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Foto Jaeger David-Maria , Libri nostri: ADRIANO GARUTI O.F.M., Saggi di Ecumenismo, in Antonianum, 78/4 (2003) p. 743-746 .

The enormous complexity introduced into ecclesiological discourse by the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on ecumenism, specifically on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the separated Churches and ecclesial communities, presents theologians with a formidable task, rendered ever more so by subsequent Papal teaching, language and gestures. In essence, the challenge consists in this: The Church has not, of course, renounced her belief that it is in her that the Church of Christ subsists fully, is fully realised – in the manner appropriate to the earthly pilgrimage, i.e. historically – endowed with the fullness of revealed truth and the means of salvation; her belief that it is the divine will, intention and design, that all human beings receive the benefits of the Redemption wrought by Christ the Saviour through effective, visible, membership of this Church. Yet, the Church gratefully and openly recognises that the Christian bodies separated from her (the «other Churches and ecclesial communities») have carried away with them, and still have in their possession, so to speak, in varying measures, elements of truth and means of sanctification, which constitute an intrinsic relationship to the Catholic Church, such as to render it impossible to speak simply of an absence of «communion», and necessary instead to speak of partial, «less than full», or perhaps «imperfect» communion. Hence also the recognition of the radical anomaly represented by the separation, and the objective need to make the partial whole, and to substitute the fullness, or perfection, of communion – in faith, sacraments and governance – for the current «imperfection», in obedience to the Lord’s will «that they may be one» even as He and the Father are One. The need and possibility of bridging the gap, and healing the separation, have been particularly felt with regard to the separated Eastern, or «Orthodox,» Churches, given that these – in difference from the separated Western ecclesial communities – are held to have retained a validly ordained ministry, and therefore also the valid administration of the sacraments that depend on this ministry, and above all, the valid celebration of the Eucharist. Without completely neglecting other doctrinal questions, it is fair to say, and it is commonly perceived, that the principal matter on which their doctrine diverges from that of the Catholic Church, is the doctrine concerning the Petrine Office, the universal primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is not admitted by these – or any other – separated Churches.

These few basic elements of Catholic discourse on ecumenism, in an ecclesiological perspective, can be woven togehter in a variety of ways, and with a variety of emphases. It is possible to emphasise the already existing – and never lost – commonality, while minimising the weight to be assigned to remaining divergences, to the point of provoking the question of whether there is still any substantial reason not to recognise, quite simply, that the Orthodox Churches are fully – or at least sufficiently – embodying the Church of Christ – thus in effect denying the claim of Catholic ecclesiology that full communion with the Successor of Peter is intrinsic to «being Church.» On the other hand, it is also possible to emphasise the absence of such communion in the separated Eastern Churches to the point of denying them, in effect, a genuine ecclesiality. The faithful Catholic theologian, committed to expounding correctly on the dynamic teaching of the Church’s supreme magisterium is therefore called upon to be a doctor subtilior, capable of preserving all the elements of that teaching in their proper relationship to each other.

Surely few could do this as well as – and none better than – the author of the present volume. Father Garuti – who teaches dogmatic theology both at the Pontifical Lateran University and at the Pontifical Athenaeum «Antonianum» – was for many years an official of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, engaged precisely upon the task of assisting in the formulation and exposition of magisterial teaching. The added freedom of full–time academic employment sees him maintain the same carefully balanced course. «Thickly» written and closely argued, with ample references both to official pronouncements and his own earlier published work, Father Garuti’s book is yet eminently readable, and his reasoning is as clear as the subject matter itself allows. Another prominent virtue of this book is the author’s scrupulous fairness to the schools of thought, and to other authors, whose treatments he reports, even when not in agreement with either their arguments or their conclusions. This thoroughgoing fairness makes his an admirable example of non–polemical scholarly writing, which is secure enough in its own positions not to have to belittle or obscure other points o view.

