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Protestant clergymen and -women in the Netherlands are discovering the merits of the Roman collar. At the annual day for preachers in Amsterdam, the Protestant Church promoted the use of the white collar that is typical for Roman Catholic, but also Old Catholic and Anglican clergy*. Those preachers who have been wearing it generally express pleasant surprise at the effect it has on others. They have become recognisable as clergy, and people know they can address them as such and sometimes even entrust them with their needs. One of the most striking stories, in my opinion, was that of preacher Rob Visser, who worked in Amersfoort in 2009 when an attack on the royal family there left several people dead and seriously injured:
“We opened the church and I also went to meetings to be with people. I continuously had to explain who I was and what I came for. My Roman Catholic colleague who wore a collar did not need to explain anything. Then I thought, “I need to be recognisable as a preacher””.
Of course, this recognisability is one of the major reasons for Catholic priests to wear the collar, in addition to it being a reflection of the fact that priesthood is not a 9-to-5 job, but an identity. The Catholic Church asks her priests to wear the collar for these reasons, something the Protestant church will not (yet) do.
From Catholic circles there is some wariness about this development. Some welcome it as a possible means for different Christian churches and church communities to come closer together, but others, perhaps rightly, see it as a source of confusion. After all, although the collar is not exclusive to Roman Catholic priests (some of whom don’t even wear it), it is considered as an identifying sign of them. Protestant clergy with a Roman collar run the risk of being seen as priests, although, it must be said, this does not show from the experiences of those who have begun wearing the collar. And some lament the apparent superficiality of the trend.
In the end, the Roman collar does not make one a priest, of course, and so can’t be claimed exclusively by priests, be they Catholic or Anglican. But it does signify a profound reality, to both the priest and those around him: the reality of his consecration, his priestly identity which does not end when office hours are over. That is more than just a marker identifying someone as Christian, even one with a certain level of responsibility.
*Clergy from other denominations in the Netherlands generally do not wear the collar, although in other countries this will be different. Lutheran, Methodist and even non-denominational preachers in some places do wear it.
It’s still an odd concept: the spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Christians, who also happens to be the successor of Saint Mark, travelling from the Egyptian capital to a midsized northern Dutch town – which is, in itself, not the most thrilling of locations to be – to be with the young faithful under his spiritual guidance.
Pope Tawadros II is doing exactly that this weekend. And the faithful attending the European Youth Conference love him for it. Miriam Yakob, one of the 750 attending, said, “He may even be more important to us [than the Catholic Pope]. He is our shepherd, our teacher. He is our father.” The Pope gave two talks at the conference.
On behalf of the local Catholic community, Father Maurits Damsté was among those welcoming Pope Tawadros to the conference centre in Stadskanaal, located about 30 kilometers to the south east of the city of Groningen, where the event is taking place.
Pope Tawadros’ visit follows one by his predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, who visited the Netherlands in 2010. Shenouda passed away in 2012, and Tawadros was elected in November of that year. In May of 2013, he visited Rome and met with Pope Francis.
The Coptic Orthodox is sadly not in union with Rome, and hasn’t been since the Council of Chalcedon of 451. The differences lie in Coptic understanding of the nature of Christ, but this is a highly technical issue. The Coptic Orthodox and the Catholic Church have established close ties since 1973, and have together confessed unity in the faith in Christ.
Worldwide, there are between 14 and 16 million Coptic Orthodox Christians, with the vast majority, some 12 million, residing in Egypt. In the Netherlands, there are Coptic Orthodox churches in seven cities. There is a single diocese for the roughly 6,000 faithful, headed by Bishop Arseny.
Photo credit: Rtvnoord.nl
“For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Today the Dutch victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash are finally coming home, and victims from other countries have started on their return home as well. Dutch and Australian military planes are flying their remains to the Netherlands, where they will be identified and returned to their families and loved ones.
In live television broadcast the Dutch Catholic Church and other church communities will remember them with an hour-long memorial service in St. George’s church in Amersfoort (incidentally the same church which, only last week, hosted a memorial service for two Dutch girls killed in Panama).
The above text from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans will be at the heart of the service. An expression of the solid hope that the love of God is not bound by anything in heaven or on earth, not even death and political grandstanding.
