Ecumenical Studies Review

L'Istituto pubblica una rivista di carattere scientifico: Studi Ecumenici. La rivista vuole essere uno strumento di formazione ecumenica e di ricerca teologica; un mezzo per favorire il dialogo teologico fra le chiese. Esce con scadenza trimestrale. Si articola in tre sezioni:

a) Studi e ricerche: raccoglie i contributi dei docenti dell'Istituto e di altri ricercatori e teologi ecumenici

b) Informazioni dal mondo ecumenico: presenta in sintesi i più salienti avvenimenti del mondo ecumenico

c) Rassegna bibliografica: la sezione si articolata in Recensioni e  Presentazioni.

With the decree on Ecumenism the Catholic Church abandons its own isolation which was grounded in the feeling of self-sufficiency. This decree contains some assertions which uphold Roman «ecclesiocentrism» and an «ecumenical» method of «return». Besides this conservative position, however, the decree includes other assertions which stress the sacramentality of the Church, the presence of the sacramentality particularly in Oriental Churches, the «noteworthy» values of non-catholic people, the will to forgive and to ask forgiveness in a charitable climate. Such a document should not be regarded as a goal but, on the contrary, as a starting-point (pp. 597-615).
In the present development of the ecumenical dialogue, if one looks backwards at the text, «Unitatis Redintegratio» of the Vatican II, must take into account the decisive new approaches in the Roman Catholic theology about ecclesiastical reformation, conversion, methodology and practical suggestions. There is not always a clear distinction between , «perfect» and «imperfect» unity. The law of the context can lead to different interpretations. However, after twenty years and according to the fifth document of the joint working group, there is a clear indication of a common growth in the understanding and in the implementations of the ecumenical movement (pp. 587-596).
The controversial topics with the Churches stemming from the Reformation are examined in the perspective of the dialogues developed by the Roman Catholic Church after the promulgation of the Decree on Ecumenism. Among these questions are the relation between Scripture and Tradition, the doctrines of Justification, the Eucharist as memorial and real presence and mixed marriages. The point of convergence, which surpasses the impasse of confessional oppositions, born from the conversations with the Anglican Communion, Lutherans, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and Methodists, is, with all the problems still remaining, an attempt to re-establish fellowship in view of restoring full communion. This aspect is examined especially in the perspective of the theological project concerning «conciliar fellowship», which is here viewed as the scope of the bilateral dialogues, and under the sponsorship of Faith and Order, the multilateral dialogues on «the Unity we Seek» (Nairobi 1975 Assembly of the WCC) and «Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry» (Lima Document, Vancouver 1983 Assembly). In this realm, attention is focused specifically on the question of the local church, which all the churches stemming from the Reformation present as the ecclesiological starting point for reaching the universal communion of the Church («conciliar fellowship»). The ecclesiological perspectives of Vatican II on the local church, which have opened the way to a new interpretation of the divisions between Christians, is the frame in which «conciliar fellowship» is being considered. This broader ecclesiology is linked with the question of the recognition of ordained ministries. The Lima Document, which is crossroad of the bilateral dialogues on this topic, proposes as a solution solid bases for further evolution, depending on the «reception» which the Churches will open themselves to the Spirit, to prayer and reflection, means offered to them by the dialogues. A list of the dialogues examined is appended (pp. 539-586).

