Ahhhhh Dougal, how we love you so. Anyone who spends their lives poking around religion will be able to tell you that there is a heck of a lot of truth to Fr Ted, and perhaps even moreso with the Vicar of Dibley than people like to let on.
Should we be worried? well I think not, if the Church was only filled with genii or rocket scientists we should start getting worried.
So then, “that would be an ecumenical matter”, yes it does cover everything, especially in the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church has a different meaning for the word ecumenical to everyone else. Ecumenical means Inter-Church dialogue between Catholic bishops.
We have ecumenical councils, the second Vatican council being the most recent. That is where all the catholic bishops who can attend sit together and chew the cud (lol to accurately to describe an ecumenical council would just take too long, read the Rhine flows into the Tiber if you want to know more about how Vatican 2 worked, which was probably unlike any other council but nevermind.)
So what do people usually mean when they say “ecumenical”? Well usually inter-Christian dialogue, often between denominations. Of course the Catholic Church is the one true Church, it isn’t just any other denomination so subsequently it calls denominations ecclesial communities not Churches. Admittedly that usually goes down like a lead balloon, but such is life, you fight the little battles in the hope the bigger ones will eventually swing your way.
So then, what is it Catholics should be doing when they engage in inter-denominational dialogue with people of other ecclesial communities aka ecumenism?
Well firstly love your brother or sister in Christ, anyone who is baptised in the name of the trinity is Christian. They are as Christian as any Catholic. That is quite incredible, and if people only took that to heart then Christian unity would be a lot closer. (also of course the converse is true, Catholics are as Christian as any Christian, thankfully we are making progress on that point.)
Secondly acknowledge the differences between your Church and their ecclesial community honestly. I’ve often found that if you actually explain Catholic teaching and why the Church holds it, it goes a long way towards breaking down barriers.
This includes telling people up front that we want to convert them. We want every Christian to be Catholic and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that. It is a shocking fact that Catholicism really does have the fullness of truth to it, and this fullness is not just imaginary, or polemical. We don’t say it to hurt people’s feelings, we say it because it is true, and it is a truth that can really help people in their spiritual lives.
There are so many things in Catholicism, that protestants don’t have, that exist to help the average Joe in their everyday faith and which every Christian has a God given right to claim. Why be denied it by puritanical intellectual elitists who died hundreds of years ago? Catholicism is the birthright of every Christian and we have treasures to give you!!!
A lot of protestants (actually to be fair a lot of Catholics too :-s) have never been told what the Catholic Church actually teaches on a subject and perhaps even more importantly why. When they are told, the almost universal response is “well thats not so bad” and what they mean when they say that is “well if you’d said that to me earlier I’d have taken you more seriously”.
Stick at it, be patient and listen, always let them talk first. It is very difficult to know where people are coming from since quite often there are a lot of views about Catholicism out there that are propaganda hangovers from the time of the reformation and they were no more true then as they are now. Be prepared for people to say outrageous things that they think Catholicism entails, don’t bat an eyelid.
Once people have given you their position regarding Catholicism you will usually be able to challenge several items as downright daft. The old chestnuts need to be knocked down and there are a lot of them around.
England has a very long protestant history with a very canny protestant Church, the C of E. Canny because it was imposed against the will of its population at the time, and in order to do this it allowed itself to be as close to Catholicism as it could without actually being Catholicism.
(Again, for the main reason that the nobility wanted to rob the Church blind, which in actual fact was just the same as robbing the people of England blind because they were the ones who donated to the Church so they could have gold chalices and beautiful vestments and decorated churches etc etc)
Anyway, the Church of England can potentially be very close to the Catholic Church, the Oxford movement sought to rediscover the Catholic roots of Anglicanism and thus High-Anglicanism was boon.
It was totally irreverent of history in so much as the Anglican Church had irrevocably split from Catholicism hundred’s of years before, the oxford movement, intellectually went back to the Church father’s and discovered that shock horror, they were Catholic too!
But then John Henry Newman came from the Oxford movement so we can’t complain too much, he obviously saw how daft it was to be as Catholic as possible without becoming Catholic because he converted.
Anyway, ecumenism, yes, the Pope seems to know exactly where it is at. I doubt you’ll be able to find a Pope who has done more concrete action in the name of Christian unity than B16. He is giving concrete overtures to the SSPX to get them to come out of the potentially schismatic hinterland they have wandered into. He has also given very concrete overtures to Anglicans.
There is a danger to saying that he has only opened the door to Anglo-Catholics, he has done that but also to Anglicans in general. I know it is a very difficult thing to do, to swim the Tiber, but this invitation is open to all Anglicans.
Look at it objectively, you could be part of the biggest “denomination” on earth, with the soundest theology, with deep and rock solid historical roots. I can personally promise that for any theological problems you can think of the Church has an answer. I might not be able to give you the answer myself but there are plenty of people out there who can.
So come on Rowan Williams, time to stop writing intentionally incomprehensible books and start thinking about it. Why not bring the C of E back into the fold? oh yes you’d have to fire all those women priests… never mind.
p.s. If you ever have far too much time on your hands take a dictionary and read a bit of one of Rowan William’s books…. I’ve done it for a couple of chapters. You’ll quickly realise that all the purple prose is just to cover up very bad suppositions and if the suppositions are bad then the conclusions reached will be even worse. Its good for a laugh though, the man can never refrain from using twenty words when two will do.