Tracey Rowland’s talk on ecumenism

One of my favorite theologians spoke at the patronal festival that gathered the Ordinaries of the three Personal Ordinariates in Australia.  The Catholic Weekly has published Tracey Rowland’s talk.

Here’s an excerpt:

At some point in the ecumenical conversation however members of the different denominations will run up against issues in fundamental theology where a choice for one or other position will lead one down divergent theological paths making any future unity a doctrinal impossibility. To give some contemporary examples from the field of fundamental theology: base-line questions include: do we read the Scriptures as normative for all times or not, do we believe in the priority of logos over ethos or not; and if we believe in the priority of ethos or praxis as liberation theologians do, have we reached that position because we follow the anti-intellectual orientation of Martin Luther or the anti-metaphysical orientation of Immanuel Kant or some kind of dialectical metaphysics borrowed from Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx?

Then there are the base-line questions about how nature, grace and history are related, how faith and reason and history are related, how scripture and tradition are related and where we stand on issues in linguistic philosophy that impact upon our understanding of how meaning is mediated and the use of doctrinal formulae to this end. Last but far from least there is the question of whether or not theology requires the mediation of the social sciences.  As Charles Davis (who was a big name in English Catholic theology in the 1960s) put the question: is theology the critical self-consciousness of Christian praxis  or does theology begin with the belief that truth has already been given to us?

See why I’m a fan?

She continues:

I mention these base-line issues in fundamental theology because it seems to me that we are currently in a situation where Catholics as well as members of Eastern Orthodox churches, Lutherans, Anglicans and others, frequently find themselves divided across rather than along, confessional lines precisely because of different answers to these base-line questions. My own personal experience has been that I am much closer to people who share my own base-line theological assumptions, who can come from a diverse array of Christian denominations, than I am to fellow Catholics who start from different and indeed, opposing base-lines.

I am, too.

In case you are wondering, I believe the Truth has already been given to us and that theology is about discovering deeper insights into that revelation.  I believe in the priority of logos over ethos, etc. etc.

On the Ordinariate:

I would argue that your Ordinariate is a model example of both receptive ecumenism and re-weaving the tapestry ecumenism. In relation to receptive ecumenism the Ordinariate has brought things from which Rome might learn and has in its turn received gifts from Rome. When listing the gifts the Ordinariate has brought I particularly like what Digby Anderson called “better translations of the Mass and the moral sensibility associated with the idea of a gentleman, including the cult of self-deprecation and traditional manners”.


Members of the Ordinariate also bring to the Catholic Church an experience and painful memory of what happens to a Christian community when clerical leaders permit a widening of the gap between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It is sometimes joked that the only moral principle upon which all members of the C of E can agree is that a failure to separate one’s recyclable rubbish from the food scrapes bin is gravely anti-social behaviour. If the only  thing uniting a community is the desire for the community to hold together regardless of the actual beliefs and values of those in the community, then that community may well hold together as a mutual social welfare support service for the weaker members who rely on  social welfare, but it will lose its character as a church, as an ecclesial body, and it will hold no attraction for the stronger members of the community who don’t go to Church for the free cup of tea and opportunity to pick over the goods on offer at the second-hand clothes stall. If the provision of social welfare, kindness, care and concern, rather than a common creed, becomes the glue that holds a group together, then the sacramental participation in the life of the Trinity will be very much occluded and ecclesial communities will become hard to distinguish from gatherings of secular humanists and political moralists. To Catholics who are tempted to go down that route, members of the Ordinariate can attest with some high degree of authority based on experience that it does nothing to improve the numbers of bottoms on pews on Sunday.

There’s a lot more on the Ordinariates and ecumenism.

From Rome the Ordinariate initially received the gift of St John Paul II’s high sacramental theology of marriage which situates human sexuality into the context of the creative love within the Trinity. Arguably this is the intellectual antidote to the Church of England’s historic weakness in the field of moral theology. Where good and evil is concerned, the Anglican disposition of opting for the middle position is not always the best policy.

The fact that the Ordinariate has its own Divine Worship books is an assurance that the English heritage will be respected, that the principle of “unity with distinctiveness” which avoids absorption will prevail. However realised ecumenism does not allow for unity of communion without unity of faith. The Ordinariate can therefore be a model of receptive ecumenism morphing into a realised ecumenism insofar as its members become the  purveyors of both transcendent liturgical worship and sound catechetical preaching.

The Ordinariate is not however merely a model of successful receptive ecumenism, it is also potentially a model of re-weaving the tapestry ecumenism. Running through the tapestry as a central thread is a Christocentric Trinitarian sacramental theology that finds its highest expression in the liturgy.  While common garden variety Catholics are re-weaving parts of  the tapestry by recourse to the theological work of the ressourcement scholars, Ordinariate Catholics can help to re-weave other bits of the tapestry by recourse to the works of the Caroline Divines, members of the Oxford movement and writers like Coleridge and T. S. Eliot.


Do read the whole thing and please comment to let me know your reaction.

2 thoughts on “Tracey Rowland’s talk on ecumenism

  1. She mentions Digby Anderson – an almost forgotten name now, although it was one to be conjured with back in the 80s and 90s. Must google him ….


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