and hopefully what you say is true but I'll believe it when I see it. Well it does seem the Pope also has similar leanings... Oh... we of little faith! -

As for the wrong year for such a display. The 'Year of Mercy' seems appropriate to me, and it doesn't appear Pope Francis is prepared to take that less than literally. I pray the Anglican Church will respond in kind.

"Where brothers dwell in unity God commands a blessing"


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
I am largely in agreement on ecumenical development occurring from the bottom up rather than via top down agreements etc. My small - but not insignificant - area of disagreement, is that when ecumenical relationships involve Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, we will never share communion together unless some "top down" formal agreement is reached.

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Peter. This is the reality - whatever we might think.

Jean said...

Hey Peter

I think the encouragement is seeing it reach the top echelon e.g. Pope Francis's actions, Justin Welby having a spiritual director from the Catholic Church and inviting Fr Cantamelessa to speak at the English Synod etc.

The word communion is getting me a bit muddled at the moment due to its use in multiple contexts. For me personally I see a great goal as being 'Church Bodies' formally agreeing to be united in their purpose of living and preaching the gospel and as Pope Francis witnessed to the reconciliation of past indescretions on all sides; rather than a formal arrangement where such entities let Priests from other traditions pastor their churches, or agreeing on every bit of doctrine etc. Of course even the former is probably a long way off, but maybe a little closer than it was : ) ...


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
Let's focus on two questions.
(1) Are you or I permitted to receive communion in our neighbouring Roman Catholic parish? Answer: No.
(2) Is a Roman Catholic permitted by Roman canonical law to receive communion in your or my parish church? Answer: No.
Wouldn't it be a notable step to be celebrated if all the ecumenical words and actions of the ABC and the Pope actually changed the answer to each question to "Yes"?

Jean said...

Hi Peter

It would indeed be a notable step! And a good second step after the Pope's recent verbal recognition of other church traditions, as you noted in your post, being 'Churches'!!

I am aware of not being permitted to have communion in a Catholic church due to the tradtionally held belief/doctrine of the Catholic church of being the only true church. But is there anything Anglican that dictates the same? Curious.

I did receive communion in a Catholic church years ago at the time although I kind of knew I might not be meant to but figured God wouldn't mind; the Catholic folks I knew didn't appear to care. Mind you my Aunty (a Catholic via marriages) now preaches regularly in a Catholic churrch - perhaps I have a little rebelliousness in the genes.

: ) Jean

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
I chose my wording carefully!
It is Roman law not Anglican rules which inhibit Roman Catholics from receiving communion in an Anglican church. Some lay Catholics of course cheerfully ignore that law and gladly share in fellowship around the Lord's Table.
There will be flying pigs overhead the day a Roman priest ignores canon law and receives communion from an Anglican!