Tomorrow Cardinal Wim Eijk will ordain Deacon Joost Baneke to the priesthood. In an interview for diocesan magazine Op Tocht, the nestor of the latest class of new priests stresses the importance of making our faith visible, not just as a task for himself as a future priest, but for all of us. In essence, showing our faith is nothing less than making Christ visible in the world. In that sense, the transferred feast of Corpus Christi, which we celebrate in the Netherlands on Sunday, is ideal for Deacon Baneke’s first Mass (for which he has something extra planned as well, we read…).
“It may sound strange, but when I wear my black deacon’s or priest’s clothing and collar, it gives me a sense of freedom. It is simple and clear, and who I am as a person does not really matter as much. In a sense I am clothed in Christ, that’s how I experience it. But sometimes it also triggers aversion in people. Why should we, even with a certain pride, not show in our clothing who we are and what we represent? I have heard several people say that, since the election of the current Pope, they are no longer ashamed of being Catholic. I find that fascinating: why that shame? I think we can show more of our Catholicism. That is what this Pope does very clearly, he does not hide his light under a bushel. That is why I have the intention of organising a procession on Corpus Christi, on the occasion of my first Holy Mass. It suits the Catholic traditions of Soest, the town I live in, which has one of the oldest Catholic fraternities in our country. There are conflicting reactions to the plan, but I think: let’s express our faith and give it room, let’s go literally out into the streets, into the world.
What’s more, when you organise such a manifestation, you may certainly try to achieve more unity among Christians by inviting faithful of other communities and think about the role they can play. It’s after all not about us, but about making Christ visible, and all Christians can take part in that. When you consider that there was a prohibition on processions in the Netherlands until the 1990s, such a tour through the fields of our parish also fits well with the thought of giving our faith room.”
“The Nuncio told me, and I couldn’t imagine it at first. I had planned on working in a parish again, in pastoral care, but now it was clear that all that, that path, was closed. And that was frightening at first.”
So Msgr. Herwig Gössl describes his first reaction to his appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamberg. The 46-year-old seminary vice rector succeeds Bishop Werner Radspieler, who retired as auxiliary bishop in September last. Archbishop Ludwig Schick, pictured above with the new auxiliary bishop, said of the appointment, “Herwig Gössl will fulfill the duty of auxiliary bishop in good and fraternal cooperation with me.”
Both the bishop and the archbishop noted the appointment coinciding with today’s feast day of Saint Francis de Sales. Bishop-elect Gössl said he saw it as a “beautiful and encouraging sign, and at the same an incentive”, as the saint’s “goodness and faithfulness, humanity and joy, piety and selfishness are qualities befitting an auxiliary bishop”. Archbishop Schick noted, “Francis de Sales was active as a bishop in the time after the Reformation in modern Switzerland. He was a soft spoken man wh overcame resentment against the faith and the Church in his preaching, celebration of the sacrament and charity. That is also an important challenge for our time.”
And while the new bishop was looking forward to returning to the “ground work”, so to speak, of pastoral care in a parish, that is exactly what he is looking forward to in his new position as auxiliary bishop: meeting the people, Confirmations, pastoral visits, which he was less able to do in his time at the seminary.
A short overview of Bishop-elect Gössl’s previous work in the Church:
Born in Munich in 1967, raised in Nürnberg.
- Entered seminary in Bamberg in 1986.
- Studied in Bamberg and Innsbruck, followed by his ordination in 1993.
- 1993-1997: Priest in the parish of St. Hedwig in Bayreuth.
- 1997-2007: Parish priest in Hannberg and Weisendorf, where he became very popular.
- 2007: Appointed as vice regent to the seminary in Bamberg, followed in 2008 by a similar function in Würzburg, where he moved. Since both dioceses work closely together in the formation of their priests, Fr. Gössl combined his duties for both until this year.
- Fr. Gössl has for year been a member of the Feuerstein Konferenz, an ecumenical meeting place for Catholics, Evangelicals and Anglicans.
Bishop-elect Gössl’s consecration date has not yet been decided upon, but will have to take place no less than three months from today. He has been assigned the titular see of Balecium, located in Albania, and held until last November by Bishop (now Archbishop) Franz Lackner of Salzburg.
