Another blog is up and running and it targets yet again Calvinists for ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholics (most of whom converted from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism). This ecumenical endeavor, however, is different from Bryan and the Jasons Called to Communion. In fact, Bryan Cross would likely be fairly dismissive of “Catholics and Calvinists” (CaC vs. CtC). Cross once identified two kinds of ecumenism, one false, and one true. The former is wrong because it is — well — liberal:
That is because it seems to seek its goal of achieving general agreement about doctrine by way of compromise. So those who think a particular doctrine is essential feel pressured to drop their belief that this doctrine is an essential doctrine in order to attain some unity with those who think that that doctrine is adiaphorous (i.e. indifferent, non-essential). The very nature of the goal of this type of ecumenicism makes this kind of compromise essential to ecumenical progress. As someone said to me a while back, “True ecumenicism means everybody has to compromise.” And the necessary result of such a methodology is a least-common-denominator minimalism regarding doctrine, an acceptance as sufficient of something far short of the unity in communion to which Christ calls all His people.
In contrast for Cross, true ecumenism comes from recognizing the truth and unity of Roman Catholicism:
. . .this ecumenicism has complete agreement on doctrine as its goal, or more precisely, complete agreement on what each person believes to be essential doctrine. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, it rejects compromise regarding what anyone believes to be truly essential as a means of achieving its goal. As a result, there is no pressure to compromise in order to attain this ecumenicism’s goal. Instead of proposing compromise as a means to reaching a watered-down unity, this type of ecumenicism recognizes that we are not fully united until we are doctrinally united on every doctrine about which anyone believes to be essential. In this ecumenicism we do not sweep our essential doctrinal differences under the rug. We even straightforwardly, and in genuine charity and sincerity, remind each other that the other person’s position, from the point of view of our own tradition, is nothing less than heresy.
That is not exactly a conversation starter and explains why discussions with Bryan and the Jasons generally descend to Dr. Dave Bowman’s conversation with H.A.L. 9000.
How then is CaC different from CtC? Put simply from this observer’s perspective, it’s the difference between the pre- and post-Vatican II church. While Bryan and the Jasons reflect a no-salvation/truth-outside-the-church outlook, CaC seems to embrace Vatican II’s ecumenism:
Our refusal to engage in “sheep stealing” is not merely a rhetorical front, as if that posture itself were a guise under which to carry on a still-deeper project of effecting conversions. It is also not a bracketing of theological questions for the time being, as if we will for a time carry on a project of “ground-clearing” only to then change gears and begin bringing in the sheep. We recognize that this a pervasive – and deeply problematic – style of Catholic and Reformed engagement, and we repudiate it in no uncertain terms.
Rather, our approach is rooted in the ecclesiological vision articulated by the Second Vatican Council and by other leading ecumenists that there are genuine gifts cultivated by the Holy Spirit outside the boundaries of those churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome that are genuinely beneficial to the churches which are in such communion, and which lead these churches into a deeper desire for union. We want to understand those gifts more clearly, and we want to help other Roman Catholics understand the under-appreciated richness of the Reformed tradition more deeply. We do this while seeking, of course, to have our own views as Roman Catholics – devoted first to Scripture and then to the Roman Catholic tradition expressed in such thinkers as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Cardinal Newman, and the great theologians of the twentieth century – come to be better understood by our brothers and sisters in the Reformed tradition.
An initial observation is this: why don’t CaCers engage in dialogue with CtCers? After all, it sure looks like Roman Catholics are on different pages when it comes to church unity and what to make of Reformed Protestants.
That conversation might then include discussions of Vatican II and the apparent rupture of the church’s understanding of its relationship to those outside the church (both other professing Christians and non-Christians). In fact, since CaC is interested in the shared use of scholasticism by Roman Catholics and Protestants, the dialogue it promotes might include trying to reconcile a church that was for much of its modern intellectual history committed to Thomism and then after 1965 opened itself to non-scholastic methods (and more). In other words, I don’t understand (maybe a dumb Protestant) how you invoke both scholasticism and Vatican II on theological discussion since the former achieved remarkable clarity and the latter was purposefully equivocal.
That difference between Vatican II and scholasticism also brings up the tricky matter of the Council of Trent. Why is it that the church that relied on scholasticism as its method for articulating theological and dogmatic truth did not open dialogue with but condemned Protestantism? Trent was not an invitation to dialogue. It put an end to it. So the challenge for CaCers is how to read 16th- and 17th-century theological sources as a way to pursue what Vatican II had in mind when those old sources drew clear lines between truth and error and pursued ecumenism far more along the lines that Bryan Cross advocates than what Pope Francis embodies.
The larger point here is one about Roman Catholics understanding Roman Catholicism. Instead of trying to understand Calvinism, making sense of Rome’s fits and starts and changes might be much more useful for dialogue (whether ecumenical or academic). For Protestants like mmmmeeeeeeEEEE, Roman Catholicism looks like a moving target. That is a mystery that needs much more attention from Roman Catholics than appreciating Luther or Calvin. In fact, as Mark Massa has argued, it is a mystery up to which the post-Vatican II church is still catching:
. . . the widespread acceptance of the seemingly self-evident truth that things change will make it increasingly difficult to propound or defend Church teaching and practice by appealing to timeless, static categories of propositional truth. This applies most particularly to the intellectual tradition of scholastic natural law, which the Catholic tradition has relied on for presenting its most important teachings since the thirteenth century. The fractious nonrecption of Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control, if nothing else, illustrates this with startling clarity. Whatever the truth of Paul VI’s teaching, the massive noncompliance accorded his encyclical shows that the great majority of American Catholics did not form their consciences along the lines of such moral reasoning, and have not since. There are of course many possible reasons for this lack of compliance on the part of the vast majority of practicing Catholics on an issue that the hierarchical Church has termed “serious matter.” Some of those reasons may indeed involve personal ignorance, sinful willfulness, or just plain selfishness. But an important reason for that noncompliance, what I would label as the main reason, is that the classical unchanging world it presupposes no longer makes sense to the vast majority of the faithful in the United States. What Bernard Lonergan so elegantly called the “transition from a classicist world view to historical mindedness” in fact describes the intellectual revolution that mainstream Catholics underwent during the sixties.
Whatever the strengths of that older classicist worldview — and it served the Catholic Church extraordinarily well for centuries — it can no longer provide plausible explanations for Church teaching . . . . The older intellectual categories of scholastic natural law, first enunciated so brilliantly by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, appear unable to accomplish that now. Perhaps the intellectual justification offered in its place to explain Catholic teaching will represent the most important long-term fruit of the intellectual revolution sponsored by historical consciousness in Catholic Christianity. Time will tell.
Some of us are still waiting for converts to Roman Catholicism to have a conversation with clergy and academics like Massa. It sure doesn’t seem like a meaningful conversation can take place between confessional Protestants and Roman Catholics as long as one side is so uncertain about that for which it stands.
Postscript: Comments should be open at a cite committed to dialogue.