"A Truly Ecumenical Church Council"?
I am very much enjoying the ongoing discussion on Arcoamaticus' two blogs, "Glosses from an Old Manse" and Lutheran Catholicity. Of course, in claiming "catholicity" for the Lutheran tradition (if not the Lutheran Church) the dear fellow has set himself up as a bit of a target for one such as I - a target as big as a barn door, as I heard someone express it recently...
Here I want to steal an issue that Acro raised in the combox of one of his blogs, where he wrote:
Indeed, and there we disagree. We will have to leave that verdict to a truly ecumenical church council or to the verdict of God in heaven, which ever comes first.
To which I responded:
Exactly who would you want to invite to a "truly ecumenical Council"? ...We, of course - and I expect the Orthodox too - could only accept validly ordained bishops as genuine participants of an ecumenical council.
Then there is the question of how one could really have such a council unless "full communion" were to be established between these bishops before the council opened.
So tell me: who would be able to attend and vote at your "truly ecumenical council"?
Acroamaticus then responded:
I think we could be gracious enough to allow the Pope to call it, since we have no other better candidate for head of Christendom at the moment. I think its pretty much a no-brainer (great American phrase) that the RCs would permit Orthodox representation.
I think we orthodox Lutherans should have a seat at the table, since our concerns have never really had a valid hearing, or at the least we should be allowed in the room to whisper in the ears of sympathetic bishops.
And the Anglicans, the orthodox ones, that is, as that would finally settle that argument.
And the non-Chalcedonians and Nestorians, because the opportunity is too great not to invite them.
And the Reformed could be let in on the same basis as us, provided they baptise infants and confess the Creeds.
Have I forgotten anyone?
Now I should make it clear that my own understanding is that an "ecumenical council" is any council of validly ordained bishops recognised as such by the Bishop of Rome. In that light, Acro's grace in suggesting that the Pope call such a "pan-Christian" meeting (perhaps a better description for what we are talking about rather than "truly ecumenical" - a description which is somewhat judgemental on earlier ecumenical councils) is appreciated. I know that for years there have been plans to hold a "pan-orthodox" council, which has floundered upon the simple ground that they can't agree who has the authority to call such a council. Most of them would agree that if the Roman Pope were not "a heretic", he would have the authority to call a such pan-Christian council.
But of course, that raises the other problem that the Orthodox could never regard any council that included non-Orthodox (Catholic, Protestant, or Non-Chalcedonian) as in any sense "ecumenical". But for the moment we will leave that to one side.
As for the non-Chalcedonians, we Catholics actually have a fairly good relationship with these Churches these days, and certainly recognise the validity of their Orders and other sacraments.
A much bigger problem is raised by Acro's distinction between the various protestant bodies as "orthodox" or "non-orthodox". How is the Holy Father supposed to make such a distinction - when effectively we regard ALL protestants as "non-orthodox"?
And then, what office holders in these bodies should be regarded as voting members, given that none of them are validly ordained bishops?
The fact is, that even if the Pope were to call a council in which non-Catholics were invited to take part, he could only concievably extend that invitation to the bishops of those "particular Churches" which we are able to recognise as "Churches in the true sense".
If non-episcopal voting participants were included it could not in any sense be regarded as an "ecumenical council", since every ecumenical council (whatever counting method you use) in history has been a council of bishops and bishops alone.