Yesterday to a Council meeting of the Ecumenical Society of the BVM. Apparently the membership shows all the symptoms of aging and contraction. I wonder if the reason is that it represents the culture of the 'old ecumenism'; of convergence and putting divisions behind us, when in so many ecclesial contexts people are preoccupied with the new divisions which transcend 'denomination': Gender; Ordination of Women; the relationship between Worship and the secular culture ...
Over lunch (in Cardinal College Oxford) I found myself, not for the first time, in conversation with a RC who was fairly strongly anti-Benedict 'because of Benedict's opposition to ecumenism'. It is surely a sign of the times that a papist should spend lunch attacking the pope, and an Anglican in defending him. I resolved to write a post or two on why I think Benedict is the foremost ecumenical thinker of the twentieth century.
Bu first, some preliminaries. Ecumenical theology begins in the first millennium with the Western Church setting itself free from the 'common sense' position that since the Spirit is the possession of the Church, the Sacraments cannot exist outside it. Pope S Stephen I opposed this view, insisting that heretical baptism is valid. Augustine, during the Donatist controversy, established that Holy Order could validly exist among schismatics. In times of controversy there is always a temptation to think that one's opponents, so grave are their errors, cannot possibly be validly conveying sacramental grace. But inexorably there grew up in the West the notion that a valid minister with a very minimal intention and using an adequate Form and Matter could validly convey the sacraments, even when in a state of mortal sin, even when in schism, even when in heresy, even if apostate. Sometimes silly people dismiss talk about validity and invalidity as mechanical. Fools, they do not realise that the only alternative is the 'Cyprianic' view that anybody who is not within (what I define as) the Church, lacks Baptism and all the other sacraments. This is a view that has been held in the Orthodox Church; Metropolitan Callistus once observed that while Westerners did not often, for obvious reasons, meet such Orthodox, they should not forget that they exist. A friend of mine, baptised as a presbyterian, became Orthodox in Brighton by being chrismated. When he subsequently became a monk on Mount Athos, this was all deemed a nullity and he was baptised and chrismated afresh.
Such a view implies that all non-Othodox are unbaptised heathen. There is no possibility of ecumenism in such a theology.
Only the 'mechanical' view that valid sacraments can exist outside the Church affords a basis, both theologically and practically, for ecumenical activity.