Relations with the Oriental Churches

Written by Eleuterio Fortino
The affirmations which the Decree on Ecumenism contains on the Oriental Churches (UR 13-18), namely on their «ecclesial reality», and consequently, on the nature of the dialogue «between Churches», have provided three necessary conditions for the progress of the dialogue: a theological basis, a new psychological atmosphere and a more adequate ecumenical methodology. In this changed context, relations have developed either with the Orthodox Churches of Byzantine tradition or with the pre-Chalcedonian Churches. Such growing developments exist mainly at two levels and under two different forms: a) At the level of fraternal relations, the «dialogue of love» did indeed help towards a better mutual direct knowledge among the Churches in their real contexts. In this way, the theology of «Sister Churches» has been pratically experienced. b) Theological dialogue, made possible through the dialogue of love, has started a Positive approach towards needed clarifications aiming at and progressing to full communion. Classical questions which divide East from West, like the primacy and papal infallibility have not yet been faced. They will be taken up in the next stage of dialogue. And then, in a new climate. Twenty years of dialogue and exchanges have shown the fundamental validity of the orientation given by the Council to relations with the East. Experience has further enriched this orientation with new perspectives and freed it from certain elements too closely linked with the inheritance of the past. Simultaneously, it has given the orientation of dialogue a more close adherence totality and more respect of the slow rhythm of change, implied in a maturing of the conscience of the entire people of God. Dialogue with the East may be indeed slow, but in final analysis substantial and positive (pp. 517-538).
The A. intends to show the influence that, 20 years after the Council, the Roman Catholic Church, in following the directives of UR, has valued; he does so by underlining some doctrinal principles held fundamental for the passage to a truly ecumenical era. The first principle underscored is that of the «perpetua indigentia» and the «perennis reformatio». The Church has inherited this principle with sincerity and determination, however with a displacement of accent which favors the interior movement of conversion and leaves at a distance the exigences of transforming, with the heart, even institutions. The second principle underlined takes up the limits of «perennis reformatio»: the customs, discipline and emendation of doctrine; in this latter sphere one has the impression that the principle of distinguishing between «depositum fidei» and «doctrinae enuntiandae modus» has not been inherited with necessary responsability. The third principle underscored is that of the hierarchy of truth. it seems as if the churches were persuing the unity of identity and not that of the «communio». For this they must begin to have deep experiences and become involved in «communio» , so as to learn from the inside of this experience what the path to unity is (pp. 484-515).
The first chapter of UR (on fundamental «principles») is closely bound to the conciliar ecclesiology of LG, especially with the latter’s first three chapters. Furthermore, already from within the Council and pecisely because of this, numbers 2-4 of UR should be considered as a model of interpretation of LG (chapters 1-3); an interpretation inspired by concentration (=«hierarchy of truth»), and of careful attention not to confuse dogma with its historical-cultural dressing. For this reason, the verification of the «reception» of the first chapter of UR should be translated into the verification of the reception of LG (chapter 1-3) to see if this has been coherently read and welcomed according to the criteria of UR chap. 1. The first part of this present article, therefore, deals explicity with that problem while the second broadens the horizon to see how and how much of UR and LG have been developed in the light of other conciliar texts (above all Dei Verbum and Gaudium et spes). Finally the A. tries to see if, in practical steps and historical judgments, there has been coherency in faithfulness to the principles established in UR chap. 1 (pp. 461-483).
In this article the A. tries to trace how the insights of the Second Vatican Council, in particular the Decree on Ecumenism, have been put into service of the search for Christian Unity. In the first part, he seeks to outline those elements of UR which were to engage the whole Church (hierarchy and faithful) in the search for unity. UR numbers 6 (call for continual renewal which is based on a profound conversion), 22 (baptism as the bond of unity among Christians), 3 (the Spirit of Christ uses other Churches as means of salvation), 15 (the Eucharist as means of building up and further grow of the Church of God), 4 (division of the churches inhibits the Church from expressing the fulness of catholicity), and 1 (division not only contradicts the will of Christ but is a scandal to the world and damages the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to every living creature): these elements of the Decree are used to illustrate how the Council saw the Church as engaging in the ecumenical movement. The instruments suggested were study, prayer, reciprocal knowledge of each other, ecumenical formation, collaboration and above all theological dialogue. In the second part of the article, the A. shows how these instruments were used by the Catholic Church in its search to carry out the task given by the Council. Included herein is a brief summary of the results of the major dialogues held thus far. Finally in the last part of the article entitled «Christian Unity and Contemporary Europe», Card. Willebrands shows the role of European culture and history in the process of carrying out the task confided to the churches to seek fulfillment of the will of Christ «that all may be one» (pp. 441-460).
The author treats his reading of «Rich in Mercy» in two moments: the ecumenical methodology of the encyclical and the message. In the first part it is shown that Pope John Paul approaches his subject matter with the method of a good exegete, exploring all levels of the biblical reality especially trying to view the question of mercy with Jewish eyes, i.e., through the eyes of a Jewish Jesus. In addition to this biblical methodology, the Pope uses an existential interpretation based on his hermeneutic of the dignity of the human person hich has been used in many of his other writings. Finally, John Paul moves to the pastoral implications. Ecumenically speaking these applications coincide with the scope of the ecumenical movement which is the preaching of the Gospel through a united witness, in solidarity with all Christians. In the second part, Jesus is presented as the bridge between man and God and therefore the fundamental point of encounter. The ecumenical importance of this notion is to be seen in the dynamic of convergence in and through Christ. Seeing the personal and collective history of each Christian interwined in the life and history of Jesus who gives life and meaning to all history. Finally, the merciful love of God is seen most paschal in the atonement of Jesus on the cross and in the paschal mystery which gives hope and life to the ecumenical movement within the churches. It is this message wich is entrusted to the churches as witnesses of the message of reconciliation and as proclaimers of the Gospel of conversion and of God’s merciful love (pp. 341-353).