The comments by Cardinal Eijk on the Council of Trent continue to cause a stir, chiefly in Protestant circles, but also among Catholics. Accusations that Trent was centuries ago and that times have changed are mostly heard, but these ignore that the cardinal was not speaking about current affairs. He spoke out of the assumption – which is the general Catholic one – that the dogmatic statements of a Council remain so, even as time passes. The implementation and even need of specific statements may change, and so there are texts which came out of Trent which are interesting, but no longer of much use beyond the theoretical study of them.
Cardinal Eijk spoke about the validity of – especially – the anathemas decreed at Trent, aimed at those who wilfully, freely and in full knowledge that they were doing so proclaimed untruths, even heresies, against the faith as taught by the Church. He also emphasised that people who today have a different image of God or understanding of the faith can’t be blamed for that: upbringing and tradition are not a reason to declare anyone cursed in the sight of God. That judgement, as the cardinal also said, lies with God anyway. The Church here on earth, however, can and should underline the faith she teaches and point out when someone is in error. That is what Trent did: she emphasised the truths of the faith and put an end to certain practices which were in contradiction to that, such as the trade in indulgences.
But that is not the level on which the debate is taking place. There is no discussion about the reason, mistakes or truths about what the Church teaches or what was decided and done at the Council of Trent. This was what Cardinal Eijk was talking about, but his critics focus on something else altogether: the tone.
Today the secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Arjan Plaisier, wrote an open letter to Cardinal Eijk asking him certain questions about his comments. Below are these questions, translated into English:
“Firstly: Is it in order to let tradition speak in such a way, outside the context of any ecumenical conversation or encounter? Does it fit in a time when much has taken place in the field of ecumenism, to make such a statement “about you, without you”? Isn’t this a denial of an ecumenical history which we have gone through together? Does this not block any further dialogue about fundamental faith topics which we can have, unilaterally or in the context of the Council of Churches?”
The progress of ecumenical relations does not take place in changing teachings or traditions (the latter word will have a rather different meaning for Catholics and Protestants anyway). Ecumenism is relational, a tool for increased understanding, not of abandoning truths. Whether the cardinal’s comments would block any further dialogue is not up to him. It is up to our ecumenical partners, who deserve to know what the Church teaches, in plain sight, not hidden under a blanket of “being nice to each other”. Sure, we should strive for cordial relations, but that can not be the final goal of ecumenism. It should be noted, in this context, that Cardinal Eijk has stated that he is fully behind ecumenism and agrees with Pope Francis on this topic.
The letter continues:
“Secondly: Do you have the opinion that the fundamental differences that exist between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, still need to be condemned in terms of “cursed” and “banned”?”
The cardinal never said anything of the kind. There are differences, and these must be addressed and named, but modern Protestants and the faith the proclaim are not addressed by Trent.
“Paul addressed that curse to the proclamation of a different Gospel, namely different than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Crucified. Various dialogues between Rome and the Reformation have concluded that we recognise and acknowledge each other in this Gospel. That recognition has everything to do what the patient and honest efforts to better understand each other in this. Fundamental differences remain, especially concerning ecclesiology. But is it in order, especially in light of the recognition mentioned above, to speak about these differences in the language of “cursing”? How, by the way, is this related to the mutual recognition of the others Baptism?”
The fact is that the various Protestant churches have different teachings about certain matters related to the Gospel than the Catholic Church has. Does this mean that they follow a different Gospel? No, but there are differences. Acknowledging that both the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church follow Christ does not change anything about that. And once more, the anathemas of Trent, as the cardinal has said, do not automatically refer to modern Protestants and certainly not to persons. The Gospel text from St. Paul was not presented by Cardinal Eijk as a reason to curse anyone, but merely as a possible motivation for the work of the Council of Trent. What mutual recognition of Baptism has to do with that, is anyone’s guess. Recognising that the Church and the Protestant communities use the same valid means of Baptism is no reason to assume that they are the same in everything.
