Within the awesome sight and sound of thundering cataracts that symbolize a harmony of two nations, the Canadian Council of Churches met under two flags at the Sheraton-Brock Hotel in Niagara falls. Ontario, and became absorbed chiefly with questions of greater church unity and closer cooperation. This fifteenth meeting of the twenty-year-old council, which now meets every two years, commenced in rain, proceeded in sunshine, and concluded in snow—signaling the onset, if not the onslaught, of Canadian winter—but the bright aspects of ecumenical progress outshone the passing clouds.
The council embraces about 85 per cent of Canada’s Protestants and Orthodox.Included are the Anglican Church of Canada, Baptist Federation of Canada, Churches of Christ (Disciples), Evangelical United Brethren, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, Presbyterian Church in Canada, Reformed Episcopal Church, Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America, Salvation Army, Society of Friends (Quakers), Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Church of Canada, and the United Church of Canada. The National Councils of the YMCA-YWCA and the Student Christian Movement in Canada are affiliated members, while the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Lutheran Church of America are “friendly associates.” The Lutheran Church participates in the council’s department of ecumenical affairs.
The council has no administrative or legislative authority over its members. Its objectives are to give expression to the communions’ unity in Christ by providing them with an agency for conference, for consultation, and for common planning and action in a variety of fields, including political, economic, social, and moral areas.
The council’s department of ecumenical affairs functions “to promote the Ecumenical Movement and to further the work” of the World Council of Churches, “including inter alia the promoting of studies of questions of Faith and Order.” In Niagara Falls considerable debate swirled around the composition of the department’s study commission on faith and order, which saw its hopes to control nominations to its membership vanish in a whirlpool of objections from the floor and an overwhelming vote. The delegates voted not only to enlarge the commission and make it more geographically representative but to open its membership to all Christian churches in Canada—not simply, as before, to member churches of the council. Though commission fears were expressed concerning the prospect of admitting members who wished the destruction of the ecumenical movement, the Right Reverend G. N. Luxton of London. Ontario, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Huron, said he would like to sec the “net thrown as widely as possible” to include “evangelical groups” outside the council and such bodies as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Canada’s most agonizing current problem is the threat of national disruption along the lines that divide French Canada from the rest of the country. Coupled with differences of national origin, language, and culture is the protestant-Roman Catholic line of religious division. Current controversy over the national flag seems particularly poignant as Canada moves toward the centennial celebration of its confederation of 1867. Thus it was of peculiar significance that the council heard “tentative” plans from a Roman Catholic priest for a “Christian Pavilion” at the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair. There is a “probability,” said the Reverend John Martucci of Montreal, that Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches will cooperate in the pavilion’s program. Father Martucci, secretary-general of the pavilion, described it as follows: “It is not a chapel where all Christian groups will hold their services either in common or successively. It is not a large building where each denomination would have its own space for its own propaganda. The Christian Pavilion wishes to express the Christian meaning of the theme of the exhibition: ‘Man and His World’.… [It] wants to make clear to all that God is among us and with us, from the beginning of the world to its end, there in our hopes as well as our anxieties. Artistic works from all civilizations of the world will express these hopes and anxieties (through painting, sculpture, music, photography, film …), while the Word of God will be proclaimed by all churches together as a light guiding human life. In this Pavilion, churches will not preach themselves but Christ. They will show neither their divisions, which are a scandal to all, nor their perfect unity, which would be a lie and an illusion, but the Gospel that makes us one beyond our unfaithfulness.”
Father Martucci was one of four Catholic observers at the council meeting. Another, the Reverend Kenneth Dietrich, who is studying ecumenism at the University of Ottawa, made history by being the first Catholic priest to address the council. He said he was speaking as an individual, and some of his remarks seemed to a Greek Orthodox bishop present to be shockingly concessive. Father Dietrich said that Christian disunity had had injurious effects on the church of Rome, but he saw the possibility of Christendom’s reunion in such a way as “may transcend our present theological concept of unity.”
He said his church had admitted that it was largely responsible for the birth in Germany of the Protestant movement during the sixteenth century. While the church’s hierarchy is today moving toward rule by pope and bishops together, there is “no guarantee” that history will not repeat itself and again give rise to power-hungry popes. However, because the trend now is toward joint rule of the church by pope and bishops, the possibility that corruption will again smite the hierarchy is remote, he said.
A “ghetto mentality” arose, continued Father Dietrich, within the Roman church after the eleventh-century breakaway by the Greek segment and the sixteenth-century Protestant and Anglican Reformations. “We are beginning to admit that prophets exist outside the canonical boundaries of the Roman church.”
“Many of the questions which now are being considered in Rome by the Second Vatican Council are the same constructive ones asked 450 years ago by the Protestant Reformers,” he declared.
He said later in an interview that one example is the current study of the papacy and the role of the pope in the church’s government. Later, M. L’Abbe Paul Marceau of the Academie de Quebec told the council: “The fact that Pope Paul VI last week laid his crown upon the altar at the Vatican Council, a crown which symbolized his temporal powers, meant that never again would a pope wear it.… There is a new freedom. Our bishops know we are here, and we are speaking.”
The Canadian Council voted unanimously to send warm greetings and a prayer for success to the Second Vatican Council.
There are signs that the Canadian Council, which does not command a lot of publicity in Canada, will under new leadership be engaging in more controversial subjects than in the past, including attempts to thresh out theological differences among its members.
Its two largest churches, the three and a half million-member United Church of Canada and the two and a half million-member Anglican Church of Canada, have been conducting union talks since the latter communion issued an invitation in 1943. The real stumbling block has been and yet remains the differing concepts of the ministry held by the two churches. Anglican bishops will not recognize the ordination of the United Church ministers, which is outside the succession of the historic episcopate, and the United Church refuses reordination for her ministers.