Psychanalysis and Faith

Written by Renzo Bertalot
Although it is difficult to bring under common ground the various schools of modern theology and the different orientations of the present psychanalytical research, it appears that the encounter between both sciences centers around the polarity form and reality. The reality referred to by faith is sometimes valued as mere form or myth at the level of psychanalysis. The challange remains therefore open, but dialogue is not impossible. It is important to question the form of our faith to see whether or not it is supported by an ultimate reality. It is also important for the believers to verify if the form that expresses faith is adequate to its presuppositions, namely to the Gospel. Psychanalysis clears the ground from many misunderstandings. Finally the anxiety that invades all fields of modern life might be seen, from the point of view of theology, as a forerunner of faith. In spite of itself it could be a prophecy of our destiny through faith within the context of creation and redemption (pp. 327-339).

The Sacraments in the Ecumenical Way

Written by Vittorino Grossi
This research, taking as its point of departure what the BEM document offers us on the sacramental sign, tends to isolate the causes for devaluation of the sacramental sign in relation to the Church. A greater appreciation of the sacraments by the Churches pertains to the advancement of ecclesial unity (pp. 311-326).
Indicating the occasion of the work , «Freedom of the Christian», Vinay reproposes the often discussed thought of Luther on the theme of freedom: the Christian becomes free in the Word, in adhering to it; works become the fruit of this «freed freedom»by the Word. Taking up the criticism of Marcuse that interior freedom is not resolved in social praxis, the Author contests such a reductionist interpretation. He underscores how Luther proposes the «good man» as the foundation of «good works». It is precisely the «good man» who is «free for every action». Luther basically understands freedom as justification by grace through faith. The ethical consequences resulting are «availability for God in the fulfilment of his will» and availability for neighbor. Vinay then analyzes the relationship between law/Decalogue and freedom of the Christian pointing out that Luther is never in contradiction with his spirit of an ethic of freedom. This was always the spirit with which Luther understood the reform of the Church as well as the problem of Christian freedom in social and political - themes which are treated in the last part of the essay (pp. 281-310).
The author draws some methodolical lines for grasping exactly Luther’s understanding of the Mass as an «expiatory-propitiatory» sacrifice and his reasons for refusing it. Using just Luther’s eucharistic writings or the Ausburg confession, claims the author, is not enough for having a complete picture of his eucharistic theology. For interpreting these writings it is necessary to take into account his overall theology. The author underlines the difficulties of such an endeavour, for Luther is in no way systematic. On these premises, he wonders whether it is possible to have a precise knowledge of Luther’s positions on the topic. Nevertheless in his view these difficulties can be overcome by remembering that Luther feels compelled to synthetize all of his thought under one heading: justification by faith alone. The author thinks that this point is the hermeneutical key of the Reformer’s overall thought, and then of his eucharistic theology. Another article is being prepared on this topic (pp. 211-231).

Patristic Biblical Interpretation

Written by Guido Gargano
The Fathers started from the death and resurrection of Christ to brighten up the history of the past, suggesting also a prospective reading of the Bible as projected towards the future. Typologic reading knew four different moments of interpretation related to the meaning, which was to be highlighted: a literal aspect, a deeper meaning, the sacramental experience, the personal conversion. The ‘allegoric’ reading underlined that everything which happened in Christ became vocation for the Church and for each active member of the Church itself. The deepest comprehension of the Bible, in the ‘allegoric’ reading, is proportional in some way to the conversion of the believer: ‘Scriptura cum legentibus crescit’. At the top of the conversion, which is expressed in perfect love, penetration of the Scripture is such that the Bible as a book is in a way overhelmed, intervening instead face to face encounter which the Mystery of God itself (pp. 195-209).

