16.12.09

Holy Church or Holy Writ? (7)

The advantage of the Roman plan over those of Canterbury-Lambeth and Geneva is its feasibility. It would include Rome in the process of reunion which could never reach its goal as long as the largest church of Christendom remained outside.

Holy Church of Holy Writ? The 1967 Inter-Varsity Fellowship Annual Lecture in Queensland (for full bibliographic details refer to the first in this series of posts.)

Comment: Sasse was writing amidst the first flush of optimism that the entry of Rome into the ecumenical movement at Vatican II brought. To put this quote and this lecture into perspective, it should be remembered that this attitude of openness to the possibility of rapprochement between the churches was a complete reversal of the isolationism that Rome maintained for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. It can reasonably be said that much of the promise that this development contained has failed to come to fruition. While dialogue has contributed to the removal of caricatures and increased mutual understanding, the actual goal of reunion presently seems as far off as ever.
Indeed, it might be observed that there is presently an intra-Roman struggle to define Rome's stance towards ecumenical engagement, with Cardinal Kasper representing the optimism of Vatican II and Pope Benedict XVI representing a repristination of the Roman conservatism of the past, albeit with a radical face: witness the special provisions for Traditional Anglicans announced in 2009, which really represent a 'Western uniatism' parallel to Rome's Eastern uniate churches. To what extent does this represent Rome's future approach, that is, not to seek communion with, so much as absorbtion of the orthodox remnants of Protestantism?
Which brings us to the observation that it is the moral and doctrinal dissaray of Anglicanism and much of Protestantism which explains Rome's shift; it can now position itself as a 'rock' (petra!) of stability in comparison with the shifting sands of Protestantism, and turn its eyes towards reunion with the Orthodox East, recently liberated from the shackles of communism.
What is the confessional Lutheran answer to the questions these developments propose to us today, forty years after Sasse delivered this lecture? Some Lutherans are open to the 'uniate' option, seeing it as a lifeboat in which to escape the sinking ship of Protestantism. Check back for Sasse's answer as the remainder of the lecture, in edited form, is posted here! Comments welcome.

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