At present, joint committees are working on a merger plan to be ready, it is hoped, for consideration by the Anglican General Synod meeting next August. But on the eve of the council meeting, a suggested plan of union was released by a voluntary joint committee meeting in London, Ontario. The plan included a proposal that reordination of United Church ministers would not be required. Its “premature” release drew sharp criticism by ranking Anglican bishops, and leaders on both sides spoke pessimistically of its chances. However, proponents hoped it would spark some acceleration in the long drawn-out talks.
In the ecumenical climate of Niagara, it seemed somewhat surprising to encounter some ecumenical discontinuity, even if backstage. Involved were the United Church of Canada and Canadian Baptists, both of which groups have invested in a new church school curriculum prepared by United Church personnel. The Rev. E. J. Bailey, president of the Baptist Federation of Canada, indicated to the press that the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec would next year probably vote to withdraw from use of the new curriculum, thus following previous action by the two other groups of Baptists who comprise the federation—the United Baptist Convention of the Maritime Provinces and the Western Baptist Union. Dr. Bailey declared that there “are several very major theological and biblical differences between us and the United Church” in connection with the curriculum. While granting that Canadian Baptist scholars agree that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are myth, he said that the United Church has explained away all miracle. “Demythologizing the Bible as the United Church has done,” he continued, “explains away all the insights the Bible provides, and leaves nothing in its place. Take away the words that are used to express a thought and you are left with nothing but an incommunicable thought. Bultmann is obsolete. This makes the United Church theology which depends heavily on Bultmann obsolete also.”
The Right Reverend Ernest M. Howse, moderator of the United Church, responded:
“I hope the Baptist convention will not accede to the request. But if it does, I hope many local congregations will choose to adopt the curriculum.”
Between the hotel and the falls, a memorial arch bears aloft these words: “The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice.” By the end of last month’s four-day meeting, despite occasional strains, that voice bore an unmistakable Greek accent which kept repeating, “Oikoumene.”
With the third session of the Second Vatican Council now history, the focus of Roman Catholicism swings this week to the scheduled trip to India of Pope Paul VI. The pontiff was slated to fly to Bombay December 2 to participate in the thirty-eighth International Eucharistic Congress.
The council fathers wound up their third session with significant decisions on episcopal collegiality and the Jewish role in the crucifixion of Christ. Both decisions were hailed as great victories for Roman Catholic liberals.
The liberals left Rome with heavy hearts, however, having failed to bring to a council vote a declaration on religious liberty. More than a thousand council fathers were said to have signed a special plea to Pope Paul, asking him to overrule the decision of the twelve-member council presidency to hold the declaration over until the next session (which will probably convene late 1965 or early 1966). The Pope refused, saying that he felt more study was needed.
The pontiff was to fly to India aboard a specially equipped, American-built Boeing 707 jet owned by Air India. His itinerary may include a visit to the former Portuguese colony of Goa.
There has been speculation that Pope Paul also is planning to visit the Philippines, Mexico, and perhaps even the United States in coming months.
Pope Paul’s first official function in Bombay was to take place December 3 in the consecration of five bishops from five continents to symbolize the universality of the Roman Catholic Church. Later he was to attend ceremonies of the Eucharistic Congress and deliver an address. He was expected to be back at the Vatican on either December 4 or 5.
It was reported, meanwhile, that a group of Indian taxpayers had requested a court injunction prohibiting the federal government and the state of Maharashtra—which includes Bombay—from spending public funds in any way aiding the Eucharistic Congress.
Postponing A Dialogue
Eastern Orthodoxy’s fourteen churches reiterated last month a desire for dialogue “on equal terms” with Roman Catholicism but put off for an indefinite time any action leading to inter-church discussions.
The third Pan-Orthodox Conference, in a statement which stressed Orthodoxy’s desire to “cultivate good relations with all Christian churches and confessions.” held that dialogue with the Vatican required “new preparations and creation of the right conditions.”
In completing the conference, held on the island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean, representatives of the Orthodox churches also gave endorsement to conversations with the Church of England (Anglican) and the Old Catholic Church, and nominated committees to prepare the groundwork for each.
Some reports indicated that action on discussions with Catholicism had been put off for two years. Actually, it would have required that amount of time had the conference given a definite “go-ahead” to dialogue. The consensus of delegates held that it should not be initiated until the close of the Second Vatican Council, which probably will not come before the end of 1965 and which could be well into 1966.
Religious News Service reported it noteworthy that churches from the Communist bloc nations had been most hesitant to act on the Roman Catholic question. Some observers held this was a result of the recent change in Soviet leadership. They said the Soviet bloc churches were marking time until the policies of the new rulers were made more apparent. Soviet-Vatican relations also were considered a factor.
A Cold Front?
Protestants in Spain expressed concern last month over two developments that they fear may affect the “thaw” recently discernible in the attitude of Spanish authorities toward the non-Catholic minority.
In Cartagena, two Spanish Protestant pastors were each fined $83 on charges of illegally distributing Scripture. In Madrid, authorities refused permission for a luncheon party planned by parishioners of an American Baptist chapel on the ground that “proselytizing” was involved. A similar gathering was held last year without official objection.
Two evangelical ministers in Italy, meanwhile, appealed $25 fines, imposed belatedly following a trial in absentia and subsequent conviction by a court in Foggia. The Rev. Royal Peck, an American, and the Rev. Bernard Oxenham, a Canadian, were arrested last February for holding a street meeting. At that time they were left with the impression that no charges would be pressed. Both are employees of the Greater Europe Mission.
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