THE EUCHARIST AND ECUMENISM. LET US KEEP THE FEAST
Georg Hunsinger: The Eucharist and Ecumenism. Let us keep the feast.
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008
x, 350 pages
(Current issues in Theology)
This is one of the best books I ever read about the Eucharist in ecumenical context. The author from the Reformed (Calvinist) Tradition impresses by his profound knowledge of all great Christian traditions.
He opens with a highly interesting Chapter (Introduction) about ecumenical theology as such, in which he develops a method, how ecumenism should operate in order to be successful, that's to say lead to unity. Two of the important principles are especially noteworthy: no single church should be compelled to compromise "on essentials"; it is important to elaborate those aspects (theological opinions) in the various traditions, which though not shared by all, are not church-dividing either, so that they can be left to the single churches, without imposing them on others. Especially this second principle will be used in the following chapters.
Part I is about Presence and Transsubstantiation. In this regard the author tries to elaborate an alternative position, how Transsubstantiation could also be seen in order to be then acceptable to more churches, viz. as "Transelementation", a notion probably coined by Peter Martyr Vermigli (cf. 74-75). Here, as well as at some other places, the author gives proof of his special ability to make precise and clear distinctions and to put them into a well-organized and understandable scheme. The notion "Transelementation" enables him to give sense to Eucharistic reservation, also from a Reformed point of view (cf. p. 84-85).
Part II is about Sacrifice. It seems that in this regard much more agreement is possible or even actually present than we usually assume. At least that is the conclusion of the many detailed investigations into this issue. Eucharist as sacrifice of praise, in one form or another even the effectiveness even now of Christ's one and single sacrifice. The sticking point is ecumenically speaking rather the issue of ministry: Christ should remain the sole and single 'saving subject', the presider or priest being at the utmost 'acting subject' (cf. p. 168-169). Categories like Pascha, Anamnesis or Memorial and Epiclesis are important in order to safeguard the unique authority of God and Christ and to pave the way for a real and actual sense of sacrifice for us now.
Parts I and II are the richest and best documented ones in this book and offer a wealth of suggestions for ecumenical dialogue on the Eucharist, as well as for all Eucharistic theology.
Part III on Eucharist and Ministry elaborates the differences regarding ministry in the various traditions, where it seems that the criticism "defectus" made by Catholics could be acceptable even to Reformed Christians, at the condition that it be applied in an eschatological sense to all traditions. Interesting to see, how the author also works towards having his own Reformed tradition accept somehow the necessity of ordination by bishops (so: of having bishops as well) (cf. p. 211). Equally interesting to see how he deals with the classical opposition between over-accentuating the Word on the Reformed side, and over-accentuating mediation and sacrament on the Catholic side. Follows a long list of questions about Eucharist, Ministry and other ecumenical problems such as the Filioque, the Pope and apostolic Succession, where he in a very suggestive way manages to show in various directions openings as well as needs for correction. This part closes with the issue 'ordination of women'.
Part IV about Eucharist and Social Ethics is, according to me, the weakest part of the book, though interesting and important insights are presented and developed here as well. The author reflects mainly around some key figures (Athanasius, Anselm) in his endeavor to refute some current criticism of the "Nicene Churches" as being inherently anti-ethical or anti-social. The notion of "Nicene Churches" in this sense was something new to me.
The book finishes with a list of proposals as regards the main issues in ecumenical dialogue on the Eucharist, to which the conclusions of the foregoing investigations nicely flow together (cf. p. 313-326). The addressee here is the author's own Reformed Tradition. In a consistent and conclusive way he lists, where and how this tradition should change its view on certain issues, but also how it can do so on the basis of its own theological background; where agreement or convergence with other churches is at hand; and last but not least what the Reformed Tradition has yet still to clarify for itself. Here is rich material for further reflection.
Interesting to see, how the author opposes sometimes certain theological trends, especially in Protestantism, which according to him risk watering down the substance of Christian Faith by trying to dissolve it in general ideas or philosophy.
In short: a book worthwhile to study. For Catholics especially it offers a wealth of insights into the highly differentiated Reformed Protestant Tradition, which we normally have not available in this way.
Hans van Schijndel s.s.s., Rome