Secretary Plaisier invites Cardinal Eijk to discuss this further in a future meeting. Perhaps that would be a good opportunity to explain a few things. About Catholic tradition, the meaning of Councils, ecumenism, anathemas, identity and truth. This would be good, because the criticism has generally not yet transcended the level of emotion: it is not nice what the cardinal has said, so therefore we are hurt. That is an injustice to the cardinal and certainly also to the churches and faith of the critics themselves
Photo credit:  ANP
Cardinal Eijk just can’t win. In an interview for the Reformatorisch Dagblad, which was published yesterday, he explained that the Council of Trent is still current. The statements of that Council, which aimed to put an end to certain practices which had caused the Reformation, but also wanted to emphasise the content of the faith and the consequences thereof in daily life for those who professed it, has not been scrapped in any way in the centuries after. What was said there still goes.
Protestant faith leaders in the Netherlands are none too happy with the cardinal’s clear and open explanation. The chair of the Protestant National Synod claimed that Cardinal Eijk “would give the faithful a burn-out some day”. “The claim that the church is always right is not in line with the Bible”, Gerrit de Fijter said. Well, that’s right, if you have a Protestant understanding of what a church is. The Catholic definition of the Church, the body of Christ which enjoys the promised inspiration of the Holy Spirit, can make certain dogmatic statements (which is not the same as saying she’s always right…). Former head of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Bas Plaisier (who himself is not too concerned with ecumenical respect for other churches) “does not understand what the cardinal is doing”, calling the statements “formal and hard”. Even Catholic professor Marcel Poorthuis had his reservations. While agreeing that Cardinal Eijk is correct in his statements about the Council and the heresies it addresses, he puts Pope emeritus Benedict XVI opposite to the cardinal, referring to the retired Pope’s statement that Martin Luther was a man of the Church. He even goes so far as to say that he expects Luther to be rehabilitated by the Church.
Cardinal Eijk called the Council of Trent a sign of the Catholic Church’s “capacity to purify herself” from errors and sinful practices. Examples of these are “the trade in offices, the unbiblical understanding of the priesthood en the lack of discipline in monasteries. In that regard, Trent has put things in order. The Council has also been very fruitful. When all the decrees had been implemented this led to a restoration of order in the Church.” The Council also delineated certain truths of the faith, which are still unchanged and valid.
The cardinal relates the anathemas that the Council issued to the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, which says, “Anyone who preaches to you a gospel other than the one you were first given is to be under God’s curse” (1:9). “If someone does not share the faith of the Church in the Eucharist,” the cardinal explained, “he can’t receive it either. This curse or anathema essentially means you are blocked from receiving the sacraments, and in that sense it is still applicable.” But, the cardinal continues, these anathemas apply to people who refuse the truths of the Church “in full knowledge, aware of the truth and with free will”. “In a way that is a theoretical question. There are many people who have an incorrect image of the Catholic Church because they were raised that way, or they have another idea of God. You can not directly blame someone for that. You can therefore not understand the anathemas of Trent as being eternally damning for someone. God is the judge; you can and may not make that judgement as a human being.”
A clear explanation of what the Council taught about those who do not adhere to what they know to be the truth of the faith. Does this mean, as the critics I mentioned and quoted above assume, that modern Protestants are damned by the Catholic Church? No, it does not, because to be damned you must know and be aware that the Catholic Church teaches the truth and decide freely to not follow that truth. Clearly, that is not what most Protestants do: they do not believe that the Catholic Church teaches truth. If they did, why remain Protestant? Are they damned by the Council? No. Can they receive all the sacraments? Also no, but for different reason: the sacraments are also a profession of faith and an expression of the desire to belong to the community of faithful that is Christ’s Body. If you don’t share that faith, well…
Yes, all this may not be nice to hear, but it is certainly worthy of being taken seriously and read carefully before being commented on. But, seeing the cardinal as the big bully is perhaps the easier and more comfortable way…
In ecumenical relations with other church communities there is one thing that must always be at the centre: the truth. The truth that the Church, or any other community, claims, must not be hidden for the sake of “being nice to each other”. Cardinal Eijk’s explanation is not a nice one, but it is true. It is what the Catholic Church continues to profess and uphold as truth. Ecumenism is a good thing, but it can never be a reason to ignore who we are and what we hod to be true.