Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jared Wicks on communio and ecumenism

I just bought an old copy of Ludwig Hertling's Communio: Church and Papacy in Early Christianity at O'Gara & Wilson and was reading through the introduction by Jared Wicks on my way to campus.  His thoughts (and this is 1972... certainly a lot of ecumenical import has transpired since then) were worth quoting, I thought, and support a lot of what I was trying to get at in my "'Fullness of the Spirit' and 'Fullness of Catholicity' in Ecclesial Communion."

To begin, it's noteworthy that Wicks references the Anglican Communion as a "church" in the introduction rather than simply an "ecclesial community" (p. 6).  He goes on to say of the ecumenical task:
The great gain afforded by the ecclesiology of communio becomes apparent when we ask what is the goal of Christian ecumenical efforts.  Ecumenists are not striving for the eventual transfer of masses of Christians to some system of doctrine, worship, and church polity other than their own.  The goal, rather, is the extension of bonds of communio between these churches now existing as separated communities of faith and worship.

[...] The commitment to ecumenism means striving toward the day on which churches can turn toward each other and in the light of faith perform a mutual and corporate act of ecclesial recognition.  This is the Christian unity we seek: churches acknowledging each other as valid articulations of what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ.  Then the bond of communio can be extended between the bodies which have recognized in each other a total complex of genuinely Christian belief, worship, and polity.  With full communio established, no further assimilation or organizational merger need be sought.  (p. 6-7) 
I think it's also worth noting the way that Wicks discusses "belief/doctrine, worship, and polity" here.  On the one hand, he says in the first quoted paragraph that there does not need to be any shift to a new form of doctrine, worship, or polity for the churches.  On the other, he says in the second quoted paragraph that ecclesial recognition involves an assessment of belief, worship, and polity as "genuinely Christian".

I've found this to be the difficult balance in ecumenical considerations.  To turn back to my own work, my 2008 article on the Church of Nigeria and the Anglican Communion offers a much more restrictive and exclusivist approach to church unity... lines in the sand are drawn and certain beliefs/worship/polity are recognized as unacceptable.  This presents clear difficulties for an ecclesial situation where one's fellowship with Christ through baptism and eucharist would supposedly be adequate for unity.  On the other hand, my 2009 article on Protestant and Roman Catholic relations went quite far in an inclusivist direction... the work of the Spirit is adequate to establish unity, and to cite reasons of polity against recognition of the Protestant churches as veritable churches is to inappropriately pit one work of the Spirit against another.  In this case, though, how does one decide where to draw the line determining belief, worship, and polity as "genuinely Christian"?  And in the case of my 2008 article on the Anglican Communion, when does drawing a line become the sort of insistence on a "transfer of masses of Christians to some system of doctrine, worship, and polity other than their own" that Wicks denies as the goal of ecumenism?

Clearly both tasks are needed, so a judgment of legitimacy in one case and a recognition of what Walter Kasper calls "pluriformity" in another case doesn't need to be hypocritical or contradictory.  But disagreement over discernment between the two in any particular situation is, I take it, the main source of disputes in ecumenical dialogue.


  1. You highlight a particular paradox I find myself mulling over quite often. For my part it seems that churches 'turning toward each other' in mutual recognition and mutual eucharistic sharing is merely the first step. Although I don't see how merging two massive bodies like the RCC and the AC would make any sense, I do see how, with rapid closing of parishes, churches in such communion could actually combine geographically close or simultaneous congregations, and in that way there would be a sort of 'merging together.'

    What do ecumenists think of what happened with the Churches of India and Pakistan that are virtual mergings of formerly disparate bodies? Can they provide insights into how it can be done again?

  2. Great thoughts, Tony. I think I lose much less sleep than you do over visible unity because of the extent to which eucharistic sharing, mutual recognition, common faith, etc., all strike me as the most important visible stuff of unity anyway. But there's no question that there is much more in terms of unity that can occur, and in this sense the basic aspects of recognition are certainly a first step only.

    Mostly, I try not to think about the long-term, and I assume that most ecumenists have to do the same in order to keep their sanity. I mean, consider just the Anglican Communion's own unity, let alone every other Christian denomination. The jurisdictional difficulties of this are massively complex. They're simply daunting. I think half the reason why ecumenically-minded Christians have yet to find a way forward is not because they don't want mutual recognition, but rather because the nuts and bolts of such ecclesiastical merging is just so difficult, even in instances where two ecclesial bodies are both completely behind the venture.

    I don't know too much about the examples of India and Pakistan, but it did come up a bit in AAR 2007 in the ecclesiological investigations group (papers from which are published in the Ecumenical Ecclesiology volume). These examples strike me as the most profound, but I imagine that the various other "uniting" and "united" churches around the world (and the U.S. has its own examples) are also worth considering.