Receptive Ecumenism in Practice

Receptive Ecumenism in Practice May 23, 2014

As Avery Dulles recounts it in The Catholicity of the Church, the reforms of Vatican II came partly from what Paul Murray calls “receptive ecumenism,” an ecumenism of attentive listening to the other.

Dulles wasn’t exactly a receptive ecumenist himself. While acknowledging that “the Church can certainly profit from external criticism, whether from friendly or from hostile sources,” he insists that “the Catholic comprehensiveness is so great that it includes the necessary principles for the self-reformation of the Church” (158).

Still, he acknowledges that “theology of the word, as developed by Barth and others, this Constitution restored the Bible to its central place in Catholic theology and spirituality” (161), and more generally he stresses the role of “certain ‘prophetic’ criticisms of Roman Catholicism, voiced by Protestant theologians such as Barth and Tillich” that “assisted the council in its efforts at Catholic self-appraisal and renewal” (165). 

These are signs that “Protestant and Catholic churches are responding to, and incorporating, each other’s concerns” (165)and concludes that “each ecclesial body must both give and receive the greatest measure of enrichment and correction that it can through mutual witness and dialogue” (166).

Dulles’s book was published over 25 years ago, and his view of Protestantism has traces of caricature. Still already then an ecumenism of gift-exchange was coming to light.

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