Thursday, April 27, 2006

Book Critique: Communio Sanctorum the Church as the Communion of Saints

This book was not written by a single author but rather it is a production of a bilateral work between the German Bishops Conference and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany. The main purpose of this book is to address some questions raised in response to a previous work called Communio in Word and Sacrament. Both Christian groups also discuss new issues, such as, the interaction of the witnessing authorities in the discovery and proclamation of the truth of the gospel, the role of a ministry to the unity of the church on a universal level and the related questions of the papal office, and the community of the saints beyond death (page viii).
The purpose of writing a work using the right principles of ecumenical hermeneutics was accomplished. However, it is very clear that they never had the purpose of bringing a consensus to the controversial issues of the doctrines of each church. The goal was to reach an agreement in the fundamental and essential content of the controversial doctrine and to “explain how and why the remaining doctrinal differences can be accepted without undercutting the basis and essence of the agreement” (page ix).
Three documents served to give insights and were constantly consulted in the writing of Communio Sanctorum: 1) The Condemnations of the Reformation Era: Do They Still Divide? 2) Church and Justification, and 3) Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
Despite the format (which is different from the usual, due to the addition of numbers in each paragraph), the paper is very understandable and easy to read in all its statements. The authors very skillfully wrote deeply about matters of theology and ecclesiology. Each chapter follows a logic sequence, going from the very basic Christianity which is the confession of its faith, to the full path of communion which is the result of an ecumenical dialogue. There is a constant expectation throughout the pages of this book in a sense that what is not yet a consensus may become consensus one day. Unity is the key word of this work. As it is written, “a structured form of unity in which the churches agree in their understanding of the gospel, recognize each other as the church of Jesus Christ, have unreserved communion in the sacraments and mutually recognize their ministerial offices to which word and sacrament are entrusted” (page 91).
As a continuation of a previous work, this book tries to offer answers for the questions raised previously. In saying that, I emphasize more the experiential natural of the book than the research nature of it. Although experience plays the major role in this paper, you also find a good bibliography at the endnotes of each chapter, especially in chapters four, six and seven. As it was already said, the language used in this book is very accessible to all readers, although it does not take the scholarly and contemporary flavor of the work away from it. The book is permeated with some bridges that link the tradition (past) of each Church to our days. The work also includes the common points of each Church tradition and the relevance of the common doctrines to the daily life of the community.
The intention of the book is not to incline or convince the reader to any of the sides of the dialogue. The main goal is to walk in the center, or at least look for a balance. But because of the doctrinal differences, the authors point out disagreements that are so often found in each tradition. The book becomes very interesting reading due to the authors’ total openness to their ideas and the nature of the dialogue. They clearly expose their beliefs and then search for a common ground. Therefore, ecclesiology and community life issues are dealt with in this book with an ecumenical “spirit.” By approaching in this way, the authors are able to diminish or even completely disregard any kind of bias. But as I said before, neither side omits their belief, even if what is believed as part of the faith is totally different from the other tradition. One common phrase in the book is “together we can say.” From cover to cover the reader will find an attempt to harmonize the disparities of positions, pointing out what is common between them. And for my surprise, Lutherans and Catholics have more in common than I thought.
When we come to issues like Saints and Mary the mother of Jesus, what really surprised me was the Lutheran position. In regard to the saints, they say that “the reformers have not rejected in principle the intercession of the dead” (page 80). They point this position to the Apology of the Augsburg Confession which grants that not only angels but also the saints in heaven pray for the church. And they conclude saying that what cannot happen is the veneration of saints, even though, they admit that “the veneration of the saints is above all a form of venerating God” (page 81). In regard to Mary, the Lutheran position is more likely similar to the rest of the evangelical tradition. They treat this issue very seriously and even call the Catholics to reconsider their view on this subject. They appeal for the Catholics to reflect on “the role of Christ as the one Mediator, the primacy of faith and grace, and the preeminence of the word of God in the Bible even in relation to Mary” (page 87).
Another great issue that concerns the life of the community of faith is about the Petrine succession (Popes). The whole discussion about this issue takes almost seven pages in the book. No other issue has so much attention and is treated in such detail as the issue of the Papacy. There is an attempt to explain the reasons why there is the succession of the Petrine ministry, and also to explain all the implications that involve this ministry. In all the discussion, each side makes clear its position. The Lutheran’s position follows the Reformation thought on the Papacy. And it makes more clearly with Lutheran’s disagreement of Vatican I statements about primacy of jurisdiction and the infallibility of the Pope. What surprised me was the Catholic statement that “papal infallibility can be exercised solely in absolute loyalty to the apostolic faith (Holy Scripture) so that a pope who does not maintain this loyalty has by that fact forfeited his office” (page 67). An opening for a closer conversation about this issue would need: “1) the possibility of an orientation to the exercise of primacy in the first Christian millennium without reference to later developments, 2) a differentiation among the offices united in the person of the pope, 3) the shape of the church as a communion of sister churches, 4) the development of the relationship between the church of Rome and the Catholic Eastern Catholic churches that are united with it, and 5) the legitimate variety in liturgy, theology, spirituality, leadership, and praxis” (page 68).
The ecumenical language of this work already implies a sense of fairness due to the establishment of the idea that there must be something in common between the two traditions. For this reason, the work is fair and reached the desired aim.

Note: Copy of this material is allowed and free, since the source is cited / A reprodução dos textos é permitida e gratuita, desde que citada a fonte.

Rodrigo Serrao Posted by Picasa

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