Avery Cardinal Dulles, has written a piece about ecumenism in the new edition of First Things. It’s a good article. It’s sober, it provides a nice historical context of recent ecumenical work, and most of all it’s a realistic assessment about exactly how much (or little) agreement there really is between protestants and catholics who actually care about their own respective theologies.
The blogosphere has already picked up on the article. (Cf. Millinerd, and J. Goroncy). One thing that I noted when I read the article hasn’t been mentioned yet in the blogs (to my knowledge) so I thought I’d chirp in.
What Dulles really wants is a new sort of ecumenicism which isn’t based on levelling off dogmatic differences.
“Unlike some recent models of dialogue, ecumenism of this style leaves the participants free to draw on their own normative sources and does not constrain them to bracket or minimize what is specific to themselves. Far from being embarrassed by their own distinctive doctrines and practices, each partner should feel privileged to be able to contribute something positive that the others still lack. “
So far, so good. I think Avery D is on track here. The problem comes when he starts talking about what ‘gift’ he thinks the catholics have to offer prots.
“Conversely, Catholics would not hesitate to go into the dialogue with the full panoply of beliefs, sustained by our own methods of certifying the truth of revelation. We are not ashamed of our reliance on tradition, the liturgy, the sense of the faithful, and our confidence in the judgment of the Magisterium. “
So the unique contribution of catholicism to ecumenical dialogue is: the authority of the magisterium! Not surprising for a catholic to say, but probably a hard sell as an ecumenical talking point. What concerns me is not this claim, however–it’s actually just exactly what I would expect him to say. What concerns me is a paragraph towards then end in which he says that the participants in ecumenical dialogue should be open to ‘conversion’:
” As a Roman Catholic, I would make use of the methods by which my church derives its distinctive doctrines. I would also expect that any reunion to which Catholics can be a party would have to include as part of the settlement the Catholic dogmas, perhaps reinterpreted in ways that we do not now foresee. Other churches and ecclesial communities will have their own expectations. But all must be open to possible conversion. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us, as Vatican II recommended, “without obstructing the ways of divine Providence and without prejudging the future inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” “
This is where I think it’s gone absolutely off the rails. How can you be ‘confident’ in the magisterium and open to the possibility of conversion. To be open to conversion you have to recognize the possibility that you might be wrong. If you are confident in the magisterium, then you are not open to the possibility that the magisterium might be wrong. So Dulles is either deeply confused or very disingenuous. It is disingenuous if Dulles is calling protestants to be ‘open to conversion’, i.e. open to accepting the gift of magisterial authority, but does not call catholics to be ‘open’ in the same way.