Local Ecumenism Q&A follow-up
On January 26, 2023, Knox College held an Alumni Seminar: “Local Ecumenism: A Faithful Opportunity” presented by Sandra Beardsall, Professor Emerita of Church History and Ecumenics at St Andrew’s College, Saskatoon, and an ordained minister in the United of Canada. Find the recording of that seminar here. We ran out of time for one participant’s question in the webinar, but Sandra responded afterward.
Participant: “How do we deal with the absolute and seemingly dogmatic position of most of the Latin Church with regard to historical authority and sacramental truth?”
Sandra Beardsall: Thank you for raising the big question of the challenges of Roman Catholic positions in ecumenical sharing. I sense that you have a heart and a longing for unity that is at best imperfect for now. Indeed, I find it’s “not easy being green,” (ala Kermit the Frog). It’s not easy to love Christ’s church and live in its divisions. Please know that you are not alone in the struggle! I will share some reflections on the topic as they emerge in ecumenical dialogue:
The Roman Catholic Church takes the ecumenical enterprise very seriously. Its official teachings (especially through the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism), don’t just promote, but insist upon, ecumenical formation and engagement for all their members.
However, it is true that Roman Catholics differ from other churches on significant matters. The most current thinking in that regard is contained in the Roman Catholic Church’s response to the “ecumenical convergence” text: The Church: Towards a Common Vision. (The response is available in a volume of responses, which can be downloaded from the WCC website: https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/publications/churches-respond-to-the-church-towards-a-common-vision-volume-ii). The RC Church says it is “simply remarkable” to witness the progress made in dialogue about sacraments and sacramentality, and, to a lesser extent, “authority” in the church. They want the dialogue to continue. It’s also good to remember that we all have our “dogmatics” or “essentials,” those things we insist are required for faithful Christian life. The Catholic Church may be particularly good at naming them, but I know I have to interrogate my own and my own denomination’s assumptions and assertions as I enter dialogue. It’s a risk and a dare to take what I hold dear into a space where others differ from me.
Meanwhile, in our local communities, we can’t solve those complex questions on our own. But we can form relationships with lay and ordered Catholics, and commit ourselves to the “Lund Principle” (from an ecumenical meeting in 1952): that “churches should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately.” Let’s do what we can. The need to share may bring us closer together. Blessings as you continue that hard and necessary work!