Read an Excerpt
Church Unity and the Papal OfficeAn Ecumenical Dialogue on John Paul II's Ut Unum Sint
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2001 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
All right reserved.
IntroductionCARL E. BRAATEN AND ROBERT W. JENSON
This book offers an ecumenically representative response to an important section of Pope John Paul II's 1995 Encyclical Letter, Ut Unum Sint, which deals with the "Ministry of Unity of the Bishop of Rome." Here John Paul II exhibits the kind of unremitting commitment to the ecumenical quest for church unity that has characterized his papacy from the beginning. An especially significant aspect of his ministry to full unity has been his pilgrimages to the various churches on different continents. He mentions in particular his visit to the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, his ecumenical meetings with the primate of the Anglican Communion at Canterbury Cathedral, with the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I, and with the Lutheran bishops and archbishops of the Scandinavian and Nordic countries (72). His apostolic visits have included joining in ecumenical celebrations with "churches and ecclesial communities that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church" (n. 42). For him they vividly express the new ecumenical awareness that, despite existing separations, "we all belong to Christ" (42). He speaks of communities that once were rivals and are now "consigning to oblivion the excommunications of the past" (42).
The pope'secumenical devotion to unity is based on Jesus' high-priestly prayer in Chapter 17 of St. John's Gospel: "This is truly the cornerstone of all prayer: the total and unconditional offering of one's life to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.... Christ's prayer to the Father is offered as a model for everyone, always and everywhere" (27). John Paul II expresses his confidence that if we would take Christ's call to unity to heart, "that all may be one," "every factor of division can be transcended and overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel" (1).
The pope's encyclical letter aims to increase the unity of all Christians until they reach the goal of full communion, and he regards this as the "specific duty of the bishop of Rome as the successor of the apostle Peter" (4). But he does not shrink from acknowledging that "the Catholic Church's conviction that in the ministry of the bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the apostolic tradition and the faith of the fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections" (88). Then he adds, "To the extent that we are responsible for these, I join my predecessor Paul VI in asking forgiveness" (88). In this John Paul II echoes the words of Pope Paul VI, who said in 1967: "We are aware that the pope is undoubtedly the greatest obstacle in the path of the Oecumene."
The pope finds encouragement in the fact that the question of papal primacy has become a subject of many of the ecumenical dialogues, most notably in those with Anglicans, Lutherans, and the Orthodox, and that Faith and Order, a movement within the World Council of Churches, has pledged itself to "begin a new study of the question of a universal ministry of Christian unity" (89). Thus John Paul II's invitation to other church leaders and theologians to engage with him in a "patient and fraternal dialogue" on the ministry of the bishop of Rome has a history on which to build.
But what is there to discuss? The pope is not willing to start from scratch. He is convinced that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, that Peter's position of primacy among the Twelve was a direct appointment from Jesus, and that the bishop of Rome is permanently the successor of Peter. Still, he is willing to talk about a "way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation." (95)
This volume is a kind of thanksgiving offering in appreciation of the pope's effort to promote the unity of all Christians and full communion between churches. The editors are especially pleased that His Eminence, Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, accepted the invitation to deliver the keynote address at the theological conference on "Church Unity and the Papal Office" held at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, June 6-8, 1999. He underscores John Paul II's conviction that ecumenism is an organic part of the life and work of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, it must always be an ecumenism based on the truths of evangelical faith and catholic doctrine. He signals but does not resolve the paradox that the one to whom the ministry of unity has been entrusted continues to be a source of division and disunity within world Christianity.
Brian Daley, a Jesuit teaching at Notre Dame, offers a tightly woven historical review of the rise of the papal office. That the Petrine ministry came to be centered in Rome derived from the leadership roles of Peter and Paul. Tracing the history of the papacy during the first millennium, Daley's essay offers grist for the kind of creative thinking on primacy for which Ut Unum Sint calls.
Stephen Sykes, a bishop of the Anglican Communion, focuses on the issue of power in relation to church leadership, whether episcopcal or papal. The modern church is allergic to the concept of power, looking for euphemistic substitutes. The reality of power is socially unavoidable; it is grounded in a proper theology of creation. It is time for the church to find positive and constructive ways to exercise power.
Geoffrey Wainwright is eminently qualified to speak of Ut Unum Sint in light of his work with Faith and Order, where he has played a significant theological role for many years. He offers many ideas to advance the non-polemical style of fraternal dialogue for which the pope's encyclical calls, suggesting that the pope should take the lead in inviting churches to join with him in formulating a new statement of faith to be addressed to the world. Such a process would provide the occasion for the pope to exercise his ministry of unity.
Other contributors enrich the conversation with a variety of approaches. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, offers a candid response from an evangelical perspective. The topics of papal primacy and full, visible church unity are not high on the agenda of evangelicals, but they are discovering common ground with Catholics on social issues and missions to the world. David Yeago develops a Lutheran understanding of the papal ministry based on the Lutheran-Catholic dialogues in the United States and those sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation. George Weigel, a Roman Catholic layman and author of a new biography of John Paul II, comments on the struggles in American Catholicism arising from tensions between the hierarchical constitution of the church, dominically authorized, and the American experience, democratically founded. Joseph Augustine DiNoia gave the banquet address on "Ecumenism and the New Evangelization in Ut Unum Sint," showing how closely ecumenical work is linked to a passion for evangelization.
Excerpted from Church Unity and the Papal Office Copyright © 2001 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.