Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ecumenism & Philosophy: Philosophical Questions for a Renewal of Dialogue

By Charles Morerod, O.P., 199 pages, Sapientia Press.

Ecumenism & Philosophy advocates a more mature ecumenism, where we can go beyond the nice-guy formalities that Vatican II seemingly encouraged and where we emphasized common ground. Father Morerod believes that if Christians are to move beyond the stagnant waters of contemporary ecumenism, we must start to discuss the divisive issues.

He also believes that ecumenism has been held back by its focus on theological issues, and that Christians must begin to address philosophical undercurrents. He argues that these latter problems contributed significantly to the lasting divisions in Western Christianity, with a significant issue being the Protestant aversion to philosophy:

“The Reformation, however, was immediately opposed to philosophy. Starting with his very first skirmishes with the representatives of Rome, Luther demanded that all argument unfold from Scripture alone. Since then, ecumenical dialogue with Protestantism has carefully avoided the forbidden ground of philosophy, and remains content to argue essentially on the basis of Scripture and history.”

Father Morerod, then, succeeds in giving the reader a historical sense of the Protestant-Catholic split in its philosophical dimensions. Given that the book is rather academic, the author grounds his discussion with three chapters on the meaning of dialogue for philosophers of science such as Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, and Paul Feyerabend. This dicsussion gives ecumenists a sensible model for their own dialogue and helps all Christians see the importance of philosophy to knowledge, including both science and theology.

The heart of Ecumenism & Philosophy discusses the Reformation's underlying philosophy, and thereby some of the basic suppositions of the reformers such as Luther and Calvin. The author argues that Luther's theology of justification, which went to the heart of the Reformation itself, stood on underlying metaphysical currents that the German reformer, because he disregarded philosophy so much, refused to acknowledge.

Ultimately, the author believes that Catholicism and Protestantism are just as much two differing metaphysical systems as anything else: “St. Thomas linked theology to metaphysics; Luther explicitly rejected metaphysics, but simply ends up creating another metaphysics from this rejection. Yet both had the same intention: to safeguard the transcendence of God.”

Father Morerod's basic questions about the relationship between the Catholic and Protestant orientations towards philosophy reflects his stated intention of highlighting the differences rather than similarities between the two Christian systems:

“Is it a scandalous intrusion of philosophy into the domain of faith to propose an approach to theology starting from metaphysics? First of all, no one can avoid philosophical presuppositions, and the more seriously the theologian takes them, the more he is free of them.”

Ecumenism & Philosophy
asks Protestants to admit the inevitability of philosophy's intrusion into theology so that they can more completely undertake ecumenical dialogue with Catholics.

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