In 2002 Christopher R. Seitz edited a book entitled Nicene Christianity: The Future for a New Ecumenism. The chapters of this book were written by different theologians, mostly from the Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches. My search for book reviews produced a number of books with a similar focus, the oldest of these by C.S. Lewis entitled Mere Christianity published in 1952, a best seller. Thomas Oden, a Methodist theologian, who taught at Princeton for many years and a prolific author, addressed the Twentieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, revised and published on October 1, 2001, entitled The New Ecumenism and Christian Witness to Society. Without going into these works in great detail, I believe they show a way forward to Christian unity.
Seitz and his colleagues give us a theological reflection on the meaning of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. It is very scholarly and stresses the trinitarian and christological understanding articulated by these two councils and those which followed till the Council of Chalcedon the seventh of the great councils, that are the foundation of Christianity today. They affirm and clarify the apostolic faith of the Christian Scriptures and the basic tenets of the early Christians for five centuries. Without compromise of faith, this tradition can serve us well in our time as a guide for our journey to unity.
United in Doctrine, Divided by Ethics and Morality
Fifty-five years after Vatican II, we find we have moved well and rather quickly in our search for consensus in doctrine. The progress in matters of ethics and morality is slower and even seems elusive in our modern era. Among the causes are the Enlightenment, scientific methodology, individualism and a lack of unity in the realm of ideas. However, there is still hope for the future.
The Lutheran-Catholic International Dialogue with its Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) is a milestone of great significance on the way to the goal of Christian unity. It is recognized as the foundation for future dialogue in the area of morality and salvation theology. A number of national ecumenical dialogues have already reported agreement on some fundamental principles to guide the way to ethics and morality.
Pope Francis and Christian Ecumenism
Pope Francis points the way to a new ecumenism (cf. Ines San Martin “Francis is Proving to be a Very Ecumenical Pope” in Crux, January 25, 2016 and Scott Redd “The Ecumenism of Pope Francis” First Things, October 15, 2015.) These articles point to the kind of ecumenism which Francis embraces. He is impressed by the Lutheran theologian Oscar Cullman and his writings on reconciled diversity reflected in the JCCJ. He wants to work with Christian and interfaith leaders, as can be seen in the joint statement he crafted with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church (Feb. 12, 2016).
The Holy Spirit and the Search for Truth
From a human point of view achieving Christian unity will take time. Our disunity took years, decades and centuries. Bridging theological views and solving ethical issues requires more time and dialogue. It seems beyond our reach. And it is. Bringing unity, love, reconciliation and forgiveness requires a divine intervention. The Holy Spirit, the grace of Jesus Christ and the blessing of the Father are needed. Jesus prayed for these gifts and blessings on the night before he died as he celebrated the Eucharist with his Apostles. Until we can come to the eucharistic table with Christ and together, it cannot happen. We cannot do it alone. We must do it together with Christ and God our Father.