The Orthodox Churches in the WCC

Written by Eleuterio Fortino
Orthodox Churches have been in full membership of the WCC since its foundation (Amsterdam 1948) but before that they had already participated in various ways in “Faith and Order” and “Life and Work”, the movements from the fusion of which the World Council of Churches originated. This presence - often characterized by a certain tension with other member churches, mostly of protestant origin - has become ever more important, because of the steady growth in the number of Orthodox Churches participating in the WCC, and also because of the quality of the Orthodox contribution. After an historical summary, some problems that influence the quality of the Orthodox presence are presented, namely: a) the ecclesiological question; b) the basic article of the WCC’s Constitution; c) the tension between theological requirements and social involvement; d) the problem wich has recently been put forward more insistently of proportionate Orthodox representation in the structures of the WCC. There follows an account of the Orthodox evolution of its own presence in the WCC and of the positive contribution given to the search for unity. In fact, this presence has been substantially useful for the WCC and the life of the Orthodox Churches themselves. At the recent General Assembly in Vancouver (1983) there emerged the desire of the Orthodox Churches to stress and define more clearly their own contribution in the overall activity of the WCC. In fact, the tension often caused within the WCC, by the Orthodox presence with its own theological demands (tradition of the undivided Church respect for dogmatic decisions. sacramentality, liturgy, etc.) stimulates an internal dynamism in the theological debate and ecumenical action (pp. 153-194).

Interpretation and Tradition

Written by Tecle Vetrali
With this short note the author focalizes the terms of connection between Scripture and Tradition. In the light of the contemporary reflection about interpretation, Tradition appears as a way to disclose the interior force of the text. Montreal Document of Faith and Order and the Vatican II as well, open new ways of understanding between the traditional roman catholic position and the one of the Reformation (pp. 37-42).

Calvin and the Bible

Written by Bruno Corsani
Calvin’s biblical explanations are always brief and to the point. He objects to all kinds of erudite digressions and allegorical interpretations. Though he invites the believers to read the Bible in order to meet Christ, he does not give a mechanical christological interpretation of any passage; he has rather a sound historical notion of the content of Scripture. Therefore Calvin’s doctrine of inspiration cannot be classified as litteralist (or fundamentalist). When he pleads for the authority of Scripture, he opposes on one side those who take the Church who overestimate their personal inspiration. For Calvin the authority of the Bible is not proved apologetically by its objective «perfection»: it is witnessed by God himself who works in our hearts through the same Holy Spirit who was at work in the biblical writers (pp. 27-36).
In our present time we are finally reaching the point where common translations of the Bible are not only possible, but already available and heartly welcome. On the contrary, common interpretation is still far ahead of us. Confessional tradition, cultural environments and different approaches to history are among the factors that prevent a deeper unity in understanding. What is new in our time is that the churches have started to discuss this matter together ending a century long isolation and antagonism over the Holy Scriptures. There is already a history of these encounters and some common issues are now throwing new light both on our research and on our hopes. Out of this new adventure in exegesis the ecumenical movement has already profited a lot in view of the advance in its studies. «Unity in diversity», «catholicity» and «apostolicity» have been firstly discovered on Biblical ground and than brought over on the ecclesiological one. The encounter between Israel and the Church passes through a new understanding of the Old Testament in relation to the New Testament. The interpretation of the Bible is the sure ground for future advance on the ecumenical paths of churches and people (pp. 9-26).

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Biblioteca San Francesco della Vigna

Biblioteca San Francesco della Vigna

The Convent library, whose origin date back to the XIII century, after several hardships is now a provincial library and support the Institute of Ecumenic Studies. The Library has a vast book holdings consisting of an old archive made up of about 30.000 books and a modern one made up of about 80.000. In addition, the library has the magazine section counting 665 newpapers (363 current, 302 stopped).