As its title suggests, this book contains a number of essays, making distinct, yet well coordinated contributions to its overarching subject. The first part, «L’uniatismo come problema ecumenico» deals – at length, and in some detail – with the ecumenical «problem» presented by those Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris that owe their institutional, historical origin to the decision made by pastors and the faithful of separated Eastern Churches to re–establish, corporately, their full communion with the Successor of Peter, with the See of Rome. As is well known, their presence within the communion of the Catholic Church is integral to the Catholic Church’s conception of herself as far from simply «the Latin (or Western) Church», while unwelcome to the separated Eastern Churches, essentially for that very same reason. With Papal and Conciliar hopes that the Eastern Catholic Churches might serve as agents of a wider, more comprehensive, restoration of full communion, clashing with the «political» reality of the matter, discussion has been intense, even heated. Father Garuti presents, fairly and fully, the different strands of this discussion, corrects certain misperceptions of the relevant history, and concludes by bringing to the fore once more the heart of the matter: The need, and therefore the search, for unity in faith, compatibly with all due respect for the theological, spiritual, liturgical, cultural patrimony of each ecclesial expression of Christianity.

In its second part, this book deals with the «origin and nature of the Patriarchates,» the supra–diocesan and supra–metropolitan structures of ecclesiastical government that are typical to the Christian East. Held in highest regard since ancient times, and certainly capable of being ascribed to the providential governance and guidance of the Church through the centuries, these are yet, in essence, historically contingent structures that, in the last analysis, derive their authority over the respective groups of dioceses – or «particular churches» from its (at least tacit) conferral by the Supreme Authority of the Church, given that only two levels of Church government belong to the Church’s divine constitution, the episcopal and the primatial (Petrine).

The third part deals with some of the reactions to the ecclesiological, and therefore ecumenical, dimension of the Declaration, «Dominus Iesus», by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, read within the context of the line coherently followed by the Congregation in matters ecclesiological as they relate to ecumenism. Responding to criticisms of the Declaration gives the author an occasion to re–propose, in an admirably concise yet complete manner, the rich ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, combining full recognition of the elements of truth and sanctification present in the separated Churches and ecclesial communities with complete fidelity to the Church’s own belief concerning herself. But the author goes beyond these premises to examine, on their basis, the true goal of ecumenism. This is not to be conceived of in terms of institutional triumph, as it were, consisting in the humbled «return» of the separated Christian bodies to the Roman Catholic Church. Nor is there any legitimacy to the counsels of desperation that would settle for a permanently «differentiated» (or diversified) consensus in matters of faith, as if the whole truth of Revelation did not ultimately matter. Rather, the proper goal of ecumenism is, and must surely remain, a fully common profession of the faith in its entirely, hence full communion, into which each historical Christian body is to bring its own distinct gifts, matured over the centuries in the historical conditions in which it has found itself.

In the book’s fourth – and final – part, the author takes on the challenge of examining the possible new forms of exercising the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, a matter raised by the reigning Pontiff himself, notably in his Encyclical «Ut unum sint.» With a sure touch the author invites the reader to understand the profound difference between the dogmatic truths concerning the authority of the Roman Pontiff and the historically contingent variety of ways in which the holders of the Petrine office have chosen to exercise that authority. He then attends to several of the responses and suggestions occasioned by the relevant passage in the Encyclical, and examines their possible value in the light of this distinction. Ultimately, of course, in the light of the applicable dogma, it must always be a matter of the free choice of the Successor of Peter, in the light of his conscientious understanding of what forms of exercising the awesome powers of his office are called for by the needs of the Church at a given time in history, and how he would most wisely, and most fruitfully, go about it, maximizing the contribution and participation of the whole episcopate and of the Church at large. Evidently no modality of exercising the Petrine office could be admitted that would constrain the Successor of Peter in this matter, or effectively derogate from the authority with which the Church’s Founder has willed to endow his office and mission.

It cannot be emphasized too much that such brief references by one reader to the very rich and very carefully nuanced contents of these «essays on ecumenism» cannot possibly be in any way adequate. This book, in all its parts, is highly recommended to teachers and students, in the fields of ecclesiology, ecumenism and canon law. This particular faculty member would certainly want to include it in the «required bibliography», both for itself and as a trustworthy guide to further reading and a key to its interpretation.

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